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on 19 September 2010
This is a fascinatingly complex story of how the past can affect the present. Jude, the main character, still trying to come to terms with the death of her young husband four years earlier, is a specialist in 18th century books and manuscripts. When she takes a call one lunchtime, intended for another employee of the small auctioneers business where she works, she feels a frisson of interest - as a child, her grandmother lived in the gamekeeper's cottage on the estate of Starbrough Hall, home of the caller Robert Wickham. Her Gran still lives nearby, as does her pretty but prickly sister Claire, whose daughter, Summer, has started suffering the same nightmares that plagued Jude as a child - running through a forest unable to find her mother.

Both Jude's Gran, and her mother, Valerie, seem to have some past, but unacknowledged, connection to a crumbling folly built in the 18th century by astronomer Anthony Wickham, the then owner of the estate, to enable him to study the stars. As Jude searches through the old manuscripts, she unearths the journals of the young Esther Wickham, whose story unfolds alongside the modern day tale and proves even more compelling. Who was she, and where did she come from? And what happened to her after Anthony Wickham died?

There is a large cast of characters, but they're clearly defined and there's never any problem knowing who they are. There's also the astronomical history, the romantic interest surrounding Euan, a naturalist and present occupant of Gran's old home, and the tense rivalry yet edgy closeness between the sisters, Jude and Claire.

It's a novel of many facets, and I had to admire the intricate plotting which enabled the author to piece together all aspects of the story and the secrets it contains. For me, there were just two detractions: the style in the early pages seemed at times forced and unnatural, although becoming more flowing as the story progressed - Esther's 18th century voice, for instance, was beautifully conveyed; and some of the coincidences that brought the loose ends together were, for me, just a little too coincidental.

Nevertheless it's an engrossing read, a perfect story for bedtime or curled up in front of the fire as the autumnal evenings set in. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes a light but intriguing read.
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VINE VOICEon 18 January 2011
I really like to try to find something positive to say in a book review, but this one is something of a challenge! It was a present and I was absolutely determined to finish it. Well....., the picture on the cover is quite nice, the character of Anthony Wickham in the age of eighteenth century astronomical discovery was interesting, .....and I did actually manage to finish the book.
However, this has to be weighed against a really ridiculous storyline involving numerous absurd coincidences. For example, Jude the auction-house heroine just happens by chance to receive a call from the owner of Starbrough Hall, which just happens to be just down the road from her family home, which happens to have a folly in the grounds which is the subject of her and her niece's dreams, and happens to discover hidden diary accounts of Esther behind the bookcase in Starbrough Hall which gives clues to the origins of the dreams, and also finds a necklace that links her grandmother to Esther - oh but wait, there's a silver star missing from the necklace! Oh, panic over, here it is on the ground by the folly where it was dropped about 250 years ago.....and guess what, they end up being all related to each other! Then her niece's lost father just drops by because he's related to another key character in the story. Honestly, anyone would think Norfolk is some rural backwater where everyone is related to each other....er!
At one point the characters all stare at each other opened mouthed by some coincidence. Well, they're not the only ones. I was wondering whether the writer, in a moment of insight, had realised this was all so ridiculous it couldn't possibly be working. But no, on she goes!
Not only was the plotting very silly, reliant on coincidence and dreams, but the prose and dialogue were clunky and uninspiring. I did wonder how this actually managed to get published. Then I read the author's biography and saw she is in the publishing industry. Well, I guess that answers that! But wait, oh no, she's written three others.........
I feel like Craig Revel-Horwood having just watched an Ann Widdecombe samba...OMG!
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on 18 October 2010
This book is very disappointing. The characters have absolutely no depth at all and all the conversations between them are incredibly wooden. The storyline seems to depend on one coincidence after another and then resorts to dreams to fill in the gaps. The 'hero' of the romance is quite nauseating as he rescues bunnies and makes peg dolls. Definitely not for me! How on earth it got selected for the Richard & Judy bookclub I have absolutely no idea but it certainly puts me off trying any of the other books on their shortlist.
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on 31 October 2010
I was looking forward so much to this book as I've very much enjoyed Rachel Hore's previous novels, but oh dear - what a let down. It seemed a laborious read to me, and although I found some parts interesting, in general things were so slow-moving. But the thing that irritated me most were the coincidences. Goodness me, they came thick and fast. One or two I could have accepted, but by the end of the book everyone appeared to be related in some way to everyone else and I would cite examples except that I wouldn't want to spoil the story for anyone who really does want to read this novel and make their own judgment. But be prepared to have your credulity stretched!
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on 5 January 2011
The book follows Jude, an auctioneer, as she visits Starbrough Hall to evaluate a collection for auction. What then follows are pages and pages devoted to a diary she finds hidden away, detailing mainly star gazing trips, which I found completely boring. The plot involves coincidence after coincidence which in my opinion never bind together as anything coherent. As other reviewers have said it is a poor imitation of a Kate Morton book. I almost gave up numerous times while reading this but was determined to reach the end - it wasn't worth it!
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on 5 January 2011
I picked this up thinking it would be a gripping yet undemanding read for the Christmas hols. In the end the only reason I finished the book was to see how bad it could really get. Esther's story was the only interesting part of the novel but even that towards the end stretched credulity to the very limits. Way too many coincidences and important chunks of the historical mystery being resolved because the contemporary main character dreamed that it happened, oh dear, oh dear.

As for the dialogue between characters, it was just so stilted and clumsy, the conflict between sisters never felt real, I could go on but I won't. Oh ok then, one last thing, the romantic male character was an insufferable drip.

Give it a miss.
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on 12 November 2010
I've always found the books from Richard and Judy's Book Club well worth reading but I have to agree with a previous reviewer who questioned how this one made it onto the list. It's full of completely ridiculous coincidences and the narrative seems to throw up more questions than the author was able to resolve in a plausible way. None of the characters had any depth to them or were even particularly likeable and I found the whole plot to be pretty dull and predictable. This is a very poor imitation of The Forgotten Garden and The House at Riverton by Kate Morton which, frankly, wipe the floor with this effort! Don't waste your time or money!
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This is the first of Rachel Hore's books we've read. A detailed & complex plot with many diverse characters, but we all felt it was extremely well written keeping the reader engaged to the end of the story. There were many synchronisities but despite these we agreed the story-line was strong and came together well. Our group gave it 8 out of 10.
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on 23 October 2010
I thought this was one of the most boring books I have read. Jude and her 6 year old niece having the same dream sounded a good story line and the unusual involvement of astronomy I thought would make an unusual story. Unfortunately it wandered, and so did my mind, - what shall we have for tea tonight - and the complicatons of the astronomy became very involved. I thought I did well to actually finish the book. I usually think life is too short to plough through a book I don't like, somewhere there's plenty of books I would like! When I had finished I found it so complicated I was wondering who was who and thought 'does it really matter'!
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on 2 November 2010
I have enjoyed reading the novels by Kate Morton and most recently "The Legacy" by Katherine Webb, so judging by its cover this could have been a book I would normally like - far from it. The story seems utterly fabricated and in some ways unnecessarily complex. There are too many coincidences and some of the elements within the storyline are just pointless and add next to nothing to the plot (Valerie's connection to the folly, for instance). You almost feel a little embarrassed for the author towards the end when the whole story conveniently falls into place.

Far more irritating than the plot though are the main characters and their relationships with each other. There is a lot of tension between sister and sister, between mum and nan, between sister and mum, the list goes on...they all have issues with each other, and yet these issues don't have a place in the story and appear thrown in to ensure that the author hits the 450-page mark. The seemingly endless scene towards the end where four generations meet at the manor for a big heart-to-heart is rather cringe-worthy. Conversations are stiff and often unnecessarily dramatised through the use of "xyz cried" or "xyz exclaimed". The characters remain unlikeable and unbelievable.

Would I recommend this book? Not even if you're seriously bored.
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