Penelope Keeling’s prized possession is a painting titled “The Shell Seekers”, painted by her father. Penelope has recently had a heart attack which has prompted her to take inventory of the many experiences she’s had in her richly unconventional life. As her father’s works have become popular and are now worth a fortune, Penelope’s children each have an idea as to what should be done with the beloved painting, none of which Penelope likes. As she reminisces she realizes the perfect solution – one that would have thrilled her father and one that warms her own heart.
Sissy: The vague memory in my head was that I loved all of Rosamund Pilcher’s books, so I decided to review The Shell Seekers, which was one of her best sellers. While I still think the book is very good, in re-reading it I found that some of the characters live a rather more morally Bohemian lifestyle than I had remembered. Nothing spelled out or explicit–just mentioned as part of the story. That having been said, Pilcher doesn’t shy away from the consequences of such a lifestyle–which include unplanned pregnancies, loveless marriages, and some lost chances for true love.
Bubby: La la la la gardening, la la la la sandy beaches, la la la sunshine breaking through clouds, la la la art and romance, la la la . . .
Sissy: What are you doing, you crazy person?
Bubby: La la . . . what? Oh! Sorry. I was immersed in my lovely little kitchen garden in the back of my tiny stone cottage in Cornwall. You know, in my dreams! I think we should add Cornwall to
the list of places we absolutely must visit before you are too old to journey, Sissy.
Sissy: Well I’m so glad you haven’t been sipping the crazy sauce and are just doing your usual “Dame Bubby” dream world weirdness. I am having a significant birthday soon, so feel free to send us to Cornwall post-haste! However, I would be glad to not be there during World War II, as some of this book is. No bombs or rationing, please darling.
Bubby: As much as I would love to whisk you away for your significant birthday (70 is the new 30, darling!) I am afraid all my money is currently going to pay the plumber who is at this moment filling my home with strange fumes and has turned off all my water. So if I get a little loopy today, it’s the plumber’s fault, ok? I am always shocked when I read WWII era books at the deprivations ordinary people had to suffer through. No gasoline, no sugar, no chocolate!!, no new clothes, make it all yourself or go without. I feel quite spoiled. The Shell Seekers moves seamlessly from the WWII era to modern-day (about 1984 or so).
Sissy: Okay, so our main character Penelope is minding her own business and living her life in Cornwall, when she suffers a heart attack. This is the beginning of her life story. And p.s., in the far-flung future when I turn 70, I will be the sexiest 70 yr old you’ve ever seen! Any hoodle, Penelope’s 3 children appear and we get to know all about them and their lives. Two of them are completely selfish and bratty, and the other is at least a functional and compassionate adult. Each chapter is named after a character in the book, and the reader gets to travel back and forth through time and enjoy the ins and outs of the family saga. There is a lovely little art mystery woven in there as well.
Bubby: While I was reading this earlier in the week, one of my teenagers was giving me grief and I was getting rather annoyed. And then I read more about Noel and Nancy and Olivia, Penelope’s children, and suddenly my kid didn’t seem so bad!
Sissy: No, your kids are not greedy, backstabbing monsters who think they are entitled to everything and want to do nothing to earn it.
Bubby: Thank you, Sissy! I was appalled at the behavior of the so-called adults in this tale. At least Olivia had some sense and feeling and it was obvious that she was her mother’s favorite. My favorite characters, at least two of them, were Antonia and Danus. They were so sweet to Penelope and so in love and deserved all the good things that happened to them!
Sissy: A sweeping saga of family, love, and history, The Shell Seekers is good for an afternoon or two of getaway-ing. I give it 3.75 bubbles. And now I want to watch the movie!
Bubby: And it’s been made into not one, but two movies! One in 1989 starring Angela Lansbury as Penelope and one in 2006 starring Vanessa Redgrave, both of which were well rated (but 2006 sounds better). I can see a movie and popcorn night in mine and Sissy’s future! 3.5 bubbles.
Sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has left a family party to escape to her childhood tree house t0 dream about the boy she likes and the future they might have together. The tree house overlooks the long country lane that leads to the family farm, which gives Laurel an excellent view when a stranger comes to visit. Suddenly, Laurel witnesses a shocking crime that will change how she feels about her family, especially her mother Dorothy, forever. Fast-forward fifty years into the future and now Laurel is a famous actress. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Laurel knows that if she is ever to find answers about what happened so long ago, she must get them now. As we learn the true story, we travel from pre-WWII England, through the war, to present day. It is an intriguing story about love, secrets, and unexpected consequences.
Lori Shepherd has grown up with two important things: her mother’s bedtime stories of a fabulous woman named Aunt Dimity and a stuffed rabbit named Reginald. But now Lori is recently divorced, her mother has passed away and she is stuck in a dead end job. As much as she wishes Aunt Dimity was real, she knows Aunt Dimity was just a fairy tale character from her mother’s imagination. Or so she believes until she is suddenly summoned to the law firm of Willis and Willis. There she learns that Aunt Dimity was very real indeed and has just died and left Lori a grand inheritance. Unfortunately there’s a catch. Lori must go to England to Aunt Dimity’s cottage and find a secret hidden in the piles of correspondence written between Aunt Dimity and Lori’s mother over four decades of friendship. Along the way Lori realizes that Aunt Dimity’s spirit is alive, well and very ready to help Lori on her new quest. Ultimately, Lori’s entire life will change as she discovers all the secrets Aunt Dimity has left for her, as well as finding true love.
Bubby: There are a few series that I just took to heart from the moment I opened the first book. The Aunt Dimity series is one of these. This first book in the series, Aunt Dimity’s Death was named one of the best mysteries of the 20th century by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. This is for good reason. It starts out as a standard cozy mystery; down on her luck girl gets mysterious letter alluding to some sort of inheritance and off she goes to England to figure it all out. The twist comes in the form of Aunt Dimity herself. She is dead but her spirit lives on as she magically writes to Lori through the pages of a blue leather journal.
Sissy: The promise of intrigue piques one’s interest as we discover clues having to do with WWII, long-lost loves, and the London Zoo. Mata Hari monkeys? Hyenas on a heist?
Bubby: Pretty sure Mata Hari was WWI, Sissy. It seems that our dear Aunt Dimity has left some task undone and Lori must fix the situation so that Dimity’s spirit will be at rest. I really enjoyed the love interest in this book – he is not your typical tall dark and perfect romantic lead – in fact he has several faults.
Sissy: Like being pudgy, bespectacled, and unfashionable? Those are the ones who have money, my dear Bubby. And I sometimes like our dear Bill better than main character Lori.
Bubby: He does seem like a very sweet man, doesn’t he. I think that his father, Mr. Willis Sr., is my favorite character – he starts off as a bit of a curmudgeon but ends up being the father Lori never had.
Sissy: Yes, and it is fun how throughout the series different ladies in the local village try to entice him romantically. Now, Bubby, would you like to know my pros and cons about this series?
Bubby: I rather think you’ll tell me whether I want you to or not, so go ahead!
Sissy: I Shall start with the cons, so you can rebut. Lori is a bit of a flibbertigibbet. She also ends up with a fairly cushy life, but still complains (“Oh, I’m so flustered with this mystery, I can’t decide what to ask cook to prepare for dinner and I might have to put off my cuticle polishing appointment”). And lastly, how many murders can one village have? I live in a village-like small town, and the last murder we had was 27 years ago.
Bubby: Actually, there are NO murders in this first book. And she doesn’t have a cook. Just saying. She does seem a bit entitled in some of the other books (and yes, she does get a nanny eventually), but let’s just focus on this one book, instead of dissing the series as a whole, shall we?
Sissy: Bubby, you try to spoil all my fun! Here are my PROs for this book (and series, neener, neener). This first book is a solidly good mystery with a unique premise. Some of the books have better plots and storylines for me than others, but they are, as a whole, enjoyable. The setting in a picturesque English village is a plus, and the villagers are idiosyncratic in the usual English villager sort of way. I would live amongst them and eat currant buns.
Bubby: Ooh, yes, currant buns. And scones or perhaps crumpets! With clotted cream! Oh, sorry, I got distracted there for a moment in my fantasies of English tea time. I do love the characterizations of the villagers – the quiet horsey couple next door, the elderly twins who finish each other’s sentences and the busybody who runs both the town and her husband!
Sissy: As I said, the villagers are very English villagery. And if you don’t know what that means, dear reader, you clearly need to watch more BBC. I give this book and subsequent series 3 stars.
Bubby: It’s a great book and a great series. I adore them all. I give the book 4 bubbles.
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