In a compelling, complex story from the bestselling author of Wildflower Hill and Lighthouse Bay, two women separated by a century discover long-buried secrets in an Australian manor house.
In 1891, Tilly Kirkland is reeling with shock and guilt after her tempestuous marriage ends in horrific circumstances. Fleeing to the farthest place she knows, Tilly takes a job on Ember Island in Moreton Bay, Australia, where she becomes the governess to the prison superintendent’s precocious young daughter, Nell. Tilly knows she must keep the past hidden in order to start a new life, but she doesn’t know that Nell is watching her every move and writing it all down, hiding tiny journals all over their rambling manor home.
More than one hundred years later, bestselling novelist Nina Jones is struggling to complete her next book. A reporter asking questions about her great-grandmother sends Nina retreating to her family’s home on Ember Island, where she hopes to find her lost inspiration somewhere in the crumbling walls.
Though they are separated by years, both Tilly and Nina must learn that some secrets never stay buried, but what matters most is learning to trust your heart.
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Kimberley Freeman was born in London and grew up in Brisbane, Australia. She is the bestselling author of Wildflower Hill and Lighthouse Bay and teaches critical and creative writing at the University of Queensland. She lives in Brisbane with an assortment of children and pets. Visit her website at KimberleyFreeman.com.
Read an Excerpt
June sunshine blessed Tilly Kirkland’s wedding. Only the luckiest brides married in June, and Tilly could not believe how lucky she had been. Even though her feet were pinched by the white satin shoes, the boned corset under her silk and organza gown made it hard to breathe, and she had been smiling so energetically for so long at all the well-wishers that the muscles in her face ached, she counted herself the luckiest girl in the world. Jasper had come along at precisely the right moment, and one speedy courtship later, here she was married and on her way to a new life.
The garden of Grandpa’s house in Dorset was lush and green, flowers bright in the soft sun. Two long tables had been laid out with food, and the guests milled around happily, talking and laughing. The warm breeze lifted her hair and cooled the perspiration at the base of her scalp. The sweet-smelling orange-blossom coronet couldn’t contain her wild red curls, and she was constantly pulling strands of hair out of her mouth. A distant and very old aunt related to her in painful detail the unfortunate tale of her old dog’s recent illness and death. Tilly was relieved for a chance to frown sympathetically rather than smile, but the story was very long and she couldn’t always hear the elderly woman’s soft voice clearly over the chatter.
Tilly risked a glance away. Where was Jasper? Where was her husband?? The thought made her glow a little. Jasper, with his stylish tailcoat and gray cashmere trousers. Ever well dressed, handsome, with a dash of panache other men did not have. She returned her attention to her aunt for a few moments, then tried another stealthy glance around the garden.
There he was. The sun was bright in his golden-brown hair and his neatly trimmed sideburns. His body was lithe and erect, and he seemed to stand outside all the chatter and movement, singular and proud. His gaze roamed over the gathering and his eyes took a moment to find Tilly. In that moment, before he registered that she was regarding him, she saw something that made her stomach prickle with doubt. Was it pity in his expression? Or disdain?
But then he smiled and Tilly smiled in return, warily. Hopefully. She told herself that perhaps she was tired and imagining things. He was now the same Jasper she had always known and the shadow passed like a cloud passing over the sun.
A clumsy crash shook her out of her reverie. Voices rang out in alarm behind her, and Jasper’s expression was forgotten.
Grandpa lay on the grass. Sharp heat speared her heart. Dishes and cups had been knocked off the table in his fall, and anxious guests were running towards him. Time slowed. He looked so pale, so old. When did he become so pale and old?
Then she was at his side, asking people to give him room to breathe, ordering cousin Godfrey to run into the village to fetch a physician.
“Grandpa? Can you hear me?”
His eyelids flickered and his right hand trembled as though he were trying to move it.
“No, no, don’t move. Relax. Be still. The physician is coming.” She stroked his forehead gently. “Be well, Grandpa, be well,” she said under her breath. But she could already feel the ship sailing away from her, pulled on a mighty tide she could neither measure nor control. She grasped Grandpa’s hand and waited.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Ember Island includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Ember Island tells the mesmerizing story of two women, separated by a century, who each discover long-buried secrets in an Australian manor house.
In 1876, Tilly, a recently married young English woman, is reeling with shock and guilt after her tempestuous marriage ends in horrific circumstances on the remote Channel Islands. Determined to get as far from England as she can, she takes on a new identity and a job on Ember Island in Moreton Bay, Australia, where she becomes the governess to a prison superintendent’s young daughter, Nell. Tilly fights her attraction to the superintendent, Sterling Holt, and befriends one the few female inmates, Hettie Thorpe, and a dangerous relationship develops. She doesn’t know that Nell is watching her every move and writing it all down, hiding tiny journals all over Starwater, her rambling manor home.
More than 100 years later, bestselling novelist Nina Jones is struggling with writer’s block and her disappointing personal life. Her poet boyfriend has recently broken up with her, and a reporter who is digging into her past insists on speaking to Nina about her great-grandmother, Nell. There are some secrets Nina may no longer be able to hide. Retreating to Starwater, she discovers Nell’s diary pages hidden in the old walls and becomes determined to solve the mystery. Though Tilly and Nina are separated by many years, Starwater House will change both of their lives.
Deeply affecting and beautifully written, Ember Island is a sweeping novel of secrets, second chances, and learning to trust your heart.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Nina tells Joe that her great-grandmother Eleanor (Nell) Holt was “legendary in our family…She was a wild non-conformist…She was fierce” (8). What were your initial impressions of Nell? Do you think her reputation as fierce is justly deserved? Why or why not? What, if any, examples Nell’s fierceness did you observe?
2. Stacy says, “The nineteenth century wasn’t a great time to be a woman” (184). Do you think that she’s right? How does Tilly’s experience bear out this statement? Since Tilly will not inherit her grandfather’s property, what options are available to her?
3. Why is Starwater House important to Tilly, Nell, and Nina? Nina gives several explanations for her decision to stay at Starwater House longer than she has initially planned. What are the reasons she gives? Do you think these differ from the reasons that she’s actually staying?
4. Laura tells Tilly, “Expectations are the enemy of happiness” (131). What does she mean by this statement, and how does it apply to Tilly’s current situation? Do you think that Nina’s expectations have gotten in the way of her happiness, particularly with Joe? How?
5. At Tilly’s wedding, before Jasper “registered that she was regarding him, she saw something that made her stomach prickle with doubt” (2). How does this foreshadow their life in Guernsey? What were your initial impressions of Jasper? Did your feelings about him change? If so, how? Why did Tilly marry Jasper originally? Why do you think she stays after his true character is revealed?
6. Tilly’s grandfather leaves her a box of banknotes along with a short message that reads: “This is for you and nobody else. A woman should have at least something in the world.” (57). What is the effect of this gift? In what other ways does Tilly’s grandfather try to protect her? Do you think that Tilly is right to keep the banknotes when she gives Jasper her other possessions? Why or why not?
7. Nina says, “one thing I hated more than anything was being asked to speak about my historical research” (19). Why does Nina hate speaking about her writing process? Were you surprised to learn where many of Nina’s ideas came from? How does Stacy react to Nina’s disclosure? Do you agree with Stacy’s viewpoint?
8. After the accident at Lumiére Sur la Mer, Tilly feels immense guilt because “the punishment was immeasurably out of equivalence with the crime” (149). Do you agree? What were the crimes of Jasper and Chantelle? Discuss Laura’s final letter to Chantelle. Do you think that Chantelle was as complicit as Jasper in the crime against Tilly? If so, explain why.
9. Eleanor’s diary is woven through the narrative, connecting the past and the present. Discuss the ways in which it helps give insight both into the events at Starwater House during Tilly’s time and Nina’s own struggles. Did reading Nell’s diary help you see her differently? Compare how Nell represents herself in her diary to the way other characters perceive her.
10. When Joe’s father asks Nina if she is in a relationship, she lies, rationalizing her decision to do so by saying, “Joe had to know I was unavailable and it wasn’t as though I could easily tell him why. I wouldn’t be on the island for long; it didn’t matter if I lied” (167). Why does she assume a relationship with Joe could not work out? Do you agree with her assumptions and her decision to lie? How does Stacy react?
11. Fire is an important conceit throughout Ember Island and, although the thought of fire “made [Tilly’s] stomach turn to ice” (202), she is deeply connected to it. How does Freeman help establish this connection in her descriptions of Tilly? There are two significant fires in the book. Describe the effect that each has on Tilly’s life and the lives of those around her. How did Ember Island get its name? Discuss the ways in which the name of the island both alludes to the events that occur on it and Tilly’s life in Guernsey.
12. Discuss Tilly’s relationship with Hettie. In what ways are the two women alike? When Tilly decides to help Hettie she believes that “[s]he could erase her actions of the past with her actions of the present” (278). Why does Tilly think that helping Hettie will absolve her of her guilt over what happened with Jasper? Do you agree with her logic? Were you surprised that Tilly decides to help Hettie? Why?
13. In Ember Island, islands are described as “places in between; places neither here nor there, but rather places on the way somewhere” (86). How does this statement apply to both Tilly and Nina? How do each of them end up at Ember Island? Do you think that it’s a temporary stop for each of the women? Explain your reasoning.
14. After speaking with Sterling about Mr. Burton’s accusations, Tilly mutters, “the truth fixes nothing…The truth is a great burden” (260). Do you agree with Tilly or do you think Sterling is correct that “the truth fixes everything.” Does being truthful hurt or hinder Tilly and Nina? After each woman decides to be truthful, what are the results?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Nina says of Elizabeth Parrish, “Maybe I had been angry with Elizabeth Parrish because she revealed the truth: I wasn’t an artist. I’d always known that.” (p. 23) Discuss what art is with your book club. Do you think that Nina’s bestselling Widow Wayland series can be classified as art?
2. After reading Eleanor’s diary, Nina thinks, “These were my ancestors. This was my family history…Do we honour the past by projecting ourselves forward into the future? By carrying genes and traits and family stories” (176). Discuss Nina’s statement. How do you honor your own family history? Share your own photos and stories with your book club.
3. Nell is fascinated with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Read it with your book club. Discuss why you think that the story appeals to Nell.
4. Nell’s companion is her wooden cat, Pangur Ban, whose name is taken from an Old Irish poem. Read “Pangur Ban” as a book club. What does the poem say about writing and inspiration? Discuss how it relates to Nina’s writing, or your own creative process.
5. To learn more about Kimberley Freeman, read her blog and connect with her online, visit her official site at http://KimberleyFreeman.com/
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Kimberley Freeman in her new book, “Ember Island” published by Touchstone brings us into the lives of Tilly Kirkland and Nina Jones. From the back cover: To start a new life, look to the past In 1891, Tilly Kirkland is reeling with shock and guilt after her tempestuous marriage ends in horrific circumstances. Fleeing to the farthest place she knows, Tilly takes a job on Ember Island in Moreton Bay, Australia, where she becomes the governess to the prison superintendent’s precocious young daughter, Nell. Tilly knows she must keep the past hidden in order to start a new life, but she doesn’t know that Nell is watching her every move and writing it all down, hiding tiny journals all over their rambling manor home. More than one hundred years later, bestselling novelist Nina Jones is struggling to complete her next book. A reporter asking questions about her great-grandmother sends Nina retreating to her family’s home on Ember Island, where she hopes to find her lost inspiration somewhere in the crumbling walls. Though they are separated by years, both Tilly and Nina must learn that some secrets never stay buried, but what matters most is learning to trust your heart. Mystery, romance, history and family drama these are some of the ingredients that Ms. Freeman baked into her new novel, “Ember Island”. Tilly is on the run trying to escape her abusive husband so she accepts a position as governess to Nell. Nell catches on that Tilly is hiding secrets and that there is something between her and Nell’s father. One hundred years later Nina is hiding herself experiencing all kinds of doubts and finds the writings on Tilly. Now the two women, one hundred years apart, work together to put their lives together. “Ember Island” is a story about healing from one’s past so that we can move into the future. It is about healing in relationships and it is about restoration. Ms. Freeman has created an impressive cast of characters that live and breathe, that we care about and all of them are interesting in their own way, good and bad. “Ember Island” is great fun that makes you want to cheer. I look forward to more from the pen of Kimberley Freeman. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Touchstone. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
In this Jane Eyre-esque novel, Tilly Kirkland finds herself alone and longing for love in the late 1800s. Having been orphaned at a young age, she was raised by her kindly grandfather, but as his death loomed near, he unknowingly condemned her to a loveless marriage and promptly died. Faced with her husband's disdain, deceit, and potential violence, she knew she had to escape, but in one awful moment everything went wrong. Tilly does the only thing she can think of--she runs as far as she can go, under an assumed name, and finds work as a governess on an island prison. Her student is the precocious Nell Holt, daughter of the prison's superintendent. In the present day, Nina is faced with horrible writer's block as she tries to write her fourth novel. She is a descendant of Nell Holt's and happens to own the same house that Nell lived in as a child on the titular Ember Island. When checking for storm damage, she discovers pages from Nell's lost diary, and as she finds more bits and pieces, Tilly's story takes shape. Nina is a modern-day Tilly, looking for love yet feeling unworthy of it. Will Tilly and Nina find the love they so desperately crave? This was a very interesting novel that alternates between the past and present as the characters' stories are told. There is certainly a critique in here about the treatment of women! The most wonderful character of all is Nell, who in may ways is just as desperate for love as Tilly and Nina.
Kimberly Freeman’s latest novel, Ember Island, is a true gem. It is a story about a bestselling writer, Nina Jones, who is struggling to complete a contracted novel after her marriage sadly ends. To overcome her writer's block and heal from her failed marriage, she heads to Ember Island off the coast of Australia where her family maintains a home that used to be a prison. She contracts a neighbour named Joe to complete some repairs. Nina is intrigued when he finds some hidden diary pages in a wall. Nina is thrilled to learn they were written by her great grandmother, Nell. In 1891, a woman named Tilly fled to Ember Island to run from her past. There she found work as a governess to Nell. What unfolds are two intriguing tales about two women linked by their past through the diary of a young girl named Nell. The story is a beautiful one to read, completely engrossing from start to finish. There is a fascinating mystery, a beautiful old home, blooming romances, and plenty of dark secrets to keep you reading to the end. The characters are memorable and courageous, expertly linked together through a clever plot. I've read all of Kimberly Freeman's books, and I have to say, this is my favourite. The unpredictable storyline, coupled with lovely prose, and a touch of romance, really make this book unforgettable. Perfectly written, I very highly recommend it.
4.5 stars Did I enjoy this book: I really did. Here’s the thing: this book isn’t one of those books that calls for you from wherever you left it. It doesn’t scream at you to pick it up. It doesn’t demand your attention like a needy toddler. No. This book whispers in the back of your mind. It quietly beckons you to read it. It coaxes you toward it, saying, “Read me. You know you want to. Come on. Just a few pages or so. It will be worth it.” Ember Island was a bit slow at first. But it pulled me in, and it didn’t let me go. I kept wanting to read it. I wanted to know if Nina would finish her story. I wanted to know how Tilly’s story ended. It grabbed me. The last 100 pages moved like you wouldn’t believe. In fact, I read the last bit while shopping at an outdoor outlet mall. I’m sure the people I passed were giving me odd looks. But I didn’t care. I was reading every free chance I had. So, why only four and a half stars? Because of the ending. I’m happy with it. I think it ended as it should. But I wanted a bit more. Just a little bit more. Don’t get me wrong, the end worked. It was just right. I loved it. I just wanted a teeny tiny bit more. (If you read it, you will probably understand.) Would I recommend it: I would recommend this book. In fact, I will be recommending it to my book group. (I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)
One great read!
Dont mean to burst ur bubble butt my name is Ember Poore
Really liked this book! Loved the characters. Great ending
Excellent!!! Excellent!!! Two related stories in one novel, and both are fascinating. Highly recommended!!! This book deserves A+++++