Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: Evergreen Falls

Evergreen Falls
By Kimberley Freeman
Published: August 4, 2015

From internationally bestselling author Kimberley Freeman comes a captivating new novel about a scandalous attraction, a long-forgotten secret, and a place where two women’s lives are changed forever.

It’s 1926 and Violet Armstrong is a waitress at the grand Evergreen Spa Hotel, where Australia’s glitterati are spending a winter vacation. Among the guests who remain are Sam and Flora Honeychurch-Black, a wealthy brother and sister ensconced in the hotel for an extended stay. Violet and Sam have an attraction that is as passionate as it is forbidden as the hotel closes down for the winter season. When a snowstorm moves in, trapping them all, no one could have imagined what would unfold. The group must let their secrets be buried by the snow, but all snow melts, exposing the truth beneath…

Eighty-eight years later, Lauren Beck takes a job at a café in the Blue Mountains, built as the first stage of the Evergreen Spa Hotel’s return to grandeur. There she meets Tomas, the Danish architect overseeing the project. As their budding relationship grows, Lauren discovers a series of passionate love letters dating back to 1926 that allude to a whirlwind affair—and a tragic secret. Lauren begins to unravel this long-forgotten mystery, but will discovering the truth finally make her brave enough to take a risk that could change her entire life?

Inspired by elements of her grandmother’s life, Kimberley Freeman has created a complex tale of mystery, heartbreak, and love that will keep you guessing with every twist until the very last page.

My review:

Violet is a flirty and headstrong girl with her head in the clouds. She is the daughter of a single mother who worked hard to take care of her until arthritis got in the way. Now Violet is expected to care for her mother. This job at the Evergreen Spa Hotel is a godsend even though it is supposed to be temporary. Violet does not want to return home to take care of her mom. She is young and she wants freedom. Unfortunately Violet isn't wise in the ways of the heart so she gets mixed up with Sam Honeychurch-Black, a tortured soul who fills Violet's head with thoughts of love and a future that may never be. 

Sam's sister Flora is surprisingly kind and caring and down to earth compared to her social peers at the Hotel. She has the difficult task of trying to keep her brother out of trouble and help him get well, the reason for their visit to the Hotel. Their father expects her to sort Sam out and if she doesn't succeed, she'll be disinherited. She is also engaged to a young man handpicked by her father. Although Tony is handsome and Flora thinks she loves him she hesitates to set a date for the wedding.

The story is told from the perspectives of Violet and Flora in the past and Lauren in present day Australia. Lauren has moved to the Blue Mountains after the death of her brother following a long battle with cancer. For her it is a chance to have a life of her own even though her suffocating mother calls several times a day. At least there is some geographical distance between them. Lauren has made some friends in Penny, her boss at the cafe and Mrs. Tait, her neighbor. She also connects with Tomas, a Danish architect who is working on the reconstruction of the Hotel. It is through Tomas that Lauren finds a series of love letters written from a man to his lover and signed only SHB.

Of all the characters, I most liked Flora and Lauren. They are both caring and nurturing people with difficult family situations. Lauren's mom was very controlling. She allowed her fear for her son to translate into being overcautious with her daughter and wanting to keep her close by always. Even after the move, she expects Lauren to return home after awhile. Flora has a society father who expects perfection from his children. He refuses to see the truth about his son and pressures Flora into taking care of things. Flora also has a difficult fiance who isn't that great of a guy but she feels like she has to marry him and even believes that she does love him at times. I wanted both Flora and Lauren to break away from their unhappy situations and stand up for themselves.

Violet was harder to like. She is very naive even though she puts on an act of being more sophisticated around men. She is very flirty with Sam although it is against the rules to fraternize with hotel guests. She is willing to believe him when he spins dreams of the two of them marrying and him taking care of her so she never has to work again, etc. If she were smarter and more world-wise she would question this as his family would never approve of her. She also falls in love with him very quickly when she barely knows him. I also didn't like how she played other people especially Clive, the handyman who is in love with her and helped her get the job and even her boss Miss Zander. 

I didn't like Sam much at all. From the synopsis of the book I was expecting a forbidden romance between a well to do gentleman and a servant but that wasn't exactly what I got. Their relationship wasn't romantic in my opinion. There was a lot of shagging but no real relationship between Sam and Violet. Sam is fighting a losing battle with a major demon in his life and he comes across at times like a spoiled and petulant child. He isn't all bad though or Flora wouldn't love him. He cares about his sister and attempts to be better for her though his improvements never last long.

The novel has a hint of mystery. It starts with a dead body at the hotel and the reader has to puzzle out who has died and why the hotel guests are planning to move the body and hide the circumstances of the death. Some of the secrets of the book were easy for me to figure out. One "big reveal" was not a surprise to me at all and I even guessed the secret surrounding Lauren's family. 

While certain things about the book felt obvious I still enjoyed the story because of the interesting characters. I wanted Flora and even Lauren to have a happy ending. Though I had issues with Violet I wanted to know what happened to her and hoped she'd find a way to break free from her bad situation too. 

I also liked the historical setting of the hotel. I could picture the hotel and the dance parties, the snowstorm and the hidden cave. The Evergreen Spa Hotel is an interesting setting for this novel. The lifestyle of the rich contrasted with the lives of the servants reminded me of Downton Abbey in a way. Kimberley Freeman has a gift for writing settings that are almost a character themselves. Although I prefer Lighthouse Bay, this was an entertaining read that I think fans of Downton Abbey would enjoy. I would also suggest Evergreen Falls to readers who like the works of Sarah Jio.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

1 comment:

  1. Great review, Christina! I am always on the look out for Downton read-alikes. I enjoyed Lighthouse Bay, so I will have to add this to my TBR list.


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