Wednesday, 31 December 2008

A Winter's Tale (Trisha Ashley)

--The blurb--
"A charming romantic comedy about a hard-up single mum inheriting a stately home - and a host of headaches. The perfect novel for curling up with during the long winter nights. Sophy Winter is not your typical Lady of the Manor. When she unexpectedly inherits Winter's End - a crumbling mansion in the beautiful Lancashire countryside - it seems like all her prayers have been answered. She eagerly swaps life as an impoverished housekeeper in favour of her own team of staff. But Sophy quickly realises the challenge on her hands - the house is decrepit and its eccentric inhabitants are a nightmare. And once it is discovered that Winter's End played host to a young Shakespeare, the entire village of Sticklepond becomes curious about Sophy's plans, especially charming Jack Lewis. But is he really smitten by Sophy, or her newly-acquired cash? Meanwhile, Sophy's gorgeous head gardener Seth is the strong and silent type. But does his passion bloom for anything beyond the horticultural? As Sophy gets to grips with squabbling relatives, collapsing buildings and the ghostly presence of one of her ancestors, she wonders if Winter's End is not so much a gift from the gods as a mixed blessing. ..A charming romantic comedy for fans of Katie Fforde and Jill Mansell - guaranteed to thaw the coldest of hearts!"
blurb from

--The review--
Given to me as a Christmas gift due to the tenuous Shakespeare connection, I was concerned from the outset that I would not enjoy this piece of obvious 'chick lit' from this author who was unknown to me. However, the inaccuracy of my own prejudice soon combined curiously with the accuracy of a first impression. The main character, Sophy, was unconvincing: her first-person narrative was littered with ill-aimed humour about trying to keep off the extra pounds, which didn't seem to come very naturally in keeping with the rest of the writing, and the idea of the woman who apparently couldn't keep her brain out of her knickers (without even any well-written sex scenes to compensate) was not only irritating but a generally weak and lazy plot device. Ashley also allows the villain of the piece to escape far too easily with little comeuppance, which smacks of the author's impatience to finish the novel, which is never preferable to a desire to finish a piece of work well. However, this feeble characterisation (and the equally dubious characterisation of Seth) thankfully did not preclude engagement with other characters in the novel, such as Alys and Lucy. The novel would have been a far more valuable addition to the chick-lit canon without the frankly silly attempts at romance et al.

This all begs the question of what on earth kept me reading this book to the end. It is indeed comfort food for the brain, with some well-drawn characters and a suitably picturesque setting. However, where Ashley really comes into her own is where the plot is concerned: apart from the villain's escape from justice, the threads of the novel's plot generally tie together well, with thoughtful and yet still accessible links with Shakespeare and his work as a sort of bonus. The running of stately homes is well-researched without enough detail to bore the reader; the set-up, romance aside, nicely combines realism with escapism. It is also, perhaps needless to say, easy to read: vocabulary and syntax meant that I raced through it. Ashley also shows rare glimmers of excellence in her writing skills, such as using 'spectral coral' as a simile, which lit up the otherwise cosy writing.

While my virginal experience with Trisha Ashley's work would have been much improved with the absence of clumsy attempts to 'connect' with the author's alleged audience, this was not an entirely joyless experience - which, I suspect, was the main aim after all.

Other works by Trisha Ashley
Good Husband Material (2000)
Every Woman For Herself (2002)
The Urge to Jump (2002)
Singled Out (2003)
The Generous Gardener (2004)
Sweet Nothings (2007)
Lord Rayven's Revenge (2008)
Sowing Secrets (2008)
Happy Endings (2008)

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