Finding Grace by Sarah Pawley (2008)

Book review: Finding Grace by Sarah Pawley (Amazon Kindle, 2011 [2008] – also available in hardcopy)

Grace is seventeen. She is bold, intelligent … and unmarried. In the eyes of her family and her mountain born neighbors, she is hopelessly willful. But she is determined to forge her own path, come what may. When her parents try to force her hand in marriage, she flees, seeking out her brother and his wife, who once watched over her. Settling down with them, she finds a new life … and possible romance with a handsome neighbor. But the past will come back to haunt her, possibly destroying the happiness she has worked so hard to find.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. The description sounded interesting, but I wasn’t sure what kind of novel it was going to be, so I went into it with an open mind. It wasn’t long at all before my attention was well and truly caught – hook, line and sinker.

Set in the days of the prohibition, 1927 to be precise, Grace Langdon lives with her brothers and extremely strict parents in rural Virginia. It’s not a happy life. Her older brother Jack, her only friend, is shunned by the family after leaving with a girl the parents didn’t approve of, and Grace wants out as well. One of her favourite books is Jane Eyre, and she doesn’t just want to marry because it’s what you’re supposed to do. Like Jane, she wants to marry for love, and be strong and independent.

One day, Charlie – a boy she remembers from her childhood – comes back, and he seems really sweet. At first. Getting to know him better, she soon realises that he’s not her Mr. Rochester, and eventually has to flee to avoid being married off to him by her parents. Grace goes to find her brother and his wife in Chicago. By chance, she happens upon Henry Shaw at the train station, a man who knows her brother. A man with a reputation for being a womaniser, but who is darn attractive, and who also can’t seem to stop thinking about Grace …

Two things that immediately stand out as reasons to love this novel: 1) Jane Eyre, which is quoted every now and again, and 2) Richard Armitage.

Knowing Sarah Pawley is a fan of Richard Armitage (her participation in this year’s FanstRAvaganza gave that one away! ;)), there is no way I can read the description of Henry and the frequent mentions of his voice and not picture/hear that man.

It was a deep, soothing voice /…/ They were the palest blue eyes she’d ever seen in her life…like two blue chips of ice. And yet as cold as they were in color, they seemed to burn like fire /…/ an imposing man…tall, dark-haired, lean but muscular. /…/ When he spoke, his voice was deep, and rather thrilling. /…/ thin lips set in a very angular lower jaw. His nose was hawkish and a bit long, but not ugly. It only added to the masculinity of his face.

He’s dark-haired too. Anyway, picturing a handsome actor playing the part of the hero is never a bad thing, especially not when they’re so easy to imagine. Henry is not a straightforward character either, he has layers and is conflicted so he’s also the sort of character that I could easily see Richard Armitage playing.

But wait, there’s more!

The characterisation is wonderful. I love Grace and her naive country girl ways, and how she knows what she wants and doesn’t want. She’s opinionated and strong, like her fictional “mentor” Jane Eyre. Her family life is horrid and I really felt for her as she refused to marry Charlie. Him, too. He’s a creepy one. Like St John Rivers, except nothing at all like him. Maybe if St John had been less righteous and more creepy stalker-y. Like Rochester, Henry is a man with a difficult past. Not in a mad wife in the attic way, but in the sense that he’s a really nice guy underneath a gruff exterior brought on by life not being too kind to him. He’s a World War I veteran, with the mental scarring that goes with it.

To begin with, Finding Grace almost felt a little slow, but things picked up soon enough. I was confused by the mention of spies on “page” one, because I was wondering what spying there could be on common folk in rural Virginia in the 1920s. Having re-read the first page now, I realise why I thought it was never explained – it was just a misunderstanding on my part, and in fact, it’s pretty clear what’s meant; it’s just me being dense.

There are two things in particular that I’m a sucker for when it comes to romances: chance meetings and age gaps. Grace and Henry meet each other by accident at the train station when she first arrives in Chicago – score! Secondly: she’s 17, he’s early 30s – that’s a solid 13-15 years worth of age gap. Sweet! In fact, I didn’t think about it to begin with, but once I did, I was far too pleased.

As it happened, as Grace and Henry were falling in love with each other in their own way, I was falling in love with the book. I plonked myself in the bathtub on Friday evening, thinking I’d just be in there a while reading … but I just couldn’t put it down. By the time the Squeeze had realised what time it was and came in to get ready for bed, I looked at the time, very surprised to find it was about 01:30! Managed to go from ~47% to 80% in what must’ve been about four hours. And I was irked about what time it was, because it meant I would have to stop reading and go to bed!

If I have any criticisms of the novel, it’s that there was a distinct over-use of “…” in the first half of the book, where commas could and should have been used instead. I know I tend to use those things too much myself, but even I don’t use them quite that often. Also, there were a few words that I wondered about, but I don’t know if they are typos or colloquialisms or something. There are several places where it says how the sun “shined”, for instance, and I thought “shouldn’t that be ‘shone’?” (dictionary says “shined” is archaic, so I guess you can use it, especially in a historical context).

Other than that, I loved it. Feisty female, brooding bloke, a love story to set your heart aflutter – and plot twists that makes it truly un-put-downable. I had reached such a place with emotions flying all over the place when it was time to go to bed – another reason why the time bothered me! Can’t end on a cliffhanger, damn it!

With frequent mentions of Jane Eyre and Jane Austen – even Elizabeth Gaskell’s not-that-internationally-renowned North & South is in there (yes, Grace compares Henry with Mr. Thornton, snap!) – this is one for classical literature afficionados, as well as those who love a good, romantic story. You don’t necessarily have to picture Richard Armitage if you don’t like to, but he just fits so well. Five out of five newfangled electrical machines!

Thank you to the author for giving me a review copy of this novel! Sarah is a fellow blogger, and her blog is called From the Quill Tip – why not pop by and see what other writings she’s up to? 🙂 For instance, she’s written a novel called The Tempest, about Guy of Gisborne … Might just have to go and read that one too now!

EDIT 30 July 2011: Since writing this review, I found out that there is a prequel to this book, called Oh, That I Had Wings. It’s available in both hardcopy and for Kindle and has been added to my reading list. 🙂

Finding Grace by Sarah Pawley is available in both paperback as well as an eBook for Kindle on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, but other retailers are probably available too. 😛

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