Friday, January 22, 2016

What I Read in March 2015 Part V

What I Read in March 2015 Part V ...

A Proper Pursuit by Lynn Austin -- Christian Historical Fiction/Romance
A Proper Pursuit
Violet Hayes, graduate of Madame Beauchamps' charm school has no idea how the rest of her life will unfold but she knows a few things 1)She has to find a way to prevent her father's wedding to Mrs. O'Neill and her horrid children 2)In order to do so she has to find her mother and make her mother come back to Violet and her father and 3)she has to fall in love before she marries. Her father has other ideas. He wants Violet to marry the extremely boring Herman Beckett and stay stuck in slow Lockport the rest of her life. Violet dreams of adventure and schemes her way to Chicago to stay with her estranged grandmother and great-aunts. Along the way she meets the slimy blood tonic salesman, Silas McClure. To thwart her father, Violet strikes up a friendship with the man and gives him permission to call on her in Chicago. She soon discovers that her grandmother and two of her three aunts also have an agenda for Violet. Grandmother wants Violet to dedicate her life to God and marry her protogee, the pious minister-in-training, Louis Decker. Aunt Agnes, a wealthy socialite, wants Violet to marry for money and she has just the right candidate in Nelson Kent, grandson of one of her Society friends. Aunt Matt wants Violet to join the cause for woman suffrage and not marry ANYONE. Sweet Aunt Bertie, still in love with the memory of her late husband, urges Violet to marry for love. Violet is confused about what to think. She likes Nelson a lot but he has a secret and Violet isn't sure marrying him is the right thing to do. Louis is a good man but God comes first in his life. Only Silas allows Violet to break free from the stringent rules of Society and be the woman she is inside, but she knows his secret and knows he is ineligible in the eyes of her family. She must find her mother before it's too late and she's married off to someone she dislikes.

Set against the backdrop of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (World's Fair) and in Victorian society, this inspirational novel is the coming of age story of one young woman's attempt to discover her true path. It is based on the story of the Prodigal Son (Daughter in this case). It is a little preachy in parts and I absolutely hated that and wanted to punch the most pious character. I believe religion is personal and not meant to "be" any particular way and please people, just help the poor and the immigrants because they need help and stop preaching at them and forcing them to believe what you believe. Sadly, I know that the characters in this story were all too real, largely in Britain where they seemed to have more of an evangelical bent. I also wanted to rant against the religious zealots for believing an alcoholic could be cured by finding Jesus or whatever. I know they didn't know it was a disease but it still annoys me. I was also curious as to whether this character had issues with substance abuse BEFORE the Civil War or whether his drinking was part of an all-too-common problem at that time since they had little in the way of medicine for the wounded/anesthetic for the amputees and no idea what PTSD was or how to treat it. If we're meant to forgive this character, I need some back story. I think Jesus would forgive the character if the character's problems were a result of the war. /end rant

One more rant before I get to the good stuff. The representation of Gypsies is so outrageously stereotyped and ignorant, I was completely taken aback. This reflects the attitudes of the day, yes, but that wasn't the problem. The problem was in the plot. The character would refer to his or herself as Roma/Romani NOT Gypsy even back in 1893. Read Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey mysteries for a better representation around the same time period. The culture of music and dancing seems accurate for the Hungarian-Slovak people who settled in Chicago. [Sorry I'm an historian. I have to fact check and nit pick. I can't ignore it. At least not yet. Get back to me when I've been out of school longer.]

So now the good stuff. I really liked Violet. She annoyed me with her immaturity at times, but she's been so sheltered her whole life, so naturally she sounds younger than she is. I could relate to her restless, rebellious spirit and I liked her coming of age story. Her search for her mother kept me turning pages and her quest for true love intrigued me. Each of her suitors are so different and their trips to the Fair reflected their personalities and expectations for Violet's future. I disliked Herman for being stupid and a bit pompous. I loathed Louis for being a jerk and a religious zealot who could not see anything else but his love for Jesus. His perpetually dirty glasses were a good symbol of his true personality. I kind of liked Nelson but felt that he was too much the spoiled rich kid and don't think he will make a good husband other than the money. He didn't want to listen to any advice and just wanted an ear to listen to his whining pity party. Dude- grow up. I did not like Silas very much for all the warning bells that went off in Violet's head. More went off in my head, being much older and wiser, but yet he was the only one who truly let Violet be herself and appreciated her for it. By the end of the book, I quite liked him though I'm not sure if he would make a good husband.

The secondary characters were also culled from the stereotypes of the era but well drawn enough to make them interesting and some of them likable. I did not like Grandmother. Not only was she a religious zealot, she was using Violet for her own ends just as Agnes and Matty did. A grandmother shouldn't do that. Great-Aunt Matty would have been my favorite character if not for Aunt Birdie. Aunt Birdie is just so sweet and lovable. How could anyone not love her? My heart bled for her every time she brought up Gilbert. In some ways she reminded me of my beloved grandmother who had dementia in her final years. She would sometimes ask about her mother and older sister and telling the truth, that she was one of two surviving members of her childhood family, resulted in tears. Equivocating was easier and caused less stress so I can easily relate to Violet's family and their decision to not tell Birdie the truth. Aunt Matty becomes my second favorite character. I love her because she's a suffragist (suffragette was sort of a derogatory term) and dedicated to women's rights. Sometimes she was a bit too militant using Violet, but her message was the right one. She would be shocked and sad to discover that her fight isn't over even 100+ years later. I think Aunt Matt is the 1890s version of me!

The other characters I felt a little mixed about. Aunt Agnes was the least developed of the family members but I can easily see her like Violet in her younger days. It's tough to condemn her as mercenary when she did the thing girls of her generation and social class were brought up to do. There weren't any other options at that time. I also felt mixed about Violet's father. I didn't like his methods but his reasoning wasn't so misguided. He didn't really seem to know Violet very well. He was stuck being a single dad so she went off to boarding school and so now he's stuck with a young adult daughter he doesn't know what to do with. He struggles with what he believes is right and what he feels for Violet. He's kind of Herman grown up.

The author did her research on Chicago in the 1890s, especially Hull House and the slums. The Fair was sort of secondary to the plot and the descriptions were tantalizing but there weren't enough. I have to go look up the Women's Pavillion. It sounded like fun though, like Disney's Epcot Center.

I rate this book somewhere in between I liked it and I really liked it. I really liked PARTS of the story but not the whole thing. 

Three Men and a Maid  by P.G. Wodehouse-Historical Fiction/Historical Romance

Three Men and a Maid
Mrs. Horace Hignett dreads the day her son Eustane will marry and she loses control of her beloved home, Windles. She keeps a tight rein on her son and has even refused to rent Windles to an American, Mr. Bennett. Mr. Bream Mortimer arrives in New York to call on Mrs. Hignett and gives her a shock. It seems that Eustace is engaged to marry Mr. Bennett's daughter, Wilhelmina. Mrs. Hignett makes sure the wedding never happens and packs Eustace off to Windles. In line to board the ship, Eustace's cousin Sam falls madly in love at first bite er sight, with a cute redhead holding a nasty Pekingese. Sam tries to play knight in shining armor with unexpected results. When he learns from his cousin that the redhead is none other than Eustance's former betrothed, he thanks the fates for throwing the together on the ship. Now he can learn what the girl likes and proceed to woo her in earnest. His plan seems to be working until it doesn't and he's left to puzzle out the mystery of women. How can he win his true love back?

This is a a cute, fluffy story. The plot moves along nicely and there are several screwball scenes as only Wodehouse could write them. I wasn't thrilled about the plot though. It didn't really appeal to me. The romance is based on pretense which I do not like at all. There's never any chemistry between Sam and Billie. I didn't care for the characters much. Eustace is a sad sack, under his mother's thumb and not really marriage material. Sam is a rich lawyer's dilettante son who is used to getting what he wants. He didn't really have any great qualities about him that would make me root for the romance. Billie is way too fickle and her reactions to the way her suitors behave reflects the time period (1920s). It bothered me until the final scene which was completely different from what I expected of her. Her father and Mr. Mortimer provide the comic relief and Jeeves fans will love the introduction of Webster, a gentleman's gentleman who, like Jeeves, has all the answers.

Content: Some racist comments/jokes and a blackface minstrel show scene. 

Chig and the Second SpreadChig and the Second Spread by Gwenyth Swain--Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Chig Kalpin is no bigger than the chiggers that plague the people of southern Indiana but she's deemed big enough to go to school by the age of 8. Chig reluctantly enters school and finds a kindred spirit in her teacher, who is much too big for her name. Chig dreams of writing her name in big letters like FDR and WPA someday, but can such a little girl live up to such big dreams? Chig also has to endure taunts from the bigger boys and watch them lie and cheat their way to the top of the playground pack. Only Will is sympathetic and kind. Still, Chig dreams of growing and she and Will set out to find out the secret. When she discovers that the Depression has hit her area hard, she realizes some kids have bigger problems than she does. Chig sets out to find a solution and discovers that anyone, no matter how small, can make a difference.

This is a sweet little story. It's very episodic and there's not a whole lot of plot until almost the end. The story takes place over the worst years of the Great Depression, just as FDR started the New Deal. The Depression is more in the background for most of the book. Chig lives in the country and it's clear that everyone is poor but it becomes more clear just how the Depression is affecting her town later on. I would have liked less exposition and more plot but I really liked the story. It's cute and inspiring. The descriptions of southern Indiana are very good and I think young readers will get an excellent idea of what the area looks like, especially the mud. I enjoyed the local color aspect a lot.

Chig is a great little heroine, much like Miri in Princess Academy. She has dreams bigger than she is and she's smart enough to figure out how to solve her problems. Her concern for her classmates is very sweet and touching. I loved her relationship with her teacher and how her teacher quietly guided Chig to be her best. Her actions in the pivotal scene are incredible and what happens next typically only happens in novels but it was a nice ending to the story.

I would definitely recommend this to readers small and not so small (8+).

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