Saturday, May 31, 2014

Movie Review: Belle

Movie Review



Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Tom Felton, James Norton, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton

Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, the illegitimate daughter of Royal Navy Captain Sir John Lindsay and a slave, is brought to England after the death of her mother. Her father deposits her in the care of his uncle, Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of England. Lord Mansfield insists Dido is raised under his protection because she shares his name and blood. Young Dido is reared alongside Lord Mansfield's other niece, Elizabeth, who is Caucasian. The two girls quickly become friends and sisters, but as they grow to be of marriageable age, the differences become apparent. Hovering the background is the Zong case. A slave ship master is seeking insurance money for "cargo" he was forced to dump overboard in order to save his ship and his crew; or so he claims.

This is an incredible story that shows the difficulties of being a woman in the 18th century. Dido has money but as a woman of color, what opportunities are available to her? Elizabeth is white, but she's not acknowledged by her father and doesn't even have a dowry. What opportunities are available to her? The answer is marriage, but should they marry for love or social position? What happens if the two are not compatible? This questions complicates the story and turns it into a love triangle. This part of the plot is certain to please fans of period drama movies, literature and old-fashioned romantics. The love story is tied into the questions of race and slavery as Dido begins to question her identity and her social standing while her Papa must make an important decision. The history behind the story is not known on this side of the Atlantic, though I have heard of similar slave ship stories. The plot raises some interesting questions. It's very emotional and moving. I believe the plot would also appeal to lawyers and politicians and those who are interested in debating social issues. Though the Zong incident was horrific, I was glad to learn about it to understand more about slavery through the eyes of Georgian era Britons. 

The acting was largely top-notch in this nearly all-star cast. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is not only gorgeous, she is an incredible actress. She has an express face which conveys everything Dido is feeling. There are several key moments when no words are spoken but her actions easily show the meaning of her complicated feelings. Gugu Mbatha-Raw truly makes the story. She sucked me right in with her amazing acting. I don't think the story would have been as appealing if not for her. My only quibble is that as fine an actress as she is, why is she so much lighter than the real Dido Belle? 


The supporting actors are also great. Sarah Gadon, as Elizabeth Murray, reminded me a lot of Romola Garai. She's bubbly and expressive. Elizabeth is very innocent and at times, naive. Sarah Gadon displays Elizabeth's emotional journey very well. Tom Wilkinson is fabulous as Lord Mansfield, a man wrestling with his conscience versus his position in Society. Emily Watson as Lady Mansfield has a small role but when she's on screen, I got a sense that Lady Mansfield could end up a Grand Dame worthy of any of Maggie Smith's characters. Miranda Richardson is cast as another waspish lady but she does a fine job portraying the ambitious Lady Ashford. Tom Felton plays her son and I fear the young man has been typecast and will never escape the spectre of Draco Malfoy. Picture Malfoy in a wig and you have James Ashford. The only actor I thought wasn't great was Sam Reid as John Davinier. He picked up speed as he went along but he was fairly wooden in his delivery in the beginning and lacked chemistry with his love interest. 

The costumes are exquisite! The colors are rich and the clothing is all so detailed. I love the hats most of all. The men are very handsome but understated in their dark clothing. The women are the peacocks in this version of Georgian England. 

The sets are also amazing! The sumptuous houses, the beautiful gardens and the gritty dockside tavern all bring to life different aspects of Georgian life. It was incredible to get a glimpse of Vauxhall in it's heyday. Fans of Georgian and Regency novels will die to see this world brought to life. 

The music is beautiful and fits perfectly with the tone of the movie. The soundtrack plays quietly in the background at the right moments and never intrudes on the action of the film.

I highly recommend this movie to anyone who has the opportunity to see it. It's Hollywoodized but a fine film. Pair it with Amazing Grace and then jump across the Atlantic and watch Amistad, 12 Years a Slave and finally, Lincoln.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Valour and Vanity (Glamourist Histories, #4)Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal -- Historical Fantasy

Jane and Vincent are traveling in Italy with her parents, Melody and Melody's new husband. The time has come to part. While the Ellsworths, Melody and her husband will go on exploring the Continent, Jane and Vincent are headed to Murano to continue their experiments with glamour in glass. Mrs. Ellsworth is terrified their ship will be set upon by pirates. Jane is sympathetic but Vincent knows there's no such thing as pirates in this part of the world. Imagine everyone's surprise when corsairs attack and Vincent is hit on the head. A kind passenger, Mr. Sanuto, offers to pay their ransom. This rankles Vincent's pride and he promises to pay Mr. Sanuto back ASAP. When they arrive in Murano, they are given bad news. Lord Byron, who is to host them, is out of town and without letters of recommendation or money, they can not enter the country. With no money to return, what will they do? Mr. Sanuto offers his help again and allows the Vincents to stay with him in his home. The kind old man also helps them find a glassmaker who is willing to work with them. When Byron returns, the Vincents discover shocking secrets they never expected. Further troubles await them and Vincent is haunted by the inner demons caused by his father's abuse. Jane is haunted by the memory of her lost child and must come to terms with her feelings about motherhood. Finally, the Vincents and their new friends must use all their wits to launch a daring plan that will return everything to rights.

This book is billed as a Regency heist novel. What is Jane Austen had written Ocean's Eleven? In that regards, the book is a big disappointment. It lacks the heart-pounding feeling of Year Without a Summer. The action starts and stops too often. The real heist part of the plot doesn't happen until the end. That part is exciting enough but I didn't really understand why the villains did what they did and why it was so important for Jane and Vincent to launch a heist. Much of the book is taken up with long, boring descriptions of glamour technique. I couldn't understand half of what they were talking about. Fortunately, there's a glamour glossary in the back to help. Also bogging down the plot are lengthy discussions that seem out of place in a period novel. Jane spends much of the first quarter of the book brooding over her miscarriage and talking with Vincent about conception and their feelings about parenthood. The discussion picks up again at the very end and it's so preachy and modern sounding. Also preachy is a discussion about who goes out to work and who stays home. I suppose it's an age-old discussion and within the context of the world of the novel it makes a bit more sense. If you like period details, you'll love this book because the whole middle section is nothing but detail. I really didn't need to know when Jane got her "flower" and what she does during that time. It was boring. Period details are great but they need to forward the action of the story not be dropped in just because they're cool. A brief mention would have advanced the personal side of the plot.

Jane and Vincent and their relationship is at the heart of the story. At first I kept sighing about how much I love them together and how I adore Vincent. Then his moodiness and depression annoyed me, though I understand why he felt that way. I also got tired of him being so stubborn and ignoring his health. That got tedious after awhile but it does eventually prove important to the plot. Jane remains strong, brave and caring. She, too, is a bit stubborn but she knows when to give in. She's almost a little too perfect in this novel. The plot really illuminates just how talented she is. At least now she recognizes her talent and stops being so self-deprecating as she was in Shades of Milk and Honey.

Melody has only a brief cameo and she manages to annoy me. She's a bit less selfish though. I was hoping for Melody and her husband to tag team with Jane and Vincent. Melody's magical talents were left undeveloped at the end of Year Without a Summer. So she needs glasses and can't see the threads of glamour without them. Can she see better with them? Is she talented too? We don't know because she's absent for almost all of the book. Mrs. Ellsworth is given a random backstory to make her more sympathetic. She's still irritating in a Mrs. Bennet sort of way. I'm not a mother so I suppose I can't understand her fears. I have little patience for nervous, hysterical sort of people (I'm sense like Elinor Dashwood and Jane Ellsworth Vincent and my sister is sensibility like Marianne and Melody).

The new characters include Lord Byron and a friend of his. Byron would be astonished and pleased with all the adventures he gets up to in novels. Apparently this one at least is mostly period correct and uses his own words. His friend is apparently supposed to be a certain time traveling doctor from a TV show I've never seen so I completely missed the reference and didn't even notice the character at all. Other new characters include a bunch of mischievous nuns and their students. (Sister Act/Jane Austen mashup minus the singing). I really liked the Abbess. She wasn't what I expected based on my limited experience (and my dad's stories about Catholic grade school in the 1950s) with nuns.

I had my suspicions about the villain in the beginning and then I thought something else was going to happen that sounded like more fun than what actually did happen. I was surprised at who the villain was when Jane and Vincent found out because it seemed more complicated that it actually was and there really wasn't a good motive there. The other villains are all basically supporting characters without much personality. There is one villain that surprised me. I never suspected or even thought about that person much at all. My suspicions were in another direction entirely.

This one doesn't quite get 4 stars from me. I look forward to reading Of Noble Family when it comes out but I hope it lives up to the promise. If this one hadn't been billed as a heist novel, I may have liked it a lot better.
What I've Read Recently Part II . . .

Lord Nightingale's Love Song (Lord Nightingale, #2)Lord Nightingale's Love Song by Judith A. Lansdowne -- Regency Romance

Miss Eugenia Chastain longs to dance. She'd love to dance a reel or even a scandalous waltz, if only she could. A childhood accident left her lame in one leg, so of course she can't dance. Her lameness doesn't really bother her much in the country but here in London, during the Season, no gentlemen have taken an interest in Eugenia. She heads out to the balcony of the Hathfords' ballroom to indulge in a good cry, only to discover the balcony is already occupied by one irascible young gentleman. Edward Finaly, Marquess of Bradford wants nothing to do with balls or young ladies. He only put in appearance because his father made him and because his beloved horse Nod needed a rest. Soon he'll be on his way to the country where he can have peace and quiet and Nod can recover from a recent illness. He also plans to continue searching for those he's lost and he wiln't be trapped into marriage! While in Kent, he discovers a child, a groom, a mongrel puppy, a young cat, and a parrot in his pasture bothering his horse. He misinterprets the situation and chaos ensues. When he brings the motley crew home, dirty and disheveled, he intends to give his neighbors a sharp set down. He's surprised to discover the weeping crippled girl from London. He feels a bit badly about the way he treated her, but he maintains his belief that he wants to be left alone. Eugenia tries to stay out of the way and even extends hospitality to her cousin Neil and his friend Mr. Arnsworth. Though she is suspicious of Neil's motives, Mr. Arnsworth is all that is kind and amiable. She thinks she might even accept a proposal if offered, but as she encounters her temperamental neighbor more often, she begins to see the real man behind the icy exterior. She senses a wounded soul in need and is determined to help her new friend. Lord Nightingale, Delight and her menagerie, and the Dowager Countess of Wickenshire are all also determined to help Eugenia and Lord Bradford.

This is a beautiful story of two handicapped people coming together to heal with the help of a colorful cast of characters, which includes the title character, Lord Nightingale. The plot moves along quickly. The mystery kept me on edge, turning pages and I could hardly put it down. When I did stop, I picked it up again and then finished, picked up book 3 and started speedreading to get to the bottom of the mystery! The story leaves a few loose ends in terms of the mystery. I liked that there wasn't a central villain needing to be defeated, that the demons were inside but caused by a villain. The story is rather sad but there are a lot of light moments to keep it from being too heavy. The romance is a bit rushed at the end and I thought Eugenia deserved a better ending. Other than that, I like the way the relationship builds. This book almost reads like an inspirational novel without the frequent mentions of God and Scriptures. (There are a few quick send-up prayers towards the end but not enough to qualify as a real inspirational novel). The only quibbles I had with this book were a few historical inaccuracies that may be Victorian and also the fact that the characters call each other by their first names. I don't think the vicar's daughters would call Lord Wickenshire "Nicky." My only other complaint is that the characters stammer too much. I can't stand stammering when it's not a speech defect so I took off half a star for it.

The characters are the real stand-out of this novel, especially the supporting cast. Dear little Delight is as delightful as her name. She sounds more like 4 or 5 than 8 though. She's so sweet and innocent and obviously very happy and secure in her new life. I love her devotion to animals and how her kindness brings out the best in everyone. Stanley Blithe and Sweetpea are adorable sidekicks for Delight and reflect her personality. I liked how nothing much is made of her port wine stain birthmark in this book. No one notices it and I forgot all about it. Lord Nightingale is also an excellent supporting character. His dialogue is outstanding and adds a lot of humor to the story. I'm dying to know what "Knollsmarmer" means.

The other human secondary characters are a little less memorable but no less important to the story. Neil actually shows some character growth which I like. It makes him a less typical character. His friend Mr. Arnsworth is a nice young man. He's not taken from the book of supporting characters. He's not all that well-rounded either and his plot is concluded in the most unbelievable way, but I liked him. Lady Wickenshire is not a grand dame. She's a doting aunt who wants to see her niece happy, even if it means interfering a bit. She's amusing but she can also be tough when she wants to be.

The main characters are great as well. I really liked Eugenia when I read Lord Nightingale's Debut, so I was eager to read her story and find out how she finds her happily ever after. I was surprised to find out she's very young, only 20, and in her first Season. She seemed a lot older in the first book. In the beginning of this book, she seems kind of silly and immature but she isn't really. She just has a good sense of the absurd and a sense of humor. She's a smart and determined young woman and I still like her. I didn't feel bad for her that she was lame, but I did feel bad that the gentlemen of the ton are so superficial, they can't see how great she is. I loved her relationship with Lord Bradford. He is also young but an old soul. His speech pattern makes him sound young in the beginning but he acts a lot older. His devotion to his horse really touched me, as an animal lover I can relate. I didn't fall in love with Bradford, but I think many women could. His story is so touching. His relationship with Eugenia is wonderful. They need each other emotionally and become friends. There's no real physical longing, just a meeting of the souls. I loved the romance so much, it made me sigh in parts.

Lord Nightingale's Triumph (Lord Nightingale, #3)Lord Nightingale's Triumph by Judith A. Lansdowne -- Regency Romance

This book picks up where the last one left off but switches the point-of-view to Lord Bradford's brother Peter. Peter is about to do a very bad deed that will land him in Newgate prison if he's caught. He's desperate for money for passage to India so he can make his fortune and marry the woman he loves. He's not sure about that last one because he's on the run from some men who will likely throw him in prison if he's caught. He can't ask his beloved Mary to be on the run with him. Mary has other ideas. When she comes across Peter in the Earl of Wickenshire's barn, she is thrilled her beloved has returned. She's determined to follow him wherever he goes no matter what. She cares nothing for her reputation, only Peter. The pair head on the road to London with a kidnapped Lord Nightingale in tow! When the vicar discovers his eldest missing, he enlists the aid of the Earl of Wickenshire to bring her back. Along the way they hope to discover the whereabouts of Lord Nightingale as well. Meanwhile, Edward and Peter's father shows up determined to stop his heir from marrying a nobody. Serendipity is ready to throw him out but the Dowager Countess sees hints that the Duke is not as black as he's been painted. If they can keep him there, the ladies (and animals) can try to melt his icy exterior.

I speed read through the first half of the novel, eager to solve the mystery of the missing Peter. I wasn't too thrilled with the way the plot went. Nothing happens for most of the first half until the middle. Then we finally get some answers and things are tidied up. I was left wondering what next? The second half deals a lot more with inner demons and what has made the irascible Duke so hard. There's also the mystery of who wanted Lord Nightingale and why. Nothing much happens in the second half either until the end. There are still some loose plot threads so I have to read the Christmas book to find out if they're resolved. I found the solution to all the problems a little too neat and tidy. There's also echoes of Jane Eyre which I found a little too convenient.

I really didn't care too much for the new characters. I wanted more Bradford and Eugenia! Peter isn't as appealing as his brother. He's prone to melodrama and makes a lot of stupid decisions. He tries to be noble and I found him rather trying. Mary is exactly as Neil said. She's no better than she should be. She's just too modern for a story set in the Regency era. She doesn't care about her reputation at all and is ready to throw it all away. A lady's reputation meant everything and she never once thought about how her elopement would affect her sisters. She was selfish and annoying.

All the previous characters return in this book. Nicky and Sera are major supporting characters. I still like Nicky and I liked Sera better now she's a bit more wise. The Dowager Duchess is as mischievous as always and I still like her. Edward and Eugenia make a brief appearance too and it wasn't enough to satisfy me. As usual Delight and her pets steal the plot. She still sounds just like my 5 year old niece and not an 8 year old. Also appearing in this novel are Lady Vermont and her granddaughter Alice. They have little to do and I was hoping for more. Lord Nightingale is the best character in the whole book. He continues to make me laugh with his dialogue. We finally learn more about him, including what "knollsmarmer" means. The villains are also in this story as cardboard as ever for one and the other develops a bit which I like.

Friday, May 16, 2014

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently Part I . . .

Full Moon (Blandings Castle, #7)Full Moon by P.G. Wodehouse-- Historical Fiction/Romance

Freddie Threepwood is back in England to promote Donaldson's Dog Joy when he discovers his cousin Prudence is in love with his old friend Bill Lister. Prudence's mother doesn't approve but Freddie falls on the side of true love and encourages his young cousin to marry at the Registry Office before any of the family catch on. His next order of business is to keep Tipton Plimsoll, a young American supermarket owner, sober long enough to secure a sale for Donaldson's Dog Joy. Tipton thinks he's doing just fine on his current bender, until he starts seeing phantom faces! Freddie invites Tipton to recover at Blandings Castle, where he discovers his cousin Prudence in residence without her beloved! Freddie's Aunt Hermione got ahold of the situation and wholeheartedly disapproves of her niece marrying a penniless artist. When Lady Hermione discovers a millionaire in residence, she immediately sets her sights on Tipton for her beautiful, ditzy daughter Veronica. Poor Bill Lister is distraught over losing his fiance, but his godfather, Galahad Threepwood knows just what to do. The course of true love never did run smooth but leave it to P.G. Wodehouse to put his characters in the most outrageous situations. My biggest problem with the novel is that there's a potentially hilarious scene with the Empress and it's left out! The event is related to a character after the fact and in passing. It sounded like a terrifically funny situation and I wonder why Wodehouse didn't include it.

The plot is typical P.G. Wodehouse and very predictable, but it's a lot of fun. I enjoyed it mainly because the familiar characters were back and fully present. Dear old Clarence is still obsessed with his pig, while his sisters sniff their disapproval over everything. (What happened to Lady Constance?) Lady Hermione's husband is nearly as snobby as she is. Verionica is beyond ditzy and spoiled. She's a complete airhead, but of course, she's funny because P.G. Wodehouse creates such fabulous characters. Tipton is a rather unlikeable character. He's perpetually drunk or hung over and has a very nervous disposition. I didn't like his plot very much. I liked Bill in so much as I felt sorry for him but he seemed a weak sort of man. Prudence is a little silly but less silly than her previously lovelorn cousins. She has more sense than all of them put together. I adore Freddie in this book. He's grown so much and finally has a brain. Of course, like his father, it's mainly a one thought brain, but he manages to act almost like a normal human being. Galahad pops in and out of the plot at key moments to direct the action. I adore him and wish he was in more of the book.

The illustrations, by Paul Galdone are dreadful. Some of them are rather risque. He didn't seem to have read the descriptions of Clarance and Galahad. They look the opposite of how they're supposed to.

Mrs. Jeffries and the Merry GentlemenMrs. Jeffries and the Merry Gentlemen by Emily Brightwell -- Victorian Mystery

Orlando Edison's staff is looking forward to a night at the theater as a Christmas treat. They leave their employer listening to a group of Christmas carolers and when they return, they discover their master has been killed. Chief Inspector Barrows discovers Edison lying over the front step of his house with bits of his head dashed everywhere and a golden shovel lying there. He calls in Inspector Witherspoon to solve the case. The staff at Upper Edmonton Gardens are distracted by their own interests and holiday plans. Most of what they learn is that Edison was much beloved by his staff and all the neighbors. There were a few arguments in his recent past. Is one of those people the killer? They also uncover evidence of possible fraud in collusion with The Merry Men, a group of lucky financial investors. If the staff stays focused long enough to figure out the motive, Mrs. Jeffries should be able to crack the case.

I really liked all the period detail in this book. I don't know or care anything about stocks, investments or mines in South Africa, but I know a little bit about what was happening in Africa at that time so I enjoyed seeing the British perspective from London of the period just before the Boer War. There's also a lot about how times have changed for servants and how some people are reluctant to change. That's in just about every book but here it was actually shown through the actions of different characters. There's also a bit about period cooking. There was only one instance where a character's personal comments about something entirely unrelated to the story sounded out of place for the period.

I also liked how Phyllis is coming into her own and an integral part of the story. I actually like her now. Betsy is back on the job and a key investigator. She and Smythe love each other and have stopped bickering. Mrs. Jeffries is a bit too clever to be believable, but the stories are always fun. I couldn't figure this one out on my own. I was completely wrong about who I suspected. The mystery made me stay up too late and wake up too early!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Miss Rowland's Resolve by Samantha Holder -- Regency Romance

Companion to Temporary Wife which I have not read. Paige and David appear in the beginning.

Miss Gwyneth Rowland has had a tough life. At nine and twenty years old she has endured the loss of her mother when she was 9, being jilted practically at the alter by her childhood sweetheart, nursing her father through his final illness; then her younger brother was declared dead while on his Grand Tour and Gwyneth's greedy uncle and his family moved into her home. Gywneth has had enough of being treated like a poor relation and being bullied by her uncle. She heads off to London to investigate the circumstances surrounding her brother's supposed death. She knows in her heart that Stephen is still alive and she's determined to prove it. Along the way she meets Miss Hannah Bradstone, a young heiress and her eccentric former governess, Miss Edith Pickering, who speaks primarily in quotations. Hannah's big heart and love of animals gets her into trouble at Grillon's and she places her beloved pet kittens in the care of Dr. Huntsley, a kind veterinarian who has a hospital for sick and homeless animals. When Hannah decides to rent a home of her own, Gwyneth thinks it inadvisable for so young and naive a girl to live practically alone. Hannah cares not a jot for her reputation, but she manages to convince Gwyneth to move in with her and Edith. Gwyneth reluctantly agrees though she desires her solitude. She and her redoubtable maid Annie head for Hookham's Lending Library where Gwyneth will interview Mr. Peasebody, the man who was with Stephen on his Grand Tour. Unfortunately, Gwyneth gets lost and her pride will not allow her to admit it. Annie has no such qualms and seeks help from the nearest person. Professor Miles Bardsley has returned to his native London after 13 years in Philadelphia. He left nursing a broken heart when the lady he loved chose his older brother instead. Miles is wary of women but he finds Gwyneth an excellent target for his gentle teasing. She rises to his bait and soon they're sparring. The sparring turns to intellectual discussions and they become fast friends as Gwyneth is given a job at Hookham's, where Miles is a frequent visitor. Meanwhile Hannah risks her reputation to rescue homeless animals and help Dr. Huntsley. Their happiness is about to be shattered when Gwyneth's wicked uncle comes to Town with his family. Miles comes up with the perfect solution, but it involves Gwyneth learning to trust and learning to value her own happiness.

This is an unexpected gem of a book! I took a chance on it because of the librarian heroine and was delighted to learn the co-heroine shares my other passion: animal rescue. Naturally I was prepared to give this book bonus points for the heroines' avocations, even if the plot was dreadful. Happily, the plot proved to be quite good. It's a little longer than most paperback Regencies but there are two heroines with stories to resolve. The only part I would have cut was the introduction to Miles, which had no bearing on the rest of the story. I didn't really like the wicked uncle plot, but he is the catalyst for moving the story along. The romances are predictable but I really liked them. The relationships develop slowly into friendships based on mutual interests and like minds. There's one or two kisses and that's it. Most of the plot is taken up with the heroines and their adventures and forming friendships. I liked both the plot immensely because they deal with my favorite subjects. The mystery of what happened to Stephen kept me interested but not enough to stay up all night reading.

I do have a few minor issues with the plot that keeps me from giving it more than 4 stars. First, there's a weird paranormal thing that's tossed in without explanation. I forgot all about it until it appeared again at the end. Second, I found Stephen's story just a bit too unbelievable. I was actually surprised at what had happened. Most of the book is devoted to Gwyneth's quest and the Stephen plot is concluded a little too quickly and easily. There are also some unresolved issues at the end. The romances come a bit slowly and are then rushed. The story needed an epilogue. Then, there are the historical errors. I think the author knew a bit about the Victorian era but not about the Regency era. I picked up on a few Victorian or Edwardian things. I don't know how many sources were available in the 1980s but I have read and liked books that were listed for sale in the back of the book. Marrying one's sister-in-law was not acceptable to the Church of England so that part of the plot didn't make sense logistically. Finally, Tuck IS the current Duke. If he was the future Duke, then his uncle would be the current Duke, which he is not.

The characters in this novel are excellent. The author had the librarian personality down pat. Gwyneth has my personality nearly 100%. I've met other heroines who are very close but not as much as Gwyneth. She's bookish, reserved, values her alone time and peace and quiet, proud, stubborn and doesn't like to be teased. I can easily see myself thinking and saying the things she did and sometimes behaving as she did. Hannah is a sad rattle but she's so sweet and has such a good heart, it's hard not to love her. I admire her dedication to helping sick and homeless animals. I don't think I would go so far as she did, but I liked her tenacity. She adds a lot of humor to the plot. The character development for both heroines is great. Hannah grows more and her development is more obvious than Gwyneth's subtle changes. Gwyneth's development is very subtle but it's there and if you're paying attention, you'll notice. I noticed because she was exactly like me in the beginning. The heroes are great too. I loved Miles even though he's not a rake and is something of a misogynist at first. He's kind, caring and has a sense of humor. He can be alpha when he wants to be. I liked that he was scholarly and not absent-minded or stuffy in any way. He's less formal than a typical Englishman of his class because he's been in America for so many years. He learned a lot there so he's less haughty than most of the Regency heroes. The brooding vet was a bit too much. I liked him a lot but the brooding bit got tossed in for no good reason. The secondary characters are all really well developed too. At first they seem flat but end up moving the story along as they develop. Edith provides most of the humor. I love how she spoke mostly in quotations. In annoyed Gwyneth but I thought it was amusing. The others proved surprising. They weren't the usual cast of characters from the standard casting book for Regency characters.

I'm so glad I took a chance on this book. If you like old-fashioned, sweet, unconventional stories, you will like this one. It would be a good one to digitize on Open Archive. The paperback book is falling apart

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . .

The SpymistressThe Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini -- Historical Fiction

This fictionalized biography tells the story of Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew and her clandestine activities to help the Union during the Civil War. When the secession crisis reaches a boiling point, Elizabeth Van Lew is certain wise heads will prevail and war will be averted. When her beloved Virginia votes to join the Confederacy, she's heartbroken. When fellow Virginian Robert E. Lee takes command of the Confederate troops, Elizabeth knows it's going to be a long and bloody war. Though she's already suspected of being a Unionist by her neighbors, Elizabeth, a wealthy spinster, risks her life and her fortune to help Union prisoners languishing in Richmond's prisons. At first she doesn't succeed, but she won't take no for an answer. Operating under the guise of Christian charity, Elizabeth's activities at first consist mainly of bringing food and books to the prisoners. Soon she discovers how to get messages in and out of the prisons without being detected. She must also avoid her gossipy, spiteful sister-in-law Mary who is a staunch Confederate and won't hesitate to condemn the outspoken Elizabeth. Through the long years of the war, Elizabeth persists, despite discouragement and the belief that all might be lost at any moment.

This is a fictionalized biography and tells a story that I already knew. I absolutely admire Elizabeth for everything she did. She had amazing courage to do what she did and for so long. The author avoids the commonly held belief that Elizabeth acted crazy in order to be allowed to visit prisons. Apparently, there's no historic evidence for that from the actual war years. That makes her activities all the more heroic and Elizabeth Van Lew has become one of my personal heroes. Her friend, Mary Jane, also deserves the utmost respect and admiration for posing as a slave working at the Confederate "Gray House," so she could spy for the Union.
The problem I had with this book was that there was too much telling. I never fully felt engaged in the book as a novel. There was a whole lot of recapping what was happening with the war, which I already know quite well. I felt Elizabeth's activities were also summarized. Maybe because I already knew the story, I didn't feel any heart-pounding moments. There are a few tense moments when I wondered how she would talk her way out of a situation or what would happen to her family, but mostly, the story reads like a biography. If you don't know the story, you will probably enjoy this novel more than I did.

The Author's Note explains how the author chose some real people to populate the stories and others she combined into one fictional character. She also notes a lot of the sources she used for research.

Uncle Fred in the SpringtimeUncle Fred in the Springtime by P.G. Wodehouse -- Historical Fiction/Romance

Pongo Twisleton is in need of cash so he applies to his wealthy friend Horace Davenport. Horace has troubles of his own: first, his uncle, the Duke of Dunstable broke up the sitting-room furniture with a poker and then Horace's fiance, Valerie Twisleton broke up with him because he hired a private detective to tail her while she was on vacation. Next, Horace took his dancing teacher Polly Pott out for a night on the town and found himself in a brawl with Polly's fiance Ricky Gilpin. Polly loves Ricky, despite his jealousy and still wants to marry him. The young couple are in need of money for Ricky is a poor poet. His uncle, the Duke of Dunstable, refuses to help the couple. The Duke takes himself off to Blandings Castle where he decides to take the Empress away! The Duke declares Lord Emsworth is in need of a brain specialist while Lady Constance fears it is the Duke who is in need of help. She sends for one Dr. Glossop to come to Blandings and quietly investigate the Duke. Pongo appeals to his Uncle Fred, fifth Earl of Ickenham, for monetary help, but unfortunately Pongo's aunt holds the purse strings and she is away from home. Never fear though, Uncle Fred to the rescue. He comes up with an ingenious plan that will help everyone. His plan brings all the character, plus Baxter and Polly's father, Claude "Mustard" Pott, to Blandings where the usual highjinks ensue.

This story took awhile to get started. A lot of unfamiliar characters are introduced in the beginning when I really wanted to know more about dear old Lord Emsworth and his prize pig. I didn't really feel the need to keep reading to see how the story would all turn out. It lacked some of the usual punch of Wodehouse's Blandings Castle stories. The ending was very abrupt and left some plot points dangling. There wasn't enough of Lord Emsworth or his beloved pig. There's one great scene with the Empress that is great but it's her only major appearance. I just love her and want to read more about her and whatever it is she's eating! The regular cast of characters take a back seat to the new characters. The new characters in this story are largely recycled from previous Blandings Castle stories. As usual, there are the thwarted lovers torn apart by money and jealousy. I didn't care for any of them and wasn't rooting for them to get together. I can't stand these girls who love their men despite his intense jealousy and terrible temper. The young men are bland and uninspiring. Pongo has more brains than Freddie Threepwood though he's in similar trouble. He has potential to be a well-rounded character but mostly he stands there and wrings his hands. We at last meat Lord Boshom, Lord Emsworth's heir. He's not quite as dumb as his brother but he shares his brother's love for drama which causes some very funny moments. Uncle Fred is the main character in this story. He's the one who is "potty"! Lord Emsworth is absent-minded, the Duke is a tyrant but Uncle Fred rivals even dear old Uncle Gally for sheer lunacy. I didn't like him as much as Galahad though. Galahad is done with his wild ideas but Uncle Fred is eager and ready to go. Each scheme he comes up with his crazier than the last. Lies just roll off his tongue and he can come up with a new story at the drop of a hat. I didn't really like him because he didn't seem to have any common sense or a moral compass to tell him when to stop. I cringed as much as Pongo did. I would feel the same way having such a relative. Skip this one if you want another episode in the life of Lord Emsworth and his beloved pig. It's really more about Polly and Ricky and Uncle Fred.