Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Take an endless stroll through wild meadows and breathe in the sweet aroma of flowers in full bloom. The first ever guest at the little cottage on the hill is looking for an escape, but her past is not far behind her…
Thirty-two-year-old ‘ice queen’ Isobel slams the cottage door and pulls the curtains shut. She has just six weeks to practise for a secret project that could save her career and no one must know she is here.
When Tom, the local thatcher with eyes as blue and deep as the ocean, hears the sound of her violin on the breeze he feels a tug at his heart-strings that reminds him of happier times. Who is this mysterious new lodger, and why does she look so familiar?
Desperate to find out more, Tom is devastated when Isobel refuses to enjoy everything the farm has to offer. He won’t give in, but just when it looks like Isobel is coming out of her shell, someone recognises her and the troubles from her past threaten to take away everything she has been working towards.
Will the lessons Isobel learned at the little cottage help her to stand up and face the music? Will Tom ever find a way to unlock the emotion she needs to move on?
Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of Summer at the Little Cottage on the Hill to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
Summer at the Little Cottage on the Hill by Emma Davies is the second book in the Little Cottage series but one which can easily be read as a standalone story. Our attention this time around turns to Tom the thatcher but also to a new arrival, Isobel who is a talented musician. She is the first guest to stay in the only cottage that has been renovated so far at Joy's Acre Farm. Maddie, Seth, Trixie and Clara all expected that each guest that visited would fall in love with the charm of the farm and its associated history, basically with everything they were trying to create there but Isobel is not your normal guest. Right from the off she was clearly hiding many things and was battling both internally and externally to cope with life in general. She came to stay at the cottage with one clear goal in mind, six weeks to compose a new piece of music on her violin. Six weeks to hopefully turn her life around for the better if possible. But will things be smooth sailing for Isobel and the people she meets or will there be many mountains to climb before peace and happiness can even be contemplated?
I'm enjoying how recent women's fiction books published by Bookouture that form a trilogy seem to be working on a common thread. That over the course of the three books two different characters are the main focus each time. We get glimpses of each character in the first book and then by the time their story rolls around I am more than eager to discover what lies in store for them. We had read briefly of Tom in book one but I was glad to see that Isobel was an entirely new character. She was my favourite by far in this book, simply because there was so much mystery surrounding her. She had a firm outer shell which she had built up around herself presumably for protection. She was such a multi-layered character that just when you thought you began to know her that little bit better, that you were beginning to scratch beneath the surface something else arose that threw you off track.
Isobel presents herself as very regimented and efficient. She is committed to her music and it borders on complete obsession. She has a clear purpose for her time at Joy's Acre and cannot deviate from what she has laid out for herself, routine and practice are the order of the day. As Maddie and Tom try to get to know her and be polite and help her settle in and join them she refuses all attempts at a welcome. To many Isobel would come across as a cold fish, but there had to have been a reason for this and I was glad that Tom and Maddie could see there was more to this girl than meets the eye and she is not someone to give up on that easily. Isobel, although she may not have realised it, was crying out for help and maybe coming to Joy's Acre could be the very tonic that she needed.
As for Tom, I thought initially he came across as a rogue. He loved his work as a thatcher whilst playing in a folk band on the side. He had a good life but similarly to Isobel I felt he was haunted by something. The reputation he had created for himself as someone who enjoys a good time, a ladies man who was known for his one night stands didn't seem to be the real Tom. More so this smoke screen had been created to mask something that he didn't want to realistically deal with. With the arrival of Isobel, Tom starts to see things in a new light. In her he sees a kindred spirit and maybe they can help each other. I loved how even though Isobel at first rebutted Tom at every corner that he never backed down. He saw something in her that he wanted to help and wouldn't give up until he had achieved this. I had my suspicions as to what had happened to both Tm and Isobel to make them be the way they were. With some elements I was correct but with regard to others I was way off track. But it wasn't about guessing the exact cause of what was tormenting the pair, this story was more an exploration of how with cope with things when times get tough. How we seek out those we need, who can inspire, comfort, advise, offer solace, friendship and hope.
The development of the story was paced just perfectly and I felt there was even more of a concrete storyline here than in book one The Little Cottage on the Hill. I think I just enjoyed the setting and story much more overall this time around, maybe because both Tom and Isobel's story really affected me. The connection developing between the pair felt real and genuine as did the struggle to reach some acceptance, to admit their fears and what was disturbing them and causing them to suffer. Maybe perhaps Isobel ever so slightly more than Tom. Perfection was what Isobel strived for, what she was driven to achieve, endless rehearsing and practising the same piece over and over again. But what was it all for? Was it really necessary? Hopefully Tom and Joy's Acre could work their magic and in doing so Isobel may come to a realisation and may be healed. The journey to attempt to teach this point would not be without its challenges but that's what made this book so interesting and enjoyable.
Summer at the Little Cottage on the Hill is a story of transformation, of shedding one's old skin, to find the direction lacking in one's life. Tom and Isobel may have been polar opposites with different problems but perhaps this would work in their favour. Barriers needed to be broken down but this give and take couldn't have all been one sided and it was a joy to read how the pair with help from Maddie, Clara and Trixie as an extra support system were enabled to do this. The beautiful setting of Joy's Acre and its associated history and spirit added such flavour to the story as did the power of music.
Overall this book was a captivating read with two main characters who will tug at your heartstrings and be reluctant to let go. It has plenty of life lessons and messages for not just those involved in the story but for the reader too. Summer at the Little Cottage on the Hill is a lovely, gentle, easy read perfect for enjoying during the summer months. Roll on book three, I'm keen to discover who will feature next at Joy's Acre Farm.