A real delight today to be part of the blog tour and to share my review of the latest book from Kathleen McGurl, The Secret of the Château: published for kindle by HQ Digital on 15th May, it’s now available via Amazon in the UK and US. The paperback will follow on 23rd July. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
Kath writes – without fail – books I want to read, and I neglected her for far too long. Having read and really enjoyed The Daughters of Red Hill Hall way back in 2016 (you’ll find my review here), I rediscovered her writing with The Forgotten Secret in 2019 (review here) and loved her really accomplished story-telling and sureness of touch. Then came The Stationmaster’s Daughter, which was my favourite so far – you’ll find my review here. So I was particularly looking forward to this one… a new favourite maybe?
Everything is about to change…
1789. Pierre and Catherine Aubert, the Comte and Comtesse de Verais, have fled the palace of Versailles for their château, deep in the French Alps. But as revolution spreads through the country, even hidden away the Auberts will not be safe forever. Soon they must make a terrible decision in order to protect themselves, and their children, from harm.
Present day. When Lu’s mother dies leaving her heartbroken, the chance to move to a château in the south of France with her husband and best friends seems an opportunity for a new beginning. But Lu can’t resist digging into their new home’s history, and when she stumbles across the unexplained disappearance of Catherine Aubert, the château begins to reveal its secrets – and a mystery unsolved for centuries is uncovered…
I’m always a complete pushover for a well told dual timeline story – and this one most definitely delighted me.
The historical story begins at the court in Versailles with the approach of the revolution. Catherine, the Comtesse de Verais, naively adores Marie Antoinette and their privileged lifestyle, but when reality bites she and husband Pierre flee to their château in the Alps, hoping to escape what is to come. At first, I’ll admit it took me a few chapters to engage with their characters, and thought they lacked a little depth – Catherine seemed particular vain and vacuous – but that certainly changed once they arrived at the Château D’Aubert, fearing for their lives. I haven’t read many books with this historical perspective, and this account really deepened my understanding of the challenges, the realities, and the consequences – the author’s research really shines through, and she makes the twists and turns of the story really gripping too.
In the present day, five friends in their fifties – two couples and a single friend – decide to change their lives and buy a property that they can renovate to live in together, and find themselves at the Château D’Aubert. As chance would have it, this isn’t the first book with a theme of fresh starts and communal living that I’ve read this year – but I particularly liked this one for the strength of its characters and the way the historical story clashed with the present. Needing a challenge and something to fill her days, Lu (formerly a history teacher) decides to research the château’s past and the fate of its earlier owners, and uncovers quite a story. There’s an excellent mystery at the story’s centre, with an added ghostly frisson, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the story unfold.
The two stories are told in alternating chapters, and I must say I raced through this book, the pages turning faster and faster. I never felt any wrench moving from one story to the other, largely because they’re so well tied together – as Lu uncovers the past, we watch it unfold before us, and if I doubted my emotional engagement with Pierre and Catherine at the book’s start I was certainly heavily committed by the book’s end. The historical action is particularly edge-of-the-seat reading, with some really well written moments of high drama – but I equally enjoyed the interactions and relationships between the well-drawn characters in the contemporary story. I must mention the well-drawn setting too – the Alpes-Maritime area is somewhere I’ve never visited, but the author’s descriptions certainly brought it to life.
A perfect escapist read for current times, real depth and interest in its historical background, and excellent storytelling – I thoroughly enjoyed this one…
About the author
Kathleen McGurl lives in Bournemouth with her husband. She has two sons who have both now left home. She always wanted to write, and for many years was waiting until she had the time. Eventually she came to the bitter realisation that no one would pay her for a year off work to write a book, so she sat down and started to write one anyway.
Since then she has published several novels with HQ and self-published another. She has also sold dozens of short stories to women’s magazines, and written three How To books for writers. After a long career in the IT industry she became a full time writer in 2019. When she’s not writing, she’s often out running, slowly.