Thursday, March 31, 2011

I love books...

But I have to stop buying at some point!  My To-Be-Read pile is a Monster in the corner.  We were in Oxford at Blackwell's Bookshop, and I had to physically force myself out of the store without buying anything... well, no Novels for me, that is.  It was a very difficult task.  (Luckily, we have a house full of readers, so there is always something I can find for someone at home!)  I guess if it weren't for the fact that we are moving across an ocean in three months time, I would probably grab one that I couldn't pass up!  However, I actually had to reach deep inside and find my will-power.
Have you had to stop yourself from buying books?  It feels like a huge deprivation!  Books are our friends, they teach you things, take you places and introduce you to new people.  It's hard to say NO to that!
Luckily, bookstores also have neat little 'gift' books or 'john' books... ones that don't take too much of your time.. great to have around the house, for those moments you find yourself in a room without your 'currently reading' book, while waiting for teenagers to figure out how to put on their shoes....  So, I picked up a couple of www.mombooks.com books:  'A Classical Education: the stuff you wish you'd been taught at school' and 'I Used to Know That: stuff you forgot from school.'  Do these really count?  I didn't think so!
There are some wonderful books at this website... looks like I will be adding to my moving weight after all... how can I pass up The Wits books (wit and wisdom from favorites like Oscar Wilde or Jane Austen)?
Such is the life of a book lover!  I would much rather sit around reading than doing dishes, washing windows, paying bills, cleaning the floors....
Enjoy a good book today...what are YOU reading?

Guernsey Literary

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

What a wonderful treat this book was!  I had read so many reviews that strongly recommended this book, and I am glad that I finally got my hands on it and read it!  The story is set in 1946 and it is written in epistolary format, or a series of letters.  Not only that, but it is a book about books, and the people who love them.  While reading this gem, I laughed, cried, cheered, and truly wished to have met all of these wonderful characters that were drawn before me. 

One of the main characters, Juliet Ashton, is an author who wrote a series of humorous columns about living in London during World War II.  The other characters in the book are various residents of the island of Guernsey and friends of Juliet’s.  Guernsey is a place I wanted to go to after reading this book, so that I could meet Kit, Dawsey and Isola.  If you didn’t already know, Guernsey is a Channel Island, in the English Channel, closer to France, but British protected.

The story starts with Juliet writing to her friend and publisher, Sidney, stating that she doesn’t want to do the book tour, but then later states how she is enjoying herself.  Once she is back in London, she receives a letter that first went to her original flat, which was since bombed during the war.  It is written by a man named Dawsey Adams, and he felt compelled to write to Juliet, as he had come into possession of one of her previously owned books that was written by Charles Lamb.  He enjoyed it so much, along with a few scraps of paper (maybe a postcard or two), that he had to mention it.  This began a long series of letters between these two characters, plus several other characters from Guernsey.  Dawsey mentioned that he belongs to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, thus piquing Juliet’s interest in a group who called themselves such a name. 

Juliet became so engrossed in the lives of the residents of Guernsey through numerous letters sent back and forth across the Channel, she visited the island in order to research and find more information so that she could write their story in a novel.  The two wonderful ladies who wrote this book did a fabulous job of creating characters that not only can you truly get a sense of who they are, but the reader wants to go to Guernsey in hopes of meeting them.  This story is fictional based on several facts about the German Occupation of the Channel Islands, specifically Guernsey.  It had been some time that I have read a book that focused on World War II and the atrocities that occurred during that dark period of our humanity’s history.  While most of this book was very light-hearted, there were a few scenes that made this reader stop and pause. 

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves reading.  You will get a history lesson and you will make new friends while you are at it.  You will find yourself cheering and shouting out, and you will also feel!  Feel the joy and the sorrow along with the residents of Guernsey.  I feel that this is a wonderful book to be read by ANY and EVERY one!  It is no one specific genre, but a delicious story that needs to be savoured; but, unfortunately, there is no recipe for Potato Peel Pie... not that we would want one!

5 Stars!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What would Jane Austen do?

What Would Jane Austen Do? by Laurie Brown

I quite enjoyed this book, and one of the main reasons is that the ending was not rushed.  It was very well written and had all of the elements for a good story.  It was evenly paced, had a bit of romance, adventure and mystery as well as good character development.  I was actually sad when I had finished it so quickly, that I would no longer have a chance to enjoy the story.  Though, as I mentioned that the ending was not rushed, so I did not feel cheated when the story did end.

It was obvious in reading Ms. Brown’s book that she researched the Regency period and actually put in those little details that everyone wonders about, but no one writes.  One such instance is her description of the ‘Removal’ at dinner, when the guests all get up and chat while the servants completely clear the table and reset it for the next course.   I actually learned quite a bit about the Regency dining process.

The refrain “What would Jane Austen do?” was not said too often, and put a smile on this reader’s face as you could imagine that the conclusions that Eleanor came up were probably the same that our beloved author would have said.  Luckily Eleanor knew the Regency from her own studies as well as reading Jane Austen’s novels, so she didn’t seem too out of place.  However, she did learn to love the ‘little’ things that modern day provides.

The basic premise of the story deals with Eleanor Pottinger, a modern-day Regency dress maker who goes to England for a Regency conference and bumps into two ghosts.  The ghosts wind up making a bargain with Eleanor, help keep their brother from dying in a duel, and they will introduce her to Jane Austen.  In order to help these sisters, Eleanor is transported back to 1814 England.  The feisty ghost sisters are hilarious and Ms. Brown did a wonderful job of portraying Jane Austen at a house party.  Ms. Brown did a decent job in drawing the characters (most of them, at least) so that you had a sense of who they were.  I am sure that a purist would find fault with some of the vernacular or situations that occurred, but this reader found this book a pleasure to read.

I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys Jane Austen, the Regency, a little adventure, and doesn’t mind a few intimate scenes (or easily enough to skim, as some of us are want to do!).  It was fun, light-hearted and quite an enjoyable read.  Below are a few of my favourite quotes.  They don’t give too much away, but if you don’t like any spoilers, you might want to end here!

Favorite quotes:

‘Elizabeth’s journey taught me I should listen to my brain and my heart and to neither exclusively.  Love does not demand perfection because imperfections make each of us unique.  Appearances can be false, and what is important comes from the inside.’ (pg 255)

‘I suppose this author is much like any other,’ Jane said.  ‘I once ... heard an author describe writing as taking bits and pieces of her experiences and observations, then she questions, dissects, and analyzes them.  She extrapolates from them, stretching the thought out.  Then she adds from her imagination a big dose of what might have been, a god measure of what would never be, and spices it all with wishful thinking.’ (pg 256)

4.5 Stars!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

From Notting Hill

From Notting Hill with Love...Actually by Ali McNamara

Who doesn’t love a good rom-com?  Who doesn’t periodically quote a movie, or try to find things from a movie in everyday life?  We all do, a little, with a particular book or movie that means something to us.  Scarlett is a twenty-something who lives in Stratford-upon-Avon and is seven weeks away from being married to David.  She is constantly getting into trouble with daydreaming different movie scenes, or drawing lines on how real life parallels the movies (and not the other way around).  Her friends and family, and her fiancĂ©, are worried about Scarlett’s flights of fancy and hope that she will not turn out like her mother, who left when Scarlett was two.

Scarlett’s best friend finds her a house-sitting gig in the Notting Hill area of London for a month, so that Scarlett can get away to prove to herself and her family that life does imitate the movies.  This is the first problem I have with the book – Scarlett’s constant attempts to find movie scenes in real life.  No one stands up to her to point out the movies imitate life, not the other way around.  Yes, we would all like to have a fairy-tale ending, but we can create that ourselves instead of trying to find it or becoming upset when it does not happen.

Scarlett had great potential to grow in this story, but did not.  It seemed that the characters were shown with flaws and did nothing to correct them.  There was no true confrontation so that the characters simply settled.  Having a rushed ending of the story did not allow any development of character or items to be resolved.

There were a few funny scenes in the book, like a Star Wars wedding.  There were various items that were mentioned, though, but never followed all the way through.  Some items seemed rushed (like the ending) and at times, I wanted to shake Scarlett and tell her to grow up!  Though there was nothing major enough to make me NOT like the book.  This story was fairly well written and had a fun premise, but Scarlett was a bit annoying in how ‘lost in movies’ she seemed to be.  None of the characters were fully fleshed out, but I loved Oscar’s character!  It was a fun read with a surprise(?) ending. 

3 Stars

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Midnight Pearls

Midnight Pearls: A Retelling of 'The Little Mermaid' by Debbie Viguie

I have enjoyed other 'Once Upon a Time' stories, so I thought I would give this one a try.  Personally, I am throwing this fish back into the ocean, as it's too small.  It was a VERY quick read that was somewhat flat.  The characters were not well-drawn out and the storyline was too rushed.  I wished that the author took the time to construct her story and added more depth to it.  I think that I would have rather spent my few hours that I read this book on watching Disney's 'The Little Mermaid.'

Sorry about the short review, but really don't want to waste any more time on this book.

2 Stars

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Top Ten

I know that the Jane Austen Short Story ended last week.  I thought that I would post my list of favorite short stories!  I hope that some of these authors plan on extending their stories, as they were quite good, and would love to hear more from them!

Let me know what your favorite(s) was!

The Diamond Age

The Diamond Age: A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson

I struggled with this book, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and struggled with it once again.  I read this book as a sort of challenge from my husband, trying to get me to read a different type of book.  I really wanted to like this book for the basic premise – a future with nanotechnology, but a group of people who took an Oath and lived a Victorian lifestyle.  There is so much more to this book, but this ideal is what kept me reading to the last page.  

The first one hundred or so pages were very difficult to get through for someone who doesn’t read heavy sci-fi to begin with.  The type of sci-fi I have read in the past was all very generalistic, not very detailed with nano-technology and quantum physics (which, thankfully, this book did not get in to); so this book was a bit of a challenge.  Neal Stephenson, if you have not read anything of his before, also seems to ‘create’ language as he goes along.  It’s set in the future, so let’s make up words to describe the various types of people and objects.

Then the story turned to the young girl, Nell, who got an Illustrated Primer, and it changed her life.  The idea of the Primer book is that it is interactive with the reader, and therefore bonds with its reader.  Without going into WAY too many details, Nell learned to change her life, speak like the ‘Vickys’, and became schooled in the ways of the New Atlantan Victorians. (I think I got that right?!)  There are several different story lines going on in the book, where some were dropped and some seemed either rushed or not well executed.

As I was reading this story, it seemed that several different people actually wrote this story, as sections of the book were so completely different from the majority of the book.  As I approached the final 30 pages, I was trying to figure out how the author was going to wrap up the story in so few pages, and he did not complete the task well.  I finished the last line and shouted, ‘That’s IT!?!?!?’

I have to give Neal Stephenson some credit for the seeming depth of his knowledge – or well-researched, at least.  This book ties in Victorian age mores with nanotechnology, Chinese traditions and customs with futuristic theatrics.  I think if he stuck to just these few storylines, it would have made a better book.  I feel that the author added way too many other storylines into this book and completely muddled it up, and didn’t know HOW to end it, so he did abruptly.  (I am left wondering how you can bite through your own lip while biting through someone else’s at the SAME time?!)

I have so many questions about this story.  I did like the sections that focused on the story of the Primer and Nell.  Hackworth was a character that I liked, until the middle of the book, and Dr. X was a seemingly interesting character, but you don’t know what happened to him in the end.  As I mentioned earlier, there were too many sub-plots that were introduced and never touched on, while ‘The Seed’ and the ‘Fists’ were brought in near the end with no real explanation as to WHY.  This reader was left wondering if the book was switched in the middle of the writing, that there were two different books that were somehow pasted together.  

I will not judge other modern sci-fi books on this one alone, but I think it will be a while before I can wrap my noggin around nano-technology and quantum warp drives, or whatever else there is out there, waiting for me to discover.  Hopefully when I do turn to another of this genre, it will have a coherent storyline, the writing style will be maintained throughout the story, and the characters will be ones that you want to invest your time with and will be true to themselves.  It was a neat premise, but poor execution.

2 Stars

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mariah's Match

by Kate Fogelson


“Why, Mrs. Brandon, what a quaint table you keep.”  The not-well hidden sneer on Miss Mariah Kingsley’s face spoke louder of her disdain for the gorgeous and well-laid table of Colonel and Mrs. Brandon.

“Oh, Mrs. Brandon, don’t mind my sister,” said Blanche, in a well-practiced, soothing tone.  “She would find fault at the Prince Regent’s table, to be sure.”

Marianne did her best to smile pleasantly, while directing the young ladies and their father to their places at the dining table.  It was well-known in Devonshire that since the new mistress of Delaford presided over the Colonel’s table, no one left wanting.  Colonel Brandon has doted on his young wife and given her free reign over his home.  Marianne had done much to bring a breath of fresh air into the old hall, and with it, life sprang forth and happiness seemed to exude from the once sombre walls.

Dinner passed politely, if a bit subdued, while Colonel entertained his good friend, Nicholas Kingsley.  Gregory Brandon and Mr. Kingsley had initially met in India, of all places, while both were on assignment for His Majesty.  Mr. Kingsley was part of the commercial effort with the East India Trading Company, and walked away a very wealthy man.

Luckily, Marianne’s younger sister, Margaret, was asked to join their table, as five would have been an unsuitable number for the table.  In addition, Marianne thought that Mr. Kingsley’s daughters would want someone closer to their own age during their country visit.  After the third course of sweets was picked over, the ladies excused themselves to leave the two gentlemen to catch up over a very fine glass of port.  Margaret led the way with Blanche by her side towards the Blue sitting room, while Mariah followed haughtily along.  Marianne brought up the rear, but not before having sent an imploring look to her husband.  She hoped that he understood her pleading look to not be long at the table with their gentlemanly pleasures.

Once the ladies had closed the door and the servants left after having decanted the Madeira port, Brandon grabbed the humidor out of the side board and handed his friend a cigar.

”Damnation, Brandon, I am at a loss.  I am so sorry that your lovely Mrs. Brandon was at the receiving end of Mariah’s pointed tongue.  I don’t know what to do with the chit!”  Nicholas lit his cigar, and slowly blew out his breath with a sigh.  “Ever since my Anabel passed eight years ago, it’s been a battle with Mariah.  Blanche, as you saw, is all sweetness and suitors buzz about her as bees to honey.  But I cannot let Blanche go without Mariah gone first, or I shall be saddled with the Shrew herself for life!”

Colonel Brandon shook his head while chuckling, thankful that he did not have yet to deal with these issues.  However, he did have some experience with young wards, and had a slight inkling as to the troubles that his friend had.

“I suppose it is too late to ship her off to a boarding school in Switzerland that is a barely disguised convent?”  This type of speech was uncharacteristic of the stoic Colonel Brandon; however, since his marriage to Marianne, he has felt younger than his years and walked with a lighter heart.  Plus, being with his old friend, he easily slipped into the remembrance of those bygone days of their time in that spice-filled alien world, India. 

Nicholas shook his head as well, “Don’t think that the thought hadn’t crossed my mind.  No, the best plan now is to find some fool to marry her!  However, after the past two seasons in London, the Ton Mamas won’t let their sons near Mariah, for fear of having her as their daughter-in-law.  To say nothing of the gentlemen who don’t want to be attached to such a shrewish bluestocking as my daughter.  I honestly don’t know how I have failed.”

Gregory Brandon, not wanting to distress his guest any longer, switched the conversation while they finished their port.  When he was with Marianne in the privacy of their room tonight, he would ask for her opinion.  She seemed to have solutions for matters like this, having once been a rather impetuous and passionate girl herself.  He was not saying that she is no longer passionate, but she had learned to focus that passion into her new role as mistress of Delaford.

Having finished his cigar, Mr. Kingsley said, “Come, Brandon, take me to your wife so that I may apologize and then send my girls off to bed so that they will no longer vex her.”  Nicholas and Brandon got up from the dining table and proceeded across the hall.  There was laughter coming from the room, and Mr. Kingsley looked somewhat surprised. 

The gentlemen entered the sitting room, to find Margaret Dashwood and Blanche Kingsley head to curly head together.  What a pretty little pair in the corner they made, talking conspiratorially, with fits of laughter bursting forth to punctuate the otherwise silent room.  When Brandon glanced at his wife, he could tell that she was at her wits-end as to how to ‘entertain’ the beautiful, dark-haired Miss Kingsley.  As soon as the gentlemen walked in, Marianne rang for the tea to be wheeled in. Mariah Kingsley sat in the blue pastoral toile-covered chair by the fire, with a slim novel in her hands.

“I hope you don’t mind, Colonel Brandon,” Mariah said as the gentlemen entered the room.  “But I asked Mrs. Brandon for a quick peek into your library.  This volume on the Egyptian kings caught my eye.  It has been a good companion these many minutes, while waiting for tea to be served.”  Mariah looked down her nose at Marianne, and Brandon knew he would have some feathers to smooth down later.

“Ah, the treatise by Thomas Young.  Tell me, Miss Kingsley, do you have an interest in Egypt?”  Brandon tried to distract the young lady, so that his wife could breathe.  From the corner of his eye, he saw that Marianne relaxed slightly, and turned to smile at Mariah.

“Why, yes, I do.  While we were in London for The Season, I was able to attend lectures by colleagues of Thomas Young, and have had a chance to observe the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum.  It was quite exhilarating to see such an artifact!”  Mariah’s face actually lit up during this discussion and gave Colonel Brandon more insight into this young lady, and how he might help his friend.  The rest of the evening passed with this discourse betwixt the two, while Margaret and Blanche continued their conversation, and Mr. Kingsley quietly talked with Mrs. Brandon.  He thanked her for a truly remarkable meal, regardless of what his eldest daughter intimated earlier.

***

After the guests had retired for the evening, Marianne had seen to arrangements for breakfast.  She then went into her husband’s library to collect him for the evening.  Marianne had learned that if she did not remind her husband to come to bed, he would spend a number of hours lost in his books.

“Ah, my Dear, I am glad that you came in.  I would like to reiterate Nicholas’ apologies for his eldest girl.  He mentioned over our port that he has been having difficulties trying to find a suitor for Mariah.  The largest problem he has is the mothers; none want to have her for their dear boys.  He had also mentioned that Blanche already seems to have several suitors, but will not allow her to accept any suit until her older sister is married.  It seems a -“

“Rather difficult task?  I can see why.  She seemed all sweetness to you, but found only fault with me.”  Marianne walked over to Gregory’s desk, with a slight pout on her face.  Brandon looked up and pushed his chair away from his desk, making room on his lap for her beautiful wife.  Marianne sat down, asking, “What does Mr. Kingsley plan to do?  Margaret mentioned before heading up that Blanche actually has three men after her hand, but cannot encourage any of them until her sister is ‘disposed of.’  Wait a minute, I know that look in your eye.  You have just thought of a plan, Gregory...out with it!”

Colonel Brandon did indeed have a plan.  Having thought of the conversation he had with Nicholas after dinner, and then hearing Marianne recount the conversation between Margaret and Miss Blanche, his military tactics might come to play in his retired life after all.

“Mr. Kingsley mentioned that none of the mothers in town would allow their son to marry such a ‘difficult’ young lady.  We need to find a young gentleman who is in need of money, who has no mother, and who is up for a challenge... for a challenge she would be.”  Gregory helped Marianne up so that they might retire, saying, “This will take some careful thought, but I think I have a young man in mind.  We shall discuss it further in the morning.”  Tucking Marianne’s hand into the crook of his arm, husband and wife went upstairs for the evening.

***

“I do remember Wellesley.  What happened to that young buck?”  Mr. Kingsley was mounting his horse to join Colonel Brandon for a morning ride through the park.  The ladies weren’t down to breakfast yet, so the gentlemen thought to take advantage of the delicious winter morning’s crisp air to wake up the lungs and invigorate the senses.

“Last I had heard, Hugh was at his estate, trying to repair the damage his older brother did before his accident.  Now that Upton Abbey is his responsibility, Wellesley is trying to make something of the crumbling pile of rocks it has become.” 

“Wasn’t he a lieutenant in your company while you were in India?”

“Yes, being the younger son, his grandfather bought him a commission.  But that was as I was leaving. He was rather young to be in the position that he was; however, he proved himself with his stratagems and intelligence.”

“Oh, no, a man of intelligence will not abide my Mariah, no matter the dowry.  I have tried that tactic before, but I was told that ‘no man in his right mind would put up with that girl who THOUGHT and pointed out what was wrong!’  Mariah had remarked to the gentleman in question that if he weren’t so fond of loose women and losing at the gaming tables, he wouldn’t need to find a simpering, dull heiress to marry him and pay for his past misdeeds.  That did not go over well.”  Mr. Kingsley led his horse down a bridle path, as he followed Colonel Brandon across the frost covered field.

“Oh, my friend, I do feel for you.  But that cannot be the only stumbling block against Miss Kingsley?”

“No, as I mentioned, most of the mothers in London won’t let their sons within a ballroom’s distance of her.  Why, you may ask?  It might be due to the fact that she points out the fact the lemonade was watered down at Almack’s – which everyone knows, but no one complains about.  Or... well, there are too many instances to count, my friend.... too many.”  Nicholas shook his head with a sorrowful look on his face. 

“May I ask why it is so important to find a suitor now?”

“As I mentioned, Blanche has many suitors; suitors who have titles and are not after my money, but they will not wait forever.  Since both girls have been out in Society, time is of the essence.”

Passing through the rolling green hills covered in frost and lined with thin hedgerows, the two gentlemen rode in silence for a few minutes, each lost in thoughts of their own.

“Brandon, do you mean to tell me that you get to ride this beautiful countryside any time you like?”  Mr. Kingsley had that look of wonder that most people do once they experience the countryside of Devon for the first time.  “This surely beats the grass of Hyde Park or even the hillside of Newmarket with the tall trees everywhere.”

“Yes, it is a nice place to ride with the open horizons.  And the weather is a bit better than London or Newmarket, to be sure.  But back to your dilemma...”

“A dilemma, indeed.  How shall we proceed?  If we just bring young Wellesley to pay a visit, Mariah will surely know what is afoot, and will have nothing to do with him.  It seems you have a good bit of game on your lands.  Have you thought of having a hunting party?  Most young bucks are always looking for new lands to explore and deprive the land of a few grouse or whatnot.”

“A fabulous idea, my friend; a great idea.  Marianne is always going on about how we have so little society in the ‘wilds of Devon.’  I know that she is thinking of her younger sister, Margaret, as well.  I think a hunting party is just the ticket.”

The two gentlemen finished their morning ride with a race back to the stables, with Colonel Brandon pulling up at the last minute to let his friend reach the stable yard before he did.  Handing off the horses to the grooms who were waiting, they walked in companionable conversation up to the front of the house.

Laughing over Mr. Kingsley’s comment of being starved, the two approached the breakfast room to find Marianne and Mariah seated at the table in utter silence except for the occasional scrape of a fork on plate.  Instantly, the two gentlemen quieted down, and paid their morning regards to the two ladies at the table.  The rest of breakfast was spent with Mr. Kingsley, once again, paying compliment to the Brandons and their lovely home. 

“May I peruse your library once again, Colonel Brandon?” Mariah asked as she was about to leave the room.

“Of course, Miss Kingsley.  If you are after books similar to Mr. Young’s, might I direct you to the landing on the balcony?  There are treatises on India, Egypt and several books on travel and discovery in that section.”  Colonel Brandon asked if Mariah wanted him to point them out specifically, but Mariah declined the offer, stating that she would like to wander and discover for herself, and thanked him for the directions.

After hearing her footsteps recede down the hallway, Gregory turned to Marianne with the plan that he and Nicholas had thought up while on their morning ‘constitutional.’

“Dear, would it be too much of an inconvenience to have a small hunting party here, in two weeks time?  Since it is the end of Twelfth Night, most are looking for some diversion.  It would be a good idea to have help in clearing out our fields of the extra birds, as the spring planting will soon begin.  We wouldn’t want those birds to eat up our seeds.”

Marianne put down her napkin, and took a moment to think about the prospect of having more people in her home.  Then a sly smile came upon her face, “What a tremendous idea.  And we shall have a ball at the end of the fortnight to celebrate the success of our gathering.  That is, if the idea does not disturb your country visit, Mr. Kingsley?”  Marianne turned to her guest with an expectant look on her face.

“Mrs. Brandon, I do like the way you think.  We would love to be a part of your country party.”

The three were talking at the table, and only made aware of the passing time with the arrival of Miss Blanche and Miss Margaret to the breakfast room.  The adults looked up rather guiltily and left the room so that the two young ladies might enjoy their breakfast alone.

***

Invitations had been sent to a number of people, and surprisingly, all but one accepted the Brandons’ invitation to a Hunting Party and Candlemas Ball.  Rooms were aired and entertainments were planned by Margaret, Blanche and Marianne.  Mariah locked herself in the library, refusing to partake in anything so ‘provincial.’  In order to make the party seem balanced, invitations also went out to Sir John Middleton and his household.  Mrs. Jennings had procured acceptance for her daughter to join in the festivities, as they would be staying at Barton Park.  Mrs. Jennings had somehow heard from a ‘little bird’ of the impetus behind the hunting party, and added the names of a few possible suitors to her own list of visitors.  Sir John thought that Colonel Brandon had an excellent idea of a hunting party to help clear the lands and gained permission from the Brandons to have their own concurrent party.  What a wonderful opportunity to bring many young people to their part of the world all at the same time. 

Mrs. Brandon was thrilled at the idea, as then the two houses could split up the entertainments, but come back together for the ball.  Secretly, Marianne was hoping to help Margaret find her heart’s match and see her properly settled, as Mama could not afford to take Margaret to London for her own Season.  This was one time that Marianne had appreciated the meddlesome, but well-meaning, Mrs. Jennings.  The two women spent several hours together, planning who would host which dinner or how the ladies would wile away the hours as the gentlemen went out shooting.

Among the guests of Mrs. Jennings, there was Lady Eleanor Freckenham, who travelled all the way from Ely, Cambridgeshire.   Lady Freckenham was a particular friend of Mrs. Jennings while they were in school together so many years ago.  Lady ‘Nora’ brought her son, Fredrick, and her married daughter, Mrs. Chandler, with her to Barton Park.  Fredrick Ainsley then received permission to bring along his companion, Maxwell Meriwether. Mrs. Jennings thought it only appropriate to have as many young bucks around as possible, as there were several young ladies in need of a dashing husband.  And this was how the parties grew!

Among the guests at Delaford, Mr. Hugh Wellesley gladly accepted the invitation from his ‘hero of India’ in order to have a chance to think of something other than the mess that both his father and brother had left Upton Abbey in.  Mrs. Cavendish was invited to bring her sons, Andrew and Bramwell.  Mr. Johnson and son attended for the shooting party as well.  Major Martin, with his daughter Abigail, and Captain Reynolds also joined the merry party that formed up at Delaford in anticipation of the Candlemas Ball.   

***
Sir John and Lady Mary Middleton and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings, hosted the first dinner on Monday, as the dining hall at Barton Park was spacious enough for the thirty people who ventured to Devonshire for sport and company.  It was quite the table with persons from all spectrums of English society.  Military men, peers of the realm and local neighbours all came together to be with friends and to make new acquaintances.   Barton Park laid a nice table with three courses, each course having no fewer than twenty dishes each.  Luckily, the gentlemen would be hunting all week to help provision the tables of both Barton Park and Delaford.

After dinner, when the ladies of the party adjourned to the sitting room, the conversation was at first strained.  However, tables were laid out for cards, and as the older ladies were more prone to play at Whist, the younger girls seemed to have broken off into small groups about the room to talk.  Marianne made sure to personally introduce Miss Kingsley to several of the other girls, in hopes that someone would make the young girl feel at ease.  Mariah Kingsley was never a fan of large gatherings, much preferring the company of a book to that of a chatty female.  But one of the new acquaintances introduced to her by Mrs. Brandon proved to be intriguing.  Miss Delia Carey seemed to be more into furthering the mind than wasting it on tittle-tattle or card playing.

As the gentlemen came into the room after having finished Sir John’s excellent selections of ports and brandies, they made their way into the various groups to even out the party.  Miss Francine Carey was first up on the piano forte to display her virtues as a musician, followed by Miss Abigail Martin.  Major Pettigrew had overhead the conversation between Miss Carey and Miss Kingsley, and joined in the conversation, as he also had a keen interest in Egypt.

Much of the first week passed in a similar fashion, with various members of both parties getting together to either shoot, chat, take tea, have dinner, or play at cards.  By the end of the first week, all members of the party knew one another, and some sought out the company of specific persons.  That first Saturday, Barton Park had the pleasure of having most of the young people in attendance, and an impromptu dance was held.  Miss Kingsley, not wishing to dance much, played songs to which the others danced.  However, she was not to spend the whole night hiding behind the piano forte, as her father encouraged her to let others play.

Once Mariah was no longer behind the keyboard, Major Pettigrew, a man of seven and twenty, asked her to dance.  Mariah accepted, for as she was about to decline, she noticed that quiet mouse of a man, Bramwell Cavendish, approaching.  She had accidentally found herself caught in conversation with Mr. Cavendish earlier in the week and wanted at all costs to avoid another discussion on newts, of all things.

Margaret Dashwood was dancing with Ainsley’s friend, Mr. Meriwether, while Francine was partnered with Andrew Cavendish and the fourth couple for ‘The Maze’ was Mr. and Mrs. Chandler.  The dance progressed as most do; however, Major Pettigrew had a chance to see Mariah Kingsley as a delightful young lady.  Yes, he had heard the tales of her sharp tongue and snobbish ways, but he did not perceive why anyone would say such things of this beautiful young lady. 

When the round finished, Major Pettigrew offered to get Miss Kingsley a glass of punch.  He quickly changed his mind about his dance partner as she spat out, “Only if you promise not to oil the glass as you have oiled my hand during the dance.”  Major Pettigrew bowed and walked away, returning with a cup that was wrapped in a napkin, and took his leave.

Mariah found herself alone for the rest of the night.  Occasionally, Delia Carey would stop to chat with her between sets, and when it wasn’t her turn at the piano forte.  Mrs. Jennings saw that Mariah Kingsley was alone and tried her hand at making the young girl feel at ease.  Soon, Mrs. Jennings saw the error of her ways in having approached the troubled girl.  After being told in no uncertain terms that her parlour-turned-dance-floor was a waste of space, Mrs. Jennings was further informed that the space would be better suited as a library to further the mind, not a place to let one’s mind go soft. 

Mrs. Jennings stood speechless, which was no small feat.  “I shall inform my son-in-law of your assessment, Miss Kingsley.  If you will excuse me, I believe the punch bowl needs attending.”  Mrs. Jennings then went off to talk with her daughter, Mrs. Palmer.  The two were seen shaking their heads and glancing towards Miss Kingsley.  However, more pleasant pursuits soon captured their attention, and they quickly forgot Miss Kingsley and her sharp tongue for the rest of the evening, as they were of the heart that life should be embraced and enjoyed.

***

With most of the fortnight behind them, and the Candlemas Ball approaching in two days time, the attendants found themselves house bound.  Surprisingly, the weather up to this point had been admirable.  Though it was cold outside, the clouds refused to dump their contents and spoil the shooting parties’ sport.  This was not so on Thursday, as the clouds could no longer contain themselves and a heavy rain forced the parties to pursue indoor activities for the day.  Some made their way to the music room for practice and duets, those who were so inclined turned one parlour of Delaford into a card room, and a few found themselves in various ‘quiet’ pursuits.

Colonel Brandon, Mr. Kingsley and Hugh Wellesley had decided to wile away the afternoon in the library with challenges of strategy over a chess board.  Two would play and the third would make comments for both sides, much to the amusement of all.  Brandon was taking on Nickolas in a rematch and Mr. Wellesley took the opportunity to look over Brandon’s fine library collection.  The library at Delaford was one of the best he had seen in a private home, and wanted to take some of the ideas seen here to Upton Abbey.  One day he hoped to have enough capital to leave a legacy such as the Delaford library.  However, that seemed unlikely, as all of the funds left him by his wastrel father and brother would only maintain the abbey, not add to it.

The Delaford library boasted a second level that was open to the main floor, a balcony that went around, with a landing at the east end, big enough for a few armchairs and two tables.  Hugh went upstairs to see what was on the shelves.  As he found himself making his way around the balcony, he came upon the landing and an unusual sight... Miss Kingsley completely engrossed in a book.  Mr. Wellesley cleared his throat, as was proper, to alert the young lady to his presence.  Since the landing was on the opposite side of the library, he could hear little of the conversation between to the two combatants below.

“Miss Kingsley, I am sorry to interrupt.”

“So, leave, Mr. Wellesley.  You are under no obligation to stand at attention before me.”  Mariah looked up from her treatise on the Egyptian kings.

“You are mistaken, Miss Kingsley.  I stand at attention to no one.  I merely made my presence known to you, so that you do not take fright when glimpsing me from the corner of your eye.  However, I was mistaken.  How ever could a young lady such as you ‘take fright’?”  Hugh Wellesley was not a man to take himself seriously, and he surely was not going to stand down.  He had heard others talking of Miss Kingsley’s manner all week, but had not the ‘pleasure’ of an encounter with her.  He was going to enjoy this, if it proved out.

“I – I merely meant, Mr. Wellesley, that.  Well, that you need not stand by and can carry on.”  Mariah Kingsley, stuttering and at a loss of words?  She was used to everyone backing away once she opened her mouth.  She looked at Mr. Wellesley more pointedly, trying to assess his character.  All week she had heard nothing but, ‘Mr Wellesley this and Mr. Wellesley that’ from not only her sister Blanche, but also that moony-eyed Miss Abigail Martin.  So what if he had inherited an old abbey from his father?  So what if he was decorated for his service in India?  He was just another man, and unworthy of her time.

“Miss Kingsley, I shall carry on.  And, please, go about your business, filling your mind with drivel from that Mr. Blakewell, who has never been to Egypt, let alone to the Continent.  His writings were based on hearsay, and reflect no actual knowledge of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt.”  Hugh Wellesley saw the shocked look on her face, as he turned on his heel and continued down the balcony to further enjoy Brandon’s library.  He was then called down to take his turn against the ‘unstoppable’ Mr. Kingsley.

Mariah sat in her chair, completely flummoxed.  No one, not even her own father, had questioned her or talked to her in that manner.  Not knowing what else to do, she replaced the book on the table next to her, and left the library, looking to find ‘comfort’ in tormenting Mrs. Brandon and her lack of planning for such a dreary day.  The least Mrs. Brandon could do was to offer a game of charades, not that Mariah would join in.

***

Friday and Saturday were clear and dry, so that the gentlemen could continue their sport.    Marianne was glad that her sister, Elinor, and their mother came over on Friday to help set up the ballroom for the Candlemas Ball.  All was to rights and ready for the festivities to begin that Saturday afternoon with a light dinner before the dancing started.  After having the Middleton party and many of the neighbours of Delaford, the ball boasted almost fifty people in attendance.  Being that is was Candlemas, extra candles were about, bringing a merry glow to Delaford’s dancing hall.

Mariah, at the behest of Blanche, took extra care with her dress.  On Thursday and Friday, Mariah spent more time with her sister and Margaret and listened to their assessments of the various gentlemen that were to be in attendance.  The two younger girls could not make up their minds as to which gentleman they preferred, so they were going to enjoy them all.

The hall at Delaford was transformed into a magical wonderland.  All of the attendants were gaily dressed for a mid-winter ball and enjoyed the break from everyday life, talking with neighbours and newfound friends.  Mariah stood off to one side of the room with Miss Delia, commenting on the various persons about the room.

Hugh Wellesley came up directly to Mariah at the beginning of the ball to ask for the Supper Dance.  Bowing before her in his well-turned out coat and knee breeches, Hugh enquired, “Miss Kingsley, if it will not upset your appetite, I would like the honor of the Supper Dance.”

“Mr. Wellesley, I don’t believe that it would prove harming to my digestion, so I accept.”  Mariah found herself flushing at her words.  Harming to my digestion, what was I thinking? Mariah thought to herself.    Whatever will he think of me?  Mr. Wellesley smiled with a twinkle in his eye, bowed, and walked away, leaving a blushing Mariah frozen in her place.

**~**~**
This short story was entered into the Republic of Pemberley's 'Jane Austen Made Me Do It' Short Story Contest.
I would love and appreciate any comments on this story.  I hope you enjoyed 'Mariah's Match.'  This will one day be part of a larger story featuring Margaret Dashwood.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Molly's Millions

Molly's Millions by Victoria Connelly

A fun, quick read.  What would you do with £4.2 million?  I probably would have done something like Molly did (but not everything).  It's fun to think about, and this book takes one spin on the concept of winning the lottery and what to do with all of that money (though taxes eating up half of the win was never mentioned!). 

I am VERY glad, however, to have been living in England for a few months before I read this, or would have otherwise been a bit lost in some of the references and the tone of the novel.  It was well-written (British phrases aside), and I found myself cheering Molly on!  However, there were a few aspects that brought the book down.  The first being Tom’s daughter, Flora.  She is ten years old, but speaks like a seven-year-old.  Then there are the Bailey Men, particularly Martyn, whom you wanted to shake and tell him to shape up.  There were also a few things were never wrapped up.

It was fun watching Molly sharing her wealth.  I was hoping, however, that she made it back to the B&B in the Cotswolds, to do something there, but I didn’t write this story.  The end did leave this reader a little flat.

If you are looking for a fun read, with a little bit of Britain, this is the one for you.  As I mentioned, I was invested in Molly, and would loved to have seen more of her character and spirit (though LESS of her sleeping around, which I felt was unnecessary), but wanted to see the other characters fleshed out better.

3.5 Stars
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