Pub. Date: July 25, 2017
Source: e-ARC via publisher (Thank you, Putnam!)
Summary: When fifteen-year-old Margot and her three sisters arrive at Applecote Manor in June 1959, they expect a quiet English country summer. Instead, they find their aunt and uncle still reeling from the disappearance of their daughter, Audrey, five years before. As the sisters become divided by new tensions when two handsome neighbors drop by, Margot finds herself drawn into the life Audrey left behind. When the summer takes a deadly turn, the girls must unite behind an unthinkable choice or find themselves torn apart forever.
Fifty years later, Jesse is desperate to move her family out of their London home, where signs of her widower husband’s previous wife are around every corner. Gorgeous Applecote Manor, nestled in the English countryside, seems the perfect solution. But Jesse finds herself increasingly isolated in their new sprawling home, at odds with her fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, and haunted by the strange rumors that surround the manor.
Genre: Fiction, Gothic, Historical, Mystery
To say I loved Eve Chase’s debut, Black Rabbit Hall is something of an understatement. I was head over heels for the book – over a year since it’s release and it still remains one of my go-to recommendations (to the point where I’m running out of people to recommend it to!) In April of last year I featured the book in a GoodReads Recommends post where I highlighted similar titles: so far I’ve read two of the six and have an ARC of a third! Finally, in January I featured a week-long series highlighting the 2017 novels (from the first half of the year) that I couldn’t wait to read. No surprises here: Eve’s follow-up was included in my list of historical novels…where I shamelessly flailed over it even though it’s a July release. #sorrynotsorry
In June the author of my second-favorite novel of 2016 (a seriously twisty psychological thriller) released her follow-up and…it was a total dud. Like, painful to where I almost tossed it aside. I don’t know if my expectations were just astronomically high or what, but it was a terrible read and one of the worst I’ve read all year. So, yes, I’ll admit I was a teensy bit worried The Wildling Sisters would follow suit – after all, I liked Black Rabbit Hall even more than that other novel. Surely any expectations would be even higher, any disappointment even more painful.
The Wilde girls, Flora; Pam; Margot; and Dot, spent summer after summer at their aunt and uncle’s country house, Applecote Manor. Long, lazy days spent swimming, exploring the grounds, sharing secrets, all with their cousin Audrey. If Margot were to be completely honest, as much as she loved her sisters, she secretly wanted to be Audrey’s sister instead. Audrey was like the sun they revolved around and whoever she chose to be her friend was considered very special indeed. Then one summer everything changed. Audrey disappeared, vanished. Though the grounds and surrounding village were thoroughly searched, no evidence ever turned up – Audrey was simply gone.
When the sisters finally (and begrudgingly) return to Applecote some years later, their uncle has given himself over to drink, their aunt insists Audrey will return home one day safe and sound, going so far as to keep her bedroom exactly how it was the day she left – and see to it that her closet is full of new clothes. Obviously she would no longer be the 14-year-old girl she was when she left. She’ll be grown, filled out, and in need of a young woman’s attire.
Fifty years later, Applecote Manor is a shell of its former self. Jesse, determined to move out of the London home her husband had shared with his previous wife, can’t help but fall in love with the place. Where others would see a drafty home in serious disrepair, Jesse sees a new start. A place all of their own where the ghost of a woman cannot touch. However, when Jesse’s step-daughter returns home from school one day with rumors of a horrible tragedy surrounding the house, Jesse begins to wonder if there’s some truth to it. Did she finally free herself from one ghost only to find herself with another?
Like Black Rabbit Hall, The Wildling Sisters features a dual era story with a grand old house at its center. And, much like Black Rabbit Hall, Applecote Manor is every bit a character. There might be some readers who would complain that Eve Chase is just rehashing the same story but with new names. I can see that, but I didn’t mind one bit. Dual era narratives, a moody, Gothic tone, a once-grand estate – I love every single one of those things and happily went along for this ride, formulaic or not.
As much as I love novels that feature multiple characters across decades, I feel like the present storyline wasn’t nearly as strong as the past. Jesse is learning how to make a home with her husband, their new baby – and Jesse’s teenage step-daughter. Will’s first wife Mandy passed away and while Will has moved on, Bella hasn’t. She refuses to allow Jesse into her family, sneaks in snide remarks about how her mother loved this, her mother did that. She wants nothing to do with her sister. Basically your average fifteen-year-old. This story wasn’t bad at all, but the past…that story was absolutely gripping. It’s hard not to be when the book opens with Margot and her sisters dragging a body through the grounds. That scene alone practically screamed TELL ME MORE!
While reading – and several times in this review – I found myself comparing The Wildling Sisters to Eve’s debut. That’s not entirely fair as this novel in no way ties to Black Rabbit Hall, but I loved that one so, so much and, as mentioned, Eve’s storytelling once more calls upon the past and a big old house. It’s hard not to compare the two, especially since both novels have been likened to Kate Morton and Daphne du Maurier.
With a haunting atmosphere (and a possibly haunted house), The Wildling Sisters is exactly the kind of moody, brooding mystery I love. Though I did prefer one storyline over the other, the book as a whole was phenomenal. Eve Chase is a master at what she does: Jesse’s bleak, isolating winter in her new home, Margot’s unsettling summer, my emotions were on high alert with every turn of the page. Black Rabbit Hall is still solidly on its pedestal, but The Wildling Sisters is a fantastically strong follow-up and just a plain good read. With two excellent novels under her belt, I’m even more excited to see where Eve Chase goes next!