12 April 2010

Review: THE DEBUTANTE by Kathleen Tessaro ****

Can the secrets of one woman's past change another woman's future?
Endsleigh House stands, crumbling and gracious, on the south-west coast of England, its rooms shut up and dusty. But what secrets do they hold?
Cate, an exile from New York, is sent to help value the contents of the once-grand Georgian house. Cataloguing its' contents with Jack - a man with his own dark past, she comes across a hidden shoebox containing an exquisite pair of dancing shoes from the 1930s, along with a mysterious collection of objects: a photograph, a dance card and a Tiffany bracelet.
Returning to London, rather than face the questions lingering in her own life, Cate immerses herself in piecing together the clues contained in the box to uncover a story, that of Irene Blythe and her sister Diana - two of the most famous debutantes of their generation.
The tale that unfolds is one of dark, addictive love, and leads Cate to face up to secrets of her own. Can the secrets of Baby Blythe's past change Cate's own ability to live and love again?
I came across this title by by pure chance a few weeks ago and as soon as I read the summary and watched the author video below, I knew I absolutely had to have this book so I pre-ordered it immediately and read it almost as soon as it arrived. I just love a good mystery and this novel just seemed so promising; and while it delivered slightly less than I expected, I still really enjoyed it!

The story takes place in 1999, where two main characters, Cate/Katie and Jack, find themselves valuing the contents of Ensleigh House after the death of its owner Irene Blythe, one of the infamous Blythe sisters. The other sister Diana aka Baby Blythe disappeared completely in 1941. Cate is intrigued by this story and thus determined to find out what happened to the most famous debutante of the 1930s. On top of this main mystery that ties the whole book together, there are also the subplots of Cate and Jack's lives as they both have quite a story to tell too.

I found myself really engrossed in the Blythe mystery and all the clues in the shoebox and Baby Blythe's letters really kept me guessing. Luckily, I found the end to this mystery quite satisfying, but thinking about it now, I guess I would've really preferred it if the Blythe story was set in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, it would just make the book so much more magnificent. I enjoyed reading Baby's letters throughout the book and I thought she was the kind of character I'd love to find out more about, her story would be just so outrageous and fun and fantastic. As for the other sister, Irene, we barely get to learn anything about her, apart from a few surprising character traits in the end when all is revealed. Cate and Jack had interesting stories to tell too and I liked how it was all connected to the past, but despite that I'd still prefer to read a book just about the lives of the Blythe sisters.

That is pretty much my only complaint, but other than that I was quite pleased with the book. The writing was rich and elegant and wonderful, and the cover is lovely too, although it could've been better. As for the characters, I was intrigued by Cate and Jack, I wanted to learn more about their past lives and what they were running away from, but I couldn't really connect to them - to me, they just mostly a distraction from the Blythe story and the characters that I really wanted to read about (all the ones that Baby mentiones in her letters), but sadly didn't get the chance to as they were not in focus and thus underdeveloped - it's like they were main characters, but very much side characters at the same time too?

All in all, this was a great read, but I was just hoping for less Cate & Jack in 1999 and more about the lives of the infamous Blythe sisters. When I first heard about this book, it immediately reminded me of Kate Morton, the author of The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden, and indeed there are a few similarities so I think you'll enjoy this if you're a Kate Morton fan, if you're fascinated by the period between the wars or if you just like a good mystery.

overall rating:
plot: 4/5 | writing: 5/5 | characters: 3/5 | cover: 4/5

Watch the video below to learn more about the book from the author herself and also about how a real shoebox from the 1930s became an inspiration for the book - quite fascinating!


Leanna (Daisy Chain Books) said...

Ooh, thanks for this. It sounds like something I would love and I've never heard of the book before. It's funny you mentioned the Kate Morton books at the end of your post. I was thinking that this reminded me of her stuff while I was reading your review. Will add it to my wishlist!

Becky said...

I love a good mystery. I haven't heart of this book before. I am sort of on the fence about it. The mystery aspects really appeals but the lack of depth to some of the characters puts me off. Mind you, I would say as a general trend in mysetrious many of the sub-characters are just there for show...

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

O wow. This sounds way cool. Right up my alley. I love the video. She's so glamorous.

Chelsea said...

'ello :o) I have just found your blog, and I am stalking/following (er, I mean "seeking updates") it. I am a 14 year old home educated girl from England.

If you would like to visit my blog, you can see it here:


Thanks :)
Chelsea x

Emidy said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this book! I'm sure I'd like it too, because I can't resist a good mystery novel.

Carol Christo said...

woow! I never heard of this one, I wanna read it now! going straight to my wish list! lol


Dot said...

Great review, this sounds like a really good one!

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