Sunday, January 27, 2008

Review: The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell

The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell by Loraine Despres
4 stars

Summary (adapted from Publishers Weekly): "In this prequel to The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc, Despres, herself a native Southerner, introduces readers to Sissy's grandmother, the strong-willed Belle of Gentry, La. The book opens with Belle confessing she feels no guilt for "killing" her husband of 16 years, Claude, and Despres successfully spins the rest of her story against a turbulent political backdrop. Belle (who has a horse named Susan B.) fights for women's right to vote, battles the local Ku Klux Klan and works as the overseer of the family property" after firing the slimy Bouree LeBlanc, who will eventually become Sissy's father-in-law (and more).

First paragraph: "Belle Cantrell felt guilty about killing her husband, and she hated that. Feeling guilty, that is. A lady shouldn't do something she's going to feel guilty about later was a rule [from the Primer of Propriety] kept firmly in mind, along with its corollary: No sense in feeling guilty about all the little pleasures life has in store for you."

My thoughts: I read The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc last year and really enjoyed it (unfortunately, it was before this blog, so I don't have a review). I've been eager to read this prequel ever since, and I wasn't disappointed.

I enjoyed how each chapter started with a quote from warring guides to behavior - Belle's own The Southern Girls' Guide to Men and Other Perils of Modern Life (which I believe is the precursor to Sissy's Southern Belle's Handbook) and The Primer of Propriety. Belle tries to follow the dictates of what is proper, but she finds that she has to bend the rules or make her own, since society's rules all come down to "Don't."

I loved Belle - she's feisty, sexy, sassy, and smart. I think I liked her even more than Sissy because Sissy seemed a lot more selfish. Belle definitely wants to enjoy life and do things her way, but she seems to actually care more about her family, friends, and the world than Sissy did. I couldn't put the book down (even though it was after 1 AM!) during the climactic scene where Belle risks everything to help the people she loves. I enjoyed her naughty side (red silk bloomers!) that's tempered (if that's the word) by a distinct lack of worldliness. Despite her suffragette adventures, she's really quite innocent and, as the dashing Rafe discovers, adorable when she gets excited about learning and seeing new things. I admired her dedication to women's rights and her bravery in doing shocking things from bobbing her hair to running the farm. She's a woman who's both ahead of her time and right in the middle of it.

The historic backdrop of the book was interesting. It was set against real events such as the 1920 bombing of Wall Street and the ratification of the 19th amendment. The rise of the KKK, something I knew very little about, plays a big part, as well.

I think I'd recommend reading Sissy first, but then, I like straight, one-way lines in my storytelling. Reading Belle second did give me some cool feelings of "aft-shadowing" (rather than foreshadowing), but I think I'd have preferred to know Sissy's family history first. Either book, though, can be read on its own.

Fun fact: Despres is a former television writer. Her credits include the "Who Shot JR?" episode of Dallas.


Julie said...

See now I would have thought this was a YA book, how judgemental of me. Sounds like it was a good read.

Loraine Despres said...

Thanks for your kind words. Since it takes me over three years to write a book, I'm so glad you enjoyed reading it. Loraine Despres

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Julie - the title does sound like it could be YA, now that you mention it. And it was definitely a good read!

Thanks for stopping by again, Loraine! I'll be eagerly awaiting your next book, even if I have to wait 3 years. :)

Julie said...

I just found your blog. I do love anything that Loraine Despres writes! This book was wonderful and it's the perfect analogy of "you can't judge a book by it's cover" because in this case, I think, it has a lot more depth than the visual cues given by the publisher. My greatest hope is that Loraine will soon write something autobiographical because she is as fascinating as her books!