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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review and Author Interview: Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke

Title: Rutherford Park
Author: Elizabeth Cooke
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Publish Date: July 2, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You love historical fiction.
  • You like a cast of many characters.
What's the Story?:

From "For the Cavendish family, Rutherford Park is much more than a place to call home. It is a way of life marked by rigid rules and lavish rewards, governed by unspoken desires…

Lady of the house Octavia Cavendish lives like a bird in a gilded cage. With her family’s fortune, her husband, William, has made significant additions to the estate, but he too feels bound—by the obligations of his title as well as his vows. Their son, Harry, is expected to follow in his footsteps, but the boy has dreams of his own, like pursuing the new adventure of aerial flight. Meanwhile, below stairs, a housemaid named Emily holds a secret that could undo the Cavendish name.

On Christmas Eve 1913, Octavia catches a glimpse of her husband in an intimate moment with his beautiful and scandalous distant cousin. She then spies the housemaid Emily out in the snow, walking toward the river, about to make her own secret known to the world. As the clouds of war gather on the horizon, an epic tale of longing and betrayal is about to unfold at Rutherford Park."

My Two Cents:

"Rutherford Park" reminded me very much of Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs. It follows the comings and goings of those that live and work in the grand estate house of Rutherford Park. It's an interesting slice of life kind of book that will appeal to historical fiction lovers who want a wide variety of characters to read about.

The list of characters was a little overwhelming to me. Almost every chapter focuses on a different character's interactions with the other characters in the book. I was a little overwhelmed with how many characters there were. I had to keep reminding myself of who was who. I kind of found myself wishing that the storyline focused a little bit more on just a few characters. One of the issues with big casts is that it is hard to get to know some of the characters.

I really enjoyed the time period of the book. The book takes place just prior to WWI, which is such a fascinating time period to me. You get a good sense of what it was like for a family of great means to transition to post-Victorian London.

Overall, this is an interesting tale of family secrets and the ties that bind families and those surrounding them together.

Author Interview:

1.     Where do you write?  How important is your writing space to the writing process?

I have an office in the centre of Dorchester, Dorset – just one room in a restored Victorian building, but very light and spacious and quiet. Dorchester is a market town about nine miles from the sea at Weymouth. I’m lucky to live in one ofEngland’s most beautiful counties, close to the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. I think of the office as my absolute sanctuary. I always used to work at home (for 20 years! – ‘The Ice Child’ was written in a cramped storeroom about 6 feet by 4, believe it or not – 135,000 words were hammered out in there in 20 weeks!).  Working from home can be very distracting – either there are household jobs staring at you, or the nicer temptations of the garden, or just lounging about when you should be working! I’m so glad that I’ve rented my office at last.

2.     Who are some of your favorite authors to read?

 Hilary Mantel is a great historical writer. I’m presently reading her ‘Bring Up the Bodies’. The latest books I’ve read are ‘Drawing Fire’ by Len Smith; ‘Moranthology’ by Caitlin Moran; and ‘Walking Home’ by Simon Armitage.  The last book I bought was ‘The Watch’ by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya. But I also really love detective fiction. I read Dorothy Sayer’s ‘Gaudy Night’ on holiday, and I have every Michael Connolly. The plots are perfect.

3.     What are three novels everyone should read and why?

 Well now, here I’m tempted to say ‘The Ice Child’, ‘A Road Through the Mountains’ and ‘Learning by Heart’. !!!!

But, other than the ones I’ve already mentioned I would choose:

‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de Saint Exupery. I was given this as a children’s book, but of course it isn’t. It’s kind of Zen-like in its simplicity. I read recently that when he was a pilot, he would have a book open on his knees and circle the airfield until he’d finished it. What a man!

‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan. This is the only book ever in my life that, reaching the end, I threw down and yelled, ‘No, no!’ because I was so caught up in the story and so shocked at the twist in the plot. As a writer I can see most structures within a book and second-guess what’s happening, but this took me completely by surprise and actually made me cry. That is very rare. Wonderful, wonderful book.

Any P.G.Wodehouse, for true British idiocy. Love them.

4.     What kind of research did you do for RUTHERFORD PARK?

 A HUGE amount. The first thing I did was buy a large portfolio and in it I pasted every picture I could find of country houses, Edwardian clothes, kitchens, furnishings, cars, estate farms, landscapes……

Then I started on my portraits of the main characters, trawling through Edwardian paintings for the faces/clothes/rooms.

I found coffee-table books bought from charity shops that show country houses. I have big bound volumes of Country Life that have pictures of estates in the 1930s/1920s and before. Then there were all the books on the early days of the Royal Flying Corps, researching the different kinds of airplanes and getting my head round how they were constructed and flown and who the main designers were.

I researched the fashions of the period – even finding films on You-Tube of hat designers, etc. I found out who all the Paris designers were and which designer was fashionable for which age group.

I come from Yorkshire myself, but there was plenty that I didn’t know about mills and how they were organized. I had to find out the legislation pertaining to them, what each machine did, and read some gruesome reports of mill accidents. I read about working conditions and housing conditions, and what diseases were common to the workers.

Lastly, and most time-consuming, was researching the political events leading up to the First World War and how this was dealt with in the British Parliament. What happened in France as war was declared was a revelation to me.

But I do love research. I pride myself on getting facts right.

5.     If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

A painter, and probably very, very poor!


  1. I really wish I could do books with a lot of characters but I get SO confused and end up having to go back and reread sections to figure out who is who!

  2. I agree w/ Mystica. I love the cover!
    I'm also conflicted on big lists of characters. In some books (like Game of Thrones) it works fabulously but in others (like Carry The One) it's cumbersome.
    - Ashley (Closed the Cover)


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