Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Meet Zara Bailey, a travel writer paid to cover some of the globe's most luxurious locations. Jetting from wooden huts on stilts in turquoise seas to boutique hotels with roaring fires to 7* penthouse suites with panoramic views of the world's most glamorous cities... Zara knows hers is the definition of a dream job!
So she is seriously shocked to receive her next assignment; Scotland's Northcoast 500 route. By bicycle. Sleeping in a tent so basic it can't remotely be dressed up as glamping!
But this could be just the distraction the recently heartbroken Zara needs. No men, no romance, just the breathtakingly rugged Highland scenery. Until she meets croft owner Lachlan Grant, and his black and white Border Collie Bess, that is...
Many thanks to Aria via NetGalley for my copy of A Summer of New Beginnings to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
I'll hold my hands up and say that really I wasn't expecting that much from this book, A Summer of New Beginnings by Lisa Hobman. I just assumed it would be like all the other romance stories out there - girl meets boy, there is a little to-oing and fro-ing and some decision making and then they get together. We've all read hundreds of those types of book but thankfully this was completely different and honestly I was captivated by this story from the very first chapter. I read it in two sittings within a day and I loved every minute of it, it just got better and better the further I read. This was the first book I have read by Lisa Hobman but it certainly won't be my last if this is the calibre of writing she produces with each book.
The cover for this book is simple but oh so stunning and it really does capture the essence of the story contained between the covers. There is Zara on her bike as she travels the North Coast 500 route in the Highlands with border collie Bess in the background - a canine friend she encounters on the route and who steals her heart. Also the cup of tea and the notebook have a very special significance and it's only as you read through the story that you discover just how apt the cover is. The title as well couldn't have been more suitable considering the themes being explored in the story and all in all it combined to make a riveting read that I am still thinking about long after I have finished reading about Zara and the journey which provides her with a lot more than she had ever anticipated.
It was the cover that first attracted me to this book and then when I read the blurb the premise sounded very good. Yet something made me hold off reading this book until the very last minute that I needed to. I can't quite put my finger on it but it's probably because I presumed I would race through the story and it would be just another book read and off my TBR and not one I would remember in any great detail. I'm regretting leaving it so long to start it because it was a breath of fresh air to read with such brilliantly written characters that will long stay in your heart and mind. You feel a connection to Zara, our main female protagonist and are also inspired by her and the journey and transformation she undertakes.
The setting was stunning and it made me want to get up on a bike and go travelling and see the beautiful scenes as observed by Zara and that's saying something considering I normally would have no desires to jump on a bike at all and get going. For once a book had a distinct, clear beginning, middle and end. The climax was reached and then it didn't wander off track and then abruptly finish, Lisa Hobman plotted the story so well and I truly felt like I was living Zara's life and through the so many heartfelt and important lessons that Zara learned I felt the same was happening for me. I really connected with this book and it has taken me by surprise how much the story affected me. It is a brilliant read and I can't fathom how I hadn't heard about this author prior to reading A Summer of New Beginnings.
The writing throughout is quick, fresh and has such an excellent flow to it and I loved how all the little hints dropped throughout, not that I realised they were hints at the time, were brought together so well which resulted in a brilliant and deeply satisfying conclusion. But before we reached that point we were first introduced to Zara who works for The Bohemian magazine as a luxury travel writer. She loves her job travelling the world reviewing exotic destinations and is quite happy to leave the more outdoor adventure and sports reviews to work partner Dillon. As for her love life she is happy enough with Josh as she has been with him for over a year but yet he has never said the big words - I love you. Marco and Michelle are her best friends and when she is not travelling the world she enjoys nights out and takeaway nights in with them. A school reunion is on the cards but she is reluctant to go given the awful time both herself and Michelle received but maybe she will go if only to prove to herself and the ones who taunted her that she has made a positive and good life for herself.
So when Noah her boss at the magazine calls her into his office she is preparing to hear where her next luxury destination will be only for her world to be turned upside down. Dylan has jumped ship and it is up to Sarah to fill the space he has left vacant. The North Coast 500 cycle route beckons, the complete opposite of what she is used to. It sounds horrendous and totally out of her comfort zone. But Zara is not one to let people down and even though the thought of camping outdoors not to mention the hours in a saddle terrify her she accepts the challenge and wants to write the best article possible.
Little does she realise by agreeing to this trip that her life will be changed in more ways than she can imagine. It also helps that things on the personal front aren't exactly turning out the way she has envisaged, maybe she needs this trip after all to gain some much needed perspective. I did at one point think will we ever get to the actually trip as there seemed to be just a slight dragging out of the earlier London scenes. But it's when you reach that end point that you understand every character, every word they utter, every event that takes place is all necessary and crucial to the overall plot. Lisa Hobman knew where she wanted to take her characters and she had the route to get them there worked out so well. I thoroughly enjoyed the section set in Scotland as Zara works her way through the cycle route.
The descriptions of the countryside and coastal areas were fantastic not to mention all the lovely little spots Zara found to eat. It really does make you want to visit the area and the author certainly did a brilliant job showcasing the Scottish Highlands. It wasn't all about the cycling though as Zara gets herself caught up in some funny but also potentially dangerous situations and this in turn leads her to the door of Lachlan who has his own croft/farm. He is a former lawyer relocated from London through family circumstances. I loved Lachlan and loved how he was introduced and how his story began to intertwine with that of Zara's. I could feel the connection and the attraction between the pair and he brought out something in Zara that she had attempted to keep hidden.
But there was plenty of trouble, strife and misunderstandings that occurred before a path to happiness could even begin to occur. Never at any point did any aspect of the story come across as being clichéd or contrived and I think that's what added to the magic of the story and my enjoyment of it. Lisa Hobman brought something fresh and innovative to the genre and it was evident that she enjoyed writing this book just as much as I enjoyed reading it. When the conclusion of the cycle was reached the plot didn't wander on unnecessarily instead everything was ramped up a further level with more twists, turns, shocks and surprises and I was kept glued to my seat rapidly turning the pages keen to discover how things would connect up and could resolution be found.
Zara is a stand out character and a person I came to quickly admire for her guts and determination. She knew she wasn't without her faults and wanted to work on them and the trip and the people she meets helped her with that. She learns so many life lessons and these are lessons that the reader can also apply to their own lives. Sometimes the things we fear, worry or dislike the most can turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to us. We just need to step outside of our comfort zone or wall that we may have built around us and push ourselves that extra mile. Zara certainly did this and she was a better person for it. It enabled her to expose herself that little bit more, to bring long harboured ambitions into the light to see could they possibly bear fruit. Zara goes through some incredible experiences by going through the very situations she thought she hated. She surprised herself and also the this reader and enforced that one should always fight for their dreams.
I really can't recommend A Summer of New Beginnings enough, read it as soon as you can and I hope you become as engrossed in Zara's story as I was.