I'm still reading D.E. Stevenson. She's been a beacon of light in my dark reading days, which have now thankfully turned around.
Amberwell was the third Stevenson novel I read and the first that I would say I loved. It was a page-turner for me and unlike her other books that I've read, I wasn't completely sure how everything would turn out halfway through. It's been a few weeks since I finished this so I'm having to jog my memory to come with a synopsis. Amberwell is a house that has been the home of the Ayrton family for generations. At the start of the book Amberwell houses Mr. and Mrs. William Ayrton and their children, two older boys from Mr. Ayrton's first marriage and three little girls from their own. They had wished for more boys. Thus, these girls grow up in a home where there is no love from their parents and they seem to spend virtually no time together. These girls lives revolve around each other and their nanny and as they do not attend school or Sunday School, they know no other children. They live for the days when their older brothers come home from school and bring excitement to their days. This is the setting for the first part of the book, and it's really very heartbreaking. Rather suddenly, these little girls become big girls and two of them go away leaving middle sister Nell at home with her parents. War comes and things change around Ayrton, with many of the servants leaving, and the grown up Ayrton's too incapable and self-absorbed to be of any use. Nell must come into her own and it is really lovely to see her become a strong young woman. One of the sisters went away rather mysteriously, the reasons around it are kept from us until the end when things are very satisfyingly revealed. There are still a few strings hanging at the end, and there is apparently a sequel which I'm hoping to read. This is why I'm currently applying for a library card for the neighboring library system - they have it and mine does not! I haven't read Miss Buncle's Book yet, but Amberwell seemed very close to the sort of thing Persephone might publish, not exactly, but very, very close.
I've also finished Stevenson's Vittoria Cottage. This is very similar to The Musgraves in that the main character is a young widow (this one less happily married) with three adult/teen children who are trying to find their way. The Dering family lives in a small village several years after WW2. This gives the reader a peek into how WW2 was still affecting the British, with petrol and food being rationed and people being encouraged to keep chickens and grow food. There are engagements and parties and small town life galore, also an interesting side story of a young woman with thyroid disease who is afraid of the treatment despite growing larger and larger. It is obviously early on where the book is going and it's an entertaining ride all the way. My only criticism is that the book ended quite abruptly and the reader misses out on a particular moment of happiness.
These are two Stevenson novels that I did not get on with. The first is The Four Graces. The story was okay actually, but the print of the book was so close together that it made me dizzy. I'm sorry to say that the other book that I did not finish was Mrs. Tim Christie/Mrs. Tim of the Regiment. This was recently republished and has been raved about everywhere so I am sort of embarrassed. I read about 50 pages and wound up asking myself - Why are you reading this? It's supposed to be entertaining and frankly, fun, but it feels like a chore. I think I just don't care for diary-style books and prefer a more straight forward style of storytelling that I can lose myself in. The 50 pages I read didn't flow well for me, it felt abrupt and more like a series of anecdotes. Oh well. Next I am going to give Celia's House a try and soon I many have to bother the grumpy librarian again.