Happy Friday, all! This is the last Friday of my vacation, and while I am sad to see it go, I definitely feel like I got the rest I needed. My “hit count” for books read during vacation is up to four books this week, and I have two more good reading days left. One of the books I *needed* to finish and managed to finish just in time was this ARC from Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Hope Between the Pages by Pepper Basham. I requested and won the chance to read this because I love all things books, and this was no exception with both a library and a book store. And while there are certain aspects I disliked that I was unprepared for (see below), Hope Between the Pages definitely gave me some great books and some great history. Without further ado…
From the Publisher:
Walk through Doors to the Past via a new series of historical stories of romance and adventure.
Clara Blackwell helps her mother manage a struggling one-hundred-year old family bookshop in Asheville, North Carolina, but the discovery of a forgotten letter opens a mystery of a long-lost romance and undiscovered inheritance which could save its future. Forced to step outside of her predictable world, Clara embarks on an adventure with only the name Oliver as a hint of the man’s identity in her great-great-grandmother’s letter. From the nearby grand estate of the Vanderbilts, to a hamlet in Derbyshire, England, Clara seeks to uncover truth about family and love that may lead to her own unexpected romance.
I feel like the synopsis is… unhelpful. At its heart, Hope Between the Pages is a split time narrative set in Asheville, NC, with present-day Clara running her family bookstore Blackwells, which was open by 1800s narrator Sadie, the library maid at the Biltmore. Clara and Sadie get almost equal page time, with Sadie slowly falling in love with Biltmore guest Oliver through a mutual love of books and Clara discovering more about her great grandmother as she goes through Sadie and Oliver’s love letters. Both women face challenges unique to their time; Sadie and her class struggles, and Clara and the horrors of chain book stores. Both women are saved through family ties and an abiding love of literature.
What I Enjoyed:
- The Literary References. What initially made me request Hope Between the Pages is exactly what made me finish it: The lush literary scenes. Sadie dusting the shelves of the magnificent Biltmore library, and putting out books based on overheard conversations from guests; Clara in her windy bookshop that provides a haven for all manners of outcasts and people in need. Sadie and Clara share a love of fairytales and gothics, but a dislike of horror, and they both feel like they are in a fairytale as they emerge from damsels in distress to heroines in their own right. I loved the parallels between both worlds, and how both women intuitively understood that fairytales are for adults with imagination. It did a booklover’s heart good reading this.
- The History. While WWI, early 20th century isn’t my forte, I loved reading about Sadie’s time. The Vanderbilts are portrayed as genuinely decent people, and I thought that Basham did a really stellar job at showing the class problems that permeated in both the US and England at the time. I also adored the descriptions of Oliver’s ancestral home in England, with its sprawling grounds and whimsical follies. The way WWI and WWII affected Sadie, and more peripherally Clara, was also a great way to show how two women were so connected even over the course of four generations.
- Strong Female Leads. Despite my general misgivings of Hope Between the Pages (see below), Sadie and Clara are both strong women that I enjoyed reading. Sadie, despite running halfway across the world for a man, shows a kind of inner strength despite the horrible hand dealt to her, and Clara has a stubborn streak and grit in doing anything to save her business and protect her family. These are women you root for who you know can survive almost anything.
What Didn’t Work for Me:
- The Christianity. I hate to add this, since this is fully a “shame on me” moment. I did not realize when requesting this ARC that Hope Between the Pages was added as a Christian fiction title, and that Barbour Publishing is a Christian publisher. To be perfectly frank, the references to religion didn’t begin until the second half of the book, but once they did, I was immediately taken out of it. Quotations of Bible verses and references to G-d helping or hindering the characters became more frequent, and it colored my whole reading from start to finish. The adversity that Clara and Sadie both faced now felt contrived as a larger plot to show G-d working in mysterious ways, and I felt like the previously mentioned strength both women displayed was now supposed to be taken as faith. They felt more like martyrs than women who dealt with a lot and survived it all. It also made me angry that Clara had less respect for her great grandmother Sadie when it was suggested Sadie was a fallen women, than when she found out that Sadie had in fact been married.
- Clara’s Legal Troubles. Here is another probably unfair take, but when Clara’s estate attorney told her she could lose Blackwell’s Books over the fact that they had no record of the deed, I almost put the book down for good. Without getting too far down a legal rabbit hole, title and deed are two different things. A person who doesn’t have physical possession of the paper deed can still prove title through a quick walk to the county clerk’s office, who has a recording, and through a title search, which will turn up full record of chain of ownership. I thought for certain at this point in the book that the attorney was “in on” the chain bookstore’s plot to buy Blackwell’s, but no – that was just the legal basis everyone in Hope Between the Pages was going on. And while I appreciate that the lack of deed helped push Clara into finding her great grandmother’s letters, falling in love, going to England, etc., I just wish the “big catalyst” was not based on a completely faulty legal premise.
Reviewing Hope Between the Pages was hard for me, because while I did enjoy the book as a whole, there were whole swaths that I either skipped or skimmed because they angered/bored me just to get to the more exciting scenes. I am not into Christian books, and felt that everything else was soured because of it, but loved the actual bones of the story. Personally speaking, this was 2.5 waves from me. However, I think this is a great book for other readers, and have even bought a copy for my more religious family members.
I would love it if others read and drew their own conclusions so we can compare notes! Pick up your copy of Hope Between the Pages here (paperback, can’t beat it!)