REVIEW: Winter and Rough Weather (Drumberley Book 3) by D.E. Stevenson
James Dering and his new wife Rhoda are returning from their honeymoon, and Jock and Mamie Johnstone are delighted to welcome them to their new home on a neighbouring farm. But Mamie’s concern proves justified, and Rhoda, a talented painter who has chosen marriage over art, finds rural Scotland lonely after life in London. She soon finds new inspiration in the beauty around her, and in the process gives the bright but difficult young Duggie a new lease on life. But her art will also uncover secrets, and lead to dramatic, far-reaching consequences for those around her.
In this novel, in which characters from Vittoria Cottage and Music in the Hills recur, D.E. Stevenson wonderfully evokes the chill and bluster of winter in the Scottish Borders, contrasted with the warmth and charm of her irresistible characters.
Well, this is what I get for procrastinating. Two and a half years ago, I started reviewing the three books in Stevenson’s “Drumberley series. With the first two done, I (idiotically) put off reading the last book, “Winter and Rough Weather,” (aka “Shoulder the Sky”) until I noticed that the publisher had removed the digital edition from sale. Whoops. Then I noticed it was due to be re-released and cleared a spot in my reading calendar to make sure that this time I got it done.
Though this book is more closely tied to the previous book, “Music in the Hills,” I think it could be read on its own. Stevenson does an excellent job of introducing past characters and events while still avoiding an info-dump. Jock and Mamie Johnston are helping ready the neighboring farm for their (adopted) heir and his new wife. James and Rhoda Dering Johnston (James has added “Johnston” as he will inherit Jock’s farm and there’s always been a Johnston there) are on their way back to Scotland from their honeymoon in Cornwall and James is eager to pick back up learning all the details about sheep farming.
Many people are (slightly) worried about how well Rhoda will adjust to living in rural (their farm has neither electricity nor a phone) and fairly isolated Scotland after moving from the social whirl of London. Rhoda is also a talented painter who had to decide whether to continue with her promising career or get married. Late autumn maybe isn’t the best time for Rhoda to arrive with plenty to take James away from the house all day and the weather getting colder. Soon however, she realizes that married life has energized her and fired her creative spirit and she takes delight in drawing and painting the people and sights of the lowlands of Scotland around her.
There are also plenty of people for her to meet both in town and at the area houses. Some are delightful while others – the rich Londoners who bought and (in the opinion of most) ruined the old house at Tassieknowe (awful paint choices, fitted carpets, garish electrical lights) and who eat their lambs and let tups run loose – aren’t. James is as horrified as his Uncle Jock about those last two items which do get explained and show how much Stevenson knew about sheep farming, the people of the area, and the fact that rationing was still in effect even this many years after World War II.
Among the neighbors there are plenty of seemingly disparate events in their lives. Stevenson slowly introduces them – both the neighbors and the issues – the just as carefully and deliberately begins to wind them all together. She also gives a marvelous view of the time and place and contrasts those who view the hills as home and love them with those who are seeking for the “next new thing” and chasing after but never catching happiness. Rhoda cheerfully tramps miles over the countryside to take tea with Miss Heddle who is horrified that Rhoda didn’t drive. The entire village of Drumberley turns out for the children’s Christmas presentation which includes a shortened version of a play by the Bard which is then discussed in depth over tea. When a heavy snowfall cuts people off from town, everyone pitches in to help dig roads out while country doctors risk life and limb to reach their patients.
I could figure out some of the twists and turns along the way by the clues Stevenson delicately inserts in the story. By the end of the novel, most truths have been discovered and a few things are settled while for others we are given hints as to how they will likely end without everything being tied up in neat bows. But as with all things in Drumberley in 1951, there’s little of the hurry and bustle of life today and I’m content that all will be well in time. B