Monday, March 20, 2017

What I Read in October 2016 Part III. . .

What I Read in October 2016 Part III. . .

The Fifth Avenue Artists SocietyThe Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway-- Historical Fiction

Virginia Loften knows one day she will be a famous author like her hero, Washington Irving, and her best friend Charlie will be a famous artist. She knows this as well as she knows one day she will marry Charlie. Ginny knows this with all the assurance of a seven year old girl. By the age of 22, Ginny and her sisters and brother Franklin are supporting their widowed mother with their artistic endeavors. Their father left them plenty of love but very little money. The Loftin siblings are happy though and willing to work hard at what they love, except for oldest sister Bess who believes she is a lady born and a lady she shall be. Ginny never dreamed her plans would be altered until Charlie proposes to another woman out of necessity. Ginny pours her anguish into writing a love story for the ages but is it good enough to publish? When her brother introduces her to his best friend John, a fellow writer, John invites them to his Fifth Avenue artists' salon where Ginny meets a number of artistic men and women. Among her new friends are Tom, a brooding writer and his sister Lydia, who is a special friend of Franklin's. These new friends encourage Ginny's literary efforts and help her on her road to publishing. Some of their comments sting, but she is willing to work to make it better. Then Charlie reenters her life and Ginny's feelings are confused. John cares for her deeply but what about Charlie? Then one night, shocking secrets are revealed that will change the Loftins lives forever.

This is an Edith Wharton-esque drama set in Gilded Age New York. Edith makes a brief cameo in the novel, set before she became a famous writer. However, the writing doesn't live up to the promise of the story and in no way resembles Edith Wharton's style. Rich, poor, drama, passion, intrigue, romance, art- it has all the hallmarks of a PBS Masterpiece drama.

Ginny tells her story but doesn't allow the reader to become fully engaged with her. She tells us how much she loves Charlie and how much he has broken her heart, etc. etc. She tells us she shut herself up to work on her novel and tells us everything else. All that telling makes the first half of the book very very slow and doesn't really allow the reader to become integrated into the story.

The period details aren't bad but the characters spend a lot of time discussing whether a husband would allow them to pursue their art. That's one thing that keeps coming back over and over and gets tiring after awhile. Just seeing one married character and her interactions with her husband was enough to get the characters wondering and show the reader what they were thinking. The epilogue was weird and unnecessary.

The plot is intriguing. I could have cared less about the romantic entanglements but I wanted to know what happened. The plot picks up halfway through and I was mildly interested in whether Ginny would become published so soon. Then BAM - a shocking plot twist and the book became difficult to put down. I had to skip ahead to find out what happened. One of the secrets is very very shocking and completely crazy by our standards. I wasn't totally surprised- there were clues but how it all went down and to whom was the real shocker. There was another secret that wasn't a huge surprise at all. There was a big clue and Ginny, as Franklin's twin, should have known. Ginny claims Frank is her best friend and they're supposed to be twins but that relationship gets dropped in the middle and by the time the drama happens, it seems like they're just siblings who don't know each other well. I thought twins would be able to sense when one is in trouble or something- at least in a story like this one. This plot twist made the story a little too dark for me.

The characters were largely unlikable. Ginny's manner of telling the story didn't really endear me to her and her reactions and interactions with other characters just didn't make her appealing. I wanted to like her because I thought she would be like Jo March, one of my favorite literary heroines, but she's not. The Loftin sibling I hated the most was Bess. She and Ginny didn't get along and I didn't care for Bess for the same reasons Ginny didn't. I liked Mae the best because she had a passion, drive and still managed to be compassionate and caring towards her family. I also liked Alevia and her deep passion for music and lack of interest in marriage. I just thought it was a little strange how she was so obsessed with music and didn't do or think of much else. I had some compassion for Charlie in the beginning but he turned into a selfish idiot and I didn't want him to succeed with Ginny. I didn't like Tom but he didn't deserve Ginny's rudeness. I didn't get that he was any more or less arrogant than any other artist at the salon. Lydia got on my nerves and I felt John was insincere and too dramatic.

The story is loosely based on the author's family history and would have made a better biography. The plot was a little too dark and dramatic for my personal taste.

Touching breast (twice), hiking skirt up to legs while kissing a man
one man has a reputation as a ladies' man
drug use

Letters from Bath; Or, a Friend in ExileLetters from Bath; Or, a Friend in Exile by Meredith Allady--Regency Romance

This novella is a pastiche of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey in parts and a somewhat witty observation of Regency society. Teenage heroine Ann Northcott is being held prisoner against her will... by her mother... in Bath! Ann's mother disapproves of her hoydenish daughter who walks with a slight limp due to a childhood accident. At first Ann is miserable in Bath but she soon finds some unexpected allies. When she meets Miss Barr, Ann discovers a heroine in need of a happily ever after. Ann enlists the aid of her gossipy new friends and a Mr. Grayson, an older gentleman (in his 30s) who may be able to help. Ann doesn't care for him much herself but he could prove useful.

Though this book is set in the Regency period, it's not a romance. It's a prequel to Friendship and Folly. The narrator, Ann, tells the story in letters to her best friend Julia back home. Ann's voice is youthful, wry and witty. At first she comes across as a teenage drama queen but she soon becomes enjoyable. She could be an Emma Woodhouse type with Miss Barr as Harriet Smith, but I think Ann truly wanted to help Miss Barr because she cared about her friend's happiness. Miss Barr is shy and meek but I liked her because she had her nose stuck in a book. I wanted her to escape her situation and I hope she will be happy. There's not much to Mr. Grayson. He seems nice but he and Ann only meet 3 or 4 times so it's hard to tell what he's really like.

The adults in the story don't come off very well. Ann's mother is hard and unfeeling towards her daughter. She parades Ann around Bath for her own purposes and Ann is sharp enough to figure out her mother's motives. Miss Barr's aunt is a cantankerous, penny-pinching old witch who can't stand to have anyone happy. She thinks her impoverished relatives are her slaves to do what she dictates and when. She isn't in the story much but she directs the action.

This is a cute story that I think Janeites and Regency lovers will enjoy.

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