Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Regency”

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #35 – London Calling by Anna Elliott

The further adventures of Susanna and Captain Clark, who is actually Lord James Ravenwood.  They’re now engaged, and he’s still doing the spy thing for king and country.  England is still at war with France, and James has to go to London to do some intriguing.

Susanna follows him, mostly because she’s jealous and afraid he might cheat on her.  Sounds legit.  Of course Susanna gets involved, at first without James knowing.  She gets into a few scrapes, and needs a bit of rescuing. She stays with her flighty Aunt Ruth in London, and auntie gets involved too.

It’s pretty easy to determine how everything all shakes out, but that’s not to say the book isn’t entertaining.  It’s yet another fun little piece of fluff, a great distraction and a quick, breezy read.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #34 – Susanna and the Spy by Anna Elliott

Anna Elliott concentrates her writing on the Regency period, like many of the books I’ve reviewed this Cannonball.  She’s also the author of those Georgiana Darcy diary books, which are Ok, as is this book.

Susanna Ward lost her father, who was a bit peripatetic, but took very good care of her.  She’s trying to find work, most likely as a governess.  It’s either that, or she doesn’t want to think of what will happen to her. Her father’s family has money, but had disowned her father long ago. She’s on her way to London to look for work, and at a stop on the way, she runs into a man she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl.  He worked on the family estate,  and tells her he thinks her grandfather was murdered.  It’s possible his death was connected to a local ring of smugglers, led by a man calling himself Captain Clark.

At another stop on the way, at a roadside inn, Captain Clark barges in her room bleeding.  Susanna decides to help and hide him, so there’s your meet-cute.  Susanna ends up at the family estate, and meets her uncle, aunt and cousin.  Some are friendlier than others.  And then Captain Clark shows up, using another name.  Hmmm, he may not be what he seems.

Susanna sleuths around to find out who Captain Clark really is, and who killed her grandfather.  It’s a nice little piece of fluff, also like a lot of the books I’ve reviewed this Cannonball.  2012 was a rough year, as you can tell by my choice of reading material.  I’d recommend this to anyone who likes old-fashionedey cozy mysteries, or Regency romances.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #24 – Royal Renegade by Alicia Rasley

This book is subtitled:  “a Traditional Regency Romance Novel.”  Not my usual fare, but the description of the book on Amazon sold me.  Full disclosure, I got this for free for my Kindle, like quite a few others (seriously, there are a ton of free books for Kindle, you should check it out). It’s for sure a romance novel, but no bodices are ripped, and I’m pretty sure Fabio had nothing to do with the book cover.

Our heroine, Tatiana, is a Russian princess.  I have learned (through this book, and my attempts at reading Anna Karenina, among others) that Russia was lousy with royalty back before the revolution. Tatiana is the daughter of one of the conspirators who took out the most recent Tsar, who was then executed by the current Tsar (even though that’s who he helped).  Tatiana is extraneous, and is basically sold to the Duke of Cumberland, who may be a murderer, among other things (he’s apparently also ugly, and a bit scary in the boudoir).  Our hero, Viscount Devlyn, is a soldier in Wellington’s army, and is suffering from a form of PTSD.  He’s sent home to England to rest, and is then sent to fetch Tatiana safely to England.

They (of course) meet cute, they (of course) don’t like each other at first, and they (of course) have more in common than they realize.  They also (of course) fall in love, and (of course) encounter a number of difficulties along the way.

The book isn’t great, but it’s entertaining in its own way, especially if you are a romance fan. It’s generally not my bag, but for Regency period pieces, I’ll make the occasional exception.  There’s a sequel that involves John Dryden, Poetic Justice, but I’m not certain I’ll check it out.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #103: Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson, also known as the worst book I read this year

Marianne Daventry is an innocent 17-year-old whose mother died the year before in a riding accident. Her father’s scarpered off to France to grieve, her twin sister’s in London with family friends enjoying a season, while poor little Marianne is wasting away with boredom at her grandmother’s in Bath. Her gran, a cranky and unpleasant old biddy, decides to disinherit her no good scoundrel nephew and bestow her fortune of forty thousand pounds on Marianne, as long as the girl will learn to behave like a proper lady (she likes running about out of doors without a bonnet, and prefers the countryside to town life – dreadful stuff).

Marianne clearly needs role models, and is shipped off to Edenbrooke, the estate where Lady Wyndham, a bosom friend of Marianne’s mother lives. Marianne’s twin sister is besties with Lady Wyndham’s daughter, and the girls are set to return to the estate from London, so Marianne will have some company. On the way to Edenbrooke, Marianne’s carriage is set upon by a highwayman, and when her coachman is shot, she has to drive the carriage to the nearest inn by herself (this was one of the few useful and admirable things the girl did in the entire novel). At said inn, she’s insulted by a gentleman, because of her dishevelled appearance. Once he realises that she is of good standing, he apologises for his incredible rudeness and instead proceeds to condescendingly take matters completely out of her hands. He insists that they be on first name basis, and refuses to divulge anything about his identity.

Once Marianne arrives at Edenbrooke and promptly falls in the river, twice (because she loves to twirl uncontrollably to express happiness, and apparently never looks where she does this), she discovers that Philip is indeed Lady Wyndham’s second oldest son. They two strike up a highly unlikely and inappropriate friendship, and just before Marianne’s twin Cecily is about to arrive complications rear their ugly head when it’s revealed that Philip’s older brother died a few years back, making him the lord of the manor, and the man Cecily has set her sights on as a future husband. As Marianne apparently always gives in if her slightly older sister calls dibs on something, this means she has to give up on Philip. Oh noes! How can this conflict ever be resolved!?!

As this book is currently one of the finalists in the Goodreads Choice 2012 awards, and has a huge number of positive reviews both there and here on Amazon, I decided to give it a try. Many of the reviews compare the writing to that of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, and all I can say is that both women must be spinning in their graves. Or possibly “twirling” like the heroine in this preposterous story.

It’s labelled as a “proper romance”, because there aren’t any graphic love scenes, but the behaviour of the hero and heroine is deeply improper from the moment they first meet. As the heroine is an inexperienced young girl from the country, her ignorance and foolishness might be explained away, but the so-called “gentleman” hero should know better than to encourage the girl to call him by her first name, flirt inappropriately with her in private and in front of his family. At one point, Philip encourages Marianne to take a nap outside, while he sits around watching her (Edward Cullen alert!), and subsequently claims that “she snores like a big, fat man”. If that’s the makings of a “proper” romance, give me the kind with sexy times every day of the week.
The first half is full of badly done exposition, the author overuses adjectives, and in pretty much every scene, all the characters seem to feel an excess of emotions from joy to anger to despair, if the descriptions of their feelings and facial expressions is to be believed. The book is wildly melodramatic, and might have been better if it was written in 3rd person – but sadly, it’s not.’
Then there’s the plot, highwaymen, falling into rivers, inappropriate flirting and banter, dreadfully characterised supporting characters (both Marianne’s twin sister Cecily and Philip’s younger sister Louisa are total mean girl bitches for most of the story, only to make a total turnaround and become super supportive and helpful “fairy godmothers” in the wrap up of the story), kidnappings, random due (inside in the common room at an inn – how do you even go about that?) – it may sound exciting, but most of the time, it’s just dull, and there’s a limit to how far I can suspend my disbelief.
I fully understand that readers may be looking for clean, chaste Regency romances – but do yourselves a favour and read something by Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer novel instead. This is simply a very poor excuse for a novel, pretty cover notwithstanding.
Cross posted on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR4 Reviews # 94-99: I’m nearly done with a double Cannonball, you guys!

So in the middle of October, I once again took part in the 24-hour Read-a-thon, and I’ve obviously been reading (and re-reading) books since then, but I’ve been falling behind on my blogging. So here’s a big catch-up post, and hopefully, within the week, I will have read and blogged a double Cannonball. I only set out to do a single one this year, and as a result, it seems that completing twice the amount became less of a chore.

94. A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L’Engle. I suspect I would have loved this more when I was younger. 4 stars.

95. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. The first book I’ve read of hers. It won’t be the last. 4 stars.

96. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. I know it’s been reviewed so well, so many times on here, and I have no idea why I didn’t pick it up before. 5 stars. By far the funniest book I read this year.

97. A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long. Yet another historical romance,  surprising no one, I’m sure. “The one with the hot vicar” as Mrs. Julien dubbed it. 4 stars.

98. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor. Unquestionably one of the most anticipated books of the year for me, this turned out to be something completely different from what I’d expected. 4 stars.

99. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. So is it wrong that I was more charmed by the film? The 14-year-olds I teach, love it, though. 3.5 stars.


meilufay’s #CBR4 review #50 The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

I think I should start by saying that this is not a book I would ever pick up for myself.  I own it because an acquaintance gave me the entire trilogy.  Having spent my childhood and teens obsessed with 19th century English novels (either ones that were written in that century or set in it), I am very very particular about fictions which attempt to create a fantasy version of either the Regency or Victorian eras.  Any mistakes made in recreating either the language or the complex social interactions will completely prevent me from deriving any enjoyment from reading the book.  When an author does this well, I’m absurdly grateful and pleased (I am thinking specifically of Naomi Novik and Susannah Clark); when she does it less well, I become very very cranky.  Imagine my reaction, then, when I read this on the flyleaf of this novel:

What if there were a fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë?

Jane Austen lived most of her life in the 18th century and died during the Regency of George IV.  She was a Georgian writer.  Charlotte Brontë was born the year before Jane Austen died.  She was a Victorian writer.  Not only do they come from different eras, they also come from different social and educational backgrounds.  Moreover, their writing styles are VERY VERY different.  To conflate Jane Austen with Charlotte Bronte simply because they are both English women writers from the 19th century would be almost as bad as to conflate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn with Mikhail Bulgakov simply because they are both Russian male writers who lived in the 20th century.  Of course, you can explore any similarities between two writers as a way of discussing common themes across their works, but to merge them into the same category as one another?  No.

See?  I haven’t even started talking about the book and ALREADY I am cranky.

With this novel, Beckett actually proves that Austen and Brontë do not sit comfortably together in the same narrative.  In the first part of the novel, Beckett attempts to write like Jane Austen.  The first two hundred pages of the book are a socially conscious romantic comedy in which the heroine, Ivy, a middle-class girl, falls in love with Mr. Rafferdy, who is an aristocrat.  As much as possible, Beckett apes Jane Austen’s prose style and I found it extremely grating.  Then, abruptly, circumstances change for the heroine and she moves to a lonely house on the moors.  The writing style shifts from third-person omniscient pseudo-Austen to first-person pseudo-Brontë.  Ivy is introduced to a new romantic interest who bears more than a passing resemblance to Jane Eyre‘s Mr. Rochester.  Suddenly, instead of existing inside a romantic comedy, we are now in a gothic mystery.  It reminds me of what China Miéville said (to Naomi Novik, in fact) about mashing up genres:

“Just because you add ‘awesome’ to ‘awesome,’ doesn’t mean you’re going to get something twice as awesome. Sometimes you get an abomination.”

Thankfully, Beckett only continues this pseudo-Brontëist writing going for another hundred and fifty pages and finally, finally, just writes the rest of the novel.  The second and third books of the series are written in a third person omniscient neutral voice that I wish Beckett had applied to the first half of the first book as well.  Obviously, trying to write like two of the most famous writers in English, while an interesting exercise, is almost calculated to draw unflattering comparisons between your prose and that of the justly more celebrated novelists you are stylistically copying.

Aside from the above issues, all of which were a constant source of annoyance while reading the book, I was mildly entertained by the narrative.  I was interested enough to keep on reading but was never really enthralled by magical world which Beckett has created.  In fact, I was made uneasy with the fact that Beckett turned sexual differences (male and female, homosexual and heterosexual) into limits on ways the characters could use magic.  Women were witches (they could never perform spells, no matter how hard they tried to), men were magicians (unable to perform the “natural” magic that women can do, but able to use spells), gay men were illusionists (able neither to connect to the natural world like women nor to speak spells like men but able to trick the eye with illusions).  Simplifying your magical system along sexual lines is … problematic for me.  In fact, I would say that regardless of authorial intent, the world and the book seem MORE sexist than the real conditions under which Austen and Brontë wrote.  I will give the book credit for keeping me reading (I don’t automatically finish any book just because I’ve started it) but that is almost the only thing I can give it credit for.  The writing style was, well, let us say it failed in its narrative and stylistic objectives; the characters were two-dimensional and often annoying; and the world-building was shallow. I am quite thankful I’m finally writing this review so I can get this book off my desktop and donate it to the local Goodwill.  Perhaps someone else will get more pleasure out of it.

Malin’s #CBR Reviews #78-80: Historical romance edition

So I’m finally NEARLY up to date with this summer’s reading, and decided that these three historical romances I read in August could easily lumped together into one post.

Book 78: When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James. What if Dr Gregory House was an Earl in on an estate in Wales and a really gorgeous woman wanted to marry him, mainly because most of polite society thinks she’s carrying a prince’s bastard? 3 stars

Book 79: A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare. I absolutely ADORED the previous two Spindle Cove novels by Tessa Dare, and it was frankly unrealistic that this novel live up to my sky-high expectations. It was very enjoyable, if not as awesomely enjoyable as the first books in the series. 4 stars.

Book 80: The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James. When the plain young heiress discovers that her best friend, the handsome heir to a duchy, mainly married her to cover up the fact that his father embezzled a bunch of her money, she kicks him out and he’s forced to resort to piracy (sorry, privateering) to stay alive. The most enjoyable Fairy tale retelling by James yet, certainly a LOT more fun than the original story by Hans Christian “I really hate children and am determined to scar as many as possible with my dreadfully depressing stories” Andersen. 4 stars.

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #36: Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross

I’m gullible when it comes to mysteries. Every red herring will throw me off the scent. Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross brings a new set of mysteries and a new amateur sleuth from the Regency period into my life to continue confusing me for a few books. The sleuth in question is Julian Kestrel, the reigning dandy of London in the 1820s, famous for his elegant clothes and his imperturbable composure.

Cut to the Quick was Ross’s first novel, but you’d be hard pressed to guess so. The only authorial problem I had with the novel was the  beginning. The book opens with a Mr. Craddock congratulating himself on tricking Mr. Hugh Fontclair into having to propose marriage to his daughter. The engagement happens and in the next chapter Hugh is sowing his wild oats at a gambling establishment and we are introduced to Julian Kestrel who rescues him from public embarrassment. In the third chapter we are with Julian as he receives a surprise invite some weeks later to be Hugh’s best man and house guest. It’s all very choppy and with so many of the characters introduced in quick succession it made it difficult to keep track of everyone.

When Kestrel goes to stay with the Fontclairs at their country house, he is caught in the crossfire of the warring families, as the Craddocks are already arrived. Once settled into the dynamic and expecting Julian Kestrel to discover what blackmail is forcing the Fontclairs to agree to the wedding a dead body shows up. Kestrel sets out to solve the crime, since the body was found in his bed. The strength of this book is the twining of the two mysteries, which was compelling and well-plotted. As for Julian Kestrel, he’s fairly good company although I prefer his manservant and the local doctor. It should be said that all the supporting characters, more than ten, are well developed. Overall an enjoyable and quick read. I’ve already requested the next Julian Kestrel novel, A Broken Vessel, from my library system.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review # 65: A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes by Suzanne Enoch

Lady Diane Benchley’s late husband was a dissolute gambler, who left her with nearly nothing after she paid off his creditors. She does possess the deed to his town house in London, however, and has very specific plans to make herself a fortune. Shocking all of polite society, she sets out to establish an exclusive gentleman’s gambling club, run and staffed entirely by respectable women.

Oliver Warren, the Marquis of Haybury, has tried to forget Diane for two years, since they shared two incredible weeks of passion shortly after she was widowed. Diane knows only that Oliver abandoned her in Vienna without a word and sped back to England, and his heartless behaviour means she has no qualms about blackmailing him into providing the start-up capital for her club. She intends for him to be a silent, entirely passive partner in the club (once he has used his considerable experience as a very successful gambler to help train her staff).

Oliver has other plans. He’s not spent long with Diane again before realising that he was a fool to leave her. Now he just has to convince the woman whose heart he broke to take him back, through fair means or foul.

While the book has an utterably baffling title, which has NOTHING to do with the plot of the novel at all, A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes is a lot of fun, and can now be added to my list of delightful romances where the heroine shoots the hero at some point. Diane has very good reasons for detesting Oliver, and being reluctant with trusting any man with her heart. To his credit, and very refreshingly in a romance hero, once Oliver realises the truth about his feelings for Diane, he does whatever he can to make up for his previous misdeeds and sets out to prove to her that he can be trusted.

As well as creating an engaging central couple, who spar most entertainingly, Enoch doesn’t neglect the supporting cast, making sure that they are fully fleshed out, making the reader more invested in the creation and continued success of the Tantalus Club. Several of the characters are also clearly going to feature in future books, without their introduction and presence in the story feeling as forced as it sometimes does in planned multi-book series by other authors. The first installment in the Scandalous Brides can definitely be recommended.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #63: A Night Like This by Julia Quinn

Shortly after becoming the Earl of Winstead, Daniel Smythe-Smith rather foolishly engaged in a drunken bout of cards, where one of his close friends accused him of cheating, and challenged him to a duel. Drunk and foolish, Daniel slipped when attempting to fire his weapon away from his friend Hugh, but instead shot him in the leg, nearly killing him. Hugh’s powerful father threatens to kill Daniel over what he did to his son, and Daniel has to spend years dodging assassins on the Continent.

When his friend finally promises that it’s safe to return, Daniel arrives back just in time for his family’s infamous annual musicale (barely any of the Smythe-Smith women who take part every year can play the instruments they perform on, and most are completely unaware of the dreadful racket they make). This year, however, one of the more astute ladies has pulled out at the last minute, feigning illness, forcing Miss Anne Wynter, the family’s governess to step in and play the piano. Daniel notices her from back stage, and is instantly smitten with her, to the point that he tracks her down after the concert and kisses her before he even knows who she is.

Anne Wynter is an excellent governess, and knows that she is incredibly lucky to be employed by a kind lady, with clever, if spirited daughters. She knows that not all women would be happy employing a beautiful woman of unknown origins in their household, so while she’s equally attracted to Daniel, and flattered by his attention, she knows that nothing can come of his advances, and hopes he will keep his distance. To complicate matters further, Anne is not who she pretends to be, and knows that if her true identity and past were revealed, at best, she would find herself unemployed and friendless, with no references to her name, at worst, involved in a full-blown scandal.

Hence, while she sees that Daniel is a good man, who will loyally stand by his family, is good to his servants and quite happy to play with his young female cousins, she tries to dissuade him from spending time with her. Daniel has other plans, however, and keeps finding ways to spend time with Miss Wynter and the young ladies who are her charges.

As well as the story of how Daniel and Anne fall in love (which is told with Quinn’s trademark lightness and wit), there’s a subplot where someone is clearly trying to cause harm to one or both of the couple. Is it Hugh’s crazy nobleman father who’s reneged on his promise to leave Daniel alone? Is it someone from Anne’s past, finally having discovered her new identity and location, bent on revenge? This part of the story was supposed to infuse the story with added complications and a sense of danger, but just seemed a bit far fetched to me. I did like the few appearances we got from Daniel’s friend Hugh, though, and hope he gets to be the hero of his own romance in the future. Like Just Like Heaven (the previous book in the Smythe-Smith series, about Daniel’s sister, Lady Honoria and his best friend, Marcus), this is fluffy and light hearted, but can’t compare to the best of Quinn’s novels.

Crossposted on my blog and Goodreads.

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