Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Caitlyn, there’s something I have to tell you. About Sara.
Caitlyn thinks her marriage to Patrick is a success. For one thing, he is one of the few people not to fall head over heels for her beautiful friend, Sara. Life is lived on his terms, but they are happy.
When a devastating accident turns her existence upside down, Caitlyn is forced to reassess everything she thought about her marriage, what she truly knows about Patrick, and his real feelings for her best friend. In the refuge of an old manor house, she begins to discover the truth.
In 1947, the worst winter in decades hits England, cutting off entirely the inhabitants of Kings Harcourt Manor. For Tommy Carter, widowed at the start of war, it is particularly hard: the burden of the family falls on her. She has the solace of her children, and the interesting presence of her brother’s friend, Fred. But there is also Barbara, a mysterious figure from her past who appears to want a piece of Tommy’s future as well.
Many thanks to Pan MacMillan for my copy of Her Frozen Heart to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
Finally, at long last I have gotten around to reading my first Lulu Taylor book. I don’t know what’s taken me so long to do so considering I have a few of her books on my TBR pile but I’m certainly glad I have now rectified that. Having now finished Her Frozen Heart, I think I made a wise choice in starting with this one as I have seen other people's views with regard to this book and I have to agree that this is a real slow burner but around a quarter of the way through it does start to get under your skin. This is not an action packed read by any means but yet there is enough here to really draw you in and have you hooked wondering what the eventual outcome will be. Her Frozen Heart definitely has sinister, dark, compulsive and even some gothic undertones and the more I reflect on the overall story I would definitely class it as a mystery with a hint of thriller thrown in. There is no big who dunnit but more so why have certain characters so ingrained themselves in others' lives and why have said characters allowed them to do so?
Her Frozen Heart has a dual storyline following two women separated by over 70 years. The more the story develops it is evident to the reader that there are more than a few similarities between the situations the two women find themselves in. Each chapter alternates between Caityln in the present day and Tommy (Thomasina) in the bitterly cold winter of 1947. Normally in a dual storyline that dips between the past and the present, I prefer the character in the present day to be uncovering more about the story of the past seeking clues to uncover a great mystery. Here that wasn’t the case as it was more of a comparison story which highlighted two very manipulative, psychotic women and how they worked their way into the lives of ordinary families with the greatest of repercussions.
The prologue opens in the summer of 1940, the war has been raging for a year and Tommy is left to step up and take care of King’s Harcourt Manor. Then the news that nobody wants arrives, her husband Alec has been killed. Now Tommy is in sole charge of her children Harry and Antonia she must be the strong one and take care of her mother and siblings as well as managing the family estate in her brother's absence. Right from the opening few pages there was a real sense of darkness, of bad things to come, that there would be elements within the story that would thrill, shock and surprise. That’s not to say this book was a tough, gloomy read that you would struggle through. In fact it was far from that as I read this in two sittings so hooked did I become.
In the present day Caitlyn Balfour is married to business man Patrick. They share a young son Max who hates going away to boarding school. Their life is one of luxury but at the same time Caityln seemed to be quite the doormat, who couldn’t stand up for herself or form her own firm opinions. Caityln’s word is torn in two when Patrick is unexpectedly killed. It's like an earthquake shatters her life and she is forced to go over her life in minute detail. Everything she believed to be true including the man she believed loved her with all his heart and soul as she did him may be in fact all false and just a dream not a reality.
Caityln's best friend since college Sara is there as a support to her but honestly Sara was a character whom no one would like. In fact I’ll go as far to say that I detested her. I could see the games she was playing, that her offerings of friendship and support were false. She was compulsive, psychotic, always wanting to be in control of everything. She makes Caityln doubt her own beliefs and viewpoints. The more Sara wiggled her way into Caityln's life the more worried I became. Caitlyn makes a big move to Oxford to escape old memories. Hoping for a new start she meets old college friend Nicholas, now a lecturer in the university. Here is where connections to the past slowly start to emerge and the tension mounts and mounts until you think things are really going to go belly up pretty soon. Caityln was a character who I would initially say was weak but as her mind grew ever more curious she grew in strength and was clever enough to question things. The more Sara fed her lies and half truths about her marriage, the more I wanted Caitlyn to confront her but if that had occurred too early the book wouldn't have been half as good as it was.
Normally with a dual time-line story I usually prefer one plot over the other and in this case I think it was Tommy's story I kept wanting to read more of. Not that I didn't find it fascinating to read about Caitlyn, it's just the atmosphere created in Tommy's story was pure chilling and so beautifully crafted that it made for a haunting, thrilling, tense, powerful read that I couldn't bare to leave out of my hands. Tommy is a very strong, resilient woman and the winter of 1947 brings plenty of challenges. As massive snowstorms paralyse the country and the house becomes cut off her metal is certainly put to the test. She has the constant worry of trying to keep everyone and the house warm in continuous sub zero temperatures and the dwindling supplies of food don't help things either.
I quickly got the sense that Tommy wasn't completely happy with her life, that she was hiding something and always putting on a brave face. She did her best for her family at all times but would a point be reached where she cracked. The arrival of her brother's friend Fred to stay sets in motion a chain of events that will test all involved to their very core. Romance does feature ever so slightly but it's more how Tommy and her family cope being so cut off. I could picture everything so clearly in my mind. This vast house in the middle of the country side surrounded by snow drifts while all the time more sinister events begin to occur.. Another unexpected guest in the form of a so called old school friend of Tommy's, Barbara, really set the cat among the pigeons. Control, possessiveness and manipulation are the words that spring to mind.
After a run of fairly OK books, nothing that would really make me want to scream and shout about them, along has come Her Frozen Heart and restored my faith that I would discover another excellent book before years end. I am frustrated with myself the fact I took so long to read a Lulu Taylor book but on the other hand I know can go back and devour her back catalogue especially with the Christmas holidays coming.
Here Frozen Heart is a very well written story that keeps you guessing. The comparisons that can be made between the two female characters were expertly woven in. I enjoyed how everything was drip fed to us despite my misgivings about the slow start as after reflection I realise it was probably necessary to the overall plot. I can't say there was one stand out, mind blowing twist instead there were several more minor twists one of which still slightly confuses me but still it didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the story. Take your time and savour every moment of this brilliant read it was stunningly atmospheric and one I will remember for quite some time. Do yourself a favour and treat yourself to it this Christmas.