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The Writing Master by Kitty Burns Florey
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The Writing Master

by Kitty Burns Florey

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
There are things here--a tragedy, a mystery, a possible romance, an unusual profession. But they are all a bit too easily resolved or dismissed or don't quite get around to adding up to anything. The atmosphere of the era might be the book's strength, but it's not enough strength to go anywhere. ( )
  randalrh | Sep 21, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
It's not the book; it's me. I'm not the biggest fan of historical fiction, but I wanted to read this because I wasn't familiar with the now-defunct profession of fancy writing; I thought there would be more about that. There are indeed many interesting historical details, but ultimately I became bored by the slow-moving plot and the tedious, unlikable characters. ( )
  2chances | Sep 11, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Somewhere in this story is a murder mystery, but it remains constantly in the background of a focus on the history of two Connecticut towns. That I grew up in Connecticut was the only reason this novel kept my attention until the end - otherwise I would probably have given up halfway through.

The main character, Charles, is incredibly boring. He’s indecisive and bitter and, again, just plain boring. He meets this charismatic woman Lily and things seem to be picking up, but Florey consistently stops just short of things getting exciting. The only somewhat exciting element in The Writing Master is the murder mystery that Charles inexplicably feels himself to be qualified to help/interfere with. But even this fails to gain any momentum as it is evenly dispersed among the conflicted thoughts and feelings of a character that it’s really hard to care about. And as the conclusion to the mystery appears it is so painfully slow to develop that it was hard to stay interested.

This is a history of New Haven and Wethersfield, Connecticut. Saying it is anything else is false advertising. ( )
  Gwnfkt12 | Feb 13, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
“The Writing Master,” by Kitty Burns Florey, is a fine work of historical fiction. None of the characters are drawn from real life, but the author takes enormous care to sculpt her plot within an authentic historical landscape. As a result, the world of mid-19th-century New Haven, Connecticut literally comes alive through her skillful research and writing.

This book is one that I appreciated best in retrospect. It was always historically and intellectually fascinating, but rarely emotionally compelling (except in the last fifty pages, which I read in one fell swoop). Typically, I read a book through to the end in one to three days, but “The Writing Master” took me three weeks to finish. As an Amazon Vine reviewer, I always have a stack of books waiting to be read. I kept putting this book down and starting and finishing another book before going back, once again, to pick up “The Writing Master.” In fact, I read four other books while I was finishing this one. Despite the many interruptions, I was always pleased to get back to Florey’s book. It was a intriguing world and it made me happy to rediscover it again each time I picked up the book. It was like taking a trip backwards in time, back into a whole different perspective on life—a lovely, long-ago landscape with odd anachronistic characters and objects.

There is much detail to the plot. In fact, the book suffers—perhaps—from too many interlocking plot threads. To the author’s great credit, she does manage successfully to tie these many odd and separate stories into a cohesive and very satisfying whole by the end. That’s, no doubt, why the book appeared better in retrospect than it did while I was reading it. This is one of those plots where the end is so worthwhile that it makes the trip getting there seem all the more satisfying on reflection. While reading the book, I was sure that I’d rate it only three stars; however, once I finished it, I was convinced that four stars was more appropriate.

The story tracks a half a year in the lives of two main characters. They each tell their own stories in alternating chapters and voices. First, there is Charles Cooper, a twenty-eight-year-old penman, in other words, a person who makes his living by writing documents for other people using elaborate, artistic penmanship. To add interest to this theme, the book takes place at the same time that the first typewriters where being introduced into New England. As the book opens, Charles is still grieving the loss of his wife and son in a house fire four years earlier. Charles is a cultured, educated member of a vibrant emerging new middle class.

The second main character is Lily Prescott, a beautiful, uninhibited, impulsive and passionate young woman who describes herself as a bird trapped in a gilded cage. She is a woman born to privilege, money, and high-society; however, not far beyond her teenage years, she finds herself completely on her own, having been thrust out into the world by a disapproving family because she had a brief affair with the working-class son of a family servant—an affair that resulted in the birth of a baby girl.

Charles and Lilly come together when the young woman employs Charles to create an ornamental birth certificate for her infant daughter. Lilly is enchanted by the art of calligraphy and imagines that she might be able to learn the art and make a living through it. She reasons that since her family has disowned her, she needs a profession and being a calligrapher appeals to her. She hires Charles to teach her.

The plot is complicated by a local murder mystery and many different plot threads, all revolving around the complexity and difficulty of being a woman in this period. These themes include wife abuse, postpartum depression, mental and physical exhaustion, hysteria, and madness.

Read the book if you enjoy becoming part of a different historical period. In particular, read the book if you are interested in the early history of New Haven. The author excels at creating an authentic period piece. The plot is a lovely light Victorian romance combined with an ancillary murder mystery that aids the overall plot development more than it provides any kind of suspense or complexity of clues. The prose is effective and skillful. Both the male and the female characterizations ring true and authentic. ( )
  msbaba | Jan 31, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a very pleasant but unexceptional tale about penman Charles Cooper, who is commissioned to scribe a birth certificate for the baby daughter of young, unmarried Lily Preston. Since this is the mid-nineteenth century, Lily's situation is rather shocking. But Charles falls for her anyway, and the novel follows his bashful pursuit of her, as well as his involvement in solving a murder case. ( )
  elzbthp | Jan 20, 2014 |
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White River Press

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