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Circles of Time by Phillip Rock

circles Circles of Time by Phillip Rock

Summary from the publisher:
A generation has been lost on the Western Front. The dead have been buried, a harsh peace forged, and the howl of shells replaced by the wail of saxophones as the Jazz Age begins. But ghosts linger—that long-ago golden summer of 1914 tugging at the memory of Martin Rilke and his British cousins, the Grevilles.

From the countess to the chauffeur, the inhabitants of Abingdon Pryory seek to forget the past and adjust their lives to a new era in which old values, social codes, and sexual mores have been irretrievably swept away. Martin Rilke throws himself into reporting, discovering unsettling political currents, as Fenton Wood-Lacy faces exile in faraway army outposts. Back at Abingdon, Charles Greville shows signs of recovery from shell shock and Alexandra is caught up in an unlikely romance. Circles of Time captures the age as these strongly drawn characters experience it, unfolding against England’s most gracious manor house, the steamy nightclubs of London’s Soho, and the despair of Germany caught in the nightmare of anarchy and inflation. Lives are renewed, new loves found, and a future of peace and happiness is glimpsed—for the moment.

I hadn’t heard of Phillip Rock or the Abingdon trilogy until a read along was announced at Book Club Girl. I had so much fun participating in the Bess Crawford read along and I was intrigued by all the comparisons between the Abingdon trilogy and Downton, so I signed up immediately.

I pretty much inhaled the first book in the series, The Passing Bells. It felt like Downton had come alive on the page, and I loved meeting the Greville family and the characters below stairs. I also enjoyed seeing the English aristocracy through the eyes of a somewhat impartial observer: the Greville’s American cousin, Martin Rilke, who ultimately becomes the narrator as World War I breaks out and the comfortable world of Abingdon is turned upside down. And I thought Rock gave a really great sense of where the war took each character, and the consequences of each journey. The only reservation I had was that some of the relationships were rushed, but with so many characters and the war and two more books coming, I was willing to let it slide.

The discussion at Book Club Girl was thought-provoking, as always, and left me more than ready to tackle Circles of Time, which is being discussed today.

Circles of Time picks up in the Roaring 20s, and people are trying desperately hard to move on from the war, even as another is brewing across the Channel. Much like on Downton, the Greville parents are trying to return to pre-war standards but are finding the world and their children too changed for such a thing to be possible. Thankfully, instead of behaving like Lord Grantham, Anthony Greville tries his best to adapt to the situation and accept the paths his children have chosen, while his wife has a much more difficult time accepting certain things, most notably Alexandra’s “unlikely romance.”

At the same time, Martin Rilke makes it over to Germany in time to witness the nascent days of the Nazi party and the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. As with The Passing Bells, he gives an outsider’s perspective of the tensions bubbling under the surface in a Germany that’s being squeezed by reparation payments, but also a perspective that’s slightly affected by familial proximity, as one of his German Rilke relatives happens to be a major supporter of the fledgling Nazi party. Martin is horrified by his cousin’s politics, but, as the cousin keeps saying, it’s impossible for Martin to understand. The book leaves off on an uncertain note that is very reflective of the time.

It was nice to continue the Greville’s story, but I felt that Circles of Time lacked the character development and conflict that made The Passing Bells so interesting. It felt like everything moved a little too fast and that the story lines were a little too pat, and, again, there were certain relationships and plot lines that began but ultimately fizzled out with little explanation. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Circles of Time — I did! I loved getting better insight into Willie, the youngest Greville, and I was so happy to see Charles come out of his shell shock, which was one of the events from the first book that really affected me. And Alex’s romance was enjoyable, and very reminiscent of Downton. I also thought Rock did a great job of conveying a sense of place, particularly the underground clubs in London’s SoHo, where flappers and bright young things danced and drank the night away, and the scenes in Germany.

The third book in the trilogy, A Future Arrived, is out today. I can’t wait to read it and find out what World War II has in store for the Grevilles.



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Bess Crawford read along!

So, Downton Abbey is over for the season, and everyone’s depressed, including me. Fortunately, the illustrious Book Club Girl is hosting a read along for Charles Todd’s series featuring WWI nurse Bess Crawford. I’ve been a fan of Bess from the beginning and am so excited for An Unmarked Grave, the newest installment in the series which is coming out in June. The discussion is sure to be fabulous, and I can’t wait for everyone to meet Bess. I kind of want her to be my BFF.

For more info, visit the Book Time with Bess page. First discussion is March 26.

Book Time with Bess image is from the Book Club Girl blog.

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The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

Summary from the publisher:
It’s the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is forced to leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlor maid in England. She arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay, where servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn. But war is coming, and the world is changing. When the master of Tyneford’s young son, Kit, returns home, he and Elise strike up an unlikely friendship that will transform Tyneford-and Elise-forever.

I first heard about The House at Tyneford when various publishers started making “If you like Downton Abbey, you’ll like…” lists (here’s the one that made The New York Times, although Tyneford isn’t on it). Like most people, I am obsessed with Downton and, really, anything that addresses the relationship between upstairs and downstairs in grand old English estates, especially when things started breaking down in the early 20th century. The fact that Elise was a Jewish refugee made the book even more appealing.

Ms. Solomons paints a vivid picture of Tyneford House, but things become even more real when you have a strong frame of reference. It was easy to conjure the big house that slowly became more run down as the men left for war and upkeep became more difficult, as well as the frenetic activity of the servants’ hall below stairs. With these visuals in my mind’s eye, I tumbled straight into the world of Elise and the Rivers family.

Elise herself is an interesting heroine. I was fully prepared to hate her at the beginning—she seemed immature and empty headed and almost content to be so. Of course, as she reflects somewhere in the middle of the book, if she’d been allowed to stay in Vienna and go on as she was, she would never grow beyond the girl we met in the first few pages. Instead, she undergoes a journey of love and loss that is alternately traumatic, happy, and sad, and she emerges a transformed and much more likeable character. I sympathized for her as she tried to find her place in a house where she was neither servant nor gentry and as she tried to adapt in a land that was so different from her home, and I truly felt her pain as she desperately tried to learn news of her parents and sister during the war, when they were scattered all over the world.

Elise is supported by an incredible cast of characters, from the villagers who play hooky from church on the first day of trout season, to the elder Mr. Rivers and his reckless son Kit, to Mr. Wrexham who, with his pride in adherence to the old ways, reminded me of Mr. Carson. They enrich life at Tyneford and make the difficult moments easier to bear.

Parts of the plot are a little predictable, particularly where the various romances are concerned, but I enjoyed everything else about the book so much that I was willing to overlook it. Overall, The House at Tyneford is a transporting historical tale that will definitely keep you satisfied until you can get your next fix of Lady Mary and Matthew.

The House at Tyneford was read as part of the What’s in a Name challenge, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.


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