The House of Closed Doors by Jane Steen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A thoroughly enjoyable romantic historical novel set in America in the late 1800s where choices for a young woman were limited by background and convention.
Our heroine Nell having lived a sheltered and privileged life, decides she wants to experience life before or even if she settles down and marries. Nevertheless she succumbs to the temptation to flirt with a personable young man who enters her life and almost without realising it can have happened finds herself unmarried and pregnant a scandalous state of affairs.
Deciding she must stick to her guns and remain single she resolutely refuses to name the child's father, (although how nobody manages to work it out seeing she meets so few men is a bit beyond me) Her own harsh stepfather happens to be a governor of a poor farm, an institution for the unfortunate members of society, mentally infirm, feeble minded, unwed mothers and sends Nell there to await the birth of her child decreeing that once it is born it can be adopted.
Although the circumstances and surroundings are far from Nells own background, living in the institution is not nearly as bad as she imagined as it is compassionately run by Mrs Lombardi. Nell who is an accomplished and keen needleworker and stitcher is encouraged to work as the farms seamstress, and working thus gives her satisfaction and the company of another inmate with whom she builds a strong friendship - Tess, abandoned by her family for being "feeble minded" It is clear from her description that Tess has Downs syndrome, she is feisty. bright and loving, I loved Tess.
Tess temporarily takes over the place in Nells affections of Nells best friend Martin who she misses lots as he has previoulsy always been there for her as a platonic family friend
However Nell uncovers a mystery in this establishment when two bodies are discovered and she suspects foul play and is determined to uncover the culprit.
Meanwhile her child is born and she discovers that parting with her is not going to be something she can consider, baby Sarah is the most endearingly written baby, usually authors gloss over the difficult task of character building for an infant too small to even speak but this author does it so well I could really picture the little mite and wanted to hug her.
The story was left open for a sequel and I'd love to read what happens next and possibly have my hopes throughout the book for a romance for Nell, which I felt we were being led towards which sadly didn't come to fruition.
Thank you to the friend who recommended it saying I'd enjoy it - I very much did. Lovely writing, great characters, really enjoyed it.
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