Vittoria Cottage

By D. E. Stevenson

We don’t stand still, thought Robert. We are travellers upon the path of life. No traveller can bathe twice in the same stream. He bathes and goes on his way and, if the road is dusty and hot, he may look back longingly and think of the clear cool water with regret … but presently he may come upon another stream, different of course, but equally delightful to bathe in.”

This is a quintessential D.E. Stevenson novel which means I really liked it. It features a little family headed by a young widow living in a charming abode in the English countryside. Wandlebury, home to Miss Buncle, or rather, Mrs. Abbott, is frequently mentioned as in the vicinity. Caroline Dering is very nice, very capable, and the mother of three children. James, her oldest and the child most like her, is serving in Malaya. Leda takes after her petulant late husband and is beautiful, selfish, and entitled. Bobbie, the youngest, is lively, tomboyish, and just a good kid.

The story centers around Caroline’s friendship with a newcomer to the village, an attractive widower she had coincidentally had a pleasant encounter with on her honeymoon with the habitually peevish and thankfully now-dead Arnold. Robert, a spy, was imprisoned in Germany and is still recovering from the aftereffects of both that and the tragic death of his wife during the blitzkrieg. They fall in like and are smoothly transitioning to love until things are shaken up by Caroline’s younger sister, famous actress Harriet Fane, who comes for an extended visit. She sets her cap at Robert, and what man, Caroline thinks, could resist? Harriet is my favorite character. She is worldly, amusing, and speaks her mind without fear or favor. She and Caroline are devoted to each other.

The other main focus is Leda’s engagement to the lazy and weak Derek, the son and heir of the leading family in their community. If possible, he is even more unlikable than Leda. Both Caroline and his father, the Admiral and local squire, are in favor of a long engagement because Derek is still at University and they have no means of support. Derek and Leda are not happy. Both are foolish and immature, though Leda, thanks to her raising, is slightly more sensible.

The fates of both romances reach a crisis and form the conclusion of the novel. On the way we have Caroline’s visit to London, James’ return home from Malaya, his nascent romance with Derek’s likable independent sister, painful news from Robert’s young son in America, a few medical crises, a few parties, and various encounters with well-drawn townspeople and neighbors. Particularly noteworthy is the fate of Comfort, Caroline’s lovable housekeeper who worships the ground Caroline walks on, but is dangerously overweight.

The protagonists are so “pro” and the antagonists so “anti” that you just want the book to go on forever so you don’t have to leave their world. Instead, it ends very abruptly with a lot of loose ends, which brought my rating down. It was read by Lesley Mackie who was simply perfection. I am so happy that this is only the first in a trilogy. Even though the next book follows lovely James to faraway Scotland, I hope we hear a lot more about our friends in and around Vittoria Cottage.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Limelight

By Amy Poeppel

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this excellent book on Audible. The reader, Carly Robbins, was perfection and I can’t imagine how the personalities could be better portrayed on the page as they were by this actress. She particularly nails the narration of Allison, our estimable heroine, the sulky brattiness of Charlotte, one of her daughters, her wise and very active mother, and our other main character, L’Enfant terrible Carter Reid.

Allison Brinkley is a teacher and married mother of 3 precocious children who is excited to move her family to New York City when her perfectly wonderful attorney husband gets a big promotion. They are leaving Dallas Texas to live the dream in the city that never sleeps! The Culture! The Opportunities! The Restaurants! The Excitement! The Shopping! The Charming Brownstone on the Upper West Side! Cue the rude sound of the needle scratching a vinyl record. Does the reality match the fantasy? Of course not.

Her teaching job(s) fizzle, she misses her dynamo of a mother, the kids are not adjusting well, the schools leave a lot to be desired, the other moms are cliquish and snobby, etc., etc. And trade in that brownstone in a leafy neighborhood for a too-small apartment in a modern high-rise somewhere in Manhattan not near Central Park.

But somehow things start to look up when, through a series of unlikely events, she becomes the Personal Assistant to Carter Reid, a Justin Bieberesque super pop star. Allison is cheerful, nurturing, patient, responsible, intelligent, hardworking, and chock-full of integrity. Carter has never experienced anyone like her. And vice versa. Carter is a rude, ignorant, lazy, hedonistic degenerate with the manners of a feral child. Maybe that’s a little harsh, but just a little. How it turns into a match made in heaven makes for a very entertaining journey. It is by turns frustrating, hopeful, a little scary, funny, and heartwarming. It is one step forward and one step, sometimes two steps, back as Allison assumes responsibility for whipping Carter into shape for the Broadway debut he is bound and determined not to do the work for. But Carter’s whole future is on the line, and though Allison is determined not to fail, it is not until she enlists the help of her teenage daughter Charlotte that we see there just might be some small possibility of saving Carter from himself.

As much as this book is centered around the development of Allison’s relationship with Carter, it is also about her whole family and their adjustment to the city, work, school, and creating a new social circle. By the end of the novel, they are all New Yorkers, even though super smart Charlotte will be moving to the West Coast to attend Cal Tech. And although no, (spoiler alert) Carter does not win a Tony award and thank Allison during his nationally televised acceptance speech in front of the glitterati of Broadway for saving his career, it ends pretty well for him too.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Mrs. Tim of the Regiment

by D. E. Stevenson

Tim accompanies us to the gate, giving jocular advice to Betty as to her behaviour in school towards teachers and fellow scholars. Try to point out to Betty as we walk up the hill that of course it is ‘Only Daddy’s fun’, and she must be very good and quiet and do all she is told; to which Betty replies gaily, ‘Oh yes, I never take any notice of what he says.’ Feel that this is not quite the lesson I intended to impart, but am powerless to put my meaning into words.”

Mrs. Tim of the Regiment was effectively D.E. Stevenson’s first novel. It is steeped in the atmosphere and culture of England between the two world wars. She did write one before but it was 10 years prior. And this one started off her career as a much beloved and popular novelist. The book was originally a diary she wrote as a young wife of an army officer. She lent it to the mother of a new army wife to help her understand what her daughter was getting into. Acting on a suggestion, D.E.S. fictionalized it and it was published to great success. About a year later she continued Mrs. Tim’s adventures (and I use that term generously) with Golden Days. The version I read was the two books combined into one, originally titled Mrs. Tim Christie. I wanted to read it because it is highly rated, was published to great acclaim at the time, and was the book that started her career as an author. It is probably the series she was best known for (There were three more “Mrs. Tim” books to follow: two in the 1940s, one set during the war years, and one shortly after. The last one was published in 1952). The other reason I wanted to read it, was that I remember picking it up as a young girl, always being on the lookout for new authors when I had read and re-read all my favorites. I couldn’t get into it at all. It was a bad choice to start off with and I wish I had picked another one. But I thought that now, knowing and enjoying Ms. Stevenson and “getting” her now that I am very much older (very very), I would give it another try. And of course, there was the bonus that if I really liked it, I would have 3 others in the series to look forward to.

I chose to read it on audible narrated by Christine Rendel. She was excellent and a good actress with all of the different voices, but I found her voice too mature sounding for the young vibrant Mrs. Christie. The first part of the book had a lot of characters which I knew would not be on the scene for long as I knew Mrs. Tim would be moving on sooner or later, so I was not really invested in them. But it was very pleasant and somewhat entertaining. Mrs. Tim, Hester Christie, is a thoroughly charming, sensible, and nice woman. Reading between the lines, we know she is a beauty and is admired and respected by everyone. Her husband, Tim, seems like a good guy, a little typical with his old-fashioned masculine traits both good and amusingly clueless and transparent. Hester is devoted to him and we see him through her eyes, so we are pretty sure he is worthy of her love and returns her devotion. Also, they are the loving parents of Brian, 10, and Betty, 6.

Things pick up when Tim is transferred to Scotland and Hester is invited to visit a new friend, the trenchant, frank, and dignified Mrs. Loudon, at her estate in the Highlands. There we meet Guthrie, Mrs. Loudon’s son, who is in the toils of a frivolous, beautiful, rather common, and thoroughly unsuitable young lady. We have an encounter with a ghost and suffer with Hester when Betty sneaks out to look for kelpies in the river and gets lost in the mists. We help with an elopement between the offspring of two families who have been feuding for hundreds of years and deal with the obnoxious social-climbing Mrs. McTurk. Most interestingly we have the appearance on the scene of the handsome and amusing Major Morley, a friend from Captain Tim’s previous posting, who is head over heels in love with Hester. She is blissfully unaware of his feelings, but they are obvious to everyone else. Through it all, we have the muddled reminiscences of Mrs. Loudon’s garrulous elderly cousin. It is charming and amusing, especially with the wry perspective of the lovely inside and out Mrs. Christie. Unfortunately, all of the little threads end somewhat anticlimactically, with the least drama possible. In the end, even Major Morley leaves the scene right before Tim’s anticipated arrival, eliminating any chance for any kind of interesting interaction between the trio.

All in all, I did like the book, but in the context of listening to it while doing other things. I kept saying, “maybe I’ll give it one more session before moving on” to listen to some very anticipated recently acquired audibles. I kept giving it one more day until, before I knew it, I was painlessly finished with the book. But I probably won’t read the others in the series.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Jane Austen Society

By Natalie Jenner

And the society itself sounded like a band of misfits with negligible expertise and no head for business: a country doctor, an old maid, a schoolmarm, a bachelor farmer, a fey auctioneer, a conflict-averse solicitor, a scullery maid, and one Hollywood movie star.

I really really like this one. I started it on Audible read by Richard Armitage and finished it on Kindle. As many have pointed out, it has a lot in common with a book that really spoke to me, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. England recovering from the devastation of WWII…an outsider welcomed into a small community of the like-minded… gentle romances…bookish conversations. It also reminded me of the work of the 20th-century English novelist, D. E. Stevenson. And this one has a Hollywood Movie Star and Jane Austen!

Winding through the story of the diverse group of society members are shades of some of the plots and characters from Jane Austen’s novels. Particularly PersuasionEmma, and a cad straight out of Sense and Sensibility. Or is it Mansfield Park? Or Pride and Prejudice? Or Northanger Abbey?)
The novel is character-driven, but the characters would probably not be all that interesting to many people. But I felt like I was drawn in and a part of their small world. I cared about them and their sufferings, secrets, and fates. I was invested in their mission to save Jane Austen’s house and the library, which was full of secret priceless treasures revealed thanks to a scholarly teenage housemaid. I was anxious and concerned because their chances of success looked pretty slim at times. Then we are given hope in a surprise twist I did not see coming.

Like many, I struggled to understand “the vote” of the society regarding how to advise one of their members. But I think it had something to do with this perspective from Mimi, the Hollywood star.

“…we are lucky if we get to live in places where so many people care—the trick is understanding why they care. Here, what I love, is that you care because you have a history together. You have known each other’s parents and grandparents…In Hollywood, it’s quite the opposite. Everyone comes there to start new and makes up a history—…Anyway, in a town where no one even knows your real name, let alone where you come from, what is tethering you to anything? What is there to keep you on the ground?

But I still didn’t like it, agree with it, or really fully understand it.

It won’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with Jane Austen that in this book, so closely aligned with that great author, it all works out in the end. And I will add that the epilogue was everything an epilogue should be. Even though this is a fictional treatment of a real Society, the Knight Family, their home, and Chawton, it was loosely tethered enough to reality that I learned a lot.
And I agree with Adeline about Emma.
**4 1/2 stars**

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

August 19, 2022

Crimson Lake (Crimson Lake #1)

by Candice Fox

I bunked the pedophile trend in every possible way, and that frightened people. The Australian public had convinced themselves that they knew what child sexual predators looked and sounded and smelled like. They thought they had a handle on things. And then along comes Ted Conkaffey. A wholly new, and more sophisticated, breed of monster.

This is the first entry of a trilogy. I vetted the series carefully since there wasn’t a guaranteed “happy ending.” By which I mean, in a book that is not a romantic comedy or chick lit, that justice is done and closure is achieved. The little I read about it satisfied me that this would be a good bet.

Ted Conkaffy’s life is virtually destroyed by a false accusation of brutally raping a thirteen-year-old girl. He was imprisoned for 8 months until the charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence. To everyone, including his now ex-wife, this means he was guilty but got off on a technicality. He has to flee Sydney from the constant hounding by the press and the public for his own mental and physical health and also to protect his ex-wife and their baby daughter. Literally everybody hates him.

He settles in a very small town a few miles north of Cairns and, on the advice of his attorney, contacts Amanda Pharrell for employment. Amanda is a brilliant private investigator and Ted was a detective before he lost his job so he is well-qualified to work as a P.I. Unfortunately, no one is qualified to work with Amanda. She is an eccentric piece of work with some mental health issues who spent 8 years in the pen after being convicted as a teenager of stabbing a friend to death. She’s kind of impossible to describe, so I’ll stop there. I was very engaged with both of the main characters and their fates. They were interesting and likable. While working on their first case together, we also learn about their pasts and the crimes which brought them down. We know that Ted is innocent, but are not so sure about Amanda especially since she confessed and happily (really!) served her time.

Despite the occasional flashes of humor and the wry first-person voice, this was pretty dark. Ted’s lawyer is the only one who believes in him as the novel begins, and we never even meet him. Besides Amanda, who really doesn’t care either way, through most of the book he only gains one other ally. By the end he has one more, and we gain some measure of hope for Ted’s eventual exoneration. He is abused by the police, hounded by violent vigilantes and the tabloid press, and hated by old friends and complete strangers. When we think we see some light at the end of the tunnel it is quickly dashed. I just couldn’t stand it.

I didn’t find the case that Ted and Amanda were working on particularly interesting and the solution, I thought, was implausible. The pace was interrupted by the insertion of a nutcase’s fan letters to the author whose disappearance Ted and Amanda are investigating. They were necessary to the mystery, but were repetitive and got boring. In addition, I still don’t understand why Ted was not exonerated by law enforcement before his life was ruined. The evidence, though strong, was circumstantial, and forensics of his person and his vehicle should have shown he couldn’t possibly be guilty of the horrific crime. It’s never laid out how this could possibly have happened, and Ted is too passive and accepting of the situation. And the case against Amanda was just as weak.

The writing was engaging and entertaining, and it is an exciting book with very likable protagonists. There were just too many aspects that didn’t make sense, and that frustration brought my rating down.**3 1/2 stars**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

August 3, 2022

The Identicals

By Elin Hilderbrand

I listened to this on audio because I wanted to give this author a shot but my time is always a consideration. I’m always looking for a shining star and her name is always popping up, especially in the summertime, and most people seem to really love her. I chose this one because twin stories always seem to be stuffed with possibilities. Two twins, Tabitha and Harper were separated as children when their parents divorced. Harper won rock paper scissors and stayed with her easygoing fun father on Martha’s Vineyard and Tabitha had to go with her cold controlling mother to Nantucket. Tabitha’s unreasonable resentment of Harper getting to stay with the Dad laid the groundwork for their estrangement. It was taken to another level when Tabitha (again) blamed Harper for a personal tragedy that was not her fault. Though only 11 miles apart, they had not seen each other for 15 years when Billy the father dies and the two sisters, their mother, and Tabitha’s out-of-control teenage daughter meet for his funeral.

Frankly, soon after the drama of the funeral, I was all set to give up on this, which would have been a first for me for an audiobook. Since I always listen while doing something else, it is just so easy to go along with them even if the book isn’t that enjoyable. There was not one likable main character. And the sisters in particular were both pretty contemptible. Harper was an immature, irresponsible underachiever who thinks nothing of carrying on an affair with a married man while two-timing him with another guy who is serious about her. Tabitha is such a bitter woman and “piss-poor parent” to teenage Ainsley, that I really questioned whether she cared about her own daughter at all. Ainsley is a mean girl whose teenage angst was just exhausting.

But soon after the funeral, They decide to change places. Harper will go to Nantucket to look after Ainsley and the family dress shop, and Tabitha will take care of renovating and selling Billy’s ramshackle house on the Vineyard. I thought that maybe this would be the turning point in the story that would result in healing their relationship and the evolution of their characters. In some ways, it did eventually but not before the sisters continued to reveal their awfulness, especially Tabitha. With both of them, every time I started to gain some liking and even respect, they disappointed me. Especially Tabitha. It was very frustrating. The difference between them was that although Harper made awful decisions she was essentially good-hearted and sensible. But towards the end, she did something so heartless that I couldn’t forgive her. Tabitha was just awful. The love interests were weak as well. I don’t even want to get started with those guys. There was one decent man introduced who was a possibility for a while for either of the sisters, but he got kicked to the curb and disappeared. The most positive thread was Ainsley finally maturing and getting herself together after being a horror throughout most of the book. This was thanks to the one nice and admirable character who needed a lot more pages and a story of her own.

The one really enjoyable part of this book was the last chapter in which everything was tied up into a happy ending (no accountability here!) and told from the perspective of Harper’s pet dog, who was the other unobjectionable character in this book.

Hilderbrand is a good writer and most of the book was pretty engaging. I might try another one someday. Surely not all of her protagonists are so flawed. **not quite 3 stars**

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 24, 2022

Good Girl, Bad Blood: A Sequel to A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

by Holly Jackson

I did not enjoy this as much as the first one. Pip is drawn in very reluctantly to another dangerous mystery when Jamie, the older brother of one of her friends, Connor, goes missing. In the first book, Pip goes to some dark places in solving the mystery of who really killed Andie Bell and clearing the name of her boyfriend Ravi’s brother. But when the police won’t do anything because Jamie is an adult and he is low on the risk assessment scale, Pip feels she has no choice. Also, she is in a unique position. She knows her podcast would be a powerful tool to get the word out to find Jamie.

I listened to this on audio and am not sure that’s the best way to “read” a murder mystery where you want to sift through clues, pause and reflect, and backtrack at times. The narration was good and I did enjoy the multiple actors and sound effects. I was kept interested by the question of what happened to Jamie and why. And if he was still alive. It did not look good for him, for sure. I felt like one of the reveals came out of nowhere with no foundation being laid. Even if the reader wasn’t played fair with, it was entertainingly shocking and it did make sense, I thought. Once we were given the information out of nowhere. Besides that, a few things affected my enjoyment of this one. Jamie’s character was presented in such a way that I really didn’t care about him that much. Pip’s reactions to some happenings were a little problematic for me. And towards the end, the emotion was overwrought. Her behavior was probably realistic but, sometimes, when you put it all on the page, there’s nothing left for the reader to feel.

A lot of the threads have a satisfactory optimistic conclusion, but some of them do not. The fate of the rapist Max Hastings, who was indirectly responsible for some of the tragedy in the first book is one of the ones that do not. Pip does something risky and badass to deliver her own justice, but I do not like comeuppances left to my imagination. I want retribution, pain, and suffering! Perhaps in the next book? Perhaps not. Pip seems like she is not in a good place and things with her seem destined to get worse before they get better. If they do. I was left a little pessimistic about Pip and humanity in general. The first two were enough for me, I think. **3 out of 5 stars**

Rating: 3 out of 5.

June 19, 2022

The Bodyguard

by Katherine Center

I listened to this on audio, and it was an entertaining romantic comedy. Our heroine is a female bodyguard hired to protect an A-list movie star (male, of course) from a female stalker/corgi breeder/sweater knitter. It was fun and funny with lots of both comedy and snark. There was some drama-our heroine, Hannah, has some self-esteem issues which she tends to over-compensate for and the hero, Jack Stapleton, is estranged from his brother due to the tragic death, blamed on Jack, of their youngest brother. Hannah is put in charge of Jack’s security while he is visiting the family ranch. His mother is recovering from a bout with cancer, and not wanting to put undue stress on her, it is decided that Hannah will pose as his girlfriend rather than his “executive protection agent”. It was a cute concept. Let the romance begin.

Written in first person, the book was narrated by Patti Murin who, with her tomboy-ish tone was perfectly cast as Hannah. I love Katharine Center’s authorial voice, as I did with the other book I read by her, Things You Save in a Fire, about a female firefighter. She has a real talent for establishing an intimate, “best-friends” relationship with the reader which puts you right in the midst of things. The heroines in the two books are similar, in that they both are a little too anxious to prove their badassery. Hannah started off very cantankerous to the point that I was a little put off at first. Once she settled into her role at the family ranch she calmed down, and we are taken up with Jack’s relationship with his family and what was going on there. Not to mention Hannah’s reluctant attachment to the Stapleton family. And Jack, of course.

This was a straight-up rom-com. Nothing more and nothing less. For the com part, we are treated to a lot of funny banter, and fish out of water scenarios. We have some pretty entertaining cheating ex-boyfriend and beautiful mean ex-girlfriend action added to the mix. As for the rom part, it’s never smooth sailing (it can’t be, can it?) but the roadblocks to the relationship between Jack and Hannah were entirely of her own making. Her determination to not believe in Jack, who was perfectly lovely by the way, didn’t sit too well with me. Especially as Hannah goes to great pains to tell us what a genius she is at reading people. Her obtuseness almost leads to catastrophe.

The final wrap-up made up for the quibbles I had as a whole. Katherine Center really knows how to end a book. There was one part that was even quite moving but it involved a very peripheral character we barely know. So. The Ballad of Jack and Hannah was an entertaining story but didn’t go very deep. No thrills or chills for me, but that’s OK. It accomplished what I think it aspired to. It was fun. I can’t blame it for not being what it wasn’t even trying for.
3 1/2 stars I’ll round up thanks to the ending.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

June 4, 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

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