Monday, 14 May 2018

Emma's Review: Summer at the Castle Cafe by Donna Ashcroft

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

When Alice Appleton escapes to the beautiful seaside town of Castle Cove it’s the change of scenery she didn’t even realise she needed. Taking up a job in the charming Castle Café, Alice finds herself surrounded by cream teas, chocolate cake and quirky characters. Could this be the perfect place for Alice to embrace the summer?

Mysterious and handsome Jay O’Donnell has lived in picturesque Castle Cove since he was a child. As a volunteer on the lifeboats, his days by the sea are far from predictable. Haunted by a tragedy from his past, he’s on a mission to save as many people as possible. But when Alice Appleton walks into his life - and turns his world upside down - he begins to realise that perhaps it might just be his turn to be rescued…

As Alice and Jay find themselves unexpectedly falling for each other, will they learn the importance of letting go to make way for second chances? And will Alice find the life she’s always dreamed of in Castle Cove?

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Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy Summer at the Castle Café to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Summer at the Castle Café is the debut novel from Donna Ashcroft and I hope this wonderful, warm story is just the start of a series of books that will be set in and around the seaside town of Castle Cove. Right from the very first page I felt very drawn to Alice Appleton and her story. Immediately, I wanted to know just what made her tick and why was she so motivated with one clear common goal in mine which had to be achieved in a certain time period as set down by herself?

This book has such a gorgeous, feel good cover that would instantly catch your eye if you were glancing through the bookshelves of your local bookshop over the coming weeks or even if you are rushing to grab a book in the airport as you jet away this summer. Summer at the Castle Café  is just the perfect holiday read. The main plot line is not taxing or challenging, yet there is just enough here to avoid it straying too far down the road of being overly sentimental or lacking in any depth or substance. The setting is just so idyllic and the author has created a cosy, inviting, feel good community vibe where people genuinely care for each other and will look out for and support each other in times of trouble, strife or as Alice faces – a monumental challenge.

Alice has worked in the Castle Café since she moved to the small Dorset town from London just over four months ago. She is incredibly efficient, so well organised and on top of her game when it comes to anything to do with work. She always likes to keep busy, presumably there is something that she is worried about but the reader does not discover what until later on in the book. Alice has a place for everything and everything must be in its place, she can’t stand disorder or things going off track. So to Cath Lacy (her own little story was lovely but I would have liked to get to know Cath even better), Alice’s boss, who runs the restaurant for castle owner Simon, Alice is a godsend considering just how busy the café is becoming now tourist season is in full flow.

Given the title one would have thought that the dominant feature of the story would have been the café and perhaps it might have been going through tough times and therefore the women would have to come up with some ingenious ideas to save something so valued in the community. Not the case here and I mean this in a good way. There have been so many café books published in the first five months of this year, all with more or less the same plot. Thankfully Donna has written something different and refreshing from the café sub genre as I like to think of it. Instead we focus more on Alice, and get to delve beneath the façade of being so methodical and perfect to see just what is really creating so much anxiety for her behind the scenes.

Six months ago Alice was running a restaurant in London, now she is in Castle Cove and it couldn’t be more different from her previous life. She feels at her lowest ebb but she has been absorbed and welcomed into the Castle Cove community but is she willing to let go of all her fears and share the load that is weighing her down. Alice has set for herself the task of competing in the famous triathlon which is run in the area. I thought she was admirable to put in place this goal for herself but I did wonder what was her focus and inspiration behind this? As we read further through the book, Alice does her utmost best with training and it seems as if she is driven by an internal force that she must do this no matter what. When the reasons for this became apparent, I applauded her for doing it and the main inspiration was a fitting one. The only problem is Alice is struggling with the swimming aspect of her preparations. She has an all encompassing fear that leaves her frozen, unable to enter the water. If she cannot overcome this she won’t be able to participate in the triathlon. In the first half of the book I did think oh just give up, why continue on if this fear is so strong? It’s only as Alice starts to open up that I fully understood her motivation and in turn my respect for her as a person grew.

Of course, the entire story just couldn’t focus solely on Alice and thankfully we had a handsome, intriguing male to also focus on. Jay O’Donnell is the local carpenter and also volunteers for the lifeboat service. He was such a brilliant sparring partner against Alice. They each gave each other as good as they got and the banter that flew between them was funny but also highlighted the chemistry steaming between the pair even if Alice didn’t want to give into it in any way shape or form. At the end of six months she was going to Thailand to stay with her Dad and that was that. She was not going to deviate from her plan, no matter what life had in store for her.

Jay, himself, had something in his past that caused certain reactions in the present and until this became clearer I did think at times that he was being very harsh and abrupt in some of the things he said and how he responded/reacted to certain situations some of those which involved Alice. No doubt about it thought he did have a kind, caring and supportive side and I loved how he could see that Alice was struggling and he wanted to do something to change all that. Jay wants to save Alice and aid her in a way that he found impossible to do for someone else. He was a brilliantly written character whom many readers, myself included, will develop a soft spot for.

There were several other characters introduced/mentioned at various points in the story and the inquisitive part of me wanted to know more about them. I soon realised that maybe by having a small or brief presence in Alice’s story meant that they might appear in future books. Ben Campbell from the Little Treasures Antique Shop, Marta West from the Picture Perfect art gallery and Claire Sims from Castle Cove Vets are all characters I want to learn more about in the future. Aside from not knowing more about certain characters, there wasn’t any fault I could find with Summer at the Castle Café. It was just such a lovely enjoyable book to read and I felt Alice went through a real journey in a bid to transform which deep in her heart she knew she needed to do to let go and put the past to bed. Sound advice appeared when I least expected to read it - Fill your world with people you love, keep them close and make them happy. I hoped Alice could do this as change is the hardest thing of all but maybe she would have the strength to see things through to the bitter end. Whether she did or not you’ll only discover by picking up this charming, captivating, sparkling little gem of a book.

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