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Readingomnivore Reviews

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by readingomnivore, Mar 25, 2014.

  1. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    PEMBERLEY PARK: THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS is Georgina Young-Ellis's 2017 holiday sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, incorporating Henry and Mary Crawford from Mansfield Park. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format. Following the traditional Anglican church calendar, Christmastide begins 25 December and extends through 5 January, Twelfth Night.

    Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy are celebrating their first Christmas at Pemberley with a family house party: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and unmarried daughter Kitty, Jane and Charles Bingley with three-month-old son Jonathan, heavily pregnant Mary and husband Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, Georgiana and fiance Frederick Beaumont, Mr. and Mrs. Collins and one-year-old son William. Kitty's plea adds the Crawford siblings, whom she'd met through the Gardiners, while Jane's compassion adds Caroline Bingley. Lydia shows up uninvited, driven to leave Wickham by his gambling, drinking, and womanizing. The bad situation becomes worse when Lady Catherine de Bourgh, incensed that the Collinses had been invited to Christmas at Pemberley when she had not, arrives unannounced. The Crawfords, intent on causing trouble, divide to conquer. Henry ignores Kitty to focus on Georgiana, while Mary beguiles Frederick. Matters get chaotic before peace returns.

    Where to begin? PEMBERLEY PARK: THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS is thoroughly modern, not Regency, in attitudes, behavior, customs, manners, writing style, slang, and all. Plot situations ripe for development are passed over for discussing who's to play for impromptu dancing and the permutations in couples for each dance. Obstetric details are not necessary. Lack of foreshadowing makes the surprise ending an add-on rather than a logical outcome of prior action.

    ~~~POSIBLE SPOILERS~~~

    Most of the characters are consistent with Austen's originals, only with the Crawfords, Lydia, Mrs. Bennet, Lady Catherine, Collins, and Caroline Bingley a bit exaggerated. Darcy is changed. In Austen so suspicious of people's motives and intensely private, the Young-Ellis Darcy accepts the unknown Crawfords and remains oblivious to their machinations. Her Elizabeth is contradictory. Elizabeth is weak enough, against her better judgment, to accept Kitty's persuasion without even asking her aunt about the Crawfords, and Jane's guilt-trip over the ever-vicious Caroline. Elizabeth does, however, frankly inform Lady Catherine that she needs no help with managing her servants; she warns Lydia that she deserves her current situation and will no longer receive any financial support; she tells her mother, if she doesn't stop criticizing Lydia's treatment, to leave with her daughter. Only Mary Crawford's already packing to go prevents the furious Elizabeth from ejecting the woman from Pemberley. Brava, Lizzy!

    PEMBERLEY PARK: THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS isn't a bad story, though it does not live up to its best possibilities. It's just not very Austen. (C+)
     
  2. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE EGYPTIAN CROSS MYSTERY is one of the early books in the mystery series featuring amateur criminologist and crime novelist Ellery Queen, written by Frederick Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee under the nom de plume Ellery Queen. Originally published in 1932, it was reissued in digital format in 2012. It fits the seasonal theme because the first murder is discovered on Christmas Day.

    When Ellery Queen reads of a bizarre murder in Arroyo, West Virginia, his curiosity and the case as a potential novel basis lead him to investigate. Local schoolmaster Andrew Van's body, headless, is crucified to a signpost shaped like a T, and multiple T markings are found connected with the case. Van's head is never found. His simple-minded servant Kling is missing, but an unknown limping man had been at Van's nearby house the previous night. Even with Queen's help, the case goes nowhere. Then, on 22 June, mentor and friend Professor Yardley contacts Queen about a similarly staged murder near him on Long Island, that of Thomas Brad, millionaire rug importer; his decapitated body, head missing, was tied to a totem post as if crucified. What is the connection between the deaths some six months and many miles apart? The investigation involves two more T-theme murders, a nudist camp, a crazed Egyptologist, a con man, a West Virginia mountaineer hermit, an amateur explorer, an ex-con trying to go straight, a pair of international jewel thieves, an adulterous affair, and a Balkan blood feud before Queen finally cracks the case.

    Arguably Ellery Queen's greatest contribution to the crime fiction genre is his introduction of the challenge that, having been presented all the facts needed to prove the solution, the reader identify the culprit before reading the denouement. This convention presents a double challenge: the reader must exercise close reading and deductive skills, and the writer must provide subtle clues to prevent premature epiphany. The most important element in any Queen mystery is the puzzle plot, always elaborate and generally with some literary or esoteric component, a story that requires the reader ignore holes exposed by common sense. Queen's repeated building theories of the crime, only to tear them down, can become tedious padding. THE EGYPTIAN CROSS MYSTERY fits this pattern fully.

    Characterization is sketchy. Since point of view is limited third person through his eyes, Ellery Queen is always the most developed character. The detective Queen is not terribly appealing. He's smug about his supremacy as a logician, often critical of the intelligence of police with whom he works, and given to enigmatic pronouncements. Not always very efficient in his actions, when he traces the killer back in Arroyo, he only telegraphs the town constable and does not contact the Hancock County District Attorney or the head of the West Virginia State Police with whom he'd worked in December. Instead he jumps into his antique Duesenberg and drives from Long Island to West Virginia to be part of apprehending the murderer. Queen's egotistical enough to have the Chicago police watch but not arrest the killer until he arrives, so he can receive the praise for locating him.

    By the conventions of the Thirties when it was written, THE EGYPTIAN CROSS MYSTERY is well-written, though it has not aged well. (B-)
     
  3. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Zoe Burton's LILACS AND LAVENDER is a 2015 novella variant of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format. It qualifies for seasonal reading because the story begins before Christmas.

    .The basic change from Austen's original concerns George Wickham. Shortly after the Bingley party leaves Netherfield, the Bennet sisters witness an altercation between the daughters of two Meryton merchants, each pregnant and claiming that Wickham promised to marry her. Elizabeth's new knowledge forces her to acknowledge her failure in judgment in believing Wickham an honorable man, leading her to realize she'd also misjudged Fitzwilliam Darcy. She now regrets her attitude toward Darcy but expects never to see him again. Meanwhile, Darcy has not overcome his attraction to her; he has overcome his objections to her family and connections. Thus in March, when Jane Bennet literally runs into Charles Bingley and his party at the theater, both Elizabeth and Darcy are pleased to begin anew. Before she continues on to visit Charlotte Collins in Kent, Darcy asks Elizabeth for a courtship and obtains Mr. Bennet's consent to courtship and marriage if their feelings grow. They court at Hunsford, are engaged when Elizabeth returns to Longbourn. and married in June.

    ~~~POSSIBLE SPOILERS~~~

    Most of the major characters are relatively unchanged. Elizabeth and Darcy have each resolved doubts about the other before their reunion in London, so angst is minimal. The important character changes involve Charles Bingley and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. When Bingley learns that Caroline lied about his relationship with Georgiana Darcy and concealed Jane's presence in London, he refuses to live in the Bingley townhouse with his sisters and gives Caroline an ultimatum: marry anyone who asks her before the end of this Season or be set up independently, alone and unwelcome in any house of his. It is nice to see that Bingley is a vertebrate.

    Lady Catherine rants and raves to Darcy about the engagement and refuses ever to accept Elizabeth Bennet, going to the extreme of offering Mr. Bennet £15,000 to withdraw his consent to the marriage. She's desperate for the Darcy-Anne marriage to preserve her control of Rosings. Faced with Darcy and Mr. Bennet's intransigence, Lord Matlock's refusal to meddle in Darcy's business, and Anne's declarations of love and reassurance, Lady Catherine changes literally overnight, a fait accompli, improbable in its speed and thoroughness. I just can't believe a kinder, gentler Lady Catherine.

    The title LILACS AND LAVENDER comes from the language of flowers--purple lilacs (Elizabeth's favorite flower, a sprig from her hair given to Darcy at the theater) symbolize spring and the first stirrings of love, while lavender (given to Elizabeth by Darcy when he calls the next day) represents love and devotion. This effectively removes any suspense about their relationship. Action is reported, not shown. Lady Catherine's threats provide only token resistance. There is very little dialogue. Attitudes and language are modern, not Regency. Either formatting changes or writing style precludes paragraph divisions, making for chunks of text that sometimes require more than one reading to comprehend.

    LILACS AND LAVENDER may be an acceptable choice for a quiet read with a cup of rich hot chocolate, but it's as exciting as a cup of warm skim milk. (C)
     
  4. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "An Auspicious Day in Derbyshire" is Margaret Lynette Sharp's short story sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in free or inexpensive digital format in 2017.

    Lady Catherine de Bourgh descends on Pemberley to express her objection to Georgiana Darcy's marrying a social inferior, Dr. Edward Hodges. She issues an ultimatum that her daughter and her husband not be invited to Georgiana's wedding, on pain of her own boycott if they attend. Faced with her mother's implacable opposition, Anne de Bourgh and Society artist David King, with Georgiana's secret help, had eloped to Gretna Green, married, and now live happily in London; Lady Catherine has severed all connections. Georgiana, promised support by both Darcy and Elizabeth whichever choice she makes, must make two decisions about wedding invitations: does she invite the Kings, and does she invite Lydia Bennet Wickham with, or without, her husband?

    Nothing much happens in "An Auspicious Day in Derbyshire." The short-lived struggle is all internal, there is minimal angst, and Georgiana's wedding goes without major incident. Characters are faithful to the originals, though Mrs. Bennet may be a bit more sensible. The story is pleasant enough, but I don't see its purpose. (C)
     
  5. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    FROM LONGBOURN, WITH LOVE is Margaret Lynette Sharp's anthology of short story sequels to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The individual titles are: "Longbourn Revisited," "An Encounter at Longbourn," "A Party at Longbourn," "And from Longbourn, a Wedding Comes," and "Much Ado about Longbourn." Because they follow chronological order with minimal resolution between stories, I read and review them as a novel. It was published in 2017 in digital format. "An Auspicious Day in Derbyshire," published and reviewed separately, functions both as an epilogue and a continuation of FROM LONGBOURN, WITH LOVE.

    The story is slice of life, ordinary events in the continuing lives of the Bennet and Darcy families. Mr. Bennet's illness introduces Dr. Edward Hodges to Georgiana Darcy. Ordered by Lady Catherine, Mr. Collins, now a widower, comes to Longbourn to choose a second wife. Decisions about including Lydia Wickham in family activities are required. Financial problems and Lady Catherine's plans impede Kitty and Colonel Fitzwilliam's developing relationship. The plot summarizes rather than shows direct action. Angst is minimal; struggle is token; suspense is lacking. There's little dialogue and less sense of emotion.

    Dramatis personae are generally faithful to the original, with Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, Lady Catherine especially so. However, Georgiana, now over twenty years old, is so gauche that the mere mention of an unidentified militia officer in Meryton causes her to scald herself with boiling-hot tea. The other Darcys are supporting cast, the Bingleys walk-ons. The only introduced character is Dr. Hodges, about whom I have reservations. He's more attentive toward Elizabeth than appropriate for a bachelor to a married woman while encouraging Mrs. Bennet's hope he'll marry Kitty or Mary. When he meets Miss Darcy, he drops all interaction with the two Bennets and does everything possible to engage Georgiana (and her dowry?). My unease may come from Sharp's saying that their relationship develops without showing Hodges and Georgiana in personal or private conversation, not even once.

    Problems in FROM LONGBOURN, WITH LOVE, include modern attitudes: public use of terms of endearments, Georgiana left alone with Dr. Hodges to treat her scalded hand, the Colonel writing directly to Kitty when they are not engaged or formally courting. Based on different travel times between them, relative locations of Pemberley, Rosings, London, and Longbourn change. Editing problems include confusion of "imply" and "infer"--a writer or speaker implies, a reader or listener infers. Darcy asks Caroline Bingley for the first set at a ball in London and is accepted, then in the next paragraph but one, the invitation is repeated and accepted a second time.

    Again, there's nothing much wrong with FROM LONGBOURN, WITH LOVE, but there's nothing much special either. (C)
     
  6. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Michael Wood calls "The Fallen" a short story, though its length is closer to a novel. It features Detective Chief Inspector Matilda Darke, head of the Murder Investigation Team (MIT) of the South Yorkshire Police in Sheffield. The story opens on 7 December 2010 and ends on Christmas Day. The story was published in digital format in 2016.

    When Iain Kilbride, driver for Barnes Coaches, doesn't show up for work and hasn't called in sick, his boss Andrea Barnes goes to check on him, finding him dead on the floor of his kitchen. He'd died of a brain aneurysm secondary to a deep wound to the head; autopsy showed he'd been slowly dying of multiple organ failure. His flat is poorly furnished, undecorated, grungy, but police find a magazine identifying him as a soap opera star of the 1980s series Emmerdale Farm. They also find three laptop computers, an expensive mobile phone, an iPod, and more than £200 in cash. If the motive wasn't robbery, does it come from his acting career?

    "The Fallen" is straight police procedural, the arrest coming from the work of a team of professionals. Wood plays fair with providing information as it's uncovered but still manages a surprise twist in the killer's identity and the motive for Kilbride's death. I wonder, however, would not the police fingerprint of the people who enter Kilbride's apartment and discover his body, to eliminate them as suspects?

    Matilda Darke is an interesting protagonist. Newly promoted and head of a nine-day-old division years in the making, she's stressed at work by empathy for the victims, the close watch maintained by her boss ACC Masterson, and the enmity of DI Ben Hales who'd lost out on leading MIT. Off duty, she's stressed by living in a ramshackle caravan with architect husband James Darke, they having just begun a complete remodel of their house. Introducing the entire staff of MIT provides more characters than are needed to carry the action. The length of "The Fallen" precludes most of them being more than bare names, though potential for individualizing them is good.

    Wood conveys atmosphere effectively. "With only two weeks until Christmas, shoppers were out in force. The hardy gift buyers were wrapped up against the bitter elements as they braved the arctic freeze to ensure their loved ones had a merry Christmas. ... As she made her way through the throngs of shoppers, she [Matilda Darke] saw the looks on their pinched red faces; steely determination. These people had a list and they would get every item regardless of whom they had to step on to get it. Militant shoppers were to be avoided at all costs."

    "The Fallen" reads like the first story in a series. If so, I will check the series out. (B)
     
  7. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Maria Grace's DARCY & ELIZABETH: CHRISTMAS 1811 is a 2017 variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format.

    Jane Austen wrote nothing about the Christmas after the Bingley party's removal from Netherfield following the ball. Grace's story covers 24 November 1811, the final Sunday before Advent, through 7 January 1812, the day after Epiphany. It's unusual because Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy do not meet during Christmastide. Darcy is in London, tending business and trying to forget Elizabeth, who's at Longbourn, trying to avoid Mr. Collins and her mother's wrath. After she refuses Collins, her mother pressures her to attach Lt. George Wickham, so handsome and so charming, and marry him forthwith; Mr. Bennet seems to encourage this; Elizabeth finds Wickham attractive and enjoys his attentions. Can she resist the dual influence of duty and attraction? Should she? Meanwhile, in London, everything he sees, does, and remembers reminds Darcy of Elizabeth Bennet. Actions of his relatives and others in the Ton and his observation of Mr. Gardiner overcome his objections to her family's behavior and Elizabeth's connections and leave him resolved that, when they meet again, he will propose.

    I like the premise, and Grace's execution is skilled. Her separation of the protagonists throughout is unique. She develops setting and atmosphere effectively. Added events in London and in Meryton are believable and serve characterization purposes well.

    Grace's characterization is generally faithful to the originals. Mrs. Bennet is self-centered and abrasive, hateful Lydia must be the center of attention, and Collins toadies and pontificates. However, Darcy thinks Bingley's behavior at the Netherfield ball that of a "cakey sot." Bingley uses their friendship and Darcy's guilt to manipulate Darcy into complying with Caroline's scheming for marriage, all to keep peace in his household. This Bingley doesn't deserve Jane Bennet.

    In DARCY & ELIZABETH: CHRISTMAS 1811, Elizabeth is consistent with Austen while more emotionally invested in Wickham. Despite knowing only what the officer has disclosed, she is quite willing to marry him. She's disappointed, hurt when Wickham transfers his attentions to Mary King, who's inherited £10,000. Only after Mrs. Gardiner's practical advice about his lack of fortune does Elizabeth begin to relinquish her infatuation. Darcy is inconsistent. He despises Society in most of its manifestations yet repeatedly allows family and friends to persuade him into social activities he'd prefer to miss. Darcy's token compliance with her plans serve to encourage, not discourage, Caroline's forlorn hope for their marriage. If he's so obsessed with gossip columnists who publish his every move and he so abhors Society, why does Darcy stay in London instead of returning to Pemberley, where Georgiana is observing Christmas alone? His attitude seems that of a modern celebrity toward the paparazzi.

    DARCY & ELIZABETH: CHRISTMAS 1811 is one of the best variants on Pride and Prejudice. (A)
     
  8. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    "The Fifth Christmas" by E. A. Allen bears a substantial subtitle: "A Personal Episode from the Journal of Colonel Sir Francis FitzMaurice, Concerning Events in Kent, in December 1909." Its title page identifies it as a Montclaire Christmas mystery. It was published in digital format in 2013.

    Colonel Sir Francis FitzMaurice is summoned to Kent by his older brother Gilbert FitzMaurice, Lord Hadley, who expects to die soon. He invites Sir Francis's criminologist friend Gerard, Marquis de Montclaire, to accompany him. Some twenty years before, Hadley served in India where he'd been cursed by a Hindu holy man: "Once each year for five years you will suffer the terrible sickness, and on the fifth year, you will die in agony." Hadley suffers a severe rash that eventually covers his entire body, causes pain so excruciating that he becomes suicidal, then disappears. Narcotics do not control the pain, and physician Dr. Raymond Oldie can't identify the cause of the rash. Friends Reverend Darcy Pringle and family solicitor Archibald Milne, aunt Lady Margaret Montgomerie and niece Lady Anne Montgomerie who is heir presumptive after Sir Francis, all fear his mind is going. This is the fifth Christmas, and Hadley believes death is imminent. As Montclaire investigates, he uncovers an ongoing plot extending from India, through the Boer War, to the present, a plot that includes the curse, murders, treason, fraud, identity theft, and revenge.

    Montclaire and Sir Francis bear a distinct resemblance to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson, though Sir Francis makes a definite distinction: "There are those--that showy English chap, Holmes, for example--who makes a great deal of a single piece of evidence. But...it was Montclaire's method to gather great mountains of evidence and then to sift it to the bottom. It was the way he had learned at the Sorbonne, from his great mentor, C. Auguste Dupin...the fellow whose exploits--notably those Murders in the Rue Morgue--were popularized by that depressing American johnny--Mr. Row, or Doe or some such thing. Of course, Montclaire he could be showy himself, in a Holmesean sort of way, but mainly he was an information sifter. And, a damn good one too."

    Methinks Sir Francis doth protest too much. The men share an apartment at 6 rue de Longchamp in Paris; Montclaire is the brilliant investigator, Sir Francis the less astute observer-chronicler. Montclaire, still carefully watched by his sisters and Sir Francis, is an alcoholic who'd been in a mental institution for most of 1902. Montclaire possesses esoteric knowledge--from Hadley's description, he identifies the holy man's facial painting as that of a devotee of Shiva. He throws out cryptic comments that tantalize but do not inform his audience. He makes great leaps of deduction based on minimal evidence. Conan Doyle used the curse and long-term revenge themes. Allen's plot structure is similar to that of Holmes stories, with no foreshadowing of the identity of the plotters until the tell-all denouement.

    "The Fifth Christmas" reads like a pastiche of Holmes. Re-reading Conan Doyle's "The Blue Carbuncle," also appropriate to the season, is a better investment of time. (C-)
     
  9. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Zoe Burton's short story "Darcy's Perfect Present" is a Christmas variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2017.

    With sister Georgiana visiting a school friend over the holidays, Fitzwilliam Darcy accepts Charles Bingley's standing invitation and arrives at Netherfield for Christmas. He'd met Jane Bennet Bingley's family at their wedding a month before but not her favorite sister Elizabeth. Gravely ill earlier in the year, she'd been recuperating at Ramsgate with her Aunt and Uncle Phillips and forbidden to return to Longbourn for the wedding. Now recovered, though still in danger of a relapse, she's visiting the Bingleys indefinitely for the peace and quiet needed to return to full strength. It's love at first sight for Darcy and Elizabeth, His determination to provide her with the perfect Christmas gift produces his own best-ever present.

    This is a charming little story involving only the Bingleys, Darcy, and Elizabeth, covering only the week ending on Christmas Day in the morning. Though the four are reasonably faithful to Austen's original, the action is strictly non-canonical. The new pair meet for the first time with a clean slate, so neither needs to change. There is no Wickham to poison their relationship, no insult at a Meryton assembly, no interference between Bingley and Jane, no opposition to create angst. Admiration quickly turns to love, and love leads to a proposal at an incredible pace. That pace produces my main question about the story--Austen's Darcy and Elizabeth share too much common sense to act so precipitously.

    "Darcy's Perfect Present" is a comfortable "afternoon before the fire" read. (A-)
     
  10. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    KISSING CHRISTMAS GOODBYE is one of M. C. Beaton's long-running Agatha Raisin series set in Mircester in the Cotswolds. It was published in 2007 in print and digital editions.

    KISSING CHRISTMAS GOODBYE opens in October: "...she tried to fill her mind with thoughts of Christmas. Unlike quite a number of people, Agatha had not given up on Christmas. To have the perfect Christmas had been a childhood dream whilst surviving a rough upbringing in a Birmingham slum. Holly berries glistened, snow fell gently outside, and inside all was Dickensian jollity. And in her dreams, James Lacey kissed her under the mistletoe, and, like a middle-aged sleeping beauty, she would awake to passion once more. Her friend, the vicar's wife, Mrs. Bloxley, had once pointed out that Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Christ, but Agatha's mind shied away from that. To her, Christmas was more Hollywood than church." (1-2) This motif of longing for a life-altering experience of Christmas permeates the story and offers much insight into Agatha's personality.'

    When Agatha hires young Toni Gilmour as a trainee detective, she expects the seventeen-year-old to locate lost pets. Toni's unexpected success getting photographs in a cheating spouse case leads Agatha to involve her in the investigation of Phyllis Tamworthy's situation--Mrs. Tamworthy suspects that a family member plans to kill her during her upcoming eightieth birthday celebration; she hires Agatha to identify the would-be killer. The matriarch uses her wealth to control her four financially-dependent middle-aged children, plans to sell the Manor House estate, including ownership of the villages of Upper and Lower Tapor in Glouchestershire, to endow a new technical college in memory of her husband. Her family knows that she means to cut them from her will immediately after her birthday, so that at her death, the college will pass to the state. Her children will not profit. She uses ownership of the villages to control their inhabitants who know that, if the sale goes through, they will lose their low-rent houses and businesses. A likely setup for murder, indeed. Agatha and her friend Sir Charles Fraith attend the birthday dinner, at which Mrs. Tamworthy ingests poison hemlock and dies. Her daughter-in-law Alison hires Agatha to discover the killer. Before Agatha and her detectives finish investigating, they're involved in three more murders, two suicides, three major physical assaults, and witchcraft. Agatha's Christmas dinner becomes one that she and her guests will never forget.

    Toni Gilmour is an interesting new character in the Agatha Raisin series. She comes from the chaos of a working class, totally dysfunctional family plagued with alcoholism and graft and, like Agatha, uses her intelligence and drive to escape it. This makes for poignant, complex interaction between them: "Toni studied her uneasily. She was very grateful to Agatha or all her generosity but was frightened it was merely a whim and Agatha would soon grow tired of playing the Lady Bountiful, not knowing that a good part of Agatha's generosity was prompted by shrewd business acumen. Agatha saw a promising detective, a young detective who would not leave her to go to university as Harry had done." (43-4) Abrasive and abrupt as always, the unsentimental Agatha deals sensitively with Toni.

    KISSING CHRISTMAS GOODBYE is at least as much about expectations aroused by the Christmas season as about the mystery. (A-)
     
  11. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    MR. DARCY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL is Meg Osborne's 2017 holiday variation on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, with a nod toward Charles Dickens. It is available in digital format.

    After leaving Netherfield for London, the Bingleys and Fitzwilliam Darcy are caught in the social whirl of the Christmas season. Charles Bingley is depressed, Caroline intent in pursuit of Darcy, and Darcy himself bored and irritable because he can't stop thinking about Elizabeth Bennet. Following a ball he'd rather have avoided, Darcy experiences three dreams. The first reveals Elizabeth Bennet deceived by Wickham, taken in by his looks and charm. The second discloses Caroline Bingley's successful scheme that compromises Darcy into marriage. The third shows both Darcy and Charles Bingley trapped in unhappy marriages. Darcy rethinks his priorities, confesses his interference, and asks Bingley to return to Netherfield for the quiet Christmas in Hertfordshire they'd originally planned. Georgiana joins them; Caroline stays in London; everyone has a joyous Christmas.

    Only small caveats. "Bought" is a verb; "bout" a noun, meaning a contest of some sort. The second involves the setup for Darcy's dreams. For both the first and second, it's unclear whether the gap in time indicates sleep and dream or the passage of real time to another live event. The third caveat involves elapsed time. How long before Christmas Day is their return to Netherfield?

    Osborne uses A Christmas Carol's premise of the redemptive power of dreams lightly, without allowing the fable's storyline to overwhelm Austen. The three dreams are believable extrapolations if Darcy's behavior remains unchanged. Characters in MR. DARCY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL are reasonably authentic to the originals, though both Darcy and Elizabeth are quick to change their feelings. Osborne softens the behavior of Mrs. Bennet and the younger daughters to make Darcy's altered opinion about them believable.

    MR. DARCY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL is one of the best holiday fan fiction variants. (A)
     
  12. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE TWELVE DOGS OF CHRISTMAS is David Rosenfelt's 2016 holiday entry in his Andy Carpenter series. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format.

    When Martha "Pups" Boyer, who rescues mother dogs and their newborn puppies from shelters and fosters them, becomes the subject of a zoning complaint that can close her operation, she calls on Andy Carpenter to defend her. Carpenter, a wealthy lawyer who only takes cases that offend his sense of justice, has known and respected her some fifteen years. He gets Pups a zoning variance to continue her work. Then she finds Randy Hennessey, the neighbor who made the zoning complaint, shot dead; she's accused of his murder. Carpenter again represents her. The evidence is too neat--she'd threatened Hennessey at the zoning hearing, she'd been seen leaving his house, and, worst of all, the murder weapon is found in her basement. To make her bad situation worse, the gun had been used eighteen months before in the drive-by shooting that killed her husband Jake Boyer and Bloodz gang member "Little Tiny" Parker. On the evidence of the gun, Pups is charged with their murders. Carpenter is convinced that Pups is being framed, but by whom, and why?

    The story is set in Paterson, New Jersey, opening some three weeks before Christmas and extending into the first week of the new year. Christmas is an important element in the story, used mostly to develop character: "I'm not dreaming of a white Christmas. First of all, I almost never dream about weather, and when it comes to holidays, I'm mostly indifferent to colors. Second of all, if you live in an urban environment...snow on the streets doesn't stay white for long. It turns to brown and gray and black in no time. But the main reason I would never dream of a white Christmas is Bing Crosby. Growing up, my mother started playing Christmas music in the house pretty much in the beginning of July, and by far the song she played most frequently was the one with Bing Crosby dreaming of that damn white Christmas..." (7)

    Andy Carpenter is the first person narrator, a self-deprecating storyteller with an ironic sense of humor: "Today is 'tree decorating day.' It's not my favorite day of the year, but it's not the worst either. For instance, I like it more than 'root canal day,' and 'food poisoning day,' and 'colonoscopy day.' " (127) He's surrounded by believable individuals. Details of family life add verisimilitude without dominating the action. Rosenfelt skillfully hides the person responsible for the plot against Pups in plain sight.

    Two complaints. One is a TSTL. Carpenter walks his dogs alone, late at night, knowing that the conspirators realize how close he is to unraveling their plot, and leaving his cell phone behind. Is anyone surprised that he's attacked by the killer? The second is the sheer number of characters. Every piece of information involves one or more new characters, most undeveloped beyond names.

    THE TWELVE DOGS OF CHRISTMAS is well-written, a satisfying read. (A-)
     
  13. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    SECOND GLANCES is the second book in Alexa Adams's A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice series of sequels to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2012. It does not have a Christmas theme or setting, but I read it to get to the third book which features a Twelfth Night ball at Pemberley.

    Where to begin? I am not greatly impressed with SECOND GLANCES. I dislike intrusive narrators, so I was immediately disappointed with the prologue and later the epilogue, written as letters from Adams to Jane Austen. Proofreading as well as spell check is needed. Apostrophes in plurals and possessives of names are incorrectly used. Someone has a "well time" at an event. "Sights" are the attractions of a place; "sites" are locations. Sentences and paragraphs are convoluted, with antecedents of pronouns sometimes unclear. Naming the first Bennet grandchild William Bennet-Collins is an anachronism.

    The plot is too scattered to be effectively developed. With three romances, two pregnancies, a miscarriage, a foiled elopement, and Caroline's machinations, it attempts too much for detail. Events are told, not shown. The story ends in a rush, ending with a whimper of epilogue, not the bang of emotion.

    ~~~POSSIBLE SPOILERS~~~

    Before Kitty Bennet leaves Mrs. Rivers's select school in Bath to join Georgiana Darcy in her first Season in London, she's nearly run down in the street by eccentric Sir James Stratton, a handsome, wealthy baronet who's bowled over by Kitty's beauty and spirit. Sir James is delighted when he meets Kitty again with the Darcys in London. Since he, Darcy, and Simon Brooks have been friends since childhood, Sir James is a welcome suitor for Kitty as is Brooks for Georgiana. Lacking self-confidence, Kitty questions Sir James's sincerity and suspects his impetuosity. Meanwhile, Caroline Bingley Wickham schemes to gain readmission to the Darcys' circle so that she may reconcile Darcy and her husband. She's determined to attend their Twelfth Night Ball at Pemberley. Lydia must be saved from her folly while Sir James's courtship does not go smoothly.

    Characters are quite different from the originals. Lady Catherine and Mr. Bennet are fast friends, he calling in at Rosings unannounced but welcomed. Lady Catherine, quite reconciled to the Darcys' marriage, actively promotes that of Kitty and Sir James. Wickham is at least partially redeemed. Jane moves from passive to practically catatonic. Elizabeth and Darcy are reasonably faithful, but Adams reduces them to supporting roles only. Sir James Stratton and Simon Brooks are the most developed of the new characters, though neither seems believable. Other introductions--Sir James's Aunt Augusta, the Beaumont siblings, Lydia's friend Letitia Burke--remain little more than names.

    SECOND GLANCES needs severe revision to focus the plot and to allow indirect characterization. Time would be better spent reading Austen herself. (C)
     
  14. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Alexa Adams's HOLIDAYS AT PEMBERLEY is the third in her A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice series, sequels to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in digital format.

    I don't quite understand the structure of the series. The first two, FIRST IMPRESSIONS and SECOND GLANCES, follow directly upon each other. The third opens in July 1790 when the Lucases offer comfort to survivors of a carriage accident, jumps to Christmas 1811-12 when Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet marry at Pemberley and Charlotte Lucas meets David Westover, the rector at Kympton, thence to Christmas 1812-13 (before the marriages of Georgiana, Kitty, and Lydia, with Charlotte not included in the gathering), and to Christmas 1813-14, when the Charlotte-David relationship finally leads to their engagement. Christmastide and Twelfth Night are a plot device to bring together large house parties, though seasonal activities are summarized briefly where not ignored. Most of the action in all three books is non-seasonal, told not shown. While summaries and Amazon reviews emphasize HOLIDAYS AT PEMBERLEY as Charlotte Lucas's story, it deals much more with the Bennets and the Darcys.

    Adams's Charlotte is not very appealing, especially in the opening Christmas. She claims to be happy to see the love between Darcy and Elizabeth, but she does not expect it to last; she's resentful that Elizabeth has been so readily accepted by Darcy's family and Society; she thinks choosing to marry someone so beneath him shows Darcy is not a sensible man. She conceals a distinct dog-in-the-manger attitude. Adams prolongs the time between Charlotte and David Westover's meeting as adults and his proposal. He is 39 years old when they meet, Charlotte almost thirty, yet their doubts, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings are more typical of teenagers. Despite acknowledging to herself that she loves David, Charlotte rationalizes marriage on purely practical grounds. Only direct intervention by David's sister and Mrs. Gardiner moves the couple toward open communication.

    Using too many characters makes it impossible to develop any in great detail. David Westover, with his wide-ranging interests in natural science, art, and literature, is an apt match for pragmatic Charlotte; his entering the Church because he had the gift of a good living despite lacking any sense of calling is realistic for the nineteenth-century Anglican Church. He's static, however, springing forth full-blown. After the setup of the 1790 meeting in which the very young Charlotte comforted him as a grieving boy, Adams makes little use of it. Of the characters introduced in the earlier books of the series, Adams develops only Hugh Beaumont, Lydia's young husband, who shows signs of increasing maturity.

    Some of the embellishments to canonical characters bother me. I do not see Fitzwilliam Darcy ever allowing Wickham to be a guest at Pemberley regardless of who invited him or why, especially with Georgiana in residence. That Wickham would lead people to believe that he is the illegitimate son of Mr. Darcy, Senior, is believable; that Caroline Bingley would elope with him, believing him so, is not. Marriage to an unacknowledged natural son would end her social-climbing ambition far more surely than any connection to Trade. Lady Catherine's taking credit for Elizabeth's social skills and correcting Mrs. Bennet's child-rearing ideas are perfectly realistic, but she as close friend and confidante of Mr. Bennet is not. The most satisfying element in HOLIDAYS AT PEMBERLEY is Mr. Bennet's maneuvers that lead to the Wickhams becoming Lady Catherine's long-term "house guests." She plans for Wickham to study for the ministry, destined for Hunsford when Mr. Collins inherits Longbourn, with Caroline as her much advised, obedient companion-servitor. Finally, a sequel in which karma deals appropriately with Wickham and Caroline!

    Problems include editing and word choice. Apostrophes are misused in plurals and possessives of names. Christmas potpourri that must be "defused" instead of "diffused" must be powerful indeed. The intrusive narrator is annoying. The A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice series as a whole is nothing special, with HOLIDAYS AT PEMBERLEY the weakest of the trio. Don't bother. (D)
     
  15. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    MURDER AT NETHERFIELD is Diane Bryton's sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2017. The setting is December 1818 at Netherfield, where Jane and Charles Bingley entertain both their families for the holiday season; the epilogue covers through following Christmas.

    Following the Christmas ball, Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy find the body of chambermaid Marjorie Hopewell in their room. Her throat is badly bruised, and she suffered a severe blow to the head. With Netherfield cut off by a blizzard that makes it impossible to summon the local magistrate, Mr. Thornton, the barrister married to Caroline Bingley, takes upon himself the task of discovering the killer. He first suspects Charles Bingley, believed to be father of the maid's unborn child. When George Wickham confesses that he'd used Bingley's identity when he'd seduced the woman, Thornton then focuses on Lydia Wickham as the killer, accusing Bingley, Darcy, and Wickham of conspiring to cover her guilt. It's only after Caroline Thornton and Louisa Hurst are attacked and all the Bennets have alibis, that he admits to error.

    ~~~DEFINITE SPOILERS~~~

    There's so much I dislike I don't know where to start. Many canonical figures act out of character. Elizabeth is TSTL to follow her father out in fierce cold and a raging snowstorm without telling anyone, though she does have a groom tell Darcy when she follows Mr. Bennet's footprints away from the stables. Elizabeth would not allow daughter Anne to be so much exposed to Lydia's influence, and Lydia would not dote on a small child for hours on end. Darcy would never permit the officious Thornton to establish his own murder investigation, to interrogate and accuse his fellow guests.

    Characterization is not highly developed. Thornton, Hurst, and Mary Bennet's husband Mr. Lyle have no Christian names. Lyle, little involved in the investigation, is decent and well-respected by his brothers-in-law. Hurst, though present, plays no significant part except to support Thornton's conclusions. Thornton's outstanding trait is his determination, based on Caroline's opinions and thwarted ambition, that someone in the Bennet family be guilty of the murder.

    Problems include many common sense holes in the plot. Why, with the killer assumed still in the house, are Lydia and Anne roaming its unguarded halls and back stairs? Trapped in the house for the duration of the storm, the killer is dressed in footman's livery and roaming around, so how do the servants miss seeing the interloper? Why isn't the killer missed from their shared snowbound cottage by family members? Where does the killer get the dog mutilated in the corridor outside the Thornton and Hursts' chambers? I could go on.

    The biggest hole offers an intriguing possibility that Bryton ignores. Wickham confesses that he impersonated Bingley and impregnated Marjorie. She lived a week's travel from Netherfield, so she was unacquainted with Bingley; she accepted the man's stated identity and went to work at Netherfield to continue the relationship. Why, when she meets the real Charles Bingley, does she identify him as father of her unborn child and write him impassioned love letters? She must recognize that he's not the same man. Is there some conspiracy against Bingley, perhaps engineered by Thornton and Hurst? If he is executed for the murder of Marjorie Hopewell, under terms of the will drawn before his marriage, his sisters (and thus their husbands) stand to inherit Bingley's entire estate.

    Word choice can be inept. Servants are "in vigilance" instead of vigilant; "implicate" and "implement" are not interchangeable. I'm still trying to understand whom or what Bryton describes in the sentence, "They were such an unnatural creature." Anachronisms include modern child-rearing practices and "soul mates," as well as out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Respectable housekeepers in the Regency period did not hire or retain a pregnant maid. Less excusable are two errors of fact. While he may not be the greatest clergyman ever to come to Kent, Mr. Collins is not a parishioner. In the epilogue, the Darcys invite Elizabeth's parents, the Lyles, and the Bingleys to Christmas in Devonshire.

    With thorough revision, MURDER AT NETHERFIELD could become a quality, multilayered mystery. The shame is, it did not receive that revision before publication. (Potential, A; as written, D-)
     
  16. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    CHRISTMAS IN THE SISTERS is Becki Willis's 2017 holiday entry in her The Sisters, Texas, mystery series. It is available in digital format.

    Brash deCordova, chief of police in the tiny twin cities of Naomi and Juliet, Texas, is preoccupied with two criminal enterprises--a floating gambling operation and a drug operation--when a series of burglaries begins. Someone is taking Christmas gifts from homes and a car parked in the homeowner's driveway. The thefts expand into stopping gift-laden cars en route to the Sisters after Christmas shopping in Bryan-College Station. deCordova hires Madison Reynolds, owner of odd-job temp service In a Pinch and his significant other, to collate names and connections on his lists of people of interest in these on-going crimes. As she works on the lists and he continues his investigations, connections do finally emerge, but not before both he and Maddy are robbed.

    This is a typical seasonal cozy with more emphasis on Christmas and feeling than on the mystery. Most of the criminals are suspects from the first, with the only real unknown the head of the drug operation who escaped the spring roundup. The plot presupposes familiarity with events and characters in earlier books in the series. How the Christmas-gift thieves target their victims is telegraphed.

    Perhaps not having read the series causes my lack of identification with either of the protagonists. Though Willis shows events through Maddy and deCordova's eyes, neither is much characterized, maybe because they are developed in earlier books. Supporting characters are even less defined. Willis seems to include every inhabitant of both towns. Dialogue, particularly that involving Christmas sentiments, is more set speeches than conversation.

    Editing problems include homophones not corrected by SpellCheck, as well as awkward word choice. Bethani has a third-floor reign, someone has a paltry little time, a woman is patronized when placated is more in context. Naomi and Juliet are generic small towns. There is no Southern story-telling voice. Speech patterns and language are Middle America except for a few Southern brand names (Bluebell ice cream, Zales) and expressions (scattered like a covey of quail).

    CHRISTMAS IN THE SISTERS is sentimental, so sticky-sweet that it may endanger blood sugar levels. (D)
     

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