Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘D.E. Stevenson’

Bel Lamington by D.E. Stevenson

I would have been disposed to like D.E. Stevenson’s Bel Lamington even if I hadn’t already read and enjoyed several other romance novels by this author. Lamingtons! Delicious squares of cake dipped in chocolate icing then rolled in coconut. What’s not to like?

Bel Lamington follows the story of Bel, a young orphan living a lonely life in London during the 1950s. After Bel’s aunt died she was left with enough money to go to secretarial school, after which she landed herself a job as the private secretary at a shipping firm where she quickly made herself indispensable to Mr Brownlee.

Aside from her work, Bel had no social life or friends in London, so when a young artist climbed over the roof of her building into a garden Bel had created and asked to paint her, Bel agreed. When Bel visited the art gallery to see the finished painting she met an old school friend, Louise, who invited her to visit her and her father.

When Mr Brownlee went overseas to represent the firm’s interests, Bel became the victim of office politics and was dismissed from her job. Feeling anxious and distressed she joined Louise and her father on their holiday in Scotland, and found their friendship and support to be a welcome relief after the dirtiness and strife of London life.

Bel successfully rescued herself from difficult situations more than once, her friends were generous and kind and eventually, a lovely hero came to find Bel in Scotland.

I recognised several characters from other D.E. Stevenson novels I’ve read and suspect that if I read more, I’ll recognise characters from Bel Lamington in them.

The edition I read was large-print (yay!) and I read the story in one sitting. Bel Lamington was a lovely comfort read which I enjoyed very much, despite the unpleasantness of her office.

Vittoria Cottage by D.E. Stevenson

I recently read and enjoyed The Young Clementina by D.E Stevenson so was very happy to read Vittoria Cottage by the same author.

Vittoria Cottage is a romance set in England after World War Two which follows the life of Caroline Dering, a widow with three children. The Dering family lived in Ashbridge, a rural town where the locals knew each other’s family histories, their place in life and their business.

The story began with Caroline meeting and having a conversation with a stranger at a local beauty spot. Mr Shepperton was staying locally and as time went on he and Caroline developed a friendship. His reasons for being in Ashbridge were mysterious but eventually he told her he had only learned when he returned from the war that his wife had been killed in a bombing raid that had also destroyed their home. Adrift, he came to stay in Ashbridge after a fleeting conversation with a young woman in London who recommended the district to him.

Early in the story Caroline’s selfish and entitled elder daughter Leda became engaged to the local squire’s son, Derek, against Caroline’s wishes. Derek, who was lazy and stupid, wanted his father to let him marry Leda, drop out of law school and go into business. Leda’s aghast reaction when Derek told her he had an opportunity to work in a toothpaste business owned by a friend’s father was very funny to me, although her snootiness about the business was probably a normal reaction for the times.

Leda’s selfishness almost derailed Caroline’s stay in London to see the first night of a play Caroline’s sister Harriet was starring in. When the play failed Harriet returned to Ashbridge with Caroline. Harriet and Mr Shepperton became friends too and Caroline believed they would marry. Caroline acknowledged to herself that she also loved Mr Shepperton but she had such a generous, unselfish nature that she genuinely hoped her sister and Mr Shepperton would be happy together.

Towards the end of the book Caroline’s dearly loved son James came home from Malaya. James was like his mother in his nature and I believe there are several more book in this series which feature his character.

Like The Young Clementina, I found some of the slang and ideas in Vittoria Cottage to be dated. Several of the characters made the type of racist comments which must have been commonplace when the book was written. I found it interesting to read about the difficulties of feeding a family in England after World War Two from a housewife’s point of view, with parcels of food from relations in America and rabbits and pheasants from the squire supplementing the Dering family’s meagre rations.

I enjoyed the humour in this book. Some of it centred on the Podbury family who were so numerous they overran Ashbridge. I liked that every time Caroline, who was usually almost saint-like, met a certain woman she disliked, she behaved badly. Harriet also made me laugh when she advised a character who was complaining about getting fat to stick to her rations to avoid weight gain. As someone who has ate her way through several COVID-19 lock downs over the past year, that is still good advice.

I enjoyed the story and characters and the humour in this gently-told romance and will read the other books in this series if I can get them.

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