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BOOK REVIEW: Le Chateau by Sarah Ridout

Saturday, December 09, 2017


The Blurb (From Goodreads)

What really happened at the chateau?

When Charlotte regains consciousness after an accident, she finds herself living a stranger’s life. The previous five years are a blank, and her husband, Henri, and daughter, Ada, are strangers. Arriving at their family chateau in southern France, she hopes to regain her memories. Instead she feels isolated and unsettled. Strange events hint at underlying darkness and menace. Charlotte doesn’t know who to trust.

Did she really have an affair with their charming Irish neighbour, as her enigmatic mother-in-law suggests? And what of Henri? He seems loving and kind, a good parent, but Charlotte is wary. Then there is Ada, a little girl who just wants her mother back.

With the help of her friend and fellow Australian Susannah, Charlotte starts to piece together events, but her newfound confidence is shaken with news that puts a deadline on her quest…

Le Chateau is a suspenseful gothic tale that will appeal to readers of Daphne du Maurier and Kate Morton.



My Thoughts:

Le Chateau is a romantic and suspenseful mystery set in a chateau in France, and so it ticks a lot of boxes for me. Sarah Ridout is an Australian author who has a Masters in Creative Writing from University College Dublin, and spent eight years living in southern France. The novel is rich in sensory detail about the French countryside, food and local customs, all of which I loved.

The protagonist of the book is a young Australian woman named Charlotte who is married to a Frenchman. She does not, however, remember him. Or their daughter, Ada. Or, indeed, any detail of her life in the past five years. An accident has robbed her of her memory, and now she must return to living at his family’s chateau and picking up the threads of a life she cannot remember. Strange menacing events frighten and unsettle her, and Charlotte does not know who to trust. Physically weak, emotionally fragile, she must try to find out the truth of what happened to her, before more harm is done.

The story reminded me of the Gothic romances by authors like Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart that I devoured as a teenager. A house full of secrets, a brooding atmosphere of darkness and danger, the exotic setting of a chateau in the sun-drenched south of France, eerie hints of some kind of supernatural threat, and a fast-paced suspenseful plot all add up to a real page-turner. I must admit I guessed the villain early on in the narrative, and so I would have loved a real humdinger of a plot twist at the end. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it hugely.

If you enjoy romantic mysteries, you might also enjoy The Lakehouse by Kate Morton. 

Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts. 
 

BOOK REVIEW: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor Book 1) by Jessica Townsend

Wednesday, December 06, 2017


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

A breathtaking, enchanting new series by debut author Jessica Townsend, about a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world--but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she's blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks--and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It's then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city's most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart--an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests--or she'll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.


My Thoughts:

I was sent a proof copy of The Trials of Morrigan Crow by the publisher, Lothian Books, as part of a massive publicity drive promising a magical and captivating children’s fantasy novel. The back of my proof copy lists all the advance buzz this book has garnered – publishing rights sold in 28 territories, film rights pre-empted by 20th Century Fox, a ‘multiplatform marketing and publicity campaign like never before.’

I, of course, love children’s fantasy. It’s one of my favourite genres to both read and to write. And I was interested to see if the book lived up to all the hype.

The first line is: ‘The journalists arrived before the coffin did.’

The opening scene then shows a black-clad man, Chancellor Corvus Crow, reading a statement to a mob of journalists in which he announces the death of his daughter Morrigan and assures them all that – now she is dead – there is ‘nothing to fear.’

Then Chapter One begins, three days earlier, with Morrigan discovering the kitchen cat was dead and that, as usual, she was being blamed. Morrigan is a cursed child, thought to bring trouble and misfortune everywhere she goes. She was born on Eventide, and so is pre-destined to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday – which is only three days away.

Luckily Morrigan is rescued on the eve of her death by an enigmatic man named Jupiter North with fiery red hair and a taste for elegant but brightly coloured suits. He whisks her away to Nevermoor, a world in another dimension, and allows her family to think she is really dead. Here she must take part in a series of trials in order to win a place in the Wundrous Society. If she fails, she will be sent back to her own world where nothing but death awaits her.

The comparison to Harry Potter is inevitable, and indeed Jessica Townsend has a great deal of the humour, whimsicality and excitement of the first few books by J.K. Rowling.

Anyone who has read as much children’s fantasy as I have will recognise many of the tropes Jessica Townsend employs – the unwanted child, the mysterious curse, the hidden world, the secret enemy, the dangerous competition …

Jupiter North reminded me of Willy Wonka, the magical umbrella flight parroted Mary Poppins (please forgive me the bad pun), while the battle between Saint Nick and the Yule Queen had strong echoes of the rather startling appearance of Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Does it matter? Not a bit. The Trials of Morrigan Crow is brimming over with imagination and fun. Morrigan is a wonderful heroine – dark, moody, and wry – and the unfairness of her situation makes her very easy to empathise with. The story gallops along, and the setting is wonderfully vivid. I can understand why the movie rights have been sold. The scenes are all brilliantly cinematic and the characters – while undeniably one-dimensional – are also fresh and vital. A wonderfully assured debut from a young Australian author, The Trials of Morrigan Crow sparkles with zest, wit and inventiveness.

For a similarly excellent children's fantasy novel, check out my review of A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee.

Please leave a comment, I'm interested in your thoughts! 




BOOK REVIEW: The Rose: A True History by Jennifer Potter

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

For fans of Anna Pavord's "The Tulip" and Andrea Wulf's "The Brothers Gardener," a vividly written and lavishly illustrated history of the Queen of Flowers Ever since Sappho planted roses at the shrine of Aphrodite, no flower has captured the imagination in quite the same way. Here, the acclaimed horticultural historian Jennifer Potter sets out on a quest to uncover the life of a flower that has been viewed so hetrogenously by different cultures in different countries across the centuries. Beginning her story in the Greek and Roman empires, she travels across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas to unravel its evolution from a simple briar of the northern hemisphere to the height of cultivated perfection found in rose gardens today. Whether laying bare the flower's long association with sexuality and secret societies, questioning the Crusaders' role in bringing roses back from the Holy Land, or hunting for its elusive blooms in the gardens of the Empress Josephine at Malmaison, Jennifer Potter reveals why this flower, above all others, has provoked such fascination.


My Thoughts:

Someone who loves roses – as I do – is called a ‘rose-fancier’. I’ve always loved that term. On the one hand, it has connotations of something that is fancy or fantastical: dreamy, whimsical, capricious, voluptuous. On the other hand, the word implies someone who is a ‘fan’ or a ‘fanatic’ in the sense of being excessively and unreasonably enthusiastic, coming from the Latin term fanaticus, meaning ‘worshipping at a temple’.

This gorgeously produced and illustrated book by Jennifer Potter is the perfect gift for a rose-fancier. It tells the history, mythology and romance of the rose from its very earliest days, many millions of years ago. As the author tells us, ‘roses appeared on earth after the dinosaurs but long before man.’

Jennifer Potter is described as a horticultural historian (what a wonderful job that would be!) and was, until recently, a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at King’s College in London. The book moves through time and across geographies, from ancient Greece to Rome and thence through all of Europe, and from ancient China along the silk roads and the trade routes to Persia, and, eventually, to the United States. It is particularly concerned with the depiction of the rose in art and poetry. Jennifer Potter examines how roses flourished in the work of such diverse writers as Sappho, William Shakespeare and Gertrude Stein; and traces the history of roses in visual arts from the first depiction in Minoan Knossos frescoes 3,500 years ago to their overt symbolism in the 1999 film ‘American Beauty’.

The Rose: A True History
is gorgeous to look at and utterly fascinating to read, whether you dip in and out or devour it all in just a few sittings, as I did. 


If you enjoy reading about nature, you might also enjoy Hope Jahren's memoir, Lab Girl. 



Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts. 

BOOK REVIEW: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Friday, November 24, 2017


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Into the Water is the incredible new standalone thriller from Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train. Published in over forty languages and now a No. 1 box office hit film starring Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train is a global phenomenon.

With the same propulsion that captivated millions of readers worldwide in The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins unfurls a gripping, twisting, layered story set in a small riverside town. Once again Hawkins demonstrates her powerful understanding of human instincts and the damage they can inflict.

Into the Water is an addictive novel of psychological suspense about the slipperiness of the truth, and a family drowning in secrets.'


My Thoughts:

Paula Hawkins made her name with her debut contemporary suspense novel The Girl on the Train, which helped spark a new reading craze about ordinary people in dangerous situations that has been dubbed ‘domestic noir’. I was looking for a book to read on a long car journey and I had about three seconds to choose one while my husband drove around the block. I grabbed this one, confident I’d get a strong, dynamic, fast-moving story with a tricky mystery at its heart.

I was not disappointed.

Into the Water
centres on the death of Nel Abbott, who was writing a book about the Drowning Pool, a place where witches had once been dunked and unhappy women had long sought escape from unhappy lives. Before Nel died, she had rung her sister Jules. Her sister, however, did not pick up. She had not spoken to her sister in many years. Now Jules has to deal with her own guilt and remorse, as well as a grieving teenage niece and the growing conviction that Nel had not killed herself.

Books like Into the Water hinge on long-buried secrets and misunderstandings. Part of the pleasure in reading is trying to negotiate through the lies and half-truths told by the characters. Into the Water has a great many points-of-view, which means the reader really has to concentrate to follow the story, and so it’s not an easy read. Neither is it a gnaw-your-fingernails-to-the-bone kind of suspense. It is, however, a dark, twisty, and surprising mystery that I read in a single sitting. Even better, I did not manage to guess the murderer (which I had done with The Girl on the Train). I really enjoyed it and will be most interested in what Paula Hawkins does next.

You can read my review of The Girl on the Train here. 

Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment below. 

BOOK REVIEW: Sixty Seconds by Jesse Blackadder

Friday, November 24, 2017


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Inspired by the author's own family experience. The Brennans - parents Finn and Bridget, and their sons, Jarrah and Toby - have made a sea change, shifting from chilly Hobart to a sprawling purple weatherboard in subtropical Murwillumbah. Feeling like foreigners in this land of sun and surf, they are only just starting to settle when, one morning, tragedy strikes - changing their lives forever.

Determined to protect his wife, Finn finds himself under the police and media spotlight. Guilty and enraged, Bridget spends her nights hunting answers in the last place imaginable. Jarrah - his innocence lost - is propelled suddenly from his teens into frightening adulthood. As all three are pushed to the limit, questions fly: Who is to blame? And what does it take to forgive?

A haunting and ultimately redemptive story about what it takes to forgive.


My Thoughts:

A few years ago I bought a novel called The Raven’s Heart by a writer I had never heard of, Jesse Blackadder. I was partly seduced by the cover and partly by the subtitle, ‘The Story of A Quest, a Castle, and Mary, Queen of Scots.’ It sounded just like my kind of book! And it was. I adored it so much I wrote to the author and told her so. Jesse wrote back to say thank you and to ask me if I would be willing to launch her next book for her. Chasing the Light was inspired by the story of the first women to travel to Antarctica. I was intrigued enough by the premise to agree to read the book, and then – once I had read it and loved it – to launch it. So Jesse and I met for the first time at Chasing the Light’s book launch in 2013 and we’ve been fast friends ever since.

We’ve attended festivals together in both Australia and the UK, and last year spent a close-bonding week together as part of the Byron Writers Festival ‘Five Writers Road Trip’ around far northern New South Wales. Jesse told me that she was working on a novel inspired by a family tragedy that had had a powerful shaping force upon her life and her imagination. When Jesse was twelve, her two-year-old sister had drowned in their backyard pool. Jesse had tried to grapple with this catastrophe in her fiction before, but it had always been too raw, too close to home. As the 40th anniversary of her sister’s birth approached, however, Jesse had experienced a moment of epiphany. The story of Sixty Seconds had sprung into her imagination, demanding to be told.

Although it is inspired by true life, Sixty Seconds is a work of fiction. It begins: ‘The boy steps into this day like he owns it – like he is, in fact, God and has conjured this up with a sweep of his hand before breakfast: this achingly blue sky, this currawong sending out a ringing call from the verandah post, this water dragon sunning on a warm rock to loosen her scales, cocking her head and blinking a yellow eye in his direction.’

It’s a moment of easy joy and summery beauty, made heartbreakingly poignant by the tragedy we know is about to happen.

Sixty Seconds articulates what must be every parent’s greatest dread. The death of a beloved child, the grief and horror and guilt, ‘the seismic shift’, as Jesse calls it, which changes everyone’s life. Told in alternating chapters between the points-of-view of the boy’s father Finn, his mother Bridget, and his elder brother, Jarrah, the book moves forward from this point of shock, and shows how the ripples affect the whole community. Each voice is distinctively different. Jarrah speaks in first person, Finn in third person, and Bridget – most interestingly - in second person (and present tense). It’s a bold and unconventional narrative choice, but it works. Each chapter is very short, and so the fractured narrative structure of the book reflects the shattered family unit. As Bridget reflects, ‘the three of you – Finn, you, Jarrah – clinging to each other, rain-slicked, like shipwreck survivors. All looking in different directions.’

There is always a danger of melodrama and sentimentality when writing of tragedy, but Jesse never veers anywhere close. Her language is simple, direct and powerful. The story has tremendous pace, as the ramifications of the boy’s death reverberate through the grief-stricken family. Secrets are revealed, choices and mistakes made. At the heart of the novel is the question: can anyone recover from such a loss? If so, how?

The final chapters of this beautiful novel gave me chills all over my body, and such a lump in my throat I could not breathe. Both haunting and heart-rending, Sixty Seconds is as much a story about the redemptive power of love as it is about the terrible power of grief. I know some people will be afraid of reading it, afraid of how close it may cut to the bone. I can only urge you to read it anyway. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece. 


You might also like to read my 2013 interview with Jesse Blackadder


Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: Behind the Sun by Deborah Challinor

Wednesday, November 22, 2017




The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Irreverent and streetwise prostitute, Friday Woolfe, is in London′s notorious Newgate gaol, awaiting transportation. There, she meets three other girls: intelligent and opportunistic thief, Sarah Morgan, naive young Rachel Winter, and reliable and capable seamstress, Harriet Clarke.

On the voyage to New South Wales their friendship becomes an unbreakable bond -- but there are others on board who will change their lives forever. Friday makes an implacable enemy of Bella Jackson, a vicious woman whose power seems undiminished by her arrest and transportation, while Harriet is taken under the wing of an idealistic doctor, James Downey. Rachel catches the eye of a sinister passenger with more than honour on his mind, whose brutal assault leaves her life hanging in the balance.

When they finally arrive on the other side of the world, they are confined to the grim and overcrowded Parramatta Female Factory. But worse is to come as the threat of separation looms. In the land behind the sun, the only thing they have is each other ...



My Thoughts:

Deborah Challinor and I shared a stage at the Historical Novel Society (Australasian) conference in Melbourne a few years ago, and so I was keen to read some of her work. She’s a New Zealand author and historian who has written over a dozen books, quite a few of them set in Australia. Behind the Sun is the first in a quartet following the adventures of four young women in the 1820s who are all convicted of various crimes and transported halfway around the world to the convict settlement of Sydney.

There is Friday Woolfe, a cheeky and irreverent prostitute, Sarah Morgan, a cool and intelligent thief, Rachel Winter, young and beautiful and far too naïve, and Harriet Clarke, a seamstress who stole some cloth in the hopes of saving her family from starvation.

Moving from the filth of Newgate Prison, to the hardships of the notorious convict ships, and arriving at last in Sydney, the four women find their friendship and courage tested to the limits.

Written with verve and zest, Behind the Sun has bright moments of humour and warmth and some very dark moments of cruelty and loss. The story races along at a cracking pace, but not once is historical veracity or vibrancy sacrificed for narrative momentum. A really great holiday read with some truly unforgettable characters. 


For another great read about women and crime, check out my review of See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt. 


Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts! 

BOOK REVIEW: The Midsummer Garden by Kirsty Manning

Friday, November 17, 2017




The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Travelling between lush gardens in France, windswept coastlines of Tasmania, to Tuscan hillsides and beyond, The Midsummer Garden lures the reader on an unforgettable culinary and botanical journey.

1487 Artemisia is young to be in charge of the kitchens at Chateau de Boschaud but, having been taught the herbalists' lore, her knowledge of how food can delight the senses is unsurpassed. All of her concentration and flair is needed as she oversees the final preparations for the sumptuous wedding feast of Lord Boschaud and his bride while concealing her own secret dream. For after the celebrations are over, she dares to believe that her future lies outside the chateau. But who will she trust?

2014 Pip Arnet is an expert in predicting threats to healthy ecosystems. Trouble is, she doesn't seem to recognise these signs in her own life. What Pip holds dearest right now is her potential to make a real difference in the marine biology of her beloved Tasmanian coastline. She'd thought that her fiance Jack understood this, believed that he knew she couldn't make any plans until her studies were complete. But lately, since she's finally moved in with him, Jack appears to have forgotten everything they'd discussed.

When a gift of several dusty, beautiful old copper pots arrives in Pip's kitchen, the two stories come together in a rich and sensuous celebration of family and love, passion and sacrifice.


My Thoughts:

Kirsty Manning is an Australian journalist and author who has previously co-authored a book on gardens and cooking called We Love Food. These two passions are apparent on every page of her debut novel, The Midsummer Garden.

The novel travels back and forth in time between the stories of Pip, an Australian doctoral student in 2014, and Artemisia, a cook at the Chateau de Boschaud in 1487. The two are linked by the discovery of a small book of hand-written recipes hidden within a set of antique French copper pots given to Pip as a wedding gift. Artemisia is planning to marry also, although she must keep her romance a secret from the cruel Abbot Roald who would never give his permission. Pip’s marriage plans are also in danger of falling apart, as her studies into Tasmanian marine life do not seem as important to her fiancé Jack as they are to her.

As both women’s hopes and dreams unravel, the story travels to Spain and then to Italy as Pip searches for her true calling. This is a rich, sensual, and evocative novel, fragrant with the smell of crushed herbs and flowers, and haunted by the high cost that women must sometimes pay to find both love and their vocation. 


For another book about food and France, see my review of Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard. 


Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment! 

BOOK REVIEW: Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Wednesday, November 15, 2017






The Blurb (From Goodreads):

A charming story of Mozart and his pet starling, along with a natural history of the bird.

On May 27th, 1784, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart met a flirtatious little starling who sang (an improved version of!) the theme from his Piano Concerto Number 17 in G to him. Knowing a kindred spirit when he met one, Mozart wrote "That was wonderful" in his journal and took the bird home to be his pet. For three years Mozart and his family enjoyed the uniquely delightful company of the starling until one fitful April when the bird passed away.

In 2013, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Crow Planet, rescued her own starling, Carmen, who has become a part of her family. In Mozart's Starling, Haupt explores the unlikely bond between one of history's most controversial characters and one of history's most notoriously disliked birds. Part natural history, part story, Mozart's Starling will delight readers as they learn about language, music, and the secret world of starlings.


My Thoughts: 

I picked up this lovely little hardback at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, which claims to be the biggest bookstore in the world. It certainly seemed so to me! I wandered in it for hours and bought far too many books.

Lyanda Lynn Haupt is a naturalist and author with several books about birds under her belt. Mozart’s Starling – her fifth – was inspired by a beguiling anecdote about the 18th century composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The story goes that, in 1784, Mozart encountered a playful little starling in a Viennese shop who sang the theme from his Piano Concerto no. 17 in G major. Charmed, he brought the bird home to be his pet. For the next few years, the starling lived with the Mozart family, inspiring and amusing the famous composer.

Apparently, nowadays, starlings are seen as a nuisance. They gather in great squawking flocks, decimate crops, and fight other birds for food and nesting sites. I didn’t know this when I bought the book. All I knew is that starlings sometimes fly together in vast swirling clouds of motion that have been given the glorious name, a ‘murmuration’. I have always wanted to see a murmuration of starlings (I’ve watched a few on Youtube and they are just astonishing), and I love Mozart’s music, and so I bought the book to discover more.

A combination of natural history, biography and memoir (one of my favourite genres to read), Mozart’s Starling not only examines the story of Mozart and his pet bird, but also Lyandra Lynn Haupt’s own experiment with raising a baby starling. Cheeky, charming and clever, Carmen sings and whistles her way into Lyandra’s heart, and, I must say, into mine. 


If you enjoy reading about nature, you might also be interested in my review of Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane. 


Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. 

BOOK REVIEW: The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel

Friday, November 10, 2017



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

There is no easy path for a woman aspiring to power. . . .


A concubine at the palace learns quickly that there are many ways to capture the Emperor’s attention. Many paint their faces white and style their hair attractively, hoping to lure in the One Above All with their beauty. Some present him with fantastic gifts, such as jade pendants and scrolls of calligraphy, while others rely on their knowledge of seduction to draw his interest. But young Mei knows nothing of these womanly arts, yet she will give the Emperor a gift he can never forget.

Mei’s intelligence and curiosity, the same traits that make her an outcast among the other concubines, impress the Emperor. But just as she is in a position to seduce the most powerful man in China, divided loyalties split the palace in two, culminating in a perilous battle that Mei can only hope to survive.

The first volume of the Empress of Bright Moon duology paints a vibrant portrait of ancient China—where love, ambition, and loyalty can spell life or death—and the woman who came to rule it all.


My Thoughts:

I met Weina Dai Randel when I was in the US earlier this year, attending the Historical Novel Society conference in Portland. A gorgeous cover and intriguing premise worked their usual powerful force on me, and I added her novel The Moon in the Palace to the great pile of books I had to lug home.

The story begins when a Buddhist monk predicts that a five-year-old girl named Mei would one day be the mother of emperors and reign over the kingdom of China. From that moment, Mei’s father began to plot to have his beautiful little girl brought to the attention of the Emperor. Her father’s plans are disrupted by his unexpected death, but then Mei – now twelve years old – finds herself summoned to the court as one of fifteen maidens chosen to enter the Inner Court. From this moment, her life changes drastically. Separated from her mother, she must learn to negotiate through the intrigues and dangers of the life at the palace. The Emperor has many hundreds of concubines, most of which he has never seen. If Mei wants to become his Most Adored, she must use her wit as well as her beauty … and be very careful not to fall in love with another man …

The Moon in the Palace brings the claustrophobic world of ancient China to vivid life. Exotic, dangerous, brilliantly coloured and romantic, it’s an astonishingly assured debut and a fascinating story.


For another great read set in Ancient Asia, in this case Japan, I recommend Lian Hearn's book Across the Nightingale Floor, the first in a fantastic series. It made my list of favourite books by Australian Authors. 


Remember to leave a comment - I love to know your thoughts!



BOOK REVIEW: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Wednesday, November 08, 2017



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries - and there he dies suddenly. Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose's letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin's widow with hatred in his heart. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet... might she have had a hand in Ambrose's death?


My Thoughts:

I first read My Cousin Rachel as a teenager, and decided it was definitely time for a re-read. This was partly prompted by the new movie starring Rachel Weisz in the title role, which I wanted to see, and partly because I re-read Rebecca last year and was absolutely thrilled by it.

I bought the book at Hartchards in the St Pancras International train terminal in London, ahead of a day trip to Paris, and was utterly absorbed in it from the first word. I was just beginning to worry that I was reading it too fast and would have nothing left for the return journey, when we arrived. I had not even noticed the kilometres slipping past.

My Cousin Rachel is told from the first-person point-of-view of Philip Ashley, a young English man who has been brought up on a large country estate in Cornwall by his cousin, Ambrose. Suffering in the cold damp English winters, Ambrose decides to spend some months in southern Europe for the sake of his health. He writes regularly to Philip, and soon informs him that he has met, in Florence, a family connection of the Ashleys, the widowed Contessa Sangalletti. It is not long before Ambrose begins to call this cousin by her first name, Rachel. By the time spring arrives, Ambrose and Rachel are married and living in Italy, much to Philip’s distress. Then another letter from Ambrose arrives. It is strange and paranoid in tone, and accuses Rachel of always watching him. Philip travels to Italy, but arrives to find Ambrose dead and Rachel gone. He suspects she has murdered Ambrose.

Philip returns to England, and within a few weeks his cousin Rachel arrives on his doorstep. Determined to hate her, he finds himself falling in love with her. As new pieces of evidence are revealed, Philip swings back and forth between trust and suspicion, adoration and animosity, and the reader swings with him, never quite sure of the truth of the matter.

It is a masterpiece of slow-burn suspense, and also, I thought, an early and shining example of what is now being called ‘domestic noir’ – books like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn or The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins which feature unreliable narrators, shifting ground, and crimes committed behind closed doors. Just brilliant!


You can read my review of Rebecca here. 


Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts! 




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