Book Review: Doubting Abbey by Samantha Tonge

Dounting AbbeyAbout the Author:

Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire and writes rom-com novels and short fiction. Doubting Abbey was her debut novel, published in 2014 by Carina. She has since written From Paris With Love (‘the fun, standalone sequel to Doubting Abbey’), Mistletoe Mansion, Game of Scones, My Big Fat Christmas Wedding (a Game of Scones sequel) and How To Get Hitched in Ten Days, her recently published novella.

About The Book:

I was very lucky to win a signed copy of this book on Twitter. The premise of the book is that aristocratic Abbey, torn between helping boyfriend Zak on a mercy mission abroad and helping her estranged family win the reality show Million Dollar Mansion, asks her decidedly unaristocratic friend Gemma to pretend to be her – and rush off to help save the ancestral pile (Applebridge Hall).

How can Gemma pretend to be her? Well Gemma, her flatmate and pizza parlour colleague, conveniently looks so much like Abbey – despite the fact that she acts and presents herself completely differently – that Abbey believes her relatives won’t be able to tell the difference, as she hasn’t seen them for years. And it seems to work at first, with even young Lord Edward, Abbey’s dishy cousin, not suspecting a thing…

What I liked:

I thought the title was clever (I love Samatha’s pun titles!). I liked the portrayal of the reality show and what went on behind the scenes. I found this ‘carefully constructed’ reality that contestants are asked to ‘act’ in very believable. The rivalry with the other semi-finalists was amusing too, with its side-swipe at their pseudo-historical artefacts and dodgy hen weekends. Oh, and I loved the twist (which I didn’t see coming!). I wasn’t expecting there to be a twist, either, as the ‘will she be discovered or won’t she’ and ‘will they win or won’t they’ plot strands seemed sufficient to maintain the tension, so it was a pleasant surprise.

I giggled at Gemma’s cooking dilemmas and interactions with the aristocratic people around her, and thought the minor characters were portrayed well, particularly Kathleen, the stern but warm-hearted housekeeper.

I also liked the lighthearted but topical look at the value of older buildings and estates, and how the families that own them have had to repurpose them to keep them viable and continue to employ local people.

What I wasn’t so keen on:

The stereotypical nature of the two main characters. Gemma is sketched as a stereotypical ‘chav’ (if you’ll excuse the expression) and almost presented as someone for us to laugh at rather than with. She’s addicted to bronzer, too much make-up, false eyelashes and revealing tops (and I would like to have seen the incident where a male character suggests that by wearing them, she’s leading him on, dealt with differently – and to have seen him get more comeuppance). Gemma sometimes appears to laugh at herself, while at other times she seems convinced her look is attractive and symbolic of making an effort. Confusing.

Also, if something is not ‘mega’ (a word she uses as an adjective, adverb and superlative), then it’s amaaazin’. The editor is at fault here for failing to curb the constant repetition of these words in Gemma’s dialogue and thoughts, and the constant ‘megas’ nearly made me give up, a few chapters in. It’s this aspect of the book that’s persistently criticised by other reviewers, so I’m not alone. Chavs don’t talk like that; I’m originally from the Medway Towns, so I know.

And does Lord Edward need to be stuck in the Victorian era just because he’s an aristocrat? He is only aware of classical music, has never eaten a burger and shares his thoughts, including every ‘um’, ‘ah’ and half-finished sentence, on his new blog in a way that no intelligent, self-respecting person ever would – yet he’s portrayed as intelligent and self-respecting…

It’s also difficult for the blossoming romance between Edward and Gemma to be believable when it seems mainly based on her thinking he’s fit and him being won over by the hedonistic pleasures of eating a burger in a car for the first time.

Will I read another?

Probably, yes – despite what I’ve said about the main characters in this novel. That’s because many of the reviewers who have read Samantha Tonge’s later works were surprised by these flaws in her debut novel, commenting that her later books are far better. So I’ll be giving her the benefit of the doubt. I love Greece, so Game of Scones may soon be on my TBR pile.

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