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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 Huntley
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I loved the first three books and didn't realize the saga continued. Was looking for a woman of substance to reread and happened upon the continuation of the story. Read morePublished on June 14 2013 by Judith C. Cotton
I read A Woman of Substance and the next two books which had strong female characters, and was very happy with them. Read morePublished on Sept. 13 2009 by Frances
I read a woman of substance many years ago and again in 1999 and loved it all over again. As a business woman and one that loves to see other women succeed I passed it on and on. Read morePublished on Dec 30 2004
This book was very disappointing. So many things could have been developed to make it exciting but none of them ever were.
The book doesnt seem to really have any ending. Read more
I enjoyed Emma Harte so much that I have been compelled to follow the stories of her offspring. I was incredibly disappointed to read Bradford's description of Evan's mother who... Read morePublished on June 10 2004
I read this one first! I loved it, and how tight the families were was a great story line. In this book Bradford puts a family tree of the Harte Clan which comes in very handy no... Read morePublished on April 21 2004 by Meg
This was a very good book where we can read about the incomparable Emma again. I literally couldn't put it down. Everyone who's read the first one should read it. Read morePublished on April 19 2004 by Chelsea Becker
I've read all her books and loved them. Now I've struggled and struggled to read this one. I give up. I'm about in the middle and I can't take anymore! Read morePublished on April 11 2004 by Karen Elliott
This was the worst book Barbara Taylor Bradford has ever written. Woman of Substance was so outstanding that I thought that surely this might come close to it. WRONG!!! Read morePublished on March 28 2004