Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Rowan Hill means many things to many people, but to Ellie Hesketh it represents new beginnings. Putting her life back together after a break-up is going to take time, but the crumbling country estate—as much in need of TLC as she is—seems the perfect place to do it.
But Ellie is not the only person for whom Rowan Hill is a refuge. There’s Will, damaged and complicated, whose secrets almost nobody knows. And Finn, his brother, who’s finally decided to stop running from his own past. As Ellie is drawn further into saving the estate, she can’t help but try saving the brothers too—and she’s sure she knows just how to go about it. The trouble is, she’s been accused of meddling before…
I discovered the writing of Emma Davies quite by chance when I saw on Twitter some people had been reading a wonderful Christmas novella called Merry Mistletoe. Sometimes it's the books that might have the least buzz about them or creep up on you unawares that surprise you the most. I was amazed by the fantastic short story and Merry Mistletoe proved to be a real gem and one of the highlights of last years Christmas reading. Letting in Light is the first full length book from Emma Davies, it had previously been published two years before but has since had some revisions and been republished with a brand new cover which I have to say I much prefer to the old one. Sometimes there is something to be said for judging a book on its cover as I don't think I would have picked up the old version but this new cover is bright and inviting and the readers interest is aroused as to who the lady is walking through the gates with a bag.
I really hoped the author would be able to recreate the magic and feel good factor so much in evidence in Merry Mistletoe and it was here in Letting in Light to some extent. The book and its characters took time to grow on me and I felt it split itself into two distinct halves, the first being Ellie's settling in period into Rowan Hill and assessing where she wants to take her life and the second half focusing more on the community spirit of developing the site. There was more depth and substance in the latter parts of the novel where we really got beneath the surface of the characters and they actually surprised me.Also there was a beautiful moment connecting back to the title which made me realise how apt it was.
The book had a real tense opening as Will McLennan is travelling home through the country lanes and comes across a car stuck in a ditch. He does his best and stays with the wounded girl Ellie until help arrives. Fast forward to a year later and Ellie has adopted the attitude of just getting on with things. Her six year relationship with Robbie has ended and the manner in which it has done so is so despicable on Robbie's part that I wouldn't blame Ellie if she swore off men for life. She feels heartbroken and full of despair 'The loss of my future and the comfortable relaxed intimacy I shared with the man I loved, but the loss of my past too'. She is fed up with her job teaching English and combined with her relationship woes she needs a big change and staying with best friend Jane and her family on a permanent basis is not the answer she was looking for. Having no job and no ties this is the chance Ellie has to let in some light as referred to in the title and grab every opportunity with open arms.The first of these being the chance to live in a house owned by Jack - Jane's husband, just to keep an eye on it while they decide what to do with it following the death of his grandmother. Ellie finds herself moving to Wickford and living in the lodge at Rowan Hill. She soon discovers that the man who came to her aid on the night of her accident is none other than the owner of the Rowan Hill estate. Will is a changed man and quite distant at first, locals like to spread gossip as to why his wife upped and left but only those who have first hand accounts should make judgements. Soon it's clear that everyone we meet is hiding secrets but will Ellie prove to be the glue that puts people and things back together?
Emma Davies did a brilliant job in what I am calling the first part of the book (the book wasn't split into sections but to me it felt like it was) of establishing the scene and introducing the characters in the village. There was a real homely feel as Ellie becomes acquainted with her new surroundings and you could sense that she was a person who liked to get involved with things and helping people out as it was a means of putting her own issues and fears to one side. Alice Tweedy appeared to be the town busybody who loved a gossip at anyone's expense but maybe we need to delve a bit deeper? Helen Morgan proved a close ally in the absence of Jane for Ellie and would always offer a warm friendly, listening ear at any time if Ellie was willing to open up. Gina in the local tea rooms is a baking disaster and Ellie sees the chance to help her out by providing cakes so the business won't go totally bust. See Ellie is a character who is 'just after a quite life at the moment. Somewhere to lick my wounds - and definitely no romantic entanglements' but as the village works its magic on her she begins to open up and become more content if only she could get through to Will.Ellie wants a slower pace of life , more relaxed and hassle free and an opportunity to deal with the crossroads she is at.But at Rowan Hill is she guaranteed that?
When they meet one another again, as they can't fail not to living in such close proximity to each other, Will is a totally different person from the man Ellie met that fateful night. He is moody, closed off, deeply hurt and adept at keeping things hidden. He spends a lot of time outdoors looking after the estate as best he can. The reasons for Will's change of personality when they become apparent are truly shocking and heartbreaking in equal measure. I had never read anything like this from a male perspective before and Emma Davies was brave to include this in the book. I wouldn't have seen it coming a mile away but it was dealt with such sensitivity and tact. Although I did feel when things came out in the open it was a bit judgemental regarding his brother Finn. I could see both sides of the story and would have said in this day age couldn't people just let people be who they want to be but then one has to think of the abhorrent situation Will found himself in. The way the author dealt with this was interesting and realistic and handled with the utmost of sensitivity. The latter half of the book took on a different tone from the first it became more character driven. People weren't hiding things any more and as Ellie integrated more into the community and the estate the more she learned and came to comprehend why Will was acting the way he was. When Finn arrives home from abroad having given up his job inspiration strikes and plans are afoot to turn the estate into a form of artisan community. The author just let this aspect of the story flow and all the setting up in the earlier part of the book began to come to fruition, the characters opened up and feelings were expressed and I loved how they all worked together with one ultimate positive goal in mind. Things between Ellie and Will take a nice turn and as Will found some sort of acceptance he became a man who you knew would support you through the worst of times and yet through the good he would always be there holding your hand and enjoying life. Can Ellie find happiness in Rowan Hill or will bigger issues just get in the way of everything?
Letting in Light really showcased the talents of Emma Davies, in my mind she is a vastly under rated author. You might think how can I say that as she has only written one full length book and a novella but they are both of such a high calibre that she is worthy of the above statement. The characters come alive on the page and her stories are not your typical light, easy chick lit reads instead they are filled with a wide range of emotions, such raw honesty and a solid storyline that has you fully invested from the outset. Not one of these characters is perfect they are all flawed, heartbroken or damaged in some way but it is the writing of the author that is beautiful and helps heal and put them back together and that's what makes for such an absorbing, beautiful story that will make the characters inhabiting Rowan Hill very difficult to leave behind.
Many thanks to Lake Union Publishing for my copy of Letting in Light to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.