Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Guest Book Review: Harriet Evans - A Place for Us

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

The day Martha Winter decided to tear apart her family began like any other day.

When Martha, a wife and mother of three, sits down one late summer’s morning to write out the invitations to her eightieth birthday celebration, she knows that what she is planning to reveal at the party could ruin the idyllic life she and her husband David have spent over fifty years building…

But she has to let her family know what she and David have sacrificed. She can’t live a lie any more.

The invitation goes out far and wide, calling her three children and their families back home to Winterfold, their rambling house in the heart of the English countryside. They are Bill, the doctor; Florence, the eccentric academic; and Daisy, the child who never fit in. As the story unfolds, each character reveals the secrets, joys, and tragedies they are wrestling with through the confines of the family. What will happen when Martha finally tells the truth? 

Amazon links: Kindle or Paperback

A Place For Us - the latest offering from Harriet Evans has previously been released in four parts over the course of 2014. I don’t really like reading books in bits and pieces except for specifically written novellas designed with the short story in mind, so I held off reading this book until I knew I could read and enjoy it all in one go. Boy am I glad that I was able to wait this long because Harriet Evans has put so much of her heart and soul into this novel and given her everything to produce a book that her legions of fans will thoroughly enjoy. This is not a chick lit book instead Harriet has attempted (successfully might I add) to take a step into the family saga area of women’s fiction with the introduction of the Winter’s family whose family home Winterfold is at the centre of this book. Each member of the family may grow and leave Winterfold for other parts of the world but ultimately the house has this spell which entrances people and calls them home just when they need that little bit of help in life.

I did find  the book quite slow in the beginning (I admit to having quite a book hangover from the previous book I had read) it took me awhile to become familiar with all the characters as there were quite a few who each narrated their own chapter. Parts two and four were the most interesting for me, they seemed more fast paced and the storyline really moved on. In part one I felt there were too many characters being introduced and the majority of them were unhappy or seemed to have some major life problem which made me dislike them. I can see why people reading A Place for Us in instalments were always eager to purchase the next part when it came out as each section ended on a cliff hanger although I really couldn’t have waited a few months to find out what happens next.

The story focuses on the Winter’s - David and Martha and their extended family. Both are in the later stages of their lives, Martha is about to turn 80 and issues an invitation to her family to attend a party at the house as she has an announcement that all family members need to hear.  Most of the family are scattered in various parts of the world. Eldest daughter Daisy works in India raising money for local schools and to improve the lives of people in need. Her daughter Cat now lives in Paris (having been raised by David and Martha), her life had once been happy but now she is struggling to make money working on a flower stall whilst hiding a big secret from her family. 

Bill is the only boy in the family, now working as the GP in the village. Bill is married for the second time to Karen although everything is not as it seems, Karen is longing for something and is unhappy in the marriage. Lucy is Bill’s daughter from his first marriage, working for a newspaper in London she really wants to find success with her writing but is looked down upon by her colleagues in the fashion section of the newspaper. Finally we have Florence, an art historian lecturing in Florence Italy for a college. Florence is eccentric, unpredictable and scattered but she was my favourite character, I just really felt for her situation and also  loved the nutty  academic side of her. The final person whose story is told is Joe Thorne, he is the chef in the new pub opened in the village, separated from his wife he is a weekend dad which he is finding very hard to deal with whilst trying to make the pub a success.

After the introduction of so many characters and setting up their background stories at one point in the first section I was really wishing things would speed up a bit and they would just get to the party so we could discover just what the big announcement was. When this eventually did happen everything started to pick up speed and the characters stories started to connect more. There are lots of twists and turns and even some stepping back in time to World War Two that kept me engaged and wanting to discover more. The announcement shakes everyone to the core and has repercussions for their everyday lives and it was enthralling to read how each different character reacted and how the surprise affected their lives. I would have loved to have read even more of the World War Two sections instead of just a few pages here and there so maybe this is something the author could build on for future novels as I feel she would write an excellent time slip novel.

Reading about the fallout from the party had me hooked until the last page and it was intriguing to discover how all the other subplots were dealt with. Harriet has definitely returned to the form as I have fallen in love once again with her writing having first been gripped with Going Home and A Hopeless Romantic.  This is an accomplished piece of writing that Harriet Evans should be proud of, there is obviously a lot more to come from this talented author as I feel she has only just touched the surface of the family saga and I look forward to seeing where her next book takes us.

Many thanks to Elizabeth Masters from Headline for sending me this book to review.

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