Customer Reviews: Summerset Abbey
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on January 24, 2013
I'm such a huge fan of the BBC/PBS series Downton Abbey, so I was excited to give Summerset Abbey a read--it seemed right up my alley. And, I'm happy to report, it did not disappoint! This novel, the first in a trilogy, centers around three "sisters," two of whom (Victoria and Rowena) occupy the "upstairs" world of a sprawling estate that seems similar in many ways to Downton Abbey, and one (Prudence) who is relegated to the "downstairs" world of the estate to serve as a lady's maid, despite having been raised alongside her "sisters" as their equal. It's a great set-up that allows for fascinating dynamics among all three leading ladies, as guilt, pride, jealousy, pity, disillusionment, and ultimately a sense of injustice all come into play. The romantic storylines are also well-developed, but I personally found the relationships among the three women to be the most fun and interesting to watch unravel.

This novel is also incredibly rich in historical detail. The dialogue feels authentic, and the author does a fantastic job of creating a strong sense of time and place--I definitely felt transported to Summerset Abbey as the author described the luxurious décor, sprawling layout, and ornamental embellishments that define the estate... not to mention the lavish meals and social functions (I especially loved the ball scene).

One of the main elements of this novel that sets it apart from Downton Abbey is that the upstairs/downstairs dynamic that defines the relationships among the characters is actually called into question, especially by Victoria. These women weren't born and raised with such rigid class divisions as those enforced at Summerset Abbey (they move to the estate in the opening chapter of the novel), so it's interesting to see their reactions to the code of conduct at the estate. Further, Prudence has a foot in both worlds, so it's interesting to see her reaction to both the separation and the interplay between the upstairs and downstairs worlds of Summerset.

Overall, a purely enjoyable historical fiction read, especially for fans of Downton Abbey! I highly recommend this novel, and I cannot wait for the sequel!
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on January 15, 2013
Diving into SUMMERSET ABBEY feels decadent. Much like the elegant, opulent and scandalous world in which the story takes place. A world that's caught between the past and the present, one that's on the verge of modernism but still clings to traditionalism.

A world where entitlement and leisure, lavish parties and arranged marriages contrast with motorcars, aeroplanes, suffragettes and the working class. And where the lords and ladies of the manor continue to embrace their way of life even as the world moves forward without them.

SUMMERSET ABBEY is a story that is rich with beauty, includes a bevy of interesting characters, has a wonderful flow to the writing and feels fresh and modern yet captures the essence of the time period around which the story revolves.

Told from multiple perspectives, the author, T.J. Brown, gives readers the opportunity to meet three young women - Rowena, Prudence and Victoria - who grew up in the same household but who find themselves in very different circumstances following the death of the man who raised them.

Rowena discovers herself to be newly burdened with responsibilities she didn't ask for and ones she wasn't in the least bit ready for. Victoria's dreams of making her own way in the world are put on hold when it becomes necessary to relocate to Summerset Abbey. And Prudence is forced to face the harsh reality that while she always believed herself to be equal to her "sisters," outside of the place she used to call home she is anything but.

As the first book in this new series, SUMMERSET ABBEY sets up the series brilliantly. It builds the world, develops the characters, and moves the plot forward enough for readers to feel satisfied with what they've been given but still eager for more.

And while the pace is unhurried, the story has an easy flow that will keep readers connected throughout - even as it switches between each of the different character's storylines. It has characters that readers will want to spend time getting to know. It has writing that gives this tale a more contemporary feel, allowing for a broader appeal. And it has three different story arcs that readers will want to follow to their conclusion.

Brimming with secrets, lies, scandal and betrayal, SUMMERSET ABBEY is an immensely entertaining, thoroughly engaging and utterly enchanting tale that will keep readers in its thrall.
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on January 15, 2013
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The year is 1913 and Sir Philip Buxton has passed leaving his two daughters all alone. Placed into the care of their Uncle until the time they decide to marry, their life becomes upended when they are moved from their home to Summerset Abbey. Victoria and Rowena are also separated from their friend Prudence. Prudence was raised alongside the girls their entire lives and they are all three as close as sisters can be. Their Uncle won't stand for this continued treatment though as Prudence is a governess's daughter by birth. The question remains why would Sir Philip raise her as his own to begin with?

The big hook for me that got me interested in reading this book was the comparison to Downton Abbey. I am a sucker for anything Downton Abbey and love historical fiction in general so I anticipated liking this immensely While I did enjoy this, I found there to be one huge difference between the two. In Downton Abbey everything is glamorous and you find yourself so envious of the people and this beautiful time period they live in. In Summerset Abbey I found myself feeling rather sorry for these girls and the things they were obligated to do based on customs. I rather think though that Summerset Abbey gives a more accurate interpretation of that time period as it likely wasn't truly as exotic as it seems on television. For this reason I think many won't appreciate this as much because, like me, I can't help but love the glamorous façade.

The writing was entertaining but there were several times where additional descriptive details had been added that felt unnecessary and would have been better omitted. The mystery bit of the whole story could have been done much better as well. Nonetheless entertaining, I still felt I had the mystery solved weeks before these girls did. Considering this is a start of a new series, Summerset Abbey left off at a rather awkward point but definitely leaves you highly anticipating the next installment.
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on January 28, 2014
I got through 21% of the book according to my Kindle. It was recommended to me on a library list as a good book for fans of Downton Abbey. It is in fact set in a large English House of the Downton Abbey style and in that same period. However I found the story quite predictable and the characters very stereotyped. Perhaps it gets better as it progresses? I however have moved on to other books.
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on July 21, 2013
Three young girls not only have to deal with the death of their father, they also have to deal with the class realities of the time. Prudence might have been treated like one of the family by Sir Philip Buxton, but in reality she is the daughter of the governess. When forced to move to Summerset Abbey, it becomes clear that she isn't going to be treated like Victoria and Rowena anymore. The three girls are forced to deal with a new reality, and the question remains will it bring them together or drive them apart.

I thought it was just ok, with the mystery element surrounding Prudence's birth not much of a mystery at all. The whole plot surrounds her birth, but while it takes the whole novel for the characters to solve it, I figured it out halfway through. It made it so the rest of the mystery dragged on, and you wished it didn't take up as much of the plot as it ended up doing. As well, I wouldn't really characterize this as a historical fiction novel. While there are some elements that showcase the time period (such as the contention between upstairs and downstairs), the book is more about the drama surrounding the characters than illuminating this moment of time in England.

Overall, it was a decent read but nothing special. I've enjoyed other books much more about this unique time period in England than this one.
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on April 9, 2015
I am on page 83 and the main three characters are saying pretty much what they were saying in chapter one!! BUT I am SO glad that I kept reading because the pace and story lines sure do pick up with wonderful twist and turns. I just finished book 2 and book 3 is on the way. Hang in there and read this one and then you will be hooked!!!
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on July 16, 2016
Warning: This book and the ones that follow in the series are NOT" like Downton Abbey"! I give TJ Brown props for trying, but she just doesn't get the Edwardian era, and has NO ear for dialogue. The characters talk like modern people, and could even be American. (Ending a character's comment with "Right?" Ugh). Perhaps if you haven't seen Downton, you might enjoy this. I wonder if Ms Brown read Vita Sackville-West's classic novel "The Edwardians." I'd recommend that before recommending these books. Rowena, Victoria,and Prudence bear no resemblance to Mary,Sybil, and Edith as far as characterization goes. They are pretty two-dimensional, and all of their inner thoughts are basically variations on the same theme, with very little character developemnt. Also, their clothes--especially the hats--make no sense whatsoever. Unless you are writing Downton Abbey fan fiction, I would recommend doing research OTHER than watching Titanic and Downton Abbey. Not bad but not great. Actually it made me itch for a red pen to give it a heavy edit.
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on May 24, 2014
I have read all three of the Summerset trilogy books. I actually enjoyed the first book the best -- the plot lines became more predictable the farther I read. I would classify these books as something to pick up at the public library and read once. I own a few books that I love so much, I have re-read them several times. These books do not fall into that category for me. I have them in a bag now to donate to charity.
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on December 4, 2014
When I read a bit of this on the Amazon site, I wanted to read more. It's that kind of book, it pulls you in. I bought the paperback rather than the e-book because my husband likes Downton Abbey as well as I do, and this seemed to be similar. Perhaps the publisher planned it because of the TV popularity, but this book is definitely one of a kind. (Or, since there are others following it, which I haven't yet read---one series of a kind.) As I read, I knew what would happen. I was sure of it---but I was wrong. (And I love to be proven wrong when I'm reading!)

A great historical fiction read. My only complaint---the ending was abrupt. I mean, the story was all there and the pieces of the plot all completed, but it went too fast. A few more pages, maybe even a chapter or two more to fully live the ending of this episode---that's all I ask.
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on April 19, 2015
This is the first book in the series detailing the lives of 3 young women who have grown up together in late Edwardian era in England. On the death of Rowena and Victoria’s father, they are sent to live with family who treat their companion Prudence as no more than a servant. Prudence struggles with her new position as “neither fish nor fowl”. Victoria’s delicate health leads her to a discovery about family secrets and Prudence’s past. Each woman must find a way to live with their changed circumstances.
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