by Ruth Ryan Langan, historical (2004)
Berkley, $5.99, ISBN 0-425-19484-1
Ruth Ryan Langan's Berkley debut Paradise Falls is like the Road To Avonlea that somehow has a wrong turn that sends the unwary straight to overly sentimental hell.
The late nineteenth-century heroine Fiona Downey is like a Triumphant Of Reader's Digest heroine. She is Irish, which means that her family has endured Sweats and Tears until her father becomes a professor. Fiona loves her daddy and she wants to be an educator too. Alas, when she is poised for new heights after she receives her college degree, her father dies, leaving her and her mother penniless. Cue To Sir With Love to play in the background as Fiona heads down to Paradise Falls, Michigan, to teach a class of misfits. Meanwhile, Fiona boards with the Haydn clan, where she befriends the bedridden patriarch and falls for the eldest son Grayson. The author tries to create a love triangle thingie involving the younger more outgoing son Fleming but Fleming soon reveals to be a caricaturish Other Guy so I don't think any reader will be fooled one bit.
By now, one can probably guess - correctly - that Fiona is a truly wonderful heroine that is all sage, all maternal, all wise, and appropriately self-depreciatory so that readers can identify with her "virtuous humbleness". Grayson is misunderstood but chooses to play the martyr, providing lots of artificial drama, while Fleming and Mrs Haydn are cartoonish characters created solely to provide conflict. There are predictable sweet kiddies, naughty kiddies, their ignorant and difficult parents, and other tedious stereotypes, all of them shamelessly abused by Ms Langan to espouse a bizarrely naive All You Need Is Love philosophy that comes straight out of a Carebear cartoon.
There is nothing wrong with pleasant escapism, which is obviously what Paradise Falls is aiming for with its readers. Fiona and Grayson and their It's A Wonderful Life-ish buddies, family members, and hangers-on are likeable enough even if they come off as stock characters. But the author's liberal misuse of simplistic love-and-hugsie messages and contrived conflicts to create an oversugary story pushes Paradise Falls from being a pleasant kind of mundanity to an overly-sentimental and naive tale dedicated to Pollyannas everywhere.
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