All That Glitters
By Linda Bennett Pennell
“Something was terribly wrong at this house…”
Sarah Ann Mercer knew that the moment she stepped through the door. The menacing atmosphere of Ripon House made it feel more like a medieval torture chamber than a loving family home. And then there was the child, Adelia, the little girl who Sarah Ann was meant to teach.
Sarah Ann had expected hostility, especially when Adelia had adored her former governess, but she had not foreseen such anger from a seven-year-old child. Mr Littlewood said the child is mentally unbalanced and that she should be sent to the asylum, but the more time Sarah Ann spends with Adelia, the less certain she is of Mr Littlewood’s assumptions and the more she realises that behind the façade of respectability, the Littlewood family are hiding a terrible secret. A secret which will have consequences for them all…
From the first day of a new job to the discovery of a harrowing truth. All that Glitters by Linda Bennett Pennell is the utterly enthralling story of one young woman who is willing to risk everything to protect the child she has come to love.
The remote manor house, a complicated family history, secrets and an atmosphere of terror and suspense may cause the reader to think they have been thrown into a tautly gripping gothic novel, minus the restless spirit. It certainly has the same ominous feel to it as Jane Austen’s, Northanger Abbey and even Charlotte Brontë’s, Jane Eyre. The mounting tension, the cleverly crafted plot twists, and the sinister passages where we are allowed a glimpse into the antagonist’s mind, but without knowing who the antagonist is, really kept me turning those pages.
I simply adored the characterisation of Sarah Ann. Sarah Ann is a young woman who is determined to make her way in the world. She has dreams and hopes, but her circumstances and the era in which she lives in dictate her narrative. Sarah Ann was a character that I was instantly drawn towards. Her loving nature, her sharp wit and her quick intelligence made her the type of protagonist that a reader could get behind and root for. However, her innocence also meant that at times she finds herself questioning what she has seen, and often seeks confirmation for her own conclusions from her uncle and aunt, which I thought made her realistic in the telling. Sarah Ann is also a woman who is terribly conflicted. She cannot stand being employed by the Littlewoods, but she cannot abandon her charge for fear of what will happen to her. She also has to battle her own emotions when it comes to two members of the Littlewood family. Knowing that she would never be accepted as their equals does not banish the butterflies whenever the two of them are near her, nor does it stop her from dreaming about them. Sarah Ann is a character that I really came to care about. I thought her portrayal was sublime.
Little Adelia stole my heart. She is this beautiful, frightened angel who so desperately wants to be loved. Her desire to be accepted by her parents despite their indifference was utterly heartrending to witness. Adelia is a little girl who just wants to be cuddled by her mother and praised by her father, but instead, she finds herself thrust into the shadows like an unwanted puppy, and told to stay firmly out of sight. It is not so much that children should be seen and not heard in the Littlewood house; it almost seems that it would be for the best if Adelia were not seen at all. One of the most heartbreaking scenes in this book occurred on Christmas morning, where the child’s excitement got the better of her, and she once again finds herself in the firing line of her father’s rage. Her father’s coldness and her mother’s apathy had me reaching for the tissues on several occasions. It is no surprise that Adelia attaches herself to anyone who gives her attention, and thus Sarah Ann becomes a substitute parent in Adelia’s young mind. The trauma that Adelia has to deal with would be enough to traumatise an adult, let alone a child, but she is a courageous, spirited, little girl who, with the right care and attention, would blossom. I thought Adelia’s depiction was absolutely fabulous, and her terrible plight drove this story forward.
Pennell’s exploration of the complicated social position of a governess is explored in great depth throughout this novel. As a governess, Sarah Ann lives between two worlds. She is not a member of the family, but neither is she one of the servants. Sarah Ann’s education, manners and etiquette are that of the aristocracy. However, she is not of the aristocracy, and she should never forget her place—she is but a paid member of staff. She may be able to match the Littlewoods' intellect, but she is not and never will be their equal. However, at times the lines become blurred, and Sarah Ann has to try to find a balance between her moral duties towards the child, the longing of her heart, and keeping her job. I thought Pennell captured the essence of what life was like for a governess in the late 19th Century.
Pennell also explores the lack of control that women had over their lives. The fact that Sarah Ann is also an orphan makes her beholding to the people who raised her, and although she loves them dearly, this is not the life she would have chosen for herself. Even more distressing, however, was the complete lack of protection for a very vulnerable child. The idea that if Mr Littlewood said his daughter was insane, she would therefore be deemed to be so, seems draconian and heartless. So while Sarah Ann can enjoy some limited rights, Adelia has none. I thought this gentle reminder about how very different the lives of women and children were over 100 years ago was very enlightening.
Pennell’s careful use of foreshadowing meant that I knew a storm of monumental destruction was heading towards Ripon House from the very beginning of this remarkable novel, and like Sarah Ann I tried, with the limited knowledge we are given about the antagonist, to figure out who the villain of this tale is. But as I finished this book, I realised that there was more than one antagonist in this tale, and Sarah Ann has to, at one point, stand up to them all. There is no knight in shining armour going to sweep down and save our brave heroine. She is on her own, at least, that is what it seems, but bravery begets bravery, and Sarah Ann finds allies in the most unlikely of places.
All that Glitters by Linda Bennett Pennell is an exceptional work of scholarship. From the historical backdrop to the emotional narrative, this is a book that will keep you reading long into the night.
I Highly Recommend.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
After being named a finalist in the Writer's League of Texas 2009 Manuscript Contest, Linda Bennett Pennell set her heart on becoming a published author. She experienced the thrill of that dream coming true on July 10, 2013 when her debut novel, Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel, was released by Soul Mate Publishing. She is delighted that the novel has been well received by readers and reviewers alike.
Linda would like to thank those who have read and reviewed Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel. Your wonderful support and generous praise have meant more than mere words can express. It is a great joy that her second and third novels, Confederado do Notre (2014, Soul Mate Publishing), Casablanca: Appointment at Dawn (2015, The Wild Rose Press), Miami Days, Havana Nights (2018, Soul Mate Publishing) have been warmly received, as well. Providing a good experience for readers is what makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Linda is active in writer's groups including the Writer's League of Texas, the Historical Novel Society, Author's Guild, International Thriller Writers, Romance Writers of America, and Northwest Houston RWA.
When she is not busy tapping away on the keyboard on behalf of her latest work-in-progress, Linda enjoys spending time with family and friends, volunteering with various local non-profits and her church, singing with the Texas Master Chorale and church choir, and researching future projects. She resides in the Houston area with her husband and their German Shorthaired Pointer, a dog who is quite certain that he's a little boy.
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Publication Date: 5th August 2020
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Page Length: 224 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / Historical Suspense