Reviewed by Emma Crowley
It's time for Beti Winter to dance to her own beat.
After three failed engagements Beti is in desperate need of a fresh start. What better place than the sun-drenched hills of southern Spain?
But it's not all sangria and siestas. Beti finds work on an old Andalusian cherry farm where there are cherries to be picked, trees to be watered and her fiery boss, Antonio, to win over.
As the sun toasts her skin, Beti finds herself warming to the Spanish way of life. Embracing the art of flamenco, she discovers there is much to learn from the dance of passion. She just has to let loose and listen to the rhythm of her heart.
Many thanks to Becky Hunter from Headline for sending me a copy of Sunset over the Cherry Orchard to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
Yet again Jo Thomas has the most impressive, gorgeous cover that makes you want to dive straight into the scene and soak up every element of the story. It's bright, colourful and eye catching and shows off the setting for this wonderful book to a T. They even managed to slip in the cat - read the book and you'll know what I am referring to. Every time I read a book from this author, I think oh this has to be my favourite and then she goes and writes something even better and my opinion changes. Again this was the case here and Sunset over the Cherry Orchard is just a brilliant book that you'll easily lose yourself in.
You'll forget everything going on around you as you are transported to the hot Spanish sun and to a special little place where Beti Winter is attempting to transform her fortunes. Jo always excels at creating settings where you wish you were yourself whilst reading. Her writing is so visually descriptive that you can picture everything so precisely in your head. So much warmth, love and affection goes into her writing that these feelings come across as you read through her excellent stories. There are characters you might love to hate but equally so there are plenty where you fall in love with them and want nothing but the best for them. Throw in plenty of challenges, obstacles and hurdles to overcome and of course the endless, glorious descriptions of food and cooking and you have a real treat of a summer read.
Beti Winter loves the summer, it's the hope of what's to come, the possibilities of days spent with loved ones enjoying the sun and all the summer has to offer. It's just a pity that she spends her days working in a fast food restaurant in an airport and she can but dream as so many people pass through on their way to sunnier climes. She longs to jet away and buy a bar or restaurant to run in the sun but it has never come to pass. She lives with her fiancée Will but these days he barely notices her, they live separate lives and are well and truly stuck in a rut having become very complacent.
Given she has three failed engagements behind her she wants to make a go of things with Will and not throw in the towel so easily. It doesn't help that ever since they were young, glamorous cousin Olivia throws everything in her face at every available opportunity. Taunts about her brilliant lifestyle and her wonderful fiancée begin to wear Beti down. She feels like a failure in comparison and she believes her family are beginning to think will she ever get her act together? But the simple act of buying a magazine sees a spark ignite in Beti. She feels inspired and grabbing the bull by the horns decides to travel to Spain. Here she will buy the Butterfly Bar and fulfil her dream.
Beti and Will arrive in Spain to stay in Lado Del Puerto to take over the bar from the lovely and supportive Breda and Harold. Everything is within touching distance for Beti but with one foul swoop all her hopes and ambitions are shattered. Will shows his true colours and departs in the most horrid of circumstances.To be honest I would have killed him and gone off myself to search for him not to try and sort things out but to get revenge and to give him a good slap. It was just the most despicable act and shows he never had any commitment to Beti in the first place. How must she have felt left in a foreign country with barely a euro to her name and faced with telling Breda and Harold no you can't return home to England to live with your daughter because I can no longer buy the bar.
It was just crushing and heartbreaking and I really don't know how Beti had the guts to carry on. She didn't want to appear to be yet another disaster and failure in front of her family so she kept things to herself. Admirable in one way but then I thought surely a problem shared is a problem halved. After careful consideration and an alternative offer from Harold that with some work and dedication could ensure things turned out OK, Beti decides to go things alone. Fair play she realised she didn't need a man by her side and she was going to give everything 100%.
Over the course of the story we saw a real transformation in Beti and that's thanks in part to the wonderful setting of the farm where she finds lodgings in a small little finca. Oh my this area with it's horses grazing in the fields and the lovely restaurant, even if it wasn't performing as well as it should have, and the glorious sight of all the cherry trees waiting to come into full bloom and fruit was just amazing. Combined with the introduction of some brilliant characters, the story just took on a life of its own and it became a book that was increasingly hard to put down but at the same time I didn't want to rush through it because I knew I would be sad to leave such a gorgeous read behind.
Beti really starts to show that underneath it all she is no push over, that for too long life has not gone the way she had ultimately planned for and now was the time despite opposition and stand offish characters she was going to make a success of things. She had several months to get the money together for the bar and through hell or high water she was going to do this. Being a washer upper in the restaurant wasn't her ideal job in Spain but she took everything she could get. I loved how Beti wasn't the sole focus of the story, that cherry orchard owner Antonio despite being a very closed book began to come to the fore. I sensed he was hiding things and that his relationship with Valentina was on a knife edge and now having his son Miguel living with him was testing the waters even more.
So much happens to Beti as she navigates towards her long term goal and their are many challenges sent to test her to the max. But the more she coped with things and showed her true character the more I respected and admired her. I'd almost forgive her for not telling her parents what exactly was going on. Living under a lie must have put enormous strain and pressure on her but in another way the situation allowed a new side to her nature to emerge demonstrating qualities she never knew she possessed. Traditional Spanish, food, wine, the cherry trees and flamenco all play pivotal roles in this story and despite Beti initially experiencing humiliation, heartbreak and loss, Cortijo Ana and its surrounding land may well just begin to work it's magic.
Will Beti fulfil her dreams or will things just prove too much to conquer? Will the Butterfly Bar be hers? Can she find love and happiness doing what she has always wanted to do? Can she show her family and cousin Olivia that she is made of a lot sterner stuff than they giver her credit for? Can Beti embrace what the cherry farm is offering her and learn to listen to her heart? All these questions and so many more will be answered should you choose to pick up this amazing, incredible, heartwarming read that I loved from start to finish. What's more for the first time we have a winter book to look forward to from Jo Thomas as A Winter Beneath the Stars publishes in October. Two books in a year from a brilliant author what more could one ask for?
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