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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-)
     

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