Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Friendship can blossom in the most unexpected places...
When Jemima loses her beloved grandfather, keeping his allotment alive seems like the ideal way to feel close to him. She's never fitted in before - is this her chance to find where she really belongs?
Finally Melissa has the allotment she's been longing for to distract her while her husband works away - even if it is chest-high in weeds. But when she looks for help in the wrong place, she finds she's the hottest topic of gossip.
For Dottie, her allotment and part-time job of 'a little light dusting' at Lerwick Manor keeps a spring in her eighty-year-old step - and her ears open for secrets.
Though generations apart, these three women are about to find a common bond in a new-found passion and that true friendship can grow anywhere.
Many thanks to Headline via NetGalley for my copy of From Shetland with Love to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
Don’t you just love when a book provides you with so much more than you could have ever hoped for? Well From Shetland, With Love by Erin Green was that book for me. I honestly can’t believe that I have never read anything by Erin Green before because this story was insanely good and one that I couldn’t leave out of my hands until I had reached the very last page. After a run of reading lots of historical fiction, I needed something totally different to read and this wonderful, feel-good story really reminded me just how much I love reading. It’s an uplifting, cosy read with the picturesque setting of the Shetland Islands at its centre. To be more specific the allotments on the land of Lerwick Manor. It’s packed full of a wide ranging and diverse cast of characters who each bring that something special to the overall story. There’s lots going between the pages of what is a fabulous cover but it’s easy to keep track of everything going on with some romance, intrigue and what I came to call the allotment wars.
Initially I did think oh allotments, gardens, flowers and veg etc, these aren’t my cup of tea or genuine interest but thanks to the brilliant writing from the author I soon fell completely in love with the setting, the characters and all the goings on. To turn what I might consider a boring subject into something gripping and exciting is no mean feat but Erin Green certainly did this to perfection. I loved the community feeling that was built upon throughout the story and I soon forgot everything going on around me and in the world as I escaped for a few pleasurable hours of reading. I quickly became engrossed in the lives of our three main characters Jemima, Dottie and Melissa who come from different backgrounds, are vastly different ages but yet are united by their connection to the allotment. Each have their own little problems and issues but soon a strong bond of friendship is formed and lots of fun, laughter, understanding, affection and solidarity ensues.
Jemima Button hasn’t had it easy in recent times. Her mother died 9 months ago and now she finds herself in a solicitors office listening to her grandfather's will being read. Her mother had been divorced from her father for many years and his side of the family are not overly enamoured with Jemima and are more than perturbed when they hear she has inherited the keys to his allotment at Lerwick Manor. Jemima herself is still shell shocked from the loss of her mother and doesn’t really need any extra aggro from anyone but she wonders why her grandfather left her the allotment. Surely it goes to the next in line on the waiting list for plots? Jemima was a lovely character and one which many people will identify with. She was vulnerable with her anxiety levels being sky high and she feels left out and that her life is spiralling out of control. She is on sabbatical from her job at the tourist office and perhaps this gift from her grandfather whom she loved so much may very well have been a much needed blessing in disguise.
Jemima, similar to myself, was a little bit sceptical that an allotment would be the right place for her. When you have no previous experience of or interest in something how can you put your heart and soul into it? But as time passes by she finds herself with a renewed energy and this was just so wonderful to see. She has lots of plans and ideas but she soon comes to realise the allotment community has rules and regulations and time honoured traditions of doing things. Bill and Mungo laugh at her efforts but secretly you just know that they are willing her on in the right direction to continue the legacy left by her grandfather and to also help her find her new direction in life. Tending to the plot and setting new plans in motion makes Jemima realise that she had sat around feeling sorry for herself for too long when she could have been out doing stuff or achieving something. She needs to broaden her horizons and take some risks in life.
I thoroughly enjoyed accompanying Jemima on her journey and with short chapters and just the most gorgeous conversational style writing I was gripped by all the goings on that Jemima became involved in. There are lots of funny moments thrown in at the most appropriate of times and the unlawful deeds of the Far Siders provide lots of mystery and suspense. When Ned was introduced, as he tended the beehives he keeps on the allotment, the reader learns quickly of his secret but others are kept in the dark. He was a man of few words and someone who had lost all sense of purpose and to be honest I thought he was a little under utilised and only came into his own towards the end as the attention shifted towards the setting up of some new initiatives on the estate. I loved how these tied into the title and also introduced a new character which at this point had me thinking there would be another book. I didn’t feel I got to know Ned well enough even though he did prove to be an essential element to the overall plot.
Mellisa was the second main character to be introduced and she has been keen to get her hands on a plot as she needs the outlet to help her work/life balance. She has been in a long distance marriage for ten years as her husband works away on the oil rigs for months at a time. You could tell that Melissa feels abandoned and forgotten about and that all she really wants is for her husband to be by her side so they can live a normal life like a husband and wife do and start a family. This was such a wish of hers but really the way things were you couldn’t see it coming to fruition at any point in the immediate future. What came across from Melissa was this overwhelming desire to nurture and I think when she got a space on the allotment she channelled all this energy she had into nurturing what she was growing as what she wanted in her personal life never seemed likely to happen. Melissa’s story was really personal and at one point I felt it was venturing in a direction that seemed very inevitable and just too cliched for this kind of book. I was pleasantly surprised by how her story developed and concluded so to speak and was glad the author choose to do it in this manner.
Alongside Jemima, Dottie was my favourite character amongst the many that featured. She is in her 80's and had worked as a scullery maid at Lerwick Manor and now just keeps her hand visiting every few days to do some light cleaning. Dottie has an invisible thread which ties her to the islands and she is so at home working on her allotment. She is the matriarch figure in the book and takes people under her wing and you can tell she gets so much enjoyment and pleasure from this. She has her fingers in so many pies in the allotment community and I just love how she threw herself into everything but was never pushy, rude or insensitive. OK, she is in everyone’s business but it’s all done with the best of intentions and she has such a good and kind heart at her centre. I loved how she became involved with attempting to solve the mysterious goings on at the allotment and that when things went wrong for Jemima, Dottie didn’t jump to judge or blame her. Dottie is the glue that holds the allotment together and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how she interacted with everybody as she made for such a fabulous character to read about and connect with.
It takes a lot to get me excited about women’s fiction these days when I have read so many books in the genre. The same storylines start to be repeated with minor adjustments and recently I haven’t been as drawn to this genre as I have been for so many years but this highly impressive and entertaining story reaffirmed my love for this genre. I was truly gutted to reach the end as I just didn’t feel ready to let go of the characters but reading the last few chapters I sensed the way it was being written and how certain things were being set up that perhaps there would be more to come from this very special cast of characters who inhabit the most wonderful setting. So to say I was thrilled when I discovered there would be a Christmas book was an understatement. From Shetland, With Love at Christmas is the next book in what I hope will be a long running series and I can’t wait to read it. In the meantime, do yourself a favour and get your hands on this real treat of a book.