As I grow older, my love of reading and the written word continues to increase. Although I’ve always liked to read, I got away from it for a time. Now, it’s my main hobby, and has even overtaken gaming.
Since the beginning of 2018, I’ve finished one hundred and five books. Without originally intending to, I was able to complete the 50 books challenge last year, with a total of 53. So far this year, I’m at 52, and my goal is to try to beat last year’s total, which should be very doable even if I’ve slowed down a bit. These totals do not count a few, or maybe even several, books that I started but did not finish. ‘DNF-ing’ a book, as people like to call it online, isn’t something I do often, or something that comes easily to me. In fact, it’s pretty difficult. As such, I’ve finished some books I haven’t liked all that much, just because I’m a completionist at heart.
This summer, I was sent a tantalizing email offering the opportunity to review a new novel from a first time author. I admittedly took too much on over the last year, and am still trying to read my way out of a pile of reviews, so it took me until recently to start said novel. It fit, though, because The House of Brides by Jane Cockram wasn’t destined to be released until October 19th. At least that’s the date the advanced reader’s copy and email said. I know it was a Sunday.
I started The House of Brides in early October, with the goal of finishing it within a week, which would’ve given me lots of time to write this review and have it posted in time for release. That didn’t end up happening, though, which is why this review is late. As much as I tried, I just couldn’t really get into this book, and struggled to gather any momentum while reading it. I’d pick it up with the goal of reading for hours, but would have trouble focusing because the story wasn’t all that interesting and failed to embed any sort of hook into me. This created a bit of a lull in my reading habits, and devolved into it taking me about three weeks to actually finish this thing.
For someone who now reads one or two books a week, that isn’t normal. Suffice to say, I wasn’t a fan of this one.
Like many novels of its kind, Jane Cockram’s The House of Brides is about a troubled woman who goes to stay at a mysterious old home in middle-of-nowhere England. In this particular case, it’s Miranda Courtenay who travels to her mother’s family home after receiving a strange help wanted letter from her distant, 12 year-old cousin. Well, to be true: Said letter was actually addressed to Miranda’s mother, who — unbeknownst to her family in England — had passed away years after fleeing to Australia, where she started a family of her own.
When Miranda shows up, she’s met by a scary seeming dog and a lady who turns out to be the person who looks after the former mansion turned hotel. Somewhat startled by someone showing up unannounced in the middle of the evening, she asks if the young woman is there for the open nanny position, to which Miranda — who’s no stranger to lying — says yes. Soon after, she meets the head of the house — one Max Summer, who inherited it from his father Maximillian, although the home has been in the Summer family for many years — and is hired on as the nanny for Max’s three children. His wife, Daphne, used to look after the kids and run the hotel’s famous restaurant, but after an accident that injured her youngest daughter (leaving her wheelchair bound), she’s had a hard time leaving her room and continues to deal with the throes of both depression and alcoholism.
If this sounds pretty cookie cutter, you’re not imagining things. Nothing about The House of Brides feels original, and none of it is very good. There were numerous times where I considered DNF-ing it, but I ended up reading through to the end because I wanted to provide a thorough review. Truth be told, I was also curious about how silly it might become.
The premise I listed above doesn’t exactly cover Miranda all that well, nor does it do justice to her immaturity, stupidity and the general silliness she presents as our troubled narrator and ‘heroine’ (a word I use with heavy, heavy quotes).
I forget exactly how old Miranda was said to be, but I believe she’s supposed to be in her late twenties. Regardless, she’s much older than she acts throughout this story. Very much so, in fact. If it hadn’t been made clear that she was an adult, and if she hadn’t been given a job looking after children on a whim, I likely would’ve seen her as a young teenager.
You see, Miranda Courtenay isn’t just your average young adult. She was actually quite popular at one point, as an online influencer. Now, she’s popular for all the wrong reasons, after making downright silly claims that were proven false by an online follower. While working on a cookbook, Ms. Courtenay decided that she would share healthy eating recipes with taglines, hashtags and promises that related to things like fertility and other snake oil style benefits. Hell, she even told one woman that using her recipe would fix the lady’s infertility issue.
And yes: She does narrate hashtags at times throughout this book, although not often. Thankfully.
To her credit, Miranda did delete that post, but not until it was saved and flagged by the aforementioned anonymous online follower. Then things blew up, lawsuits began, and Miranda’s father had to pay a lot of money to try to quiet everything down so that his daughter could start her life anew. At least, he attempted to do that by paying someone to create a new identity for her, by getting rid of online results relating to her false claims. The author states this at least once during the book, and it didn’t make a lot of sense.
Miranda’s well meaning father gets her a new job at a reputable firm, then takes her out to her favourite seafood restaurant to celebrate. However, days before she’s to start this new venture and show of faith, she obtains his credit card under false pretenses, uses it to buy a plane ticket to England, and then leaves without telling her family where she’s going. All the while, her father has seen the letter and has already told her to let sleeping dogs lie, because her mother’s family didn’t want anything to do with her mother once she fled. It’s said more ambiguously than that, though, as her father basically suggests that they’re bad people who are hiding something.
I should also mention that all of this happens after a woman notices and recognizes our main character while she’s working in a clothing store. This, coupled with having read the letter that was sent to her mom, sends her running across the planet.
As she gets ready to move to middle-of-nowhere England, Miranda hastily packs a bag fit for nice Australian weather, and fails to understand that the climate will be different in England. She’s also oblivious to the fact that the months and seasons are different in this other part of the world. Then, throughout the book she makes and eats fatty or unhealthy foods, which she also gives to the children, all while complaining about how it’s not like her and how it’s good that nobody can see her eating such things. Later on? For some reason, she blames crying about an unsettling discovery on what she’s been eating.
I actually dogeared a couple of pages that were almost too silly to believe, including the one bearing the aforementioned statement.
I don’t know if that’s how the author sees all younger people, but it feels forced and inorganic. It certainly doesn’t fit with someone the author wishes the reader to identify with, believe and/or care about during the course of a three hundred and sixty-five page narrative.
Then there’s the uncle who kind of comes on to her when she fails to reveal her identity (even though it’s said that she kind of looks like his sister), and Miranda’s insistence that she take the kids for a walk on rough country land, or even across a rough ocean channel to an unkempt island where her aunt lives, despite the fact that the youngest daughter is confined to a wheelchair.
The book is called The House of Brides for a reason, too, and its title is actually a reference to a book inside of the book type of thing. Miranda’s mother, Tessa Courtenay, was once a Summer as you’ve read above. What you haven’t been told yet is that Tess once wrote a book about her family’s history at Barnsley, including sordid details that made her an outcast. Things like sex, debauchery, cheating, drunken scandals and the like. In fact, she even hints that her own mother attempted to murder her older brother Max during a summer party. She failed, but only because a fire broke out in the same room. The mom died, but her young son was rescued by the nanny.
Miranda carries her dog eared copy of The House of Brides with her, but is also gifted one as a present shortly after her arrival. Although it’s a touchy subject within the family, Max feels that she should read it to get to know the people who reside(d) there. This includes his wife Daphne, who goes missing shortly after Miranda becomes the nanny. This causes great alarm to our protagonist, but nobody else seems too worried, for whatever reason. Not Max, not the housekeeper who seems to have a thing for him, nor anyone else. Sure, the children are worried, but they’re not able to do much about it.
Part mystery, part social affairs story and part romance, The House of Brides simply isn’t very good. It doesn’t flow all that well, nor does it have an interesting or thought provoking story to keep one’s interest piqued. Miranda’s constant stupidity, annoying personality and downright unwillingness to listen to warnings makes her a very unlikable and frustrating protagonist. And, given that this is advertised as a thriller, we’re talking about a genre where the main character needs to be interesting.
I was provided with an unedited advanced reader’s proof, which means that what I read was an unfinished book. From what I’ve gathered, this means that the novel had yet to be fully edited, and was sent out in rough form. This isn’t abnormal in the literary world, nor was it the first ARC or proof that I’ve read in the last several months. Thus, I knew to expect the odd spelling and punctuation error, and did not factor those into this review. For the most part, the writing was alright, but sometimes it was difficult to tell who was speaking because the dialogue hadn’t been spaced properly. That’ll surely be rectified. What bothered me, and hurts this book, is just how forced the main character’s juvenile behaviour is, and how dumbly she’s written.
If you’re looking for a good thriller, or simply searching for a good read to keep you entertained for a dreary week or weekend, this is not it. Although I appreciate the effort that went into it, and applaud the author for making her debut in the literary world, I was not a fan of what she wrote. I kept trying to get into it, and hoped that it would get better, but it all felt flat and sometimes even made me laugh despite its attempts to be serious. As such, I cannot recommend this book.
This review is based on an Advanced Reader’s Copy (proof) that was provided to us by HarperCollins.