Innocent Creatures: A review of Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

She finds a rickety white bench, a little too close to the crumbling cliff edge. Pressing her bare feet down on the fine blades of grass, she shields her eyes with her hand and admires the cove below. It is like an illustration from a 1950s children’s book, lolly-shaped, nestled into jagged grey rocks, pristine and wild, its ruddy narrow beach path resisting easy access. She can imagine smugglers’ boats sliding onto the sand. She can imagine all sorts of things. It has an air about it, a sense of things having happened here.

Amber Alton and her siblings have the most wonderful life. Coming from a privileged family, they have the money and time to enjoy a care-free existence, spending every school holiday at the Alton’s delightful but crumbling country manor on the Cornish coast. Time slows almost to a halt in this blissful haven, and no one expects anything other than long dreamy days, lounging in and around the house. Yet, the unexpected happens  – a stormy night brings a tragedy that will change it all, and have the most devastating effects on this perfect family.

What can I say about Black Rabbit Hall? It is a wonderful read, stunningly and beautifully written with subtle imagery that touches and enchants. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a heartbreaking story, but there’s so much love and courage in there that, in a way, it’s diluted. Motherly love and loss are strong themes, and there’s a bit of attachment parenting going on, which I adore. It took me quite a long time to read because of life’s priorities, and I feel my enjoyment of it could have been greatly enhanced if I had had the time and freedom to read it over long sittings. It has so much to offer – a big house in the country, family drama, mystery, suspense, twists and turns – and this deserves to be savoured. 

A book such as Black Rabbit Hall is my go-to comfort read; the kind of book I read most of all. A novel told in a dual narrative, featuring a grand, or once grand, house, with a fragmented story to be pieced together and a historical mystery to be discovered – all intertwined with the cosy strands of British nostalgia. It lives up to expectations, and is guaranteed to satisfy, if you, like me, love this kind of big-house-full-of-secrets tale.

Sweet Summer’s End: A review of The Legacy by Katherine Webb

I remember exactly when I started reading The Legacy. It was my birthday and I was sitting in the car in the car park of our local Lidl in Wembley, waiting for my husband who was probably getting booze. I had no idea that in a few days I would’ve turned the last page and exclaimed a silent wow to myself. It was read at perfectly the right time – summer’s end, with the days still long and warm.

One of the things I love about reading books is that some are very season specific, and you can get much more from a book if it is read at the right time of year. For example, you should only read A Christmas Carol at Christmas (obviously), and there are clearly books that should only be read lying against a big ancient oak in a summer meadow (like, um, Larkrise To Candleford). You get my drift. But more than this; books can improve your enjoyment of a season, as in winter when you curl up with a good book (coal fire optional). It’s a thing you do in winter to make the season cosier. And then, in summer, you take a book to be read on the beach for some relaxing holiday me-time. You choose your book to suit the season, and if you haven’t already done this, I highly recommend trying it.

Anyway, The Legacy, for me, falls into the category of a great summer read. However, if you do happen to pick it up in the colder months, do not save it – devour it at once – as the modern strand of the book is set in winter, making it a superb read all year round.

I have read three novels by Katherine Webb so far and they have all had the same narrative structure – two stories told parallel to each other, one set in the past and one in the present, with a connection. In the case of The Legacy, that connection is slowly revealed in the course of the book. There is a mystery (or two) to be solved, and the two stories coming together is the key to its conclusion.

Both stories are told beautifully. I loved them equally, and that’s unusual. More often than not, one is preferred over the other. Yet, it is a testament to the author that both were able to capture my attention and keep me hooked and reading on. The Legacy is a near perfect read. My only issue with it, as with many great books I have read, is that it wasn’t lengthier, simply for me to enjoy it longer.