Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Tale of Ladies and Kitchen Maids

Expected Publication:  January 28th, 2014
Manor of Secrets
By: Katherine Longshore
ISBN-13:  9780545567589

The year is 1911.  And at The Manor, nothing is as it seems...

Lady Charlotte Edmonds: Beautiful, wealthy, and sheltered, Charlotte feels suffocated by the strictures of upper-crust society.  She longs to see the world beyond The Manor, to seek out high adventure.  And most of all, romance.

Janie Seward: Fiery, hardworking, and clever, Janie knows she can be more than just a kitchen maid.  But she isn't sure she possesses the courage -- or the means -- to break free and follow her passions.

Both Charlotte and Janie are ready for a change.  As their paths overlap in the gilded hallways and dark corridors of The Manor, rules are broken and secrets are revealed.  Secrets that will alter the course of their lives...forever.


     Lady Charlotte Edmonds is still very young and full of dreams, even if she does know pretty much exactly how her life will turn out.  She will be married, take her place in society and slowly become nothing in the eyes of the world, except for an addition to her husband (who she probably won't choose or love of her own accord either).  Charlotte wants nothing more than to break free, see the world and fall in love with someone of her decision.  Janie Seward is a kitchen maid at the Manor and has known hunger, tragedy and injustice.  But she has a fiery spirit and something very important: freedom from societal expectations.  All Janie wants though is to have a stable place at The Manor, and somewhere to belong.  She's too afraid to even dare to dream of going beyond her current station in life.  When Charlotte and Janie collide into each others' daily lives, it's all they can do to hang on for dear life.  Secrets long since buried come to light and the girls find out they have more than they ever thought possible in common.  Can they help one another rise above the mistakes of the past and into a brave new future together, that they can be excited for?
      This book was basically like Downton Abbey for a younger audience, with less emotional and character depths.  In Charlotte and Janie we have two of the normal stereotypes of the time period (early 1900s): the privileged lady and the kitchen maid.  That said, I did appreciate Charlotte's desperate want for something more and freedom to make her own choices.  She was realistically drawn in the sense that Charlotte has no real concept of the way the world works.  When she toys with the idea of an affair with a young servant named Laurence, Charlotte doesn't realize that it could end in ruination for her or at the least dismissal for him.  And his dismissal (along with the reasons for it) would lead to never being hired in another grand house.  Thus, a career and established life have been destroyed by fleeting fancy.  Also, the idea that Charlotte was at first appalled by the idea of Lord Andrew Broadhurst, because he was the one who her Mother wanted her to marry, and later actually liked him once she got to know him was wonderful.  He wasn't a disposable, one-dimensional boring moron (or evil jerk) like a lot of historical fiction love interests turn out to be.  Instead Laurence was a womanizing jerk!  It would have been so easy to go in the other direction for the sake of romanticizing and I applaud Longshore for not doing it.
     Janie on the other hand, was just as realistic in different ways.  She had such an uncertain childhood, that all she wants is to belong at the Manor and have nothing change ever again.  The interpolitics and hierarchy of the household servants, upstairs and downstairs, was well played.  I especially liked the fact that even with her Mom as the head cook, Janie was still treated as something of an outsider by the other servants, except her best friend Harry, the hall-boy.  Janie is up to taking small risks and dares that don't cause any real upheaval in her life, but she doesn't want adventure like Charlotte.  She just wants stability, even though she dreams of running her own kitchen.  When Charlotte's long-lost Aunt Beatrice comes to The Manor and brings an astounding secret with her, Charlotte will do anything to uncover it.  So enlisting the help of Jenny, and causing more trouble than either of them imagined (upstairs and downstairs), the girls set out to find the truth.  In the process they become pretty good friends and learn that the grass isn't always greener.  I have to say though, the secret of Beatrice's was extremely predictable and I feel only younger readers might be fooled into any modicum of surprise.  I have to say that I was expecting the secret to encompass Janie as well (which it did), just not in quite the way it did.  With no obvious plans for this to be a series, I am also disappointed in the very open ending.  We are left with next to no resolution for Janie or Charlotte.  That said, while I overall enjoyed the book, I wouldn't be continuing in the even of another anyhow.  I recommend this if you're in need of a early 1900s class study fix, or some lite Downton Abbey to tide you over.  Maybe a good intro to fluffy historical fiction for younger teens as well.

VERDICT:  3/5  Stars

*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie & also from Scholastic on NetGalley.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication date is January 28th, 2014.*

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