One of the most anticipated books of 2019 from Pop Sugar, Bustle, Cosmo, Parade, and Goodreads!
Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother, Danny, were born in the middle of summer at their family's estate on the Norfolk coast. Within hours of their birth, their mother threw herself from the cliffs, the au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of dark cloaks, changelings, and the aloof couple who drew a young nanny into their inner circle.
Now an adult, Seraphine mourns the recent death of her father. While going through his belongings, she uncovers a family photograph that raises dangerous questions. It was taken on the day the twins were born, and in the photo, their mother, surrounded by her husband and her young son, is smiling serenely and holding just one baby.
Who is the child, and what really happened that day?
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.93(d)|
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We have no photographs of our early days, Danny and I. A six-month gap yawns in the Mayes family album after we were born. No first-day-at-school pictures for Edwin, no means of telling which of us two looked more like him at the beginning. An empty double page marks the overwhelming grief that followed our arrival.
It's a muggy evening at Summerbourne, and the unopened window in the study muffles the distant rasp of the sea and leaves my skin clammy. I've spent the day creating paperwork towers that cluster around the shredder now, their elongated shadows reminding me of the graveyard. If Edwin has finished his packing, he'll be waiting for me downstairs; he disapproves of me doing this so soon, or perhaps disapproves of me doing it at all.
The swivel chair tilts with me as I grab another photo wallet from the bottom desk drawer-more landscape shots of my father's, I expect-and I focus on the wall calendar as I straighten, counting red-rimmed squares. Twenty days since my father's accident. Eight days since his funeral. The packet flaps open and spills glossy black negatives across the carpet, and my jaw tightens. I've lost count of how many days since I last slept.
The first photo is of Edwin on the beach as a child, and I check the date on the back: June 1992, just weeks before Danny and I were born. I study this four-year-old version of my big brother for any sign of awareness of the family catastrophe that was looming, but of course there is none: he's laughing, squinting against the bright sunlight, pointing a plastic spade toward a dark-haired young woman at the edge of the image.
Photos of seagulls and sunsets follow, and I shuffle through them until I reach the final picture: a domestic scene both recognizable and unfamiliar. The hairs at the base of my skull prickle, and I hold my breath, and the air in the room presses closer, as if it too is straining to absorb the details.
We grew up with no photos of our early days, Danny and I. Yet here is our mother, sitting on the patio at Summerbourne, her face tilted down toward a swaddled baby cradled in her arms. Here is our father, standing on one side of her, young Edwin on the other side, both beaming proudly at the camera.
I bend closer over the image: my mother, before she left us. The details of her expression are hazy, the picture poorly focused, yet she radiates a calm composure from the neatness of her hair, the angle of her cheek, the curve of her body around the single infant. She shows none of the wild-eyed distress that has always haunted my imagination in the absence of anyone willing to describe her final hours to me.
I flip the photo over, and my father's distinctive scrawl confirms it was taken on the day we were born, just over twenty-five years ago. I already know it could be no later, because on the same day Danny and I were born, our mother jumped from the cliffs behind our house and killed herself.
My bare feet make no noise on the stairs.
A duffel bag lurks by the hall table, snagging at my dressing gown as I sweep past. I find Edwin leaning against the wooden countertop in the unlit kitchen, gazing through the wide glass doors toward the shadows in the garden.
"Look at this." I flick on the lights. "I've never seen this before."
He takes the picture, blinking.
"Me neither," he says. He studies it. "The day you were born. I didn't know we had this, but . . . yeah, I think I remember it being taken." It's the first time I've seen him smile in days. "Dad looks so young. Look at that. Mum looks so . . ."
"Happy," I say.
"Yeah." His tone is soft; his attention absorbed in the picture.
"Not like someone who's about to commit suicide."
His smile fades.
I twitch the picture from his fingers and scrutinize it. "Why's she only holding one of us? Is it me or Danny?"
"I've no idea. What's this one?" Edwin reaches for the other photo I brought down-him laughing on the beach with the dark-haired teenager. "Oh, this was Laura. I remember her. She was nice."
"Your au pair?" I ask. Now that he says her name, I'm pretty sure I've seen her in the family photo album. The young woman who looked after Edwin in those carefree days before we were born, when he still had a mother and no need of the full-time roster of nannies that Danny and I grew up with.
"She's the one who took this," Edwin says, reaching again for the photo of our mother holding the single baby, but I keep my grip on it and take it with me to the kitchen table. I drop onto a chair and straighten the picture in front of me, smoothing a curled corner with my thumb.
"It's odd," I say. "It's staged, like you were marking the occasion. You'd think they'd have made sure both of us were in it."
Edwin shakes his head. "I don't know. I guess-there was other stuff going on we don't know about."
"But Mum looks so calm here." I frown at the picture. "I know-I do know why we never had any baby photos. Everyone in shock after Mum died. But I can't believe-I've finally found one-and I don't even know if it's me or Danny in it."
"Here," Edwin says. "I'll take it-I'll ask Gran about it." He reaches for it again, but I press my thumb more firmly onto the corner.
"Gran never wants to talk about these things," I say. "No one ever does."
Edwin sighs. "You need to get some sleep, Seph-do you want to try one of Gran's pills? Maybe get dressed tomorrow, go out for a walk or something." He rubs his eyes briefly. "Things will get easier, you know."
"Do you think we could find Laura?" I ask him. "If she's the one who took the picture, maybe she could tell us . . ." I bend closer over the image, gazing at my mother's hair, the way she cradles the baby. "This was literally a few hours before Mum died, wasn't it? This was the day everything here changed."
"Seraphine," Edwin says.
I look up at him. "And we don't know why. And now Dad's gone, we might never . . ." The injustice of our situation-of growing up without a mother and now losing our father in such a senseless accident-comes crashing down on me again.
Edwin's gaze travels from my unwashed hair to the coffee stain on my dressing gown, and then he squeezes his eyes shut. "Okay, I'm going to stay another night. I can't leave you like this. I'll ring work first thing and explain."
"No." I slide the photo away across the table and roll my shoulders, stretching my neck. "Don't be silly. I'm fine, honestly. I guess I was just wondering, really, where Laura went. Afterward."
Edwin watches me. I concentrate on relaxing my facial muscles, dredging up an expression of unconcerned interest. He sighs again.
"She left after Mum died. I've no idea where she went. And she'd be-what? In her forties by now. Even if you knew where she was, you couldn't just turn up on her doorstep complaining that one of you got missed out of a photo twenty-five years ago. She'd think you were nuts."
I nod, and Edwin pushes himself off from the countertop, heading to the hall. The corner of the photo lifts again, and I draw it slowly back toward me.
"But if she could tell us what happened-"
He pauses in the doorway. "We know what happened, Seph. Mum was ill. She took her own life. We can't change that."
I press my lips together.
"Do you want me to stay?" he asks. "I can stay another night. Or, look-pack a bag and come back with me? Go out with Danny tomorrow, have lunch with Gran. Take your mind off things."
I grit my teeth. For almost three weeks I've had my brothers and my grandmother staying at Summerbourne with me, handling funeral arrangements and solicitors and condolence visits. I can't begin to express to Edwin how desperately thirsty I am now for solitude.
"No, honestly, I'm fine," I say. "You need to go. It's late." I fold my hands in my lap and try to smile at him. "I'll go to bed now. I might come up at the weekend."
"Joel's staying at Michael's-I could ask him to look in on you, check you're okay?"
I can't suppress a groan. "Oh, please don't." I'd found it awkward enough shaking Joel's hand at Dad's funeral; I hadn't realized he was staying with his grandfather, our old gardener, Michael, just down the lane.
"Well, could you ask someone over tomorrow?" Edwin asks. "A friend . . . someone from work . . . ?"
His gaze slides away as I shrug. I've never felt much need for friendships, never nurtured them, and this baffles my big brother. I think of the phrase Danny uses about Edwin occasionally-"he's not disappointed in you, Seraphine, he's disappointed for you"-Danny's wry tone softening the thorny truth of it. Not for the first time, I swallow down my frustrated response. I'm fine as I am, Edwin. Leave me alone.
I allow him to hug me at the front door, leaning against him for a moment, inhaling the honeysuckle scent of the fabric conditioner that our grandmother uses on our clothes when she stays here. When I pull back, I keep my gaze lowered to avoid having to look at the tension creases around his eyes.
"Get some sleep, Seph," he says.
Back in the stale air of the study, I switch on the overhead light and eye up the paper towers. An image of a blue company logo niggles in my memory. I start on the documents that I cleared from the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet this morning, and within five minutes, I'm holding the au pair agency form-faded ink on flimsy paper.
Laura Silveira was eighteen years old in 1991, and her home address was in London.
I type her name into my phone, then try the address, but come up with nothing that convincingly fits a woman who worked here as an au pair over twenty-five years ago. I carry the form down to the sitting room and pull out the family photo album that covers 1991 and 1992, gingerly turning the pages that show life at Summerbourne during her eleven months of employment here, up until the blank double page when we were born.
She appears in only half a dozen pictures. The clearest is labeled Edwin with Laura in my mother's spiky handwriting, and as I tilt the page to peer at it more closely, the ancient adhesive gives up, and the photo slides free of its transparent cover and into my hand.
I gaze at Laura's image. In the other pictures, she's on the margins, glancing away, the focus on Edwin and frequently his best friend, Joel. In this one she smiles at the camera as she holds Edwin's hand in front of the rock pools. She's tall, athletic, with a mass of dark hair tied back. The agency document says she was taking a year out to repeat her A-level exams following "difficult circumstances at home." I study her face. Were there complex emotions within her smile? To me, she simply looks happy.
The sun has set, but the heat of the August day lingers. I prop the family photo on my bedside table, and the eyes of my so-much-younger father and brother follow me as I roam restlessly around my room.
It was never a taboo subject exactly, my mother's suicide, but we were only given a limited amount of information as we were growing up. Seeing her in this picture, gazing calmly down at her indistinct bundle, contradicts everything I've ever imagined about that day, and reminds me forcibly that there's no chance now of ever hearing the full details from my dad. But if Laura was there-if Laura saw what happened between this photo being taken and our mother jumping-perhaps I don't have to spend the rest of my life not knowing after all.
I shove the previous night's nest of sheets off the bed and stretch out flat on my back, my fingers splayed, as I wait for a hint of breeze from the open window.
Inside the red-black of my eyelids flicker the faces of children who were a few years above me at the village school-sly-tongued kids who used to call us the sprite twins, and ask me repeatedly why I didn't look like my brothers. Vera, my grandmother, used to tell me they only taunted me because I reacted with fury, unlike Danny, who could shrug any teasing off with a laugh.
Bird chatter rouses me, creeping through my window with the first rays of sunlight, and I'm not sure whether I was asleep a moment ago or just lost in my thoughts. A plan is already unfurling behind my gritty eyelids. By seven o'clock I am showered and dressed, with more energy and purpose in my limbs than I've felt in the three weeks since Dad died. I tap Laura's old postcode into my GPS and join the flow of traffic from the coast to the capital, a three-hour journey that often swells to four.
Laura's old address turns out to be a neat terraced house with a semicircle of brightly stained glass in its front door. There's a small park across the road, surrounded by green painted railings that gleam in the late morning sunshine as if they've just been polished. I hesitate on the pavement, imagining suspicious eyes watching me from behind the pristine net curtains. For several heartbeats I consider walking away, but I grit my teeth and knock.
The man who answers is grinning before I even finish my question.
"I'm looking for a Laura Silveira who lived here twenty-five years ago. Do you happen to know where I might find her?"
He has a large hooked nose and a bald head, and he fills the narrow doorway.
"You from that posh family she used to live with?" he asks.
I blink at him. His gaze travels over my linen shift dress down to my cream ballet pumps, and he curls his lip, still grinning.
"Wait there. I'll get her mum. She knows where she works." He shuts the door in my face.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Read this one in two days! Really enjoyed it especially after reading Kate Mortan's latest book. Very similar styles which made them flow nicely together. A great mystery entwined with interesting characters made for a very enjoyable read.
Does Laura, the au pair, have the answer to the question that no one would ever answer? Does she know why Seraphine's mother threw herself off a cliff right after she gave birth? Seraphine hopes so because she must know the answer now that her father has also passed away, but no one wants to talk about it. Well...not until Seraphine tells her grandmother she would like to talk to Laura to see if she can shed some light on what happened. Her grandmother panics and pleads with Seraphine to NOT talk to Laura. This arouses more curiosity for Seraphine. Grandmother Vera also tells Seraphine that Summerborne House will go to her brother Danny and not her. That news has Seraphine running out of the house. Why will it go to Danny and not her when she lives there? But Grandmother Vera didn't say why and won't say why. Of course, Seraphine does not listen to her grandmother's request and apparent warning. What she finds out causes more questions and more danger, but who are the ones that are in danger and what does what she finds out mean? THE AU PAIR takes us from past to present as we learn about the Mayes family and the situations and activities that took place twenty-five years ago that are still puzzling today. We hear Laura's voice from the past as she familiarizes herself with the house and the family when she first arrives and her life as the au pair at Summerbourne. Then we hear Seraphine's voice present day as she searches for answers from her brothers, her grandmother, and anyone who may have known her mother. There is plenty of mystery to keep you intrigued along with Ms Rous's alluring writing and secretive characters. The flashbacks and description of life at Summerbourne at that time were marvelous. Old estates with all those rooms, the estate's family, and the folks that work on an estate are always a draw for me. THE AU PAIR will be enjoyed by readers who enjoy secrets, mysteries, family dynamics, time travel, and descriptions that put you in the book with the characters. Nothing can top a good old mystery with family secrets, right? 5/5 This book was given to me as an ARC by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This book tells the story of a family from the prospective of two of the main characters, Seraphine in present day, and Laura in 1991. Seraphine is trying to find out the truth about her childhood, and Laura holds the answers. The Summerbourne estate is the background of both stories. Seraphine, against the wishes of her family, tracks down Laura, the au pair. I love the way this story comes together. All questions are answered and everything is wrapped up. It took a few chapters to get into the story but after that, I didn't want to put down.
4.5 Not since I read Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, have I enjoyed a mystery so much. Readers of old fashioned mysteries/cozies may like this book. The book is more of a what-happened than who-done-it. Seraphine Mayes is a young woman in her twenties. Upon her father's death, finds a photograph of her mother that makes Seraphine question some of the beliefs she has had about her mother and her own birth. Before, Seraphine sees the photo she believes she was a twin and that her mother had committed suicide just after her birth. However, the photograph Seraphine finds shows her mother looking very happy holding just one baby after her birth. The picture was taken by the Au Pair the family had at the time whose name Laura. The family lost touch with Laura after Seraphine's birth. Seraphine believes that Laura knows the answer what happened to her mother and why there is only one baby in the picture when she was a twin. The rest of the book is split between two time periods. One is Seraphine's present day efforts to track down the truth and the other is Laura’s memories of the time she spent with the family many years ago. Often, I find stories that jump from one time to another confusing and hard to follow. However, in this novel it worked and built up the suspense. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Thank you to the publisher Berkley who provided an advance reader copy via Edelweiss. Summerbourne is an English country estate set against the beach and cliffs, a beloved refuge of the Summerbourne family. However, over the years it has suffered heartbreaking tragedies involving the death of a twin, and the suicide of a mother. In 1992 Ruth Mayes (Summerbourne heir) threw herself off the cliff in back of the house on the same day she gave birth to twins Seraphine and Danny. Several years earlier she had given birth to twins Edwin and Theo, but Theo died after falling from the cliff shortly after his second birthday. In fact, Summerbourne has a mystic reputation among the villagers for not letting the family keep their twins. In the years since their births, Seraphine and Danny have been nicknamed the "Summerbourne Sprites" by some of the neighbors. There was no midwife at the house when Seraphine and Danny were born. Also, Seraphine was much larger and robust than Danny, and she sported a different skin tone. As they grew their sizes became comparable, but the mystery and horror of what their mother did always left an unsettling feeling and unanswered questions. Seraphine loves the Summerbourne estate more than her twin brother Danny and hopes that one day her grandmother Vera will leave it to her. She's still reeling from the recent accidental death of their father Dominic, who was found bloodied and fallen from a ladder by the garage. She's exploring the contents of her father's desk and finds a family photo from the day she and Danny were born. However, in the photo her mother Ruth is holding just one baby. This fact ignites the old uncertainties surrounding her birth and that of her twin brother Danny. Her mother looks serene in the photo, with no inkling that she would throw herself off the cliff just hours later. Also, Seraphine remembers that an eighteen year old au pair named Laura had worked for the Mayes that year, but left the family right after the births. Did Laura take the picture? Maybe she can provide critical insight of that momentous day in 1992, because SHE WAS THERE. To that end, a determined and driven Seraphine sets off to find the former au pair. This is a story of a privileged family that has known tragedy and is guarding secrets. It is a slowly unraveling mystery that culminates in a riveting, yet sobering conclusion.
I won a copy of this book from Goodreads giveaways, I was not required to give a favorable review. This was a very different kind of story. Laura came to work the summer as an Au Pair for a little boy on the family summer estate. But there were so many twist and turns that happened. Seraphine & Danny were born there. They lost the mother soon after they were born, and now they have lost their father. And Seraphine has many question both to why her grandmother attacked Laura when she was just getting answers and what really happened who is the baby in the picture nobody knows. I enjoyed it. A little deep at times but make for a good suspense in the end.
Lindas Book Obsession Reviews “The Au Pair” by Emma Rous, Berkley Press, January 8, 2019 Emma Rous, Author of “The Au Pair” has written a chilling, intense, intriguing, captivating, riveting, page-turning novel. The Genres for this novel are Thriller, Suspense, Mystery, Fiction. There is a slight amount of Folklore in this novel as well. The timeline for this story goes twenty five years to the past, and is in the present, when it pertains to the characters or events in the story. The author describes her quirky characters as complex, complicated, dysfunction, suspect and disturbing. Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother Danny were born at the family estate on the Norfolk Coast. The family is wealthy and have another estate as well. The twins have been mourning their father’s accidental death. In the village there are strange rumors.Their biological mother committed suicide the day the twins were born. There is an older brother Edwin, who was watched very carefully by an Au Pair named Laura. Seraphine discovers some questionable photographs while going through paperwork that opens the door to all kind of questions. In trying to identify this, Seraphine finds threatening letters. Someone breaks into the house, and more dangerous things are happening. Seraphine is told to back off and stop questioning things, or someone will get hurt. There are twists and turns, and an edgy intense feeling that something is very wrong. The more Seraphine discovers, the more danger she is in, and the less she understands herself. There is someone from the past that could shed light on what is going on. That could mean shedding light on deep secrets, betrayals, possible murders, and more danger. I recommend this chilling thriller for those readers who enjoy this genre. I received an ARC from NetGalley for my honest review. 2 likes
As a book takes me on a journey I find myself wondering where I am going, what’s going to happen next, if I can figure it out too early I sometimes lose interest. With The Au Pair I was kept guessing, kept peeking around the corners waiting for the next clue, and kept turning page after page until I ran out of pages. One picture can change the entire dynamic of a family. It can open doors that are much better kept shut; it can bring up questions that should never be asked. But once that door is open it can never be shut again. Seraphina starts questioning everything that she once knew to be true and starts unweaving the story of her life. With each string, she pulls she finds another story that doesn’t quite fit. The dual timelines and the twists and turns kept me reading, kept me up at night reading, and makes this a 5-star book. It is everything it was promised to be and more. There were amazing characters, wonderful settings, twisted stories, family dynamics to figure out, and so much more.
In Au Pair, twins Seraphine and Danny are born and the same day their mother throws herself off a cliff saying they took my baby. The twins have an older sibling, Danny, who was also a twin. His brother, Theo, fell off the cliff two years earlier. Year later, their father is killed in a tragic accident. While going through his papers, Seraphine finds a photograph dated with her birthdate of both their parents, Edwin, but only one of the twins. When she asks Edwin if he remembers which twin is pictured, he doesn’t know but that his au pair, Laura, took the picture. Seraphine decides to find Laura. However, when she eventually finds her, she won’t talk. The Au Pair is a suspenseful thriller with a laid back southern gothic vibe. The reader is compelled to keep reading to find out what really happened on the day of Seraphine and Danny’s birth. The style of alternating chapters of Seraphine’s current search for answers and Laura’s experiences in the month leading up to the births is a great way to ratchet up the tension. The conclusion is excellent too. Overall, the Au Pair is recommended for all thriller and romantic suspense fans. 4 stars! Thanks to Berkley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
A Gothic Mansion, Twins, and a Long Ago Death Devastated by the death of her father, Seraphine Mayes finds a photo that starts her on a quest to find out what happened on the day she and her twin brother, Danny, were born, and her mother threw herself off the cliffs surrounding Summerbourne, the Gothic mansion on the coast where the twins grew up. The twins had a series of nannys, but not Laura, the nanny who cared for their older brother, Edwin, and ran away on the day their mother died. It’s a time no one wants to talk about. The atmosphere at Summerbourne is both enticing and creepy. You can understand why Seraphine loves the beauty, but feels the tension of underlying secrets. I enjoyed the descriptions of the old estate on the coast. For me, it made the story enjoyable. The story is told from the alternating points of view of Laura, 1991, and Seraphine, 2017. Both settings were realistic although I preferred the Summerbourne of 1991 before the tragedy. The estate seemed somewhat dingy and sad in 2017. The main characters are good. I found Seraphine’s grief a little overdone, but it drove her to solve the mystery of her birth. The secondary characters, Edwin and his friend Josh, are likable. They are a good foil for Seraphine’s distress. If you enjoy romance and mystery with a Gothic undertone, this is a very enjoyable book. I received this book from Net Galley for this review.
4.5 stars Such a page turner, I ended up finishing it in a day. It's just one of those good old popcorn eating reads in which you can't wait to see how everything unfolds. Seraphine and her twin brother Danny were only hours old when their mother committed suicide off the cliffs of the Norfolk coast. Now an adult, Seraphine is mourning the death of her father. While going through his possessions at the family estate, she uncovers a family photograph of her parents, older brother Edwin, and a baby on what looks like the day she and Danny were born. But what strikes Seraphine is odd is her mother is smiling in the photo even though in a mere matter of hours she kills herself and there is only one baby in the photograph. What does this mean and will she be able to find the answers she is looking for even though so many years have passed? In terms of sheer entertainment, this was a 5 star read. I loved the dual timelines of the present with Seraphine and the past with the au pair, Laura. The story does become a little complicated towards the end and there were times I had to pause and get everything squared away in my head before I could continue reading. I think some valid points could be made on whether the story is realistic however this book has that weird, creepy but fun, trainwreck type vibe that whether or not it is believable doesn't really matter much to me. This is the type of book you read when you want to escape from your life and read about the crazy, messed up lives of other people. A perfect vacation read! I received a free copy in the mail from the publisher but was under no obligation to post a review. All views expressed are my honest opinion.
After the unexpected death of her father, Seraphine Mayes is cleaning out his desk when she comes across two old photographs. The photos cause her to question her own identity and she starts digging into the past. The problem is, there aren’t many people who know the truth. Then there are the threatening messages, like, “Dominic Mayes is dead. If you discuss Summerbourne with anyone, your daughter will be next.” Told in alternating time lines by Seraphine and Laura. The story unfolds in tantalizing clues as to the real truth of the Mayes family progeny. It’s a twisty mystery that kept me guessing right to the very end, just the way I like it. A well-paced plot and engrossing story make this one a winner. I loved it!