Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

  • Title: Somewhere to Call Home
  • Author: Janet Lee Barton
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical (1890s US), Inspirational
  • Publisher: Harlequin, October 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Small-Town Girl, Private Detective, Mean Girl, Evil Banker
  • Quick blurb: Miss Mary Sue McGoodytwoshoes in the big city.
  • Quick review: I am restraining myself from unleashing the snark — but only because I couldn’t even finish it.
  • Grade: DNF

I made it to about 40%, and nothing had happened. Zero tension, zero drama, and zero indication of what the actual conflict might be. There was, however, plenty to make fun of.

I’m only going Half-Snark on this because (a) I didn’t finish it; and (b) it’s an inspirational. But all the ingredients of a “This Is Why People Make Fun of Harlequins” are there. Trust me.

The set-up….

The prologue was promising, with our heroine Violet (aka Mary Sue) accosted by an Evil Banker who tries to blackmail her into marriage by threatening foreclosure on her recently-deceased mother’s home.

Unfortunately, that was the high point of the excitement. It takes a lot of work to make Gilded Age New York City boring, but this book somehow managed it.

Our hero….

I’ll start with him, because this will be short. Michael is supposedly a private detective who owns his own agency, but he never actually does anything except escort our Wide-Eyed Innocent around town. He is, of course, our heroine’s Secret Schoolgirl Crush.

…it had been the most enjoyable weekend he’d had in a very long time. And he’d enjoyed yesterday even more. He hoped Violet had enjoyed it as much as he had.

I’m enjoying all the enjoyment around here, aren’t you?

Our heroine….

Our small-town girl Violet takes up an offer to move to a former neighbor’s boardinghouse in The Big City in hopes of finding a job to pay off the mortgage.

…She truly was like a breath of fresh air in this city.

When our heroine is introduced to her boardinghouse-mates, this is how she attempts friendship with the resident Mean Girl:

“And across from you is Lila Miller, who works at Butterick.”

…Violet then smiled at Lila. “Butterick! Oh, wonderful! Their patterns certainly have made it easier for the home seamstress to make garments that fit,” Violet said.

Yes, really.

Violet hoped to become friends with all the boarders, but she wasn’t sure it was going to happen with Lila. Only time would tell.

She was relieved when the conversation turned from her to the other boarders. She liked hearing about their days and the rest of the meal was quite enjoyable for Violet.

Well, I’m pleased that it was enjoyable, aren’t you?

And even when Violet gets some Mean Girl backlash…

Mrs. Heaton had put a lot of effort into this celebration dinner and Violet wasn’t going to let Lila’s attitude ruin it.

…she never takes off those rose-colored glasses.

…she was beginning to enjoy the company of the other boarders more each day, and she looked forward to hearing about their days and getting to know them all better.

But wait – there’s more!

The working girl….

Mary Sue, oops, I mean VIOLET, lands a position working alongside Lila the Mean Girl, for which she is hired by none other than the founder of the company himself.

“You are a seamstress, Miss Burton?” Mr. Wilder asked.

“Not a professional one. Just a home seamstress who loves your patterns because they make it possible for the everyday woman to make clothing for her family that actually fits them well.”

Mr. Wilder leaned back in his chair, placed his fingertips together over his chest and rocked back and forth. He had a huge smile on his face. “That is music to our ears, Miss Burton.”

“Indeed, it is,” a voice from behind Violet said. She turned to find an older man sitting in a chair in one corner of the room. He was dressed in a black suit and sported a long white beard. He stood and walked toward them. “I’m Ebenezer Butterick, and I believe you’ve just found yourself a position at Butterick and Company, Miss Burton.”

Our perkily plucky heroine starts work as a pattern-cutter the next day:

“I never realized just how much work went into making the patterns I’ve come to count on,” Violet said….

Miss Carter led Violet around the room so she could get a good look at what was being done. She’d never imagined how many steps it took to get a pattern made and to be able to show it in a way that made her and her mother think that an outfit would look good on them. Everyone she met was very nice and Violet looked forward to getting to know them all better.

How much is she looking forward to it? Don’t worry, the author reinforces our heroine’s relentless optimism repeatedly.

“Oh, I am quite impressed. I never dreamed of how much work it took to make a pattern. I’m looking forward to working with everyone.”

“Now, that is the kind of attitude we like around here. I’m sure you are going to fit right in, Miss Burton.”

Violet was beginning to feel that she might.

You might be worried that Violet’s new employer is just another Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire waiting to happen. But never fear:

It was well-known that Mr. Butterick was one of the kindest, more generous men in the city. He gave much to the poor, in particular to needy children, and his company had always had a reputation for treating its employees well.

I’m sure he takes in stray puppies and kittens too.

By lunchtime on her first day, Virtuous Violet gets promoted to seamstress because of her brown-nosing and ass-kissing. Oops, I mean her Sunny Positive Attitude.

“There is so much going on at Butterick it’s hard to take it all in. But I have much more appreciation to what goes into making the patterns to make it easier for the home sewer…. I hope I can live up to their expectations.”

She’s certainly living up to my assessment as the most nauseatingly banal excuse for a heroine ever to grace the pages of any book I’ve ever read. And that includes Sable Hunter’s Hell Yeah! virgins.

The setting….

This is labeled a historical, but it’s all on the surface.  The historical facts are correct — but that’s all they are. Instead of showing us the atmosphere of a teeming turn-of-the-century metropolis, the author merely tells us, through blatant info-dumping and name-dropping, endless bits of useless trivia.

For example, on a Sunday afternoon outing, our heroine is impressed with a peek into the Lifestyles of the Gilded Age.

They headed down the street to Fifth Avenue, and although there was traffic, Violet was pleased that it didn’t seem quite as hectic as the day before. There were many people out and about, but the pace of the traffic was slower as they turned onto the avenue and headed north past Madison Square Park and the Fifth Avenue Hotel.

“Look, Violet.” Violet looked back to see that Mrs. Heaton was pointing to the left. “There is Delmonico’s. It is supposed to be one of the best restaurants in the city and, from what I hear, it is quite the place to see and be seen.”

“Perhaps we’ll stop there for dinner on the way home and see whom we can see and be seen by.” Michael laughed and winked at Violet, who couldn’t contain her chuckle—or the flush of heat that crept up her cheeks.

This is followed by three long paragraphs on the family feud between the Astors and the Vanderbilts that resulted in the construction of the Waldorf Hotel.

“There is no telling how it will all end up.”

“Probaby not,” Violet agreed, although she knew absolutely no more than she’d been told about the families. Nonetheless, it was very entertaining.

As aforementioned, all this was completely irrelevant.

But wait — there’s more!

“New Yorkers of every nationality and status love this park,” his mother said….

“I can well see why,” Violet agreed. “It is simply amazing right here in the middle of the city.”

“It didn’t start that way,” Michael said. “At first, the wealthy were the ones who mostly took advantage of it and there was a lot of discussion on just whose park it was. But with the El and all manner of other transportation, it’s easier for all New Yorkers to enjoy fresh air and sunshine these days, and now the park is enjoyed by anyone who can get to it.”

“I’m glad,” Violet said. It didn’t seem right that only the wealthy should enjoy something so beautiful.

…On the ride home Violet couldn’t remember ever having enjoyed a day more.

I’ll wait while your gag reflex recovers, because…there’s more!

“That is the Tower Building over on Broadway. It’s thirteen stories high and is one of the tallest buildings in the city at present.”

Oh, I’m sorry, were you saying something? Are we going to be tested on this?

On Fifth Avenue, our heroine gawps at the Excesses of the Rich:

…it was quite obvious when they passed those of great wealth. Their vehicles were larger and grander, for one thing. And many of them were open so that one could see from the way the occupants were dressed that they were of the upper echelon of society.

…and during an unexpected foray into the Lower East Side tenements, she gets an up-close-and-personal view of the Plight of the Poor:

…”It is absolutely horrible what some in this city endure. But with the publication of Jacob Riis’s manuscript called How the Other Half Lives, many have been fighting to change things for the poor.”

“I’m relieved to hear that. I can’t imagine living in those conditions.” She’d really had only a glimpse of it, but it’d been enough to throw her imagination into high gear and now she felt she must know more.

This, my friends, is how NOT to write a historical.

I decided to just let the painfully stiff and saccharine dialogue speak for itself. You’re welcome.

2 thoughts on “Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

  1. You have a high tolerance for pain, don’t you? That’s some of the worst writing I’ve read, ever. I’ve talked about certain historical writers having a checklist that they go down to make sure that all their research gets used, clumsy when they let it show, but this is the first time I’ve seen the actual numbered 3×5 index cards showing.

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