Monday, November 18, 2013

Imprudent Lady by Joan Smith

Well, here's yet ANOTHER clean Regency romance. And Joan Smith has about a gazillion titles on Amazon, so I'm happy to have found yet another clean RR writer.

This book was about naive author Prudence--24 years old and pretty much on the shelf--and the poet that she practically idolizes, Lord Dammler. When they are first introduced by their publisher, Dammler finds Prudence, with her caps and her quiet manners, eminently forgettable, but when he reads her novels, he finds himself attracted to her wit and intelligence and he befriends her. She, crushing on him from before the first moment of their acquaintance (he's rather a rock star as a result of his books of adventurous poetry), embraces their friendship despite being sure that he first sees her as an older friend (not unlike his many male friends), then a sister and finally...well you'll have to read it yourself although of course you know what the ending will be, right?

The best part of this book was the witty dialogue between Prudence and Dammler. Of course, the thing that draws them together is her irreverence (theoretically she's irreverent because she's naive, but really her irreverence is a part of her character. There are  many plays on her name--she's a prude, she always acts prudently, etc, but she is really further from true prudence in her language and attitudes than I imagine the "ideal" Regency lady would dream of being) and his rakish behavior. Rather an unseemly commonality that made the whole story ring with overtones of naughtiness. I couldn't completely embrace that idea, but I was totally charmed by Uncle Clarence and, as I said before, I really liked the bright conversation between our main characters.

A fun book--I'm looking forward to reading more by Joan Smith.

Sex: aside from references to Dammler's "prime articles", there was no sex
Bad language: none

Hide in Plain Sight by Marta Perry

This is the first in a series of 3 books, each book telling the story of one of three sisters. This book tells the story of the eldest Hampton sister, Andrea. Responding to the needs of her grandmother and sister, Andrea takes a little time off from her demanding job to travel to her grandmother's Bed and Breakfast to help manage its opening while her sister recovers from a hit-and-run accident. She encounters mystery, danger, family and romance.

I like this combination in a book--the romance/mystery kind of story that I particularly enjoy. This a "Love Inspired" book, a Christian romance. The religion was not heavy-handed. The book (indeed the whole "Love Inspired" line) is published by Harlequin, I believe--the behemoth romance publisher that goes to bed (if you'll excuse the obvious metaphor) with the pornographers as well as the Christians. Of course, the decisions the heroine faces are a little simplistic, a little all-or-nothing (career or family for instance), which may be a little one-dimensional, but it's still a valid presentation of the good vs. better choices that many of us are trying to make. And a pretty suspenseful little mystery too!

It was a sweet and entertaining book that I enjoyed.

I skipped book #2, but read book #3 "Buried Sins" also, which features sister Caroline, escaping to the family home from her troubles in the big city. Her new husband has just been killed in a car accident and Caroline is starting to realize that he wasn't all he claimed to be and in fact was probably involved in something that promises danger for her as well. Local police chief Zach investigates and feel attracted to artistic Caroline, but must hold himself apart until he figures out if she's as innocent as she claims.

Pretty nice that all three sisters find their Mr. Right in the same little town. I'm sounding cynical, but I don't really mean it. "Buried Sins" was a good story too, although I enjoyed #1 more. I don't think I'll read #2. I do like Marta Perry, though, so if I run into one of her books again I won't hesitate to read it.

Sex: none
Bad language: none

Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits by Mary Jane Hathaway

Well, this was a surprisingly fun take on Jane Austen's most famous piece of fiction! Set in the South, this story features Civil War experts Shelby Roswell and Ransom Fielding. He deeply offends her sensibilities and she is determined to dislike him. Meanwhile, he begins to find her interesting... and you know how it all turns out, don't you?

It cannot be said that this version follows closely its original (that is, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice), but I couldn't stop myself from trying to fit every scene into the Austen book that I know so well. Of course, there are few direct parallels, but it was still delightful and well worth a read. Not a perfect construction, but a lot of fun and a good story on its own. I probably enjoyed it the more because I didn't expect to like it much. Ha.

I will mention that I didn't see eye to eye with Shelby's insistence, in the end, on the importance of her career over Ransom's, but I suppose that's the traditionalist in me. Ransom rose magnificently up to a completely unselfish response. Happy sigh. One of the consequences of feminism that I do not like is the emasculation--to one degree or another--of the men in our lives. I know there's a middle ground, compromise, generosity to be found in most successful relationships between men and women, but culturally it is completely acceptable these days to slight men in the way that women have been slighted for centuries past. I guess some might say that it's about time! But I would like to imagine that equal worth for both sexes can be found without the dramatic swing of the pendulum that seems inevitable to any political or social change. Hm.

Anyway. I appreciated the thoughtful nature of our heroine. She really did try to overcome her negative feelings and responses and she allowed herself to listen to and actually learn a little from Ransom Fielding. He, of course, grew more and more attractive as the story went on, and I liked getting a glimpse into his heart--understanding why he appeared so unpleasant from time to time. The Southern setting added an extra sparkle too, of course.

Sex: none
Bad language: I don't think so

A Stranger in Wynnedower by Grace Greene

Worried about her brother who has not returned her calls, inventory specialist Rachel Sevier takes some time off from work and travels to Wynnedower, a practically abandoned mansion in Virginia to find him. She encounters instead scruffy owner Jack Wynne.

What a fun book! It was gothic romance/adventure and you know I have a weakness for that particular genre. I liked the spooky mansion, I grew to like our hero and I appreciated the commonsense approach to her troubles that Rachel took. It was an entertaining and largely charming story that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Sex: none
Bad language: I don't think so

The Magnificent Devices Series by Shelley Adina

This was such a happy discovery! It was on my bookbub list--a boxed set for 99 cents, and was described as "Steampunk", so I bought it for my daughter. She read it before me and really liked it, but I took my time getting to it (so many books, so little reading time!). When I did I was immediately captured and I loved the entire series!

The books follow the story of intelligent and misunderstood Lady Claire Trevelyan and her evolution from a "blood" (a member of the nobility) to a "wit"--a member of the intelligentsia. Her story is set in the alternative version of Victorian England where steam is king and steam technology is advancing dramatically.

I was engaged in these stories from the very beginning. Claire was strong, smart, determined and a woman of integrity. She accidentally became the "Lady of Devices" among the London criminal element and went on to transform nearly everything and everyone she came into contact with, always with the eventual goal of getting herself to college and furthering her education. What a fun series! I highly recommend them to you and your children, especially if you have Steampunk fan among you!

Sex: none
Bad language: none

Dans de la Folie by Sherwood Smith

I am beginning to believe that Sherwood Smith could write anything and I would love it!

This is a Regency romance a la Georgette Heyer. It features two heroines: wealthy and quiet Miss Clarissa Harlowe, and poor, adventurous Lady Kitty. Both ladies find their way to society, friendship and love.

I liked the occasional narrative comment that stepped outside of the story--the little spotlights on significant moments or people. Sherwood Smith has a...a down-to-earth tone in every one of her books that I appreciate so much. It makes me laugh and it somehow ensures a lack of uncomfortable (or laughable) melodrama.

I also liked, of course, the setting and the romance. The story was just the slightest bit forgettable, and didn't have the depth of character or dialogue that my very favorite stories do, but it was fun and very engaging, and in the thoroughly enjoyable classic Regency romance style that is such a delight to read. I really liked it. I'm so happy there are so many clean and engaging Regency romances out there! I have a friend who is sort of collecting them lately and passing on all her recommendations and I am having fun making my way through many of them.

Sex: of course not--no respectable Regency lady would think of it (despite all those sex-drenched Regency bodice rippers out there)
Bad language: none, naturally

A Hearth in Candlewood by Delia Parr

In the style of the Mitford series, this was a Christian story (the first of a trilogy, I believe), focusing on the people of a small town, peppered with references to prayer and bathed in a feel-good glow. It is historical fiction, set in a canal town in mid-19th century New York.

I liked so many things about this book. I liked the small town, I liked our main character, I liked the very subtle romantic hints, I liked everyone we met in Candlewood. I liked how pleasant--uplifting even--it was and how clean it was.

But, I found the story a little bit thin on plot. It was really a series of events loosely tied together, with promises of an overarching theme (or two) to be completed in future books. I guess the main plot in this one book would be the troubles of the run-away widow that our main character, Emma, adopts into her household. A bigger conflict having to do with her ownership of her boarding house was introduced, but obviously will be resolved in later stories. The reader, meanwhile, has to suffer through constant fearful references to this complication without enjoying even a bit of resolution. That was kind of irritating.

All in all it was a pleasant book that gently engaged my attention for a few days and left me with no interest in reading further about Emma, her suitors or her boarders. Nice, but not addicting.

Sex: none
Bad language: none

My Story by Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart

I don't like "my-childhood/youth-scarred-me-but-look-at-me-now" books--they're usually ugly and I can't help but cringe when it seems that so many relish rehashing the tragedies of their youth and substantively fail to truly rise above them. What are the messages of these books? Something like: my parents were awful but I'm okay. Kind of underwhelming.

This book, however, is in the spirit of or or even

Pushing Up Bluebonnets by Leann Sweeney

This is a mystery--one of a series starring adoption PI and Houston heiress Abby Rose. And I've kind of decided not to review more than one book in a series, so this is the only Abby Rose book I'll write about here.

In this one, Abby is asked by small-town police chief Cooper Boyd to identify a young woman, an unknown victim of a murderous "accident".
Abby uses her particular brand of investigation to ferret out the secrets of several families. She doesn't foolishly put herself in the way of danger, but still scrapes through some adventures in the course of her searches. I like a sensible heroine! She's down-to-earth, smart, compassionate and human. I do like our Abby.

In fact, I really like this series. It was a happy discovery! I've been reading so many e-books lately and those are such a mixed bag. Self-publishing is exciting, certainly, but some books are awful, some are just "meh" and occasionally the reader finds a really good one. I might even say that I rarely find a really good one. I feel like I've been wading through a lot of disappointing books lately. It makes the better writers really stand out.

This one, however, is not an e-book, nor is it self-published. Leann Sweeney is well into her Abby Rose series, and they're pretty dang good. The writing is clever and the dialogue is natural, the stories are fresh, and the characters are very likeable. I also like the idea of an "adoption PI". What an interesting line of work that might be! It's nice too, when the police and our main character can work together. I think I like that better than when the private detective (or the amateur) and the "official" detectives are at odd. Mostly, anyway. Depends on the writer, I suppose.

Some negatives: there are some swear words. The ones in this particular book were minimal, but I read one in this series that contained a few really offensive words. Also, Abby has a boyfriend whom she sleeps with. There are no love scenes. I probably won't actively seek out more of this series, but I have enjoyed the ones I've read (lent to me by my sister-in-law, who I enjoy trading books with. Thanks, D!).

Sex: It's there, but not descriptive nor titillating.
Bad language: Some, but no F-bombs in this particular book.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Phantom Lover by Elizabeth Manfield

So, I'm always looking for clean Regency Romances. What is it about this time period that so captures the imagination of the reader? There are TONS of Regency Romances out there, but very few clean ones. Which makes me laugh in a way because no self-respecting Regency heroine would let herself be ravished as portrayed in so many of these steamy novels. Of course, if we're going to talk about self-respect and its relationship to repeated illicit steamy sexual encounters....but we're not. So.

You know how in the back of a novel you've read--especially older novels--there are sometimes pages advertising other similar authors? That's where I found Elizabeth Mansfield. I ordered one of her books at random from a used book seller on Amazon so see if she was any good.

Of course, I've been very spoiled by Georgette Heyer, who made researching the Regency period a lifelong project. She had sources unique to her (journals and other documents from her own family history) and set the pattern (including dialogue, colloquialisms, clothing styles, etc) for all following Regency romances. No twentieth/twenty-first-century Regency romance author writes as well as she can or can achieve that feeling of "rightness" in the time period. Most fall far short, in fact. But Elizabeth Mansfield was not too bad.

The title implies a paranormal romance, but it's not. The story is of our heroine (who seemed like an overindulged brat at the beginning of the story) and a man who has been wounded in the war and how they come to know each other, change each other and eventually fall in love. Pretty standard romance stuff. Are there ever any "new" stories out there? I'm starting to think not, so it's a pleasure to find an old story entertainingly told, as this one is. I'll certainly read more Elizabeth Mansfield.

Sex: nope
Bad language: nope

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright

This was an unusual book. It takes place in Stung Meanchey, the largest main municipal dump in Cambodia--where an entire community resides and works to survive. The story is loosely based on the information found in a documentary produced by the author's son. The documentary, titled River of Victory, produced still photos that, as Camron Wright says, "offer the reader fuller flavor and understanding of Stung Meanchey and its residents. The pictures are not an attempt to portray my characters and their particular story as factual." The pictures definitely add to the "fuller flavor" of this book, though; they made it seem more real.

Mr. Wright tells the story of Sang Ly, her husband and young son, their friends at Stung Meanchey and of the drunken, threatening and superior rent collector they derisively call "the Cow". This is a work of fiction even though it's been based on a true situation. Camron Wright says of this book,"Using the documentary as a starting point, I tried to write a novel that accurately reflected the setting, conditions, character traits, and important historical facts. Then, going beyond that, I wanted to imagine what might happen if the gift of literacy were given to a family in those circumstances. The scenario I envisioned plays out in the fictional elements of The Rent Collector."

So I've given you a hint of what this book is about. It was well worth reading. From a cynical viewpoint, it seems clear that his scenario would and could never play out in reality. Still, the glimpse into the life lived in the dump, into Cambodia itself, into the beauty and higher thinking that literacy can provide and the huge portion of hope and happy endings that Mr. Wright wrote into his book make this a novel that is both sweet, engaging, inspiring and interesting. It also made me feel renewed gratitude for my very comfortable life. A good book!