Tuesday, August 1

REVIEW - Grandon Hall by Helena Korin

Lady Mayville has brought her daughter to Grandon Hall because rumour has it the Earl is looking for a bride. Louisa, however, has her own reasons for coming. Her cousin, Cissy, who is with child, won't disclose the name of the father. Thomas, her brother, is coming to defend his sister's honour. Louisa hopes to stop their duel, but who is the guilty party? Is it charming Lord Darlington, Lord Benton, or the lecherous Lord Dunworth? There's also the handsome Lord Beaumont...

Let me start of by stating that the premise of this story was unique. A young woman who hasn't had her first Season yet is attending a house party with her dear mama who has determined her daughter will be the next Countess of Lichfield. (Gotta love those high born Mrs. Bennets) Louisa, meanwhile, is quite preoccupied with a letter she received from her cousin Cissy who begs her to: 'Stop the duel, Louisa, I beg you. Stop the duel! Thomas will get himself killed'.

Louisa is in a quandary as Cissy failed to mention who the father is other than a smeared 'Lord B--'. Or is it 'Lord P--', or maybe 'Lord D--'? There is a Darlington, Benton, Dunworth and Beaumont in attendance. A target rich environment for husband seeking mama's and a young girl on a quest to find the Rake who de-flowered her cousin - at a masquerade ball no less.

I would have thought Louisa would immediately write to her cousin explaining she needs to know the identity of the father-to-be. Instead she scampers about the estate searching for clues. She wastes a few precious days before sending off a missive. Meanwhile, Cissy intimated in her letter (which is about a week old by now) that Thomas is on his way to fight a duel and unless he's walking to Grandon Hall, he should arrive almost immediately following Louisa and her mother - he doesn't.

I won't delve into the story any more as it would ruin the unfolding of who the baby-daddy is, but I can say I did enjoy the growing relationship between Louisa and Lord Beaumont. She also curried favour with the Earl and he pays particular attention to her, which confuses her greatly.

Lord Beaumont is quite taken with Louisa and desires to court her properly, but almost everyone at Grandon Hall believes he is the father of Louisa's cousin's baby - which he isn't, and he's unable to secure proof without the beautiful Cissy arriving to explain.

Other than the few timeline glitches, this was a delightful romantic novella.
I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, July 25

REVIEW ~ House of Dark Envy by Juli Revezzo

I'm going to come across as an old curmudgeon with this review because I might be the only person who didn't really enjoy this story, for a few reasons. First - I don't read mysteries, nor do I watch them. Not the author's fault. I have many friends who write cozy mysteries, as well as hard-core murder mysteries, but I don't read them. It's just not my thing. Second - I'm all about the romance and there was very little of that in this particular novel.

Within the first few pages we discover the two protagonists in this story love each other. At first I was a bit taken aback as most romances don't have the two main characters discovering/admitting or having anything to do with the other romantically until near the end of the novel. I set that aside, thinking maybe our loving duo, Felix and Sarajane (SJ), would have a grand conflict to overcome and we needed them to be in love for the story to work.

Didn't happen.

They declare their love on the terrace, exchange a sweet kiss and his brother interrupts them. She leaves and heads inside. Felix wishes to stay with SJ but is waylaid by a prospective patron of his life work. Once free to return to SJ , he is unable to find her and when he does, she's crying on her father's shoulder and is quickly whisked out of the ballroom. Felix follows, (calling out to her), but to no avail. Over the next few days he makes several attempts to speak with her, and/or her family. He sends notes only to have them returned unopened, (some with rude scribbles on the back of the envelope), and after confiding in his friends about this confusing turn of events, they tell him SJ has been labelled a flirt.

Fast forward. SJ and her family flee London because of this scandalous label, returning a few years later. We discover that SJ is an artist and has the opportunity to study with a well known master in York. Her family agrees and off she goes - with only a maid. They fled London for her reputation, but are willing to shoot her off to York with only a maid...

The artist and his helpers are mysterious and SJ keeps hearing strange things behind walls in the night. The handsome helper takes off his shirt and invites her to touch him... Wait! What? She also awakens in the middle of the night and discovers a man watching her - in her locked room. Does she pack up and leave? Nope. She reminds herself to make sure her door is secured the next time. This was when I disconnected from the story completely. I understand it's a Victorian gothic mystery, but I couldn't buy the premise. I couldn't suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy the twists and turns.

I applaud Ms. Revezzo for writing a gothic mystery. Some of her clues and red herrings were quite well placed, but the pesky analytical side of me kept interfering with my enjoyment. That being said, I have given this book a 3 teacup rating and this is because the rift between the two lovers wasn't sustainable. The whole story was based on something that could have been cleared up with good communication.

I was given this book to read by the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.


Tuesday, July 18

REVIEW ~ Maid of Honour by Melinda Hammond

When her mother is incapacitated, Lucilla Chambers reluctantly agrees to act as chaperone to her sister, the beautiful young widow, Lady Lairne. Her attempts to protect her sister bring Lucilla into conflict with the notorious Dominic Vanderley and soon she finds that it is her own honour that is threatened. But escaping to her childhood home does not solve her problems...

I found this book difficult to review because while I didn't like the story (personal preference) I liked the way Ms. Hammond wrote. She portrayed a vivid scene, her characters were somewhat believable (more on that later) and the scenes flowed together beautifully. I'm more than willing to read more of her work, and her other stories might grab more of my interest.

The first thing that struck me as odd with this story is the fact that Lucilla (Lucy) is two years younger than her widowed sister, Charlotte. Lady Lairne is a whopping twenty-two years old, which makes Lucy barely twenty, so the fact that she was acting as chaperone for a widow didn't work for me. I realize it was needed for the story line to progress, but it just wouldn't have been done. Frankly, I would have had their mother come along to this house party they all attended and hold court in the front parlour. She could have maintained a watchful eye on her spoilt daughter and the young, innocent heroine still could have had her encounters with the hero. Much more plausible, IMO.

The other thing was that the whole story was predicated upon one misunderstanding after another. After  a while I became frustrated with ALL the characters, except Charlotte. She stayed true to her selfish, self-absorbed persona.

In the latter half of the story, when our heroine makes a life altering decision, (because of the many misunderstandings), I felt her heartache and when she and her sister travel to Brussels, the imagery of life amongst those close to the battlefield prior to Waterloo was very well done. Here is where Lucy grew up and I cheered a little when she refused to flee with her sister.

After the battle of Waterloo, as Lucy attempts to find a very important person to her, Ms. Hammond's description of post-war France was vivid. Not gruesome, or horribly graphic, but you were left in no doubt as to the horrors of war. Excellent writing done here.

FINALLY - at the end of the story our two lovers reunite (after two years). The excerpt below is paraphrased so as not to give away too many spoilers.
"...before we go on, I must tell you something. Pray, Dominic, do not be angry, but... Charlotte lied to me. When we were here last. She told me you were going to marry her."
The laughter faded from his eyes.
"I know," he said. "She told me of it, the night I brought you back from the flood. It was a damned silly lie to tell you."
Lucy grasped his hands, her eyes fixed anxiously on his face....
...."This time I have come to you in person. No letters, no go-betweens, just a weary traveller waiting for you to make him the happiest of men."
Because of my dilemma with this book, I'm rating it a 3 for story line and a 4.5 for writing. This leaves me with a 4 Teacup rating for Maid of Honour.
I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, July 11

REVIEW ~ A Perfect Match by Rachel Knowles


In A PERFECT MATCH we discover that Mrs. Westlake not only wants her daughter to marry well, she wants her daughter to make a BRILLIANT match, something she was unable to do thirty years ago during her own Season. She tends to live in the past, reliving her successes and when she runs into the woman who married the Earl that she refused (to marry a man in trade - read that as wealthy as Croesus) the battle is on.

Alicia, a well-read woman, wants to marry for love and more to the point, marry a man who shares her faith. She is courted by two men. Mr. Merry, whom she is the most attracted to but he decries having any faith at all, and by Mr. Hampton, who is very gentle and courteous with her but fails to appreciate her humour and comes across as bit of a dud. What's a girl to do?

WHAT I LIKED:

I truly enjoyed the characters of Mrs. Westlake and her daughter Alicia. Their circumstances and the reason for attending London are clearly defined and believable. Some of the introductions were a tad implausible, however, this is fiction and therefore I can suspend my disbelief and go with the flow.

I thought the manners and descriptions of how the ton behaved were spot on, and meeting a few historical figures within the story line was a lot of fun. I'd love to meet Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, if only to see how high her hair could be styled.

The two gentleman vying for Miss Alicia's attention created a nice gentle friction, although we are left to wonder until the end of the book why Mr. Merry detests Mr. Hampton so much. Miss Westlake's mother surprised us all when she turned her attention from marrying off her daughter toward her own love interest and from there a whole new dynamic was introduced by way of an attempted murder and a suspicious death from a few years back being solved.

I admit to being frustrated with the length of time between encounters of Miss Westlake and the gentleman for which she has a tendré and a lot of their conflict could have been resolved with a simple conversation.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:

We begin the novel in Mrs. Westlake's point of view. About half way down the first page, we read:
...She had chosen the colour herself and was very pleased with the result. Her only regret was the lack of a coat of arms on the door. But there was nothing she could do about that. She had made her choice a long time ago.
"It is a very comfortable ride, is it not? I do not suppose that my cousin has a vehicle this smart."
Considering the exorbitant amount of money that her money spent on the chaise, Alicia thought it unlikely indeed. (We are now in Alicia's point of view)
We stay in Alicia's point of view for most of Chapter One until the very last paragraph where we are abruptly jolted into Mrs. Westlake's POV.
She laid the letter down and sighed. "Ah, what it would be to be young again, surrounded by admirers, vying for a dance." For a while, she sat unseeing, lost in nostalgic thought, but gradually her thoughts drifted back to the present. It would not do to dwell on the past. All her ambitions were centred on Alicia now.
This became a familiar pattern throughout the whole book and I found it very distracting. My last few reviews have dealt with this issue and I'm not sure why authors think it's okay to bounce around within the POV. I know it's tempting to tell everybody's side of the story, however, there were times I had to go back because I'd be reading a passage and realize it was not Alicia's, or Mr. Merry's, or Mrs. Westlake's POV, but someone else. Anytime a reader is taken out of the story, or the flow is interrupted, it's not good.

Other than my bug-a-boo about POV switches I enjoyed this book. It had a nice story line, and a soft romance with a mystery threaded throughout. Ms. Knowles included actual historical facts into her story and for me, a history junkie, this added to my enjoyment. And I want to thank Ms. Knowles for allowing Mrs. Westlake her little act of vengeance against her arch nemesis when they were discussing the age of women and having children. Nicely done. I think I cheered a bit.



I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.



Tuesday, July 4

REVIEW ~ Miss Darcy's Beaux by Eliza Shearer

In this novel written by Eliza Shearer we are reacquainted with Miss Georgiana Darcy, who is now twenty years of age. It has been five years since that fateful event at Ramsgate and it doesn't take long for us to find out that she still loves Wickham. Or at least she is still in love with the 'idea' of Wickham, and it doesn't help that she keeps running into Lydia Wickham at the most inopportune times.

WHAT I LIKED

I appreciated this view of Georgiana, as told by her in the first person. Ms. Shearer captures Georgiana's innocence and naiveté quite successfully alongside her meek personality and desire to comply with what she perceives as familial duty.

There were beautiful insights of how Georgiana saw her relationship with Wickham. In her remembrance of Wickham, she reveals:
'I loved my brother dearly, he was my picture of a perfect gentleman, but I was in love with Wickham even before I knew what romance was.'
That one sentence forever captured the folly of a sheltered fifteen year old girl. At that moment I ached for her because I think all of us have made similar mistakes.

I was thrilled that Ms. Shearer brought into Georgiana's sphere well known characters from Jane Austen's other books. We have Captain Wentworth and his lovely wife, Anne and her father, Sir Elliott and her elder sister, although these two only make a cameo appearance. (Persuasion) Through Captain Wentworth Georgiana is introduced to Captain Price, non other than Fanny Price's brother. (Mansfield Park) Although this was their first 'official' introduction, Captain Price and Georgiana had met previously, although it took some time for Georgiana to realize Captain Price was the man who rescued her at the inn during her trip from Pemberley to London in the company of her cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Georgiana has traveled to London to stay with Lady Catherine who is determined to marry her off and present her with Rosings Park upon her death. Both frighten Georgiana as she is not ready to marry, nor does she wish to live in Kent, but her meekness is her undoing and she acquiesces. Lady Catherine is undaunted and begins the rounds of auctioning off, err.... I mean, 'presenting' Georgiana to possible suitors.

There are several who meet with Lady C's approval, but we quickly find out some are daft, some are looking only for her fortune and some are extremely unsavoury and not worthy of Georgiana's attention, although because of her naiveté, she has trouble discerning who is worth her attention.

By the way. Why wasn't Lady Matlock presenting Georgiana? She's a Countess and has a higher ranking than Lady C. I spent a few chapters wondering if she'd show up and whisk Georgiana away, but...No.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE

I wanted to slap Georgian silly. She'd already been compromised by a duplicitous man and even though all the signs are there, she falls into the same pattern with a cad who resembles Wickham not only in looks, but behaviour. She knows she shouldn't keep secrets, yet she does.

Georgiana is twenty years of age, turning twenty-one that summer, yet everyone... EVERYONE... kept information from her. She was forever twisting in the wind like a delicate silk scarf. Only once, in the whole book, did she stand up for herself and this occurred within the last ten pages of the book. I wanted her Darcy pride to surface earlier. I think the book would have been much more exciting. As it was, because Ms. Shearer wrote Georgiana in such a passive manner, she 'reacted' to circumstances rather than being proactive and create circumstances.

I didn't like the portrayal of Colonel Fitzwilliam. Not because he didn't fit the idealized view we've come to expect after watching various adaptations on TV and in film, but because he was as much of a father figure to Georgiana as her brother. There was a certain 'ick' factor in the whole ordeal. And the fact that Georgiana didn't figure out what was happening with him made me want to slap her yet again. *sigh*

The following is a critique of editing errors, nothing to do with the storyline. I have highlighted a few and hope Ms. Shearer will quickly correct them and upload a revised version.

There is a scene where Kitty and Mary are asked to sing and play. Below is the sentence immediately following:
I could picture Captain Lowry pointing toward the drawing room, where Lizzy was still singing in a soft but pretty voice, a much better voice in any case than her sister's.
Other glitches were the incorrect title of Anne Wentworth's father. Ms. Shearer referred to him as Lord Elliott, but his correct title is Sir Walter Elliott. She also mishandled the parentage of Captain Price. His mother was not a Bertram, but she was sister to Lady Bertram, and in one scene Ms. Shearer refers to Sir Lewis de Bourgh as Georgiana's grandfather when, in fact, her grandfather on her mother's side is the Earl of Matlock.

For these reason, to quote my favourite Food Network show, some teacups have been chopped. I have rounded this up to 3.5 Teacups.
I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, June 27

REVIEW ~ Courage Rises by Melanie Rachel


If you are a lover of Historical Fiction and don't miss the internal tension of a classic romance where the hero and heroine are at odds, coming together near the end of the story for their H.E.A., then this is the book for you.

In Courage Rises, Ms. Rachel draws us into a sweeping saga revolving around two story lines. The first is with Colonel Fitzwilliam, from the front lines in France to the wilds of Dorset, the second with Elizabeth Darcy (nee Bennet) within the walls of Pemberley. Yes, our dear boy Darcy is in the story but he spent most of the book in the company of his cousin the Colonel.

Darcy and Elizabeth are happily married, having just returned recently from their four month wedding tour and Darcy leaves his blushing bride to attend London and some legal matters that require his attention. Left on her own for the first time as Mistress of Pemberley, Elizabeth is determined to be an apt mistress, yet unsure - quite understandable given the vast size of the estate.

Colonel Fitzwilliam, after an extremely close brush with death, has been given a letter found on the body of the soldier who saved his life, Captain Hawke. Strangely, the missive is addressed to him and begs him to find the Captain's sisters and lend them aid. Once back in England, the Colonel begins his quest, his debt of honor, only to find intrigue and a lot of dead ends. He enlists the aid of Darcy, whom he knows is in London on business and soon Charles Bingley is drawn into their search for Captain Hawke's sister.

While Darcy is in London, an influenza outbreak threatens the tenants and residents of Pemberley. Left on her own, Elizabeth has no choice but to face this crisis head-on. This will either make or break her as Mistress of Pemberley, and with the lives of many hanging in the balance, her decisions have life or death repercussions.

WHAT I LIKED

Ms. Rachel draws you into the scene in a masterful way. From the first page we are with Colonel Fitzwilliam on the battlefield in France. You can almost feel the grime, smell the smoke and acrid stench of blood. She describes the physical scene with precision. In fact, all of the book's scene descriptions were apt and believable.

She also gave us an inside peek at what it would be like as Mistress of Pemberley. Such a daunting task and don't forget, Elizabeth was only twenty-one years old when this responsibility fell upon her shoulders, yet our dear Lizzie rose to the occasion when left alone in the midst of a crisis.

Ms. Rachel did not force the pace of the story. She let it unfold in a most natural way. Both story lines twisted and turned, with brief intersections in the form of letters. Not once did I feel like she raced to the end in order for Darcy and Elizabeth to be reunited.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE

There's little emotional conflict (IMO) and I was reminded of books like 'Pillars of the Earth', or 'The Handmaid's Tale'. There was no romance in this story. All conflict was external. There was conflict of dead-end trails, surly servants, an influenza outbreak of almost pandemic proportions which taxed our characters physically, but other than the emotional strain of Darcy and Elizabeth being physically separated due to circumstances, there was no emotional conflict - at all. Some readers enjoy this type of narrative, but it's not my cup of tea.

Don't misunderstand me, Ms. Rachel is an excellent writer. It's just that this style of fiction is not something I gravitate toward. I enjoy the thrust and parry of witty dialogue and the steamy sexual tension found within the pages of a romance novel. *sigh*

Another thing I'm not overly fond of, and I'm finding this occurring more often, is the switch of character Point of View within the scene. Example:
Elizabeth heaved a great sigh and thought she might as well get dressed and begin her day. As she reached for the bell to call her maid, there was a soft knock on the door, and Fitzwilliam stepped quietly inside.
"Good morning, Mrs. Darcy," he said with a gentle smile. She still blushed a little when he came into her chamber before she was dressed, and the gleam in his eye betrayed his approval. His dark hair was tousled, as though he'd already been outside in the wind.
Mrs. Darcy, he thought to himself as he gazed upon the lovely picture his wife made in her nightclothes. Calling her by his name was still unreasonably thrilling.
She smiled, but noted that he was already wearing his riding clothes, and tried to hide her disappointment.
 This is my bug-a-boo. In my early days of writing, my editor slapped my wrist soundly when I strayed out of the character's POV. So now when I read incidents like this, it takes me out of the fantasy and for that reason I cannot give a full five teacups.

Other than that pesky POV thinga-ma-bob, this was a well written story with much detail to historical fact and whether you believe the scenarios Ms. Rachel presented, (which I did), or not, this narrative will make you glad we live in a century where we have access to good medical care and communication devices.

I have rounded this review up to 4.5 Teacups.

I was given this book to read by the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.


Tuesday, June 13

REVIEW ~ Darcy vs Bingley by Gianna Thomas

What if Mr. Darcy didn't shun Elizabeth at the Meryton Assembly? Instead, he found himself victim to love at first sight? Think about it. Lizzie wouldn't have formed any ill opinion of him. Mrs. Bennet would be in seventh heaven with both daughter capturing the interest of these men of fortune. Sounds like a smooth ride.... but... there is Caroline Bingley to contend with AND Wickham does make an appearance AND things don't go as Mr. Darcy planned.

What I liked:

I looked forward to the premise of Mr. Darcy falling in love with Elizabeth almost as soon as he met her and was not disappointed. Lizzie returned his affection with equal haste and only one minor hiccup. We all know that Charles and Jane are besotted, so nothing changed in that regard.

There is a scene where Caroline Bingley underestimates the outcome of her actions and learns what it is to lose Mr. Darcy's good opinion, and she truly does lose it forever.

Everybody you ever wanted to be chastised in the original canon, are. Lydia is confined to her room and she and Kitty are banished from being in society until they grow up. Caroline has her mean spirited words come back and bite her in the derriere, and Wickham? Well...Ms. Thomas wrote his character much darker than original canon...much, much darker... and the solution to the 'Wickham' problem is justified.

What I didn't like:

There was a lot of head hopping in the book. A scene would start in one character's POV and in the midst of the scene we would see, for example, the footmen's inner thoughts. I'm okay with an occasional slip, but when it's common through the whole book, it takes me out of the story. A few times I had to go back a few lines to pick up the original thought or action before being interrupted. Alas, it seems only Nora can get away with this style of writing.

The title is Darcy vs Bingley.

Why?

There was no conflict between Darcy or Bingley. I thought maybe Charles would crush on Elizabeth, or vice versa Darcy with Jane, but... nothing. There was no real conflict, no obstacle for our characters to overcome. Just a pleasant love story with familiar names, exception being Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins. They did not appear at all, which was too bad as Charlotte was Elizabeth's best friend and Mr. Collins amusingly annoying.

Was Netherfield Park situated on a hidden laughing gas geyser? There was a lot of laughing until their sides hurt. They laughed with each other, they laughed with their servants and the servants sniggered and guffawed more than was warranted.

And finally, there was a scene where Mr. Darcy ran through Netherfield Park to escape Caroline, in front of servants and then hid in his room (for at least a day). Ms. Thomas has been quite up front that she wrote this book with a light hand and intended for the scenes to be far, far removed from original canon, but Darcy is a man who at twenty-eight has raised his sister for the past five years, has tenants and a large property with a multitude of servants. I didn't buy it.

Overall impression

Ms. Thomas has said that she had fun writing a light-hearted story and I give her kudos for the attempt at giving us one, but while the premise was interesting, it needed more angst. Our beloved characters needed an obstacle or two before falling in love. Although there were parts of the story I truly liked, I wanted them to work for that H.E.A.
I was given this story to read by the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.