Monday, 15 May 2017

Emma's Review: Annie's Lovely Choir by the Sea by Liz Eeles

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

When twenty-nine-year-old Annie Trebarwith receives an unexpected letter from a great-aunt she’s never known, she leaves her shoebox-sized flat in London and catches a train to the rugged Cornish coast.

Salt Bay is beautiful and Annie begins to kindle a bond with her great-aunt Alice. Even though there is zero phone signal and the locals – including the gorgeous but brooding Josh Pasco – can be decidedly grumpy at times, Annie starts to feel at home in Salt Bay.

Soon Annie’s love of music leads her to relaunch the Salt Bay Choral Society, and she’s surprised to see how just much the choir means to the community – and she even starts to break through Josh’s surly exterior…

But London is calling Annie back, and she has to make a decision. Give up her old life completely, or leave Salt Bay, her new-found family – and the choir – behind?

Amazon link: Kindle

When you open a book and  find yourself laughing out loud at the very first line you just know you are going to thoroughly enjoy the story that follows. That's exactly what happened to me as I fell in love with both the characters and storyline in the first of the Salt Bay series by Liz Eeles - Annie's Lovely Choir by the Sea. Everything about this book was just perfect from the setting and characters to the humour mixed with more serious undertones. It's not all a barrel of laughs throughout the story instead this wit and warmth is mixed well with more pressing problems at hand. I got such a good feeling from this book within the first few chapters and I totally fell in love with Salt Bay and it's residents. Not since I have read Alex Brown's Tindledale series have I felt this excited about a book. Annie's Lovely Choir by the Sea gave me the exact feelings that I experienced while reading the Tindledale series and I have a feeling I am going to adore everything that Liz Eeles writes in the future. If she could manage to write two books a year set in Salt Bay I for one would be a very happy reader.

For those growing wearisome of books that seem to have a certain theme running through the story i.e: cupcakes, weddings, cafés etc don't be worried by the title here as the choir is not the dominant storyline in this book rather it is one of many yet a crucial element that brings the residents together after such a long period of being individuals trying to suppress hurt and bad times.  Annie has just had her last day as P.A to a chief executive of a charitable trust and is at a bit of crossroads in her life. London has been her home for the past 29 years and she loves every aspect of her life there. Although short term contracts seem to be her thing, there is no deep longing for something permanent that would require a lot of commitment and I suppose the same could be said for her personal life. 'Mortgage, marriage, babies, lunch with the parents. It's fine if that's what you want but keeping on the move when it comes to jobs and relationships makes life far less complicated. Particularly like me if you have no family ties at all'.

Her friend Maura is married with a baby and seems forever chained to her flat caring for her son. Annie does not want this for herself at all, it's not something that appeals to her in the slightest. Clearly this is a woman who doesn't like to stay too long at any one thing. Long term commitments are just not her thing and maybe she is trying to suppress something? Is there something holding her back from making the big sacrifice? ' I sit in silence for ages as the penny drops that I'm heading for thirty and I'm not the most important person in the world to anyone'.  Annie likes her independence and doing her own thing on her own terms. She's great at ignoring things that upset her and is more than allergic to commitment. So when a letter from a solicitor arrives after much deliberation and shoving said letter to the bottom of her handbag she is forced to open it and this is what changes her life forever. Although at the time she feels what the letter contains is more on an inconvenience than anything.

Annie soon finds herself on the way to Salt Bay in Cornwall - an idyllic place in the Summer but it can test you to the max in Winter. Upon reading the letter Annie discovers she has a maternal Great Aunt MrsGowan living in Tregavara House. Annie never knew of this women's existence as a family incident in the past meant all connections were cut. Alice, Mrs.McGowan, needs help as she can't manage on her own. Not that Alice was totally feeble or came across as someone who was helpless. But Alice has things going on and they have forced her to reach out the hand of help. Alice was a well written character never giving too much away at any one time. Like Annie she has become accustomed to life on her own and accepting help and reaching out to someone she has never met would not be top of her priorities. I got the sense that Alice had a bit of a story and it would be some time before the reader discovered the extent of it. I loved the way Annie gave in and dropped everything to go. It's not what she wanted to do but somewhere deep in her conscience there was something niggling at her and I am glad she gave in to it.

Her arrival again had me laughing out loud when Poldarkesque teacher Josh was the one to first greet her in perhaps the most unfortunate manner. This set us up nicely for lots of snarly comments, barbs and sparring between the pair whilst the reader could feel the tension and perhaps deeper feelings oozing off the page. Salt Bay proves to be such a contrast to the life Annie lived in London. It's not easy to get a mobile signal, there are little or no shops and it can feel quite isolated if you have no car. Instead one has to embrace the surrounding coastal countryside and beaches and this is what gives Annie plenty of thinking time. Clearly she needed this and when she escapes from looking after the house and Alice we see Annie begin to soften and make friends and discover that Salt Bay has this secret charm yet underneath it is still reeling from a tragedy. Maybe a fresh new face could be the one to bring it back to life.

Lots of characters were introduced as Annie familiarises herself with the village. Most were given brief mentions and I felt this was perhaps setting us up for future stories that will focus on different people. One person who made an impact was Kayla an Australian on a 'long' gap year who works at the pub. She becomes very close to Annie and is trying to work Annie out .I enjoyed seeing the bond develop between the pair, Kayla really brought Annie out of her shell. She was blunt and to the point and provided lots of comedic moments. Her quest for that one true love was hilarious. Kayla is such a great support but also a very proactive person. When an idea comes into her head she is determined to achieve and won't rest until she does so. She means business but in the nicest way possible. So when Annie happens upon the idea of re-establishing the Slat Bay Choral Society Kayla is right there by her side. 'All we have to do is successfully resurrect a shattered choir and bring back some joy into this subdued little corner of Cornwall.' The scenes featuring the auditions were brilliant and like something from The X Factor or Britain’s' Got Talent. In fact all the modern references were spot on from Liz Eeles and I felt she really tapped into what is relevant for her readers today. This quote from Annie sums up what an affinity she has with music and its power to heal 'Music can ease homesickness, heartache, grief, the whole caboodle'.

As I have mentioned getting the choir going again and the reasons behind it were not the sole focus of the book. Yes it had opposition and I could see why but the storyline with Toby, a distant third cousin, was very well played out and it counteracted nice with Josh's storyline. The twists and turns towards the end were excellent and never felt in the slightest bit rushed. There was a fairly dramatic point that I could visualise very clearly in my head and it only ramped up the tension and excitement to discover the outcome. For Annie like the many jobs she has had coming to Salt Bay was only ever short term. As soon as Alice had more permanent help she was gone out of there back to the London life she loved so much. Yet Salt Bay and the people who live there have that ability to cast a spell and maybe Annie is slowly starting to fall for the magic.

Following Annie on her journey made for a simply brilliant read that left me wondering why haven't we heard from this author before or maybe she was saving herself for when she could write the best book possible. Well whatever the reason it was more than worth the wait as I loved loved this book. I readily lost myself in it and didn't look up until I had finished the last word. Annie's Lovely Choir by the Sea is a book to savour and enjoy, I certainly did.

Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of Annie's Lovely Choir by the Sea and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

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