Friday, 12 January 2018

Emma's Review: Coming Home to Island House by Erica James

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

It's the summer of 1939, and after touring an unsettled Europe to promote her latest book, Romily Temple returns home to Island House and the love of her life, the charismatic Jack Devereux.

But when Jack falls ill, his estranged family are called home and given seven days to find a way to bury their resentments and come together.

With war now declared, each member of the family is reluctantly forced to accept their new stepmother and confront their own shortcomings. But can the habits of a lifetime be changed in one week? And can Romily, a woman who thrives on adventure, cope with the life that has been so unexpectedly thrust upon her?

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Many thanks to Orion for my copy of Coming Home to Island House via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

What a real treat to have a new book published by Erica James with such a gorgeous cover. Her last book The Song of the Skylark was published back in 2016 so it has been a bit of a wait for Coming Home to Island House but I can assure that wait was very much worth it. I have always enjoyed Erica's books but this one has to be her best of all, I loved this book right from the opening chapter until the very last page. I feel it is a real mature book so vastly different from the author's earlier books as this is very much a character driven story in which I quickly became invested in each of the different characters even if all of them weren't to my liking. There was one in particular whom I think readers will dislike the entire way through the book no matter what said character goes through.

This book is an exploration of a family who at last must confront everything that each individual has been keeping secret for a long period. The family have become disconnected and aggrieved with the way things are. Now is the time for truths to come to the surface and for a family to attempt to reunite. Unfortunately the circumstances which have gathered the family together, some under duress admittedly, are tragic as the patriarch Jack Devereux has suddenly passed away. His will must be read and loose ends must be tied up. His adult children believe this will be very clear cut but that turns out not to be the case.

I especially loved the opening and closing pages of the book as they really connected back to each other considering all that had occurred in the intervening chapters. In August of 1939, author Romily Temple is returning home to Island House after a brief tour of Europe. She can't wait to return to the love of her life, her soul mate, the man who allows her to be the woman she wants to be – Jack Devereux. He doesn't feel threatened by her character or her success and she admires this in him. Their romance may have been a whirlwind but Romily knows Jack is the one for her and now after undertaking something dangerous while on book tour she knows she is coming home to her refuge, her sanctuary, her island - Island House.

It was evident from the opening pages that the couple had such a deep love for one another and that they are looking forward to their future together. Romily is a person filled with confidence and grace but the events occurring in Germany see the beginnings of the Nazi's vile regime extending their control and people around the world are on tender hooks awaiting what will happen. Up until now, Romily would not be classed as your typical woman of the time, content to stay at home and raise a family. She has had a wild side in the past and also enjoys her writing career but now one senses this is the time to settle down and enjoy her marriage. So when she arrives home and discovers what has unfolded, her heart is broken, all hopes and aspirations gone out the window. How will she continue on? How can she deal with adult stepchildren who may detest her on sight? Adult children who have deep resentments towards their father? Will the spirit of adventure and independence be forever quashed in Romily through unbearable grief?

When the children return to a house they have not been to for a very long time, it is not a peaceful, pleasant reunion given the circumstances especially as so much anger, pain and exasperation bubble away beneath the surface waiting to come to the boil. Kit, Arthur, Hope and Allegra are each battling with their own worries and tribulations. They are not happy to discover they must stay together at the house for seven days in order to have any chance of claiming their inheritance. Such stipulations may seem dramatic to some but given the unrest that abounds within the family this will be no easy task. I felt deeply sorry for Romily. She had found happiness at last only to have it cruelly ripped away from her. How could she grieve in peace giving warring children were present who really should have known better? Why would Jack leave such a task to be undertaken with Romily at the centre when she barely knew what had gone on? He must have had faith in her abilities and time and time again she proved she was a strong woman but also someone who was very wise and who would always step into the breach no matter how challenging it was for her.

Hope, Allegra, Kit and Arthur are not without their flaws. Their lives are complicated and as unity and accord does not abound within the family, having to stay at Island House is not the most ideal situation. Arthur was a character who I abhorred throughout the book. The author wrote his character so well, he was meant to come across as the baddie in the situation and that's how I felt about him. Even though towards the end the reasons and the thought process behind the way he acted became clear and were very well justified, I still didn't like him at all. The way he spoke to people his own wife included was disgraceful. He showed no compassion for anybody or what each individual was personally dealing with. He was eaten up with hatred,anger,mistrust, uncertainty and suspicion. He was always out to upset and alienate people and he succeeded. A particular incident had me wanting to choke him and I couldn't understand why his siblings allowed him to carry on the way he did. Why did no one stand up to him? Were they just too afraid of him and fearful of the repercussions if they did so? Was he capable of feeling any love at all?

Poor Hope came across as very vulnerable given the recent events connected with her husband but she too similarly to Romily had qualities to be admired. She was estranged from her father for reasons which some people still find very much in place with certain relationships in this day and age. What was required of her by others was a very demanding thing to ask and I felt she was brave to take it on. But in doing so when she had to return to Island House maybe what she was bringing with her would force conversation to take place and people would have to change their viewpoints. To open up and partake, to share and to talk.

Kit seemed very much like a lost soul and similarly he was estranged from his father. He was always made to feel inadequate and inferior as in Arthur took prominence and his ways and abrupt manner overshadowed all. Kit couldn't have been more different from Arthur. Kit I believed would have wanted to reunite with his father given half the chance. Although Kit to me was slightly adrift in his own world of problem, he was very upbeat and positive when things got tough and I admired the way he supported his sisters. If only he could do the same when it came to Arthur. With world events encroaching further upon Island House I wondered would Jack have to enlist and if so, what fortune awaited him? The later part of his storyline was very emotional and heart wrenching for all involved. I hadn't expected this outcome as it looked as if things were clear cut. So it was nice to be very much surprised.  As the story moved passed the seven day period as outlined by Jack, I felt it allowed for further exploration of each of the individual characters. If the book had solely focused on the week in question it would have become stilted and not allowed much room for manoeuvring within the various sub plots. Instead this period became what evoked the catalyst of change.

Allegra was perhaps the one who felt the most isolated from Jack and her siblings. I say siblings because in fact they are cousins as Jack adopted Allegra when she was very young. Maybe the calling back to Island House came at the time when Allegra needed it most, although she wouldn't have admitted that to herself. She is in a situation she would never have thought possible for her. Her hopes and dreams of making it as an opera singer have been crushed due to her placing too many eggs in one basket, too much trust in one person has let her down enormously. She returns to Island House looking for a safe haven and a refuge. Can Romily offer her this? Or will things be too insurmountable?

After we had gotten to know all the characters the story moved along at a nice assured pace. It was realistic to see that everything wasn't a bed of roses because I don't think life is like that for anyone. Romily and the house became a focal point but I never felt she was pushing herself on people who wouldn't readily accept help or advice. Romily grew too and knew when was the time to step in and when things were best left alone. For a woman who loved adventure she certainly stepped up to the mark and showed all the various sides to her character. I didn't know how anything was going to pan out with this story and that's the way a book should be, keeping you in suspense until the very last moment. There were several times over I felt completely broken that such a thing happened but I am glad too the other side of the coin as in happiness was shown too.

Coming Home to Island House was a deeply satisfying read with beautiful, heart wrenching, thought provoking storylines woven through from beginning to end. Erica James at her best and I can't wait to see what she brings to us in the future.

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