Book Club: The Secret Heiress

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Author: Luke Devenish
ISBN: 9781922052155
RRP: $29.99

The Secret Heiress is an historical novel set across two distinct timelines a generation apart in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It is an Australian novel and I must admit to finding the look back at our country in that time period fascinating.

I am quite lost as to where to start this review, and how to continue it for that matter. There are so many dark and twisted roads to travel, so many suspenseful turns and possible explanations that it would be easy to unwittingly add spoilers and I would really rather avoid that.

I read an advanced uncorrected proof thanks to Simon & Schuster which has a letter from author Luke Devenish to readers of the proof. It tells us a little of the inspiration and gives a little background. Summersby House is a fictional mansion at the heart of the story but it was inspired by real houses Devenish visited.

In 1886 young Ida Garfield is employed by the elegant Miss Matilda Gregory to begin work at Summersby House but before she can start the news reaches her that Miss Gregory has passed away. Not on to be deterred from a path that seemed heaven sent Ida attends the funeral hoping that someone will still want to employ her at Summersby House. By all accounts Ida isn’t a bright girl, all the brains went to her younger sister Evie and the money Ida will earn in service will go to furthering Evie’s education; what Ida lacks in brains is more than made up for with inquisitiveness. She asks many questions and is always trying to learn new things, I think she is brighter than she’s given credit for and it’s just that hers is a different type of bright.

Ida attends the funeral, hoping someone will still want her at Summersby. Samuel Hackett, fiance of the late Miss Gregory, expresses the need for a housemaid – and a friend. She heads straight to Summersby to begin her duties as housemaid.

Summersby is not at all what Ida was expecting; for such a huge house it is extremely understaffed and that is only the beginning of the odd happenings.

the secret heiress

The reading of the late Miss Gregory’s will uncovers a secret deception and brings home the rightful heir to Summersby House, her twin sister Matilda. Things started to get a little twisty here. The two Miss Gregorys were Matilda and Margaret, and it seems this second will states that the deceased Miss Gregory was really Margaret, and Matilda has been incarcerated since the death of her father. A situation that is quickly rectified with Matilda returned to Summersby with her ladies maid Miss Aggie Marshall.

The second timeline in 1903-1904 sees young Biddy Macbryde, an imaginative storyteller, lose her employment with the Reverend Flowers. Her storytelling gets her in too deep one time too many and with no family to return to she sets off aimlessly in need of a new plan. A plan that sees her end up at Summersby House and eventually employed as a companion.

Flicking between timelines is quite well spaced and with both storylines based in Summersby House you find yourself with questions and answers from opposite times which is quite intriguing in itself.

The whole situation with Matilda and Margaret got a little too much for me at times, I couldn’t work out who was who and who we were supposed to be referring to. I was sure there were a couple of instances that the incorrect name was used, and put it down to the fact that my week has been pretty all over the place so could be my headspace or it could be because I was reading an ARC.

The Secret Heiress is intriguing and engaging from start to finish. I had to keep reading to find out what was really going on through it all. There were hints dropped but they weren’t always clear at the time and you needed to continue to find where the pieces fell together.

There is deception on deception and it continues to raise more and more questions about who was in on what, and who was deceiving who.

I loved the intrigue, I loved the twins and the way they were integral to the story. I love Biddy, who is a fanciful storyteller with a story for every occasion yet abhorred dishonesty and lies, always wanted to get to the bottom of a situation and uncover the truth.

There are twists upon twists contained in this book so I’m hard pressed trying not to spoil it. There were some elements of the story I guessed early on  but the bulk of it really did hit me from left field, or left me wondering how on earth that could possibly be because it didn’t match up with what I thought because of something else that had happened.

The characters are well drawn and three dimensional in the moment but there’s not a lot of back story – which is exactly how it needs to be to continue the intrigue.

The look at the time, and the town and the setting is glorious. I can’t believe that in a small town where gossip abounds all of this managed to go on right under their noses, but that was addressed in the beginning by the sometime cook Mrs Jack when she said they were a law unto themselves up at Summersby House.

The Secret Heiress is an interesting, engaging, vivid and twisted historical look at the dark goings on in Summersby House and I would recommend it to all.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster 30 of our Beauty and Lace Club Members will be reading The Secret Heiress so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments.

The Secret Heiress is available from April through Simon & Schuster, Booktopia, Angus & Robertson Bookworld and where all good books are sold.
You can find Luke Devenish on his website at: www.lukedevenish.com

32 thoughts on “Book Club: The Secret Heiress

  1. Thankyou Beauty and Lace for giving me the opportunity to review ‘The Secret Heiress’.
    The Secret Heiress is divided in years switching between characters.
    The book begins in 1886 where 16 year old Ida Garfield (inquisitive but not very bright according to her mother) is offered employment by wealthy 19 year old Miss Matilda Gregory to be a maid at Summersby estate. Unfortunately a week later sees Ida attending Miss Gregory’s funeral, the very day she was to commence her duties. Mr Samuel Hackett, Matilda’s fiancee in attendance at the funeral informs Ida they will still require her services. She is to work to pay her sister Evie’s education.
    She soon commences work at Summersby where Barker a very unpleasant valet to Samuel bullies her.
    It soon becomes apparent that Matilda was a twin, and that Margaret her twin sister will be moving to Summersby with her maid Aggie.

    In 1903 we meet Biddy MacBryde a 16 year old employed as a kitchen maid for a reverand. She’s pretty, confident and happy go lucky. After losing her employment and many adventures she finds herself at Summersby where she becomes a companion to Sybil Gregory.
    There is much talk between the girls (Sybil being the same age) about a secret heiress.

    1886/87 sees Ida as inquisitive as ever discovering facts about Matilda and Margaret. There are strange goings on and she is infactuated with Samuel Hackett.

    The book is difficult to review without giving clues to the outcome. Parts were confusing but the book’s completion answered the questions I had. It was interesting and exciting, the characters were very believable and there was a real feeling of history.

  2. Thank you for letting me read The Secret Heiress I will have to be careful with this review as I do not want to spoil the ending for others who haven’t read this book yet, The story begins in 1886 and ends in 1904, starting with a young Ida ( a nosy little thing ) working as a housemaid at Summersby House which is located in Victoria, the house/occupants have a lot of strange happenings and secrets going on, all the characters in this book have their own secrets especially the identical twins Matilda and Margaret this is where I had to really concentrate when reading this book as it is easily to get confused with the twins, Mr Barker is a truly horrible man who gets his just rewards at the end of the book, this book has so many twists and turns it is unbelievable a brilliant book written by Luke Devenish I will be certinally reading his other novels

  3. You have no idea how pleased I am to see Michelle’s words “I am quite lost as to where to start this review, and how to continue it for that matter.” relating to The Secret Heiress by Luke Devenish – my thoughts completely. The book is visually beautiful with the cover showing the glorious Summersby House where much of the story takes place along with the lovely gold lettering of the title.

    My overriding thoughts are that of confusion and once again, in Michelle’s words, “The whole situation with Matilda and Margaret got a little too much for me at times, I couldn’t work out who was who and who we were supposed to be referring to.” Thankfully the loose ends were tied before the end of the novel.

    Like Gilli and Deborah, whose reviews are above, the last thing I want to do is give away any of the plot. The characters were well drawn as was the historical period it was set in. It was easy to absolutely love some characters and despise others. I agree completely that Ida was brighter than she was given credit for and although there were times when you knew she’d come out with something she shouldn’t have, she was refreshingly delightful. The Secret Heiress is also easy to read and well written although I frequently finished a section and had to “process it” in my head because I needed to make sure I wasn’t getting it wrong and often I wasn’t sure I didn’t get it wrong. I particularly enjoyed the historical Australian background and the way the characters developed over time.

    There is no doubt that The Secret Heiress is one of the most, if not the most, unusual books I’ve read. I am thankful to Beauty and Lace and Simon and Schuster for the opportunity to read an interesting Australian author.

  4. The Secret Heiress is a mystery set in Victoria in 1886 and 1903 with two characters, Ida in 1880s and Biddy in the 1900s central to the story telling.

    In 1886 Ida has been employed by Matilda Gregory, the mistress of Summersby House, who suddenly dies in mysterious circumstances. Ida’s inquisitiveness helps tell the story. But there has been a big deception. There is a secret heiress, whose name is also Matilda Gregory (theres also a Margaret) but she is a girl with memory issues!

    Matilda’s/Margaret’s fiancé Samuel appears to be linked to Matilda’s/Margarets death, but with the also mysterious Barker they return the second Margaret/Matilda to her inheritance – and set off a series of puzzling events. Then there is also the story of 1903 and Biddy who uncovers further twists and turns about the heiress of Summersby.

    I have to say the story kept me guessing but the twists and turns made the story difficult to follow at times. To be honest, it starting to annoy me after a while. All questions are answered in the end though and its a satisfying ending!

    A interesting book…..

  5. I love Australian stories, and this one is in a Victorian setting near the town of Castlemaine (where the author lives) in 1886 after the Gold rush in that area.
    It is an intriguing story with lots going on, and gets pretty confusing jumping between the 2 different time lines and all the mixed up characters, but it still kept me turning the pages wanting to know what happened next.
    Each person had a hidden agenda, which meant the reader needed to guess what the character had plotted, why, and how they meant to carry it out. This was indeed a challenge!
    I did manage to guess who the Secret Heiress was before it was revealed, but it was nicely tied up in the story line as it ended.
    I enjoyed the book, the tales of servants and staff daily life in The Big Houses in those days, and the historical time line.
    Thank you Beauty & Lace, and Simon and Schuster for allowing me to review this book. I am delighted with the variety of reading choices we get to trial in this Book Club.

  6. The Secret Heiress! certainly a book that you have to keep your wits about you. I know I had to reread certain parts to keep following the twists and plot. Now that i have finished, I also know that I will read the whole book again just to get my head around it all. In saying that I did enjoy the book, loved the back telling and relating to parts of the country that I know well. The detail in making sure it kept in time and true to the period was pleasing. Luke has a very good story telling talent, in the Secret Heiress it wasnt until about 3/4 of the way thru that I guessed ONE part of the plot. The book finished off well which pleased me no end and gave it a finality so as to not be hanging on a thread and wondering more. Thank you Luke and to Beauty and Lace for letting me review this book.

  7. Holding this book in my hands and looking at the house on the front, I was immediately transported back to a house in Wahroonga that I used to pass on my way to school. I used to always think that the house would have some lovely stories to tell. I was eager to read this book after Michelle’s great review. The book resolves around a beautiful house called Summersby and being in the Historial era I could visually imagine them in their fine attire.

    As I started the first page we are in the year of 1886 and learning about the character Ida aged 16. She seemed delightful and not hard to warm to straight away. My heart strings were going though, when her mother and family members all regarded her as not as bright as her younger sister. In this chapter we also meet Samuel Hackett who I admit, I fell for his charm but wondered if further reading it would change my mind about him. We also meet Samuels right hand man Baxter who I found to be a scarey, creepy and sleazy individual. A character that I just didn’t warm to from Day 1.

    Getting to know the characters I was then wanting to know more re Ida, and then it changed to the story of Biddy in 1903. I was finding it a bit hard reading as I wasn’t sure who Biddy was but obviously kept reading to find out more. I was enjoying getting to know her story. I realised she was related to someone in the storyline but not sure who.

    On further reading without giving any plots away, I found the characters of Matilda/Margaret who are twins totally confusing where I would have to skim back a few pages to reread what I had just read. Their characters still confused me through till the end of the book though. It was at some stage that I wasn’t sure if I was Martha or Arthur. This is where you have to definitely keep reading.

    It wasn’t till I was halfway through the book that I finally got my sense of direction to the book and I was totally hooked and intrigued to see how this all panned out. There is mention of a sapphire blue vial in the book and this had me wondering what was going on with it. I had ideas but then throughout the book they would be thwarted.

    Ida, what a beautiful character is she and definitely smarter than what others thought of her. I couldn’t wait to read her story and where it was going to end. There is also Sybil another character that is warm and friendly and becomes great friends with Ida.

    When reading you just have to remember that you will be going past and present and once your head gets around this, you will be thrilled and intrigued at the storyline. You cannot help but just keep reading. I made myself a cuppa while I read and totally absorbed myself in the book and the coffee was forgotten and cold.

    I loved the ending of the book, Luke definitely captured the moment that I closed the book with a beautiful sigh. Good things certainly happen to good people.

    Thank you Beauty and Lace and of course Simon & Schuster for giving me the opportunity of reading this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I used to visit Hawthorne as that’s where my mum grew up so I could visualise the area.

  8. What a wonderful read this is. With horrid and enchanting characters, great story line and creative writing. Initially it took some getting used to flipping between timelines and I would always cry out when I found myself having to flip between them as each timeline was engrossing and I just wanted to stay with it! But, soon into the new timeline I was hooked again!

    This is definitely a book needing to be read with a block of chocolate, a glass of wine and solitude to enjoy the twists and turns that it has to offer.

  9. The Secret Heiress is a rich, historic fiction book set in Castlemaine, Australia in 1886 and 1903. The novel is by screenwriter, playwright, author and academic, Luke Devenish. The latter is no stranger to writing about history as his two previous books were set in Ancient Rome. His latest offering is a rather mysterious one set closer to home.

    The novel is told in two separate, interwoven parts. Initially we meet Ida, a naïve farm girl who is offered an amazing opportunity to work as a housemaid at the exquisite, Summersby House. Ida accepts the job because it’s a great opportunity for a poor girl who has been told that she’s not very bright. It’s possible that her intelligence was not given its full credit because she is a rather inquisitive young lady nonetheless.

    Ida has a rickety start at Summersby. Her mistress, Miss Greggory is found dead on Ida’s first day. But Ida perseveres because she hopes that someone at Summersby will still want to employ her. That somebody proves to be the charming and handsome gentleman, Samuel Hackett and the former fiancé of the late Miss Gregory who wishes for Ida to continue her work at the stately home. Things initially seem okay but then a serious of mysterious events start taking place and these contribute to a rather strange and vivid mystery entangling all of the characters.

    The other main thread in this book stars Biddy MacBryde, a young lady with a cheeky disposition who works as a Reverend’s kitchen maid. Her big mouth sees her fired and eventually she is lured to the elusive surrounds of Summersby where she is employed as a friend/companion to one of the residents. She also possesses a natural curiosity for the house’s inhabitants and what she discovers is a rather complicated story entrenched in the past.

    Luke Devenish’s prose is well-written but there are moments where it is a bit too detailed and flowery for its own good. The novel is a sprawling and ambitious one that is engaging. But there are some moments where it is a tad too confusing and difficult to understand- namely where the identities of the twin sisters, Margaret and Matilda Gregory are described. The characterisation is rich but the names are too similar and the structure is a little too messy and this can confuse some readers. Thankfully this is all resolved eventually in what is a rather neat and satisfying ending.

    The Secret Heiress is a complex book filled with layers of lies and deceit. It’s an interesting story and Devenish should be commended for setting a dark and gothic tale in Australia. There are some minor problems that let this book down but ultimately it is quite a dark and stirring read set in an opulent house and grounds. Nice.

  10. This novel is a maze of twists and turns mixed in with some Australian Gothic, with all the things you might expect: a mysterious house with a magnificent name, upstairs downstairs class wars cast of characters, identical twins, a puzzle about inheritance, a love triangle, a lunatic asylum, a suicide, and a mystery that ends with a mother-and-child reunion and an unexpected legacy. But it’s all a little too formulated and a little too impossible. The mystery between the twins becomes both heavy and confusing. The heart of the novel is Ida the housemaid, young and naive and as vulnerable as any female servant in a grand 19th-century household: at the mercy of the family, especially of the villian who has some strange hold over the master of the house. The story just did not seem believable to me and too long.

  11. Who knows how you even go about starting a review for this book. I’ve read all of the comments above and they all basically say the same thing – that it’s hard to say anything without giving too much away. They also say how difficult the book was to read and I have to confess that I felt the same. I had a migraine during the time that I was reading this book and I wondered whether that had confused me. Every time that I thought that I’d finally worked out what was actually going on, things changed. This was both exciting and frustrating! I enjoyed The Secret Heiress enough to really want to keep reading it and work out the secrets, but I found that I really had to pick my times to read it. Trying to read it over a coffee with my three children home during the school holidays was not the best idea! In the end I actually got out my pen and paper and wrote notes of what I thought was happening to help my thinking. Best of all, I think I worked it out and got it right! I’m waiting for my mother-in-law to have her turn at reading it, so that we can check my cheat sheet and see if she agrees with me.

    I loved the characters of Ida and Biddy and cheered on their clever thinking and persistence. I didn’t like Samuel or Baxter, but appreciate their roles in the story. Who comes up with these ideas?! An amazing story that I was really glad that I was chosen to read. Thank you Beauty and Lace for another great novel >:o)

  12. I think this is the first time ever that I’ve had to say I didn’t much enjoy a book club book.

    “The Secret Heiress” is essentially a gothic with an Australian setting. That was tantalising, and I settled down expecting to enjoy it. But to be truly successful, a gothic needs at least three things: a sense of impending doom which may or may not be averted; people whose motives are murky, where you can’t be sure whether they’re working for or against the heroine; and a heroine to root for.

    And sadly, for me, this novel didn’t deliver. The sense of impending doom, yes. But I was less than half way into the book when I’d worked out what was happening, who was doing it, how, and who the secret heiress was. The “bad” guys and the “good” guys were pretty obvious. I didn’t find either Ida or Biddy particularly attractive characters – Ida was just too dim, and Biddy too dishonest, for me to really connect with them.

    In consequence I found this pretty hard going. It’s well written, and has a good sense of place and time. However, without a character I was cheering for, and with the central mysteries already obvious, it was painfully slow.

    Readers who don’t work things out so quickly, or who find either Ida or Biddy more appealing, will probably enjoy this. It’s a type of novel not often set in Australia, and the glimpses of historical fact are well placed and not overdone. For example, the language is largely modern although a few expressions from the time period are used, carefully, in a context which allows easy understanding. The writing style is smooth and unobtrusive and flows well. The characterisation is strong; although I didn’t like the central characters, they were well drawn and came alive.

    Although I hesitate to recommend it, as I didn’t enjoy it, there should be quite a lot of people who will enjoy it.

  13. I was excited to finally get my hands on ‘The Secret Heiress’. What a great storyline. A period piece introducing characters from 1886 and then linking characters to a later 1903. Although at first you didn’t realise the link with these characters until later in the book. The storyline is intriguing, based on twin girls who through their lived swapped their identities. A truly fascinating ending with many twists and turns. The storyline certainly pulled you in but I did find the swapping from one period of time and characters to a different period of time and characters, difficult to follow. I started to get confused throughout the book as to who was who. If the author perhaps told the whole story of 1886 and then followed on with the story of 1903, it would have made far more sense to the reader and left us less frustrated.

    Having said that I greatly loved the terrific storyline, the Aussie flavour of speech which the reader could truly relate to, and the fabulous ending.

    Overall a terrific read. Thank you Beauty and Lace and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read this fabulous book.

  14. I am always so grateful for Beauty and Lace and Simon and Schuster because every book is such a different adventure especially The Secret Heiress.
    I eased into the first chapter of the book called IDA which was set in December 1886 but when it started the second chapter I started to get confused only to look back and realise it had gone from 1886 to 1903. I must say I really enjoyed the character Biddy, she was very outspoken but brave in other ways through her hard life. I related to her feeling of being on her own when she was so young but I wasnt game enough to be as upfront and cheeky as her..
    If Matilda and Margaret had totally different names it might have helped aid my confusion or flipping back pages. I did enjoy this book as it was very different to others I have read recently and Luke Devendish wrote it well because I could definately feel like I was back in time with the way the characters spoke, very unlike today haha 🙂 It was nice to hear of Ballarat and places like Melbourne as it is more relatable.
    Definately a book you have to read in peace and I did read it mainly at night in bed next to a snoring husband whom I had to nudge every now and then 😉
    I loathed and loved some of the characters which drew me in wanting to read more. Luke Devenish is a talented writer with a good difference.
    thanks again 🙂

  15. Oh my goodness I 100% loved reading this book.
    I found that I easily became attached to the two ladies. Ida who was in the late 1800’s and Biddy in the early 1900’s. Ida whos family are depending on her to get a job in a large house so that she can help fund her young sisters schooling. Ida feels that her hopes of a job in Summersby House have been dashed by the sudden death of the Lady of the house but she holds on to a small slice of hope and attends the funeral and is thrilled to find that her services are still required at the House and she is required to start straight away. She is pleased to have her job yet she is lonely as there are no other young female staff members. Still she does her best. She cant help herself and eavesdrops for entertainment when she gets that chance and one day overhearing a conversation between the Lawyer and the Fiance of the Late Lady of the house, she hears that the Lady of the house was not who everyone believed she was and she was infact pretending to be her twin sister who has spent time in a mental home. Her twin is the rightful owner of the Estate and everything changes when she rightfully comes home.
    Biddy was working in the home of Reverend Flowers and to colour her life she delights in making up stories. Her story telling gets her into trouble and she then loses her job and find that she is to leave without warning.

    I liked flicking between different characters indifferent time frames and I loved the twists and turns.
    Author Luke Devenish is someone I am keen to keep my eyes open for and I would very much love to read more of his work.
    I found this book so very easy to read.

    Thank you Beauty and Lace. This was very much a great long weekend read

  16. Thank you so much for giving me this book to review. What an absolute pleasure it was to read from beginning to end.
    I love how this is split against two generations and more importantly, mother and daughter.
    The Secret Heiress kept my mind guessing as to what was going to happen next, and to whom the villians were really going to be.
    The two stories are about Ida and Biddy, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s respectively. It is really about the story of Summersbys House and the occupants at different times and how they all come together at the end.
    I was really enthralled by the twists and turns, and there were quite a few. I really dug my claws into this book and what a rewarding read.
    For a book that is set back in time this was written really well. I would love to read anything more written by this author.
    I cant speak highly enough about this book.

  17. Thank you for the copy of The Secret Heiress to review.
    The story is Australian which is a nice change for historic fiction, but relatable to many countries.
    It was set in two different times – 1886, with Ida being employed by Matilda Gregory at Summersby House and then her mistress dying prior to employment. Ida ended up at Summersby and finds the place has many secrets and not many people. The second time was 1903 and is about Biddy who also ends up at Summersby as a companion to Sybil. There are still secrets there, although different in nature both stories manage to intertwine.
    I don’t want to reveal any plot, but there were many mysteries we had to try and work out, what was happening with Matilda and her twin sister Margaret and how they kept people intrigued. Then Sybil was kept at the house mostly and being brought up in a certain way.
    I love that Ida and Biddy were tenacious in their investigations even if I didn’t agree with their methods. I did guess some of the plot twists, but there were still things I was learning till the end – and I loved it that way.
    I was a bit confused with Matilda and Margaret with their names, but I think that could have been part of the plan.
    Overall, I loved the mystery of the book as it unfolded and got more and more involved with both storylines, and loved that we found out what we needed to by the end.
    Thank you again.

  18. I was eager to delve into the pages of this beautiful piece of Australian gothic fiction by Luke Devenish. Gothic fiction is a genre I really enjoy and it was a refreshing change to see a novel released written by a male author and an Australian. The Secret Heiress contains a comprehensive list of key ingredients that are essential to gothic fiction – a grandiose house, a setting with brooding undertones, a mystery to unlock, an inheritance to claim, inquisitive servants and the added layer of an enigmatic set of twins. The Secret Heiress contains an engaging, split style narrative. The first follows a young woman in 1886 named Ida, who begins employment as a housemaid at Summersby House, which is based in north central Victoria. The sense of jubilation that Ida feels in securing a job at the opulent Summersby establishment is soon quashed when her mistress is found tragically dead. While staff at Summersby House begin to retreat, Ida decides to stay. Ida’s decision to stay on at Summersby House is defined by unexplained occurrences, revealing complex relationships and layered secrets. The other narrative moves forward in time to approximately 17 years later. Summersby House still stands, but awaits a secret heiress. When young Biddy makes the move from the city of Melbourne to the country, she finds herself seeking employment at Summersby House. Biddy soon finds herself embroiled in the dark secrets of the past linked to Summersby House. It appears Biddy may the key to settling the ghosts of Summersby House’s past and unlocking the identity of the owner of the fortune attached to the house.
    The Secret Heiress is fine addition to the genre of Australian gothic fiction. Luke Devenish is an accomplished author, his prose was a joy to read. I particularly enjoyed his descriptions of Summersby House, its setting and unique quirks. Devenish sets the tone of the novel very well, I felt a strong sense of foreboding coming from the pages, which is an essential aspect of any othic themed novel. The characters in this novel were backed by strong stories that the reader cannot help but feel invested in. I felt the strength in the novel lies in the dichotomy between the upstairs and downstairs staff at Summersby House, which was presented well by Devenish. The love triangle that occurs in the novel adds further complication, angst and deceit to the list of elements that combine to make this book a great read. The narrative itself was engaging overall, it reminded me of a good old fashioned Agatha Christie style mystery, which complex layers thrown in for added reading pleasure. There were times however where I felt rather perplexed with the mystery elements, especially the twins aspect of the novel. I had to really work hard at keeping track of who was who identity wise. Thankfully this was resolved with an ending that was both satisfying and put my previous confusions aside.
    The Secret Heiress was a fairly challenging read, but I am happy for the experience as I was rewarded with the opportunity to engage with a novel that perfectly defines the genre of Australian gothic fiction.
    I wish to thank Beauty and Lace for a copy of this book to review.

  19. Similar to other readers, I found the story visually beautiful and conjured up vivid imagery in my mind. It reminded me a little of The secret Garden, mysteries wrapped up in a home that became the keeper of the secrets. Unfortunately I also found the story somewhat complicated and convoluted and the second half of the book became more difficult to read. The characters were well written and I got a real sense of the period and customs.

  20. Book Review – ‘ The Secret Heiress’

    This book ‘The Secret Heiress’ by Luke Devenish is both fascinating and intriguing.
    It is set in Victoria Australia and covers two time periods, 1886 and 1903 which are Interwoven.
    All the characters are memorable, whether good or bad, in their own way, such as the twins Margaret and Matilda Gregory, even the horrid valet Barker adding depth and mystery to this compelling story.
    The two most worthy of mention and intrinsic to the story are firstly Ida Garfield who in 1886 at the age of sixteen leaves her farm and family to work at the ostentatious home Summersby as a housemaid and portrayed initially as somewhat inferior in her intellectual capacity. Yet as she encounters the many mysterious and intriguing events proves herself to be a young woman of determination and tenacity.
    Secondly we have Biddy MacBryde in 1903 who seems somewhat deceitful but is just a story teller and only has the best interests of everyone at heart as she too finds herself at Summersby and brings all the mysterious events together including who really is the secret heiress.
    There are so many twists and turns in this novel it keeps you wanting to turn the pages. At times you think very momentarily that it is becoming predictable and then it completely turns and it has become so unpredictable.
    After all the suspenseful happenings along the way that really keep you on the edge of your seat the end was very uplifting and you are left with a good feel.
    All I can say is that this is a superb novel.
    Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read this book.

    Carol Johnson

  21. Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Simon and Schuster for giving me the opportunity to read and review The Secret Heiress by Luke Devenish.

    I honestly don’t know how I feel about this book, As Michelle said in her review, and others have agreed “(T)he whole situation with Matilda and Margaret got a little too much for me at times, I couldn’t work out who was who and who we were supposed to be referring to”.

    As a result I struggled with the chapters flicking between characters and time periods because I was unable to clearly follow the storyline.

    I don’t intend to reiterate what others have written of the plot, and to write something different would to easily produce spoilers. Suffice to say the story contains numerous twists and turns and whilst the identity of the Secret Heiress is obvious from around half way through the story, the how remains an interesting and convoluted surprise.

    Some aspects of the story remained unanswered irritants for me:
    Why did Miss Matilda Gregory want to employ Ida as a housemaid, not for her servant’s skills but for her inquisitiveness?
    Why did Mr Barker show such antipathy towards Ida?
    How could Ida’s sister not know Ida’s children?

    I also found the rape scene and ensuing events to be gratuitous and illogical and feel the story line could have been managed quite effectively without needing to resort this.

    And yet, despite all of the above I was enthralled enough by the book to read the entire story in 2 sittings!

    Although I think at times Devenish tried too hard to create twists and turns, overall the story is an interesting read, with strong well defined characters and descriptions of life in Victorian Era Australia.

  22. Thank you for the opportunity to review the secret heiress. I was a bit sceptical when I first started reading the book but soon got into it.
    Reading about the 2 different time periods was fascinating and I found it easy to like the characters. I could really picture myself there with them due to the writers beautiful imagery.
    I don’t want to spoil what happened for those wanting to read it but if you are interested in period books and like a good storyline then this book is for you.

  23. “The Secret Heiress”

    Set in Castlemaine, Australia in the period 1886 and 1903. The story line goes back and forth between these periods setting the scene for mystery and intrigue.

    Ida, a farm girl is offered an opportunity to work as a housemaid at Summersby House. Ida takes the job as it’s an opportunity for a poor girl who has been told that she’s not very bright even though she is an inquisitive young lady. Unfortunately before Ida starts at the house her employer Miss Gregory is found dead and she hopes that she is still wanted at Summersby House. The handsome Sameul Hackett the late Miss Gregory’s fiancé does still wish to employ her.

    Biddy MacBryde, a young lady who is cheeky and a little deceitful herself is employed by the Reverend as a kitchen maid looses her job because of her big mouth, is eventually drawn to Summersby House where she is employed as a companion to one of the residents. Biddy is also a curious young lady who believes there are many underlying stories about the houses residents that need to be brought to fruition from the past.

    With the many mysteries involving a number of characters namely the twins Margaret and Matilda Gregory, and Mr Barker there are many lies and deceitful happenings which kept the story interesting but at times it made it a little confusing to follow as every time I thought I had it worked out it changed, just to keep the intrigue there.

    Thanks to Beauty and Lace and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read this book.

  24. Thank you to Beauty&Lace and Simon & Schuster for giving me the opportunity of reviewing “The Secret Heiress”. I am not going to go through the plot, I believe you would have gathered the story line from the other reviewers. I am going to give you my personal opinion of the book.

    I really struggled to get into this book, it took me around 200 pages to actually want to finish it, that is why my review is a couple of days late.
    I am glad that I preserved with the book because it seemed to get better around the 250 page(s) mark. I kept getting confused with the twins and had to go back and reread some pages to get back with the characters.

    It had a good story line, 4 main female characters and 2 main male characters. To the author Luke Devenish – thank you for writing a novel set in the beautiful Australian bush.

  25. Ida was not the most intelligent girl but her curiosity landed her a job that lead to a world of mystery, intrigue, lust and deception.

    Working for the “deceased” Matilda Gregory at Sumersby, an estate like no other, found Ida bullied by Mr Barker, the valet to a Samuel Hackett, betrothed to the deceased. She slaved away, friended Mr Hackett and served her mistress (although no longer there) to the best of her ability.

    Little did they see the surprise revealed in Matilda Gregories will, to free a sister “wrongfully” confined to an establishment for the mentally deficient, enter Margaret (Matilda) Gregory. Enter a new mistress for the house of Sumersby and a friend and colleague in Abby for Ida.

    Flash forward now to Biddy, a young girl whose circumstances find her at Sumersby, looking for work and using a history of mistruths. Befriended by Miss Sybil, heiress to the Gregory family estate, and finding herself in a world of mystery similar to that of Ida.

    The story of the two girls, Ida and Biddy, intertwines as the story goes on, and the years flicker back and forward, helping the reader try to piece together what has happened, is happening and how the story will end. Some you can guess, other things you find you were so wrong about and the last is quite revealing!

    I was uncertain of this book at the start, thought it was a little slow to read but it drew me in, had me enthralled and the ending had me smiling. Who doesn’t like love, romance, betrayal, mystery, murder and intrigue all in the same book???

  26. I loved this book! What a wonderful change to read a book Set in Australia. The characters are wonderfully odd and your never quite sure what they are up to! It just keeps you picking up your book to find out what they are up to next, you know something isn’t right but you can’t quite put your finger on it! When it seems you’ve figured it out all of a sudden your not so sure anymore, twists and turns that you don’t see coming keep you entertained right to the end.

  27. I love historical novels especially those that are Australian painting our country with beauty in the words of the book. I justs wanted to keep reading and I didn;t want it to end, the suspense of the twists and turns kept me wanting to read on.

  28. Thanks Beauty & Lace for choosing me to be a part of this book trial. I was lucky enough to read The Secret Heiress by Luke Devenish.
    I know I am overdue with this book review but it honestly took me so long to finish. I suffered with a couple of migraines during the reading time and believe me, this isn’t a book you’d describe as a ‘light read’….I found myself becoming totally immersed with the story, the characters, and my mind was working overtime. I was constantly trying to ‘discover’ the answers and detect….I felt like a detective on this journey. And I could not understand some areas when my head was sore, as it hurt to think. Sorry for the overdue review!
    This story is set in two completely different time periods. It begins in 1886 in the Victorian countryside. I love that it’s based in Australia…feels more relevant. Ida is a main character and finds herself working in an old Manor House named Summersby House in Victoria, Australia. The story jumps to 1903 (17 years later) when Biddy (the other main character), a young girl, leaves Melbourne in search of a new life in the country, she finds herself looking for a job and consequently, ends up working in Summersby House.
    During the time both women are living & working in the Manor House, they are plagued by mysterious occurrences, eerie goings on, strange servants and secrets that slowly unravel. This story has so much going on, I loved the Goth feeling from the novel…that dark, morbid side – I’ve always had a fascination for this type of reading so I thoroughly enjoyed it.
    There were a few parts of the story I didn’t get, I did not understand how certain factors were a part of the story…not knowing these details didn’t detract from the pleasure of reading this and I’m happy to say that everything is answered at the end, so nothing is left up-in-the-air.
    I’ve not heard of the Australian Author Luke Devenish, but if his stories are anything like this one, I will be picking up another to sink my teeth into.
    If you love a good read that completely immerses you in the story and envelops you in mystery, with brilliant characters you feel you know, in beautiful dark Gothic surrounds you ‘feel’, then you have to read The Secret Heiress by Luke Devenish.

  29. Thanks To Beauty & Lace for giving me the opportunity to read the Secret Heiress.
    Where do i start ? I was excited to read this book at first and then the complex story line made it difficult to pick up the book and continue. There was so much confusion with the characters and how they fitted in , that i had to re-read many pages again.
    Although i love to read historical Australian Themed Novels this one was very hard to follow, maybe it was just me.

  30. Thank you so much everyone for taking such time and care to put down your thoughts about my The Secret Heiress. It was absolutely wonderful to read them all – even those from members who didn’t enjoy it as much as they (and I) might have hoped. But thankfully for me, most of you seemed to have enjoyed it very much, which warms the cockles of my heart.

    I was especially delighted to see so many nice comments about the ‘twists and turns’. There’s few things I love more in a mystery story, so it was always my hope to give that same pleasurable experience to readers. I was also delighted that so many enjoyed the ending.

    This was a hard book to write at times, I will confess, but it was also very rewarding in the end. I put a lot of love into the characters, particularly Ida and Biddy. It took me nearly four years and three drafts, mostly done in bursts during consecutive summers, but also written on trains (I commute a lot), and in stolen moments at work when I should have been answering emails and doing other dull things.

    Those who found the plot confusing in a couple of places might be amused to know that my first draft was considerably MORE confusing. The lovely ladies at Simon & Schuster were very tactful about it. Wisely, I did my best to simplify things. It was always my plan for the twins to be a bit bewildering, however. I wanted the reader to feel as lost as Ida does in places. Sounds like I succeeded there 😉

    Thank you all again. This is certainly a very vibrant and passionate book club.

    Luke

  31. Being a lover of both Australian and Historical fiction, i found myself eagerly awaiting to read this novel and with a title like ‘The Secret Heiress’ I knew it would also be a mystery. I like novels that move between characters but I have to admit at times this was a difficult story to follow. It wasn’t a novel you could put down and easily come back to later. I found myself rereading bits to follow the story line. Hence why it took me a while to get through it.
    This was a book with many twists and turns and some very odd characters. It definitely gets interesting though about halfway through and actually made me want to read on till the end.
    I’m glad I actually persevered. Thank you Beauty and Lace for giving me the opportunity to read this novel.

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