Summerset Abbey

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About The Book

1913: In a sprawling manor on the outskirts of London, three young women seek to fulfill their destinies and desires amidst the unspoken rules of society in this stunning series starter that fans of Downton Abbey will love.


Rowena Buxton

Sir Philip Buxton raised three girls into beautiful and capable young women in a bohemian household that defied Edwardian tradition. Eldest sister Rowena was taught to value people, not wealth or status. But everything she believes will be tested when Sir Philip dies, and the girls must live under their uncle’s guardianship at the vast family estate, Summerset Abbey. Standing up for a beloved family member sequestered to the “underclass” in this privileged new world, and drawn into the Cunning Coterie, an exclusive social circle of aristocratic “rebels,” Rowena must decide where her true passions—and loyalties—lie.

Victoria Buxton

Frail in body but filled with an audacious spirit, Victoria secretly dreams of attending university to become a botanist like her father. But this most unladylike wish is not her only secret—Victoria has stumbled upon a family scandal that, if revealed, has the potential to change lives forever...

Prudence Tate

Prudence was lovingly brought up alongside Victoria and Rowena, and their bond is as strong as blood. But by birth she is a governess’s daughter, and to the lord of Summerset Abbey, that makes her a commoner who must take her true place in society—as lady’s maid to her beloved “sisters.” But Pru doesn’t belong in the downstairs world of the household staff any more than she belongs upstairs with the Buxton girls. And when a young lord catches her eye, she begins to wonder if she’ll ever truly carve out a place for herself at Summerset Abbey.

Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Summerset Abbey includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

Though her mother worked as a governess in the London home of Sir Philip, second son of the Earl of Summerset, Prudence Tate was raised as a sister to Sir Philip’s own daughters, Rowena and Victoria. The three girls believe their bond to be stronger than any blood ties, but when Sir Philip dies, their relationship changes forever. Forced to move from London to the sweeping grounds of Summerset Abbey where their aunt and uncle reside, it is suddenly clear to Rowena and Victoria that not everyone welcomes Prudence into the high-society world they now inhabit. Instead of being seen as their equal, Prudence is relegated to the position of their lady’s maid, and as each day passes the divide between them grows larger. Rowena, the elder, cannot deal with the responsibilities now placed on her shoulders, while Victoria struggles to be seen as something more than a sickly child. And Prudence, shocked by her treatment and stung by the attitudes of those around her, realizes that solving the mystery of her past might be the only way to find herself a future beyond the everpresent specter of class expectations that haunts all three girls.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. Though the terms of Sir Philip’s will were perfectly normal for the time period, what did you think about his decision to place the future of his daughters in the hands of the Earl? Were you surprised that he left no allowance for Prudence? Do you think he did this because he expected the situation to turn out differently, that he believed his brother and daughters would look out for her?
 
2. Throughout the book, Victoria makes certain observations about secrets. For example, she reflects that “The only secrets [she] enjoyed were her own” (pg. 21), and that “The most important thing she’d learned about secrets is that you never knew when one was staring you in the face” (pg. 222). Do you agree with her observations? Many of the characters including Victoria carry their own secrets, some trivial, some life-altering. Do you think they would’ve been better off sharing those secrets with each other from the beginning? Do you feel secrets push people apart?
 
3. What did you think of Rowena’s first betrayal, the decision not to tell Prudence of the Earl’s condition for her accompanying them to Summerset? Do you think it was selfish or that, in that moment, she had no other choice? What about by the end? What might you have done in her shoes?
 
4. Think about how Victoria’s sickness defines her as a character: How does it shape how others see her? How does it shape how she sees herself? Do you agree with Prudence’s assessment at the end that she had “all of her father’s sweet idealism, but little of his wisdom” (pg. 286)?
 
5. At Summerset, Prudence finds herself straddling worlds in a way she had never experienced before, unable to truly fit into one place or the other. How does this inform her decisions? Do you think she ever judges anyone unfairly, as unfairly judged as she is? How does she reconcile her duty to Rowena and Victoria with her bewilderment at being relegated to the maids’ quarters?
 
6. Though much of the story follows Prudence, we also get to see chapters from Rowena and Victoria’s perspective. How did that influence your view of each of the girls and their separate motivations? If you could ask the author to insert a chapter from another character’s point of view, who would it be and why?
 
7. Though Lady Summerset can be seen as the main antagonist of the novel, her motivations are complicated. Consider a woman’s position at the time, and the choices (or lack thereof ) she had regarding her futures. In that sense, do you think she was doing the best she could to protect herself and her own family, even if it meant hurting Prudence?
 
8. Similarly, at one point, Rowena rages against their circumstances, reflecting that “she was as trapped as a fox in a hole. Trapped by her responsibilities, trapped by her social status, trapped by being a woman. Her uncle possessed all the power and she possessed none” (pg. 55). Discuss how this statement applies to all the women, regardless of social stratum. Ultimately, is it the Earl who has all the power?
 
9. Many of the young men in the book feel equally constrained, albeit in different ways. Consider the varying attitudes and actions of the male characters such as Kit, Sebastian, Andrew, and Jon, and how those attitudes and actions define their relationships with the women around them.
 
10. The young women of Summerset have their own ideas about what the future should hold for them. What are the differing views held by Prudence, Rowena, Victoria, Elaine, and even characters like Susie and Katie. Were you surprised by their attitude toward women of the previous generation (such as Lady Summerset)?
 
11. Do you believe Elaine knew the truth about Alice, and Prudence’s birthright? Why or why not?
 
12. A question that many of the younger characters struggle with (regardless of class) is whether privilege (or lack thereof ) that we are born with is privilege we truly deserve; or, put another way, what rights can or should be decreed by birth and what rights should we earn? At one point Rowena wonders whether, by loving Summerset and the way of life there, she and Victoria are perpetuating the problem between classes, as symbolized by Prudence. What do you think?
 
13. Before Rowena goes up in the plane with Jon, Mr. Dirkes tells her “Adapt or die!” Do you think this is what each girl was doing over the course of the story, in her own way? Is this a motto you would live by?
 
14. How do you see Rowena’s story turning out? Victoria’s?
 
15. Were you surprised when Prudence chose Andrew in the end? Who did you think would be better suited for her, him or Sebastian? Do you feel that, by denying her attraction to Sebastian, Prudence took the easy way out, in a manner of speaking? Or do you think she made the only logical choice?
 
16. At the very end Prudence notes, “She would just have to make her own family. Her own home.” What was your reaction to this ending? Do you think that the families and homes we grow up with aren’t really families of our own making?

Enhance Your Book Club

  1. Elaine and the rest of the Cunning Coterie fancy American cocktails such as the gin sling. Follow the recipe at http://cocktails.about.com/od/ginrecipes/r/gin_sling.htm and treat your club to a cocktail hour.   
 
2. Have a viewing party of the popular PBS series Downton Abbey or a similar upstairs/downstairs type film such as Gosford Park. If Summerset Abbey was made into a movie, who would you cast?   
 
3. Read a nonfiction account of life during this time such as Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by the Countess of Carnarvon or Below Stairs by Margaret Powell. Compare these accounts to the novel.   
 
4. Learn more about author T. J. Brown and the women of Summerset by visiting her website, tjbrownbooks.com
About The Author
© Keene Studio

T.J. Brown begins a sweeping trilogy set in Edwardian England with Summerset Abbey, her historical fiction debut. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Visit the author at TJBrownBooks.com.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (January 2013)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451698992

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Raves and Reviews

“SUMMERSET ABBEY is the first installment of an ambitious historical romance trilogy centering on the excesses and decline of the peerage in Edwardian-era Britain […] the romances entertain and keep the reader’s full attention. There are many cute couples who interact quite charmingly. Each character seems to have an equally alluring but individual personality, and the dialogue is well done. I would challenge anyone who feels they can guess the outcomes of all the pairings to have it figured out from the start; you’ll be hard-pressed … [Summerset Abbey] is a Cinderella story with a sound historical focus, detailing an evolving culture in the midst of concurrent romances.... The appeal for future installments is good, making this a series many will buy and recommend to friends.”

– Book Reporter

“A solidly entertaining Edwardian novel that will clearly appeal to fans of PBS’s Downton Abbey.

– NY Journal of Books

"[A]n emotional novel that shares the tests of three young women’s strength, principles and loyalty that fans of Downton Abbey would enjoy."

– Deseret News

"Summerset Abbey is a smashing debut for T.J. Brown. While the novel does pay tribute to Downton Abbey in some ways, it is so original and unique with the story of the three young women. Brown makes Rowena, Victoria, and Prudence each come to life...whether it with a handsome pilot, uncovering family secrets, or struggling as a lady's maid. Brown beautifully captures the relationships between the women."

– Examiner.com

"Loyalties are tested, passions found, and secrets are uncovered as Rowena,Victoria, and Prudence confront their futures [...] The author completely immerses us in the world: the details of the house, the customs, the contrast between the haves and the have-nots, the clothing, the food – I experienced it almost as vividly as watching the dramatization of this era on television."

– Jamie Brenner, Heroes and Heartbreakers.com book review

"Summerset Abbey, the first book in the Summerset Abbey series, sets the stakes high and will leave readers dying for more. It has definitely rekindled my love for all things historical fiction."

– Katie's Book Blog

"Wonderful and captivating tale of women raised to think ahead of the curve!"

– MissWordy.com

"Full of mystery, scandal, romance, and intrigue!"

– Book Loving Mom

"Summerset Abbey surpassed my expectations… If you’re looking fora fun, quick read to get you through the week until the next Downton Abbey episode, or if you’re looking for a wonderful new historical fiction series, Summerset Abbey is the book for you. I loved it and absolutely cannot wait for more!”

– The Pretty Good Gatsby Book Reviews

“[T]he story has enough twists, turns and secrets…to make all of us loversof Edwardian fiction happy!”

– NovelChatter.com

"Fans of PBS's Downton Abbey will be enthralled by the plot."

– 30SecondMom.com

“If you like Downton Abbey, you're going to LOVE …Summerset Abbey!…Riddled with secrets, mystery and scandal, [Summerset Abbey] will pull you in from the very start and capture your heart and keep you captivated until the final page. The trilogy is sure to delight all Downton Abbey fans, and keep you entertained until season 5 is finally upon us!”

– The Daily Basics.com

“Author T. J. Brown has richly drawn these shifting times through well-drawn characters, compelling plotlines and conspiracy on nearly every other page.… [T]his novel will dazzle you… It’s the bee’s knees!”

– AustenProse.com

“Everything I loved about this book was everything I love about Downton Abbey. The strong female heroines who are also hopelessly sheltered and pampered. The class tension between upstairs and downstairs. The good intentions of the upper class who wish to treat everyone equally...but also don't want to lose their servants or their titles […] I can recommend Summerset Abbey with confidence for fans of the genre.”

– Cozy Little Book Blog

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