Continuing with: For the Love of Books: A Valentine’s Week Book Extravaganza! we have, Atoning for Ashes!
When Kaitlin Covel emailed and offered a review copy of her upcoming debut novel, a Regency romantic suspense, I had to try it. I mean… Regency. Suspense! I can suffer through a bit of romance for that, right? 😉
Since it releases on Valentine’s Day, I requested a few interview questions as well. I mean, who doesn’t love to get to know a new author, right?
Let’s get to that first.
1. What made you choose Regency over another era for the setting of your story?
I’ve always been fascinated by the Regency era, and I adore Jane Austen’s books and characters!
2. Who is your favorite minor character?
Esther MacAllister is my favorite secondary character in Atoning for Ashes.
3. If you could have one of these three authors review your book, which one would it be? Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Ann Radcliffe?
Wow, that is a tough question. My first instinct would be to say Jane Austen, of course, but I’m going to say that I would want Charlotte Bronte to review my book because I feel like she would appreciate the emotional depth of Atoning for Ashes. I think Jane Eyre and Josie share many traits in common as heroines. Jane Eyre also inspired the suspenseful flavor of Atoning for Ashes!
4. If you could move to Regency England, what part would you want to live in?
I would want to live in London for the winter season, and Bath for the summer season.
5. Please tell us about your next character and when we can expect to get to know him or her.
My next heroine is Sylvia Beckett. She is a spirited little thing with raven black hair, midnight blue eyes, creamy skin, and a few freckles from assisting her father who is a fisherman. At this point in time, I cannot say when my readers will get to meet her, but Sylvia’s story is a work in progress!
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The 3 Most Interesting Things about Atoning for Ashes.
Unlike your traditional romance, Atoning for Ashes does not begin when boy meets girl, they have trouble along the way, and then end with boy proposing to and/or marrying girl. Instead, the wedding happens very near the beginning, and instead, we get a “love story” about our main characters after the wedding, which happened more often among wealthier classes during the Regency era, one presumes. It also reads much like the gothic novels of the day which, considering the suspense element, makes perfect sense.
You can’t help but be drawn to Josie Chadwick, but as much as I liked her, she also annoyed and irritated me. This is a good thing. I wouldn’t have liked her nearly as much if she hadn’t had the grit and fire in her that occasionally made her a bit ridiculous.
Look, there were a few times around the middle that I wanted to slap the girl. Again, this is a good thing. However, at that time it didn’t feel like a good thing. It felt like she was being overly-dramatic and a stereotypical twit. And then I remembered.
The kid is eighteen. She may be a married woman for most of the book, but she’s a girl. Even in a day when they didn’t have adolescence as we do today, girls that age were often ridiculous and silly. I offer Lydia and Kitty Bennett and Emma Woodhouse as proof. Just sayin’. Oh, and let’s not forget Catherine Moreland. *rolls eyes*
When I recalled her very young years, suddenly, it all fit. I liked her again. Even when she made me want to shake her in the next chapter.
This isn’t a “token” Christian book. Not by a long shot. Ms. Covel weaves—and sometimes digs a deep hole and plants—the spiritual content through nearly every chapter. In most places, it’s a natural outpouring of the character’s life or an understandable recognition for the need of it.
Josie’s faith is natural, genuine, and constant—even when she wavers. Considering some of the darker themes in this book, having the light of Scripture and truth to balance that was, in my opinion, the most brilliant thing the author could have done.
But more on that in a minute.
Did I like the book?
I’m going to give you raw honesty. I don’t know. As I was reading the first couple of chapters, I pointed out a few things to my daughter. She was like, “Nope! Not for me.” And the truth was, I could see why. There were phrasings that were rough to follow (not often, but a time or three) and a few that were meant to paint a vivid picture and failed, in my opinion. The one that stands out read something like, “the fingers of dawn groped across the sky and caressed her face.” Um… groping fingers do not caress. I wanted to say, “So, Sebastian is now the dawn?”
What does that even mean, you ask? You’d have to read it to find out. 😉
But no, seriously. I sent my Regency expert editor a few rapid-fire questions. See, based on the cover, I assumed late 19th or early 20th Century fiction. Yes, I thought I remembered Regency but assumed I was wrong. A bit later, and I went back to more the mid 19th Century. Then the high-waisted dress was mentioned and I gave up and wrote the author.
We’ll get back to this in a minute. I’m supposed to be telling you if I liked it.
At that point, I wasn’t sure. I was hovering around three stars—unwillingly. I wanted more. But I couldn’t say I liked it.
By halfway, I told my daughter, “Hey, there are things about this book that bug me, but I still like it. Right now… it’s a four-star book just because I like the story.” My daughter was thrilled.
By the two-thirds or three-quarter mark, my heart sank again. I wanted to skim. I wanted to slap the couple for their very purply prosy declarations of love and adoration. It. Was. Excessive.
And by the end, I didn’t know what I thought. I still don’t.
As you’ve probably surmised, there are problems.
People who read a great deal of historical fiction will likely be bothered by a few inaccuracies. Second unmarried daughters were not “Miss Surname.” They were “Miss Firstname.” Stewards were highly paid, gentleman-like employees rather than typical servants—much higher than a butler or valet. They didn’t have rough hands, didn’t work about the stables, and they would never request that the daughter of the house use their first names.
Some of these things are glossed over by talking about how unusual xyz choice is, but they just can’t help but… Um, no. Those exceptions were so rare it wasn’t funny. Mostly, because people didn’t think there was anything unusual about it. It wasn’t uncomfortable for a child to call an older servant by a familiar name or for a man of fifty to still call his nanny, “Nanny.” There were stations. You stuck to them. The rare exception made everyone around you uncomfortable.
The marriage is wonderfully messed up.
It really is. Charles is a hot mess of a person, and it comes out in drinking, coldness, and outright abuse of his wife. I have to add a warning. While the author never takes it across the line to outline horrible actions in detail, I consider this book to have a rape and an attempted rape. I don’t know if she meant for the first one to be so, but I absolutely do. I would not give this novel to an unmarried girl.
Note: while I expected to have to put the book aside, I did not. She really did handle the ugly scenes beautifully.
The spiritual content does get really dense in parts.
I happen to prefer a book where most of it is woven through the narrative so that you couldn’t skip it without losing part of the story. I found myself wanting to skip stuff when it went on for paragraphs and pages. That would have been my loss, by the way. There are rich truths and nuggets in these pages. I expect that I’ll reread them just for those parts, even. But it does bog the story down. Basically, it’s a spiritual info dump.
And for that matter, some of the history of things gets dumped out a bit thickly, too. It’s disguised in conversations, but we’re talking some serious monologues.
I don’t want to end on a negative note.
This is Kaitlyn Covel’s debut novel. It’s wonderfully edited with very few typo issues at all (only one specific one that I can recall, and I suspect it’s me rather than her, and a need for knowing how to continue a conversation to a new paragraph when there is no break in the speaker). A few sentences could be adjusted for mixed pronouns etc. or to correct things like groping caresses… 😉 Still, it’s really well written. She has an interesting plot, brilliant characters (really, they are truly believable), and a writing style that keeps you wanting to read. When I think of all the positive points, I could easily give this book five stars. Unfortunately, I can’t forget the parts that aren’t amazing… and I don’t know what to do then.
I ABSOLUTELY look forward to her next book, and I think Kaitlyn Covel is an author to watch. I suspect we’re going to see great things from her.
So, stars-wise, I’ve got no clue. I’ll just say this. If you love Jane Eyre, you’ll love this one. However, if you are picky on historical/English societal rules accuracy, don’t like heavy-handed romantic protestations, or if you are sensitive to domestic violence of many kinds (parental/spousal/extended family), this isn’t likely the book for you.
And on that cheery note, I’ve got a giveaway for you!
Sorry. I couldn’t resist.
But really, to celebrate Ms. Covel’s release, and Valentine’s Day, I’m giving away one copy… to someone. All you’ve got to do to enter is leave a comment and tell me if you like Jane Eyre or Anne Elliot (of Persuasion) best. Or, if you haven’t read either or don’t like either, who is your favorite 19th-century heroine?