Saturday, April 6, 2013

ARC Review: The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

The Ashford Affair
Author: Lauren Willig
Publication: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (April 9, 2013)

Description: From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig comes The Ashford Affair, a page-turning novel about two women in different eras, and on different continents, who are connected by one deeply buried secret.

As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything she’s been working towards—but now she’s not sure it’s enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addie’s ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything. . . .

Growing up at Ashford Park in the early twentieth century, Addie has never quite belonged. When her parents passed away, she was taken into the grand English house by her aristocratic aunt and uncle, and raised side-by-side with her beautiful and outgoing cousin, Bea. Though they are as different as night and day, Addie and Bea are closer than sisters, through relationships and challenges, and a war that changes the face of Europe irrevocably. But what happens when something finally comes along that can’t be shared? When the love of sisterhood is tested by a bond that’s even stronger?

From the inner circles of British society to the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl.

My Thoughts: What an amazing story! I was swept into reading about the lives of two women—grandmother and granddaughter—told in parallel in this sweeping epoch. This is a story with life-changing secrets but, ultimately, lasting love.

Clemmie Evans is a workaholic lawyer whose concentration on her job and her desire to make partner have cost her a fiancé and contact with her family. She was raised by her mother and her grandmother and grandfather after her parents divorced. She has two older brothers who were adult and married before she was born. Her childhood was spent with her Granny Addie and her mother. Her grandmother was her role model in many ways. She had a loving, successful marriage and she and her husband had built a large, successful business on their Kenyan coffee plantation.

When she comes to her beloved Granny Addie's 99th birthday party (an hour late because of work), she is surprised to see how feeble she is. She also runs into Jon Schwartz. 

Jon was one of her Aunt Anna's step-children from one of her many marriages. The two met when they were young children and had a childhood rivalry about just about everything. But when they met in Rome, when Clemmie was 21, things changed and the rivalry turned into a quick romance. However, nothing came of it then, Clemmie went off to law school and into her hectic working life and Jon went on the graduate school and marriage to Caitlin. Now Jon is back in New York and in the middle of a divorce. 

Clemmie has to go to London on some legal business but is called home when her grandmother dies. She learns that Granny Addie was not her grandmother but was her grandfather's second wife. There are all sorts of secrets that have been kept from her. Her world is rocked and then rocked again when she is denied a partnership in the firm by a petty superior. She becomes determined to find out about her grandmother. Jon, being a historian of modern British history, knew about Addie's secret but hadn't told Clemmie either which was still another thing that upsets her equilibrium.

The parallel story is that of Addie. Addie is orphaned as a small child and taken in by her father's aristocratic brother and his wife. She is brought to Ashford and dumped in the nursery with the three daughters of the house. The middle daughter and the one nearest in age to Addie—Bea—befriends her. They become closer than sisters even though they aren't very much alike. Bea is a social butterfly who will be the Debutante of the Decade; Addie is the poor orphaned cousin. Bea will marry a Marquess because he is the best catch of the season; Addie will become friends with Frederick who is back from World War I and looking for a way to block the horrible memories that came home with him. 

Bea and Addie's friendship is almost irretrievably broken when Bea and Frederick have an affair and Bea becomes pregnant. The Marquess, who has been busy having affairs of his own, divorces Bea. In the middle of a major scandal in which Bea's family disowns her and tosses Addie into the street, Bea and Frederick marry and leave England for Kenya and a coffee plantation. 

Addie manages to find a job and start to rebuild her life. Time passes. When Bea sends a letter telling Addie that she needs her, Addie travels to Kenya. When she arrives she finds that Bea and Frederick are at odds. Frederick is happy running his coffee plantation and raising their two girls but Bea is unhappy and discontented. She is drinking too much, partying too much, and having too many affairs. Worst of all, Addie and Frederick fall back in love despite Addie's best intentions. Frederick is more than willing to divorce Bea so that he and Addie can be together. Before he can, though, the group goes on safari and Bea disappears. Did she run off? Was she murdered by her husband or one of her lovers? Was she killed by animals?

Both story-lines were filled with real, well-rounded people who were easy to care about. The writing was engaging. I enjoyed seeing England at the time when so many social standards were changing. I could feel for Bea caught between the mores of her aristocratic past and the realities of the roaring twenties and the aftermath of World War I even though I really didn't like her careless and self-centered actions. I could also identify with Clemmie's sense of betrayal that her beloved grandmother or her mother and aunt had never told her about the tangled past they had lived. 

Readers of family stories and historical fiction will find a lot to enjoy in this title. I recommend it. 

Favorite Quote:
"Is it true that you were raised by heathens?"

It was Addie's first night at Ashford. She lay wide awake, her covers pulled up to her chin, doing her very, very best not to cry.
I received this eARC from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here

1 comment:

  1. I felt so bad for Bea with her cheating husband who is then punished for doing the exact same thing as him-made me so mad! This wasn't exactly a winner for me as I preferred the lighter Pink Carnation novels but I'm glad I checked it out.


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