Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Emma's Review: The Forever House by Veronica Henry

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Would you know your forever house if you found it?

Hunter's Moon is the ultimate 'forever' house. Nestled by a river in the Peasebrook valley, it has been the Willoughbys' home for over fifty years, and now estate agent Belinda Baxter is determined to find the perfect family to live there. But the sale of the house unlocks decades of family secrets - and brings Belinda face to face with her own troubled past.

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I was quite late to the gorgeous writing of Veronica Henry having finally picked up a book by this author last year when I read and adored How to Find Love in a Bookshop. In fact it was one of my books of 2016. This was such a brilliant, special book that I wondered how could she possibly follow it up whilst still retaining the same magic and feel? Well this new book The Forever House with it's beautiful, attractive cover certainly does a great job of recreating the feelings and emotions I experienced in Veronica's previous offering. Although I felt this was slightly different, but in a good way, I became really relaxed whilst reading this lovely story. There just seemed to be such a lovely flow to it. It was gloriously descriptive and didn't have that boy meets girl, a few tiffs ensue before sense is seen element. Instead the author really allowed her readers to get to know the characters and understand their deep affinity for the house Hunter's Moon.

Hunter's Moon was the focal point in the story, almost a character in itself around which the people who live there have spent much of their lives. It's a focal point, a place to come together, a place to fall in love and a place to heal. The house is special and it may sound silly to claim a building is special but in this case through such generous descriptions and emotive writing the reader can not fail to fall in love with this house. Its charm, its back story, its residents and the new chapter the house is about to embark on all made for a captivating, emotional read enhanced by the exceptional writing of Veronica Henry.

The Forever House is once again set in the village of Peasebrook, home to Nightingale books as featured in How to Find Love in a Bookshop. I was glad to see this get a mention again but even more happy to return to this special village so wonderfully brought to life by the author. It makes me think there is more than enough scope to set several books in this village and I hope this is where the author will venture with her next few books. Estate agent Belinda is on her way to value one of the most beautiful and sought after properties in the village – Hunter's Moon. Belinda thrives on her job and is not just one of those people out to make a quick pound or two and then move on to the next deal in the chain. No Belinda has such a deep connection to her job and only takes on the houses and their owners that she has the utmost respect for. She always goes above and beyond the call of duty and is there very step of the way to ensure not only do the owners get what they need from the sale but the best buyers will get the house and treat it right. 'Selling houses was like selling dreams. She loved everything about it - the personalities, the drama, the challenge'.

I loved Belinda throughout the story. I enjoyed how she wasn't the main female character instead Sally the owner of Hunter's Moon took on this role too as we go back in time to hear her story and how she first came to live in such a rare and unique property. The two female characters balanced nicely off each other and there was no competition to dominant the pages. Instead the story flowed so naturally. Belinda is known for her detail and keen eye when it comes to selling houses. She always wants to take the stress of selling houses away from her clients and make the process as smooth as possible. Belinda was slick and professional but also had such concern, warmth, gentleness and empathy for her clients. I began to get a feeling Belinda threw so much into her job apart from the fact she loved it but also because she had been hurt by something in the past and this was her means of keeping going by pushing the event to the back of her mind. As we uncover what had happened to her I felt nothing but the utmost respect for her. 'She had worked so hard not to let what had happened break her, but instead to rebuild and to prove her worth, to herself and to everyone else'. Here was a woman who had been down and out, her dreams shattered but boy she now had a new focus and was going to achieve her goal no matter what literally through sheer hard work and perseverance. Belinda was a person to be admired for her strength and positivity and the way she treated her clients with the utmost respect and in Sally's case such deep affection.

Sally along with her husband Alexander (Beetle) is the owner of Hunter's Moon. Beetle's family have lived in the house for many many years. Neither of the couple want to leave the home that is so very close to their hearts but downsizing is a necessity after some bad news which will only increasingly worsen. Their reasons for moving are being kept from son Leo and even though father and son share such an incredible bond, Beetle feels the time is not right and it's just too difficult to impart life altering news. Sally and Beetle had the most incredible relationship and it was great we were given such a deep insight into how they established that great connection and became the people they were today. We flash back and forth between the house being sold in the present and to when Sally first meet Beetle and how she came to live at the house. I loved the chapters set in the past as Beetle's family were introduced and it only reaffirmed for me what a special place Hunter's Moon was.

It was enjoyable to read of Sally as a young girl as an unfortunate event in 1960's London led to her meeting Beetle. He took her back to his family home and throughout the remainder of the story the reader becomes familiar with his family and how Sally became the rock that held their disfunction together. Beetle's mother Margot, who was an author, locked herself away to write her novels. This meant the house was in chaos as the rest of the family, father Dai and sisters Annie and Phoebe, moved around in their own little worlds. I wouldn't go as far to say the family were hippies as such, but they were a  family who lived in their own little worlds and had their own individual things going on yet when needed to most they came together. It was Sally who began to glue the fragmented pieces back together. I did initially think she became very involved far too soon but it seems the house and its residents had that ability to hold you within their thrall and once captured it was hard to let go. A little bit like how this book made me feel once I began reading. Sally does her best to recreate the feelings she had growing up in her own house but it begs the question can you recreate magical times with a family who at that point in time are just too separate.

Leo, Sally's son, only really came to the fore in the later stages of the book and I would have liked to get to know even that little bit more but apart from that minor issue I loved everything about this book. It was a joy to read and the story just flowed over me. Nothing felt rushed or thrown in for the sake of it and it proved to be a delightful read with a real focus on family, friendship, love and deep bonds and not forgetting memories and how special they are. Plenty of surprises surrounding the various characters were thrown in but they never felt too smack bang here we have a revelation to put a twist in the story. Inside it all felt so very natural and allowed us to get to know and understand the characters even better. All the characters and settings were brilliant drawn and combined to make a beautifully crafted novel infused with such warmth and understanding.

Veronica Henry has written a wonderful novel that should take pride of place on your keeper shelf. I'd love in the future to have more return visits to Peasebrook – a Christmas book maybe or even a novella with some new characters and the return of old friends. Meanwhile I would highly recommend The Forever House - a perfect read for the summer months ahead.

Many thanks to Orion publishing for my copy of The Forever House to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

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