By The Sea is the story of Tess, a young Irish immigrant girl who is transported to the wealthy and opulent life of Newport in the 1890s in the lowest possible station, that of a laundry maid. Antoinette Stockenberg seems to have a thing for seaside towns. A Charmed Place was all about three friends spending summer in a small seaside village. By the Sea has a historical theme built around the prominent society of the time, the New York Four Hundred -the Astors and the Vanderbilts.
Tess shares a small garret somewhere in the huge mansion or ‘cottage’ belonging to her employer. Sister Maggie has to work in the laundry and is always sick and coughing. Naturally, Tess tries to do the work of two people. Her Irish father and brother are soon let go from the house and they have to find work at the docks. Surprisingly, Tess is suddenly elevated to the job of a lady’s maid. She has a keen eye for fashion and is skilled with a needle and thread which is not unnoticed.
Edward Hillyard is a house guest who is bored by the endless parties and picnics and seeks Tess out when he can. Tess starts dreaming about this handsome gentleman thinking of a different life. But she finds herself in a difficult situation where temptation beckons. Will Tess choose to remain a poor maid, subject to the whims of an irate, foolish young mistress? Or will she take the plunge and choose a life of luxury at a price?
Antoinette Stockenberg does well with drama. And there is lots of it in By the Sea. You are fascinated and keep turning the pages, going through a range of emotions on behalf of Tess. Tess is a slightly contradictory character in a way. On one hand, she takes on the responsibility of her family on her young shoulders, is smart enough to caution her father against get rich quick schemes, shoulders her sister’s responsibilities at work to safeguard her job, and tries to better herself through education. But all her smarts seem to desert her at the one crucial moment in her life.
The historic backdrop gives the reader a vivid picture of the wealthy America of the late nineteenth century. Millionaires were made every day in New York and they tried to ape the people on the continent. Money flowed along with fine wine, and snagging a titled gentleman was every young debutante’s dream and mission in life. And there was the disparity between the haves and the have nots.
By The Sea is free for Kindle readers thanks to the author. You will be glad to know that it is only the first of many books featuring the fearless Tess. I have no doubt you will be eager to read the rest of the series once you read this book. Highly recommended for anyone who loves drama and romance!