Bethany House - Fiction/Christian
What led you to pick up this book? The protagonist loses her mother in a tragic plane crash and, having recently lost my own mother, I was looking for a little bit of a comfort read about grief.
Describe the plot without giving anything away. Oh, so difficult. Mary Swan Middleton is chosen to be the "Raven" at her exclusive private school. As Raven, she is given a set of clues and a mystery to solve but she is not to reveal that she's the Raven. If she solves the mystery, she will get to choose a charity to receive a large donation. Shortly after Mary Swan finds out she's the Raven, her parents prepare to return from an extended visit to Europe with a number of other Atlanta socialites and artists (her mother is a painter), but they choose to take separate flights. The plane carrying Sheila Middleton and other prominent Atlanta citizens crashes and burns, sending Atlanta's citizens into a whirlwind of grief and funerals. To set Mary Swan on the path to healing, their maid encourages Mary Swan to help serve spaghetti dinners on the poor, black side of town. There, she meets and befriends Carl -- leading to harsh lessons about racial prejudice. Eventually, Carl and Mary Swan's best friend, Rachel, help her attempt to solve the Raven mystery, which leads to a discovery about her mother's hidden secret. All of this takes place in the 1960s.
What did you think of the characters? I liked them but, for the most part, they were a little too perfect. Mary Swan occasionally ticked people off, but they always forgave her. They liked the fact that she spoke her mind; it never seemed to get her into trouble. While she learned some harsh lessons about life, prejudice, depression and loss, it also seemed that everything seemed to fall into place for her too easily.
Describe your favorite scene: I liked the scene in which Mary Swan and Rachel sneak onto the campus of their private school to locate the directions for Mary Swan's Raven dare -- the mystery she is supposed to unravel.
Recommended? Yes, but with fair warning. The Swan House is a good novel, but the author attempted to tackle too many issues in one book. Eventually, the author pulled all the strands together, but not till the end. In the meantime, it would have been very easy to give up on the book. There are plenty of scenes that didn't appear to forward the plot in any way. I also think people who dislike books with Christian themes will find that the issues are not so subtle. The Swan House is a preachy by comparison with the other Bethany House books I've recently read. I got the impression that the book was colored a little too heavily by the author's wealthy upbringing and personal beliefs.
In general: I think at least 100 pages could have been cut from this book, but in spite of superfluous scenes and characters who are too friendly, perfect, or learn their lessons a little too easily (with some ruffians thrown in to beat people up, now and then), I liked it and am looking forward to reading more by Elizabeth Musser. I have a copy of Searching for Eternity on my stacks.
Cover thoughts: I'd call the cover of The Swan House a "quiet" cover illustration. The author's notes mention that the real Swan House (a mansion, from which Mary Swan gets her middle name) does exist in Atlanta and is open to tourists. I think the cover is just a little too subdued and I would have normally walked right past it, but this particular copy was sent to me by Bethany House when I offered to review books that had something, anything to do with grief and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to read and review The Swan House.