Thursday, December 5, 2013

What I've Read This Week Part I

What I've Read This Week  Part I. . .

A Change of Fortune by Jen Turano -- Historical Romance

Miss Eliza Sumner is posing incognito as a governess to a wealthy New York family. She's on a mission to find the man who stole her father's fortune and ruined his good name. When she's pressed into service to round out the number at dinner because the eldest daughter Agatha is shirking her duty again, Eliza hopes her disguise will be enough to keep people from asking too many questions. Unfortunately, she's seated in between two of the most eligible bachelors in New York: Mr. Hamilton Beckett and his brother Zayne, who are on hand when mishap befalls Eliza. Hamilton is intrigued by this mysterious young woman but he had enough of mystery with his first wife and isn't interested in more mystery. When next the Becketts meet up with Eliza, she and Agatha are in the middle of a scrape and once again the gentlemen are on hand to rescue the ladies. Eliza has to decide if she can trust Hamilton with her secrets and whether or not they should work together to find the men who set out to ruin their respective families. Hamilton rescues Eliza from one more scrape, introducing her to his two rambunctious children and his matchmaking mother. While Mrs. Beckett is on the matchmaking path, pride and mystery get in the way to keep her plans from flowing smoothly. Eliza and Hamilton are both determined to ignore the sparks flying between them as they clash and come together in search of a villain. Eliza has to rediscover her faith to figure out God's plan for her. I really really wanted to like this novel. It starts off very funny but unfortunately humor is all it has going for it. The writing is very poor and filled with cliches. The plot starts and then scenes end abruptly where there should be more action. I found there was too much emphasis on God's plan and not enough on characters taking action and responsibility for their own lives. I absolutely hated this about Eliza. She doesn't do anything at a crucial moment until she hears from God. The romance is also cliched filled with misunderstandings and miscommunication. There was also way too much going on in the story for such a short book. I have mixed feelings about the primary characters. Eliza doesn't act like a proper young Englishwoman of the 19th century and Agatha is completely off the charts unrealistic for an upper class girl. Their adventures are amusing but Agatha's constantly changing personality and her deep faith made her really annoying. Eliza is spunky one minute, the next she's a watering pot and then she's spunky again. She seems to lose herself whenever she's around Hamilton. She's alternately argues with him and tears up around him. Hamilton is not a very appealing hero. He's a good father and a kind man but he's proud and quick to jump to wrong conclusions. The secondary characters are largely two dimensional. Gloria's actions seem unrealistic for a doting mother and grandmother. Why would she try to fix her son up with someone she doesn't even know? The two children, Piper and Benjamin, made me laugh despite the fact I can't stand children. They remind me a lot of my sister's children who will be just like Piper and Ben in two years. The references to God and Faith seemed very random and tossed in wherever the author felt like it without much rhyme or reason. I don't think many upper class people were that deeply religious at that time. I know of a few but most didn't think about God's plan before doing something. This book seems like a poorly written knock-off of the old traditional Regency romances. It's funny and it's clean so I rate it higher than I would normally rate something this poorly written.

The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow (Avenue of Dreams 2) by Olivia Newport -- Historical Romance

This follow-up to The Pursuit of Lucy Banning is about Charlotte Farrow, the maid with a secret. Charlotte lives for her son Henry. She plans for the day when they can at last be together. That day comes sooner than expected when Mrs. Gavin, his foster mother, must leave town unexpectedly on an emergency and may not be able to return. Charlotte is left with her young son and big dilemma. When the lazy new maid, Sarah Cummings, sees the baby, she jumps to the conclusion that it is an orphan like herself. The household decides that the baby was left there for Lucy and whatever Lucy (now married and on her honeymoon) would want is what they should do. Sarah is placed in charge of the nursery and Charlotte must stand idly by while an incompetent, indifferent girl cares for her beloved son. Everyone has plans for the baby that don't include Charlotte. When the person she most fears reenters her life, she has to make a choice. Artie, now promoted to coachman, knows Charlotte has secrets and worries. He wishes she would confide in him so he could help ease her burdens. God has a plan for Charlotte and Artie is sure she isn't making the right decisions. Meanwhile, Sarah is determined to get out of service and bring the perfect Charlotte down a peg or two. Set against the backdrop of the 1893 World's Colombian Exposition, this book is full of details about life in Gilded Age Chicago. The story takes place mostly "downstairs" from the perspective of the servants. It's very Downton Abbey with the starchy butler taking pride in serving a great family and the young maid who dreams of a better life. I liked seeing the Banning family from the servants' perspective.There's also descriptions of the World's Fair and the Ferris Wheel and what was happening with the labor movement at the time. However, the historical detail leaves little room for plot. This book is really slow moving and nothing happens. When the would-be climax of the story comes it's let down with a whimper. I was left wondering if that was all or if something else was going to happen. I was really surprised by the twist in the story and wish the author had developed the story more. Everything that happens after that is rushed. I really felt for Charlotte in this novel. To Sarah she comes across as subservient and a dutiful maid but the reader watches her struggle to do the right thing for her child and feels her love for him. It's difficult to know what Charlotte should do and I felt her original solution was the right one. Downton Abbey handled this topic much more realistically and interestingly. Charlotte reveals her own story at the end which is far too late. We have an idea who she is running from but never really learn why. I wish that had been revealed in the beginning and developed over the course of the story. There's a quiet, slow burn romance developing in the story but it can't develop because of the circumstances. When it does happen, it happens too quickly. I didn't like Archie pushing Charlotte. He cared about her but didn't really understand what she was going through and wasn't very sympathetic. He kept pushing her to do what HE wanted without considering her needs. I thought Archie and Sarah would have made a better couple. I hated Sarah for most of the novel. She grows at the end but it's too sudden. I have her novel on hold at the library but find it difficult to believe I will like her as a protagonist. The maid who wants more out of life was again done much better in Downton Abbey (Gwen not Ethel) where the character was likeable and sympathetic. This novel could be much better with some reworking. I recommend it to Downton Abbey fans for the period details but don't recommend the plot for people who like well written novels.

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