Friday, 30 March 2018

Emma's Review: Hetty's Farmhouse Bakery by Cathy Bramley

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Thirty-two-year-old Hetty Greengrass is the star around which the rest of her family orbits. Marriage, motherhood and helping Dan run Sunnybank Farm have certainly kept her hands full for the last twelve years. But when her daughter Poppy has to choose her inspiration for a school project and picks her aunt, not her mum, Hetty is left full of self-doubt. 

Hetty’s always been generous with her time and until now, her biggest talent – baking deliciously moreish shortcrust pastry pies – has been limited to charity work and the village fete. But taking part in a competition run by Cumbria’s Finest to find the very best produce from the region might be just the thing to make her daughter proud . . . and reclaim something for herself.

Except that life isn’t as simple as producing the perfect pie. Changing the status quo isn’t easy – and with cracks appearing in her marriage and shocking secrets coming to light, Hetty must decide where her priorities really lie...

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Many thanks to Random House UK for my copy of Hetty's Farmhouse Bakery to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Apart from the always brilliant writing I am guaranteed from Cathy Bramley, I am also guaranteed just as beautiful book covers. The cover for this new book Hetty's Farmhouse Bakery proves no exception, it inspires such a picture of the setting and contents that await you and it didn't disappoint in the slightest. Sunnybank Farm, in the Eskdale Valley of Cumbria, is home to Hetty Greengrass, her farmer husband Dan and their thirteen year old daughter Poppy. Hetty loves where she lives, she feels like she belongs somewhere special and although life on a sheep farm provides plenty of challenges and worries  for the most part she feels happy and content with her life. It is all she has known for such a long time.

Dan's sister, Naomi, lives nearby with her husband Tim, her twins Oscar and Otis are away at university. Naomi is a real entrepreneur who runs the Sunnybank Farm shop. She is always on the lookout for new products to sell and to make the shop as viable and successful as possible. At various points in the story Naomi proves to be an invaluable character, who may at first appear to be meddling but is in fact really giving Hetty the push she needs to live life outside the confines of routine that she has established for herself. She knows Hetty is happy but can see given a little encouragement she could achieve so much more. The question is can a balance be achieved or will one thing or another have to give?

Hetty, is an all around good person, kind hearted, caring and supportive. She is out there in all weathers tending to the sheep with Dan or in the kitchen making one of her sumptuous pies for local charities or anyone who is in need of some tlc. She does everything for everybody especially Poppy. But what about Hetty herself? Has she more time to indulge her passion of the pies or does she put everyone else's needs and demands at the forefront of her time and mind? I did think she was slightly neglectful of her own personal self, that she was all things to all people but if she kept going she would wear herself to the ground. Operation Be True to Me couldn't come fast enough for Hetty and the journey she undertakes when she discovers one of her pies has been entered into the Cumbria's Finest Competition will be one she will not forget in a hurry. It will bring secrets to the fore but also share the incredible talent that Hetty has. Her belief in herself is not what it should be, she has so much ability and love and kindness to share and hopefully this new adventure will see those qualities coming to the fore.

The entire book was beautifully descriptive, the details of the countryside in which the farm was situated became so vivid in my mind thanks to Cathy painting such a glorious description. Even talking about how the pies were made and what sets them apart from pies you may come across in a normal supermarket perhaps,were just mouthwatering. Hetty went the extra mile and combined flavours others wouldn't dare to try. That's what made people sit up and take notice and if Naomi hadn't seen the potential in what Hetty was doing than Hetty would have wandered along in her life, happy as she said but would she be ever really doing anything for herself? Even the details of life on the farm and how the sheep had to be cared for and how they were breed was really interesting. It was like reading about things you would see on an episode of Countryfile. Thankfully it wasn't technical and stilted instead it was incredibly informative and readable and in a way at times helped me understand why Dan was so dedicated to his job but I don't think it excused the fact he wouldn't relinquish and let Hetty start up a business from her kitchen. Everyone else was rooting for her so why couldn't he?

I did think Dan was being selfish in not jumping on board with Hetty's exciting plans. This new venture was giving Hetty a new lease of life not that she doesn't value everything in her current life situation but she needs a change and something fresh and innovative that she can sink her teeth into. He was very against everything and stubborn and obstinate in his opposition without ever giving a real clear reason. Surely one night away from the farm to attend the awards ceremony wouldn't prove detrimental to the running of the farm in the long term? I know running a farm is a full time commitment and involves a life of dedication and hard work which Hetty has given ever since she gave up her place at university to be with Dan. But was now not the time for Dan to allow her some freedom, to pursue a passion which in the long term might bring in some badly needed extra money for the farm.

Dan had given up his dreams of veterinary school to take over the farm when his father passed away and Hetty made her own sacrifices too but they are further down the line now and surely the time is suitable for further expansion and fulfilling of some dreams no matter how big or small. After many years working as a team, both in their marriage and with regards to the farm, surely a compromise could have been reached. After all marriage and life involves a bit of give and take. I didn't dislike Dan as a character, I felt he had taken over the farm in less than ideal circumstances but he had made the best of the situation but I just thought he could have been more supportive of Hetty. I think if he had a fear of losing Hetty, then that fear wasn't going to be justified because she loved him deeply, but maybe there were testing times ahead for all involved.

Hetty really needed to be pushed outside of her comfort zone and best friend Anna alongside Naomi could see this too. I enjoyed seeing how Hetty grew as a person and began to stand up for herself. I hoped she wouldn't be made to feel guilty for living outside the box a little and using her talents to gain some confidence. Baking the pies leads her into contact with certain people who did have a bearing on how she reached the position she was in today and it was brilliant to read about as it inspired lots of questions in the reader. The impatient side of me wanted answers immediately but I loved how Cathy fleshed the entire story out and left it until the very last minute weaving all strands of the story together and very successfully might I add.

One thing is for certain you get an awful lot more to this story than you would bargain for upon first sight f the cover. I have read endless cafe, farm, etc books this year that all deal with the same thing but Cathy Bramley has added a new exciting, fresh slant to this storyline and I relished my time spent with the wonderful Hetty. I loved Hetty's Farmhouse Bakery from beginning to end. It had so much depth to it and although establishing the pie making business was Hetty's main goal there were also so many other storylines going on that brought the entire story to life and made for an excellent read.

There were serious issues being dealt with, and also an air of mystery surrounded the many relationships in the book be it a relationship in terms of marriage, friends or family. I had a sneaking suspicion based on reading a chapter that all was not as it seems, yet I never did quite piece all the parts of the puzzle together and was shocked when the big reveal came. I was glad too that there was further exploration once certain things had come to light, that the situation wasn't just brushed under the carpet and the story instantly wrapped up. Too much time had been given in  establishing the characters and their backgrounds and history for such an important revelation to just be forgotten about.

What was uncovered wasn't easy to deal with, and if it had been me I would have taken the easy option and ran from facing the difficulties it posed, but the way the characters worked through it was admirable and shows how Cathy Bramley's writing goes beyond the traditional lightness people may view the women's fiction genre as. I feel she has definitely stepped up her writing a gear but yet not lost the warmth, humour and emotion so evident in all her previous books. Instead she has retained and strengthened it. This book is packed full of kindness, forgiveness and above all else love for ones family and friends through the good times and bad. Cathy Bramley never disappoints with her wonderful characters and stories and she certainly didn't with Hetty's Farmhouse Bakery. I'm already looking forward to July when I can read her next book A Match Made in Devon.

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