Reviewed by Emma Crowley
She’ll do whatever it takes to keep this family together…
As the nanny to four quirky but loveable children, Charlie French has learnt that if there was ever a cement shortage Weetabix would be a viable substitute and that YouTube videos can go viral in seconds, much to her horror. But, most importantly, she's learnt that whatever happens you stick together as a family.
When tragedy strikes, Charlie is forced to decide whether it’s time to move on or fight to keep the children she loves. With the distraction of the children's gorgeous Uncle Felix and the chance of a holiday in stunning Antigua, she’s left wondering if turquoise seas can wash away their present troubles. Is the pull of white sand beaches too tempting to resist or will paradise fail to keep them all together?
A Family Holiday is the second novel from Bella Osborne following her début It Started at Sunset Cottage which I read and enjoyed last year. The cover for this new book is simple yet attractive and colourful and makes you want to dive in to the story patiently waiting between the covers to be read. Instantly I felt this book was going to be excellent and I wasn't proven wrong, there is just something about it that draws you in right from the very first page and doesn't let go until you read the final word. If you were to judge this book on it's cover you would be forgiven for thinking this was going to be a light, fluffy, summery read one that you enjoy whilst reading but isn't the most memorable and you have forgotten most of it by the summers end. But A Family Holiday couldn't be further from this, the book had substance and well rounded characters each with their good points and bad and combined together these people provided an engaging, heartfelt story that has you chuckling away to yourself one minute and the next you are in a more sombre mode as you contemplate the future of the family.
The author has struck the perfect balance between humour and the more sensitive issues being dealt with. This has made for a more deeper read that had me deeply invested in the outcome for our main female protagonist Charlie and the children she is caring for. In It Started at Sunset Cottage I felt it dragged on a bit and she went off on tangents that weren't relevant to the overall plot but reading this book it's like reading something from a totally different author and I mean that in a good way. The writing has stepped up a gear and the plot was tighter and didn't stray from the overall themes. At one point I was worried that the holiday mentioned in the title would never materialise as there had be no talk of it for half of the book but at the 50% mark this came into play and it provided the perfect contrast between the first and second half of the book.
Chapter one of this book had me laughing away to myself and that is all thanks to one person and though that person may only be three years old, she truly is a superstar. Millie the youngest member of the Cobley family is the breakout character from this book, the author completely nailed her humour on one hand and her pure innocence on the other. Millie always says what she thinks at the most inopportune times but yet at other times she is the one who offers light relief from the pain that is ongoing. I just couldn't get enough of the scenes where she featured and was dying to find out what cracker of a one liner she would come out with next. Millie was given free rein as a character to just be the young kid she is oblivious in one sense to all that has happened and is still ongoing yet there is a subtle contemplative side to her that is aware that all is not once as it was nor will it ever will be. It may sound silly to be raving about such a young character but the way she was written in fact the manner in which every character was written was fantastic and they soon became your friends and you had your fingers firmly crossed that they would find the happiness they deserved. So obviously there were more characters that feature in this story apart from Millie.
Our main female protagonist is Charlie French and really she is the glue that is attempting to put the broken fragments of the family together or at least she is attempting to do so but there are family members who don't want Charlie to achieve this. Charlie is not the mother of the Cobley clan consisting of Ted(15), George(10), Eleanor (8) and of course the little charmer that is Millie, no she is their nanny who has been left in sole charge of the children (for the moment) following the tragic death of Helen and Toby Cobley in a car accident. The family has been torn in two, their beloved parents are gone, their future is uncertain and most of all they are sad, lonely and lost. The future doesn't seem bright as Ruthless Ruth their aunt battles over guardianship of the children, Uncle Felix has been awol for years but will he make a reappearance and step in when he is needed the most?
Charlie was much more than a nanny to the children, she shared a deep connection with each of them and understood how they all had distinct individual personalties that needed to be protected and nurtured. She knew if Ruth got her way the children would have a succession of professional nanny's that wouldn't care for them the way she did and soon they would end up separated and send to various foster homes. Charlie is determined that this won't happen if their mother can't be there for them she knows Helen would have wanted the children to stay together and to be loved and allowed to grow and to achieve all their dreams. Charlie seemed to be wise beyond her years and she loved the children like they were her own. She did everything she possibly could for them and she helped them try to heal and navigate through their grief by carrying on with life as normal as much as possible. Charlie was an instantly likeable character and for once the focus of a book like this wasn't all about Charlie searching for love to achieve fulfilment in her life. The issue with the children and finding a positive resolution was what took centre stage and I enjoyed how this aspect of the plot was allowed to shine without love and romance and dates etc overtaking the children's situation. Don't get me wrong some love did feature here but it was slotted in just at the right times and not shoved in your face becoming overbearing and detracting from the overall themes. Charlie throughout the book grew in strength and courage, she knew she had a battle on her hands but she wanted to win it no matter what it took. She has the children's best interests at heart and not her own. She always stood up for them and deep down she knows what the right outcome should be and fervently wishes that things will go in the right direction.
As I have mentioned Uncle Felix has been off the scene for several years but after the death of his brother he is tracked down and given the opportunity to apply for guardianship of the children but will he accept this and allow the children to attempt to live a happy life? Felix seemed to be such a free spirit, yes we can sense there was a bit of history between himself and Toby and the reasons do become clear but I felt he was allowed away with things and now it was time for him to step up to the plate and accept full responsibility. If you knew that by saying a simple yes that it would allow a young family to stay together you'd jump at the chance right. At least Charlie thinks so. So why is Felix so stubborn and obstinate? Can't he see that Ted although the eldest is putting on a front as to how he feels? George too is hurting but he covers it up getting involved in devilment with his siblings and as for poor gentle, sweet Eleanor you see her raw pain and grief missing her mother and although Charlie is so good to her no one can ever your replace your mum. Felix breezed into their lives, heard what the solicitor had to say and almost immediately said that's not for me, I can't handle a responsibility like that not even taking many factors into consideration. To me Felix was just selfish pure and simple and I couldn't see how any amount of persuasion would make him change his mind.
Around the half way mark we finally get to the holiday as mentioned in the title - Antigua being the destination of choice. The author made the island seem so idyllic and that all your worries would be washed away but for Charlie this wasn't the case as she could never fully relax knowing issues remained unresolved and the children’s future wasn't secure. She wanted to treasure these times as she knew Ruthless Ruth wanted her away from her charges and out the door. Bella Osborne kept the flow of humour and comedic moments coming even on the island, Millie and water are all I will say but it's everyone's worst nightmare that had me cringing and laughing in equal measure.
Does everything work out for the Charlie and the children? Well to discover the answer you really need to pick up this book, it will soon have you hooked. To be honest I hadn't heard much about this pre-publication until it popped up on NetGalley and I had a few slight hesitations about reading it as although I enjoyed Bella Osborne's first book it didn't tick all the boxes for me. A Family Adventure certainly ticked all my requirements for a good summer read. In fact it was so much better than the author's début it blew the first book out of the water by a long shot. There wasn't any long and meandering scenes or aspects of the book stretched out for no apparent reason. It just seemed a whole lot more in tune with what readers want from a book that keeps you interested and engaged rapidly turning the pages saying to yourself just one more page and then you find yourself having read 100 or more.
Just one brief mention of Charlie's best friend Fleur who had her own storyline she was the only slight, tiny fault I could find with the book (not that I was looking for one as I was enjoying it so much), I didn't really relate to her and although she was a good support system for Charlie I felt the book would have managed perfectly fine without her storyline as the others characters and the story were strong enough to stand on their own two feet. It's clear Bella Osborne enjoyed writing this book, so much thought and effort has gone into each character even the puppy Wriggly who I almost failed to mention. When he is let loose havoc ensues. The author deserves great praise for writing about an issue or indeed a reality that many authors would shy away from and to have pulled it off so well. Charlie, Millie and co won't be forgotten by me in a hurry and I do sincerely hope they are getting on well now. I'd love a follow up book or short story as there is more that could be told.
Don't let this treat of a book pass you by this summer, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. Often it's the book we don't expect the most from that gives us several hours of reading pleasure and I can guarantee you that A Family Holiday will do just that and bring a smile to your face.
Many thank to Harper Impulse via NetGalley for my copy of A Family Holiday to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.