Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Review: She Walks in Beauty

Summary: For a young society woman seeking a favorable marriage, so much depends on her social season debut. Clara Carter has been given one goal: secure the affections of the city's most eligible bachelor. Debuting means plenty of work--there are corsets to be fitted, dances to master, manners to perfect. Her training soon pays off, however, as celebrity's spotlight turns Clara into a society-page darling.

Yet Clara soon wonders if this is the life she really wants. Especially when she learns her best friend has also set her sights on Franklin De Vries. When a man appears who seems to love her simply for who she is and gossip backlash turns ugly, Clara realizes it's not just her marriage at stake--the future of her family depends on how she plays the game. -- Bethany House

One of my unofficial reading goals this year was to read more Christian fiction. So when I saw My Friend Amy's raving review of SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY by Siri Mitchell, I just knew I wanted to read it. I always look to Amy for my Christian fiction recommendations, and so far, she hasn't let me down. That was definitely the case with SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY.

SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY told the story of Clara, a very bright young girl, who is forced by her father and her aunt to debut into society. She is more interested in attending college, but her aunt wants her to "catch" Franklin De Vries, the heir to the De Vries fortune instead. Clara isn't at all prepared to debut because she has no idea about many of the social graces; so despite her desires, she is forced to learn all about how to dance, how to flirt, and what utensils to use. In addition to all of this pressure, Clara is competing against her best friend for the heir; and she finds herself attracted to Franklin's younger brother Harry (which isn't at all acceptable.)

I loved Clara! I thought she was a terrific character with so much inner beauty. She was smart, kind, and even funny, but she was also loyal to her family. She accepted her role and did her best to live up to the expectations her father and aunt set for her. Time and time again, my heart went out to her, yet Clara was so strong and had so much sense. As I read this novel, I just had a feeling that everything would eventually work out for her.

Another thing I really liked about this book was the mention of of Jacob Riis's HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES and how it influenced Clara. It was extremely interesting for me to see Clara learn about people who lived in poverty, and I loved the effect it had on her and her future. I also really enjoyed how the author juxtaposed the grandeur of Clara's life with the horrific conditions of how the "other half" lived.

This was the first book that I've read by author Siri Mitchell, but I guarantee it won't be the last. I really appreciated her writing style and humor, and I loved all of her descriptions of the late 1800s New York. Not only did she bring to life the time period with all of the balls, dances, and gorgeous dresses (which I loved by the way), but she also demonstrated some of the less glamorous aspects of that time. She did a wonderful job of showing how much pressure there were on women to be "perfect. While the characters in the novel had to play games to attract suitors and be bound in tight corsets to appear beautiful, I realized that in some ways we still go to the same sort of extremes today to live up to society's standards.

I don't read much Christian fiction, but I was surprised how "light" this novel was on the entire Christian aspect. There were a few references to God, especially towards the end of the novel, but they were definitely not the focus of this story. In fact, I was a little surprised (not disappointed, just surprised) that there wasn't more mention of God. Personally, I thought the parts of the story about self-acceptance and helping the poor would have had much more blatant references to scripture. As a result, I think this book will appeal to many fans of historical fiction -- not just readers who enjoy Christian fiction.

SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY would make for an interesting book club discussion. There is a reading guide in the back of the book with twelve thought-provoking questions. Some of the topics you might want to further explore include the Victorian mindset, society's expectations, prejudice, vanity, grief, love, parent/child relationships, self-acceptance, deception, perseverance, and charity.

I definitely recommend SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY if you are a fan of Christian fiction, historical fiction or even romance. It is a beautifully told story that will also keep you entertained.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this novel.


Deborah said...

Siri is one of my FAVORITE authors. I'm lame bc I haven't read this one yet (it's in the TBR pile) but I love her writing. Her older stuff is chick lit, which i love and her newer stuff is historicals. Her writing is light on the "Christian-ese" which is good when recommending books to folks who don't normally read or normally stay away from Christian fiction

Beth F said...

I'm not quite sure this would be a good match for me, but I appreciate your comments on the references (or lack there of) to explicitly Christian themes.

Mary (Bookfan) said...

Nice review, Julie. It sounds like a wonderful book!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Sounds unusual - a society girl reading Jacob Riis! Too bad all society girls don't! :--)

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I love the cover for this and I can't wait to read it myself. Thanks for the review and confirming my impression that it will be good!

bermudaonion said...

This does sound like a good one! I think books are sometimes labeled Christian because they're clean.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Oh yes, Amy has caused me to put a couple of Mitchell's books on my list. I really get anxious when a book is labeled "Christian", and as a result, it drives people away. Really, many Christian books are not all that different than any other, except that it might have less sex or foul language, and a few good lessons. I just reviewed a "Christian" biography on Jane Austen, and the only thing that made it so was that Austen wasn't Hindu!

Amy said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the book! It's the kind of book I hesitate to say is Christian fiction b/c people write it off automatically for that reason alone. :(

Sarah said...

Sound like a really good book! I added it to my reading pile! And I love the cover.