Friday, May 25, 2012

"The Pursuit of Lucy Banning" Review

The Pursuit of Lucy Banning by Olivia Newport was sent to me as an advanced review copy by Revell Publishing. It is the first in the “Avenue of Dreams” series by this author.

Lucy Banning is the daughter of a wealthy lawyer and lives on prestigious Prairie Avenue in Chicago. Despite the expectations of her family, including her “arranged” engagement to the son of her parents’ best friends, Lucy has other dreams. She is secretly enrolled in a class at the University of Chicago, and her charity work at a local orphanage irks her fiancé, Daniel, to no end.
When Lucy meets Will Edwards, an up-and-coming young architect and friend of her brother, it confirms what Lucy has suspected for quite a while. She wants a life on her own, one where she is free to make her own decisions. But at what cost?

Secrets, a little bit of mystery, the opulent society of 1890’s Chicago, and the Chicago World’s Fair all collide in the pursuit of one Miss Lucy Banning.

While I have previously read historical novels that take place in Chicago, I don’t think I have ever read one from this time period. It was interesting to read a novel about the end of the Gilded Age that takes place in a city other than New York City. Usually there is a stark comparison drawn between the extremely wealthy and the common man in these Gilded Age novels, and while that is shown somewhat in this novel, it wasn’t as harsh. I think it was the personality of Lucy that helped with this. She was wealthy and knew her way around society, but she could just as easily work at an orphanage and take college classes. To her, there was not much switch from one to the other, so the novel felt seamless in that way as well. Although the reality of the life of the working class during this time was indeed sometimes harsh, it was refreshing to read a novel in which the upper class was “not all that bad” and actually contributed their time and their money to those in need.
Even though I didn’t necessarily relate to Lucy, I still liked her as a character. She was a forward-thinking woman for her time, but she didn’t come across as brash or too opinionated. She had compassion for those in need, and she also desired to use her intellect. I liked the character of Will as well, but I felt as if I didn’t really get to know him. As for Lucy’s maid, Charlotte, I liked her, too, especially her relationship with Lucy. They were both living double lives and had to face some of the same types of situations even though they were so far apart in station.

As a couple, I didn’t always believe the deep romantic feelings between Lucy and Will. There was an attraction, of course, but they didn’t seem to know each other very well or spend great quantities of time together.  I also have to mention that, if you are writing a romantic novel, please, please don’t leave out the scene with The Proposal! I was disappointed that I as the reader did not get to ‘see’ that scene.
The bit of mystery to this book was presented in the form of secrets. Almost everyone seemed to have some sort of secret: Lucy taking college classes, Will’s background, Daniel’s evasiveness, Charlotte and her dilemma (the beginning of which was entirely unbelievable – there is no way she could have kept that part of the secret hidden for so many days…). These secrets pretty much drove the story, which made it intriguing, but the plot sometimes felt lost, and the characters didn’t seem to have much remorse over their deception.

Which leads me to my next point about this novel. For Christian fiction, it was very light on the Christianity. I think the few mentions of God or the Bible could have been lifted right out, and it wouldn’t have affected the story at all. The characters didn’t experience much growth throughout the novel. On the one hand, I think it is great for a Christian fiction novel to just be a nice, clean story. (Especially in the historical fiction genre – the secular historical fiction books out there tend to be awful – not clean at all). I have said before that I don’t expect Christian fiction to preach the gospel on every page. On the other hand, it would have been nice for the characters to acknowledge God in some way instead of just in passing at church. That being said, it sometimes just depends on my mood at the time I am reading a book whether or not the spiritual aspect bothers me. I still enjoyed reading this novel even though the spiritual depth was not there.
I also thought it was odd what happened to Daniel towards the end of the book. I will not comment much on this, since I don’t want to give anything away, but to me it just didn’t seem to fit with the tone of the rest of the book.

I guess I didn’t realize going into this novel that it was the first in a series. There were a few loose ends that to me were unexpected (I turned the page expecting an epilogue), but when I saw that this was the first part of other stories to come, I felt better about it.
The scenes with the preparation for and dedication of the World’s Fair were really neat, and I hope we get to see more of this grand exhibition in the future novels.

I will give The Pursuit of Lucy Banning… 3 ½ BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Revell Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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