Hi Everyone, and welcome to my first post of 2019!
I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and New Year Break, filled with good laughs, friendship and fun with your loved ones.
I had a really lovely break, it was quiet, full of food and drink and was spent with my favourite people.
I was super excited on Christmas Morning to find that I had not just one new book to look forward to reading, but SEVEN!
I had four gorgeous books from one of my dearest friends, and my boyfriend really impressed me by buying me three absolutely fantastic books that I can’t wait to sink my teeth into!
What an absolutely delightful selection, right?! So my first big task for Boxing Day, was ‘Which book do I begin first?!’
I read all of the blurbs one by one and what a great collection of different genres I had to choose from! However I decided that I would begin seasonally, and so I began my post Christmas reading, and turned the first page of ‘The Winter Secret’ by Lulu Taylor.
The Winter Secret by Lulu Taylor
My dear boy, the place is cursed. It always has been and it always will be.
The story is set at a beautiful house and revolves around the lives of it’s inhabitants over time.
Charcombe Park is a beautiful old house in the countryside; a gated Manor House with staff, grounds, stables and grandeur.
The story of ‘The Winter Secret’ takes us through the lives of it’s inhabitants, in the current day but also (with the clever use of one of my favourite fiction writing concepts – a dual timeline!) of the lives in the past.
The book structure itself is written very traditionally, with a prologue to begin set in the past, and then onwards across three parts and fifty four chapters. It’s a long book, so prepare for some reading commitment!
We are initially introduced in the prologue to a Russian Princess by the name of Xenia Arkadyoff, (yeah I had to ask Alexa how to pronounce that too… 🤪) who lived in Charcombe Park as a child with her parents many years ago. It is through Xenia’s eyes that we see the past, and also how we see the present and the change in time and in the people who reside within the property. For she still lives in the grounds of the house in her elderly years. She has not left and due to duty she feels she owes to her parents, is chained to the property for life.
The second character that we are introduced to is Buttercup Redmain; the younger second wife of Investor Charles Redmain. Charles is a man who is confident, domineering and strict. A man proud of his naval heritage and whom has links to history in Trafalgar Square, London.
Buttercup is more gentle and creative, having previously worked with an interior designer she had a promising career. Yet, since her marriage to Charles, she finds herself doing very little than living in Charcombe Park, or shopping alone in London. She lives what we may see as a ‘glamorous’ and ‘envious’ lifestyle, for her every need is catered for. She need not cook, clean or work for other people run the house, they know her routines and ensure that everything is just so.
However Buttercup’s desire for a family remains unfulfilled, and she slowly feels as though she is losing her identity as her life is planned and recorded by others. The question is… to what degree?
As we learn about Xenia’s character in the past, we come to know of a sweet, caring and very intelligent child. She dotes dutifully on her Mother and loves her parents unconditionally. Her Mother, Natalie Rowe, is an English Hollywood film actress, and this is how they come to live as a family in Charcombe Park. Xenia’s father believes that they should take residence in such a stately home, for this is the life of the rich and famous. Xenia and Natalie however, tend not to initially agree. They feel as though something with the house is… ‘off.’
Sadly, as the story unfolds, we start to see their intuition showing signs of truth. Upon moving into the house, events begin to take a tragic turn with Xenia’s mother’s health, her glittering career and the relationship between her parents.
I felt this section of the story here was written with a lot of research and detail into the attitudes of mental health at the time, and I couldn’t help but feel such empathy for Natalie and Xenia and for anybody who suffered mentally during that era. It is astonishing to think of the supported methods used to treat patients at the time and the pain and anguish that must have been endured by both the patients and their desperate families. It made me very thankful for the NHS and the evolution of scientific studies into mental health. Mental health care is far from being where it needs to be in the U.K., but it frightful to think that less than 100 years ago, electrocution and evasive brain surgery was the technique of choice – usually with devastating consequences for the patient.
Today, after caring for her mother till her death, Xenia lives alone. She spends her days shouting at noisy locals or anybody enjoying themselves a little too loudly outside, eating cake and watching property programmes similar to Escape to the Country and A Place in the sun.
It was here I realised that I have the same neighbourly behaviour and tv preferences as an angry elderly woman. 🤦🏻♀️😂
She is rather lonely with just a house for comfort. She decides to take on a local cleaner Agneiska, and over time their relationship takes the formation of a friendship. Xenia is a character I felt real sympathy for. She may have been known in the village as being rude and shouting at everybody, but she was their longest and loneliest resident. This was due to the love and care she had shown her Mother, and I was really thankful when she took a friend.
Buttercup is also feeling rather lonely and there’s a niggling doubt brewing within her the longer that she resides within Charcombe Park, that all is not as it seems.
Charles’s first wife Ingrid, strangely still lives on the grounds and their children are never seen. Keen for a family of her own, this lack of contact stings Buttercup. The more she thinks, the more she doubts the man she loves and his intentions and honesty with her. So, in true female fbi style, she seeks out the evidence by seeking a female comrade to help her with that nagging feeling within her, that something just isn’t right.
What she finds shocks her and is an absolute bombshell for the future of their marriage.
By the end of the tale, the secrets of Charcombe House and it’s inhabitants are truly unearthed. The secrets, the lies, the affairs, the mystery. The impact on the lives of those who lives there.
Is there a curse on the inhabitants? Or is it the house itself causing pain and mental suffering to anybody that lives in it?
The house has a tendency to make it’s biggest and most successful characters doubtful of themselves, their achievements and their relationships. But the question is..why?
The answer lies in a sickening secret that is within the very foundations of the building.
Can’t Put it Down Rating: 4.5/5
This book turned out to be so much more thrilling and enjoyable than I imagined. The blurb was inciting but I don’t think you can really get the true feeling of a book from one these days. My goal this year was to allocate more time for my reading, but with this book I didn’t have to do that because I was literally running to it with any chance I got! I couldn’t wait to unearth more family history of each character and the secrets that the house could contain within its walls.
I was most interested as to how the Character of Charles would play out. Once his true sense of self began to push to the surface, I could see that we were in the presence of an insecure and controlling narcissist. And, if you’ve ever been that unfortunate yourself to be dealing with one in real life, then you’ll know just how dangerous and sabotaging they can be.
I felt nothing but sympathy for Buttercup and Xenia. Both had the opportunities for glitz and glamorous lives, but all that remained was unfulfilled dreams and dissatisfaction. For Xenia I felt the most, for she had very little time remaining to find love and happiness once the reason for feeling so chained to the property became clear. Buttercup at least could begin again.
I felt that the story was written incredibly well; I loved the twisting and weaving of the dual time periods intermingling with with another, clever story linking and really rememberable characters.
A tantalising tale of glamour, mystery, secrets and curses.
I do however have some criticism of the book. Firstly, there were at least two typos which I would have expected would have been proofread out of a Sunday Times Bestseller by now. It kind of lets the quality of the story down when your prose is interrupted by repeated words or poor grammar.
Secondly, I felt that the character of Ingrid was a little bit downplayed, I could think of a few more events that could have unfolded for her that would have really made things much more juicy. However it was interesting that such a quiet character linked all of the present day characters together in some way or other.
Thirdly, I understand that the end of the book is set at Christmas time, but I didn’t understand why it was called The Winter Secret. I felt that such a strong and well written book deserved a more relevant title to the story line.
Finally, I’m sorry to say I worked out the ‘who dunnit’ a bit too early; a line for me gave away a little bit too much of a hint towards motive, so I was a bit disappointed when I found I was right!!
However, I was so pleased that I picked this as my first read to take me into the New Year. Such a thrilling book has got me excited to begin my next one. I’ll definitely be looking out for any new releases from Lulu Taylor.
Have you read this book or any of her other books? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Where to Buy:
If you’d like a copy of your own and you’re in the U.K., this book can be purchased from Amazon (where it holds an impressive rating of 4.6/5) for £5.65!
Click the image below for direct access in the UK*
*please note that as an amazon affiliate, I may benefit from your purchase.
Washed Down With:
Betty’s Christmas Tea
What a wonder for the senses. Spicy, festive and all kinds of heartwarming. There really is nothing better for cold harsh winter days than a tea that makes your heart sing.
You may have never heard of the Yorkshire wonder that is Betty’s Tea room, but if you’re ever popping into Yorkshire, please try and seek out your local room. It really is like walking back in time, and is a real experience for the senses. At my local Betty’s in York, customers queue out the door and around the block on a daily basis. Everyone wants afternoon tea or at least, a Cheeky Little Rascal from the bakery shop.
Now this delightful Tea I am showing is currently unavailable for sale, but you can purchase the Tisane Bags for £5.95 directly from Betty’s here:
And so my lovely readers… what next do we have in store?
I have begun reading my next book, and I cannot wait to share it with you! To keep up to date with my latest reads and book chat with fellow Bookstagrammers and Bloggers, please follow the Blog’s Instagram @papyrusandpeppermint
Until the next chapter,