Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Second Bunch of Book Reviews for 2018

Yes--more book reviews!!! I am still catching up on books I read in 2017, and I hope that by posting weekly for a bit, I can finish posting all books from last year and start on books I've read in 2018...which have only been two since Dan Brown's Inferno was a monster, indeed, at 461 pages! 

Five of the eight books here are variations of Pride and Prejudice, one is a variation of Austen's Persuasion, one is the first in a new (to me!) medieval mystery series, and one is a tried-and-true favorite that I have to re-read to remind myself of the joys of being a bookseller for the first ten years of my working life.

Particular Intentions Particular Intentions by L.L. Diamond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With Miss Bingley firmly forbidden to come to her brother's new home at Netherfield, she arrives with the Hursts. Now with her own establishment because of her attempts to compromise Darcy, she plans to try once again to force him into marrying her. Thwarted when Elizabeth comes to tend Jane at Netherfield, Miss Bingley locks Darcy and Elizabeth into the library, thinking it hilarious if Darcy is forced to marry a woman who obviously despises him. Elizabeth slips out the library window, shimmies down the tree to the ground, and thus manages to save both herself and Mr. Darcy from a compromising position. Darcy's reaction to Elizabeth's disdain and neat escape and Elizabeth's responses to him will be left to readers of this delightful re-imagination of Pride and Prejudice.

Compromised!: A Pride & Prejudice Variation Compromised!: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by J. Dawn King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the first two-thirds of this book which, as the title indicates, explores Elizabeth's and Darcy's growing regard for each other following their being discovered in a compromising position at Netherfield. I really loved seeing Darcy and Elizabeth slowly find common ground and start building first a friendship, and then a romantic attachment. But the last third of the novel seemed to be nothing but compromise after compromise among other characters; it became almost ridiculous and nearly annoying. So I didn't care for this variation of Pride and Prejudice as much as I had hoped to.

Captain Wentworth Home from the Sea Captain Wentworth Home from the Sea by Mary Lydon Simonsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderful variation of Austen's Persuasion, Captain Wentworth returns to Kellynch to stay with his sister and her husband, the admiral, as they rent the estate from Sir William Eliot. Anne, however, remains at the home for a while after her family's removal to Bath as the Kellynch housekeeper is spending time with her family. However, suffering from a head injury that has affected his memory to the point that he was forced to resign from the Navy, Captain Wentworth does not remember his engagement to Anne eight years previously. Despite his new brusqueness as a result of his impairment, the captain and Anne become friends and then more. But should Anne tell Captain Wentworth of their previous engagement and why she broke it off? Or is this a secret she should keep as his regard for her grows?

I rarely give five-star ratings to fan fics (***** is reserved for truly excellent classics--how can one give a modern novel the same rating as Hamlet?), but the occasional variation of Austen's works deserves a higher rating than my usual "4," and this is one of them. A delight from beginning to end, I adored every moment of this novel and can see myself returning to re-read it again and again. A truly excellent variation of an Austen classic.

84, Charing Cross Road 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just read this book for the third time, and as a former bookseller who used to answer correspondence from across the country and across the Atlantic for Harcourt Brace's San Diego bookstore (which closed in 1992), I feel so at home in this book, despite the fact that it was written in the 1940s-1960s. Helene's sense of humor, her bookish sense of wonder, and her referring to classic authors as if they were her good friends (and aren't they, after all?), plus her need to carry on conversations with authors in the margins of their books (I do try to use pencil...) all resonated with me. The whole book is mine, mine, mine. And I'm happy to share it with all of you. Such a tremendously warm yet powerful book--one of my very favorites. My inexpensive yellowed-paged paperback copy is a treasure indeed.

Only Mr. Darcy Will Do Only Mr. Darcy Will Do by Kara Louise
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As much as I love Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF), I **adored** this novel!! It was one of the best books of this genre I've read...and I devoured it in fewer than 48 hours. (Being on Easter break helps, LOL!) Absolutely splendid book--and for those of you in California, it's available through the public library LINK+ system, as are the majority of books by the amazing ladies at the Austen Variations site.

I broke down and bought my own Kindle copy and enjoyed this book just as much the second time through!! Again, I devoured it within 48 hours (between assignments to grade for my research class!) and loved it all over again! Elizabeth as a governess after her father's death meets Mr. Darcy in the home of her employers; their niece befriends Elizabeth and has apparently loved Mr. Darcy for many years as she grew up on an estate near Pemberley. Convinced that only Mr. Darcy will do, the niece makes Elizabeth her confidant as the family, including Elizabeth and her beloved six-year-old charge, are invited to Pemberley. Elizabeth thinks that the invitation shows the Mr. Darcy returns her friend's feelings, but is that the real reason the cautious Mr. Darcy invited them all to his home?

Rumours & Recklessness: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Rumours and Recklessness: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Nicole Clarkston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderful variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Rumours and Recklessness starts with a tragic accident at Longbourn that changes the situation of all of the Bennet family on the morning after the Netherfield Ball. This alteration causes the party at Netherfield to not leave, as occurred in Austen's novel, and Elizabeth, practically forced into a marriage she does not want, rebels at the highhandedness of the men who visit her at Longbourn during this difficult time. Will Fitzwilliam Darcy be able to win her heart and hand after all that's happened?

I thoroughly enjoyed this variation of Pride and Prejudice. In fact, I don't usually give 5's to books that are not classics in their own right, but this book was practically un-put-downable. I had to force myself to hide my Kindle out of sight so that I could devote time that I would rather be reading to actually teaching my online classes.

And as I read the author biography at the end, I was thrilled to discover that she is also a homeschooling mom and is also an ardent admirer of Elizabeth Gaskell as well as Jane Austen...just as I am!

So Rumours and Recklessness provides a wonderful excursion back to the Regency era, allowing us readers to revisit our favorite (and not-so-favorite) characters from Austen's most popular novel and enjoy the humor and romance that makes us adore Austen's books and characters so greatly. Read and enjoy!!

And now re-reading this book just a year later, I loved it just as much, if not more. A brilliant book!!

Denial of Conscience: A Modern Darcy & Elizabeth Adventure Denial of Conscience: A Modern Darcy & Elizabeth Adventure by Cat Gardiner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had hoped to enjoy this book more than I did. I'm not often a fan of more modern retellings of Pride and Prejudice, but this one looked really promising. The plot was definitely intriguing; I was completely taken in by the plot and its dramatic twists and turns. But the way the story was told was just a bit crass. The diction, the tone--it just wasn't my cup o' tea. Perhaps readers more accustomed to contemporary fiction/romance will enjoy this novel more than I did. I guess I'm just an old-fashioned girl. ;)

The Unquiet Bones The Unquiet Bones by Melvin R. Starr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I am usually extremely strict about reading series in order, I started with book #2 of this wonderful medieval mystery series, followed by book #4 as I discovered them on our library's 25-cent shelves. Two medieval mysteries for fifty cents? It was worth a try.

I thoroughly enjoyed the second book in the series. The mystery moves slowly, but that was fine with me as the building of characters and the setting of medieval English village life made every page rich and memorable. Written in first person, the series is narrated by young surgeon Master Hugh who has also been appointed bailiff by Lord Gilbert Talbot. Master Hugh was also a student of John Wyclif at Oxford, so much of faith and the whispers of Reformation are woven throughout the series as well.

Master Hugh is an accomplished surgeon and a humble person, with a slight sense of humor and is not unwilling to share where his suspicions go awry from time to time. Hugh is a truly honest character, and one can't help but be drawn into the mysteries he solves, almost as much for the development of Hugh's character than for the unfolding of the guilty party with all of the attendant why's and wherefore's.

This first book sets the scene with young Master Hugh, age 25, moving from Oxford to the village of Bampton after mending Lord Gilbert's leg following an accident in the streets of Oxford. Master Hugh quickly accepts Lord Gilbert's offer to move his surgery to Bampton as starting out in competitive Oxford has been slow. But when a skeleton is discovered just outside the castle walls, Master Hugh examines the bones and claims that murder has been done.

Lord Gilbert charges Master Hugh with tracking down the murderer, and as Master Hugh does so, more mysteries seem to unfold before Hugh can solve the first. Plus, Master Hugh is a wee bit distracted by the lovely Lady Joan, sister to Lord Gilbert, but Hugh knows that he cannot marry one so far above him even though he does come from nobility (a younger son of a minor Lord).

Master Hugh has much to learn about solving crimes as The Unquiet Bones is the first of a nice, long series that I can't wait to continue reading. Book #3 is currently on order from the library and is being sent down from Northern California.

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I hope that you enjoy these book reviews even partially as much as I enjoyed reading the books and writing the reviews! I have become quite addicted to the medieval mystery series by Mel Starr and plan to order even more from the library. I've been waylaid by a few other books to read first, though.... 

Happy reading!

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