May Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Bibi the Baker’s Horse by Anna Bird Stewart – 4*

//published 1942//

This is one of those books that I have had for so long that I no longer remember where I picked it up, and for some reason neglected to write on the flyleaf – very unusual for me.  This particular copy is a first edition and has actually been signed by the author, so that’s quite fun.  Apparently Bibi isn’t a very popular book, as it isn’t even listed on Goodreads, but I found it to be absolutely charming.  Set in France before World War I, Bibi is a small Corsican horse purchased by a baker named Jules.  The story is really more about Jules and his family than it is about Bibi, and they live a happy, peaceful life.  The biggest excitement in the story is a huge flood.  In the afterword, the author says that the entire story is true as told to her by a friend about the friends mother (or maybe grandmother, I can’t remember right now).  While not a book that strikes me as an instant classic, it was still a delightful little read.

The Treasure is the Rose by Julia Cunningham – 4*

//published 1973//

At only 105 pages, this is more of a novella than a full-length story, yet Cunningham manages to pack a great deal of thoughtfulness into her slim story.  My particular copy is an incredibly battered paperback that belonged to my mom and her sister when they were girls (frankly, the ownership has been challenged for many years between the two of them, so I solved their problem by taking it for myself).  Set in England in what I’m guess are the Middle Ages (I’m never very good at remembering the distinguishing characteristics between eras – they’re living in a crumbling down castle and the main character’s husband was killed in a crusade), the story is about Ariane, a kindhearted young widow who is determined to stay in her husband’s home, despite the fact that they are running out of money.  When three robbers stop at her house and demand food and shelter, she gives to them freely – but when the robbers hear rumors that Ariane is concealing a treasure somewhere in her castle, they decide they want more than food and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it.  The story is somewhat simplistic, and the ending is perhaps a bit too easy, but it is still a beautiful story about love and kindness conquering anger and hate.

Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes – 4*

//published 2016//

I actually really liked this version, although it was a bit more angsty than I usually prefer.  In this version, Mr. Bennet is struck ill while Elizabeth is at Hunsford, before Colonel Fitzwilliam tells her that Darcy separated Jane and Bingley, and before Darcy proposes.  When they receive the news about Mr. B., Darcy basically takes control of the situation, apologizing to Elizabeth for proposing at an awkward time, but wanting her to be under his protection and care should the worst happen.  Of course, he assumes that Elizabeth is going to agree, which fills Elizabeth with rage – but with the possibility of her family being put out on the streets, she reluctantly accepts.

While this wasn’t a very lighthearted variation, it was done really well, and the majority of the drama between Elizabeth and Darcy felt realistic to their situation.  However, at the end the drama goes a bit over the top, and then is magically solved after dragging on for way too long.  I also didn’t like the way that Mr. Bennet’s death was dealt with.  Still, overall this was a solid retelling, as I found myself very attached to the characters and wanted things to work out for them.

The Undertaker’s Widow by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 1998//

I’ve read quite a few of Margolin’s books at this point, and have found him to be a pretty solid crime/law thriller writer.  This one wasn’t my favorite, but did have a lot of fun twists and turns.  My usual mild aggravation with Margolin’s work was at play here – he simply introduces too many characters, ignores them for chapters, and then reintroduces them without reminding the reader of who they are.  He’s the only author I have to consistently write down the names of characters and their connections in order to keep them straight.

This particular book also lost a half star because of another pet peeve of mine – where we are specifically told that a character has information necessary to figure out what is going on with the mystery, but not allowed to actually know that information.  So it would be something like, “Once he told the detective about his suspicions concerning the blood splatter, they both knew they had to do something” – but I don’t get to know what those suspicions are until literal chapters later during a courtroom scene when the evidence is introduced.  This happened a LOT in this book and was really annoying.

Indiscretion by Jude Morgan – 5*

//published 2005//

I hadn’t read this book in several years, and it was an absolute delight to delve back into it again.  The main character, Caroline, is just so funny and nice, and I really appreciate the way that she wants to be a better person.  I also liked that when she ended up in the country living a quite life, she didn’t get bored and irritated with her life, but instead was able to appreciate the stability and restfulness of it, even though it was very different to what she was used to.  The dialogue is hilarious, and the plot just convoluted/coincidental enough to keep things lively.  I’ve read this book a few times, so you can read earlier reviews here and here if you are interested in more of a synopsis-type review, but for here suffice to say that this book is just as happy and funny as I remember.

Indiscretion // by Jude Morgan

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//published 2005//

I first read this absolutely delightful book two years ago, and enjoyed it so much that I purchased a copy soon after.  I decided that this would be a perfect vacation book to follow up The Blue Castle.  I was a bit apprehensive, though.  After enjoying Indiscretion so thoroughly, I read two others of Morgan’s books (An Accomplished Woman and A Little Folly), and, while perfectly fine reads, they lacked that magic that made Indiscretion so much fun.  And so, I worried as I approached this book for a second time.  Would it lack that indefinable something that makes a book just as lovely as the first time around?

All that worry was for nothing – Indiscretion won me over completely yet again.  The language is just perfect.  In many ways, it reminds me of a Wodehouse book – just that frothy, verging-on-nonsense dialogue (both external and internal) that had be laughing out loud at multiple points.  Morgan has the knack of describing characters perfectly without bothering to tell us much about their physical appearance (black hair, blue eyes, etc.) –

Her whole demeanour indeed was that of someone just awoken from a refreshing sleep but wondering whether to doze for another half-hour.

Or –

“Parties?  Oh – as to that, Miss Fanny, I am a dull fellow for parties in any event,’ Captain Brunton said; occasioning in Caroline a brief mental review, to see if there were any news that had ever surprised her less.

Caroline herself is a very relateable heroine, being just imperfect enough for me to emphasize with her thoroughly.  Her internal dialogue is not written in lengthy paragraphs, but rather brief little asides (like the one above), that give a glimpse into her true character.

For a better overview of the story, feel free to read my first review.  Suffice to say here, that I was reminded yet again that part of the reason I appreciate Caroline as a character is that I, too, worked as a paid companion for a very rich and very capricious old lady.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to live with her, but I ended up leaving the job as she wasn’t willing to let me switch days with Companion #2 so I could help out my ailing grandmother – needless to say, I felt that I had a strong understanding for Caroline’s position!

I think that one of the things that really struck me this time around is how many people thought that Caroline would be discontent in the country, living a quiet life.  I really liked how, actually, she thoroughly enjoyed it.  She didn’t get bored or pine away, and despite the fact that her relations were completely different from her in every way, she got along with them well and loved them dearly.

While Indiscretion is not a book that is likely to change your life, it is a wonderfully relaxing and humorous read, and one that I highly recommend.  5/5 the second time around also!

A Little Folly

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by Jude Morgan

Published 2010

This is my third Jude Morgan book this year; I enjoyed this one more than An Accomplished Woman but still not as well as Indiscretionwhich I think I’m going to purchase with my birthday money.  :-D  But this story has the same lighthearted and delightful dialogue and fun characters as the other of Morgan’s books I’ve read.  While I liked the heroine much better than the one in An Accomplished Woman, Louisa still aggravated me a great deal at times.

Louisa and her brother Valentine have grown up under the (very) heavy hand of their domineering father.  When he dies, at the beginning of the book, they are suddenly free to do as they like.  Comfortably off, upper-class adults, they can go to London, entertain visitors, or even just simply get rid of furniture they don’t like.  That’s how it begins – by removing a fire screen they’ve both hated for years but their father insisted remain in the drawing room.  As they pair of siblings begin to explore life and encounter adventures, they learn that making your own decisions isn’t always as much fun as it sounds.

For me, the main problem with this book was that it felt as though Morgan wasn’t sure what the ‘lesson’ should be.  Every good story has a lesson, even if it’s a trite, simplistic one like “love conquers all” or a completely wrong one like “being sneaky always pays off.”  This story waffled a good deal.  Was the lesson “growing up is tough”?  “It’s easier to have a domineering person make your decisions so you aren’t responsible for them”?  “Your parents always know what’s best even when they’re jerks”?  “Never listen to advice”?  “Follow your heart”?  I never could quite decide what point the author was making.

Another problem was that Louisa and Valentine supposedly had this super close relationship growing up, their difficult parent drawing them together.  But because part of the story was how they grew apart during the course of all these changes, it was hard to understand many of the decisions Louisa made to protect/defend her brother, because I didn’t really like him, and I didn’t have the solid background of knowing that Valentine really loved his sister.

Louisa spends much of the book dithering because she knows that Valentine is making some very stupid decisions, but she doesn’t want to interfere with him for fear of appearing to try and run his life as their father had done.  That was another one of the lessons that were never quite clear – are we supposed to walk away with the conviction that we should always, never, or sometimes interfere?  At the end of the story, I never felt that Louisa had learned any kind of balance in that area – that if Valentine did something else dumb, she would spend just as much time dithering as she had the first time.

And then their are Louisa’s love interests.  From the beginning, we learn of this one fellow (whose name I can’t remember) – he’s the fellow that Louisa’s father intended her to marry.  But Louisa doesn’t like this fellow because he’s just as bossy and domineering as her father.  So he shows up, and he is a bit of a jerk, but then suddenly in the middle of the book, he’s not a jerk any more – I never knew if I was supposed to like him or not.  There was no real revelation of whether something had happened to make the fellow be nicer, or if Louisa had always just perceived him as more of a jerk than he really was?  Or what?  His character development was haphazard and confusing.

So while this book was fun and enjoyable, it still had an undercurrent of randomness that subtly irritated me throughout.  Another 3/5 for a book with a lot of potential that it didn’t quite reach.

An Accomplished Woman

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by Jude Morgan

Published 2007

A while back, I read my first Jude Morgan book – Indiscretion.  I LOVED it.  And so it was with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation that I approached a second of his novels…  one never knows if it will be as delightful as the first or perhaps the first was just a fluke.  While I didn’t love An Accomplished Woman as much as Indiscretion, it was still a fun and lighthearted read.

For me, the  main problem was that I didn’t really like the heroine.  I found Lydia to be arrogant and far too self-confident for my taste.  Actually, she reminded me a great deal of Austen’s Emma, another literary character I have always yearned to slap.  Lydia is confident that she knows best about EVERYTHING and everyone.  Several years  before this book opens, she has turned down a marriage proposal from the neighborhood’s most eligible bachelor, Mr. Durrant.  In the intervening years, their friendship has continued (since they are from the same country neighborhood), and Lydia finds him just as infuriating as she ever did.  Determined to be independent, Lydia comes off (to me) as selfish and a rather flat character who mouths feministic platitudes that don’t really add much to the story.

Still, parts of the tale were quite enjoyable, and this  book did make me laugh out loud more than once.  Morgan can often write the perfect line for the scenario, with an almost Wodehouse-like precision:

Lydia – as so often with Mr. Durrant – was precisely divided between agreement with what he said, and disgust at the arrogance with which he said it:  emotionally the effect was like of those sneezes that do not quite come.

And we all know how frustrating THAT sensation is!

Or this classic –

“My appearance on this occasion, I fear, must have been an unpleasant surprise for you.”

It was in Lydia’s mind to say that Mr. Beck’s appearance on any occasion would be an unpleasant surprise for her, even if she were at the bottom of a well and he were at the top with a rope; but she held her peace.

Throughout the story, Lydia is a companion to a younger girl, Phoebe, who, as a rich, orphaned heiress, has plenty of options for marriage open to her.  Unfortunately, Morgan doesn’t really seem to be able to decide which of her suitors we should like.  I realize that part of the ploy is that we are seeing them through Lydia’s eyes, and so she is naturally biased for one and against the other, but still – the suitor with whom Phoebe ultimately joins still seems just as selfish and inconsiderate as he was when we first met him.  I was never really given an opportunity to like him, and so I ended the book feeling a bit distressed about Phoebe, and not at all confident in her ultimate happiness.

And so I ended this book with mixed feelings, and think I can probably only give a 3/5.  Still, I haven’t given up on Morgan – A Little Folly is on my TBR shelf at this very moment!

Indiscretion

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by Jude Morgan

Published 2005

I read this book in JULY, and am still excited to review it!  ;-D

There is a specific type of book that I really love–books that are romantic, funny, and light-hearted, without being full of smut and shallow, insipid characters.  You would be surprised at how incredibly difficult it can be to find books that fit into that category, especially books published in the last ten years!

So many recent so-called Regency Romances are simply written pornography with a few sentences of linking “plot.”  Ugh.  And, having been burned before, I approached Indiscretion with some hesitancy.  The story is about Caroline Fortune, a young woman who lives with her father (her mother has passed away), a man full of grandiose ideas and schemes that somehow never seem to materialize beyond the point of spending money (which they don’t have) on them.  Determined to find a place for his daughter, Captain Fortune makes arrangements for her to become the paid companion of an elderly woman, Mrs. Catling.  From there, Caro finds herself entangled with all sorts of people and plots.

While some of Morgan’s plot line has to be covered with Austen-like coincidences (think: My cousin happens to be the clergyman of your aunt!?  What are the odds??), it flows well.  The characters are very likable (even the not likable ones), and Caroline herself manages to be charming and witty, without being obnoxious.  The dialogue is delightful.  I literally laughed out loud at multiple points in this story.  Morgan actually takes the time to develop the characters you meet, and while they rarely present you with a surprise, they generally manage to give you a smile.

Caroline manages to balance the line between realizing many of the absurdities and inconsistencies of her culture and time, without being too forward or radical (although, towards the end, she does jaunt off to London in a public carriage by herself, something that stretched the line of what she would have actually been able to do at the time without her character being much more severely doubted).  A conversation about dancing was one of my favorite exchanges:

“You do not dance, Mr. Milner?”

“I do–once in an evening, twice if in thoroughly madcap mood.  What I dance, though, I must talk all the time.  Otherwise I begin thinking about dancing, and how absurd it is, and what prize boobies we would look if you took away the music.  Well, I suppose it will pass the time: do you want to go through the ghastly motions with me, Miss Fortune?”

“How can I refuse such a charming invitation?”

This is not a book of great depth, or one that will (likely) cause you to ponder your life and have an existential crisis of any kind.  However, if you are looking for a fun, light-hearted, humorous, clean read, this is an excellent choice, and one that I highly recommend.  5/5.