In too many historical romances, the authors take great pains to get the period details correct. However, they often forget to have their characters act in period as well. The clothing may be described accurately, actual events may be incorporated into the plot, but the people in the story are nothing more than our contemporaries moving through a different time. As I read Woven Dreams, I kept thinking not about a spinster and a cop in 1863 New York, but about a pair of hippies during the Summer of Love.
arah Granger is desperate to find a way to keep her orphanage running. It’s the height of the Civil War, and most of her benefactors have no money to spare for charity, even one as worthy as hers. Despondent, she stumbles across a murder scene – a woman’s been knifed, and the only witnesses to the crime are a baby girl and a young boy carrying a small quilt with a peculiar bird pattern. The policeman who’s investigating, Benjamin McCauley, would like to get his hands on the blanket for the clues it might contain, but Sarah refuses to hand it over, since it’s the only thing that will calm the boy, whose name is Conlan.
Benjamin’s been patrolling the slums of New York for years, and he’s aware of Miss Granger’s reputation as an angel to the police-hating poor. Knowing that seeking out her company will not make her life any easier, he can’t keep away from the attractive head of the orphanage, not even pretending that he’s coming back just for the quilt. When Sarah hatches a plan to have the children make quilts to sell in order to survive, Benjamin tries to talk her out of it; whoever killed that woman surely knows about Conlan’s blanket, and might come back to make more trouble for Sarah and the children. In the volatile atmosphere of the hot New York summer, how is Benjamin going to convince Sarah to give up her foolish plan, and trust him enough to help her?
The word that best describes my reaction to this book is probably “annoyed.” I chafed under the weight of the constant referrals to quilting. In addition to Conlan’s blanket, there are the quilts the orphans are making. And of course, when Benjamin and Sarah consummate their love, it’s – you guessed it – on top of a quilt, the one Sarah sewed for her trousseau. I felt as if I was being smothered in the quilt metaphor.
The hero and heroine act as if they’re living in the 1960’s, not the 1860’s. Having guarded her virginity against the smooth-talking charm of her late fiance, Sarah thinks nothing of giving it to Benjamin at almost the first opportunity, and he demonstrates very little compunction in taking it from her. Moreover, at a time in American history when anti-Catholic prejudices ran high on every level of society, I think it’s rather unlikely that a preacher’s daughter like Sarah would completely disregard the fact that the man she’s falling in love with is Catholic. On top of that, there’s a subplot involving Sarah’s welcoming two more children, the orphans of a freed slave; this does nothing to endear her to her neighbors, but it struck me as an implausible addition.
You can’t have a romance novel without sexual tension, and the best writers can work it into their tales seamlessly. Here, it seems tacked on, not stitched in invisibly. It was as if there were little Post-it Notes in the text: “Insert sexual tension here,” often in the most unlikely places and times, such as Sarah and Benjamin’s meeting with his commander. These instances remove the reader from the narrative flow and seem incongruous when juxtaposed to the events of the book. When a person’s life is in danger, it doesn’t seem reasonable to assume he or she will be musing on making love.
Add the old chestnut “evil/good identical twins,” a servant Sarah really should have known better than to trust, and the unnecessary red herring of a Snidely Whiplash-esque businessman, and my annoyance was complete. Too many dead-end plot elements, too much artificial insertion of sexual tension, and slightly creaky writing spoiled this read for me. If you’ve liked others in the Jove Quilting line, you may enjoy this one. As for me, I’ll let someone else cover the next one.