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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dove's Way by Linda Francis Lee

Dove's Way
Linda Francis Lee
Historical Romance-Victorian Era
Rating 5 stars

Synopsis: "Even months after that day on the train, her face still haunted my dreams. And I was sure the feel of her in my arms would stay with me forever. But then one night, she stepped back into my life as if walking into my dreams. . . ."

Matthew Hawthorne saved Finnea Winslet's life one day on a train in Africa. But Finnea didn't know that on that day she saved his soul. Destroyed by scandal, Matthew would have been ostracized completely by the unyielding society of his birth had he not been such a powerful man. Matthew doesn't let himself care about anyone or anything, until Finnea arrives unexpectedly in Boston.

Raised in Africa, Finnea is as foreign to Bostonians as they are to her. Yet she is determined to make a life for herself there, so she turns to Matthew to learn the ways of that rigid town. But can Matthew help Finnea without losing what is left of his heart?

From the jungles of Africa to the heart of Boston society, DOVE'S WAY is an extraordinary tale of redeeming love that will rescue a man, and release a woman from the pain in her heart.

My Review: Dove's Way is a very moving and heartfelt Historical Romance. The storyline is set in Boston but is also halfway in Africa as that's where the two characters meet and where the heroine grows up. Finnea and Matthew are both "tortured" characters in their own ways. Finnea is very insecure in her familial relationships and Matthew was horribly injured and scarred in an accident. This story is very "high drama". You won't find yourself laughing or smiling during this book but it will probably make you tear up.

Some sexual chemistry, including a few fairly hot love scenes, nothing that should offend, in fact the scenes are more emotional than anything.

I'm looking forward to reading book two, Matthew's brother's Grayson's story in Swan's Grace.

5 stars.

Life as a Victorian Lady by Pamela Horn

I purchased Life as a Victorian Lady by Pamela Horn at the Victoria and Albert Museum book shop, and have found this small 89 page book to be full of delightful information. It can be read in one sitting and is useful for a quick reference. Here are some snippets:

"Presentation at Court took place at one of the official drawing rooms, presided over by Queen Victoria. Without this, declared Etiquette for Ladies (1900), "a girl has no recognised position..." p 25

"These casual methods on the part of the mistresses encouraged petty theft, with provisions such as tea and sugar, which were not likely to be missed, secretly passed on to friends and relatives. Buyers of kitchen waste would also contact cooks, offering to buy on liberal terms their perquisites of drippings and other fat." p 50

"Affluent gentlewomen, such as the widowed Emily Meynell Ingram of Temple Newsam Yorkshire, might own a yacht. For eleven years from 1886 she and a few friends spent tow or three months twice a year cruising in the Mediterranean during the spring and in Scandinavia or the Baltic during the summer. They commemorated the journeys with witty poems, watercolours and photographs inserted in the yacht's log books." p 80

Sutton Publishing, ISBN 978-0-7509--4607-0
Image from: Free Clip Art

Friday, April 24, 2009

Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn

Silent on the Moor
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Copyright: 2009 (Mira); 465 pgs.
ISBN: 978-0-7783-2614-4
Series: 3rd in the Lady Julia Grey series
Sensuality: Kisses

Where & When: England, 1888

At the end of Silent in the Sanctuary, Lady Julia Grey learns that Nicholas Brisbane has invited her sister Portia to help him set up his household at Grimsgrave. Julia is determined to settle, once and for all, the question of whether there is a future for herself and Brisbane. She intends to accompany Portia to Yorkshire, whether she wants company or not.

As the book opens, Julia’s oldest brother, Belllmont, is fussing about his sisters’ plan to travel unchaperoned. The respectability of the family would be called into question and Bellmont doesn’t need that type of scrutiny at this time. His own children are entering society and a scandal could hurt their chances. The Marches have always been unconventional, but the Earl March has already decided to send Valerius, his youngest, along with Julia and Portia to prevent gossip. Bellmont is mollified, but the others are unhappy. In this state, the sisters set off to Yorkshire with their brother, their lady's maids, and their pets.

What Julia finds in Yorkshire is an estate that will require extensive repair -- a job way beyond simply setting up one's household -- and Brisbane is his usual impossible self. His habit of seeming to want her gone, at the same time holding her close, is frustrating -- not to mention his habit of disappearing for days on end. Wanting to be useful to the destitute Allenby women still residing at Grimsgrave, Julia offers to catalog the late Sir Redwell Allenby's Egyptian collection in preparation for selling it. However, she stumbles upon a mystery. There's more about the Allenby family than an obsessed son who financially ruined his family estate and then died, leaving his mother and two sisters at the mercy of strangers.

The first Gothic romances I read where by Victoria Holt, so I could easily imagine the atmosphere Julia and her siblings found themselves in. The ancient estate and the bleak moor are perfect settings for the brooding half-Gypsy, half-Scotsman Brisbane. The man fit right in. And thanks to my extensive experience with those books by Holt, I knew to suspect everyone Julia met of some crime or other --- because there's no telling what secrets they might be hiding. ;-)

I thought this was a much better book than Sanctuary. There seemed to be more interaction between Julia and Brisbane in this book than the last one. Maybe it felt that way because Julia learned a lot more about him, and the author wrapped up the mysteries of Brisbane's past. I don't think that Julia is quiet up to "equal partner" status in the private inquiry business yet. She has a lot more to learn before I trust her to solve a mystery. I must say I was impressed with her willingness to tackle someone.

Favorite Quotes:
"You are a singular woman, Julia Grey. You persist in seeing me as the man you want me to be."
"No, I see you as the man you want to be."

--Brisbane, Julia

"I could give it all away, you know. I am sure there is some home for elderly cats or something that would appreciate the money."
-- Julia

"I am leaving England for awhile."
"For how long?"
"Until I am quite recovered from you."
"When will you return?"

-- Brisbane, Julia

Started: 17 March 2009
Finished: 19 March 2009


The Way We Live Now

My last book for the Victorian Challenge is Anthony Trollope’s “The Way We Live Now.” As I understand it Trollope wrote this book in the early 1870’s at a time when he was very disillusioned with life in England. At over 900 pages in the Oxford Classic version it is also a very long work even for Trollope. Surprisingly it was a very quick read for me, just under three weeks. Usually I can read a Trollope novel relatively quickly, but never at the rate of about 300 pages a week.

The introduction to this edition (which as always I read after the novel) suggested that the first half is very much an indignant satire of almost every aspect of English life, but that the second half settles down to be a more typical Trollope novel as the fates of the characters work themselves out. A big part of the story is the career of the mysterious financier, Augustus Melmotte who in spite of a questionable history, is sought after by everyone because of his supposed great wealth and financial acumen. In an online Trollope discussion group I saw something to the effect that this part of the novel is about a sort of natural dislike for those who make money from money. My reaction to that it is that the like or dislike should to some degree be based on exactly how the money is made.

In this novel, as in almost all of his novels, Trollope uses what I call two-one dynamics or what might be more typically called love triangles. The difference is that I counted at least four such triangles, some of which even overlap. For example, Paul Montague is in a competition with Roger Carbury over the hand of Hetta Carbury while at the same time Montague is the male interest in a dynamic between Hetta and the mysterious and dangerous Mrs. Hurtle. All of these are not exactly situations where two people are competing for the third, but in each case there is a three way dynamic at work.

What I found fascinating in this novel is that in one of these dynamics, Trollope crosses class lines. This concerns Ruby Ruggles, basically a commoner who is sought after by John Crumb, a dealer in meal and pollard at the same time that Ruby is infatuated with the ner-do-well baronet Felix Carbury. The rest of the female characters in these dynamics are struggling to marry for love not money or to avoid marrying because of their money. Interestingly Ruby ultimately comes up against the same issue – can she maintain her independence without marrying for financial reasons even though unlike the middle to upper class characters, she has at least some options as to how to support herself.

One of the things that I like about Trollope’s work is that at the end, the result is not all happy endings and/or each character getting what he or she deserves. Novelists who consistently make that happen (Jane Austen, in my opinion) create a world that isn’t real enough. True to form Trollope, once again, avoids that kind of situation, but does ends some character’s stories showing them to be working through their disappointments which I thought was a nice touch.

I am grateful for the challenge and the structure of the Victorian Challenge. It enabled me to finish George Eliot, start Elizabeth Gatskell and continue with Anthony Trollope. Fortunately there is still a lot more to read!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas

Some Danger Involved
Will Thomas
Victorian Era Mystery
Rating 5 stars


An atmospheric debut novel set on the gritty streets of Victorian London, Some Danger Involved introduces detective Cyrus Barker and his apprentice, Thomas Llewelyn, as they work to solve the gruesome murder of a young scholar.

When a student bearing a striking resemblance to artists' renderings of Jesus Christ is found murdered -- by crucifixion -- in London's Jewish ghetto, 19th-century private detective Barker must hire an assistant to help him solve the sinister case. Out of all who answer an ad for a position with "some danger involved," the eccentric and enigmatic Barker chooses downtrodden Llewelyn, a gutsy young man whose murky past includes recent stints at both an Oxford college and an Oxford prison.

As Llewelyn learns the ropes of his position, he is drawn deeper and deeper into Barker's peculiar world of vigilante detective work, as well as the dark heart of London's teeming underworld. Together they pass through chophouses, stables, and clandestine tea rooms, tangling with the early Italian mafia, a mad professor of eugenics, and other shadowy figures, inching ever closer to the shocking truth behind the murder.

My Review:

Some Danger Involved is a refreshing change from your typical Victorian mystery, the majority of which feature either a female sleuth or a "Gentleman" sleuth. Some Danger Involved is told from the perspective of Thomas Llewelyn-a young Welsh man down on his luck and desperately searching for a new position. Thomas answers an ad for a private detectives assistant almost on a lark, certain he will not get the position. Surprisingly, the enigmatic Cyrus Barker gives him the job. There begins Thomas education into private detection as well as his first case with Mr. Barker-the heinous death of a young Jewish Scholar whose body is put on display by his killer.

Barker and Llewelyn are both products of middle to poor homes, both have hidden talents that help in their detective work. The book has a bit of an Oriental flair from Barker growing up in the Orient with his Missonary parents. The cast of characters is well fleshed out and the story fast paced as well as intelligent in detail, especially in relation to Victorian Jewish society and how it was looked at during this era.

Barker is a great sleuth, kind of a "poor mans" Sherlock Holmes, as much as a Genius as that great man but much more empathetic and street wise from his rough childhood. Llewelyn is a wonderful sidekick to Barker, who's more of a father figure or mentor to him than Sherlock's friendship with Watson.

To those who love Victoriana but are looking for something a bit grittier, Some Danger Involved may fit the bill.

5 stars-recommended.

Mesmerized by Candace Camp

Candace Camp
Historical Romance-Victorian Era
Rating 4 stars

Synopsis: In 1876 Olivia Moreland works at exposing hoaxes that prey on the grieving who desperately want to communicate with loved ones from the great beyond. During a séance, she gets up to debunk the latest fraud, but Lord Stephen St. Leger stops her, thinking she is the fake. Once the air is cleared, both are tossed out as skeptics. Before Olivia leaves for home, she gives him her business card stating she is an Investigator of Psychic Phenomena. Stephen indiscreetly labels her as a member of the "mad" Morelands.

Not long afterward, Stephen hires Olivia to unmask a so called psychic taking advantage of his mother still mourning the loss of her oldest son. His sister-in-law is too selfish to help and mostly hinders Stephen and Olivia's efforts. As Olivia tries to prove fraud, Stephen and she fall in love with one another though she believes he still loves his deceased sibling's wife.

My Review: Mesmerized is the fun tale of Olivia, a shy, average young lady who's interest in the Spiritualist movement propels her to set up her own business as a (mainly) Spiritualist debunker. At the time many families were being duped by fraudulent Mediums, so Olivia goes undercover as a interested guest to these Seances to catch the frauds in the act. At a seance she meets Stephen-who mistakes Olivia as one of the frauds and finds out she's a member of the "Mad Morelands"-an eccentric though aristocratic family. Stephen unwittingly insults Olivia and sparks fly. A week later, he goes to Olivia's office to apologize and ask for her help. A medium, Madame Valenska, he feels is conning his mother by acting like they are in communication with her recently deceased brother Roderick.

There begins a fast paced, exciting tale that is full of adventure and romance. The books moves along well and the romance is sweet, the love scenes are moderate-fairly "hot" but not over the top. Warm enough to enjoy but not hot enough to turn a sensitive reader off.

There are a few, minor places where the book gets bogged down by the ghost storyline being explained. But they are short enough that they are fairly easy to get through. I enjoyed the supernatural aspect of the book, as well as the "debunking" of the mediums part of the book. Both are major parts of the storyline and if you don't do supernatural then you should probably skip this. Several enjoyable secondary characters that I'm sure we'll see in future books

All together a fun, enjoyable Romance 4 stars.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Dangerous Mourning - Anne Perry

No breath of scandal has ever touched the aristocratic Moidore family--until Sir Basil's beautiful widowed daughter is stabbed to death in her own bed, a shocking, incomprehensible tragedy. Inspector William Monk is ordered to find her killer without delay--and in a manner that will give the least possible pain to the influential family. But Monk, brilliant and ambitious, is handicapped, both by lingering traces of amnesia and by the craven ineptitude of his supervisor, who would like nothing better than to see Monk fail. With the intelligent help of Hester Latterly, a progressive young woman who served with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, Monk gropes warily through the silence and shadows that obscure the case, knowing that with each step he comes closer to the appalling truth....

There is something to be said about a character that starts a story not remembering who he is and without and family and close friends to help him. That is exactly what Anne Perry did in the first book of this series and that is what really attracted my attention to the books. In this second book the Inspector Monk is still unable to remember his past but has he moves through London he finds glimpses of familiar things and an image of him that seems very different from who he is now. (Would a kind soul me know if he ever remember and in which book?)

In this story Monk is called to investigate the murder of a young lady, Octavia Haslett, the daughter of Sir Basil Moidore has been stabbed to death in her own bedroom during the night. From the beginning, it is clear that Sir Basil and most of his family is mostly concerned with hushing the scandal and finding a guilty party as soon as possible. Even after it seems it is one of them who must have done it, the family still believing it must be one of the servants.

When Monk finds himself unable to find evidence pointing to someone he asks for the help of Hester Latterly, one of Miss Nightingale's nurses who was also a character in the previous book. I really like Heather! She is dedicated to her job, honest and has a hard time controlling her temper when she perceives an injustice. Despite her efforts while nursing Lady Beatrice, Octavia's mother, Heather is unable to find the culprit and when a bloody knife is found in one of the footmen's room the case seems closed to all but Monk and Heather. Refusing to arrest the footman leads to Monk being fired from the police force but Heather doesn't give up and manages to interest Oliver Rathbone, a lawyer and a very interesting character that I hope to see in future books, in the case.

I just love Perry's view of the Victorian world and there was lots of information about it in the book. In this particular story, I very much enjoyed her portrayal of the higher and lower classes. The differences in behaviours, beliefs and social status. Much of the book is set in the Moidores house and the atmosphere is oppressing, intriguing and full of suspense. I couldn't wait to get to the end of the story and find out who had done it and I must say that the final twist surprised me. I loved how they followed all the clues to reach the right conclusion about what really had happened and who was responsible. And now I can’t wait for the next book.

Grade: 5/5

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Poisoned Season - Tasha Alexander

London's social season is in full swing, and the Victorian aristocracy can't stop whispering about a certain gentleman who claims to be the direct descendant of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. But he's not the only topic of wagging tongues. Drawing rooms, boudoirs, and ballrooms are abuzz with the latest news of an audacious cat burglar who has been making off with precious items that once belonged to the ill-fated queen.

Light gossip turns serious when the owner of one of the pilfered treasures is found murdered, and the mysterious thief develops a twisted obsession with Emily. But the strong-minded and fiercely independent Emily will not be shaken. It will take all of her considerable wit and perseverance to unmask her stalker and ferret out the murderer, even as a brewing scandal threatens both her reputation and her romance with her late husband's best friend, the dashing Colin Hargreaves.

I had some expectations regarding book 2 of Lady Emily Ashton’s mysteries and I am happy to say that they were fulfilled.

After her love story with her husband in the first book, Lady Emily is now a widow whose main interest is to pursue her Greek studies, to help the British Museum to enlarge their collection of works of art, to spend some time with her chosen friends and to continue her relationship with Colin Hargreaves. I liked this Emily even more than the one in the first book. She is more self-assured, less influenced by others opinions but not naïve to think that she can do as she pleases without following the rules of polite society and understanding the power, and danger, of gossip.

I thought it interesting that the main plot was about a pretender to the throne of France. I could just imagine everyone trying to gain his good graces just in case the monarchy is restored and the Bourbons reclaim their birthright. While society is busy throwing balls in the honor of the supposed French heir, objects known to have belonged to the late Marie Antoinette are being stolen from their rightful owners. When one of the victims of those thefts is found murdered Lady Emily can’t resist starting to investigate. Soon she finds herself studying Marie Antoinette’s letters with as much interest as her Greek and she seems to have acquired a new admirer who keeps invading her house and leaving her little notes.

At the same time, one of Lady Emily’s friends is being forced to marry the supposed French heir, another wants her help with a make believe courtship so her parents will leave her alone, still another is having trouble in her marriage and Lady Emily’s mother is quite decided that she must marry again. All these entanglements lead to some vicious gossip that threatens to harm her place in society.

Besides enjoying Emily as a character, I also really enjoyed her relationship with Colin. He is not always present, in fact, one could say that he is always there when she needs him but he never overwhelms her or her investigations. He respects her intelligence and her resourcefulness and he is determined to woo her and marry her when she feels ready, not before.

I also like how Alexander manages to convey us to the Victorian world. Besides society’s behavior and moral codes, she introduces references like the Baedeker’s Guide, the Rosetta stone, and Thomas Cook & Sons that I found interesting and clever. Not to mention that she actually has Queen Victoria as a secondary character, there is nothing like tea with the queen to restore Lady Emily’s reputation!

The action does progress slowly but I thought that fitted the story very well, a more rushed story could not have such subtle or intellectual references or they would be lost. This was the right pace to appreciate all the details involved.

The mystery part was interesting and surprising but I think the book is mostly about Emily. How can we not enjoy a heroine who spends much of her time in libraries and who reads as much classical literature (Homer) and popular fiction (Mary Elizabeth Braddon) ?

Grade: 4.5/5

Monday, April 6, 2009

Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Victorian Challenge #3

When his stepchildren start telling ghost stories, Arthur Kipps declares that he has no tale to tell. In fact he does, and a true one at that; but one too terrible for use as fireside entertainment. Unable to escape his newly resurgent memories, he decides to write his story down, in the hope that the act of putting pen to paper will be an exorcism of sorts.

Years before, Arthur worked for a solicitor who sent him out into the country to wind up the affairs of a recently deceased client. Whenever he mentions the name of Mrs Alice Drablow, the residents of Crythin Gifford respond with strange looks and silences; but, he reasons, an eccentric old woman is bound to generate gossip in a backwater like that. Harder to explain is the local lawyer’s panic on hearing that Arthur had seen a woman in black with a wasted face at the funeral. Refusing to be rattled, Arthur sets out for Eel Marsh House, a place surrounded by quicksand and mist and accessible only at low tide across the Nine Lives Causeway. As he progresses through the task of sorting through Mrs Drablow’s vast accumulation of papers he discovers a family tragedy; and worse, he begins to encounter it in supernatural form.

But what is terrifying in mist-shrouded darkness can be brushed away in clear daylight; and Arthur’s got a job to do. So he goes back to Eel Marsh House with the resolve of staying until the work is done. He takes supplies, he takes a dog, and he takes an underappreciation of the malevolence of the woman in black.

I first heard of Susan Hill when the stage production of The Woman in Black came to Brisbane several years ago. The words “classic ghost story” were all it took to get me to the theatre, and I loved every creepy moment of it. Reading the book, I was curious to see what had been altered and impressed by the way it had been done. The book was adapted for the stage using the device of having Arthur consult an actor to get his story adapted for the stage - thereby allowing the whole thing to be done with the minimum of people and props. It also allowed one more brilliant twist perfectly in keeping with the nature of the ghost. It’s just a shame that meant making Arthur a poor writer in need of help, when in fact his account of his experiences showed a fine ability with a pen. Those long, winding sentences beloved of the Victorians are an effective way of creating and atmosphere of eerieness and creeping suspicion.

I had a few moments of physical chills while reading, and I knew what was coming. Had I been left to speculate I’m sure it would have been quite unnerving at times. Arthur’s reaction to the Christmas Eve storytelling and his decision that no one should read his story until after his death make it clear that what he is writing is the perfect truth - exaggerations and lies don’t rattle one so severely after so long, and refusing to give them an audience makes them pointless. Since the events at Eel Marsh House had such an effect upon someone so rational you know they must be the stuff of nightmares.

The early hints of something sinister that Arthur encountered in the town were fairly conventional, but the story took off after the relocation to Eel Marsh. Almost anything would seem scary there, and the setting is as much a character in the book as Arthur or the woman in black. Locked doors, ruins and a graveyard in the grounds, dense fogs that arrive from nowhere, and only a periodic connection to the outside world via a path whose name is evocative of peril make it an ideal location for such a tale. To be vicariously trapped in a haunted house, surrounded by water and quicksand and fog, hearing and seeing things you know aren’t real but can’t escape, is a wonderfully eerie experience (and doubtless would have been even better had this summer produced a blackout and a corresponding opportunity to read by lamplight). The woman in black is spookier than anything more overtly evil would be; her power to terrify comes from the certainty of her ill intent coupled with a total lack of information about the form and direction her malevolence might take. When the truth emerges, it’s possible to see how she ended up the way she did - and why the townspeople won’t talk about her. More of a mystery is Mrs Drablow, who remains little more than a name, although there must have been quite a story in her decades living alone and voluntarily in a house with such a guest.

Rating: B+

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Victoria: May Blossom of Britannia


This is the first book I've read for the Victorian challenge. It's a fictional diary of Queen Victoria around the age of ten. It reads like a real diary, and is a very fun read! At the end of the book, there is an epilogue, a historical note, pictures of the Queen, and a family tree of her family.

I would especially recommend this book to young girls who are interested in history.


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