The House of Secrets by Sarra Manning
Published January 10, 2017 by Sphere
Source: Hachette Australia
Rating: 5 stars
From the blurb: An ordinary house on an ordinary street, built in 1936 and never lived in. Its rooms might be empty, but this house is full of secrets.
When Zoe and Win, raw and reeling from a recent tragedy, move into their new home it's meant to be a fresh start and a way to mend the holes in their relationship.
But pushed to the back of a cupboard is a suitcase that's been gathering dust for eighty years. Inside is a wedding dress, letters and a diary all belonging to a woman called Libby. And there's something else in the suitcase, something that echoes Zoe's own pain.
Zoe follows Libby's trail from Paris to Spain on the brink of Civil War to secret trysts in London, and as Libby finds the courage to live and love again, Zoe begins to let go of her own grief.
But when Libby's story takes a darker turn, Zoe becomes increasingly obsessed with discovering what really happened all those years ago. Because if Libby managed to get her happy ever after then maybe Zoe and Win can too . .
Sarra Manning is an author who can write for both YA and adult readers, and I'm always eager to read her latest book. The House of Secrets, her new adult release, follows the lives of two women living in London: Zoe in the present day, and Libby in 1936. This style of intertwined stories reminded me of Manning's previous adult release, After the Last Dance, and it's a style I really enjoy.
In January 1936 King George has just died. Libby, an actor and dancer, has moved in with her mother-in-law after her husband of only five months left her. She's healing after a painful incident and is need of a new job. She agrees to help out a married man in need of proof to allow his wife to divorce him, leading her to spend a weekend away with an older man, Hugo.
In 2016 Zoe and Win have just purchased an old house in Highgate. They had to jump through hoops to get it, but Zoe was determined to make it theirs and to fix it up themselves. Zoe and Win's relationship has been strained since it was discovered Zoe had an ectopic pregnancy, one that almost killed her. When they discover an old suitcase containing Libby's diary, Zoe becomes captivated by her life story.
Just as Zoe was captivated by Libby's story, I found this book captivating right from the start. Both women are in pain, physically and mentally, and it was easy to see why Zoe would pin her hopes on Libby's story. Their lives intertwined perfectly and it was easy to alternate between each point of view. Libby's story was intriguing as I just couldn't work out how her suitcase eventually ended up in the house. It was also fascinating to learn about the divorce laws of the time, and how that was reflected by King Edward's choice to abdicate so he could marry the woman he loved, despite the political backlash. Zoe's story was just as heartbreaking and I had my fingers crossed for her and Win the entire time.
The house in Highgate felt like another main character, it was so easy to picture due to the beautiful descriptions of each room. The progress of the renovations moved slowly, mirroring Zoe and Win's relationship as it began to rebuild. As with so many of Manning's books, the city of London features heavily and I always feel as though it's described with love and attention to detail. I could feel how much research had been done and it was shown in the vivid descriptions of both the past and present city.
Manning has a knack for writing about real relationships and I could see this being a book that a lot of readers relate to in one way or another. I found myself crying at different points because it was so sensitively written, especially when it came to dealing with the pregnancy difficulties both women experienced.
The House of Secrets is a compelling, heartfelt story of two women in different times, but with similar lives. It's beautifully written, well researched, and filled with unforgettable characters.
Thank you to Hachette for my copy.