A Haven on Orchard Lane (Lawana Blackwell) – Review

3 stars

 

Publisher’s Description
In difficult circumstances, Charlotte Ward, once a famed stage actress, tries to restart her career–only to experience disaster. Against her better judgment, her estranged daughter, Rosalind, comes to her mother’s rescue and moves her to a quiet English coastal village.

Charlotte is grateful to get to know Rosalind after years apart. As one who has regrets about her own romantic past, it’s a joy for Charlotte to see love blossom for her daughter. For Rosalind, however, it’s time away from teaching–and now she must care for the mother who wasn’t there for her. And what could be more complicated than romance?

Together, mother and daughter discover that healing is best accomplished when they focus less on themselves and more on the needs of others.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Mother?”
Charlotte and Mrs Deamer turned heads toward Rosalind, carrying the framed photograph from the trunk.
“Me?”  Her expression was unreadable.  “Why have you kept it?”
Charlotte’s mind barely registered movement, the soft closing of the door with Mrs Deamer’s exit.
“To comfort me.”
“Comfort you,” Rosalind said with a bitter smile.
“But it has been my torment, daughter.”
“Why did you give me up?” she said thickly.
“It tore my heart out.”  Tears pricked Charlotte’s eyes.  She pulled the handkerchief from her sleeve and blew her nose.
“Why then?”
“I had to work.  Aunt Vesta offered a safe place for you.”
“Why did you stop visiting?”
“I lived for those visits.  But Aunt Vesta said it would ruin you to have others know of your mother’s . . . moral failings.  That no decent man would want you when you were old enough to marry.”  She swallowed, her throat a tight lump.  “And you seemed so happy.”
“I was happy,” Rosalind said with a triumphant look.  “Aunt Vesta doted on me.”
Charlotte’s fingertips brushed the top of the window seat.  Sapped of strength, she longed to sink back into its cushion.  In less than a fortnight, she had lost her footing in the world.  She had dropped into her daughter’s orderly life and was resented for it.
[…]
“I have no right to ask forgiveness.  But I beg you not to despise me.”
Her daughter stared, face unflinching.
“Because you were always in my heart, I convinced myself our bond would transcend the separation.  If I could only go back, Rosalind, I would have kept you so close.  No matter what it took.”
Rosalind seemed to be struggling to contain herself.  “Easy to say it now.”
“Then why does it hurt so?” Charlotte rasped.
Her daughter’s expression softened only briefly.  “You’re trained to cry on cue, Mother.”
“You think I’m acting?” Charlotte gulped in a ragged breath.  “I deserve that.”
“I don’t know what to think.”  Her daughter moved to the chest of drawers, laid the picture upon the top, and turned for the door.  “I’m going for a walk.”
“Now?” Charlotte asked through her tears but received no reply.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My review
I’m sorry to have to admit to being underwhelmed by this novel, particularly as I had read several glowing reviews prior to reading it myself.  Contrary to those reviewers, I found the writing ordinary, the dialogue too ‘on the nose’, and the characters flat.  There were many times when I felt as though the plot was just treading water, and there was a lack of any convincing tension for the majority of the story – especially at the climax, which felt totally contrived.  On the whole, this novel just didn’t engage me the way I hoped it would.

The story opens with Charlotte receiving an invitation to reprise her role as Gertrude in Hamlet – an idea that her husband, Lord Fosberry, immediately vetoes.  While we are to understand that Lord Fosberry is no longer the loving man she married five years earlier, I was uncomfortable with Charlotte’s decision to defy her husband, and especially her prayers thanking God for this opportunity and asking Him to help her prepare for the role and leave without her husband knowing.

When Charlotte’s return to the stage does not go quite to plan, her estranged daughter, Rosalind, begrudgingly accompanies her to a rental cottage in Port Stilwell so that she can hide from both the public humiliation and her husband.  Here we meet our companions for the rest of the story: The landlady, Mrs Hooper, who is an inveterate gossip with the tact of a sledgehammer; the housekeeper, Mrs Deamer, and the cook, nineteen year old Coral Shipsey; the less-than-accurate star soloist at the local Congregationalist church, Mr Noble Clark, who fancies himself a bit of a lady’s man; and two new point-of-view characters: Local bookshop owner, Jude Pearce; and ten-year-old Danny Fletcher, and his younger brother, Albert, who live with their abusive step-mother and inattentive father.

Such a cornucopia of characters should have made for a rich exploration of village life in Victorian England, but none of the point-of-view characters had unique voices (something which was especially obvious in Danny’s point-of-view), and nothing much really happened.  People talked, got to know each other, gave advice to each other, attended church, and Charlotte took Danny and Albert Fletcher under her wing, but it was all everyday stuff.  There was a bit of intrigue towards the end with the arrival of another boarder at the cottage, but its resolution was anti-climactic, and contributed to a contrived miscommunication I could see coming a mile off.

Of the secondary characters, Mrs Hooper (the gossip), Mr Clark (singer and flirt), and Mrs Fletcher (the evil step-mother) were the only ones to provide any colour to the cast, but they were too caricatured and brought out a surprisingly uncharitable side in the main characters.  For example, Mr Clark remarks at one point in time that he gives all credit to Christ (for his singing ability), and Rosalind thinks to herself, “Christ would have sung in tune.”  I find that kind of attitude a bit affronting.

Far from being sparkling, much of the dialogue ranged from mundane, to rehearsed, to ‘on the nose’.  Sparkling dialogue needs to have characteristics like wit, subtlety, and subtext, all of which were absent.  I was expecting writing alive with imagery, making use of strong verbs and well chosen words that evoked emotional responses, not just sights and sounds, but it just didn’t have that finesse the reviews led me to expect.

The other disappointment was the lack of complexity of the characters, particularly Rosalind and Charlotte.  There was no progression to their relationship – just a sudden about face at a much earlier time than I anticipated – and I didn’t feel that their characters had grown, either personally or spiritually, by the end of the novel, even though their situations had changed.

I know I’ve just dumped all over this book, and I really hate doing that.  I’ve probably made it sound awful, which it wasn’t.  Not really.  But it just left me feeling ‘meh’, and puzzled by all the reviews praising the very things I found lacking.  I guess it’s a case of ‘Each to their own’.

I received a complimentary copy of this novel from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Buy from:                   Amazon US icon us-flag-small                                  Amazon US icon australian-flag small

Release date:  7 June 2016
Pages:  416
Publisher:  Bethany House Publishers

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About Fiction Aficionado

Homeschooling mum, word lover, reader extraordinaire, and follower of Christ
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