Saturday, July 22, 2017

Julie Klassen - The Tutor's Daughter

Emma Smallwood, determined to help her widowed father regain his spirits when his academy fails, agrees to travel with him to the distant Cornwall coast, to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But after they arrive and begin teaching the younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen and danger mounts. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte, only to find the music room empty? Who sneaks into her room at night? Who rips a page from her journal, only to return it with a chilling illustration?
The baronet's older sons, Phillip and Henry, wrestle with problems--and secrets--of their own. They both remember Emma Smallwood from their days at her father's academy. She had been an awkward, studious girl. But now one of them finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her.
When the suspicious acts escalate, can the clever tutor's daughter figure out which brother to blame... and which brother to trust with her heart?

Comment: After having read another book by the author five years ago, I found myself intrigued by this book's blurb and I added it to my TBR list. Months after that, I finally decided to read it. In terms of writing there aren't many differences but I can say I sort of enjoyed reading this one a bit more.

In this book we meet and follow father and daughter to a manor in Cornwall so that the father, a teacher, can go and tutor the younger sons of a family who has sent their older boys years ago to the teacher's academy. The teacher has found it weird the younger boys weren't sent but after a letter exchanging, he is invited to tutor them and Emma, his daughter goes as well.
When they arrive at the house, however, it seems they were not being expected and from then on, there is an aura of weirdness and secrets Emma can't seem to put behind. At the same time, she is confronted with the older boys, now men, who were part of her childhood and growing up and how she feels about both of them: Phillip, the friend she always trusted on and Henry, the boy who mocked her and who made pranks...

I liked the overall idea of this book and there is certainly an atmosphere of secrecy that makes this book feel almost gothic and dark. But it never gets to that despite one or two elements that clearly are present to give us that impression.
The plot intrigued at me first and although this is a book also labeled as "christian fiction", meaning no explicit sex nor any sort of intimacy scenes, I think it provided enough interest and situations that one can easily overlook the lack os obvious romance scenes.

I think the author did an interesting job in depicting every character. The main characters are solid and in every scene they appear it's obvious how much integrity they really have and why they can be trustworthy. This is something one would expect of course, them being protagonists.
It's the secondary characters that really make the story move along. Those are the ones with the secrets, the hidden motivations... it's interesting that we are led to believe somethings and after all the explanation is simple. Some secrets aren't difficult to find out but others can be trickier, not because it's such a complex plot but (in my opinion at least) some of the secrets just arise from situations I think were used to add some drama. I'm thinking, for instance, on the reason why a certain character was found so often near the house when apparently he had no business being there. The explanation is good but well, he didn't really have to be there, you know...

As for Emma, as a protagonist, I liked her, I liked how she acts through the book and I think the love interest is too obvious for it to not simply be part of the blurb. Emma also puts herself in some situations which seem rather pointless but I suppose something would have to happen for the story to move along... the fact the POV isn't just Emma's is interesting but she is the biggest "narrator" if one can say so when the narrative is in the third person. I'd liked to have others' POV more often. Of course, this allowed the story to keep that sort of secretive aura.
I just think that Emma wasn't always as strongly present both in the story and in terms of personality as she could but well..she was just a guest at the house anyway, so...

At the end of things I believe the author has managed to keep the story simple for the most part, which makes it look better structured too. Some themes used were interesting but they were not explored to the maximum and in one hand I guess this was a good thing, it didn't become too boring to read. The Christian fiction part was also not too obvious nor preaching and that is also good; one can interpret at their own will.

All in all, I think the plot and the execution feel a little more interesting and solid than int he other book I've read. Even the romance feels better done, when comparing. I'll try another book to see if this is a matter of choosing the right book or if the author is a hit and miss for me. This one I liked best and any reader who likes historicals would find good reasons to appreciate it too.
Grade: 7/10

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