REVIEW of Behind the Scenes, by Jen Turano

Behind the ScenesAll Permilia Griswold wants is to help manage her father’s mining business. Unfortunately, he is convinced that she would be happier learning to become a lady and has provided her with a stepmother to achieve just that experience. Permilia’s performance in society is a sore disappointment to her stepmother, however. Her awkward ways and complete lack of ability to converse with suitable gentlemen have made her a confirmed wallflower at the age of twenty-something. But Permilia is far from discouraged and has turned her talents to secretly writing a society column for the New York Sun under the pseudonym Miss Quill.

When Permilia attends the ball at the Vanderbilts’ new home, her antics catch the attention of Mr. Asher Rutherford. The proprietor of a burgeoning department store, Asher is from one of the oldest and most respectable families in New York. He is fascinated by a woman willing to haggle with him over the price of ice skates, debate the roles of women in the workforce, and warn him about a plot against his life. He finds himself defending her against the censures of society matrons, rescuing her from traps laid by too-friendly gentlemen, and desiring to better his acquaintance with this diamond in the rough.

After the first chapter, I was convinced that I wasn’t going to like Permilia. Her support for her pet feminist projects was introduced rather ham-handedly and she seemed like a flat caricature of a person. I reversed my opinion of her at the Vanderbilt ball, however, finding her behavior eccentric enough to be humorous and enjoying who she was as a character. Asher Rutherford was a delight throughout–he reminded me a little of Freddy, from Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion, needing to shepherd a clueless heroine through the hoops of society with his solid good sense.

Most of the book was entirely told through dialogue. Some of it was written quite wittily, but other pieces, particularly in the first half of the book, were more about story exposition than believability. One example of ham-handed exposition was in the first chapter, where Permilia says to her stepsister, “My father, your step-father…” as if the stepsister (instead of the reader) needs to be informed of the relationship?

The Cinderella motif in the story was a clever one, both with Permilia’s relationship to her stepmother and stepsister and the loss of her glass-beaded shoe at the ball. The story itself is more of a reverse-Cinderella tale, however, with Permilia playing her own fairy godmother and being the one to save her Prince Charming. The plot was more in line with an Oscar Wilde play than a dramatic historical novel, and I found this book a pleasant diversion from a somewhat dismal Saturday.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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