Friday, January 10, 2014

MANOR OF SECRETS


Review of MANOR OF SECRETS by KATHERINE LONGSHORE
(review based on an advance reading copy)

This novel switches between the upstairs/downstairs viewpoints of Lady Charlotte Edmonds and a kitchen maid named Janie Seward. Charlotte is wealthy and privileged but feels smothered and wants more control of her own life while Janie is tougher thanks to her different circumstances but also longs for a little more choice and opportunity. As expected, these disparate characters bond over their unexpected similarities. At first Charlotte and Janie feel cookie cutter, but Longshore gives them increasing depth with every turn of the page. Along the same lines, sometimes the story seemed to be heading towards trite but always swerved away at the last minute with an unexpected twist or sincerely rendered emotion. I particularly liked the ending. I worried the wrap up might feel too frothy, but found myself cheering on the characters’ choices.

MANOR OF SECRETS remains story focused. Though historical fiction, Longshore doesn’t bog the plot down in unnecessary detail. The strong writing also fades into the background, keeping the attention fixed on the characters.

I did find the tone a wee bit too melodramatic for my taste, but I can’t say the marketing isn’t clear on that score. In everything from the title MANOR OF SECRETS to the slogan “At the manor, nothing is at it seems,” drama’s a deliberate selling point. Because that kind of approach turns me away more than draws me in, I probably wouldn’t have read this if I hadn’t already read and enjoyed Longshore’s Tudor novels. If I had anything to do with the promotion, I personally would have focused more on the characters Charlotte and Janie and their relationship than hook words like “drama” and “secrets,” but stripped of all those packaging choices it’s the same story inside and it’s a good one.

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