20 June 2013

Review: While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax

Although Wendy Wax has written at least eight previous novels, While We Were Watching Downton Abbey was my first experience with her work. As you know, I am often a bad match for contemporary women's fiction, but I couldn't resist a book that made reference to the wonderful Masterpiece television series.

As it turns out, you don't have to be a Downton Abbey fan to understand the novel. In fact, you needn't have watched even one episode to enjoy the story, which centers around three women living in the Alexander, a high-class Atlantic apartment building, who bond after they join a buildingwide weekly viewing of the television series.

On the surface, Claire, Brook, and Samantha have very little in common except their address. Claire is a single mother, empty-nester, and published author who quit her job and moved out of the suburbs to focus fully on writing her second Highland historical romance; unfortunately, she is spending more time at the park than in front of her laptop. Brook is a newly divorced mother of two young daughters who is still trying to adjust to her altered circumstances while her ex-husband is quickly moving on to his second marriage. Samantha, childless, lives in the penthouse with her seemingly perfect (and rich!) husband. Yet looks can deceive, and there seems to be trouble in paradise.

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey explores the women's relationships within their families and among themselves. Each woman has different needs and strengths, bringing something unique to the friendship and promoting the idea that women share commonalities that span gaps in money and social status. The principal themes of the novel are friendship, loyalty, self-discovery, and self-acceptance.

Although two of the women have man troubles, Claire is a beacon for readers who don't pin their happiness and success on having a romantic relationship or a model marriage. In addition, the secondary characters, including some men, are so well developed that it's easy to get a feel for life in the Alexander.

Yes, the overarching plot of the novel is predictable, but there were enough surprises and lots of good humor to keep me connected to While We Were Watching Downton Abbey. As I mentioned in my review of Dorothea Benton Frank's The Last Original Wife on Tuesday, I like books that mix humor with more serious issues, and I'm adding Wendy Wax to my list of authors who do this well.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Penguin Audio; 10 hr, 24 min) read by the fantastic Orlagh Cassidy. For my review of her Earphones Award-winning performance, check out AudioFile magazine. This is one of the best audiobooks I've listened to this year, and I urge you to find a copy and get listening.

Published by Penguin USA / Berkley Trade, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780425263310
Rating: A (audio edition)
Source: review (audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).


The Relentless Reader 6/20/13, 8:21 AM  

I'd really like to get to this one. I checked it out from the library but had to return it before I had the chance to actually read it, lol.

caite 6/20/13, 9:00 AM  

Downton Abbey or not, the phrase 'woman's fiction' grates on me.

JoAnn 6/20/13, 9:08 AM  

I've never read Wendy Wax either, but am very tempted by the mention of Downton Abbey. Strangely enough, I just added this to my audio wish list yesterday when I learned it's narrated by Orlagh Cassidy. Now it's a 'must listen'!

bermudaonion 6/20/13, 9:28 AM  

I wasn't crazy about the one Wax book I've read so I avoided this one. It's getting such great reviews, though, that I may rethink that!

Daryl 6/20/13, 10:21 AM  

sounds good tho i personally wouldnt enjoy watching a show i love with anyone ... i dont want to be distracted ...

Andi 6/20/13, 10:51 AM  

Glad there was enough here to chew on. I'm usually not keen on this type of book, but the Downton Abbey connection is definitely enough to capture my attention. :)

Laura at Library of Clean Reads 6/20/13, 1:25 PM  

I listened to the audio too and really liked it. It was a good entertaining book. Orlagh Cassidy is on my list of favorite narrators.

Sandy Nawrot 6/20/13, 1:40 PM  

I've read several of Wendy's books, and I think this one is my favorite (Orlagh Cassidy doesn't hurt either!). And I don't even watch DA, but it is enough of a phenomenon that I knew the basic idea. This book made me LAUGH too, especially the scenes where one of them is tipsy!

Booksnyc 6/20/13, 10:01 PM  

I read one Wendy Wax book (Magnolia Wednesdays) and enjoyed it. After reading your review and realizing Orlagh Cassidy narrates this one, I downloaded it from Audible!

Vicki 6/20/13, 10:15 PM  

I've been wanting to listen to more audio books. Since this has a good narrator, I might give it a try. I'm a little hung up on the hours it takes to listen to some of them though.

Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) 6/22/13, 9:36 AM  

I have this in audio but have been hesitating to listen because I haven't watched any of the Downton Abbey episodes yet. Good to know now I don't need to watch them first. Orlagh Cassidy is a favorite of mine and the reason I chose this in audio so I'm glad to see it's highly recommended.

Julie P. 6/24/13, 3:41 PM  

I thought this one was like comfort food in the form of a book!

Jennifer 7/2/13, 3:08 PM  

I am a huge Downton Abbey fan. I also enjoy Wendy Wax. I'm thinking that the two wil ultimately be a splendid combo to add to my reading list!

Amelia 7/11/13, 11:03 AM  

I wasn't sure about this book since I haven't watched an episode of show. I am hoping to fix that soon!

I was wondering if can share a quote from your review and then link back to your full review on the blog for the Central NJ region of the Jane Austen Society of North America (CNJ JASNA) in a future Monday Book Recommendations post.

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