Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ashton Park by Murray Pura


For fans of the hugely popular Downton Abbey series, comes this equally enthralling story of the Danforth family of Ashton Park.

Among the green hills and trees of Lancashire, only a few miles from the sea, lies the beautiful and ancient estate of Ashton Park.

The year is 1916. The First World War has engulfed Europe and Sir William's and Lady Elizabeth's three sons are all in uniform--and their four daughters are involved in various pursuits of the heart and soul.

As the head of a strong Church of England family for generations, Sir William insists the Danforth estate hold morning devotions that include both family and staff.
However, he is also an MP and away at Westminster in London whenever Parliament is sitting. During his long absences, Lady Elizabeth discreetly spends time in the company of the head cook of the manor, Mrs. Longstaff, who is her best friend and confidante. This friendship includes visits to a small Baptist church in Liverpool that exposes Lady Elizabeth to a less formal approach to Christian worship and preaching than she is used to and which she comes to enjoy.

Readers will follow Ashton Park's charming upstairs/downstairs characters through the perils of war and the affairs of the heart with relish--and with an eye to the sequel coming in Fall 2013.

My Thoughts:

As a recent fan of the PBS series, "Downton Abbey", I was intrigued when I was asked to read "Ashton Park", the first novel in the Danforths of Lancashire.  For the most part, I enjoyed this first of a new series, but some aspects of the story left me yawning.

To start, the Danforths are a large family: father, mother and seven siblings.  That in itself lends the story to more drama!  Each character is easy to love, and could easily carry an entire novel on his or her own.

It was also nice to see faith play a major part in the story of the fictional Danforths.  It was fun to watch Sir William 'come around' to preferring the local Baptist church over the more traditional Church of England.

My quibbles are minor, but one is a major portion of the story arc.  Nearly every child of Sir William and Lady Elizabeth can't seem to find love within the family's class of social status...REALLY??  Some readers may argue with this point, but with the exception of Emma, the parents of the brood find something to object to in every case.

Also, while I appreciated the inclusion of faith and God in the story, at times it seemed a bit stiff and trite.  This could totally be due to the time period and my lack of familiarity with the behaviors and customs of the day.  I do not even remotely claim to be an expert of this time period.  Just a simple reader's opinion.

The extended family members more than make up for any flaws I found in the reading.  Sir Arthur, Lady Grace and Aunt Helen were fun additions.  The staff selections read well and, with the exception of a married couple as head of staff, I felt as if I was at Downton.

I received a copy of "Ashton Park" in exchange for an honest review.  While I have my issues with the book, I still highly recommend it to both Downton Abbey fans and those who haven't fallen in love with the period drama: both will enjoy the book.  And I'm looking forward to the sequel!

Happy Reading!



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