A Village Secret by Julie Houston
Please note, I received a free copy of A Village Affair in return for an honest review.
I love the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. 4 days off work stretch ahead, the weather is usually OK, the lambs have been born and there is chocolate EVERYWHERE. It's like Christmas with less presents but better weather.
Today I'm reviewing Julie Houston's latest release which I was lucky enough to be considered for a free netgalley copy. This is perfect for fans of Katie Fforde, a country setting, a feckless husband, strong women and a satisfying conclusion. Even better it is set in my beloved Yorkshire. So let's dive in shall we?
When Jennifer goes up to Cambridge University with her head full of the romantic poets, she never dreams that she will find her very own Byron. But then she meets gorgeous actor Laurie Lewis and finds herself in a real-life love poem.
15 years and 2 children later, Jennifer and Laurie's relationship is starting to feel more like an epic tragedy. After a series of revaelations turn her world upside down, Jennifer will do anything to keep her family together - even if it means moving hundreds of miles away to Laurie's childhood home in Westenbury, Yorkshire.
As she reluctantly enters into village life - complete with interfering in-laws, new friends, a surprise delivery of alpacas - Jennifer is amazed to find herself feeling happy for the first time in years. But the village holds one last, devastating secret and Jennifer must decide once and for all what she wants her future to hold.
Westenbury is the setting for Julia Houston's novels, which can all be read as standalone novels.
As I was reading all about the village of Westenbury in deepest, darkest Yorkshire, it seemed awfully familiar. Checking the author biography I discovered that Julia Houston actually lives in my old home town. Whilst Westenbury does not actually exist, Mirfield does. And Julia has done an amazing job of capturing this beautiful part of West Yorkshire.
The story is split into different times of Jen's life. We see the heady days of university, where her and Laurie spot each other across a crowded pub and Jen falls hopelessly in love with his Byronic good looks.
We follow Jen through her early career working for a publisher and writing her first successful novel, whilst Laurie attends audition after audition searching for the perfect acting role. This leads us to the present, where they are deeply entrenched in their marriage with 2 children.
Laurie is a philandering, feckless, useless husband, expecting to be adored, provided for, looked after and a bind eye turned to his many affairs. This leads to a painful court case, where Jen is forced to listen to evidence of Laurie's many indiscretions.
If I'm honest, I didn't really warm to Jen at the start of the book. I wanted to shake her and tell her to wake up and see what Laurie was doing! Even when she was forced to sell their home and move hundreds of miles away to the bleak family home in Yorkshire, she seemed to miserably go along with it.
It is at this point, that we see a sea-change in Jen. She becomes less closed off, more trusting, opening up to new friends she has made. Best of all, gone is doormat Jen. She finds passion writing about, well passion, rather than poets and begins to appreciate the beautiful Yorkshire countryside along with it's changing seasons. Indeed this reflects Jen's life, and it is in beautiful spring that she starts to tell Laurie where to stick it. At this point, I actually found myself punching the air and saying 'YES!!'
We start to see her actually live her life now that the millstone of Laurie has gone. I found myself willing Jen to succeed.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. It is a wonderfully told story of first love, losing and then finding oneself again. I felt invested in Jen and her story. It's also a testament to the power of coming home, belonging and the strength that provides. This is an excellent read, perfect for fans of Katie Fforde or Jo Thomas.
A big thank you to Julia and her publication team for sending me a copy of the novel. I've loved reading all about Jen and visiting a place very close to my heart.