Like Downton Abbey? Pick Up Lauren Willig’s “The Ashford Affair”

I don’t think I need to explain to anyone how much I like to read. I do. A lot. So much in fact that recently I’ve been wondering why I haven’t absconded to the publishing capital of New York City and started a life of reading bliss. But, that’s a discussion for another time…

One of my favorite author’s is Lauren Willig. Her Pink Carnation series is excellent and definitely gave me much reason to procrastinate throughout college and graduate school. Okay, let’s face it — it still gives me reason to procrastinate. With 9 Pink books currently in publication, a 1oth due out in August 2013, and an 11th in progress, Willig has provided readers with a fun and easy to read adventure through history as main character Eloise Kelly researches her doctoral dissertation in England and discovers that her interest in the flower-named spies of the Napoleonic Wars is more involved than she could ever imagine. Intrigue, mystery, a little bit of danger, humor, and some romance never fail.

Now, however, Willig has embarked on a new adventure: a fantastic stand-alone saga called The Ashford Affair.

Source: laurenwillig.com

Source: laurenwillig.com

In 1906, 5 year old Addie is taken in by her wealthy Uncle and Aunt, Lord and Lady Ashford, and goes to live with them and her four cousins at their estate Ashford Park. Seen as a poor, heathen relation and an imposition by her Aunt Vera, Addie spends her childhood and adolescence trying to make up for what her Aunt sees as her bohemian origins — even though her father was the younger brother of Lord Ashford.

Despite her Aunt’s criticisms, Addie quickly befriends and forges a sisterly bond with her cousin Bea. Different in both outward appearance and personality, Addie and Bea do everything together and travel through their childhoods and adolescences as each others’ closest companions. As adulthood beckons, Bea is fêted as the Debutante of the Decade and quickly marries the Marquess of Rivesdale, securing her mother’s expectation of a successful marriage and her own childhood dream of becoming a Marchioness. As always, Addie is by Bea’s side through it all. However, the aftermath of the First World War and personal choices create fissures in their relationship, and when one cousin makes a decision that transports her from the grandeur of London to the red dust filled fields of Kenya, the cousins find their bond tested to its very core…

Nearly 70 years later in 1999, 34 year old Clementine Evans is on the cusp of achieving her dream of making partner at her Manhattan law firm, even if doing so has come at great cost to her personal life. When she attends her beloved Granny Addie’s 99th birthday party in New York City, Clemmie has no idea that her life is about to be turned on its head. Despite her close relationship with her grandmother, Clemmie doesn’t know much about Granny Addie’s history. So when in her weakened state Addie reveals a snippet of information that leaves Clemmie confused and her mother, Marjorie, and Aunt Anna suspiciously silent, Clemmie becomes curious.

Clemmie’s confusion and curiosity lead her to uncover a deeply held family secret that threatens everything she knows to be true and holds the key to her family’s often complicated dynamics. From the rooms of Ashford Park and the 1920s nightclubs of London to the coffee fields of Kenya and the streets of 1999 Manhattan, the events of The Ashford Affair questions the strength of sisterly bonds, explores the true meaning of family, and reveals the complexities of life and love in times of drastic change and war.

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I really enjoyed this book and it was definitely a nice departure to read a totally different kind of book from Lauren Willig. I am a great fan of historical fiction, particularly the kinds of historical fiction that juxtaposes a modern frame story with a historically placed story. In The Ashford Affair, Willig weaves an intricate mystery of the character of Addie and does an excellent job of placing her characters within the complex period of the early twentieth century. I had a great time uncovering the true story of Addie and Bea and watching Clemmie discover just what the truth was. Willig deftly stretches the mystery out until the final chapters, revealing bit by bit as she goes but never giving away too much too soon.

 

 

Blogger Interviews: Abbie and Emilie

I’ve been really excited about writing this post for a while, because it doesn’t involve much writing on my part, and I get to feature two other blogger-friends of mine who have been on the other side of the world since this summer. When I was working on my undergraduate degree, I attended one of the Study Abroad fairs and grabbed several brochures and magazines for studying, volunteering, and sight-seeing in other countries through my university. Most of the information I picked up was for Egypt, South Africa, or Western Europe, since those are places I’ve always wanted to explore. Although I don’t think I would be able to do a whole semester in a different country (I’m too afraid of missing things), I wouldn’t have minded a two-week experience.

Abbie in Malawi, and Emilie in Istanbul

Abbie in Malawi and Emilie in Istanbul

I met Abbie, who worked as a Resident Assistant while she was in college, through my sister and her friends. She is currently in Malawi (in southeast Africa), teaching at a secondary school, and posts on her blog, Traveling and Teaching: Living and Learning. I got to know Emilie through all of our related activities and mutual friends while we were at YSU together, and got to work with her during my graduate internship. She is studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey (at the same school where Sarah spent last year’s fall semester!) and blogs at overandout while preparing to apply to graduate schools. I asked them a few questions about their experiences in their respective locations…

Abbie's Form 2 Students

Abbie’s Form 2 Students

1. What made you want to travel to this location?

Abbie: I wanted to come to Malawi because I already had such a strong connection to this community as I had previously traveled here in 2010. I’m back in the same part of Malawi and working with the same NGO (non-government organization) as before. This time instead of two weeks, I’m here for a year.

Emilie: I chose Turkey for a number of reasons. For one, Turkey is one of those mysterious countries that it seems no one really knows anything about, and this obviously attracted me. I wanted to meet the people, eat the food, find out for myself if those silly stereotypes that people believe about the middle east are true. A second reason is because Istanbul is quite literally the center of it all. Half of the city lies in Europe while the other half is in Asia. It’s a mix of people from all over the world, 15ish million of them, all living in this crazy, historic, fascinating city. This also makes it easy/quick to travel almost anywhere in the world, with the exception of North/South America, of course.

View from the upper balcony of Hagia Sophia

View from the upper balcony of Hagia Sophia

2. What has been one of your favorite experiences?

Emilie: One of my my favorite experiences so far has been having a HUGE traditional Turkish breakfast with a wonderful, sweet family I met here through some people at home. We had never met before I came to Turkey, but they welcomed Ed (the other YSU student here with me) and I into their home, showed us all over the European side of the city, and have been so generous and kind to us. A few weeks after we arrived, they invited Ed and I over to spend the day and eat with them. It was the most incredible breakfast I’ve ever had, quite possibly the best meal I’ve ever had. Not only because of the food, but the company also made it unforgettable. I only wish I would have taken my camera… rookie mistake, haha.

Abbie: One of my favorite experiences actually happened the first weekend I was here. One of the girls, Alice, who hangs around the lodge/NGO where I stay frequently asked to take me on a tour of the village. As we were walking she asked what my surname was and I told her. She started to smile and talk in Chitumbuka to the other girl walking with us. I asked her to explain and she told me that my surname is the name of her sponsors. What that meant was that my parents sponsor her education. On top of that, I am her math teacher at her secondary school! Alice took me to see her house that is made of mud and sticks and has a thatch roof. Her family welcomed me and offered me a seat on their front porch. Alice told her brother that my parents sponsor her education. Her brother began to tell me in broken English how grateful they were for the sponsorship because by bettering Alice’s life with an education, it’s also bettering her family’s life, as well as the village. Education here is the only way out and a lot of the times it’s not possible because of money.

Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia

Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia

3. Have you had any trouble adjusting to anything?

Abbie: Everywhere I go I stick out like a sore thumb. When I go to the market, when I walk through the village, when I do my laundry in my back yard I am entertainment for most people. As I walk down the road, kids from everywhere will yell “Mzungu!” meaning, “white person.” I’m unable to be anonymous here and that has probably been the most difficult thing to adjust to.

Emilie: Ah, well, living in Istanbul has required quite a bit of adjusting. Not only is the culture overwhelmingly different, moving from small-town Ohio to one of the most overcrowded cities in the world was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. The traffic, the pollution, the (not always reliable) public transportation, lack of greenery, it was all pretty frightening at first. Now, I appreciate all of the differences for what they are, I’ve stopped expecting Istanbul to be just like Ohio, and it’s finally starting to feel like home. I guess if I wanted everything to stay the same, I wouldn’t have come. But I definitely know now that I can’t live without nature, it’s just so depressing!

Cappadocia

Cappadocia

Check out Sarah’s post about her impromptu cave camping trip in Cappadocia!

4. What is one thing you wish you could bring home with you?

Emilie: The one thing I wish I could bring home is the incredibly cheap produce. Seriously, the fruits and veggies and fresh bread are sooooo cheap here, and the quality is so good (assuming you know what you’re looking for). There are bazaars all over the city every day of the week full of vendors selling fish, produce, cheese, just about anything you could ever need. The bazaars and the produce are something I’m really going to miss.

Abbie: One thing I wish I could bring home with me is the kitten I recently got for my house! She is ADORABLE! Her name is Kim Jong Kitten and she eats all the nasty critters that lurk in the corners of my house. (she was named by a PCV friend). Also, I want to bring home ALL THE BABIES!!!!! They are soooo cuuuuute!

 

I wish I could share all the gorgeous pictures these girls have taken. I’m so jealous of each of their journeys and I hope they both continue enjoying themselves. I can’t wait to read more about them! Thank you, Emilie and Abbie! 🙂