#BookReview: Secret Shores by Ella Carey

Historical Women's Fiction

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In 1946, artist Rebecca Swift’s dreams of love and a life free from convention are crashing like the waves of the Australian coast below her. And it’s into those roiling waters that she disappears.

Forty-one years later, Tess Miller’s dreams are crashing, too. The once-successful New York editor has lost her most prestigious author to the handsome new golden boy of publishing. Meanwhile, she’s stuck with Edward Russell, a washed-up Australian poet writing a novel about some obscure artist named Rebecca Swift. But Tess may have underestimated Russell. His book is not only true—it’s a searing, tragic romance and a tantalizing mystery set in a circle of postwar modernists. When Tess uncovers a long-hidden secret, she’s drawn even deeper into Rebecca’s enigmatic life and death.

As Rebecca’s past intertwines with the present, Tess finds herself falling for the last man she thought she’d ever be drawn to. On the way, she discovers the power of living an authentic life—and that transcendent love never really dies.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to note that I’m in the minority when it comes to Ella Carey’s Secret Shores. The majority of readers who’ve picked it up absolutely loved it and while I completely respect their admiration, I have to confess I struggled with this piece beginning to end.

Forgive me for saying so, but I couldn’t stand the 1980s half of this narrative. I assume that Tess was meant to read as strong and independently-minded woman, but I found her petulant histrionics nothing short of absurd. Her antics grated my nerves so badly that I nearly chucked the novel outright and probably would have if not for the merit I found in the 1940s storyline.

Rebecca is a more artistic soul and I found myself intrigued by her drive. Where Tess is brash and self-centered, Rebecca is subtle, genuine, and creative. She hones her talents despite lack of support or respect and ultimately commands both through sheer determination and sacrifice. She is honey to Tess’ vinegar and I thought the challenges she overcame all the more powerful for it.

I found Carey’s depiction of Australia’s modernist art movement interesting but couldn’t help feeling it pale next to B.A. Shapiro’s handling of the abstract impressionists in The Muralist. I liked what Cary put together but I thought she could have gone deeper into the style, techniques, and ideology of the artists.

From other reviews, it is clear that Carey’s highly descriptive prose appeals to many, but the text struck me as over the top and killed the pacing. I stuck it out to the end, but the last-minute plot twist was highly coincidental and required a complete and inexplicable reversal of Tess’ character to pull off. It didn’t work in my eyes and left me at a bit of a loss.

I love that so many have enjoyed this piece, but when all is said and done, my tastes proved ill-suited to this particular narrative and I admit I'd have difficulty recommending it forward.

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley/Kindle Unlimited
Read: September 17, 2018

It was a night for beginnings. Not endings...