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Posts Tagged ‘Rosemary McLoughlin’

cindersThe new season of the PBS powerhouse Downton Abbey arrives stateside Sunday after having already aired in the UK. If you are the kind of person who likes spoilers, you probably already know via Google what’s up with Lady Mary, sister Edith, ladies’ maid Anna and butler Carson, etc., etc. The rest of us have been making do with reruns and the Downton Abbey cottage industry of books inspired by the series.

Publishers continue to ride the crest of Downton’s popularity, with authorized spin-offs, as well as reprints of similar family sagas (Philip Rock’s Passing Bells trilogy) and newly minted volumes (Fay Weldon’s The New Countess pubbed last month).  Aimed at teens, Leila Rasheed’s At Somerton series, which started last year with Cinders & Sapphires (Disney-Hyperion, purchased e-book), continues this month with Diamonds & Deceit, as Lady Ada and her sister brave the London season on the eve of World War I.

franceBecause 1914 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, we can expect more novels set in that era. I’m reading one of them right now — Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson (HarperCollins, digital galley). When war breaks out, plucky Lady Elizabeth “Lilly” Neville-Ashford, striving for independence from aristocratic society, becomes an ambulance driver “somewhere in France.” She is reunited with her brother’s childhood friend, Robbie Fraser, a field surgeon whose working-class background disqualifies him as a suitor in her parents’ eyes, but the war breaks down some barriers while erecting others. Love and war, duty and honor. Remember in Upstairs, Downstairs when Georgina was nursing in France and found wounded James? Lilly reminds me a bit of Georgina, as well as nurse Bess Crawford in Charles Todd’s ongoing series (A Question of Honor). Her challenges as a female ambulance driver also are similar to those of the title heroine of Anita Shreve’s recent novel Stella Bain.

ashendonW. Somerset Maugham drew on his time as a British intelligence officer during WWI for his collection of short stories Ashenden. It’s not to be confused with Elizabeth Wilhide’s Ashenden (Simon & Schuster, paperback review copy via Shelf Awareness), which takes its name from an English country house, its checkered history chronicled in a series of linked short stories. The first, set in 2010, finds brother and sister Charles and Ros wondering what to do with the old house they have surprisingly inherited. The narrative then skips back to 1775 and the building of the Palladian mansion designed by a Yorkshire architect who gives heart and blood to the project. Years later he returns to Ashenden with his ailing niece, who carves her initials beneath the window sill of the still-unfinished octagonal room. In 1837, the lady of the house takes a lover with scandalous consequences for the family and its servants. The house itself, neglected for decades, is then rescued and restored by the rags-to-riches Henderson clan in 1844, and  it’s a Henderson son’s housemaid’s impulsive theft 40 years later that makes for another tale. Like Downton Abbey, Ashenden becomes a convalescent home for wounded soldiers during World War I. Later, it’s the site of a Jazz Age treasure hunt, then a wartime POW camp. Nature takes its toll until a young couple intervenes in the 1950s, and so on. The episodic structure gives the book a familiar Masterpiece Theatre feel.

tyringhamRosemary McLoughlin’s Tyringham Park (Atria, digital galley), which will be published next month, is much more melodramatic. It begins on a summer day in 1917  when “the pretty one” — toddler Victoria Blackshaw — disappears on the huge estate in Ireland. The handsome stable manager and the kindly housekeeper are the most concerned. “The plain one” — eight-year-old Charlotte — is mute in the aftermath of her sister’s disappearance, ignored by her pompous father in London, and victimized at home by both her selfish mother, Lady Edwina, and scheming Nurse Dixon. Young Charlotte has a tough time in the years ahead, but her own behavior doesn’t always win sympathy, except when contrasted to Lady Edwina, who is such a conniving witch that she deserves disaster. Meanwhile, Nurse Dixon reinvents herself as Elizabeth Dixon in faraway Australia, where she plots revenge against the Blackshaws and eagerly awaits the day she can return triumphantly to Tyringham.  It’s soap opera in a scenic setting. Did I mention that Downton Abbey has been renewed for a fifth season?!

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