Monday, 15 January 2018

Emma's Review: Her Mother's Daughter by Evie Grace

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Will she break free and change her future? 
Canterbury, 1853

Agnes Berry-Clay might have been born into rags but she is growing up with riches. 
Given away as a baby by her real mother, she was rescued and raised by her darling Papa and distant Mama. Agnes wants for nothing, except perhaps a little freedom.

But as times goes on, her life at Windmarsh Court changes. New arrivals and old resentments push Agnes to the peripheries, and finally the consequences of one fateful day shatter her dreams for the future.

Heartbroken and surrounded by the threat of scandal, Agnes is faced with a terrible choice: stay and surrender, or flee and fight to keep her freedom.

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Many thanks to Becky McCarthy for my copy of Her Mother's Daughter to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Her Mother's Daughter is the second in the Maids of Kent series by Evie Grace. I had my reservations about reading this book given I hadn't read the first in the series Half a Sixpence. I don't like reading books out of order if I can help it at all as I feel I won't be able to follow the back story and that I would have missed out on crucial plot points which would have helped in my reading of this new book. Suffice to say this was easily read as a standalone and I needn't have had any worries that I would be confused as to what was ongoing in the overall plot. In fact I couldn't work out any connections to the previous book for practically the entirety of the story, it read very much as if this was a normal book and not part of a planned trilogy. I'm still wondering whether this was a good or bad thing? When I finished the story of Agnes, I looked up the first book and read the blurb just to see could I establish any connections. They were tenuous and perhaps only two aspects of Half a Sixpence had a bearing on Her Mother's Daughter. So overall I didn't feel as if I had missed out on much which is one of my personal bugbears when it comes to reading a series.

For the first 100 pages I found it very difficult to get into the story. Given there was just over 400 in total, I wasn't overly worried about this. If I had reached the halfway point and still felt the same way then worries would have crept in and I would have maybe considering giving up reading, I would never normally do this as I believe a book needs to be given the chance right until the very end. When I finished reading I did look up reviews for the first book and I found a few people felt the same way regarding the pacing so I was glad in a way it wasn't just me. I am pleased to say the story did eventually pick up the pace and there was a good decent plot with an overall message to be taken from it. It may not be my favourite book of the historical genre but it was still a good read. Our story begins back in 1853. I haven't read very many books set in the 1800's, I'm more of a reader who enjoys sagas set around the two wars or slightly thereafter. So I was slightly out of my comfort zone and as with the plot itself it took me some time to became familiar with the way the characters spoke, the costumes and fashions of the time and the general setting and how society worked. 

The first section set in 1853 focuses on Agnes Berry Clay aged 14 and living in Windmarsh Court. Her father runs a brewery and they live comfortably enough with servants to tend to their every need and a nanny/governess who schools Agnes. Agnes' mother rarely leaves the house, she shows little emotion or love for her daughter leaving any signs of affection to be demonstrated by her father. It soon becomes apparent that Agnes had been adopted when she was a baby and ever since it more or less it has been Nanny, Ms. Treen, who has brought her up and taught her all she needs to know. The relationship between Nanny and Agnes was portrayed very well. It was almost like they were the mother and daughter who loved each other yet they could have their little disagreements every now and again.

Despite this Agnes for her age came across as very very immature and not worldly or as we would say now - streetwise. Even her speech and some of her general knowledge seemed like that of a much younger child. She had led a very sheltered, protected life where she was not exposed to the realities of society for many people at the time. She had no idea of the conditions the poorer end of the people of her town had to deal with. She feels ignored and neglected by her parents and even more so with the announcement that at long last her mother is expecting. This causes Agnes to question her true parentage as she will no longer be the centre of attention, you could question whether she even was that, as her brother will now take precedence. He will always come first and that was the way the rules and regulations of society were at the time. Agnes' best hopes were to be married off. She has been indulged in some ways for too long and needs to be shown a different side of life. The lesson shown to her by her father was a necessary one but not one I'm sure she fully comprehended.

Fast forward to 1857, and this is when things really started to pick up and some of the previous little clues begin to make sense. Agnes now appreciates what she has after what her father made her realise several years ago but Agnes is restless and bored. Something needs to happen in her life to make it worthwhile rather than continuing on with the way things are. A routine of lessons with Nanny whilst Henry too is now included. Agnes is still very naive and I was glad when Nanny took matters into her own hands even if the event in question Agnes practically denied even happened. It could have been very significant but it's magnitude for change only really struck Agnes very much towards the end of the book.

A life altering event and major revelations sees great changes in the Berry Clay household and finally Agnes came into her own. She was put in a very compromising position, one she took stock of and came to an understanding that this was not for her. Her life was being mapped out for her but not in the way she envisaged her long term goals and aspirations being. I was thrilled that at last Agnes was growing up and taking matters into her own hands and not letting her parents determine everything. She knew if she stuck around that she would be miserable for the rest of her life. Finally she showed some guts, courage and ingenuity and I thought a young girl at the time would have been very brave to do what Agnes did. Slowly the tides of my opinion regarding Agnes began to change and they did for the remainder of the novel. If things had meandered along the way they had for the first 100 pages I would have become bored and the turning of the pages would have become a chore. Instead I found myself intrigued as to the eventual outcome and how Agnes would cope as a governess herself to two spoilt, uninterested young women Charlotte and Elizabeth Faraday. Ages had a choice - a life of predictability or to make her mark in the world and I was glad with the choice she decided upon.

The sections set in the Faraday household and those that subsequently followed were perhaps the most interesting of all within the story. We saw a different side to Agnes' character emerge. At some points I could see she was leading herself down a path that could only spell disaster. But love was very much over ruling the head. In a way she was gullible partly because she was lonely and also because she had never experienced these feelings before. The second dramatic event which led to revelations I could picture so vividly in my mind and again a change of fortune and circumstance had Agnes wondering could she ever turn things around and pull herself out of the gutter. I really enjoyed the parts set after the Faradays. They really showed the other side of the coin and the research undertaken by the author was evident in the descriptions of day to day life.

One thing I did think was that we were very near to the end of the book and there as quite a bit to be resolved. I knew what the ending would be, which I didn't mind as I think it was fairly obvious to the reader, but I wondered how could everything work out with only 30/40pages left to go. Needless to say it was achievable but it felt slightly rushed given the length of the book, a few more pages to pad things out wouldn't have gone amiss. Circumstances definitely forced Agnes to realise what she was truly capable of underneath it all. If ever there was a character who under went such a dramatic change from the beginning of the book to the end then Agnes Berry Clay is certainly that person. From being too trusting, open and naive Agnes certainly does a full 360. A Mother's Daughter once things got going was an enjoyable read and I would be interested to see how Evie Grace brings this trilogy to a close with A Place to Call Home in the Summer.

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