Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Guest Book Review: Kate Hewitt - Rainy Day Sisters

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

When Lucy Bagshaw's life falls apart she accepts her half-sister Juliet's invitation to stay with her in a charming village in the beautiful Lake District. Lucy is expecting quaint cottages and cream teas, but instead finds that her sister is an aloof host, the weather is wet, windy and cold and her new boss, Alex Kincaid, is a disapproving widower who only hired her as a favour to Juliet. But despite their differences and with the help of quirky villagers, these hesitant rainy day sisters begin to forge a new understanding - and find in each other the love of family.

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Rainy Day Sisters is the first in the planned Hartley by the Sea series by Kate Hewitt. I had only read one book by Kate previous to this writing under the name Katharine Swartz. I didn't really like that book so was apprehensive about reading this new story. But within the first few chapters I realised this was a different kind of book altogether and overall I really enjoyed it. It's well written with excellent character development. It deals with lots of topical issues relevant to today's society but in a manner that is pleasant and not in your face. This was an easy, light read yet Kate managed to pack an awful lot in and the themes of sisterhood, friendship, forgiveness and healing were explored very well. With a fabulous yet at times windswept and wet setting, a great varied range of characters and several interesting story-lines Rainy Day Sisters makes for a great read.

Each chapter alternates between half sisters Juliet and Lucy. The half here is important for the majority of the novel before barriers are even begun to be broken down. I liked hearing from each sisters viewpoint as it provided an alternative slant on events. There wasn't repetition in the sense that something happened and then in each chapter we read of each sisters take on it. More so some of the repetition was in terms of the weather, going out walking the dogs and Lucy's time at work. I understand based on the title of the novel that we would read about the weather but I just felt there was a bit too much of it. That said it is really the only minor complaint I had regarding this book.

Twenty six year old Lucy Bagshaw is returning from Boston to make a new start in her life. Well she is giving herself four months to get everything back on track. She has suffered a deep hurt which is alluded to several times but the true nature of this upset is not revealed until much further into the novel. Her Life in Boston has fallen apart and she is seething with anger and resentment towards her mother but on the other hand is filled with worry and anguish at the thoughts of meeting her half sister Juliet. Reconnecting with someone you barely know and who made very rare fleeting appearances in your life is going to be very difficult. Immediately I thought fair play Lucy what a gutsy thing to do you have been torn to shreds and humiliated in Boston by someone who is meant to care for you but yet you are willing to move thousands of miles away from home to someone who is a virtual stranger to better your life. I have to admit Lucy was my favourite character Kate Hewitt wrote her so well and you can see such progression in her throughout the book. Lucy soon gets a job covering a maternity leave as receptionist in the local primary school. Headteacher Alex Kincaid is not the nerdy type she envisaged but drop dead gorgeous but he too comes with his own burdens and problems. Lucy slowly is only too willing to help him out and assimilate herself into community life in Hartley by the Sea.

Juliet is the complete opposite to Lucy, I hate saying this but she comes across as so cold and unwelcoming. I think the author wanted us to dislike her at first in the way that she wrote this character and I certainly did. Juliet runs a guest-house in Hartley by the Sea perfect for all those hikers who come to enjoy the Lake District. She has lived in the village for ten years but still is like a newcomer. She doesn't have friends and doesn't really do friendship or sisters for that matter. Juliet prefers to spend her time cleaning the guest-house or out walking her two dogs. The reader really wants to know what made Juliet this way? Why was she estranged from her mother Fiona yet Lucy continued to live with her? Why is she always so closed and unwilling to let people in? Juliet created an awful lot of tension between the sisters there was no willingness to listen to what Lucy had to say or just to relax and smile and develop a sisterly bond. Instead poor Lucy on arrival was terrified to even leave the kitchen in anyway disturbed. I suppose I was meant to feel compassion for Juliet and I did when we discover the reasons for her outward behaviour as she had such a sad story to tell. But it just made me value the importance of sisters, friendship and the ability to confide in someone when times get tough. Juliet had gotten to the stage she was so desperately lonely that she was in danger of not being able to bring herself back from the brink. When local farmer Peter starts to make an appearance Juliet begins to thaw although I was disgusted at what she asked him to do. It was cheeky and uncalled for and on reflection she knew this herself.

Obviously Lucy's arrival is the catalyst for change to occur in the sisters lives but it also helps some other residents of the village. The two women begin to realise they are 'not just strangers linked by the genes of a woman neither of them actually liked'. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two huge things Lucy and Juliet need to come to terms with. Let go of the past to embrace the future and only then will you be truly happy. Their childhood clearly had a deep impact on how they are now in the present. It affects their relationships and interactions with others and how they view men. They don't want to make the mistakes their mother did but are fearful as to how to not have history repeat itself. Also I loved all the various sub plots which I won't reveal here. They all fitted in really well with the overall plot and themes and not one felt out of place. In fact these characters and their stories only gave me tantalising glimpses of where Kate Hewitt could take us next. 

As Hartley by the Sea began to work its magic on Lucy and she becomes happy, relaxed and confident I found myself becoming really invested in the outcome for the sisters. But still their mother Fiona was such a strong overshadowing force in the book. I felt we knew so much about her through Lucy and Juliet yet we barely hear from her. Kate Hewitt managed to achieve this so well and deserves great credit as all these feelings and emotions stirred up in the girls by Fiona only made for a more realistically, interesting, thought provoking read.

OK so we got the conventional ending in one sense but regarding the other issue fair play Kate Hewitt I was glad you did something different that showed life is not always sweetness and light and that forgiveness for something in the past can be very difficult. The author could have tied everything up very neatly at the end and with only 5 or 6 pages left to go I was wondering how she was going to do this so quickly. But no I was really happy with the outcome and believe it has set us up nicely for future books. There are definitely more stories to be told and explored in the lives of the residents of Hartley by the Sea. There were numerous supplementary characters in Rainy Day Sisters that were itching to make more of an appearance and share their good times and bad. I am already looking forward to who we will read about next. Place the Rainy Day Sisters on your reading lists it is a great book I really enjoyed and with such a beautiful apt cover how could you pass it by in the shops?

Many thanks to Kate Hewitt for sending me a copy of Rainy Day Sisters to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

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