Wednesday, March 21, 2018

#BookReview: Maggie's War by Terrie Todd

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In 1942, telegrams always bring life-altering and tragic news in a war-hardened world—and the one Maggie Marshall receives is no different. But running a restaurant with the help of only pregnant, unwed girls has taught her to be tough. Maggie’s no weeping widow, but Charlotte Penfield thinks she’s the most unfeeling woman on earth. Seventeen, exiled by her wealthy parents, and working in the restaurant, fanciful Charlotte runs away with romantic notions of a reunion with her baby’s father at his military camp.

It has been years since Maggie darkened the church door of her pastor and childhood friend, Reverend Reuben Fennel, and his heart breaks for the hardened woman Maggie’s become. When she seeks his help to find Charlotte, he’s happy to aid her in the chase—though it may cost him his job and reputation.

Over the miles from Winnipeg to Fort William, Reuben and Maggie’s journey rekindles their affection—and their dreams of what they still could be. But Maggie stubbornly clings to her independent ways until she’s dealt another devastating loss, one that forces her to recognize that heroes can be discovered in unlikely places and love may be far sweeter than she ever dared imagine. 
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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆   |   Obtained from: Kindle Unlimited   |   Read: March 11, 2018
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NOTE: This review contains spoilers. Please take heed and proceed at your own risk. 

Many readers have adored the time they spent with Maggie’s War by Terrie Todd and while I respect the opinions of those readers who’ve taken the time to share their thoughts, I have to say the book didn’t work for me.

Maggie’s War challenged me for a number of reasons, first among them being the excess of plot. Maggie’s marriage, her history with Ruben, her association with unwed mothers, the reasons behind that association, Charlotte and her obsession with Reginald, the shady goings of other parties, a runaway, a restaurant, and an altered will tally a few too many twists and turns for my liking. I don’t mean to be horrid, but there was a lot going on here and I often felt the various components and subplots too loosely tied. I also felt the issues at the restaurant distracting, but that’s just me.

Like The Silver Suitcase, I found Maggie’s War historically thin and struggled to embrace the novel as war era fiction. I was also frustrated by the lack of cohesive characterization among the cast. Maggie reads as a firm individual who is content to be left alone by the world at large (think Marilla Cuthbert), but there is a moment in which she bemoans the fact that her brother-in-law strips the feistiness from her nature. Excuse me for pointing it out, but feisty is not a quality this character excludes in any capacity and I was not inclined to accept such remarks when Todd failed to substantiate the validity of those descriptions within the narrative.

Charlotte suffers the same characterization issues, but as her story is so closely linked, I’d like to take a minute and talk about Reginald. Reginald is a playboy. Not a great characteristic, but when one of his women steps up and says “Be a man and take responsibility for the child you fathered,” what does he do? Pull a Charles Bryant and leave her hanging? No. He marries Vera and gives both mother and child legitimacy. Is he aware of Charlotte and her situation? No. Does he have other children out there? We can speculate, but we can’t say for certain. Is he still a philandering scumbag? Again, we can’t say, but assessing his character by what we know to be true, we can’t rule out the possibility of his having acknowledged the error of his ways. Call me crazy, but this unseen, unheard, unknown “villain” of Charlotte’s past isn’t much of an antagonist and the void that left in the narrative left me bored beyond belief.

Though the following does not factor in my rating, I’d like to note that Todd lays her themes down thick. Faith-based messages are a given in Christian literature, but those who prefer more subtlety might want to look elsewhere. I’m also not entirely sure why Charlotte’s legal rights were ignored by the narrative. Manitoba enacted the Illegitimate Children’s Act in 1912. Under provincial law, unwed mothers could lay charges against the fathers of their children for financial support. These provisions were extended under Manitoba’s Child Welfare Act in 1922 which levied jail time on fathers who refused to pay. I understand Charlotte’s theoretical desire to avoid disruption of Reginald’s life, but as a single mother, I was disappointed that the novel ignored the social and economic realities of raising a child without assistance, especially when one considers the social and economic inequality of woman in 1942.

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"Of the dozen girls she had seen come and go over the passt three years since Douglasd left, only one had ever sent a thank-you note. Probably the only one who'd ever seen past Maggie's tough extereior, and the only one Maggie had allowed herself to care about. And what had that brought her? Only more loss. She wouldn't make that misake again."
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