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

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

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

The Four Graces

By D. E. Stevenson

“I have noticed that nowadays when people speak of being broad-minded they really mean muddleheaded, or lacking in principles—or possibly lacking the strength to stand up for any principles they may have. Nowadays people are anxious to appear worse than they are,” said Mr. Grace, smiling. “It’s a queer sort of inverted hypocrisy, Mrs. Smith…but I must apologize for sermonizing.” “Not at all,” replied Mrs. Smith. “I always think it’s so interesting to hear people talking shop.” Mr. Grace was a trifle taken aback at this description of his calling. He was silent.”

The Four Graces takes up right where The Two Mrs. Abbotts leaves off. Starting with Miss Buncle’s Book, This is the 4th novel set in the universe which opened with Barbara Buncle in Silverstream and continued to Wandlebury and environs. The once mysterious Jane Watt is marrying Archie Chevis-Cobbe and the wedding is being officiated by Reverend Grace, the local vicar, with one of his 4 daughters, Tilly, playing the organ. We are soon introduced to the other 3 Graces: Liz, Sal, and Addie. Liz and Sal are the two sisters that this book revolves around. After the wedding, Miss Marks, my favorite character from “Abbots”, loses her umbrella which kicks off a series of events that ends in marriage for one of the Graces. Or is it Tilly’s failure to dust the organ before sitting down which starts things off? While getting two of the 4 Graces settled as far as their “happily ever afters,” we are treated to stories involving an evacuee who is being called home to London by his mother (echoing a similar happenstance in a former book), a scandal involving doing the flowers in church, an archeologist excavating a Roman fort, a fete, and the various challenges that all England had to face during WWII. Not to mention, an intrusive Aunt that causes havoc and confoundment for our family. Through it all, three of the four sisters are right in the thick of everything that happens.(Addie is in London doing her part in the war effort.)

Do I wish there were more of the beloved characters from the previous 3 novels? Yes. But I absolutely adored it. Of all of the 4 interconnected novels, it was my favorite. It was touching, tender, wise, and the most romantic. And it is funny. The characters of each of the Grace family, their neighbors, and the fly in the ointment, Aunt Rona, were flawlessly drawn. The two love interests for Sal and Liz were so appealing. I couldn’t have devised better for the two young women, whom I grew so fond of. Aunt Rona was the soul sister of Mrs. Elton of Emma, and I am maybe exaggerating a little bit when I say she belongs right up there next to her in the pantheon priceless English caricatures (in a bad way.) There is a passage towards the end of the book where Liz is cleverly satirizing the vanquished Aunt that is not only witty and clever but hilarious as well. I wish I could quote reams from the book, but I listened to it on Audio which was charmingly narrated by Karen Cass. And you would have to get to know Aunt Rona to appreciate the humor. And you should. I would recommend to anyone who loves gentle English novels to treat themselves and get to know this charming happy family. But first, you really should read the one prior to it, and the one prior to that, and the one prior to that. I wish D. E. Stevenson had written more in this particular world ala Angela Thirkell and her Barsetshire Chronicles.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

August 23, 2021

The Two Mrs. Abbotts

By D. E. Stevenson

“Sarah!” said Barbara Abbott again.
“Yes, it’s me,” nodded Sarah (who although aware that one should say “it is I,” could never bring herself to utter the words because for some reason or other it sounded as if one were God).

We are introduced once again to Barbara Abbott, nee Buncle, and her niece Jeronina Abbott, (“Jerry for short. It’s rather a blot to be called Jerry these days but it was too much bother to make everyone change.”) We first met the younger Mrs. Abbott in the previous book, Miss Buncle Married. They are weathering the war years, Barbara happily married to her darling Arthur, and Jerry, missing her soldier husband, Sam, who is “somewhere in the desert.” As with the last two books in the series, this novel consists largely of stories and glimpses into the lives of their friends and acquaintances. Some are lovable and some not so lovable.

On the lovable side, we have “Dorky”, Barbara’s children’s elderly Nanny, Hard-working Archie, Jerry’s brother, Miss Janetta Walters, a lauded author of sappy romances, or “high-powered tushery” as Arthur calls them, a mysterious stranger in their midst, Jane Watt, and a young girl, Wilhemina Bowles, a diamond in the rough, who has taken refuge with Markie and Jerry from her slovenly and coarse family. My favorite is the wondrous Sophonisba Marks, “Markie,” Jerry’s beloved and intellectual housekeeper and catcher of German Spies extraordinaire.

On the unlovable (but still very entertaining) side we have Helen Walters, Janetta’s domineering sister, Lancreste, Barbara’s hapless and silly neighbor, Mrs. Boles, the least said about her the better, and the very common and not very nice, Pearl, Lancreste’s almost fiance.

There are many other characters as well, all beautifully portrayed and interesting. Their personalities were enhanced by the quirky interpretation of the narrator, Patricia Gallimore. The stories we follow most closely as we weave our way in and out of the lives of the select denizens of Wandlebury are the romance and courtship of confirmed bachelor Archie with a newcomer to the village, and the crises and fates of Wilhelmina, Lancreste, and Markie. As these stories reach their satisfactory conclusions, we hate to leave the pretty English town and hope they all emerge from the war safely and happily. Especially Sam and Jerry.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

August 4, 2021

The English Air

by D. E. Stevenson

This is a novel that essentially is a comparison between England and Germany and ultimately a comparison between the English and German characters. The slightest of plots are the dual romances of an upper-middle-class widow and her daughter. What casts it in an extraordinary light is that it is not only set in England on the brink of WWII but that it was written at that same time. One senses that D.E. Stevenson herself was struggling to understand and be fair to the German people while in the midst of the relief and joy of Neville Chamberlain’s agreement with Hitler, and then the ultimate betrayal, Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia and Poland and the Blitzkrieg.

Franz, a young Nazi and the son of Sophie’s dear dead friend and cousin comes to England to basically spy and learn about the “behind the scenes” life and character of the English people. His contempt and bewilderment at the differences in outlook between the two cultures ultimately turn to admiration and understanding. To seal the deal he falls in love with Wynne, Sophie’s daughter. The plan his true-believer Nazi father who had hoped to get reports of the weakness of the English people and their sad deprived lives has backfired. After war is declared, he no longer has a place in England and reluctantly returns to Germany. He is shocked by what he finds. What will happen to him? What will this nice boy do?


Although the Germans we actually meet are good even heroic people, by the end of the novel, probably influenced by what was happening at the time, D.E. Stevenson does not give Germans the benefit of the doubt. It ends very abruptly on a rather bitter note.

He had always intended to go back, but, just lately, he had begun to wonder whether the Germany which was enshrined in his heart, had any existence save in his fond imagination.

And who can blame her fear and distrust? By the time she had written the last page and the book was published, Germany was winning. England was a hair’s breadth away from invasion, Germans were bombing London and innocent civilians were dying. And brave young boys were being killed in defense of their home “This precious stone set in the silver sea.” **3 stars out of 5**

February 8, 2020

The Blue Sapphire

By D. E. Stevenson

Who said I was going to be married?’ cried Julia in alarm. ‘Nobody. Nobody at all,’ he replied, with a little chuckle. ‘But there’s always a chance that some misguided man might take a fancy to you.’ Julia laughed

This is gentle story of a girl who finds her independence by escaping from her controlling fiancé and cold uncaring father. Along the way, she meets and falls in like, then love with a nice, interesting guy who’s crazy about her, moves away from home to a boarding house, meets new friends, gets a job, makes a bit of money in the stock market, finds a long lost uncle, gains a possible new love interest, helps save her uncle’s life, and becomes an heiress.

I couldn’t have asked for more in her final confrontation with her jerk-wad of a fiancé. I did wish that there had been more closure with her equally awful father, but the fact that she just moves on is probably more realistic. As with The House on the Cliff, I felt sorry for the sad fate of our heroine’s mother. So far D.E. Stevenson’s novels have been happy but tinged with a bit of melancholy lurking in the background. That’s not a bad thing.**4 stars out of 5**

March 23, 2019

The House on the Cliff

By D. E. Stevenson

The House on the Cliff Is a simple sweet story of how a girl out of place finds her place. Young Elfrida has been drained by being in the wrong profession, infatuated with the wrong man, and by the death of her beloved mother. When she inherits a lonely house on the Devonshire seaside, she recovers her spirit and her health and finds the right man for her.
What makes it compelling and charming is its sense of place and time, and the deft characterizations including the growth of our shy heroine. She is challenged by a greedy relative, gentile poverty, and the re-emergence of the heartthrob she had a crush on in London. This guy turns out to be a real piece of work and is one of the most interesting if hiss-worthy characters in the book. What rescues it from a run of the mill light romance is an overlay of the sadness of lost opportunity and the fate of an emotionally abused and ill-treated young boy. The happy ending has few remaining wisps that could have been incorporated into a sequel. I would have loved to read about young Patrick 10 or 12 years down the road.**3 1/2 stars out of 5**

March 16, 2019