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Miss Jacobson’s Journey by Carola Dunn is a Regency romance with a dash of adventure, which its heroine always wanted. By making that heroine, Miriam Jacobson, a Jew, Dunn adds a new angle to a subgenre where nearly all writers are overshadowed by Heyer and clichés are plentiful. Miriam’s struggles with and acceptance of her faith while dealing with the prejudice of others, despite being wealthy, educated and privileged make her a more rounded character than you usually get in this type of book, and help compensate for when the plot makes her stupid. She finds herself and her maid pressed into doing a potentially vital service for Wellington with two good-looking men who would rather be anywhere than travelling across France in a carriage with them. One of them has a good reason for his attitude due to an event Miriam had all but forgotten, the other is prejudiced. There are parts where the characters’ dialogue is the writer showing her research more than anything, but there was something fresh about it, and I quite look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Carol’s Second Term by Ethel Talbot also featured a relatively fresh angle on the school story. In her first term, Carol was befriended by the brilliant Rose, but when she returns for her second term at Cyprian’s late due to measles, it is to find that Rose has chummed up with a new girl and doesn’t want to share. In short, she has dropped Carol. Realising this, that school life has more to offer and what real friendship means take up the rest of the book.

I liked how the Middles are an entity, thinking as a collective - they are occsionally represented by Carol’s sturdy dorm-mates Nancy and Nat – who know what Rose is like and don’t approve of her as her behaviour doesn’t meet their standards and how they perceive and try to help Carol. The school itself is another strong presence, as a body of girls, making itself felt in hockey matches and all-school activities, but represented by the school tower and personified by Miss Anstey, the serene headmistress.

The school cannot abide ‘fuss’ and the dread spectre of homosexuality is supposedly banished because these girls play games. However, it is a love story – Carol’s betrayal by the unworthy Rose can just about be read platonically, but a lot of Carol’s thoughts are ‘Rose, Rose, Rose.’ It’s quite melodramatic. And the new girl Rose takes up, Hilary, turns out to have hidden depths that she shares with Carol, who loves poetry for its beauty but seemed to forget that when Rose took her up. It’s centrally about Carol working out who she is and, despite her diffidence, that she matters as a person and as (a small) part of her community – school – on her own, away from home, as a part of growing up.

As it’s written by Talbot, there is weird punctuation that makes all the characters seem breathless. Oddly, I felt there could have been more plot, because there were several passages that were just restatements of the characters’ emotional states that were in danger of muddying what had been clear.

And it wouldn’t be a holiday round-up if I didn’t mention that I’d read a Miss Silver mystery: The Ivory Dagger by Patrical Wentworth. There can’t be many that I haven’t read before by her, most the recentish paperbacks with vintage covers. The set-up involves a vindictive, possessive man about to marry a beautiful, much younger, weak-natured woman. They are not the only ill-matched couple at the start of the book. Of course, he is murdered, and on the face of it, his fiancée, found with blood on her hands, seems like she did it. Fortunately, her aunt calls in Miss Silver and the police call Scotland Yard so that she and Frank Abbott, but mainly Miss Silver, can get at the truth.

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