Book Review: Evergreen Falls by Kimberley Freeman

I started reading Evergreen Falls late one night after finishing another book, foolishly believing I would read a few pages, get a sense of the novel then fall asleep… but KimEvergreen Fallsberely Freeman and her tale of the beautiful Violet and introvert Lauren had other plans that involved late nights and some anti-social behaviour as I simply had to finish this fabulous book.

Evergreen Falls is a dual narrative in that it tells the story of two different women in two different times but in the one place. It opens with a vignette of tragedy in the Blue Mountains, in 1926, setting the scene for what is about to unfold. Fast-forward to current times and we meet Lauren Beck, a 30-year-old woman who, due to heartbreaking family circumstances, has led a sheltered life in Tasmania. When her section of the novel opens, she’s working at a coffee shop in the Blue Mountains, discovering what it’s like to be independent, hold down a job and, much to her delighted surprise, attract the attention of a dashing architect, Tomas, who has come over from Denmark to head up a renovation project on the nearby resort, the hotel, Evergreen Spa.

It’s while exploring parts of the building with Tomas that Lauren happens upon a cache of extraordinarily passionate and candid love letters from someone called SHB to a young woman he so evidently adores and desires. Captivated by the romance and the story behind these, Lauren begins to investigate, all the time aware that love may be slowly blossoming for her.

The reader is then taken back to 1926 and we follow the adventures of the gorgeous and lively Violet Armstrong who, after losing her job in a department store in Sydney is offered work at the very posh Evergreen Spa. With a dependent and ailing mother, Violet leaps at the chance to work in such an exceptional place, but little does she know that her time at the resort will change not only her life, but also that of everyone she encounters that season with tragic and lasting consequences.

The novel then moves back and forth between the two women and the secrets they seek to keep and uncover, drawing parallels between their lives and their differences, exposing their strengths and flaws and how the choices of the past and present will impact upon their futures.

Evergreen Falls is such a page-turner. Freeman evokes both eras

beautifully and presents us with such rich and fully-rounded characters. Class and other differences are explored, as are the complexities of families and the bonds that bind us whether we like it or not. Bigotry and assumptions about others – made on the basis of ignorance and fear – are exposed as damaging, but in this novel they also become the lynchpin through which more generous characters facilitate forgiveness, redemption and understanding.

Setting is so important in this book and the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney are wonderfully evoked, in all their haunting misty-blue greenness

replete with majestic gums, soaring rock formations and tumbling waters as well as the views into forever. Having spent a great deal of my childhood in the Blue Mountains (picking blackberries and searching for fairies with my grandmother and swimming in isolated rock pools), I walked the paths and stood once again on the viewing platform gazing towards the horizon and breathing in that crisp, clean air alongside the characters. Evergreen Spa, to me a thinly disguised Hydro Majestic Hotel, was also a place I inhabited as I read. I sat in the dining room, felt the plush carpet beneath my feet, saw the staff in their uniforms and respected the wishes of the indomitable but kind Miss Zander. The hotel (and mountains) is as much a character as any person and it’s fitting that the novel moves from the period in which it was at its peak to the start of its restoration.

For that is what the novel is also about – restoration – not

always in ways that are anticipated or expected but for the main characters this is what is offered and it’s up to them how and with whom they find it.

This was a simply wonderful novel that kept me up for a couple of nights, meant I was lousy company during the day, and that I was completely distracted until I reached the end… then, of course, as with any great book, I was bereft I’d finished. I shed a few tears, which is testimony to the way in which I was caught up in the emotional lives of the characters.

This is fabulous escapism, and I cannot recommend it enough. For those who love mystery, romance, history, and the tangled web of relationships, as well as some fantastic story-telling, this is the book for you.

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Book Review: Ember Island by Kimberley Freeman

 

Needing a great story to slip into and escape for a while, I was delighted to see that Kimberley Freeman’s latest, Ember Island had downloaded on my Kindle. Loving Freeman’s previous books, I couldn’t wait to snuggle down with this one. Cup of tea: check; cushions to rest against: check; silence and no interruptions: check. Big sigh of contentment… open bookEmber Island… And….

Immediately, I was transported to Ember Island, a fictional place in Brisbane’s Moreton Bay, and the struggles of internationally renown but reluctant writer, Nina, who, discovering her property on the island (once owned by her grandmother) has been damaged in a storm, arrives to oversee repairs. Only, the house isn’t the only thing needing fixing. Nina is nursing a wounded heart and suffering from terrible writers’ block and, as the story unfolds, readers learn she is burdened from carrying a guilty secret as well.

The story shifts gear back to the late 1800s and the life of orphaned Matilda Kirkland who, after her beloved grandfather dies, follows her new husband, Jasper, to Guernsey in the Channel Islands to take up life as a wife and all that entails. Only, when Tilly (as she is known) arrives, nothing is as it seems and her dream future with the dashing Jasper soon becomes a nightmare from which she must wake or perish.

Segueing between the two stories of two very different women, the connecting thread being Nina’s grandmother, Eleanor or Nell, and the diaries she has left of her childhood on Ember Island, the reader is immersed in their separate travails and quest to find both love and peace, a place to settle their restless souls, but without sacrificing their sense of self.

While Freeman segues between the narratives and times, she doesn’t compromise pace or plot and the reader is allowed the time to not only get to know the characters, but to enjoy the unfolding tale as well. At first, I confess, I found Nina a bit whiny, though I did appreciate the descriptions of the crippling doubt even a famous author experiences and her inability to shake these demons. Still, I also wanted to slap her and tell her to appreciate the success she clearly has had, the supportive people in her life and to just get on with it and stop complaining! It’s testimony to Freeman’s prose that I responded to Nina that way; she is a realised character and certainly, the further you get into the story the more you come to appreciate why Nina feels the way she does.

Tilly is both a product of her era and someone who struggles against the shackles of imposed gender roles and male authority but without sacrificing veracity. Sometimes, however, she is too easily seduced by those who don’t have her best intentions at heart; the lessons she learns from them and their actions are hard indeed. The younger characters in the book, especially precocious Nell, are endearing and wise beyond their years.

This is a romance, and while it features good men and bad, it also explores female friendship and the ties that bind and those that are severed and why. I really enjoyed the female relationships and the love and trust and betrayal that are explored within these.

Overall, this is a marvellous page-turner over which I lost sleep trying to get to the end because I simply HAD to know what happened. Though I saw a couple of the twists, there were one or two I did not, and they quite took my breath away!

Anyone looking for a great read, pick up Ember Island, slip into its pages and escape – though here’s a warning: you might not want to come back!

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Book Review: Lighthouse Bay, Kimberley Freeman

When you pick up a Kimberley Freeman novel, there’s a sense in which you know what you’re getting: a wonderful few hours in which to lose yourself in a marvellous time and space, where there’s romance, secrets, mystery, broken hearts and souls and the tools for characters to mend these if they so desire. Her books are like the best comfort food there is.

Lighthouse Bay, a tale that takes place in two different time frames and explores the lives of three very different women who are connected by the vagaries of life, men, and place, is no exception. It is a gorgeously woven and cleverly plotted tale of loss, desire, memory and its power to render an individual static, and the incredible might of forgiveness to facilitate change, especially, self-forgiveness.

It commences with a shipwreck in 1901, when commissioned with making and transporting a gloriously jewelled parliamentary mace to Australia for Federation, the callous, unemotional and aristocratic Arthur Winterbourne, insists his wife, the grieving Isabella, accompany him. When the vessel they’re on is shipwrecked on the north-east coast of Queensland, not too far from the Sunshine Coast, and Isabella is the only survivor, not only must she brave the natural elements to survive, but human ones and the memories of her tragic past as well.

Switch to current times, and we’re introduced to the Libby Slater, a web designer living in Paris who, having lost the love of her life, decides to return to the place of her birth, the imagined Lighthouse Bay, to grieve, recollect herself and, possibly, face some dreadful demons – including her estranged sister, Juliet, who cannot forgive her sister for the terrible thing she did twenty years earlier.

Segueing between the different stories, and the woman at their heart, an evocative tale of self-discovery and reconciliation emerges. As each woman learns to put the past and those who populated it into perspective, they’re able to move forward. But it’s the choices they make in their present that will shape their futures and with an uncanny knack for poor choices, for repeating mistakes, you wonder if these woman have learned anything at all…

I found myself unable to put this book down and stayed up far too late to finish it. While there’s romance in these books, it’s very much a story about women – about their capacity to be good, strong people, who make choices they have to live with: as mothers, sisters, friends and citizens. It’s about having them acknowledge their weaknesses and moving with and beyond them to create possibility – for themselves and those around them who dare to care. I really enjoyed this aspect and found myself caring so deeply about each of the women, and having a weep at the beauty and realism the relationships, good and bad, evoked.

An absolutely wonderful read.

 

 

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