Monday, January 20, 2014

ARC Book Review: Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore

Title: Manor of Secrets
Author: Katherine Longshore
Publisher: Point (Scholastic)
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions: 
Pretty girl in a pretty dress with a pretty staircase in the background.  Nothing that stands out at first glance.  The tagline (on my ARC) is "Upstairs.  Downstairs.  Drama."  Which sends me into Downton Abbey territory - which I love.  The cover model even looks like a younger version of Lady Mary.

The Gist:
Charlotte lives a life of luxury.  Sheltered in the manor by a cold and distant mother, she longs for a life of adventure.  Janie works in the kitchen under the tutelage of her mother.  Having spent a tumultuous childhood wondering where her next meal is going to come from, she clings to the only place that she has ever felt secure.  As the girls' paths cross their lives are thrown together.  Charlotte sees a manner of escape, Janie sees a lonely girl who has never known love.  Together they begin to learn more about each other, and themselves and seek to unravel the secrets of the Manor.


I will admit it.  I, Zabet Reading, am a Downton Abbey Junkie.  With the show off the air until next season, I was excited to read a book that seemed to follow that type of world quite closely.  In fact, I couldn't help but picture the characters and set from Downton Abbey.  (Of course, Charlotte was Lady Sybill despite the cover model's clear resemblance to Lady Mary.)  Manor of Secrets doesn't quite hold up to Downton, but then that is a pretty high bar to reach.  On it's own, it was an interesting story and a quick and easy read. 

The setting was beautiful and the author clearly delineated between the opulence and quiet of the upstairs and the simplicity and chaos that came downstairs.  Personally, I preferred the drama and quarrels of the servants' quarters to the cold and oppressing formality of Charlotte's world and could completely understand why she would want to escape it.  I would have enjoyed seeing a bit more of the "downstairs" back-story - particularly why Tess and Mollie hated Janie so much.  Had we had an opportunity to learn a little more about this history, I think the events in the second half of the book would have had more impact.  The first half of this novel was much stronger than the second.  In the first half we watch a sheltered young woman begin to break out of her shell and a romance that was clearly going to cause a great deal of turmoil.  By the second half, most of the secrets had been revealed and the reader was left to watch as the two girls tried to decide which path to take.    
I did find the plot a little bit predictable but it moved fairly quickly and the only moments of lag came from some eye-rolling dialogue near the middle.  The relationship between the two girls developed rather quickly for my taste.
The main characters seemed rather true to form: Charlotte was the clueless aristocrat who had no idea how much trouble she could cause for her servants in simply seeking a bit of "adventure" and Janie was trying to be kind to a lonely girl while still protecting her livelihood.  The side characters were interesting but not quite as fleshed out as I would normally prefer.    The men were all rather bland and I found Andrew's loyalty after Charlotte's scandal, to be a little hard to believe.  I think the book could have benefited from featuring a smaller cast, so that we could get to know each one a little better.
This is my first foray into Katherine Longshore's writing, though I am familiar with her previous books.  I am putting her on my "search for" list in the hopes that I come across her earlier work in a second hand bookstore. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

12 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Fist Fighting
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse:


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