About this book: In 1891, Tilly Kirkland is reeling with shock and guilt after her tempestuous marriage ends in horrific circumstances. Fleeing to the farthest place she knows, Tilly takes a job on Ember Island in Moreton Bay, Australia, where she becomes the governess to the prison superintendent’s precocious young daughter, Nell. Tilly knows she must keep the past hidden in order to start a new life, but she doesn’t know that Nell is watching her every move and writing it all down, hiding tiny journals all over their rambling manor home.
More than one hundred years later, bestselling novelist Nina Jones is struggling to complete her next book. A reporter asking questions about her great-grandmother sends Nina retreating to her family’s home on Ember Island, where she hopes to find her lost inspiration somewhere in the crumbling walls.
Though they are separated by years, both Tilly and Nina must learn that some secrets never stay buried, but what matters most is learning to trust your heart.
About the author: Kimberley Freeman has written for as long as she’s been able to hold a pencil. She is an award-winning writer in children’s, historical and speculative fiction under her birth name Kim Wilkins. She adopted the pen name Kimberley Freeman to honor her maternal grandmother. Kim holds graduate degrees from the University of Queensland, where she also lectures. She lives in Brisbane with her young family. Look for her on Facebook, where interacting with readers is one of her favorite distractions.
Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? Yes, for its suggestion of romance set in an exotic, beachy locale.
If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for sensuality (mostly off-screen) and (very) occasional profanity.
Reminds me of… Wildwood Creek. (Here’s that dual narrative again.)
You’ll want to buy this book if … you’re stocking up on romantic, escape-y beach reads. Bonus: this one is set (mostly) in Australia, offering an appealing change of pace from your typical American Nantucket/South Shore variety.
Why did I read this book? For Touchstone for review
Would I read another by this author? I would. Liked this one even better than her last (Lighthouse Bay).
My take: Ember Island is (yet another) dual narrative novel. I found its two plotlines equally compelling and well developed, although the 1890s thread takes up far more space (I’d say by about a 2-to-1 ratio). The present day narrative contains more mystery, the past one more suspense. Both have romance.
I do wish it wasn’t so easy for writers–novelists and screenwriters alike–to stereotype clergymen as salacious, lewd men with nothing beneficial to offer society. It happens twice in this novel. Not only is it cliché, but it errs by painting with a broad brush an entire profession of people who are on the whole–despite what the modern press might say–good and thoughtful people.
However…hopping down from my soapbox now…I was especially drawn into Nina’s present-day story. Both stories were satisfyingly, surprisingly unpredictable. Only a few chapters from the end, and I still really had no idea how either story would finish.
If Tilly’s motivation seemed at bit thin at times, and if I found some of the moral conclusions somewhat dubious, I was willing to let these slide because I found the rest so enjoyable. Freeman has a gift for lovely descriptive writing and well-crafted characters I liked to spend time with. Altogether, Ember Island was a pleasant escape into the lives of interesting women and an exotic locale.
Thanks to Touchstone for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.
End notes: When my ten-year-old daughter saw me reading this novel, she pronounced the cover “too busy.” I personally didn’t think so, it rather appeals to me, but since she has a strong, artistic eye, I found her opinion interesting. Then, as I was working on this review, I found this alternate cover, which appeared, I assume, on the U.K. and Australian releases. I like it even better. Thoughts? (No, I haven’t had the chance to run this one by Madeline, so I’ll have to get back to you on that.)