Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

Black Rabbit Hall – Eve Chase

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

Eve Chase has penned a brilliant story which flips between events at the somewhat dilapidated house Black Rabbit Hall in Cornwall between 1968 and the present day; one where long buried secrets are eventually uncovered.

In 1968 the house is the holiday retreat for the Alton family. Amber and Toby are fifteen year old twins with two younger siblings Barney and Kitty are four and five, full of the wonder of young children. Their parents Hugo and Nancy are a solid couple, still in love but Easter 1968 changes everything for the entire family.

Many decades later Lorna is looking for a wedding venue. Happy holidays in Cornwall draw her far away from the home she shares with Jon in Bethnal Green to find the perfect location. The place where she used to explore country houses with her recently deceased mother. The draw of Black Rabbit Hall in all its shabbiness confuses and worries Jon.

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of dual timeline stories and unlike many both storylines in this novel are equally appealing. In the past we hear about events mainly from Amber’s viewpoint at the tail-end of what has been an uncomplicated life living in a family where love abounds. In the present, although Lorna has finally found a man to depend on, it is clear that her life hasn’t been quite so uncomplicated, her relationship with her mother certainly on far less solid ground.

The author brings the house to life vividly and completely. Items left in draws, or of importance to the Alton children turn up later on in the story giving the reader sharp points of recognition that resonate.

There are so many children’s things, seemingly left where they were thrown. In the corner of the room, partially covered by a blanket, is a dappled grey rocking horse the size of a small pony. Beneath its front hoofs, a dolly’s cradle. Closer to the door, a mildewed pile of books: The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Milly Molly Mandy, Rupert Annual 1969… A shiver tingles up her spine – she’d read and loved many of these books as a child: an instant bond with the departed children, one that transcends both time and class.

The style of writing is that the book moves backwards to the Alton’s story and forward to Lorna’s often leaving the reader on the brink of a key revelation, a trap to keep her reader’s turning those pages the frustration only momentary as you are instantly plunged into another heart-rending moment at another point in time. Eve Chase is almost like a magician, she points you in one direction having firmly shut off the obvious avenue of where the story will lead, only for this misdirection to be revealed for the trickery that it is much further down the line.

Be warned Black Rabbit Hall will wring every drop of emotion from you. I was left full-on sobbing at the end which was pitch-perfect for all that had gone before. A beautiful tale, wonderfully descriptive with all the elements of a traditional fairy tale wrapped up in a believable family saga. This was the author’s debut novel a book I bought having chosen her second book, The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde as one of my Top Ten Books published in 2017. Which one is better? They are both are simply wonderful – firm favourites with this reader and hopefully Eve Chase will conjure up another wonderful story for me to read sooner rather than later.

Black Rabbit Hall was my fifth book of the year for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018, having been bought in August 2017 it is worth another third of a book token.

 

First Published UK: 2 July 2015
Publisher: Michael Joseph
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Life Between Us – Louise Walters

Historical Fiction
4*s

If you like a book that explores family relationships, a family saga if you like updated to include a mystery, then you need to pick up A Life Between Us. Within its pages you will meet a whole range of characters, some that you will undoubtedly take to more than others and the truths and lies that underpin the way they behave.

The prologue to A Life Between Us is set in 2014 with Lucia Thornton leaving the family home for the last time, shutting the door on the dark secrets that have shaped the next generation. The rest of the book uncovers those secrets and the toll they’ve taken.

In 2013 Tina is encouraged by her patient husband Keaton to join a book club as a way of getting her out of the house and meeting other people. A fantastic idea, I’m sure you’ll agree and one that provides some contrast to the often dark narrative that underpins this novel. Tina’s twin Meg had died aged just eight and for the best part of four decades has accompanied Tina through life, as a chiding voice that does nothing to assuage Tina’s guilt for what happened on the day her twin died. A product of the time, Tina was just left to deal with the aftermath and sadly, Meg’s death has shaped her life, leaving her one with little room for one of her own.

Louise Walters’ book takes us back to 1954 travels through the sixties up to the year of the drought in the UK, 1976. The latter told in part between the pen-pal letters between Tina and her cousin Elizabeth who lives in America. This was a particularly lovely touch and provides a change of writing style. It also provided me with memories of my own letters to my pen-pal full of news! I loved the fact that Tina, keen to find another book-lover, is quite insistent that Elisabeth needs to read her favourite book, Ballet Shoes! Tina’s twin was far more into tree-climbing than reading, so her delight at being able to talk about the Fossil girls is warming, not least as this book played a part in my own childhood of roughly the same era. Further back in the past we learn more about Tina’s Aunt Lucia, one of five children born and bought up Lane’s End House in a time which was very different to those her nieces are born into. I am always impressed when writers of these types of novels provide strong links between the past and the present stories, and in this one it becomes apparent that both aunt and niece have something in their past that they simply are unable to escape.

This book contained everything I hoped for; from period details to complicated relationships the inevitable worn out patience of a man who had lived in the shadow of the death of a child he never met and the mystery which can only be resolved by delving deep into the past. With each page packed full of drama yet cleverly avoiding the feeling that the issues explored are in any way contrived or there to move the story along. One of the biggest problems of a dual time-line book is that it can be tricky to keep both strands interesting while not confusing the reader with the hopping backwards and forwards. I’m delighted to confirm that both these pitfalls have been adroitly avoided by the author and she has written a book that is utterly compelling.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy of A Life Between Us from the author and I have a feeling that this story will haunt me the way that her debut novel, Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase has done. This unbiased review is my thanks to Louise Walters for such a dark yet delightful read.

First Published UK: 28 March 2017
Publisher: Matador
No of Pages:  304
Genre: Historical Fiction – Family Saga
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

One Last Dance – Judith Lennox

Historical Saga 4*'s
Historical Saga
4*’s

I had forgotten how enjoyable a well-written saga can be, that feeling of enormous satisfaction of following a family through their ups and downs, or more usually, downs and further downs, spanning decades isn’t replicated in the same way in any other type of genre and in One Last Dance I felt I’d travelled on a journey with Esme starting at the time of World War I and continuing to the 1970’s.

In 1974 Esme decides she wants her 75 birthday party to be held at Rosindell a somewhat diminished grand house which belongs to the Reddaway family and while we witness a scene where her daughter is somewhat perturbed at this choice of venue the story then switches back to 1917 when Devlin Reddaway visits England while on leave. The story that follows has all the normal components of love, jealousy, secrets and lies that you’d expect from the genre and pleasingly well-executed. The pace is measured and despite there being, as you’d imagine over such a time-span, quite an array of characters, these are well-defined so that there is no confusion. Judith Lennox has created some great characters, which develop well over the course of the book without ever losing their central characteristics thereby allowing the reader to sympathise or react in horror at the actions they choose to take.

The key protagonists are Esme and her elder, more beautiful sister, Camilla and Devlin Reddaway with the relationship between them being central to the story although as the book progresses we get to know the younger generations and understand their lives in context of the past.  Much of the setting is the wonderfully described Rosindell, which Devlin’s father had failed to maintain and the house he is determined to restore to its former glory, but there are other settings that Judith Lennox brings to life as far apart as London during World War II and San Francisco in the 1960’s where another house is built by one of Devlin’s children.

The earlier part of the book concentrates on a close time-span depicting the events that will haunt the family for decades to come while later on the sections depict wider ranging dates which avoids slowing down the pace and better still these sections add further nuance and complexity to the story avoiding the feeling that they are included for filling purposes.  In fact every one of the 500 plus pages adds a little to the story either in way of place, character or plot.

This is a gentle nostalgic story with enough action to keep the reader engaged with fantastic descriptions of both time and place that add to the richness of this read.

I’d like to thank Bookbridgr along with the publishers Headline Review for allowing me to read a copy of this book which was published in paperback on 11 September 2014.