Aussie Book Review: Evergreen Falls by Kimberley Freeman

“A long-forgotten secret, a scandalous attraction and a place where two women's lives are changed forever - Evergreen Falls is the captivating new novel from Kimberley Freeman.

1926: Violet Armstrong is one of the few remaining members of staff working at the grand Evergreen Spa Hotel as it closes down over winter. Only a handful of guests are left, including the heir to a rich grazing family, his sister and her suave suitor. When a snowstorm moves in, the hotel is cut off and they are all trapped. No one could have predicted what would unfold.

2014: After years of putting her sick brother's needs before her own, Lauren Beck leaves her home and takes a job at a Blue Mountains cafe, the first stage of the Evergreen Spa Hotel's renovations. There she meets Tomas, the Danish architect who is overseeing the project, and an attraction begins to grow. In a wing of the old hotel, Lauren finds a series of passionate love letters dated back to 1926, alluding to an affair - and a shocking secret. If she can unravel this long-ago mystery, will it make Lauren brave enough to take a risk and change everything in her own life?

Inspired by elements of her grandmother's life, a rich and satisfying tale of intrigue, heartbreak and love from the author of the bestselling Lighthouse Bay and Wildflower Hill.”

It seems that I’m on a bit of a roll lately what with all the dual timeline novels I’ve been reading that are enriched with old letters and secrets, but I’m definitely not complaining because I just love the intrigue and suspense created by the authors who use their protagonists to dig deeper and uncover sometimes scandalous events. After all, who doesn’t like a good scandal!

Thirty year old Lauren Beck has led an extremely sheltered life in a stifling environment with basically only her mother, father and brother for company. Born and bred in Tasmania, she’s recently escaped the confines of her parental home and with freedom now at her fingertips, she’s developed just a bit of a rebellious streak as she tries to conquer her naivety by going on a journey of independence and self-discovery – if only her mother would stop phoning her all the time.

Now living and working in the Blue Mountains, the last place her deceased brother was ever happy, she embarks on that journey firstly by getting herself a job at the local café and then befriending Tomas, the architect overseeing the renovations at the once magnificent Evergreen Spa Hotel. When he accidentally leaves a clearly marked key on one of the tables, her curiosity gets the better of her and she finds herself exploring the rundown hotel and discovering a stack of old love letters filled with enough passion to make her blush.

As her and Tomas’ friendship grows, he gives her unhindered access to the hotel but when she is discovered by a security guard with further access being denied and Tomas is called overseas to a family emergency, she continues her explorations in the grounds and discovers a cave with an inscription in its wall. Knowing that the initials SHB belong to the same person mentioned in the letters, she is overcome by the desire to find out exactly who those initials belong to and who the mystery woman is.

From here, the narrative segues into 1926, introducing us to Violet Armstrong, a moralistic young woman who has recently lost her job. Knowing that she is responsible for caring for her mother who suffers with debilitating arthritis, she lands a job at the Evergreen Spa Hotel with the help of her friend Clive.

It’s quite obvious that the majority of guests at the hotel are far above Violet’s station in life and she is warned from the outset not to become friendly with any of them. However, she catches the eye of Sam, the opium-addicted son of a wealthy grazing family and can’t help herself falling for this young man who clandestinely and relentlessly pursues her, promising her the world. So begins a story of love and desire, passion and pain which can only end in tragedy. Or will it?

As Lauren untangles the secrets and scandal surrounding Sam and Violet, she also discovers the truth and reasons behind her brother's happiness in the Blue Mountains, all the while learning that she, too, is worthy of real love.

I’ve been meaning to get to Ember Island by Kimberley Freeman (which I won in a competition) for a long while now, but the opportunity to do so has not yet arisen. However, after reading Evergreen Falls, I am even more determined to somehow get it into my reading pile as she is yet another great Australian author who deserves to be added to my lengthening list of favourites.

It’s also no secret that I enjoy a parallel storyline and right from the Prologue of Evergreen Falls, which hints at the mystery that will be uncovered, Kimberley skilfully dropped me into a story complete with some great gothic elements from the old crumbling hotel to the inclement weather and the almost oppressive relationship that develops between Violet and Sam.

I was, however, slightly conflicted with regard to the strength of each storyline and, whilst I loved Lauren’s tale about her search for happiness and belonging, I became much more invested in the stronger narrative involving Violet and Sam because of the intrigue and suspense that Kimberley so skilfully builds and carries through. In saying that, Kimberley capably swept me away to a time and place in the past where your station in life determined your future and I was drawn in as an onlooker while their story unfolded.

Filled with numerous characters who will either gain your empathy or earn your contempt, the unmistakable beauty of the Blue Mountains in summertime with a story of hope and self-discovery juxtaposed against the icy cold of its snowy winter featuring a story of treachery and misfortune and the dilapidated charm of a once thriving hotel where secrets abound, this is the ideal read for a day when the rain is beating down on your old tin roof!

I wish to thank both Hachette Australia and The Reading Room for providing me with a hard copy of this novel.

A Little About the Author

Kimberley was born in London and her family moved back to Australia when she was three years old. She grew up in Queensland where she currently lives.
She has written for as long as she can remember and is proud to write in many genres.

Kimberley is also an award-winning writer in children’s, historical and speculative fiction under her birth name Kim Wilkins. She adopted the pen name Kimberley Freeman for her commercial women’s fiction novels to honour her maternal grandmother and to try and capture the spirit of the page-turning novels she has always loved to read.

Kim has an Honours degree, a Masters degree and a PhD from The University of Queensland where she is also a senior lecturer.

She lives in Brisbane with her kids and pets and lovely partner.


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