The House of Closed Doors - Jane Steen "Even a lie told for a good purpose has a way of perpetuating itself, doesn't it?"

A woman living in the 1870's doesn't have a lot of options for a career, but becoming pregnant and not being married is even worse. This is the situation that Eleanor "Nell" Lillington finds herself in. When she refuses to disclose the father (not wanting to be married), her father sends her to a Poor Farm where she is to give birth to the child and eventually give the child up for adoption. But the discovery of a double murder along with the people she interacts with daily has a great effect on Nell and forces her to do some serious growing up.

NOTE: I received a free version of this from the author, who happens to be a Goodreads friend of mine.

Some of the first books I remember my mother reading to me were the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories. I adored Laura Ingalls Wilder; I probably read each book several times by myself, once I "outgrew" my mom reading to me. And I also read many of the books based on the events after Laura's own books (such as the Rose Wilder series).

While I am probably more of a science fiction/fantasy girl, I still enjoy reading a nice historical. And this book, while a bit out of my historical fiction range (I typically like ancient historicals) sounded pretty interesting. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read this novel.

First off, I was greatly impressed with the writing. I've heard horror stories of self-published authors' works, how they are barely or sloppily edited, with grammar and spelling mistakes galore. Not so here. I think I found only two formatting issues, and I saw absolutely no glaring grammar and spelling mistakes. Not to mention, the story has a great flow to it. Nell has a crisp, clean voice (thank God for the use of First Person Past! I am so sick of First Person Present!) that balances between sounding old-fashioned without the challenge that modern readers may have in reading it.

The characters were vivid and realistic. I wasn't necessarily a fan of Nell in the beginning, but I really did like how she grew throughout the novel. By the end, she has definitely been changed; she is becoming an independent woman like she wanted, but is also learning how to be responsible. I was impressed with Tess' character; she is one of the "feeble-minded" (that is, she has Down's Syndrome), but she is not one of those wise, squeaky-clean, perfect little "children" that I've seen in many other media. Tess makes mistakes; at one point, she procures alcohol via shady means to get information out of someone. I also appreciated how she didn't act superior or pious or made Nell realize how good Nell had it. Tess was a character, flawed and multi-dimensioned.

In the beginning, I kinda rolled my eyes at Martin. I was thinking, "A guy that isn't interested in women? How likely would that be?" But I told myself to shut up and ride it through; in the end, Martin becomes a lot more interesting as well. (Furthermore--and this is assuming that Martin is gay--homosexuality is not something that just popped out of the ground in the 20th century--we've only been (somewhat) more open of the practice and (sometimes) less judgmental now, so that people don't have to hide their sexuality anymore.)

Other characters were pretty well-done. Mama seemed like a sweet, flawed woman. Hiram felt a bit Evil Villain at times. Mrs. Lombardi was a great mentor to Nell (loved to see more women than just our female protagonist!). I wasn't so fond of Tilly and the "loose" women, as they seemed to be a little catty. Not saying that women aren't like that, just that it felt a bit much.

The story itself was really interesting. It has been awhile since I read a book set in this time period ("Gone with the Wind" was probably the last one), so I liked the setting. Nell strikes a good balance of being time appropriate and wanting her independence. I liked seeing Nell grow up, to feel the Victory surroundings (not enough books are set in the Mid-West!), and to experience the aftermath of the Chicago Fire (definitely will be doing some more research on that!!).

If I had one complaint, though, it would be that I wish this book were longer. There were several scenes that ended up being glossed over that I would have loved to see more of. A few that I really would have loved to see: more scenes of Nell living in the Poor Farm (especially more of her first few days living there and the adjustment to the new life) and more scenes with the "inmates" (Tess, Lizzie, even Tilly). I had almost expected a slower pace, like "Gone with the Wind", and I think showing more of what Nell is living through (like the "lazy pace" of GWTW) would have been awesome.

A few minor nitpicks: I was a little surprised at how quickly the murder plot was resolved; it was well-done (I definitely hadn't guessed who the villain is--kudos to Nell for figuring it out soon after I realized it and not running around being an idiot!), but I had expected it to last more of the novel. I also felt that the book could have ended several chapters before it did (somewhat like the multiple endings for "Return of the King"), though I understand why it took as long as it did (there was a lot to wrap up, and I would prefer "dragging it out" to skipping 6 months in the future to have a page wrap up). And lastly, I know I whine about how every book has to have a romance...but in this book, I will admit, I was looking forward to seeing Nell pair off with a nice gentleman. Hopefully in the next book...?

I really had a good time reading this novel, and definitely recommend this to those who grew up on Laura Ingalls Wilder and other historical fiction. Oh, and I hope this comes out in paperback soon, because I will definitely be buying a copy for my mom (who is going to LOVE this!!).