Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Meet Millie. Heartbreak has forced her to make a new start and when she arrives at the old bakery in the little village of Honeybourne she is determined that this will be her home sweet home. Her imagination has been captured by the tumbledown bakery but with no running water and dust everywhere, her cosy idea of making cakes in a rural idyll quickly crumbles.
Luckily the locals are a friendly bunch and step in to help Millie. One in particular, Dylan, a laid-back lothario, soon captures her attention.
But just as Millie is beginning to settle in, an unexpected visitor from her past suddenly turns up determined to ruin everything for her. It’s time for Millie to face the skeletons in her closet if she’s going to live the dream of running her little village bakery, and her blossoming romance with Dylan.
Bookouture really are at the top of their game when it comes to keeping readers hooked on what they have to offer. There is always an abundance of books being released (so much so that one may need a list to keep track). On a weekly basis you will find a buzz on Twitter which builds up throughout the day as the countdown to a new cover reveal or author news gets underway. Rarely do they ever disappoint and I feel that's one thing that sets them apart from other publishers as they really do have their finger on the pulse of what's hot in fiction right now and what will keep their loyal readers coming back for more and more. The other reason Bookouture are fast becoming one of my favourite go to publishers is really to do with the frequency and calibre of the books arriving on my Kindle. They really are fresh, innovative and exciting and although crime/thrillers may not be genre of my choice the delights in historical fiction and women's fiction more than make up for that. None more so than this engaging story from Tilly Tennant (who has recently joined Bookouture) - The Little Village Bakery. This is the first in a planned series centred around the small village of Honeybourne deep in the English countryside.
When the cover for this book was revealed one afternoon on Twitter I admit I went a bit all fan girly (which is not like me at all) as I thought the cover was just truly stunning and this was surely going to be a book I would love. I loved the bright, inviting colours, the scrumptious cakes and that little dog bouncing around in the background just melted my heart. The tagline on the front says the book is 'a feel good romantic comedy with plenty of cake' and that was what I was hoping I would find within the pages. Yes there was cake (but there could have been a whole lot more) but this book wasn't the romantic comedy as suggested by the tagline. There were elements of romance and a few laugh out loud moments but there was an altogether more serious side which if one were to judge by the cover you would not expect to find this element in this type of book. It meant once I established there was a history/darkness surrounding the main character I got over the fact this book wasn't all sweetness and light and absorbed the story. Even though this may not have been my favourite Bookouture book I still mostly enjoyed it.
With a book like this you either get a good feeling or vibe straight away or you don't. The magic is there or it's not. I got this feeling when I started chapter one but it didn't last the entire way through the book. I felt it kind of lost track of what kind of story it wanted to be halfway through and I found it difficult to establish in my mind that this wasn't what all light and fluffy and feel good. I was hoping this would be similar to Alex Brown's Tindledale series which I am always raving about. I know a book can't inspire the exact same feelings or contain the same plot but the feel good factor inspired by Alex's books came to my mind when I first saw the cover for The Little Village Bakery. The book wasn't a bad book in any sense rather in my case I had such high expectations and was slightly disappointed when they weren't all delivered.
Millicent (Millie) Hopkins needs a new start, a chance to create a new life for herself away from all the trouble and trauma of the past. The past is ever present in her day to day to life hanging over her and there are constant remainders of a time that she wants forgotten. It may painful for her to leave but she feels she has no choice, she has to escape she has to run away and start afresh in a place where no one knows her or her situation. She doesn't want to be forever tainted with the same brush and for people to continue to make unfounded accusations against her. She has had enough and the decision has been made and although it might be a rash choice that will take hard work and determination to see it succeed she soon finds herself the new owner of the former bakery in a quaint, little village called Honeybourne. She soon realises that she may have taken on more than she can handle as the building is not in the condition it once was. But can Millie open her heart and put the past behind and accept the friendships on offer and make a go of her business?
Honeybourne seemed the ideal place to live, small and cosy where everyone knows each other and more often than not your business but that is something you have to put up with if you live in a rural setting. Jasmine Green, mother to triplets and wife to Rich, is our other main female protagonist and I admit I preferred her to Millie. Millie was a closed book, we never got truly inside her head until in my mind it was too late. Yes it was nice to have something a bit different where our main female character is not just out to get a man and we follow the adventures but still it seemed a bit too dark and deep for this kind of book. Jasmine loves living in Honeybourne she enjoys running her craft business and Rich works in the music industry. They may not be the richest people in the village but their deep love and respect for each other radiates from the pages although there will be plenty sent their way to test their relationship to the max. Millie is the complete opposite of Jasmine she has been cruelly hurt and has lost her passion and zest for life, her friends and people in general seemed to have turned against her with a hate campaign and unimaginable horrors being sent to her house. She knows she needs a change and with the purchase of the bakery hopes the door will be firmly locked on her past. Jasmine only wants the best for everyone she is warming and inviting and would do anything to help a friend or new acquaintance in need so when she meets Millie her heart goes out to her and she just wants her to settle easily into the village and try and make a go of the bakery to return it to its former glory where it can become a firm part of the village once more. What I really didn't like was Millie's stand off attitude. She rubbed people up the wrong way and didn't want to reveal anything about herself. If you've just arrived in a new village surely you want to ingratiate yourself into community life as soon as possible. Avoiding answering questions and a reluctance to engage wouldn't do anyone any favours,she seems to alienate people quite quickly through her remarks and body language but could this be a defence mechanism? When the truth is finally revealed I understood where she had been coming from but still I didn't particularly warm to Millie's character despite what she had been through.
OK I must give some credit to Millie as it does take guts and determination to leave behind a life you have known and up sticks and establish yourself somewhere new. I don't think I would have the strength to do it but it does seem to be a common theme running through a lot of the women's romantic fiction being released over these summer months. As with every 'chicklit' book there has to be a male character who we all start to root for and fall in love with. Here we have two Spencer and Dylan. Dylan is Jasmine's brother and a bit of a layabout and a ladies man, he seems to take things easy and in his stride and is never bothered by Jasmine's complaints about his whole situation. Despite all this Dylan was a lovable character who I could see really did have a heart of gold underneath all his bravado and maybe he was just waiting for the right woman to come along and also the right time to finally get his act together both personally and professionally. Spencer is the local teacher and once was the best pal of Dylan but something years ago set their friendship off the tracks and has never been the same. I felt for Spencer once we discovered what he had been hiding but I did hope his secrets were kept just like that and not exposed as too many people might suffer from the consequences of opening Pandora's box.
The romance element was not the sole focus of the book but truthfully neither was the bakery. OK so we have mention of how to get it up and running again and how to gather funds etc but it seemed to pale in significance when people discover courtesy of Ruth how Millie creates herbal remedies which claim to cure people. I wanted more about the bakery as this was what was suggested by the title and this is what makes me feel the book went slightly off track. It became a bit wishy washy (and I reluctantly use that term) focusing on 'magic' and 'healing' and I just find that all a bit hard to believe and didn't feel it had any place in this book. It was too far fetched and when Jenny Colgan wrote about The Little Beach Street Bakery, the bakery itself played a prominent role, whereas here I felt it took a back seat. One friend who had also read this book compared it to early books from Christina Jones and although I have never read anything from this author I get the sense the friend was referring to the 'magical' element.
The Little Village Bakery was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I really wanted to say I loved every minute of this but that wouldn't be true to myself. It had so much potential but never quite fully delivered. I felt more village characters could have been introduced even if just mentioned in passing. I know we briefly met the owners of the local pub but there must have been other businesses, shops or neighbours for the reader to meet. Maybe they are just lying in wait biding their time before making an appearance in future books but I always like hazarding a guess as to what characters might make themselves known in future stories. Here I couldn’t unless the Christmas book will feature once again Millie and Jasmine.
The feel good factor was evident as promised by the cover but the more serious, deeper, darker side of the story took over and in all honesty I wasn't expecting that from this kind of read and I think that's what put me slightly off. Saying that though Millie's story was different from the norm and I could see how something like that could happen but her reaction to it and how she handled things mightn't be as true to real life as it could have been. Jasmine and Rich's story was excellent and everything really did build up to a dramatic tension filled climax which I could vividly picture in my mind. Tilly Tennant did excel herself with her writing here and it did all weave together well. Yet at the same time I was never quite sure of the outcome.
The Little Village Bakery does have it's pros and cons, the positives do ever so slightly edge out the negatives and I would be willing to return to Honeybourne for the Christmas installment now that I know what to expect from Tilly Tennant and what she is trying to achieve with this series. Do spend a few hours enjoying Honeybourne, it does have a lot to offer but in my case it didn't quite reach the heights I was expecting.
Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of The Little Village Bakery to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.