Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Emma's Guest Review: Fanny Blake - House of Dreams

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Only a weekend in Spain - what could possibly go wrong?

At their family hilltop villa, Lucy awaits the arrival of her brother and sister for their mother's annual birthday party. Although this time, their mother won't be there.

Struggling at Malaga airport with her fractious four year old, Jo has already lost her case and is dreading arriving without its precious contents.

For Tom, returning to Casa de Sueños stirs up all sorts of memories - then a beautiful face from his past appears . . .

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House of Dreams is the new release from Fanny Blake who as well as writing is also the books editor of Woman and Home magazine. God how I envy her this job! I had only read one of her books before The Secrets Women Keep and found it an ok read. The title and cover for this new book was eye-catching and colourful. After reading the blurb I really wanted to delve in. The story takes place over a very short period, in fact just a long weekend in Spain. Although the time frame is short, the story and all that happens is fairly intense and the author has packed an awful lot in but still had room to develop her characters really well. I can't say I enjoyed all aspects of the book as I felt the middle was really drawn out. I changed my mind several times over as to whether I actually like the book but the later half cemented my opinion and after finishing this read and stepping back to appreciate what I had read it turns out I did like the book but maybe identified with some characters more than others. 

Centred around a party and memorial service for the matriarch of the family Hope, a group begins to gather at Casa de Suenos the family home for many years in the beautiful, warm, dry landscape of rural Spain. Two sisters and a brother reunite after the death of their mother to scatter her ashes as requested and to have one last party at the villa which holds so many memories of growing up. But Hope has a few more surprises in store and by the end of the weekend the family will be changed. But will it be for the better or worse?

The book opens as Lucy is alone in the house preparing for the arrival of her brother Tom, sister Jo and various cousins and friends. She has been through a tough time and has still not come out the other side stronger. Caring for her mother in her final days has taken its toll and now the last stage of packing up the house and scattering the ashes are upon her and she is just not ready to let go. Apart from what herself and the family have being going through, Lucy's marriage is not what it once was. Lucy is married to Art who works on a semi successful medical show. They once were happy and she loved him deeply but the strain of trying for children is beginning to take its toll and they are drifting apart. Lucy is not sure the marriage will last and feels this weekend will confirm an awful lot as there are plenty of revelations to come. Lucy herself runs a successful catering business but this has gone on the back-burner as she cared for her mother. I liked Lucy as a character although she wasn't my favourite she did seem to be taken advantage of by Jo and Tom believing she could do most of the work setting up the house and party and looking after her mother. I think the fact she had no children her siblings believed she had no ties so she was free to step into the breech when needed. Her opinion seemed to matter the least but yet I think she might have been the wisest and most clued in in terms of the whole picture. This sums up perfectly how Lucy feels about everything 'Within moments of Tom and Jo's arrival at the house, she had felt herself slipping back into the role of little sister whose opinion mattered most'.

Jo is the character I liked the most which is strange considering I have no children myself and she has a four year old daughter Ivy. Jo is a single mother and does her best whilst balancing a career in advertising. Alongside the family dog Bailey, Ivy simple stole the show. She was so well written and had me laughing out loud numerable times, Fanny nailed it when writing Ivy with all her funny sayings and at times her petulant demanding ways. Jo only hopes she can continue to do a good job bringing up Ivy in the future. Jo did have a good connection with her mother but what is really eating away at her is the fact she never knew her real father. Walter her stepfather did a good job but he to is gone and she wants some answers. Will she find them over the course of the weekend especially considering there is a chest with presents waiting patiently to be opened? 

Tom is now the only male figure left in the family, he is married to Belle who dotes on her dachshund Ferdie and two boys Ethan and Alex. At first I thought Belle was going to turn out to be one of those clichéd wife characters we so often read about, someone who was a bit dim and just concentrated on her appearance, make up and clothes and the dog. But no the further I read I realised she had an awful lot more depth than at first  appeared and in fact Tom didn't always give her the respect or credit she deserved. Yes Belle did want the best of what was on offer the in the villa to bring back to her own house in spite of the wishes of Jo and Lucy but underneath it all she did show her compassionate and caring side at times  when needed the most. With the arrival of Tom's former flame Maria and her daughter to celebrate for one last time at the house doubts begin to manifest themselves in Tom's mind. Did he make the wrong decision all those years ago or is being married to Belle the right thing? To be honest I found Tom to be a bit of a wimp most of the time he couldn't stand up for himself and say what he was feeling and seemed to be on the verge of giving into temptation so easily. Like Jo he didn't know who his father was and maybe he didn't comprehend how much he cared about that fact. Instead he seemed to concentrate on getting the weekend out of the way so the house could be sold, money received and then return back to normal life.

House of Dreams is really a character driven novel. At first I did see similarities with a Catherine Alliott book I had read earlier in the year and was hoping it wouldn't venture down the same path as I had found that book quite boring. This book was vastly different as the family weren't on a holiday, the casa had been their home for so many years and held such special memories and now the glue that held them together has gone. No matter how far Tom, Jo and Lucy travelled or whatever problems they encountered the house of dreams itself was always the one constant. Standing there resilient, solid and waiting for them. It was a special place and much needed in their lives considering both Hope and Walter were such free spirits. This was such a striking description of just what the house meant to people 'Hope had once pinned her hopes and dreams for the future on it while Lucy's own dreams had been born there'. Even though we never hear from Hope herself as she has passed away just before the beginning of this book I felt Fanny did such a brilliant job of creating her character that I got to know her in depth. She obviously made such an impact in her children's lives (although maybe not always in a positive way) and in those of the people and friends she met. Hope manages to cause lots of mischief and surprises from beyond the grave plenty of which made the book speed along at a nice pace towards the end.

The House of Dreams is a really enjoyable book, as I've said it does take it's time to get going as there was a lot of characters to become familiar with. I admit I did have to keep checking who was who as there were numerous characters introduced over the course of the book apart from the three main siblings. There are several plot lines woven carefully throughout the book and they do pay off but you need to pay careful attention to keep up with all the strands. There are such beautiful descriptions of the house and surrounding countryside that easily make you feel that you are there alongside the characters at the party and also when they get to scatter the ashes. You feel as if you are not just a visitor getting a glimpse into a family at a pivotal, life altering moment in their lives but rather that you become almost like a member of the family itself. The weekend proves challenging and emotional for all involved and the surprises and revelations come thick and fast towards the end but I enjoyed all of them and in fact they made me view several characters in a different way.

If you want a break from all the Christmas reads out there at the moment this would be the perfect alternative, it has a good solid storyline with characters and a setting you couldn't fail to fall in love with and makes for an enjoyable read.

I'd like to thank Emma for this fantastic review of House of Dreams which we received from the publisher via NetGalley.

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