The Book of Hidden Wonders by Polly Crosby

Thanks to NetGalley & Harlequin Australia for the ARC copy.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I was not sure what to expect with this book. I read the synopsis when I was first approved to read it, but somehow it just slipped my mind. And then I read it again, and it slipped my mind for the second time. I don’t know why, but the concept of this book just kept escaping me.

And, to be honest, that’s probably the best way to describe this book.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Romilly Kemp and her eccentric father live a happy but sheltered lives in a ramshackle mansion in the English countryside. To help make ends meet, he creates an illustrated book with Romilly—striking girl with red hair and a mole on her cheek—as the heroine with her cat, Monty. The book becomes an instant success and their estate is overrun with tourists and adventure seekers after rumors spread that hidden within its pages is an elaborate treasure hunt.

As Romilly gets older and her father writes more books, he starts disappearing within himself. She returns to his illustrations, looking for a way to connect with her ailing father, and finds a series of clues he’s left just for her. But this treasure hunt doesn’t lead her to gold or precious stones, but something worth far more—a shocking secret that is crucial to understanding her family.

This book felt like a dream – sometimes magical, sometimes feverish, even descending into a nightmare. Multiple times.

Let me first bring attention to my favourite part about it – the writing!

It was evocative, and mesmerising, with a dollop of the old fairytale magic. I could picture their Braer mansion as though I was standing right before it, with the birch tree fallen over, the windmill in the distance, and the art shed sinking into the squelching mud. It was a delight to read. The sentences were strung together with careful thought to the pictures they created. Crosby used her words wisely, and I greatly appreciated that.

It made for an enjoyable read.

Apart from the writing, I absolutely enjoyed the plot. It was interesting, and entertaining, and also really quite tragic for a lot of the book. The treasure hunt was exciting, and kind of hilarious too. I had no idea where the story was heading most of the time, and the mystery intertwined with the treasure hunt plot line was addictive. I kept flipping pages, devouring every word, waiting for it to be revealed.

Romilly was a great protagonist, in that I was really involved in her story, and wanting to know more about her and her world. She also did well in confusing me. I could barely tell what was real and what wasn’t.

All of those were great things about the book. But, funnily enough, the things that I liked in the first half became the opposite in the second.

The mystery was no longer mysterious. I figured everything out – well, probably even before the second half started. I can’t tell if it was meant to be obvious, or if I’ve become Sherlock Holmes all of a sudden. But I did guess everything, which put a slight damper on the ending.

The writing began to drag a little bit – maybe over 200 pages in. I kind of wanted it to hurry up at certain parts, to get to the meat of the story at last, but instead it started meandering. It didn’t meander for excruciatingly long. But we were lost in the weeds for quite some time.

Romilly didn’t become a character that I didn’t like, but she did become more confusing. Though that was on par with the entire plot, and definitely justified, and also really sad.

I can’t really delve deep into the story without giving things away, and I don’t want to give things away. So I’ll just say one final thing, which is that the representation of mental health, as well as other difficult subjects was done really well, and it seemed like Crosby did her research. It was believable, and heartbreaking in its reality.

That was something that made it okay that I’d guessed everything.

Because, in the end, it wasn’t really about the mystery. It was actually about the characters and how they felt and what they became because of the things that happened, and everything that was revealed.

However, that said, I do think the ending dragged a little bit, and could’ve been wrapped up a bit tighter, and some scenes could’ve been cut. Oh, and the voice seemed a little old at times, and then really young – but not at the times that suited Romilly’s age (because she aged throughout the book). She said things and used words that a child wouldn’t usually – especially one that hasn’t been to school almost ever. So the voice felt a bit disingenuous.

Overall, though, it did feel magical, and I was transported. It made me sad, and happy, and I would recommend it to those who enjoy stories written over many years, stories with lots of heart that really make you feel like you know a character, or – if you don’t understand them, then you at least care about them.

A wonderful debut. You should read it.

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