Like a Flower in Bloom by Siri Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
1852, England. Charlotte Withersby cannot believe her ears. Is it possible that her uncle really intends for her to join society? To find a husband, settle down, and give up her beloved study of botany? It seems too cruel to be true except that her father also agrees with him, to the point that he has hired a young man to take her place at his side. Having lost her mother at an early age and also been cloistered away from society for so many years, Charlotte lacks tact and societal graces. However, she is still able to attract two men of the village in which she lives. Except that Charlotte's motivations are actually governed by choosing men she hopes will not be pleasing to her father and that he will take her back as his assistant and caretaker. She cannot bear to let Edward Trimble, the young man now working at her father's side, change everything in their lives, and not even the encouraging words of her new friend, Miss Templeton, can entirely uplift her spirits. Everything she loves, everything she does that is of value, is in danger of being snatched from her, but Charlotte little realizes the true peril of playing with a man's heart to achieve some other purpose. Her road, for a little while, is set on a different path, one that will challenge her to branch out into new experiences and perhaps learn a little discernment along the way.
I love this book. I'm just going to state it, plain and simple, because I don't get to say it often enough! I'm fond of Siri Mitchell's writing in general, but had yet to read one of her books that I could rate as 5 stars, at least until this very moment. Like a Flower in Bloom is a success in every way. Charlotte is charming in her lack of societal graces, her lack of pretense and her blunt honesty. She is an ISTJ if ever there was one, on the Myers-Briggs scale of personality typing. And I think I found her most intriguing because I rarely ever read a female character with this type. Highly introverted, highly intellectual, and brutally honest. It doesn't matter to her whether something is done this way in society if that something is absurd and has little bearing on her life. Why don't people understand botany? How can they possibly consider an artistic rendering of a flower to be accurate when it is missing its stamens and pistils? She is refreshingly delightful in her blunt nature, and because Ms. Mitchell crafted her with also a generous heart, I came to adore Charlotte.
One of the things I admire most about Ms. Mitchell's books is her ability to change her writing voice. Not all authors manage this feat successfully, but her voice in this book is completely different from her voice in Love Comes Calling set in the 1920s, which is different from her voice in A Constant Heart set during the reign of Elizabeth I. She lends authenticity to each of her novels by this remarkable ability to change out her writing voice, but by far, my favorite of her voice's used to this point is the one she chose for Charlotte. I was there, walking with Charlotte through her journey, feeling her pain as she is being forced into a new life not of her choosing, but the ending was delightful. As with most romances, the reader knows how the book must end, but I felt like I was in a race to get there because even though I knew what would happen, I was desperate to see just how it would happen.
If there is a downside, which there really isn't, it's that I didn't get to know the hero very well, obviously Edward Trimble. Oh, you engage with him regularly, and his interaction with Charlotte is delightful, but he has some secrets that he's keeping and because of that, you don't know him. I didn't truly mind that about him, though, because he is quite likeable anyway. As are all the characters, from her uncle who dared to go into something other than botany to her eccentric father to the kindly Miss Templeton to the absurd young men who take an interest in Charlotte . . . the wealthy aristocrat with his collection of stumps and the widower parson possessed of 8 children. The characters, the plot, the setting, it was all pure delight. As was the history lesson of how an intelligent woman in the 1800s might find her scientific research purloined and published by a man instead. I had no idea that sexism was so terribly rampant. I suspected it had to be, but I had never read a book like this before that made the truth of sexism so perfectly clear. Also, yes, the book cover is lovely, but I confess that its inaccuracies to the era plague me. Still, it's quite pretty and I can overlook the flaws.
Finally, readers should know that Ms. Mitchell always writes in the 1st person, so if you struggle with that style of writing, as I used to struggle, bear that in mind. She does it the best of any author I have read so if you're branching out into 1st person, her work is a good place to start. I truly congratulate Ms. Mitchell on her quality work in her latest novel, a book I shall treasure for a long time to come and recommend to all lovers of historic fiction.
- I received this book free from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.
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