Rip in Time

Hall of Fame Worthy-It’s About Time!

I had very high hopes for this one, and I was not disappointed. It debuted on Hallmark Murders and Mysteries which serves as the home of more serious movies that don’t fit the usual Hallmark Romance mold. It was written by C. J. Cox who penned one of the best Hallmarks in recent years, Love Strikes Twice, as well as the Reese Witherspoon favorite Sweet Home Alabama and Rene Zellweger’s New in Town. It starred Niall Matter as Rip Van Winkle’s estranged son who travels from his time to ours and meets single mother Torrey DeVitto, and her son and father, the current owners of the old Van Winkle property.  Time Travel stories are always a safe bet and Niall Matter is a favorite of mine. Torrey DeVitto, not so much, but she was fine in this. Niall seems to have an air of melancholy behind his eyes, which was perfect for this role.

The fish out of water aspect was well done with enough shock and awe at the modern conveniences to make it believable and entertaining, but not so much as to distract from the story and relationship building.

When Torrey, armed with a rifle, and her son first discover Rip cowering in the barn, they flip on the light:

“Are You a Witch?!”

“She was, last Halloween.”

“Please do not shoot me, Witch!”

“Keep Calling me that. Give me a reason.”

“Oh. You are a spinster forced to wear pants to protect your family. I did not mean to offend you.”

“I am not a spinster, and I am offended.”

There really wasn’t much of a plot, other than the family not believing his story, trying to figure out who he is really, hiring him as a temporary farmhand rather than having him locked up, and their adventures in New York City to a hypnotist. It is there that they remove a musket ball that has not been manufactured since 1830 from an old (Revolutionary) war wound. Explain that one, doubters! Because of that musket ball, they also meet with a quantum physicist (Ben Wilkinson) who posits that time travel is possible and Rip’s story might be true.

Most of the movie is relationship building with Rip helping Torrey’s bullied son, dealing with the jealous suspicions of his rival for Torrey’s affection, a police deputy, and of course the slow burn romance. Also, a festival. Of course.

The writing was full of authentic details, including bringing in Washington Irving’s classic tale and a lecture on farm machinery of the era. Glad to learn about flax breaks.  Not to mention Ben Wilkinson attempting to explain the science behind time travel to a stunned Torrey and a bewildered Rip.

The romantic conclusion was a little too pat, with many future challenges remaining unaddressed.  But the reach across time, by means of a backpack, provided a reconciliation between Rip and his misunderstood father that was touching and satisfying.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

May 24, 2022

Romance to the Rescue

It’s All about the Dog

The human cast was OK but the dog stole every scene. He was adorable and hilarious. What an actor! Hallmark better get “Nova” locked down with an ironclad contract before GAC comes a-callin’. Just saying.

Andrea Brooks plays Kyra, a young and ambitious marketing person who works in a pet store. In order to impress her new boss, who she is also crushing on, she lies about having a dog. In order to cover her tracks, she goes to a local rescue organization to adopt a dog. The owner (Marcus Rosner-Kevin) is very picky about who rescues his dogs. She has to lie to him about her qualifications in order to fulfill his strict requirements. She really had to jump through a lot of hoops. Believe me when I tell you that Nova, who plays Sam, the dog, was absolutely pure liquid joy.

On a home visit(!) to Kyra’s house, to make absolutely sure Sam and Kyra are doing OK, it is obvious to Kevin that she doesn’t know what the hell she is doing as far as discipline and training are concerned. Sam has trashed her house in 10 seconds flat. Kyra goes through an amusing montage of prospective dog trainers. They range from militaristic to a holistic new-age approach, and none are a good match for the dynamo that is Sam.  Kevin ends up with the job and the rest is history.

Andrea Brooks was energetic, perky, and cute. I liked her, but I can see that a little of her could go a long way. After many many secondary roles in the Hallmark factory, she deserves the promotion to head girl. Marcus Rossner was fine, but I felt he was a little miscast. I feel like the part was written for a nerdy underdog type (no pun intended), and Marcus is anything but. But he carried it off.

Anyway, this was a perfectly serviceable Hallmark as far as plot and character, but OMG, that dog!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 23, 2022

Malibu Rising

By Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Spoilers**

So. Many. People.
Given the storyline, I thought this would be a more character-driven plot. Well, there were undoubtedly a lot of them. Although the background of the main characters, the Riva family, was interesting enough and rife with possibilities, ultimately the characters were very flat and I was not emotionally involved. I neither loved nor hated them. They were just there.

Ok, so what about maybe a great plot? It was high concept as all of her books seem to be. I think one of the problems with it was the lynchpin that all the developments stemmed from: A famous star abandoning his wife and children and leaving them almost penniless to fend for themselves. It just wouldn’t happen, even back then. I don’t understand why June stood for it. But that is nothing to the implausible predicament that Nina and the children found themselves in when June died. Impossible. Even if a main character (Mick) would be so inhuman as to do what he did to his own children, he would have a team of PR people, lawyers, agents, etc. that wouldn’t allow it for fear of career-destroying public exposure. Not to mention jail time. The concept was contrived to within an inch of its life. I guess we were supposed to ignore that. It all just made me angry and contemptuous. I actually felt kind of insulted. And from then on, I questioned and argued with almost all the developments. Never a good sign when you can’t conjure up even a morsel of suspension of disbelief and just go with it. Oh, and by the way, “The Riva Mansion that goes Up in Flames and Burns to the Ground” in all of the publisher’s descriptions and blurbs? It’s not even the Riva Mansion! It’s Nina’s ex-husband’s! To whom she was only married a year! So who cares?! But it must be me, because Taylor Jenkins Reid is a top-selling author and this book is very highly rated.

The author kept bringing in side characters and going into their backstory as if they were going to be integral to the plot somewhere down the road. Somewhere down the road when all would come together in a thrilling conclusion and all would be revealed. But no, most of them were just random characters and had nothin’ to do with nothin’.

The big crisis between the two brothers was a non-issue. Am I the only one that didn’t understand why one should feel so guilty and the other so mad and betrayed? Is it because I’m not a guy?

But yet…it was no hardship to keep reading. I didn’t skip and was quite interested in what was going to happen. Everything just barrelled along as we got closer and closer to the big party and the promised dramatic confrontations. If I could have a book with her writing but with characters I could get invested in or a plot that made sense, or even a romantic romance, I would be all in.

But for our next blockbuster by Ms. Reid we have a whole book about the unsympathetic tramp who had an affair with Nina’s weak non-entity of a husband and then had the bad taste to take him back. Wonderful. Can’t wait.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

May 21, 2022

One-Hit Wonder

by Lisa Jewell

I wanted to give Lisa Jewell another try after the first book I read by her. Like the previous novel, I was intrigued by the concept behind this one.

Ana, a bonafide card-carrying ugly duckling is 25 years old. She is repressed and bullied by everyone around her, especially her abusive psycho mother. She thinks she is ugly because she is tall, thin, and has a big nose. Her beautiful and dynamic half-sister, whom she barely knew, has died suddenly and she must go to New York to put her affairs in order. Bee was a wild child and ex-pop star whose celebrity faded quickly. A One-Hit wonder in fact.

When Ana gets to New York she is saddened and disturbed to see how Bee lived and died. She falls in with her two best and apparently only friends, Lol and Flint. Together, they are determined to get to the bottom of what happened to Bee. It is soon apparent that Bee had been living a double life with many secrets. In the course of her investigations, and away from her mother, Ana blossoms into a swan, finds inner strength, confidence, and self-esteem, and falls in love. By the end, there is plenty of redemption, happiness, and hope for the future for our main character, Ana, and others we meet along the way. But the happiness and hope that is found are in the ashes of Bee’s tragedy.

I liked Ana but didn’t love her. She was kind and good. I guess I can’t blame her for being a doormat to her mother and others, because the primary focus of the book is how she gets herself up off the floor. However, her constant poormouthing herself and failing to see her striking beauty that is obvious to everyone else was irritating. I listened to this on audio, and I liked the reader’s characterizations of everyone except two other main characters: Lol (short for Lolita, we are finally told) and Flint. The accent and voice tone was over the top with these two, and actually gave me a bad impression of them throughout most of the book. Flint’s character really turned me off and his voice just exacerbated my initial dislike. I just didn’t see how he could be the love interest but there wasn’t anyone else. As the book went on, and we learn more about him, my feelings did change, but it was slow going.

The gradual solving of the mystery and anticipation of closure on several fronts were what kept me going with this one. There were some interesting characters, particularly the difficult mystery boy and the cruel neurotic mother. The final outcomes with these two came too easily and were too pat for me.  As welcome as they were. The author had to put a pin in an ugly problem looming on the horizon to get to a satisfactory conclusion. Not that I didn’t appreciate it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 19, 2022

When Emmalynn Remembers

by T. E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde)

Amnesia or no, Lock, you’ve got to admit she’s got spunk!

This one had a lot in common with Wherever Lynn Goes. A girl in swinging ‘70s London with a wacky roommate gets drawn into mystery and danger at an isolated old mansion. In both of the books, the loyal gal-pals almost steal the show from the heroines. They insist on schlepping along with them (Lynn and Emmalynn) out of loyalty or love of adventure and take an equal role with the heroine in investigating the mystery. In several instances, they take the lead. Mandy and Billie are both gorgeous party-lovers who are used to having men worshiping at their feet as opposed to our beautiful but sensible heroines. But while they come across as flighty, they are both keenly intelligent. And they both are can-opener challenged:

As I set the table, Mandy tried to open a tin—for her a highly dangerous process which might well result in a surprise appendectomy.

I wondered how long it would take Billie to cook dinner. I privately doubted if she could even open a can without performing a surprise appendectomy…”

But enough about the sidekicks. Our likable heroine witnessed the murder of her former employer in the lonely old mansion, but she has amnesia. The eccentric old woman has left Emmalynn the house, and of course, she must go there. Part of the fun in a T.E. Huff is trying to guess who the romantic interest of our leading lady might be vs. The Killer. In this one, we have three men and a possible long shot. Two of them ruled themselves out pretty quickly as the love interest. One because…

He’s smooth and polished and—I suppose you’d think him handsome. He never did a day’s work in his life, although he piddles with stocks and investments and always managed to run through all the money Henrietta let him get hold of.

Romantic heroes never “piddle” are always responsible with money. The other because…

The pants were a bit too tight, the shirt showed a little too much bronzed muscle, his hair was just a bit too shaggy and sun-streaked. He was a stunningly handsome man, but his good looks were too calculated for my taste.

Plus, they are never conventionally handsome. Once you know who the hero is, you then know who the killer is, because it always is the other one. In this case, we know that neither of these dudes is the hero, so one of them must be the ax murderer. According to the playbook. And yes, Henrietta was decapitated with an ax.

The third guy seemed promising from what we hear about him. He’s a socially conscious doctor who is trying to prove his Dad is not guilty of the crime. And he’s a dog owner. But Emmalynn has almost no interaction with him. We meet him briefly about a third of the way through, and they have a hostile public interaction about halfway through, but then he all but disappears. I admit I was stumped. There has to be a romantic interest in a gothic…doesn’t there? Admittedly T.E. Huff keeps the romance in his novels pretty uneventful, but this was ridiculous.

At a little over halfway through the book an alert reader becomes aware that Emmalynn is keeping something from us. COULD IT BE SHE DOESN’T REALLY HAVE AMNESIA??!!!

This was a solid “3 out of 5”: Not the best Thomas Elmer Huff but very enjoyable with an engaging writing style as always. But the last chapter was so delightful that I am bumping this up to 4 stars (for what it is-a quick, light and entertaining read).

Rating: 4 out of 5.

May 11, 2022

Mad About You

By Mhairi McFarlane

In chapter 5, our heroine, Harriet, returns her boyfriend Jon’s engagement ring the same night he tries to trap her by proposing in front of his obnoxious family. To avoid humiliating him, and to avert an ugly scene, she accepts. A couple of hours later, when finally alone with him she returns the ring and she gives him what for. Decisively and with no fooling around.

She moved swiftly across the room, sliding the ring from her finger and placing it on a French chest of drawers, then turned and folded her arms. Jon, seeing this, looked unperturbed…. ‘Jon,’ Harriet said, in a voice so low and grim, it didn’t sound like her own. ‘What the hell did you do that for?…

You thought once I was permitted to plan a party, all my silly little feminine objections would magically fly away? It was one of those little lady ideas that don’t really matter in real actual life?’ ‘Come on, Hats, I’d never think your opinion doesn’t matter, you know that. You’re being a bit mischievous here,’ Jon said, and she tried not to scream. ‘I suppose I thought… As ridiculous as it sounds, I thought no harm in asking…. She took a deep breath into her lungs. ‘I don’t want to be with you anymore. This is over, Jon.’ …


She hard-gulped, as the tears surged up. ‘I’d hardly say this and not mean it, to punish you. That would be vile.’ ‘Then why say it now?’ Harriet said, thickly: ‘You’ve kind of forced the issue tonight.’ ‘So you weren’t happy before I proposed?’ Deep breath. Say it. ‘No.’ Jon said: ‘Really?’ in a broken voice, which was a small stab to her heart. ‘Yes.’

I almost cheered out loud. It is a not uncommon tactic for an author to put her readers through the mill with a mushy hearted clueless heroine in order to stir up sympathy, tension, anticipation, suspense, and to make the inevitable break even more dramatic (so she can find her REAL love interest or provide a cathartic climax). In many comedic romances, the heroine would have allowed herself to be won over, given him another chance, caved in to pressure and argument, or delayed and delayed the painful confrontation. Nope. Harriet was a heroine I could really get behind, not just root for in spite of her weaknesses and bad decisions. She never waivers, despite some entertaining confrontations with annoying Jon and his awful mother. So this got off to a great start, and in the ups and downs of Harriet’s adventures going forward, the novel never let me down.

Luckily, thanks to one of her friends who is a realtor, she is able to get out from under Jon’s roof almost immediately and finds a house to share with a guy who seems nice in a perfect house in a nice neighborhood. She is a wedding photographer and to her dismay, it turns out her landlord and housemate is a groom who famously left his bride at the altar at one of her weddings. When Jon shows up at their house and ends up punching him, both of them start to view each other with suspicion and trepidation.

Oh, hah hah. We all know I’ve got the section of my Wikipedia subheaded Controversy covered. If the waiter comes while I’m in the gents, I’ll have an espresso, thanks.’ Timely call of the bladder, Harriet thought. ‘Notice that our Calvin assumes he’ll have a Wikipedia,’ Sam said, once Cal had gone, and Harriet properly laughed this time.
‘In fairness here, I should tell you he’s not that guy.’ ‘What guy?’ ‘The one who traumatised a woman for life, in public.’ ‘Ah.’ Harriet didn’t know what to say and hesitated. ‘He kind of is that guy though?’ ‘Technically yes, he IS that guy. But he’s not that kind of guy.’ Harriet felt this might be an argument of creeps the world over. Yes I Did The Thing But I’m Not Defined By The Thing, Like Those Other Guys Who Also Did The Thing. ‘The unfortunate thing is, he’s a hopeless romantic…

While Harriet is working through her relationship with Cal, and dealing with Jon’s persistent almost-stalking, she meets a former boyfriend at another wedding she is working. Everyone loves this charmer but behind closed doors, he is a gaslighter, controller, and an emotional abuser. “Uh Oh,” I thought, “Here’s where we have a long flashback where we are taken through the heroine’s ordeal with a monster in excruciating detail in which she ignores ALL of the red flags.” But no. Once again Mhairi McFarlane doesn’t take the well-traveled route. When Harriet sees herself in his fiance’s sparkly on the outside but sad behind the eyes behavior, she writes her a letter telling her and the reader her story. This decision by the author keeps the past in the past and the reader is not only spared too much anxiety and frustration with the heroine but keeps the novel in the present and moving forward.

You think you’re going to pen her a letter saying your fiancé is a monster, and she’s going to write back first class and say aw thanks for the heads-up, doll, consider him binned?”…

‘Who stops these men? How do we stop them? Scott never hit me, he never physically attacked me or hurt me in any way where I can point to a scar. But he demolished me….
If I leave another woman to suffer Scott Dyer because I’m frightened of intervening, then nothing has really changed. If I don’t do it, Lorna, then I’m still scared of him. That’s just a fact.’

And she does it because she believes women should help other women. One of the themes of this novel is the importance and power of female friendship and advocacy.

But no good deed goes unpunished. Harriet is subjected to all kinds of havoc in which not only her business and reputation are threatened, but also some of her friendships. Things get pretty bad but I hope it won’t be a spoiler to say, “Fear Not!” Some new friendships are made and we are treated to a very satisfactory girl-power-variety takedown.

If there was a special place in hell reserved for women who didn’t help other women, perhaps there were special rewards for those who did. Harriet did not feel alone anymore. They couldn’t have achieved this without each other, they couldn’t have vanquished this man, except as a team.

As events marched towards the climax, I noticed my heart was actually thumping hard in my chest. No, I wasn’t having a heart attack, thank God. The book was just that gripping right there.

There is a nice romance that provides a hopeful happy ending for our heroine, but it is very much secondary to the drama of Harriet’s journey to understand her actions (both good and bad) and achieve emotional closure. I don’t think Mhairi McFarlane is capable of writing a book that does not have plenty of humor interwoven naturally throughout serious situations and conversations as well as more lighthearted moments. As well as thoughtful insights and character arcs. This one is in my top 5 by one of my top 5 favorite authors. Definitely 5 stars.

P.S. One quibble. The title made no sense. She was not mad about anyone. That is not what this book is about. She was upset at some people and had plenty of people mad, even enraged, at her. But not about her.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

April 6, 2022

Katherine’s Marriage

by D. E. Stevenson

Katherine’s Marriage was a good and worthy sequel to Katherine Wentworth, picking right up with Katherine and Alec on their honeymoon. In a cave. A very nice cave, but still. I really wouldn’t recommend this book if you haven’t read the first one and loved it as I did. The first couple of chapters kind of got on my last nerve with Alec and “the brownie.” When all was said and done, the only interest for me was continuing my acquaintance with characters that had so engaged me. And unfortunately, Katherine, at times, is a bit of a wet noodle here in contrast to the first book.

After their blissful honeymoon, in which we meet the laird, MacAslan, and his daughter, Phil, which apparently feature in one or two other books by D.E. Stevenson, the newlyweds are confronted with a few challenges. First of All, Alec’s neurotic and manipulative sister, who they thought had been neatly dispatched to Europe and then Australia, returns like Carrie from the Grave. She is horrified that her brother is married when she expected to return to her place in his house dominating his life. Unlike Katherine, who seems to have lost some of her charm and personality, Zilla hasn’t changed a bit. She returns in all her dark and hateful glory. How she is dealt with yields some entertaining chapters and tense moments. No sooner than that is solved than Simon, Katherine’s usually lovely 16-year-old stepson suffers a personality transplant similar to what happened in the first book. When we get to the bottom of that, the third and last crisis rears its head: Sir Mortimer Wentworth, Simon’s tyrannical grandfather with an anger management problem, summons Simon to scary Limbourne. He is not on his deathbed, but has had a health scare, which has caused him to re-evaluate his relationships for ill or good. There are some shenanigans with a new will, which is always good value in a rich English aristocratic family story.

The book ends on a happy hopeful note albeit a bit abruptly with a bit of an interesting drama left on the horizon. We also wonder what the future holds for Simon and Phil. And what about the Limoge jug in the first chapters? And what about Lance and Anthea? I would have read a third book. At the end of the story, Katherine is pillow-talking with Alec, “We’ve been married for sixteen weeks; I wonder what we shall feel like when we’ve been married for sixteen years.” It’s a rhetorical question. With a couple this nice, sensible, and devoted to each other, there is no doubt whatsoever. **3 1/2 stars**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 4, 2022

The Guest House

by Robin Morgan-Bentley

Heavily pregnant Victoria and her husband Jamie are trapped in a house with no way out when Victoria starts having labor pains. The couple who welcomed them into the guest house is nowhere to be found. Until they are.

I spent about 2 to 3 hours with this book. I started reading it and got to about the 7% mark, and I did something I haven’t done with a thriller in, like forever. I skipped to the end to make sure the baby was alright. I have a similar problem with dogs. Then I went back and started reading towards the end to understand what happened and what was going on. Then I wanted to learn more so I read randomly. I guess this just wasn’t the book for me. At least not for me at this time. For those with more fortitude than I had, I think this was an excellent, suspenseful thriller with some legitimate shocks for most readers. While it was very well-written, the justifications as to why the main couple felt so trapped with no way out didn’t hold water with me. The story the other couple expected the authorities to believe was inconceivable. And it seemed there was less and less reason not to take action as events occurred. I’m still giving it 4 stars. The fact that the suspense was just too much for me at this time, probably speaks well for the book. The problems I had with the plotting might not have been so bothersome had I read it cover to cover.

Thank-You to Net Galley and Poisoned Pen for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 28, 2022

Again, Rachel

by Marian Keyes

‘ “The truth must dazzle gradually, Or every man be blind.” Emily Dickinson.’

I loved much of this book. First, The Walsh family is a main character here, with each of the sisters maintaining the personalities that we have come to know and love or not love as the case may be. I hate it when an author does a sequel or a series and personalities that were interesting and intriguing, that made you want to come back for more, have vanished and we have reconstituted versions. The people we were introduced to and came to know throughout the Walsh family chronicles are the same people, yet some have been allowed to grow and mature. And some haven’t.

Confidence was usually seen as a positive. But Mum was from that generation of Irishwomen who prided themselves on raising children with rock-bottom self-esteem. Nothing galled them as much as an offspring with confidence.

 I definitely need to re-read Watermelon and Angels. And maybe skip through Anna’s story to find references to Angelo. After the last book, my favorite sister is Helen and I loved her role in this.

Rachel is back. She is 20 years sober and the head counselor at The Cloisters, the rehab center that saved her life back in the late 90s. Marian Brings back the patients and their heartbreaking yet entertaining stories that I found so involving in Rachel’s Holiday.

In here, clients gave only the most sanitized, tragic version of themselves. To get the full picture, you had to talk to everyone who knew them. It was a little like investigating a crime.

Readers of previous books know that Rachel and Luke got married, and now we find out they have now been divorced for 6 years and he lives in Denver, Colorado. She is in a happy relationship with another man, Quin, who is not easy, but he is interesting and complex.  In the beginning, Rachel is told that Luke’s mother has died and of course, Luke will be back for the funeral and to take care of his Dad’s affairs. Told largely in flashbacks we learn that, according to Rachel, Luke deserted her (but how can that be?) and we are taken through their heartbreaking story that led to that surprising circumstance. Meanwhile, we explore Rachel’s present life, her relationships, her work, and catch up with the Walsh family. And of course, Rachel and Luke are in the same country again. Rachel wants an explanation and apology from Luke but he is distant. It can’t be over for them, can it? But what about Quin? And what’s up with Luke’s long-time partner who came with him to Ireland?

In all of Marian Keyes’ books, The heroines go through horrendous times before getting to the happy and uplifting. Sometimes through no fault of their own, sometimes of their own making, or circumstances out of their control but exacerbated by bad decisions and self-delusion. Rachel part II was more heartbreaking than usual. I had some problems with some aspects of Rachel’s story and some of it was a little hard to swallow. Yes, it was long and drawn out, but in order for everything to come right, it had to be. Could Rachel have had her epiphany a little sooner? Maybe. could there have been a little more fair play with the reader? Hmmm. Not sure. But the book was as insightful, involving, and hilarious as usual. Marian is a master at balancing tragedy and comedy. And with a writer this good, the more words we are given, the better. So not too long for me.

After Anna’s story, Is Anybody Out There and Helen’s, the last sister’s, story there was an over 5-year gap.  Right before Marian came out with The Mystery of Mercy Close, she wrote a refresher to catch everybody up with the Walshes and kind of get them up to speed. If like me,  you have read Mammy Walsh’s A-Z of the Walsh Family,  you can forget about what she told us about Luke and Rachel. This book completely retconns what we thought we knew about them. This is by way of fair warning. I wish I had had one.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 27, 2022

Katherine Wentworth

by D. E. Stevenson

I realised that I was worn out in body and spirit with the strain of struggling along by myself, coping with the children and trying to make ends meet on an inadequate income. I had prided myself upon my independence and somehow or other I had managed . . . but now I began to wonder whether independence was so important. Perhaps one could pay too highly for it. Here, in this peaceful spot, with Mrs. MacRam to provide a firm cushion to lean upon, I gradually began to feel like a different creature. I felt years younger, with a returning zest for life—as one sometimes does when convalescent after a long illness. Colours looked brighter, food tasted delicious and every day was a pleasure.

Well, it’s a tie. This book is tied for my favorite D. E. Stevenson so far with Miss Buncle’s Book or the 4th in the Miss Buncle series, The Four Graces. But this is very different from the Buncle books. While those were clever and gentle satires of English country life and just funny, there wasn’t much funny or quirky about this one. It is a lovely family drama reminiscent of Rosamunde Pilcher’s best. It is about both the consequences of freedom and independence versus being “chained up” and, sort of conversely, the importance love and sharing one’s burdens.

Katherine Wentworth is a 27-year-old widow raising her 16-year-old stepson, Simon, and her two own young twins. Although a very happy “whole family” they struggle financially. We learn that her beloved late husband, Gerald, was from a very wealthy titled family but was cast off when he refused to fall in with his father’s plans for his future and made his own way after going to Oxford and later becoming a professor. To add to those sins, as a young man, he married an Italian girl who later died in childbirth. Katherine has had nothing to do with his family and vice versa. Meanwhile, she meets a former school acquaintance, the neurotic shallow Zilla who has a very nice and attractive brother. Despite being independently wealthy, Alec works as a successful lawyer much to his sister’s frustration. She is very possessive and manipulative and wants him constantly at her beck and call. In spite of Zilla, Alec and Katherine become good friends. At the end of Part One, Zilla offers Katherine, who sorely needs a care-free vacation, her remote cottage in the highlands of Scotland for the summer. And much to my wonderment, as I went into this book cold, Simon is contacted by his grandfather and summoned to his father’s family’s estate, Limbourne. It seems the heir is dead, and the estate and title will eventually pass to Simon. As Simon says, He wants to make sure I “don’t eat peas with my knife.”

**Some Spoilers**

Part two takes place at Limbourne. Simon refuses to go without his “Mums,” Katharine. Although they are welcomed courteously and treated well on the surface, Katherine and Simon know it is not for their own sakes, but because they have no other choice. The estate is entailed and Simon will inherit it no matter how the family feels about it. Yet, because Simon is an awesome kid, the tyrannical and intimidating grandfather genuinely likes and approves of Simon. Katharine is afraid. There is something not quite right with the family at Limbourne. There is something vaguely sinister and uncomfortable about the place.

Like everything else at Limbourne, the rose-garden was a model of tidiness. There were grass paths between the beds—paths of velvet smoothness—and there was not a weed to be seen. I thought suddenly of my daughter and her remark: ‘Funny sort of garden with no daisies!’ She would think this a very funny sort of garden, there was no doubt of that. The roses grew in orderly array, each little bush perfect in shape, bearing perfect blooms. I asked Medlam how he managed to attain such perfection and he explained that there was a nursery behind the beech hedge so that any bush which was not perfect could be replaced. ‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it, ma’am?’ said Medlam, looking round with complacency. ‘It’s the best rose-garden in the county.’ It was beautiful of course—roses are always beautiful—but to my mind it was too tidy and neat. The roses did not look happy; perhaps they were aware that if they failed in their duty to their owner they would be rooted out, thrown on the rubbish heap, and replaced by another rose-bush from the nursery garden behind the tall beech hedge…. He escorted me through a gate in the hedge. Here there were more roses, dozens and dozens of little bushes, their exquisite flowers filling the air with fragrance. There were red and white and pink and yellow roses in prodigal confusion. ‘I’m afraid it isn’t very tidy, ma’am,’ said Medlam apologetically. ‘It isn’t really for show, you see. We just plants them here temporary until they’re wanted.’ ‘I like it,’ I said. ‘The roses here look natural and happy and their scent is far sweeter.’ Medlam did not deign to reply to this piece of nonsense.

A Metaphor for Limbourne and its denizens

His grandfather wants to keep Simon at Limbourne and under his power. Simon has a good head on his shoulders and is devoted to Katharine and his half-siblings but will he be seduced by the wealth and advantages his Grandfather offers?


Part 3 takes place at the rustic cottage in Scotland where Katherine is spending the summer with her 2 young children. She has reluctantly left Simon on his own to spend another week with his newfound family. He is happy and excited to do so. Much to her surprise, Alec has come to stay nearby as well, and she is not sure how she feels about that. One night, without warning, Simon shows up ahead of time and he is behaving strangely and disturbingly. He claims everything is fine but Katherine knows better. What the hell happened? **End Spoilers**


This was so good. I loved the lovely Katherine and her family with their strength and wholesomeness matched up against their wealthy and outwardly nice but inwardly corrupted relatives. The inevitable romance turned surprisingly tender and touching. I sighed. I am just starting the sequel now and am anxious to read if we visit Limbourne again. Can this family be saved? This book ends on a hopeful note. Maybe?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

April 22, 2022