16 November 2015

Review: Whispers in the Reading Room by Shelley Gray

Excellent Historical Romance/Suspense

Miss Lydia Bancroft works in the Lincoln Lending Library in Chicago, and is newly engaged to the handsome, popular and wealthy Mr Jason Avondale, at the encouragement of her widowed and impoverished mother. Mr Sebastian Marks is a man from the wrong side of the tracks who has become rich through his club, the Silver Grotto, which offers the gentlemen of Chicago the twin evils of drink and gambling (although not the third evil of women). He frequents the Lending Library partly to better his knowledge, and partly to watch the librarian …

There is an almost unbearable sadness about Sebastian Marks in the early chapters, as we learn about his upbringing, his current employment, and his efforts to become the gentleman Lydia believes him to be, and he knows he will never be. Despite his dubious profession on not-quite-the-right side of the law, he was an honourable man who was loyal to his (few) friends and did his best to be respectable, not merely appear respectable.

The story incorporates the developing relationship between Lydia and Sebastian, the understated relationship between Mr Vincent Hunt (Sebastian’s man of business) and Bridget O’Connell (his servant), and a thread of suspense which comes to the forefront in the second half of the book. The characters were excellent, as was the plot and the way each of the characters were introduced and linked. There was also some excellent writing, and a low-key but evident Christian message.

But the focus of the novel was on the bittersweet relationship between Lydia and Sebastian, and that was its’ real strength. This could have been an almost-perfect read except for two things. There were some weird lines (e.g. the overused “he bit out” speech tag), and the ending came too fast—by which I mean the pace picked up and all the outstanding plot points were fixed in a couple of short chapters, which was out of kilter with the rest of the novel (which wasn’t slow, but wasn’t a fast-paced thriller either). These might be minor glitches but they were glitches all the same, and did affect my enjoyment of what was otherwise an excellent historical romance.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

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