Friday, February 5, 2016

Book Review - Adele Whitby's Secrets of the Manor: Kate's Story

Secrets of the Manor: Kate's Story, 1914 by Adele Whitby
Published by: Simon Spotlight
Publication Date: June 24th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 148 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Kate can not wait for her twelfth birthday. Not only will she finally be receiving the Katherine necklace, the beloved family heirloom passed on to every Katerine in the family when she turns twelve, but her beloved cousin Beth is also coming all the way from England to Vandermeer Manor in Rhode Island. The cousins have never met because of the ocean that divides them, but they are devoted to their correspondence and know they will be kindred spirits and the best of friends. What's more, Beth just received the Elizabeth necklace for her twelfth birthday and for the first time since their great-grandmother's day the two halves of the necklace will be reunited. Though all the party planning in the world can't take into account the assassination of Archdukes! The news of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand shortly after Beth's arrival in America leads to her parents ordering her home. War is on the horizon and Beth needs to be with her family. It is hard to choose between your heart and your duty, but Beth reluctantly agrees to return home, but not until after she and Kate have a few adventures of their own and reunite the two halves of the locket. 

To say I didn't like the first book in this series would be a gross understatement. Beth's Story so rubbed me the wrong way that besides the spewing of vitriol in my review I might have sold that book faster than any other in recent history. Yet I couldn't part with Kate's Story until I had read it. Yes, I know this might sound absurd, but I had bought this book and gosh darn it it wasn't leaving my shelves until it was read. Thankfully it was a mercifully short book that I knocked out in an hour or two. In fact I might have spent more time writing this review than I did reading the book if you needed a comparison. But in the end I obviously read it and, while I still didn't like Adele Whitby's writing style or story, I didn't hate it with the fury of ten thousand suns like I did the first volume. I think the primary reason for this is that having this book set in America and not in England it is in a society that had more fluid rules and protocol. Beth's Story being in England in 1914 meant that there were society's strictures that were to be obeyed and Adele Whitby flaunted them, if she ever knew them in the first place. While America did also have rules, being such a new country, one which took great joy in shaking off the strictures of England, there was room to play. There weren't any glaring incidents that made me hope that my eyeballs could light the book on fire with the power of my thoughts. In other words, I was able to make it to the end without any real rage forming.

Yet just because there weren't glaring errors, doesn't mean that this book didn't have aspects that annoyed me. They just annoyed me less and therefore I gave the book some leeway. My main gripe is with Kate and her "responsibilities." She is just about to turn twelve and she is already expected, or should I say honored, to attend meetings of The Bridgeport Beautification Society. So a twelve-year-old is to help an organization that is run by new wives and her mother's generation and older? A twelve-year-old! I can understand instituting civic-mindedness in a young girl, but to put her on an equal footing? Seriously!?! I just don't get this whole twelve-year-olds get all the responsibility that is going on in this series. They get expensive jewel encrusted necklaces and all the responsibility that comes with it all seemingly because this is how it happened to their great-grandmothers so obviously we must continue with this tradition. And hang on a minute, in 1848 would twelve-year-olds really be active in the life of their family in the aristocracy? They'd still be in the nursery... this whole thing is just a house of cards waiting for me to blow on it! I get that today in society twelve is kind of the age where things shift, you're on the brink of being a teenager and getting responsibilities, but in previous generations that wasn't the case. This book seems to be trying to shoehorn today's morays on yesterdays! In fact the word teenager didn't even exist until the time of Kate and Beth's daughters! Grumble.

Seems to me more and more that Adele Whitby needs some lessons in history before she's allowed to "teach" it in her books. What annoyed me in this book is that her inclusion of history has now turned into "teaching moments." In the first book the history was cheesy but was just part of the story, we weren't hit over the head with it. Here, here it's a different story. Learn about suffragettes! LEARN I SAY! I'm a person who likes to learn in two ways. The first is when I set out to learn. I take a class, I read the books, I study, I learn in that environment. The second way is passive learning. What you pick up here and there in books. Like Eddie Izzard says, you're flipping through the TV channels, stop for a moment on a show go, hey, I didn't know that, that's interesting, you move on. In other words I will never ever condone knowledge being forced on me. If there's one way to piss me off if I'm meeting you and you have something you want to tell me, if you call it a "teaching moment," know, that in that moment I am doing everything in my power not to punch you in the face. Looking ahead in the series it looks like these "teaching moments" are starting to take over with the potato famine, the great depression, ugh. Stop it now.

But what I think gets under my skin most is just how earnest this series is attempting to be. All about family loyalty and love. The only thing I can think of as being true is the secret that they harbor... because show me an insanely happy family and I'll show you their dirty dark secret. And again, the secret is that the original Katherine and Elizabeth switched places in case you forgot or were hit on the head, because you don't need all six books to figure it out, you need one, if that. No family in the world could be suffused with this much goodness. It's so saccharine and sweet that it makes my teeth ache. Oh, and Kate and Beth finally meeting? Like any cousins have this immediate sisterly bond? Ugh. I'm all for a happy read, but when they meet, oh, and when they join their lockets together? It was like some bizarre Edwardian power rangers. "With the power of our lockets combined we can transmute everyone into happy lovey-dovey zombies!" Because really, what other power could that locket give? Oh, maybe it gives off a brainwashing vibe? Yeah, that could be why everyone doesn't ring true. OK, I'm going with that, they are all under some sort of mind control. That's the only answer.

While these perfect bonds, cousinly and otherwise, are what this book is ostensibly about it really comes down to a lack of dimension. And seriously, I believe in true love, I want a happy ending, most of the time, but it's all in the way it's told that makes the difference. Yes I believe in love at first sight. Did I buy the chauffeur and Beth's maid's instant love? No. Because it was comic book level. It was caricature. Just because you are writing for younger readers doesn't mean that you don't put in the time to tell a good story. Like after two days they'd upset their whole lives to be together? They both knew where the other worked, they could have taken their time instead of doing something reckless. Plus really show the connection, not just hint at them blushing and leave it at that. And that's what it all comes down to. The shallowness of the book makes it predictable and dull. Yes I'm not the age it was written for, but a good story is for all readers, and this isn't a good story. There's a part of me that wants to read the rest of the series just to be vindicated that I saw all the twists and turns like the time I bothered to watch The Village, but really why submit myself to that? I'm not a masochist. Well, OK, sometimes I am with my reading, but I think I can finally walk away from this series and call it a day. If you'd take my advice, don't ever walk towards this series.


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