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 fĂȘted 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.

3fbe3a7abcafcdc839e61f1e93102ff5

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.

 

 

On Reading “The River of No Return” by Bee Ridgway

Some of my friends and family make fun of me for having a Twitter account. “What do you tweet about?,” they ask. Or they might say, “I tried Twitter, I thought it was stupid.”

If you really stop and think about it, Twitter is kind of odd. You follow all these people, most of whom you don’t know, and you correspond with each other and the entire world in short messages of 140 characters. But, Twitter does have its uses and its perks.

Generally, I use Twitter to satisfy my inner nerd and my inner fan girl. I follow the news sites, politicians, entertainers, as well as follow my friends who have accounts. I also, though, follow as many of the publishing companies as I can. It’s no secret that I love books and sometimes I feel that for as much as I read, I never have a good handle on when new and amazing books are coming out.

For the most part, following publishers on Twitter only serves to give me information on new books, etc. But, publishers also do free book giveaways through Twitter which is really cool for a bibliophile like me — especially if the giveaway is for an Advanced Reader Copy of a book that is not yet out.

Several weeks ago, I was lucky enough to win an Advance Reader Copy of The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway from Dutton Books (an imprint of Penguin). Here’s my review of this lovely book:

BExygdOCYAAnZIJ.jpg large

DISCLAIMER: I chose to write this review. I was in no way compensated by Dutton to do so. All rights for The River of No Return are reserved to its author and publisher.

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

In her debut novel, Bee Ridgway — a professor of American literature at Bryn Mawr College — weaves an intricate and nuanced tale of time travel, power, knowledge, and romance. On the surface, The River of No Return is an invigorating and page-turning time travel thriller that places its main characters in a battle against time itself and with those who wish to control it. Underneath, however, is a historical, cultural, and social commentary that takes the science fiction based subject of time travel and turns it on its head, rooting the concept in the power of human emotion and memory. Ridgway’s debut is far more than an adventure story — it is a thought provoking read that incites you to question all what you know about the world around you and what you consider to be the place of the concept of time in our lives.

In 1812, Lord Nicholas Falcott, a member of the British peerage and a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, suddenly disappears from the battlefield at Salamanca as a French soldier prepares to kill him in combat. Against all apparent laws of time and space, he is transported to 2003 London where wakes up in a hospital and is informed that he is now a member of the Guild, a time and government transcending organization that controls time travel and its participants, and that “There is no return” to his previous life. Quickly, Lord Falcott becomes Nick Davenant and is instructed by the Guild in modern life. The Guild, however, is not simply a kindly guiding organization. It is powerful and wealthy, keeping close tabs on its members and gifting each with an annual multi-million dollar stipend. By 2013, Nick Davenant has adjusted to 21st century life, but deep down he has never left his 19th century origins behind. Haunted by homesickness and dreams of his battlefield experiences, Nick uses memories of a young woman he left behind to ease the panic that accompanies the fact that no amount of money can change his place out of time. Soon, however, Nick is summoned by the Guild and ordered to break its cardinal rule: travel back from when he came to help prevent the unraveling of time itself. Attempting to come to terms with the fact that what the Guild preaches as truth is not all that is seems, Nick travels to 1815 and comes face to face with his old life and the woman who has kept him grounded in another century for the last decade.

In 1815, as Nick tries to accomplish what the Guild has asked of him, Julia Percy mourns the death of her beloved grandfather and guards the secret he tasked her to protect on his deathbed: his ability to manipulate time. As her cousin Eamon arrives to take possession of the family home and her fate, Julia quickly recognizes that there is more than one secret pervading her life, and that those secrets are desired by many and have further reach than she can fully comprehend. While Eamon manically scours the house and Julia’s memory for something called the “Talisman,” she observes that her mysteriously returned from the dead and greatly changed neighbor Lord Falcott may be her only solution to the increasing danger in which she finds herself.

First separately and then together, Nick and Julia discover the extent to which the river of time effects them all and how far the Guild will go to control the future and everyone’s fates.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

The River of No Return is one of the best books I have read recently, and I unabashedly place it on my list of favorites. Ridgway writes beautifully and evocatively, injecting a complexity into her storytelling that rivals the best puzzle masters. While some compare her debut and its time traveling components to The Time Traveler’s Wife, I would compare it instead to Katherine Neville’s masterpiece The Eight. Filled with clues along the way and peppered with references to historical figures, places, and movements, Ridgway’s first novel is a stimulating and entertaining read.

From the time I began reading, I couldn’t put the book down. It truly is a page turner and will leave you zealous to find out what happens next. In addition to its entertainment value, The River of No Return‘s most valuable facet may reside in its subtle observations of time itself. This is especially interesting to me as someone who has studied history in-depth. Throughout, Ridgway deftly conveys that, at its core, time and age is a construction. We are all victims of our time — something that has nothing to do with our abilities. We are products of both nature and nurture. When we are born and the circumstances of that time — its technology, customs, etc. — have much to do with what we become. Our capacity, however, is unaffected by time.

The River of No Return is available for purchase on April 23, 2013.

A Quote and Some Books…aka, 2 of my Favorite Things!

I hope everyone had a good Monday! Yesterday was a tough day for America, and I for one spent the day remembering where I was on September 11, 2001 (in 8th grade and at school) and reflecting on how the world has changed since then. But, alas, life has to move on and we need to continue living to honor the memories of those who lost their lives on that tragic day.

So, in order to do that, I thought I’d give you a quote about one of my favorite things, books/reading, and follow it up with some book suggestions.

If you’ve been watching the news, then you’ve most likely seen that Borders bookstore chain is closing all of their stores. This has been both a good and a bad thing. Good, because over the last month they’ve slowly liquidated their stock and I’ve gotten some great books on the cheap (important for us poor grad students). Bad, because I’m afraid of what the disappearance means for the publishing industry and books.

Going to the Border’s liquidation sale was seriously like Christmas, my birthday, Fourth of July, and summer vacation all wrapped in to one. (For the most part.) I went several times to see what the deals were, and although I did buy a few books early on, I bought the most towards the end when things were 70% and 80% off retail price.

Here’s some of the books I bought and ones I generally recommend for a great read:

(Warning – you may notice a historical fiction trend below – I am a historian after all, lol)

The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

The Wild Rose is the third book in Donnelly’s Tea Rose Trilogy. Set mainly in London’s East End during and after the horror of Jack the Ripper’s murderous rampage, the series also travels to the United States, Africa, and Asia. The trilogy spans nearly 30 years and follows Fiona Finnegan as she survives the destruction of her family at the hands of Jack the Ripper (in The Tea Rose), lady doctor India Selwyn-Jones as she befriends Fiona, and Fiona’s brother Seamie as he explores the world and pines after his lost love.

The Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig

Lauren Willig is one of my role models because of what she has accomplished. She finished writing her first book The Secret History of the Pink Carnation during her first year of law school at Harvard. The rest is history, and since the Hardcover edition of that book was published in 2005, Willig has written 8 additional Pink books. The most recent, The Orchid Affair, was released in January. The next, The Garden Intrigue comes out in February 2012. The series follows modern-day Harvard graduate student Eloise Kelly as she does research in London on spies during the Napoleonic Wars. What she finds is a whole network of 19th century “flowery spies” that weren’t quite what they seemed.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

The Distant Hours is a stand-alone novel by Kate Morton and follows Edith Burchill as she tries to discover the secret about a letter her mother Meredith receives 50 years after it was first mailed. Also by Morton and not to be missed: The Forgotten Garden.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders tells the story of Anna Frith and her experience in a plague-ridden English village in 1666. After the village’s inhabitants decide to quarantine themselves, their strength and very humanity are tested in this tale of life and death. Also by Brooks and not to be missed: People of the Book, March, and Caleb’s Crossing.
If you have a question on a particular book, let me know!

Have a great week and happy reading!