Thursday, 5 November 2015

Emma's Guest Review: Holly Hepburn - Snowdrops at the Star and Sixpence

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

When sisters Nessie and Sam inherit a little pub in a beautiful country village they jump at the chance to escape their messy lives and start afresh. But when they arrive at the Star and Sixpence, it's not quite what they imagined - it's pretty much derelict, ruined by debts, and it's going to be a huge job to get it up and running again. 

It's just before Christmas but they are determined to relaunch on New Year's Eve, to bring the new year in with a bang. But with nosy neighbours, miserable locals and no money to contend with, it's not going to be easy. 

And when the sisters' past comes back to haunt them, they start to think that the fresh start they needed is very far away indeed… 

Amazon links: Kindle

Snowdrops at the Star and Sixpence is the first in a planned series from Holly Hepburn. This is her debut novella for Simon and Schuster although she had previously written a book entitled Cupidity published back in 2013. I had first read about this new series back at the beginning of the year and at that time publication day had seemed so far away, yet here we are and I am delighted to say this was a gorgeous read and a great start to what promises to be a super series. The title and cover are both fabulous and striking and instantly get you in the Christmas mood. It says as a tag-line that this novella is a winter warmer, perfect for fans of Cathy Bramley and Scarlett Bailey and I couldn't agree more. Holly Hepburn has managed to capture the same  emotional, feel good feelings that I always get when I read a book by either of the two aforementioned authors. I think this feeing will build as we progress through the series, let's hope Holly can keep this up in the remainder of the series.

This novella opens with a letter addressed to a Vanessa Blake from a solicitor containing details of her late father's estate. Vanessa (Nessie) and her older sister Sam have inherited The Star and Sixpence public house in Little Monkham, a sleepy rural village deep in the heart of the English countryside, a  total change from what the sisters are used to. Immediately you get the sense the two sisters are at odds with what is in store for them.  They have been estranged from their father for over 20 years although the reasons are not explained) and feel what in god's name are they doing travelling to inspect some pub in some little backwater far from the hustle and bustle of the big city especially as it is coming up to Christmas and they have more important things on their mind. Despite the separation from their father I got the feeling the girls wouldn't like anything to happen to the pub seen as it was left to them and beneath all the hurt and anger they still had a soft spot for their dad and wouldn't want to see his business fall to pieces. 

Vanessa and Sam both have their own issues going on.  Vanessa has finally bitten the bullet and left her husband Patrick, divorce proceedings are under way and her lifeless and loveless marriage is about to be put behind her. We don't get exact details as to what had been going on but I sensed Vanessa had been through a tough time and was deeply hurt and afraid to move on and open her heart just that little bit more. I can't blame her really as if you have been emotionally broken it is awfully hard to build yourself back up again. Will Little Monkham prove the place to let her lick her wounds or will love turn up when least expected? As for Sam she really was an enigma, she had a good job in PR but was obviously hiding from something or someone as to why well the reader is left guessing. That's not a bad thing at all as if too much is given away too soon what's the point of reading the future installments to come?

On arrival the pub is definitely not in the condition the sisters would like it to be and they have to make decisions in order to get it up and running. From the outset they soon discover Little Monkham is a tight knit community where people stick together and don't take kindly to change or upheaval. Franny Forster the local postmistress and chairwoman of the Little Monkham Preservation Society seems like a bit of a battleaxe at times and what she says goes (although she does rally the troops when needed) and soon Sam and Vanessa are told the pub needs to reopen for Boxing Day whether they like it or not. The two girls aren't used to such straightforward commands and feel put out and under pressure. But they do the best they can to get The Star and Sixpence reopened and once again attempt to make itself a place at the heart of the community although plenty of opposition comes their way. The residents seemed to have had such great respect for the girls Dad and they really can't fathom why. To be honest neither could I judging on the small glimpses the author gave the reader. 

There are plenty of characters introduced throughout the novella and I really got a feel for the community and its residents and how being such a small village everyone knew everyone else’s business and got involved whether you liked it or not. Again this is another book which reminded me of Alexandra Browne's Tindledale series but maybe I haven't got the exact warm feeling just yet as I did with Tindledale. There is definitely much more to come and this first book came across really as a prelude for major events that would occur over the coming year. It was more an introduction to the series with a lot of setting up to do and getting story lines put in place and now I'm ready for a lot more action to happen.

I can't fail to mention some of the characters. Some of their names were just ingenious and really set this novella apart from others - Father Goodluck and Ruby Cabernet are just two to mention. The names had me laughing out loud and they certainly matched their characteristics. Hunky blacksmith Owen and cellar-man Joss Felstead are also two to watch out for in the future and two of our main characters might just have their eyes on them. Sam and Vanessa clearly have a battle on their hands if they want to the pub to be a success and for themselves to find a place in the village. All the residents aren't that open at all times and each have their own history and stories which I'm sure will be explored in the next two stories. 

Overall this was a really enjoyable introduction to the series, I guess the over eager side of me wanted answers straight away but I suppose that is the one disadvantage of reading a novella in parts instead of waiting for the full edition to be published. Normally I can wait but I don't think I will be able to with this series. Holly Hepburn has created a solid cast of characters all of which I am dying to find out more about. She nailed it with inspiring the Christmas and New Year feeling in a small community. It wasn't rammed in your face or the tacky side of Christmas wasn't explored and I appreciated this. 

Now that Vanessa and Sam are ensconced in Little Monkham and the reminders of a father they long tried to forget are rearing their head let's hope the next installment provides me with more answers and another warm, inviting story with even more romance thrown in. Unfortunately we have to wait until next year to see what happens next but at least there will be two more novellas to come – Valentines Day at the Star and Sixpence and Summer at the Star and Sixpence. They are both on my wishlist already. Meanwhile buy this little beauty of a story, sit back, relax and enjoy with a glass of something nice and maybe some Christmas music playing in the background.

I'd like to thank Emma for her fantastic review of Snowdrops at the Star and Sixpence which we received from the publisher via NetGalley.

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