Book Review : Bellewether

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : BellewetherBellewether by Susanna Kearsley
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark on August 7th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Love & Romance, Romance
Pages: 512
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three-half-stars
Source: NetGalley


"The house, when I first saw it, seemed intent on guarding what it knew; but we all learned, by the end of it, that secrets aren't such easy things to keep."

It's late summer, war is raging, and families are torn apart by divided loyalties and deadly secrets. In this complex and dangerous time, a young French Canadian lieutenant is captured and billeted with a Long Island family, an unwilling and unwelcome guest. As he begins to pitch in with the never-ending household tasks and farm chores, Jean-Philippe de Sabran finds himself drawn to the daughter of the house. Slowly, Lydia Wilde comes to lean on Jean-Philippe, true soldier and gentleman, until their lives become inextricably intertwined. Legend has it that the forbidden love between Jean-Philippe and Lydia ended tragically, but centuries later, the clues they left behind slowly unveil the true story.

Part history, part romance, and all kinds of magic, Susanna Kearsley's latest masterpiece will draw you in and never let you go, even long after you've closed the last page.

Bellewether is a quiet, moving story that I really enjoyed reading. It is like slipping into bed after a long day—soothing, comfortable, and relaxing. Author Susanna Kearsley effortlessly creates a homey feel that allowed me to place myself in both timelines easily. As such, I loved both narratives in this book, both that of Lydia’s in the past and Charley’s in the present. Each character and her story was highly believable. The only things I did not care for in the novel were a big buildup that went nowhere, a ghost, the lack of a real villain, and the little too-perfect-for-my-taste endings.

 

During the past timeline in this book, which took place during the Seven Years War, I learned so much. It is clear that the author heavily researched this novel. I also really adored main character Lydia’s quiet strength and her ability to take over her deceased mother’s place in the family as peacekeeper among her brothers and father, as well as the two soldiers that were placed in her house. Though Lydia was very angry and prejudiced against the soldiers at first, I loved the slow burn of her softening feelings toward Jean-Philippe, who was clearly a cut above his counterpart staying in their house.View Spoiler » I felt truly proud of how far her character came throughout her character arc. Their romance was my favorite of the two in the novel.

 

Charley, a researcher dedicated to restoring Lydia’s family’s home as part of a new museum exhibition dedicated to her famous brother, is also a great character. I loved how interesting her job was, her dedication to getting more funds and recognition for the exhibit, and her own issues with her personal life. Charley’s dedication to her now orphaned niece, mirrored that of Lydia’s role in stepping up as the surrogate mother to her own family. It was fun to read the more modern take of a similar role. Charley’s own love interests are also interesting. The whole thing with Tyler, her initial boyfriend was irritating, but I enjoyed how realistic it was! It was so great delightful that the author had everyone come out and express to poor Charley how much they hated the guy after they broke up. This feels very true to what happens in life after a breakup and Kearsley excels at small details like this. But luckily, Charley soon has another romance with a far better suitor named Sam, who like, Jean-Phillipe in Lydia’s home, quickly becomes a mainstay in Charley’s home life.

 

While I loved the stories of the two main characters, I did not like some other parts of the story quite as much overall. I was dismayed that what we knew as a truth from Charley in the present—that Joseph, one of Lydia’s brothers, shot Jean-Phillip—amounted to almost nothing. Sure, there was a bit of a scene that was prevented from escalating, but after expecting a tragic Romeo and Juliet-esque type of romance, I felt a little let down. However, I think most readers will actually be happy that this tragedy did not occur and I am just in the minority that likes her characters to suffer. Conversely, I could have done without the addition of the ghost in the present altogether. Though I guess its unearthly presence was supposed to add suspense and intrigue to the novel, I found it more of a nuisance, as I just wanted to read more about the characters rather than a mystery ghost and who it’s true identity was, which I sadly also found a bit disappointing, but also somehow fitting when revealed.

 

In addition, the ending of the novel and both its storylines—those of Lydia’s and Charley’s—were just a little too perfect for my taste. Everything was tied up so neatly that it did not feel very realistic. I realize that most people do not read romantic novels for realism, per se, so this may not even be a factor for other readers. Though for my fellow cynical readers, I’ve included a list of things that may be a little too neat for you as well. Spoilers ahead:

 

  • Charley and her grandmother worked out the differences of the family without much ado at all—despite the issue starting with Charley’s father being disowned.
  • Charley’s grandmother just happens to be the Chairman of the Board of the organization to whom Charley is giving a speech and trying to convince to support their cause.
  • Charley’s grandmother coincidentally owns a ballroom in her mansion and happily allows Charley to hold a party for the museum.
  • Rachel, Charley’s niece, easily discovers niche/career after dropping out of college and it just so happens to include apprenticing to Sam, Charley’s love interest.
  • Most people Charley needs priceless artifacts from easily part with them.
  • Lydia and Jean-Philippe’s descendant shows up from Paris (instead of, I don’t know, calling or emailing) to talk to Charley *right* before the beginning of the exhibit. She is then able to answer all of Charley’s questions and *offers* to bequeath a lot of Lydia and Jean-Philippe’s belongings to her.
  • Sam and Charley kiss for the first time and then immediately buy a house together. (I guess stranger things have happened, but this seemed very out of the norm).
  • Jean-Philippe is able to switch sides at exactly the crucial, convenient moment.
  • When Jean-Philippe goes back to Lydia, he sees her standing at the spot he saw her at for the very first time.
  • It is worth mentioning that the entire premise of Lydia and Jean-Philippe managing to fall in love without being able to communicate to each other is really impressive, especially with Lydia overcoming her resentment and prejudice.

 

Ultimately, though I have some issues with some parts of novel being a little too perfect for my tastes, I do not think this will be an issue for the majority of readers, who will enjoy the happy romances of the novel without over-analyzing them. And despite these issues that I had with a few things, I still really enjoyed this quiet, heartwarming, book with beautiful prose. Also, I think it was masterful how Kearsley managed to mirror the lives of Lydia and Charley without making them feel too similar.

 

In fact, I did not realize how similar their storylines even were until writing this review. Truly a unique storytelling method that offers the readers the best of both worlds in a single novel—both a historical and modern romance. It was also interesting to me that Kearsley used her family history as inspiration in this novel. I loved in her author’s notes how she stated that she was dedicated to giving real people that lived happy endings through her stories. She refers to these people in history as “quiet voices with good hearts.” It is clear from this novel and the happy endings the author gives both people from history and her characters that Susanna Kearsley has a good heart of her own.

 

three-half-stars
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Posted June 21, 2018 in Book Reviews, Historical Fiction

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