Music in the Hills (Dering Family #2)

by D. E. Stevenson

The view down the valley was wide and free; the winding river, the rounded, rolling hills. The air sparkled so that it was a positive joy to breathe . . . and over the whole place there was a stillness, a peaceful sort of feeling; it was like the feeling one has when the words of a benediction have been uttered and have died away.

Rhoda had quite a good brain (and knew it), but even she found the sermon “a bit stiff,” for Mr. Sim’s theme was the ethical interpretations of history and the varying interactions of the temporal and spiritual powers. As Rhoda looked round at her fellow-worshippers she could not help wondering whether they were taking it all in or whether their rapt expressions were due to pre-occupation with domestic affairs.

“So, Becky, What are you reading?”
Music in the Hills by D.E. Stevenson.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s about a young Englishman, disappointed in love, who goes to Scotland and learns to be a sheep farmer. In the 1950’s”
“Oh.”

Whenever I finish a D.E. Stevenson novel, half the time, it seems like I am declaring it the best I have read yet. Music in the Hills is the second in a trilogy begun with Vittoria Cottage, and it has supplanted Katherine Wentworth as my favorite so far (other than the Miss Buncle books). After proposing to Rhoda, the strong-minded and captivating artist we met briefly in the first book, and being turned down, James Dering, the beloved son of Caroline, the heroine of Vittoria Cottage, goes to live with her sister and her husband’s Scottish estate and sheep farm, Mureth. He has his mind and heart set on being a farmer after being stationed in Malaya during the war. James is one of D.E. Stevenson’s strong, upstanding, handsome, and kind heroes. He was lovely, although on at least two occasions I wanted to slap him silly.

We meet lots of interesting characters at Mureth and the environs. The main characters, self-deprecating, vague, but wise Mamie, strong and straight Jock, pretty vivacious Holly, fairy-like Eleanor, Daniel the shepherd, and community and duty-obsessed Lady Shaw, would all take pages or at least paragraphs to describe satisfactorily. Even the ones who put in the briefest of appearances have something distinctive about them for good or bad. The ones we are meant to scorn, I disliked intensely (narcissistic bully Sir Andrew, Lady Shaw’s husband, and the self-important entitled Londoner who buys a neighboring estate. He doesn’t understand his house, the people, or the land and doesn’t care to.)

There are quite a few plot threads to keep things interesting. Lady Shaw’s conniving niece Holly’s pursuit of James, for one. We know she is not right for him right away.

You don’t *like* London do you?”
“No, of course not. I’m really a country person.” She did not look like a country person. Even James, who knew very little about women’s clothes, had a feeling that Holly’s green frock was a town rather than a country garment and her shoes had been made to walk upon London pavements rather than in country lanes. He took her hand to help her down the uneven steps.

It takes James, naive in the ways and wiles of women quite some time for the light to fully dawn. We fear for him. When the vibrant unconventional Rhoda tears up on her motorcycle and knocks on Mureth’s door, we breathe a sigh of relief. We also fear for Eleanor, Lady Shaw’s young daughter. Though surrounded by family, she is virtually alone in the world with her books, dreaming her life away. James takes to her immediately and enlists reluctant Mamie to help rescue her. What will happen when sweet and timid Mamie gets up the gall to talk to the self-important human steamroller who is Lady Shaw about her parenting? I was on the edge of my seat. Meanwhile, someone is rustling the Mureth sheep. Suspicion falls on a likable character we know has got to be innocent. What is going on? James gets on the bad side of the powerful new neighbor who unbelievably shoots at a sheepdog. When he throws a citified party to introduce himself to his country neighbors, danger lurks everywhere. By the end, the good and strong are set apart from the bad or weak. Then we have the petty feuds and rivalries, Lizzie the housekeeper and her detachment from her children, the gossip, a country party that almost leads to disaster, stalking sheep rustlers, hunting, fishing, and traipsing through the hills. I for sure started to cringe at the direction the James and Eleanor relationship seemed to be briefly going, but it didn’t. What was he thinking?

Despite the fact that I had another book waiting to be read, I had to pivot and go right on to the sequel, Winter and Rough Weather. It was too soon to leave the world of Mureth and its people. I had to keep accompanying them on their journeys for a little while longer. I hope we see Eleanor completely sorted in book #3.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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.

The Talking Snowman (Judy Bolton #3.5)

By Margaret Sutton and Linda Joy Singleton

The Talking Snowman by Linda Joy Singleton is an addition to the Judy Bolton canon based on an unfinished manuscript by Margaret Sutton. It was completed as a gift to the Judy Bolton author, who included some revisions when she was sent the first manuscript draft. Chronologically, It takes place at Christmas time between the third book and the fourth, so it is book number 3.5.

Judy is mystified when her snowman that she just built along with Honey and Peter Dobbs says hello to her father and tips his hat as he comes up the sidewalk. Later, the snowman repeats his unusual talent to Judy and Horace by telling them to go to the clothespin factory. There are no footprints in the snow to indicate someone is hiding behind the snowman. It is a good little problem. I know I was baffled. If it was a hidden walkie-talkie, how did he tip his hat? Meanwhile, there is some trouble brewing in town between two rival gangs, one from the blue-collar Industrial High, and the other from the more well-off and privileged Boy’s High School. It started off as a snowball fight, but things start getting really serious when rocks start to get thrown as well as snowballs. Benny, one of the Industrial High boys and a friend of Judy’s high-strung friend Irene, is arrested. When Judy’s mother is found knocked unconscious in a ditch and ends up in the hospital, it gets personal for Judy.

By the end of the book, the talking snowman is credibly explained, and the two groups of boys make friends when the truth comes out about who was responsible for the rocks and the feud getting started to begin with.

There was a lot to like in this. I liked the real hometown mystery rather than the FBI stuff of the later Judy Boltons. The local problem of rich boys and poor boys not getting along escalating to an actual riot was true to life and high stakes. The resolution made sense and was even exciting. Judy was smart and did some real detective work.

Part of the story concerning Mrs. Bolton had a lot to say about children taking their mothers for granted and even feeling a sense of ownership of them. A couple of times in the story Judy gets upset and concerned when she thinks her mother is hiding something from her or appears somewhere where she didn’t expect to see her. As if her mother didn’t have a right to be her own person. At one point, Mrs. Bolton flat-out tells her to mind her own business. It is only when Mrs. Bolton accuses her of treating her like a criminal that Judy realizes how out of line she is.

Many of Judy’s friends put in an appearance and their personalities and characteristics are on point. It nicely foreshadows her relationship with Peter. I found this just as good as the best of the Margaret Sutton-authored Judys.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Hidden Clue (Judy Bolton #35)

“Dad’s right,” Judy’s brother Horace put in. “Don’t you remember the Prophet’s words to the woman with the baby?” He said, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s Longing for itself. “They come–

“You and your quotations!” Judy interrupted before her brother could finish. “I suppose you’re going to tell me they come trailing clouds of glory.

“No, that’s Wordsworth.

This is # 35 of the original 38-book Judy Bolton series and things are winding down. The Hidden Clue piggybacks on the former book, The Puzzle in the Pond in which Judy, Peter, and the rest of the community take in orphans displaced due to a fire at an orphanage. In Judy’s temporary care at Dry Brook Hollow are 4 or 5-year-old “Sister” and her baby brother. No one knows their names or history because they were just dumped on the orphanage’s doorstep one day.  When anyone tries to question Sister, she is very vague and her answers don’t make sense. One day, Judy buys a doll for her but leaves it at the toy store which used to be a drugstore. When she goes back to get it, it has turned back into a drugstore again and all of the dolls she saw in the window are gone. The clerk denies everything and acts suspiciously. While in town, she takes Sister to the Library where Maud Wheatley who we met a while back in a former book is the librarian. Sister runs to her thinking, for some reason, that Maud is her real mother. Maud does not handle it well and ends up lying to the child, agreeing that she is her mother (when she is not).

As things unfold, Sister lets some things slip about her past, Including that she once had a “Winnie” doll, a not-too-nice woman called ‘Auntie Grumble” who was supposed to take care of her, a chess board, a group of men in a truck, and her old house burning down. Unfortunately, Judy does not know which of these disclosures to take seriously.  She writes all these clues down, and from there Peter and the FBI get involved. Peter and Judy pursue the clues to Chicago where the mystery is solved and Sister and the baby happily end up with a family.

This is not a favorite, but It is certainly far from the worst in the series. I love that it is mentioned that Judy and Peter go to visit Roberta. A lot of things did not make sense, some situations are very hard to swallow, and Judy is kind of obtuse about some things. And a little whiny. The biggest reason for not being too fond of this one is that Sister got on my nerves, and I didn’t like the way Maud behaved around her. She came across in a negative way that I don’t think was intended by the author. But maybe it was. It’s true that Margaret Sutton’s characters are multilayered and many are neither all good nor all bad. What surprised me, in this book about orphans and “real parents” versus adopted parents was Judy’s insensitivity to Peter’s being an orphan until he was adopted by his grandparents. And her friend and sister Honey’s very troubled background before being adopted. In her zeal and focus on finding Sister’s “real parents” it’s like she forgot her own family’s history. She remains oblivious even with Dr. Bolton’s disapproval and broad hints to check herself. The clue-stick finally makes contact in the end. In addition, the big case of transporting stolen baby dolls across state lines was underwhelming. Couldn’t we at least have had them stuffed with drugs or firearms?

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Puzzle in the Pond (Judy Bolton #34)

by Margaret Sutton

“Is this–your typewriter?” she asked when she could find her voice.
George Anderson glared at her. “You knew this stuff was here, didn’t you? I’ve read about you, always snooping around in empty houses and giving that brother of yours ghost stories for the Farringdon paper. you’re Dr. Bolton’s daughter, aren’t you?”

Peter has been assigned by the FBI to round up the rest of the Mott gang from The Secret Quest so Judy and Peter are finally back home. As the book opens, she is up in her attic gathering ephemera for the Roulsville library display cases. The doorbell rings, and before you know it, she is hot on the trail of another adventure. Her young friend Holly’s typewriter has been stolen! Their hot pursuit of the suspicious green car leads them to a shady furniture dealer whose stock seems to have been waterlogged at some point.

While in the neighborhood, they visit the Jewel sisters of the previous book and meet their friend Meta, who is the sad and mysterious matron of a nearby orphanage. While there, they visit the beaver dam not far from the house and are joined by Horace and Honey. This is where the puzzle in the pond reveals itself. Imagine Judy’s shock when she spies, sticking out of the dam, a distinctive table leg from a piece of furniture that was in her old house in Roulsville?! The contents of the Bolton home had been believed lost forever after the flood had devastated the small town 6 years ago. (The Vanishing Shadow, Judy Bolton #1). How did the table leg get to the pond which is upstream from the flood? While investigating the curious appearance of the table leg, we meet Danny, a resident of the orphanage who has been waiting 6 years for his father, who was once engaged to Meta, to come for him. Peter gets involved while trying to locate the rest of the Mott gang and it appears that Danny’s father might be involved in criminal activity.

I enjoyed this much more than the previous 3 Judy Bolton mysteries. I like it when Judy is back home and we meet old friends in familiar surroundings, which are often smoothly incorporated into the mystery. This one includes a lot of history and background from previous books, which further adds to the enjoyment. Honey, Peter’s sister, and Horace, Judy’s brother are now in a better place than in the previous book, and are “almost engaged.” Judy Bolton is best when read in order as time does progress and one book builds on the other, unlike with many other girls’ series.

Margaret’s talent for creating multilayered characters is at the forefront in this one. Holly has been a fixture since book #23, The Black Cat’s Clue, as a teenage friend Judy has taken under her wing. But she is often silly and flighty. George Anderson, Danny’s father, has a hair-trigger temper and flies off the handle easily. He is sulky and suspicious of everyone. Despite this, he does love his son and finds a happy ending with him and his former fiance. Even Danny comes across as “a vicious little monster” at one point. In the middle of the investigation, the orphanage burns to the ground in a dramatic scene. True character is revealed including the character of the community as a whole as everyone pitches in to help with the orphans, including the Bolton and Dobbs families.

There were several unlikely events and unanswered questions in this one. Primarily, how did the Mott gang morph from industrial espionage involved in rocket science to looters and traffickers of stolen furniture? Will Alden Launt, Honey’s sneaky co-worker and member of the Mott gang, be arrested at last? How did George, who abandoned his toddler son for 6 years in order to scrimp and save to open a business and make a home, afford a fancy honeymoon? It’s best for the adult reader not to scrutinize some things too closely, I guess. And, as always, some threads may be picked up in future books.

Rating: 4 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.

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

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