Julia lives in New York in 2009, and while looking for a job she learns that she has inherited a house in London that belonged to her great-aunt Regina. Julia's parents were from England, and when her mother died suddenly when Julia was five-years-old, her father took Julia to New York to live. Since that time, Julia has had no contact with her British relatives. She travels to London to pack up the house and sell it.
The other story takes place 150 years earlier and is about Imogen, whose father was a country vicar (his older brother was a baronet). When he grew ill, she married an older man who charmed her. Living in London with that man, Arthur Grantham, was not what Imogen had envisioned. Rather than a life filled with society and books, she was treated as a possession and not allowed much freedom.
The story alternates between Julia and Imogen -- both women with family issues. Julia's issues have to do with her mother's death and her father's reaction to the death. It makes her wary of forming relationships, and what she realizes about her London cousins reinforces that suspicion. She also meets a friend of her cousins whose motives she can't quite trust.
Imogen, living in a loveless marriage, tries to make the best of her life by mothering her stepdaughter. When her husband patronizes some aspiring artists, Imogen realizes what she has been missing -- love and affection.
The story is beautifully told, and the alternating narrative works well. Both characters are developed almost side-by-side as the reader learns more about them and as they, in turn, learn more about themselves.
While the characters are compelling, the reader also will be enchanted with the descriptions, the plot and the dialogue. There are many similarities to "The Ashford Affair" in this story: the strong female protagonists -- one of whom is from New York and the other from England; the alternating narrative between the present age and years ago; the mystery of how the stories fit together; and the unveiling at the end to provide a satisfying conclusion.
Why 5 stars? Lauren Willig is a talented writer, and her stories grab readers from the get-go. Readers will not be disappointed by the story line, and they will be moved by the plight of the characters. There are no perfect characters here, just flawed ones. Some rather more flawed than others.
Please note: This review is based on the advanced reader's copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin's Press, for review purposes.
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