Top critical review
Good writing, but with flaws (spoiler-free)
Reviewed in the United States on June 6, 2020
On the good side is an interesting heroine whose emotional journey is one that I can identify with as she grows from her experiences. The writing is well done, but I was annoyed by the malapropisms. For example, the writer used "inculcate" when the correct word should have been "inoculate." Minor stuff to others, but I read, edit, and have written historicals and it is just as easy to get things right as wrong. Her editor & copy editor should have been paying more attention, at least. Things like that jerk me right out of the narrative.
Historical details were accurate, though I have doubts about the common use of film reels in 1899. Movie cameras and reels were around then, but for even the widely read Tillie to be familiar with their workings was a bit much to expect. It was used as a metaphor to describe a certain experience, and the metaphor was forced.
What the author truly captured was the suffocating life of a young female whose only use in her slice of the world was to marry well, have babies, and be grateful if her husband didn't beat her too much. A scene with Tillie's horrible grandmother was terrifyingly well done, little wonder Tillie embraced her "medicine" to escape the emotional turmoil of a dysfunctional family. Running away is never an option, since it was perfectly legal to dump an inconvenient relative into a madhouse until they came to heel.
Tillie has a long and complicated journey to find her sister's killer, but it was somewhat annoying that so many people she encountered seemed to be eccentric in a negative way. However, since socially awkward Tillie was unlikely to attract "normals" it can be overlooked. We tend to wear rosy glasses about the past, but it was pretty awful. I doubt many of us today could have survived such hard times. Social reforms were in their infancy and cheek and jowl against developing technical advances. The writer avoided being in your face about it, weaving that background naturally into the story.
What drags this into 2-3 star rating territory is the fact that Tillie chooses an unrealistic, utterly *idiotic* risk to her life and to the lives around her in her quest. I wanted to grab the writer and demand "W-T-F?? That's flat out bloody STUPID, what were you thinking???!!" I could go on, but let it suffice that this reader won't be back for seconds. It was a deal-breaker.
The writer could have at least covered her behind with Tillie noting that she was not being rational at the time. If it was there, I missed it, because I was in a mighty struggle to not fling my e-reader across the room in disgust. After that point I was skim-reading just to finish the book, not because I cared about the main character. I'd lost all respect for her and the author's plotting skills.
This became beach reading, read once and drop the book into the donation pile. (Can't do that with an e-book, alas.) I was engrossed for a time, but won't bother with any future books. I cannot trust the writer who allows a character who's TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) to run the show.
The only character I liked was Ada the maid. Had the story been from her point of view, I'd have enjoyed it more and been rooting for the family to lock Tillie up. Ada herself went off the rails at a crucial point, which conveniently served to put Tillie in danger. As another writer has mentioned, "Convenience is the death of a good story."
The ending narrative had a number of loose ends to tie up and I could almost see a list next to the writer's keyboard as she checked things off, turn on turn, a paragraph for each. I recommend the writer see how more experienced authors deal with that sort of thing so it is not so evident. It was disappointing that more of the supporting characters did not wise up and make better choices, but it was not surprising, considering the choices Tillie herself made.