2017 Reviews · Australian · dual time frame · fiction · historical fiction · romance

Book Review: The Three Miss Allens by Victoria Purman

Title: The Three Miss Allensthree miss allens.jpg

Author:  Victoria Purman

Published: October 24th 2016

Publisher: Harlequin Books Australia

Pages: 416

Genres:  Fiction, Historical, Romance

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 5 stars

In 1934, the three Miss Allens – Ruby, Adeline and Clara – arrive in the seaside town of Remarkable Bay for their annual summer holiday. It’s the last time they’ll spend summers as a family. Adeline is engaged, Ruby is weighing up an offer, and Clara is just eighteen and about to start her life. But by summer’s end, the lives they have known will change irrevocably and a mysterious secret will tear the family apart.

Eighty-two years later, Ruby’s great-granddaughter Roma Harris moves to the now sleepy Remarkable Bay, retreating from tragedy. Roma’s distant cousin Addy arrives too, fleeing a life with too much drama. It’s only when the women discover an old guest book that they start asking questions about the mysterious third Miss Allen. Who was she? Why has she disappeared from the family’s history?

If they solve this mystery from their past, could it change the women’s future?

My review:

Victoria Purman is best known for her fresh contemporary romance stories set in her home state of South Australia. Purman changes direction for her 2016 release, The Three Miss Allens. Although this story is set in South Australia, it is a melding of a historical 1930’s set storyline, which crosses over to a contemporary, 2016 based storyline. The connection between the two narratives is strong, as the ties and secrets families keep is the overriding theme of this memorable novel.

In the present day, Roma Harris is a young woman grieving over the loss of her husband. Her grief sends her packing from her life in the city of Adelaide and it takes her to the beautiful coastline of Remarkable Bay. Joining Roma in her new abode is her distant cousin Addy, who is also using Remarkable Bay as a retreat, after her dramatic life becomes too much to bear. As Roma starts the renovation process, the cousins make a startling discovery. An old guest book from their new residence reveals the existence of three sisters who once stayed at this residence in the 1930’s as a holiday home. However, the cousins are aware of the existence of two Miss Allens, but not a third. The search to find out what happened to the mysterious third Miss Allen forms part of Roma and Addy’s new preoccupation. This family mystery travels back to 1934, a year when Adeline, Clara and Ruby Allen, travel with their parents to partake in their annual summer holiday in the picturesque coastal locale of Remarkable Bay. It is a time of change for the Allen family and this holiday marks the end of their time together as a family unit. With Adeline happily betrothed, Ruby considering a proposal and Clara almost ready to join her sisters, the future looks promising for the three Miss Allens. As the season comes to a close at Remarkable Bay, a shocking event and the family secret that follows is enough to fracture the Allen family. The effects reverberate across the decades, impacting on the lives of those related to the Miss Allens.

I always enjoy Victoria Purman’s novels, she has an uncanny ability to bring the perfect combination of characterisation, setting and a full bodied narrative to her novels. Purman steps it up a notch in her latest novel. The Three Miss Allens is a novel that touched me, it was a heartbreaking and heart-warming, from the opening to the close of the novel.

Purman takes a different approach to structuring her latest novel. Best known for her contemporary romance novels, The Three Miss Allens does contain a 2016 contemporary thread, with plenty of love to satisfy seasoned romance readers. However, Purman adds another intriguing layer to her story. A 1930’s based storyline, which is linked to the contemporary storyline, is perfectly executed. Purman does a fine job of portraying the social graces and attitudes of the 1930’s. The historical aspect of the book was so well handled. It also gave a specific insight into societal expectations in South Australia. It is this storyline that allows Purman the opportunity to tackle some fairly heavy themes such as rape, pregnancy out-of-wedlock, adoption and abuse. Purman handles each of these themes with a deft hand.

Purman deserves credit for her characterisation, which is of a high standard, both in the past and present storylines. In the contemporary storyline, Roma in particular stood out to me. Her situation drew much sympathy and empathy. Addy is equally compelling and Leo was a lovely male influence in Roma’s life. In the past storyline, I was very much taken with Ruby Allen. She was a loyal and noble character. I felt the heartbreak of the decisions she made in love and life right through the entire novel. Adeline was a well drawn protagonist, representing a typical young woman of this era. Clara was less defined, but I believe this was a conscious decision on behalf of Purman to reveal less about this character to the audience. It certainly served to heighten the tension and intrigue in the novel. The central mystery and the overwhelming reason why I kept reading this novel was the whole Clara storyline. I will confess to having predicted what happened to Clara, but the after effects of this event took me by utter surprise. I will say my heart felt like it had been ripped out of my chest when I read the passages involving the final circumstances to Clara’s whereabouts.

As we come to expect with Victoria Purman, the romance in the present day was simply divine. I also liked how Purman handled the topic of grief. Purman’s aptitude for delivering a high quality romance also extends to her historical storyline. The courting experiences and eventual marriages highlight the issues, in particular the lack of decision making these young women faced. It all seems quite unfathomable now, but it did happen.

With an appealing coastal South Australian setting, reflecting Purman’s love for her home state really shines through this novel. The dual narrative combination of the past and present was seamless. Family and the secrets we keep across generations is what defines this novel. Purman has outdone herself with The Three Miss Allens.

The Three Miss Allens by Victoria Purman was published on 24th October 2016 by Harlequin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Three Miss Allens, Victoria Purman, visit here.

 

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