Friday, October 5, 2018

Book Review - Tasha Alexander's A Poisoned Season

A Poisoned Season: Lady Emily Book 2 by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: 2007
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Lady Emily has come to love her life, especially her life in Greece. Still, she must be a "proper" lady, so she has returned to England to take part in The Season. The endless parties and social gatherings. All the things a woman can and can not do. So what if she wants to read in public and drink port in private? She should be allowed to do as she wants! Being a widow has to have some advantages in eccentricity. Thankfully Cecile du Lac arrives from Paris to relieve the ennui. But Cecile soon becomes prey to the cat burglar who is sneaking in and out of the homes of the wealthy reclaiming jewels that where once Marie Antoinette's! The whole of the ton has gone French crazy. Especially with the arrival of Charles Berry. Berry claims to be the heir to the French throne and is more than happy to have Emily grace his bedchamber, even if he intends to marry one of Emily's acquaintances because Emily isn't queen material. Could this cad be sneaking into bedchambers for an entirely different reason? Could this creature of lust who tends to lash out be a cunning thief?

Though theft is much different from murder... A David Francis has been murdered and his wife's maid has been arrested. Mrs. Francis is convinced her maid is innocent and looks to Emily for help. Emily is excited for the challenge, but her erstwhile suitor Colin Hargreaves is worried that she might be in over her head and perhaps they should just get engaged. Yet an engagement to Colin might curtail Emily's independence. All Emily knows is that an engagement, to Colin or her old friend Jeremy who has entered the marriage market would make her mother ecstatic, so it's the last thing she wants to do. Plus there are the mysterious notes in Greek and flowers she's been receiving on her pillow to take into consideration as well. Is this Colin's more seductive side? Or does she have an overzealous suitor who is verging into stalker territory. Could the cat burglar have fallen for her? With her own reputation looking perilous will Emily be cut from society before she solves the murder and thefts? And will she ever say yes to Colin?

In all seriousness I want to know who doesn't love a good thief plot? Coupling this with a lost heir air just added to my enjoyment. Ah, a daring jewel thief, a cat burglar by another name, I always have a soft spot for them. In fact I've kind of always wanted to be one. I have always thought it would be fun to be an art or jewel thief (note, if I'm ever caught, you never read this!) I always remember this one scene in a movie, which I think stared Jane Seymour, but I remember it was a very French looking house with skylights and a yellow carpeted staircase and a party downstairs and a man in black sneaking around, and I thought, what a glamorous life... yeah, I might have some issues or I might just not be living up to my full potential. Extra points if you know the movie I'm talking about, also, Jane Seymour might not have been in it and it might have been Robert Wagner, but it's definitely not the first Pink Panther movie. But the idea of a gentleman thief is so alluring. Let's call it the Raffles effect. This also led to overtones of Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, what with the jewels of great value. Which, I will say, is deliciously Victorian.

Though we must not forget the lost heir plot! While I had a little disconnect with Bourbon fever happening in the Victorian era when aristos weren't being whisked across the channel for their safety, I can easily forgive that for the book containing some lost dauphin action. The missing heir to the French throne always fascinated me as a child, mainly because Wisconsin has it's own connection to the missing child. Eleazer Williams was a missionary who came to Wisconsin with a delegation of Native Americans and settled in Green Bay. In 1839 he started to claim he was the lost dauphin, which escalated in the 1850s until he was viewed as the pretender to the throne. My Dad grew up in the Fox River Valley and would tell us stories about the lost prince, but mainly he'd tell us stories about the treasure he had on him when he escaped. Treasure that was about as real as Eleazer's claim. But my dad had me convinced that this little cove near our house was possibly where he had dropped the treasure. I had even picked a rock out in Lake Mendota that I thought could possibly have the treasure underneath. Re-reading Tasha's book brought this all back to me, and it makes me smile and also kind of wish fairy tales were true and that that little prince didn't die in prison.

While thefts and pretenders are all wonderful fodder and make for an adventurous read, it's Emily and her feelings that I really connect to. Her joy and her despair and her outrage, I'm just ready to fight for her and any little slight or danger that comes her way. But I don't think this connection would be so strong if Tasha hadn't plotted Emily's journey as she did. We as readers needed to fall in love with Emily away from the world as she was sequestered during her mourning. We see her evolve into the woman she was destined to become and therefore we see how she struggles when she is thrust back into society. She is no longer what is expected of women of this time period, even the Queen wants her settled. In fact Emily's dear friend Ivy shows us what is expected of Victorian women and brings home how Ivy isn't happy being the perfect wife. Society was at this time designed for men and it hurt the women they were supposed to love. Gaw, the horrid double standard of it all. Yet to me this all hinges on the book starting at that garden party and having Tasha throw tons of new characters at us. For a few minutes you feel at sea, the sheer number of characters creates claustrophobia and in that moment you feel the elation and dread that Emily must feel going back into society and you are there with her in the Victorian age!

For Emily though there is an oasis in Colin. The first time I read these first two books I wasn't completely sold on Colin as Emily's love interest. I think it was because somehow I loved Emily's dead husband Philip more... and Colin was too perfect. A paragon, the dream man of literature. There's a reason I keep picturing him as Colin Firth after all... I was worried that Emily alone was better than Emily coupled, because historical romances do tend to marry their leads off too quickly and Emily loses so much by marrying again and I didn't want that to happen to her. And I think this is why I really appreciated Colin this time around. He knows what Emily would lose by marrying him and wills her his library. Something all her own as it comes crashing down on her that her current home and books actually belong to her husband's heir and not herself. But it's deeper than that, Philip loved Emily as an ideal. She was a paragon of beauty, he didn't really know her. Whereas Colin knows Emily for who she really is, a women who will never fit society's definition of a good wife, who is smart, witty, and willing to march into danger. Their relationship thrives because they love each other for who they are, books and all.

And as for those books... Tasha gets it. She just GETS IT! She understands the importance of books in one's life for mental well-being. When Ivy is depressed and on the brink of despair she puts a book in her hand, the more sensational the better! This is what I don't get about people who say they don't read or don't like to read, reading is my jam. It's how I maintain balance in my life. Meditation I don't get, but I understand that for some people what meditation gives them is what I get from reading. If I'm really grouchy or angry and every little thing is getting on my last nerve it's most likely because I haven't picked up a book in a few days. It restores my sanity. When life gets too harsh it's bliss to escape between the pages of a book and just go somewhere else. Though there is a down side in that if I'm reading a book and it's bad, it tends to also reflect in my mood. Because I just can not not finish a book! No matter how bad, how horrid, how aggravating, I will finish whatever book I have started. There has literally been only one exception I can think of in recent years. But even if I don't like a book the experience of reading a book is always pleasurable. In fact I'm starting to wonder why I'm still writing and not reading... Emily would recommend it after all!


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