“Applecote Manor doesn’t dominate the surrounding lush countryside but settles into it, like an elegant elderly lady dozing in long grass.”Two years ago I read Eve Chase’s debut novel, “Black Rabbit Hall” and enjoyed it SO much that I vowed then to read everything she writes. Now I am delighted to review her second novel, “The Wildling sisters“.
Blurb: Four sisters. One summer. A lifetime of secrets.
When fifteen-year-old Margot and her three sisters arrive at Applecote Manor in June 1959, they expect a quiet English country summer. Instead, they find their aunt and uncle still reeling from the disappearance of their daughter, Audrey, five years before. As the sisters become divided by new tensions when two handsome neighbors drop by, Margot finds herself drawn into the life Audrey left behind. When the summer takes a deadly turn, the girls must unite behind an unthinkable choice or find themselves torn apart forever.
Fifty years later, Jessie is desperate to move her family out of their London home, where signs of her widower husband’s previous wife are around every corner. Gorgeous Applecote Manor, nestled in the English countryside, seems the perfect solution. But Jessie finds herself increasingly isolated in their new sprawling home, at odds with her fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, and haunted by the strange rumors that surround the manor.
I’ve found another novel that will star in my Best Reads of 2018 post at the end of the year!
Written with dual timelines, this book will be relished by readers who are fans of Kate Morton, Rosamund Pilcher, Diane Chamberlain, and Harriet Evans.
Summer 1959: We meet the Wilde sisters. Flora, Pam, Margot and Dot – aged seventeen, sixteen, fifteen and twelve. Their father died in an accident and they are now in the care of their beautiful, though flighty, mother. The fatherless family is struggling financially, so their mother decides to spend the summer in Marrakesh where she has been offered a job by a friend. The Wilde girls are shipped off to the Cotswolds where they will spend the summer with their Aunt Sybil and Uncle Perry. They arrive at Applecote Manor to find Aunt Sybil and Uncle Perry much changed. It has been five years since their only daughter Audrey had vanished. Aunt Sybil has deluded herself into thinking Audrey will come home any time now…. She keeps her room at the top of the house just the way Audrey left it. She buys her clothes and shoes which will fit her now… Audrey was just twelve years old when she went out in the garden to play and never came back.
The sisters are very close. “I don’t know who we sisters will be without one another to differentiate us. Take one of us away and we’d all lose our balance, like removing a leg from a kitchen table.”
Now the Wilde girls are living at Applecote, Aunt Sybil favours Margot (the narrator of their story) for it is she that most resembles the missing Audrey.
“Applecote itself feels caught between the past and the present, life and death, a house gummed shut, waiting for news that never comes.”
The summer of 1959 was known for being the hottest summer in recent history. Day after day of hot, humid weather. The girls turned brown and strong from spending so much time outside. They met some local boys. They explored the vast grounds, the orchards, the river, and the historic old standing stones at the end of the garden.
“A memory is a living thing; it breathes beside you”
It was a summer of transition, of growing up. It was also a summer when a tragic event marred their memories for the rest of their lives.
“Houses are never just houses; I’m quite sure of this now. We grow up. We stay the same. We move away, but we live forever where we were most alive.”
Over 50 years later: We meet the Tucker family. Jessie Tucker is mother to tiny three-year-old Romy and stepmother to teenage Bella. Jessie and Will are madly in love, but Bella resents her new stepmother Jessie, and her little half-sister, Romy.
Londoners, the Tuckers have just moved to Applecote Manor. Will is a widower. Jessie wants a new start with her little family in a house that isn’t permeated with memories of Will’s first wife, Mandy. Also, both Jessie and Will want to remove Bella from her London friends and lifestyle because they feel it is not good for her.
“She had no idea that trying to love Bella, let alone parent her as she grew into an angry teen, would be like trying to hug an animal that wanted to sink its teeth into her neck.”
Will owns a logistics company jointly with a college friend, Jackson. He plans to take a step back from the company and spend more time in the country with his family. But as life rarely goes to plan, Jackson tells them that he wants to sell his half of the company and move to Australia. This puts a real ‘spanner in the works‘ for the Tuckers. This means that Will will be away MORE often instead of less. He will be in London all week, returning to his family in the remote Cotswold valley only at weekends.
The girls are alone in the big old house. Bella’s behavior remains cold and her moods maudlin. Jessie begins to fear leaving Bella alone with Romy… Will’s being away so much begins to affect their marriage. Jessie feels alone even when he is home at weekends. Just when Jessie feels despairing of their life at Applecote, events take another disturbing turn…
What can I say? I LOVED this book. The Wilde sisters and the Tucker family made an indelible impression on me. But the house, Applecote Manor, was the star of the novel. This is a story that explores the strength of family bonds. A favourite read that I will be recommending to many.
Eve Chase is the author of Black Rabbit Hall and The Wildling Sisters, and is a pseudonym of a journalist who has worked extensively across the British press. She lives in Oxford, England with her husband and three children.