Tuesday, May 24, 2016

True Story by Jayne Fresnia

My Experience: B++
Synopsis: Olivia Monday, an impoverished widow, has taken a position as "secretary" to an eccentric, scandalous rake - a divorced man with a brood of eight children and at least two gun-shot wounds. For one year, against the advice of her remaining family members, she agrees to live in his remote Cornish castle and put pen to paper on his behalf. 
Despite everything she's heard about him, she's unafraid. Olivia welcomes the distraction this unusual post will provide— as well as the large fee— because the alternative of relying on relatives to put a roof over her head is intolerable. 
True Deverell has decided it's time to set the record straight. He means to dictate his memoirs to this little widow who, according to the instructions he sent to his solicitor, should merely be plain and have a neat hand. Those are his only requirements. He doesn't want any distractions, has endured his fill of scandal and intends now to leave the "True Story" on paper so that perhaps, one day, people will forgive his mistakes.
But when Mrs. Olivia Monday arrives on his doorstep in her leaky boots and crumpled bonnet, True realizes that perhaps his story isn't over yet. 

I enjoyed the narrative, the dialog, the setting, secondary characters, and even the children.  I especially like the standard tropes uniquely interwoven and the dangling threads ending.  Life is seldom neatly tied up with ribbons and bows, there is always a bit of raveling needing attention. The fact they do not marry at the end - aside from being a come on for the next book - speaks to more historical accuracy than we have enjoyed in a long time.  I was very impressed by the *truth* of the situation, though I know she'll cave in the end to reader demands and the wedding bells will chime.  I'm even pretty sure True will end up a lapdog by the time the series is done, hovering over a pregnant Olivia as she endures the beautiful natural process ... but that is MY cynicism, not a known fact.

After a first brief marriage embarked upon in lust, and a second short union initiated by her pride and wrath, a penitent life with William Monday had probably saved her soul. Or, at least, it was on its way to saving her, until sudden death took him too from her side, and then Olivia was forced to find another purpose. She certainly couldn't risk getting married again.
To start with, I loved Olivia, her character, growth, and sense of self was an ongoing exploration I could feel, not just read.  Her actions and reactions made sense to me. She tested boundaries in context of the times, got burned, and sought a way to carry on that was, imho, very accurately portrayed.  She latched on to her late husband's encouragement to find a purpose, to be useful, and made it her own.  That she never doubted her innocence or suspected anyone else of guilt was Olivia.  I think some folks won't like her characterization because she will irritate them but that is a contemporary perspective, not historical. If you want your values in costume this isn't the book for you.

"I am a student of life, Mrs. Monday.  Stories. I love people's stories. Don't you?"
I enjoyed True, even when too many clues shouted Crockford at me and a couple backstory bits were identical enough to convince me.  If you're unfamiliar with the history of Crockford's Gaming Club, and you've never read author's notes, it probably won't occur to you True is loosely based on a historical figure.  In reality, Crockford wasn't raised by wolves, he knew his parents.  Crockford didn't have an American widow to be his Henry Higgins, but he was married twice with 14 children.

True's differences were almost enough to explain the man he was but, for me, the way he spoke and thought often did not mesh with the man he was *supposed* to be - even at 40.  A rough edged proprietor of a Grand Gaming Club would have done just as well in this story [imho] but as the story went on, he revealed he was not truly the man he was recording for his memoirs, or as feral as he liked to believe.  He was delighted to shock but his bottom line was as basic as Olivia's.  Home, family and purpose.  She seasoned her version with love, he preferred the spice of pleasure.  He held those values before Olivia arrived and she had to sift through a great deal of rhetoric to get to that truth.

My quibble and what kept this from being an A book for me, was the whole divorce thing.   Well, the marriage and divorce thing I guess. It is an interesting way to ensure True has legit children and so he and Olivia will be able to marry later on - and it was well researched - but pretty much unbelievable for the character True was supposed to be. Every time I read about it I was jarred from the story.  His enlightened side that didn't just kick the snarly, adulterous wife to the curb in nothing but her shift and protect his children from her vitriolic abuse interfered with my belief in the man he was, in that seething past. Still ::hand wave:: works if you want your rogue/ rake to be misunderstood.  I've read stories where divorce worked as part of characterization but in this one, it felt too much like a plot device.

When I could suspend my historical trivia and ::wave:: the incongruities, I enjoyed True as presented.  Not only was he exceedingly amusing, he could be very charming in a awakening sort of way.  He was doing the best he could with what he had to do with at the time.  He was definitely an evolving character and they make the best heroes, imho.

I could see Olivia and True  developing friendship, enjoyed their fascination with each other as they surprised themselves by connecting on levels beyond the physical and THAT for me is vital in a romance novel.  If all they have is physical chemistry and the unwillingness to control their impulses, label your work appropriately and let me scroll on to something else.  That True did exhibit self-control, that Olivia insisted on it, until the emotional connection felt as strong as the physical gave this Old Biddy a ::sigh:: of contentment, maybe two.  I was a bit bummed the initial encounter came as the result of a fuss, but it worked.

In other words, the romance wasn't rushed and that makes the difference between a book read and a Keeper, for me.

As other's have said, the bad guy was as obvious as the ex-wife's purpose in the plot.  I totally enjoyed observing Olivia figure it out and True's cautious work around that uh, didn't quite work.  I felt a bit cheated by the easy out but it could've happened that way.  Maybe annoying ex-wife will fall off a cliff and allow the rest of the series to unfold without mommy issues that will feel as contrived as they really aren't, even in this day and age.

Ms. Fresina's writing brings characters to life in interesting situations that are plausible for the time.  Her balance of narrative and dialog provides excellent pacing that kept me up too late.  Because I want to hang on to Olivia and True, as they are, I probably won't read the rest of this series unless it reaches out and grabs me with a "can't resist trope" in one of the books.  I am most appreciative of the fact there was NO epilogue.  How wonderful it is to close a file, close your eyes, and allow characters to continue to weave their magic over you.  This book is definitely a keeper for me.

No comments:

Post a Comment