“So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” [Mark Twain as quoted in Love’s Fortune]
Ah, an adventure awaits.
“For the rest of his life James Sackett would remember this moment.”
What about this moment is special?
“Papa had forsaken his black mourning band.”
Oh my, what does that portend for young Wren?
Laura Frantz opens the door—just a sliver—into a world unfamiliar to us and then quickly plunges us into the culture shock Wren faces in tumultuous mid-nineteenth century America.
There Frantz’s cast of varied and strongly-motivated characters face dilemmas aplenty as they navigate through treacherous steamboat travel, slavery debates, and debut seasons. They are so richly presented, I can almost see with Wren the river made golden at sunset, inhale the mingled fragrance of cut wood and varnish, ache with James at the tough choices, feel the chilly condescension when Andra or Elspeth enter a room.
Frantz’s deft hand and thorough research bring alive the steamboat travel along the Ohio River, the cramped streets and luxurious upper crust homes of Pittsburgh. Did you know that before a wedding, Pittsburgh society brides had to be wrapped in a sheet to keep their gowns from getting sooty? Or that tobacco and molasses were shipped in a hogshead? (Not as gross as it sounds, a hogshead is a size of barrel.) Or that each steamboat had a distinctive whistle allowing folks on shore to know which boat was arriving? (Clever and extremely helpful in those days before cell phones.)
The hundreds of specific details Frantz includes make history come alive, and the setting so real you can feel the fresh air and freedom as Wren runs barefoot across the Kentucky hills. Along with Wren, I smile watching glamorous couples dance beneath the glittering lights of the ballroom and feel every pinch of high society’s conventions and corsets. I could easily slip into the music room and sway to the melody and eavesdrop in a hallway or on a garden stroll. The world Wren Ballantyne enters is so real, we step in right along with her—wishing at times she could hear our whisper,..
… “This way, Wren.” Or, “Don’t listen to the scoundrel’s slick words.” Or, “This is a person you can trust. That one? Most certainly is not.”
Frantz’s prose is rich and sings like the music Wren makes with her fiddle. She creates a world that throbs with life, filled with joy and sorrow, pride and shame, struggle and celebration, conflict and triumph. And story threads, like a spring, are wound tighter with each chapter. Speaking of chapters, Frantz goes to the extra trouble of selecting an epigraph to introduce each one~~small gems in themselves. A gift, indeed.
So whatever makes a good novel for you~~high-stakes action, compelling characters, or a setting that takes you someplace new~~you will find it between the covers of Love’s Fortune. Frantz is skilled at the elements of writing good fiction—vivid characters, rich setting, taut plot lines. And also using the subtlety, red herrings, and misdirection of engrossing mysteries.
But there is more, much more. Some authors have a way of weaving simple words, sentences, and paragraphs into a glittering jewel that is more than the sum of its parts. Laura Frantz is one of those, and we readers are the beneficiaries of her alchemy-like ability to transform these elements into a tale that Narnia-like captures and carries us into a satisfying journey. Love’s Fortune is a tale that unfurls at times with the grit and scrape of a coil of hemp rope, at others with the caress and shimmery mystery of a spool of moire ribbon. A tale that kept me reading until the dawn broke.
Oops, need to give you a brief plot insight. Here’s the back cover copy: “Sheltered since birth at her Kentucky home, Rowena “Wren” Ballantyne has heard only whispered rumors of her grandfather Silas’s vast fortune and grand manor in Pennsylvania. When her father receives a rare letter summoning him to New Hope, Wren makes the journey with him and quickly finds herself in a whole new world–filled with family members she’s never met, dances she’s never learned, and a new side to the father she thought she knew. As she struggles to fit in during their extended stay, she finds a friend in James Sackett, the most valued steamship pilot of the Ballantynes’ shipping line. Even with his help, Wren feels she may never be comfortable in high society. Will she go her own way . . . to her peril?
With her signature attention to historical detail, Laura Frantz brings 1850s Pennsylvania alive with a tender story of loss, love, and loyalty.”
You can learn about Laura’s other books and why she loves writing about Kentucky at her website: www.laurafrantz.net