Book Review: A Fine Romance: Falling In Love with the English Countryside by Susan Branch

A Fine Romance:  Falling in Love with the English CountrysideA Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside by Susan Branch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was utterly charmed by Susan Branch’s A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside. Written during a two month trip to England, A Fine Romance documents all of the lovely places that Susan (and her husband, Joe) visited, including Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm, Hever Castle where Anne Boleyn grew up, and, of course, Jane Austen’s house in Chawton. It is chock full of gorgeous gardens, wonderful books, good food, knitting, and lots and lots of tea – everything that I love – and left me with the strongest urge to run away from home and move to England.

To be fair, this doesn’t take too much convincing. I have always wanted to visit England and Ireland and I have always been very susceptible to stories about moving away and starting someplace new. Under the Tuscan Sun gets me every time. Still, I think A Fine Romance could tempt almost anyone into having their own love affair with the English countryside.

Like Under the Tuscan Sun, A Fine Romance has yummy sounding recipes scattered throughout, recipes like Hot Milk Cake and Lemon Butter Cookies that I would love to try out for my next tea party. It also has photographs, quotes, and lovely little watercolor illustrations that Susan painted while in England. So charming!

You can also go onto Susan’s website for even more information and references about the places, people, and things that Susan and Joe encountered on their trip. Be very careful about visiting the website, I stumbled up the link to all the cottages and apartments you can rent from the National Trust and lost an hour of my life clicking on all the pictures of the amazing places you can stay in! I was helpless to resist! (I also spent some time on the Hever Castle website and was somewhat fascinated to find out that you can get married there. The location is beautiful and the photos of past affairs held there were gorgeous but I am just not sure if the life of Anne Boleyn and wedded bliss are compatible concepts in my mind).

Both book and website have lots of recommendations of great places to visit, things to do, food to cook and eat, books to read, and movies to watch. My only grumble is that with all the times that Susan mentions curling up with her knitting, and with all the photos and paintings of sheep, I felt that yarn shops (or at least a mention of what she was knitting) was curiously missing. From one of the photos, I think she was working on a pair of socks but I am not sure.  Maybe it is just me but I was just as curious about what was on the knitting needles as I was about what was in the teacup or on the telly. (Perhaps I have been spoiled by the Yarn Harlot who always takes photos of her in progress socks in interesting places and with interesting people when she travels.)

Still this was a very minor quibble and I enjoyed the book so much that I am definitely going to check out some of her others. And, if the magical day where I can plan my own trip to England ever comes, I will definitely be using A Fine Romance to help me plan where to go and what to do.

Thanks to Christy, who recommend A Fine Romance during a discussion on the Ciarrai Studios Facebook Page during “What We’re Reading Wednesday.” If you are reading anything good or are looking to see what other people are reading, please join in the conversation. We’d love to hear from you.

View all my reviews

Now that I have finished A Fine Romance, I have now moved on to reading Arsenic and Old Lace.  The contrast between the two is a little bit much. They have VERY different tones but oddly enough, the amount of tea seems to be the same in both books!

 

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About Ciarrai

Hi. My name is Kerry but here online I tend to go by the Gaelic version of my name, Ciarrai. I am a woman in my mid-30's who lives on Long Island, NY, with my husband, Rob, several guitars, a Nikon D40, more yarn, beads and books than I care to admit to and a cat who has a million nicknames and quite a few theme songs. I have a B.A. in Psychology and have recently returned to college to pursue a teaching degree so that I can eventually get a job as a High School English teacher. In addition to my major obsessions (Reading, Beading, Knitting, Music and Photography), I also enjoy playing Board Games, going to Renaissance Faires, Museums and Broadway Musicals.
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4 Responses to Book Review: A Fine Romance: Falling In Love with the English Countryside by Susan Branch

  1. Christy says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, Kerry. I’ve always wanted to live in England and Susan’s book seemed to satisfy some of the craving. I’ve always been in love with Britain and Ireland. *sigh* Under the Tuscan Sun gets to me, too. I’m always crying at the end. Ah, well, someday may come yet.

    • Ciarrai says:

      I really did, Christy. Thanks again.

      The only way I could have enjoyed this book more (besides the aforementioned neglect of all things yarnish) is if Susan had been falling in love with the Irish countryside. For me, England is all about the great books and theater, and poetry that it produced, which is a really big reason for someone like me to love it.

      But Ireland has a special place in my heart. My grandfather’s parents were both from Ireland and he passed down a love of Ireland, its music and its mythology to me. We always talked about going to Ireland together but he passed away before we could. So now, on top of all the reasons why I want to go to Ireland myself, I feel like I have to go for him too. If Susan ever wrote about touring Ireland, I really couldn’t be held responsible for what I do after I read it.

  2. Susan Branch says:

    Hi Kerry, that was SO nice of you to do a review! Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed our trip to England! I loved taking everyone along. As for the knitting, I should explain ~ just before we left for England I’d done a post on my blog about stopping in to my Martha’s Vineyard yarn shop and picking out the yarn to take along, complete with photos inside our yarn shop, choosing the colors, and kitty ripping yarn apart. Here it is http://www.susanbranch.com/2012/03/marthas-vineyard-knitting-store-knit-works-beatrix-potters-house-sailing-on-ocean-liner-qmii-ny-to-southampton-colors-for-autumn/ — and, being at times dense, I didn’t think that someone might not have seen that post! I should have explained it and showed it more. It’s a scarf! Also, believe it or not, in that gorgeous countryside where sheep are everywhere, even though I looked wherever we went, we never ran into a yarn shop. I thought it would “just happen” organically, but it didn’t. So that is the missing mystery of the knitting! Hope this helps. I may have to take you to Ireland next!

    • Ciarrai says:

      Hi Susan! It is so kind of you to take the time to reply to my post and answer my question, especially since I know you have been traveling lately! I hadn’t seen your earlier post because reading A Fine Romance was my introduction to your writing and blog. I have to say that I am quite smitten with your yarn shop! The kitchen table knit-along is just too perfect for words! And if I am not mistaken, it looks like they have an old library card catalog for a display / storage. (Love it!)

      Your scarf colors are fabulous. From the picture I was looking at, I thought your main color was black but that rich purple and lime green will really pop together! (So glad that you rescued your yarn before your kitty could tangle it too much. Fortunately for me, my kitty is much to lazy to get into the yarn or else I would be in serious trouble!) Are you still working on the scarf or are you waiting for the cooler weather before you wear it and show it off?

      I wish I really could run off to Ireland with you but unless I find more tea-drinking, book lovers to buy my jewelry, (www.etsy.com/shop/CiarraiStudios), I am going to have to live vicariously through you and your books. If you do go, you should check out Ravelry (http://www.ravelry.com/) when you are planning things, I am sure you can find some locals to point you towards the best yarn shops!

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