Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Bramble Challoner has had a very normal upbringing. She lives in a semi in the suburbs of London with her parents and works at the call centre down the road. She still goes out with the boy she met at school. At weekends they stay in and watch films on the telly and sometimes hold hands. Bramble is dying for an adventure.
So when her very grand grandfather, Lord Penrose, dies, leaving his huge, rambling house in Cornwall to her, Bramble packs her bags immediately, dragging along her best friend Katie. The sleepy village of Tremarnock had better be ready for its newest residents...
Many thanks to Head of Zeus via NetGalley for my copy of Tremarnock Summer to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
It's only when I saw that a new story in the Tremarnock series by Emma Burstall was to be published on the 1st of June this year did I realise that I hadn't yet read book three in the series – Tremarnock Summer. I quickly searched back through my Kindle, found the book and dove straight back into the world of Liz and the residents of the idyllic Cornish coastal village that is Tremarnock. Within a few chapters it soon became apparent that this is one of these books that I regretted not reading far earlier on as it was such an enjoyable read. Emma Burstall has created a wonderful setting, packed full of characters from all backgrounds, some you love and easily identify with and others you are just that little bit wary of.
This series could have easily descended into a rehash of the same storyline over and over again just with a few new characters introduced each time but thankfully this hasn't become the case. I love how the story is more a less a continuation from book one but that each time a new visitor or a character previously hovering away in the background comes to the fore and gets to share their story. This is what keeps the plots fresh and innovative. The reader enjoys getting to know new characters and observing as they try to solve the problems that feature in their lives yet at the same time we still get to see how Liz and the others are faring. They may not be the dominant characters but still I feel as if their stories are still progressing and being told. That life didn't stop when we last left them.
Tremarnock Summer opens with a brief prologue which introduces us to Bramble Challoner. She is working in a call centre as a sales agent which is not her favourite thing by any means. She has been dating childhood sweetheart Matt for over ten years and their lives have fallen into an easy pattern of routine. Matt is handsome and loyal but devoted to sport which often leaves Bramble feeling left out. Out of the blue Bramble receives a letter explaining that she is now the sole beneficiary of Polgarry Manor near Tremarnock. This couldn't have come as more of a shock for Bramble considering she never knew any of her mother's side of the family. Lord Penrose was an oddball and eccentric and a major rift in the family meant he never met his granddaughter.
Bramble can't believe what card fate has dealt her and even though her father Bill and stepmother Cassie think she is not making the wisest choice, Bramble makes the biggest decision of her life. She and her beat friend Katie decide to move to Polgarry Manor for the summer to get it back up and running before perhaps selling it on. The only fly in the ointment is that Matt is unwilling to move. Bravo Bramble, you weren't happy with your life, an opportunity was presented to you and you grabbed the bull by the horns. Instantly I thought this is one lady who has guts and courage and although she does not know where the road ahead of her will lead she is willing to embrace adventure and see what awaits around each corner.
After the prologue, the story moves forward a year to when Bramble and Katie arrive in the village. Chapters from then on move back and forth between the girls at Polgarry Manor and how they are coping with attempting to renovate the house and grounds but also we get to catch up with characters who have become so familiar and dear to the readers heart. Liz lives at Bag End with her husband Roberts who runs the restaurant A Winkle in Time, and their daughter Loweena, aged one, and Rosie, Liz's teenage daughter. Liz for me really is the backbone to this series, it began with her story and I feel I know her the best. She is a strong woman who has been through rough times but has always come out more determined on the other side. She seems to be the one who can solve problems, who people come to for advice and is a pillar of the community. This is clearly demonstrated in this story when she volunteers for the community meal project, which in turns leads to a heart rending story which I fear is becoming ever more common place in today's society. Liz may not have been the sole focus of this book but I really enjoyed how her storyline intertwined with that of Bramble's. Liz showed her stubborn side but this was more to do with fear around an incident.
Other characters we have met feature too but there are still some I would like to know more about, perhaps the author is saving these up for future books. Undoubtedly the community spirit shines through this book, how everyone looks out for each other and pulls together in times of need. There is always more going on in Tremarnock than at first appears. During the summer months when the hoards of tourists descend it turns into a bustling village and then in winter a sleepy backwater emerges but really there are secrets, tensions and ambitions aplenty to be found amongst the cast of characters who are intriguing but at the same time just trying to live their normal lives in Tremarnock. Sometimes they can't help if excitement and action arrive at their door. Gnomes going missing from gardens, windows being broken, graffiti appearing on walls get the residents up in arms. Just who could be behind it all?
Old familiar faces may all be well and good but it really is Bramble who is the star of the show in this story. My only gripe with the book overall is I really didn't like the name Bramble. I know this wouldn't interfere with my reading of the story at all but I genuinely thought there could have been a more accessible, usual name given to the main character. I shouldn't have let such a small thing get on my nerves but at times it really did. I think Bramble arrived with a clear picture of what she wanted to achieve in her head but when presented with the scale of the task she doubted herself and questioned whether it was achievable at all. I think she didn't want to look back in years to come and regret her courage or lack of ambition so she really just wanted to go for it. She is filled with hope and excitement and with the support of Katie that is what will fuel and inspire her passion to make a go of things. I thought it was admirable that she threw herself wholeheartedly into the experience even if there were plenty of mishaps along the way. Fergus whom the girls encounter through a scary incident was very much an enigma. He was hiding something and came across as brusque and very cool, like he knew it all and didn't want to shed the layers he had build up around himself. Sadness surrounded him too and I wanted to know why? At one stage I thought he was actually another character in the story based around Liz's storyline but that was actually my imagination running away with itself and making connections where there really weren't any.
Bramble did mature as the story progressed but I did think she was irresponsible that she left Matt dangling and never responded to his calls. In my mind either they were finished or they were not. Bramble experiences many ups and downs over the summer in Tremarnock not least helped by Piers who just seemed too good to be true. I was with her every step of the way and began to feel that this was what she really needed in her life. That perhaps unbeknownst to her that her grandfather had presented her with the greatest gift of all. She was given a challenge and she embraced it and all the faults and hardship that it brought with it. But as she begins to settle into life in Tremarnock and make new friends with the help of the residents and a brilliant idea they had maybe things mightn't seem so bad after all. Will Polgarry be the passport to freedom that Bramble has longed for? She readily admits herself that she is young and experienced and can be silly at times but really we were all like that and given this chance to grow she should embrace it with arms wide open.
I thoroughly enjoyed observing Bramble begin to bring the manor back to life even more so when she delved into the past and in doing so opened a can of worms that needed to be dealt with. Slowly things started to make sense and in fact the storey became very emotive. Just as things looked destined to be worse than ever her grandfather played a very clever and touching role which brought a smile to my face.
I think Tremarnock Summer turned out to be the best read in the series so far and I am kicking myself that I left it so long to read. The fact I did so means I can get stuck straight into book number four A Cornish Secret which will focus on Esme the local potter/artist. Bramble's story was an uplifting one and I do hope she will pop up every now and again in future books. I was delighted the obvious ending that I thought would happen didn't occur that the author went with her heart. It felt so apt and not contrived at all. What made me enjoy this book so much was that as well as introducing Bramble that so many other little plots were working side by side and that the story is always moving forward never lingering or going over old ground already covered. It keeps everything exciting, new and the reader is left hooked from beginning to end which is exactly what a good book should do.
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