Review: Summerset Abbey
SUMMERSET ABBEY by T.J. Brown will be released in the U.S. on January 15, 2013 in paperback, audio and eBook formats. It is currently available to pre-order online in all formats at AMAZON and BARNES & NOBLE.
Published by Gallery Books, the print edition is 320 pages.
SUMMERSET ABBEY is the first book in a new series of the same name by author T.J. Brown. The second book in the series, A BLOOM IN WINTER, is slated for release on March 5, 2013.
1913: In a sprawling manor on the outskirts of London, three young women seek to fulfill their destinies and desires amidst the unspoken rules of society and the distant rumblings of war. . . .
Sir Philip Buxton raised three girls into beautiful and capable young women in a bohemian household that defied Edwardian tradition. Eldest sister Rowena was taught to value people, not wealth or status. But everything she believes will be tested when Sir Philip dies, and the girls must live under their uncle’s guardianship at the vast family estate, Summerset Abbey. Standing up for a beloved family member sequestered to the “underclass” in this privileged new world, and drawn into the Cunning Coterie, an exclusive social circle of aristocratic “rebels,” Rowena must decide where her true passions—and loyalties—lie.
Frail in body but filled with an audacious spirit, Victoria secretly dreams of attending university to become a botanist like her father. But this most unladylike wish is not her only secret—Victoria has stumbled upon a family scandal that, if revealed, has the potential to change lives forever. . . .
Prudence was lovingly brought up alongside Victoria and Rowena, and their bond is as strong as blood. But by birth she is a governess’s daughter, and to the lord of Summerset Abbey, that makes her a commoner who must take her true place in society—as lady’s maid to her beloved “sisters.” But Pru doesn’t belong in the downstairs world of the household staff any more than she belongs upstairs with the Buxton girls. And when a young lord catches her eye, she begins to wonder if she’ll ever truly carve out a place for herself at Summerset Abbey.
Diving into SUMMERSET ABBEY feels decadent. Much like the elegant, opulent and scandalous world in which the story takes place. A world that’s caught between the past and the present, one that’s on the verge of modernism but still clings to traditionalism.
A world where entitlement and leisure, lavish parties and arranged marriages contrast with motorcars, aeroplanes, suffragettes and the working class. And where the lords and ladies of the manor continue to embrace their way of life even as the world moves forward without them.
SUMMERSET ABBEY is a story that is rich with beauty, includes a bevy of interesting characters, has a wonderful flow to the writing and feels fresh and modern yet captures the essence of the time period around which the story revolves.
Told from multiple perspectives, the author, T.J. Brown, gives readers the opportunity to meet three young women – Rowena, Prudence and Victoria – who grew up in the same household but who find themselves in very different circumstances following the death of the man who raised them.
Rowena discovers herself to be newly burdened with responsibilities she didn’t ask for and ones she wasn’t in the least bit ready for. Victoria’s dreams of making her own way in the world are put on hold when it becomes necessary to relocate to Summerset Abbey. And Prudence is forced to face the harsh reality that while she always believed herself to be equal to her “sisters,” outside of the place she used to call home she is anything but.
As the first book in this new series, SUMMERSET ABBEY sets up the series brilliantly. It builds the world, develops the characters, and moves the plot forward enough for readers to feel satisfied with what they’ve been given but still eager for more.
And while the pace is unhurried, the story has an easy flow that will keep readers connected throughout – even as it switches between each of the different character’s storylines. It has characters that readers will want to spend time getting to know. It has writing that gives this tale a more contemporary feel, allowing for a broader appeal. And it has three different story arcs that readers will want to follow to their conclusion.
Brimming with secrets, lies, scandal and betrayal, SUMMERSET ABBEY is an immensely entertaining, thoroughly engaging and utterly enchanting tale that will keep readers in its thrall.
Reviewer gives this book…
I fell madly in love with SUMMERSET ABBEY pretty much from the moment I started reading it. I was instantly drawn into the world which had the feel of a bygone era but also felt as if it was on the cusp of a modern one.
I loved meeting Victoria, Prudence and Rowena, though I felt much more of a connection with Prudence than either of her two “sisters.” She was the most relatable, the strongest, the most sympathetic. And she had the most swoon-worthy man interested in her company – Lord Billingsly.
Her situation was also the most heartbreaking. While all three were uprooted from their home when Rowena and Victoria’s father died, only Prudence had to suffer the radical change in her circumstances. And only she had to face the cruelty that Summerset Abbey dished out. Not only from the wealthy and privileged, but from the servants. Prudence did not fit in anywhere at Summerset Abbey and my heart broke for her.
Victoria was charming, strong-willed and an absolutely delightful character. She had very strong opinions for someone whose health issues left her body weakened. I loved seeing just what she got herself up to when she wasn’t being watched by Rowena or Prudence. For someone who could easily have allowed herself to be doted on or coddled, she opted instead to create her own adventures and do as much as she was capable of for herself.
I”m so glad we got to experience this story from all three sisters’ points of view, as well as the occasional peek at the world from Lady Summerset’s perspective. Because if I didn’t get to see things through Rowena Buxton’s eyes, I might only have thought of her as dreadful. Instead I saw her as flawed and frustrating but not horrible.
Her story was absolutely riveting but she herself was a cross between maddening and mildly sympathetic. Mostly maddening, though. Not my favorite traits for a character. And while she had kindness in her, she was weak and indecisive and sometimes just as rude and entitled as Lady Summerset herself.
I couldn’t decide if she’d have been better off growing up in a household that was much more traditional, where all her choices were taken away from her, or if it would have been better for her to have grown up in an environment that was far more modern than the one she was brought up in. A world where she was completely free to do as she pleased.
I wanted to throttle her because of the way she handled, or rather didn’t handle, the situation with Prudence. She moped. She became sad. She got depressed. She did nothing.
But she wasn’t totally unlikable. She was rather charming and adventurous when she stepped away from Summerset Abbey and spent time with Jonathan Wells. Without the heavy burdens of responsibility she would have been very likable. Sadly those weren’t her circumstances. And as frustrating as she was, as much as I wanted to scream at her, I loved getting to experience the story from her point of view.
I loved getting swept away by this story. It felt somehow luxurious to be letting my imagination linger in the past, in a world where time moved just a little bit slower, people dressed for every occasion – even when it wasn’t practical – and etiquette was still very much a part of everyday life.
And I loved trying to uncover the secrets of Summerset Abbey and attempting to figure out just what the scandal was. This was an utterly engaging and absolutely delightful read and a world I can’t wait to learn more about when I revisit it in A BLOOM IN WINTER.
I did read the short snippet from the second book in the series that was included at the end of SUMMERSET ABBEY, and I cannot wait to find out exactly how a certain girl got into that particular circumstance. Fortunately book two comes out in March so the wait won’t be too torturous.
I actually had ten favorite passages. One most definitely involved Prudence and Lord Billingsley… actually a couple of them involved the pair… but as my favorite one was rather lengthy and my second favorite was a bit too short, I thought I’d tease this passage about Rowena. Which I also loved as it showed a side of her that was very likable indeed.
“… Please don’t leave me, all right?”
Rowena’s breath caught as his hand searched for hers. She slipped her hand into his and he gripped it as if he would never let it go. Their palms melded and their fingers curled together so naturally, as if this was the hand hers had been waiting for.
He broke eye contact with her and she felt a sudden emptiness in her chest, as if she had just lost something of great value.
This review is based on an eARC I received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.