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Sunday, February 05, 2012

A Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore

A Place of Secrets (an ARC) sounded so interesting.  Jude works as an appraiser of old books for an auction house, and when she takes a call asking for an evaluation of old books on astronomy, she must go to a country estate in Norfolk to evaluate the library's collection.

While going through the books on astronomy, Jude also discovers the notebooks of Anthony Wickham, the eighteenth century amateur astronomer who collected the books, and she becomes interested in Wickham's own work in astronomy.  Then the handwriting changes, and Wickham's daughter Esther is making notations of their studies of the night sky.  A woman astronomer adds even more interest and value to the books and instruments in the collection.

In the meantime, Jude is re-connecting with her grandmother, her sister, and her young niece who live near Starbrough Hall where Jude is staying, appraising and researching the library.  Old memories and dreams begin to coincide as an ancient mystery and generational repetitions appear.  Can dreams be part of a family's inheritance?

Unfortunately, the interesting possibilities never quite work.  The writing never fully engages the reader, nor do the characters.  The writing takes potentially suspenseful situations and renders them tedious.  The author should have stopped after the conclusion to the main mystery, but no, more and more information continues to dribble out, diluting any possible effect of the climax.

The highlights are connected with Euan, the naturalist author living in the game keeper's house on the estate.  His character remains pretty flat, but I like his comments about the book he wants to write about astronomy and its cultural importance:  "I'm passionate about the necessity of the stars to us as people.  Living in cities and towns, and with so much artificial light, we're in danger of losing our connection to the night sky--that sense of wonder about the universe and our place in it."

Close to the end of the book, Euan takes Jude into the woods at night on a moth hunt.  Using a mercury vapor light and other equipment, Euan attracts hundreds of moths and Jude records the various species.  He tells Jude that "There are twenty-seven hundred species [of moths] in the U.K."  and "only sixty-four kinds of butterfly."

I liked these small sections because I love the kind of books that Euan is supposed to write--books about science and nature written for the layman; books that engage the general populace in terms we can understand and with imagination and wonder.

I've just finished reading some very positive reviews by people who found the novel "riveting," but my own opinion is quite different.  I liked several elements, but not the book.

Some stringent editing might have been able to pull the many threads together better and weave them together into a more cohesive whole.

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2012.  382 pages.


  1. Well, I guess it's another example of different strokes for different folks. I haven't read this one yet, but I have read some positive reviews. It's always kind of funny when you read something that someone else has loved and think "huh?". And visa versa. I've read two books recently that struck me very emotionally and I've read some good and some bad stuff about them. Reading books - you just never know.

  2. This did sound really good. It is too bad you didn't enjoy it a bit more!

  3. Kay - :) Everyone has an opinion! I was disappointed, but many readers seem to have loved this one. As you say, different strokes!

    Kailana - It sounded like a book that I would really enjoy, but it just didn't work for me. Ah, well....

  4. The premise sounds good. Too bad it ended up being a meh sort of book! I've not been reading many like this lately, but I do like this sort of story with a bit of the historical thrown in.

  5. Danielle - Always a bit of a disappointment when a book doesn't live up to one's expectations, but even if it didn't work well for me, evidently other readers liked it. :) When a book throws in historical details, it often makes me curious and eager for more information.