Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Review: Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro

Rare Objects
by Kathleen Tessaro
Release Date: April 12th 2016
2016 Harper
ARC Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062357540
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from TLC Book Tours

3.5 / 5 Stars

Maeve Fanning is a first generation Irish immigrant, born and raised among the poor, industrious Italian families of Boston’s North End by her widowed mother. Clever, capable, and as headstrong as her red hair suggests, she’s determined to better herself despite the overwhelming hardships of the Great Depression.

However, Maeve also has a dangerous fondness for strange men and bootleg gin—a rebellious appetite that soon finds her spiraling downward, leading a double life. When the strain proves too much, Maeve becomes an unwilling patient in a psychiatric hospital, where she strikes up a friendship with an enigmatic young woman, who, like Maeve, is unable or unwilling to control her un-lady-like desire for freedom.

Once out, Maeve faces starting over again. Armed with a bottle of bleach and a few white lies, she lands a job at an eccentric antiques shop catering to Boston’s wealthiest and most peculiar collectors. Run by an elusive English archeologist, the shop is a haven of the obscure and incredible, providing rare artifacts as well as unique access to the world of America’s social elite. While delivering a purchase to the wealthy Van der Laar family, Maeve is introduced to beautiful socialite Diana Van der Laar—only to discover she’s the young woman from the hospital.

Reunited with the charming but increasingly unstable Diana and pursued by her attractive brother James, Mae becomes more and more entwined with the Van der Laar family—a connection that pulls her into a world of moral ambiguity and deceit, and ultimately betrayal. Bewitched by their wealth and desperate to leave her past behind, Maeve is forced to unearth her true values and discover how far she’ll to go to reinvent herself.

My Thoughts
Rare Objects is set during the Great Depression, and follows Maeve Fanning as she deals with the ups and downs of life, of being independent, duirng this time period.  A first generation Irish immigrant, I enjoyed the struggles that May had as she searched for a job, dealt with her mother, associated with her friends, and tried to deal with the morals and values of this time.  May has had a lot of difficult moments in her life, and seemed like she led a bit of rebellious life when she was younger, but she could also be manipulative and a bit of a liar when it suited her purposes and her needs.  

First of all, the beginning of this novel was quite interesting and really drew me into the story.  May is quite the troubled character, leading a double-life, one of partying and drinking in New York while lying to her family and friends about what she was doing, even going so far as to miss her best friend's wedding to hide her activities.  As May meets various characters from her girlhood when she returns home, we learn quite a bit about her background, one that was rebellious enough that her friends' parents had cautioned them about being seen in public with her or even having her in their homes.  I found this quite fascinating, that dynamic mix of old-fashioned values with the new independence that women were trying to build for themselves, how slow a process it actually was for women.  Unfortunately, as May became involved with the Van der Laars, the story actually became a bit bogged down for me, and I actually found myself losing interest in it; there were simply too many threads wound together, many quite predictable, and the philosophical, social, and moral issues didn't help streamline the story.  To be honest, I found it hard to believe that someone like Diana Van der Laar would be allowed to even associate with someone like May. I definitely believed in the treatments Diana would have received once her 'issues' were perceived by her family as it would have reflected on the entire family and would not have been tolerated.  However, her dramatics wore on me after a while; I actually liked the stronger Diana who told May to get her life together and work out her issues.  That Diana was more interesting.

I really like the descriptions of the time period, and I did like the complexity of May's character.  While there were times when I could have shaken her, it was nice to see her grow up a little bit throughout the novel; at first, I really thought she was quite egocentric, believing herself the center of her universe, and I like how that was removed as she met her childhood friends again and had to apologize for her previous behaviour.  I did find it a bit of a stretch to imagine how May would have landed such an interesting job however, as it was the middle of the Depression and millions of people were looking for work.  

I actually found Mr. Winshaw to be one of the most intriguing character, if he was annoying at times, and I wish he had more of a story to tell.  I don't feel like the author was really able to get a fix on him and how he really fit into the story, and this did cause a bit of a problem for me.  

Rare Objects definitely has a lot to recommend it, and the many story lines by themselves, are intriguing, but I don't feel like everything came together at the end.  I didn't particularly like Maeve at the beginning of the novel, and although she did transform to some extent, I'm not really sure it was enough to really make her really likable for me, or even genuine. Many of the periodic details were fascinating however, and I did enjoy those tremendously.  While I would recommend it, I would definitely be careful to whom I did so as I don't think it would be for everyone. 


  1. A very good review. I don't think it would be for me, but that cover's quite striking.

    1. Check out my next post about that cover. Thought it was quite interesting.