This is the second-worst book that I’ve read all the way through. (The first was Native Son and was required reading for a class. Not. Worth. It. I should have taken the bad grade. It haunts me.) Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out why I finished Annie. I started because the plot sounded delicious: two brothers, one girl, everyone hiding from the law… Overall, the experience was like extreme, self-imposed tickle torture: barely bearable with a pleasurable twist, á la masochism. The pleasurable part is a beautiful concoction of one part terrible writing (ergo there is hope for me as a writer in this industry), one part (unsuccessfully) breaking genre stereotypes (but, still, it’s thought-provoking), and one part good-ole’-fashion train wreck fascination. The fact that I’m poor and shelled out €4 for the book probably has something to do with it. I am going to get my money’s worth. And, deep at heart, I’m the type of reader who, when she decides to read a book, reads the book. Period. All the way through. No matter what.
There isn’t a single positive thing I can say about this book. And I’ve wracked my brain trying to come up with something. The closest I can get is that it has indirectly brought my friend great entertainment because, believe you me, she has been frequently updated on my reading progress.
One could argue that the book has to have some redeeming quality to get such a strong reaction from me, but the strength of my reaction comes from an affront to my sensibilities as both an experienced reader and writer. The book doesn’t affect my emotions as strictly a person who feels compassion for the characters. Okay, I am upset that such a soup of all my favorite tropes was less Panera broccoli cheddar soup and more sewer water.
So without further ado, let me break down the issues for you.
- The actual writing is terrible. There isn’t a consistent narrator—the book continually switches from first person to third person omniscient and back to a different first person—sometimes within the space of a two-page spread. There are multiple jarring time lapses, ranging from six months to three years. The author seems to be confused as to when a question mark or exclamation point are appropriate. Actually, the finer points of punctuation, in general, seem to escape her and, let’s not forget, her editors. I’ll let you enjoy the following gems without commentary:
“She gave a weak smile, now he would start to remember.”
“’Yes, sir. Is Matt’s son.’”
(This is a three-year-old talking.) “’Oh, but you’re always so busy… So I decided to take Polly instead, and Charlie.’”
“’They’re off to ‘market,’ she mouthed. ‘I’d best be sharp and find somewhere safe.’”
“’Aagh. Aagh. I’m poisoned. I’m poisoned. I’m done for. God forgive me for me sins… Tha’s lucky. Tha could be lying dead. How stupid thou art, Annie.’”
- The accent is distracting and a bit over-the-top, not to mention inconsistent. That three-year-old talking above? That’s the son of the woman talking in the other examples. What really drives me up the wall, though, is the way the accent is dealt with later in the book, after the main character, Annie, has a more “proper” accent. Obviously, when the character is under stress, she reverts back to her original accent. And the author points it out. Every. Single. Time. As if the reader doesn’t notice. Or even if the reader doesn’t notice the first time, they generally catch on by the second or, you know, tenth time.
- She kills off a main character. And Toby is not only a main character, but he’s also a potential love interest. You. Don’t. DO. That. In. Romance. Novels. This, along with some other factors (she has a works cited page before the prologue), makes me think that Wood was aiming for a more historical fiction novel with romantic elements. However, Wood follows every single other romantic novel convention, including the way the book is packaged. (A side-note about the packaging: who thought it was a good idea to write the blurb in passive voice?) It’s fine, even commendable, to include less savory aspects that would be prevalent in a setting. But she undermines her efforts by giving her character modern sensibilities in regards to those seedier aspects.
- Okay. This one’s a total—there’s no other expression for it—clusterfuck. So, at the start of the book, Annie is a mother of three children. She’s forced to leave them because she thinks they will be better without her. Fine. Jolly. Cheers. However, half way through the book she decides to go and find them. She spends one day trying to find them, and then gives up for another decade. She then proceeds to start another family, in the process forgetting about her two boys. But she can’t forget her only daughter. So she goes back, after twenty years to find out what happened to her children. Annie forgetting her boys is brushed off as her having this mystical knowledge that they were both dead. And she finds out about her daughter. But then she doesn’t go to see her. And in the process of forgetting about her first two boys, she has the GALL to tell a semi-foster child (Rose) that, as it comes from Annie’s own personal experience, Rose will never forget her first-born child. But, you know, there will be others. Pat, pat on the head. Annie’s new family is presented as this happy ending, but the reader can’t buy into it because Annie is a pretty terrible mother by modern sensibilities. One can’t even argue that she’s a fine mother by her time period’s standards because Annie is presented, as mentioned above, as a woman with modern-day values.
- The book promises two payoffs: a happy conclusion for Annie romantically, and a reunion with her abandoned children. We don’t get the latter, which sucks the first of its strength. As such, at the end of the book the reader doesn’t feel that Annie has overcome any of her flaws. Yeah, she’s stumbled into a better life for herself, but has she earned it?
Ultimately, this book fails because there is disconnect between Wood, her publisher, and reader expectations. The book, as is, can be better served if it were marketed primarily as historical fiction. Even then, the book needs some work, primarily by beefing up the other storylines—especially Matt Linton’s—to make it less romance-centric. However, if Wood’s ultimate goal was to produce a romance novel, a major overhaul is needed, requiring more changes than I’m willing to outline here.
Obviously, I do not recommend this book, unless you are looking for an example of how not to write romance novels. Instead, I would point you towards Judith McNaught for romance novels of a similar period.