Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Guest Review: Letters from the Past by Erica James


It's the autumn of 1962 in the idyllic Suffolk village of Melstead St Mary. Evelyn Devereux's husband Kit is planning their 20th wedding anniversary party. But as they prepare to celebrate, Evelyn receives an anonymous letter that threatens to unravel the secrets she's kept hidden for many years - secrets that reach back to the war and her days at Bletchley Park.


Evelyn's sister-in-law, Hope, has brought joy to countless children with her bestselling books, but despite having a loving husband and caring family, happiness has never come easily to her. Then in an instant her fragile world is turned upside down when she too receives an anonymous letter.

Across the village, up at Melstead Hall, Julia Devereux has married into a life beyond anything she could have dreamt of, not realising until it's too late that it comes with a heavy price.

Meanwhile, in the sun-baked desert of Palm Springs, Romily Devereux-Temple, crime-writer and former ATA pilot, is homesick for her beloved Island House, where she's saved the day more times than she can count. On her return home, and shocked to learn what has been going on in her absence, she finds herself reluctantly confronting a secret she's kept hidden for a very long time. Once again Romily is challenged to save the day and hold the family together. Can she do it, and maybe seize some happiness for herself at the same time?






Review: I always enjoy reading a book written by Erica James; they are generally delightful family sagas. This one, her 23rd book, is a sequel to Coming Home to Island House and is set in the same idyllic Suffolk village. In fact, when I reviewed the earlier book, I finished by wishing that there could be a sequel, and here it is! Although the characters and location will be familiar to readers of Coming Home to Island House, this one can easily be read as a stand-alone if you didn’t read the first title. I chose the audiobook version of this novel, read beautifully by Jemma Redgrave. Although several years have passed since the end of the first book, I was instantly transported back to the lives of the characters associated with Island House.

This story begins in the autumn of 1962 and carries on through to the beginning of 1963, with a few flashbacks to the war years for some of the characters. Central to everything is Island House, a large country house in the Suffolk village of Melstead St Mary. This is the home of crime writer Romily Devereux-Temple, her stepchildren and others connected with the family living nearby or a short train ride away in London. The peace of this normally sleepy village is suddenly shattered for some of the ladies by the arrival of nasty poison pen letters. Nobody can work out who is sending these missives, but Romily is determined to get to the bottom of the situation. These letters are not the only drama experienced by the various characters in this story. There is a lot going on in all their lives, including mental and physical abuse, a life-threatening accident, illness and secret romance. Will the strong sense of family and friendship see everyone safe through to the end?

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, and would recommend it, and the one that went before, to all readers. Since it is a couple of years since I read the first in the series, it took me a few minutes to sort out the characters and their relationships, but it was worth taking the time to do that. As I usually find when reading one of Erica James’s novels, the story had me hooked immediately and kept me coming back as I followed the twists and turns of the extended family with the common connection of Island House and Romily Devereux-Temple. The storyline is full of drama for all of the characters, flitting between London, Suffolk, and even California. I liked the way that each of the many chapters in the book was written from the point of view of an individual character; I felt that I got to know each of them better through that approach. All the characters and the situations they faced were believable, and the reader could warm to most of them, with one notable exception. I’m already looking forward to the next novel from Erica James.


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