About the Book:
A broken family, a house of secrets—an entrancing tale of love and courage set during the Second World War.
After Rebecca’s mother dies, she must sort through her empty flat and come to terms with her loss. As she goes through her mother’s mail, she finds a handwritten envelope. In it is a letter that will change her life forever.
Olivia, her mother’s elderly cousin, needs help to save her beloved home. Rebecca immediately goes to visit Olivia in Cornwall only to find a house full of secrets—treasures in the attic and a mysterious tunnel leading from the cellar to the sea, and Olivia, nowhere to be found.
As it turns out, the old woman is stuck in hospital with no hope of being discharged until her house is made habitable again. Rebecca sets to work restoring the home to its former glory, but as she peels back the layers of paint and grime, she uncovers even more buried secrets—secrets from a time when the Second World War was raging, when Olivia was a young woman, and when both romance and danger lurked around every corner…
A sweeping and utterly spellbinding tale of a young woman’s courage in the face of war and the lengths to which she’ll go to protect those she loves against the most unexpected of enemies.
About the Author:
Jane Johnson is a British novelist and publisher. She is the UK editor for George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb and Dean Koontz and was for many years publisher of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Married to a Berber chef she met while researching The Tenth Gift, she lives in Cornwall and Morocco.
Becky’s mother has just died and she has the unavoidable task of sorting through her belongings. As she does, she finds a letter from her elderly aunt Olivia who lives in Cornwall. Olivia needs her help and so she takes the long journey down there and finds a ramshackle house that also has a timeless beauty in some parts. The house is packed with dated furniture. And, there’s a parrot.
When a neighbour meets her he shows her into the place and suggests alternate accommodation. But Becky is staying put. And as she does, she discovers the nooks and crannies of the place. There are secrets to uncover, too.
Jane Johnson creates an incredibly atmospheric novel and it’s quite dark and eerie in parts. There are a few laughs to be had and the parrot is hilarious!
I felt like I was literally there in Cornwall with Becky and that I was on the quest, too. The discovery of The Sea Gate near the house was unexpected and well woven in.
The atmosphere is built well and there’s a mix of characters. The pace is relaxing yet leaves you guessing.
Alternating Rebecca’s life in the present day with Olivia’s life in WWII, the 2 plots fit well.
Thanks to Jane Johnson and Aria for my ARC in exchange for an honest and voluntary review.
I don’t smoke, actually – never have. Out on the concrete steps I sit and fiddle with my phone, selecting my home number with trembling fingers. I need to hear Eddie’s voice: it will calm me down.
When I told him tearfully about the awful readings James had chosen, and the soulless venue for the funeral, he had held me close and let me weep into his chest. But as soon as I mentioned getting his suit dry-cleaned, he’d gazed at me as if I’d mortally wounded him.
‘Becks, you know I don’t do suits and funerals – I’m an artist.’ He ran a hand through his wild, dark hair, exasperated by my failure to understand something so fundamental to his being. ‘Look, you know how fond I was of your mum. I’d love to help you give her a proper send-off. But I just can’t afford to lose the time, not now, for God’s sake, Rebecca, my exhibition! I can’t lose an hour, let alone days! Besides, what does it matter? Jenny’s gone, and anyway she’d hate all the ritual and empty show. She’d say, “Eddie, for goodness’ sake, you’ve got to make your exhibition a success. It’s so important.”’
My mother would have said exactly this. At once I had felt mean and unworthy. But that was before yesterday’s world-altering phone call, which has ricocheted around my skull all through the night, nicking little edges of sentient matter here and there, leaving me thick and dull after barely two hours of sleep. I want to share the content of that call with Eddie. But I can’t: that really would be selfish. He’s already been through so much with me. I’ll tell him after the exhibition, but for now all I want is to hear his voice, to receive a virtual hug from the man I’ve lived with for ten years.
We never actually got married, because Eddie said marriage was a bourgeois social construct designed to control people’s individuality. ‘All that parading around in fancy clothes, while a load of people you don’t really like, who’ve bought you gifts you don’t really want, stuff their faces with food and booze you’ve paid for with money you don’t have!’ I had sort of agreed with him: we didn’t need a piece of paper to prove how much we loved one another, and neither of us was religious. Besides, we were broke.
But if we had been married and if he had come with me to Mum’s funeral, I would have felt more armoured against the world, including Evie’s sniping, which in the bigger picture is such a small thing.
The bigger picture looms at me again, and I push it to the back of my mind, and tap our home number in the Contacts list. The ringback tone goes on and on. I can imagine the phone sounding out in the lounge of our London maisonette, echoing off the walls, the mismatched furniture, the blank TV screen, the half-drawn curtains. I let it ring on in case Eddie’s in another room, but I know he’s not there. I cut the call and try his mobile and for a moment my heart rises as I hear his hello, then falls as I realize it’s just his voicemail message. He must be in the studio, cracking on with the last pieces for the exhibition. It’s an exciting opportunity for him, and he really deserves a break, that crucial bit of luck all artists need.
When I go back in I am relieved to find no one in the lounge, though the furniture appears to have acquired coloured stickers: white ones on the sofa, the armchair, the coffee table, the bookcase; a red one on the television and the Georgian mirror that was Granny Jo’s. I frown. Somewhere overhead the joists creak: James up in the attic, rummaging for anything saleable amongst the detritus of our mother’s stored hopes and faded dreams.
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