I was nervous about this book after reading the less-than-stellar review of it, but decided to read it anyway, since it was already here.
I found it to be quite entertaining. I enjoyed the mystery and the characters. I'm a sucker for a good mystery, and although I had some of it figured out before the heroine did, there were some aspects of the mystery that surprised me.
I did find some of the sentence structures to be awkward, and found myself correcting them in my head as I read. I didn't think the big words were that strange for who the narrator was--an educated woman of some means--and I guess I just thought they fit the time period.
The one piece of factual information that bugged me the most was her comment on Benjamin Franklin being a Quaker, which he was not.
Anyway, for me, it turned out to be a fun, quick read. It wasn't the best historical fiction or mystery I've read, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.
I didn't enjoy this book very much at all and probably should have set it aside as a DNF. But sheer stubbornness prevailed; largely in part because I don't think someone should be overly critical of a book that one didn't finish.
First the good - the basic plot outline for the book was very good. The actual mystery around the murder was unique and had some potential. The cast & setting was also good - attractive mid-thirties widow (Abigail) who runs a tavern for a beloved uncle in New Brunswick, New Jersey during the Revolutionary War. To complete the cast, we also have a winsome daughter of 15, two devoted servants (manumitted slaves), a couple of local gossips, several possible suitors for our widow's affections, and the British army who has chosen New Brunswick & most specifically our widow's tavern as their home during the winter. There are several potential "bad guys," and some subplots going on that should have given the story some depth.
Unfortunately, this book is written as if Ms. Swee just completed a creative class and is trying to get everything she learned into each chapter. There is a definite lack of sophistication and smoothness to her writing that quickly became annoying. As only one example, her sentence structure is often unnecessarily cumbersome, i.e.: "The billeting of so many young British officers in their brass-buttoned red jackets and tight buff pants, with their gentlemanly manners and soft accents, greatly increased the temptation for my attractive, although naive, daughter." One lesson she didn't learn in her creative writing class is the need to "show" the reader what you want them to know, rather than just "tell" them.
There were also some errors in the details. For example: as our widow finally starts figuring some things out, she "recalls" learning something someone else had told her. Only, not only had the person not told Abigail this, at the time of the actual conversation, Abigail remarks to herself that the person had not answered the question. This kind of editing error drives me a bit nuts.
I don't know anything about today's young adult fiction, but this may be a candidate for high school libraries. In fact, I can hear the English teacher making the assignment: "Find at least ten new words. Find at least three other literary or historical references in this book. Find an example of descriptive writing." ... And it's almost like Ms. Swee knew the book report outline in advance.
There is an interesting tendency to use a multi-syllable and/or more-difficult-than-it-needs-to-be word within the first couple of pages of most chapters. So for the first part of the assignment, I offer the following: supercilious, catharsis (as in "... throwing my arms around him in a catharsis of unacknowledged anxiety"), supernumerary, postprandial (as in "postprandial cleaning"), ephemeral, approbation, sagacious, semi-sentience, subjugation and so on. It would be one thing if the rest of her writing went with these $5.00 words, but it just doesn't.
Regarding literary or other historical references: we have Romeo & Lothario, as in "didn't know he was such a Lothario" or "he's not the Romeo he thinks he is" (I'm paraphrasing here a bit; don't have the actual quotes). (Would "Romeo" or "Lothario" even be a part of common vernacular in 1777 New Jersey; used as terms to describe a man's nature?). Then there are references to William Shakespeare and his play Romeo & Juliet, and to the ancient Anglo-Saxon woman warrior Boadicea. At another point reference is made to the architecture of a house having Greek columns in the Ionic style.
Such literary references are as forced in this book as are other aspects such as the dialog, plot development, action scenes, character development, etc.
Back to my "book report" and an example of descriptive writing: "To the left of the door as you entered was the beautiful Chippendale desk Uncle Samuel had left for my use. It had a base of two locking drawers topped by a slanting lid which folded down to make a desk. When the desk was opened, a glorious multitude of compartments and small drawers was revealed. I delighted in the touch of its smooth walnut wood and in the golden-brown finish reflecting the candlelight by which I paid my bills and kept my ledgers."
So, perhaps a young adult book? It may not even be suitable for this audience as we do have one sex scene. This is not a rape, but rather a "forced attempt" type of thing, where "His trousers were down about his ankles, his knees on either side of Beth's hips, his erect member jutting out from under his shirt."
Is this too graphic or undesirable in a young adult book? I truly have no idea.
In conclusion, and in my admittedly amateur opinion, this book seems rather a mess. I don't recommend it and will not be reading anything else by this author. A meager two stars (out of five) only because I would be too embarrassed to admit that I read anything that I would rate below a two!