Unequal Affections

By Lara S. Ormiston

Why did he have to be so charming in some ways and so insufferable in others? She was sure she had hurt far more than just his pride. Would it always be so hard?

I admired and enjoyed this alternative imagining of Elizabeth and Darcy’s romance very much. Very. What if Elizabeth took the more practical approach of her friend Charlotte and accepted Darcy’s proposal at Hunsford?

She had been proposed to by a stranger. A very rich, very handsome stranger who was very much in love with her. She could not possibly accept him—but, suddenly, she could not possibly refuse him either, not now. This was, she knew clearly, a chance unlike any other she would ever receive. She could not turn him down for the satisfaction of it. She had to think.

You will need fear nothing as my wife, neither poverty nor loneliness, dishonor, or disloyalty, unkindness, neglect . . . you will be the most cherished wife in all of England.”

Who could resist such a declaration? She’s only human. After a week of soul-searching, she accepts Darcy. Not only for the good she can do her family, especially Jane, but because she starts to see Darcy in a new light. She thought he despised her. She was so wrong. How else has she misjudged him? Before she can truly come to love Darcy as he ardently wishes, he has to change. And changing the habits and attitudes of a lifetime is by necessity slow going. But I never found it tedious. It really felt like this is how it would have gone. In the original, Elizabeth’s words in summarily rejecting Darcy’s proposal shake him to the core, and he starts to change. Just as ”the letter” starts Elizabeth on her path. In this book, it is a much different process. How Elizabeth finally gets through to him is a great scene.

As for Darcy, he had been completely unable to speak. Elizabeth’s words had cut through him like knives, shaming him deeply, and shame was not an emotion he was accustomed to experiencing…Was it possible that he, who had studied throughout his life to improve his mind and character, had overlooked such an essential flaw?…He had not understood her then, but he did now. His refusal to talk was an active unkindness, a deliberate slight on the value of those he had thought beneath him. He had not thought their feelings even worth the effort of a few polite remarks and a smile or two. He certainly had not been willing to consider lowering his own dignity to promote theirs. Nor . . . his brows furrowed deeply in pain . . . nor to promote Elizabeth’s happiness either.

This book includes many high points of Austen’s novel. Particularly delicious is this version of Lady Catherine De Burgh and Elizabeth’s confrontation in the garden. And in this one, we have Darcy’s reaction to his aunt’s unmitigated gall and ill manners “which rather threw anything anyone in the Bennet family had ever done in the shade” when he walks into the middle of the fray. All of the characters remain true to Austen’s creations. And the more time we spend with Mr. Bennet and Lydia the more contemptible they are revealed to be. I liked how Lizzie started seeing her father more clearly and lost a lot of her respect for him. At one point, she even intervenes and protects her mother from Mr. Bennet’s mockery. There is even a dramatic rescue of Lydia and an exciting confrontation with Wickham as well, but in entirely different circumstances than the original.

I also found the dialogue, vocabulary, and narrative very authentic to Jane Austen’s style. The book is too long and repetitive but it rarely got tiresome. I admit that I found Elizabeth’s change from confusion to liking, to loving Darcy way too gradual to be believable or sympathetic. But Ormiston’s treatment of Darcy, I thought, was brilliant. His admiration, love, and passion for Elizabeth remain steadfast throughout. In this, he proves, again and again, the ardent words of his proposal in Austen’s work. Even when Elizabeth’s fearful secret is revealed to him: that not only did she not love him, but how much she actively and publicly disliked him, he doesn’t blame Elizabeth but himself. Elizabeth has to accept the fact that her actions and manners were not above reproach either and have caused great pain.

This is easily the best reimagining of or sequel to Pride and Prejudice, I have ever read. I hate to call it Fan Fiction, although it is, because it doesn’t do it justice. When I looked for more of Lara Ormiston’s books, I was so disappointed to learn she hasn’t written anything else.

Rating: 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.

Moorewood Family Rules

By Helenkay Dimon

If there is one word to describe this book, it would be “fun.” Right off the bat, I loved the authorial voice: It flowed easily and drew me right in with the funny remarks and quick immersion into the plot. The idea of the story was intriguing and unusual. It set up a lot of anticipation as to who, how, and what was going down. Because make no mistake, our heroine was going to see that the bad guys (her family) were, indeed, going down.

We meet Jillian, fresh from 39 months in prison, ready to literally and spectacularly descend upon her unsuspecting family who put her there. She debarks from her helicopter on the family mansion’s spacious grounds in the midst of a party where they are laying the groundwork to swindle and con their latest victims. They are not happy. But Jillian is less so. They had promised to go straight in return for Jillian taking the fall for them with the FBI. Now she’s back, she has their number, she holds all of the cards, and she’s had 39 months to contemplate her revenge. And maybe, just maybe, set them on the straight and narrow. Nah. Not happening.

It turns out that her family are not only professional grifters and con artists, but that in an emergency they will not stop at murder. And Jillian’s arrival is definitely an emergency. If some may balk at murdering a family member (that would be against the family rules) they won’t hesitate to send her back to prison. Enter Beck, a very grumpy, sexy, and intimidating bodyguard, hired by one of her loyal allies.

Although the romance is nice and provides a topper to the satisfying ending, the main focus is the battle of wits between Jillian and her family. In the process, we also get the occasional point of view of one of her half-sisters. There are, of course, some twists and turns and surprises. Some of her family are revealed to be truly perfidious, others not so bad in spite of themselves. The book did seem to lose a little steam about halfway through as we learn that Jillian is not quite so “together” as she first appeared. Having Jillian gaining insight and having to work on her own issues provided some depth and layers to her character. But it did seem to stall the narrative a bit. I missed the implacable focus of her mission to teach her family the lesson they so richly deserved to learn.

Fortunately, the sensational set-up was matched by a strong conclusion and the book regained most of the momentum it had lost towards the end. All in all, it was light and entertaining and I enjoyed it.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

September 28, 2022

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

Persuasion

It Wasn’t That Bad.

It was not my intention to review the much-criticized new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. But such has been the vitriol and bitterness of some of the reviews, that I can’t resist. Because I didn’t hate it. I was confused by it and confounded by some of the decisions that were made particularly concerning Anne’s character, but there was much that I enjoyed. And I certainly didn’t think everyone involved should be “thrown in prison”.

It follows the plot pretty closely. All of the characters are substantially the same people as in the book and the very faithful films.  Except for Anne. Anne is not the same character at all. The mumblings and murmurings started with the miscasting of the gorgeous Dakota Johnson as the mousy beaten-down Anne. And the trailer really got people going. Since Anne Elliott is one of Austen’s most beloved characters, the sneak peak did not sit well with many. Particularly the hyper-vigilant “Janeites”. Because of all the hate, I approached this movie with an open tolerant mind and sat down to be entertained. One aspect of the movie that has incurred much criticism is Anne continually breaking the fourth wall. She makes sarcastic and witty comments to the viewer about the behavior of her family members. Her observations are dead on. “My Father. He’s never met a reflective surface he didn’t like. Vanity is the beginning and end of his character. Also the middle.” She gives the viewers sly glances when one of her fellow characters does or says something particularly absurd. It was clearly an attempt to interject Austen’s own voice into the narrative and simultaneously enliven Anne.

As Sir Walter Elliot, Richard E. Grant could not have been better. In fact, all of the actors except one were good to excellent. But things started to get weird almost immediately. Instead of keeping Anne’s outspoken and barbed observations between herself and the audience, she calls out her relatives directly to their faces. Anne is shown to be publicly full of verve and spirit. If they had kept this facet of her personality a secret between Anne and us, her confidants, they could have kept much of the integrity of her character. They missed an opportunity to show how Anne’s true feelings and opinions are at odds with the way she is forced to navigate her world. She acts out and in the process makes her character eccentric and at times, incomprehensible.  There are many examples but most jarring was Anne spouting off out of the blue and unprovoked during a dinner party to all and sundry that she herself was the first choice of Charles, her sister Mary’s husband. Needless to say, she brings the merry party to a standstill. However true, even the most socially inept meanest mean girl wouldn’t do that! It was almost Tourettes-like. I can’t think of why this was done, as well as the many many other examples of weird behavior Anne displays such as the octopus speech and drinking way too much wine right from the bottle. The director replaced Anne Eliot with Bridget Jones. Remember Bridget’s response at the dinner table full of couples that all singletons having scales? And as Bridget Jones, Dakota Johnson was charming and funny. She just wasn’t Anne Eliot in a work that is supposed to be all about the character regaining her bloom and spirit long suppressed by sorrow and regret. There is nothing to prevent This Anne from going after her heart’s desire right from the get-go.

There was little to no chemistry between Anne and Captain Wentworth, who looked decidedly grungy throughout the production. I didn’t care for him. Henry Golding’s shady and scheming William Eliot actually falls in love with the common and unattractive Mrs. Clay and marries her at the end. Just weird and nonsensical. Back to the good. The cinematography was beautiful and the scenery and fashions were both lovely. I actually liked the contemporary pop-culture parlance (“playlist,” “fashion forward,” “you’re a 10,” “we’re exes”, “I’m an empath,” etc.) I thought it was fresh, whimsical, and definitely brave. I was drawn in as I always am by Jane Austen’s regency world however askew this one was. In fact, I rather enjoyed the off-center vibe.

I was able to tolerate the strange choices by the writer and director while I was looking at it. It was only later upon reflection that my feelings started to sour. I hated that they could have made Anne a modern kick-ass heroine, while still maintaining the integrity of one of Jane Austen’s most interesting creations and her truly moving character arc. I hear that Netflix is (or was) planning to bring more of Austen’s novels to the screen. If they decide to go ahead with this despite the fact that “everyone” hates this one, I will be very curious and interested.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 20, 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

The Emma Project

By Sonali Dev

**Spoilers**

Much of the appeal of Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors was the clever and insightful interweaving of the characters, themes, and plotlines of the Jane Austen classic with Sonali Dev’s own take on the novel. Between this one and the original Emma the integration is spotty at best. There are major plot lines and characters in both novels that find no parallels in the other. I won’t go into a long list here, but Esha’s strange supernatural malady and her miraculous recovery and romance are one. There was enough material and backstory there for it to be its own book. It was just shoehorned into this one and it was a distraction. It had no place in a homage to Emma and didn’t make the most of Esha’s story either. But the one that really hurt my enjoyment was how the Raj family are so ugly to Naina, the Knightly character. Especially Nisha, the sister of the Emma character, Vange, and Vange’s mother. I didn’t read the middle two in the quartet, so there may be justification, but since we see everything from Naina’s eyes and with our knowledge of her struggles, it was very bothersome.

Naina has been damaged by the lifelong cruelty of her abusive father. This has affected her ability to be open and vulnerable to love. She has dedicated the last 10 years of her life to rescuing the poverty-stricken women of Nepal and she has finally secured funding from zillionaire Jiggy Mehta. Enter Vansh Raj, whose chance run-in with a person he knows that he learns is surprisingly homeless spurs him to save not only his acquaintance but all of San Francisco’s indigent. While coming from a good place, this quixotic notion has jeopardized Naina’s funding. Instead of getting his own money, he latches on to Naina’s source. Because there is more in it for him to be associated with a real Raj instead of an ex-Raj, Jiggy Mehta cools towards Naina’s project. It’s really terrible. I was enraged over this.

Vansh Raj has a passing resemblance to Emma in that he is a do-gooder who wants to make things better for those who are less fortunate than him. Actually, there are quite a few interesting parallels. But Naina has very little in common with Mr. Knightly. Both Emma and Vansh are misguided, but in very different ways. Emma almost ruins the life of Harriet with her interference. Vansh, causes Hari, the homeless computer whiz he targets, an isolated episode of pain and suffering by not listening to the good advice of Naina (Knightly). But his interference ultimately saves Hari puts him on a path to health and prosperity. Sonali Dev’s parallels between Harriet and Hari are well done. (as well done as some of the connections in the first of the Raj series) but really, that’s about it as far as The Emma Project being a modern take on Emma. Perhaps there is a parallel between Naina’s mother and Emma’s father? But it’s is a stretch. A huge stretch. Naina is 12 years older than Vansh and has been a supportive presence in his life since he was a baby. So that hearkens back to Emma, I guess.

Dev makes Vansh the kind of guy who spends hours a day on his grooming and body sculpting because he likes to look good. Even though he is already too handsome to be true. We are treated a couple of times to a description of his long tangled eyelashes. And more than a couple to his cut and flexing muscles, which he likes to show off by wearing clothes two sizes too small. I mean yuck. It’s different if a great body is the by-product of manual labor or sports. But his vanity turned me off.

Another disappointment was the lack of satisfactory resolution to two important plot threads. The author meticulously details throughout the book Dr. Kohli, Naina’s father’s, evilness and cruelty, and Jiggy Meyta’s self-serving maliciousness. Not to mention their toxic sexism. I couldn’t wait for them to get the justice they deserved. Alas. It all happens off stage. We find out that Naina’s mom found the strength to leave her husband of 40 years in the epilogue. And the final straw after years of abuse was nonsensical. And Naina told Jiggy to take his money and shove it. We are just told that she did, but we are not there for the kill. Yes, I wanted retribution to rain down upon them and I wanted a front-row seat, but nope. And I guess Jimmy, the guy who cheated and wronged Hari never did get his just deserts at all. And speaking of retribution, Naina deserved a groveling apology from the Raj family. Instead, we get “I was a Bitch” and a “Yeah you were.” But Naina is not even in the room.

At times the sentence structure and word choice were awkward and confusing. I won’t quote specifically (although I can) because to be fair it is an uncorrected proof. But I noticed the same thing with her first book as well. And that was not an uncorrected proof. Ms Dev is a wonderful writer but needs a more vigilant editor.

Despite my problems, the book kept my interest. The romance was good even though it bore no resemblance to the romance of the real Knightly and Emma. And I gotta say there was a very hot sex scene that managed to be funny at the same time. I didn’t want it to end, and that is saying something for me. Thank you for that. The exploration and growth of the characters were well done. Vansh really grew on me, despite the things I didn’t like about him. I loved the way he and Naina learned to work together and became a united front against Jiggy. I was happy Naina’s project was saved. I liked the narrative voice. But there were too many promises unfulfilled and too many disappointments.

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

March 5, 2022

Summerhills

by D. E. Stevenson

**Spoilers for Amberwell**

I still love Clare. I haven’t forgotten her. For years I was utterly and absolutely miserable, but now it seems as if it had all happened in another life—or as if it had happened in a dream.” Dennis nodded. “I think I . . . can understand. But life is real, isn’t it? We can’t go on living in dreams. Look here, Roger, supposing you’d been killed in the war would you have wanted Clare to go on being miserable all her life?” “Goodness, no! What a horrible idea!” exclaimed Roger. Then he saw what Dennis had in mind. “Oh, I see,” he said slowly. “I never thought of it that way.”

I can’t imagine that this book would have much of an appeal unless one had read Amberwell. I think the Ayrton family would probably only be interesting in the context of the earlier book. Of course, having seen the Ayrton children through their troubles and triumphs in Amberwell, I was very interested indeed. The fact that Roger, Nell, and Anne, the characters we are most concerned with in this book grew up to be so happy and healthy is a major accomplishment considering their disturbing upbringing, and, in the case of Anne, her horrific marriage. It is a testament to the resiliency of children.

We meet all of our old friends to a greater and lesser degree and meet some new characters as well. Most are friends, but some are not. The book centers around Roger and Nell mostly. Roger is home from the war but still in the service. He has decided to set up a school for boys primarily so his son Stephen, so beloved by his beloved sister Nell does not have to be far from home, but can be toughened up, make friends, and cease being the center of the universe. His ambition is to include the scions of the privileged who can pay well to send their sons there but also to include the sons of less well-off servicemen. Much of the book concerns how the school takes shape. While Roger comes and goes, we meet Arnold who lost a foot in the war and will become the headmaster of the school, and re-meet Mary who sells Roger her old estate that she and her elderly parents can no longer take care of.

Intertwined with the building of the school are the love stories of Nell and Roger. There are also parties, an emergency trip to Italy, and an accident that puts a key member of the household out of commission. We see that Anne is happily and determinedly unmarried and ensconced with her Mr. Orme, the elderly vicar. Will she remain that way? One man is hopelessly in love with her. Poor guy. Along the way, we are treated to entertaining and thoughtful characterizations of everyone we meet. I was impressed with the author’s treatment of Roger, for example. He is somewhat of a stick in the mud and very traditional and somewhat stuffy. But though he may start off wrongheaded and mistaken in his opinions, when presented with evidence that contradicts his first instincts, he sees his way clear to wisdom and change. Another interesting character is Georgina, Stephen’s governess. She starts out to be a breath of fresh air and is certainly good for Stephen. But she changes into a manipulative and very foolish woman who is inadvertently responsible for bringing about the happiness of two couples. Poor Georgina. She was born a couple of decades too early. Poppet Lambert is back and is a delight. But I couldn’t help but think of a shocking interlude that took place in the first book. It is obliquely kind of explained in this book, but I always thought it was a very strange incident for the author to include in the first place.

So many deft sketches of so many characters I haven’t even mentioned. Not every loose end is tied up neatly and happily, but this is a dear gentle book with no darkness in it. And so it is a fitting and satisfying sequel to Amberwell. I confess I’ve become a little addicted to D. E. Stevenson.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

February 13, 2022

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

The Inn at Lake Divine

by Elinor Lipman

It’s Jewish Natalie Marx v. the restricted to gentiles only Vermont resort in the Catskills. Ms. Lipman is a good writer: engaging and amusing. The book is a light and frothy social comedy tackling the issue of antisemitism in the ’60s and ’70s. It takes some surprising twists and turns that keep one’s interest. I am not one to stick with a book on principle if it is not entertaining. The romance is mild but nice, taking second priority to the character development and cultural exploration of Jewish v. Gentile manners and family ways. I will definitely be giving this author another whirl.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

January 11, 2016