Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review: Ember Island by Kimberley Freeman

Title:  Ember Island

Author: Kimberley Freeman
Publisher:  April 15th 2014 by Touchstone
ISBN: 1476743509 (ISBN13: 9781476743509)
Pages:  448 pages
How I Read It: ebook ARC
Genre: historical fiction, romance, womens' fiction


In a compelling, complex story from the bestselling author of Wildflower Hill and Lighthouse Bay, two women separated by a century discover long-buried secrets in an Australian manor house. In 1891, Tilly, a recently married young English woman, is reeling with shock and guilt after her tempestuous marriage ends in horrific circumstances on the remote Channel Islands. Determined to get as far from England as she can, she takes on a new identity and a job on Ember Island in Moreton Bay, Australia, where she becomes the governess to a prison superintendent’s young daughter, Nell. Tilly fights her attraction to the superintendent, Sterling Holt, and befriends one the few female inmates, Hettie Thorpe, and a dangerous relationship develops. She doesn’t know that Nell is watching her every move and writing it all down, hiding tiny journals all over Starwater, her rambling manor home.

More than 100 years later, bestselling novelist Nina Jones is struggling with writer’s block and her disappointing personal life. Her poet boyfriend has recently broken up with her, and a reporter who is digging into her past insists on speaking to Nina about her great-grandmother, Nell. There are some secrets Nina may no longer be able to hide. Retreating to Starwater, she discovers Nell’s diary pages hidden in the old walls and becomes determined to solve the mystery. Though Tilly and Nina are separated by many years, Starwater House will change both their lives.

Deeply affecting and beautifully written, Ember Island is a sweeping novel of secrets, second chances, and learning to trust your heart.

Our thoughts:

Given the many positive reviews of her work, and always on the lookout for new (to us) authors who write in dual timelines, we had been looking forward to reading our first Kimberley Freeman novel for some time. When we saw the synopsis for this upcoming release, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to give one of her books a try.

Regrettably, it was not as impressive as we had hoped. The book feels poorly constructed. It begins by introducing not two, but three different tales, which do eventually weave together as the book progresses. However, until they start to interconnect, we found the three open storylines to be a bit unwieldy and quite difficult to follow.

Nina's story in 2012 seems completely unnecessary. She is an annoying character and adds little to the overall narrative other than serving as a means to reveal portions of Nell's story from the 1890s. Tilly's story, also set in the 1890s, is more interesting, with a definite Jane Eyre feel to it. Unfortunately, however, this portion of the tale is overstated and overly drawn out, spending far too many pages simply plodding along, with the plot going nowhere fast. At this point in the book, we felt so frustrated with Tilly and her foolishness we would have loved to give her a good shake!

The romances, past and present, are not handled terribly well. They feel less like actual romance and more like overactive hormones on the part of the female characters! It seems this book could have benefited greatly from heavier editing to eliminate some of these issues and to pare down the unnecessary content.

Our interest was piqued a bit more when Nell and Tilly's tales finally intersect near the middle of the book, but both the past and modern storylines play out in such predictable and simplistic fashion, with all loose ends tied up much too quickly and neatly, that we felt disappointed in this book overall.

Our Rating


  1. I just finished Wildflower Hill. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though similar to your review, the present storyline was weaker than the past and the romance aspect of both stories was more implied than developed. I listened to the audio though and I think that a less than great book combined with an outstanding narrator can leave the 'reader' with the impression the story is better than it really is.

    1. That is such a great point, Christine! The narrator of an audio book really can make or break the story for you. Thanks so much for sharing your impression of Wildflower Hill. We may still give that one a try some time - sounds like maybe we should track down the audio book!