Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Winning Violet by Becky Lower

In the news lately we’ve heard a lot about men using their power/status to take advantage of women, often convincing them to participate in questionable activities (or worse). If this could happen in a modern society where women strive for equality, imagine what it must have been like during the Regency era where woman had little say in their role in life. This theme provides an underlying source of embarrassment to the main character in Winning Violet by Becky Lower, the first book in the Flower Girl series.

Violet Wilson is one of four sisters who assist their father Edgar at the Mulberry Hills Nursey/Landscaping Business in Salisbury, England. The harassment Violet receives by one of the male employees keeps her holed up in the greenhouse away from others, especially men. Humiliated by her own actions she feels the entire situation is her fault so she never reveals her trepidation to the family.

Such is her attitude when Parker Sinclair arrives from the McMahon Nursery of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania looking for roses to create a flowerbed at the entrance to the gardens at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Sinclair arrives the worse for wear since he was attacked upon his arrival at Portsmouth. After the sisters minister to his health and provide him with some clothes (a difficult task since the man is so tall) the landscaper is able to set about his work with Violet to select the best variety of roses and learn something about cross pollination, Violet’s specialty whose research might land her a spot on the lecture tour of the Royal Horticulture Society. While at first she is annoyed at the interruption to her work, she can’t help but feel attracted to the American. Parker, in spite of his negative attitude towards the British (due to the devastation brought about by the War of 1812), finds himself inexplicably attracted to Violet, even though he has avoided women since the death of his wife and child eleven years earlier. Yet how can the two resolve their issues when their homes are thousands of miles apart separated by the Atlantic Ocean? This push pull dominates the storyline as the lovebirds try to figure out not only their feelings, but also whether there can be any sort of future between them.

While the opening sequence showed promise, the total package was rather dull. There was too much tell and not enough show, plus the plot was full of repetitions especially since the narration alternated between the two protagonists who agonized over their insecurities throughout the novel. I would have liked to see more character development, especially the relationship between the sisters. Instead, the lack of depth lead to a superficiality, even though some motivations were explained via the introspections of Violet and Parker. Ultimately, there just wasn’t not enough story to carry an entire novel. Then on top of it all, much of the lovemaking was clumsy and awkward, not romantic and tender.

One aspect of the book I found interesting was the details about the propagation of roses. However, I did notice some inaccuracies which were not a part of this time period. The Royal Horticulture Society didn’t get that title until 1861 and was known in 1823 as the Horticulture Society of London. Botany was a man’s world, both in England and America, and women were not allowed to be a part of this group, even if they had something to offer, unless they submitted articles for publication under a male pseudonym. If there was a lecture tour, there was no way Violet would be allowed to be a part of this tightly controlled, select group of men.

Basically, due to the numerous inaccuracies and a lack of appropriate details, the entire novel was simply a nod to the Regency era. Two and a half stars.

A thank you to both Edelweiss and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

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At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

We all know there are self centered, egotistical, SOB’s out there in the world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we want to spend time with them, even if it is only amongst the pages of a book.

Seems that’s one of the problems of At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen. Ellis Hyde and his pal Hank are privileged, silver-spoons-in-their-mouths, sons of wealthy gentlemen who spend their time in frivolous pursuits, going to parties, drinking too much, and cavalcading throughout high society, annoying the patrons and getting into trouble. The two best friends have a cohort, Madeline, a woman who enjoys their company and madcap adventures. Despite her wealthy father, Maddie has a black mark against her due to the antics of her now deceased mother, so that when she marries Ellis her welcome is anything but friendly. Then on New Years Eve in 1944, the trio are especially obnoxious, and Ellis’ parents are, shall we say, not amused with the resulting gossip, so when Ellis insults his father they are ejected from the family estate and left to fend for themselves.

Ellis, whose father (the Colonel) can’t forgive him for being rejected from the military due to a case of color blindness, decides to go to Scotland and find the Loch Ness Monster, an adventure that tainted his father’s reputation several years earlier. If Ellis could just prove the monster exists, then his now proud papa would welcome him back with open arms and reinstate his allowance.

Unfortunately there is a war going on, so they must travel overseas bunked down like commoners in a military convoy and to make matters worse, once they arrive in Scotland their welcome is less than cordial. The search for the monster is a lot more difficult than expected, and the two friend’s behavior gets more and more outrageous fueled by alcohol and the little pills prescribed to Maddie for her “nervous condition”. Maddie soon distances herself from her husband and Hank, finding more in common with the humble folks who live and work at the inn. The true personalities of each of the characters are revealed as they deal with their struggles and Maddie comes to terms with her choices in life making a decision which totally alters the fate of everyone involved leading to a twisted resolution.

While the story takes place towards the end of WWII, the war is more of a backdrop than an integral part of the story although there are black out curtains, ration books, gas masks, and several air raids. Scotland, complete with castle, is the main focus of the narrative as the inhabitants try to eke out a living in difficult times.

This was a hard book to get into, not grabbing ones’ interest until almost half way through, probably because of the despicable characters. I did borrow the audiobook, dramatically read by Justine Eyre, to get me over the hump, then finished with the written word.

I’m not sure if I buy this tale, it’s a little far fetched and I question the shift in Ellis from a spoiled brat into an evil man. Although I usually look for the good in people (in life as well as in literature), by the end of the book he had no redeeming qualities left to discuss. There was also a romance which seemed to come out of nowhere, even though there were some subtle hints of this possibility along the way.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This review also appears on Goodreads.