Monday, March 17, 2014

Review: Love Comes Calling by Siri Mitchell

Love Comes Calling
By: Siri Mitchell
Publisher: Bethany House
ISBN: 978-0-7642-1036-5


Ellis Eton is sick and tired of being a disappointment to her strait-laced, well-to-do Boston family. Though she tries, she never seems to have any follow-through, personally or academically, leaving a trail of frustrated chaos in her wake. The only thing her restless, active mind and boundless energy allow her to do well is act -- and on stage she can escape who she is and be anyone she wants, anyone but herself, the disappointing Eton daughter. When she's informed by a professor that she's failed economics and is in danger of flunking out of Radcliffe College, she hatches a daring plan -- she'll runaway to seek her fortune as an actress in Hollywood. The only problem is her lack of funds...

Making the stars in her eyes a Hollywood reality seems like another failed Ellis scheme in the making until Janie Winslow, daughter of a family servant, begs for help. Janie needs Ellis to leverage their similar looks and her acting talent to pose as Janie for two weeks as a "hello girl," where Janie operates a telephone switchboard, while she attends to a family emergency. Ellis is thrilled -- posing as Janie will give her a chance to flex her acting muscles and earn much-needed funds. But the work proves more challenging than she'd anticipated, particularly when she accidentally overhears a conversation threatening Griff Phillips. Griff, her childhood best friend, is now a football star with dreamy blue eyes -- and the one person who tempts Ellis to think twice about fleeing to Hollywood. Intent on saving Griff, will Ellis miss the truth he's always known --- that what she views as her biggest weakness is her greatest strength, and that her uniqueness isn't, in fact, a mistake?

From start to finish, Love Comes Calling is an absolute delight. With her trademark attention to detail and her unique, unparalleled flair for bringing history to life with a Technicolor-clarity, Mitchell brings the roaring, raucous 1920s to vibrant life on the page. And in a stroke of brilliance she allows readers to witness this tumultuous, transformative decade through the eyes of a woman whose restless mind and unfocused energies would today see her diagnosed with ADHD. As a daughter of privilege, Ellis is in the position to embrace the increased freedoms the postwar years brought to women, from college educations to opportunities in the workforce -- only unlike the "hello girls" she meets when posing as Janie, Ellis has the safety net of family wealth. This realization not only allows Ellis to appreciate where she's come from, and the gifts she's been given, but plants within her a growing desire to help other women embrace the new opportunities afforded to them in this great decade of social change, giving her restless energies a heartfelt focus that cannot help but succeed.

Mitchell has a gift for bringing wildly disparate historical periods to life in her novels with pitch-perfect clarity, from the glamour of the Gilded Age in She Walks in Beauty to a Quaker struggling to survive the Revolutionary War in The Messenger. Here she brings the Roaring Twenties to life with all of the vibrancy and energy of the early Hollywood films that Ellis loves. There is more humor within these pages than one familiar with Mitchell's past works might expect to find, but for me that is part of the magic of her work. She manages to capture the essence of a time period, faded to black and white in the history books, and with a few deft strokes of her pen bring it back to life. Although Ellis post-dates the initial incarnation of The Perils of Pauline by a decade, I couldn't help but liken the madcap nature of her adventures to the early Hollywood serial -- the stakes are high, and despite obstacles and occasional failures, there is an infectious enthusiasm to her adventures for which one cannot help but cheer.

Within the framework of Ellis's story, Mitchell tackles the topic of Prohibition, and through the historical lens asks readers to examine the intersection of faith and politics -- as potentially volatile and timely a subject today as it was nearly a century ago. With the passage of Prohibition, the rise of corruption in government and law enforcement exploded, and the ease with which one can access illegal alcohol forces Ellis to examine both her personal beliefs and her role -- if any -- as a believer in a society whose mantra was increasingly "anything goes." More than seeking to enforce an arguably unenforceable law, as Ellis enters the workforce and experiences the best and worst society has to offer, she realizes the critical importance of living her faith, for the potential of her life, well and faithfully lived, to speak louder than any law. As Mitchell states in her Author's Note, "we were designed for the freedom of choice....[and] only God can change hearts" -- a particularly timely reminder for those today who, like Ellis and Griff nearly a hundred years before, are passionately concerned for the state of their culture.

Love Comes Calling is Mitchell's most cinematic novel to date, a love letter to the early pictures that captivated Ellis's imagination and a gorgeously-rendered, engaging reflection of the medium's energy and humor. The Roaring Twenties in all its capacity for change and possibility and excess spring to life within the pages of the novel with a captivating energy. The carefully-meted detail and ephemera through which Mitchell brings to life Ellis and her world makes for an utterly fascinating, absorbing read. And Ellis herself is an absolute gem, her voice not only pitch-perfect for the time in which she lived but an engrossing and compassionate glimpse into the mind of a woman wired to think in a manner and at a pace that, frankly, leaves most of the world in the dust. For anyone who ever wanted to be anyone but who they were, Love Comes Calling is a sweetly-told love letter. This is Mitchell at her most engaging -- fascinating history and captivating characters laced with thought-provoking spiritual truths.

About the book:

A girl with the best of intentions. A heart set on Hollywood. An empty pocketbook.

When a look-alike friend asks Ellis Eton to fill in for her as a telephone operator, Ellis jumps at the chance. For her, the job will provide not only acting practice but the funds to get Ellis a start in the movies. She's tired of always being a disappointment to her traditional Boston family, and though she can't deny the way he makes her head spin, she knows she's not good enough for Griffin Phillips, either. It's simple: avoid Griff's attentions, work, and get paid. But in typical Ellis fashion, her simple plan spirals out of control when she overhears a menacing phone call...with her very own Griff as the target.

With an endearing heroine as her lead, Siri Mitchell takes readers on a madcap tale of love and discovering one's true desires!


While reading Love Comes Calling, I couldn't stop thinking about two of my favorite classic Hollywood musicals -- 1947's Good News, the 1920s-set story of a co-ed who falls in love with a football hero a lot like Griff (a DISHY Peter Lawford), and 1960's Bells Are Ringing, the story of a ditzy, well-intentioned operator at a telephone answering service who violates the cardinal rule of her employment -- DON'T get personally involved in their lives, never mind falling in love. Both are absolute GEMS, check them out if you're in the mood for a little Love Comes Calling-inspired film-fest. :)


Kristin said...

I can't wait to get my hands on this one! I love some of Siri Mitchell's other books, and this one sounds right up my alley. :)

P.S. I just watched Bells Are Ringing last year, and I absolutely loved it. It was so charming!

Unknown said...

@Kristin - Oh I hope you enjoy this one! I thought it was SO good. I just adore how Siri captured the spirit of the time on the page. :)

Also, so not surprised that you loved Bells Are Ringing! :)

Anne Mateer said...

I loved this book too, Ruth! Such a great (and different) look at prohibition plus so many other character issues. I loved Ellis and how she looked at and processed the world around her. And I love how she grew from both the messes she made herself and the ones thrust upon her. And I always love the gentleness to Siri's love stories. (Maybe because that's how I tend to write them, too.) I feel like her books just keep getting better and better!

Unknown said...

@Anne - I'm so happy you enjoyed this book as well, my friend! And I completely agree...Ellis just SHINED in this story, so different and fresh and unique! And the development of her love story with Griff, her realization of her feelings, it was all beautifully told. :)

Rachel said...

SUCH A GOOD REVIEW! halfway through the book :D

Unknown said...

@Rachel - Aww, thanks!! :)

Rissi said...

Again, another wonderful review, Ruth. Thank you for all of these! Reading this makes me hope I'll enjoy this one where I didn't with Siri's last book. Cannot wait. :)

Unknown said...

@Rissi - You're welcome! And thank you for reading & commenting. :) I do hope you enjoy this one - it is very fresh and different and FUN.