Review of ALWAYS AND FOREVER by Gretchen Craig
Zebra Books, April 2006
The child of a wealthy Louisianna creole plantation owner, Josie doesn't want to worry her head with figures, plantation accounts, or the financial pages of the newspaper. Recognizing that her father loved her, but loved her half-sister (by his slave-mistress) more, Josie vows that she'll find a husband who'll take care of the plantation, her, and who won't stray. As she grows into a young woman, Josie experiences the social scene of ante-bellum New Orleans. American plantation owners are joining the French and she soon has two serious beaus--a rich American planter and a distant cousin recently returned from Paris, filled with elegance and charm. She's sure her cousin couldn't be the same sort of man her father was. Meanwhile, a poor Cajun neighbor is crazy about her. But really, he just doesn't fit into her society.
Life on the Mississippi river is not without its dangers. Runaway slaves, evil overseers, rising flood waters, financial panics, gambling owners, and disease all play a role in risking the lifestyle Josie was brought up expecting--and thinking normal. With the loss of her father and much of the plantation in a flood, Josie's life is altered. Gradually she learns that she must, as her grandmother had urged, take responsibility for her own life.
ALWAYS AND FOREVER is a coming of age story as much as a romance. Josie wants nothing so much as to be innocent and in love, but harsh realities intrude. Fortunately for her, hunky Cajun Phanor Di Blieux is willing to wait for her to grow up, to realize that her dream world is superficial.
ALWAYS AND FOREVER is author Gretchen Craig's debut novel and it shows considerable promise. Although Josie's insensitivity and blythe acceptance of the institution of slavery (while objecting to extreme forms of torture done to the slaves), her snobbishness, and her unwillingness to even try to understand why her grandmother wants her to learn about the plantation conspire to make her an initially unsympathetic heroine, Craig's strong writing nevertheless draws the reader in. Unlike most romances, there isn't a strong romantic conflict between Josie and Phanor. Rather, Josie's lesson is that she must learn what is really important before she can have a chance to fulfil her dreams.
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