Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore.
Published: January 28, 2014.
Published by: Point (Scholastic).
Source: Requested an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, Scholastic Canada!
The year is 1911. And at The Manor, nothing is as it seems . . .
Lady Charlotte Edmonds: Beautiful, wealthy, and sheltered, Charlotte feels suffocated by the strictures of upper-crust society. She longs to see the world beyond The Manor, to seek out high adventure. And most of all, romance.
Janie Seward: Fiery, hardworking, and clever, Janie knows she can be more than just a kitchen maid. But she isn't sure she possesses the courage -- or the means -- to break free and follow her passions.
Both Charlotte and Janie are ready for change. As their paths overlap in the gilded hallways and dark corridors of The Manor, rules are broken and secrets are revealed. Secrets that will alter the course of their lives. . . forever.
I personally find it very hard to go wrong with books by Katherine Longshore and she has once again proven to me why. Manor of Secrets is significantly different from her other books, yet she still brings both historical circumstances facing young women and the strong emotions they carry with them to life with ease. I found this to be a great look at two young women growing up very differently who come to discover they really have many things in common. Also, while the title may seem like it doesn't quite fit at first, the manor truly does hold many secrets that slowly start to be revealed and watching these unfold undeniably kept the pages turning.
The descriptions of the two young ladies in the synopsis are very accurate: Charlotte has grown up wealthy but ultimately unsatisfied, feeling stifled and unhappy by the path she is expected to follow and Janie is indeed fiery, hardworking, and clever, but dreadfully worried about change disrupting the life she has always known and been content with. While both girls have moments that I just wanted to take them by the shoulders and shake them, I found that to be just one of the many things that makes them realistic characters. Neither of them are perfect but they both feel very genuine - in their actions, desires, fears - and for me, that beats perfect every day.
The secondary characters were quite an interesting bunch. Some I found wonderfully endearing, like Andrew, Charlotte's likely future fiancé, who is more than he seems at first; Harry, a fellow staff member and Janie's best friend; Janie's mother, Mrs. Seward, who has a strong head on her shoulders but still always has a kind word; and Beatrice, Charlotte's aunt, who left the manor under questionable circumstances years ago and has only just returned, much to the chagrin of her sister, Charlotte's mother. Each of these characters really added something to the story and most left me smiling more often than not. On the other hand, there were some secondary characters, some of the other staff in particular, that truly brought out some rage in me, which I actually appreciated for two reasons. First, I find emotion is key to a reading experience and if I'm raging at the right characters, I find it a good indication that the author really achieved something with them. Second, while there were times I wanted more backstory about their reactions against Janie, I still felt like there was a lot that was realistic about the potential for jealousy, anger, and animosity in a situation like theirs. I think Longshore struck a great balance with her characters and that helped me really enjoy watching their situations unfold.
One of the things I found most interesting about the novel is the "world," if you will, that Longshore has created. This is absolutely a realistic historical fiction novel, so it isn't that she has made up some other universe; she has made the manor itself feel like it is a world of its own, so much so that when things come in that don't belong to the world the lady of the house has crafted (people, ideas, etc.), they have really significant effects on much of what goes on in the manor. I was also impressed by how the way the "downstairs" is presented. It really brings home the conditions the staff of these kinds of manors lived in, both in their work and in their lives. It shows very well how bound they were to their jobs and the rules of the house at all times. This, along with the personal journeys both girls go through serve as a reminder to me that there's no way I could live like either of them. There are so many restrictions and so many nasty people, so much jealousy and uncertainty. I really felt a lot of sympathy for both Charlotte and Janie because it's hard to imagine living like that and dealing with those situations all the time.
Longshore excels at bringing history and its characters to life in her work and Manor of Secrets is no exception. I will say that I didn't connect with this story the same way that I have with her other works, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. With emotion, historical accuracy, and a great look at both the contrast and the bringing together of upstairs and downstairs, Manor of Secrets is not only a wonderful historical fiction novel, but also a compelling look at two girls trying to navigate their hopes for themselves and their place in the world.