The Writing Desk:
An antique desk is the muse for two women in different time periods whose passion is writing. One held back by her parents who feel she should be controlled and manipulated into their way of life. Tenley Roth is an award- winning novelist whose first novel took off like wildfire. Her drawback to furthering her career is herself. Her great-great grandfather was an award- winning author for whom the award she received was named. This was exciting and attending the ceremony did not exactly thrill Tenley. Joining her was her soon to be fiancé Holt, who appeared to be interested in her and want her to succeed but right from the start there is something about him that does not ring true. Romance novels are not easy to write and hers hit the Times Best seller off almost right off the bat. However, her publisher is ready for her next great novel and poor Tenley has a huge case of writer’s block. No matter how hard she tries she cannot seem to create a story that would follow the one she just wrote titled Someone to Love which she managed to pen in a local Starbucks. Just as she is making plans to go with Holt to Paris so he can write a screenplay for a film, she gets a phone call that will alter her plans, change her life and give her much pause for thought. Her mother has cancer and needs to start treatments and wants Tenley to fly to Florida to be at her side every step of the way. The problem and dilemma is Blanche, her mother has not been apart of her life for many years having left her to be brought up by her father. Within three months she needs to pen another first rate novel but the problem of whether to go to Florida or with Holt becomes more than she can handle at first. Thrashing it out with Holt he presents two points of view and in the end she relents and goes to help her mother. Here is where things drastically change for Tenley as Holt proposes, gives her a ring and she pockets it and never puts it on. Holt seems upset that she is not going to Paris him but reverses his vote and tells her that maybe helping Blanche will bring them closer even for just a short while.
Birdie Shehorn is living in the early 20th century yet her mother appears to be from the 17th. Allowing her to attend Wellesley University and getting a degree does not mean that Birdie can do as she please with her life. Money, family prestige, position and taking on the leadership role in society is what her mother wants for her family. Iris Shehorn sees herself as the new Mrs. Astor and the leader of the Four Hundred. Iris and Geoffrey Shehorn believe in the old fashioned matching making system for pairing up two unsuspecting young adults to follow suit and get married even if it means being devoid of any love or passion. Money is discussed and the fathers disregarding the wants of their children in this matter and the agreement is signed and a dowry created. Her mother is tough and unrelenting and demands that she marry the man she has chosen for her without any further discussion. The man from a family of great wealth and standing is Alphonse Van Cliff. Birdie has other aspirations and is hot headed, defiant and willful which makes her a strong adversary for her mother. But, not everything goes her way when Eli, the man who won her heart years before he entered the war, handsome, with position and title, comes back into her life hoping they can rekindle what was left behind once again. Rose Gottlieb is beautiful, kind and sweet and Eli is asked to sign a written agreement that will make both of them set for life as he too needs some form of financial security.
The author switches back between time periods as we get to know both characters in depth. Birdie is headstrong and wants to write a novel. Sending a manuscript to Barclay she goes straight to the top wondering why she has not heard whether they are accepting her story. Meeting Gordon Phipps Roth an award winner author was a special perk of her visit but being rebuffed and put off by Barclay angered Birdie. Claiming that her manuscript was returned to her by courier even though in reality it was not but learning that would take a while longer. While in the present Tenley is preparing to go to Florida and meet her mother after many years and hoping to write her next five star novel. But, Tenley seems to wallow in self- pity at times and you being to wonder if she will ever snap out of it. Writer’s block is not uncommon but sequestering herself in a small room with an old desk seems going to the extreme at first until she gets to know what is hidden beneath the one draw that seems to be stuck. Lying to her agent seems to be her way of skirting around the issue of writing another novel and promising she will meet her deadline.
While Birdie is being properly groomed, her actions controlled in order to marry the man of her parent’s choosing. Birdie is not without giving her opinion and belaboring the point of lost manuscript does not change her attitude or opinion of the man she is supposed to marry who seems bent on having several flings before saying I Do or even proposing.
Tenley decides to go out on her now wearing quite famous red robe and slippers and falls off her bike to be saved by Jonas Sullivan. With a sense of humor that is priceless Jonas takes her to meet his family dressed in her robe. How heartwarming that they accepted her right away and realized that she was the daughter of Conrad Roth a famous author and that her great great grandfather was Gordon Phipps Roth.
Throughout the novel Tenley seems lost at times with her writing yet seems to be developing a bond with Blanche. Helping her through her crisis and hoping to get an incite as to why she deserted her as a child and more about her relationship with Conrad, helps to add to the story.
In the past or Gilded age, Birdie only wants to use the desk she finds as comforting even though it is old and not up to her mother’s standards of quality to use for writing a book or anything else. With the encouragement of Eli or Lord Montague, she forges ahead in a slow but methodical way at first. Knowing that her feelings for him are deep and his for her, it is hard when she has to combat the voices of her parents who insist that she will marry Alphonse.
In both time periods the author brings out the importance of their Christian values and in Birdie’s case upbringing giving both authors the impetus to use that in their writing and as their motivation.
Within this novel there are strong issues involving forgiveness, betrayals, deceits, fear to live your life without worrying about critiques of others or failure, believing you are worthy of love and in both cases developing a strong relationship with Lord Jesus. Eli brings this to Birdie as he presents her with an ad for stories related to Christianity and Jonas in relation to the fact that Tenley needs to have faith that God will show her the way. Help at times can come from the Lord and having faith that he will show you the way!
Blanche tries to understand that Tenley has writer’s block but does not get the importance of the desk at first. Iris Shehorn tries to get rid of the desk and demands that Birdie’s notes are burned leaving her angry, sad and wondering what will happen next. Alphonse calls on her, insists they will marry and her answers are spot on, strong letting him know she rules her life and not anyone else.
Jonas Sullivan owns the desk and when he comes to claim it, Tenley needs to find a way convince him to allow her to keep it for the three months she needs to create her next novel and send it to the publisher. Their conversations are refreshing and the back and forth banter brilliantly created by author Rachel Hauck. Both Tenley and Birdie have distinctly strong personalities. Tenley finds Jonas interesting and she thinks about him all the time even though in the back of both of their minds is Holt. So, why isn’t she wearing her ring? Cocoa Beach is her name for him, New York for her. But, can Tenley come to terms with the fact that her mother rejected and abandoned her as a child? Can Birdie or will Birdie stand her ground as her wedding day draws closer? Eli is her champion and although he is betrothed to Rose what happens is a complete turnabout that the reader won’t expect. Birdie just wants to write her stories but her Mama refuses to yield. Dreams are what make you soar and when Gordon Phipps Roth finds his way into her home you will not believe the startling revelation he makes.
There are many parents today who plan out their son or daughter’s futures by making what they think is a perfect match for them. Birdie wants to write and at times she finds herself alone with Elijah Percy and realizes that they are both torn and tied to relationships due to parental obligations to foster a marriage that will benefit them both financially. But, will they fall in love with their partners? Elijah was someone she met years ago in England and then in America when he comes to meet and claim Rose after fighting in the Boar’s War. Wealth and status are at the heart of this novel but is that enough for true happiness?
Tenley wants to unlock the middle draw of the desk while trying to find a way to unlock her mind and write another novel. Pressure from her publisher is mounting and the end result will surprise readers. While she struggles with her fear of not writing and finally attempts to write a novel, she learns something about Gordon Phipps Roth that shocks her as Birdie does writing at the same desk as Tenley in the past. With a mother who is manipulative yet has a secret of her own, words can often delete your understand and create anger and your hope to forge ahead. Two young women in two different time periods yet both struggling to find happiness and hope with their words.
Eli and Jonas are different in their own ways yet both are determined to change Tenley and Birdie’s perspective on the abilities to be successful and although Rose and Holt are in the mix at this time will both girls see the light and will Eli and Jonas win in the end or will family obligation and guilt take the lead? The respect the reader will give to Gordon Phipps Roth and Rose Gottlieb is well earned and the end result for Birdie changes it all. The final outcome will surprise readers as Tenley has a moral dilemma and has to decide whether what she will do is worth the price of fame? As Birdie makes the same decision in a different way in the past. One writing desk with so much history and create success.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine