Keeping the Castle

June 2012. 262p. 978-0-67001-143-5. 16.99.
Gr 7 Up–This droll tale set in 19th-century England will earn smiles of recognition from those familiar with Pride and Prejudice. Althea Crawley’s only hope of saving her family and their castlelike home from their state of genteel poverty is to ensnare a wealthy husband using the two sole tools at her disposal: her youth and her beauty. The 17-year-old soon sets her sights on dashing Lord Boring, but obstacles arise, including her scheming stepsisters and Boring’s seemingly boorish cousin, Mr. Fredericks. Though the bulk of the action revolves around socializing–visits, picnics, riding parties–these events are infused with enough drama and social maneuvering to keep the plot moving smoothly. Witty dialogue, particularly the barbed exchanges between Althea and Mr. Fredericks, recalls Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s sharp banter but will be also accessible to readers who have not yet encountered Austen. Kindl uses sly humor to take aim at societal customs and standards. For example, Althea questions a rich suitor about why her appreciation of his wealth is mercenary while his enjoyment of her physical beauty is admirable. Althea is a worthy heroine with sharp-eyed views on matrimony that set her apart from more typical dewy eyed protagonists. The dilapidated castle setting, the Crawleys’ desperate circumstances, and Althea’s amusingly wicked stepsisters imbue this archly humorous story with a touch of romance. A treat for both fans of Austen and newcomers alike.
Althea Crawley is acutely aware that the fate of her impoverished family rests on her ability to parlay her remarkable beauty into a brilliant marriage. Her great-grandfather’s quixotic desire to build a rambling pseudo-castle on the inhospitable Yorkshire coast has drained the family resources and left Althea, her widowed mother, and her young brother in perilous straits. Althea is determined to do her duty, but the dearth of eligible bachelors in Lesser Hoo and her lack of a dowry are formidable obstacles to success. So is her unfortunate habit of blurting out exactly what she’s thinking to her suitors, with disastrous results. ("When would I learn to speak with a tactful tongue? There went another one.") The arrival of handsome Lord Boring at his country estate with a party of friends from London sets the neighborhood aflutter; suddenly picnics, balls, and social calls proliferate. Will any of the potential husbands measure up? What deep secret is the reticent Miss Vincy hiding? And why is the caustic Mr. Fredericks always underfoot? As misunderstandings and mishaps pile up, Althea blithely meddles in the romantic affairs of everyone around her, all the while remaining endearingly obtuse about the state of her own heart. Kindl effortlessly takes on the classic Regency romance in this witty and deftly plotted novel. Careful readers will spot affectionate nods to several of Jane Austen’s works -- no doubt the clever, outspoken Althea and Elizabeth Bennett would have been fast friends. terri schmitz

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