One of my favorite types of fiction is a story that blends past and present storylines, and though I’d never read anything by Melanie Dobson before, the premise of her new book, Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor, was one I couldn’t pass up. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.)
In the book, Heather Toulson, an art restorer living in Portland, returns to her family cottage in the Cotswolds of England to pack up her family’s belongings after the death of her father. Heather’s life is full of strained and tense relationships, past and present, and her goal is to clean out the cottage and sell it as fast as possible and move on with her life. Her newly married daughter Ella joins her and as they sift through the contents, Heather uncovers questions about the older sister she never knew and the boy next door who died long ago.
The historical storyline, set in the 1950s and later, follows Maggie Doyle, Heather’s mum, through an unexpected circumstance and consequent marriage to Walter Doyle. Maggie’s daughter, Libby, is the sister Heather never knew, and though she loves butterflies, she does not interact with the rest of the world in the same way as others, except the boy next door, Oliver Croft, son of the Lord and Lady Croft of Ladenbrooke Manor.
There is a lot to sort out as the book starts out, but once it gets rolling, the plot unravels like a ball of string leading from one place to the next. For me, this book was a study in how to write about family secrets revealed across generations because the novel I’m working on contains similar themes. I enjoyed it as a story, as well. Dobson doesn’t reveal too much too soon, but partway through, readers gets a sense of what’s happening. I especially appreciated the themes of restoring what is broken in relationships.
And Dobson gives Libby a unique personality–something along the lines of the autism spectrum, which would have been undiagnosed in the 1950s. It was fascinating to consider how people would have viewed her and interacted with her.
If you’ve never read a dual timeline story, this is a good one to start with. And if you like family mysteries, you’ll enjoy the way secrets are uncovered.
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