If you love Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte, Beatrix Potter, Tasha Tudor and high tea, you will love A Fine Romance by Susan Branch. A non-fiction writer and artist specializing in Home and Garden genres, Susan Branch makes her home on Martha’s Vinyard and this 254 page hardcover book recounts the two month anniversary cruise / vacation she and her husband spent in the English Lakes District.
The book reads like a well crafted inspiring diary, travel journal complete with color pictures and quotes from famous, wise people. But apart from the elements that make the book a “feel good” and uplifting read, it’s packed with some great travel tips and information travelers can use when heading for this part of England.
It’s part travel journal and part travel guide, which is what I love about this book. Branch’s writing voice is always personal. She’s has a relationship with the reader like that of an old friend. So when she discusses the ups and downs of cruising, the specifics she mentions (making the most of a cramped cabin), the romance of cruising, the food, dining partners – it’s all personal. I hate cruises and she had me almost wanting to book myself on one.
The best of the book is in the description of sites in England. The personal tour of Beatrix Potter’s house, going into some detail about her life, imparting some wonderful facts about how she purchased a farm and in doing so, saved an entire village. She became a farmer (in her day that was rare) and ended up leaving the entire farm to the National Trust so others could visit the place where she lived and wrote. Every page leads the reader on that day’s journey with Susan.
Other areas she highlighted were the Yorkshire Dales, the Cotswolds, Aylesbury and Lacock (the village where Cranford was filmed. Also included were her descriptions of what it was like to visit the gardens at Sissinghurst and Jane Austen’s House – Chawton.
Apart from the travelogue there are some great tidbits on English culture, local venues like the Gifford Circus and Royal Ascott and commentary on simple elements of the English countryside like hedgerows, gardens, public footpaths and pubs. My favorite entries were the ones where Susan wove in the history of the place and stories linked to it.
The added bonus to all of this is that Susan’s artwork decorates every page. All pages are illustrated in that exceptional country style Susan Branch is so well known for. The book is super easy to read through and if you’re a fan of romance, of Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter, movies like Cranford and the appeal of the English countryside, this book will be one you’ll turn to over and over again. And if you love books — the feel of books — holding a book –looking at a book on the shelf, you’ll love this one. It has a colorful dust jacket on both sides, color pictures on heavy bond paper and even a red ribbon bookmark.