This book came highly recommended and even the cover synopsis sounded like it could make for a good story. Accordingly I opened the cover with high hopes that the first time I tried to read it was a fluke.
I was sadly disappointed. The mechanics were fairly clean so the editors were at least covering that base and I didn’t have to stumble through a minefield of typos and awkward sentences or just plan crazy misspelling or misuse (I have actually seen all these things at one time or another in published works). Karon’s characters are also well written which is not an easy task. However, the plot and story quality are lacking. I found the first half of the book to move very slowly and while she had many good plotlines presented and a plethora of minor characters there was little to hold the book together as a coherent whole.
She followed many of the minor characters and a variety of conflicts and plot lines starting at page one but I was unable to determine a single central conflict or major plot that carried through the entirety of the book and made for a compelling read. This was much more like reading several short stories that were connected by common characters and setting though there still was not much to draw me into these vignettes.
Many fellow readers have loved her characters and while they are well done they still seemed a bit cardboard to me perhaps because the plot wasn’t developed enough to make them seem like they could be my next door neighbor or the couple down the street or a local schoolchild. You meet these people and are given minute details about who they are and how they behave but it is almost exclusively surface information that simple observation could determine about anyone. There is little in their heads, personality, who I am inside type of descriptions or action. They do not become unique individuals who could exist in real life to me.
Perhaps for some a small town story at a small town pace is appealing but I was frustrated by the lack of central theme or plot elements tying it all together as well as the minor, surface presentation of her characters. I couldn’t really get into anyone’s head while reading this nor identify with any of the characters for long. I also found that the details came at the expense of pacing. The actual movement of the story plodded most of the time to make room for extended descriptive phrasing or minor plot elements that didn’t unify the book.
Karon’s decscriptions are detailed and sometimes paint a picturesque scene, she is even able to drop in a few comedic bits. Her characters are there and she develops them on a surface level pretty thoroughly. Despite the strengths of this writing, however, and the many recommendations I have heard I feel like the plot and story were sorely lacking in this book, hopefully that improved as the series progressed. As the first time I tried reading this, it would have made the discard pile quickly if I hadn’t committed to giving it another wholehearted try for the bookclub I belong to. I still am amazed that I actually slogged through the first half of this book without giving up and moving on rather than completing the entire 400+ pages. The story does pick up at about the halfway mark and at that point I had difficulty putting the book down – it all of a sudden became a riveting story. If she could have done that from earlier in the book and carried it through to the end, I would consider reading more of the Mitford books but I have little inclination to waste over three hours of reading time just for a stellar second half of a book when I have so many other options. Thankfully this was borrowed from the library so none of my money was lost in the experiment.