Returning home is never smooth sailing…
Summoned by her childhood best friend, Kate Vincent doesn’t stop to think. Instead she books at one-way ticket from New York back to Wigtown, Scotland, leaving her glittering new life behind. Scenes of idyllic holidays at Bluebell Bank with the Cotton family dance in her mind, but not everything has stayed the way it once was… Especially when her first love, Luke, returns to town.
Emily Cotton never expected one email, sent off in a wine-fuelled daze, to bring her old friend barrelling through the front door of her dismally failing bookshop. But life for the Cottons isn’t what it once was; Emily’s brothers are hardly speaking, her beloved grandmother isn’t quite the same and Emily…well, Emily is the one most in need of Kate’s help.
Kate has given herself until the end of the summer to stay in Wigtown. Can she bring the Cottons back together, and save the family who once saved her?
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I was looking through my TBR for something nice, light and easy to read and came across the début novel from Jen Mouat - Summer at Bluebell Bank. To be honest I had completely forgotten I had it waiting to be read and really it was the bright summery cover that made me think this was the read I was looking for. Something not too taxing but with a nice message none the less. I glanced through the blurb and it sounded like a good read, the fact that it had a bookshop in the story made me want to choose it even more. Well, I wasn't one bit disappointed in my choice as this proved to be an excellent read and a highly impressive début that made me think why is it now we are only hearing from this author?
Don't be mislead by the cover that this is a run of the mill chick-lit read as you would be disappointed to miss out on this one. It's far from the boy meets girl story, it had so much depth to it which really surprised me and the standard of the writing was phenomenal. The author really got inside her characters heads and because the writing was so detailed and emotional I felt as a reader I did the same. The author managed to weave in several topical issues around the main strand of the story -that of the attempts of Kate and Emily to rekindle their friendship. In many other books I have often felt the author was throwing in little sub plots just to take up space and make things slightly controversial and it feels very contrived. Here the author did this but it wasn't page filling and I felt they combined very well with the overall storyline.
Summer at Bluebell Bank opens as Kate Vincent returns to Wigtown in Scotland after an absence of six years. She would much prefer to be back in America getting on with her advertising job rather than entering a musty old bookshop to meet a friend she had ran away from so many years ago. But Kate is a prime example of, if someone gets in contact with you and is in desperate need no matter what has happened before, you will always come running to help. Kate received a drunken email from her friend Emily Cotton, basically a cry for help. She has bought a bookshop but is floundering and doesn't know what to do with it to bring it back to life and start making some money. The only problem is Kate and Emily haven't spoken in so long and given they were the best of friends and lived in each other's pockets it's brave on both women’s parts to reopen the lines of communication.
Instantly I wanted to know what had happened to make the pair cease all communication. I knew I wasn't going to to get answers all that easily and the pace of discovery of their back story was a joy to read. The author moved back and forth between the present and also offered glimpses into their teenage years and how Kate and Emily came to be almost like sisters, yet something tore them apart. But the reader can sense that this could be the turning point, that the two wish to re-establish their friendship. The fact they have made the first steps in a tentative reunion can only be a good thing.
Kate is soon on board with plenty of ideas to help Emily get the bookshop up and running. Emily had been stalling for so long and her family were worried about her. She was at a loss and to be honest I thought she was an emotional wreck and very vulnerable, that any little thing would set her off. Basically she wasn't coping very well and as she slowly reveals some of her story, it made much more sense to me and I completely understood the way she was and why she was in the position she found herself in. With the return of Kate maybe memories could be resurrected, good times and bad and old ghosts and secrets put to rest.
I had initially thought the focus would solely be on the bookshop and god I love nothing than a good old story based on books and bookshops but instead it was a mere starting point and a focus at times at various times throughout the book. Normally I would be disappointed the bookshop wasn't getting enough attention but I wasn't here at all and that's down to the amazing writing from the author where every word was carefully chosen, every sentence so artfully constructed and such attention and care given to each character and their storyline and the range of emotions and situations they were dealing with and experiencing. I found myself completely drawn into the story just like Kate was once again drawn back into the embrace of the Cotton family. A family who meant so very much to her in the past, who took in her during holidays and offered her stability, comfort, hope, protection and love when it was so sorely lacking in her own home.
Kate had a business head on her and was practical regarding every aspect of her life where it seemed to me initially that Emily partly had her head in the clouds yet on other occasions she exposed her fragility and lack of confidence. Kate hopes to start afresh and that everything at Bluebell Bank – the house where Lena, Emily's grandmother lives, will have remain unchanged. The Cotton family and Lena were there for Kate when she needed support the most and now that she is back to confront old demons and help Emily too she wishes that everything has remained the same that the fond memories she has were not just made up in her head.
I thought Kate was bit foolish to expect to return and that time had more or less stalled in her absence. Life moves on at a fast pace on a daily basis and she was silly to expect people to be there waiting for her or that their feelings hadn't changed or that they hadn’t moved on with their lives. It's disconcerting for Kate to see Lena whom she loved so deeply declining with Alzheimers and now Emily is left to look after her. The brothers Dan, Ally, Fergus and Noah have all grown and moved on with their lives. I think Kate needed to be more realistic with her expectations and also more willing to accept what people were trying to say to her. She was very stubborn most of the time and she found forgiveness very hard to dish out. Kate was looking for redemption with Emily, to go back to more happier times, to start afresh, to retrace their steps and get everything out in the open but after everything they have been through and with Emily in a precarious state will the path to the end be smooth sailing?
Love in all its various forms plays a crucial role throughout the story, be it the love between close friends, the love a family has for each other or the love between a man and a woman. Love in fact is one of the main problems Emily and Kate have and if they can't resolve their issues and put the past to bed there will be no way of moving forward. Regarding Kate's situation I became very frustrated with her and at some points I started to dislike her and then within a few chapters I liked her again. That's the sign of a good author making you change your feelings and opinions of characters several times over all within a few chapters. I couldn't fathom how her heart and mind stirred up such feelings for certain characters when with one it should have been a no-go zone entirely despite their shared history. Kate's story was complex and riveting, I never knew how it would all end but I knew as the book progressed she wasn’t going down without a fight. In the same way Emily wasn't as strong she too began a slow transformation but she had a lot to get through before she could see any glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel
I'm glad this book wasn't all sweetness and light and plain sailing with everything virtually handed to the characters on a plate and everything wrapped up quickly. Instead Kate and Emily had an emotional struggle to right the wrongs both had done. The various minor characters had their own battles to deal with too and all were handled with such tact as we journeyed with them to bring things out in the open. Things that had been suppressed for too long. The only minor criticism I have is that I felt the middle part of the book dragged on a bit with not much happening before the latter quarter really ramped up the pace and became a real page turner with lots going on. Towards the end I thought there was a beautiful analogy that characters in books as in the books Emily loves to read so much, do not transform once the pages are closed you can return for comfort and reassurance. Kate was hoping returning to the Cottons would be like this but as each family member is coping with something one wondered throughout the book would she find the reassurance she so desperately sought?
I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I spent reading Summer at Bluebell Bank and I really got that thrill of discovering a new author and knowing that you will always look forward to reading whatever they write in the future. The story brought me on a journey with Emily and Kate and such compelling writing really transported the reader to the heart of the story. Don't let this brilliant read pass you by.
Many thanks to HQ Digital via NetGalley for my copy of Summer at Bluebell Bank to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.