REVIEW: Summerhills (Ayrton Family Book 2) by D.E. Stevenson
Summerhills continues the story of the lives and loves of the Ayrton family, in particular that of Major Roger Ayrton M.C., his brother, and three young half-sisters.
Roger has made the Army his career. Anne has settled down as housekeeper to old Mr Orme, the rector. Nell looks after the old house, and it is upon her that the comfort and well-being of the family depend.
A new generation is growing up. The story begins as Roger flies home to Amberwell on leave, full of plans for his family and home.
This is the glowing story of the Ayrton family’s loves and triumphs at Amberwell, their beautiful estate in Scotland, in the years after World War II.
Over three years ago I read the first book in this series called “Amberwell, and eagerly awaited the sequel. Well, I waited for it a while all right. Now it’s finally been re-released and I’m tickled pink. In it, we get caught up on the lives of four of the five Ayrton children and at least hear a bit about the fifth one.
Amberwell is the family estate in Scotland where the five Ayrton children were brought up by their often absent and almost totally un-involved parents. Well, that is simply how these upper class families operated then. The first book took them through World War II and now it’s post war reality. Eldest brother Roger has An Idea he wants to bring to fruition which would help his young son Stephen as well as an old friend of Roger’s named Arnold who was wounded during the war and has searched desperately for a post as a teacher since being de-mobbed.
Another childhood friend who lives at a vast neighboring estate might have just what Roger is searching for – a location for the boys prep school Roger wants to open. Lots of landed gentry are discovering that it’s impossible to maintain their stately homes so Mary’s parents are willing to let the place go to start Summerhills which is to be a small, select school with reduced fees. Roger thankfully inherited a bundle from his beloved wife who died tragically during a London bomb raid so he’s got plenty of the ready to refurbish the estate and also hire Arnold as headmaster. Life is good when you’ve got plenty of the ready. Or is it, as Roger’s heart is still frozen after the loss of Clare.
Meanwhile sister Nell has been running Amberwell since Mrs. Ayrton is still her waffling and useless self. Nell’s been corresponding for three years with a naval buddy of brother Tom (who unfortunately never sets foot in this sequel) who fell for her the moment he saw her. Poor Dennis has to approach his romance almost like trying to win over a wild, forest creature as shy Nell is devoted to her home and family including old retainers Duffy the cook and Nannie.
It’s also obvious that Anne also has an admirer but her first marriage has deeply wounded her soul and left her unwilling to ever enter another. Connie and her husband are raising their three children in the “new fashion” with no corrections or limits on their behavior – much to the dismay of all their other family members who feel the children are little terrors. Poppet Lambert and her avuncular husband Johnnie dread when their grandchildren descend on them and wreak havoc on their home.
Will Roger and Arnold triumph in getting the school going and thwart the architect who thinks Roger is an easy money mark? Can a young woman who loves Roger get him to see that his heart isn’t dead? Will frustrated Dennis manage to get Nell to see him as a lover rather than an honorary brother? Is there hope for the young man who loves Anne. And what is wrong with crabby Aunt Beatrice in Rome?
Though Stevenson does a short recap as the characters appear again to remind us of what happened to them in “Amberwell,” this is definitely a continuation of those events and things would probably make more sense after reading the first book. Once I settled back into the story and characters, it was like flowing gently along on a lazy river and watching the scenery drift by. I felt totally relaxed as well as amused by the occasional subtle bit of British humor. Watching the nice men in the story be buffaloed by the teacher with an eye for marriage is delightful as is watching how the women they really like handle the situation.
The post war life sometimes seems more misty eyed than realistic as there is no mention of rations and when one character gets married, there appears to be no issue with getting new dresses for the women in the party. We do see the problems faced by wounded service men in finding jobs and the struggles of the “newly poor” trying to keep ancient homes going as well as the fact that sometimes new houses weren’t on the telephone line just yet.
Romances are gentle with fits and starts and scenes that reminded me of what I said about “Footsteps in the Dark” wherein the proposal was understated British. Here’s an example – despair to joy in a few short lines.
“Tell me what’s the matter.”
“Nothing,” declared Nell, trying to control herself.
“But darling, there must be something. What is it, Nell?”
“Nothing—at least not now. It was just that I thought—but I was silly. Give me your handkie, Dennis.”
He gave her his handkerchief and she mopped up her tears. “There, I’m better,” she said.
Certainly she looked better—there was even a faint watery smile tilting the corners of her mouth—but he still was not satisfied. He drew her back into his arms and kissed her again. It was not a brotherly sort of kiss, but Nell did not seem to object.
“Darling, is it all right?” asked Dennis anxiously. “I mean you do love me.”
“Of course I love you.”
“And you’ll—you’ll marry me, won’t you?”
“Yes, of course,” said Nell.
“Darling!” cried Dennis ecstatically. “Darling, beautiful Nell!”
Or this even more low key one.
“That’s all, really,” said Roger. “I’ve told you—everything—and if you think—I mean if you think you could possibly—like me at all—someday . . .” He paused and looked at her anxiously.
Could she like him—someday? What a silly question!
What a silly question indeed. So, if you like family drama and women’s fiction sort of stories, “Summerhills” is a good follow-up to “Amberwell” for which I gave the same caveats. I do wish that Anne’s story had been more finished and that we’d seen Tom but you can’t always get everything you want. B