The Room Beyond – Stephanie Elmas

The Room Beyond

From Amazon

When Serena begins a new life working for the Hartreve family at 36 Marguerite Avenue she falls in love, not just with its eccentric and alluring inhabitants and their world, but with the house itself. Number 36 is a beautiful Victorian London mansion that has remained in the family for generations. Serena feels that by being here she has escaped the ghosts of her own sad childhood and found a true home, but she soon discovers that behind its gleaming surfaces Marguerite Avenue is plagued by secrets and mystery. Why does such a beautiful tranquil street seem sometimes to shimmer with menace? Is everyone in the family quite who they appear to be? And just what is it that the family is trying to hide from her?

It is 1892. On a hot summer night scented with jasmine, Miranda Whitestone hosts a dinner party at 34 Marguerite Avenue. Watching helplessly as her husband is seduced by her glamorous neighbour Lucinda Eden, she can have no idea of the consequences the evening will have.

For the history of Marguerite Avenue is more chilling than Serena could have imagined, and the fates of two women – the beautiful renegade Lucinda and the ‘good wife’ Miranda – will reach out from the past to cast a shadow over Serena’s own future.

The Room Beyond is a thriller that delves beneath the romance and grandeur of a London house and finds a family haunted by the legacy of past wrongdoings. As the suspense grows and the fog thickens, will Serena be able to give up all that she has come to love? Will she ever escape?

My thoughts:

The story takes place over two time periods. We firstly meet Serena in the present day. A young artist, Serena has arrived at the door of 36 Marguerite Avenue, for an interview as a nanny for 4 year old Beth Hartreve. Surprisingly, she is hired on the spot and thus begins her association with the eccentric Hartreve family.

We then meet Miranda Whitestone at number 34 Marguerite Avenue. It is 1892 and newly married Miranda is desperately trying to please her husband Tristan. It was a marriage for love for Miranda but one of convenience for Tristan and in truth he despises his young wife. When Miranda invites the glamorous but reclusive next door neighbour, Lucinda Eden, to join them at a dinner party, she can have no idea of the consequences that will follow.

I really enjoyed this book and the two storylines, over a century apart, were perfectly woven together. When Serena first moves into no. 36, she falls in love not only with the beautiful Victorian mansion with its sumptuous rooms and air of faded glamour but also with Sebastian, a long-time friend of the family. However, there are undercurrents within the family, making her feel very uncomfortable. Why do they see her as a threat and what are the secrets that they are so desperate to hide?

There are some wonderful characters, including Miranda – who changes from the meek person we first meet to a much stronger woman, fighting to save not only her own life, but the lives of others. There is also the unpredictable Lucinda Eden (neé Hartreve), abandoned by her husband Alfonso. The enigmatic mystic Water Balanchine, with his strange costumes and hypnotic manner was an inspired addition to the story. Young Beth can a precocious child and seems very much older than her years. Can she really hear the ghostly cries of a woman in her bedroom or is it just her imagination?

With alternate chapters telling the stories of both Serena and Miranda, what could be just another romance story is turned into a tension filled, dark supernatural thriller where evil forces threaten the living. I certainly didn’t see the twists and turns coming towards the end.

This was a perfect atmospheric and gothic ghostly read which I am sure you will not be able to put down – I couldn’t, and I can’t wait to read the next book due in 2014 which I understand will be a prequel featuring Walter Balanchine and his life in the poor Victorian East End of London.

My thanks to the author for the digital copy for review.

About the Author:

 

Stephanie Elmas was born in Hong Kong to an English father and Czech mother but spent most of her childhood in Bristol, England UK. She studied English at university in London. She has worked as a head hunter, taught English in Japan and returned to university to complete a Masters in Victorian fiction. It was here that she developed her interest in the dark dangerous world of Victorian sensation writing. Stephanie now lives in a chaotic house in Surrey, England UK, with her husband and three highly energetic but wonderful children.

The
Room Beyond took SEVEN years to write, an enormous labour of love!
Stephanie gave up her PhD to complete it and had three children and
renovated two houses in the meantime. Most of the writing happened
during her children’s sleep times and whenever she could catch a free
moment.

Website: http://www.stephanieelmas.com

You can contact Stephanie on Twitter: @StephanieElmas


The Dead Wife’s Handbook – Hannah Beckerman

The Dead Wife's Handbook

Publisher: Penguin

Description:

When Rachel dies suddenly at the age of 36, leaving behind her wonderful husband Max and beautiful daughter, Ellie, the last thing she expected was to have to watch helplessly as they mourn her death.

Its meant to be the bereaved who go through the seven stages of grief from denial to acceptance, but as Max and Ellie work through their grief, Rachel too struggles to come to terms with her death and all that means – especially when her husband starts to to date again, and she realises that one day he will find love, and that Ellie will have a new mother figure in her life.

My thoughts:

“…..I wonder, too, whether it’s more distressing to watch your family in mourning for you or whether it will be worse when, one day, they stop grieving and start living painlessly without me”. 




We know from the very first page that Rachel has died unexpectedly, after a celebratory evening out with her husband Max, and is now completely alone, somewhere in the afterworld.  Every so often she is briefly granted access to view moments with Max and/or Ellie and we experience with her, her grief and anger that she is no longer with them to offer reassurance and comfort.

This afterworld is not a happy place where families are reunited in death, but is bleak and lonely for Rachel and her time spent watching her loved ones are times of both happiness and agony as she sees them grieving and feels helpless in being unable to make them aware of her presence. We see her frustration and jealousy as Max starts to date again and her worries that she will be forgotten and that her memory will be slowly erased from their lives.

This is a compelling and beautifully written account of Rachel’s transition through the grieving process and watching others live the life that she will never have. Unusually, we see the aftermath of a death through the eyes of the deceased and it presents a powerful image.   Having been through the grieving process myself I could identify with Rachel’s feelings of loss. The writing was perceptive and warm with some amusing moments, especially with Max’s first attempts at dating!

Despite being an incredibly poignant and sad story, this is not a morbid book by any means. The characters are a joy to spend time with, especially 6 year old Ellie, and Max’s devotion to her was lovely to see. The book isn’t all about Rachel and certainly the main characters in Rachel’s life are rounded and believable. I really felt for Max when well meaning friends and family tried to persuade him to “move on”. At the end of each stage of the grieving process, Rachel learns something about herself and it is this journey of realisation that adds an extra element to the story.

I found this an emotional and yet uplifting read and I became completely engrossed in the lives, and death, of Rachel and her family. This is an excellent debut novel which I would have no hesitation in recommending. Just one tip – make sure you have some tissues handy!

 
My thanks to Real Readers and the publisher, Penguin, for the review copy of this book.  I certainly look forward to reading further books by Ms Beckerman.

The Dead Wife’s Handbook will be published by Penguin in February 2014

Hannah Beckerman is a former TV executive and Commissioning Editor. She
has worked in the UK, Bangladesh and the US, where she worked for the
Discovery Channel. Her work has been shown at the Sundance film
festival, played in cinemas worldwide, and won numerous international
awards. The Dead Wife’s Handbook is her first novel.

Author website: http://www.hannahbeckerman.com
 
You can follow Hannah on Twitter here

Afterworld – Lois Walden

Publisher: Arcadia


Book description:

Meet four generations of the Duvalier family, for whom sugar cane is both their blessing and their curse. From patriarch Carter, who perishes before the novel begins after being hit in the head by an exploding manhole cover, and his indomitable holy-roller wife Lily, to their dysfunctional sons Winston and Steven, and their equally screwed-up grandchildren, the Duvaliers, both dead and alive, would do anything to keep their secrets hidden.

With their world blown apart by the winds of Katrina and consumed by their greed and lust – and with Afterword exercising an unearthly control over them all – their story creates a novel of unimaginable beauty, dark humour and terrible tragedy.

At once screamingly funny, deeply poignant, enchantingly original and absolutely unforgettable, Lois Walden’s multi-layered, multi-generational saga takes you on a hugely imaginative tour of Louisiana, uncovering its corrupt beauty and seductive secrets.

My thoughts

Sugar made them and Sugar almost destroyed them.

From the moment that we’re told at the beginning of the book that the father of the family, Carter Duvalier, died whilst being hit on the head by an exploding manhole cover, you know that this is not going to be a run of the mill read and I have to admit that when I first started reading this, it was so far out of my comfort zone that I was contemplating whether to continue. I was however also intrigued and decided to continue to see where the story was going – or if indeed there was a story.

The Duvaliers own a sugar plantation, passed down the family chain from Carter’s own father, William, and are on the whole a depraved and dysfunctional family. They have for generations been consumed by lust and greed and there is a line in the book which sums them up perfectly “…a family rife with alcoholics, depressives, degenerates and sexual deviates….”

The Afterworld of the title is a place after death where some of the characters narrate from. In the first part of the book, each chapter is told by a different member of the family, whether alive or dead, giving insight into how they really feel about each other. Afterworld itself, also has a voice, as does Sugar and Swamp.

Being a multi-generational story, there are many characters involved but there is a family tree at the beginning which I had to keep referring to. The main story takes place just before Hurricane Katrina hits and the destruction caused by both Katrina and the Duvaliers’ own actions leaves the family struggling to come to terms with events.

Even after I had finished reading, I was still trying to make sense of the story. Through the characters and events you do get a real feeling for the deep south where much of the story takes place. There are moments of dark humour and tragedy but also hope – that people can learn from their mistakes and forgive.

The writing is very clever but in all honesty I think my tastes are too mainstream to fully appreciate it and do justice to a review but if you like quirky, unusual and original reads then this may well be the book for you.

My thanks to Colin of www.bookshaped.com for the review copy.

 
Author website: http://loiswalden.com

The Silent Tide – Rachel Hore

The Silent Tide

Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK

From Amazon

When Emily Gordon, editor at a London publishing house, commissions an account of great English novelist Hugh Morton, she finds herself steering a tricky path between Morton’s formidable widow, Jacqueline, who’s determined to protect his secrets, and the biographer, charming and ambitious Joel Richards. But someone is sending Emily mysterious missives about Hugh Morton’s past and she discovers a buried story that simply has to be told…

One winter’s day in 1948, nineteen year old Isabel Barber arrives at her Aunt Penelope’s house in Earl’s Court having run away from home to follow her star. A chance meeting with an East European refugee poet leads to a job with his publisher, McKinnon & Holt, and a fascinating career beckons. But when she develops a close editorial relationship with charismatic young debut novelist Hugh Morton and the professional becomes passionately personal, not only are all her plans put to flight, but she finds herself in a struggle for her very survival.

Rachel Hore’s intriguing and suspenseful new novel magnificently evokes the milieux of London publishing past and present and connects the very different worlds of two young women, Emily and Isabel, who through their individual quests for truth, love and happiness become inextricably linked.

My thoughts:

Having read and enjoyed previous books by Rachel Hore. I was very much looking forward to this one – firstly its set in the world of publishing and books which I love reading about and it’s a dual time novel, one of my favourite genres.

The prologue sets the scene in a very dramatic way with the devastating North Sea Flood of 31 January 1953 when so many lost their lives, including those along the East Coast, where much of this story is set. The story then starts in the present time with 28 year old Emily Gordon, who has just started her new publishing job at Parchment Press and then flips back to 1948, where we are introduced to Isabel Barber, 20 years old. Isabel has left home after an row with her parents and has landed on the doorstep of her mother’s sister, Penelope. Through Penelope’s author friend Berec, Isabel finds a job with a publisher and slowly begins her career as an editor, one of her authors being Hugh Morton. The Silent Tide of the title is the name of a book later written by Hugh.

Hugh Morton is the connection between the two women. When, following Hugh’s death, Parchment Press are approached by Hugh’s widow, Jacqueline, and given the opportunity to publish a biography of the famous author, Emily is assigned the task and inadvertently finds herself caught up in Isabel’s story – a copy of Hugh’s first book with a dedication inside to ‘Isabel’, is mysteriously left in her post tray whilst manuscripts and old files left are left anonymously on her desk. Someone is trying to tell her a story and they obviously want Emily to make sure that Isabel is not erased from Hugh’s life which Hugh’s widow Jacqueline seems intent on doing.

The story then goes back and forth between the present day and the late 1940’s/early 1950’s with individual chapters devoted to both Emily and Isabel.

I was engrossed in this story from the very beginning. Emily’s character was engaging and well written although really her main purpose is to be Isabel’s voice. However, as the focus of the story, Isabel’s character came alive through the pages and it was her that I was most interested in. When we first met her she was so vibrant and passionate about her career and life in general and yet her time with Hugh bought her much unhappiness. She was an independent woman who definitely didn’t fit in with the times and found it hard to conform with society’s idea of how she should live which bought her into direct conflict both with Hugh and his domineering and disapproving mother. We see how Isabel slowly loses her identity and how her life becomes smaller. She was not perfect by any means. She comes across as being sometimes very selfish and self obsessed but I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her – in today’s times she would have received much more sympathy and understanding.

Although the main characters were extremely well written – from Lavinia, Hugh’s formidable mother, to aunt Penelope whose character was in many ways similar to Isabel, I did think that Hugh’s character could have been explored further. Although he was instrumental in Isabel’s life, I didn’t really feel that he came across as a fully rounded character, maybe because we mainly saw him through Isabel’s eyes. The book deals expertly with the social prejudices of the time especially with regard to homosexuality and the suspicion and fear surrounding immigrants.

The narrative is cleverly constructed with twists and turns. It’s not a thriller, nor a mystery but has a much slower pace which suits the story perfectly. I very much enjoyed this and can’t wait to read the next book by Rachel Hore.

Author website:   http://rachelhore.co.uk

The Truth about You – Susan Lewis

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine

From Amazon:

 
Lainey Hollingsworth has spent her whole life on the outside of a secret. Her mother would never discuss the reasons she abandoned Italy when Lainey was a new born, nor has she ever stayed in touch with the family she left behind.

Now Lainey’s mother is dead, taking the secret with her, and leaving Lainey free to find out about her roots.

Her husband, Tom, appears supportive, until he hits her with a bombshell that shatters the very foundations of their marriage. Another secret Lainey never knew anything about.

Shaken, but more determined than ever to find out who she really is, Lainey takes her children to Umbria in search of answers.

What she finds in the sleepy, sunbaked village of her birth turns her world inside out.

My thoughts:

I’ve read several of Susan Lewis’ books over the years (and have to admit to having a few as yet unread ones on my shelf) and one thing I’ve noticed is that they seem to have morphed from being somewhat racy and quite glitzy reads to stories covering more sedate and contemporary family issues.

Lainey Hollingsworth is one of life’s dependable ‘copers’. She manages the lives of those around her – her author husband Tom, together with that of their two children, 15 year old daughter Tierney and younger son Zav with almost military precision. In addition, they have Max, from Tom’s previous marriage (a 21 year old but with the temper tantrums of a teenager) and Lainey’s ageing father Peter, suffering from Alzheimer’s, living with them.

Lainey is keen to know more about her roots. She has never really got on with her mother and now that she has gone she seeks resolution to some unanswered questions. Her Italian mother Allesandra came to England when Lainey was a baby and had always refused to discuss her earlier life in Italy – Lainey doesn’t even know who her real father was. Peter adopted her when he married Allesandra. In the hope of finding out more, she has booked a villa for a family holiday in her late mother’s home town in Italy and is hoping to find out any information about her Italian family.

These plans however are thrown into jeopardy when she suddenly discovers secrets that her husband has apparently been hiding and she begins to question whether she actually knows the person she has been married to for 16 years.

Add into the mix a hormonal teenage daughter, a storyline concerning internet grooming and a stepson with his own resentment issues and Lainey’s life is about to become very difficult indeed.

I was quickly drawn into the story and into the lives of the characters. They were all very well written and believable – so believable in fact that at first I thoroughly disliked the two eldest children who I thought were quite obnoxious (I’m sure I was never that awful at that age). Lainey was the character I engaged with the most and who I felt the most sympathy for. Her husband and family are her whole life and I could empathise with her fears that her marriage and family were falling apart. The descriptions of the Italian landscape were very atmospheric– so much so, that I wished that I were there too. There were a lot of characters in the book, particularly when the villa owners and their Italian families were introduced and initially it did take some effort to keep track of who was related to who.

Lainey’s love and concern for her adopted father, Peter, shone out throughout the book.  His deterioration due to the dreadful illness of Alzheimer’s was very sensitively dealt with. 

My only minor disappointment would be that the story seemed to flag a little in the middle and I started to lose interest, although not enough to make me stop reading. The pace of the storyline did pick up again and although I found the ending perhaps a little too sugary, I suppose it was appropriate. Maybe I have just read too many books or perhaps it was obvious, but I did correctly guess what the developing story involving Tom was going to be together with the secret from the past that Lainey’s mother wanted to keep hidden.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, if you enjoy family dramas then you would probably enjoy this. All in all, it was a very enjoyable read. I really should get round to reading more of the earlier books by Susan Lewis on my shelf!

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Random House/Ballantine for the digital copy to review.

 
My rating 4/5

The Truth about You will be published on 5 November 2013

Author website: www.susanlewis.com