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Book Review: The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter
How I Found the Book
I read this entire series. I feel like that, alone, speaks volumes about the quality of the books. So, I have to take a little aside to explain why this is so impressive. In my day-to-day life, I do taxes and bookkeeping for a living. This is a desk job, and in the down season, it can get boring. There's a tax season, and outside that season I actually get very little work. There's a dollar tree in the same area as my office, and I will sometimes pop in on my lunch break.
It was in this Dollar Tree that I found The Tale of Castle Cottage for $1. It had a bright pink cover and promised to be about Beatrix Potter; and the coverart was beautiful. I've always loved Potter; her watercolors were gorgeous and inspirational to me as a child. She was an accomplished artist, and because she is one of my favorite artists, I already had a great deal of background knowledge about her life, but it was only $1, and about a subject that I was already interested in. So I picked it up to fill some of the empty hours at my desk.
It turns out that it was not a factual biography, but the last book in a series of fictionalized accounts that take place in an AU that closely mirrors our own. Many of the characters, including Potter and her lover, are based on real people, and many of the events mirror actual events. But the books are heavily fictionalized, with elements such as the inclusion of dragons and personified animals who take on human traits such as the desire to run an Inn.
Even though there are 8 volumes in the series, I would absolutely call these stories light reading. They're simple and whimsical and easy to get through. I would actually say that these were easier to lose time too and get through than the Harry Potter series. The language is similar to a children's book, but the stories are undoubtedly adult, tackling things like unwanted babies being abducted and problems with construction companies that you've hired to work on your property. It's set in the early 1900s, but rarely dives into the serious problems with that time period. It does mention a woman who may be a suffragette, an independent woman who wears nonrestrictive clothes and runs her own successful business, but it never really gets into her politics or anything like that. She merely exists, and that's the end of it.
Honestly, the human characters are cute, charming, and whatnot, but the most entertaining parts of the book have to do with the animals that I mentioned earlier. Whereas the humans are based on actual people in the town, the animals obviously are not. They are completely fictional characters with completely fictional issues; except, in some cases, where they are the critters from Potter's books. Jemima Puddle Duck is a character, for example. In the book by Ms. Potter, Jemima wanted to experience motherhood, but every time she laid a clutch of eggs, the humans took them away to either eat or to be hatched by chickens because she sucked at hatching them and they'd go cold and die. Her character in this series goes through a similar predicament, but with a TWIST.
The location, The Land Between the Lakes is also a real place in England, and was the home of Beatrix Potter. In fact, you can now go visit the cottage from the book, which has been converted to a museum hosing many of Potter's paintings, as well as early writings, merchandise, etc. These books are interesting, because in the back, after the story, the author, Susan Wittig Albert gives an account of the real-word events and places that inspired her story in that particular book.
Susan Wittig Albert
Something else interesting and unique, is that after the story we're treated to recipes for the foods that the characters were eating in the story. All the recipes are period accurate, English, turn of the century dishes. I've tried to cook some of them, and they're... well, English food isn't my favorite type of food anyway, but judged by their own standards I'm told that they can be quite enjoyable. For example, it was common for people in English Tea Parties to have “finger sandwiches”. We're treated to a recipe for such sandwiches, Tommy Tiptoes Tomatoes and Dillwiches. They are awful. Absolutely dreadful. But they are period appropriate. And it makes you really appreciate the era of electric stoves and microwaves. I mean, I know that these books are exclusively about European white folk, but these sandwiches have mayonnaise and white bread at the same time. Not my cup of tea. Well, no tea is my cup of tea. I'm not a fan of tea. Not my cup of coffee. I would not have been a good guest at one of these tea parties.
The Land Between the Lakes
Where to Buy
These books are absolutely adorable. If you like period novels, or just want something that isn't very cognitively challenging to pass the time and give you a cozy little feeling inside, these will be great for you. They're whimsical and really give you the same feeling that Potter's own books do, but for an adult audience. Nothing difficult or to think about, just a good time between the pages.
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