Series Spotlight: The Summerset Abbey Trilogy by T.J. Brown

Up until now, every single Series Spotlight post I’ve written has been about a series I’m raving about. Sadly, this particular spotlight is on a trilogy that bothered me for a multitude of reasons. The Summerset Abbey trilogy by T.J. Brown started out with an enormous amount of potential.  However, as the series continued I found myself aggravated not only with certain characters, but with larger statements the trilogy was making.

sattjbAll three books revolve around three “sisters.” I say “sisters” because two of the three women, Rowena and Victoria, are actually sisters. The third young woman, Prudence, was their governess’s daughter and was raised like their sister after her mother’s death. When Rowena and Victoria’s father Sir Phillip dies, their uncle steps in to bring them to his estate for his wife to raise. Their uncle is not forward-thinking at all. He believes Prudence has no place in their lives and society, as she’s the daughter of a servant. Thus begins the tale of how one man’s death changes the ideals, lives, and futures of three young women. Rather than talk about each book individually, I’m going to discuss each of the three main female characters.

Prudence: Of the three women, she started out as my favorite. Her plight from a girl raised with wealth, freedom, and status to being thrust into a world of servitude and poverty was captivating. Her odd upbringing did her no favors in terms of helping her find her place in the world. In Rowena and Victoria’s home she was just as they were. Outfitted in nice clothes. Educated and not worked as a servant, though her mother was the governess. Sir Phillip was a man of forward thinking who didn’t believe in the rigidity of the social classes. He encouraged the girls to be freethinkers themselves, and all of this led to Prudence believing she could accomplish great things someday. The girls’ uncle, however, doesn’t believe in this way of thinking and tells Rowena that Prudence is not welcome at his estate. Rowena, needing Pru, tells her uncle that Prudence is really their lady’s maid. This is how Prudence finds herself in the servants quarters. She is not welcome above stairs nor below, as the servants recognize she’s not truly of their class.

I found Prudence to be the character that had the MOST potential and the one that flopped the hardest. She makes a decision at the end of book one that just doesn’t match up to her character’s intelligence at all. Over the course of the next two books we’re left to watch the repercussions of her decision. At the end of three books I still didn’t understand the motives behind her decision nor did I really feel like she was happy. She just seemed resigned to what her life was. And what kind of statement does that tell readers? Here is this young woman, brought up with education, music lessons, and access to the suffragette movement among other things. And where do we see her wind up? Struggling to bake bread and wash clothes. Her potential was completely revoked, the minute that decision at the end of book one was made.

Rowena: From start to finish, I disliked her. From our first introduction to her she’s selfish, impulsive, rude, and stuck-up. I cut her a bit of slack knowing her father had just died, but even in book three – she’s just…ugh, aggravating. All she cares about is herself and finding ways to make her feel “alive.” She allows her uncle to run roughshod over all of her and Victoria’s feelings on moving, their obligations to society, and most importantly, what they can “do” as women. Her inability to help herself or to help others truly bothered me.

Victoria: While she started out a bit boring for my taste, she quickly rose up the ladder in my mind and is the reason why I stuck with the entire series. I wanted to know HER story and her’s alone.  Of the three women she is the only one that fights for what she wants, and the only one that tries to better herself and the world around her. She fights with her Aunt and Uncle about Prudence constantly, even standing up to them pretty amazingly at one point. She becomes a nurse during the war to help those around her. She becomes friends with one of the scullery maids in the estate’s kitchen and brings her to London, giving her a more decent future. She’s definitely the most nurturing of the three women, as she is always worried about the causes of others (a bit naively at some points.)

So what are the larger points of this story that bothered me? For one thing, why were the majority of the women in the books bitches? Also, did the insanely crazy side of the Women’s Suffragette Movement have to be the only one shown? Sure there were women who did crazy things all in the name of women’s rights, but there were also amazing women like Alice Paul and Millicent Fawcett, who could have been used to show another less vindictive/less self-serving side of the movement.

Even with all of the nonsense above that bothered me I do have to give Brown props for her work on the historical front. Her incorporation of the clashing of social classes and overarching effects of the war were done brilliantly.

In (story) chronological order (with my ratings) the series is:

  1. Summerset Abbey – 3 out of 5 Stars
  2. A Bloom In Winter – 2 out of 5 Stars
  3. Spring Awakening – 2 out of 5 Stars

Kim’s Review of Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson

bjdIf you were to ask me what my absolute favorite genre to read is I’d tell you historical fiction in a heartbeat.  I love being given the opportunity to read about a period of time I’ll never experience.  I also enjoy being given the opportunity to learn what the culture of the period was.  When I learned that Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson offered me these chances and more, I instantly sent in a request to review it.

From Goodreads:

Kate Worthington knows her heart and she knows she will never marry. Her plan is to travel to India instead—if only to find peace for her restless spirit and to escape the family she abhors. But Kate’s meddlesome mother has other plans. She makes a bargain with Kate: India, yes, but only after Kate has secured—and rejected—three marriage proposals.

Kate journeys to the stately manor of Blackmoore determined to fulfill her end of the bargain and enlists the help of her dearest childhood friend, Henry Delafield. But when it comes to matters of love, bargains are meaningless and plans are changeable. There on the wild lands of Blackmoore, Kate must face the truth that has kept her heart captive. Will the proposal she is determined to reject actually be the one thing that will set her heart free?

Set in Northern England in 1820, Blackmoore is a Regency romance that tells the story of a young woman struggling to learn how to follow her heart. It is Wuthering Heights meets Little Women with a delicious must-read twist.

I am completely and utterly in love with this book.  There is no simpler way to put it.  The characters, the setting, THE WRITING – it’s all exquisite.  Donaldson’s writing drew me in from page one.  I became completely mesmerized by Kate’s struggle as a woman in the early 1800′s.  Her struggle for freedom, independence, and love was written in an entirely realistic manner.  The anxiety and anger she feels over her lack of independence was clearly laid out before me.  As a reader, I felt the cage she was trapped in just as much as she did.  Kate’s struggle of trying to hide her true feelings for Henry nearly killed me.

Kate and Henry are just fascinating characters.  Henry is this beautiful old-fashioned gentleman with a (in my opinion) modern way of thinking.  He wants Kate to have her freedom and go to India, even at great cost to himself.  Their story is equal parts tragic and romantic.  Heart-warming and heart-breaking.  The journey Donaldson takes us on in Blackmoore is filled with twists and turns, humor, romance, intrigue, and above all, personality.

I highly recommend checking out Blackmoore, especially if you’re a fan of Austen, Bronte, or Gaskell.  I’m so impressed (and in love) with this book that I’m heading out this weekend to get myself a copy of Donaldson’s debut novel Edenbrooke.  

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my twentieth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my sixth completed review for the Color Coded Challenge

Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson
Shadow Mountain Publishing (2013)
Paperback: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781609074609

Special thanks to Shadow Mountain Publishing for the review copy I received via Netgalley!

Kim’s Guest Review of Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship by Fitzwilliam Darcy & Emily Brand

mdgtcfdMy latest review went live over on the Austenprose blog! This time I reviewed a HILARIOUS book entitled Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship.  Guess who wrote it? None other than Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy himself!

Complete with guest sections from Caroline Bingley, Mr. Collins, and George Wickham – this was one book that had me laughing from cover to cover.

For a link to my complete review, click here.

This is my tenth completed review for the Pride and  Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

Todd’s Review of When Smiles Fade by Paige Dearth

14624366Back in November I had the opportunity to review Paige Dearth’s first novel, Believe Like a Child.  Later, she gracefully agreed to an interview with me, which you can read here.  Now, after some great anticipation, I’ve gotten to read her latest book, When Smiles Fade.  Taking place during roughly the same time as her first book, When Smiles Fade follows a young girl named Emma as she attempts to make her way through a tough childhood in Pennsylvania.

Emma and her sister, Gracie, have grown up in an extremely oppressive household.  Their father, Piper, is a drunk that takes out his anger on the two of them, with Emma bearing the brunt of the assault in order to protect Gracie, who is younger and far more delicate than Emma.  Despite Emma’s attempts to limit the abuse to herself only, one day Piper beats Gracie and leaves her to die in the basement of their home.  That’s when Emma decides to do something to stop these abuses, but sadly it is not enough to stem the flow of abuse that she suffers from others during her life.  She and Gracie eventually are able to run away and begin a new life on the streets of Philadelphia, meeting others along the way that aid them and help them to survive.  Emma begins dancing at the same club that Alessa did in Believe Like a Child, and their stories overlap briefly.  Just like Alessa, Emma is struggling to survive with the cards dealt to her, and is able to find a strength that she didn’t know existed deep within her.  Will she and Gracie be able to find a new life outside of the abuses they both share?

When I began to read When Smiles Fade, I immediately noticed a lot of parallels to Believe Like a Child, in that a child/teen is abused in a shocking manner and must fight for survival in a very difficult environment.  While Believe Like a Child outlined Alessa’s story and touched on Alessa’s life as a dancer and prostitute, When Smiles Fade painted a broader picture of what life on the streets was like for Gracie and Emma.  Emma is a strong character, and uses her strength to protect herself and her sister, even if it means committing grave crimes in order to do so.  This brought up the question as to the legality of the choices that Emma makes in order to save herself and her sister.  On one hand they are subjected to brutal attacks that leave them incredibly battered, but there is also an element of premeditation to Emma’s crimes in order to remove the sources of abuse in her life altogether.  Although they may have not been legal, they were most certainly morally right in my opinion, as the suffering both girls had endured because of these people was too great to ignore.

Besides these darker parts, this book has brighter spots, such as when Gracie and Emma meet another homeless teen named Sydney who helps them find shelter and a sense of belonging with her group of friends.  Sydney is a great representation of all the good that people can do to help others when they truly have nothing left.  It should be everyone’s goal to be more like Sydney and realize that even though someone is without a place to stay, they are still entitled to just as many rights and basic human needs just like all of us.  In short, Dearth’s book is a great continuation of her look into the life of those who are abused and neglected.  It is a great wake up call for all of us to help those in need, so go volunteer your time and help those who are less fortunate than you.

4 out of 5 stars

When Smiles Fade by Paige Dearth
CreateSpace (2013)
Paperback: 470 pages
ISBN: 9781475096927

Special thanks to Paige Dearth for my review copy!

Kim’s Review of Easy by Tammara Webber

etwI mentioned in my review of Cora Carmack’s Losing It that I’ve become obsessed recently with the new adult genre.  After being blown away with how awesome that book was, I dove into Easy by Tammara Webber.  This book makes strong and amazing stances on the issues of rape culture and sexual assault and was a perfect choice to continue my tour of the new adult genre.

From Goodreads:

Rescued by a stranger.
Haunted by a secret
Sometimes, love isn’t easy…

He watched her, but never knew her. Until thanks to a chance encounter, he became her savior…

The attraction between them was undeniable. Yet the past he’d worked so hard to overcome, and the future she’d put so much faith in, threatened to tear them apart.

Only together could they fight the pain and guilt, face the truth—and find the unexpected power of love.

A groundbreaking novel in the New Adult genre, Easy faces one girl’s struggle to regain the trust she’s lost, find the inner strength to fight back against an attacker, and accept the peace she finds in the arms of a secretive boy.

NO MEANS NO.  It’s a statement that should need no explanation when put in a sexual context.  Unfortunately, all too often people are taken advantage of, left helpless, and not taken seriously when attempting to report a rape. Webber’s Easy blew me away with the stances it took on this hot button topic.  “Rape culture” is a phrase that we’re hearing all too often these days, mostly in reference to the serious lack of knowledge about the topic of rape in younger generations.  The Steubenville rape case is a prime example of this.  Misconceived notions about virginity, consent, and a “slutty persona” fuel the dismissal of legitimate sexual assault cases.  So much of Easy pushes the notion of self-empowerment and the belief in helping others to stop the cycle.  Learning how to defend yourself (both physically and mentally), holding others accountable for their actions and words, and maybe most importantly, how to listen to others and knowing how to set boundaries are all important lessons learned in this book.  I think it should be a required read for those younger generations who are beginning to experiment with one another, going to parties and attempting to fit in.  In the midst of all the signals they receive, from the media, social networks, gossip in school, and their parents, they need to realize that there are boundaries that they cannot cross.  Easy teaches this lesson, and it is presented in a way that is easy to understand and relate to.  I am so glad that Webber is making a strong and unyielding stance on this issue, and sets the record straight on a lot of the various false ideas that are common in “rape culture.”  I applaud her a hundred times over for getting this message out.  Once this information spreads, we can hopefully eliminate rape culture once and for all.

I cannot speak highly enough about this book.  Lucas is seriously the most amazing male character I’ve ever read.  He is a freaking superhero of awesomeness and is the epitome of what men should strive to be.  He takes the shit life threw at him and somehow learns from it, turning his life into a constant state of pay-it-forward.  Jacqueline is also a woman to learn from.  She learns from her mistakes and with Lucas’ help transforms herself into a strong, independent woman who is no longer afraid of what the future can hold.  So, hopefully with the help of a book like Easy and positive role models that deliver the right message to younger girls, they too can become strong women that know that saying no really means no.

5 out of 5 Stars

Easy by Tammara Webber
Penguin Group (2012)
eBook: 336 pages
ISBN: 9781101618011

Adam’s Review of Tragedy and Triumph by Kathrin Rudland

ttkr“Family always comes first, no matter the situation. Your loyalty lies here, in our traditions.” Many people growing up often hear those words and often times take them to the grave. The discussions and themes behind family ties are one of the many pillars discussed in Tragedy and Triumph, a historical fiction novel written by Kathrin Rudland.

Truman Haden is only a boy the night his world his turned upside down and changes forever. He is sent away from his home because his parents are suffering from yellow fever and are close to their deaths. In a letter he receives from his father posthumously, his father preaches to him that he must do everything in his power to fight for the values that the South was founded on, and fight to protect the way of life in the South. The novel takes place before and during the Civil War in America, so these values would be slavery.  His world is changed when as a young lawyer he takes a trip to upstate New York to the small town of Elmira, a town known for its anti-slavery stance. There he meets an abolitionist woman named Elizabeth, who proves to be the polar opposite of his own views politically, but is a worthy match nonetheless. He loves debating her, and they often argue. As time goes by, the issue of slavery further divides the nation. Incidents happen that make Truman wonder whether or not he can stay loyal to the pledge he took as a boy, or whether he should consider changing. What unfolds while making his decision is an epic novel of loyalty and historical facts.

I will say that as a history major and history buff, I LOVED this novel. From the first chapter, beginning with how Truman’s life was turned upside down, to the promise he made, and finally to reading about his journey overall, I was completely enthralled. I enjoyed reading it so much that often times I kept finding myself saying “five more pages,” which turned into five more, and ended in me finally forcing myself to go to bed. Ms. Rudland paints just a vivid picture that allows the reader to see the story unfold right before his/her eyes and feel the true emotions of the characters. In the section describing the different abolitionists and detailing Elizabeth’s first time helping out with the underground railroad, I felt my heart beat out of my chest because I was nervous that she would be caught. The details of how people would get their next assignment on the underground railroad and how they had to be careful to avoid being watched was something I was not aware of. I was glad that these facts were included because it made the story that more realistic and really drew the reader in. I felt like I was in the story with Elizabeth waiting to get my assignment, wondering if someone was watching me as a spy.

The way the novel was written is very similar to a film such as Crash or 21 Grams, where there are many plots that all collide into one central plot. Many times a new character would be introduced, whether it be a slave, abolitionist, or soldier. I loved seeing the connection of this new character back to the main plot line or to Truman. Every time a new character was introduced, I had an “ahhh” moment when I was finally able to relate the character back to Truman, which helped the story evolve and took the story telling to another level. I loved seeing the different characters connect at different times throughout the plot. It really made me think of six degrees of separation. The author did an excellent job of introducing characters and making you care about each character, whether he/she had good qualities or bad. I often think that we don’t care about supporting characters (or characters who only have a couple of chapters dedicated to them) because we’re so focused on the main characters around whom the story revolves. However, because this story was so character driven, without those supporting characters the novel would’ve fallen asleep.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is just getting interested in the Civil War or someone who has a serious interest in American History. Although the main story is fiction, the facts are very real. The author’s writing style and the characters will make you invested in this book, so be prepared for some late nights.

6 out of 5 Stars

Tragedy and Triumph by Kathrin Rudland
iUniverse (2012)
Paperback 244 pages
ISBN: 9781475921700

Special thanks to Courtney at Author Solutions for my review copy!

#112 A Guest Review of Goodly Creatures by Beth Massey

My latest guest review is up on the Austenprose blog today!  My newest review is on the controversial Pride and Prejudice deviation Goodly Creatures by Beth Massey.

The events of the beginning of the book take place several years prior to Pride and Prejudice and are extremely dark.  Elizabeth is raped at the tender age of 15 and winds up becoming pregnant.  The dark events that follow lead our beloved characters down roads we could have never imagined.

A direct link to my review is here.

Sam’s Review of When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When I fall for a book, I fall hard.  I can barely think about anything else.  I become consumed.  When I’m not reading the book, I’m researching things that the book makes me think about, or I’m texting my sister to tell her to pick up a copy, or I’m talking my husband’s ear off about one part or another.  It’s a sickness, really.  As of yet, I’ve found no cure for a good book, though admittedly I haven’t really been trying.

This happened to me most recently with a book called When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan.  It’s a tale of forbidden and doomed love set in a future where the right-wing religious folk have finally gotten their ducks in a row long enough to elect the right (but oh so wrong) people into power. Together, these people have criminalized abortions, deeming it murder, and have invented a nifty little drug that can actually pigment the skin. What this pigment allows them to do is change the color of a convicted criminal’s skin to match their infraction. For example for a misdemeanor, you become yellow, child molesters are blue, and the murderers are a dark scarlet red.

Enter Hannah Payne. A good girl who has fallen hopelessly and passionately in love with her Reverend, one Aiden Dale. Aiden is a sort of religious rock star, known and beloved by both his own Texas congregation and the entire God-loving world. But alas, Reverend Dale is already taken by the lovely and sweet Mrs. Alyssa Dale. Despite the obvious reasons why not, Ms. Payne and the good Reverend embark on an affair that leaves Hannah in quite a predicament. Pregnant, scared, and in love she does the only thing she can think of to save Aiden from the shame of exposing him for what he truly is. She gets an illegal abortion rather than bear his child and face the scrutiny of an angry public. When her crime is discovered, Hannah is arrested and forced to stand trial. Through it all she refuses to name both Aiden as the father and the man who preformed the abortion. Her sentence is sixteen years as a Red. Every four months for sixteen years Hannah will be injected with a virus that gives her skin the outward appearance of what society believes her to be, a murderer.

Hannah loses everything.  Her child, her love, her family, her dignity, and even her  faith in God.  And this is only the beginning.

It only takes a sentence or two to make the not so subtle connection between When She Woke to the beautiful and classic novel The Scarlet Letter, but Ms. Jordan’s story stands well on its own. The reason you still find The Scarlet Letter in classrooms today is that the story is still very real. Our society thrives on creating and ridiculing outcasts. Ms. Jordan shows the reader how a story conceived and distributed so long ago is still a part of our present and future.

As a reader I found myself fascinated by Aiden Dale. He has countless opportunities to expose himself to his wife and followers for who he truly is, but time and time again he begs Hannah to do it for him. He wants her to be the one to name him when she is questioned by police, when she is on trial, when she is running for her life. He cannot bring himself to tell the truth despite the fact that he knows it will bring him peace. He bears the weight of the world. When everyone looks to him to help them find salvation in God, he looks to Hannah to show him the way. She had to sacrifice their child and herself in order to save him. She gave everything. She knew he wouldn’t expose the truth. Knew that she had to protect his wife, his congregation. Hannah knew that their faith in Aiden was more important that their love. And so she bore the weight of their judgment. She let everyone hate her. She laid down the life of her baby so that the rest of the world could have Aiden Dale and believe.

As I said, I fell for this book. Hard. There is so much to think, wonder, question. I think I will go back to this story again and again. My next job will be to reread the original version of this story and bring to it this new perspective. I love that about reading.

Thank you Hillary Jordan for giving me a new look at an old favorite.

I’m giving this 4 out 5 stars. Partially because I can’t help but feel there’s something missing, and partially because I’m heartbroken that our relationship ended so soon.

4 out of 5 Stars

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (2012)
Paperback: 368 pages
ISBN: 9781616201937

Todd’s Review of Believe Like a Child by Paige Dearth

When I agreed to review Believe Like a Chile by Paige Dearth, I knew I was in for a bit of a tough story.  Just the synopsis of the book, which is in some ways like Ms. Dearth’s own background, as she explained in her email, was bracing and eye-opening.  The subject of child abuse and pedophilia are very tough subjects, but it was Dearth’s candor in talking about these subjects in her email that definitely caught my attention.  I decided then and there that this story needed a wider audience, as its message is very important.  So, albeit in a small way, I decided to review this book and promote it as best I could here on the blog.  So, here it is.

Dearth begins her book with a young girl named Alessa.  Alessa’s home life leaves a lot to be desired, with a mother that constantly berates her over her appearance (she is paler and lankier than her siblings) and her demeanor.  Although she does nothing to deserve it, Alessa is beaten by her mother with a wooden spoon.  This changes, however, when her Uncle Danny moves in with the family.  Although her earlier memories of the man are pleasant and fun, Uncle Danny becomes a very different person when he begins to live with Alessa.  At night he begins to psychologically manipulate and rape her, which continues for years unchecked.  Once, Alessa gathered the courage to tell her mother, but she was met with a barrage of insults and comments that she was a liar.  Eventually, Alessa befriends a schoolmate and is able to escape Uncle Danny more often, only to end up in a situation where she must leave her home due to something that occurs with this schoolmate (I won’t give too much away).  She flees to North Philadelphia with a train ticket and $2,000 in cash, and is able to secure a dingy apartment and a job at a discount store.  She soon befriends a woman named Tasha, who eventually introduces her to her brother, Harlin.  Harlin is a drug dealer and is known for his violence and protection he provides to those he deems worthy in North Philadelphia.  Although she is initially scared of Harlin, Alessa eventually begins to befriend him, and even thinks she may like him.  This all changes, however, when things again spiral out of control for Alessa and she is forced to flee again to save her own life.  What will become of her?  Will she ever be able to escape her demons?

So, with that short synopsis, you can see why this book is definitely an intense read.  What struck me most about Dearth’s writing style is that she pulled no punches, nor elaborated on any detail too profusely.  It read like a detached third person narrative, explaining the facts and nothing more in the worst sections of Alessa’s life, then providing a short section on how Alessa felt and how hopeless she felt after the repeated abuses.  It was definitely interesting, as it was in no way influencing the reader to feel a particular way, or encouraging him/her to feel bad for Alessa.  Obviously, I felt extremely bad for her, and in a way I think the bracing format that described everything exactly as it happened is a good way to go about telling these kinds of stories.  We’re often confronted with tales of sexual assault (e.g. Sandusky trial), yet often we talk about it in abstract ways, never actually describing the horrors the abused must endure.  By specifically stating what happens, Dearth is plainly laying out the facts and forcing us to deal with the gravity of the situation.  I applaud her for doing this, as it will start a dialogue that hopefully will end with better protection of young people from pedophiles and ensure that these crimes never happen again.  Until we really face this problem head on, instead of pretending it isn’t happening (e.g. Catholic Church scandals, Boy Scouts), we can’t adequately treat it.  I’m glad that Dearth was able to write this, as I believe it probably helped her heal as much as it helped me realize that these crimes aren’t something we can ignore.  So, if you aren’t moved enough to already do so, pick up a copy of this book and read it.  The help that Alessa eventually receives is enough to restore your faith in humanity.

5 out of 5 Stars

Believe Like a Child by Paige Dearth
CreateSpace (2011)
Paperback: 424 pages
ISBN: 9781461105671

Special thanks to Ms. Dearth for my review copy!

Todd’s Review of Hope by Victoria Ferrante

Although I’m not usually one to harp on a book’s cover (insert obligatory joke about judging a book by its cover), this one definitely caught my eye.  The tortured soul on the front cover of this book made me pause and wonder what would cause such pain.  I knew the book was about Autism, but I know that the spectrum of this disorder is so varied that I really had no idea what I was in for.  So, with so many looming questions, I decided to get right to it and dive in to the book!

Ferrante tells the story of Christina Borysowki, a woman from the Midwest who gives birth to a daughter with autism spectrum disorder in the early 1990′s.  Originally, Christina is overjoyed at her daughter’s birth and feels an incredible bond with her daughter, who has beautiful blue eyes and a bubbly disposition.  Over time, however, things begin to change.  Her daughter, optimistically named Hope, begins to become withdrawn.  She does not respond to her name, or any normal stimulus that children her age react to.  Her now gray eyes seem to have lost their sparkle, and Hope looks out with empty, emotionless eyes at the world.  Although most of her family and friends dismiss the idea that anything is seriously wrong with Hope, Christina eventually brings her to numerous doctors, eventually gaining a diagnosis of autism, a relatively new and unheard of disorder at the time.  Christina’s life then becomes a whirlwind of doctor’s meetings, questions, medications, and more, as she tries to give Hope the best life she can muster given the circumstances.  Although she often feels overwhelmed, Christina is motivated by a desire to find the passion that she knows is hidden in her daughter’s mysterious and ever-changing personality.  All this changes, however, at the dramatic twist at the end of the novel that no one sees coming.

As a disclaimer, I had a very hard time deciding what to write for this review.  I too have experience with a disabled family member, as my twin brother Dan has Cerebral Palsy and is a quadriplegic due to CP and other additional factors.  It is because of this fact that I viewed this book differently than someone who may not have a person in his/her life that is disabled.  I give Ferrante a lot of credit for writing this work; I understand that she has a child who is profoundly autistic herself and therefore may have used the writing of this story as a type of therapy or vehicle in which to create a story similar to her own.  These things are really important, as a support structure is vital to the family of someone with a disability as it helps them during the inevitable hard times.  The thing I took issue with, however, was the overall tone of the book.  I understand that Christina would be incredibly frustrated and alienated at times with having to deal with this disorder day in and day out.  It was the high amount of negativity that struck me, however, and made it harder to read as time went on.  Yes, I know that there were moments of brevity and connection between Christina and Hope, but they were few and far between.  Perhaps that was the point, that it’s not easy at all to have a profoundly autistic daughter.  And I would assume it is, although I have no direct experience in the matter.  I do, however, have direct experience with a brother that can’t do many of the things (both physically and mentally) that we take for granted.  And because of this, I know that it’s very, very important to focus on the positives.  It’s easy to question everything and get caught up in the negative, but it’s not the right way.  Every day is a gift, and we need to be reminded of this.  To majorly focus on the bad things and keep the plot development on a downward spiral was not helping.  I think the material may be there, but the focus of the work needed some tweaking.  I do applaud Ferrante for her honesty and ability to show us all the daily battles that go in to caring for someone with this type of autism through Christina’s story.  It can’t be easy and her writing definitely showed that.  I perhaps was just too emotionally invested in this type of story that I couldn’t give it an appropriate rating.

Hope by Victoria Ferrante
iUniverse Incorporated (2011)
Paperback: 232 pages
ISBN: 9781462062362

Special thanks to Author Solutions for my review copy!