Thursday, 26 July 2018

Emma's Review: Summer on the Little Cornish Isles: The Starfish Studio by Phillipa Ashley

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

One summer can change everything …

Poppy has always loved Cornwall. So when her boyfriend Dan suggests they leave their office jobs and take over the Starfish Studio on the Isles of Scilly, Poppy doesn’t need asking twice.

But things don’t go to plan when Dan dumps her, weeks before they’re due to move. Determined not to give up, Poppy accepts the help of local photographer Jake, her landlord’s grandson. But Jake is distracted by a loss from his past.

Can they turn the crumbling gallery into a success in time for tourist season? And will a summer on the little Cornish Isles mend just the studio – or Poppy’s heart too?

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Many thanks To Avon Books UK via NetGalley for my copy of Summer on the Little Cornish Isles to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Summer on the Little Cornish Isles: The Starfish Studio is the third in the Little Cornish Isles series by Phillipa Ashley and it certainly has been the most wonderful series. Each book is set on a different fictional island that make up the Isles of Scilly and follows a character as they navigate the trials and tribulations that island life brings both on a professional and romantic level. I have loved every minute of my time spent reading of this special place as the author as brought the isles alive so vividly in my mind even though I have never visited before. There are such glorious descriptions of rugged, beautiful landscapes, windswept beaches, coastal areas and small tight knit communities that help bring the story to life and make for a very good read that once you pick up these books they are very hard to put down. Usually for me, I find with a series that some books are stronger than others and there can be a book that didn't grip me as much as the others. Thankfully, that wasn't the case here at all and I would be hard pushed to pick my favourite so enjoyable were they all.

This time our attention turns to the Starfish studio and gallery on the small island of St. Pirans. Poppy and her partner Dan are on holiday when they venture into the studio and immediately Poppy is captivated by this special place. Archie Pendower is the resident artist and owner of the gallery helped out by his friend Fen. Poppy is smitten when she steps through the door as she feels it has a special aura and she always harboured vague dreams of running a gallery of her own. Being a communications manger with a building company couldn't be further from her dreams but on leaving the island she expresses an interest to Dan that one day they will return to the island. Poppy feels the isolation of the islands appeal to her soul and that both herself and Dan are too caught up in the rat race. They are just existing not living and times need to change.

Fast forward three years later and Poppy has fulfilled her wish she is about to arrive on the island to take over the Starfish Studio and see what she can do with it. Unfortunately all has not gone to plan as Dan has strayed and their relationship is in tatters. What else can Poppy do, given that she has quit her job and moved out of her house? She has to go it alone and not turn her back on her dream but will there be more bumps in the road once she discovers the studio has fallen into disrepair and that artists are reluctant to have their wares exhibited in a failing gallery?

Instantly I warmed to Poppy you really couldn't fail to as she was a warm loving character who had experienced such a rough time that all you wanted for her was a happy, positive outcome. On the other hand I wouldn't have blamed her for turning around and boarding the next boat leaving the islands when she saw the state of the gallery and the accommodation in which she was supposed to be living. When you believe you are walking into a situation that is set up for success with a little bit of effort and you arrive and find the complete opposite all you would want to do is run away as fast as you can. But Poppy has guts and determination and she won't see her dreams go down the tubes. Besides she doesn't want to admit to her family that all was not as she had been promised and she wants to prove to them she can do this without the help of Dan. Poppy had courage in spades and plenty of ambition and the work ethic to see the gallery hopefully restored to its former glory.

Archie has left the island to recover from a nasty fall to recuperate with his son and daughter-in-law on the mainland so it is up to his grandson Jake to oversee the handing over of the gallery to Poppy. A few days and then wildlife photographer Jake can once again escape the islands and continue with his work. Even though Jake loved the time he spent with Archie as a child on the islands now all St. Pirans despite its stunning natural beauty and the welcoming residents is a place that Jake wants to stay away from. He is just doing a favour for his granddad. The reader immediately sets to thinking just what happened to Jake that he can barely stand to be on the island? Clearly there are now bad memories associated with his time there. But despite the banter and jibes that flow between himself and Poppy and his urgent need to leave there is clearly a spark there and I desperately wanted that spark to ignite into something much much more. I thought the storyline involving a crate and a letter left to Jake by Archie was just so beautifully done with such a lovely, heart-warming message at its centre. It was one of the most perfect and inspiring aspects of the overall story and it really allowed for great development of Jake's character. It wasn't other people as such forcing Jake to face his fears but past happy memories that needed to be brought back to his attention that would hopefully work their magic. If Jake can find the courage to face the past maybe he won't be so hell bent on fleeing the island as soon as possible.

I enjoyed observing Poppy's journey attempting to get the gallery up and running again. She knew she had no other option but to try and make a go of things and the word failure was not on her radar. There are innumerable setbacks but she dusts herself off time and time again and just keeps plodding on in the hopes that the reopening of the gallery and the big launch party may transform her fortunes. Although local silversmith Minty would hate to see anything good come of the gallery. She was the proverbial baddie with her snide, hurtful comments and definitely a character where Poppy needed to rise above it all and let the words wash over her. I can't forget to mention Leo the cat who took on almost human like qualities and did play a very pivotal role in bringing about the culmination of a certain storyline.

I was delighted to see brief mentions of characters who had previously featured in the series, that these characters I had come to love were not forgotten about and we got an update on what had happened to them once we had finished their stories. Also some new characters were introduced such as Kelly, the island handy woman, and her boyfriend Spike who is the chef at the Moor's  Head. Lisa and Ben from the Harbour Kiosk also feature. All the characters epitomise island life and how although at times particularly in off season it can be very isolating everyone always pulls together to help people out and it is all done with sincerity and the wish to see people happy and doing well on the island.

All in all Summer on the Little Cornish Isles was another glorious read from Phillipa Ashley. I sense this may be the last in the series but I would love even just a novella which would extend the stories of all the characters that have featured. That's me being greedy simply because I loved everything and don't want to leave the characters or setting behind. Phillipa has the knack of creating such uplifting, cosy reads with picturesque, idyllic settings with a splash of romance thrown in coupled with warm lovable characters you root for from beginning to end. My visit to the Starfish Studio proved to have all these ingredients in spades and I relished every minute of this captivating, sparkling story that you'll want to read in one sitting.

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