Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Welcome to the Little Rock marina – where hearts are healed and dreams are made…
For the last two years Nell Andrews has been struggling to stay afloat. As her life tumbled down around her, the only safety net has been her cosy canal boat, The Nollie. Tucked away inside, Nell has found a place to heal her broken heart. And now she’s ready to move on and follow her dream…
Gorgeous Guy Cornish, with his easy Irish charm, makes him an instant hit with everyone at the marina, and the perfect person to help Nell with her project. But Guy has his own reasons for being at the marina, and a past that threatens to sink Nell’s dream…
Having already published Evie's Year of Taking Chances back in March of this year I wasn't expecting another book from Christie Barlow quite so soon so I was delighted to see that The Cosy Canal Boat Dream was to be published this month. Despite the few snowflakes on the cover don't be fooled into thinking that this is a Christmas book and therefore can only be read around that time, it can be read any time of year as although part of the book does take place in winter it's not a major focus.
The Cosy Canal Boat Dream was another gorgeous read from Christie that I settled into very easily and within a few chapter I found the setting of Little Rock Marina had really gotten under my skin. Admittedly the book had quite a sad opening as our main female character Nell Andrews is coming to terms with the loss of her husband, the man whom she had so many plans with, the love of her life Ollie. As we met Nell she is scattering his ashes in a place that meant to much to them. I instantly felt Nell's heartbreak, desperation and anger that life had changed so abruptly and irrevocably. She believed they were the perfect pair and they would always be together enjoying life on their narrow-boat the Nollie but a motorbike accident put paid to all that and she has to come to terms with a life she never expected to have to cope with.
We then move forward two years and it's time for Nell to start living again. No one expects or wants her to go crazy and radially change her life, nor to forget Ollie but now may be the time when she can move on bit by bit with her life and see what the future has in store for her. I enjoyed how the first few pages gave us a brief intro into Nell's life and what head-space she was in. I think if the story had continued on from that point it would have been very different and maybe just too soon for what happens to Nell and in my mind it would have been unrealistic for so much change to happen so rapidly. So it was lovely to see time had elapsed before the story began proper and we got to know the various characters. Throughout it I felt Nell never got over her grief as such as I don't think people ever really do rather they learn to live with it and move on the best way possible.
The setting of Little Rock Marina was just perfect for the book. It was like a cocoon for Nell to heal and move forward and realise what she wants to do with her life. It wasn't too big nor too small and it allowed for a cosy community feel to emanate through the pages. That's what I loved that everyone was there for each other, they looked out for one another and always wanted to help in any way they could , through the good times and the bad.
Nell is moving into a different phase of her life, she works in The Melting Pot deli run by her best friend Bea. The only thing that niggled me was that I view a deli as being a place where I would go and get cold meats etc for lunch or something but here cakes, coffee, lunch etc were served. So I think it would have been better to call it a café because I was slightly confused for a while. I know there have been heaps of books with café in the title recently and maybe the author wanted to avoid this but seeing as it wasn't mentioned in the title rather more so in the book calling it a café would have been more apt. I know this is a very minor point to raise but as the Melting Point was a vital part of the characters lives I wanted to be clear in my head as to what it was and its function in the community. It seemed to me to be a focal point for the characters where problems could be shared and discussed.
There was not one character I didn't like in this story and that's unusual for me as normally I find someone I cant stand and who is viewed as evil or the one to hate. OK the character of Kate was meant to fulfil this role but she featured so briefly I paid her scant heed to her. Nell and Bea just had the most wonderful friendship that was written so well. They were a partnership, a unit and could fall back on each other when one or the other felt weak, vulnerable or just needed that comforting word that gave then the strength to keep going.
Bea is married to Nathan with a five year old son Jacob and Nell is Jacob's godmother. Jacob stole every scene he was in with his humour and fondness for saying things things as he saw them. I did think the entire focus of the book would be on Nell and her road back to happiness so it was great to see that other characters got their moment to step into the spotlight. Bea has her own troubles to deal with, as well as competing in the best deli competition there were was a more personal side to her story aspects which brought happiness and others maybe not so much. I did think her biggest storyline kind of came out of nowhere all of a sudden and seemed random and not to have fitted in with the flow of the story up to that point but then the more it progressed towards the end it gelled well with everything. Bea and Nathan had the most wonderful marriage and I loved how Nathan was always there for Bea when she needed him, yet he always allowed her to be herself and go for what she wanted in life.
Nell's story could have been so run of the mill and could have felt like I had read it all before as in woman loses husband and then we follow their journey but Christie Barlow writes in such a way that this all felt so fresh and new and exciting and just the most warmest of stories that made you feel all good inside. Nell was becoming more independent and coming out slowly from the cloud that had engulfed her when Ollie died. It was clear she needed a project and when the old picture house came up for sale it stirred up so many fond memories for her memories of a project that herself and Ollie had hoped to work on, that she jumps at the chance to try and buy it. Personally I thought she was being a bit rash taking on such a big project and I questioned whether she would even win the auction in the first place. But one thing Nell has in spades is guts and determination and she wasn't going to be beaten.
Again the acquisition of the picture house wasn't the major focus of the book rather it slotted in amongst lots of little mini plot-lines which all came together wonderfully towards the end. Of course some romance has to feature in a book of this nature and in this case comes in the form of Guy Cornish who is Irish and at the marina to help out his brother who is recovering from an operation. Oh how I loved Guy. He was so full of charm and warmth but not so in your face and seedy like some other male protagonists can be. He knew when to step back and takes things easy. He never pushed Nell into something she wasn't ready for but I loved the chemistry bubbling away between the pair and it was only a question of when rather than if they were to take things further and how would things further develop. Guy gave great advice to Nell and but behind it all there was sense he was hiding something and if it came to light it could unsettle everything in a big way.
A new arrival at the marina stirs up plenty of questions and Nell's mother Gilly starts acting strangely too all of which adds even more drama to the story. I felt all smug that I knew exactly what had been going on but I was proven very wrong and never would have guessed the outcome. It's nice to be surprised and then discover how the revelations slot in with the overall storyline.
Little Rock Marina was a special place to read of with characters equally as special. You come to view them as friends and are rooting for each of them hoping they will find the happiness they deserve and the answers to questions and problems that are found throughout the story. I relished every moment spent with Nell and co and do hope there may be a return visit in the future. Different characters could be introduced or even just a novella to see how the characters I have come to love are getting on now. Without doubt the story that awaits you between the pages of this book which has such a gorgeous cover was a pleasure to read and was packed full of charm, cheer, comfort and lots of life lessons.
The Cosy Canal Boat Dream was a joy to read from start to finish and reaffirmed just how much I have come to love Christie Barlow's books. She has that unique ability to create that nice, warm, easy feeling we all love to experience when reading a rom-com. Yet at the same time she writes about serious, life altering issues but in the most realistic of ways that blend in well with what her readers have come to expect. I can't wait for what Christie has in store for us next.
Many thanks to Harper Impulse for my copy of The Cosy Canal Boat Dream to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.