Ever since the first time I saw one of Lauren Willig’s “flower” books at the library — it was probably the original The Secret History of the Pink Carnation — I wanted to read those books. I haven’t yet, but they are on this The Blob like list of “books to read” I keep rolling in my mind in addition to the tangible lists I make where I write down book titles or add them to my Amazon Wish List (1000+ strong, baby!). I recently had the opportunity to read a publisher provided ARC of Willig’s new book, and her first standalone novel, The Ashford Affair.
I enjoyed The Ashford Affair for the most part. It featured two and, at times, three different time periods of intersecting and related characters as a family history was painted for a grandchild named Clemmie who had not yet realized that complicated lives didn’t just start with her, or her mother’s, generation.
My recent reading list has included a lot of books weaving dual storylines across history. It is possible this has made me more critical of volumes using this device, but as much as I didn’t midn Clemmie the character, I never warmed to her storyline since it seemed she largely served (to borrow my words from Amazon) “as the sieve all of the family history was sifted through.” Everything else about her was predictable.
The plot arc set in the past (Downtown Abbey era to be exact) was very interesting but also suffered somewhat because it wasn’t a solo focus of the novel. Clemmie’s Grandma Addie was a much more interested character all the way around, but she never had a chance to really live on the pages because the book was more about unraveling the past than about her as a person. Her story was the story instead of her life being the story. But there were still plenty of good moments, and they outweighed the bad in pretty good measure. I liked the way the book spent as much time Kenya as it did in London and the Ashford manor.
I’m sure that embarking on a standalone book after having such a successful niche series was difficult and perhaps led Lauren Willig to taking fewer chances with this book in terms of structure and the modern side of the story. Now that she has crossed the line, I look forward to seeing if her next standalone book is an improvement.