From Publishers Weekly
It has been nearly 25 years since Bradford made her name with the female rags-to-riches saga A Woman of Substance, the first in a trilogy of novels that concluded with 1988's To Be the Best. Gambling that there is still life to be squeezed out of the story of indomitable super-survivor Emma Harte and her descendants, Bradford returns to the chase with this present-day sequel. The novel opens in 2001 at Pennistone Royal, Emma's magnificent country estate in Yorkshire, now occupied by her granddaughter Paula's family. Paula heads the Knightsbridge store, flagship of the nationwide Harte chain, and her grown daughters, Linnet and Tessa, work there. A young American, Evan Hughes, with an uncanny Harte family resemblance, appears one day seeking a job. She's hired at once, since Linnet needs help with an upcoming fashion spectacular, a retrospective featuring Emma's couture wardrobe. Linnet's cousin Gideon, who works for the Harte newspapers, is smitten with Evan, and soon the mystery of her background is of concern, especially when it's discovered that Evan's grandmother had a close relationship with Emma. The overwhelming amount of descriptive detail clothing, interior decor, food and drink slows down the narrative, but such Victorian props as a decorative locked box, a key taped behind a photograph and long-lost diaries provide mild suspense. The saga was already losing steam with To Be the Best, and this fourth installment is further diluted. Lacking the dynamic impact of the original, it will be best appreciated by those with an irresistible desire to follow the further adventures of the Harte clan.
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Emma Harte, the heroine of Bradford's novel A Woman of Substance
(1979), has been dead for more than 30 years when Emma's Secret
opens, but her past factors heavily into the events of the novel. At the bequest of her dying grandmother, young American Evan Hughes arrives at Emma's magnificent English clothing store, Hartes, only to find out that Emma has long since died. She is soon hired as a store assistant to Linnet O'Neill, Emma's great-granddaughter, who can't help but notice the American's resemblance to her own mother, Paula. Evan and Gideon Harte, Paula's cousin, fall in love amid whispers that Evan might be the descendant of one of Emma's husbands. The truth lies in Emma's diary, but Paula is reluctant to read it. Curiosity finally gets the better of her, and the journal takes Paula to Emma's life during World War II, and at least partially answers the family's questions about Evan's heritage. It is up to Paula to figure out the rest. Readers new to the series might have a hard time getting a handle on the large cast of characters and their relationships to each other, but those familiar with Emma Harte and her large family will feel right at home. Kristine HuntleyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved