By Susan Wittig Albert
Picture the English Lake District; the rolling hills and sparkling lakes under a vivid blue sky. Of course, plump white sheep dot the hillsides. Imagine quaint villages peopled with quirky townsfolk, thatched-roof cottages with honeysuckle around the doorways and little kitchen gardens. Now, do you like the idea of walking into the warm kitchen of one of those cottages on a blustery autumn day and sitting down to a steaming cup of tea with raspberry scones fresh from the oven or some lemon tarts and ginger biscuits? If so, then you will likely enjoy this charming story, because it is the next best thing to being there. The Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Wittig Albert is the first in a series of books that the author calls The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter.
Mrs. Albert lives in the Texas Hill Country, but she writes about the towns of Near Sawrey and Far Sawrey as if she were sitting down to write in one of those little English cottages.
Beatrix Potter had become a celebrated author of popular children’s books, but she was still under the authority of her selfish and demanding father and mother. Much to their displeasure she bought a farm–Hill Top Farm–in the Lake District where she could pursue her interests in writing, drawing, and studying nature. It was her refuge. She was able to buy the farm using the profits from her “little books”, and to her this special place meant the one thing she desired most, independence.
The Cottage Tales are fictional accounts of the days Miss Potter spent in this restful place. The characters are varied and a pleasure to meet. There are, of course, farmers and farmers’ wives. There are teachers, industrious businessmen and women, resourceful children, imperious gentry, vicars, soldiers, and a feminist who rides bicycles and (gasp!) wears trousers. Adding to the fun is a full roster of animals who observe everything that happens in the little towns and who have opinions about everyone.
In The Tale of Hill Top Farm seemingly unrelated items start to go missing in the villages of Near and Far Sawrey. There is the Parish Register that holds the record of births, deaths, and marriages in the area. Then the School Roof Fund disappears as well as a valuable painting. In addition to all that, a popular citizen is found dead one morning in her home. Has there been foul play? Is her death related to the missing items? And who is the mysterious stranger who has just arrived in town? Trust me, Miss Potter and her new friends with the help of a couple of wily cats, an intrepid dog and a very intelligent owl will have everything sorted out before the tale if finished.
The book is fun, easy reading. I thoroughly enjoyed it and immediately went to the library to check out the second book in the series, The Tale of Holly How. It is just my cup of Earl Grey tea, and perhaps it will be yours as well.