I love a good bargain, especially when it comes to books. (If you haven’t signed up for BookBub, you really should. Not only can you follow your favorite authors, but you can get email notifications when books in your favorite genres are on sale.) Anyway…
I also enjoy a good dual-timeline story. The Secrets of Thistle Cottage delivered.
1661, North Berwick, Scotland
One stormy night, healer Honor Seton and her daughter Alice are summoned to save the town lord’s wife – but they’re too late. A vengeful crusade against the Seton women leads to whispers of witchcraft all over town. Honor hopes her connections can protect them from unproven rumours and dangerous accusations – but is the truth finally catching up with them?
Present-day, North Berwick, Scotland
After an explosive scandal lands her husband in prison, Tess Blyth flees Edinburgh to start afresh in Thistle Cottage. As she hides from the media’s unforgiving glare, Tess is intrigued by the shadowy stories of witchcraft surrounding the women who lived in the cottage centuries ago. But she quickly discovers modern-day witch hunts can be just as vicious: someone in town knows her secret – and they won’t let Tess forget it…
Set in Scotland, The Secrets of Thistle Cottage is a dual timeline story of two mothers and their daughters.
In 1661 widow Honor Seaton and her daughter Alice live in Thistle Cottage in the seaside town of North Berwick. Honor isn’t like most women of her day. She’s able to read, has a vast knowledge of plants and herbal remedies, and many of the townsfolk call on her when they have ailing family members.
Honor’s late husband left her with a position as a burgess, giving her a voice in matters involving the town—something only men of that era usually had. This doesn’t sit well with the laird, Gregor Kincaid. When Honor votes against his idea to deepen the harbor in order to bring trading ships to the area, it’s the beginning of her troubles.
Honor’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Alice, was born “in the caul.” Some believe babies born this way have power, second sight, and the ability to raise storms on sunny days.
Gregor Kincaid’s wife, mother, and nephew become ill with a sudden illness and he and his brother Davey call on Honor to help. Accompanied by Alice, Honor isn’t able to save Gregor’s wife, but Davey’s son and their mother survive. Was it Honor’s tincture that cured them, or did Alice play a role when she touched Davey on the head willing him to live?
The modern-day story begins when Tess Blyth and her daughter Jemimah (Jem) move into Thistle Cottage, leaving Edinburg after Tess’s husband, Alistair, was convicted of the sexual assault of three women. Alistair was a television personality, so the case got a lot of publicity. Jem’s “friends” turned against her, and remarks made by Tess on Twitter were misinterpreted by many to believe she supported her husband.
Tess is a little paranoid, not wanting Jem to have any social media accounts, and she’s a little overprotective. Jem, more outgoing, befriends their elderly neighbor Eva and starts making friends at school. It’s not long before Jem and her best friend Cassie embark on a historical project that is supposed to tie the past to the present. They select the story of Honor and Alice Seaton.
When a major storm causes a tree to crash into Jem’s bedroom window, she finds a mysterious bottle wedged beneath the window seal. They soon learn it was a “witches bottle” something women used to hide as protection against those who proclaimed them as witches. Another bottle contains a note written by Alice.
Strange things begin to happen at the cottage. Someone paints the word “witch” on their fence, and later on the windows and walls. Two skeletons are placed near their door—one wearing one of Tess’s scarves which had gone missing, the other a tie belonging to Jem.
Tess, who has tried to keep their identity a secret, begins to suspect a young woman who works at The Haven, a women’s center where Tess does pro bono legal work. Or is it Cassie’s mother? Or Rory, the handyman who repaired the damage to the cottage?
Will Honor be burned at the stake having been accused of being a witch? Or will the townsfolk support her against a vindictive Gregor Kincaid and the witch hunter he brought to town? There are similarities between the lives of Honor and Alice with that of Tess and Jem. I found the dual timelines easy to follow. While I thought the ending for Tess and Gem was a little rushed, overall this was a satisfying read.