Author: Cora Harrison
Publication date: 2 August, 2012
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Age group: Young Adult
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Buy it: Amazon US | Amazon UK | The Book Depository
It’s 1923 and London is a whirl of jazz, dancing and parties. Violet, Daisy, Poppy and Rose Derrington are desperate to be part of it, but stuck in an enormous crumbling house in the country, with no money and no fashionable dresses, the excitement seems a lifetime away.
Luckily the girls each have a plan for escaping their humdrum country life: Rose wants to be a novelist, Poppy a jazz musician and Daisy a famous film director. Violet, however, has only one ambition: to become the perfect Debutante, so that she can go to London and catch the eye of Prince George, the most eligible bachelor in the country.
But a house as big and old as Beech Grove Manor hides many secrets, and Daisy is about to uncover one so huge it could ruin all their plans—ruin everything—forever.
What caught my attention when I first heard about Debutantes was the fact that it’s supposed to be ‘the perfect read for Downton Abbey fans’. As a huge fan of this show I just knew I had to read this – and it blew me away.
At the risk of sounding terribly gushy, there was nothing I didn’t like about this book. The story centres around the four Derrington sisters who, a few chapters in, I became really fond of. I love the fact that they all have their own dreams, their own ambitions and they are all so different from each other. Violet is the beautiful, the energetic one; Rose is the youngest of them all and she’s the smart one, Poppy is a bit reserved, the one who doesn’t care for expensive dresses or meeting someone famous or rich. And there’s Daisy, who’s been living in the shadows of her sisters all her life and who’s always there to help them. I loved Poppy and Daisy’s relationship. They reminded me of Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – they are the ones (but especially Poppy) who would rather spend time with their friends and have a good time than spend their days looking for someone rich and marry for money.
I found the writing style incredibly engaging – I was transported into the 20th century minutes after picking up the book. I was so absorbed by the story that I totally lost track of time and stopped thinking of where I was while I was reading it. I could literally see Beech Grove Manor, its long staircases, the paintings on the walls, the girls’ dresses, the burning logs in the fireplace – it’s brilliant. And not only is it really atmospheric, it’s a gripping story as well. There’s a great number of mysterious elements in the story and lots of twist and turns, especially towards the end.
The story has a rather Austen-like feel to it so if you enjoyed any of Jane Austen’s books – or, in fact, if you like Downton Abbey – you’re guaranteed to love this one too. What’s different between her books and Harrison’s work, however, is the fact that it’s a lot more accessible for younger readers. And even though I’m not its target audience, I still fell in love with it. It’s my very first Cora Harrison book but it won’t be the last, that’s for sure. Brilliant writing, likeable characters, many twists and turns and a great ending – what’s not to love? I can’t recommend this enough!
“The girl’s face was perfectly framed by the russet beech leaves. The early spring sunlight lit creamy-white skin, a Grecian nose, violet-blue eyes fringed with long black lashes, and a curtain of shimmering black hair.
The camera clicked and clicked again.
‘Keep still! ‘ said the director’s voice. ‘Good! Now breathe in and smile – no, not like that. Think of something. Think of a line of poetry.'”