I won this book in a contest hosted by The Secret Writer quite a while ago and it just kept being superseded on my to-be-read list. I’m glad I finally picked it up. This is a fascinating story of two women, related (aunt and niece) although they’ve never met, taking a similar path of struggling to live a life of value, fighting for those they love most, and finding unconventional solutions to their situations in the north of England in an old stone house called December House.
Cressida Fellbridge is living in a 1960’s dichotomy: she comes from a wealthy family and is somewhat pampered, but she wants to make a difference to children from the east end of London working in a school, a life choice her autocratic father is dead against. Her mother, having lived a life of restriction under her husband’s bullying, has been ill for some time, bed-ridden, and fading. Nothing the doctors do seems to help. She wants something more for her daughter.
Emily Conway, Cressida’s niece, has also been living a life of luxury but in the 21st century. Her husband Will has provided a beautiful home with every fancy appliance imaginable, in a great location in London, a racy car, and they have two lovely children. When the story begins, it’s almost Christmas and Emily and Will are on their way to a dressy, catered party. Emily’s mind has drifted to thinking about what a lovely time they’ll have at the party when she realizes that Will is telling her about a serious financial situation. In fact, he has gambled away all of their savings — Emily’s inheritance from her parents, and everything he could get from mortgaging the house — on a sure-fire investment which has fallen through. They’re bankrupt! Will’s boss in the brokerage firm where he works has disappeared, the company will also be bankrupt, and Will can’t face the failure and disgrace. As the car’s engine whines higher and higher, Emily suddenly realizes his plan — too late! The car veers off the highway and crashes.
Will’s plan fails for the most part. Emily has a broken leg and requires surgery on her face where the windshield smashed into her. Will is in a coma and may never regain consciousness, leaving Emily to take steps to secure some kind of a future for herself and her children. She will lose the house and most of the furniture, and even after selling many of her designer dresses and much of her jewelry, she still has no idea where she will be able to live with her children. Then, out of the blue, she inherits December House from a complete stranger. In an isolated northern area, this house might just give them all the space and opportunity to heal and rebuild. Before long, Emily realizes there is quite a mystery surrounding her Aunt Cressida and the reclusive Catherine Few who had bought the house from Cressida and willed it to Emily.
There are other complications to the plot which create interesting characters and plans that take detours along the way. For instance, the box of paintings in the attic which hold many paintings done by Catherine of the same angel, sticking out of the snow-covered landscape, head down and hands folded. It doesn’t exist and the nearest neighbours don’t remember ever seeing it. Is it a benign or sinister angel? Despite some trepidation, Emily sets out to solve the mystery.
This books was a compelling read with believable characters, some with rather odd behaviours which add lots of flavour to the story. There is romance as well as suspense as Emily fears what will happen when she realizes that Will has awakened, and her own brother, Tom, who has been a real help with the children when she first returns home from the hospital, suddenly takes on a new and frightening dimension. This was a most enjoyable read with lots of surprises, and I look forward to reading more from Lulu Taylor. * * * *