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Last night I finished this book and I can't sop thinking about it! I absolutely LOVED reading this book despite it having quite a slow start. By the time it came to the end of this book I thought I knew the characters inside and out and was really a part of their lives. I found it really hard to put the book down and wanted to keep reading and reading! I now of course have to review it and recommend it for you to try it too!
Why I chose this
I am not a very big reader because I don't have the time to just sit and read anymore but when I do I really enjoy doing it. I love, love, love losing myself in a book and really enjoying a story about someone else. I think there is something really relaxing about having a good read and I always wish I had more time to devote to reading. Now that I have read this book I really want to enjoy more from this author. The kinds of books I enjoy are ones which draw you in and have a good story within them. I like it when you cannot predict the ending and there is enough information and parts to the story that makes it a really interesting read. I dislike books which are really vague and the author expects you to know what they're talking about and that have really basic story lines. I chose this particular book because I saw it had good reviews on Amazon and then I also checked on here (Ciao) too as I think sometimes the reviews are a bit more honest. I saw it had 4 other reviews and had scored highly overall so decided to buy it. Because I don't have much time for reading I like to do a bit of research first before deciding which one to read, I don't want to feel like I have wasted my time!
This book is based in Somerset but we first meet the main characters whilst they are on holiday in Italy. Sarah is on holiday with her sister because she has to get away for a bit. She has just lot her baby after it was stillborn and her relationship with her husband is in tatters due to her finding out that he has had an affair. Her sister May is hoping that the holiday will help her to come to terms with things. Whilst they are there they meet Alexander who is holidaying with his young son Jamie. They begin talking and Sarah tells of how her husband cheated on her, Alexander explains how his wife has left him and Jamie and how he is looking for a house keeper and perhaps she could consider it? After a rather quick holiday fling Sarah feels an instant attraction to this man and cannot resist the offer to escape her life of pain in Manchester to go and live in the countryside with this attractive man and his son. She knows it's risky and people think she is crazy for going but it is just what she needs; some space.
When she arrives at the big old house it is different to anything she has seen. It's cluttered and old and dark. It's huge and it soon becomes clear that there is a lot of money tied up in this family. Alexander explains how his wife Genevieve (Genny) just left one morning leaving a note behind and he hadn't been surprised as their marriage had been failing for a while. Everyone else in the close-knit community is surprised though as Genny is quite a local celebrity, she is well liked, devoted to her son yet just vanished without telling anyone. It's no wonder people are suspicious and don't exactly welcome this new 'housekeeper' with open arms.
Sarah doesn't tell Alex about her past but Alex doesn't even ask her, he says it's not relevant but Sarah feels as though there are things about Alex that she should know but he holds back. He doesn't talk about feelings, he grows frustrated with her when she asks questions about why Genny didn't take Jamie, why he (Alex) is so quick to be angry with Genny despite him having said the marriage had broken down a long time before she left... there are various things which don't add up and as Sarah begins talking to people in the community she is aware that Alex has a dark past and she finds it harder and harder to be on his side. She contemplates moving back to Manchester but how can she? How can she leave Jamie who has grown close to her and has already lost his mother? She can't possibly leave him behind... but then the search for Genny intensifies and then a body is found...
When I first began to read this book I found it hard to get into because it is quite slow at first and this is what I was prepared for as other reviews had said similar. I began to doubt if this was worthwhile as it just didn't really have any action, nothing much happened and there was an awful lot of description and very little dialogue but I stuck at it and it slowly began to build up and build up until it got to the point where I just didn't want to stop reading and it would go on into the night and i'd need to go to sleep but I'd not be able to put the book down! I hope that the slow start doesn't put others off. Although I was a little frustrated by the slow start I think actually now I look back it was needed, it was important to set the scene and do so in the way that it did so that we really got to know the main character.
The characters in this book were very well formed which I think is mainly because this book is full of paragraphs of description and this helped me to really get inside the head of the main character at least. I became a bit frustrated with her at times and wished that she would see 'sense' and listen to others but I think this is just what the author intended and it made me begin to question whether she was right or whether her friends were right and made the book more interesting. The character of Alex seemed to be quite vague, he didn't say very much, seemed ever so moody and sometimes I'd wonder why Sarah would put up with it but then realised that she was very similar and she too didn't offer any information forward to him and between them they were actually quite happy just living without having to know each other's pasts but it obviously couldn't always be that way... the other characters were strong too, even Gen who we never got to meet properly, the memories and pictures and the stories told of her helped to create a character and an image of her which I think was really cleverly done considering she didn't actually appear properly. There were some other people in the book I was unsure of but I think that was the point such as the detective who kept taking Sarah out for a drink and we kept questioning his motive but I think that was the whole point; should she trust him or not? Because she was unsure it made me unsure and that lead me to want to keep reading!
I found that this book did draw me in, yes it took time but because it gradually built up into a really tense middle it gripped me. I really didn't know who to believe and whether some things were real or imagined and who was telling lies and why it was so refreshing to read a book which didn't have an obvious ending right from the beginning. I dislike being able to pre-empt the ending. The setting of the book seemed quite eerie and cold, the descriptions of the big old house did make me feel quite uncomfortable.
I have a small criticism and that is little parts of it were not realistic. I found it hard to believe that Sarah's sister May didn't decide to visit her right near the beginning when she had first moved in especially when things began to reach teh headlines about Gen going missing, they were written about as though they are quite close and May is very patient and loving yet she didn't go and try to see for herself until very late on, if her sister was okay and I think this was a bit odd. When she did turn up it was a bit tacky about how she appeared and then the pace of the novel changed somewhat dramatically which again felt a bit unreal compared to the rest of the book.
I did, however, enjoy reading this book. It is one which is full of interesting people, of secrets, lies, complex lives and it makes it a really interesting book to read. I am very glad that I chose to read it and also glad that I didn't give up at the beginning when it seemed to have quite a slow start. By the end of the book I really felt as though I knew the characters well especially Sarah and was hoping for a happy ending for her as she seemed like a really lovely person. This isn't a very care-free read, there's quite a lot of darkness in it but it's easy to read as there isn't any complex terminology in it or a very complex story to get your head around so I think it is very readable for people. I wouldn't read it again but that is only because I don't read the same book twice!
If you're looking for a book that has a good story with interesting stories of characters to tell that you will not be able to pre-empt the ending then this is a good book for you.
After reading Louise Douglas' debut book "The Love of My Life" a little while ago, I was very keen to seek out more work by this author. She has written four books in total, but I quite liked the sound of this one, " The Secrets Between Us" as it sounded a bit mysterious and I liked the idea of a bit of mystery combined with romance rather than out and out romance chick lit.
At first, the plot sounds like it's going to be a typical chick-lit boy meets girl and sweeps her off into the sunset so they can all live happily ever after kind of novel. However, the added twist of mystery gives this plot more substance, and will appeal to a wider audience. Sarah is recovering from a traumatic relationship breakdown, and meets Alex whilst on holiday in Sicily with her sister and brother-in-law. Alex has also just separated from his wife, and he offers Sarah a fresh start by asking her to move to Somerset with him to help him look after his son, Jamie. She jumps at the chance to leave Manchester and all its bad memories behind, and gives up her job for a fresh start. When she arrives in her new home, however, questions are raised about what happened to Alex's wife. He claims she left him, but her family and the people in the village believe she has disappeared, and that Alex knows more than he's letting on. As suspicions are pointed mainly in Alex's direction, Sarah wonders if she was right to trust this man she hardly knows, or if she will regret her rash decision to move to the countryside.
Although the main characters are Sarah and Alex, there are a few other important characters in the book which add certain elements to it. Her sister and brother-in-law make regular appearances, as they are worried about her new life and her safety. There are also characters from the village but I couldn't quite bring myself to like any of them, as I was suspicious of everyone.
Sarah was a character I liked from the start, especially as we hear of the nature of her relationship breakdown, which happened shortly after her baby son was stillborn. This is mentioned early in the novel, so it's not a spoiler, but something to be aware of as it could be an upsetting theme for some people if you're not expecting it. She is clearly vulnerable, naïve, and a bit blinkered. Although I liked her, and could completely empathise with her wanting to start a new life where nobody knows her, I also found myself getting increasingly annoyed with her naivity which at times borders on stupidity. She comes across as a bit of a doormat, and towards the end I was starting to not really care if Alex was genuine or not, as regardless of whether he is guilty of anything, he doesn't always treat Sarah very well. I know people do sometimes find themselves in these situations, but the way he is portrayed as being a potential murderer AND comes across as not caring about Sarah, I just couldn't understand why she kept putting her trust in him when he was so cold towards her. However, had she headed straight back home that would have made for a very boring novel!
Alex comes across as moody and not particularly likeable. He doesn't seem to care that Sarah is having trouble settling in, and when tongues start wagging about her arrival to the village I got really annoyed that he didn't do more to stand up for her. This made it difficult for me to care about the outcome of the book, because regardless of whether he is innocent or not, I thought Sarah could do a lot better quite frankly!
I found it quite difficult to get into this book, despite reading many positive comments about how gripping it is and how the ending is mind-blowing. I found the development of the story too slow-paced, and towards the end I had guessed most of the ending so I was left a little deflated rather than being wowed by it. I also felt there were a few loose ends which didn't quite fit with the ending, so I found myself wondering how certain things had happened and finding it very unlikely that people would have been able to carry out amateur detective work on that scale. I can't really say any more without giving away the ending, but in my opinion the twist at the end wasn't really worth the wait.
The chapters are very short which makes it easy to read when commuting. This is always a bonus for me as I tend to read in short bursts rather than for hours at a time, so it allowed me to keep up with the story and not have to backtrack to figure out what was going on. Each chapter supposedly ends on a cliffhanger, but there were only a few times I was itching to find out what happened, because the rest of the time I wasn't overly bothered as it seemed to be moving along so slowly.
The descriptive elements of the book were probably my favourite part. I find Louise Douglas has a way of describing scenery and city life in a way that makes you put yourself in the scene. There were some winter scenes which are a delight to read, from the wintry countryside to the bustling Christmas shoppers in Bristol. She really brings the settings to life which does help to picture the scene being described.
The book increases in pace towards the end, but until this point, I found myself getting a bit bored as I was waiting for it to pick up. I actually started feeling a bit claustrophobic about Sarah's daily existence and as she was feeling a bit suffocated by her life in the village, I too was feeling a bit suffocated by the book! Maybe that's what the author intended, but for me, when I start drifting away to think about which book I'm going to read next, that's not really a good sign.
I'm going middle of the road with this one, awarding it three stars. It's not one I'd recommend going out of your way for, but the descriptive elements and the fact it's a bit unusual made it worth a read. I just wish it hadn't been padded out so much in the middle.
(Review also posted on Ciao under the username Gingerkitty)
Sarah and Alexander meet at a time when both are looking for a fresh start following the demise of their previous relationships. She is vulnerable, he is needy, and together they can support each other. Sarah is quickly employed as a live in housekeeper in his sprawling home, and moves south from Manchester to join Alex and his young son Jamie. Life in a small village takes some getting used to, especially given what has happened. Genevieve, Alex's popular, pretty and wealthy wife, has disappeared. Some say of her own accord, others are sure something sinister has happened to her, but in any event she has not been heard from since she left town and the locals are suspicious of Sarah's motives. In their eyes she is moving in on the man who rightly belongs to the town sweetheart, taking over the role of mothering Jamie, and generally weaselling her way in to become the lady of the house before Genevieve's bed is even cold. Protestations that she is simply an employee, not a lover, fall on deaf ears, and with Genevieve's family being the most prominent in town, it's hard to get anyone to be on Sarah and Alexander's side when accusations start flying.
For GCSE English I had to compare 'Rebecca' and 'Jane Eyre', a combination where you really have to look quite closely to see the similarities. With clear parallels to Du Maurier's work, this would have made for a much easier assignment. The clear theme both books is being the new woman: in that one the second Mrs de Winter, in this the new female presence in Alexander's life. There is the way they meet too - a chance encounter in a foreign land - the speed of their relationship and the unknown state of the former wife. Obviously this is a more modern take, but the remote country setting helps with the mystery and danger that develop. It's always useful for this kind of story when you're somewhere with a crappy phone signal, leaving you isolated from those you need in your time of need. At the same time, it's nice to have internet access as a possibility, when a good Google search is your first port of call when trying to track down long lost acquaintances who may hold the key to a missing person's fate.
This is Sarah's story, but it is also Genevieve's. Sarah is simply obsessed with Alex's estranged wife, not helped by the fact that her name is mentioned everywhere she goes. The circumstances under which she left are odd, but not impossible, but with the woman's family convinced Alex was directly responsible, no one is going to rest until the truth comes out.
I absolutely adored this book, and when I reached the epilogue in a location as far removed as possible from stormy country England (under the blazing sun in a café in Bosnia) I still felt like I was right there with the characters which is a huge compliment for the writing. The story is really in two parts, with the initial scene setting and then the press and police investigations, and while the first part was already well paced the second simply flew by, ultimately finishing in a way I hadn't seen coming. I had been back and forth throughout the story, trying to decide whether the ending would be obvious or outlandish because some of the clues dropped seemed too predictable. In the end I was extremely satisfied with how different elements tied up, though I would now like to re-read it knowing, as I do, how it ends.
Louise Douglas is a new name on my bookshelf but I was happy to try based on the cover claim (likening her writing to that of Kate Morton). This wasn't an exaggeration as all the features of Morton's writing that I enjoy - the mystery, the plot twists, the great descriptions and the interesting characters - were all there. This was a fabulous read. If the beginning was engaging, the ending was exhilarating. I enjoyed the moments when Jamie got to shine, and I was intrigued by the few friends Sarah made in the village. I might have liked to have seen more moments with Genevieve's family but in the end Sarah alone was enough to carry the story. That and the significance of the cover art - something I couldn't quite tie into the story - are my only quibbles in what was otherwise an excellent read.
I found this book hard to put down because without knowing exactly what, I knew something big was coming and I wanted to get there sooner rather than later. The story developed well and Sarah's descriptions were fun and reasonable, with it especially fun to see the city mouse heading to the country rather than the other way round. At the same time, she was willing to muck in, and didn't spend all her time in heels when wellies would have been the more practical choice, for which I respected her.
Out in paperback and on Kindle, this is a highly recommended read with wide appeal. Get it while it's cheap - currently half price on Amazon.
This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk
I received this book to read and review from Transworld as part of their book group. The idea is that you choose four books from their list of twelve and they send you them one at a time through the month of August. I choose 'The Secrets Between Us' by Louise Douglas, because I have never read any of her books before, in fact never even heard of her, and I thought it'd be a great opportunity to go out of my reading comfort zone, plus I thought the book sounded interesting.
Sarah meets Alexander on holiday in Sicily, where she is escaping her marital problems and taking a break from the real world. It seems that Alexander is doing the same thing with his son and they end up deciding to start again together. Sarah moves to the quiet village in Somerset where Alexander lives, to be his nanny and housekeeper and, she hopes, more. It soon becomes clear that all is not as it seems with Alexander and his previous relationship. His beautiful and much loved wife Genevieve seems to have disappeared off the face of the planet, totally against character, and the entire village (her rich and powerful family included) think that Alexander has something to do with it.
Sarah is beginning to fall in love with Alexander and simply cannot believe that he would do anything like what people think he might have done - but when the evidence and the hatred builds up against him, what will she do?
I struggled to get into this book at first. I found the whole idea that a person would meet someone on holiday, have sex with them once and then up sticks and move to a completely different part of the country, leaving behind everything she knows, to live with said person was a bit too far fetched. To be honest I don't think the author made it particularly believable either, with the way she wrote it. I know you can use artistic license when you are writing fiction, but this just seemed a little too far fetched for me to swallow.
I couple of chapters in though; I had more or less forgotten about the odd pretext for the book and was pretty much hooked. The story is billed as 'a passionate love story', but I thought it was more of a psychological thriller in parts. For a lot of the book, I didn't really understand what was going on, which I think added to the effect. During the story, Sarah seems to, understandably give her situation, lose her mind a bit, which adds to the confusion and means that I was pretty much turning the pages at a rate of knots. The confusion means that you are never sure what is going to happen, although you always have the feeling that something big was going to happen - I very much enjoyed that aspect of the story.
The characters are well written and aren't at all exaggerated, which is sometimes the case and I do find irritating. Sarah is likeable and believable. Alexander is dark, quiet and brooding. I'm not quite sure why Sarah fell for him, I don't think the author really gives a good enough reason for that, but at various times in the book you feel sympathy, annoyance and warmth for him and it helps with the did he, didn't he storyline. Genevieve is wonderfully written and cleverly so too as are the many other side characters who don't have a starring role in the story, but help to build it in their own way.
Overall, even though I struggled to get into the book and I didn't really enjoy the way that it started, I thought the book was good and it did grip me eventually. It is a love story of sorts, but not a traditional one and the web of intrigue is much more prominent in the story than the love aspect of it in my opinion, which is fortunate for me, because I'm not a love story kind of girl!
A chance encounter: When Sarah meets dark, brooding Alex,she grasps his offer of a new life miles away from her own. They've both recently escaped broken relationships, and need to start again. Why not do it together? A perfect life: But when Sarah gets to the tiny village of Burrington Stoke, something doesn't add up. Alex's beautiful wife Genevieve was charming, talented, and adored by all who knew her. And apparently, she and Alex had a successful marriage complete with a gorgeous son, Jamie. Why would Genevieve walk out on her perfect life? And why has no one heard from her since she did so? A web of lies: Genevieve's family and all her friends think that Alex knows more about her disappearance than he's letting on. But Sarah's fallen in love with him and just knows he couldn't have anything to hide. Or could he?
I have read and loved Louise Douglas' previous two novels, so when I was given the chance to review her new, I was thrilled. I have to say I was shocked at the change in cover from the first two novels, which had gorgeous covers and looked very pretty. This one is a complete change, with a much darker appearance, with a solitary figure on the front representing our main character within the book. It has been likened to Daphne Du Maurier's "Rebecca", a book I haven't read but after looking at the synopsis on Amazon, I can see how Douglas has drawn inspiration from this novel, and other classics too. At over 450 pages, its a big chunk of a book but worth every single page, it's a fabulous read.
The lead character is Sarah, a woman who has been through a lot of emotional turmoil which causes her to make a decision she usually would never make. After the stillbirth of her son and consequent end of her relationship with her boyfriend, Sarah goes on holiday with her sister May and husband Neil. There, she meets Alexander and his young son Jamie. It turns out Jamie's mum isn't on the scene, and soon Sarah and Alex become more than friends. But when Sarah moves in and starts to find out more about Alex's absent wife Genevieve and her sudden and strange disappearance, her mind starts playing tricks on her... wondering why Genevieve left and where exactly she's gone.
This is a fabulous novel that has so many twists and turns along the way, its impossible to guess the ending, something I really enjoyed! It's very dark, with Douglas building up the tension throughout the book and at points it really was a bit scary to read (I am a bit of a wimp!)! It certainly has the gothic overtones that are mentioned on the back, and I loved Douglas' complete control over the characters and the story. Sarah was a likeable character, a woman who has had an awful time looking for escape and someone to love her too. You do think she's naive deciding to move across the country to be with someone she doesn't know but it's a good start and straight away makes for interesting reading.
Alexander is the main male within the book, and I really couldn't make my mind up about him all the way through. Douglas' keeps you doubting whether he's a good man or not, and until the end, I couldn't say for definite whether he had done a terrible thing to Genevieve or not. I have to say I really liked the character of Jamie, the young child of Alexander who is struggling with the disappearance of his mummy. I didn't like the language he kept using, finding it a bit crass and rude for his age to be honest, but other than that, I feel Douglas got across his turmoil and feeling of bereftness well. Overall, they are a good cast to follow, and I also felt like Genevieve was very much part of the story even though she isn't about, simply because of how the story is written.
Douglas chooses to write the book in the first person narrative, and I think this worked perfectly for the book. It allows the reader to get into the mind of Sarah and therefore see the story from her point of view, and her uncertainty about everything, which in turns left me wondering what was going on and what to believe! I found the descriptions of Avalon, Alexander's house, quite brilliant, it was easy to imagine the old house to be frightening to Sarah, especially in the dark evenings! She also describes the town and surroundings well - it's definitely a book which relies on its narrative description to allow the reader to imagine everything in their mind as they are reading, which also goes to help understand Sarah's state of mind. I did find myself wondering why Sarah stuck around with Alexander despite her suspicions - most of us would probably run for the hills but I suppose it wouldn't have been an exciting read if she just jumped ship would it?!
I really could not put this book down as I was desperate to find out things were going to end for Sarah and Alexander, and whether we would find out what happened to Genenvieve, the mystery carrying on throughout the book. I have to say I did not see the ending coming at all - it was a complete bolt out of the blue and I have to give full credit to Douglas for managing to send me down the garden path with suspicions only to throw a massive curveball by the end! It was an incredibly enjoyable read, and is a real breakaway from Douglas' previous work, especially with the darker story within. I think this book will be a huge success, and I highly recommend it - one of my favourite reads of the year so far!
ISBN: 978-0593067086. Published by Bantam Press on July 7th 2011. Pages: 464. RRP: £12.99.