Sunday, March 23, 2014

What I've Read This Week Part II

What I've Read This Week Part II . . .

Celia GarthCelia Garth by Gwen Bristow -- Historical Romance

1) The jacket flap gives away the plot. Don't read the whole thing!
2) This is a story about war. There are horrific acts of violence that appear as part of the plot. You can't skip it because the whole plot depends on it. The war action is told rather than shown, but it's told in enough gruesome detail to be a textbook, similar to An Infamous Army.

Plot summary without spoilers

Celia Garth is young, pretty and bored to death working as an apprentice seamstress in Charleston, South Carolina during the Revolutionary War. Ceila is always looking to the future. Her present is not satisfying enough for her. She longs to sew a real dress and become a well known seamstress instead of going back to the country as a poor relation. When her friend Captain Jimmy Rand tells her of an older lady who wants a dress that really fits but has exacting standards, Celia jumps at the chance. Vivian Lacy is not a sweet little old lady. She's small but when she stands she appears nine feet tall. She's tough, she's had to be because she's buried four husbands and two children, and she's particular about what she wears. Dealing with Vivian isn't easy, but she takes a liking to Celia and vice versa. Celia experiences the joys of her first love affair and the excitement of being engaged. Then the British arrive in Charleston harbor and the war becomes all to frighteningly close to home for Celia. Celia remains true to the "rebel" (American) cause in her heart though she must fight the odds to do it.

Review without spoilers

This story is a sweeping saga of a young woman's journey to adulthood. It's hard to say what I thought of the plot without revealing spoilers, so I will begin with the writing.

This author had a real knack for describing the place setting in such beautiful detail that I felt like I was there. I could feel the oppressive heat and see the cypress trees and the church steeple. She also excelled in creating likeable, believable characters that come to life and stay with you after the book is done. The reader will feel every emotion the characters are feelings and feel for them as they experience joy and sorrow. Gwen Bristow also excelled at research. I knew a little bit about the Revolutionary War in the South and I plan to look it up and see if she got her facts right. I learned a lot about South Carolina history and I feel bad for South Carolina for getting destroyed during two wars. The history is also the downfall of the book. There's a bit too much telling and relating of events that can be found in history books. The history is better when it's told from the point-of-view of a character and what happened to them. The story truly shines when it's about the characters and what happens directly to them. I was mostly interested in Celia and what would happen to her rather than what happened to South Carolina because that I already knew! I also didn't like the unapologetic view of slavery. They're all kind to their "negro servants" without mentioning those negro servants are enslaved. The "servants" love their white owners like family. They grew up together and are family. Excuses, excuses, excuses. I found it particularly distasteful when a small scale farmer intends to turn their estate into a full working plantation. That means slave labor. I don't care how KIND the characters are, they're still owning other human beings and that I can not stand. Though the characters will be long dead by the Civil War, it makes me sad to think their family will be on the wrong side of history.

The plot is engaging once the Siege of Charleston starts. Thought I knew about the Francis Marion, Banastre Tarleton and a bit about the history, I had a hard time putting the book down because I wanted to know what would happen to the characters. The unspeakable tragedy of this story really made me upset. I couldn't believe that anyone could be so cruel but I know it happened and I know the Union did something similar during the Civil War. It's heartbreaking to see it happen to the characters. I loved the anecdotes about Francis Marion and how Luke was a part of that story. Tarleton makes a good villain, but it sounds like some of his deeds may have been misrepresented and turned into tall tales later on. Including the characters into real life events made the history more interesting anyway. The very end of the book was odd. The romance was rushed but at first it worked within the plot but then it was kind of glossed over and summarized. The last scene feels out of place. I wanted something more after that.

Now, here be minor spoilers, read at your own risk!

At first I did not like Celia. There was too much emphasis on her looks. She seemed like a silly teenager to me. She grows up a lot out of necessity. By the time she experiences tragedy, I already liked her. She is tough and resilient, a symbol of South Carolina. I like the way she fiercely believes in her Cause, no matter what and how she is not interested in compromise but learns the value of it. Vivian is a great lady. She could be a grande dame like Lady Katherine DeBurgh, but she has a good heart and a kind soul. She's had a difficult life and found happiness wherever she can. Like Celia, I don't know how she survived all that she did, but Celia learns, like Vivian, to go on in the face of unspeakable tragedy. I liked Herbert Lacy and wished he had been in the story more. Jimmy's family also seemed nice and could have been better developed so when tragedy strikes, it hurts more than it does. Celia's cousin Roy is smarmy but a typical man of his day. His spoiled, empty-headed wife Sophie is pretty awful. According to my research, the docile, empty-headed female ideal came out later, in the nineteenth century but it works for the story. I couldn't believe the wishy-washy loyalties of some of the people in Charleston. I wished for a family tree/ character list to keep them all straight. I couldn't always remember who was who.

I loved the love story. I knew right away what was going to happen so I wasn't surprised at what happened, I was just surprised at HOW it happened. Jimmy is a nice enough character but he's just a boy and doesn't appear much in the novel. I loved Bible-quoting Luke. Luke is a real man's man. He's rugged, stubborn, determined to drive his mother crazy. He's sassy, like Celia and there's an instant attraction there. I love his relationship with his horse, Jerry and the way he always knows which Bible verse to quote. Often times, he skirts the edge of being sassy which adds some humor to the story. Celia thinks he's a flirt and I think he's more of a tease, but I loved him anyway. I especially like how Vivian is developed in relation to Luke and his father. It shows a different side of her that allows Celia to realize Vivian is human and has a weakness. The romance is a bit rushed. It's rushed partly do to the necessity of war time but then it kind of fizzled as the war got in the way. I wanted more of Celia and Luke together. I liked their witty dialogue and was partly in love with Luke myself, so any time he was on page, I was happy. 

I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would. Aside from the length and violence, this book would be a good young adult read. Fifty years ago romance novels consisted of kisses only so this novel is clean in that respect. There are scenes with husband and wife in bed but just lying in bed together holding each other. A character gives birth but it's not described. All of the graphic content is reserved for the war.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave comments and or suggestions for QNPoohBear, the modern bluestocking.