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.
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!