Reviewed by Emma Crowley
New home. New life. New beginning. Love affairs can blossom in the most unlikely places...
When Kitty inherits Bluebell Lodge from her grandmother, a farm in the beautiful Staffordshire countryside, it's time for fresh air and a fresh start. Up to her elbows in chickens and ponies, Kitty soon realises there's an awful lot to learn about farming. Still, at least the locals seem friendly, not least her handsome neighbour Tom... But just as Kitty is beginning to find her feet, and the possibility of love, the discovery of a long-hidden diary, by a mysterious character called Violet changes everything. Who is Violet and what is her message for Kitty? As Kitty fills in the lost pieces of her family jigsaw and discovers some shocking revelations, will her countryside dream and blossoming relationship fall to pieces? When it comes to life in the country, nothing is ever quite as it seems...
When the cover for this book was first revealed on Twitter I think there was a collective gasp of ahhh what a beautiful cover. It is simple yet striking and instantly draws you in. Both the title and the colours used evoke a real springlike feeling which is more than welcome after the long, dark, gloomy days of winter. Kitty's Countryside Dream is the first book I have read by this author and truthfully it was the cover and title that made me want to read it. I didn't even bother to read the blurb as the above mentioned points were good enough for me. Christie Barlow has written two previous books – A Year in the Life of a Playground Mother and The Misadventures of a Playground Mother and after reading this new novel I will certainly go back and read these two other books. I loved Christie's writing style and how there was a lot more going on here than I first initially expected. The author has created a wonderful setting in Bluebell Lodge and the characters and their developing storylines were a joy to read. As the title gave us a clue as to the plot of the book I was excited to read all about Kitty and to discover whether her countryside dream becomes a successful reality or does fate have a few problems and surprises to throw her way as she navigates a whole new world?
It's a new beginning for Kitty Lewis as she arrives in the quaint, small village of Rosefield. To her shock and surprise she has inherited Bluebell Lodge and a separate flat from a grandmother whom she believed died before she was born. Kitty is putting her old life behind and ready to embrace new challenges and all that life has to offer. Her university life had been put on hold to care for her sick mother and now that she has passed and this unexpected revelation has occurred she has to embark on a new path and deal with whatever may occur. Although extremely apprehensive Kitty was someone who seemed with a bit of help and support would be willing to give anything a try at least once. I loved her as a character particularly as she loved reading and used books as a source of comfort and escape but yet was also willing to attempt to improve her personal life. Life as a carer had been lonely now is the time for Kitty to shine and seek answers to her past that for unknown reasons had been hidden for many many years. Kitty feels the village and flat are where she is meant to be something is urging her to stay. Although when she ventures to Bluebell Lodge and unearths the truth that she is now the owner of the huge enterprise that is a chicken farm anyone wouldn't blame her for running a mile. I know I would. Her first meeting with Tom Drew - manager of the farm was hilarious and the author fits in plenty of comedic moments throughout balanced nicely with romance and plenty of secrecy.
Through Tom, Kitty learns all about running the farm and also a little bit about her grandmother Agnes Porter. But there really are more questions than answers and Kitty cannot fathom why her mother would have kept her past so secret and make Kitty believe that she was all alone in the world. Tom was a dream of a character. A man who would put you right at ease, a great companion maybe even more than that if Kitty wanted it. He never put pressure on Kitty to know everything about the farm and how it was ran. Yes throughout the book there is plenty of confusion and misunderstanding between the pair not least because of Kitty's runaway mind and not just coming out and asking the truth. Particularly when it came to Lucinda who also works on the farm. Tom was instantly likeable and just like Kitty you felt comfortable with him and that you were just in the right place ready and waiting to watch Kitty hopefully blossom and uncover the truth to her past. To me Tom was only to be admired he could have easily just have quite his job and left Kitty in the lurch to run the farm on her own not having a clue what to do. But he was kind and seemed so passionate about his job and did the right thing. Maybe he could transfer those qualities into a relationship but it seems he might have his eye on the person that the readers wished he hadn't.
To anyone taking on a whole new challenge vastly different from anything done before it would seem quite daunting and unachievable but Kitty was just the sort of person who needed a change in her life. This was the kick-start she had to make to move her life on after the death of her mother. Having cared for her for so long she had become stuck in a rut and let her own personal happiness slid by. This proved to me although anyone would look after a relative in need at the same time we should take care of ourselves because when the situation may be all over we will be left and the person would not have wanted us to remain unhappy and unable to move forward. Kitty was selfless in her duty to her mother for so many years. Now this surprise inheritance may just provide her with answers she never even knew existed until Bluebell Lodge came into her life. Meeting Tom and Lucinda helps Kitty to shed her lonely existence and embrace life and live it to the full. 'I was grateful that the Lodge came into my life when it did because I hadn't got a clue what I would be doing right now or where I would have ended up'.Then the surprising discovery of a diary hidden in the safe in the office and everything that had become routine is thrown on its head as Kitty becomes engrossed in the sad story of a girl called Violet. Does this diary hold the information Kitty needs to reconcile the past with the present? All I can is this was an excellent addition to the story and like Kitty I raced through the diary entries eager to find out why Kitty's mum had kept so many secrets. Using these diary entries as a way of explaining everything is what made this book different from what you would think on first glance at the cover and really helped connect past events with what was ongoing in the present.
This book was different to the normal chick lit/women's fiction that and I guess these days authors need to provide something a little more diverse as we are inundated with books in this genre. I loved how Kitty took the bull by the horns and ventured way outside her comfort zone. Also the means by which she acquires the farm and the fact that it wasn't just a normal farm with a wide range of animals instead focusing on specifically the huge operation of running a chicken farm. Initially I genuinely thought this was going to be a book about a young girl needing a change and escaping the rat race in order to try and save a farm similar as to what happened in Appleby Farm by Cathy Bramley which I loved. I wondered with this book had it all been done before? But I was proved surprisingly wrong. There was a lot more going on than at first you would have thought and I loved how Christie brought aspects of the past into the story and created a real mystery element which kept the reader guessing. OK admittedly I did have a sneaking suspicion as to how it would all turn out, at about the half-way point something just clicked with me through very subtle hints dropped in. Normally I am totally wrong but here I was felt a bit smug that I was right. Saying that having guessed the truth in no way did it detract from my enjoyment of this wonderful, feel good story instead it spurred me on to read as quick as I could to the end.
Kitty's Countryside Dream is an excellent read full of friendship, humour, romance and loveable characters. It is described as a feel good romantic comedy and it certainly delivered on all those elements. It's not all fun and games and an easy life but sure real life isn't that way anyway. I loved how we saw Kitty really grow and blossom as a character and we the reader were with her every step of the way. The book was funny and full of plenty of mishaps but the serious side had to be shown as well but it didn't deter from the overall themes of the book. The more I read the more absorbed I became and in fact wanted more of the diary entries from 1960 as it showed such a different way of thinking and how people deal with situations than we do now. Overall Christie Barlow has written a fantastic book and has found a new fan in me. Her publisher Bookouture really do have the knack of finding brilliant authors who write stories that have you rapidly turning the pages and this book didn't one bit disappoint.
Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my review copy Of Kitty's Countryside Dream and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.