Monday, 7 June 2021

Emma's Review: The Country Village Summer Fete by Cathy Lake

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Emma Patrick's life is spiralling out of control. On the cusp of her 50th birthday, she realises that she's been so focused on work that she's lost any real connection to people.

When Emma's ageing father needs her help, she decides to go back home to the countryside to spend some time with him. But returning to Little Bramble after years away is filled with complications and people she'd rather avoid.

To her surprise, as Emma settles in she finds herself loving village life. When the opportunity to get involved in the running of the summer fĂȘte comes her way, soon she's embracing jam making, cake baking and bunting. And with romance brewing, Emma begins to doubt the glamorous city life that she worked so hard to build . . . 

Book Links: Kindle or Paperback

Many thanks to Bonnier Books UK for my copy of The Country Village Summer Fete to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

At the beginning of this book it mentions that Cathy Lake writes uplifting stores about strong women, family, friendship, love, community and over coming obstacles and all these characteristics certainly shone through when reading this book. It’s a wonderful story, a quick read which I loved from beginning to end. I hadn’t read the previous book, The Country Village Christmas Show, but that didn’t matter in the slightest as I could tell from little snippets what had already happened and I felt I was fully able to engage with everything that happened in this new story. I will say though that the fete of the title doesn’t occur until near the very end and it’s not the sole focus of the book. But really it didn’t need to be at all as this was about one women’s journey to figure out where she needed to be in life and to deal with past events and a trauma in order for her to be happy, supportive and at peace in her current life. So the fact the fete was more of a background event didn’t bother me in the slightest because the main storyline focusing on Emma was very well written.

Emma Patrick lives in London and it’s clear from the outset she has been working too hard and hasn’t felt right within herself for quite some time. When you find yourself in the local Tesco in your pyjama’s in the early hours of the morning buying vodka and not really knowing how this has happened it’s clear something needs to change. Emma feels disjointed and unhappy and the feelings niggling away at her that things need to change, well she has done her best to ignore those. Up until now she has enjoyed her single life and her work as a freelance editor having left the office behind  to work from home. She has flexibility in her life and no one that relies on her and she hasn’t allowed to tradition to claim her. But is that what she really wants and needs from her life? Has she alienated herself from friends who have moved on to the relationship, marriage and kids stage of life? Not that there is anything wrong with being single but she has worked herself to the bone, to the point of exhaustion and deep down she knows she is but a mere step from a breakdown that may be very hard to come back from. 

When she receives a phone call to say her father has been found at the local bus station in the village of Little Bramble in the early hours of the morning, appearing lost and confused, she knows she needs to return. Emma has only been back to the village in recent years for fleeting visits. We can tell something has kept her away and the way she acted all those years ago leaving a trail of devastation, loss, hurt and anger behind her will be difficult to reassemble into some form of acceptance and forgiveness. That’s even if she is willing to try and make amends and confront what she has spent so long running from. Her father’s mental health and general ability to cope on his own raises questions as to whether he is suffering from dementia. She knows she needs to return but can she cope what Little Bramble will throw in her path.

Emma was a brilliantly developed character. There were aspects of her that we could all identify with. She feels like she is on a treadmill where social media and losing hours on various media platforms has turned her into a ball of anxiety. Work dominates and she has made no time for the people who were once her friends. It’s clear she needs a complete break and to step back and evaluate what could be changed in her life for the better. What needs to go and what can she do to make her feel better? She works so hard on her career and not on her physical and mental health and I think a lot of us do the same. The deep reasons for not returning long term to the village, well Emma has kept those hidden, but she longs to assuage the guilt she feels and to turn back the clock and make things right. But the person she caused so much damage, complications and heartache to may not be willing to listen to what she has to say. That’s even if she can pluck up the courage to get everything off her chest. 

I loved the village of Little Bramble. The rural setting felt fresh and vibrant and there were just the right amount of characters introduced so as not to feel overwhelmed keeping up with everyone’s story. The relationship that Emma has with her father Greg is a tentative one at first and I could see why this was the case. She didn’t want to admit to herself that if suspicions were true then maybe she would end up being his career. But also the unspoken words between them surrounding the loss of her mother weigh heavily in the silence. I thought the way that particular situation was developed was excellent and the overall outcome it could have been a cop out as to the specific explanations but instead it felt real and that yes this could have happened and relating it back to the loss Emma and Greg experienced was excellent. Little Bramble was comforting and there was something special knowing that people cared. But the explosive decision she made 30 years ago, well the after effects are still very much being felt. She feels that some things are better left ignored never to be waded through or stirred up again but we all know avoiding what needs to be said and dealt with head on is perhaps not the best policy to adopt in life.

The guilt and burden Emma feels relating to her mother and also the big event that caused her to leave the village weigh enormously on her. She tries to avoid dealing with things but having to take care of her dad brings new emotions out in the open and when she delves back into the past and reopens her mother’s studio at the bottom of the garden something is ignited in her and a change begins to happen slowly and tentatively. The studio was used for making jams and chutneys by her mother and has remained untouched. Having this connection to her mother starts to alleviate some of the guilt she feels with regard to this aspect of her life. She sets about making jams and chutneys for the village fete and this is where the fete finally starts to come into play but if it had not been present I wouldn’t have minded at all because this was a real character driven story rather than being fuelled by events. There wasn’t this urgent need to try and save something through community effort and hard work as has featured in many other books and I think I enjoyed the story all the more for it. Although the scenes at the fete were lovely and heart-warming and really brought the story full circle.

The book also focused on Connor. He runs his own business, The Lumber Shed, and has a daughter Grace who is 25. We get chapters from his perspective which I thought really broke up the story as Emma did feature strongly. His ex partner Sadie is a nightmare and she doesn’t seem to have gotten the hint that things are over and perhaps really they should have never have been together in the first place. She was such an annoying character, forever demanding of Connor and not getting the hint or giving him any freedom. You instantly want to know more about Connor and exactly what had devastated him in the past leading to such animosity with a particular someone. His storyline was wonderfully intertwined amongst the overall plot and I couldn’t wait to see would things that had been left unsaid for so long finally come out into the open and allow for rejection to turn into acceptance?

The Country Village Summer Fete was an impressive read infused with warmth and human understanding. It had me from page one and I was sad to finish it. If you like books in the vein of Cathy Bramley then this is definitely a read for you. It captures your imagination for the simple but effective way it conveys so many important life messages and lessons. The characters are so well crafted and developed and it will provide you with the perfect slice of escapism. I am delighted to have discovered such a fabulous author with a lovely writing style and I will certainly be reading The Country Village Christmas Wedding as soon as it is published later this year. 

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