‘Alice Woodstock has been running away.
Well, not literally. She spends most of her time glued to her desk, writing about grommets and model aeroplanes. No, Alice is avoiding the real world because there’s something—someone—in her past that she’s desperate to forget. So when she’s commissioned to write about life in stately home Eversley Hall, she jumps at the chance to escape into Regency England, even if it does mean swapping her comfy T-shirt for an itchy corset. Perhaps she’ll meet her own Mr Darcy…
But when her past resurfaces in the shape of Leo Allingham, Alice is brought down to earth with a bump. Reckless, unpredictable Leo reminds Alice of the painful price of following her heart. And the new Alice doesn’t live dangerously.
Or does she?’
At first sight Alice Woodstock seems perfectly happy, but scratch the surface and old wounds immediately reappear. Cutting herself off as best she can from her ex-husband Leo, Alice keeps a past tragedy well under lock and key. But when Leo reappears and moves in with her, it looks like Alice is going to have to face up to and re-confront her past, until that is she’s offered a weekend job as a historical re-enactor at Eversley Hall, a local stately home. Immersing herself in 1814, Alice discovers the charms of James Fitzwilliam, the present dashing lord of the manor, and the joy of being someone without her own cares and previous heartache.
I thoroughly enjoyed Julie Cohen’s last book ‘Getting Away With It’, and love anything to do with the Regency period, so I was very excited when this came through my letter box and settled down to enjoy it almost immediately. I adored Cohen’s depictions of Regency England: her research paid off, and the sections where Alice was in nineteenth century character were very entertaining and informative about the age, and in particular about the fashions and etiquette of the time.
Although I understood that Alice’s new job formed a type of escapism for her as she was better able to deal with the problems of life is 1814 than those of the modern day, it was a bit bizarre how carried away she became with her weekend ‘Regency life’. In all other ways she seemed pretty sane, but at one point she took her love for, and immersion in, her work too far, which let the story down a little for me.
The characters making up the historical cast at Eversley Hall were a varied and entertaining bunch. I liked seeing them interacting together both in their work and outside of it, especially when one of the younger, less experienced, re-enactors would make a tiny mistake, and be pounced upon by the more professional members of the group!
Leo’s character was likeable, but I did get a little cross with him when he made a mess in the living room! I wanted to know more about what he’d actually been up to during his time apart from Alice; I need all the details before I can forgive a character any transgressions! His supportive and trustworthy side was highlighted by his behaviour towards Alice’s younger sister when she turns to him for help, and even Alice is forced to admit that she may have misjudged some of his previous actions.
I confess I was a little shocked when Alice’s secret was finally revealed: it really was very tragic, and I was expecting a cheerier read. However, Cohen knitted the plot together very well, mixing the heart-rending with some light relief, and the end result worked for me. I certainly became very absorbed in Alice’s life, and found I finished the book very swiftly! ‘The Summer of Living Dangerously’ certainly lived up to my high expectations.
'Liza Haven couldn’t wait to escape the small village where she grew up with her perfect identical twin sister, Lee. Her life in LA as a stunt woman is reckless, fast and free – and that’s just the way she likes it. But when a near-fatal mistake drives her home, she finds Lee gone and everyone in the village mistaking her for her twin sister. Liza has to deal with her ailing mother, the family ice cream business, and Lee’s dangerously attractive boyfriend. Liza’s always been the bad twin, but as she struggles to keep up the masquerade and puzzle out where her sister has gone, she realises it’s not so simple. She’s spent her whole life getting away with it – is it finally time to face up to who she really is and where she really belongs?'
Lee and Liza Haven are identical twin sisters, but appearances are where the similarities between the two end.
Liza lives in L.A. and is a film stuntwoman; she loves danger and adventure and does everything she can to stay away from her childhood home of Stoneguard, the cosy little town where she built up quite a reputation as the bad girl.
Lee, meanwhile, still lives in Stoneguard. She’s the exact opposite of her twin – responsible, organised and loved by everyone who knows her. She’s constantly busy: running the family ice-cream business, caring for her mother and helping out in the local community.
The story begins with Liza losing her job after making a major mistake which almost costs her her life. She soon finds that news travels fast in the film world and no one will employ her. When Lee begs Liza to return to Stoneguard for a visit she reluctantly agrees, but when she gets there she discovers that Lee has disappeared, leaving Liza to cope with all of her twin’s, often over-whelming, responsibilities.
When everyone assumes that Liza is Lee, Liza decides to carry on the charade and discover what it’s really like to be the ‘good’ twin. Liza thinks it’ll be easy enough to be Lee for a while, until that is, she discovers that Lee’s dating the irresistible Will Naughton.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Liza’s experiences as she lives her sister’s life and how they change her. My only quibble being that I would’ve liked the same amount of attention to have been paid to Lee, who also goes through a lot emotionally whilst she’s away and is a very interesting character in her own right.
Cohen really has created a wonderful cast of characters living in Stoneguard; I particularly liked Ma Gamble, with her attempts to keep the whole town regular and her earthworm preservation meetings. The townsfolk are wonderfully nosy and old-fashioned, and very cleverly written – you can understand why Lee adores them and Liza hates them, at least to begin with.
Another noteworthy aspect of Cohen’s writing was the way she dealt with and made use of the twins’ mother having Alzheimer’s: this really was a brilliant way to soften their mother’s character, and it also served to bring out a little more of Liza’s good qualities. There’s one scene in particular which is particularly touching where Liza’s finally understands and comes to terms with her mother’s illness.
I became really immersed in this book, which to me is always the sign of a very good story. Some of the passages describing the English countryside were very beautifully written and the description of Liza’s accident is very dramatic and intense - there was no way that I could have stopped reading until I knew the outcome.
This is a lovely, really heart-warming story with a superb compliment of characters, and it came with the added bonus that I now know how to make a crop circle – I’ll definitely be on the look out for more of Julie Cohen’s books in the future.