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First Lines Friday: Flashback

Welcome to First Lines Friday: Flashback, where on the first Friday of the month I share the first lines from one of the older books on my shelves and try to tempt you to add it to yours.

“The morning one of the lost twins returned to Mallard, Lou LeBon ran to the diner to break the news, and even now, many years later, everyone remembers the shock of sweaty Lou pushing through the glass doors, chest heaving, neckline darkened with is own effort. The barely awake customers clamored around him, ten or so, although more would lie and say they’d been there too, if only to pretend that this once, they’d witnessed something truly exciting. In that little farm town, nothing surprising every happened, not since the Vignes twins had disappeared. But that morning in April 1968, on his was to work, Lou spotted Desiree Vignes walking along Partridge Road carrying a small leather suitcase.”

Today’s first lines are taken from The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, which is one of the books shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021. It’s been on my shelf since it’s release in June last year and is one of the 21 books I’ve committed to reading from my backlist this year.

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SYNOPSIS:

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ story lines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passingLooking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

You can buy the book here*
*This is an affiliate link

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Have I tempted you to add this one to your shelves? Or have you already read it? Let me know in the comments.

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Thank you to Dialogue Books for the gifted copy of the book.

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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles, Emma xxx

Categories
book reviews

Review: ‘The Girl at the Window’ by Rowen Coleman ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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SYNOPSIS:

A house full of history is bound to have secrets…

Ponden Hall is a centuries-old house on the Yorkshire moors, a magical place full of stories. It’s also where Trudy Heaton grew up. And where she ran away from…

Now, after the devastating loss of her husband, she is returning home with her young son, Will, who refuses to believe his father is dead. 

While Trudy tries to do her best for her son, she must also attempt to build bridges with her eccentric mother. And then there is the Hall itself: fallen into disrepair but generations of  lives and loves still echo in its shadows, sometimes even reaching out to the present…

A hauntingly beautiful story of love and hope, from the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Memory Book and The Summer of Impossible Things.

MY REVIEW:

Rowan Coleman blends fact and fiction to create a breathtaking novel that captivated my soul. A story that is part non fiction, part gothic fiction, part historical fiction and part family saga, the writing is atmospheric, eloquent, lyrical and poetic with just the right amount of goosebump-inducing terror.

Told by multiple narrators over three timelines, this is the story of Ponden Hall and some of the many people who have occupied its walls. Built by the Heatons in 1540, the family have lived there ever since. It is also the place that Emily Bronte would come to use the library and where she wrote her classic novel, Wuthering Heights. The infamous house felt like a character in its own right, and it when it spoke it gave me chills. 

Trudy has always been fascinated with her ancestral home and with the Brontes – Emily in particular. As a young girl she would whisper her secrets to her, imagining her walking the halls as she did. Though Trudy is reluctant to live with her estranged mother Mariah, she is happy to be back at Ponden Hall as its always been home. She immediately feels a peace upon returning and, once again, speaks to it like an old friend. One day, Trudy makes a startling discovery – two pages of writing bound in leather, one of which she instantly recognises as being written by none other than Emily Bronte. The other was written by a girl named Agnes who says she used to live in the house two hundred years before Emily visited. What is Agnes’ story? And could this lead Trudy to the infamous and elusive second manuscript of Emily Bronte? 

This is the second novel I’ve read by this author. I fell in love with Rowan’s writing style when I read The Summer of Impossible things last year and after reading this book I know that it wasn’t a one off. Her prose is a joy to lose myself in every page is filled with heart and emotion. In this book there was the addition of the stunning scene setting – everything from the descriptions of the house and landscape to her mother’s appearance was vivid and immersive. 

The author’s love of Ponden Hall, Wuthering Heights, and the Brontes shines through every page of this novel. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never got around to reading Wuthering Heights but have since bought it, as well as another based on Heathcliff, and can’t wait to read them and learn more. Her passion is contagious.

Having three narrators from different timeline was a choice I loved. I really liked each of them and thought each woman brought something important to the story. Though each was born hundreds of years apart and lived very different lives, they were also similar in many ways. Both of the older timelines were well researched and felt authentic. I felt like I was actually reading things that Emily Bronte and a girl from the 1600s had written and experienced. The supporting characters were all just as well written as the narrators. I loved young Will particularly and enjoyed the honesty he brought to the story in a way that only a child of that age can. He was unafraid to ask difficult questions or say things adults avoided and never doubted that the things he saw and experienced were real. He gave Trudy a reason to carry on after Abe’s death and a reason to return to Ponden Hall. Without these things she may never have made her discoveries.

I also really enjoyed the flashbacks that told Trudy and Abe’s love story. I liked the fact that Abe was a real character we got to know and not just Trudy’s late husband or Will’s late father. Those stories also gave us greater insight into who Trudy is, why she hadn’t returned to Ponden Hall in so many years, and why she and her mother are estranged. I have wondered about the author’s inspiration for how they fell in love as it was so romantic, wistful and funny. 

In The Girl at the Window the author has blended fact with fiction to create a haunting and enchanting story. It was a book where I relished every word and never wanted it to end. I don’t think I can do more to describe how much I love this book or how exquisitely written it is, so I’m going to finish by saying that you should go read this book now! Just be prepared to fall in love. 

Thank you to Ebury Press and Penguin UK for my gifted copy of this book.

Out now.  

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Rowan Coleman lives with her husband and five children in a very full house in Hertfordshire. She juggles writing novels with raising her family. She longs to live at Ponden Hall.

She is the bestselling author of THE MEMORY BOOK, WE ARE ALL MADE OF STARS and the critically acclaimed THE SUMMER OF IMPOSSIBLE THINGS. 

Find out more about Rowan at http://www.rowancoleman.co.uk, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter: @rowancoleman.