Sunday, November 24, 2019

Review - A Lady of Hidden Intent

Original Title: A Lady of Hidden Intent
Series: Ladies of Liberty, #2
Author: Tracie Peterson
Published: March 1st, 2008

Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

First of all, I must say, I liked this book a lot better than the first one in the series. It just happened to combine a lot of elements I love, like big beautiful dresses and designs, masquerade balls, and architecture. If a book has that, I’m in. Overall, I liked A Lady of Hidden Intent, and although it’s not my new favourite thing, I must say, I like Tracie Peterson’s writing style, and I wouldn’t discard her other books for future reads.

One thing I particularly liked about this book is that the characters (at least the two protagonists, Catherine and Carter) have defined personalities beyond the romance storyline, having distinct voices, and, most of all, true passions of their own. I say this because, more often than not, when there’s romance involved, both characters tend to lose all sense of self, their beloved becomes their world and the reason to live, and they forget about everything else. They don’t have interests, or any kind of thing that helps to separate their lives from the romance they are going through. And I’m glad to say, that doesn’t happen here. I loved Carter Danby’s interest and passion for architecture, in despite of his family’s selfishness and disdain for him and his Christian values, and how he doesn’t forget to live because of them. As for Catherine Newbury/Shay, our heroine, she sews and designs dresses because she has too, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t passionate about what she does. I loved how she put her ideas together with overflowing enthusiasm, and how that mingled with love when she agreed to design Winifred Danby’s wedding dress, immediately grabbing a pencil and starting to sketch it, with true happiness at what she was doing. It is wonderfully done. And, by the way, Tracie Peterson clearly did her research, both about architecture and dressmaking, the first one with the descriptions of the buildings and the accurate use of the technical terms, and the second, on how each piece and fabric are described correctly, in full detail, with the dress construction, and the process to sew it together. Well done!

Overall, the main characters are deep, they have believable motives to do what they do, and their attraction isn’t instant, there’s a certain slow burn quality around them. But it doesn’t last as long as I would have liked, some things happen a little too soon for my liking. As for the rest of the cast, my favourites were both Carter’s sister, Winifred, and her betrothed, Leander Arlington. They are not the deepest characters ever and I wish their part in the general plot had been bigger, but still, I saw some good things about their development (even if scarce). I liked how Winifred evolved, from being an obedient daughter under her mother’s thumb, wearing the type of dresses and colours she said, and talking very little, to a more outspoken woman, more confident, and happier, thanks to Catherine’s influence and interest in her as a person, and not only as a potential bride. As for Carter’s mother, I felt really sorry for her and how she tried to live pretending her life wasn’t a complete disaster, believing her daughter to be in a certain way, when one or two words from Catherine proved how wrong she was, and that it was all a question of perspective –and honesty. She’s one of those examples that show that, no matter what you have, if affection isn’t included, it’s the same as nothing. It was very sad how she suffered through her life without any kind of love from her husband, a man who lived in a permanent bad mood, and didn’t hide the fact that he had a mistress. There was no respect between them, and although she did the best she could (or at least, in the way she thought best) to attract his attention, and to pretend she didn’t need him, it didn’t work. So she turned her attention to other things to fill that void, wanting to be unique, with an arrogance that described itself when she asked Catherine not to use the fabric for her dress to make another for any other woman, as she wanted her guests to die of envy and admire her beauty, her wealth… Her entire life was her Christmas party, and that’s rather sad, don’t you think?

As for Carter’s father, I found his character to be very flat. He always angry or annoyed, he prefers Carter to be out of his way, and mostly because he disapproves of his lifestyle and the way he treats his wife. Same as his brother, Robin, who also keeps a [pregnant] mistress named Elsa, in despite of being married to a woman (Anne) who never appears in the entire book, and I ended up wondering where was she. But, anyway, being that way, both selfish, uncaring, self-absorbing, and unhappy people, they represent everything that is wrong about being a family. Carter doesn’t want to spend time with them, and he mostly loves his little sister, as she’s the only one who shares his Christian values and wants to do the right thing. I was very happy when she and Lee got engaged, because Winifred deserved to end up in a family like his, with loving, happy parents, and a home that is everything hers isn’t. Lee’s parents love their son and each other, they show affection, they are proud of Carter’s accomplishments as if he were a family member, they are everything the Danbys could never be.

As for the other characters, except Catherine’s father (because he is the origin of her motives and secrets), are mostly background noise. Like the other girls who live in the sewing house, especially Felicia, whose entire personality is complaining, being mean, and jealous of Catherine, because of her talent and her position. All her energy is devoted to the evil purpose of seeing Catherine sacked, and although, yes, she had some moments in which I wanted to punch her in the face, overall, I thought she was poorly written. She had great potential, and everything about her could have been better, even as the villain.

The romance was sweet and I liked Carter and Catherine together, especially considering how they started on that very first dance, and how Catherine was forced to grow up quickly in only five years. I liked that he didn’t recognize her right away, and also his persistence to find out who she was, after not being able to shake the feeling that he had seen her before. But, just as it happened in the previous book, too much telling ruined the chances to show some good moments. For example, at one point, Carter says:

It’s funny, but thinking of Catherine as a part of my future gives me quite a feeling of contentment. We scarcely know each other, yet I feel as if we’ve been somehow purposed for each other. Does that sound completely daft?

Yes, it does, Carter. You barely know the woman! This line makes it feel like a fairy tale, where insta-love is a must. And then, his sister answers:

Winifred shook her head.
‘Not at all. It sounds very romantic. I believe Catherine would make a wonderful wife for you.
[…]’”

I’m surprised of how fast they dive into the idea of marriage. It’s the first woman who is truly kind to Winifred, and she’s already marrying her off with her brother! Oh my God! *face palm* That was way too soon.

True, I got excited when Carter found out the truth about her, waiting for him to call her Miss Newbury when they meet again, but it wasn’t like that. I’m a little disappointed about that, but it’s not something I fully hate. It’s just that I would have liked to see it happening, to read about Catherine’s eyes wide opening at the surprise, and seeing how he did it all out of love, and helped her instead of judging her… But nop. And speaking of that, when Carter visits New York to find out about her and talk to people who may know the truth, at one point he’s talking to Captain Marlowe, and when he asks why it is so important to him to know about Catherine and her situation, he says:

You see, I’m losing my heart to Miss Newbury. I would like to help her in whatever way will set her free from the past and allow her to marry me.

Granted, it was romantic, but WAY TOO SOON. That honesty was beautiful but everything was happening too fast! It bothers me when the characters start thinking about marriage when they don’t really know each other that much.

He could help –he was certain of this. It would be his gift to Catherine… and maybe in turn it would free her heart from worry and allow her to fall in love with him.

Again, why are you TELLING me this? I want to see it! Show me! Show me how they fall in love instead of telling me about it, let me see their feelings, the physical response of their bodies, their hearts beating faster and the witty exchanges that make life impossible without one another! Please!

By the way, The only scene in which showing is well done is the one during the masquerade ball, in the description of Catherine’s wonderful dress, her feelings when Carter kisses her, and the whole situation in general. I loved it.

Anyway, moving on. I want to talk a little about Catherine’s father’s situation. He was arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, around slave trade, and he spent five whole years in jail, while Catherine worked her hands off to save money and get him safely out. And it was good that after all they went through, there was no way they could go back, to the society they used to live in and their lifestyle, and they didn’t. I just thought that the way the whole thing was solved was a tiny bit miraculous. It just got fixed and there was not a lot of explanation about it.

And finally, my favourite quote:

I want to believe in a new thing, Lord. I want that more than anything. I want to forget the old things—the bad and ugly things that have sent me here. Please let me see your hand in all of this. Let me see the path through this wilderness.

I can completely relate to this, after a lot of things I’ve been through, and I’m completely sure many others can too. We all have situations in which we think this way, and I like how realistic it is.

So, in short, it’s a good book, better than the previous one, but not perfect, though. There are many things I would have loved to see rather than have them told to me, but still, it’s still a yes for Tracie Peterson and her books, and I just hope they get better and better with each page I turn.


Thursday, November 14, 2019

Review - A Lady of High Regard

Original Title: A Lady of High Regard
Series: Ladies of Liberty, #1
Author: Tracie Peterson
Published: July 1st, 2007

Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

This is the kind of book the three-star GoodReads rating is reserved for. It’s not a complete mess, but it’s not that good either. Did I like it? Yes, and no. It’s fluffy and romantic, but I’m honestly not impressed. I have both good and bad things to say about it, and I hope I can explain myself correctly. It’s my first book by Tracie Peterson, and I will definitely give her one more chance, reading this trilogy’s second instalment.

Overall, I liked Mia Stanley, even with all her faults and somehow lack of depth, although I felt she had a huge potential, and in the end, it wasn’t completely utilized by the author. On the one hand, it was a breath of fresh air to read an historical novel about a woman who cares about others and doesn’t focus her life on getting married, or falling in love. Mia is a smart woman –albeit some bad decisions she makes–, and it’s good to read about someone who makes mistakes, who has every good intention in the world, but uses the wrong method, in her hurry to help. We have all been there at one point in our lives. This woman wants to make a difference in a time in which women didn’t have many options, besides getting married as their highest achievement. Mia knows that not everyone has the advantages she has, and I liked her resilience and stubbornness, her attitude of not giving up in the face of suffering.

I liked both of Mia’s parents, too, Lyman and Aldora Stanley, especially because of the change they went through. At first, I thought they would only be these couple of cardboard characters whose only part in the story would be Mia’s reason to rebel, only caring for their social standing, and their daughter’s matrimonial prospects, especially with certain things they say. Like when Mia, who doesn’t want to go to England with them (and towards an arranged marriage), suggests she could stay either alone at home, or as a guest with any of her friends, and her mother refuses, saying:

We would face social condemnation, as you well know.

*face-palm* My only thought when she said it was “why does it have to be SO OBVIOUS?”. Unless this is your very first historical fiction book (or either you’ve been living under a rock), I don’t think this needs clarification. We know it already. And also, when they made Mia stop writing for the magazine, she resigns, and says it no less than three times, with full explanation. Ok, we get it, let’s keep it moving! But, anyway, I liked how they came back from their trip changed, and recognized that times were evolving and that Mia should speak her mind and express herself. They didn’t want to repeat their mistakes and decided to soft the strict rules in the world they raised their daughters in. And that added bonus points to the story.

I also liked how Mia gets to know the seamen’s wives, and how the contrast is presented, as it’s vivid and very noticeable in the two worlds she moves through. It’s like she turns into someone mid-way, having, on one side, the empty talk she hears in her friends’ houses, about parties and weddings, dresses, and their desire to “help” in the sewing circle with the scraps of fabric they have left, and on the other side, the life full of pain and hardships the women in the docks face every day, having to raise children with no food or money, with husbands who aren’t there (either dead or at sea), and an abusive man who takes advantage of them in every possible way. Don’t tell me this is not a real issue even nowadays. Just like it happens in this book, the fact that the people who could help don’t, or choose to look the other way, doesn’t make their reality disappear, and I liked that Mia wasn’t like that. She never gave up in her decision to make a change happen for these people, and her attitude was not only that of a Christian person, but also, a feminist.

Although she grows and her naivety fades as the story progresses and she faces reality, I must say, sometimes it was too much, and I wanted to slap her in the face. Like when she goes to see Jasper Barrill about the women and their debts, and says:

I am a fairly educated woman. I should be able to approach this Barrill man and at least reason with him to put aside his activities.

This goes beyond naivety. I call stuff like this plain stupid. I mean, I get that she grew up in a very different life from the one at the docks, with people who loved her since she was born, and everything. But you can’t be so stupid as to face a man who has no qualms about taking children from their mothers, taking money from people who don’t have it, and raping women, and think you can reason with him. She may as well say “I’ve heard you are raping women and I want you to stop.”. And that would have been the worst, hadn’t she added:

Oh, and one more thing: I wonder if you might tell me who you work for.

Oh, my God! You have to be very stupid to think that he will answer that after you threatened him with exposure. Not that he would say it without it, anyway. But you get my point.

Also, when she goes to the docks to visit one of the women she’s been secretly interviewing at night, and is assaulted by those men, one of them has a very bad alcohol smell all over him, and she thinks:

It wasn’t even noon. What kind of man started drinking before noon?

Mia, you do know you could be raped right here, don’t you? Because I can’t believe how you are thinking that, of all things.

As for Garrett Wilson, I liked him, but not so much as to think it was ok from him to follow her wherever she went. I get that she was often reckless and he wanted to keep her safe, but still, following her everywhere? I don’t think I’ve ever liked a character who does this, and it’s not different with this book. However, I liked him in the other aspects of his life, in his role as a son and a brother to his stepsisters, and how even though Mercy wasn’t his mother, he still respected her as his father’s wife. At first, I thought that his father’s illness and bed rest would lead nowhere, but it’s his death what takes Garrett from Mia’s side, and hence, Jasper Barrill can kidnap her. The only thing that bothered me was that, not a second after the man dies in his bed, Mercy welcomes Garrett into her home anytime, and he has no better idea than saying:

Society might question the living arrangements with us so close in age.

Uh, guys? I don’t want to interrupt, but the man’s body is still there. Can you discuss this some other time? It really has to be now?

Anyway, let’s move one.

The romance was sweet, but not nearly enough, and very common, not memorable at all. I’ve read it a thousand times, and in general, I thought it could have been so much better if the book had been longer. They only kiss once and in the very last line of the book, and that NEVER works for me. I wanted to read about that kiss, and even more, I wanted to read their wedding! It was disappointing. I often felt everything was happening way too soon, before giving me time to savour it and start rooting for Garrett and Mia. Plus, it got really obvious at some point, with too much telling when it should have been showing. Like with this:

After his evening at the theater with Mia, he had come to realize something that he’d suspected for months: He was falling in love with his best friend. The thought had startled him at first, for he’d known Mia all of her life and he’d never thought of her in this way. But now she was all he could think about.

Do you really need to tell me that as literally? Can’t you just show it to me? It’s made so obvious, that is not enjoyable!

Or this:

Though he longed to go to her and declare his love, he knew for now he needed simply to better understand it himself.

Damnit, too soon! And out of nowhere.

And also, some moments were just laughable, like when Mia simply takes a sit, and this happens:

For some reason she could nearly feel his arms close around her again as she eased back into the chair. The very idea warmed her cheeks.

Really? A chair makes you feel this way? Ok, it’s your call.

Or:

He had fallen in love with her, and he had to find a way to cause her to fall in love with him as well.

Why on Earth are you TELLING me this? Showing could do wonders to convince me of their love, but the opportunities to do that went down the drain. I was left wanting more scenes together, more actions and beautiful moments, beyond the almost-proposal situations they have towards the end, tainted by Mia’s misunderstanding and jealousy, when she thinks Garrett is engaged to this Eulalee woman, who, by the way, claims she will remarry, but nobody mentions to who, or anything for that matter (not that it is important, but still).

A thing that really bothered me and confused me was when Mia asked his father for the sixty dollars to pay Jasper Barrill, to settle Mrs. Smith debt, and he decided, along with Garrett, to set a trap and get the man arrested for his past crimes. And when he went to get the whole thing ready, he asked Mia to stay home for her safety. And I was like, WHAT? This woman was the one who started everything, who brought awareness about the man’s crimes and the seamen’s wives’ living conditions, and the whole thing was going to conclude without her? She wasn’t even going to be there to see the man brought to justice? Or worse, we the readers don’t get to see how everything is resolved? That was definitely odd, and I didn’t understand why the author chose to do it that way, keeping us away from the action, while the men solved everything.

The ending in general felt cut short. Abrupt. But, in a positive note, at least we can see how the characters evolve as the story progresses. Mia starts as a society lady and a matchmaker, lively, beautiful, and active, but innocent, nonetheless, and by the end, she has changed, having a better understanding of life, and being less naïve, aware of the world around her beyond her family, her home, and her lifestyle. And Garrett loves her and wants to marry her, just for herself. He likes her just the way she is, with all her faults, her stubbornness, and determination, but also for her sweetness, and bravery.

So, long story short, I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to, but I will read the other books in the series. They are just what I need right now, with my weary brain and my need of some literary candy to relax. It’s not the biggest masterpiece ever, but neither a trashy romance novel, and I will for sure give the author another chance. Overall, I liked her writing style, and I hope her books get better in the future.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Review - Manor of Secrets

Original Title: Manor of Secrets
Series: -
Author: Katherine Longshore
Published: January 28th, 2014

Publisher: Point
*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

I think only a few times in my life I read a book as fast as this one, as it only took me two days. My main reason to grab it was because it was short, and a stand-alone (and the pretty blue dress on the cover, I confess). My very first conclusion is that it’s clear this book came out in the peak of the Downton Abbey fever, that occurred a few years ago, and took the literary world to a place in which everyone, all the sudden, wanted to read books set in the Edwardian era and the turn of the century, about the Titanic, and grand houses, aristocracy, their servants, and later, World War I. I admit, I was definitely a part of that fever, until all my favourite characters from the show died, and I was forced to calm down. Thanks a lot, Julian Fellowes.

Anyway, let’s focus. Manor of Secrets, by Katherine Longshore, is a good book, but not great. I guess the word that describes it best is decent, as I’m not impressed by this story. I feel it is very simple, and not at all memorable, as the plot points are overused, and are nothing we haven’t seen before: upstairs-downstairs forbidden relationships, the ladies’ predictable life in their ordered existence, dull suitors, overbearing parents, the world of appearances, the secrets hidden behind the family’s gilded façade… We’ve heard these songs already. And actually, as the story progressed and the secrets were revealed, I thought the story behind Charlotte’s birth was far more interesting than the plot in this entire novel, and that it could have made an awesome book all on its own, with all the elements that match the perfect period drama: illicit romance, scandal, social standing in danger… You know, the usual.

Truth be told, I liked Katherine Longshore’s writing style. There was something in the way she presented and described things that was just beautiful and enchanting. And it was that style that picked up the last couple of chapters and made them intense, emotional, and interesting, the way I wish the whole book had been. She’s definitely a good writer, with great potential. But some things felt odd, like the dialogue, as it often felt a little too modern for the time period. Also, it got a tiny bit repetitive when I was told, over and over again, about the upstairs-downstairs difference. From time to time, there was too much telling, when showing would have been a better choice. And also, as the book only has twenty-seven chapters, the actions felt a little rushed, like everything was happening too fast, and actually, a longer book not only would have added details and complexity to the story, but it would also have made me care a lot more for the characters.

Something that I realized after finishing the book, actually, was how simplified the upper class is written in this book. The house they live in doesn’t even have a fancy name, it’s just The Manor. Charlotte’s father is not even there, and much less talks; he’s just a hollow name present at dinner, and nothing else; we don’t even know what title he has (given that Charlotte has “Lady” attached to her name). The fact that this is a YA novel does not justify the lack of details in that regard. As for Charlotte’s five brothers, their sole purpose is showing us that she, as the youngest, gets forgotten most of the time, because none of them appear in the story, and the only one who does, has no dialogue, and no importance at all. He’s not even the one Frances Caldwell wants to snag! Because if that one –David– had been here, perhaps the plot could have been a little better, with richer subplots and further drama.

As I said before, this felt like a YA version of Downton Abbey. Lady Charlotte Edmonds, the protagonist, felt like both Lady Mary and Lady Sybil Crawley mashed together, combining Mary’s desire to rebel against her family’s –and society’s– expectations, and Sybil’s eagerness to see the world, to understand it and be a part of it, having a life outside the limits of the manor, and marrying for love instead of convention. Charlotte is, in a way or another, a relatable character, in despite of not standing out for her depth or her complexity. The way she talks reflects a good education in manners and social etiquette, but also, reveals that she’s just sixteen years-old. And I liked how Katherine Longshore wrote the contrast between her and Janie, who is the same age, but lives in a completely different world, with a more realistic view of life, as hers is plenty with hardships and constant work, against the dull, empty life Charlotte lives in her golden cage. It’s very well done.

Honestly, I felt bad for Charlotte, being friendless, starved for affection, always having to watch her every step and control her tongue, living off her appearance and her marriageability, and having the sole company of her imagination to escape to sunnier places and perspectives.

Charlotte perched on the edge of her chair and looked out over the Tudor knot garden, all the hedges arranged in strict lines and bisected by clean gravel pathways. All of them leading nowhere.

That is one powerful image, reflecting how she feels, and how her life is. A perfectly ordered existence made to be enjoyed and watched, but nothing else, and from which there is no escape. The fact of having everything she could ever need, like money, a roof over her head, food, clothing, and all that, don’t take away the fact that she lives a dull existence, bored out of her mind. Who could blame her for daydreaming and imagining adventures and romance like that, far away from the stifling Manor? But even that is forbidden. Any notion of romance is out of the question in a world in which the reasons to get married are convenience, and dowries. But, although, yes, this is a difficult life to live, Charlotte is overly dramatic! Some things about her were plain exaggerated, like when she convinces Janie to visit her in her room during the afternoon, against the rules, she says yes, and it goes:

Charlotte almost swept Janie into another waltz, right there in the kitchen. She was making a difference in her own life. She was making things happen. She felt she could make anything happen.

Really? That much? I mean, I get that she’s happy and excited, but oh my God, calm down!

And it also gets a little repetitive, as later it says:

Charlotte suddenly wanted to run away. From Fran. From The Manor. From expectations.

“Suddenly?” Are you serious? She’s been saying that she wants to run away and go on adventures since the book started! How is that sudden, now?

As for Frances Caldwell, Charlotte’s best friend, I didn’t like her. I saw her as the model of everything Charlotte is supposed to be, or at least, what everyone expects her to be. She wants all those things Charlotte should want, but doesn’t, like fine dresses, social etiquette, snagging a rich husband, and being the mistress of her own household, as she bosses around the Manor’s servants, like she owns it. But other than that, she has no essence, no personality, and no passion for anything. Although I admit, I didn’t think she could be the one who ratted Charlotte out with her writing, simply because I thought her too snob to deign herself to go down the kitchen and do something –anything– in there.

As for the love stories in this book, we are back to Downton Abbey. The whole time I felt that Charlotte’s suitor, Andrew Broadhurst, it’s this book’s version of Matthew Crawley, a man who is set to inherit an earldom, but nevertheless, has plans to build his own life, away from the aristocracy and its demands. But apart from that I didn’t think he had much complexity and depth, with very little development in his personality, except what we see through Charlotte’s eyes. Also, he’s like Matthew in his role as the suitor who at first, is ignored, with a heroine that has absolutely no interest in him, but eventually, discovers that he’s more than just another seeker for her hand, and that, with the appropriate time and contact, she could actually love him. And that is the problem for me. The idea of her suddenly starting to fall in love with him, after trash-talking him for most the book, made impossible for me to buy their supposed romance. True, Andrew shows that he cares through his actions and that he’s there for more than just a convenient match between two wealthy families, but it wasn’t enough for me. I needed more scenes together, plenty of meaningful conversations, raw moments of honesty… Anything that could justify a love story. Plus, I thought the entire time he was plotting something with Fran and that everything would have terrible consequences for Charlotte. But at least, the ending isn’t ordinary, because they don’t get married and get their happy ending. Given that the book is YA, and both protagonists are sixteen, I really doubted it would happen. For both of them.

The storyline with Lawrence, the footman, was ok. Not great, but ok. I knew they wouldn’t end up together, simply because neither of them had any real interest in the other, beyond rebellion, with Lawrence taking advantage of his good looks and her naivety, and Charlotte kissing him for the sole thrill of adventure, the taste of doing something wrong in her perfectly mapped-out life, defined by others. It’s well done, but a part of me wishes that they would have actually fallen in love with each other, the scandal being worthy, for their happiness’ sake. Although, at least, the indiscretion added to Janie’s character development. When Charlotte talks to her about her fantasy of running away with Lawrence to live in the Côte d’Azur, at first I thought it was overly naïve, and very dramatic, but then I realized that, even though yes, she is all those things, it’s only natural for a lady whose only escape is her imagination, to think like this. To believe that life will go as smoothly as it does in her head. And when Janie reacted to all that, acted as an older, wiser sister, bringing her down to Earth and giving her a fresh, realistic look on her romantic ideas, with the notions of starvation, working your skin off, and struggling every day, things Charlotte is completely unaware of.

I liked Janie Seward, and the contrast between her and Charlotte, because they are the same age but come from very different worlds. They have different relationships with their mothers, in the sense that, where one of them wants to run away from her controlling attitude and disaffection, the other can’t stand the idea of a separation, of leaving her behind again. I liked how strong she is, and how realistic, in many ways Charlotte’s complete opposite, and yet, being the only one who could truly get to know her. I liked how she accepted her fully, even before knowing they were sisters, and with their differences, and was ready to be at her side at her worst. That is what true friends do. And I also liked Harry Peasgood, but I wish we had known more about him, other than his position in the house, and the fact that he always loved Janie, like some fond memories together, even fights! Anything, that could help me see the chemistry between them. That aspect was lacking for me. I just thought Janie wouldn’t return his affection, as she suddenly realizes her feelings for him, out of nowhere.

Another thing I didn’t quite like was the general lifestyle for the people downstairs. I get that they had to take care of their jobs, but not to the point of hating each other like that. The only ones who seemed to truly like Janie were her mother, and Harry, because her relationship with the other servant girls consisted on one fight after another. It was like seeing a bunch of jealous cats hissing at each other, showing their claws, and attempting to scratch each other’s eyes out from time to time, being mean to each other, but nothing else. No personality development whatsoever, nor another part on the general plot than being mean to Janie.

Finally, a word on Lady Diane, Charlotte’s mother/aunt. She’s a robot. Her entire essence, for most of the book, is her social standing, her image in front of her guests and social peers, and scolding Charlotte, reminding her of all the rules she should be following. Her depth was there, but I don’t think the author wrote it well enough. I mean, Lady Diane, by the end, claimed she always loved Charlotte, even when she wasn’t her real daughter, but she was afraid of losing her to her sister, had she ever decided to tell the truth. And I think that, if she had shown some more affection, that would have made Charlotte much less of a dreamer, and much less eager to leave when the opportunity arose. As for Lady Beatrice, she came dragging the scandal rumour with her, but it was half the book, and she hadn’t even been in a relevant scene, nor said anything remotely important, and led not to care enough about her being Charlotte’s real mother the way I was supposed to. I didn’t know her. Nothing made me grow fond of her, to be glad about the truth when it came out. But I did like her attitude towards women’s rights and her inclination towards change in the world, doing what Lady Diane never did, that was encouraging her daughter to use her talents for something meaningful, instead of punishing her for it. The fact of having a character like Lady Beatrice, that even with her unfortunate love story, her scandalous secret pregnancy and her life far away from her child, could fend for herself, living in Italy, and becoming a suffragette and a feminist, made marriage and impossible ending for this book, other than both Charlotte and Janie being too young.

So, in short, I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. It was entertaining, dramatic, and in general, a good, quick read; but little more than that. I definitely expected more, although I’m ok with what I got instead. I don’t know if I’ll read more by Katherine Longshore, but I won’t discard her work right away. If I do read another book by her, I just hope it’s better than this one.


Friday, November 1, 2019

Review - The Carousel Painter

Original Title: The Carousel Painter
Series: -
Author: Judith McCoy Miller
Published: September 1st, 2009

Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

This may be one of the worst books I’ve ever read in the historical fiction genre. And I’m not happy to say it, but the word that describes it entirely, in every possible level, is obvious. I confess that what initially drew me in was the idea of the carousel horses, the carvings, the art and painting that all of it involved, because I simply love when the protagonist in historical fiction is an artist. There’s a special feel to it, that I enjoy very much. The descriptions of the horses, the colours and the method to create them, and later the other animals they design for the carousel, are simply beautiful. And sadly, that was the best part. A book needs more than that. As I read, I discovered myself wanting to finish it, just to be done with it and move on.

I honestly don’t understand the glowing, positive reviews on this book. Perhaps it is me, that I’m too demanding with the novels I pick up, but I couldn’t like this, and there was no way around it. There were so many ridiculous aspects, and silly characters, that I just… No. Just no. And it’s not like the plot in general didn’t have potential to be great, but it was very poorly executed. I’m sorry to say it, but it is the truth.

The story takes place in Ohio, but I so wish the whole thing had been set in Paris, where Carrie Brouwer grew up! It’s the art capital of the world, after all. I get that the author needed to take Carrie out of her known world, to introduce the plot, but apart from the fact that she lived with her father in Paris as he taught art, we don’t really know her. Her mother died when she was younger, after taking her to church and being the Christian parent in the household, and her father was a devoted artist who paid more attention to his paintbrushes than to his daughter (cliché?). I honestly thought we were going to know them better, for Carrie to understand them and make peace with the shortcomings and difficulties she went through in Paris, but that’s all there is. And since the rest of the characters in the entire book are plain depthless, I guess I couldn’t expect more from two people who are dead and only live in the protagonist’s memory.

Carrington Brouwer, the lead lady, felt the entire time like a cardboard character, weakened by her circumstances, but without the will to make her life count. I understand the low-profile personality, but this is not it. Apart from finding work (“to buy food”, as she claims, when actually the Galloways pay her rent), she doesn’t have any goals in life, and most of the time, she tells us about her past in Paris and her parents, in snippets from information that are not useful to follow the plot. She just sees life happening around her, without really acting on it. When she was suspected of the robbery, she did nothing to prove she wasn’t guilty, or defend herself, and neither when the other workers and their wives threatened her. Circumstances just aligned for her to be out of trouble, for the convenience of the plot. Don’t believe me? Look: when the angry wives of the factory workers wanted to drag her with them to make her pay for not leaving, she ended up saving a kid’s life, out of nowhere, and that brought the women’s tolerance. And when she was proven innocent of the robberies, it was through the actions and decisions of others, instead of her fighting to defend her claim.

As for the other characters in the entire book, they are flat and pretty much inconsequential. They are just background noise. They have no depth, and no personality, except for some very superficial characterisation. Take Carrie’s friend, Augusta Galloway, for example. She’s the stereotype of the rich, selfish, spoiled girl, who is just vain and focused on frivolities, like dresses and parties, and of course, flirting. Her entire personality is being obsessed with Tyson Farnsworth, and doing everything she can to catch him. And that’s it. There’s nothing else about her, and I don’t know why I expected more. When she took Carrie to the park to speak in private, after the whole robbery thing, I honestly thought she would say something important, but she just falsely accused Carrie of going after Tyson, when she knew she liked him. Every word that comes out of her mouth has to do with herself, and that’s not only stupid, but also immature, from a person who knows there are more serious matters going on around her.

Along the same lines, Mrs. Galloway –Augusta’s mother– is just a rich woman who’s only desire and goal in life is climbing up the social ladder, and maintaining a positive image in front of her equally rich acquaintances. Nothing more. She’s mean to Carrie, but only because having her in her home could ruin her chances to do just that. What a shame would be if his son ended up marrying her, the penniless daughter of a very poor, bohemian artist! And that is her complete essence. As for Augusta’s father, he goes down the same road. He’s kinder than his wife, but we don’t know anything about him. He says he’s ill, but not what ails him, and I didn’t care in the least when he said he had to move in search of a healthier lifestyle, taking his family with him, and giving up the carousel factory.

And those are not the only bad things about the Galloways. Rich people in general, in this book, are like demonized. Because they are wealthy, all their descriptions and traits are negative, being presented as vain, selfish, mean-spirited, only caring for money, etc. And yes, granted, those people exist. But you can’t put everyone in the same bag like this. You can’t possible judge everyone without knowing their circumstances, and if you draw all those conclusions simply because they have more money than others… It’s just stupid, and sends a very bad message. Thanks for the warning, but no thanks.

As for Josef Kaestner, the love interest, his entire life is the factory, and going to church on Sunday. There’s some peeking into his past, but it’s not enough to understand him, and get a better look to the reasons behind his actions. Out of nowhere, he starts liking Carrie, after tearing apart her work in the factory for a long time, and eventually he falls in love with her; but this man is so expressionless, that it was really hard to tell! And I don’t interpret that as the personality traits of a shy, reserved, and possibly distrustful man. I just think he’s poorly written. Other than a few smiles here and there, his truly emotional moment came way too late, at the very last line of the book, when he takes Carrie, kisses her and spins her around, happy because they are engaged to be married. And that is not enough for me to believe their love. By that point, I was already too bored to care, wanting to finish the book once and for all.

As for Mrs. Wilson, she’s practically a cartoon. She’s a good woman, but her entire character consists of being a bad cook, and saying one or two not-so-funny lines here and there. Same as Mr. Lundgren, the other tenant in her boardinghouse. They are there all the time, but they do absolutely nothing for the plot. I could take them away from the book almost without disturbing the storyline. Same with Gunter, the new painter in the factory, who is a completely useless character, if there ever was one.

As for Tyson, the villain, he’s presented as a cad and a scoundrel since the first moment he appears, and nothing he says or does changes that. He has no personality besides that. It was the most obvious thing in the world he was behind the robberies, I never doubted that for a minute, although I really hoped for a plot twist by the end that would prove me wrong. He is just what we see he is. A flirty, shameless man who takes revenge on others when he can’t get his way. A very immature personality, that coincides with a person who is, guess what? Rich.

In general, the narration in this book is kind of unnerving, because some things are just so exaggerated, that border stupidity. One of those moments was when Carrie, in a hurry, is running and collides with Tyson, unintentionally hitting him, and upon that she says:

He was still on his feet, so I assumed I hadn’t killed him.

Oh my God *face palm* Did she actually think she had killed him? I had to read that twice just to make sure. I mean, she just bumped into him, and may have caused him some pain, but to the point of wondering if he’s still alive? Don’t be ridiculous, I’m begging you! And that happens all over the book. Excessive drama in moments that don’t justify it. Or false expectations. Like Augusta’s mother, who does nothing more than talking about the housewarming party she will host in her new mansion, and because it was so important, I thought something relevant would happen there, or that it would go wrong in some way. But nothing did, and I was very surprised, because, after the way it was mentioned and talked about, I really thought the wrap up of the story would take place there, with the solving of the mystery, and all that. But of course, it didn’t.

The mystery doesn’t deserve the name. It was completely predictable, with a culprit that could be spotted from miles away. A true plot twist would have been Augusta’s father being responsible, because he was in need of money to leave to his family after his passing due to his illness. But no. As for the thief’s identity, I really thought it would be Frances, the Galloways’ servant, as it made a lot more sense than placing the blame on a oh, so casually similar woman who could have been Carrie’s sister, but does not appear one single time or has one single line of dialogue in the entire book. We don’t know who she is, where Tyson got her from, or anything, for that matter. She was an unknown person, apparently named Georgia, and working alongside Tyson, she was guilty the whole time… WHAT??

No. No! Just… no.

I guess now is the time to talk about the romance, and sadly, I have nothing good to say about it. Carrie and Josef have no chemistry at all, and they fall in love because the author said so. There’s nothing there that makes me see why they are attracted to each other, what is that they share (apart from the carousel horses) that creates such closeness, and eventually leads to their engagement. And the narration, just as I said before, it’s just plain obvious and exaggerated, origin of more face-palms and eye-rolls than I care to admit. Nothing changes after Carrie and Josef first kiss, and the fact that Josef still mixes German words with English wasn’t an excuse for him to never say a meaningful sentence. He talks like he’s retarded, in an almost robotic way.

At one point, Carrie says “His smile radiated warmth, and in one fleeting moment, I decided he was the kind of man who would make a good husband.

Oh, my God, this is so obvious! And it comes out of, literally, nowhere! It’s not sweet, or tender, it borders insta-love, and makes me want to slap Carrie in the face with full force. It’s too much telling when it should be showing. And when Josef takes her to the dance floor, she feels strongly and thinks: “I must regain control of my emotions.” *face palm* This woman has no reason to drown her feelings, because there are no real consequences that could come from her relationship with this guy. In addition, I don’t think this had to be put like that. By recurring to showing, this shouldn’t need to be told. I should be able to see it in the physical response of her body, or her reactions to things, or in a million other ways, all of them better than this writing choice.

Also, at a certain scene before a dance Carrie can’t attend, Josef asks her if she’s jealous because he’s going without her, teasing her with the idea of him falling for another woman, and she thinks:

I had been worried some attractive young lady would steal his heart. I just didn’t want Josef to know it!

This may be my biggest eye roll in the history of eye-rolls. And I mean… What? So damn obvious it makes me sick! But, see what I mean? She talks like a teenage girl with a crush, and their conversations have no depth, no getting to know one another… Nothing that justifies their fondness, and much less their engagement.

And later, she says the only thing I agree with, upon her unexpected feelings for Josef:

I couldn’t love someone I barely knew”.

Exactly. You can’t. And that is another reason why the love story feels so forced and makes no sense. Josef shows himself jealous a couple of times, but it never lasts, and no matter what they did, I couldn’t care for him, or Carrie, or their relationship, especially after that firework-worthy first kiss that did not change anything with them.

Well, enough of that.

Oh, yes, and adding to the list of things that stink of convenience –neither there is any explanation around it–, I don’t understand how, all the sudden, Carrie’s father’s paintings became valuable and were worth millions, and none of the potential buyers thought about contacting her about them. I mean, she was the artist’s only living relative, after all, right? But since this book throws logic out of the window most of the time, I shouldn’t have expected anything in that regard.

And finally, a word on the Christian values exposed in this book. Don’t get me wrong, though. I wasn’t bothered by their presence, and the fact that both Carrie and Josef want to trust God and let Him do His work in their lives and situations, is perfectly ok. What I didn’t like was that they are both constantly scolding themselves because of those parts of their personalities that, according to them, are wrong: Carrie’s pride, and Josef’s anger. And the author takes it way too far. Being proud of your work, and the talents you possess, isn’t wrong, and neither is being angry in the face of complicated situations. None of that makes you a worse or better Christian. The problem comes when those things rule your life and determine the decisions you make, and the consequences they bring along, both upon yourself and others. But the interpretation written in this book is very simplistic, and even unfair. I mean, none of us are perfect, and we all have faults we wish we didn’t. But taking pride on what you do –in this case, Carrie’s artwork– is a part of loving yourself. I understand humility, and being low-profile, which is Carrie’s case, but the way pride is presented here, I mean… *sigh of defeat*. It’s a fault that needs to be corrected. It’s like Josef practically expects her not to talk at all about her art in positive terms, because that’s boasting. Or even trample over herself and her work to prove she doesn’t have that much pride. And that notion is simply ridiculous.

I think that’s it. I wish I could talk more about this book, but the characters and the plot are so lacking and hollow that, honestly, there is not much else to say. I don’t like ranting like this, but this is one of those books that ask for it. Will I give the author another chance? I don’t know. Maybe. But not in the near future.

See you next time!