November 25, 2013

The Secret No One Knows

The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

Release Date: April 9, 2013
Publisher: Macmillan | St. Martin's Press
Pages: 358 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
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...

What follows is a potent story that spans generations and continents, bringing an Out of Africa feels to a Downton Abbey cast of unforgettable characters. From the inner circles of WWI-era 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.

Thoughts on The Ashford Affair
I'd never read anything by Lauren Willig before, but this cover caught my eye as soon as I spotted in online. As a lover of historical fiction, I'm always drawn to generational sagas. Plus, I was sold the minute I realized that part of this was set in Africa. During college, I spent six weeks in South Africa and my love for that continent has just grown ever since. I believe this is a departure for Willig as far as setting/time period, but I hope it's representative of her writing style. I just loved so much about this book!

The Ashford Affair follows two women: Clementine Evans and her grandmother Addie. The chapters alternate between the past (with the focus on a younger Addie) and the present (with the focus on Clementine), and the way these two women are linked. The family secrets, long buried, are finally coming to light as Addie approaches the end of her life.

A young Addie arrives at Ashford Park as an orphan. She's come to live with her extended family, but she's not prepared to enter this new world of wealth and privilege. She befriends her cousin, Bea, and the two become fast friends. Even when Addie is made to feel as though she's an outcast, Bea always draws her back into the fold.

In the modern day, Clementine is an attorney in New York whose focus on work has hurt her personal relationships. At a birthday celebration for Addie, Clementine realizes that her grandmother's health is truly failing… and that there are so many things about her grandmother that she doesn't know. And this sets up the action to come: Clementine begins to dig deep into the family's history and her grandmother's story.

The book moves really quickly - each chapter revealing another piece of the puzzle and a new layer to the story. Addie's relationship with her cousin Bea is at the heart of the story. I loved these characters, and I thought their friendship was so believable. I could see their love for one another, but I could also sense the tension underlying their relationship.

I really enjoyed the way this story was written! I don't always like having multiple main characters and time periods, but it really worked in this case. I did prefer the historical chapters since that's where the meat and mystery of the story is, but Clemmie's story was still interesting to me. The setting was so rich and detailed. I would loved to see more of Addie's time in Kenya, but I also understand why the book ended at the point that it did. You don't see all of Addie's life - just a pivotal sliver that changed the course of her family's story.

The Ashford Affair felt both personal and grand, in many ways. The family history is complex, emotional and somber at times, but the scale of the multiple time periods and settings made it feel like a wide look at Addie's world. The women in this story are messy and complicated, but they also seemed real. I was fascinated by their lives and their choices - to the point that I was desperate to just keep reading instead of going to bed. I can't compare this to Willig's other books, but I know that I'll be picking them up in the future. The Ashford Affair was engaging and left me wanting to spend even more time with these characters! I think fans of historical fiction will find much to love in this one.

So Quotable
"Distilled essence of Bea, thought Addie. Not just the sprawling letters, but the words themselves. Nothing was ever simply what it was; it was always utterly, terribly, desperately. Love or hate, Bea did neither by halves. Excellent when one was loved, not so entertaining when one was hated. Addie had seen both sides."

8 comments:

  1. This book sounds so good! A while back I found a bunch of Willig's pink carnation series books at a great price and scooped them all up....and yet I still haven't read them! Maybe it would be a little less daunting to start with this stand-alone than going right for the series, lol. If you do ever read her other books, would love to hear your thoughts :)

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    1. Haha! I always do stuff like that - grab stuff at a great price and then never read them. I'd definitely recommend this one! And, like you said, maybe it will make you want to read even more by her... so then you can finally get to her series (it's on my list to "keep an eye out for" so I'll keep you updated if I do end up reading them).

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  2. EEE. Why do you do this to me Hannah? You say you wanted to read over sleep? You are selling me. So glad to hear this one worked for you! I love how you always have such different titles on your blog. You make me so happy.

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    1. Awww thanks, E! YOU MAKE ME SO HAPPY. I'm glad you enjoy seeing different titles on here. I love being able to mix it up and have books from all different ages/genres/etc. :)

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  3. I want to read this now! It's always fun for me to come and visit your blog because you always write about books that I normally wouldn't encounter (since I primarily check out YA and romances). I do like the sound of this one, particularly because there's a historical element to it AND it's about family. Awesome review!

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    1. YAY! I'm so happy I've made you want to read this one! And seriously, thanks for the sweet words about finding new titles here :) I take that a major compliment because I always hope I'm introducing people to books that might not be on their radars otherwise.

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  4. I read the first two of Willig's Pink Carnation books and really enjoyed them. Although my mom read them first, and she really loved them which is why she sent them my way. While these books sounds quite a bit different, they also have the dual past/present story line, which I'm not always a fan of, but did like in her books.

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    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed the first two! I need to check them out - I really liked Willig's writing in this one. I'm not always a fan of past/present story lines, but I thought it really worked in this one. Glad to hear you liked it in her previous books, too.

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