Tuesday, 11 August 2015

HI Readathon: While I Was Waiting by Georgia Hill

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

June 1963, Clematis Cottage, Stoke St. Mary, Herefordshire

I am really not sure why I am writing this. A foolish whim by a foolish old lady and it will probably sit in a box unread and decay much like its writer when Death makes his careless decision.

But perhaps someone will find it. Someone will care enough to read and somehow I know that will happen.

April 2000, Clematis Cottage, Stoke St. Mary, Herefordshire

Tired of her life in London, freelance illustrator Rachel buys the beautiful but dilapidated Clematis Cottage and sets about creating the home of her dreams. But tucked away behind the water tank in the attic and left to gather dust for decades is an old biscuit tin containing letters, postcards and a diary. So much more than old scraps of paper, these are precious memories that tell the story of Henrietta Trenchard-Lewis, the love she lost in the Great War and the girl who was left behind.

Amazon link: Kindle

The Harper Impulse Readathon has certainly introduced me to several new authors and Georgia Hill is one of them. The cover and blurb of While I Was Waiting really appealed to me as I am a sucker for historical fiction but also books in this genre that have the time slip element. A number of the books from this publisher that I have read all seem to feature a woman beginning a new life by buying a cottage in the country that needs doing up. This one initially proved to be the same but we have the added interest of a discovery of a tin of letters, a diary and some various other bits and pieces. This discovery establishes a link with the past and made for a different read which for the most part was fairly enjoyable. The book opens at Clematis Cottage in Herefordshire in June of 1963 as Hetty Lewis in the later stages of her life is sitting down to write her memoirs. She is recalling a life of love and missed opportunities but overall one she was relatively happy with it despite some of the troubles she had to navigate. Fast forward to April 2000 and Rachel is now the proud new owner of the cottage. Albeit a somewhat run down place which she wishes to restore to its former glory.

From the outset Rachel seemed a very reserved character and she obviously was hiding things which she wished to be kept well beneath the surface. Employing Gabe to renovate the house is a step up for her she is slowly allowing someone in to her life despite all the chaos the work will bring. When Gabe discovers the tin in the attic a tentative bond is established between the two and we are taken back and forth to Hetty's early life and a story of love. Rachel likes things to be in order and to her satisfaction. In some ways she lacks confidence but reading through the diary she uncovers the life Hetty was forced to lead and in doing so I was hoping it would help Rachel too. Rachel really was a strange character in the beginning, nothing much as to her background was given away. It seemed odd to me to be so stressed about builders coming, I know she craved peace and tranquillity and felt invaded but it just seemed strange and unusual. 'She wanted to be alone to be the person she really wanted to be, not beholden to whatever others forced her into being'. I thought this quote summed up Rachel perfectly but I wanted her to open up more and through Hetty I felt this would happen. Yes we get an inkling she had been hurt in past relationships but she could not and should not tarnish everyone with the same brush. She had been too closed up for years and needed to let a little love and happiness into her life.

What of the mysterious contents of the tin? Well this is where the time slip element comes in we are taken back to Hetty's childhood and the life she led in Delamere House under the strict guidance of her two aunts. Hetty's father was always away as he was a lover of nature and the sciences and spent trips abroad on expeditions. Two cousins Edward and Richard also come and go from the house and as Hetty grows so do her feelings but for which man? I have to admit the historical element was what I was most looking forward to in this book but I was left disappointed as some bits worked and others didn't. Every time we went back to the past I found even in that time line it was jumping around and I felt the structure was lost at times. One minute we were reading a letter sent from Edward during the war then we went forward a few months and then back several years. Therefore I just ended up confused and it didn't help the flow of the story, it didn't seem cohesive to me just rather scattered. I couldn't follow who Hetty really wanted in her life and some of the incidents in the house just seemed a bit odd. The author did write well though of life in Edwardian England and I could visualise the house and the life Hetty had to lead. It's clear women were restricted at the time in term of what they could do in the wider world which shows us just how far we have come as women.  Normally I am sucked into the past in a time slip novel but not so in this case, there was a love story here but to me it didn't come across as convincingly as it could have.

The two stories do begin to intertwine and the further Rachel reads the more we see her loosen up. When she acquires a puppy called Piglet to me although it may sound silly this was the makings of her. Piglet stole the show and Rachel's heart and allowed her to defrost a little. Hetty's diary and what Rachel believes is a friendly ghostly presence enable Rachel to loosen up and the further Hetty's story is revealed the more Rachel begins to heal. It was obvious the outcome for Rachel in terms of her relationship and her future but the way she treated that person at times was not nice and the endless nagging really began to annoy me. The outcome for Hetty was not that clear until the very end and I liked that element of mystery and surprise but I can't say I was gripped the whole way through this book. 

While I Was Waiting is an enjoyable enough read and fine to pass a few hours but it didn't have me enthralled the entire time. The cover and blurb promised so much but failed to deliver, I didn't overly warm to any of the characters with the exception of hunky Gabe. I was probably expecting more focus on the historical element and while we got the flashbacks to Hetty's time it was more a focus on a love story. Sadly a love story which didn't have me racing through the pages to find out what happens. I kept an open mind and gave this a go but it didn't grab me and it needed to.

If you are new to historical fiction with the time slip element with a dash of romance then you will enjoy this.But for me it didn't live up to my expectations and there are other books and authors in this genre who I will turn to in the future.

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