Saturday, August 11, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: In the Presence of Evil by Tania Bayard

Christine de Pisan, a brilliant medieval lady of letters, is the heroine of a new historical mystery series. I reviewed the book for the Historical Novels Review (e-galley of book received from Netgalley.) 


See my review here.

Friday, August 3, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Brave New Earl by Jane Ashford

I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence my review.

I haven’t been to the beach, but I’m indulging in some summer beach reads. Brave New Earl by Jane Ashford is a soon-to-be released Regency Romance with a sweet story and sympathetic characters.

The earl in question is the Earl of Furness (Benjamin), a widower of five years with a five-year-old son. (Yes, his wife died in childbirth.) He is sunk in mourning to the extent that he rather shamefully neglects his son, partly because the child resembles his wife to a painful extent. The child is growing up to be wild and undisciplined. A succession of nursemaids can do nothing with him. There is a recent addition to the household, a fourteen-year-old orphan boy (Tom) with a wealth of experience in odd jobs, whose good nature and common sense make him a perfect companion/mentor for the boy (Gregory). However, Benjamin is not even aware that Tom is in the house. And Tom is not a long-term solution.

Enter Miss Jean Saunders, a distant cousin of the deceased wife, who has heard tales of the neglected child of the morose earl. The victim of a dreadful childhood, Jean is appalled to think of any child being ill-treated, let alone a relative of hers. She descends on the house in a righteous fury, determined to cart the boy off to his grandparents where she will assure he is cared for and loved. She doesn’t expect the earl to resist, but he does.

Benjamin is irritated beyond measure at the busy-body who has invaded his home. However, he does notice how pretty she is. She notices his good looks as well. He also sees that she has a point; he isn’t being a very good father, while she sees that he is not as disinterested a parent as she feared.

Both have the child’s best interests at heart, though they aren’t exactly sure how to go about improving things. Despite their initial discomfort with one another, they decide to work together to whip Benjamin’s household into shape and do what’s right for Gregory.

Their discomfort turns to passion and love, of course. There are some amusing episodes along the way. There is also the emotional baggage each carries that needs to be overcome.

I’ve read Jane Ashford before, (see my review of The Duke Knows Best), and find her Romances to be light, enjoyable reads.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Summer by Edith Wharton

It felt like time to read a classic, so I chose Summer by Edith Wharton.

Charity Royall is a beautiful young woman who was brought up in the home of a small-town lawyer and his wife in North Dormer, Massachusetts. The tiny, rural town lives in the shadow of "The Mountain," which is home to a community of impoverished, uneducated, hopeless people who are scorned and feared by the whole town. Charity had been born to a woman on The Mountain, but was brought down by Mr. Royall as a young child. He was doing a good deed for a man he had sent to prison for murder, Charity’s father.

Charity lives a lonely, isolated existence as the town’s librarian. She lives with Mr. Royall but she despises him. He’d come to her one night after his wife died, hoping to sleep with her, but she turned him away in horror. Since then, he’s kept his distance.

One day, a young man comes to town to spend time with his aunt while studying local architectural history. In short, he seduces Charity.

There is a stark difference between the colorless loneliness and lack of future that Charity feels before Lucius Harney arrives and the bright, passionate, living-for-the-moment existence that she discovers when she is with him. The romance is bittersweet. The reader knows that this will not work out well. Lucius appears to be gentle and kind to her. However, she feels unworthy of him – she is, after all, descended from mountainfolk, while he is an educated city dweller. Worse, he feels superior to her. The gulf between them makes any marriage so far out of the question that it never comes up until the issue is forced. Lucius may not consider her a suitable option for a wife, but he is perfectly content to use her and let her believe he’s in love.

All the while, Mr. Royall tries to warn her, earning only her anger and hatred. He’s an unpleasant character as well, significantly older and prone to drunkenness. But he provides a sort of safety net for her. And eventually, she needs that safety net. She becomes pregnant. Lucius takes off with vague promises to return.

Charity decides to run back to the Mountain where she believes her people are, but discovers pretty quickly that she can’t return to that community of despair. She cannot raise her own child there.

With nowhere to turn, she finds Mr. Royall coming to her rescue. He still wants to marry her and provide for her. Passively, she lets this happen too.

The story is depressing as many of Wharton’s works are. It’s beautifully written and Charity’s musings and distraction as Lucius becomes her whole world illustrate wonderfully the all-encompassing nature of a first love. Charity’s naivete and almost determined blindness to reality are heartbreaking but realistic. The reader (and Mr. Royall) can see that the young man is using Charity. But it’s easy to see how she falls for him nevertheless. The ending is ambiguously painful. Is she fortunate to have Mr. Royall’s devotion to fall back on? Or was it her inevitable fate to end up miserably trapped in a life with him?