Author: Karen Harper
Source: from publisher for review
Summary: The settings and the main character were wonderful, but the writing was uneven.
Consuelo Vanderbilt’s marriage to the Duke of Marlborough looked like a fairy tale from the outside. In reality, she was in love with someone else and apprehensive about moving to another country. She quickly decides to make the best of things though. Facing down her husband’s disapproval, she uses her wealth and influence to give to charity and improve the lives of others. In the process, she gains many friends and becomes more confident in herself. She’ll have to rely on both of those things when she chooses to take a scandalous step to shape the future she wants.
The writing in this book was a mix of good and bad. The main character’s voice, especially her thoughts, completely won me over. She was a little bit snarky and melodramatic as a teen, gaining confidence in a believable character arc as time passed. The descriptions of places were also lovely. I felt transported to Consuelo’s time. On the other hand, the dialogue was sometimes stiff and unconvincing. In both the dialogue and the narration, the introduction of background info often felt forced.
At least for the first half, I loved the main character. Her character arc was great. The way she stood up for herself and others was a lot of fun, almost a sort of wish fulfillment to read about. Towards the end, her story became more focused on romance. I enjoyed that a lot less. It was as though she’d spent all this time building up her own life and the ultimate goal was just to end up with the right guy. I certainly don’t have any problem with romance, but I don’t love when it’s portrayed as the only important thing. It crowded out all of the other amazing things Consuelo was doing, such as her charity work during the war, which got much less time than I would have liked.
In general, there wasn’t a ton of attention given to larger world events. I almost missed WWI happening! There were some great interactions with famous people though, from Winston Churchill to Edith Wharton. Consuelo’s relationships with them were entertaining, as were several quotes I recognized. I did enjoy how light this book was, particularly following on the other books I’ve read recently. It was a smart selection of a story to tell too! The facts of Consuelo’s life were certainly stranger than fiction, but probably were true given the combination of autobiography and several biographies that the author drew on. I would have enjoyed a note whether the author tweaked any of the facts though and that wasn’t provided.
As a last small note, the author casually has Consuelo use the word ‘retarded’ when speculating about why a woman is quiet. It may have been a period-appropriate choice of words, but added nothing to the book so I’d have liked to see it skipped. Other than that, my main complaints were the lack of information about world events; the focus on romance at the end; and the uneven quality of the writing. However, I loved the setting, the main character, and her relationships enough that I’d definitely give the author another chance.