Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper by Kathleen Y'Barbo

publisher: WaterBrook
rating: ***

Eugenia "Gennie" Cooper loves the dime novel rollicks and rampages of Wild West adventurer, Mae Winslow. Long into the night, Gennie forgets she is urban high society and steals between the pages to spirit away with her heroine.

After all, Mae doesn't face prospective marriage to a posh banker and a future of status and a quietly domestic life. In fact, Mae doesn't need men at all.

When an opportunity arises to secretly stow away to the barren west and pose as a governess, Gennie grabs it .... But working for Daniel Beck and his precocious daughter, Charlotte, is a lot more than this adventurer-in-training bargained for.

The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper
has a great premise and Y'Barbo structures it with class. The events unfolding in each chapter are ushered in with a preambulatory snippet from a Mae Winslow book. Y'Barbo does an exceptional job of re-creating the popular fiction of yesteryear---down to dialogue and loopy plot.

Y'Barbo also provides some sizzle that gives Julie Lessman's overt passion some stark competition. Hilarity and more than a little spark ensue when Daniel and Gennie first meet
( one of my favourite meetings in recent Christian fiction) giving way to a palpable chemistry that had this reader giggling and turning the page for more.

You have oft heard me rant about italicized prayer. Unfortunately, one of the weaknesses of Y'Barbo's book is a heavy reliance on it. Lynn Austin seems to be able to infuse her work with a reverence and a nod to Christian thought and devotion without this cliche technique--- I wish her contemporaries would follow her lead! It has become somewhat synonymous with Christian fiction in the secular marketplace( as denoted by my secular friends, it is one point they mock in a genre that ---albeit they know little about ---they stay away from and one such reason why).

The other weakness of the book is a long, drawn-out and stale sequence involving a bedroom scene, Daniel in a sheet-toga and a misinterpreted motive. This lost me, unfortunately, and the pace with which I had happily galloped through the first pages slowed.

The book picked up, to its merit, with an implausible ( but wholly suited to a Mae Winslow book or one of its ilk) climax and end.

A few endorsements spout off the similarities between Y'Barbo and Cathy Marie Hake. Sure, there are similar settings and plots but Hake has made me cringe before with poor writing, incest and abuse subplots ( note to authors: if you want to be labeled as having a genre-identity crisis be sure to add abuse and incest to otherwise light and fluffy romantic comedies) and bad modern dialogue in historical settings. Y'Barbo seems to do the opposite---to do right where Hake can go so dismally wrong.

Y'Barbo is a confident, strong and original author whose voice is well-needed to spice up the popularity of this type of story in today's marketplace. The characters leapt off the page at me and, more importantly I will remember them as I seek out more of Y'Barbo's work. While previous publications stray a little too far into romantic territory for me, I guarantee I will read her future offerings for WaterBrook.

Happy Reading

My thanks to the kind folks at WaterBrook for tossing this bookish Canadian some reading material!

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