Grace A. Johnson
Review: A Lady in Attendance by Rachel Fordham
#1 This is a long review, so pull up a chair and grab a bowl of popcorn. You’ll be here awhile. #2 When I read a review, I want substantial information. So I will not skimp on the details. Which may mean some spoilers, so watch out.
Synopsis: Wrongful charges have put Hazel in a precarious position—ostracized from her family, disowned from polite society, and unable to live the life she was raised for. So, armed with a false name and no small amount of baggage, she heads to Amherst to start a new life as a lady in attendance to the local dentist, Dr. Gilbert Watts. Will an unlikely friendship between the fiery redhead and quiet dentist unlock her heart and her secrets, giving her the key to freedom?
Favorite Quote: “Only God knows our true worth.”
I have heard tremendously great things about Rachel Fordham and the reviews I’ve read for A Lady in Attendance have all been extremely positive. So, yeah, I came into this with really high expectations. And, unfortunately, they weren’t necessarily met. Now, instead of rattling off all of my personal pet peeves with this story—of which there were many—I’m going to focus on the legitimate qualms I had with ALIA...but first, let’s talk about the good things, shall we?
In spite of it all, I had fun reading this story. It started off kind of boring, slow and yet spotty in some ways, you know? Kind of like a movie that skips from scene to scene as if it’s trying to move on to something important or interesting...without actually moving on to anything at all. But, about a third of the way through, it started picking up and, in between my cringing, I laughed a few times and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It wasn’t one of those reads that depresses you or makes you think long and hard—it was light and quick, so I got through it pretty fast and didn’t feel myself nodding off too bad.
After a while, it began flowing much more smoothly and, of course, things started happening. I was honestly terrified that it was going to be one of those plot-less, flimsy little stories that could’ve easily been a novella but just...weren’t...but it wasn’t! There was a smidge of suspense and mystery, what with finding out who framed Hazel for burglary and why.
I think it was that bit of mystery that kept me reading the whole way through, since I never really connected with the characters. At all. Hazel was nice and she certainly wasn’t an obnoxious heroine—quite the opposite, in fact. I’d say she was kind of bland, to be honest, and I think she had the potential to have a strong personality and connection with readers, but I never saw it come out. A lot of books are simply like that—distant and detached—and although it worked for the classics, nowadays stories that are meant to inspire should have characters that are inspired, if that makes sense. (It probably doesn’t, but you know, that’s me for you.)
As for Gilbert? Well, y’all know I prefer bodice-ripping alpha males. Naw, not really! (At least, not all the time…) I can appreciate an upstanding, God-fearing beta male, trust me. Probably more than half of my own heroes are godly beta males (and are secretly teddy bears on the inside).
But Gil? He just seemed a little lackluster, mainly in the same way Hazel did—but, for once, I think I preferred Hazel to Gilbert. She was more real, more confident, and more personable—which makes for both a better person and a better character. Gilbert was so awkward, and even though I guess that was part of his character, it made him kinda cringe-worthy. There’s a way to do awkward, not-so-quiet quite dentists, and there’s a way not to do them. Somewhere, Fordham crossed the line and Gilbert was made into a dork. Come to think of it, it was less his character itself and more the situations he was put in, the way they were described, and how he and Hazel just kept cracking jokes about him being a quiet dentist.
Seriously. The single best way to make a character well-defined and their personality clear to the reader is to not mention it. See Section 4, Page 52 of the Writer’s Code, where the show-don’t-tell rule is explained. Don’t ever describe the character’s personality unless it’s already obvious how they act, and don’t bring it up in dialogue. Show us how quiet Gil is, then mention it a few chapters later.
I don’t know, maybe that was just me. Like I said, my tastes run a little differently. Along the lines of Irish Catholic womanizers, to be exact.
But enough about that.
I think there was a lot of potential for there to be a great theme of redemption and forgiveness (and, in a way, there was with Eddie and Hazel), but the theme and some of the Christian content in general was fairly subtle. Which was partially due to the fact that Gil seemed to take Hazel’s confession pretty well—which I’m not upset about at all. Eventually you start to get tired of the drama and are glad when a hero just nods and continues on, you know?
As for Fordham’s writing style, I was very disappointed. That was probably the main thing that made me lift my eyebrows. I’ve heard so much good about Fordham’s novels, and either A Lady in Attendance just didn’t deliver this time, or Fordham’s writing isn’t really as good as it could be. There were some sentences that were stilted or unclear, and some scenes that were just strangely written. Nothing about her style or prose stuck out to me as being unique or captivating.
To be honest, the best part of A Lady in Attendance was the mystery surrounding Hazel’s false charges, and that was very interesting to see play out. The characters were pretty two-dimensional and the romance aspect of the plot was kind of cheesy. Come to think of it, it’d make a great Hallmark movie!
Long story short, there were good parts to this story and some eh parts, but it was a welcome respite from a lot of depressing dramas and Christian fiction with not-so-Christian content, you know? Fordham’s writing was kind of bland and the beginning of the story was very slow, but once I got into it, I did in fact enjoy myself.
Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher, publicist, or author, including NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.
About the Author
Rachel Fordham has long been fascinated by all things historical or in the words of her children “old stuff”. Often the historical trivia she discovers is woven into her children's bedtime tales. Despite her love for good stories she didn’t attempt writing a novel until her husband challenged her to do so (and now she’s so glad he did). Since that time she’s often been found typing or researching while her youngest child naps or frantically writing plot twists while she waits in the school pick-up line. In addition to her passion for storytelling she enjoys reading, being outdoors and seeing new places. Rachel lives with her husband and children on an island in Washington state.
Learn more about current projects at rachelfordham.com.
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