Strictly speaking, these books were written for pre-teens and up, but I must admit to loving these books even as an adult!
Gone-Away Lake introduces the reader to 11-year-old Portia Blake and her cousin Julian, and their discovery of an almost-abandoned late Victorian vacation village (the community had been situated on a lake, which disappeared after a dam was installed nearby). Two childhood inhabitants of the village, siblings Mrs. Minnehaha Cheever and Mr. Pindar Payton, had moved back into homes in the village in later life, after falling onto hard times financially. The sister and brother furnished their homes with abandoned items found in the village, wear clothing left behind as well, and live primarily off the land, having gardens, chickens, goats, and the A. P. Decoction to fight off mosquitoes. Pindar does have an old (circa 1900) car (the first book for the most part leaves out the adult problems of paying taxes, paying for food and gas, and other necessities).
The children discover a ready friendship with Minnie and Pin (it helps that Minnie and Pin keep feeding them!), and decide to have a clubhouse in one of the abandoned homes. Over time, the children introduce their new friends to their family and friends.
Though the descriptions of the homes, clothes, and furnishings are good in the first volume, Return to Gone-Away is more exciting to this old-house lover. Portia Blake's parents decide to buy Villa Caprice at Gone-Away as a summer home. What Victorian house fan would not dream of buying an abandoned Victorian home that had been sealed since 1906, still with all its original furnishings and a library full of books! And then to find a safe full of 18th and 19th-century jewelry! And an attic full of Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton furniture! What joy! In the book, almost every day becomes a new adventure, finding more hidden treasures at the home. The descriptions of the interior are quite good and fairly factual to what a wealthy household of the time period might have featured.
The book is realistic about the work involved with restoring a home, and does have the children helping clean, paint, etc. Mrs. Blake also has to sell off some of the antiques in the attic to pay for plumbing work, etc. I do have a couple of very mild criticisms: the Blake family tore off the porch on Villa Caprice (oh, the sacrilege! though I do understand concerns about maintenance and repair) and tossed the Turkish cozy corner that had been in the drawing room (it was in horrible shape).
Return to Gone-Away ends on a happy note, with Villa Caprice well on its way to restoration, the family deciding to live there year-round, and the house receiving a new name: Amberside.
I would suggest the books for adults who would like a little bit of an innocent escape, and to parents trying to encourage children to value historic preservation. [Note: the books do have a few very mild pseudo-profanities, like heck.]
Copyright © 2004 Sarah E. Mitchell