Reviewed by Emma Crowley
The sun is shining in the quiet little seaside town of Sandybridge
Sandybridge is the perfect English seaside town: home to gift shops, tea rooms and a fabulous fish and chip shop. And it's home to Grace - although right now, she's not too happy about it.
Grace grew up in Sandybridge, helping her parents sort junk from vintage treasures, but she always longed to escape to a bigger world. And she made it, travelling the world for her job, falling in love and starting a family. So why is she back in the tiny seaside town she'd long left behind, hanging out with Charlie, the boy who became her best friend when they were teenagers?
It turns out that travelling the world may not have been exactly what Grace needed to do. Perhaps everything she wanted has always been at home - after all, they do say that's where the heart is...
I know Ali McNamara has a huge following but Letters from Lighthouse Cottage is the first book I have read by this author despite a few books in her back catalogue waiting patiently in my TBR pile. Both the title and cover are so eye catching and just scream summer and read me now, I hoped this book would give the nice warm cosy feel as the cover suggests and prove to be the good read I was looking for. Ali has written a little note at the beginning by way of introduction and she mentions how life is never easy – which I totally agree with. She goes on to refer to life changing experiences some of which are good some are bad but how things could be easier if we had someone to help us along the way. Someone to guide us on the right path, to give us advice when needed and to always be there looking out for us.I agree with all of these sentiments and wish I could say it was the case for us all.
This engaging story tells us what happened when help came about in the most unusual, extraordinary way for our main character Grace. This 'extra help' offers great advice, comfort and warnings when she needs it the most. It comes to her when she is a teenager in the 80's and stays with her until she no longer has need of the support as she has weathered the storm and the things that life throws in her way. From the outset the reader knows where this source of inspiration comes from and you really do have to make up your mind whether you believe it and fully accept it and engage with it or is it all just too magical and unbelievable for you? Truthfully I found it to be a bit too far fetched and found it hard to absorb what was happening, it was such a major part of the story but I pushed it to one side and just concentrated on different aspects of the plot. If it worked for our main character Grace than well and good and I suppose I am being too cynical but I didn't expect to find this in this kind of book.
The book opens in the summer of 2016 as Grace is working at the Tudor manor called Sandybridge Hall named after the coastal village where she lives. Thereafter the book moves forward and back in time from when Grace was a teenager right up until the present day when all of the strands of the story are weaved together to provide the reader with an interesting climax with a few surprises thrown in. I didn't mind the going back and forth in time as in the present day the reader could see Grace was working towards a pivotal time in her life and I was curious to see what she was up to. The sections throughout the book were quite clearly laid out and although there were significant jumps in years it did help move the story along at a nice pace. It gave us a great overview of he development of Grace as a character from teenager to young woman.
When we first meet Grace she is 15 in the 1980's and a typical teenager, bored with her life and wanting to escape the small town which makes her feel claustrophobic. She believes there are lots of experiences waiting for her out in the big wide world. Grace is earning some money from her parents by helping out with their antiques business and clearing out old houses and this is where her source of guidance and inspiration is discovered. I'll say no more regarding that but suffice to say throughout the good, bad and challenging times in her life Grace will turn to this source and hope it will provide the answers she desperately needs at a certain point in time. This informant will prove to be a valuable ally to Grace when she doubts things in her life and when times are very testing. That summer of 1986 Grace's life changes and she meets Charlie who is new to the area as his parents are reopening a tea shop. From the outset it's clear Charlie feels something for Grace but her head and heart are in other places and she just wants to get in with the cool gang and her eyes are firmly placed on either Danny or Gary.
The references to 80's culture and trends were spot on in the relevant section of the book, it brought back memories for me of things long forgotten like cassettes and even a Wispa bar was new at the time. There was alot of detail regarding Grace as a teenager and her pursuits of love but her friendship with Charlie grew stronger than ever and he was always there for her. Charlie was my favourite character, more so than Grace, you could see deep down that he would hold out for Grace as long as he could and though both their lives take very different journeys and other people come and go they will always be friends. Charlie was so supportive no matter what Grace got up to later on in life or what choices she made. He was steadfast, loyal, respectful and a friend you would want by your side through thick and thin and I wanted him to be happy but deep down there was a sadness there that needed resolution.
The book moves along to 1992, 2001, 2012 and eventually present day 2016. Each time we move forward we see Grace growing, changing, adapting and dealing with various events in her life. As Grace's life evolves so to does Charlie's but at all times even though they may be away from Sandybridge they always return and reconnect. Still Grace's guide is there and it does forewarn her of events, never giving anything specific away but just enough to know that Grace must take action. I've said that Charlie was my favourite character but that's not to say I didn't like Grace but I did feel she relied too much on this help rather than using her own mind to find her way on life. It was like the help was used as a crutch and nothing could be decided upon unless she referred to it. I wanted her to have a little more strength and courage in her convictions and look around her and see what was right in front of her eyes if only she could truly open them to see what was going on. I had read a book by Carmel Harrington last year which also had this 'guide' but in a different guise and I have to say I found this far more successful and believable whereas here it didn't feel credible.
Overall Letters from Lighthouse Cottage is a nice easy read but sadly it didn't hold me in its thrall. It could have been amazing but it was only OK. For me it never really got going despite feeling moving through the time periods at a steady pace, I think I was always on the lookout for some bit of action or mystery to come in to the story and it never did. That's what was lacking it all just felt as if I was going through the motions reading the story but never becoming fully engaged with it. I had high hopes for the book but it never fully delivered and I sense this is not the best book the author has written and I may have been better off selecting another of her books to read first. The ending was nice and fitting considering all the missed opportunities and regrets that had gone before and the descriptions throughout were excellent but this one didn't blow me away but I am glad I gave it the chance it deserved.
Many thanks to Little Brown via NetGalley for my copy of Letters to Lighthouse Cottage to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.