Disclaimer: Back in 2010 I won a contest the author hosted to attend an event at the Biltmore Estate. I had to get myself to North Carolina, but the hotel room and admission was paid for. After I met her in person, she named the town librarian in her book Love on the Line after me. Do you think I've read that book yet? Of course not. But My Mom read it and really loved it (because, of course she did).One of the things I love about being a reader is that sometimes you actually get to witness magic happen. Those times in your life, as a reader, when the right book just magically happens to find you at the right time. Such is the case with Deeanne Gist's latest historical romance, Tiffany Girl. Is it a perfect book? Well, no. But what works about it, really works - to the point where I finished it lying in bed (instead of going to sleep) with my throat clogging up and tears rolling down my cheeks. A story that generates that kind of emotional response out of me is a winner in my book.
Flossie Jayne is an art student who still lives at home with her parents in New York City. By day, she paints at school. The rest of the time she toils with her mother sewing fabulous clothes for the upper echelons of society while her barber father takes the money they earn straight to the race track. By today's standards, Flossie is no radical. But this is 1893 and a young woman making her way in the world, on her own, with her own job, and her own money, is pretty much viewed as the fall of western civilization. When her father decrees no more art school, Flossie is determined to strike out on her own - which she does thanks to Louis Tiffany. He's designing a glorious stained glass chapel for the upcoming Chicago World's Fair and the glass cutter's union has just gone on strike. He shows up at Flossie's school with the plan to have women do the work, and handpicks her to join the ranks of his women's department.
But Flossie still has the problem of her father. If she lives at home, he'll take her Tiffany earnings.
"I'd love to have children, Mother, but I can't seem to work up any enthusiasm for a husband who will withhold money from me when I'm the one earning it and who will keep me on a leash because he thinks he knows better than I what's best for me."So she decides to move into a boardinghouse, practically giving her parents a fit of the vapors in the process, and soon befriends all the fellow boarders. Well, except for Reeve Wilder, investigative journalist:
He'd mentioned the Tiffany Girl to his editor at the New York World. It had spurred a long discussion between them which culminated in an assignment where Reeve was to write a series of exposes on this breed of New Women who were trying to infiltrate what had been - and what should certainly remain - man's rightful and exclusive dominions.What follows is Flossie turning Reeve's world upside down and both doing a lot of growing up.
Honestly, this story could have been a disaster. Flossie isn't a radical suffragette screeching on street corners and getting dragged off to jail. She's simply a woman who wants more for herself than what society deems as "acceptable" for that time period. And Reeve isn't an Alphahole jerk - he simply just thinks like, I'm sure, a lot of men thought about women in the late 19th century. Gist makes neither of these characters wholly right or wholly wrong. Reeve brings up valid points, like that Flossie is, essentially, a scab crossing the picket line. Flossie brings up valid points, like that just because she's a "New Woman" that doesn't mean she has loose morals.
Flossie is, of course, a ray of sunshine that turns the boardinghouse world upside down. Reeve begins to resent this intrusion for "reasons." She somehow manages to escape falling into the Mary Sue trap, because frankly - she does have a lot of growing up to do. Flossie is a touch naive and events happen over the course of the story where she finds herself learning some hard lessons. I liked that everything she touched didn't automatically turn to gold. Reeve is a lonely man, borderline hermit, who slowly changes his way of thinking about New Women the more he gets to know Flossie. The romance is a slow build, and as the characters grow up, so does the romance blossom.
A word now about The Sex. Gist got her start in inspirational romances, but with the last couple of books she's strayed a bit away from that territory and gone more Straight Up Americana. You get the impression that the characters attend church, read the Bible, and have faith, but calling this an inspirational strains at the seams. The author has gotten a lot of flack in certain circles (cough GoodReads cough) for this "pornographic" turn of events - so let me address it here.
There isn't a single sex scene in this book. Not a one. What we have is a passionate kissing scene where Reeve and Flossie succumb after sharing a dance - but immediately jump apart when they hear a door slam in the boardinghouse. Then (and I don't consider this a spoiler because hello, romance novel) the book ends on their wedding night with Reeve undoing the gazillion tiny buttons on Flossie's wedding ensemble and getting her (slowly I might add) out of her multitude of underthings. We don't actually GET a sex scene. It's fade to black with Reeve helping her undress.
This all being said, I think I understand why some readers are up in arms because Gist does more with those "gentle" G-rated scenes then some erotic romance authors do with the most kinky of fetishes. The slow build of the romance in this story gives the readers plenty of tension and chemistry. I'd be totally comfortable giving this book to my teenage niece (if The Hunger Games didn't warp her, this book certainly won't) or to my long-past pious grandmother. But I'm a deviant, so what do I know?
The story isn't perfect. The pacing bogs down on occasion and while I liked the Tiffany "stuff" - I was much more interested in the boardinghouse dynamic. I would kill for a historical romance that is all boardinghouse all the time actually. But it's all worth it for the emotional scenes when Flossie confronts Reeve over a Big Secret, and Reeve realizes 1) crap, I'm in love with her and 2) she's right, I can't keep living like this - I'm lonely as hell.
There's a lot here I liked, and a lot I really loved - including the Americana-feel and the big emotional scenes that spur our couple to their happy ending. I feel quite strongly that there aren't enough stories like this circling the romance universe and if you feel anything like I do? Don't miss this one.
Final Grade = A-