Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Kate Marshall is slowly getting her life back on track after losing her fiancé. As an author she has been able to hide herself away from the world and its expectations – but now one of her books has been optioned for a film and Hollywood suddenly comes knocking on her door!
When Kate is given the opportunity to stay at a beautiful country retreat and concentrate on the screenplay, it’s an offer she can’t refuse. Encouraged by her best friend, sharp-tongued single mum Sarah, Kate sees it’s finally time to stop letting life pass her by.
Looking for confidence and inspiration in the idyllic Cotswolds countryside, the last thing Kate expects is for Timothy Calder, A-list actor and leading man in the movie adaptation of her book, to turn up on her doorstep, hoping to lie low after his latest tabloid scandal! But after a rocky start, with Tim narrowly avoiding death by watering can, they find they have a few things in common: a liking for Lady Grey tea, walnut whips and bad ‘knock knock’ jokes. Actually, the bad jokes are just Tim.
As an unlikely friendship begins to blossom, and with circumstances repeatedly throwing them together, is Sunset Cottage where both Kate and Tim’s lives will really start?
Initially it was the title and cover that drew me to the début novel by Bella Osborne. It Started at Sunset Cottage promised to be a quirky, humorous story with some romance thrown in. I got some of those elements but overall I'm sorry to say the book was a disappointment and didn't live up to my hopes. I expected a light, easy, fun read based around Sunset Cottage where maybe the characters go to heal and find themselves and experience some love and romance. The cottage of the title did feature for several chapters but it was not until the final chapter that it came full circle and the title then made sense to me. I felt the cottage needed to be featured far more instead of too much focus on the movie adaptation of Kate's book which provided endless chapters of on-set details and shenanigans some of which were not realistic. Alot seemed to happen, yet nothing at the same time, it didn't move the book on at all and I felt I had learned nothing about some of the characters. The book was not all bad as I did love the character of Sarah and her adorable daughter Amy. Their storyline was strong and very relevant to problems women all over the world face today. Maybe the book should have focused more on this and placed Kate in the background as in my opinion it would have made for a far stronger read.
Kate and Sarah are firm friends both going through rough patches. Kate is finally beginning to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel after experiencing a devastating loss which knocked her down both emotionally and physically. She feels like she is re-emerging and ready to take on the world again one small step at a time and Sarah and Amy will be by her side every step of the way. Kate is an author although she is still struggling to get to grips with finishing her latest book. Her friend Marcus is a script writer and delivers the exciting news to her that one of her previous releases is gong to be made into a movie. Kate is thrilled and this monumental moment sees her shedding the past and embracing the future tentatively at first but then going headlong into a whirlwind of an experience she won't forget as life on a movie set is anything but plain sailing.
I kept wondering when Sunset Cottage would feature and as it turns out it's where Kate and Marcus retreat to write the script for the movie away from everything so they can make it the best it can be. Here is where she meets debonair movie star Timothy Calder who alongside Lumina (I have to say that name for that character really annoyed me) will star in the film. You knew there was a spark between Kate and Tim and they had lots in common despite leading such vastly different lives. There was an awful lot of to-ing and fro-ing for the remainder of the book regarding these two and at times they were both selfish and not the nicest of characters to read about. They both frustrated me and I found myself disliking them and much preferring Sarah. I wanted to shout come on and just get it together. The plot jumped all over the place regarding the film and these pair and at times they were just infuriating.
Sarah hasn't the easiest of lives just like Kate. She is a single mother to Amy who provided endless comedic moments but yet perhaps had the most crucial role of all to play. Sarah had a bad relationship with ex husband Shaun and although now separated he still continues to cause her discomfort, trouble and worry. Only for Amy she would have long banished him from her life. Right from the start I found Shaun creepy and just horrible. The way he spoke to Sarah was just so demeaning and he made her feel like she was always at fault. He appeared at her house and seemed to do the most strange, sneaky things. His mother was just rude and an awful character and my sympathies for Sarah grew. Sarah views Shaun as a mistake she made years ago one that is she is still paying for this. Unfortunately Shaun causes untold trouble for Sarah and this element of the story was well written and held my interest. In fact this was the best part of the book there was mystery and suspense and I wanted to read more about it. It seemed to be forgotten about for several chapters as we went back on set with Tim and Kate and I hate using this word but it was boring. I didn't care to read all about Lumina and her demands and that poor P.A was run ragged and should have told them all where to go. Sarah did frustrate me when she allowed her ex to move back in, I thought why on earth would a sane woman allow that to happen after everything she had been through? I lost some respect for her there but she does pay for her decision. Luckily Sarah had a great friend in Andy. In fact both women could always rely on him, he made himself readily available for them if they needed help or a babysitter. Andy was a great character but he too kept his secrets and towards the end I didn't like the way he carried on. There were plenty of other characters but to me they weren't needed and were quite forgettable and as for that sex scene thrown in. I don't mind reading detailed sex scenes but it lowered the tone of the book and came from nowhere and I know this is Harper Impulse but there was no place for it in this book.
I'd love to be able to say I enjoyed every minute of this but unfortunately that wasn't the case. To me the author spread herself too wide and went off on far too many tangents. Just when I felt I was getting into the story it slowed down again and there were chapters and sidelines that were unnecessary. The character of Didi could have been left out completely in my mind. I realise volunteering in the care home helped Kate come to terms with her loss. But Didi was then forgotten about half the time and her storyline with Tim bordered on the unbelievable.
The ingredients were all there but sadly they did not combine to create the book I was expecting based on the cover, I found there were two separate stories here that didn't gel well together. Sarah and her plot could have had a book all to themselves and it would have been excellent. Likewise with Kate the two storylines would have created two wildly different books in different genres and been much better reads for it. The pink cover with the cute pictures belied the content and gave me a vastly different impression from what I was reading. As the plot in the later half did venture all over the place I did begin to lose interest but I continued until the end as I was interested to discover the outcome of Sarah and Amy. Sadly this book only half hit the mark for me but I feel there are better things to come from Bella Osborne and I won't be against giving her second book a go in the future.
I'd like to thank Emma for reviewing It Started at Sunset Cottage which we received from Harper Impulse via NetGalley.