Monday, September 12, 2016

Kimberley Freeman - Ember Island

In a compelling, complex story from the bestselling author of Wildflower Hill and Lighthouse Bay, two women separated by a century discover long-buried secrets in an Australian manor house.In 1876, Tilly, a recently married young English woman, is reeling with shock and guilt after her tempestuous marriage ends in horrific circumstances on the remote Channel Islands. Determined to get as far from England as she can, she takes on a new identity and a job on Ember Island in Moreton Bay, Australia, where she becomes the governess to a prison superintendent’s young daughter, Nell. Tilly fights her attraction to the superintendent, Sterling Holt, and befriends one the few female inmates, Hettie Thorpe, and a dangerous relationship develops. She doesn’t know that Nell is watching her every move and writing it all down, hiding tiny journals all over Starwater, her rambling manor home.
More than 100 years later, bestselling novelist Nina Jones is struggling with writer’s block and her disappointing personal life. Her poet boyfriend has recently broken up with her, and a reporter who is digging into her past insists on speaking to Nina about her great-grandmother, Nell. There are some secrets Nina may no longer be able to hide. Retreating to Starwater, she discovers Nell’s diary pages hidden in the old walls and becomes determined to solve the mystery. Though Tilly and Nina are separated by many years, Starwater House will change both their lives.
Deeply affecting and beautifully written, Ember Island is a sweeping novel of secrets, second chances, and learning to trust your heart.

Comment: I got this book because the blurb seemed interesting and I ended up convincing my fried Hannah to read it along with me. There was something about it that called to me and I'm happy to say I liked it a lot even recognizing some details weren't "solved" well enough. That says a lot, in particular because it's instinctive to have enjoyed this as much as I did.

This is a story divided into two parts, one set in the past and another in the contemporary times.
The historical sections take a lot more space in the whole general scheme of things but I don't mind because it was what the author clearly wanted to highlight.
The historical section focuses on Tilly, a young woman who married recently but hasn't been with her husband in Guernsey because her grandfather is ill and he is the only family member who loves her. But when the time comes for her to reunite with her husband, everything is not as it seemed and Tilly ships to Australia at the end of a tragedy.
The contemporary section presents us Nina Jones, a writer who's had a severe case of writer's block, not aided with the fact her boyfriend left her for a woman who can get pregnant. Somehow the two women have to battle common grounds to achieve happiness but can they?

I think the author wanted to write a dual time story and matching the two sections but in reality, in my opinion, the matching wasn't a match, just a coincidence, which makes me think it would be better to just bet her chances in one section. Usually I'm all for the contemporary part of duals but here no, the historical was/is obviously the best and stronger section.
In fact, this is one of the several little details that make this story weaker than it could. The contemporary part was simply too basic and superficial. I wished the author could have stressed out some things better.
Another thing that kind of downgraded this book was the unsolved and weakly done details here and there, especially when we got closer to the book.

But there's something strange about this book's tone, some parts were downright oppressive to me but that was precisely what make me want to red more and more. Tilly's story is strong and impressive and what she was going though read almost like a suspense. This surprised me, and her journey from the home she always knew to her husband and the experience she lives there is almost frightening how she learns, step by step, of what really is behind her husband's actions, words, decisions. I was always wary of reading more about her married life because something wasn't right there.
Then Tilly goes away to Australia and there again, something is going on with her life, some things she can't control and she feels a lot of guilt which adds to our own sense of things unsolved that can ruin everything at the end. And something alike this does happen but not the way most readers would expect.

I confess I was hooked to Tilly's story and all the inner dilemmas she was going through. I think her biggest flaw was not her quick temperament but her lack of restraint in certain situations, she couldn't just stop and think. When she finally did this, thinking her peace of mind was at stake, things got worse because she thought she couldn't trust anyone. I was always absorbed by her struggles, that is a fact.
The end of the book wasn't as positive as I'd have hoped. I mean, there's a HEA in both sections, just not the way I'd prefer or would have done. I'm glad things turned out hopeful for both Tilly and Nina but the execution wasn't totally flawless.

This book could have been stronger in terms of emotion vs execution. This was my first book by the author and I liked it enough to be curious about more.
What really made me be engrossed in this was the constant need to know what was happening to Tilly. There's something in all this that is strangely addictive and I can't explain well but the fact is that despite recognizing all the things that weren't perfect, I still can't put this out of my mind and I consider it one of the best books I've read this year. Sometimes there is not logical explanation!
Grade: 9/10

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