Set in the Middle West, not too far out of Chicago (though not yet connected by rail), Nell Lillington's story as an unwed, pregnant 17-year-old in the merchant class of society, begins. The narrative voice is very strong here, and consistent throughout. The historical detail woven into the story adds to its realism without ever being oppressive or unnecessary. The writing style and formatting is strong and very well done. The entire novel, from the beginning to the ending acknowledgments feels quite professional and thorough. It does not display any of the grammatical pitfalls and errors that so much of the self-publishing world is riddled with. The murderous plot and villain certainly are horrifyingly grim, but the book is well balanced with plenty of uplifting and positive characters (there are a lot of strong female characters here!). The murder mystery does not dominate the novel, and it really is Nell's coming to independence and her personal journey that is the focus here - she is such a likable character that I am already looking forward to the sequel!
"Even a lie told for a good purpose has a way of perpetuating itself, doesn't it?"
A woman living in the 1870's doesn't have a lot of options for a career, but becoming pregnant and not being married is even worse. This is the situation that Eleanor "Nell" Lillington finds herself in. When she refuses to disclose the father (not wanting to be married), her father sends her to a Poor Farm where she is to give birth to the child and eventually give the child up for adoption. But the discovery of a double murder along with the people she interacts with daily has a great effect on Nell and forces her to do some serious growing up.
NOTE: I received a free version of this from the author, who happens to be a Goodreads friend of mine.
Some of the first books I remember my mother reading to me were the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories. I adored Laura Ingalls Wilder; I probably read each book several times by myself, once I "outgrew" my mom reading to me. And I also read many of the books based on the events after Laura's own books (such as the Rose Wilder series).
While I am probably more of a science fiction/fantasy girl, I still enjoy reading a nice historical. And this book, while a bit out of my historical fiction range (I typically like ancient historicals) sounded pretty interesting. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read this novel.
First off, I was greatly impressed with the writing. I've heard horror stories of self-published authors' works, how they are barely or sloppily edited, with grammar and spelling mistakes galore. Not so here. I think I found only two formatting issues (EDIT: apparently, these are Kindle issues, not formatting issues), and I saw absolutely no glaring grammar and spelling mistakes. Not to mention, the story has a great flow to it. Nell has a crisp, clean voice (thank God for the use of First Person Past! I am so sick of First Person Present!) that balances between sounding old-fashioned without the challenge that modern readers may have in reading it.
The characters were vivid and realistic. I wasn't necessarily a fan of Nell in the beginning, but I really did like how she grew throughout the novel. By the end, she has definitely been changed; she is becoming an independent woman like she wanted, but is also learning how to be responsible. I was impressed with Tess' character; she is one of the "feeble-minded" (that is, she has Down's Syndrome), but she is not one of those wise, squeaky-clean, perfect little "children" that I've seen in many other media. Tess makes mistakes; at one point, she procures alcohol via shady means to get information out of someone. I also appreciated how she didn't act superior or pious or made Nell realize how good Nell had it. Tess was a character, flawed and multi-dimensioned.
In the beginning, I kinda rolled my eyes at Martin. I was thinking, "A guy that isn't interested in women? How likely would that be?" But I told myself to shut up and ride it through; in the end, Martin becomes a lot more interesting as well. (Furthermore--and I am assuming that Martin is gay--homosexuality is not something that just popped out of the ground in the 20th century--we've only been (somewhat) more open of the practice and (sometimes) less judgmental now, so that people don't have to hide their sexuality anymore.)
Other characters were pretty well-done. Mama seemed like a sweet, flawed woman. Hiram felt a bit Evil Villain at times. Mrs. Lombardi was a great mentor to Nell (loved to see more women than just our female protagonist!). I wasn't so fond of Tilly and the "loose" women, as they seemed to be a little catty. Not saying that women aren't like that, just that it felt a bit much.
The story itself was really interesting. It has been awhile since I read a book set in this time period ("Gone with the Wind" was probably the last one), so I liked the setting. Nell strikes a good balance of being time appropriate and wanting her independence. I liked seeing Nell grow up, to feel the Victory surroundings (not enough books are set in the Mid-West!), and to experience the aftermath of the Chicago Fire (definitely will be doing some more research on that!!).
If I had one complaint, though, it would be that I wish this book were longer. There were several scenes that ended up being glossed over that I would have loved to see more of. A few that I really would have loved to see: more scenes of Nell living in the Poor Farm (especially more of her first few days living there and the adjustment to the new life) and more scenes with the "inmates" (Tess, Lizzie, even Tilly). I had almost expected a slower pace, like "Gone with the Wind", and I think showing more of what Nell is living through (like the "lazy pace" of GWTW) would have been awesome.
A few minor nitpicks: I was a little surprised at how quickly the murder plot was resolved; it was well-done (I definitely hadn't guessed who the villain is--kudos to Nell for figuring it out soon after I realized it and not running around being an idiot!), but I had expected it to last more of the novel. I also felt that the book could have ended several chapters before it did (somewhat like the multiple endings for "Return of the King"), though I understand why it took as long as it did (there was a lot to wrap up, and I would prefer "dragging it out" to skipping 6 months in the future to have a page wrap up). And lastly, I know I whine about how every book has to have a romance...but in this book, I will admit, I was looking forward to seeing Nell pair off with a nice gentleman. Hopefully in the next book...?
I really had a good time reading this novel, and definitely recommend this to those who grew up on Laura Ingalls Wilder and other historical fiction. Oh, and I hope this comes out in paperback soon, because I will definitely be buying a copy for my mom (who is going to LOVE this!!).
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on June 9, 2013
The writing was great, although I am no authority on how to write a novel. Most of the sections of this story were very engaging, and pulled me back often. The reason I have decided to give it 3 stars instead of 5 is because the ending really let me down, and I was left wishing I hadn't spent time reading it. Also, it did drag in some places, and I skimmed over them.
I thought it was written true to the times the story took place, but when the pregnant young lady began to show, she called it a "bump." I am very sure it was never called that at that time, or any time up until the last 10 years or so. I was pregnant in the 1960's, and in 1979, (3 times in all) and to have ever referred to my condition after I began to show, a "bump" would have been the most disrespectful word I could use. It is a very new term, and I am sure during the historical times it would have been even more distasteful.
I would still have given it 5 stars though, because it was a great story; just a story with a careless and disappointing end.
Nell Lillington's got a big problem - her mother and stepfather have just discovered she's pregnant and she's not willing to name the father and enter into a marriage she doesn't want. Nell's stepfather is active in politics and the last thing he needs is a scandal, so he packs her off to a poor farm out in the country for her confinement. Nell settles in well at her new *home* and makes some interesting new friends (loved Tess!), but there's soon a bit of a mystery to be solved when the older wing is opened and a pair of bodies is found in one of the cells. Were they locked in, or did they lock themselves in? How did they get into a section of the home that was securely locked? And just who would want to *do in* an unwed mother and her young child? Hmmmm?
"The door slammed shut. I heard the spring bolt shoot into place with a hard thud. I leaped to my feet and screamed like I had never screamed in my entire life."
That's about all I want to tell, going further would spoil the story. I liked this a lot, it was a quick easy read that kept me guessing; and there are more twists and turns after the evil baddie is revealed (my heart just about dropped when he did THAT). The 1870s Midwest setting was a refreshing change, and along with a look at life on a poor farm (it's like its own mini-society), and the author also worked the Great Chicago Fire into the story. I know I'm going to say this clumsily, but a huge thumbs up to the character of Tess, who suffered from Down's Syndrome. It so refreshing to have a character with a handicap worked into the story and to watch the strong bond develop between Nell and Tess. Other big pluses were no formatting errors, nor even a typo to be found (if there were, I missed them), so thank you Ms. Steen for taking the time to polish it up, we readers really do care about things like that. The author's notes at the end mention where the story idea came from and what was fact and what was not (always appreciated). My only real quibble is the story ended too soon. I wanted more, especially Martin (be still my beating heart). Thankfully there is a sequel in the works (whew).
Review copy provided by author, thank you.
on August 26, 2012
I find it hard to read some self-published books. These days, everyone seems to think they are writers. So it was withs great relief that I knew after just a few paragraph's of Jane Steen's book that one) it was a great story, and two) that Jane Steen is a gifted storyteller.
I became immediately wrapped up in Nell's story, and I hated the villains and cheered for the heroine as she solved a mystery, stood up for herself in a world in which women rarely had power, and managed to remain true to herself when her world seemed to be collapsing.
I have one complaint: the book ended too soon. There had better be a sequel!
on January 26, 2016
What can be said about this book. When I first started the first thing I said was "this character is flat and this book is going nowhere fast". At the urge of my own will never leaving a book unfinished I pushed through and it started getting good about the time that she reaches the farm. I quite happened to like everything after that up until they returned to prairie haven. First there was similar imagery, and a scarcity of description. The setting of the farm was soon intriguing to me even without the murder. I would have loved to have more happen before Sarah was born to give the story some meat. The ending was by far my least favorite.... it was slow, unresolved and means that I am expected to read another (hopefully more fulfilled) story. I feel that the idea was there, it just wasn't quite fulfilled. Other than that the characters were likeable, the feelings relatable and the action scenes were in depth.
on January 2, 2013
This was pretty well written but I'm not sure how realistic Nell's character is. A woman in 1870 who doesn't want to marry, believes she should have received more sexual education, and doesn't seem all that distressed by something which will ruin her. She sounds like a feminist and although the movement for women's rights did begin in the 19th century, it was in it's infancy. It just seems unlikely to me that a young, naive, isolated small town girl in the midwest would have developed such strong convictions entirely on her own, especially from the start of the novel.
Similarly, I also I never got a strong sense of how strange and unfamiliar her new surroundings were at the Poor Farm, or the overwhelming fear an unwed pregnant young teenager should feel in her situation. Her level of emotionally maturity regarding her predicament did not match up with the recklessness required to land herself in the predicament to begin with. I would have liked to see her a bit more conflicted about what to do when it came to the pregnancy and getting married.
Be aware that the murder mystery element of the novel does not begin until about 1/3 of the way in and gets resolved earlier than I expected. The book is much more about Nell's story than it is the murder mystery.
That said, there was obviously a lot of thought and work that went into this - Nell was more likable as it went on and the other characters had good, well thought out backgrounds and personalities. The descriptions were well written, the dialogue was realistic, and the plot intriguing. It highlights an interesting and often overlooked part of history (poor farms and workhouses). I also appreciate the professional nature of the book cover and formatting (too many self published authors don't seem to understand how important presentation is). Overall, a good effort for a self published novel but there is room for improvement.