Saturday, 11 March 2017

Emma's Review: The Little Theatre by the Sea by Rosanna Ley

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Faye has just completed her degree in interior design when she finds herself jobless and boyfriend-less. While debating what to do next she receives a surprise phone call from her old college friend Charlotte who now lives in Sardinia and is married to Italian hotelier, Fabio.

When Charlotte suggests that Faye relocate for a month to house-sit, Faye wonders if a summer break in sunny Sardinia might be the perfect way to recharge her batteries and think about her future. But then Charlotte tells Faye that there's something more behind the sudden invitation: her friends Marisa and Alessandro are looking for a designer to renovate a crumbling old theatre they own in the scenic village of Deriu. The idea certainly sounds appealing to Faye, but little does she know what she's letting herself in for if she accepts this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity . . .

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I've been a huge fan of Rosanna Ley's work since the publication of her debut novel The Villa over five years ago. I think she was one of those authors whom at the time I stumbled across her book quite by accident on Amazon and liked the sound of it, so took a chance and have never really looked back. I have enjoyed everything this author has written, some more than others I'll admit but I do always get that warm,inviting feeling when I pick up one of her new books in which there is always such an evocative sense of time and place. The author clearly always does such impeccable research into whatever topic she may be covering and I love how with each book the reader is transported to a new country and more or less instantaneously is made to feel like they are right there with the character experiencing all the sights, sounds and smells. 

The Little Theatre by the Sea is Rosanna's sixth novel and months ago when I spotted the beautiful cover on the net with a most intriguing title I knew I wanted to read this new story as soon as I could lay my hands on a copy. This time we are transported to the warm and sunny climes of the island of Sardinia. Truthfully it's a place I would have given scant previous thought to but similar to the author's other books I soon felt right at home in the setting and the areas, countryside and history of the island being described made me feel like I had already visited the island. In fact by the time I finished the book even though I had not once left the comfort of my armchair I believed I had been right there with Faye as she does her best to renovate and rejuvenate the little theatre whilst at the same battling some of her own inner personal demons.

Faye Forrester receives a call from her good friend Charlotte who is now married to a successful hotel owner and living on the beautiful island of Sardina. She has an offer for Faye one which will be hard to refuse seen as Faye has spent the last months working flat out to complete her interior designer degree. This phone call is fate, serendipity or simply meant to be. Call it what you will Faye knows she needs the break and the time to acclimatise to the fact she has reached her goal of gaining the degree but the next step for her is unknown and that scares her ever so slightly. I think when we first met Faye she like so many other characters in books is at a crossroads in her life and is keenly aware the next major decision she makes is one which will have far reaching consequences for the rest of her life. She doesn't want to be hasty or brash but yet at the same time she wishes to prove to both herself and her family that the years spent working to achieve her degree and giving up a high powered job to do so were not wasted ones and that she can become successful given the right time scale and job opportunity. On a romantic level I felt Faye was still hurting ever so slightly that former boyfriend Julian had left her and maybe with this new opportunity more than just a new career may open for her. Faye readily accepts Charlotte's offer of minding her house while she is away and the same time an opportunity to look at renovating a special little theatre presents itself? Can Faye afford to let this pass her by even if things may become quite challenging with opposition and obstacles placed in her path?

The story did move along at a lovely steady pace and in a way the rhythm of the story matched that of life on the island - periods of calm, peace and tranquillity interspersed with some small periods of unrest or disquiet. I think that's what I liked about this book at times everything seemed to be OK and Faye was maturing and making some decisions and then at others there were a few twists thrown in that I had never seen coming but were essential to upset the flow of things and bring added elements to the story to make it the very good read it proved to be. 

The colours on the cover of this book may lead one to think this read will be all sweetness and light but I found this to be the opposite and at times there were some dark or sinister tones making themselves known. There was an overwhelming feeling of things being hidden and left unsaid and that Faye had to fill in the gaps or read between the lines of characters to truly ascertain what exactly was going on in what at first appears to be a quiet, sleepy village but dig a little deeper like everywhere I suppose and there is more bubbling beneath the surface than at first meets the eye. The theatre owners brother and sister Alessandro and Marisa Rinaldo were not my favourite of those characters we met. I felt Alessandro blew very hot and cold for the majority of the novel at some stages he was open and willing to talk to Faye re some of her ideas connected to the renovation and then at other periods just like Faye herself he surprised me with some of his actions or words. I never felt I really warmed to him and as for Marisa she was the nicer of the two but still there was a slightly aloof feeling she seemed to be giving off.

Pasquele was the other character that featured on the island, to be honest I really didn't know what to make of him. Early on it mentioned that he was in his 70's and then later he said he lived with his mother and I was left wondering had I read his age correctly given what age his mother must be. At times I think his character, who spends his days reliving memories of the theatre in its heyday and the times he spent acting on the stage, read like he was younger than he was. Pasquele seemed to have this aura about him of other worldliness, someone who was always there in the periphery of each scene or popping up when something was developing. I felt for him in some ways and in others he was like the proverbial bad penny that becomes increasingly difficult to get rid of. 

As well as the story unfolding surrounding the theatre the book did move back to England and to the problems unfolding in the marriage of Ade and Molly (Faye's parents). I did question for the majority of the book why was the focus shifting back here every so often surely Sardina and Faye should have been the direct focus? But I think that's where Rosanna Ley excels every element of the story does eventually prove to be essential and though you may gloss over something or read through a chapter or two quite quickly, come the climax of the novel you think ah right that's why such and such a thing was included. I enjoy having the wool pulled over my eyes and being lead down the entirely wrong path and with The Little Theatre by the Sea this is exactly what happened to me. There was certainly a false sense of security and then boom all your suspicions were blown out of the water and the reader (well in my case) was proved to very wrong in their assumptions. Hints and clues and events from the past regarding Ade and Molly were there and I just couldn't fully grasp what the author was trying to suggest until the big reveal came and I was glad I had not guessed the outcome of this book.

The Little Theatre by the Sea was another good read from Rosanna Ley. Although it's not my favourite of her six books I still did very much enjoy it. Faye was a likeable character whom the reader can see needed the experience of living on the island and trying to put forward her plans to renovate the theatre on both a professional and personal level. This book wasn't simply about bringing a crumbling theatre back to life it explored the characters feelings and situations in great depth and allowed hidden secrets and emotions to come to the surface with some very surprising revelations coming to the fore. I was definitely lulled into a false sense of security regarding a character and almost felt slighted in a way as to how they turned out given my feelings towards them for the majority of the story. 

Rosanna Ley for me is up there with Lucinda Riley and Lesley Pearse as one of my favourite authors and even though this wasn't my favourite read of hers, I think The Villa will always be mine, I would still highly recommenced a few hours getting lost in Faye's story and I look forward to where Rosanna will take us next.

Many thanks to Quercus books via NetGalley for my copy of The Little Theatre by the Sea to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

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