Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: While We Were Watching Downton Abbey

By Gail Allison

I have to admit I was a bit hesitant to review this book. Truth: I’ve never seen an episode of Downton Abbey. I want to watch it. I’ve heard rave reviews for it. But I’ve just never gotten around to it. (Also on the to-watch list: Game of Thrones. Argh! I know!! But I digress.) So I got a copy of While We Were Watching Downton Abbey, and needless to say I was slightly worried. I had never seen the show. Would the novel make sense? Would I be able to follow all the plotlines? Would I just get confused and end up going back and re-reading pages regularly? I’m happy to report that this novel was the absolute best-case scenario.

Samantha is an orphan who married into money at a young age in order to provide for her younger brother and sister. Because of her status as the oldest sibling, she felt that she had to take on not only the role of sister, but also of parent and protector to her brother and sister. She’s terrified because she’s fallen in love with the man she married, but she’s certain it was a pity marriage on his part, so she knocks herself out every day to ensure everything is perfect for him. Her worst fear is losing him, but is she trying so hard to keep him that she’s pushing him away?

Claire is a single mother whose only daughter has moved away for college. She’s trying to figure out her identity without her daughter to anchor her, and floundering in her chosen career. With two moderately-selling novels under her belt, she has taken a year off work to write the third in her trilogy, but she’s starting to panic. The ideas aren’t coming now. She has to push through this writer’s block or will she end up losing her gorgeous new apartment and doubting her abilities as a writer forever.

Brooke is raising two girls on her own. Her unfaithful ex-husband is busy flaunting his new (surgically enhanced…by his own hand) girlfriend, while Brooke is barely making ends meet. Brooke needs to work through her issues with men (her ex in particular) but she still needs to set a good example for her girls. She’s coming to the end of her rope, and she’s not sure if she can keep up the façade of wonderful for much longer.

All three women are living in The Alexander, a grand old hotel that’s been converted into luxury apartments. Edward, the concierge, decides to offer Downton Abbey viewings for the residents, thinking it will add a sense of community to the building. When Claire, Brooke, and Samantha get to know each other at these viewings they realize that they can offer each other what they need. And as their friendship grows beyond the Sunday night showings, they realize what they’ve each been missing for so long, but when a betrayal threatens to divide them, will it be enough?

This book was just wonderful. The characters were real, believable, and not without their own flaws. The Downton Abbey theme was definitely the invisible thread that tightened the story into a well-written, enjoyable novel. I really enjoy stories that have an underlying theme of “This is life. It’s messy and stuff happens. Deal with it.”, and this one was no exception. I really have no criticisms for this book. As someone who has never seen an episode of the show, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything that would enhance the book for me, but it definitely made me want to go watch the show and then read the book again. A wonderful story that would be just as at-home on the beach as it would be in front of a crackling fire mid-winter. I’ll be re-reading this one for sure.

Thanks to Orion for this novel in exchange for an honest review and for including us in the blog tour for it, as well.

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Cate said...

I'm on the waiting list for this book at my library, and I can't wait to read it! I too was late to start watching Downton Abbey, but now I'm almost done with the third season, and I can't wait for the next season to start!

Connie said...

I’ve been wanting to read this book and now that I’ve read your review, I wish I had it right now.

Thanks for sharing!

S.Sabia said...

Thank you for doing this review!! I have been wanting to read this book but like you I have never seen an episode of Downton Abbey so I've been hesitant. I'm adding this to my hold list at the library now!

penney said...

Great review, thanks, this sounds really good,