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.

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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.

 

 

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!