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The Tale of Hill Top Farm: The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter    by Susan Wittig Albert order for
Tale of Hill Top Farm
by Susan Wittig Albert
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The Tale of Hill Top Farm is a gentle mystery that is captivating, whimsical, and downright delightful. Susan Albert has taken an idea, run with it, and produced a novel that is both innovative and imaginatively believable.

Beatrix Potter, of Peter Rabbit fame, has traveled to the hamlet of Near Sawrey in the fabled Lake District of England. She buys Hill Top Farm as an escape from her domineering parents and then has to find a way to fit into the life of a village that looks askance at strangers ... especially at a woman who has the temerity to purchase a farm on her own when everyone knows a woman can't run a farm by herself. The fact that she writes tales of animals that act as though human entrances some of the villagers and appalls others. Beatrix, who travels with her own entourage - Mopsey and Josey Cottontail, Tom Thumb the mouse and hedgehog Mrs. Tiddy-Winkle - arrives in Near Sawrey to complete the paperwork involved with her purchase. While staying at the forerunner of a Bed and Breakfast, mysterious happenings occur in the Village and Beatrix can't rest until she sorts things out.

Susan Wittig Albert did extensive research on Beatrix Potter and brought her back to life on the pages of this book. The time in question is the early nineteen hundreds. I came to know Near Sawrey so well, that I fully expected to leave my own home and walk into the past - with medieval style cottages, country roads, and flowers blooming in profusion in every front garden. I took tea with Beatrix and her new acquaintances and could almost taste the lovely sponge and tea biscuits. The characterizations are very real. Beatrix Potter could easily be your next door neighbor. Okay, maybe if that neighbor wore the clothes of 1905 and bowed to the sensibilities expected of ladies of that time, but you get my drift. The local school teacher, Myrtle Crabbe, and her two sisters are definitely out of the box. Beatrix's fiancÚ died shortly before her arrival in Near Sawrey and Albert introduces several possible swains.

Inhabitants of Near Sawrey know very well that their own business is the business of every one else in the village. But they also know that they each look out for the other and can call on anyone should they need help. So the disappearance of the Parish Register is troubling. As is the possibly mysterious death of Miss Tolliver, a respected single woman who has lived in the village all her life. And what has really happened to the money for the school roof fund? Who is the new owner of Miss Tolliver's cottage? Can the visiting animals be of any help to the local cats and dog - and owl - who are determined to clear up the questions that are running rampant in Near Sawrey? It's great fun to have a real personage come to life again through fiction. I do hope Susan Whittig Albert is hard at work on the next episode of this wonderfully entertaining new series.

The Tale of Hill Top Farm is a must read. And with holidays around the corner, it seems like the perfect gift for that special person on your list. One with a touch of whimsy in his or her character. Be sure to get a copy for yourself, too.

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