Author: Kate Riordan
Published: February 2015, Harper
Format: ARC Paperback, 416 pages
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours
A house as old as Fiercombe Manor holds many secrets within its walls. But which dark chapter of its history is haunting Alice, a young woman staying there during the course of a fateful summer?In 1933, naive twenty-two-year-old Alice is pregnant, unmarried, and disgraced. She can no longer share her parents’ London home, so her desperate mother concocts a cover story and begs her old friend, Mrs. Jelphs, for help. The housekeeper at rural Fiercombe Manor, Mrs. Jelphs is moved by Alice’s “plight” as a new widow and agrees to watch over her in the secluded English countryside until the baby is born and given up for adoption. Because the manor house’s owners, Lord and Lady Stanton, no longer live there, Alice’s only company will be Mrs. Jelphs and her skeleton staff.Thirty years before Alice’s arrival, Lady Elizabeth Stanton awaits the birth of her second child, fervently hoping he will be the boy her husband desires. But as her time nears, she is increasingly tormented by memories of what happened with her first baby and terrified that history will repeat itself . . . with devastating consequences.At first, Fiercombe Manor offers Alice a welcome relief from her mother’s disapproving gaze. But she begins to sense that all is not well in the picturesque Gloucestershire valley. After a chance encounter with Tom, the young scion of the Stanton family, Alice discovers that Fiercombe’s beauty is haunted by the clan’s tragic past. She is determined to exorcise the ghosts of the idyllic, isolated house.Nothing can prepare Alice for what she uncovers. Can she escape the tragic fate of the other women who have lived in the Fiercombe valley?
My thoughts: As soon as I read the description of this book, I just knew I had to read it. And, once I started it, I found myself immediately drawn in to the two worlds - that of Alice and of Elizabeth, never once imagining how things would turn out.
It's no secret that I am a big fan of the dual-narrative plot technique, and found that in this case, it was used so well, adding to the intrigue and mystery that is already woven into the story lines. Ever so slowly, we are given pieces of what has happened at Fiercombe Manor, moving back and forth from Alice's point of view in 1933 to Elizabeth's point of view in 1898.
As Alice begins exploring Fiercombe Manor, she finds herself fascinated and slightly obsessed with Lady Elizabeth Stanton. She even begins to have dreams about her, and her mind begins to play tricks on her. As she digs deeper, she realizes that there are quite a few similarities between her life and that of Elizabeth's.
There are times when reading a book with two different story lines going on, that you tend to feel more drawn to one character/story line than the other. But not in this case, at least for me. I found myself drawn to both characters - wanting to know what happened to Elizabeth and her child, while at the same time, hoping that nothing bad would happen to Alice and her baby. Each time the book flipped to the other story line, I was desperate to get back to the other one...and felt like each ended with just the tiniest cliff hanger, too.
Even the setting in this book pulled me in. It gave you that eery, foreboding sense of atmosphere. The descriptions were so vivid that I had no problems picturing the estate and mansion in my mind and would actually love to visit Fiercombe Manor if such a place did exist.
Kate Riordan is a new-to-me author, but one that is now going on my list to keep an eye on. This was a beautifully written, haunting book that I'm not soon going to forget. I've already passed my copy on to my mom and can't wait to hear her thoughts!
About the author: Kate Riordan is a British writer and journalist who worked for the Guardian and Time Out London. She is also the author of Birdcage Walk and is already at work on her third novel. Born in London, she now lives in the Gloucestershire countryside.
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