Thursday, 5 December 2013

Book Review: Larkswood by Valerie Mendes

by Valerie Mendes
Historical/Family Saga
Orion Books
Review Copy from Amazon Vine
4 Stars


In the tradition of THE FORSYTE SAGA, a sweeping historical novel that spans three generations, telling the dark secrets of a family torn apart.

Larkswood House. The very name suggests birdsong, peace and elegance. It is home to the Hamilton children - Edward, Cynthia and Harriet - who enjoy the freedom and excitement of privilege. But in the glorious summer of 1896, with absent parents and a departed governess, disaster strikes the family, leaving it cruelly divided.

More than forty years later, on the eve of the Second World War, Louisa Hamilton, newly presented at court but struck down with glandular fever, is sent to Larkswood to recuperate. There, for the first time, she meets her grandfather, Edward, home after decades in India. Haunted by terrible memories, the arrival of his granddaughter begins to gladden his heart.

But as Louisa begins to fall under the spell of Larkswood, she realises it holds the key to the mystery that shattered her family two generations before. Will she find the courage to unravel the dark secrets of the past? And can Larkswood ever become home to happiness again?


London, 1939. Louisa and her elder sister Millicent have been recently presented to the Queen, their official 'coming out' and Millicent is looking forward to all the parties and balls, the new dresses, the eligible men they'll get to meet. Louisa thinks it's all rather silly, she'd rather be reading a book than going to a ball and when glandular fever strikes her down, she is bustled off to Larkswood in the country to recuperate.

Edward, her grandfather has been in India for over forty years and never thought he'd ever see Larkswood again, not after the diastrous summer in 1896, but he soon grows to love it again after Lousia brings it to life. With war not so distant on the horizon, he and Louisa hatch a plan to build a sanotarium on the grounds, where Lousia wants to train as a nurse. But the digging of the foundations also digs up some family secrets that Edward is reluctant to face.

I enjoyed the book, it was a well-written, well-researched historical novel but I was disappointed that I guessed the family secrets long before they were revealed. All of them - there were more than one. There was no suspense regarding the secrets, but the story and characters still draw you in and you want to read on to see what happens to them. I adored Louisa, she was so down-to-earth and you really feel for her when she finds out what the big secrets really are. Her sister Millicent, on the other hand, from her letters to her sister, seems nothing more than a clothes horse and a shallow girl only interested in snagging a rich husband.

A good read if you enjoy things like Downtown Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs.

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