Friday, October 28, 2016

Close Enough, Better than a Cigar

Continuing on my Succos reading spree, we have Lauren Willig's first stand-alone.  I finished the Pink Carnation series during my summer reading and then went back to the stand alones now.  As you may recall, I've found the Pink Carnation series to be less satisfying than it used to be.  The writing somewhat too flippant, even anachronistic, the romances too similar / not angsty enough, the plots a distraction.  I was ready to move on, and I think so was Lauren Willig, which is why she started on this (even before the series was finished).

The first stand-alone, The Ashford Affair, was written a few years ago, and, while there were lots of updates / teasers when it was written, some of them aren't fresh in my mind.  I think it was supposed to be inspired by Out of Africa, which I haven't read, and the Mitford sisters, which I have (at least The Pursuit of Love).  It *strongly* reminded me of the latter (like I think it deliberately followed the plot line of a poor but practical cousin and belle-of-the-ball debutante who runs off with husband after husband), and reminded me, too, of other books / plots that I couldn't even bring to mind. I knew exactly what would happen, not just because the book didn't keep it a secret, but because you just know that's the type - happy-ish ending but not without some tear-jerking.  It actually bothered me how familiar it all seemed, still not sure if that's only because of the Mitford / Downton Abbey side, or whether I really have read more in the same vein.  So much for the familiarity of the setting  / plot.

What about what really matters? Well, first of all, this was, like all of LW, a "time slip" novel, where the modern-day heroine learns about her ancestor's past.  My initial thought was that this device is unnecessary and distracting, the historical plot was enough and the modern story could not be fleshed out enough to be enjoyable. But I was wrong.  It was actually quite enjoyable and well told, and quite a good romance.  There was definitely a little bit too much melodrama about the discovery of Grandma Addie's past (not to mention that it was difficult to reconcile the dignified old woman Clemmie knew with the historical Miss Addie Gillecote).  But thoroughly enjoyable romance novella.

Back to the historical story, other than being shades of the Mitfords and mostly predictable, was it good? For one thing, it was not written in the, frankly, a bit silly style of the PC series, but in a more serious tone, in keeping with the more serious story.  I think it was a good trade-off. I don't need the seriousness of complex relationships and the shadow of WWI, orphans, and influenza, but the writing was a pleasure.  And I guess I really do just like historical England, because even though it was not my time period and there was all that serious stuff, I was still totally happy to read it.  The romance was also not my type (star-crossed lovers, not will-they-won't-they) but still satisfying in the end I guess.

In the end of the day, it wasn't my *ideal* setting or story, but it was close enough to both to be thoroughly enjoyable, due to the excellent execution.  Definitely looking forward to the next one (and the one after that, already published, and the one after that, still to be published :))

Verdict: 4/5

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