Friday, 29 December 2017

Emma's Review: Winter at West Sands Guest House by Maggie Conway

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Can Eva find love this Christmas?

Eva Harris has her hands full juggling a young son, a disobedient dog and running her thriving seaside guesthouse, so really the last thing she needs is to be distracted by her new neighbour, ridiculously handsome but arrogant Ben Matthews.

For one thing, she’s got nothing in common with the man, Ben’s a high flying lecturer at the town’s university while she barely scraped through high school, for another he’s fresh out of a relationship while Eva hasn’t been on one single date since the death of her husband, seven years ago!

She’s determined to keep her distance, but in a small town like St Andrews that’s easier said than done, and it doesn’t help that everyone, including her son Jamie, think Ben is wonderful! Breaking out of her sad but safe little bubble might be the hardest thing she’s ever had to do, but Ben might just be worth the risk…

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Many thanks to HQ Digital for my copy of Winter At West Sands Guest House to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Winter at West Sands Guest House is the d├ębut novel from Maggie Conway. It has the most beautiful, winter themed cover which makes you wish you could stay in the guest house surrounded by drifts of snow curled up by the fire with a hot chocolate or something that little bit stronger. Set in the Scottish university town of St. Andrews, this story follows the owner of the West Sands guest house single mum, Eva Harris as she adjusts to having a new neighbour next door and all that ensues with the new arrival. Fans of Jules Wake, Phillipa Ashley and Heidi Swain, all of which I am a fan of, will love this simple story of one woman finding happiness when she least expected or desired to. For me this book was a very light, quick read which may have lacked a little substance but none the less it was a pleasant read and showed plenty of potential from the author.

Eva has been single handedly raising her son Jamie ever since the loss of her husband through a tragic accident several years ago. She can be quite neurotic when it comes to the care and welfare of her son going slightly over board with wanting to know his whereabouts and stopping him from doing anything too reckless. I thought initially in this respect Eva was a bit over the top but as her reasons for being this way are revealed, it all made much more sense and I could see why she felt the need to act this way. It's now been seven years since she took over the running of the guest house and she has it exactly the way she wants it catering for holiday makers in the summer, parents of students during graduation season, and then remaining closed during the winter months. Eva is proud that she has rebuilt her life and of all that she has achieved since the death of her husband but one senses she still longs for a bit more for her life. One should always have hopes, dreams and ambitions to strive for.

When we first met Eva she is devastated that long term neighbours and close friends the MacKenzies have sold their house and gone travelling around the world. This older couple had been like surrogate parents to her and viewed Jamie as like a grandchild. Their door was always open and the same could be said for Eva's. Their absence leaves a deep hole in Eva's life. To be honest when I was reading of Eva's upset at having new neighbours arrive I thought she was being ridiculous. Neighbours come and go, it's a regular occurrence and yes we can be fortunate to have neighbours that become good friends but then there are other occasions where we fervently wish said neighbours would sell up quickly. It came across as if Eva couldn't go on without the MacKenzies in her life and I wanted to give her a shake and say for god's sake you are a grown woman and you are getting all maudlin over nothing. She says she doesn't like change but she has seen plenty of this in her life and in reality who doesn't like change but we just have to get on with things and adapt as best we can. I suppose in a way despite the success of the guest house, and the good job Eva is doing raising Jamie on her own, she feels isolated and cut off from her family as her mother Helen views Eva's occupation with disdain and her sister Sarah is too caught up in her job as a lawyer. Maybe the MacKenzies were the people she turned to when she needed help and support.

Eva's apprehension is compounded when she meets new neighbour Ben,who appears not to be the most friendliest of people as he is rude to her on their first encounter but later we discover Ben did think Eva was beautiful. Ben has moved to St. Andrews from London in a bid to escape the cut throat world of a city job that he hates with a passion. It's no fun being in a job you detest yet you have stuck it out so long because the money is good. Finally he has bitten the bullet and has gotten a new job teaching at the university. Unfortunately girlfriend Samantha had other plans and he is now flying solo.

Ben despite his abrupt first encounter with Eva came across as a likeable character, someone who was finally working towards their long held ambition. I could understand his stance that he wanted to maintain a polite front but at the same a strategy of distance was employed. He didn't want to get too deeply involved with anyone considering his recent past with regard to relationships but I wondered would Eva get under Ben's skin and vice versa?  Ben remains very focused on his work and neglects the house and this is where Eva comes in. It was almost like an opening for a tentative friendship to ensue. As Eva loves decorating she volunteers to do up some of the rooms in Ben's house. I did think this was a bit strange at first considering their hostile first encounter but I suppose it showed the kind, caring and practical side of Eva coming through.

After the initial flurry of meeting and setting up the story I felt nothing much really happened. I seemed to fly through the pages and reached the last few chapters very quickly without feeling this had been a real exciting, riveting, unpredictable read. I felt we only scratched the surface when it came to really getting to know Ben and Eva. I felt Eva wasn't the most memorable of characters, she seemed to mope and complain a lot .I understand anxiety was forever on her shoulders and with good reason but I just couldn’t really fully warm to her. I wasn't entirely gripped by the story the whole way through and I felt the storyline with her sister Sarah was all too brief and needed much more development, it was almost like a sideline and it needed more prominence. Nothing much happened for some periods and even though I flew through the chapters to reach the final few there wasn't much for me to take on board. There was the little bit of obligatory drama towards the end but it felt stilted and rushed and I think the inclusion of some more characters would have helped shaped the story more and given an outlet for Eva to discuss things with others. The ending was slightly predictable and one readers could see coming a mile off.

Overall Winter at West Sands Guest House was an OK read. It didn't blow me away, I felt slightly disappointed that maybe I had built this book up too much in my head. It was a nice enough story but I felt I had read it all before and it needed something that little bit different to make it stand out from all the rest. Saying that as I have previously mentioned the author has plenty of potential and I would consider trying some more of her work in the future.

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