Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Maddy fled the idyllic market town of Havenbury Magna three years ago, the scene of a traumatic incident she revisits most clearly in her dreams. Even so, when she is called back to help at the Havenbury Arms when her godfather Patrick suffers a heart attack, she is unprepared for the welter of emotions her return provokes. Psychologist and ex-army officer Ben is sure he can help Maddy to resolve her fears, until he finds himself falling for her, and struggling with a recently uncovered family secret of which Maddy is blissfully unaware. Then Maddy's mother, Helen, arrives and Patrick himself must confront a few uncomfortable truths about his history and the pub's future.
Many thanks to Emma Finnegan PR for my copy of The Homecoming to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
The Homecoming by Rosie Howard launches the Havenbury series and is perfect for fans of Katie Fforde, Veronica Henry or Jill Mansell. On first glance, the blurb sounded like I had read this type of story endless times before in particular a lot of the books I have already read this year. I feared it would be all too run of the mill and ultimately predictable. But it quickly became apparent that this wasn't the usual story of a girl returning home reluctantly to undertake a task, then she is persuaded to stay and everything turns out rosy in the park. No this book had so much depth to it, with very well developed characters and storylines I never expected to find between the cover of this book. There was no messing around with so much detail focused on the romance element of the story. Yes, It was apparent and the outcome I would have guessed but instead the author focuses much of the attention on the reasons why our main character Maddy feels the way she does and how she interprets and reacts to certain situations.
There was a dark, distressing side to her story which in turn impacted how she was dealing with returning to Havenbury Magna - I did feel the name of the town was a bit of a mouthful and leaving it at just Havenbury would have been more suitable - and it was dealt with sensitivity and tact and clearly the author had thought deeply as to how she wanted Maddy and her situation to come across. This book wasn't all light and fluffy and I was glad as it allowed the reader to really think about the story instead of mindlessly reading through to the end expecting the usual outcome. Don't get me wrong sometimes we need a book like that but for a change it's nice to see a different approach to a story line that has been written about before.
When we first encounter Maddy she is arriving back in Havenbury Magna after an absence of several years. She is answering a call for help from her close friend, who is almost like a relative and an old friend of her mother. This being Patrick who runs the Havenbury Arms, he has had a heart attack and needs someone to take over the running of the pub while he recovers. This is not an ideal situation for Maddy, she would give anything not to return to the place which holds so many sad, bitter and emotional memories. She has been running away but now the track is curving back in the direction towards the place she has put to the back of her mind. A new path is there for her to tread ever so hesitantly on and whether she embraces it or keeps running forms the crux of the story.
Maddy is tense, nervous and anxious about coming back, in fact a full blown panic attack ensues. This instantly had me wondering – what one earth could have been so bad that it brings on such stress on someone? Maddy was in such a state but at the same time she had to be admired, she was trying to put her own issues and feelings aside and be there for Patrick when he needed her. After all, he had given her the support when she was studying at the nearby university. Old memories stir for Maddy the moment she steps back into the pub. It's just whether she can keep her feelings at bay and get on with the job at hand or will everything get too much for her? Her dramatic departure is still talked about many years later so is it now time to put her demons to rest once and for all.
Maddy was headstrong and determined that she had a goal in mind and she was going to achieve it. It quickly became apparent to her that Patrick had been struggling with the pub in recent months and the threat from Top Taverns of not renewing his lease and selling the pub was ever present. She knew Patrick held the pub very dear to his heart and she didn't want to see his livelihood slip away from his grasp. Maddy was innovative in her new ideas for the pub to get more cash rolling in and I enjoyed how she looked deeper beyond the surface and tried to discover what the actual underlying problems were. Things couldn't have been as bad as they seemed. Kevin who also works in the pub was a horrible character, lurking away in the background doing his job but at the same time you just knew he was cunning and sly that he must have had ulterior motives. The panic and fear he inspires in Maddy felt genuine.
A knight in shining arm in the form of local lecturer Ben Faraday came to Maddy's aid time and time again. Yes it's a cliché to say he was a knight but that's the way he came across but never in a stuffy or pretentious way. He had such depth to his character just like Maddy and his character was so well written. What you see is not what you get, you really have to scratch beneath the surface and dig that little deeper. At first I thought has he some ulterior motive that he always seemed to be at Maddy's beck and call or he popped up just when she needed help the most? But no he was honest, genuine, caring and supportive and a brilliant character who wasn't just there as a love interest as so many men are in women's fiction books. He was hiding his own secrets too but I always felt his overall intentions were to be helpful as he didn't like seeing Maddy in distress.
I loved how quickly I was able to settle into the storyline, we weren't bombarded with mountains of back story. There weren't endless characters introduced within the first two or three chapters and then the reader is left confused and attempting to establish who is who. There was no alluding to things, no messing about leaving the reader second guessing everything. Enough was revealed to keep the reader interested and keen to keep going. I enjoyed how the characters were straight up for the most part and there was no dancing around each other afraid to say what they were feeling. This can be really frustrating in books and you end up wanting to bash characters heads together. Ben could see Maddy was always ever vigilant, that she had an emotional detachment when it came to certain things. She intrigued him and he wanted to uncover her story, her reasons for running away so abruptly that she didn't even finish her degree. His own background and profession came in very handy with regard to this and I was so glad the author chose this route for Ben. It's often talked about in the news but I have never read a book where it features a such a major storyline. It helped add even more depth to what was already an excellent plot. It could have descended into farce but Ben had such tact. He knew when to push and prod but also when the time was right to back away for a while and let what had been discussed bubble away in Maddy's mind until she was ready to deal with it and discuss it out in the open.
It may seem that The Homecoming was a little bit more on the serious side and a bit dark and gloomy but it wasn't at all. The author balanced this aspect of Maddy's life very nicely with some nice things happening. This being the attempted establishment of a Bespoke Consortium – selling artisan goods produced on Serena and Giles' estate and farm buildings. Yes I had read a very similar storyline in a book just last year but I didn't mind as it brought a lovely sense of people working together with one common aim for the benefit and enjoyment of others. It opened up a lighter side to Maddy's character where she wasn't on constant edge and she could use her business background to get something up off the ground and running. Serena as a character seemed very well put together and always knew what she was about and I thought the life lesson she embraced towards the end of the book was very well done. Flora, Maddy's friend and another person who helps with trying to get the consortium going, was a bit too flighty and hipsterish for my liking. She was too over the top and I wanted her to reign it in a bit and give Maddy a bit more support but on reflection I suppose it was Ben who was there to fulfil that role given he had the ways and means of doing so.
All the various storylines were well thought out and given ample attention within the book. I never felt one dominated the other or as sometimes is the case in books that a plot is mentioned and then forgotten about only to be revived suddenly within the last few chapters. Everything was so well rounder her and I found 100 pages or more easily slipping by. This was a book you would read in one or two sittings if you had the luxury of time. The characters are complex and flawed but never dull. The right balance of humour and positivity was matched to dealing with raw emotions, vulnerability and facing what haunts us the most. A battle ensues for Maddy on many fronts and it was engaging and interesting to have my feelings towards certain characters change regularly throughout the book as the story progressed. The Homecoming really was a step above books I have read with similar storylines in this genre. It was a great introduction to the series and I will certainly be back to read future books. There were a few minor characters mentioned here so I am intrigued to see who will we follow and learn more about in the future.