Friday, 31 July 2015

Guest Book Review: Claire Sandy: A Very Big House in the Country

Reviewed by Emma Crowley 

'Holidays are about surviving the gaps between one meal and another.'

For one long hot summer in Devon, three families are sharing one very big house in the country. The Herreras: made up of two tired parents, three grumbling children and one promiscuous dog; the Littles: he's loaded (despite two divorces and five kids), she's gorgeous, but maybe the equation for a truly happy marriage is a bit more complicated than that; and the Browns, who seem oddly jumpy around people, but especially each other.

By the pool, new friendships blossom; at the Aga door, resentments begin to simmer. Secret crushes are formed and secret cigarettes cadged by the teens, as the adults loosen their inhibitions with litres of white wine and start to get perhaps a little too honest ...

Mother hen to all, Evie Herreras has a life-changing announcement to make, one that could rock the foundations of her family. But will someone else beat her to it?

Amazon links: Kindle or Paperback 

A Very Big House in the Country is the second book from Claire Sandy. I have to confess despite hearing great things about her début novel What Would Mary Berry Do? I still haven't read it. But I will now have to rectify that because this new book was funny, entertaining and a thoroughly enjoyable read. I was slightly apprehensive before starting this book as I had read a book with a similar theme and plot this year. Several families escape to the country for a holiday with various problems arising. That book proved to be dull and boring but thankfully within the first few chapters of Claire's book my fears were pushed aside and I was deeply invested in the three families. This is a great read with a fast pace and a varying cast of characters who keep you on your toes guessing what's going to happen and how will they react to each problem that inevitably arises. It's fresh,sharp and witty everything you could want in a summer read. Whoever said a holiday is all fun and games? Clearly they hadn't met the three families involved in this story. A little action and chaos thrown in is what spices things up. That is exactly what these people got and I laughed along with them when needed but also felt for the more deeper, serious conflicts arising. Both the humour and sensitive sides were dealt with really well with Claire Sandy achieving a nice balance.

Each chapter begins with a different person from each family sending a postcard home from the luxurious, beautiful Wellcome Manor in Devon. This was a great touch because this snippets were short and brief and gave us a characters perspective on what had happened in the previous chapter. Often providing the reader with a funny take on an event. With 3 families and a bunch of kids this two week break was inevitably going to be filled with drama, adventure, romance and fun and the author packed in all these elements in abundance. Evie Herreras is literally on her last legs, just bone tired and worn out. She is hoping this holiday will once again revitalise her and give her the chance to recharge. Married to Mike they have been through an awful lot together and always come out the other side even stronger. Hints are given to Evie's past and we can sense she has been through a really rough patch and is optimistic about the future and her family but yet she is still hiding something. This holiday with her friend Shen will bring her back to full speed. Evie has three children Scarlett - a typical teenager, extremely reluctant to be going on a family holiday and one who would rather be back at home with her friends. Mabel is 8 and Dan 10 they have their own moments and their blunt statements and take on things going on around them gave me plenty of laugh out loud moments.

Shen and Mike Ling Little (what names!) organised the holiday and house. A couple who are totally opposite to each other in every respect, you would never ever put them together but some how the majority of the time it seems  to work. Shen has a son Miles and a six month old baby called Fang (don't ask that is her real name). Shen is one of those women who is always in firm control, a woman at the top of her game in her chosen profession. Behind her back people may hate her and call her a power freak but what she wants she gets. Surprisingly this didn't turn me off Shen. Herself and Evie had a great bond formed at the school gates and despite Shen's outer persona beneath that exterior was a nice person who always had Evie's back and listened and gave support when needed. Mike was a rich, rich man and this was his third marriage. Money could solve any problem but maybe oldest son Zane turning up will throw up some trouble that will keep Mike on his toes. The Ling Little's have a nanny for baby Fang Elisabetta .She is always in the background and dotes on the baby as Shen continues to embrace her holiday with scant regard for the care of her child. Elisabetta is well aware of every little thing that goes on in the house. The others may see her as little more than a childminder but you can tell her observations are being stored carefully away ready to be revealed at just the crucial moment. Or so I initially thought.

The last family to arrive were Paula and Jon Brown and their two children - Tillie and Amber. Last minute additions to the holiday after another family dropped out. Right from the get go there was something about this family that didn't add up. Paula is not known for being the most friendly at the school gates and presents a cold, aloof front. She is always anxious and on edge, never able to rest and unsettles those around her by her actions.  She was always so vague and never seemed like she was fully present and enjoying her holiday. She wants to please her husband all the time and maintains a very high standard. God I just wanted her to relax and chill out a bit. Jon seems equally as cold and unaffectionate towards her. Evie's suspicions were aroused and so were mine. There was clearly a bigger story going on here than first meets the eye, I felt this throughout the book but in a good way. The author carefully alluded to certain things and made you think oh I don't like what that character is doing and really this is going on behind people's backs amongst the sunshine and laughter. Such clever writing from Claire Sandy you had me fooled all of  the time. She basically said such a thing was going on without actually confirming it. So when you discovered the truth it was almost like the author was saying ha ha whatever gave you that impression I never actually confirmed anything. I loved this aspect of Claire's writing and it just really added to the story. It could have been boring and just run of the mill with long winded descriptions of what the families did every day on their holiday. Instead we had a brilliant take on the secrets ongoing within the families .We were observers looking in with excitement and curiosity at all the twists and turns and revelations unfolding.

So much goes on that the events had me rapidly turning the pages but at the same time counting myself lucky I wasn't on this family holiday. This is really an escapist read, sit by the pool or in the garden and get caught up in the trials and tribulations of the characters and enjoy the fact your summer is going a lot smoother. With such a gorgeous, cheerful cover you'd be forgiven this is all sweetness and light but Claire Sandy has chosen topical, relevant points to explore but done so in a fun, light hearted,believable way.  A very Big House in the Country is certainly another one for your TBR piles this summer. Don't let this amusing, delightful book pass you by.

I'd like to thank Emma for her fab review of A Very Big House in the Country which we received from the publisher via NetGalley.  

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