Monday, December 30, 2013

The Interrupted Tale (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Book IV) Review

Last year I reviewed the third book in this adorable series, The Unseen Guest. Since then, I've been eagerly awaiting the publication of book four and as usual, Maryrose Wood did not disappoint.

The book opens with intrepid nanny, Penelope Lumley, in a bit of a depression because it is her 16th birthday and no one at Ashton Place is aware of that. Of course everything perks up nicely by the end of the first chapter. She receives an invitation from Charlotte Mortimer, the beloved headmistress of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, to speak at the first annual Celebrate Alumnae Knowledge Exposition (CAKE). Lady Ashton grants Penny permission to take the Incorrigibles off to her alma mater where the governess is disturbed to find Judge Quinzy on the board of trustees, making all sorts of unpleasant changes. After the events of previous books, Penelope is still convinced that the judge is really Edward Ashton, supposedly the late father of her employer, Frederick Ashton.

Penny must care for her rambunctious and intelligent charges, write her speech, navigate the changed school and try to solve the mystery of Judge Quinzy. She learns that the Swanburne Academy is on the verge of being changed completely by the new trustees and must win over the alums and the board by her speech demonstrating her academic talents learned at the school. Of course she has the help of her charges, her former teachers and friends, Ms. Mortimer and Simon, her special friend who appears after a dangerous excursion with pirates.

The book ends with an Interrupted Tale, as the title suggests, which only goes to further the mystery of the series. What mysterious affliction plagues the Ashton family? Why must Penelope continue to dye her hair? Why does Judge Quinzy refer to "pruning" a bit of his family tree to keep one line strong? Why do I suspect that Penny and the Incorrigibles are related to the Ashtons? There are no straight answers in this novel, but as usual, Wood's writing is witty and entertaining and you can't help but cheer for the plucky governess and her adorably wolfish charges!

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Whatnot Review

My husband bought me The Peculiar last year as a surprise Christmas present and I completely loved it, despite being a bit suspicious of how good it could possibly be since a teenager wrote it. However, as I wrote in my recap of the previous book, Stefan Bachmann is a wealth of talent and I sincerely hope he keeps writing.

Bachmann dives back into his alternate London with Arthur Jelliby at a party celebrating the upcoming war with the faeries. The action quickly switches to Hettie, off in the Old Country with the faery butler, and a new character, a street urchin known as Pikey Thomas, who lives in London. Hettie's brother, Bartholomew takes the back seat in this adventure, showing up about 30% into the book and leading Pikey in an attempt to rescue Hettie. Arthur Jelliby, one of the protagonists in the first book makes only the most minor of appearances here. Most of the book follows Pikey, whose eye was stolen some time before by a fairy. Instead of a human eye, he has a grey eyeball that sometimes catches glimpses of the Old Country. When Hettie, in the Old Country herself, picks up a pretty necklace from which hangs something that looks like a human eye, a connection is established between the two. Bartholomew needs Pikey's help in getting into the Old Country to rescue Hettie and he is also comforted by the occasional glimpses of Hettie that Pikey sees.

Hettie, meanwhile, gets taken in by a fairy noble, who seeks to make the little girl's life miserable. She wants Hettie to be her Whatnot, or living toy of a sort. The girl doesn't realize how long she has been gone. There are references to her having been missing for years, but the exact amount of time is unclear. Hettie is smart, stubborn and resourceful so despite the twists and turns that her storyline takes, it's clear that she's a survivor, who is willing to sacrifice herself if need be. It seems that between the books, Bartholomew became the ward of Jelliby and spent all of his time and money searching for his sister. Bath, where the majority of the action took place, is barely mentioned, while even London takes a back seat. The Old Country is vividly described by Bachmann, especially the creepy, constantly changing manor house where Hettie lives for a time.

Eventually Pikey and Hettie's storylines converge, as London preps for a major war against the faeries that they've hated for so many years. Everything comes to a head as the faeries from the Old Country find a way into London. The ending is very satisfactory and wraps the plot up nicely, if a little quickly. I felt bad for the kids' mother, who seems to have no role in any of this. I wonder if Barth ever went home to check in on her. The Whatnot is billed as a companion to The Peculiar and seems to have wrapped up the plot nicely. I know Bachmann is writing a third book, but it's unclear if it will be connected to this world or not. All in all, this was a fast paced, enjoyable novel that lived up to the promise of the first.

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Monday, December 9, 2013

An Old Betrayal Review

Just about every November, there's a new Charles Lenox mystery released by Charles Finch. I recapped his last two last year: A Burial at Sea and A Death in the Small Hours. This newest book finds Lenox in London, continuing his very busy work as a member of Parliament. Since the last book, he has risen in the ranks to become a very important MP. He spends much of his time on the benches, in meetings and reading blue books of information. He is still happily married to Lady Jane and is a doting, although quite Victorian, father to little Sophia, who is mostly being raised by a nanny as was typical of the time.

As always, Lenox manages to find time to investigate crimes. He remains a mentor to John Dallington, former playboy aristocrat and current detective. Dallington spends the early part of this book gravely ill, which leads to Lenox stepping in and setting off the mystery of the chapter. A plea for help to Dallington leads Lenox to a train station cafe early one morning where he watches for the anonymous person to show up looking for help. He is surprised to discover that the man he was looking for was actually a woman. The woman sees someone who frightens her and flees from the scene before Lenox learns who it was. She was startled by a young man who Lenox speaks with briefly. It quickly appears that this young man is impersonating a nobleman who lives in the country and blackmailing the young woman, who works for the queen.

This one moment at the train station leads to a much larger mystery involving land titles, vengeful nobles and an attack on the queen herself. The woman from the station, Grace, plays only a minimal role, although it seems as though she would be more important. Lenox works with Dallington, while also meeting with two other London detectives. There's also a new investigator on the scene, Miss Strickland, who Lenox is convinced is really a man hiding behind a woman's name or using a woman as the front of the agency. Miss Strickland's agency shows the first hints of modern detecting, employing a fingerprinting expert as well as medical examiners to help solve crimes. Rather than one man acting alone, Strickland's group uses the talents of many different people. Strickland herself isn't exactly what Lenox was expecting but at the end, the surprise itself was a pleasant one with hints of a even more pleasant arrangement for Dallington.

Meanwhile, Lenox deals with Parliament, nasty rumors about his secretary, Graham, and the Prime Minister, Disraeli himself. His dear friend Thomas McConnell and his wife Toto are struggling with their marriage again and of course Lenox's brother, Edmund, makes an appearance. Like the previous books, the mystery itself is wrapped up around 80% into the book and the rest of the novel ties all the little pieces together and sets Lenox on a new course of his life, one which should be quite interesting in the next book. Graham's life also takes on a possibly fascinating new course, so I'm looking forward to seeing what ends up happening to Lenox's former butler.

I was interested to read in the back of the book that Charles Finch wrote a contemporary novel called The Last Enchantments, which will be coming out early in 2014. However, early reviews do not look too good. I'm hoping he doesn't abandon Charles Lenox, as this series always gets good reviews and continues to be engaging even 7 books in.

Buy it at amazon & Barnes and Noble.