The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig

23014679I’m clearly not doing very well with my book challenge this year, but it’s only February!

As much as I’ve enjoyed Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, I’ve also enjoyed her non-series fiction as well. She’s become one of my favorite writers. Which is why I was so disappointed by this book. It was so formulaic that I almost felt like I had read it before.

Our heroine, Rachel Woodley, is a governess in 1920s France when she gets word that her mother is dying. By the time she makes it home, her mother has passed and her landlord is ready to kick her out of the family house. As she’s cleaning up, she finds that the father she thought died when she was four isn’t quite as dead as she thought. From here, it goes Pygmalion as she tries to worm her way into her father’s social circle through her half-sister’s group of friends. With an unlikely benefactor sponsoring her revenge plot, she tries to fit in while trying to figure out what she really wants if she gets into her father’s house.

The beats felt familiar, though perhaps that’s the Downton Abbey influence. Her romance seems like an afterthought and I felt like it was even a little unnecessary. I know I’m a “modern” woman reading about a lady a century before me, but I guess I’d love to read a piece where the lady doesn’t wind up with the man and does get that secretary job she’s been talking about all novel long. Maybe next time.

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The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

18693637This is one of the better Pink Carnation novels and it makes me sad that there’s only one more book in this series. It also made me want to start reading them again from the beginning to get a better handle on all these ancillary characters. I recognize their names, but can’t remember much more about them.

Anyway, this is Sally Fitzhugh’s story (little sister of Turnip Fitzhugh). She meet-cutes Lucien, presumed vampire of London, in his backyard after being dared by her friends to hop the fence. Oh those 1806 hijinks! Lucien’s back in London after being away for 12 years after discovering his parents’ murdered at their estate in Hullingden. (Oh yeah, Lucien’s a duke.) He’s ready to solve their murder (though conventional wisdom says that his mother killed his father and then herself) and Sally ropes herself into helping. There’s a lovely “we’re going to pretend to be engaged and then fall in love” storyline, which totally works, even though it’s completely predictable. I didn’t realize who the real killer was until it was being revealed, so that was an added bonus.

Eloise and Colin are still together in 2004 (so funny that it seems like so long ago even though it was pretty contemporary when the series started 10 books ago). As per usual, Colin is being weird and Eloise is freaking out about it, without talking about it. I used to love their romance, but since they are stuck in the same year for 10 books, I’ve grown a little tired of how slowly everything moves. But it looks like things are going to wrap up nicely with them all the same in the last book, so good for them!

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

20856664While I enjoyed The American Heiress, I wasn’t as enthralled with this novel. Set in 1875, it’s the story of Captain Bay Middleton meeting the “Lennox Heiress,” Charlotte Baird and then meeting Sisi, Empress of Austria and trying to decide between the two. I mean, there’s a lot more to it (almost 500 pages worth) and all these folks did exist according to the author’s note at the end, but in the end, Captain Middleton is really trying to decide what kind of fortune he wants for himself.

Charlotte seems lovely, if stuck by the societal conventions of the day. The Empress of Austria is no gallant heroine, and though I suspect you’re supposed to feel some sympathy for her, married to a man she doesn’t love, she’s royalty, and her husband likes her enough to let her go off to England for hunting season, so it can’t be all bad. Given the state of women in 1875, simply being “bored” in Vienna doesn’t really seem like the human rights violation she purports it to be. Our Fortune Hunter is probably a nice guy, but it’s hard to tell most of the time and I’m not sure who to root for the further you get into the book. At one point, after a misplaced note causes a Three’s Company-level confusion for Bay and Charlotte, which leads Bay to just take up with the Empress without much thought or effort on his part to find Charlotte, I kinda gave up on him.

Everything works out in the end, or so it seems you’re supposed to feel it does, but it really feels unearned.

Spring Awakening by T. J. Brown

16130248The Great War has come to Summerset Abbey and none of our ladies is left unscathed.

Prudence doesn’t want Andrew to enlist, but he does anyway. And when she asks her sister to use her connections to keep him safe, the request puts a rift between Andrew and Prudence that may never be repaired. Rowena is trying to forget about her first love while planning a wedding to her fake fiance. She contributes to the war effort by flying planes from the factory to the airbases. Little Victoria recovers well from her imprisonment, moving to London with her nurse and favorite housemaid. She works a volunteer nurse in London and then on the front in France.

Each sister goes through big changes through the first year of the war. It makes me wonder what would happen if we got to follow the ladies further. But at the same time, it was nice to see the books have a nice ending for each of the sisters (unlike Downton Abbey).

A Bloom in Winter by T.J. Brown

15803193I was supposed to read another book ahead of this one while I waited for it to arrive from ILL, but then the book came and I had to devour it. The last one left me with so many questions and I had to see how the author was going to make things right.

To put it simply, she doesn’t. We catch up with Prudence, who hastily married Andrew at the end of the last book, even though she was clearly in love with Sebastian and had a deal to work for his friend. Well, I guess she didn’t think he’d be able to explain her to his family since her birth brought shame to the Buxtons, so she up and married the footman and moved to London. Andrew spends his time studying for the entrance exams to enter to the Royal Veterinary Academy and Prudence has to figure out how to be a housewife, since she wasn’t raised as a servant. She’s still in love with Sebastian, but seems to finally give him up and realize what a good thing she has with her husband. There also seems to be a hint that there may be babies in their future, which seems like a terrible idea, but it’s 1910s, so there’s not a whole lot they know to do to prevent it.

Rowena is still totally in love with her pilot, but ends up fake engaged to Sebastian to keep her aunt off their backs. Of course, that just gives her aunt and Sebastien’s mother fuel for their party planning fire and ends up causing more trouble than it’s worth. Rowena sleeps with Jon, but it turns out he just can’t get past the things Ro’s uncle did to his family and walks away. So it looks like Rowena may just actually get engaged to Sebastian, since Sebastian’s finally ready to give up on Prudence at this point.

Little Miss Victoria takes up most of the novel as she gets involved with a local suffragette organization that likes her status and connections to ladies with money. Her activities (or rather her proximity to these illegal activities) land her in prison, which sounds just as horrible as Mr. Bates made it look on Downton Abbey. Her BFF, Kit, falls in love with her in the meantime and actually decides to fight for her (which is a first for these folks!), but Victoria still doesn’t want to get married. Hopefully Kit won’t give up because they actually work together.

It was a quick read and though a lot happened, it seems like everyone is still not with the right person yet. And it being Edwardian England, I’m guessing the third book isn’t going to clear that up. But I can’t wait to find out!