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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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    DEATH ON THE AGENDA is the third book in Patricia Moyes's Henry Tibbett mystery series. It was originally published in 1962 but reissued in 2018 in digital format.

    Henry and Emmy Tibbett are in Geneva, Switzerland, attending the International Narcotics Conference at the Palais des Nations. He chairs the Countermeasures Subcommittee, responsible for discussing and developing highly secret methods against international drug trafficking. When American authorities find details of the subcommittee's deliberations and agenda during a drug raid in San Francisco, a major security leak is obvious. Only six delegates, all high-ranking police officers in their own country, two translators, and two secretaries have access to the leaked proceedings. Before Tibbett can investigate the leak, he finds translator John Trapp stabbed to death in the subcommittee's office. Moreover, as the Geneva police work the murder, the prime suspect becomes Henry Tibbett himself. He's on his own to prove his innocence. Had Trapp been the leaker, had he known the leaker's identity, or could his killer have a personal motive?

    DEATH ON THE AGENDA is not as strong as the earlier books in the series. Tibbett, not a vain or womanizing man, acts out of character in his relationship with secretary Mary Benson. Other characters are only sketched. Disparate elements in the plot never quite jell into a unified whole; too much is going on in Trapp's life to be believable. Foreshadowing makes the identity of the drug lord obvious, as is that of Trapp's killer. There's a gratuitous triple murder to eliminate a minor witness. The intended surprise in the confrontation scene falls flat. Physical locations and landmarks establish the setting, but there is little Geneva ethos. (B-)
     
  2. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    TEATIME TALES is an anthology of Leenie Brown's short story variants on Jane Austen's works, one from Mansfield Park and five from Pride and Prejudice. It is available in digital format, but I did not find a date of publication.

    All stories except the last two are very brief, usually involving only two or three characters in a single situation. In only one is there significant confrontation; another gives a backstory for 23-year-old Jane's being unmarried. All are angst-free.

    In "A Music Room Meeting," Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam demonstrates his talent on the pianoforte, impressing the young lady he loves, bringing her promise to marry only him. "With All My Love" is a Valentine Day's love letter from Edmund Bertram (Mansfield Park) to his wife Fanny Price Bertram. "Mr. Bingley Plans a Ball" brings together Bingley and Mr. Bennet in a scheme first to drive George Wickham from Meryton, then to bring Darcy and Elizabeth together at a Yuletide ball celebrating Bingley's betrothal to Jane. "From Tolerable to Lovely" has Darcy avoid offending Elizabeth at the Meryton assembly, beginning their relationship positively.

    In "A Battle of Wills and Words," Elizabeth and her family meet Darcy's relatives who, under the leadership of Colonel Fitzwilliam, badger her for the details of Darcy's proposals. Her spirited confrontation with the Colonel earns the respect of the Earl of Matlock.

    "Two Days in November" is the longest of the stories, involving the most characters. When Darcy finds Elizabeth crying, his sympathy leads her to explain Jane's lost first love and her current feelings for Bingley; Darcy and Elizabeth agree to promote the match. Their changed perceptions, and Mr. Collins's presumption, lead the next day to Darcy's courtship.

    The stories in TEATIME TALES remind me of the Southern candy called divinity--meringue-based morsels that melt sweetly in the mouth. (A)
     
  3. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    QUEEN VICTORIA'S MYSTERIOUS DAUGHTER: A BIOGRAPHY OF PRINCESS LOUISE was published in digital and print editions in 2015 by Lucinda Hawksley.

    Princess Louise, the sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of England, was born 18 March 1848, died 3 December 1939. None of Victoria's children had easy childhoods, with Louise's harder because she was more independent in spirit; needing love and attention, she acted out, producing her mother's constant condemnations of her attitude, abilities, and behavior. With genuine artistic talent, she fought to receive instruction in painting and sculpture at a time when few women were recognized as proficient artists. As with her older sisters before their marriages, Louise was required to serve as her mother's constant companion and personal secretary. With marriage her only path to any personal independence, she resisted her mother's preference for marrying her daughters into European royal houses. Instead, in a move popular with the British people, she married George Edward Henry Douglas Sutherland Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, son and heir of the Eighth Duke of Argyll, 21 March 1871. Throughout her life, she actively practiced her art and supported innovation in the arts; she favored equal rights for women and children, actively supported charities and schools to educate them for independence, and worked devotedly to improve public health care. She was the public relations liaison between the British people and the monarchy.

    The most frustrating part of QUEEN VICTORIA'S MYSTERIOUS DAUGHTER is the paucity of public records concerning Princess Louise's life. Almost all records have been removed from original repositories to the Royal Archives at Windsor, where access is denied to researchers; personal papers of associates have been sequestered or destroyed*. Why is it necessary that, almost eighty years after her death, researchers be denied access? What requires such suppression?

    Hawksley speculates on the cause for the veil of secrecy cast on Princess Louise, discussing in detail the persistent rumor that in late 1866-early 1867 the princess bore an illegitimate son fathered by Walter Stirling, tutor to her younger brother Leopold. This son is said to be Henry Locock, adopted in August 1867 (birth unregistered) by Frederick Locock, son of Sir Charles Locock, Queen Victoria's obstetrician-gynecologist. Hawksley gives circumstantial evidence for the pregnancy and Louise's involvement in Henry Locock's life. Henry's grandson Nicholas Locock has twice petitioned the courts for partial exhumation of his grandfather Henry to recover mitochondrial DNA that could identify his biological grandmother; neither attempt succeeded.

    Louise's marriage was for years the subject for much speculation. Hawksley attributes older brother Bertie's opposition to her marrying Lorne to his knowledge of Lorne's homosexuality. While there is no direct evidence of his sexual preference, Lorne was close friends and spent much time with known homosexuals. For whatever reason (Victoria commented soon after her daughter's marriage that Louise was barren), Louise had no other children. The couple formed a successful public team but lived largely separate lives, spending as little time together as possible.

    Gossip proliferated about Louise and lovers. She met Joseph Edgar Boehm at the National Art Training School in 1868 when he became her tutor. When their affair began is unclear, but it was common knowledge within London artistic circles, lasting until his death in 1890. Newspaper accounts of Boehm's death and the discovery of his body indicate an evolving cover-up*. Another reputed lover was her sister Beatrice's husband "Liko" (Prince Henry of Battenberg), with whom she frequently traveled on the Continent.

    QUEEN VICTORIA'S MYSTERIOUS DAUGHTER presents great similarity in roles played by Princess Louise and Diana, Princess of Wales. Both represented modernizing forces, actively engaged themselves in needed reforms, and became the public relations face for the royal family while under fire from many of its members. (A-)

    *For example, files on all three of Louise's art tutors (Edward Corbould, Mary Thornycroft, Joseph Edgar Boehm) were removed from the National Gallery files; Boehm's executor, coincidentally the man who officially "discovered" his body and Louise's close friend, destroyed all the artist's personal papers.
     
  4. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    DARCY, LIZZY, AND LADY SUSAN is Barbara Silkstone's variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, with characters introduced from Lady Susan. It was published in digital format in 2017.

    Immediately after Darcy's disastrous proposal to Elizabeth Bennet, an unexpected visitor arrives at Rosings. A widowed niece of Sir Lewis De Bourgh, Lady Susan Vernon has been forced out of London by scandal. Not only has she squandered her deceased husband's estate in a few months, she has been ejected by her hostess Mrs. Mainwaring for flagrant adultery with Mr. Mainwaring. With no money and no place else to go, she decides a long visit to Rosings is in order, particularly when she discovers Lady Catherine's house guests include the wealthy and eligible Darcy. Determined to marry him, Lady Susan snoops for information, discovers, and reads Darcy's letter of explanation to Elizabeth. Suspicious of Lady Susan's intentions, Darcy feels obliged to stay at Rosings to support Lady Catherine, while Lady Susan uses the content of his letter to drive a wedge between Elizabeth and Darcy. Complications ensue when Georgiana arrives with her new friend Frederica Vernon, escorted by Caroline Bingley, soon followed by Frederica's simpleton suitor Sir James Martin.

    DARCY, LIZZY, AND LADY SUSAN is a pleasant quick read. Characters are logical outgrowths of the canon. Caroline Bingley is way out of her weight class when she takes on Lady Susan, while Lady Catherine becomes almost pathetic in sickness.The plot is a good balance of internal and external conflict, action moving along briskly. The brief epilogue is effective. It is well edited.

    ~~~POSSIBLE SPOILERS~~~

    I have some common sense objections. Two involve Maria Lucas's accidental poisoning from eating berries from woody nighshade (aka bittersweet), a plot device to delay her and Elizabeth's departure from Hunsford. At least fifteen years old, Maria grew up in the country, and country children are taught from an early age NOT to eat fruit or berries they don't know. There's also a question of timing. For the bittersweet to have ripe red berries to tempt her, the season should be autumn, but a later passage notes gardenias and geraniums in bloom in the garden, which implies late spring or early summer. The canon puts Elizabeth and Maria's sojourn at Hunsford in the spring around Easter. So, how likely is it that Maria would find bittersweet berries available and then be dumb enough to eat them?

    Another is Darcy's remark that, as head of the family, he gives consent to Anne de Bourgh's unlikely marriage. How is he head of the family? Of the Darcys, apparently yes--the canon mentions no Darcy kin except Georgiana. He is definitely not head of the Fitzwilliam family. Anne, however, is a de Bourgh, over whom Darcy would have no legal or family authority.

    Still, a fun read. (A)
     
  5. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    MURDER AT COLD CREEK COLLEGE is a cozy mystery by Christa Nardi set in Cold Creek, Virginia. It was published in digital format in 2013.

    When much-married, womanizing psychology professor Adam Millberg is murdered in the recreation-fitness facility, Assistant Professor Sheridan Hendley becomes liaison between teachers and students of the department and Detective Brett McCann of the State Police, unaccountably called in on the case. She becomes involved in his case as she tries to protect best friend Professor Kim Pennzel and department office worker Ali Bough, both of whom had been Millberg's lovers.

    Where to begin? Names of cities and universities within Virginia are the only indicators of place. There is no sense of being in the South or, indeed, in a college setting. The action could have occurred in any organization anywhere by simply changing the names from college to hospital, business, whatever.

    Characters are also generic to the genre. Sheridan Hendley, the first-person narrator, is middle-aged, divorced from a cheating husband, too good to be realistic. Brett McCann is a hottie, he and Sheridan instantly bonding with romance very much in the offing. None of the other characters are much developed, many without full names, many extraneous to the case.

    Plotting is simplistic. The motive for Millberg's murder is obvious from the beginning, with only one chance remark as an indicator of a possible other cause. Likewise, only one bit foreshadows the identity of the killer, who is not a character until two-thirds through the story; his intrusion into the investigation makes no sense, except to enable a quick resolution. The police, including McCann, are so lackadaisical that Millberg's office isn't searched before it's trashed and Sheridan is delegated to clean it out, when she finds and destroys masses of potential evidence. Action feels like slow motion, with no sense of danger or suspense. And frankly, by the end, I did not care. (F)
     
  6. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    A STORM OVER NETHERFIELD is Rosemary Barton's variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was issued in digital format in 2018.

    When Elizabeth is caught in a severe storm and sprains her ankle severely, the sisters are forced by her injury, the inclement weather, and impassible roads to remain at Netherfield. Her rescue by Darcy and his companionship during her convalescence soon change Elizabeth's opinions, as Darcy's attraction to her quickly overcomes his objections to her family and connections. Caroline Bingley, aware of their growing feelings, pursues desperate measures to separate them.

    A STORM OVER NETHERFIELD is well-written. Characters are reasonable outgrowths of Austen's originals, though Elizabeth and Darcy are slow learners when it comes to Caroline. Both know her agenda, both know her methods, so why are they so willing to overlook her behavior and to believe anything she saids about one to the other? Caroline is more actively malevolent than in most variants and, helped by Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins with a small joke by Mr. Bennet, almost splits the couple. She, as usual, suffers no lasting consequences for her actions.

    The plot moves quickly and follows logically. A key incident, Darcy going to Elizabeth's bedchamber himself to fetch her crutches, is a plot device to provide an explanation for how Darcy's stolen letter, altered and planted by Caroline, comes to be there for Elizabeth to find. It is unlikely on two levels. For Darcy to enter Elizabeth's bedroom, even in her absence downstairs, is a major impropriety, one recognized by Elizabeth at the time. Would Darcy do such? The second is more common sense. It's more likely that Darcy would send a maid to retrieve the crutches rather than go himself. After all, what are maids for?

    A STORM OVER NETHERFIELD is a good fast read. (A)
     
  7. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    ROYAL MARRIAGE SECRETS: CONSORTS AND CONCUBINES, BIGAMISTS AND BASTARDS is John Ashdown-Hill's survey of the matrimonial history of the English royal family. It was published in traditional and digital editions in 2013. Ashdown-Hill is one of the scholars involved in the recent discovery and identification of the body of Richard III.

    In ROYAL MARRIAGE SECRETS, Ashdown-Hill discusses the evolution over time of the laws and customs governing royal marriage, emphasizing that marriage was a sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church during the medieval period, becoming a civil matter only when property disputes arose. No particular ceremony was required (free consent of both parties to live as man and wife, followed by consummation), no officiant or witnesses (though there was frequently a witness, in case of later dispute), no registration of the marriage or certificate of marriage issued. During the English Reformation, registration of marriage in the parish in which it was performed became standard, with records retained by the local church. It was not until the Glorious Revolution, with the displacement of the Catholic Stuarts by the Protestant Stuart-Hanoverians that specific laws regulating royal marriages were promulgated. Marriage certificates came even later.

    The informality of marriage practices throughout the medieval and early modern period led to many clandestine marriages (often passed off as long-term affairs rather than marriage), illegitimate offspring, even bigamy. The marital exploits of George III and his sons clearly show that irregularities continued into the modern era. Ashdown-Hill provides multiple examples, including Edward, Black Prince of Wales, and Joan, Countess of Kent; John of Gaunt, Catherine Swynford, and the War of the Roses; Tudor descent from Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, rather than Owen Tudor; Edward IV, Eleanor Talbot, and Elizabeth Woodville; the much-married Henry VIII; Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and who wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare; Charles II, Lucy Walter, and the legitimacy of James, Duke of Monmouth; James II and Anne Hyde; the exiled Stuarts; George III and Hannah Lightfoot; George's sons; Victoria and John Brown (she was buried wearing his mother's wedding ring); and George V. There are many others. Considering the family matrimonial history Ashdown-Hill reveals, I'm surprised that the Royal Family even blinked at the sexual escapades of Charles, Diana, and Camilla. Apples seldom fall far from their trees.

    Ashdown-Hill uses a similar format for his examples. He first establishes the rules and customs at the time, surveys the socio-political climate that may have impacted the issue, gives historical and biographical information on both (or all) parties, evaluates the evidence, and concludes on the existence of a legally binding marriage. His presentation is objective, obviously well-researched with sources amply cited. He offers an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary materials for further reading. His writing style is accessible, using identifiers to distinguish individuals of the same or similar names. This is popular history done right. Highly recommended. (flat A)
     
  8. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    A SURPRISE ENGAGEMENT is volume six in Meg Osborne's A Convenient Marriage series of novella-length variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It may be more accurately described as an installment in a serial novel. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy are in residence at Pemberley; Anne de Bourgh and George Wickham have moved to Pemberley Lodge, Wickham apparently making a success in his (unspecified) job; Mary and Richard Fitzwilliam visit Longbourn as he looks to buy a home in Hertfordshire. Jane Bennett is soon to be married to newcomer Thomas Heatherington. Both Elizabeth and Mary are concerned about Jane's future happiness, especially since she's written Elizabeth nothing about her intended. While the Wickhams stayed at Pemberley, Georgiana Darcy visits the Bingleys at Mr. Hurst's Derbyshire estate Lattimer Park. She regards Charles Bingley as more than her brother's friend.

    There's really not much to A SURPRISE ENGAGEMENT. Osborne raises doubts about Jane's reasons for accepting a sudden engagement to a stranger, then does not develop them. Colonel Fitzwilliam's suspicions about Thomas Heathrington are reasonable, but Osborne dismisses them in less than a paragraph. There's no conflict, internal or external, so there's no sense of resolution beyond Jane's assurance that she's happily married. Worst of all, Elizabeth Bennet Darcy morphs into Mrs. Bennet, at first intent on reuniting Jane and Bingley, then matchmaking Georgiana with Bingley. Sorry, but it's just not worth the time. (F)
     
  9. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    POISON BRANCHES is the first book in Cynthia Raleigh's genealogical mystery series featuring nurse and family historian Perri Seamore. It was published in free or inexpensive digital format in 2016.

    Nure Perri Seamoore and best girl-friend Nina Watkins combine research with a weekend road trip when they go to Logan County, Kentucky, searching for Perri's roots. In Russellville, they become involved in the investigation of the murder of Amy Barrow, whose body is discovered in an old cemetery. Compelled by lack of physical evidence and motive for Barrow's murder, Detective Sarah Vines uses the only clue she has--Barrow had been helping recently deceased friend Patricia Blackwell research her Blackwell family history. No expert herself, Vines asks Perri to look over their research, looking for anything relevant. Perri's retracing Barrow's research uncovers the motive and thus the killer.

    I enjoy stories that involve genealogy, archaeology, or history questions. POISON BRANCHES's setting in Logan County Kentucky, is interesting because I live about 35 miles from Russellville. So some things struck me as "off" in real-life details. While the Logan County Sheriff and the Russellville Police may share 911 emergency dispatch, "Logan County Police Department" is an unlikely identification for a dispatcher to use. Jurisdiction is also unclear. If Whippoorwill Cemetery is rural and isolated, it is unlikely to lie within Russellville's city limits, which would make the case the primary responsibility of the Logan County Sheriff's Department. Yet Vines is consistently described as being the lead detective for the Russellville Police Department. In POISON BRANCHES, the Russellville Police, not the Kentucky State Police, processes all crime scene evidence including identification of fingerprints and hair samples. In addition, there is no Interstate 68 in Logan County, Kentucky; the major east-west artery through Russellville is U.S. 68. Other physical details seem accurate, but the Southern ambiance consists of references to fried foods in large servings.

    Characters bother me. When Vines asks Perri to participate, there is no doubt that Barrows had been murdered and the only recent change in her life had been the research and death of Blackwell; a local man involved in Barrow's murder has also been killed. Yet Vines, and Perr herself, chatter to all they meet that Perri is working on the case. No attempt at secrecy or protection is made. Is anyone surprised that Perri becomes a target? Point of view focuses first on Perri, then cuts between Perri and Vines, with only token details to individualize them.

    The family history research element is well-handled, though its speed and ease are contrary to almost all my personal experience. I'm not much impressed by the writing but, based on the genealogy, I will give the series a chance. (B-)
     
  10. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    ONE WINTER'S EVE is Leenie Brown' novella variant of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2016.

    Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam and the Darcy siblings spend Christmas with the Bingley party at Netherfield. Caroline and Louisa are unhappy but have accepted that Charles plans to marry Jane Bennet, and Caroline is almost resigned to losing Darcy to Elizabeth. She is determined to find a suitable husband of her own in the coming Season. Colonel Fitzwilliam, encouraged by Elizabeth to look beyond Caroline's obsession with fashion and society to her motivation, is intrigued and sets out to reform her behavior as he, and she, contemplate their futures.

    ~~~ POSSIBLE SPOILERS~~~

    ONE WINTER'S EVE is set during Christmas without the holiday being much involved except as providing a contrast between the Bennet sisters and Georgiana's ladylike charity in delivering gifts to the tenants with Louisa and Caroline's indifference. There's a bit of Wickham as he again threatens to blacken Georgiana's character, though he's quickly bundled off to Ireland, not to return to England for at least ten years. Why Darcy and the Colonel trust him to keep his word is never explained.

    What bothers me most about ONE WINTER'S EVE is its remake of Pride and Prejudice as an episode of Dr.Phil, with the Colonel in the title role. He tells Caroline that her irritating superiority, sarcasm, and social climbing stem from her sense of inferiority; she seeks to feel equal by tearing others down, what Dr. Phil calls "leveling". By praising her skills and rewarding her improved behavior with attention, he modifies her perception of herself and what she wants from marriage and life. Brown accounts for the negatives in Caroline's personality, making her the product of her mother's obsession that her daughters rise above "Trade" to become members of high society, of her father and Charles's overindulgence after her mother's death, and Miss Smith's persistent bullying at school. The change in Caroline occurs too quickly and too easily to be believable.

    ONE WINTER'S EVE is logical enough. It's just not very close to Austen or to the Regency period. (C)
     
  11. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    ELIZABETH is another of Christie Capps's novella variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, told from Darcy's point of view. It was published in free or inexpensive digital format in 2018.

    En route to Rosings for their annual visit to their Aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Colonel Fitzwilliam concludes Fitzwilliam Darcy is in love and, when he sees Darcy's response at the sight of Elizabeth Bennet outside the parsonage at Hunsford, concludes she is the object of his affection. He's determined to help ttDarcy win her, though his revelation of Darcy's influence on Charles Bingley initially make matters worse. As Darcy explains and makes right his actions, going to Meryton to address Wickham's behavior, Elizabeth's opinion changes.

    Characters are reasonably faithful to the originals though they are sketched rather than developed. Darcy's assumption of universal guilt is extreme and leaving a letter critical of Wickham in their shared rooms is TSTL, even for a college student. His forbearance toward Wickham, especially after his father's death, is not reasonable. Neither is the colonel's deference to Darcy's leadership. Darcy may be wealthier, but Richard Fitzwilliam is older, the son of an earl, and a full colonel used to command.

    The length of the novella precludes showing direct action. Everything is reported, not experienced. Allusions to the circumstances of Darcy, Senior's death and to the destruction of Kitty and Lydia Bennet's reputations through their association with Wickham are not explained.

    ELIZABETH is okay, but it adds nothing new or terribly interesting to the canon. Re-reading the original is time better spent. (C)
     
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    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    MURDER A LA MODE is the fourth book in Patricia Moyes's Henry Tibbett mystery series. Originally published in 1963, it was reissued in digital format in 2018.

    Chief Inspector Henry Tibbett is called in when assistant editor of Style magazine Helen Parkhurst is found dead of cyanide poisoning in her office, the morning following the late-night session on its major Paris Collection issue. Though her colleagues attempt to convince Tibbett that she committed suicide, depressed because, according to features editor Olwen Piper, she'd been pregnant by photographer Michael Healy, married to fashion editor Teresa Manners; Tibbett does not accept this theory since the autopsy showed Parkhurst not only not pregnant but a virgin. All her colleagues had access to her tea thermos, there is obviously an ongoing coverup of something, and strange incidents involving Rachel Field's stolen key and her ransacked suitcase. What had Helen Parkhurst been up to?

    I like the series, but MURDER A LA MODE irritates me. One problem is the lone-wolf aspect of its characterization. Despite the occasional references to other police at a scene or carrying out some duty, Tibbett appears to work in a vacuum, with no superiors or subordinates. Forensics play no significant part, while Emmy Tibbett's niece Veronica "Ronnie" Spence, coincidentally the model featured in Style's Paris Collection issue, becomes an important part of solving the case.

    Moyes foreshadows the motive for Parkhurst's death but, until the climax, she conceals the essential relationship that sets up the murder. Red herrings are more obvious than subtle, with unlikely explanations for several individuals' unwitting participation in the scheme. Locations indicate London without creating much sense of place.

    MURDER A LA MODE is not up to the standard of the earlier books in the series. (C)
     
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    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    Nicky Roth's short story "The Book with Which It All Began" is a variant on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It is available in free or inexpensive digital format.

    The title refers to a book on human sexuality Elizabeth Bennet finds and reads in the billiards room when embarrassment at her family's antics during supper at the Netherfield ball forces her out. Interrupted by a slightly tipsy Fitzwilliam Darcy, they spend a half hour together in a locked room, in conversation that causes Elizabeth to reconsider her opinions of both Darcy and George Wickham. When they discover their accidental compromise, they hope it unobserved, but Darcy assures Elizabeth that he will protect her reputation if necessary. The next day Elizabeth refuses Collins's proposal, then discovers her father knows of the compromise. During that day, three engagements ensue: Jane and Charles Bingley, Charlotte Lucas and Collins, and Elizabeth and Darcy.

    The story has a couple of interesting revisions of character. Collins knows how fatuous his fulsome praise of Lady Catherine makes him but acts out of kindness to her need for reassurance. He proposes to Elizabeth because lLady Catherine told him to marry one of the Bennet sisters, and Elizabeth's refusal protects his right to marry his bride of choice, Charlotte. Jane Bennet, newly engaged to Bingley, firmly establishes her future policy in dealing with Caroline Bingley.

    Formatting for "The Book with Which It All Began" is poor, with proofreading needed as well as spell-check. Major criticism is Darcy and Elizabeth's conversation over the unnamed book. While the curious Elizabeth might pick up and read it, she would not discuss it openly with Darcy when they are not even friends, much less married. Jane Austen is turning in her grave. (B)
     
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    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    A SHEPHERD'S SUMMER is the latest to date in J. J. Salkeld's Natural Detective series of novellas centering on hill farmer Owen Irvine and his partner Sergeant Kathy Stone, Kendal Station Police. Major continuing characters include Detective Inspectors Andy Hall and Jane Francis of Kendal CID. It was issued in digital format in 2017.

    When Kathy Stone walks away from the pub following Andy Hall's sixtieth birthday celebration, she's knocked unconscious and beaten. Though she's not dangerously injured, the brutal attack on a police officer causes OIC Jane Francis to treat it as attempted murder. With no physical evidence, no witnesses or CCTV, and none of Stone's recent criminal contacts showing signs of guilt, Francis and her team turn to the unpleasant task of digging in a colleague's private life, in which there's nothing to account for the attack. In the meantime, Kathy is deeply worried about her friend Lisa Andrews who's losing weight and strength at an alarming pace with her doctors unable to reach a diagnosis. DI Francis is concerned with fast-track DI Pete Foster soon being promoted and returned to Kendal nick, where he'd been accused of demanding sexual favors from a female shoplifting suspect. Professional Standards declined to investigate, but Francis and Stone believe the woman and know Foster harassed WPCs, and neither wants Foster in Kendal. Owen agrees to help Francis scotch Foster. Can either of these situations, or both, be tied to the attack on Kathy Stone?

    I like the community of characters in the Natural Detective series. They are a believable group of professionals who are (mostly) friends as well. Characterization is strong, promoted by skillful cuts between points of view and use of humor: "[Hall] glanced at Mann as he drove, those huge shoulders slightly hunched, as if ready to tug at the wheel like a ship's tiller in a storm-force gale. Mann used his mirrors every few seconds, his eyes constantly searching the road and the wider surroundings, but that was nothing new, not really. Because, whether he was driving or not, DS Ian Mann invariably gave the impression that he half expected the zombie apocalypse to kick off in Stramongate, on any given sleepy Tuesday afternoon." Giving primary roles to different team members, DI Francis and Sergeant Stone in A SHEPHERD'S SUMMER, builds authenticity and keeps their number manageable within the novella length.

    There are some problems. One is the lack of sense of place, once an important factor in the series. A second is editing. Kathy Stone's friend is first named Lisa Andrews, then gradually changes to Tina. Shoplifter Paula Turnbull becomes Paula Topping. Most important, the structure of the plot is off. There's a reasonable rising action to the identification of Kathy's attacker and to the implementation of the anti-Foster plan, then both story lines are finished off in brief summaries, reports of what happened with no direct action. It's as if Salkeld reached the required minimum wordage and ended A SHEPHERD'S SUMMER as quickly as possible. (B-)
     
  15. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    MR. DARCY'S COMFORT is one of Leenie Brown's Dash of Darcy and Companions series of novella variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    When MR. DARCY'S COMFORT opens, Fitzwilliam Darcy at Netherfield, expects soon to marry his cousin Anne de Bourgh. He loves Anne as friend and cousin and means to honor this promise asked by his mother on her deathbed, but his heart belongs to Elizabeth Bennet. Everything changes when Colonel Fitzwilliam arrives with news that Anne is dead, killed by a fall downstairs at Rosings. Darcy receives caring condolences from Elizabeth and, encouraged by Anne's journal, resolves to marry for love. When told of Mr. Collins's probable choice of Elizabeth to wive, Darcy is eager to win her, but she believes he's acting from grief, not love. Can Darcy change her thinking?

    MR. DARCY'S COMFORT is a quick, neat tale that offers a couple of appealing changes. Darcy's discomfort in company stems not just from his status as master of Pemberley but also from his early-arranged marriage. With a wife already chosen for him, he felt no need to learn to socialize with young women. He feels guilty that his grief for Anne is mingled with relief that he's free; his anguish is reported, not felt, and brief. Mr. Collins, still awkward and obsequious, has no intention of ejecting the Bennet women when Mr. Bennet dies, instead promising Longbourn will remain their home. He offers Darcy sage advice about dealing with grief. A satisfying re-interpretation of the classic story. (A-)
     
  16. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    CAKE AND COURTSHIP is Mark Brownlow's novel using characters from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It adds and changes too much in the canon to be called a variation. It was published in digital format in 2017 as the first book in his Mr. Bennet's Memoirs series.

    The first person narrator of CAKE AND COURTSHIP is Mr. James Bennet, former officer in the Royal Army who fought in Virginia in the last days of the American Revolution, now master of Longbourn in Hertfordshire. Disappointed in his first love, he's married to a woman he cannot respect, seeking peace through insect collecting and the Meryton Natural History Society's meetings at the Flighted Duck Inn, noted for its cuisine and wine cellar. When John Barton, artist son of the Army friend to whom he owes his life, visits Longbourn and confides his hopeless love for beautiful, wealthy, intelligent Anne Hayter, Mr. Bennet resolves to help. Thus ensues Mr. Bennet's campaign for John Barton's happiness.

    There are some problems with CAKE AND COURTSHIP. For one, it's much too long, in places drawing out the action of the story into minute-by-minute detail without much happening. Memories, pain, and regret are reported but without seeming felt. The important external conflict is definitely man against society, with Mr. Bennet working within and against social mores of courtship. The business between Barton and Mursden seems more contrived than authentic; the identity of Anne Hayter's mother is unrealistically fortuitous. None of the events of Pride and Prejudice except the Netherfield ball and the visit of Mr. Collins occur in CAKE AND COURTSHIP, and these concentrate on Barton. Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley, are largely ignored. Many of the introduced characters are not necessary to the main story line. Editing is generally good, though Mursden refers to being on the Peninsular. He may have fought on the Iberian Peninsula, but the fighting itself was in the Peninsular War.

    I do like Brownlow's James Bennet. Though he takes the path of least resistance to maintain his peace at Longbourn and may be a touch overfond of cakes and fine spirits, he is believably observant and ssharp-tongued, with a dry sense of humor: "The girls regarded [Bingley] as perfect, a declaration that revealed their lack of experience with men. Even Achilles had his heel, though I daresay Mrs. Bennet would have forgiven him this blemish given the likely size of his olive plantations."

    Mr. Bennet's appraisal of his life is frank: "I carried the loss [of Abigail Spencer] like a stone around my neck, never finding much goodness in the world, often disappointed with a life that could never compete with what might have been. I had still married, even loved, but the recipients of this admiration or love were few and far between. Lizzy, Jane, Fielding, one or two others. And now also John in all his youthful innocence. It was hard to cast off this world-weary mantle, sewn...and worn for so many years. But...I finally accepted my mistakes, my selfishness, my frustration. And I chose to believe I might find solace and, perhaps, some redemption in the happiness of another... I determined to see how I might move beyond obligation and sincerely help my young friend find the joy once denied me." Though far from perfect, Mr. Bennet is admirable.

    CAKE AND COURTSHIP is the first of Brownlow's fan fiction that I've encountered. I will be looking for more. (A-)
     
  17. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE LOVESICK MAID is the first book in Mark Brownlow's Charlotte Collins Mystery series based on characters from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    Married two years, Charlotte Collins has won regard from Hunsford villagers through her sage advice and practical care for their well-being. She's worried about young Rosings maid Mary Booth, ill with stomach upset, sweating, and cramps, but thought to be suffering from sickness of the heart. She and second footman Tom Cawker are in love, but her first-footman father Adam Booth has higher ambitions for his daughter. In training for promotion to butler when incumbent Hutchins retires, Booth refuses his consent because the daughter of the butler at Rosings can marry higher than a footman. Already suspicious when Mr. Collins reads of similar illnesses in nearby Westerham caused by medicaments sold by an itinerant Mr. Ferrell, Charlotte sets out to determine what Mary's been taking, why, and from whom it comes.

    I like Brownlow's take on characters. His edition of Charlotte Collins is a reliable extension of Austen's original--sensible, able to manage both Collins and Lady Catherine, charitable, compassionate, with a good understanding of human nature. She is content, if not happy, in her marriage. I especially enjoy her irony. After Mr. Collins has pontificated on Fordyce's assessment of the character and intelligence of young women, Charlotte agrees: " '...I shall bow to Fordyce's wisdom... He married late and had no children, did he not?' 'A circumstance that allowed him to write with clarity and objectivity.' 'As you say, husband. We are fortunate his judgment remained unsullied by experience.' "

    THE LOVESICK MAID is a quick, comfortable read with a bit of a surprise ending. Recommended. (A)
     
  18. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    TRAILS OF DECEPTION is the third book in Rich Curtin's police procedural series featuring Deputy Sheriff Manny Rivera of Moab, Utah. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    When hikers find pothunter William Whitlock dead of gunshot wounds near a partially-excavated grave, Sheriff Bradshaw puts Rivera in charge of the case. Rivera has two starting points. One is the presence of demonstrators from the Heritage Preservation Society, a group that's issued a manifesto promising direct action to stop the opening of native graves by anyone, anywhere, for any reason. The second is an attack in the same general area some three weeks before on Buddy Milton, a technician at the Dolores River Research Institute who'd been involved with excavating a major archaeological site on the river; his head grazed by a bullet, Milton is still in a coma at the Moab Regional Hospital. Pot-hunting as motivation for the shootings is reinforced when a the bones from a 1905 burial in the Blanding cemetery are dumped at the front door of the Edge of the Cedars Museum and when Howard Cole's outstanding collection of Native pottery is stolen, in both cases notes left indicating HPS involvement. Is this the solution?

    TRAILS OF DECEPTION is excellent on many levels. Sense of place is outstanding, a setting that defines both potential problems and solutions and shapes Rivera's character, though Curtin's conclusion suggests change is imminent: "Rivera looked up through the vine covered arbor at the blue sky. It was another perfect fall day in Moab. But something inside him gave him an unsettled feeling, something that hinted he was a turning point in hi life. He'd come to Moab because he loved the silent beauty of the vast red-rock canyon country and the way it gave him a sense of internal warmth and peace. Life here had been good to him. But now, he had a feeling of melancholy. The woman he'd trusted and loved was gone. And the boss he respected and enjoyed working for was leaving in a few months, soon to be replaced by a man he didn't care for. He wondered what the future held for him." I'm eager to find out.

    Curtin establishes an authentic community of law enforcement personnel from various agencies including Grand and San Juan County Sheriffs' Departments, the U.S. Forest Service, the federal Bureau of Land Management, and the DEA, complete with (some) conflicting personalities, competing jurisdictions, and occasional blame-shifting. Jobs, lives, and personalities evolve believably. Though Rivera is a skilled detective, he's very much part of an efficient organization, not a lone-wolf hero. I appreciate that his methods are based on observation and deduction, not excessively reliant on forensics. I also appreciate the bits of back story that establish complex individuals, even among the villains.

    I cannot say much about the plot without doing a spoiler. Curtin keeps readers' attention focused on the archaeological aspects of the shootings while slowly setting up a vastly different true explanation. There is a major surprise criminal identification, though an experienced reader may pick up on it ahead of the revelation.

    TRAILS OF DECEPTION is most highly recommended. (A)
     
  19. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    DARCY'S DECEPTION is Campbell Davies's adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    The morning after Darcy's proposal at Hunsford and Elizabeth's furious refusal, she suffers a head injury when a runaway carriage knocks her into a ditch. Found by Darcy who carries her back to the parsonage, he discovers that Elizabeth remembers nothing from the previous day after reading Jane's letter. When Darcy lets slip that he'd proposed the night before, Mr. Collins concudes that Elizabeth naturally accepted, so he fires off congratulatory letters to Mr. Bennet and Sir William Lucas, setting up Elizabeth for social ruin if she now denies their betrothal. Darcy lets Collins's assumption stand, thereby guaranteeing massive angst, misunderstandings, and Elizabeth's confusion about how she came to accept the proposal of "the last man in the world" she'd marry. Well-intended interference from Anne de Bourgh and Mr. Bennet only worsens the situation as Elizabeth, thinking herself honor bound to Darcy, falls in love with her fiancé.

    The premise is interesting but carried on much too long. Darcy anticipates Elizabeth's reaction and knows that the longer the deception continues, the worse she will be hurt. He never tells Elizabeth himself, instead rationalizing and procrastinating; he's certainly not the incisive Darcy of the canon. Anne de Bourgh tells her about the deception on Jane's wedding day.. Much of Elizabeth's confusion and comes from her willingness to accept others' assumptions without asking questions, including to Darcy "how did I answer the proposal I don't remember?"

    Holes in the plot are irritating. Wickham reveals his true colors in Meryton, exposing to Lydia the officers' assessment of her character, vowing to make Darcy pay. Darcy promises that he will bring Wickham to justice. Wickham slinks away, never to return to the story. What happens to him? Two other holes involve Lady Catherine. She promises to challenge Darcy's custody of Georgiana if he continues his engagement to Elizabeth. Darcy and the colonel take the threat seriously enough to remove Georgiana from London to the more secure Pemberley. Nothing more is said about Georgiana's guardianship. Did Lady Catherine just forget? Lady Catherine also attacks Elizabeth and the Bennets through an attempt to ruin Mr. Gardiner's business. This appears to be a plot device to justify Mr. Bennet's refusal to consent to Darcy and Elizabeth's marriage since it remains only an allusion. No details of Lady Catherine's plan, and none of how it's thwarted, are given, other than a vague remark about Anne's saying her mother is losing her mind. Developing any of these would help balance the self-inflicted angst with reasonable external conflict. One cannot expect Lady Catherine and Wickham both to go away gentle into that good night.

    The premise is good. Execution is lacking. (C)
     
  20. readingomnivore

    readingomnivore Well-Known Member

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    THE LADIES OF ROSINGS PARK is another of Shannon Winslow's variants on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was published in digital format in 2018.

    The ladies of Rosings Park are Mrs. Flora Jenkinson, Mrs. Charlotte Collins, Anne de Bourgh, and, of course, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. They narrate the story in alternating first-person chapters. Part One covers Elizabeth Bennet's time at Hunsford, Part Two deals with Anne's response to cancellation of her wedding to Darcy and Lady Catherine's alternative plans, while Part Three carries on through Anne's eventual wedding.

    Winslow begins with four strong, distinctive narrative voices for her ladies. Charlotte receives less attention than the other three, though initially she is beautifully ironic: "I rejoiced at [the Darcys' marriage] and at my happy reunion with Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy was very civil, but he did not seem to view the meeting with as much pleasure. I took no personal offense, since I was quite sure it was my husband, and not I, who was the source of this hesitation. Some people simply are not comfortable with the clergy." Mrs. Jenkinson occupies an ambiguous position, trapped between her devotion to Anne de Bourgh and Lady Catherine's will as her employer. Anne tells much of the story as she comes to terms with her mother's plans and recovers her health. These three individuals gradually merge into one voice with only the viewpoint of the speaker to differentiate them.

    Lady Catherine is the dominant voice, the only one remaining consistent. Her view of herself and her role in the world does not change. "I am no fool; I knew there was nothing exceptional in Mr. Collins to justify my singling him out for such a valuable preferment. He had done nothing to earn my especial favor. If I am not mistaken (and I never am), that is the very definition of grace, the stooping down to bestow a gift on the undeserving, the giving of kindness to one who does not deserve it. Perhaps that was my crime after all--being more charitable than what was prudent." Later, ",,,Mr. Collins had mistaken Mr. Essex [Anne's physician] for a fine gentleman, and so I had to correct him at once, giving him to understand that Mr. Essex was much nearer his own level than mine. I find it saves awkwardness and confusion when people recognize where they stand from the beginning. How else will they know how they are to behave?" Though she casts her actions as the product of her maternal care for Anne, she intends to remain in control of both her daughter and Rosings.

    THE LADIES OF ROSINGS PARK feels padded. Action is slice of life, in daily detail even if little is happening. Anne is given to elaborate daydreams and long internal monologues; each letter between characters is quoted in full. While the main story line (Anne's engagement to the wrong man) is believable, the Sir Lewis de Bourgh subplot is tangential to the story as a whole. It's interesting but both unnecessary and undeveloped.

    Proofreading of THE LADIES OF ROSINGS PARK is good, though it could profit from a revision to tighten the action and to continue strong differentiation between the women. (B)
     

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