From This Moment
From This Moment, a historical romance set in Boston in 1897, has a great premise and setting. Alas, it suffers from the fact that all of the characters are incredibly self-centered and frequently cruel to each other. I loved the historical aspect, but as far as romance goes all I can say is that these people deserve each other and that is not a compliment.
Stella West is an American artist who has had a great deal of success in London. When her sister, Gwendolyn, dies, Stella is the only person who believes that Gwendolyn was murdered. Gwendolyn was trying to uncover corruption at City Hall. Stella returns to America and takes a job as a stenographer at City Hall in hopes of finding the murderer.
Meanwhile, Romulus White runs a magazine called Scientific World. He has his heart set on Stella doing illustrations for the magazine and when he discovers that she is in Boston he tries to win her over from the stenography job. This is timely since she gets fired from the stenography job anyway, and useful since it turns out that Stella knows nothing about how to do detective work and Romulus, while no Sherlock, is pretty good at leveraging his many connections. However, his association with her leads to trouble for the magazine.
The side romance is between Romulus’ cousin, Evelyn, and her estranged husband, Clyde. Clyde is an engineer with the Boston subway installation, which is very cool.
But will we explore Evelyn’s frustration at being devoted to Scientific World but never getting credit for her work? Will bizarre miscommunications appear out of nowhere? Will these wacky kids who absolutely in my opinion should live far from each other, preferably in isolation tanks, get together? No, Yes, and yes.
All of these characters are ferociously talented and intelligent but sadly they are all so self-absorbed that it’s a miracle they can remember each other’s names. Romulus believes that women are irrational, he’s completely callous towards Evelyn’s suffering with regard to her marriage, he helps Stella when it’s convenient but when it isn’t he insults her, and he’s harsh when he thinks that Stella might want a relationship. Meanwhile Stella thinks the entire world should revolve around her mystery solving and fails to appreciate the costs that others pay for her obsession. Clyde ignores Evelyn when they are together and moons over her when they are apart, while Evelyn fails to tell him the most basic things and then blames him for not knowing about them.
Another problem with the book is its inconsistency. One minute we are hearing that Evelyn felt abandoned and betrayed by Clyde because he was always leaving. The next we hear that she asked him to take far away jobs. One minute Evelyn is furious with Clyde and the next she falls into his arms with total wifely devotion. A character who seems shy and sweet is later revealed to be completely different. There’s no reason for that character to have been presented with the shy persona – it’s not relevant to any reveals regarding that person’s role in the story. It’s just random, and since I initially read that character as being on the autism spectrum, it’s arguably problematic .
I actually enjoyed much of the book. I liked the descriptions of how the magazine is run and published. I liked Stella’s conversations with photographers and her trips through city archives. Stella and Romulus have a highly enjoyable gift for witty banter. I thought the inclusion of faith as an important part of Stella’s healing was realistic and not preachy or cloying. This is an inspirational romance, so there’s no sex, but I loved the scene in the archives during which Romulus and Stella make out like teenagers. They were adorable in that scene, which makes Romulus’ dismissal of Stella later that much harder to read.
Incidentally, we recently had a Rec League Post about characters with “Unconventional Occupations.” I notice that other books by Elizabeth Camden included a map librarian (Beyond All Dreams), a National Weather Bureau volunteer (Until The Dawn), and a statistician who helps fight tuberculosis (With Every Breath). So. Much. Catnip. My hope is that other books might have more relatable characters. Flaws are fine – but having everyone in the book have the same set of flaws (obsessive, incredibly self-centered, arrogant) was just annoying.
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