Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Emma's Review: The Little Cottage on the Hill by Emma Davies

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

There’s blossom in the trees and daffodils as far as the eye can see. Maddie is looking forward to a fresh start in the countryside, but there’s just one little problem…

Following a scandal at her high-flying PR agency, twenty-six-year-old Maddie flees London to help promote what she thinks is going to be a luxurious holiday retreat in the countryside. Everything is riding on her making a success of this new job…

Yet when she arrives, Maddie is horrified to find a rundown old farm in a terrible state. The brooding and secretive owner, Seth, spent all his money on leasing the land when he fell in love with the beautiful, dishevelled farm cottages and the very romantic story behind them.

When Maddie discovers an old oil painting by the original owner’s wife, she unlocks the secret of the farm’s history and quickly realises she must start getting her hands dirty if this very special place is going to have any chance of survival. As she and Seth begin working together, the stunning view from the top of the hill is not the only thing that’s leaving her breathless…

After weeks of hard work the dream looks like it might become a reality, until a secret from Maddie’s past threatens to snatch it all away again. Can Maddie find a way to save the business and herself? Will she finally find a place to keep her heart within the crumbling walls of the little cottage on the hill?

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Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of The Little Cottage on the Hill to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

I've always really enjoyed the writing of Emma Davies ever since I read her novella Merry Mistletoe a few years ago and I wouldn't want to miss out on any book she publishes. Thankfully it hasn't been two long since her last book which came towards the end of last year and this new story The Little Cottage on the Hill. Again as with so many of the wonderful books published by Bookouture this book has the most glorious, colourful cover that suggests an equally as delightful a story awaits you between the covers. This proved to be true for the most part as I did enjoy the exploits of our main character Madeline (Maddie) Porter as she sets out upon a task to move forward with a fresh start and embrace new opportunities whenever and however they may be presented.

Maddie feels something new, innovative and different is what she so desperately needs and like a fish out of water in her upmarket, fancy clothes and designer heels she arrives at Joy's Acre Estate deep in the countryside. This setting is so very different from the city life she used to on a daily basis but needs must and the chance to become the new Development and Marketing Executive for Joy's Acre was too good to pass up. Maddie feels she has excellent business skills with plenty of fresh ideas and plans that can be brought to the table. Having been led to believe the estate was vast and just needed a little bit of whipping into shape to make it a destination that all and sundry would wish to visit, Maddie is bitterly disappointed upon her arrival. She finds things a bit ramshackle and far from the state she was led to believe. Just launching everything and helping with the marketing was her purpose but she can see immediately there is much much more to be done. Has she bitten off more than she can chew? Would she be better to turn tail and run? And what of her first encounter with Seth Thomas the owner of Joy's Acre? They really couldn't have gotten off to a worse start.

Initially I totally understood Maddie's stance with regard to the situation she found herself in. If you are led to believe one thing and then discover the opposite is true of course you are going to be angry and upset and left thinking why should I bother staying and helping out? Especially when she realises how isolated the Joy's Acre is and the fact it has no wi-fi. I wouldn't have blamed her for upping and leaving straight away. But as with many heroines looking for a new start it was evident Maddie was hiding something. An event which had occurred in the not too recent past and really she had no where else to turn to. I thought she was brave to stay on and give things a try especially considering the hostility and opposition radiating from Seth.

On the other hand once Maddie made the decision to stay my opinion of her slightly changed before changing again towards the end of the book. She seemed like a bull in a china shop, drawing up plans to get the place up and running, she didn't take other things into consideration and actually stop and speak to Seth about what he wanted. What was his vision for the place? Joy's Acre appeared to have so much potential and the lovely descriptions of the outbuildings and the gardens where Clara works as the gardener really enhanced the overall story. They helped me to build up a picture of everything and I could understand why Seth felt such a deep affinity to the area, apart from the very personal reasons which become clearer in the later half of the book. Seth wanted Maddie to stay on and help only because she wanted to not because she felt backed into a corner by Agatha who has a part investment in Joy's Acre. Agatha although she did not feature very heavily was a formidable character when she did make an appearance.

Seth has a clear vision as to what he wants to achieve, the farm needs to be restored to its former glory in the most sensitive and forgiving way. Whereas Maddie barged in with endless lists and detailed plans that were so extravagant and over the top and didn't keep in tune with the nature of the buildings and the feeling Seth wanted to evoke. Clearly they were on two very different agendas and I thought it would take some changing of mind on Maddie's part as she didn't seem willing to compromise or listen to anyone else's viewpoint. It was almost a slight hostility more so than reluctance on her part. She wouldn't listen at all, for Maddie this was a job to get through to earn some money. She had goals to achieve as painlessly as possible whereas for Seth it was all personal, he had a connection to the place.

Clearly as a stalemate had been reached some sort of breaking down of the divisions needed to occur, I didn't think it would be Seth and I totally understood why. To be honest I think I was more on his side rather than Maddie's for over half the book. Something needed to happen to make Maddie wake up and see the light, see the potential that was right before her. Don't bring the estate kicking and screaming into a future that is not in deference to its past. At times I felt her reactions to situations were very much her being stubborn and petulant. A chance discovery sets in chain a motion of events that sees a tide of change beginning, I loved this element of the story. We were given glimpses to the past and really I wanted an awful lot more of it. A few chapters set back in the past with the character mentioned would have been such a lovely addition. I know the author doesn't write historical fiction and essentially this is a feel good, romance story but still the little bits that were there were great and what I have mentioned would have enhanced the story even further. I felt it would have been nice to have Maddie do even more digging back into the past to help her understand the present. It all felt too brief before everything became clearer for Maddie and she came to a realisation and understood what she needed to do. After that things just seemed to fall into place overall just that little bit too easily. I would have liked a little bit more stress, even more tough times to occur for everyone involved before the ending was reached.

Seth wants Joy's Acre to be a place where people can escape from the real world, not to be always on their phones every minute of the day. Joy's Acre had so much potential and if Maddie could get in gear and work with Seth and Clara rather than against things would be a whole lot better for her. As an aside Seth did have a storyline which seemed to come out of the blue but it was deftly handled and very touching. After reading it things that had previously happened, words spoken and actions taken made an awful lot more sense.

Overall The Little Cottage on the Hill although not my favourite so far from Emma Davies was a lovely, pleasant read. It provided a few hours of escape from the my hectic world as I delved into Maddie and Seth's story. Some aspects of the storyline may have been predictable and others may have needed that little extra something but undoubtedly the reader is rooting for a positive, happy outcome for all involved. To see whether the characters were strong enough to resolve the issues facing them you will have to pick up this book to discover the answer.

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