Lady Vernon and Her Daughter

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter: A Novel of…49. Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, Lady Vernon and Her Daughter

Borrowing the framework of Jane Austen’s unfinished work Lady Susan, this novel tells the story of Susan Vernon and her daughter Frederica. When Susan’s husband Frederick dies unexpectedly, his brother Charles inherits both his estate and his entire fortune. Charles is a grasping and selfish man, so although honor demands that he provide for Susan and her daughter, Charles refuses to do so. Susan and Frederica are therefore left virtually penniless, and soon their entire social circle is speculating about what Lady Vernon and her daughter will do next. Marriage is the subject that mainly occupies everyone’s minds, but both Susan and Frederica are determined not to marry men they do not love.

I have a weakness for Austen-themed fiction, but most of it doesn’t tend to be very good. So I was pleasantly surprised by this book; while the style is certainly not identical to Austen’s, it does have an authentic period feel. I don’t think I’ve ever read Austen’s Lady Susan – or if I did, it was years ago – so I wasn’t bothered by any deviations from the source material. I have the impression that Austen’s Lady Susan was much more cold and manipulative than the Susan Vernon in this book. However, since Susan is meant to be one of the heroines here, I can’t really blame the authors for the change! The romances in the book are satisfying enough, though they’re not given much depth. Rather, the novel’s focus seems to be on immersing its readers in an Austen-esque world, and on that basis I really enjoyed it. I’d recommend this to fans of Austen or 19th-century literature in general.

Along for the Ride

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen48. Sarah Dessen, Along for the Ride

Auden is the intelligent, driven daughter of two aggressively intellectual – and competitive – parents. As she grew up, she witnessed their marriage disintegrating and tried her utmost to compensate by being the perfect daughter. As a result she’s missed out on many typical teenage experiences; she doesn’t go to school dances or parties, and she doesn’t really have any friends. The summer after her senior year, however, she decides she needs a change. She goes to visit her dad, his second wife, and their new baby in a small town near the beach. There she gradually gets to know some of the local teenagers. While she distrusts them at first, she eventually learns to open herself up to friendship – and even, with a mysterious boy named Eli, the possibility of something more.

I really enjoy Sarah Dessen’s young adult books – the woman can certainly write a dysfunctional family! My heart went out to Auden and the tough situation she has to deal with: while her parents both love her, they’re also selfish and oblivious to how much pressure they’ve placed on their daughter. Auden is so tightly wound that she can’t sleep through the night, and she has no idea how to interact socially with people her own age. So I was really glad to see her grow and develop throughout the book. I also really liked that, while there is a love story in the book, its main focus is on friendship rather than romance. So many YA books these days focus on romantic turmoil and love triangles, but here most of Auden’s important relationships are with women. I liked this book a lot, even though I’m not its target demographic, but I definitely think it would be a great read for teen girls as well!

The War Against Miss Winter

The War Against Miss Winter by Kathryn…47. Kathryn Miller Haines, The War Against Miss Winter

Rosie Winter is a down-and-out actress trying to make it in 1942 New York. Though she currently lives in a boarding house along with her best friend Jayne, she’ll soon be kicked out since she hasn’t booked a job in months. In order to make ends meet, Rosie has been moonlighting as a secretary with a private detective agency. However, she is forced to do some detecting of her own when she finds her boss dead in his office. The police think it’s a suicide, but Rosie believes it could be murder. Her subsequent investigations reveal that an incredibly significant play has gone missing, and several parties with dubious motives are on its trail. But can Rosie find a murderer and pursue her acting career, all without being killed herself?

The first thing about this book to catch my eye was Rosie’s noir-style narration. Her glib, cynical tone immediately got me in the mood for a darkly humorous mystery full of tough-talking dames and mafia thugs with hearts of gold. Fortunately, the book delivers all that and more. Rosie’s no-nonsense demeanor masks some internal vulnerability, but she never lets that get in the way of doing her job. I don’t know that I’d call her likeable – she’s a bit prickly for that – but she’s definitely a compelling character to read about. I also liked the book’s approach to its World War II setting. I find that most books set in this time period end up being all about the war. Here, it’s not exploited for any kind of emotional payoff; it’s merely the grim backdrop to Rosie’s everyday life.

Finally, I have to say that this is one of the best-plotted mysteries I have ever read. At first I was worried that there were too many distractions from the main issue of finding the murderer. There are some (seeming) detours into Rosie’s romantic background, her acting career, and her best friend Jayne’s romantic turmoil. But all my fears proved completely groundless as I was treated to one of the most dramatic reveals I’ve ever encountered. Even if I hadn’t enjoyed the setting or the characters, the last few chapters alone would have made the entire book worth it. I will definitely be tracking down the rest of this series to see where Rosie and her friends will go from here!

Crucible of Gold

Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik46. Naomi Novik, Crucible of Gold

Warning: spoilers for previous Temeraire books.

After fulfilling their duties in exploring the continent of Australia, Laurence and Temeraire are content to live quietly on their new homestead, where Laurence is planting a farm and Temeraire is erecting a pavilion. However, an unexpected change of plans occurs when a British diplomat arrives in Australia, bringing word that Laurence has been reinstated as a British officer. Laurence and Temeraire now have orders to travel to the Portuguese colony of Brazil, which is currently under attack by Napoleon’s allies. En route, they encounter many difficulties, including a shipwreck, a mutiny, several unpleasant encounters with the French, and a detour through the vast empire of the Incas.

I really enjoyed this latest installment of the Temeraire series, especially since its predecessor, Tongues of Serpents, was probably my least favorite so far. Novik does have a tendency to turn her books into travelogues, describing every detail of a newly encountered civilization at the expense of furthering the plot. However, in this book there’s plenty of action to accompany the description, and the narrative never loses sight of Laurence and Temeraire’s ultimate objective. It was interesting to see a majority of the book’s events from Temeraire’s point of view, but I actually would have liked to get inside Laurence’s head a bit more. I love both characters, but I’m particularly invested in how Laurence’s story will turn out. As far as I know, there will only be two more books in this series, and I’m very eager to read them and discover what will happen in the end!

You're (Not) the One

You're (Not) the One by Alexandra Potter45. Alexandra Potter, You're (Not) the One

At age 19, Lucy Hemmingway kissed her first love, Nate, under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. According to an old legend, any pair of lovers who kiss under that bridge at sunset will be together forever. Unfortunately, Lucy and Nate must part ways at the end of their magical summer together, and their long-distance relationship eventually fizzles out. Ten years later, Lucy has a wonderful roommate and an exciting job with an art gallery in New York, but she’s never been able to forget about Nate. So when she unexpectedly runs into him again, she’s ecstatic – destiny has reunited them! But the dream soon turns into a nightmare as she realizes that she and Nate have both changed, and they’re not suited to one another at all. Yet try as she might, Lucy can’t seem to get rid of him. The old Venetian legend seems to have become a curse, and now Lucy is desperate to break it – especially since she’s met a man who just might be “the one,” and this time it’s for real.

I really liked the concept of this book, which turns the idea of destiny and soul mates on its head. The seemingly romantic idea that nothing can ever part two people in love is more like a horror story in this novel. However, while the concept is original, the execution is pretty much standard chick-lit fare. Lucy is a painfully typical heroine: insecure, flighty, clumsy, and secretly dreaming of a creative career. While I don’t normally mind the formula – sometimes it’s nice to know exactly what you’re getting – it does begin to pall after a while. The other problem I had with this novel is that every “twist” in the plot was telegraphed way ahead of time, so that it was never actually a surprise when it was finally revealed. As a result, the paragraphs of buildup just felt like a waste of time. All in all, this is competently written chick lit, but it never rises above average.

Bout of Books 4.0 Progress

So instead of doing a new update post every day, I've decided to make this my progress post for the entire Bout of Books read-a-thon.

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon

I'll be updating this every day with a short recap of what I've read, and possibly also how much time I've spent reading. Here goes...

Books from which I read today: You're (Not) the One by Alexandra Potter, Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik
Books finished today: You're (Not) the One by Alexandra Potter
# total books finished: 1
Time spent reading: Approximately 3 hours

Books from which I read today: Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik
Books finished today: Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik
# total books finished: 2
Time spent reading: Approximately 4 hours

Books from which I read today: The War Against Miss Winter by Kathryn Miller Haines
Books finished today: The War Against Miss Winter by Kathryn Miller Haines
# total books finished: 3
Time spent reading: Approximately 4 hours

Also, today's mini-challenge (hosted by Books Devoured) asks us to find a book cover and re-title it. I've chosen the following cover:

Lords of Desire (Smuggler's Lair / The Naked…
I think the title should be: Compensating for Something. (Yes, I have the mind of a 13-year-old boy. But come on, it's a giant sword!)

Books from which I read today: Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
Books finished today: Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
# total books finished: 4
Time spent reading: Approximately 3.5 hours

Books from which I read today: Lady Vernon and Her Daughter by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
Books finished today: none
# total books finished: 4
Time spent reading: Approximately 2.5 hours

Books from which I read today: Lady Vernon and Her Daughter by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
Books finished today: Lady Vernon and Her Daughter by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
# total books finished: 5
Time spent reading: Approximately 1 hour (?)

Books from which I read today: Children of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy
Books finished today: none
# total books finished: 5
Time spent reading: Approximately 1 hour

Bout of Books 4.0 Sign-Up

I wasn't going to participate in the Bout of Books read-a-thon this year, but I've been seeing a lot of other people's sign-up posts lately, and I caved to the peer pressure!

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon

The read-a-thon lasts for one week, starting tomorrow and going through Sunday. There is no requirement for what kind or how many books you need to read; the only real "rule" is to read more than you otherwise would. Click here to get more details and to sign up!

My personal goal is to finish six books. That will definitely be a big challenge for me, but I'm falling behind on many of my reading challenges, so hopefully this read-a-thon will help me catch up! I'm really not sure what I'll be reading, but I'll almost definitely include Naomi Novik's Crucible of Gold. I will probably focus on YA, chick lit, and mysteries, since I tend to go through those types of books quickly.

Death at Half-Term

44. Josephine Bell, Death at Half-Term

It’s half-term at Denbury, an English boarding school for boys, and that means a great deal of chaos and disruption to the school’s normal routine. The boys’ families are visiting for the holiday, the school is gearing up for the traditional fathers-versus-sons cricket match, and a traveling theater company has been hired to perform Twelfth Night. The holiday soon takes a turn for the sinister when one of the actors collapses just after the play’s final curtain. He dies shortly thereafter, and the evidence points to murder. Fortunately, amateur sleuth David Wintringham is present for the holiday since his nephew is a Denbury student. Together with the Scotland Yard inspector assigned to the case, David helps to uncover the truth about the actor’s death.

Bev at My Reader’s Block mentioned this book as one of her top 100 mysteries, and the combination of prep-school setting and Shakespeare intrigued me. This novel is a fairly typical 1930’s mystery, complete with intelligent amateur sleuth, numerous subplots and romances, and a climactic revelation of the murderer with all the main suspects present. Since I like these kinds of mysteries, I enjoyed the book, but I didn’t find it particularly unique or exciting. I felt that there were too many characters; it was hard for me to keep them all straight, and most of them had nothing to do with the mystery at hand. There was a sweet romance between two teachers at the school, but again, it was totally irrelevant to the story. Apparently there are many other David Wintringham books, so perhaps I would have liked this one more if I had more context about him and his life. Overall, this was a pleasant read, but not particularly noteworthy.

N.B. This book has also been published as Curtain Call for a Corpse.

Charles Dickens

43. G. K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens

As the title suggests, this book is Chesterton’s biographical sketch of Charles Dickens, although it’s really more of an ode. It was written at a time when Dickens’ popularity among literary critics was low, and Chesterton’s response was to write this spirited defense of Dickens’ work and the philosophy on which it is based. The book covers Dickens’ life in brief outline, as well as a discussion of many of his works, but Chesterton focuses most on the characters and books that resonated with him as a reader, most notably The Pickwick Papers.

My basic response to this book is that it’s not particularly useful for fans of Dickens; however, it’s a great read for fans of Chesterton. Since I love Chesterton, I really enjoyed this book, but I can see how his style might not be for everyone. Here’s a characteristic paragraph:

”It is a great mistake to suppose that love unites and unifies men. Love diversifies them, because love is directed towards individuality. The thing that really unites men and makes them like to each other is hatred. Thus, for instance, the more we love Germany the more pleased we shall be that Germany should be something different from ourselves, should keep her own ritual and conviviality and we ours. But the more we hate Germany the more we shall copy German guns and German fortifications in order to be armed against Germany.”

In all, the book, written in 1906, is much more breezy and philosophical (and off-topic) than a contemporary biography would be. I enjoyed it, as I think any fans of Chesterton’s would, but it’s definitely not a comprehensive resource on Dickens.

Epic Fail

Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik42. Claire LaZebnik, Epic Fail

In this modern YA take on Pride and Prejudice, Elise Benton and her sister Juliana are the new girls at a fancy California prep school. Elise immediately feels isolated from most of the students because of their fixation on money, celebrities and status. But when Juliana starts hanging out with Chase, who is part of the "in" crowd, Elise finds herself unwillingly drawn into the popular group. She soon clashes with Chase's best friend, Derek Edwards, whose parents are major Hollywood movie stars. Derek is handsome and smart, and everybody wants to be his friend, but his rude and standoffish behavior irritates Elise. When she befriends Webster Grant, a cute and charming guy who doesn't get along with Derek, she soon finds even more reasons to dislike Derek. But when Derek actually begins showing interest in her, Elise is shocked to find that her initial judgments of both Derek and Webster might not be entirely accurate.

I have mixed feelings about this book. As a novel in its own right, I think it's nothing particularly special. The plot is predictable, the characters aren't given very much depth, and the dialogue frequently made me cringe. So while this is a moderately entertaining and quick read, it's really just an average book. However, as an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, I was actually very impressed! The basic plot outline is there, along with most of the major characters, but this novel doesn't make the mistake of trying to replicate every single incident from the original book. For example, Elise's mom is the new principal of the high school, and she frequently humiliates her daughters by chatting with their friends at school and wearing bizarre outfits. She doesn't have the same motivations or mannerisms as Mrs. Bennet, but she is still an embarrassing mom. So the reference to P&P is there, but it doesn't overpower the story at hand. All in all, I enjoyed this book as a diehard P&P fan and would recommend it to other Janeites, as long as they don't mind the YA trappings!