In the first novel of her Avenue of Dreams series, Olivia Newport introduces Lucy Banning, the daughter of a wealthy, upper class family in Chicago. While Lucy is an accomplished young woman, engaged to a family friend, and charitable by nature - a perfect daughter. However, she has a secret passion of which her family and fiance would not approve - she wants desperately to earn a college degree, and she has been taking a class at the university. Granted, she acquires another secret soon after they hire a new maid; Charlotte Farrow, the new kitchen help, has been hiding a newborn up in her room, and single women in service do not have children, or they will be sacked instantly, assuming they ever were hired in the first place. Lucy is trying to balance her schoolwork, charitable obligations at an orphanage, and Charlotte's secret, all while trying to find a way to break it off with Daniel, her fiance. Then, to top it off, her brother has brought home a middle class architect friend who tugs at Lucy's heart. How can she keep the peace while harboring such secrets?
In The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow, Charlotte's story is continued when her year old son is dumped in her arms when the woman who had been watching him must leave for an emergency. Everyone else assumes the baby was left for Miss Lucy, given her charitable work at the orphanage. While the family is thinking of the proper thing to do with the baby, given that Lucy is gone to Europe, Charlotte is trying to decide whether it is best to take her baby and run, or let them place him in a loving home. Archie, the head driver, is in love with Charlotte and trying to get her to trust him, but the appearance of Charlotte's abusive husband in town threatens Charlotte, her son, and their love.
While there is romance in the novels, the focus is more on the historical aspects and the relationship between Lucy and Charlotte - the daughter of the house and the maid. Newport writes a clearly well-researched novel. Her take on the
upstairs-downstairs roles is well
written, where the servants' jobs are held basically by whim of the
butler - it is he whom the family will listen to when hiring and firing,
if they bother to take active part themselves. Only when the family makes a specific request - like when Lucy hires Sarah Cummings - does the butler sometimes have to hold back his personal preferences. Lucy and Charlotte come from two separate worlds - each is allowed in certain rooms of the house and not others, and they hold very few in common. However, by trespassing into the servants' areas, Lucy discovers Charlotte's plight and offers to help, forging a bond that is inappropriate for their stations. While Lucy and
Charlotte become friends, there is still a significant divide between
them - each knows her place, and they do not forget it. When the time comes for Lucy to leave and take on her own life, Charlotte is left without an advocate in the household, and so her life as a maid becomes much more difficult.
Over all, they are both enjoyable novels. The main characters are very likeable, though Sarah, who has a fairly major role in Dilemma, acts like a pretty spoiled brat for an orphan; the love interests seemed a little glossed over in favor of the secondary heroine of each book. The main characters were not without a little spiritual growth, and it was fun to watch Lucy match her potential to become a strong and mature woman and Charlotte find her way back to trusting God. The backdrop of the Chicago World's Fair was interesting, and the plot of both novels entertaining. 4 out of 5 stars for each.
Avenue of Dreams
The Pursuit of Lucy Banning
The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow
The Invention of Sarah Cummings