Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Book Review - Katherine Longshore's Manor of Secrets

Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Point
Publication Date: January 28th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

The garden party is stifling and Lady Charlotte would give anything to break free of the watchful eye of her mother, Lady Diane. She spies a servant sneaking off into the woods and daringly she follows. Janie is nothing more than a kitchen maid but as Charlotte watches her servant reveling in the shallows of the lake she wishes for such freedom. Charlotte has so many dreams and ambitions that are unacceptable for lady. She wishes for nothing more then to write and marry for love. But fantasizing about the footman is one thing, actually acting on those impulses are another, though kissing a servant might not be as alien to Charlotte's mother as Charlotte thinks. With the arrival of Charlotte's Aunt Beatrice hours before the shooting party The Manor has been turned on it's head. Yet Charlotte can not understand why the return of a relative she never knew of is causing such chaos. She needs information and everyone knows that servants know everything. Turning to Janie Charlotte breaches the rigid divide between upstairs and down. The two forge a tenuous friendship confined by societal expectations, but even trying to work within these strictures they are both jeopardizing more than they know. Can Charlotte find a way to live within her world and find love where she least expects it? Can Janie hold onto her position and her home with Charlotte undermining her? And what does a secret pregnancy from the past hold in store for these two girls divided by more then a baize door?

Manor of Secrets is an odd little book because it comes across that it doesn't quite know what it wants to be when it grows up. Much like the upstairs heroine Charlotte this book is in the midst of an identity crisis. The main issue I take is I don't know who the audience for this book is. It claims to be YA yet it feels Middle Grade. The simplistic writing, the laughable "secret," the overly large font used to bump up the page count, if there was a category somewhere between YA and Middle Grade, it might just fit there, but towards the Middle Grade end of the spectrum. While as a reader categorization doesn't matter to me so much as a good story, I will read anything, but knowing the intended audience sometimes helps you with your expectations. Especially if the story isn't catching you perhaps it's because of the author "writing down" to her audience, which in my mind is never acceptable, but alas, happens quite frequently. While I have bemoaned another "secrets" series I can't help feeling that for how much I disliked that series the characters actually had a little more depth, and that is a sentence I never thought I'd write.

The simplistic writing causes merry havoc with the story, dragging it down to a flat and superficial level. The lack of depth and detail is astounding considering that this book runs to over three hundred pages, see previous mention of font size. The great manor house that everyone lives in is literally called "The Manor." Um, could you think of a more generic and bland name oh author? I mean seriously, you couldn't come up with, oh, I don't know, anything more original than using the word that actually describes what kind of house it is? Heck, your last name "Longshore" could have been a better name than "The Manor." This lack of originality actually shines light onto the stupidity of Charlotte and her inability to see beneath the surface of someone. This "teaching moment" that smacks of moralizing Middle Grade reads isn't hard to understand when you look at the bigger picture. Charlotte lives in a simplistic two-dimensional world, it makes sense that she wouldn't be able to grasp three-dimensionality, it's beyond her ken. She doesn't get that people have depth and that you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover because in her world depth doesn't exist!

Continuing on to the upstairs/downstairs dynamic, the simplicity remains and makes this dynamic off. You have the "good" servants and the "bad" servants and no one can reside in a grey area. I SAY NO ONE! And the upstairs and downstairs people must be completely ignorant of each other because never the twain shall meet! Yet within their realms everything is just peachy and keen because everyone knows their place. Yes, they natter on about this radical concept of "change" but does anyone actually change? Oh no, that would be too radical and too multidimensional! When you look at what is really going on, the love affairs, the relationship dynamics, you should have a drama on the scale of Gosford Park with someone meeting the pointy end of a knife! Instead you get snide comments, from the bad, reassurances, from the good, and everything working out. Seriously? I really kept dwelling on Gosford Park and how the upstairs/downstairs dynamic when concerning a pregnancy shows the class iniquities and the abuse of power but here that isn't even addressed. With the world apparently changing, or so the rumors go, shouldn't this stop the culture of silence that is pervasive in this class system?

But then again, the truth of Charlotte's parentage isn't even viewed in a negative light except by those "bad" people. This is what, 1910 or so, the Titanic is under construction, and yet the heroine is all, "Hey everything is awesome, I have a sister." Once again pointing out how dim her world view is. She would be ostracized from society, she would be ruined, and instead she gets everything she wants! Perhaps living in a two-dimensional world has it's benefits, like being to totally ignore the reality of a situation? Yet there's something distinctly off in my mind about what the friendship between Lanie and Charlotte really says. Yes they are friends, but it only seems to be condoned because it turns out they are half-sisters. Would this class and rank defying friendship been accepted if they were just friends? If they had no blood ties at all? While the book would like you to think so, I don't think that's the actual truth. I think this is the one aspect where the book is right and is hiding a darker secret in plain sight. Their relationship is unconventional, yet somehow allowable because of this familial bond. While the "bad" people might still frown upon it, it is not as shocking as it could be and therefore fine.

In the end what everything boils down to is Beatrice. She is the catalyst for change. She represents the force of the future. Yet it is ironic that a person who went to such lengths to hide their sin would then be the one trying to destroy the system she bowed down to... but perhaps that's why she's doing it? One would hope, but again, two-dimensional shallows are being waded in here so that might be asking too much. Plus it's not like anyone likes her until the last ten pages. Throughout the book there's the theme of the world changing, but it's all talk and no action until the very end when Beatrice is like, I'm a suffragette, let's go be the change we want to see in the world. All while everyone is like, yeah, we're not sure about you and this whole actually standing for something thing. And then there's her household run completely by women. This makes you think two things, one she's removed temptation and therefore can't get pregnant again or two that she's a lesbian now. The whole women's suffrage doesn't even get on the radar until they're half-way out the door and on the way to Italy. Plus, just a question, the whole idea of woman's suffrage is equality. They want to be equal to men so shouldn't her household be staffed by the best no matter their gender? Equality NOT segregation. But that would require the book to actually look into causes and motivations and there is nothing here but surface.


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