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

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

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

Frederica

by Georgette Heyer

The Marquis believed himself to be hardened against flattery. He thought that he had experienced every variety, but he discovered that he was mistaken: the blatantly worshipful look in the eyes of a twelve-year-old, anxiously raised to his, was new to him, and it pierced his defences. He was capable of giving the coolest of set-downs to any gushing female; and the advances of toadeaters he met with the most blistering of snubs; but even as he realised how intolerably bored he would be in Soho he found himself quite unable to snub his latest and most youthful admirer. It would be like kicking a confiding puppy.

In rereading Frederica (on audio) I did something I don’t often do which is read two books by the same author in a row. But, since my experience with the narration of These Old Shades was less than the best, when I saw The unabridged Frederica in my audible library, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take another whack at one of my most beloved authors. Besides, this book always reminds me of springtime with its settings and outdoor adventures: a family dog harassing cows in the park unaware of proper canine London manners, a runaway bicycle, scientific excursions, balls and parties, and of course a runaway hot-air balloon. Thankfully the narration of Clifford Norgate was “bang up to the mark” with even his female characters escaping the affected tones too many male readers give their females.

Although no longer available on audible, I had downloaded this to my phone at one time so I still had access to it. Hopefully, the unabridged versions will be available again eventually in the United States as they are in the U.K. This one was an excellent interpretation. Mr. Norgate’s voicing of the Marquis of Alverstoke had nuance and subtlety and lived up to my imagination of his tone and expression. His inner dialogue trying to suss out his true feelings for the redoubtable Frederica gave a fresh insight into Heyer’s words. Some of the most amusing and memorable scenes (The Baluchistan Hound Incident and the dampening effect of “Restorative Pork Jelly” on incipient declarations of love) were “complete to a shade.”

Frederica Merriville has come to London so her beautiful and impossibly sweet and gentle younger sister can have her season and hopefully find an eligible match so she can be comfortably settled. She has audaciously reached out to her very distant cousin Alverstoke whom she has never met for assistance in getting her launched into society. He has no intention of doing any such thing, but once he meets the unusually frank and unaffected Frederica, her two young brothers, and Charis, a “diamond of first water” he thinks it might be an amusing joke on his two tiresome sisters, who have been needling him to give balls for their unimpressive daughters. He will do so but only if Charis is introduced at their sides. They are surprised but thrilled at his change of mind as their brother Vernon is a very rich and important figure in the topmost ranks of society. The Marquis has served them the lesson they deserve when they meet the lovely Charis, who totally outshines every girl in London and certainly her two plain cousins. But he’s not shot of the little family yet.

Charis soon becomes the darling of society, and her 24 year old “on the shelf” sister Frederica is well-received as well. Meanwhile, Felix and Jeremy, Frederica’s young brothers, take a liking to “Cousin Alverstoke” and he starts to become much more involved with the lively family than he ever intended. As he is drawn into their escapades, the perpetually bored Alverstoke is for once, not bored. Of course, Charis falls in love with a totally unsuitable but handsome blockhead, and Frederica struggles mightily to not be a bother to the formidable Marquis. But far from being intimidated, she finds herself constantly in need of his help and advice. The marquis, meanwhile, is falling deeply in love with this girl who treats him like an indulgent and kind uncle much to his bemusement.

This is a bright and delightful book. Georgette Heyer was at the height of her powers and Frederica is one of her most charming and likable heroines. Alverstoke is one of her most well-drawn and witty romantic leads and their interactions are high points. Felix and Jeremy are two very different brothers but are both irrepressible and fun. Even Alverstoke’s quiet and efficient secretary, Charles Trevor, shines and even plays a surprising heroic role during a final crisis. My favorite Heyer novels take place in London during the season where conversation, descriptions, and settings sparkle, and the ability to navigate the tricky conventions and manners of society put futures on the line. And you might even meet real historical figures like the Prince Regent, Beau Brummel, Gentleman Jackson, or Sally Jersey and her cohorts. This one has the extra attraction of a warm and happy family at its center.

Frederica, The Marquis of Alverstoke, and the Beautiful Charis

Rating: 5 out of 5.

March 21, 2022

These Old Shades

“Dear Edward has given Fanny a chocolate-coloured coach with pale blue cushions. The wheat is picked out in blue.” He held the sheet at arm’s length. “It seems strange, but no doubt Fanny is right. I have not been in England for such a time…Ah, I beg her pardon. You will be relieved to hear, my dear Hugh, that the wheat still grows as it ever did. The wheels are picked out in blue.”

–The Duke of Avon, reading a letter aloud from his sister Fanny

This was a reread on Audible of a book I’ve read so many times I know a lot of it by heart, even though it’s probably been more than 2 decades since my last reading. The quote above, I remember, was when I read the book for the first time, my emotions went from enjoyment and anticipation to sheer delight. Although the incurably romantic and fun story still holds up, it suffers from the narration. Cornelius Garrett does not do well interpreting the suave, omniscient, and mordant Duke of Avon. Justin Alistair is an iconic character in the romance world, upon which many many subsequent romantic heroes by many other authors has been based over the years. I don’t think Mr. Garrett understood his character. He plays him in a voice that is too high-pitched and is sometimes bombastic and querulous. There is little nuance and little comic timing. In my own mind, I hear Avon’s voice as somewhat affected but not effeminate. I hear the unhurried, dry, and quiet tones of the late great Alan Rickman. Cornelius Garrett is no Alan Rickman.

That off my chest, although I was entertained, and enjoyed revisiting one of my old-time favorites, I wasn’t as charmed and admiring of Leonie this time around. Her devotion to “Monseigneur” and her impish spirited antics (“Egad, you wildcat!”) after restored to her true female self were a little much. But the plot, the dialogue, and all of the other characters, including Justin Alastair, as written, if not played, were as entertaining as always. It is no wonder that so many aspects of the book have been so copied, even to this day, almost 100 years later.

Two oft-criticized aspects of the book are the age gap between Justin and Leonie (40 vs. 20) and the other is the emphasis of birth over breeding in the determination of character. As far as the age gap, I do not have a problem with it. It is not all that much more than Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, or Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Bogie was 45 and Bacall was 20 when they met. Cary Grant was 59 and Audrey Hepburn was 25 years younger when they starred together in Charade. As far as the importance of genetics in the determination of character, the criticism hits home a bit more strongly. Genetics is certainly a factor, but it doesn’t trump everything. Despite 20 years of being raised as a peasant, we are told Leonie never exhibits any coarseness. And conversely, in regards to the peasant with whom she was exchanged at birth, despite being raised as an aristocrat, he is awkward in society and wants nothing more than to be a farmer. Of course in my early readings of this book, I didn’t think a thing about it. And you know, some difference between the two can be explained by the behavior of both sets of parents who knew the truth. But I mustn’t digress.

These Old Shades is a most entertaining read. It has it all: romance, wit, comedy, adventure, suspense, cheer-worthy moments, triumph, and emotion. I love the descriptions of the fashions and toilettes, the glitterati, both fictional and real, and the settings. Although it’s too much to ask any book to recapture the joy it may have first brought once upon a time, it’s good to revisit books that once brought that joy. **5 stars, of course.**

Rating: 5 out of 5.

March 2, 2022

Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe

By Debbie Johnson

As sweet and pleasant as this was, I don’t think the style of this author is for me. I listened to this on Audible and am not sure how much this influenced my lack of enthusiasm. I was drawn in by the narrator’s voice and charming accent at first, but after about halfway through it started to get on my nerves. On the surface, this seemed very reminiscent of a Rosamunde Pilcher, D.E. Stevenson, or Marcia Willett at first.

Laura, a young widow with a young teen daughter and a younger son finds herself in need of some income. She sees an advertisement and writes a long letter to the owner of the Comfort Food Cafe in Dorset and is offered a job there for the summer. She is still grieving, we are told and told, the sudden death of her husband about 2 years prior. He was her childhood sweetheart and they were married for 14 years. But she didn’t come across as still devastated. She seemed pretty chipper, actually. (Maybe it was the narrator?) Her daughter Lizzie is a typical teen girl with no more brattiness or rebelliousness than is normal for a girl that age. She seemed like a pretty nice kid. The son, Nathan is pretty much a nonentity.

She settles in smoothly to her job with the quirky ex-hippie owner, Cherie, and her merry band of quirky customers who are like family. She meets cute with a very nice and sexy Veterinarian who looks like a “young Harrison Ford” and who goes around shirtless a lot. Romance ensues. The meet-cute involves underwear flying out of her suitcase and landing on his head. It was cute but at least two of my favorite authors would have created laugh-out-loud comedy out of the situation. Two bad things happen near the end, but in one case, it leads to opportunity, not tragedy, and the other is foreshadowed pretty expressly. It was too bad so sad, but, not heartrending. Laura goes out on a limb and organizes a reunion for two people who haven’t seen each other in 50 years. She is very nervous about it but it all goes fine.

In the end, to her children’s and her new friends’ and her new boyfriend’s dismay she decides to go back to Manchester at the end of the summer as planned for no good reason. That was the one occurrence in the book that really stirred my feelings. Unfortunately, that feeling was disgust. I was so turned off by her senseless decision to leave her godsend of a situation to go back home, that I was totally unmoved by the inevitable change of mind and happy ending.

This book is an amiable diversion with a shadow or two here and there that we are told about. There is very little tension, suspense, or anticipation. It’s smooth going, but I guess I prefer my fiction with more peaks and valleys, hilarity, and tears. But you know, you get what you are promised, “comfort food”, and there is certainly a place for that. But not for me, at least not at this time.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

February 18, 2022

Rachel’s Holiday

by Marian Keyes

**Spoilers**

As much as I enjoyed listening to Rachel’s Holiday, a book I have previously read several times though many years ago, I’m a little bit pissed. After I had finished it, I noticed it was the Abridged Version. Gaaaahhhh! I wanted to refresh my memory of Rachel’s journey in preparation for the debut of Marian Keyes‘ new sequel to my long-time favorite of her novels, Again, Rachel. When I searched for it on my Audible account a few months ago, this one popped up and when I saw that it was almost 12 hours long, I bought it. It never crossed my mind that it could have been abridged at that length. Now that I have listened to it, and investigated further, I see that there is an unabridged version, not available until tomorrow, February 3, that is almost 15 hours long. Now that I have finished it, and looking back in the foggy mists of my memory, I do seem to remember scenes and aspects of the book, that weren’t in this audio version. It seems like Rachel had more than one relapse, or almost relapse, than the one depicted in this. It seems like there was more about Chris in the world outside of Cloisters. It seems like we get more of her background with Luke, primarily her mistreatment and hatefulness towards him. Also, in my first read of this novel, It never really hit me how serious Rachel’s problem was until I found out the job she was fired from was as a maid in a seedy hotel. And I seem to remember that we learn that one of the addicts Rachel meets in the Cloisters ends up dying of an overdose in the outside world. These may be memories in my imagination, but I am spurred to get a book version of this to see if those were real happenings in the full book or not. I may have mixed things up in my memory.

So all that said, on to the book. The narration was great, and I enjoyed my “re-read”. It was as funny, witty, painful, and shocking as I remember. As I said, I did not get the sense that anything was missing at the time except one thing. Rachel doesn’t seem to go through any withdrawal symptoms or struggle with craving drugs and alcohol in this version. Does she struggle in the full novel?

Having it told in the first person made the book very effective as we see the truth according to Rachel and the real truth at the same time. That is, once you realize that Rachel is the definition of an unreliable narrator, and nothing she says can be taken at face value. If I’d read it for the first time today, I may have realized how bad her situation was right away. But I didn’t when I first read it. I really liked Rachel. The dawning realization that Rachel was not a likable character at first was a large part of why the book had such an impact on me. Even when she is on the road to recovery she still sees things from a skewered viewpoint until well towards the end. Her continued rage against Luke’s (and Bridget’s) “betrayal” being the primary example. It is only when she lets that go and sees that their visit to The Cloisters was an act of love rather than a betrayal that we know she sees her past behavior clearly and is truly and firmly on the road to recovering.

Apparently, the sequel, due out this spring in the U.S. (and in a couple of weeks in the U.K-not fair!), finds Rachel in her late 40’s and a drug counselor at The Cloisters. It sounds like she doesn’t stay with Luke but meets him again in this one. But yet in Mammy Walsh’s A-Z of the Walsh Family, they did get married and had a little boy. Also, he is mentioned in Helen’s story, The Mystery of Mercy Close. So it will be interesting to see what happened. But whatever, she is happy and healthy. Yay!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

February 2, 2022

Madam, Will You Talk?

Charity suffereth long and is kind.-1 Corinthians 13:4

“Where’s David?”
“Who’s Johnny?

This is the first published work of Mary Stewart, who is widely credited with inspiring what became a whole genre of fiction: Romantic Suspense. So I guess you could say that this is the book that started it all. Set in the early ’50s this first novel introduced readers to the evocative descriptions of exotic locales that she became so famous and appreciated for. To say the least, her heroines do not suffer from dreary lives. Mary’s exciting adventurous novels must have been a welcome respite from the gloom and hardships of post-war England.

It has been decades since I last read this story but there were a few things that I had never forgotten from the 4 or 5 times I read this previously. This time I listened to it on Audible read by famous actress Emilia Fox. A friendship blossoms between a young widowed English tourist and a haunted but charming young boy in France and his evident fear of his father. She is determined to protect him at all costs. I remembered the tense cat and mouse chase between Charity Selbourne, our heroine, and her very scary “enemy” through the countryside and towns of France. Charity sabotaging his car using a secret trick her late husband Johnny taught her in order to buy her some time to get away from him. The ghost of Johnny, who was a race car driver before he was killed on a mission over France during WWII, is present throughout the novel. The war looms large in this story. Johnny taught Charity how to handle fast powerful cars. That skill saves her life.

“When you let excitement in, Johnny would add, in a lecture-room sort of voice, fear will follow.”

That quote always stuck with me.

The episode that stood out for me more than any other was her car race to rescue her love and the boy David from the hands of their potential murderers. Her use of her considerable driving skills becomes a deadly weapon. Charity’s development from just a nice and very frightened young woman to a formidable adversary is just awe-inspiring.

I remembered how quickly and shockingly the love story flared when I first read it. With my modern sensibilities, It was a little troublesome how firmly trust and long-term commitment between the two were established. But I went with it. I guess it does happen like that sometimes. Two other things that were also difficult for me on this re-read were the constant smoking and the way that Charity was marginalized and kind of infantilized by the hero after her courage and heroics.

But after the darkness and fear, the closure, joy, and hope of the ending were so satisfactory.

“And so it ended, where it had begun, with the little Jewish painter whose death had been so late, but so amply avenged. And, ten days later, with The Boy David carefully boxed in the back of the Riley, my husband and I set our faces to the South, and the Isles of Gold.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

January 7, 2021

Amberwell

By D. E. Stevenson

This is the story of Five Little Children and How They Grew. I listened to this on Audible read by Lesley Mackie. With her gentle voice and slight Scottish accent, she added a lot to my enjoyment of this sometimes somewhat dark novel. While we hear about the children and their story it almost felt like I was being told a fairy tale and it was lovely, hoping as I was for happily ever afters for the children after the storms had passed. And lessons learned and justice served for those that required them.

The Ayrton children, two boys, and their three younger half-sisters are the children of two parents who don’t know or love their children or even care to. They are not socialites, jet setters, or workaholics, or V.I.Ps who are too busy with their own affairs to pay attention to their children. They are conventional and stolid pillars of the community. They keep the children from church and school and pretty much just ignore them unless they are of use or can’t avoid them. They just do not have any love in them. It was very odd.

Left to their own devices, they bring themselves up, thanks to a loving Nanny who unfortunately has little influence with the parents, and they do a wonderful job. Roger and Tom, in time, go off to boarding school where they learn that their parents and family are not normal. The reader spends the most time with Nell and Anne. The beautiful older sister, Connie, is nice as a little girl, but grows up only wanting to avoid unpleasantness and difficulty and doesn’t feel things very deeply. She gets married because that is what girls did and like her parents before her, we learn she is a horrendous parent, but in a different way. Nell and Anne are almost pathologically shy (unsurprisingly) sweet, and very close, with Anne being somewhat of a free spirit. They are both bright but ignorant scholastically and socially. It is Anne who was the most interesting with her fey ways, stronger spirit, and her unusual infectious laugh which is triggered mysteriously and unexpectedly.

It was no use of course. When Anne began to giggle it was hopeless trying to stop her. Anne shook with internal convulsions; she was seized with uncontrollable mirth and flung herself upon the bank writhing helplessly. The others caught the infection and laughed too. “What are we laughing at?” asked Gerald at last in a trembling voice. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes. “Come on, Anne. Tell us the joke.” “Anne can never tell you,” said Nell hastily …“Anne can never tell you the joke, and even if she does it isn’t a bit funny.

The war comes and has a dramatic effect on Amberwell, the center of the universe in this book. Mr. And Mrs. Ayrton are inconvenienced by the war, but that is the end of their involvement. But Roger and Tom go off to do their duty and become fine young men. Roger marries and has a baby. Nell comes out of her shell somewhat and becomes the dependable rock of the family. Anne, however, goes off to London with their Aunt and under her influence disgraces the family by eloping without the blessing of her parents. She disappears off the face of the earth. And we lose the most fascinating character in the book. Throughout the novel, the reader and Nell are consumed by Anne’s fate. Is she well and happily married? We have reason to hope, but why doesn’t she write? Or is she in dire straits? We don’t know until the end.

There are some sad and tragic times as well as a lot of growth and hope in this novel. Despite the happy ending, there were some disappointments and a boatload of loose ends and unrealized promise. Hopefully, the sequel (Summerhills)will resolve some questions and fates and provide some more closure. But I really liked this gentle and serious story with its intricately fashioned characters, insight, thoughtfulness, and atmosphere. **3 1/2 stars, rounded up**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

December 22, 2021

The Fair Miss Fortune

by D. E. Stevenson

What a sweet, funny, and charming book! That is if you like old-fashioned chaste romances set in the English countryside. And who doesn’t? Well lots of people, I guess. But I like them. Not as a steady diet, but if they are as well written, and as beautifully narrated as this one, I could get used to it.

Miss Jane Fortune causes quite a stir when she comes to the insular village of Dingleford with her old nanny to open a tea shop. She charms everyone in sight with her beauty and sweetness. Especially the eligible bachelors. Everyone except Mrs. Prescott who sold her her cottage/future tea shop. She is an overbearing entitled old battle-ax who mercilessly bullies and dominates her son Harold. You know the type. Miss Fortune and the most eligible bachelor in the village, Charles Weatherford, soon become quite close. One day, Jane’s twin sister, Joan, a slightly more impulsive and unconventional version of Jane, comes to stay. She is escaping from an amorous Frenchman who has vowed to chase her to the ends of the earth. Jane agrees to keep Joan’s existence a secret, to protect her. Thus begins, at times, an hilarious comedy of errors, wonderfully narrated by Patience Tomlinson. I listened to this on Audible. Charles, meeting Joan, thinking she’s Jane, is very confused by her indifferent behavior and falls out of love with her. Joan unaccountably falls in love with the browbeaten mama’s boy, Harold Prescott, who is amazed at her sincere interest (as is the reader). The scene where Mrs. Prescott visits Jane, thinking she is the shameless hussy who is attempting to ensnare her beloved son is priceless. Jane may be sweet, but she has enough spirit and poise to spare. She is not to be underestimated, especially in the face of the character assassination of her beloved sister.

The book is peopled with some very well-drawn characters: Jane and Joan’s nanny, Charles’ Mother, the shopkeeper who sells Harold some exercise books, the middle-aged colonel, horrid Mrs. Prescott, and especially Harold, who knows he is “a worm” but vows to make himself worthy of the Fair Miss Fortune.
The only criticism I have is the book ends too abruptly and leaves some loose ends regarding the endearing Harold and his mother.
Probably if I had read it it would have been 3 stars, the narration made it 4. so **3 1/2 stars**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

December 2, 2021