There is an awesome moment in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm where the loquacious and spirited Rebecca prays for the souls of the heathen in far away lands. At her time in history, worlds like Africa and the orphaned children and harsh situations not only stirred her heart; but captured her imagination and she prays with flourish that they will thrive.
At the beginning of Anne Mateer’s fabulous and spunky new novel At Every Turn, the equally spirited Alyce Benson has the same heart and conviction stirred when a missionary couple visits her church and Alyce impetuously stands up and promises three thousand dollars for their work on the Gold Coast. Sure, Alyce’s father is rich; but despite her grandmother’s best efforts, both Alyce’s parents are skeptical of the church as a philandering institution where people lose money in the fever of hype. Alyce is just going to have to raise the money herself.
Luckily, Alyce has a unique talent anomalous to most young ladies in 1916 America: Alyce can drive an automobile like nobody’s business. Her father’s mechanic, Webster Little, takes her out to practice: goggles shading her face, her bobbed hair hidden by a brown cap and the world, in these moments, is Alyce’s own. Is there a chance that Alyce could use her unique passion to raise the money needed to live up to her promise? Only time will tell. Along the way, Alyce is forced into small deceptions of identity, moments of heart-felt ( and funny in their compassionate calamity) charity which inspires her to give the money she is slowly raising to those in her own community, and questions of conscience and heart. While Webster Little’s whistle echoes from the shop on her father’s estate, so does Lawrence Trotter’s handsome face and safe job as her father’s accountant (as well as his regular church attendance) seem to meet her demands for a faith-based mate.
Adventure, deception, Hilarity and a lot of racing ensue in what is by far the most unique historical romance I have read in the CBA this year.
Ally is a whip-smart, funny and believable character. She is deliciously flawed and touching in her penchant for disaster. The scrapes and mix-ups she finds herself in are born of her good heart. She desperately wants to do right (think Anne Shirley ); but can’t help but steer herself off course. While her mother wants her to be a proper, well-bred lady; she can’t help but thinking she was shaped for something different. There are touching moments in Alyce’s first-person narrative ( a device I don’t usually enjoy; but which is well-employed and well written here) when Alyce wonders, while strolling on the arm of Lawrence Trotter, if maybe she was made for a traditional women’s existence. Of course, the lure of the race track and Webster’s new car tend to throw that delightfully off-kilter and askew.
Webster Little, with his resounding whistle, shady past and general good-humour, as well as his passion for automobiles, will put devout Montgomery readers in mind of Barney Snaith of The Blue Castle. The time period of the setting and the yearning of a woman desperate to break the mold of society and venture forth on a daring mission full of wonderful adventures reminded me of Valancy. It was then that I remembered a comment on a friend’s review of The Blue Castle last year Anne Mateer’s comment that it was one of her favourite books (it is, as I have learned from conversation, also a favourite of the Pink Carnation series creator Lauren Willig and of CBA master-worker Laura Frantz). Anyone who admits to loving this book and somehow, subconsciously, allows its inspiration and similarities to seep into their work is a truly kindred spirit and a “friend” of mine.
I loved wiling away a few lazy hours with At Every Turn. You’ll grin, you’ll shake your head at the antics of Ally and you’ll root for her: a woman ahead of her time, to not only win the race and raise the money, but also to find ultimate romance and adventure.
Well done, Anne Mateer. This was a competent and boisterously exuberant offering and I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next.
See my review of Wings of a Dream
Read how Anne Mateer envisioned the characters ( with period-specific detail and photos!) here
I received this book for review from Graf-Martin Communications on behalf of Bethany House