#Review: The Forgotten Secret by Kathleen McGurl @KathMcGurl @HQDigitalUK @rararesources #blogtour #histfic

By | March 17, 2019

I’m really delighted today to be joining the blog tour for The Forgotten Secret by Kathleen McGurl, published on 1st March for kindle by HQ Digital, available via Amazon in the UK and US. The paperback will follow on 16th May, and is available for pre-order. My thanks to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to join the tour, and to the publishers for my reading e-copy, provided via netgalley.

This isn’t the first time I’ve featured one of the author’s books – I thoroughly enjoyed The Daughters of Red Hill Hall (you’ll find my review here), and as I can remember every detail I’m astonished to see it was way back in 2016. So after confidently declaring “this might be the first book I’ve read by this lovely author, but it certainly won’t be the last”, I’m rather kicking myself that it’s taken me three years to pick up another. And I’m so very glad I finally have…

A country at war

It’s the summer of 1919 and Ellen O’Brien has her whole life ahead of her. Young, in love and leaving home for her first job, the future seems full of shining possibility. But war is brewing and before long Ellen and everyone around her are swept up by it. As Ireland is torn apart by the turmoil, Ellen finds herself facing the ultimate test of love and loyalty.

And a long-buried secret

A hundred years later and Clare Farrell has inherited a dilapidated old farmhouse in County Meath. Seizing the chance to escape her unhappy marriage she strikes out on her own for the first time, hoping the old building might also provide clues to her family’s shadowy history. As she sets out to put the place – and herself – back to rights, she stumbles across a long-forgotten hiding place, with a clue to a secret that has lain buried for decades.

For fans of Kate Morton and Gill Paul comes an unforgettable novel about two women fighting for independence.

I like to read a wide range of books – you’ll find a bit of all sorts here on Being Anne. But if you ever pinned me in a corner and asked me to whisper the kind of books I enjoy the most, you might just get me to say “books like this one” – a well researched historical thread, a contemporary one of equal strength about fresh starts and new beginnings, a story I could escape into, a touch of romance, something that ignites the imagination and engages your emotions. And I was delighted to find that the contemporary story featured something else I often look for – more mature characters wrestling realistically with issues I could recognise and identify with.

Although I’ve come across a few books featuring Ireland’s turbulent history, I must say that I really appreciated the author’s historical note that starts the book – a really nice clear introduction to the context for the historical thread and the brutality of the War of Independence. And its impact is wonderfully recreated in the book’s pages, young Ellen becoming inadvertently involved in the fight for freedom, with a stirring and emotionally engaging love story nicely balanced with an insight into the lives of ordinary people.

This is a story you really live, wonderfully told, impeccably researched – from the brushes with the RIC and Black and Tans through to the insights into the appalling cruelty of the Magdalene laundries. The characters are particularly well drawn too – Ellen herself easily wins your heart as you witness her daily struggle, but I also particularly liked the portrayal of Madame Carlton, and even Ellen’s horrendous father has a degree of complexity that brings him to life on the page. The detail in the story is quite fascinating and thoroughly shocking – from the tyranny of the roadblocks to families leaving their homes to sleep under hedges to avoid the casual and arrogant brutality, with a horrifying disregard for life.

The struggle for independence is nicely mirrored in the contemporary story, but this is independence of a more personal kind, as Clare tries to escape her stifling marriage and achieve some happiness of her own. I very much liked her courage, her relationship with her adult sons, her friendships, and her tentative steps into a new life and new relationship – perhaps the less said about husband Paul the better, but his character (however obnoxious) was quite wonderfully created, his interventions introducing some real present-day drama and tension to the story.

Blackstown might be a fictional setting, but it’s wonderfully drawn in both past and present – the farmhouse itself is very “real” too, as Clare explores its nooks and crannies while making it her home. And I particularly liked the way the two stories were tied together through her discoveries – inside a chair and while renovating the outbuildings – and loved the way the threads were brought together towards their conclusions.

I found it absolutely compelling, and a wonderful read – the author is an accomplished story-teller, with a sureness of touch whether recreating the past or handling a contemporary story. The comparison with Gill Paul and Kate Morton, who are two of my personal favourites, is wholly justified: I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend to others. And maybe I should now go back and catch up on the other books I’ve missed…

About the author

Kathleen McGurl lives near the sea in Bournemouth, UK, with her husband and elderly tabby cat. She has two sons who are now grown-up and have left home. She began her writing career creating short stories, and sold dozens to women’s magazines in the UK and Australia. Then she got side-tracked onto family history research – which led eventually to writing novels with genealogy themes. She has always been fascinated by the past, and the ways in which the past can influence the present, and enjoys exploring these links in her novels.

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