Saturday, 16 May 2020

Emma's Review: The Little Village of New Starts by Donna Ashcroft

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Sometimes turning everything upside down feels just right…

Evie Stuart is playing it safe. She lives on her family’s remote farm in the Scottish Highlands and never ventures beyond the local village of Lockton. The most unpredictable events in her life are the antics of Miss Daisy, her grandmother Agnes’s pygmy goat. She’s learned that bad things happen when she’s impulsive, and she’s determined not to get burned again.

Callum Ryder is exactly the opposite of what Evie wants in her ordered world. Six foot two of reckless energy with twinkling eyes and a dangerously charming smile, he’s a thrill-seeking American firefighter with no idea how to slow down. Callum enters Lockton like a whirlwind, fleeing his problems in New York City in search of the truth about his Scottish family.

Yet the pair might have more in common than they think… When the well-meaning Agnes persuades her to help Callum find his grandfather, Evie finds herself being challenged more than she has in years: from swimming in the fabled Bonnie Lochan to exploring an ancient castle and even entering the village jam-making championships. Turns out it’s easy for Evie and Callum to connect when they let go of their fears and enjoy the most surprising summer of their lives.

But getting close to Callum so quickly soon starts to look like it might ruin everything for Evie: she’s heading for a disaster exactly like the one that destroyed her a year ago when she fell for the wrong man and let him change her life. Maybe a fresh start isn’t going to be so simple after all… Is the safe haven Evie’s built about to crumble down around her?

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Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of The Little Village of New Starts to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

I really do love Donna Ashcroft's books as her stories are ones that make you happy. Every book always give you that cosy, uplifting feeling with such picturesque idyllic settings. Add in a dash of romance and you are good to go and you know once you begin reading you'll become completely lost in the world she has created. To be honest I was hoping for another book based in and around Sunflower Island as I thought the last two books that author has set there were simply brilliant. But that wasn't to be the case and this new book The Little Village of New Starts takes us to the Scotland and to the home of Evie Stuart on Buttermead Farm. Within the first chapter my disappointment at not returning to Sunflower Island quickly vanished as I just had this feeling that this setting, these new characters and the plot that would unfold would be just as magical and special and I was delighted to be proven right. It still strikes me, even though I read lots and lots of books each year, how you know more or less pretty early on that such a book will hit the spot for you as a reader whereas others just don't give off that feeling of I desperately need to continue reading this. I loved every minute of this wonderful book and I didn't want it to end so much that I hope there will be a return visit to Buttermead Farm in the not too distant future.

Evie is living on the family farm with her parents, Grant and Fiona and her granny Agnes. They have yurts which they offer to holiday makers as a sideline to the running of the farm. Evie is in charge of these and she loves the work and the farm. I have to say the descriptions of the farm and the surrounding area were just superb throughout the entire book, the magnificent scenery and the inclusion of wonderful descriptions of nature and wildlife really added to the book. The nearby loch which Evie likes to visit for some quiet time to contemplate different things plays an important role throughout especially as Agnes informs Evie of a legend regarding the loch that she swears by. I can't forget to mention Daisy, the little pygmy goat, who follows Evie around like a little puppy. It's always great to have a furry friend featured in a book to add that aww factor and to also laugh and smile at the comedic value they offer.

Evie was a carefully constructed character, very well rounded in that we saw all sides to her but still she held some things back and was afraid to truly let go and give into feelings that emerge throughout the book. She was someone willing to push herself out of her comfort zone and help others when they needed but I wondered was she always able to do that when it came to herself? She did bury herself away on the farm to avoid people but I loved that when best friend Meg needed help to save her shop that Evie wasn't obstinate and she did help her out. I loved this strand of the story with Meg and it popped up throughout at just the right points to take the reader away from the journey of Evie and Callum and let us focus on some other challenges. The Jampionships provided some funny moments but were also a great idea to bring some of the strands of the overall story together.

Clearly Evie is hurting from something in the past and when this situation becomes known to the reader you do feel desperately sorry for her and can understand how much of a head wreck it must have been given she had placed her faith and trust in something that turned out to be built upon lies and deceit. The feelings of guilt and hurt creep up on her often and all her family members are worried about her but maybe she just needs time to come to terms with things. She does have a boyfriend, librarian Jason, but you can tell that she is just going through the motions and from the little we see of him he really isn't the man for Evie. With the arrival of an American guest, Callum Ryder, who has come to find someone in the area that could be related to him things are up scuttled for Evie and she's not sure if she is happy or confident the direction her life begins to take. But I thought maybe this is exactly what needs to happen to show Evie there is life outside of the little cocoon of unhappiness she has created for herself and OK she may have sworn she would never allow the same thing to happen to her again but at the same time she has to take risks and chances in life. A broken heart is no excuse for Evie to hide herself away from life. She is fearful of making mistakes again but if we all adopted that attitude we would get no where in life.

Callum's arrival is a catalyst of change for Evie but that's not to say she welcomes him with open arms after all he is a guest. Callum is escaping his problems in New York but really our problems don't remain where they originated, they stay with us until we find the courage to resolve them no matter how long that may take. Callum from his descriptions was gorgeous and fit seen as he was a fire-fighter and yes you really wanted him to connect with Evie. His main aim is to find his long lost grandfather. A series of letters with just an initial as a signature is all he has to go on but using the descriptions of the countryside mentioned in the letters Evie sets about helping him to hopefully uncover the truth. I did have my suspicions fairly early on as to who Callum's grandfather could have been and I was proven correct. I felt quite smug about the fact that I had guessed but I was eager to see what were the exact circumstances surrounding everything.

Callum in a similar way to Evie was hiding things and hurting and his back story and the reasons for his reticence in speaking about his past were truly understandable when things do become known. I wouldn't have thought such a topic would have been dealt with in a women's fiction story that some people may think to be light and fluffy and very easy reads but I was so glad that the author chose to bring this issue to the readers attention. I thought it was handled in the most perfect way and it showed Callum's sensitive side and that despite him being all masculine and strong and a lover of the great outdoors that he did have his vulnerable and emotional side in a similar way to Evie. If they could both admit and confront their fears then maybe the journey they embark upon together to find Callum's grandfather will prove more fruitful in more ways than one.

Callum brings plenty of surprises to Evie's life when all she wanted was for her life to be safe and predictable and I can see this book is neither of these things. It's a pure joy to read from start to finish which teaches us so many life lessons and the characters are really taken out of their comfort zones. It shows us how family, friends and of course community play such a vital role in our lives and they should never be underestimated. Evie and Callum's story had me from page one and didn't relinquish it's grip until the final word. If you want to take your mind off everything going on right now I wouldn't hesitate to recommend The Little Village of New Starts it's such a fabulous enjoyable read.

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