Once in a while a book comes along whose description ticks all my boxes and Tall Chimneys is one such novel, so I was delighted to be offered the chance to take part in the blog tour organized by Rachels Random Resources
Read on to read my review and an extract.
Please join me by reading an enticing extract and please visit some of my fellow bloggers on this tour too.
My ReviewTall Chimneys is an engaging literary historical novel set in a rambling tumbledown old country house set in a remote dip in a brooding moorland setting which sets the perfect bucolic scene for this nostalgic tale with a dual time twist.
With plenty of characters to dislike and the antiquity of the location it sets out to draw us into the baleful world of Tall Chimneys, a book about a house and the people who lived there.
Almost as soon as I began reading this book I was reminded of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. It has the same sombre, brooding, feel of time passing by behind old Oak doors, a subtle air of faded gentility, crumbling grandeur and something just a little askew in what should be an idyllic setting.
From the outset at the beginning of the 20th century we are thrust firmly into the shoes of Evelyn Talbot, spinster sibling whom the family view as a burdensome reliability. From childhood she has felt unwanted and unloved. As this disagreeable family cast their fates far and wide Evelyn remains at the crumbling and equally burdensome family pile, a rural mansion falling into decay and disrepair.
Unsurprisingly Evelyn and the house have an affinity, nevertheless the one place this young misfit of a woman feels she fits in, becomes a burden to her too. Poor Evelyn all she wants is affection and to fit in, yet every move seems to place her further apart from the society she craves.
Her family and their staff include some thoroughly obnoxious characters, which make the reader root for Evelyn, even if she isn’t always the easiest of women to like, and makes ill advised decisions galore, you will sympathise with her and the way she lives as you grow to know her.
An unexpected encounter brings an unlikely hero into her world which eventually leads to an unexpected, somewhat blighted romance for the lonely and unloved protagonist and as time passes she finds she must choose between her own chance at happiness and the chance to save Tall chimneys.
There is a meandering and sonorous quality in much of the writing which like the house, shrouded in mist and set apart from the world at large, makes you feel weighted by time itself, but the narrative and the story take an unexpected twist or two.
Spread over a century, the authors love and knowledge of history and the very authentic character she has created in Evelyn complement the rather gloomy dust ridden monument which is Tall Chimneys and where I wouldn’t have been surprised to find Miss Havisham lingering.
This is not a ghost story but has a haunting and mesmerising quality which will keep you turning the pages at Tall Chimneys.
Considered a troublesome burden, Evelyn Talbot is banished by her family to their remote country house. Tall Chimneys is hidden in a damp and gloomy hollow. It is outmoded and inconvenient but Evelyn is determined to save it from the fate of so many stately homes at the time - abandonment or demolition.
Occasional echoes of tumult in the wider world reach their sequestered backwater - the strident cries of political extremists, a furore of royal scandal, rumblings of the European war machine. But their isolated spot seems largely untouched. At times life is hard - little more than survival. At times it feels enchanted, almost outside of time itself. The woman and the house shore each other up - until love comes calling, threatening to pull them asunder.
Her desertion will spell its demise, but saving Tall Chimneys could mean sacrificing her hope for happiness, even sacrificing herself.
A century later, a distant relative crosses the globe to find the house of his ancestors. What he finds in the strange depression of the moor could change the course of his life forever.
One woman, one house, one hundred years.
The Author - Allie Cresswell
I often think that the experience of being evacuated during WW2 must have been terrifying for the children. Sent off to strangers, arriving in locations so alien to their experiences, little knowing when or if they would return home or see their parents again. And all this in the days before Child Protection - the hosts might have been cruel, mean, violent, even paedophiles. On the other hand, they may have been kind. In this extract, Evelyn collects three girls evacuated from Leeds.
At Tall Chimneys we had more mouths to feed. Kenneth drove us to the station and we came back with four evacuees from Leeds, where Lancaster bombers and munitions were being churned out by the factories, some of which were owned by Sylvester Ratton.
Kenneth and Rose wanted a boy because he would have to share a room with Bobby. A school-age boy would be ideal, as Rose was, by then, expecting a baby and didn’t want an extra child who would be under her feet. They picked Malcolm. He was about Bobby’s age but whereas Bobby was chubby and dimpled, Malcolm was thin to the point of being skeletal. He was filthy; ill-turned out in torn trousers and shoes so badly scuffed we could see his toe through the leather. He was snot-nosed and whiney, standing rather apart from the other boys waiting on the platform. Kenneth chose him in preference to the more appealing alternatives because he looked so frightened and Kenneth felt sorry for him.
I went in search of the girls and spotted one aged about seven in the waiting room. She was holding the hand of a toddler perhaps two and also cradling a baby who was under a year old. They were all dressed in clothes which, though well-mended, were immaculately clean. The hair of the older girls was neatly braided and in ribbons. The baby wore a home-crocheted bonnet. As I approached the little group, the oldest girl shrank away from me and pulled the toddler behind her.
‘We have to stay together, Mam says,’ she announced, defiantly.
The woman who was supervising bustled over with a clip-board. She was hatchet-faced, prim and terrifying, without a shred of maternal instinct or kindness. The girls shrank even further into the grimy corner of the waiting room. ‘Which will you take?’ she asked me. ‘Madam here says they’re to stay together but I’ve told her nobody will have room for three.’
‘I have room for three,’ I said, quickly. ‘I’ll take them all.’ The big girl’s face remained stoical and determined, but a fat tear oozed from her eye and dribbled down her face.
‘Oh!’ The woman took a step backwards and looked me up and down. ‘Mrs…?’
‘Johns, from Tall Chimneys,’ I said, picking up the small leather suitcase which was propped against a nearby chair leg.
The woman sniffed; she knew me, clearly, by repute. ‘Regulations state…’ she began, but I cut her off.
‘This is no time to be hidebound by regulations,’ I declared, stoutly. ‘There’s a war on. We all have to do our bit.’ I reached out my hand to the toddler, who let go of her sister’s and took mine. It was hot and sticky, as Awan’s often was.
‘I’m not sure I can…’ the woman tried another tack.
‘Have a heart,’ I hissed, glancing at her chest as though I doubted she had such a thing - it was as flat as a board - and then at the pathetic sight of the three children. ‘If you doubt me, Mrs Greene can vouch for me.’ Kenneth’s mother was a redoubtable figure in and of herself and a big mover in the WI world. Her name seemed to do the trick.
‘Very well,’ the woman sniffed, leafing through her file of papers. ‘You’ll take Marion, Audrey and Kitty Blakney. Marion is the big one. It says here she wets the bed.’
The seven year old gave a little cry of outrage and shame. Her brave demeanour collapsed and she sank onto the bench behind her in a torrent of tears. The child whose hand I held - Audrey - began to cry also and the baby, naturally, followed suit. The harridan with the clipboard gave a satisfied smile. ‘Good luck,’ she said, nastily, stalking off to exert her authority elsewhere.
If thats made you want to read the book you can order it now from Amazon uk