Saturday, October 2, 2010

Masquerade by Nancy Moser Review

1886, New York City: Charlotte Gleason, a rich heiress from England, escapes a family crisis by traveling to America in order to marry the even wealthier Conrad Tremaine. She soon decides that an arranged marriage is not for her and persuades her maid, Dora, to take her place. What begins as the whim of a spoiled rich girl wanting adventure becomes a test of survival amid poverty beyond Charlotte's blackest nightmares.

As for Dora, she lives a fairy tale complete with gowns, jewels, and lavish mansions--yet is tormented by guilt and the presence of another love that will not die. Will their masquerade be discovered? Will one of them have second thoughts? There is no guarantee the switch will work. It's a risk. It's the chance of a lifetime.

My take: This book started out with the predictable "Prince and the Pauper" scenario. Dora becomes Charlotte, and enters the world of the rich while Charlotte becomes Lottie and lives the world of the poor.  The story, itself, is well written and the characters demonstrate growth and empathy for the other half by the end of the book.  Both protagonists are quite likeable by then.  Not so much at the first of the book.

The reason this book stands out is the detail and research the author put into the story regarding the extreme poverty of the first slum in America.  The stifling and horrendous conditions leading to a number of infant deaths and orphanages.  Placing rich and entitled Charlotte into these conditions was expected.  Having her experience the very worst in all its shocking and filthy glory was not. 

The new American royalty (what the very rich in New York wanted to call themselves) was extravagant beyond all imagination.  Coincidentally, a colleague and I were discussing this time period and the Gilded age the very day before I started this book.  He showed me the mansions built by the elite "400" which were more elaborate than the palaces inhabited by European royalty.  Google "Biltmore."  Now pick your jaw off the floor.

My biggest financial dream is to have granite counter tops.  In comparison, I am poor, white trailer trash. 

Another source of interest is the list of facts at the end of the book.  The author clearly used an incredible amount research for this story, which makes it that much more sweet.  Not only was the story interesting, albeit somewhat predictable up to a point, but also a well researched introduction to immigration and America at this time period. The gap between the classes was staggering.

Interesting read and strongly recommended. 
Rated G. 
4 stars

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