Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bonus Review: While We Were Watching Downton Abbey

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey
By Wendy Wax
Publisher: Berkeley Trade
Release Date: April 2, 2013

Edward Parker, a British transplant proud of the family tradition of service, is the owner of Private Butler, a personal concierge company that six months earlier was selected to supply concierge service for the historic Alexander, “a beautifully renovated Beaux Arts and Renaissance Revival-styled apartment building in the center of Midtown Atlanta.” Edward, dapper and discrete, is the perfect concierge. To create a greater sense of community among those who live in the Alexander, Edward comes up with the idea of weekly viewings of the first two seasons of Downton Abbey on the big screen television in the clubroom, complete with popcorn and wine and “English-themed nibbles” to follow the screening.

Neither Brooke Mackenzie, Samantha Davis, nor Claire Walker is enthusiastic about watching a stuffy British TV show with a bunch of strangers, but each finds herself attending the viewing. As they watch Downton Abbey and become engaged with the show’s characters, they become friends. Their lives intersect with one another’s and with Edward’s in surprising ways.

Brooke is a divorcee with two young daughters, ages seven and five, and an ex-husband who discarded her for an Atlanta socialite who was a better advertisement for his skills as a plastic surgeon and more in tune with his ambitions. Brooke is lonely and dissatisfied with herself and her life. Years of placating her husband have turned her into a doormat, and she’s not sure how to change. Her friendship with Samantha and Claire brings people into her life who care about her, and Edward’s recognition of skills that Brooke has developed as a homemaker and mother paves the way for a career and possibilities she never dared dream.

Samantha married into Atlanta royalty and for twenty-five years she has been trying to deserve the man who saved her and her two younger siblings when their father’s greed and dishonesty destroyed the life they had known. She didn’t love Jonathan Davis when she married him, but she has fallen in love with him over the years. However, she’s so caught up in maintaining the perfect image and feeling grateful that she cannot allow herself to be honest and express her real feelings. When her perfect life falls to pieces, it is her new friends who help her discover a strength and determination she never knew she possessed.

Claire is facing a new life. Divorced for sixteen years after a brief marriage that she knew was a mistake from the beginning, she has worked, cared for aging parents, and nurtured her daughter in suburban Atlanta. Now she has a new apartment and a new life. Her daughter is a freshman at Northwestern University, and Claire, who has written two moderately successful historical romance novels, has enough money to spend a year working fulltime on her breakout novel. The only problem is she is suffering from an advanced case of writer’s block—until she discovers the seeds of a different story in the lives of her new friends.

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey is the story of the unlikely friendship that develops among these characters. The three women are at different stages in their lives, they are from different backgrounds, and they appear to have little in common other than their address. But over three months, they come to trust one another and to open themselves to the joys and the challenges of friendship. While there are some romantic elements in the story, the focus is on the power of friendship to comfort and empower.

Downton Abbey fans will doubtless enjoy the references to characters from the series, and they may see some parallels between Yorkshire estate and village of Downton Abbey and the Alexander where characters from the wealthy elite such as the Samantha and Jonathan Davis are brought into contact with their social inferiors. They may also make connections between Edward and Carson, Samantha and Lady Mary, and perhaps Violet and Samantha’s mother-in-law, but it is not necessary to be familiar with the show to appreciate the novel.

Wax excels at using humor, bits of local color, and multiple, complex female protagonists, and she uses all of these to good effect here. I found Brooke, Samantha, and Claire interesting and likeable, and Edward, a George Clooney lookalike with a British accent and a big heart, is the stuff of dreams. He made me want to move to the Alexander immediately.  I also enjoyed the references to familiar Atlanta spots.

I also loved, as I typically do with Wax’s novels, the memorable lines that say a great deal in a sentence or two. These are among my favorites:

Of the effects of Brooke’s marriage to the jerk:
By then her imperfections were the only thing in their marriage that she still recognized.

Of Claire’s feeling caught between who she once was and who she is becoming:
She felt like a disembodied spirit with one foot in the old life and one in the new but belonging in neither.

Of Samantha’s saying yes to her savior prince:
There was plenty of precedent for prince-marrying in the fairy-tale world. Sleeping Beauty had not ignored the prince’s kiss in favor of a few more years of shut-eye. Cinderella never considered refusing to try on the glass slipper. And Snow White didn’t bat an eyelash at moving in with those seven little men

If you like women’s fiction that makes you smile, warms your heart, and reminds you why friendship matters, this book is definitely one you will enjoy.


irisheyes said...

Your review is fate telling me to go out and get this book. LOL I was just trolling the internet sites reading about WWWWDA and close to making the purchase. I wandered off to check other sites and here it is at Just Janga!

I like the setting - different people brought together through circumstances and developing relationships. It's kind of like a series in one book. Robyn Carr has done something similar in her two books THE HOUSE ON OLIVE STREET and SUMMER IN SONOMA. Granted, in those books the ladies were already friends, but it was still fun following them all through their individual life struggles.

I'm also a huge DOWNTON ABBEY fan, so that's just a plus. Thanks for the review, Janga.

Janga said...

Irish, I'll be interested in hearing what you think of it. I liked it a lot. Characters are always the element that weighs most heavily with me, and I found these engaging. Of course, I love both the Carr books you mention.

Joan Schulhafer said...

Thanks so much for sharing this book. Joan