My thanks go out to Amy, representing publisher Head of Zeus and Aria/Aries Fiction, for saving me a place on this lovely ‘Blog Tour’ schedule.
I also need to thank the great NetGalley team, for always making life so easy when downloading review copies.
THE SECRETS OF SUMMER HOUSE
An emotional, atmospheric summer read about family secrets and loyalty
The secrets of Summer House are about to come out at last…
1976. Rushing out of the University Library, undergraduate Alice Kenzie bumps straight into PhD student Tristan Somers. There begins a whirlwind romance, and Alice falls pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl. Then Tristan is killed in a car accident. Unable to cope, Alice takes her baby to Summer House, Tristan’s family home in Suffolk, leaves her there and disappears.
2018. Olivia Somers has always been told that her mother died in the same accident as her father. But when she finds a bundle of old letters in Summer House, everything she ever believed about her mother is called into question. Can she find her – and even more importantly, forgive her?
Rachel Burton has been making up stories for as long as she can remember and had always dreamed of being a writer, until life somehow got in the way. After reading for a degree in Classics and another in English Literature she accidentally fell into a career in law, but eventually managed to write her first book on her lunch breaks.
She has spent most of her life between Cambridge and London, but now lives in Yorkshire with her husband and their cats. She loves yoga, ice hockey, tea, The Beatles, dresses with pockets and very tall romantic heroes.
Find Rachel on social media, where she is always happy to talk books, writing, music, cats and how the weather in Yorkshire is rubbish. She is mostly dreaming of her next holiday….
Check out Rachel’s lovely website
Connect with Rachel on Facebook
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CAMBRIDGE, JUNE 2018
She sleeps fitfully, disturbed by strange dreams. In one she sees her father, dressed in the suit he wore at his wedding, running across the lawns of Summer House into the wood. Hot on his heels is her son, a toddler still in this dream universe, calling ‘Dad, Dad wait for me.’ Her grandmother stands under the magnolia tree begging them both to come back. ‘Don’t go into the wood,’ she calls across the grass.
She wakes suddenly, her nightshirt drenched in sweat. She sits up and reaches for the glass of water on her bedside table, thinking of the dream she’d just woken from.
CAMBRIDGE, APRIL 1976
Alice Kenzie looked at her bike and sighed, sinking down onto the wall beside the bicycle racks outside the library. Another puncture. She was going to have to push the damn thing all the way back to college and see if Stella could help her fix it. She had no idea why she couldn’t get the hang of fixing a puncture. She was meant to be clever – a scholarship at Cambridge, a place at Newnham – but when it came to bikes she was clueless, even after nearly three years.
“Olivia hadn’t understood about not sleeping well until Jacob started to travel so much. When the person you are used to sleeping next to isn’t there anymore, sleep becomes increasingly elusive”
“A wave of irritation washed over her. These privileged men had no idea how easy it was for them, drifting into education knowing their father’s money would bail them out – when Stella was saving every penny she had, desperate to get a chance to read for a PhD. Stella was three times as smart as most of them too”
“And now Tash’s library is being pulled down. The village in Suffolk where Olivia grew up doesn’t have a mobile library anymore either. How are kids meant to discover the joy of books when there aren’t any libraries for them to disappear into?”
“Grief is hard,” she says. “And strange. Try to sit with your feelings as much as you can. try to accept there is no ‘normal’ when it comes to grieving.”
“The secrets of Summer House are about to come out at last…”
Several of my fellow bloggers have been commenting about just how much they are craving ‘comfort’ stories right now. My schedule has been so full of WWII stories full of sadness and death, and rather deep and dark thrillers, that I didn’t fully appreciate what those readers meant, until I read this lovely story. I finished The Secrets Of Summer House in just a couple of sittings, although I feel sure that if I had been able to secure a dedicated ‘bibliotherapy’ session (yes! that really is a word), I could have safely powered through it in a day, whilst still enjoying an easy, leisurely read.
So let’s get down to a potted version of the storyline first, although the premise really does already include ‘spoilers’…
Cambridge students Alice and Tristan, meet by accident and against all the barriers of their diverse ‘no-money’, ‘new-money’ backgrounds, fall in love at first sight. Without the blessing of Tristan’s family, the couple get married and Alice immediately falls pregnant. Life is almost perfect, until a cruel twist of fate leaves a totally devastated and inconsolable Alice alone with a new baby. Unable to cope and convinced that running away is the only solution to her emotional torment, Alice reluctantly leaves baby Olivia to be raised by Tristan’s parents, Mary and Henry in ‘Summer House’, unaware of the lies and untruths with which they will fill the child’s mind in the years to come.
Fast forward forty years and Olivia is now married with a teenage son of her own, when she receives news that grandmother Mary has passed away, leaving an envelope for her granddaughter containing three photographs, which will turn her whole world and that of her husband Jacob, upside down. It turns out that by a cruel, yet ultimately happy, twist of fate and circumstance, Jacob’s father Caleb, holds the key which will begin to unlock this Pandora’s box of secrets, beginning with an emotional reunion between Olivia and her mother’s closest friend from their days at Cambridge, who opens Olivia’s eyes to the duplicity of her grandparents and the secrets they had kept from her, right up until their dying days.
The many pieces of the jigsaw begin to fit together, as long forgotten childhood memories surface for Olivia with the discovery of some hidden letters, which she and Jacob find whilst clearing out Summer House, following Mary’s funeral. For Olivia in particular, there are many moments of deep distress and sorrow, as the fragments of a life she never knew are laid out before her. But after all the lies which have already shrouded her past and with the increasingly fractured relationship she has with Jacob, which she desperately wants to put right, Olivia lays out the many strands of her story to Jacob and their son Nicholas, so that they can decide as a family unit, what steps if any, they want to take to bring about closure, before making any firm decisions about the future of Summer House itself.
Will the next few months, which pass in a blur for the three of them and includes a reunion trip to the other side of the world, a complete change in the way and pace of life on their return, and an unexpected happy event to look forward to in the not too distant future, bring about the happy ever after endings and new beginnings they seek?
This intriguing, atmospheric and immersive, multi-layered storyline, is well structured in short, easy to navigate chapters and narrated alternately and seamlessly, between the dual timelines of the late 1970s and 2018. It deals with so many issues from class disparity and family dynamics, to post natal depression (referred to as simply ‘baby blues’ back in the 1970s) and the fragility of the human mind; from the trauma of grief and the long term effects it can have on mental health, to abandonment and the realisation that everything you have ever been brought up to believe, is in fact, based on lies and half truths. There are several unexpected intense and emotional twists in this highly textured storyline, which is perceptive, intuitive, often raw and passionate, profoundly touching and lovingly written from the heart. The assured observational and descriptive narrative, together with some excellent conversational dialogue, also offers a genuine sense of time and place, only adding to the interest and intrigue.
A well defined cast of characters, definitely own this storyline, making it their own, albeit that there was scope for one or two of them to have been more fully and deeply developed. They were all quite a complex and emotional bunch, which often made them appear unreliable and rather vulnerable, thus making them difficult to connect with on many levels. However they were genuine, believable and authentic to the roles created for them by the author.
Although I find ‘star rating’ a book to be a very subjective exercise, I did mark this one down slightly, the reason being, that for me personally, the premise gave too much away, the Antipodean segment felt slightly rushed and I really don’t think I could have been quite so understanding with Alice, had I been Olivia.
However, I really enjoyed author Rachel Burton’s fluent style of writing and as this is the first of her seven books to date I have read, I shall most definitely be adding some of her previously published stories into my schedule.
A complimentary download of this book for review purposes, was made available by Head of Zeus/Aria/Aries Fiction and supplied by NetGalley
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 4 out of 5 stars!
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