Saturday, 5 June 2021

Emma's Review: Summer in the Scottish Highlands by Donna Ashcroft

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Thirty-year-old Paige Dougall’s life is a mess. Only a year ago she was smashing all of her life goals: handsome husband, high-flying job, cute kid. But in just under twelve months everything has gone wrong. Nursing a broken heart, single mother Paige returns to her childhood home in a picture-perfect Scottish village to try and get her life together.

Paige is too wrapped up in her worries to embrace the beautiful rolling hills and lavender-scented air of the highlands. That is until Johnny Becker, the infuriatingly cheerful chef, with his twinkling eyes and dimpled smile, steps onto the scene and provides Paige with some much-needed distraction…

Johnny challenges Paige to step outside her comfort zone and focus on the things that really matter. From food tasting, to puppy training, to mountain climbing, in every moment she spends with Johnny, Paige finds herself remembering how to live again… will she be able to love again too?

Across long sunshine-filled days, Paige and Johnny grow closer and she’s tempted to open her heart to him. But is happy-go-lucky Johnny hiding secrets of his own?

And can Paige learn to let go of her past and find happiness in the highlands?

Book Links: Kindle or Paperback
Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of Summer in the Scottish Highlands to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Donna Ashcroft please don’t ever stop writing these brilliant books set in the village of Lockton in the Scottish Highlands. They are just excellent reads from beginning to end. Such gorgeous stories that have you hooked and make for real page turners. Summer in the Scottish Highlands with its stunning colourful cover was no different and I enjoyed every minute of this uplifting, sweet, cosy read which has the most idyllic of settings and of course the prerequisite dash of romance thrown in too. This time around our attentions focus on Paige Dougall. She is jobless and homeless for the next four weeks and so has returned to the village of her birth to stay for awhile at Kindness Cottage with her parents. She hasn’t been home in six years since she eloped and left her personal dreams behind and perhaps she didn’t leave on the best of circumstances. Paige not having been back in quite a while and the relatively recent trauma in her personal life and the guilt she feels over this means that when she arrives back home neither her heart nor her mind are in a good place. But she has to keep going for the light of her life, her daughter Grace. The one thing she feels she really excels at given all the failures she perceives she has.

Paige is a character whom the reader can see so much potential in, and I think so could her family and the people she meets in Lockton, but she was just so down on herself. She had such love for books and a unique talent for matching the right book to the right person but she didn’t believe in her capabilities. The fact she was viewing her time back in Lockton as a stop gap before she could return to work after being signed off on stress was another issue which really prevented her from embracing al the natural goodness and support that was surrounding her in Lockton. She wasn’t in a great frame of mind and clearly wasn’t ready to share things with anybody but deep down there is an urge within her that she is trying to bury. An urge to confess all, to talk about the trauma she has endured and to want to make up for all her failures. Will Lockton be able to weave its magic if she allows the barriers to come down?

Paige radiated stress and anxiety. She wears a permanent frown, supressing emotions and never letting herself relax. You really just wanted to wrap her up in cotton wool and give her a huge hug and tell her that everything was going to be OK. She might have made a mistake six years ago, and she is finding this hard to admit out loud, but I just knew if she could turn things around I just knew she would have a more positive outlook on life be able to embrace what was there waiting for her in Lockton. She was placing such huge expectations on herself combined with the burden of guilt unnecessarily in my opinion. She wants to be great at her job, be the world’s most amazing mother, give Grace a house, security, a perfect life and to be a success and make her family proud and this is all achievable but something is holding her back and she is failing to realise her true potential. She is carrying so much that she needs to let go of. Simply she needs to unload and give herself a break from being far too harsh on herself. I thought Paige was perfectly developed as a character, you could identify with and feel sympathy for her but at the same time as a reader you wanted her to get out there and confront and stand up to what had been dragging her down for so long.

A surprise encounter with a dog named Mack, ensuing a very humorous scene with the contents of her suitcase, leads to Paige meeting Johnny Becker. They get off on the wrong foot but yet a flicker of interest implants itself in her belly but the way Paige is she does her best to ignore it. This chemistry is so evident between the pair the entire way through the book that you are waiting for that moment when they actually realise it about each other. But of course some twists and turns, soul searching and some community efforts have to be explored before that point of realisation and acceptance could ever be reached. Johnny was a soul who I felt was so similar to Paige. There was something haunting him too,  preventing him from the being the best he could be in his profession as a chef. He had had so much talent but drove himself too hard which led to not the best of circumstances. Johnny works at Apple Cross Inn, with his twin brother Davey, and he is happy doing that but you could see he really was wasting his talents doing the bare minimum. Maybe news of a leading restaurant guide showing interest in featuring the pub in their books might make him change his mind?

Johnny had done a lot of soul searching and taken a long time to find himself, to understand what made him happy. He enjoys his life and the pace of it, he can do what he wants without anyone judging him or expecting anything. But the arrival of Paige has Johnny revaluating things and he sees a fragility in her he wants to fix. Maybe he had felt this way before previously and knows the way to sort things out. They share a kindred connection through both experiencing similar feelings and how they dealt with them. I loved how they started to open up to each other and help each other out and you were just rooting for both of them to have a happy ending but also for them to understand the world wasn’t so serious. There are room for imperfections and for mistakes to be made and things to go wrong but they can be tackled head on and you can emerge stronger through the other side.

The book wasn’t entirely about Paige and Johnny and how they navigated their issues. I loved and embraced the strand of the story centred around the reopening of the library following the passing of Aileen who had been a mentor to Paige in what seemed like a previous life. The Book Barn needs someone to take over the reins, to guide it in the right direction or some other person will get their hands on it and ruin everything. I loved the way this character featured again. He was just so unbearable and over powering that I think his actions gave Paige the spurt she needed to dig in and give a hand alongside Johnny to get the library up and running and for the grant for this to be approved. I loved the small element of magic so to speak with books appearing where she hadn’t left them and in turn Paige matched books to the right person. But Paige was like a dog with a bone insisting she has her career on London that she has to get back on track. There will be a new house waiting for her and she can secure a future for herself. I wanted to give her a good shake at this point as I couldn’t fathom why she couldn’t see what was all around her. That Lockton and its many wonderful residents were ready to embrace her if only she would let them in.

I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Summer in the Scottish Highlands. It’s the ideal read for this time of year sitting relaxing in the garden and being whisked away to a wonderful, impactful and special location with a cast of characters and attention grabbing storylines to match. I found I flew through this because I couldn’t leave it out of my hands and I hope perhaps a return visit around Christmas time this year might materialise because as I said in the beginning this is a series that I hope goes on and on because it is quite simply the best thing Donna Ashcroft has written so far.

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