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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan

Title:  Girl in the Photograph

Author: Kate Riordan
Publisher: January 15th 2015 by Penguin Books (UK)
ISBN: 9781405917421
Pages: 407 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, mystery, drama
My Rating: three and a half crowns


The Girl in the Photograph is a haunting and atmospheric novel that tells the tales of women in two different eras – the 1890’s and 1930’s – and how their lives seem to be entwined by fate. Kate Riordan’s novel is a beautifully dark and beguiling tale which will sweep you away. It will appeal to fans of Kate Morton and Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca.

In the summer of 1933, Alice Eveleigh has arrived at Fiercombe Manor in disgrace. The beautiful house becomes her sanctuary, a place to hide her shame from society in the care of the housekeeper, Mrs Jelphs. But the manor also becomes a place of suspicion, one of secrecy.

Something isn't right.

Someone is watching.

There are secrets that the manor house seems determined to keep. Tragedy haunts the empty rooms and foreboding hangs heavy in the stifling heat. Traces of the previous occupant, Elizabeth Stanton, are everywhere and soon Alice discovers Elizabeth's life eerily mirrors the path she herself is on.

My thoughts:

“There is something enchanting and mysterious about it…. you glimpse places…. lonely houses tucked into the countryside, almost hidden in the folds of the hills. You wonder who lives in them, what’s happened in their history”.

This is a story of two women told in two time periods (alternating chapters) and the events that occur resulting from the societal attitudes of the time. It is a story of relationships. Both women, Elizabeth in 1890s and Alice in 1930s, are expecting a child and both are at the mercy of their family’s - Alice is banished from her family, for foolishly falling in love with a married man; Elizabeth seeks approval from her husband and the pressure of having to provide a male heir.

“(There is a) tangible bond to connect Elizabeth’s time and mine, and I thought again of the silken tether that seemed to pull me back towards her”.

The ‘Girl in the Photograph’ is a substantial read being over 400 pages with Riordan presenting vivid descriptions– the setting, both manor house and the surroundings are really well portrayed – but at times it borders on a little too much and therefore becomes a bit tedious.

“I indulged myself…looking at the manor with new eyes, seeing it not just as a house brimming with centuries of secrets – secrets sewn into the faded tapestries and slipped down the cracks in the floorboards”.

What I believe Riordan does very well is portray mental health issues in the late 19th century – this aspect of the story is riveting and sadly, captivating. It makes you stop and consider the attitudes of the period towards women, pregnancy and the associated mental health.

“…The air crackled and vibrated as if some remnant of their presence echoed down through the centuries, an empty valley crowded with ghosts”.

The last segment of the book concerning Alice was disappointing; it felt as if everything was resolved too neatly. For example the way Alice’s relationship with her mother evolved or the sudden romantic aspect, that just seemed forced and a weak, contrived link - disappointing. Also, the earlier haunting ghost aspect seemed to drift away. Here was one component that I felt so much more could have been made of. I wanted Riordan to take it that step further and make connections, past and present, in a Katie Morton fashion.  Elizabeth's story, however, was an entirely different matter - I found it totally mesmerising and emotionally moving.  It's a tragic tale that fills the reader with a sense of horror and at times anger. So on the whole I enjoyed the story and maybe it will weave enchantment over you:

“The valley and the people who had lived here were weaving their enchantment around me already”.

U.S. readers be aware this is published in America as ‘Fiercombe Manor’.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Title: First Frost (Waverley Family #2)
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Publisher: January 20th 2015 by St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 9781250019837
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: magical realism, fiction, fantasy, chick lit, contemporary
My Rating: four and a half crowns


From the New York Times bestselling author of GARDEN SPELLS comes a story of the Waverley family, in a novel as sparkling as the first dusting of frost on new-fallen leaves...It's October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly.  As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree... and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store. Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies.  Though her handcrafted confections—rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds—are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts.
Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby— a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has.
Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke? When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before.  And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.

Lose yourself in Sarah Addison Allen's enchanting world and fall for her charmed characters in this captivating story that proves that a happily-ever-after is never the real ending to a story. It’s where the real story begins.

My thoughts:

“First Frost was always an unpredictable time, but this year it felt more … desperate than others. Something was about to happen”.

First Frost is the highly anticipated sequel to the gorgeous 'Garden Spells'. Although not necessary to read the first in this series, I would recommend ‘Garden Spells’ to gain more of an insight and fully appreciate the characters and their varying magical gifts. Let me say it from the outset, I am a Sarah Addison Allen fan, she is an exceptional writer. Diving into a Sarah Addison Allen book is a real treat. I love her magical writing that makes you feel at one with not only the characters, but also life itself. She has such a wonderful way of adding just enough magic that cleverly enhances the story without overwhelming it; it's subtle enough to make you believe in it.

It was an absolute delight to catch up with everyone a decade on from where ‘Garden Spells’ left off.  In a way, this novel felt a bit like coming home and revisiting close friends: the quirky Waverley’s who never fail to make one smile. It did not take long for me to be swept away once again with this family, their magical tree and mysterious gifts. If you enjoy magical realism books, any of Sarah’s books are a delight. 

“She couldn’t change who she was, and she no longer wanted to, even if she could. She knew that who you are is a stone set deep inside you. You can spend all your life trying to dig that stone out, or you can build around it. Your choice”.

My only slight disappointment is that ending felt a bit unfinished, up in the air, like there are more stories to come, and I can only hope that means there will be. I was also sad that Tyler's and Henry's parts in the story were minimal, as I always enjoyed their input. In this instalment, they made no major contributions like in ‘Garden Spells’.

This is a story about family and exploring the hidden parts that might not be so comfortable to embrace and share.  Secrets are revealed. Mysteries are confronted. Happiness, as always,  the long term goal. What more could one ask for? I recommend First Frost when you are ready to snuggle up with a book that will leave you with that lovely contented feeling. If you enjoyed ‘Garden Spells’, then you will definitely love this. If you haven't read Sarah Addison Allen before, I highly recommend that you start with Garden Spells and follow up with this, ‘First Frost’.

“Have you ever had the feeling that you were waiting for something? I have. I feel that way all the time. I feel like I’m always waiting for things to fall into place, to fall where they belong, so I can finally take a deep breath”.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.