Saturday, March 25, 2017

What I Read in December 2016 Part VII . . .

What I Read in December 2016 Part VII . . .

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit (Emmaline Truelove, #1)A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray--Historical Mystery

The Duke of Olympia has passed away and with him, the old century seems to have died. Miss Emmeline Rose Truelove is uncertain about what the rest of the 20th century will bring now her beloved employer has passed on. Worried about her future, Emmeline is visited by an apparition of the late Queen (Victoria), who advises Emmeline to refuse the request of the Dowager Duchess. Emmeline is quite stubborn, much like the queen, and though she knows not what the request may be, she knows she has to accept. Emmeline is shocked to learn the Dowager Duchess wants her to go after the long lost heir, Maximilian Haywood, in Crete- in the winter. She is to be accompanied by notorious rake, Lord Silverton. The voyage to find Max will bring Emmeline in close proximity with Silverton, a man who makes his intentions very clear. The Queen is not amused and neither is Emmeline. When they arrived in Greece, they discover a mystery much greater and worrisome than they ever expected. Something sinister is afoot, but what is it and why is someone evil after them?

The story is sort of a parallel of the Greek myths of the Minotaur and Theseus. It involves time traveling bandits, mythology come to life and a huge suspension of disbelief. All this colors my opinion of the book. If I had known about the supernatural elements in advance, I probably wouldn't have read this book - maybe... I REALLY can't stand time travel and I'm not a fan of supernatural stories. The intrusion of the villains into the well-ordered Edwardian lives really jarred me out of the story. The language is a real problem. Is there another way to convey modern unsavory characters without resorting to the F- word? It's not fully written out but it's vulgar just the same. As a certain Dowager Duchess said "Vulgarity is no substitute for wit." Another thing that really annoyed me was little wink winks about Titanic and Downton Abbey.

The plot was very engaging once Emmeline and Freddie, Lord Silverton, got to Greece. I had a hard time putting it down but I was able to do it. I wasn't crazy about the romance element but the main character had sizzling chemistry shown, rather than told, through banter and I did like that. The secondary romance was completely bizarre and unexpected. It eventually dawned on me that the story was going to parallel the myth but the plot did not make any sense at all. I am sure Emmeline would never believe it if she hadn't seen it with her own eyes. The villains also left more questions than answers. There are even more questions created by Max's field of study, his uniqueness and the Institute itself. I assume these questions will continue and be revealed gradually.

The romance plots themselves are clean but this book would be rated TV-14 for dialogue, language, sex and violence. Lord Silverton is a rake and women fall at his feet. He has no problems taking a woman to bed and anything he does with them is behind clothes doors except for one brief mention of nudity and a whole lot of discussion that makes Emmeline blush. Then there's the Greek myth which also tells a tale of violence and passion.

I really liked Emmeline. I could relate to her very well. Mostly no-nonsense and practical, Emmeline has had a sheltered life living among Society but is not OF Society. She's aware of her position in life and how she needs to work for a living. She isn't pretentious or social climbing. She's also a hopeless romantic. I can relate to that too. She isn't very worldly but she knows enough to not fall for a man like Silverton. However, Silverton is not quite your typical rake. He reveals his innermost feelings and wishes to Emmeline and no one else, which made me quite like him. I was sort of rooting for him to succeed in wooing her but his actions throughout the story are opposite of his words. Emmeline values what she can see and what she sees is an unrepentant rake.

The secondary characters are numerous and none of them really play a large role in most of the story except for Queen Victoria and Emmeline's father. Her father is kind and loving and wants what's best for his daughter. The main secondary characters are Mr. Higganbothom, a scholar, who has a deep interest in some mysterious photos in Emmeline's possession. He may or may not be what he seems. Then there's Max. Max is introduced very late in the story. He seems like a nice fellow, a bit absent-minded maybe, with a very big heart. I don't really understand what he does or what happens to him because this story is clearly not a stand-alone. The third main secondary character is the mysterious woman. I don't get why every man falls in love with her. I understand the rescue complex. She is not very nice and I found her insufferable.

I may have to keep reading this series so I get answers to the questions but it's not really my favorite kind of read.

Read this if you love Tasha Alexander, Deanna Raybourn and Lauren Willig

What I Read in December 2016 Part VI . . .

What I Read in December 2016 Part VI . . .

Mischief Season: A Twins StoryMischief Season: A Twins Story by John Bemelmans Marciano, illustrated by Sophie Blackall--Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Emilio and Rosa are twins living on a farm outside the village of Benevento, an ancient town famous for its witches! Mysterious and bad things are happening on the farm. Rosa blames the Janara, the witches but Papa blames Rosa! Rosa has blamed witches on her own laziness one too many times. Papa doesn't want to hear another word about Janara. The twins and their cousins set out to find out how to stop the Janara.

This is a really cute story. The introduction by the demons explains the different types of witches in Benevento. The charming illustrations show the village as it looked even before the time of my great-grandparents who were from a nearby village. The plot moves quickly. At first it's ambiguous whether the mischief is Rosa's laziness or something supernatural but it soon becomes clear which it is. Very little overlaps with Primo's story so it doesn't feel repetitive when read out of order. I wasn't crazy about Rosa. She's lazy and eager to blame anyone else for her slacking. Not that I'm not lazy but I found her a little naughty, like her cousin Primo. Emilio is much more level headed! Amerigo Peg-leg and Zia Pia add to the quirky old world charm of this story.

This series is best for kids 8+. My second grade niece can read some of it herself and is eager to try on her own. Her 3 year old brother finds it too scary.

The All-Powerful Ring: A Primo StoryThe All-Powerful Ring: A Primo Story by John Bemelmans Marciano, illustrated by Sophie Blackall--Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Lazy Primo discovers a gold ring hidden inside a fish. He becomes convinced the ring is magic and will save him from the evil witch known as the Manalonga. He tries any number of things to prove the ring is magic but his annoying sister and cousins always seem to intervene. Then something horrid happens and proves to Primo the ring is magic, or is it? You must read Maria Beppina's book to get her side of the story.

This is a cute story for early middle-grade readers. Primo is a little naughty, a lot lazy and believes in superstition in order to avoid responsibility. Or is he? For children, Primo will be a likeable character and they will believe firmly in what they're told is happening. Adults might question whether there are such things as witches and adults might find Primo a not very good role model for their children. The plot engaged my attention enough to read it all in one sitting. I wish my Nonnie was still alive to ask her about the Manalonga, et. al. She grew up in a village very near Benevento about 100 years later.

The best part of the book is the illustrations. They are incorporated into the story as part of the book and not just to point out a few key scenes. The illustrations are so charming and fun. I also really liked the letter from the magical being that lends some credence to the villagers' superstitions. There's also a historical note and witch glossary in the back.

Beware the Clopper!Beware the Clopper! by John Bemelmans Marciano, illustrated by Sophie Blackall--Middle Grades Historical Fantasy

Maria Beppina likes living above her cousin Primo's family. It makes her feel like one of the family. Yet, she isn't sure her cousins actually like her. Maria Beppina is the odd duck in the family. She's the slowest runner, wears shoes and can read books. She is also very curious about The Clopper, the witch that chases children through the old Roman theater. Her father tells her to ignore such superstitions but Maria Beppina can't help but be curious. One day she decides to stop running ...

This is such a cute book. This is more of what I was expecting with Primo's story. There's a good dose of supernatural, which makes this story a little scary for young readers but I liked it. I was really curious as to what happened when Maria Beppina stopped running from The Clopper. I wasn't disappointed. The sweet story teaches a gentle lesson.

I really liked Maria Beppina. She's the sweetest of the cousins. I can relate to her being the slowest runner and the most bookish in a group. She seems to have a more gentle personality than the other girls. I liked the juxtaposition of her more citified father versus the superstitious villagers. I can relate to that because my great-grandmother was educated so I didn't grow up with the stereotypical Italian superstitions. (Though I do remember my great-aunt using an eel for warding off evil eye or something once). I wish my Nonnie was still alive to ask what some of the words mean. It was great to finally meet the demons who wrote the introduction! That was perplexing not to know who they were. My only complaint was the rehashing of what happened in Primo's story. It's both good- because this works as a stand alone- and bad, because I already read Book 2.

The illustrations in this series are so amazing! I just love the village. I wish I could show this book to my Nonnie. Like the twins she lived on a farm outside the main village. I wonder how much her village resembled the one in the illustrations. I like the full page illustrations and am curious to see how the framed ones go together like a puzzle. I can easily picture my ancestors now.

I can't wait to read the rest of the series and have my dad read these to my nieces and nephews.

What I Read in December 2016 Part V . .

What I Read in December 2016 Part V . . .

The Cryptographer (Second Sons, #1)The Cryptographer by Alice Wallis-Eton--Regency Romance (Kindle Freebie)

Aster Tanner works as secretary to Sir John at the Royal Arsenal. At first glance people think she's a maid. A second glance reveals she is a clerk filing away paperwork and orders for new supplies for the army. What no one outside the office knows is Sir John is a renowned cryptographer. With Napoleon on the loose, Sir John has his work cut out for him cracking secret codes so Wellington and his men can intercept and stop Napoleon. What no one besides Sir John knows is Aster often helps him with his work. She loves to exercise her mind and make order of the codes. When Sir John hints at the existence of a list of names of traitors, Aster is intrigued but knows such a code can never be cracked without a key. Major Lord Iain MacIntyre of the Scots Greys is given a mission. Find the French spy and find the list. Bored kicking his heels in Scotland, Iain ignores his father's orders to return home and take up estate management, Iain and his closest mates head to a sleepy village outside London to ferret out a traitor. He is shocked to discover Aster working in a cryptographer's office. Why is a lady working at all? What business has she there? Could she be the French spy? His physical senses say no but his brain says nothing about her makes sense. There's only one way to make her tell all-charm her into submission!

3 stars dropped from 4 because this turned out to be a Regency Historical and not Traditional Regency. There is too much feeling and lusting going on here and way way too much graphic content. The story was going great for a long time except for the hero's constant longing for Aster but quickly when downhill. There's one scene where the heroine explores her sexuality, a lot of violence and a love scene. I wouldn't have minded a fade to black love scene. In this instance it felt right EXCEPT FOR the usual misunderstanding that follows. That drives me crazy! I really don't need to be in the characters' heads. In fact I skipped over it and didn't miss it.

I really liked the concept of the novel. A female cryptographer? That's something new. It sounds plausible since Aster signs her name A. Tanner. I got caught up in the mystery of the list. I had to stay up late and finish this novel to find out, though the villain was obvious. Iain figured it out but needed confirmation. I was vastly disappointed that the story didn't conclude satisfactorily. I don't really want to read the next two books in the series to find out what happens to the villain. (More points taken away).

Aster is a really neat heroine. She's brilliant, she's tough, resilient, strong and best of all, a terrier lover. Her brilliant mind was so intriguing and I would have liked to try to solve some of the codes she breaks. She's intelligent enough to crack codes faster than most men. Aster enjoys her job but she also longs for love and family. She's a bit vulnerable in that respect and Iain's constant attentions discomfit her. I disliked her frequent blushing. I much preferred her relationship with Quinn. Aster's dog Macdougal, is my favorite character in the whole novel. Scottish terriers were my first love and the author nailed their personality. He's a fierce rodent hunter but will work for bribes; he's fiercely protective of his owner yet can be bought with food and attention. He has all the humans wrapped around his paw just like a certain fierce vermin hunting, people food loving terrier I knew and loved (and miss very very much).

I hate to say it but I really didn't like Iain. He has issues. He claims he never expected to inherit, he may not inherit for a long time- his father is hale and healthy- yet in a time period when anything could kill you, spare heirs shouldn't count their freedom before his older brother has a son or two or three. He refuses to see where his father is coming from and won't even acknowledge his duties and responsibilities. All he cares about is the army. He's kind of a brat at first. He kept wondering why a lady would work when the answer was obvious in the way she dresses. Why does he assume she is a lady anyway? Why WOULD a lady work? For the same reasons a man would, of course! This thought apparently never crosses his mind. Obviously everyone is born with a silver spoon in their mouth with no need to work. Yet, he needs to work because he has been a second son until a few months ago! I also really didn't like the way he set out to charm Aster. He deliberately dallied with her and oh well if she turns out to be an actress or a spy, at least he had some fun and can bed her without conscience. Quinn has more luck drawing her out simply by being a friend. Iain doesn't undergo significant character growth soon enough to please me.

My favorite male human character is Quinn. He's very sweet and acts just like a brother. I grew to love him as Aster did. I was hoping he would get his own chance at love in another novel and see he is the hero of the second book. I also loved Sir John. His OCD would drive me crazy but he's very kind to Aster, very amiable and above all - loyal. I loved him for all his good qualities. His plot takes an unexpected turn.

While I liked the concept of the novel, a lot of the execution left a lot to be desired. I'm glad this was a Kindle freebie. It would make a far better Traditional Regency where the hero and heroine work together to solve a mystery and the romance blossoms as a secondary plot.

The Unwilling Miss WatkinThe Unwilling Miss Watkin by Regina Scott--Regency Romance

Jareth Darby has returned from exile in Italy in order to reform his reputation and earn some money. Before his disapproving older brother Justinian will hand over the reins to Cheddar Cliffs, Jareth must make amends to the ladies he wronged in the past. Easy peasy! The ladies seem willing to forgive him, all except Eloise Watkin, the one he let get away in his callow youth. Eloise is furious. How dare Jareth return now? Five years ago when she was a 15-year-old schoolgirl, she fell madly in love with Jareth Darby. Eloise would have done anything for him, even give up her virtue in a hayloft. She nearly did until they were interrupted by a vengeful classmate, Cleo Renfield (The Irredeemable Miss Renfield). Jareth disappeared without a trace, leaving Eloise alone to face the consequences. She has spent a lot of time over the last year trying to make amends herself and now she is on the verge of a successful match. Should she settle for marriage without love or forgive Jareth for ruining her life? Is he really reformed?

This is a revised version of Regina Scott's early book Utterly Devoted. I put off reading it because I HATED Jareth in The Mistletoe Kitten and I really didn't care for Eloise in The Irredeemable Miss Renfield. However, when Regina Scott said this book was one of her most highly acclaimed books and her personal favorite hero, I had to try it. I can't say I loved it, there are a few problems with it, but I didn't hate it.

This book still needs editing. There are some minor typos in the Smashwords edition. The phrase "utterly devoted" is uttered way way way too many times (see what I did there). Given the revised title of the book, it did not need to appear more than once or twice. The plot was boring. It was fairly straightforward. The "villain" is a minor one without evil intent. The concluding events were over-the-top cheesy and heartwarming. I found the whole drama rather unrealistic.

I did like the parts where Eloise tests Jareth. The best test is when Eloise makes Jareth come to a home for reforming prostitutes to teach them how to resist being seduced. It's funny, sweet and very sad at the same time. If you think the Regency era was fun and lovely, read that section of the book.

I still don't like Jareth. I can't forgive him easily. He made a crude comment about Norrie, he seduced a teenage girl (thinking she was a teacher, but what gave him the right to seduce a teacher?) without a second thought. He's paid his price and he has grown up a lot. He has his good points but he just isn't the reformed rake for me. Eloise is also not my favorite. She wasn't very nice and now she's a saint. She's complicated. She had her heart broken and now she's built up walls Jareth intends to break down. She can't make up her mind whether to forgive Jareth or not yet she believes him when he tries to explain his behavior. That sounds like forgiveness to me. The one thing that bothers me about their relationship is that he is still hiding something from her at the end and he doesn't tell her where he intends to live or how he'll make money. She assumes he's wealthy and living with his brother.

I loved the cameos from Norrie, Cleo and Margaret, now all happily married. If you haven't read the previous books in the series, this one tells you who they marry (which is pretty obvious anyway but just in case you didn't want to know- beware!) I felt really bad for Portia. She's the main secondary character. She doesn't have a backstory but it's obvious what her backstory is from her actions. She shows Eloise what her life would have been like without Cleo.

I'm glad I completed the series finally, if only to see how the previous characters are faring.

What I Read in December 2016 Part IV. . .

What I Read in December 2016 Part IV . .

Christmas PuddingChristmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford--Historical Fiction

Paul Fotheringay is in despair. He has just written a best-selling novel! The problem? Everyone thinks his novel is so funny when it was meant to be tragic. He is in search of a new book and hits upon the idea of publishing work about a 19th century ancestress of Lady Bobbin, permission for which Lady Bobbin has soundly refused. Her irrepressible son Bobby finds a way to sneak Paul into Crompton Bobbin. His sister, Philadelphia, is stuck in the country bored to death and longing for romance. Sally and Walter Montheath are new parents and poor and need a little break. Luckily, their friend ex-lady of the evening, Amabelle Fortescue, has invited all her friends to a Christmas gathering at her rented country home Mulberrie- right near Crompton Bobbin. The characters lives intersect and they interact with unpredictable and amusing results.

This is a witty story about upper crust English men and women in the vein of Jane Austen. The writing is not so sophisticated or smooth as dear Jane's; nor does the story really speak to me or bear any relevance to my life. I enjoyed it as amusing, mostly mindless fun. The plot moves slowly- it's not an action filled story and there are way too many characters to keep track of. I kept forgetting who was who. None of them were all that appealing. The passages from Lady Maria's diary were a scream! Paul's reaction to them is amusing from the perspective of the reader.

The main character, if there is one, is Paul Fotheringay, a depressed writer in search of inspiration. He doesn't have much drive and is very passive. He let a teenager plan his life for him. I didn't care for his lack of backbone in dealing with a tricky situation. The next most prominently featured character is Bobby Bobbin, Lady Bobbin's son home from Eton for the holidays. He's crazy, irresponsible, selfish and massively irritating. Every scene he's in he is trying to thwart his mother, as all teens try to. Life is one big game to him. He doesn't experience any character growth. His sister Philadelphia is as dutiful and morose as Bobby is full of joie de vivre. I don't blame her. I think I would be depressed too if I had her life. She's not very bright and has high expectations placed on her. I liked how she thought she knew her own mind but didn't like how her story ended up.

Lady Bobbin is a disagreeable, eccentric tyrant. She's awful to her children and not really interested in her neighbors except when they come to hunt. With an outbreak of Hoof and Mouth disease, the hunting season is postponed. There is also the recent troubles (Great Depression) which put a damper on how things should be done. She's a terrible mother and completely out of touch with the world.

Amabelle is the matchmaker of the group. Married three times already, she isn't interested in marriage herself but likes to see others happy. She thinks she knows what's best for everyone. She has some good insights into the characters' personalities and marriage which I found interesting. I don't know if I would agree with her.

Some of the views expressed in this book are outdated but not excessive. The story is not as amusing as a P.G. Wodehouse romp and the only thing Christmas about it is the time of year it takes place. Fans of the English country house novel will enjoy this one.

Christmas Pudding and Pigeon PieChristmas Pudding and Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford--Historical Fiction

Pigeon Pie takes place during the early days of World War I. The main character, Lady Sophia Garfield, a Bright Young Thing, has been disillusioned in life. She's fallen out of love with her husband and he only sees her as a trophy wife to show off to his business colleagues. To make matters worse, he's fallen in with some weird religious cult from Boston and installed them in their home. Her lover has no thoughts of marriage, but that's fine because Sophia can't bring herself to be divorced, remarried and poor. When war is declared, Sophia thinks she knows exactly what it will be like. At first the reality is much different from expectations: a boring desk job instead of nursing and barely any fighting at all. Then she accidentally discovers a secret that could change the course of the war and bring Britain to her knees.

This story started off reaaaallly slow. It had too much telling and not enough showing. The first half or so is mostly exposition. Then when the plot picks up, it really picks up. I couldn't put it down. I did find it rather obvious and felt that some suspension of disbelief has to happen here, but that's what makes it almost funny. I say almost because it is a story about war. Sophia's inner monologues are funny (unintentionally on her part) and her godfather, Sir Ivor King aka "The King of Song" is a hoot.

The characters are hard to like. Sophia is trapped in a dull marriage. She's completely clueless about anything and her thought process sometimes sounds like a child's. Sophia is very shallow and thus happy or content. She isn't exactly a memorable heroine but she becomes a bit stronger and more interesting at the end. Her husband, Luke, is insanely boring and pompous. He has erroneous opinions about Germany and is as clueless as Sophia sometimes. His attraction to Florence and her bizarre cult is strange. Sophia's lover Rudolph isn't much of a lover. As boring and pompous as Luke us, Rudolph is carefree, happy and really bad at reading people and situations. He doesn't really care much about Sophia. I don't know why they are together. Sophia's rival, "Olga Gogothsy" (fka Baby Baggs) is a stereotypical catty rich woman who always wants to be the center of attention. I didn't like her any more than Sophia did.

My favorite character is Sir Ivor. He's as three-dimensional as Nancy Mitford could make him in this early novel of hers. I can easily picture him and hear him. He is the comic relief character. My love for him only increases as the story goes on. I also loved Millie, the French Bulldog. She's so cute!

I had a bit of a hard time reading some of the propaganda and period viewpoints in this book. There's more than the pre-war story because of the war situation and it's hard to read about the war in hindsight knowing what we know now. That shouldn't stop anyone from trying to read this story though. If you can make it past the first four chapters, the story picks up a bit in Chapter 5. 

The Romance of a Christmas CardThe Romance of a Christmas Card by Kate Douglas Wiggin--Historical Fiction

In Beulah, New Hampshire, one Christmas Eve, Reba Larabee, the minister's wife, is struck with inspiration seeing her friend Letty sitting by an open window keeping watch over her twin nephews. Reba intends to draw a picture of Letty's quaint sitting room and sell it to a greeting card company. Letty has been burdened with the care of one family member after another for most of her life. For the last three years she has had the care of her wayward brother David's twin babies. Unwanted and unloved by their father, Letty does her best but she wishes David would show some interest in his own sons. As the months change and Christmas rolls around again, surprises are in store for the good folks of Beulah.

This is a sweet Christmas tale very similar in vein to Lucy Maud Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott's children's stories. This one is an adult story, told from the perspective of adults, but with all the wholesomeness of the children's stories. It's a little less preachy than children's stories but still tells the tale of the prodigal son. The plot is predictable except the story ended sooner than I wanted it to.

I really liked Reba. She seems to have shaken up the town a bit with her energy and liveliness. She and her husband have such a sweet, loving relationship. I felt bad for Letty. She never has an opportunity to be selfish or do anything for herself. The townspeople are amusing for all their narrow-mindedness. They're very much flatter versions of Lucy Maud Montgomery's staunch Presbyterian Prince Edward Islanders.

The illustrations are beautiful. This edition has a couple of lovely color plates in addition to black and white drawings. The cover image is important to the story.

If you like Victorian moral tales, you will probably enjoy this one too.

What I Read in December 2016 Part III. . .

What I Read in December 2016 Part III. . .

A Suitable Wife (Ladies in Waiting, #2)A Suitable Wife (Ladies in Waiting #2) by Louise M. Gouge-- Inspirational Regency Romance

Lady Beatrice Gregory has been forced to seek employment as a companion in London due to her wastrel brother's immoral ways. Mrs. Parton has kindly taken Beatrice in but she doesn't treat Beatrice like a companion- more like the daughter of an Earl that Beatrice actually is. When Beatrice meets Mrs. Parton's neighbor, Lord Greystone, she's drawn to him because he seems to share her values. Greystone is striving hard to be the man his mother wants him to be and not the wicked man his father was. However, since a recent bout of illness, Greystone has been drawn more towards Christ's teachings and Christian charity. He has ideas about charity and educating the poor that his mother simply doesn't share. His mother would NOT approve of his growing interest in Lady Beatrice Gregory. Her brother is entirely unacceptable and his loss of his sister's dowry makes her ineligible to be the wife of any good man of the ton. Her brother's solution is to marry her off to his ... friend... Rumbold, a scoundrel of the first degree if there ever was one. Beatrice has no wish to marry without love and she fears her heart is taken, but will Lord Greystone ever marry a mere impoverished companion?

I started this book months ago and read a chapter or two at a time at the library before work. I realized early on the book wasn't worth bringing home. The plot has the tired old gambling brother story, which here takes center stage as the old story of the Prodigal Son becomes the prodigal brother. There's an added subplot about climbing boys, which I actually found the most interesting and one sanctimonious, priggish hero. The story started off well enough. I liked Lady Beatrice and her mischievous employer, who was obviously playing matchmaker from the get go. Lady Beatrice and Greystone have a good connection at first and the praying is kept to a minimum.

As the story went on, I began to intensely dislike Greystone. He's as priggish as he believes Lord Winston to be- even more so, since Greystone is a lot less confident and more snobbish. Greystone tries hard to rely on his religion as the solution to all his problems. Have a problem? Ask the Lord for help. Greystone is also constantly battling self-doubts. He's worried he will become as cruel as his father whenever he becomes angry or shows any spark of emotion. He can not possibly take a wife until he is convinced he will not turn out like his father. He tried to be sympathetic to a situation with a maid, but I thought the solution was pretty harsh. He was very kind to the climbing boys but he distanced himself from them by sending them off to his charity school. This action is more in keeping with a peer of the time than his religious convictions. From what I understand, religion was at this time, mostly out for members of the haut ton but would soon becomes in again as dissenting religions gained popularity during the Victorian period. However, for this particular character, the actions seemed unkind and unnecessarily harsh. Towards the end he takes some action and I liked the action sequence.

The villain was very very bad. He can not possibly redeem himself because he doesn't know Christ. However, Beatrice's brother only has to rediscover his religious teachings to realize he has behaved badly. This sort of thinking annoys me. His redemption seemed a little too quick and easy after being dissipated for so long. His character didn't really develop or grow slowly over time. He could have realized his ways without religion. He could have asked for help from Greystone, which would have made his development more interesting. Gambling and alcoholism are diseases that can't be fixed by praying for help or change. We know this now and so I think Melly would need more help than just discovering the error of his ways and rediscovering religion.

The historical details seem well done. I've read about climbing boys in Arabella and other Regency novels and what happens here seems to be accurate as far as Heyer's research. There's an especially gritty and sad scene towards the end that shows what life was like for women who did not have wealth or family background to protect them.

I've read other Inspirational Regency set novels and this one is just too heavy handed for me. I prefer more character growth and personal action.

Father ChristmasFather Christmas by Barbara Metzger--Regency Romance

The Duke of Ware needs an heir - and is not happy about it. If only there was some way to have the joy of raising on heir, without nannies and servants, without having to get leg shackled. That is a prospect that does NOT appeal to Leland Warrington When in his cups he hits upon the idea of adopting one of his late cousin's twin boys. The elder of the two is his heir unless he sires children of his own- which he won't be! When Graceanne Warrington reads the Duke's letter she is incensed! Take one of her sweet babies away? Never! (The entire village is hoping the Duke will take both devilish boys). Her Papa, a vicar dependant on the Duke for his living, thinks it is a tremendous opportunity for little Wellesley. Graceanne thinks over her dead body. When the Duke arrives in the village, Graceanne gives him a piece for her mind and her foot. Not only does this libertine want her baby, her wants her body! Graceanne would die rather than succumb this this man's wicked ways or let her sweet baby boy be turned into a wicked rake. However, she doesn't count on Leland's considerable charm. The three-year-old twins adore their new Cousin Collie and her sister Prudence can't stop batting her eyelashes. Is Graceanne the only one who sees the Duke's true colors - or is she mistaken?

This is not Barbara Metzger's best work, in my opinion. She did the same story, more or less, is short story form in one of the Christmas anthologies. I liked the shorter version better. This one goes on too long and has too many plot elements to keep it novel length. The story suffers as a results. There's the rakish hero, the young widow, and children plot; her strict pious Papa plot; her spoiled, headstrong younger sister plot - all bookended with Christmas celebrations. The Christmas scenes end up a bit repetitive but I liked learning about the Christmas traditions and gifts given. At least I would have if I didn't already know about them. Christmas just didn't charm me when here it is mostly about the selfish hero.

Instead of an amusing animal companion, she has a pair of mischievous 3-4 year old twins. My nephews are 3 and 4 and while they are loud and sometimes crazy, they're not like the boys in the book. However, my cousins probably would have been if they were closer in age. I didn't find the boys charming at all or as amusing as the usual animal companion. The boys were too young to be truly mischievous. Their antics are mostly told after the fact.

Leland is not an appealing hero. He starts off as a bit of a bully but he's kind to the children. He's generous with Graceanne but then in the misunderstanding section, he turns into a jerk again. I didn't like that he went off with a new mistress and had an intended after he fell in love with the heroine. He lusts after Graceanne more than truly loves and appreciates her.

I liked Graceanne. She's strong mentally and physically, and though she has a blind spot where her sons are concerned, she's a loving mother. I liked her attempts at making a merry Christmas despite her father's strictures. The way she handled her sister is admirable. I would have just slapped Pru for being a nitwit and then lectured her on being so incredibly stupid. Pru may be naive but she understand what she was doing more or less. Her plot is really unnecessary and just creates a big misunderstanding that doesn't really make sense. Mr. Beckwith is a horrible father. He's more selfish than even Leland and doesn't care at all about his family. His piety is just a front. He doesn't come across as sincere- just a bully who thinks she can tell everyone what to think and do. He believes he speaks for God. His wife had all my sympathy.

This book is technically a kisses only romance but there is a fair amount of sensuality. It's not as much as some of her later books though. There's also quite a bit of language here and the usual talk of mistresses/opera dancers/lightskirts, etc. and an unplanned pregnancy.

What I Read in December 2016 Part II. . .

What I Read in December 2016 Part II. . .

The Boy Is Back (Boy, #4)The Boy Is Back by Meg Cabot--Austenesque Women's Fiction

Becky Flowers owns a successful senior relocation business in her hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. She enjoys helping seniors transition to a new life and wine tastings at her boyfriend Graham's wine and cheese bar. When she learns that local bigwig Judge Stewart and his wife have been arrested for trying to defraud a local casual eatery, she believes she can help. The Stewarts were very kind to her in the past and she wants to repay that kindness, certain this is all a misunderstanding. However, the Stewarts children know things have gotten out of hand and they need Becky's help. Her sister Nicole urges her NOT to take the job; the Stewarts sound like hoarders and the job may bring back Becky's high school boyfriend, Reed Stewart, whom she hasn't seen or heard from in 10 years. Becky is sure she can maintain a professional working relationship if Reed returns. Riiight.... Reed Stewart, pro golfer and ladies man, hasn't spoken to his parents since prom night 10 years earlier. He's happy to send a check to help them if that's what his siblings want, but his sister-in-law Carly has other ideas. She wants Reed back in town and back in Becky's life. Reed's uncle believes he has unresolved issues and should return to his hometown. Reed isn't sure what he wants, but if he returns, it will be to help his parents only- right?!

Meg Cabot does Persuasion *SQUEAL*! I'm sure all of you know Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel and dear Jane one of my favorite writers. Meg Cabot is my favorite contemporary women's fiction author ("chick-lit") and the marriage of the two is the perfect combination. I loved the previous "Boy" books, especially Every Boy's Got One so of course I had to read this one. The book had me with the epigraph from Persuasion.

The texting/chatting/e-mail format is a little weird. She doesn't use Twitter's limit on characters though so the messages are long enough to get in plot and dialogue. The discussions are lively and funny, especially Marshall's attempts at using bad language which autocorrect overrides. The plot develops nicely despite the limitations of the format. The one message format I didn't care for were the long-winded reviews of items purchased. They didn't really add anything to the story and neither did the Stewart grandkids' antics, though they did add to the humor, which Meg Cabot always does well.

Another thing Meg Cabot always does well is create memorable and quirky characters. At first I didn't like Reed. He seemed like a "douche" as the modern Bennet sisters in the "Lizzie Bennet Diaries" would say, but then I fell madly in love with him for the same reason Becky did. He reads Jane Austen! He quotes from Jane Austen's novels! Then when Becky reveals what actually happened on prom night, it made me love him even more. I ended up with a big cheesy grin on my face and swooning with delight as I finished the book. Though there is one moment where he sounded like Darcy in the first proposal scene but that was quickly cleared up.

Becky isn't quite as memorable as Reed. She's a girl-next-door type character who is content to live in her small town and date a boring guy she isn't compatible with. I admire her for taking over her late father's business and running it successful with her mother and sister. She handles the Stewarts very well and even the junior members of the family respond to her. I guess she's supposed to be a modern Anne Eliot, but she has a little more spunk and of course, a modern life where she has choices and freedoms Anne doesn't have. I like the relationship between Becky and Reed. I wasn't sure the limitations of the format would be enough to develop the love story, but it works. The multi-character point-of-view helps develop the story instead of just getting Becky and Reed's sides of the story.

The secondary characters are so much fun! I loved the Stewarts. At first I thought they would be the usual rich, snobby people found in the previous Boy books and Reed would be the black sheep, but this story breaks from the mold. The Judge and his wife are entirely likable with all their quirks and faults. They're very kind and obviously love their family and their community. Their house and obsessions were cringe-worthy but it could happen to me or anyone who collects anything, or anyone who uses ebay. It seems at first like Carly would not be likable but I enjoyed her very much. She keeps her family in line while still allowing their natural unique qualities to shine. She loves her family and wants them all to be happy, especially Reed. She is NOT Mary Musgrove. She's more like Sophia Croft but all her own person. Her husband is a bit of an idiot, but he's funny. Their daughter Bailey is hysterical but not necessary to the plot. Trimble is the only Stewart I didn't like and she was written as unlikable. Her siblings can't stand her and neither can I. Her kids are awful but Ty has some good insight into the family dynamics.

Becky's family is also quirky. Her mother, Beverly, is a hippie-like woman trying to fight injustice. I admire her fight, I question her methods! Nicole is a bit sarcastic, feisty and protective of her sister. She always tells it like it is. She's the younger sister but sometimes acts like an older sister to Becky. Becky's best friend Leanne doesn't add anything to the story except as a confidant to Becky.

I'm marking the book clean and technically it is kisses only but there is some suggestive dialogue and references to sex.

This story is best appreciated by Janeites, especially Persuasion fans. I don't know if people who don't know Jane Austen's original work will enjoy this one. They might like it but probably not as much as #TeamWentworth would!

The Good MasterThe Good Master by Kate Seredy--Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Jonsi, a boy from the Hungarian Plains, is unimpressed when his cousin Kate comes to stay from the city. She's pale and skinny and insults his clothing! Kate's father says she has come to recover from the measles, but the truth is, Kate is dreadfully spoiled and headstrong. Her father can not control her and is hoping is brother will be able to guide Kate with a firm, but loving hand. As weeks turn into months, the cousins have many adventures together and Jonsi may decide that having a girl for a cousin isn't so bad after all.

This is a charming book. It is the Hungarian version of Little House on the Prairie! The ranch is presented as a healthy, good place to grow up. The cousins have many fun adventures but at the same time, the harsh realities of life on the plains are described in detail. Instead of Pa's fiddle and country dances, we have folk tales, gypsy music, and folk dancing. I liked the adventures of Kate and Jonsi and the folk tales were interesting. The folk tales give a better look at Hungarian culture and beliefs than the main narrative but they are very weird. I loved all the period details about life on a pre-industrial ranch, especially the brief mention of preparing and spinning flax. Mother and Kate must be very strong! The cover image is gorgeous. It reminded me of the Moravian Easter egg designs in The Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous, which makes sense. I wasn't crazy about the interior illustrations. The author illustrated the book herself and chose a stylish, sleek, modern style of illustrating her book. The style was not cozy or friendly.

At first I found Kate too headstrong and crazy but I grew to like her. If you like Pippi Longstocking, Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls, you'll like Kate too. Jonsi isn't as memorable as Kate. He is a little goody goody at first but he and Kate bring out the best (and sometimes worst) in each other.

What I Read in December 2016 Part I. . .

What I Read in December 2016 Part I. . .

Oh Say Can You Fudge (Candy-Coated, #3)Oh Say Can You Fudge by Nancy CoCo--Cozy Mystery

Summer season is in full swing and Allie has her hands full. In addition to running the hotel and fudge shop, she has volunteered to organize the island fireworks shows. When she discovers her pyro guy dead and the warehouse burned down, Allie knows her status on the island is about to become less than 0 if she can't come up with something ASAP. Then Mal discovers a series of fires believed to be arson and Allie is terrified the villain is coming after her next. With her loved ones around her and her super pup Mal, can she wait for the police to figure it out or should she help them before it's too late?

The mystery here is pretty lame. It's obvious who the arsonist is and the police really should have known that. The mystery is really whether to the arsonist and the murderer are one in the same and what the motive was. The answer may surprise you. It surprised me and I wasn't thrilled with the outcome. It was weird. The dialogue is completely insane. After "listening" to Allie's voicemail (we ALL know what the instructions are... no need to write "you have three new messages" etc. I wanted to scream! I was also incredibly annoyed with the room numbers constantly referred to as 3-oh-2. We can read it like that in our heads, thank you.

Allie's romance is heating up but in a sweet way. Trent is a swoony boyfriend even though he's Emily and Richard Gilmore rich. (Did I mention how the author keeps borrowing from Gilmore Girls?) Frances's romance is also super sweet.

We get to know Sandy better in this story and I think she would make a great main character. I find her more interesting than Allie, who is a bit single-minded in her fudge obsession. I liked seeing Allie with her parents and getting to know them better. I disliked Liz. She's always in the right place at the right time to spot a crime and she is responsible for nearly getting Allie killed. Her grandfather isn't in the book enough. He's so funny.

There are some quirky new characters here: Sophie, the island pilot. I don't know if I trust her entirely. She's an off-islander like Allie but without the family ties. There's also house painter Luke and his son, described as "good" frequently; Allie's neighbor at the photo studio and her son Oliver. They seem like a nice mother-son duo but the son probably has issues stemming from the nasty divorce. Finally, there's a new animal companion! Allie and friends find a pretty calico cat wandering around the hotel. Her story is just beginning but she already knows how to deal with Mal. I'm not a cat person so I could care less but she should add some funny animal antics to the story.

I want to keep reading the series just for Mal! She's so adorable and she knows it. I'm curious to see what crime she sniffs out next!

Miss Dimple Picks a Peck of Trouble (Miss Dimple Kilpatrick #4)Miss Dimple Picks a Peck of Trouble by Mignon F. Ballard--Historical Mystery

When Delia Varnadore returns to the store where her friend Prentice works with cold drinks and snacks, Prentice is nowhere to be found. Delia fears the worst but everyone else in town believes there to be a practical reason for Prentice's disappearance. Sadly, Delia's suspicions are correct and Prentice is found murdered with rose petals strewn across her body. Elderberry residents believe the killer was a serial killer from Atlanta, until Prentice's ex-boyfriend is taken in by the police. Miss Dimple suspects Clay is innocent and vows to prove it. The only witness to come forward is Hattie McGee, an eccentric woman who believes she is Scarlett O'Hara. How can Miss Dimple solve the case with so little to go on?

This mystery is really good. It kept me reading far too late. I pretty much figured out who the killer was early on but I wasn't positive and I just had to know why. I was mostly right about the killer but the motive went deeper than it would seem at first. Where the author really excels is in the historical details that make up the setting. I question the availability of soda and chocolate bars that late in the war, especially in such a small, rural town. Sometimes the historical details were a little unnecessary. I skimmed a lot at the end. There's also a lot of background on what was happening in Europe during this time- just after D-Day to fill in some plot for the younger women. That felt out of place even though I wanted to know what happened to the young men at war.

What I really really did not like in this book was a heavy petting scene early on. It's semi-graphic and completely threw me off guard because the other books were squeaky clean in regards to romance. I was also bothered by boys ogling girls' breasts. That wasn't necessary.

There are so many new characters in this story. Prentice, the victim, was a young woman on the brink of adulthood. She had hopes and dreams and was mourning the loss of her mentor. It was a real tragedy for a young woman to have her life taken from her just when she was about to experience life outside their small Georgia town. Prentice was raised by her aunt Bertie, a woman with a tragic past. I felt just awful for Bertie. She seems a little sharp-edged but she has experienced loss and betrayal so it's understandable she wouldn't be as warm and loving as Leola. Though Leola is dead already by the start of the novel, she's an extremely likable character. She was warm, caring, smart and a good friend. Clay Jarrett is Prentice's ex-boyfriend. I didn't care for him so much. He was selfish and whiny. We're told a lot that Clay loved Prentice and how hurt he was but we don't really see it in the flashback scenes. He's interested in her body but doesn't really support her dreams.

There are a couple of crazy "smothers" in this story. Clay's mother is a little too involved in her son's life, especially his love life. She would drive me crazy if she were my mother. Then there's Hardin Haynesworth Kirkland is one of those claw her way to the top people. She's not at all likable. She is also way too obsessed with her son. He's a grown man but she thinks of him as her little boy. Her life is intolerable but she won't make changes even though at this time she does have options. I didn't feel sorry for her at all.

The last two brand new characters are my favorites. I loved the eccentric Hattie. I felt bad that she had brain damage and couldn't live in reality but that's what made her so appealing. I love that she thinks she's Scarlett O'Hara and she knows where the Confederate gold is. The townspeople seem to tolerate her but only just. She is a comic/tragic figure. Delby O'Donnell is another tragic figure. Because he's the town drunk, no one cares much about him or believes the things he says. I kind of liked him and hoped for the best for him.

The war has one more year to go and the library has the next book in the series so I will probably read it this week.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What I Read in November 2016 Part VI. . .

What I Read in November 2016 Part VI. . .

Miss Dimple SuspectsMiss Dimple Suspects by Mignon F. Ballard--Historical Mystery

Christmas is coming and everyone is looking forward to the season. When little Peggy Ashcroft goes missing, it puts a damper on the festivities and sets into motion a mystery that Miss Dimple has to solve. Newly adopted Peggy ran off after her cat and while everyone believes Peggy returned to the site of her original home, Miss Dimple, as Peggy's teacher, knows right where the girl should be- if she can find it. With the sky growing dark and the temperature growing cold, Miss Dimple nearly gives up, but is helped by a protective German Shepherd dog guarding the little girl. The child is too heavy and too sick for Miss Dimple to carry down the hill but the dog leads her to the home of a reclusive artist Mae Martha and her nurse/companion, an Asian woman named Suzy. When Suzy saves Peggy's life and probably Dimple's too, Dimple politely keeps her suspicions about Suzy's background and secretive ways to herself. When Mae Martha is found dead only a few days later and Suzy becomes the chief suspect, Miss Dimple knows the young woman is NOT a murderer. She owes the younger woman her life and will not stop until the mystery is solved. Helped by Charlie, Annie and Virginia, Miss Dimple is on the case.

The mystery is engaging enough. I had a short list of suspects and I wasn't wrong. There was a slight red herring but not enough to make the identity of the villain a surprise. I still stayed up until 2 am reading so I could find out what happened. I skimmed a lot of the descriptive details that make this series stand out. I focused on the mystery. What I really wanted to know was what was happening with Charlie and Annie's boyfriends. They were left out of the story aside from some brief mentions. I felt like the characters accepted Suzy too quickly. I can see why Miss Dimple trusted her and I suppose the others trust Miss Dimple but Emmeline and her witch hunting seemed a little more accurate for small town America at that time... or now .... One little anecdote about Willie was taken straight from A Christmas Story. Those are really my only complaints. I figured out the secondary mystery right away.

The new characters center around the mysteries. There's Mae Martha, a kind-hearted, reclusive painter. She has no idea of her talent. She has a big heart and it was absolutely terrible that she was murdered. I was so sad. Suzy also seems nice. I don't blame her for being secretive. I figured out why she always made herself scarce in front of strangers and I didn't think she would murder Mae Martha but I wasn't sure. She was a long-shot suspect in any case. Mae Martha left behind two nephews. Esau and his wife Corinne are not all that likable, especially Corinne. Something about them bothered me, whether or not they are murderers. Nephew Bill, a blacksmith, hardly makes an appearance. When he does, it seems like he loved his aunt, but he handles all her finances so he could be a murderer. Then there's the handyman Bill Pitts. He gave me the creeps, sneaking up on people when they least expect it and always disappearing. He made my suspect list too. There's also Lottie Nivens, a newcomer to town. She takes over helping out with the church Christmas pageant while her husband is overseas. I had her on my suspect list as well. Her husband is in the navy so she has good reason to blame Suzy.

Fans of more hard boiled sleuths will like this one. I like less matter-of-fact sleuths and a good deal more romance. I still want to know what happens to Charlie and Annie's boyfriends so I have to keep reading!

Love and Larceny by Regina Scott--Traditional Regency Romance

Daphne Courdebras has carefully cultivated the reputation as an amazon. She can't help it. She just can't sit still doing nothing like a proper lady of the ton. Now her sister and friends are happily partnered, she feels left out. She longs for love, marriage and a family of her own, but that will never happen when the gentlemen see her as just one of the guys. When her former teacher, the new Lady Brentfield, asks for help solving the mystery of the missing treasure, Daphne and her friends are on the case. She's not happy to be chaperoned by her mother but decides to bring along her friend Wyn Fairfax to pretend to be her suitor. Wyn doesn't want to pretend to be Daphne's suitor. He fell in love with her the moment he met her. Together, with Daphne's former classmates, they work to solve the mystery. Wyn must also sit by and watch Daphne be courted by another. He can't bear to think of her spirit being dampened by another man but why would she wants a crippled nobody like him? 

This story is rather short for a novel. It concludes the series begun with 
Secrets and Sensibilities or La Petite FourArt and Artifice. The writing in this story is not stellar. It reads more like a first novel than the conclusion of the series. The simplistic writing style and spunky young characters will appeal to teens. The mystery was pretty easy to figure out. The villain practically has a giant sign over their head yet Daphne was not smart enough to realize it. Being the last book in the series, this story contains spoilers for the previous books in the series. Not having read the 4th book (UGH library please please buy it!) I was disappointed to see spoilers here. I tried to skim over them. I enjoyed the story nevertheless. It was like catching up with old friends, since I have followed them from the start of their adventures.

In this book, the character I could relate to the most was Lady Emily. She's sharp, cynical and doesn't care much for status. I like her relationship with Jamie but I did not like his insufferable nobility when it came to Emily. Why make her decisions for her? Emily's Aunt, Lady Minerva, the dowager spinster of the family made me laugh. I can see myself being just like her when I'm old(er). Wyn is a swoony sort of hero. He has potential for depth but the story doesn't get too deep. He's wounded- physically and emotionally. He's of the ton but not really one of them because his family lacks a title or fortune. They're well enough off but his father died when he was young and Wyn was left in charge of his silly mother and sisters. His injury limits his physical ability and he feels inadequate. I love his relationship with Daphne and how SHE leads and he follows. They're cute and funny together. The other characters pretty much remain as they were at the end of their respective books.

I really liked seeing Hannah and David after the honeymoon. They seem to be holding their own and doing well. I would have liked to see a little more of them alone. I also want to see a new series with Priscilla as the matchmaker to the stars. That would be very interesting! She went through the most growth throughout the series and it would be nice to see her mature more. 

I will miss this series and the Regency world Regina Scott has created. I hope she returns to it someday.

What I Read in November 2016 Part V. . .

What I Read in November 2016 Part V. . .

BelgraviaBelgravia by Julian Fellowes--Historical Fiction/Romance/Regency Romance

In 1815 the beau monde of London congregated in Brussels for the peace celebrations, until Napoleon escaped Elba and returned to Paris. Now everyone is worried about their future. Everyone except James Trenchard, Wellington's victualler. Mr. Trenchard is the son of a market stall merchant and a scheming social climber. In this fraught atmosphere, his beautiful daughter Sophia has caught the eye of Edmund, Viscount Bellasis, son of an Earl. His parents would never approve and Mrs. Trenchard is well aware of that and hopes to warn her daughter off in time. Sophia is headstrong and is the means to her father's goal of smashing the gates of Society. Thanks to Sophia, the entire family is invited to the Duchess of Richmond's ball, which will change their lives forever. 25 years later back in London, James Trenchard has acquired wealth beyond his dreams but Society is still reluctant to allow him in. He's dancing on the edge of Society and is sure one day soon he will be one of them, if only old family secrets do not come to light. Soon Society and Trade will collide in a story of scandal, intrigue, scheming and love.

This book is a paint-by-the-numbers Regency/early Victorian set romance novel. I successfully predicted every single plot point long before it happened. The differences come in the period details. The story is set in 1841, not long after young Victoria ascended the throne. There's a new upper middle class who are blurring the lines between trade and gentry and who are pushing their way into the hallowed halls of the nobility. It is the setting and period details that Julian Fellows excels at. I really enjoyed the descriptions of everything: the occupations, the architecture, decor, clothing styles, etc. It made the story more interesting. Oddly enough, I couldn't put the book down even though I knew what was going to happen!

Most of the characters in the story are not all that likable. James is only slightly less obsequious than Mr. Collins and absolutely a scheming social climber. He will do anything to protect his family name. I sort of felt bad for him in his relationship with Oliver. I can see Oliver's point-of-view for sure. His father sends him mixed messages and James just doesn't understand how badly Oliver wants to fit in with his peers. Susan is undoubtedly named after Lady Susan, Jane Austen's scheming, anti-heroine. This Susan is also scheming. She's not a very nice person or someone I would want to be friends with. I did like her character development. I don't know whether she deserved what she got in the end. Lady Blanchard is not all that likable but she is a complicated character. Her story arc surprised me a little bit. There were times I liked her and times I didn't. Lord Blanchard's brother, Rev. Stephen and his son John are the obvious villains here. They're both cookie cutter characters taken from the encyclopedia of stock characters for 19th century romance novels. I didn't care for either of them and I don't know if I would have been as nice as Lord Blanchard. Though they share traits with Jane Austen's most famous villains, they're not as memorable or engaging. They are just plain awful.

The likable characters are meant to be very very good. There's the long-suffering Anne Trenchard, who does not share her husband's social climbing ambitions. I felt sorry for her but she also made some questionable choices and went along with her husband's schemes. Her character development is very good though. I liked how she handled the situation with Susan. Charles Pope is a saintly sort of fellow. If this book were written by a 19th century/early 20th century author, I'm not sure he would have such saintly qualities, being in Trade. He's so innocent and naive, I suppose because he's the son of a clergyman. He fails to see the obvious when it's in front of him and he also doesn't understand the way Society operates- yet. He has absolutely no character development whatsoever. He's just so sweet though, I can't help but like him. I really liked Maria. She's intelligent, strong and witty. She knows what she wants and won't let anyone stand in her way. She doesn't get missish, stoop to hand-wringing, tears or anything ridiculously feminine. She was easily my favorite character in a book filled with stock characters.

Read this if you like Julian Fellows's period dramas or if you are a newcomer to the 19th century romance genre. If you are a long-time reader of 19th century romance novels, you may want to skip this one or just read it for the different sort of setting.

What I Read in November 2016 Part IV. . .

What I Read in November 2016 Part IV. . .

Ashes (Seeds of America, #3)Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson--Young Adult Historical Fiction

This thrilling conclusion to the Seeds of America series has Isabel and Curzon on the run together again. They're still searching for Isabel's sister Ruth. They've battled illness, banditti, Redcoats , gators and snakes and now they're closer than ever. However, the British control Charleston and a sympathetic woman urged Isabel to look at Riverbend first. What Isabel finds there is beyond anything she could have imagined. She struggles to accept the situation and with Curzon's glib tongue and a new friend named Aberdeen, the friends are off on another journey- north to Rhode Island to freedom. The British and Continental troops are on the march, soon to meet in Virginia. The travelers have a choice- keep going north without money or food or follow the army where there will be other self-liberated people and jobs. Isabel and Curzon are still sharply divided over their opinions over which side to support. When the battle is over, freedom will come, but will it come for Isabel, Curzon and their people?

This is an outstanding piece of historical fiction and a wonderful conclusion to the trilogy. At first it seems as if one situation will be resolved very quickly, but I underestimated the power of Laurie Halse Anderson's storytelling. Isabel goes on another type of journey- a journey of discovery and growth. Her character growth is outstanding. I even teared up at one point. I stayed up until almost 2 am to see where this story was headed. It was left a bit open-ended, leaving me to wonder what's next for Isabel and anyone else who survives. If I have a critique, it's that there is way too much about camp life. I've never been interested in military history so I skimmed a lot of the military details and the domestic details. I found the messages a little too heavy handed for my personal taste as an adult, but I think younger readers will like it. The messages are very timely right now.

I liked how the summary of the first book was included in the plot as Isabel relates it to another character. I also really liked learning about her family traditions.

The romance finally progresses. As readers of Forge know, Curzon is in love with Isabel. Her feelings become pretty clear in this novel even though she doesn't acknowledge them. I wondered whether Isabel and Curzon would get together and if they would survive that long.

There are a couple of new characters here. Aberdeen is a slightly less angsty male Isabel. He's a bit hot-headed but knows how to reign it in when he needs to. He believes in freedom and believes in promises one army offers, much like Curzon. Curzon is more idealistic than Aberdeen though. There's also a lovely elderly enslaved couple- Mr. Walter and Miz Serafina. They're funny, sweet, kind and loving. I would be honored to have them as surrogate grandparents. The new female character is a great one. She's a bit sassy, stubborn and also very sweet. I love her relationship with animals, especially the donkey.

I can't recommend this trilogy enough, especially this conclusion. The issue of sexual abuse of slaves isn't glossed over but it's not spelled out graphically either. If the reader is aware enough, they will pick up on it but the characters just say the overseer means harm to one character. There is some battle violence too. I would label this book as more young-adult or for more mature children ages 12+. Adults can read and love this too.

Winter CottageWinter Cottage by Carol Ryrie Brink--Middle Grades Historical Fiction

The family is down and out in the winter of 1932. While on the way to horrible Aunt Amy's in Minneapolis, the car breaks down and the Sparkes family are forced to stop in the snowy woods on Wisconsin. They find an empty summer cottage and move in to spend the winter. Pops is sure his ship will come in soon and he'll be able to leave rent at the end of the winter. Thirteen-year-old Minty isn't so sure. She's the practical one of the family while her father, a poet, and sister "Eggs" are dreamers. When Minty finds a picture of the girl who lives in the house in the summer, Marcia Vincent, it becomes all the more important to her to pay Marcia back.

This is a sweet little story. It shows some of the realities of the Depression in a gentle kid-friendly manner. It could seem a little dark to adults since Pops is a dreamer and unable to support his family, but it's not meant to be. I could really relate to Minty. I'm the rational sibling in my family. I couldn't put the book down for worrying how Pops would come up with the money and whether the Vincents found them. I skipped ahead to the end but found it a little confusing without having read the middle! Part of the ending was a bit of a surprise but the rest wasn't really. It's a typical children's book of this period. The story makes camping in the winter woods without technology or newspapers sound like fun. If I hadn't already been craving pancakes, I would be now after reading this book. I want Pops' secret recipe for gollwhollickers! I love diner pancakes the size of a dinner plate. I've never seen a whale before but it sounds really good.

The story features a visit to an Indian reservation. There's some typical stereotypical content of the period "squaw", "brave" and "heathen" (this from the nuns at the mission). A "heathen" Indian dance scene is portrayed from the point-of-view of a child who is having a great time. It didn't come across as terribly bad and it did acknowledge that the Indians were there and had their own culture. The scene is as much fun as the scenes in the cabin.

Fans of classic children's literature will enjoy this one and reading it with a young child.

The Witch FamilyThe Witch Family by Eleanor Estes--Middle Grades Historical Fantasy

Amy and Clarissa are almost-7-year-old best friends living in Washington, DC. They love to draw and listen to stories about a horrid old witch. Amy decides the witch has been bad enough and needs to be "banquished" to a glass hill where nothing grows. If the witch is good, she can come down for Halloween - one night only. Old witch is kept in line by Malachai, the spelling bee and letters from Amy. Then Amy feels old witch might be lonely and sends a little witch girl and a little witch cat. The little witch, Hannah, is fascinated by Amy and Clarissa and worried by her Gammer's mean thoughts. A lonely Hannah is soon joined by witchie baby and a teenie witchy cat. The witch family complete, it's up to old witch to teach the children what witches are supposed to act like, but nothing seems to go her way. When Amy finds herself in the witch world, she discovers what havoc she has created!

This is a cute story geared towards 6-9 year olds. Adults have to suspend disbelief quite a bit in order to really enjoy the story. It's very silly but fun. I really liked the plot and had a hard time putting it down. I wanted to know if the old witch would keep her promise and what would happen to Hannah. I liked the world of the glass hill and the strange witch world. The witch school was especially delightful. It was all very well drawn out and the rules defined by Amy/the author.

I wasn't crazy about Amy. She's bossy and a bit bloodthirsty. Actually she reminded me of my niece who is the same age! Clarissa doesn't have much personality. She's more simple and uncomplicated than Amy. It's really Amy calling the shots. I liked the witch family despite old witch's tendency towards evil. It gave her some color and depth rather than reforming her right away. Hannah is sweet. I liked her better than Amy and Clarissa.

I will recommend someone read this book to my nieces, if they sit still long enough to listen. They're just around Amy and Clarissa's age and a bit older so I think they are young enough to fully accept the magic and enjoy the book.