I couldn’t have read A Fine Romance at a more perfect time. It was the perfect book to read while cooped up in a hospital room waiting for a loved one to heal. I sailed right along with Susan Branch and her husband, Joe, as they journeyed to England via ship and explored the country for two months. This book is not only Susan’s diary during their vacation in England, it is also a very informational and exhilarating guide to both well-known and hidden places in England, many of which belong to the National Trust. Above all else, this book is a journey of the senses, using a mixture of her characteristic font that looks like handwriting, gorgeous watercolors, and real photographs to describe, with incredibly absorbing detail, two months of smelling, tasting, and sight-seeing springtime England.
The beginning chapters quickly but romantically describe how Susan and Joe met and fell in love. It’s an ordinary love story bedecked with remarkable details like the illustration of Joe with an enormous bouquet of flowers--an illustration I cannot help but keep revisiting. After enjoying their first journey to England in 2004, Susan and Joe decide to visit again in 2012, this time documenting their adventures. Susan’s diaries wholly reflect their love for history, food, gardens, art, and old-timey movies and music.
I was mesmerized by the beauty of this book, often spending several minutes examining pictures and illustrations--their messy ship room, or rather, "cocoon," strange English curiosities such as the magnetic soap holder, gorgeous illustrations like Susan’s black teapot drawing, and inventive mixed media techniques such as the watercolor tea being poured into a picture of a real teacup. It took me at least an hour to carefully comb through the Beatrix Potter pages. Because of Susan’s excellent attention to detail, I felt like I was exploring Hill Top as Beatrix Potter herself.
I could smell the "raw celery" smell of the air, taste the bangers and beans, and feel the petals of each flower. My heart danced with joy each time Susan listed all the springtime flowers, with accompanying illustrations so perfectly lush it looked like the flowers were growing from the pages of the book. Ordinary details such as eating hot milk cake while knitting with a friend, wood pigeons cooing "my toe hurts Betty," and hillsides "dotted with lambs" made me fist pump the air in elation.
This book is balm for the spirit. Whether you are looking for a magical retreat, a helpful and incomparable England travel guide, or inspiration to write a memoir or scrapbook of a special moment in your life, this book has something for everyone. Artists of all varieties--chefs, painters, scrapbookers, and gardeners--will be regaled nonstop with inspirational daily passages rich with recipes, gardening, and artwork. Anyone who is a fan of old-timey movies and music, especially Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, will find snippets of songs and scenes on nearly every page. Adding to all this excitement are many tranquil moments like relaxing by a fire in a centuries old pub, walking ancient footpaths, and indulging in afternoon tea. As you read A Fine Romance, don’t be surprised if your heart metamorphoses into fluttering watercolor and unexpectedly takes flight.