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Changing Seasons by Jessie Watson
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6291-5
I am recommending Jessie Watson’s new Regency romance, but I want to say at the outset that it may not be for everyone. Indeed, it is the most placid romance I have read in a long time. If you are looking for excitement or angst or even much action, this is not the book for you. But Changing Seasons has so much simple charm and presents such a lovely (and undoubtedly idyllic) picture of village life and love that I simply have to give it four hearts.

The story begins with Charlotte Middleton breaking her engagement to Rupert Frost. The two young people had long been friends and had become betrothed. But Rupert, perhaps in a last youthful fling, takes up with a mistress in London and Charlotte hears about his unfaithfulness. Deeply hurt, Charlotte refuses to listen to his weak excuses and informs Rupert that she will marry Digby Fayerweather, another of her suitors. For his part, Rupert announces that if she will not marry him, he will join the army. The two part bitterly.

Nine years later, Rupert has survived the wars and is ready to return to England. He has no desire to return to his old home; he has no one there any more. He has struck up a correspondence with the Reverend Lowell Goodspeed, the uncle of one of his slain comrades. When, in one of his letters, Reverend Goodspeed mentions one of his parishioners, the widow Mrs. Charlotte Fayerweather, Rupert is delighted. He had lost track of his one time fiancée after Digby died. So he happily accepts the Reverend Goodspeed’s invitation to visit him in Edenshade, the village in Essex where Goodspeed is vicar.

It is winter when Rupert arrives in Edenshade. Charlotte is not surprisingly stunned to see her erstwhile betrothed again. Rupert would very much like to resume their courtship. He is ready to marry and still loves Charlotte. But she discourages his early, halting attempts to reestablish any relationship except their old friendship. Rupert is not sure how to rekindle their romance. Perhaps if Charlotte sees him paying attention to other young ladies, she will reconsider her rejection of any closer relation.

The “romance” in Changing Seasons thus has all the earmarks of the dreaded “big misunderstanding.” But somehow, Watson makes Rupert’s and Charlotte’s actions seem so perfectly comprehensible that this didn’t bother me. I could see why each misinterpreted the other’s feelings and, were I not reading a romance, would have understood perfectly why these two people, so right for each other, missed out on their chance for happiness.

What gives Changing Seasons its charm is the setting and the secondary characters and their romances. Edenshade is gardening mad. Everyone in the village has the loveliest gardens and every year there is a “friendly” competition with the neighboring village of Upper Tilton to determine who has the best water garden, herb garden, manor garden, rose garden, etc. Watson must be a gardener herself, so vivid are her descriptions of the glorious flowers and their devoted growers.

The secondary characters are a delight as well. By the time she has finished, Watson has married off no fewer than five other couples including the vicar and his greatest rose-growing rival, two young ladies who set their caps for Rupert but discover that they love someone else, Rupert’s former army colleague who makes a play for Charlotte but finds true love with a charming widow, and Charlotte’s housekeeper, who marries Rupert’s gardener. Soon, there is no one left for Rupert and Charlotte to marry but each other!

Changing Seasons chronicles life in Edenshade from Winter, through Spring, to Summer and into Autumn. The pace is as slow as village life undoubtedly was, but I never lost interest. This is a gentle book filled with gentle people. Idealized? Undoubtedly. But lovely nonetheless. If you are looking for a different kind of Regency romance, you might well enjoy spending the changing seasons with the good folks of Edenshade.

--Jean Mason

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