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The Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Wittig Albert
Review by Gayle Surrette
Berkley Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 0425201015
Date: 04 October, 2005 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

It's England in 1905, Beatrix Potter has purchased Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey in the Lake District. Local farmers are upset that the farm is now owned by an outsider and a woman at that. On arrival, Beatrix Potter finds the woman she was to board with, Abigail Tolliver, has died unexpectedly and foul play is suspected. Beatrix rents a room at Belle Greene and begins to get a feel for her farm from Mr. Jennings who she hopes will stay on to run it for her. But the town is uneasy with Miss Tolliver's death, a missing painting, a theft at the school, a head teacher that seem bent on mischief and mayhem, and now a London woman owning a local farm.

Since the book is based on an actual historical figure, Beatrix Potter, the story must fit into the spaces in her life not covered by her diaries, writings, letters, and other documentation. I haven't read much about Potter and knew little of her except for her children's books and her love of nature, biology, and science. I was enchanted by the story. The character of Beatrix Potter is rich in contradictions and yet steeped in the traditions and strictures of her time. Albert has given us a woman who yearned for love, independence, and growth but who felt obligated to obey her parents every whim at the expense of her own happiness. Yet, Potter's mind is quick, concise, and her courage, especially when needed by others, is unfailing. I hope to be able to take advantage of some of the suggested resources listed in the back of the book to learn more of Beatrix Potter's life.

The story is a wonderful mix of characters including animals as well as humans. The point of view shifts from the animal views to those of humans with distinct and interesting contrasts for the same events. The mystery is low key and while the solution is fitting and satisfying it's not so much the mystery as the wonderful insights into small town mores and society. This is truly a town filled with believeable people living their lives in 1905 England.

Reading the story is a quite trip in time and a delightful vacation in another place with people you may end up caring about as if they were your own neighbors.

Book also contains a Historical Note, Glossary, List of Resources, and recipes for Tatie Pot, Sponge Cake, Elsa'a Grape's Gooseberry Sauce, Bertha Stubbs's Rhubarb and Strawberry Tart, Gingersnaps, and Mrs. Stokes's Treacle Pudding.

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