Last year I finally saw my first Downton Abbey episode and was immediately hooked, catching up on the first two seasons on Netflix and watching the third season on PBS. (Don't let me get started on my feelings about the Season 3 finale...) The story of the British upper crust Crawley family and their downstairs staff quickly became an addiction. With the third season on PBS flying by, I was more than ready to host a book tour of The Passing Bells Trilogy by Phillip Rock strictly due to the cover tagline of "Before there was Downton Abbey, there was Abingdon Pryory..."
I wasn't disappointed--the books are a perfect fix for a fan waiting for the fourth season, similar in theme to Downton Abby but with their own original set of characters and storylines that dig deeper than a television program can. They came well before the series--first book, The Passing Bells, was written in 1978 and the other two volumes were published in the early to mid-eighties and they were all recently re-released, most likely due to Downton Abbey's popularity. The books follow the experiences of the Greville's, an aristocratic family residing along with their household staff, at the family estate Abingdon Pryory, and taking place in the years before, during and after World War I.
Book Descriptions From TLC Book Tours:Book One: The Passing Bells: "The guns of August are rumbling throughout Europe in the summer of 1914, but war has not yet touched Abingdon Pryory. Here, at the grand home of the Greville family, the parties, dances, and romances play on. Alexandra Greville embarks on her debutante season while brother Charles remains hopelessly in love with the beautiful, untitled Lydia Foxe, knowing that his father, the Earl of Stanmore, will never approve of the match. Downstairs the new servant, Ivy, struggles to adjust to the routines of the well-oiled household staff, as the arrival of American cousin Martin Rilke, a Chicago newspaperman, causes a stir. But, ultimately, the Great War will not be denied, as what begins for the high-bred Grevilles as a glorious adventure soon takes its toll—shattering the household’s tranquillity, crumbling class barriers, and bringing its myriad horrors home." (Paperback: 544 Pages /William Morrow Paperbacks Dec. 2012)
Book 2: Circles of Time: "A generation has been lost on the Western Front. The dead have been buried, a harsh peace forged, and the howl of shells replaced by the wail of saxophones as the Jazz Age begins. But ghosts linger—that long-ago golden summer of 1914 tugging at the memory of Martin Rilke and his British cousins, the Grevilles. From the countess to the chauffeur, the inhabitants of Abingdon Pryory seek to forget the past and adjust their lives to a new era in which old values, social codes, and sexual mores have been irretrievably swept away. Martin Rilke throws himself into reporting, discovering unsettling political currents, as Fenton Wood-Lacy faces exile in faraway army outposts. Back at Abingdon, Charles Greville shows signs of recovery from shell shock and Alexandra is caught up in an unlikely romance.Circles of Time captures the age as these strongly drawn characters experience it, unfolding against England’s most gracious manor house, the steamy nightclubs of London’s Soho, and the despair of Germany caught in the nightmare of anarchy and inflation. Lives are renewed, new loves found, and a future of peace and happiness is glimpsed—for the moment." (Paperback: 448 Pages /William Morrow Paperbacks Jan. 2013)
Book 3: A Future Arrived: "The final installment of the saga of the Grevilles of Abingdon Pryory begins in the early 1930s, as the dizzy gaiety of the Jazz Age comes to a shattering end. What follows is a decade of change and uncertainty, as the younger generation, born during or just after the “war to end all wars,” comes of age. American writer Martin Rilke has made his journalistic mark, earning worldwide fame with his radio broadcasts, and young Albert Thaxton seeks to follow in his footsteps as a foreign correspondent. Derek Ramsey, born only weeks after his father fell in France, and Colin Ross, a dashing Yankee, leave their schoolboy days behind and enter fighter pilot training as young men. The beautiful Wood-Lacy twins, Jennifer and Victoria, and their passionate younger sister, Kate, strive to forge independent paths, while learning to love—and to let go. In their heady youth and bittersweet growth to adulthood, they are the future—but the shadows that touched the lives of the generation before are destined to reach out to their own." (Paperback: 480 Pages /William Morrow Paperbacks Feb. 2013)
A confession to get out of the way, I am only about halfway through the second book of the trilogy, Circles of Time, and the final novel, A Future Arrived, sits waiting on my nightstand. The books were somewhat delayed in arriving and although my tour date was kindly pushed out, illness, work projects, two sets of house guests and another bout of illness made getting through these lengthy books a longer process than I originally thought and frankly I don't want to rush them. Author Rock digs deeply into his characters and his descriptions of life in the grand Greville home both upstairs and downstairs, as well as the horrors that war brings are absorbing and moving. These are books to be savored and enjoyed with a spot of tea and perhaps a variation on a classic British dessert.They would appeal to anyone who loves Downton Abby, English period pieces, sweeping family dramas, and books set during the early 1900's and The Great War.
Author Notes: Born in Hollywood, California, Phillip Rock lived in England with his family until the blitz of 1940. He spent his adult years in Los Angeles and published three novels before the Passing Bells series: Flickers, The Dead in Guanajuato, andThe Extraordinary Seaman. He died in 2004.
Although food is not a focus in the books (so far), it is mentioned--lentil soup, roast duck, grouse, etc.--particularly in the meals shared and enjoyed, along with copious cups of tea and plenty of alcohol. For a recipe inspired by this British trilogy, I wanted something on the classic side.
I first had a posset back in my early blogging days of 2008. A lemon posset from Jill Dupleix, a London-based chef. It's a simple and rich citrus pudding-like dessert--smooth, silky and delicious. I was going through old magazines pulling out recipes when I found one for Tangerine Posset, then shortly after, my blogging pal Foodycat, made a drool-worthy Seville Orange Posset and it was settled--my book-inspired dish would be a sunny Tangerine Posset, using up the last of a big Costco bag of tangerines.
From Olive Magazine
(Makes 6 Servings)
568 ml double cream
3 tangerines , zested in strips and juiced
3 Tbsp golden caster or fine sugar sugar
1 lemon, juiced
Put the cream in a pan with the tangerine zest and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 20 minutes.
Fish out the zest and bring the cream back up to just below boiling. Stir in the sugar and then the juices. The mixture will start to thicken so pour it straight into 6 small glasses or pots. Cool slightly then chill until set, about 3 hours.
Notes/Results: Silky bright bites of bliss. ;-) The sweet tangerine flavor comes through brilliantly in these little possets--so creamy and good. I may like these even better than the lemon version. The magazine recommended serving these with shortbread but I have become fond of these little coconut-lemon sandwich cookies from Safeway. Based on their ease to make and deliciousness, possets are a wonderful little dessert. I will make these again.
Note: Review copies of The Passing Bells Trilogy were provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.