A runaway bestseller in Britain with over 100,000 copies sold, a riveting historical mystery in the tradition of Kate Morton
Auction house appraiser Jude leaves London for her dream job at Starbrough Hall, an estate in the countryside, examining and pricing the manuscripts and instruments of an eighteenth-century astronomer. She is welcomed by Chantal Wickham and Jude feels close to the old woman at once: they have both lost their husbands. Hard times have forced the Wickham family to sell the astronomer's work, their land and with it, the timeworn tower that lies nearby. The tower was built as an observatory for astronomer Anthony Wickham and his daughter Esther, and it served as the setting for their most incredible discoveries.
Though Jude is far away from her life in London, her arrival at Starbrough Hall brings a host of childhood memories. She meets Euan, a famed writer and naturalist who lives in the gamekeeper's cottage at the foot of the tower, where Jude's grandfather once lived. And a nightmare begins to haunt her six-year-old niece, the same nightmare Jude herself had years ago. Is it possible that the dreams are passed down from one generation to the next? What secrets does the tower hold? And will Jude unearth them before it's too late?
|Publisher:||Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.58(w) x 8.52(h) x 1.08(d)|
About the Author
Rachel Hore is the author of four novels including the critically acclaimed The Glass Painter's Daughter and The Memory Garden. worked in London publishing for many years before moving with her family to Norwich, where she teaches publishing at the University of East Anglia. She is married to the writer D. J. Taylor and they have three sons.
Read an Excerpt
How tiny and random are the events that shape our destiny.
By the time she left for the office the next morning, Jude had almost forgotten her dream. Waiting for the train at Greenwich station, the sudden wail of a toddler brought back fragments of her distress, but by the time she reached Bond Street these too were displaced by other, more mundane worries. She had no sense that something important was about to happen, something that on the face of it was quite insignificant.
It was Friday lunchtime in the Books and Manuscripts department of Beecham’s Auctioneers in Mayfair. She’d been sitting at her computer screen all morning, cataloging rare first editions of eighteenth-century poets for a forthcoming sale. A painstaking job, it meant describing the contents of each slim volume, noting its condition and recording any quirks or flourishes—a handwritten dedication, say, or scribbled annotations—that might tickle the interest of potential buyers. Annoying then, when anyone broke her concentration.
“Jude.” Inigo, who inhabited the next desk in their open-plan office, came over, clasping a mess of paper festooned with multicolored sticky-backed notes. “Proofs of the September catalog. Where do you want them?”
“Oh, thanks,” she murmured. “Give ’em here.” She dumped the pile on the already overflowing tray beside her computer, then started to type another sentence. Inigo didn’t take the hint.
“I really do think you should look at the Bloomsbury pages again,” he said in his most pompous tone. “I jotted down a couple of points, if you’d like to...?”
“Inigo—” she said, trying and failing to frame a polite way of saying “mind your own business.” The Bloomsbury Group first editions were her responsibility and she didn’t report to him in any way on them or on anything else. “Can we talk this afternoon? I must finish this.”
Inigo nodded and glided back to his desk where he started to get ready to go out. He slid his tweed jacket on over the matching waistcoat, tucked his fountain pen into the breast pocket, straightened his silk cravat and ran smoothing fingers across his schoolboy fair hair, his dapper figure as fussy as a dog with a flea.
“Going somewhere important, Inigo?” she remarked.
Looking pleased that she’d asked, he whispered, “I’m meeting Lord Madingsfield at Chez Gerard,” and tapped the side of his nose to indicate confidential business.
“Lord Madingsfield again?” she said, surprised. “Well, have fun.” She turned back to her keyboard. Inigo had been toadying up to this wealthy collector for months now. In her private opinion the wily old aristocrat was stringing him along.
“We’re in quite a delicate stage of negotiation, actually,” Inigo said.
Jude and Suri, the trainee cataloger who sat at the desk opposite, exchanged mock-impressed glances. Suri looked back quickly at her work, but Jude could see her shoulders quivering with suppressed mirth. Inigo took everything in life too seriously, but most of all, his place in it. Only when the lift arrived and swallowed him up did they give way to their laughter.
“I wonder what he’d say if he saw a video of himself,” Suri managed to say between giggles. She stood up to go out herself, adjusting the clasp in her glossy black hair and swinging her handbag onto her shoulder.
“He’d probably fall in love, poor boy,” Jude said as she typed. “Enjoy your lunch.”
“Can I get you anything?” Suri said. “I’m going past Clooney’s if you want a sandwich.”
“Thanks, but I’ll be OK,” replied Jude, smiling at her. “I’ll break the back of this copy, then maybe slip out myself.” When Suri had gone, she took a mouthful of mineral water from a bottle hidden under the desk. Lunch must be forgone. There was too much to do. Anyway, the waistband of her new trouser suit was too tight and she couldn’t risk the buttons popping off at dinner tonight.
She picked up a musty volume from one pile, studied it quickly and laid it down on another. Full calf—she wrote—rebacked with raised bands. Blind tooling to boards. A good clean copy of an important contemporary work.
The phone on Inigo’s desk began to shrill, piercing her concentration. Insistent, self-important, like its owner. She stared at it, willing it to stop. The caller would probably be a time waster: a quavery old dear hoping to make a mint out of her dog-eared Agatha Christie collection, or a know-it-all antiquarian bookseller demanding a personal audience. But it would ring eight times, then transfer to Suri’s phone and ring another eight before going to message ... Snatching up her own phone she pressed a button.
“Books and Manuscripts. Hello?”
“Inigo Selbourne, please,” came a plummy male voice.
“I’m afraid he’s at lunch,” Jude said, and in case the caller assumed she was Inigo’s secretary, which happened dispiritingly often, she added, “I’m Jude Gower, another valuer. Can I give him a message?”
“If you would. My name’s Wickham. I’m telephoning from Starbrough Hall in Norfolk.”
Jude felt a frisson of interest. Norfolk was home turf. Where on earth was Starbrough Hall, though? She leaned closer into the phone.
“I’ve a collection of eighteenth-century books I want him to look at,” Mr. Wickham went on. “I’ve been assured by a friend that they’re likely to have significant value.”
Jude flipped to a fresh page on her notepad and wrote “Starbrough Hall” at the top in neat capitals, then stared at the words, trying to understand why they tugged at her memory. She didn’t think she’d ever been to Starbrough Hall, but for some reason a picture of her grandmother rose in her mind.
“Does Inigo have your number, Mr. Wickham?”
“No.” When he recited it the local code was familiar. The same as her sister’s, in fact. That was it. Starbrough Hall was part of the big estate where Gran had lived as a child. She wrote down the phone number and doodled a jagged star shape round it.
If she finished the call and passed the message on to Inigo, she’d have done her job. But the name Starbrough meant something to her, and she was intrigued. On the other hand, the material he wanted to sell might prove of little interest to Beecham’s. “Mr. Wickham,” she asked, “What sort of books are they? It’s only that the eighteenth century is my particular period.”
“Is it?” Wickham said. “Well, perhaps I should be dealing with you instead of Mr. Selbourne.”
She opened her mouth to say that Inigo was perfectly competent to deal with the collection, and found she didn’t want to. It was a conundrum. Robert Wickham had asked specifically for Inigo. Jude would be furious if Inigo took work from her—and Suri told her that he had done that once despite her name being recommended by another client. Still, she didn’t want to sink to his level. It was ridiculous, really, that they played this constant game of comeuppance. The head of department, Klaus Vanderbilt, was always banging on about how they should work together to wrest business from the other big auction houses. In fact she had a lot of respect for Inigo’s professional abilities; it was his constant pushiness that irritated her. She could never quite relax with him in the office.
“Do you know Inigo Selbourne?” she asked Robert Wickham. “I mean, was he recommended to you?”
“No, never heard of the man until a moment ago. Your switchboard suggested him.”
So she wasn’t muscling in on something that was rightly Inigo’s.
“Well in that case,” she told Wickham, with a shameful sense of triumph, “I’ll deal with the matter, if you like.”
“I’m happy with that. The collection belonged to an ancestor of mine, Anthony Wickham. He was something of an amateur stargazer, and most of the books relate to his hobby. I’d like you to value them with a view to possible placement for sale.”
“An astronomer, was he? That’s interesting.” Jude was scribbling down details. Scientific tomes, particularly from the eighteenth century—the Age of Discovery—were a lively area at the moment. She could think of two or three dealers who would want to know more.
“There are several first editions among them, so I’m told. And I should mention the manuscripts,” Wickham went on. “His charts and observation records. Can’t make head or tail of them myself. My mother is more familiar with the material. Anyway, I expect you’ll be able to tell straight away once you’re down here.”
“How many books are we talking about? I don’t suppose there’s any chance you could bring them to the office?” she asked.
“Oh heavens, no. There are a couple of hundred or more. And the papers, well, they’re very delicate. Look, if it’s a nuisance, I can always call Sotheby’s. I was thinking of doing so anyway. It’s just that my friend said to try you first.”
“No, don’t worry, I’ll come down,” she said hastily. “I thought it worth asking, that’s all.”
“We have some of his instruments, as well. Bits of telescope. And a whatnot ... One of those spherical models of the solar system.”
“An orrery, you mean?” This whole thing was beginning to sound worth a journey. She shuffled books and papers with her free hand, looking for her desk diary.
“Orrery. That’s it,” Robert Wickham continued. “Shows the planets going round the sun. So you’d be prepared to make a visit?”
“Of course,” she replied. She caught sight of the diary in her in tray, under the mess of proofs Inigo had left. “When would suit you?” She turned the pages. Could she get away next week? If Wickham was threatening to show other auction houses as well, she needed to be ahead of the game.
“I’m away now for a few days,” he said, “so it’ll have to be after that.” They agreed that she would visit Starbrough Hall on Friday, in a week’s time. “You’ll be driving, will you? I’ll e-mail directions. It’s too complicated for the phone. The nearest place of any size is Holt. And you can stay overnight if you like. Plenty of room here and my mother and I would be delighted to entertain you. My wife will be away with the children, so you’ll have some peace and quiet.”
“That’s very kind. I probably won’t need to stay,” Jude said. “I’ve got family in the area, you see.” She hadn’t been home to Norfolk for ages. It would be a good opportunity. Perhaps her boyfriend, Caspar, would come, too.
After she put down the phone she prowled the department, unsettled. The Starbrough Hall collection was important, she was absolutely sure, though she couldn’t put her finger on why she felt this. And if it was important and she could secure it for Beecham’s it would look good. And looking good was important right now, because Klaus Vanderbilt was approaching retirement age and Beecham’s would need a new head of department.
She was mulling over, as she often did, what her own chances of promotion were against Inigo’s, when her eye fell on her notepad and the words “Starbrough Hall.”
She still couldn’t visualize the place. Going across to the department’s reference shelves she extracted an outsize volume entitled Great Houses of East Anglia and laid it on Inigo’s desk. When she turned to “S” she found a grainy black-and-white photograph. Starbrough Hall was a graceful, if stark-looking Palladian villa with a gravel forecourt and a great featureless expanse of lawn. “Two miles from the village of Starbrough. Built 1720,” said the short text, “by Edward Wickham Esq. on the burned-out ruins of the old manor house of Starbrough.” Starbrough. That was very near Claire. She had certainly driven through Starbrough village at some point; she remembered the outsize church, a green with a pretty village sign and a bench girdling a mountainous oak tree. Gran’s father had been gamekeeper on the Starbrough estate, she believed, but she didn’t know where they’d lived.
She sat musing for a moment in the empty office, then reached for the phone to ring Gran.
* * *
The old lady drowsed in the afternoons now. The coastal village of Blakeney was busy with holidaymakers, but if she removed her hearing aid the sounds of people and boat trailers passing her window subsided to a soothing background murmur. Long-ago voices, skirls of happy laughter, bubbled up in her memory as fresh as spring water.
She drifted back to consciousness, dimly aware of a distant ringing, fumbling with her hearing aid as she made her way to the phone.
“Judith!” She would hesitate to say that Jude was her favorite grandchild, but she felt a closeness to her she never quite felt with Claire, dear cross little Claire.
“I’m going to Starbrough Hall next Friday, Gran. Can I stay with you on Thursday night?” Jude was saying. “I’d love to ask you about the place.”
“Starbrough?” Jude heard Jessie’s surprise, but all the old lady said next was, “It would be lovely to see you, dear. Will you get here for tea?”
When she put down the phone, Jessie leaned against the sideboard. Starbrough Hall. She’d thought about the wild girl a great deal recently. And now her grandchild was going there. Why? She hadn’t said. Starbrough. Perhaps the opportunity had come to make things right again.
* * *
Later in the afternoon, after an irritating couple of hours in which the phones didn’t cease ringing, and a pedantic argument with Inigo over the Bloomsbury first editions, Jude finished writing her copy, then took refuge in the storeroom next door to sort books into lots for auction. Musing about the Starbrough Hall collection she suddenly thought of her old friend Cecelia. They’d met at university, but whereas Jude had gone out into the Real World of work, Cecelia was still burrowing away in university libraries researching the scientific revolution of the late eighteenth century. When they’d last met, for a drink a year or so ago, she was sure Cecelia had said something to do with a book she was writing about astronomy of the period. She’d have to get in touch with her.
What seemed a very short time later, Suri put her head around the door. “I’m off now, Jude. We’re going straight down to my parents’ in Chichester and the traffic will probably be awful. Have a lovely weekend.”
“Heck, it’s nearly six. I mustn’t be long either!” The storeroom had no windows, which could be disorienting.
“We’re going to dinner with some friends of Caspar’s tonight,” she told Suri, as they returned to the main office. “Did I tell you, we’re all going on holiday to France in a couple of weeks? I’ve only met them twice. Mad, aren’t I?”
“It’s brave, if you don’t know them,” said Suri, looking unsure whether she was expected to agree. “What happens if you don’t get on?”
“I expect we will,” Jude said, trying to sound positive. “They seem good fun. Anyway, lots of vino always oils the wheels.”
After Suri had left, Jude tidied her desk, returning books to shelves in swift, deft movements and straightening the piles of paper. She wasn’t sure she liked what she had seen in Suri’s gaze—a kind of pity. At twenty-six and newly engaged to a boy she’d met at uni, Suri still saw life with a fresh innocence. Her world was wonderful, full of color and hope and happiness, and Jude loved her for it. Even Inigo’s patronizing comments rarely managed to cloud Suri’s lovely, glowing aura. I was like that once, she realized, with a little stab of self-pity.
Half-past six found her pushing her way through the aimless summer crowds choking the alley that ran alongside Charing Cross railway station down to Embankment tube.
Even if she hadn’t known him, her eye would have been drawn to the figure leaning against a pillar, tapping something into his BlackBerry. Caspar was a powerfully built man in a navy designer suit and starched white shirt. Five years older than Jude’s thirty-four, he was handsome and lively, with dark, curly hair combed back into submission with the merest slick of gel. She’d met him a few months ago at a friend’s drinks party. She, touching five feet ten, and voluptuous, was a good physical match for him. He was drawn by her soft, dark eyes and the cloud of wavy strawberry-blonde hair, which she wore clasped at the nape of her neck. “Quite a Madonna, you are. You looked sad, but then you smiled,” he said, when she once asked him teasingly why he’d been drawn to her that evening. “So many people only smile with their mouths, but you smiled with your eyes like you cared. I liked that.”
She in turn had liked the way he moved fluidly among this sophisticated group of city dwellers, so obviously enjoying himself, belonging. He’d never married, nor indeed had many of his large network of friends truly settled down. They were too busy working hard at careers they loved—Caspar and his friend Jack ran the New Media advertising consultancy—and playing hard, too. Even his married friends, on the whole, didn’t have children. This was another thing that drew her to him, she knew, this living for the moment. They never talked about the future, but then the present was still all she could manage. When he asked her to come on holiday with some of his friends she hesitated, then thought, why not? “It’ll be a laugh,” he said. “We’ll have a great time.” She had every reason to believe him, but a worm of worry still wriggled inside her.
All her own friends, it seemed—the ones who witnessed her marriage to Mark six years before—were sending invitations to their own weddings, or announcements of the births of their children. She already had another godchild and was about to attend the christening of a third, as well as a niece, six-year-old Summer.
“Hi. Sorry I’m late,” she said, her hand briefly resting on Caspar’s tailored sleeve.
“You’re not,” Caspar replied, pulling her to him for one of his quick but expert kisses. His dark eyes gleaming, his gaze flicked over her appreciatively, and she was glad she’d bought the trouser suit—and skipped lunch to fit it. “Pretty earrings,” he commented, recognizing them, and she touched one of the elegant silver cube studs he’d given her for her birthday at Easter, soon after they’d first met.
“Luke and Marney want us at eight,” he said. “Let’s go get a drink.” They found a wine bar nearby where Caspar magically secured the last table. After the first few mouthfuls of syrupy Burgundy on her empty stomach, Jude felt light-headed.
“How did your presentation go?” she asked him. He and Jack were pitching for a teenage sports-fashion account.
“Good,” he replied. He’d drained his glass already and was pouring his next. “They went crazy for the movie-clip idea. If we find the right kids for the shoot, it could be amazing. Jack’s started going through the agencies. How’s the dusty world of dead-tree technology?” He was always teasing her that her job involved handling old books when the future of modern media was online. The prices they sold at impressed him, though.
“Something quite beguiling has cropped up,” she told him. “It’s the collection of an eighteenth-century astronomer. I’m going up to Norfolk on Friday. It’s funny really, it’s just where Gran was brought up. Caspar, I wondered...” The alcohol gave her courage to ask. “We weren’t doing anything next weekend, were we, you and me? I’m staying with Gran on Thursday night and working on Friday, so I mean Friday and Saturday nights. I’ve got to go to Milo’s christening on Sunday, but that’s doable. You could drive down and meet me in Norfolk on Friday evening. Or earlier, if you like. And come to the christening. I know Shirley and Martin would love to meet you.”
“Friday’s the fourth, right? I think it’s Tate and Yasmin’s flat-warming—no, that’s the Saturday.” He picked up his BlackBerry and started pressing keys. “Yeah, but we don’t have to do that.”
“Really? Only we could see my sister, Claire, and her little girl. You haven’t met them, you see, and I thought ... Their place is too tiny for both of us, but there’s a bed and breakfast in the village or maybe we could go out to the coast. The countryside’s beautiful; we could go walking...” She stopped, aware that he wasn’t listening.
Caspar’s eyes narrowed as he stared at his BlackBerry, the blue light from the screen flickering eerily across his face. He seemed tense, worried.
“Ah,” he said, suddenly cheered by something he’d found. “I’m really sorry, Jude, but I’m due in Paris on the Sunday for a presentation on Monday. Jack and I’ll need Saturday to prepare.”
“Oh, that’s a shame. You haven’t met my family. I particularly thought you’d like Claire.”
“She’s ... the disabled one?”
“She has a slight limp, that’s all.” Disabled is not how Jude thought of her sister. Pretty, feisty, outspoken, an astute businesswoman, yes, but never disabled. She’d been born with one leg slightly shorter than the other; something that had meant a childhood punctuated by hospital operations. “Her little girl’s called Summer. I haven’t seen them properly for weeks.”
“I thought you all met up at the airport last week.” They’d gone to see their mother off to Spain with her new husband, Douglas, who was renovating a villa in the hills behind Malaga.
“Stansted Airport is hardly a relaxing place for a chat.”
“Well, I’ll have to meet Claire and Summer—cute name—another time.”
Now he’d worked his way into the part, he managed to look sincerely sorry, but Jude was disappointed. It wasn’t the first opportunity he’d turned down of meeting her family, and it mattered to her. Come to think of it, she hadn’t met any of his relations either. This hadn’t struck her as odd before, but now it did.
One of the little earrings was hurting. She put a hand up and loosened it carefully. It came apart. She caught the bits just in time.
Copyright © 2012 by Rachel Hore
Reading Group Guide
1. Jude, Claire, Summer, Gran, and Esther all seem to exhibit unique strength, yet possess their own frailties. How do they overcome their weaknesses? Do you think that these traits get passed down through generations?
2. Jude has been tormented by her dreams of running through the woods since she was a child. Now her niece Summer is having the same nightmares. What is the role of dreams within the narrative? Are dreams merely derivatives of our imagination, or are they discernible windows into our daily lives?
3. The distinct settings in the novel add to the mood and plot of the story. Describe the different settings (ie. the city, Norfolk, the woods, the folly) and their role in respect to the characters. How do Jude's priorities change depending on her location?
4. The two men in Jude's lifeCaspar and Euanseem to be complete opposites. What do you think accounts for Jude's change of heart when she decides to stop seeing Caspar? Why is she so drawn to Euan?
5. Describe Jude's relationship with her sister, Claire. There seems to be some resentment between the two, yet it is clear that they still have a strong bond. Are we irrevocably tied by blood?
6. Gran says, "Things aren't easy to forget. Yet we must put them behind us and make the best of life." Do you agree with what Gran says? Is it best to forget about our secrets, or do we need to face them in order to move on?
7. Jude has an immediate connection to Chantal when she meets her at the Wickham estate. What brings these two women with vastly different backgrounds together? How would you explain the power of shared experiences in creating intimate bonds?
8. Chantal mentions that it was fate that brought Jude to Starborough, but Jude believes that things in life aren't dictated by destiny, but are "chaotic, random." How much of a role does fate play in the events of the story?
9. How effective is the story in travelling between the eighteenth century and the present? Do you think that this is done successfully through Esther's letters?
10. Jude is accused several times of putting her late husband, Mark, on a pedestal after his death, yet she later has suspicions of his fidelity during their marriage. What accounts for this shift in view? Is Jude finally able to move on after realizing that her husband may not have been "perfect?" Do you believe that there is one soul mate for each person, or is it possible to have a second chance at true love?
11. What is the significance of the star necklace that gets passed down through generations? What does the journey symbolize and what does it mean when the missing diamond is found? Do you think the necklace ends up in the right hands?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a great dual history novel about a young woman--Jude--who works as an auctioneer of rare books. She travels to Starbrough Hall to catalog and research a collection of astronomy books and objects--and soon finds herself trying to solve the mystery of Esther, a young woman adopted by Anthony Wickham, the owner of Starbrough Hall and an astronomy enthusiast from the late 1700's. Where did Esther come from, and where did she disappear to? Loved all the characters, the mysterious and creepy Folly in the woods, and the unfolding story of Esther. A great read for those who love Barbara Erskine, Susanna Kearsley, and Kate Morton.
A mystery, romance, and history all in one hook! Beautifully written and so satisfying. I'm definitely looking forward to more from this author.
Great Read and a Satisfying Ending - every Jot and Tittle is found and tidied Up after the Secrets are Found ! Judith Gower, an employee of an antiques dealer, checks into the antique library of an English country gentleman from the 18th C for a catalogue, and finds a Wickham family mysteriously adopted daughter, Esther Wickham. Esther writes her tale of discovery and wonder at the night sky and at a fate dictated by the cruel greed of a step-aunt. While having a go at the engaging story of the historical Esther Wickham, Judith discovers a lot about her own way of relating with her nearest and dearest sister and her engaging neice.
Recently widowed antique appraiser Jude is trying to get on with her life but she can’t stop thinking of her husband so she decides to take a working vacation to look at some old astronomy texts and equipment and this is when the coincidences start. The estate where these things are is where Jude’s Great Grandfather was groundskeeper and where her Grandmother grew up, but she doesn’t like to talk too much about that time of her life except that there was a gypsy girl. It is also close to her sister and niece who seem to be having the same dreams Jude had as a child. Is that possible? And what is her grandmother hiding? Also why does this place look like the dreams Jude had as a child? I thought the author did a great job at weaving the past and present storylines together and the mystery of the dreams and what happened to Esther in the 1700’s. I enjoyed the mystery of Esther, this 18th century foundling adopted by rich amateur astronomer they are a happy father and daughter and he seems to love sharing his love of the stars with her, but her story isn’t always a happy one and when Jude finds her journals she starts to unlock the mystery of Esther’s life. This has a magical realism feel to it with the astrology and the dreams. It also has a touch of romance but it doesn’t over power the book. I enjoyed this new to me author’s writing style and will definitely read more by her. If you are a fan of Kate Morton or Susanna Kearsley I think you will like this book it has the same kind of feel to it with the present story mixed in with the past.
Interesting premise dealing with astronomy, family secrets, strange goings on in town, a fascinating house, and a book collection with a bit of a love story tied in. The heroine, on top of dealing with the above, also must get over the death of her husband and realize she's in love with the idea of being in love, but not necessarily in love with the current man she's with...Really, though, I found it way too slow and it took too long to get to the point. It didn't do anything for me. I found myself setting it aside constantly for something else and discovered I never particularly wanted to go back to it. It didn't grab or hold me.
I won this book through Librarything. It is about an auction appraiser who while examining manuscripts and instruments of an eighteenth-century astronomer discovers secrets that tie her family to the family of the astronomer. The author did a good job with the characters and I highly recommend reading this book if you like historical fiction.
I enjoyed this story of a contemporary rare book expert and an18th century astronomer. Although the tension was mostly not very tense, all the different lives wound satisfactorily around one another like the astronomer's orrery sphere. In fact, there were so many people involved by the end that the relationships got a bit difficult to sort out, but all the major characters had their plot lines resolved, so I guess I can't complain too much. An enjoyable read with a bit of romance, a nice bit of astronomy, and just enough historical mystery to keep the story going.
Spellbound. I really enjoyed this read. Norfolk, England, and Ms. Hore¿s fictional Starbrough estate were so real in my mind, I had a hard time walking back out of her story. Good characterization, too, in that the book was peopled with those whose motivations felt real, (although some felt typecast, from the benevolent adoptive father, to the wicked, conniving sister). For the auction house where she works, Jude¿s current project involves valuing a family¿s holdings of antique and rare astronomy books. To heighten appeal for the auction, she researches the history of the family and comes upon a mystery, which leads to another, which leads to another. It didn¿t bother me a bit that the coincidences were highly implausible, or that everything wrapped up so tidily by the end. In tying all the threads together, the author created a spellbinding story. In dual time lines from the late 1700¿s and the early 2000s, the backbone of the story rests in astronomy, with dreams, sisters, gypsies, a folly, and a journal playing their parts. I was just of a mood to toss aside reality for a while and ride this suspenseful story wherever it took me. And I really enjoyed the ride.
I won this book through the Early Review program and I truly loved this book. The author was able to weave a wonderful story that kept me turning pages from beginning to end. The relationships that are born either before, through or from the story gave insight into the characters and allowed me to become invested in the characters and the story. The present/past aspect was well written and never seemed out of place within the story. The only part that I felt a bit lacking was the ending. I am not sure what I would have changed exactly but I found it to be a bit lame. Maybe that isn't the best word that I could use but it is the only one that comes to mind other than yawning. Maybe a bit more pizazz in the ending. Otherwise I really loved this story. I believe anyone that enjoys historical fiction or cozy mysteries would enjoy this book. Judith "Jude" Gower is an auction house appraiser. She loves her job and getting to work with old items. One day she answers the phone of a colleague and ends up stepping into her dream job. She is asked to appraise the books, manuscripts, journals and instruments of and 18th century Astronomer named Anthony Wickham. But, what does it all mean to Jude personally? Why is there a familiarity with the family and the stories the items, she is appraising, begin to tell? Why did she have dreams, as a child, that have a direct bearing on the past? Why, now, is her 8 year old niece, Summer, having the same dreams? Jude knows she must tell the story of this man, Anthony Wickham, and his adopted daughter, Esther. In order to bring the items to life for the buyers she must dig into the past. But, in doing so she finds so much more than their story, she find a mystery surrounding the adopted daughter and somehow it not only is tied to the items, but to Jude and her family.
This is a soft edged, cozy mystery that is filled with little corners of of starlit magic. The magic is the everyday sort that we only see when we allow our eyes to be opento it, and our hearts to accept it. The twist and turns, and there are many.. are more like meandering paths than tangled threads, and somehow, at the end, the author brings us out into a clearing that is sparkling with happiness and love. Yes, there is a bit of romance here but it is so deftly made a part of the story as to feel very real and pleasant. The many turns of the story are brought together by several people who themselves are made made different, brighter by the knowledge that their interest, their labors have uncovered. The story begins in the 18th century, and the story begins pleasantly enoughin a library, where so many good mysteries end. A family home will fall into ruin if the money is not found to save it. The answer lies in the library, or rather is the sale of the books and stargazing equipment that make it the beautiful and memorable lace that it has come to be. One family member in particular is unhappy with the decision, but she sees that it holds the answer. At least, she sees the answer to the financial question, but little does she know that the exploration of the library prior to its sale at auction will bring together a town and many scattered members of a family she has never met. There is of course a tower, and as all good towers do, this one holds secrets of its own. It is a place where the ghost of the past is noticed by nearly everyone who wanders too near. Can this be where the secret of the Wickham family is revealed? Jude, an appraiser for the auction house that will sell the contents of the library, feels drawn to find out. This one is a keeper.. recommended.
I loved this story that is set in the English countryside. Jude works for an auction house and travels to Starbrough Hall to appraise the books and instruments of an eighteenth century astronomer. She learns he had an adopted daughter, Esther, but there is a mystery about her. Jude's family lives in the area and have a connection to the Starbrough estate. Maybe there were a few too many coincidences but, hey, this is fiction, and I enjoyed reading this engaging novel.
I found this book to be truly captivating. I was hooked from page one. The main character Jude works for an auction house and that is what leads her to Starbrough Hall to find out about an astrologer's collection of books and journals. While she is researching these items she learns of secrets that might somehow be related to her and this recurring dream that she has had since childhood. It is the same dream that her niece has been having. Throughout the book you follow Jude and her research into the mysterious past of Anthony Wickham and his adoptive daughter Esther with secrets revealing themselves along the way.Overall the book was excellent. I do have to admit, along with my fellow reviewers, that at times the plot has coincidences that just seemed far-fetched. I find it hard to believe that these "coincidences" happened very often and just were so neat and tidy. I probably could have done without that, but I enjoyed learning more about astrology and reading this book.
As a child Jude Gower suffered from nightmares of her running through a forest crying for her mother. Now years later her niece Summer suffers from the same nightmare. When Jude goes to Norfolk to value a collection of scientific instruments and manuscripts belonging to Anthony Wickham she discovers links to the present. This was such a good read and a really good mystery. I loved the characters and the timelines that ran along side of each other. A must read. I won this from Goodreads.
This is an old-fashioned romantic suspense novel, reminiscent of Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney. There's really not a lot of suspense, and the romance parts could safely be read by your grandmother, but it's an interesting story all the same. Hore tells two tales here, in the by now familiar device of having the protagonist of one storyline research the protagonist of the other tale.Jude works for a London auction house. She is sent to Norfolk to prepare an astronomer's library for auction. She's glad to go as she has a grandmother, sister and niece living nearby and she's eager to repair her relationship with her sister. She meets a man, but discovers that her sister has feelings for him, and she's enthralled by the story she's piecing together from the library, that of the adoptive daughter of the astronomer, who played a large role in his discoveries and whose life before and after her time with the astronomer are shrouded in mystery.This is a gentle book. The moments of danger are presented so as to give no real concern for the characters involved. The various plots are all carefully and completely wrapped up at the end, so as to leave no room for uncertainty. While never exciting, A Place of Secrets was a soothing read for a cold winter's evening.
First Line: The night before it all begins, Jude has the dream again.Auction house appraiser Jude Gower answers the telephone one afternoon at Beecham's Auctioneers in Mayfair and finds herself embarking on a dream job. At Starbrough Hall in Norfolk, England, she is to examine and price the manuscripts and instruments of an eighteenth-century astronomer. She is welcomed by Chantal Wickham, and since both have lost their husbands, Jude feels close to the older woman almost immediately. Hard times are forcing the Wickhams to sell the astronomer's works; they've already sold most of their land and the old tower that was built as an observatory by Anthony Wickham, the astronomer. It was in the tower that Anthony Wickham and his daughter, Esther, made their most amazing discoveries.Although Jude has spent most of her life in London, her family once lived in the neighborhood of Starbrough Hall, and she feels at home there. She meets Euan, a well-known writer and naturalist, and spends as much time as she can with her sister and six-year-old niece-- who's having disturbing dreams... the same dreams that Jude had as a child. The further Jude delves into the life of Esther Wickham, the more she begins to wonder if these dreams are passed down from generation to generation. Can she possibly find the answers she needs to make the dreams stop before someone is hurt?A Place of Secrets fleshes out the standard romantic suspense skeleton very well. Jude is a widow who's spent the past few years putting her dead husband on a pedestal. No man she's met can measure up to her memories. Euan is the perfect hero: handsome, articulate, talented... and jealously guarded by Jude's sister. Since the sisters haven't gotten along for most of their lives, Jude tries to steer clear of Euan to keep the peace. It's rather easy because the fascinating part of this book is all about Esther Wickham, a foundling who became a willing apprentice to a gifted amateur astronomer. Jude is every bit as mesmerized by Esther as the reader.There is much said about dreams repeating themselves through the generations, but there's very little, if any, real paranormal activity going on at Starbrough Hall. The story has everything to do with how secrets fester the longer they remain hidden, with how the facts can be distorted and misinterpreted throughout the centuries. Jude proves to be an excellent detective as she catalogs the treasures that are soon to be sold. The more she learns about Esther, the more she is compelled to search for every single detail that exists. Esther is the stand-out character in this book, and she doesn't speak in dreams. She speaks the only way she can: through the documents and objects that were left behind.Unraveling the pieces of the story and laying bare all the hidden details became my focus as I read A Place of Secrets. It was a difficult book to put down, and I find that the character of Esther haunts me still.
I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I was not familiar with this author, but the book description sucked me in, and although it was a little slow to begin with, the pace picked up & kept going. This doesn't really fall into one specific genre, I don't think. There's a little history, a little mystery, some subtle romance, and an English countryside setting. Altogether, a nice combination. Probably my biggest complaint about this novel was its title. Not sure what I would've titled it, but "A Place of Secrets" seems underwhelming. However, I certainly enjoyed this well enough to look for others by this author.
I am usually drawn to stories about old English houses and the mysteries they can contain, which is why I wanted to read this book. I found it to be pleasant but slow; honestly, I lost interest once I started reading about the six-year-old girl with dreams similar to her aunts...it just did not ring true to me. I did like the parts about the old books and instruments, but the rest of the story did not grip me.
Slow paced but interesting book with history, astronomy, and old estate and family secrets. Loved reading about the auction house and their inner workings as well as the pressure they are under financially. Good read but think it would have benefited by upping the pacing of the story a bit.
I received this book from Librarything Early Review Program and with so much going on in my life I¿ve gotten behind on my ER¿s so I picked this one up on audio and am very glad I did as Jilly Bond¿s narration was really good, so this will be a review of the book and the narration. Recently widowed antique appraiser Jude is trying to get on with her life but she can¿t stop thinking of her husband so she decides to take a working vacation to look at some old astronomy texts and equipment and this is when the coincidences start. The estate where these things are is where Jude¿s Great Grandfather was groundskeeper and where her Grandmother grew up, but she doesn¿t like to talk too much about that time of her life except that there was a gypsy girl. It is also close to her sister and niece who seem to be having the same dreams Jude had as a child. Is that possible? And what is her grandmother hiding? Also why does this place look like the dreams Jude had as a child?I thought the author did a great job at weaving the past and present storylines together and the mystery of the dreams and what happened to Esther in the 1700¿s. I enjoyed the mystery of Esther, this 18th century foundling adopted by rich amateur astronomer they are a happy father and daughter and he seems to love sharing his love of the stars with her, but her story isn¿t always a happy one and when Jude finds her journals she starts to unlock the mystery of Esther¿s life. This has a magical realism feel to it with the astrology and the dreams. It also has a touch of romance but it doesn¿t over power the book. I enjoyed this new to me author¿s writing style and will definitely read more by her.If you are a fan of Kate Morton or Susanna Kearsley I think you will like this book it has the same kind of feel to it with the present story mixed in with the past.Narrator Jilly Bond brought this story to life for me, her voices were well done and her male & female characters weren¿t overdone. I was impressed with her work and will seek out other books narrated by her.4 Stars
This was a very good book. I really enjoyed it. As other reviewers have said, if you love Susanna Kearsley or Kate Morton, you will like this one.