book reviews · NetGalley · Revell Reads · Theme Chatter

The Master Craftsman by Kelli Stuart

Theme Chatter

I didn’t really connect with any themes in the first 101 pages of this book, and I stopped reading it at that point. So the chatter today is about DNFing a book.

Not every book is for every reader (though every book usually does find its readers), and since there are so many books to be read out there (personally, I’ve got hundreds of unreads in my stacks and stashes), I’ve decided that it’s sometimes better to DNF (did not finish) a book I’m not enjoying than to suffer through it. Other times, I keep trudging along to see how a certain thread ends or something, if there’s any of them I’m fully invested in, and oftentimes I skim a lot in that scenario. Other than that, I give books at least 25% or 50 pages to wow me and then stop reading them if they didn’t. I’ve heard lots of people say one should always finish every book they start, and I’ve heard lots of other people say they stop reading if the book is boring or uninteresting for any reason. There are loads of opinions on the subject. For me, it depends on the book, but I do believe that it’s okay to stop reading a book if it’s not my cup of tea.

What is your opinion on DNFing a book?
Do you have certain criteria a book must meet (or not meet) in order to stop reading it?

Book Review

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book. These are my honest thoughts.

The blurb and cover originally caught my attention. They sounded and looked, respectively, so intriguing to me. Had I known that Alma Pihl, the historical-era lead, was a real-life person, I would have known not to request this book. Reading about real-life leads is not my thing, as I do not typically enjoy fictionalized versions of real people’s stories. There are rare exceptions on occasion.

This was not such an occasion.

There were inaccuracies and inconsistencies throughout the first hundred pages (I DNFed at page 101). I also was not comfortable with the scenes that depicted the strain of Mr. Fabergé’s marriage. Those details, particularly the ones that shared how his wife and he felt about each other and their marriage, seemed completely fictionalized rather than based on facts gleaned from historical accounts. Perhaps I’m wrong, and I hope I am, but it made me uncomfortable enough to lose interest in Mr. Fabergé’s thread in the book.

I found it difficult to connect with the characters in the historical thread because there were too many history dumps. In particular, there were dumps about dead master craftsmen who had been replaced. This was unnecessary information that cluttered up the pages so that I couldn’t find a sense of the present action within the scene, as it was often interrupted to share more details about some person who would not play any role within the story as they were long gone already. At times, the history dumps were so dense and lengthy it felt like I was reading a history textbook rather than a novel.

While the Fabergé eggs were described in beautiful detail, I found the placement of these descriptions awkward and disruptive to the flow of the scenes.

It was also difficult for me to connect to any of the contemporary-era characters. The lead in the present-day scenes acted like a rebellious teenager rather than the twentysomething she was. It was unsettling that she used bad language, and especially right on the pages of a Christian fiction-labeled book. Her mom acted even less mature, holding on to hurts she’s had a lifetime to work through (but apparently didn’t). I understand that sort of thing, but I don’t understand still being on a teenage level in the way she spoke and acted toward the people around her. The dad was way too passive for a treasure hunter type of person. Cancer and looming death notwithstanding, he didn’t seem the type to abandon his family in order to seek treasures with the personality I saw on the pages.

It was difficult for me to keep track of all the leading ladies. There were three POV ladies and all of them had names that began and ended with A. I understand now that Alma Pihl and Augusta Fabergé were real-life women. Their names were pre-decided, then. But why did the fictional lead have to be named Ava? I don’t know how many times in 100 pages that I got confused between Alma and Ava because the names were too similar. There were also secondary characters mentioned whose names were Amalia and Albert. That’s a lot of A names to keep track of.

“Actually, I don’t think you owe him an apology, Mom.” Actually, she did. No matter how he had treated her in the past, her using verbal abuse against him was not okay. Verbal abuse is never okay. Yet, here it was given the easiest of excuses and then rubbed in his face that she knew she didn’t need to apologize for it. This behavior does not encourage healthy relationships, and it largely contributed to my lack of connection with these characters.

Inconsistencies and contradictions popped up on occasion. One in particular was quite shocking. A single photograph was described as detailed (being able to see “some flecks of black sprinkled” in a white beard), unclear (“wasn’t clear enough to make out his expression”), clear (a woman’s “soft smile turned up her lips”), and unclear again (the expression in the woman’s eyes was hard to make out). These contradictory descriptions were unsettling and took place over a span of only two paragraphs.

The first 100 pages had feminist overtones that prevented me from connecting well with the story. In the author’s note at the back of the book, it was said that Mr. Fabergé was “a master craftsman whose creativity and vision is [sic] almost unparalleled in history.” Yet, within the story, Alma’s two eggs were “thought to be the most innovative” of all of Fabergé’s eggs. Was Mr. Fabergé or Alma the greater designer? This book told two different answers to that question. There was becoming a large focus on the fact that Mr. Fabergé “employed several women as master craftsmen,” but lists I found online only showed two or three female master craftsmen who worked in his shop. Two is a “couple”; three is a “few”; I don’t see “several” in any of the lists I found online. There were other niggling comments that were slid in that hinted at a feminist movement sort of thing, and that is not a favorite theme of mine to read about.

Certain things were over-emphasized to the point of ad nauseam. “Padawan” comes to mind, for one example. The first couple of times were cute and a great idea. Once it piled up to be a dozen or more times within about 20 pages, I was worn out on the subject.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the Fabergé eggs. I felt they were out of place at times, as they were often part of the history dumps, but they were very well described so that they were well seen in my imagination.

I’m sad to have to not finish this book, because I was really wanting to spend some time virtually traveling to Russia and Finland and perhaps other countries as well through this story. I typically love stories that make the settings come alive so that I feel like I was actually there while reading. I don’t know if this book does that or not, as the contemporary thread still had not ventured to Europe by page 101 and the historical thread mostly took place in Mr. Fabergé’s shop or home through that same page.

The cover was beautiful, and I really liked that one of the Fabergé eggs was added near the bottom. That was a really nice detail.

The opening scene was my favorite one. It set a nice, suspenseful tone and had high stakes. I just wish the following scenes had lived up to that high bar.

Content: expletives


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