Disclaimer: Thanks to Love Books Group and the author for the copy of this book and the opportunity to take part in this tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The year is 1981 and young couple Rona and Craig have spent an inheritance on a large Victorian house in Edinburgh. Ex-lawyer Rona is excited to turn Wardie House into a luxury care home so sets about exploring and planning, and in the process she uncovers some history of the house and its inhabitants. The cellar and attic give up secrets from dark corners and when the sea fog descends the new owners hear strange, disturbing sounds.
There is only one close neighbour – glamorous and sophisticated American Martha – and she immediately wants to make friends with the young couple, sharing with them that the big house has been the centre of several unhappy scandals in the past. But when asked about her own life, she is secretive and reluctant to speak, giving up conflicting details of her life before coming to Scotland.
Return to the Newhaven district of Edinburgh in the late 19th century and 14 year old Jessie has found herself the centre of gossip and accusation, following the loss of a fishing boat in a storm. Blamed for the death of the fisherman by superstitious villagers, Jessie is thrown out of her home and is sent to Wardie House, the poorhouse. The home is run by the Governor and Matron, characters who rule with an iron fist and create a harsh, severe life for the many inmates of the poorhouse. Jessie begins to suspect that all is not as it seems, particularly with one of the older women, and when Jessie’s only friend finds herself in trouble, Jessie plays detective and unpicks secrets.
These secrets directly link 1898 with 1981, but it will be down to Rona and Jessie to unravel them.
I was sent a paperback copy of this novel, and whilst I am always grateful to be sent an electronic copy, there was something special about holding a book in my hands. The artwork on the cover is immediately striking and gives a hint of the haunting tale inside. Ms Lawrence alternates the book chapters between 1981 and 1898, a concept which works well to build up and to link the two parts of the story. As someone who has a tendency to flick back and forth between times, rereading sections and checking on memories, I was very pleased to be reading a paperback rather than my Kindle!
The book is well written and very easy to read. The author uses some beautiful descriptions for the Scottish scenery and I was transported to a place where I could feel the sea on my face and the thick mists swirling around the house. My favourite descriptive writing can be found using every sense in the scenes in the coal cellar and smugglers’ tunnels….no spoilers here!
The characters are all important within the storyline and in each of the two timelines there is a strong leading female character. Personally I enjoyed Jessie’s timeline the most and was able to feel her emotions and character growth as she learnt the art of survival in the poorhouse. She was used to hard work amongst the fisherfolk, but the poorhouse presented her with a very different set of challenges and I loved seeing her develop into a steely young woman, prepared to fight and protect those she loved. This is also something that is mirrored by Rona in her storyline as she learns more about the mysterious Martha, her husband Craig, the residents of the nursing home and also herself.
This is a novel that manages to incorporate the historical with the psychological and weaves a tantalising tale around haunting secrets and painful truths. The author manages to keep the suspense running throughout, whilst slowly but surely linking the timelines, until the actions of one are revealed to have dramatic consequences for the other. A great tale which is both eerie and moving in equal measures.
I found this book gripping, became invested in the characters and thoroughly enjoyed it.
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About the Author
(from The Scottish Book Trust website)
Cookery writer and novelist Sue Lawrence was born in Dundee and brought up in Edinburgh, where she now lives, having lived in many places including the French Pyrenees, Ost Friesland in Germany and northern Finland. She trained as a journalist with DCThomson after an Honours degree in French from Dundee University.
She has written 17 cookery books including Book of Baking and A Cooks Tour of Scotland. Her latest cookbook is A Cooks Tour of the Scottish Islands, due out in August 2019.
She specialises in traditional Scottish food and Baking and has written for various newspapers and magazines since winning BBC Masterchef in 1991.
She moved into writing Fiction recently: her second novel, The Night He Left, was published in April 2016. Her latest novel, Down to the Sea, will be published in 2019.
About the writer’s work
Having trained as a journalist, Sue Lawrence began writing cookbooks and newspaper and magazine columns. She now writes both Fiction and cookery books and attends many book festivals around the country, talking on both subjects, but mainly nowadays on fiction (though always happy to talk Cake too!).
This is my Review of the Month for the review collection on LovelyAudiobooks.info