Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Tender Leaves by Essie Summers

Summers, Essie - The Tender Leaves Maria was curious about the father she had never known, so it was luck when Mrs. Jensen offered to pay her fare to New Zealand for looking after her. Maria could have done without Mrs. Jensen's disapproving nephew, Struan, or could she?

I don't know that this is the first romance I ever read, but it's certainly one of the early ones. I know I was attracted to it because it was set in New Zealand and written by a New Zealand author. Such things are easier to find these days, but weren't so much back when I was a teenager. I went on to read other Essie Summer books, again because they were set in New Zealand, but this one always remained my favourite.

So when I saw it for sale used a month or two back, I bought it, mostly for nostalgia's sake. I had no idea if it would stand the test of time or not, but I remembered it with pleasure so I decided to take the chance.

I've been very tired this last week and wanted a simple, gentle read, so I decided it was time for The Tender Leaves.

I'm pleased to say that it does stand up on a reread. I was enchanted by it all over again and enjoyed a book that featured my own country and indeed, a lifestyle that reminded me of what I know of my mother's childhood.

The book has a copyright date of 1980, but really the feel of it is more like something out of the sixties. My mother grew up on a New Zealand farm very like Heronshaw (although in the South Island and not in Hawkes Bay as in the book) and the feel of life fits more with her teens and twenties than mine. For example, the characters take a boat back to New Zealand from England for one thing, and that would have been more likely in the late sixties (indeed my parents did exactly that) than in the eighties. Plane travel was already the done thing by then and taking a cruise ship would have been a luxury few could afford.

The book is explicitly set in about 1980 as Johanna mentions the Napier earthquake (1931) as being half a century ago, but I still can't shake the feeling that the lifestyle it describes was fading by then. But I don't care in the least as it adds to the feel of the book, which is what I love about it.

My only other complaint is that Maria seems to be fairly dumb about figuring out some of the clues put before her. But I honestly don't know if that's because she is, or because this time I already knew the answers and what the clues really pointed towards. I think this is a book where a first read is a different experience than a reread because of this, but that's okay as the reader can enjoy both. It's a gentle mystery that resolves into a trope a rather like (I'm not sure what that says about me) but one that really can't be given away without changing the experience of the book, so I'm going to shut up about it now.

If you'd like a gentle, old fashioned and sweet romance, this is a book that provides it beautifully. And if you read it long ago, I can assure you that it stands up very nicely to a reread.

The Tender Leaves
Essie Summers 
Read: 18-5-10 to 22-5-10

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