A review of Bergren’s first book in the 2012 series.
Hitting the Christian Fiction market in 2012, Lisa T. Bergren’s Glamorous Illusions took the readers community by storm. Now, nearly ten years after book one’s release, the book boasts 365 reviews on Amazon, with an average of 4.5 stars. Published by Bethany House, and having a print length of 402 pages, this book was placed beside the staples on the Christian Fiction shelf – Tamera Alexander, Karen Whitmeyer, and Francine Rivers.
Sounds like a solid read. Let’s take a closer look.
Taking a look at the cover, anyone can recognize the Eiffel Tower in the background, clearly playing into the “World Tour” theme, and promising the reader some character travel. The main character in the front is painted as an elegant young lady, living in the early 20th century, who appears on the cover with a subtle look of surprise. It makes you think – what is she surprised about? The back cover blurb promises the story of a young woman who endures tragedy and embarks on a journey of self discovery, finding love along the way.
Plot (Spoilers – Brace Yourself)
Just as promised, the story centers around Montana-native, Cora Diehl, who we later learn is the daughter of well-known Montana copper baron, Wallace Kensington. Going from down on the farm to uptown lady proves a challenge for Cora as she meets her disapproving new siblings and their friends. As her family farm is failing, and her father’s health along with it, Cora is faced with a difficult choice – leave everything she has ever known for a chance at an enriched life, or follow her family into destitution. At the urging of her biological father and her mother, she agrees, after much prayer, to follow her siblings on the world tour. Without giving the entire book away, Bergen sets our heroine up for a romance arc with the “bear” or tour guide for the group. Knowing that she cannot be with the bear, William McCabe, for propriety’s sake, after a rather awkward discussion with him, Cora finds herself in the cross-hairs – so to speak – of another man, Pierre Richelieu – a wealthy Frenchman with a lot of enemies. Torn between what seems to be playing out before her eyes – or through Richelieu’s pursuit – Cora ultimately agrees to be cordial to Richelieu, while the reader knows that she is far more interested in Will.
As an avid reader of Christian Fiction, especially Historical, one of the main themes and/or arcs is that of finding love. Bergen sets up quite the love triangle between the bear, Will, and the Frenchman, Richelieu. On the one hand, Richelieu could offer Cora wealth, a position, and an advantageous seat in Europe with a man she is definitely attracted to. On the other, Will offers Cora an emotional connection through shared loss, and a longing for an uncomplicated life. Richelieu represents the life that Cora should want as a member of the Kensington family, while Will represents the kind of match Cora would be lucky to get if the Diehl family farm had stayed afloat. Both Will and Cora are hungry for knowledge, and dream of going back to school – Will to finish his degree and Cora to finish her coursework to be a school teacher. While the set up makes the needle hover closer to Will’s end of the love triangle, in Bergren’s novel it is not that simple; in fact, the conflicted love triangle is not resolved by the end of the book. However, there is a much more important conflict that Bergren solidifies by the turn of the last page.
Bergren has a talent for creating believable, lovable characters, that is certain. Cora is the kind of girl that flies right off the page when we see her in her element on the Diehl family farm in Montana. She seems to know who she is and what she wants already. When she meets Wallace Kensington and accepts her invitation to the trip of a lifetime, it takes her a while to not only figure out how she fits into the family, but to also define herself a woman of God who happens to be the illegitimate daughter of a copper baron. By the end of the book, the most resonant conflict is resolved in that Cora finds a way to the farm girl she was raised to be, and the recognized daughter of a wealthy businessman – beautifully symbolized by her decision to be called Cora Diehl Kensington, recognizing both her heritage and her upbringing. In doing so, Cora makes peace with the secrets she has learned and ultimately accepts whatever the Lord has in store for her.
Stating Power – Should I Read Book Two?
A simple question with a simple answer – you have to. In a brilliant and frustrating move as a writer, Bergren ends the book just after a brutal attack at Richelieu’s elaborate French estate by a group of Richelieu’s enemies, resulting in a dead butler, a bumped and bruised heroine, and a jealous Frenchman. Up to this point, the buildup of the romance arc had lead the reader to believe that Cora would be open to taking the practical route – formally courting Richelieu. Just before the attack, Cora tells him that she doesn’t want to decide anything now, and simply wants to get to know him. Is it just me or does that sound like early 20th Century talk for “let’s be friends”? Because of this, the reader expects that something – even its smallest measurement – will happen to solidify Will and Cora’s love for each other. Well, not really. Frustrated yet? So was I. From an author’s perspective it is a twist the reader never sees coming, making it brillant and fresh. From a reader’s perspective it seems like a dangling carrot.
The Bottom Line
All things considered, Lisa T. Bergren’s premiere novel in The World Tour Series, entitled Glamorous Illusions, is beautifully written, delightful, and captivating. Will Cora have to choose between her dreams and her new responsibilities as an heir to the Kensington fortune? I guess we’ll have to read book two, Grave Consequences, to find out.