British novelist Hylton's 14th output (Shadow of the Nile, 1994, etc.) is light on history and heavy on histrionics as its insipid heroine weathers the horrors of WW II with a decided lack of common sense. Shy Joanna Albemarle is the only child of a passive-aggressive mother (with whose parents the family lives) and a weak-willed father who works for the British government. The girl's life will change overnight, however, when her maternal grandmother dies, her grandfather quickly remarries, and her father's job forces her parents to relocate to Singapore. Joanna is sent to live at Reckmireher father's parents' home on the coast. There, her cousins, the boyish Robin and the half-Italian Gabriella (along with Paul Cheviot, Robin's mysterious friend), make lasting impressions on the sheltered Joanna. Later, after her parents decide to divorce, her father returns from the Far East to take Joanna to Italy to visit Gabriella's family. The trip proves to be the last time Joanna sees her father alive; it is also when she becomes enamored of Carlo, to whom Gabriella is practically engaged. Enter the war: Joanna's father is taken captive, then killed; then, largely to escape her bitter mother, Joanna joins the Wrens and moves to London, where she has a brief but life-altering affair with Robin, who is also killed during the war. When her grandparents die and bequeath Reckmire to Joanna, Paul reappears in her life. Mistakenly assuming that Paul loves her and not just Reckmire, she marries him and signs over half of the manor, and for years remains locked in a loveless marriage. By the close, though, Joanna will find bittersweet happiness and say goodbye to Reckmireher greatest blessing and her greatest curseforever. Fast-moving, but with a hollow ring throughout.
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