Edenbrooke, and when I asked for your best recommendations a little while back, this one popped up a number of times. I decided to put away my preconceived notions and jump right in.
Marianne Daventry is not fond of Bath. She's been relegated there by her father, who fled to the Continent upon the death of her mother and has yet to be seen since. The anniversary of her death and his departure has come and gone and Marianne is beginning to come to grips with the notion that he is not coming back. That she is, in fact, stuck in Bath with an inappropriate maid, an impossible suitor, and a grandmother who despairs of her. Then she receives word from her twin sister Cecily that she is to be invited to Edenbrooke--the estate of the man Cecily intends to marry. Or rather it is his parents' estate. But he is to be there. And therefore Marianne is to meet Cecily there and accompany her on her quest to land a wealthy husband. Cecily's ruthless pursuits aside, Marianne is monumentally relieved to be escaping Bath and returning to the countryside she loves. But calamity overtakes her on the journey to Edenbrooke. And when a mysterious stranger helps her along the way, Marianne has no way of knowing how quickly he will pop up in her life again. And in the most unexpected (and not necessarily welcome) of ways. Torn between wanting her life to return to the way it was and being tempted to explore the new possibilities in her path, Marianne must navigate her new life with care.
Sounds like a fun setup, right? And it is. The problem is that nothing surprising whatsoever happens in this book. No, more than that--no one character stands out, no turn of phrase delights, and no twist or development captured my attention in the slightest. Everything about Edenbrooke is perfectly competent. And everything about Edenbrooke falls desperately short of its inspiration. The dialogue mimics Austen to a fault, though in a decidedly less sophisticated and cheesy manner. I lost count of the number of times I winced at the banality of it all, and found myself silently begging the characters to do something less predictable. That is not to say that the writing is not clean. It is nothing if not smooth and clean and . . . utterly unremarkable. The entire time I was reading it, I was put in mind of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation--another readalike (of the Scarlet Pimpernel variety) that fell massively short for me due to its terminal silliness and lack of complexity. I wanted to like them both so much. But, in the end, they both required more. More in the way of subtlety, more in the way of character nuance to work for me. This reaction may be a personal quirk when it comes to the classics or possibly some kind of hang up I have related to retellings vs. readalikes. I've certainly been known to enjoy a number of breezy, even silly reads. But when I do, I still have to connect with the writing and with the characters on a visceral level. I have to feel like they themselves are not contemptible or that there is something to figure out or guess at along the way, even if I can see the ending coming. That was not the case here. I'm sorry, guys. I'm afraid, for me at least, Edenbrooke was a case of charming veneers masking very little at all.
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The Allure of Books - "Edenbrooke by Julianna Donaldson is totally a keeper, y’all."
Babbling About Books, and More - "Edenbrooke is a book that had me at hello."
The Bluestocking Society - "This is a great romantic book. It has a strong heroine. It has nuanced characters. It will give you the ending you crave."
Book Harbinger - "Edenbrooke is the perfect anytime read."
The Brazen Bookworm - "In true Austen fashion, everything is tied up nicely in the end and everyone gets who or what they deserve."
It's All About Books - "A perfect book for when you are in the mood for light and gentle."
Truth, Beauty, Freedom, & Books - "If I was between ten and twelve years old, I probably would have enjoyed Edenbrooke a lot more."