Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Nancy de Freitas is the glue that holds her family together. Caught between her ageing, ailing mother Frances, and her struggling daughter Louise, frequent user of Nancy's babysitting services, it seems Nancy's fate is to quietly go on shouldering the burden of responsibility for all four generations. Her divorce four years ago put paid to any thoughts of a partner to share her later years with. Now it looks like her family is all she has.
Then she meets Jim. Smoker, drinker, unsuccessful country singer and wearer of cowboy boots, he should be completely unsuited to the very together Nancy. And yet, there is a real spark.
But Nancy's family don't trust Jim one bit. They're convinced he'll break her heart, maybe run off with her money - he certainly distracts her from her family responsibilities.
Can she be brave enough to follow her heart? Or will she remain glued to her family's side and walk away from one last chance for love?
The Lavender House by Hilary Boyd is the third selection for the Summer reading challenge from Quercus. I always say in my reviews having read a book by an author that I didn't particularly enjoy that I will always give the author a second chance and that's what I did with this author. I had read Hilary's last book and found it just wasn't for me so I was hoping I would engage with this one an awful lot more. Unfortunately this wasn't the case and at times I struggled to reach the end of this book. There are two reasons I think I couldn't get on with this book mainly because our main female protagonist is much older than I am and I haven't been in her situation before, and because she proved to be such a walk over in terms of her family completely taking advantage of her at every opportunity. The second reason being the story just seemed too familiar to the book by the author I had read before and in fact to several others books I had read recently and the story appeared to go on and on with not much happening apart from plenty of indecision.
The cover and title promised so much but they didn't deliver, there was no mention of the Lavender House in question until towards the end and these scenes were amongst the best of the novel but it was too little too late. I found myself looking out for references to the house throughout the book and wondering how it connected to the overall story? When the connection did become apparent it was lovely and fitting but I was left wondering why leave it so late to introduce it? There was so much scope and it could have been completely different novel one which I would have enjoyed more if the author had maybe taken Nancy on a journey away from everything to reassess her life and make the correct decision.
The Lavender House opens as Nancy De Freitas is making dinner as usual for her husband when in he walks and announces he is leaving her for another woman called Tatjana, a fellow member of the madrigal choir he is part of. Understandably this comes out of the blue for Nancy and her world is torn apart but four years later when we meet her again maybe she is ready to start looking for love. We never really read much of Christopher for the remainder of the book except when he is trying to contact daughter Louise but I get the sense he was quite full of himself and very overpowering and dominant towards Nancy and she was far better off without him. In fact the absence of Christopher allowed the female characters in this book to come to the fore. Nancy's interests and passions had been suppressed because of Christopher's ways and his obsession with his own career. Now Nancy questions is it too late to find happiness? Is there someone out there who can offer Nancy comfort, support and to bring the spark back into her life? A night out with friend Lindy celebrating her birthday, a night which Nancy wasn't really looking forward to, sees her meet musician Jim who sings at clubs with country music being his passion. There is a spark there which Nancy believed she would never feel again but she feels like a frump and so out of the dating game is it even worth pursuing things with Jim? But I think if there is any chance at second love one should go for it and just go with the flow and see what happens. Nancy is a worrier and always looking out for others so to put herself first is a big deal and I wanted her to just gain more confidence and stop fussing and faffing around Jim which went on for endless chapters. She should have just taken the bull by the horns and gone for it and see where the relationship would go. Yes she may have annoyed her daughter in the process but she would get over it and one has to take that jump in order to see will things work out.
Jim has his own issues to deal with and these problems make Nancy's family instantly suspicious that he really is no good for her and she would be better off alone or searching for someone else. I felt the couple should have been left to their own devices to get on with things without interference with others. Yet on the other hand Jim needed to sort out his living and personal situation. I understood he was caught between a rock and a hard place and was tied but he shouldn't have left it go on for as long as he did. If his feelings for Nancy were genuine he should have taken more forceful action earlier and in that way Nancy's family may have been more open to him. Personally I found him a bit weak and I know this is only my own preference but the several references to his ponytail were just silly and I don't like ponytails on men and feel it didn't need to be keep mentioned here. I couldn't relate to Jim at all and I know the author did her best to make the readers believe in the relationship with himself and Nancy but it was so tedious and drawn out that I kind of lost interest and in a way wondering would a happy ending ever be found? I thought this was a great quote summing up how Nancy felt about tentatively stepping into the dating ring again after such a long absence. 'She yearned to feel properly alive again, to feel the blood rushing through her body, on fire with a passion that consumed her'. Considering this is how Nancy felt it certainly took a long time in the story for herself and Jim to connect. I did think Nancy should have told her family much earlier about Jim and just be honest and truthful with them instead of so much messing around and secrecy. The same with Jim he needed to be honest in his situation and just go ahead and get it sorted so he could be free to be with Nancy.
It was the younger characters I identified more with in this story, in particular Nancy’s daughter Louise and her husband as they struggled to raise a family and keep their restaurant going in tough times. I wanted them to feature even more as their story was interesting and engaging. One character who I can't fail to mention is Nancy's mother Frances her storyline struck such a chord with me and struck me straight to the heart and I felt hers was the element of the story that was written the best. It was emotional and heartbreaking and expressed all the fears she had and was written with such sensitivity and tact.
Overall The Lavender House really wasn't for me it had some good elements but not enough to grab my attention and hold my interest throughout. I found it hard to keep going to reach the end but as it was part of the reading challenge I wanted to read the whole book. Does Nancy get her happy ending while ultimately keeping her family all happy well that’s for you to discover if you choose to do so. Fans of Hilary Boyd will surely enjoy this book but for new readers who have come to this book as part of the challenge I'm not sure they will understand what the author intended her readers to get from this book or enjoy the writing as it is quite drawn out. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in the Quercus Summer reading challenge and am sad to say this wasn't the case with this one but that's books and reading for you, we can't love every book we read and there is always more out there for us to try.
Many thanks to Quercus Books for my copy of The Lavender House to review for Quercus Summer and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.