Sincere apologies for being so late in the day with this blog tour review – life’s just a tad unpredictable at the moment, but I was determined not to miss my chance to tell everyone how very much I enjoyed A Village Affair by Julie Houston. It was published by Aria on 6th November – available from Amazon for kindle, and also available through Kobo, iBooks and Google Play – and my thanks to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy. I really loved Looking for Lucy (read my review here, along with a lovely interview), which saw me add Julie Houston to my “must read” list after far too long as a “favourite author that I’ve never read” – and An Off-Piste Christmas, her Christmas novella, also won my heart (review here). But this book – it was just the perfect escape from everyday life and its problems, and sheer enjoyment from its first page to the very last.
Cassie Beresford has recently landed her dream job as deputy head teacher at her local, idyllic village primary school, Little Acorns. So, the last thing she needs is her husband of twenty years being ‘outed’ at a village charity auction – he has been having an affair with one of her closest friends.
As if it weren’t enough to cope with, Cassie suddenly finds herself catapulted into the head teacher position, and at the front of a fight to ward off developers determined to concrete over the beautiful landscape.
But through it all, the irresistible joy of her pupils, the reality of keeping her teenage children on the straight and narrow, her irrepressible family and friends, and the possibility of new love, mean what could have been the worst year ever, actually might be the best yet…
You’ll know by now that I’m not always a pushover for romantic comedies – and when I saw that this book included a glorious love object, a squirrel in the school pink custard and goolies in the cellar, I did start to doubt that it would be entirely one I’d love. But the humour was totally spot-on for me, and perfectly judged – add in farmer’s wife and friend Fiona and her unguarded comments, Lithuanian lollipop lady Deimante and her grasp of English, and the most wonderful little vignettes of school life, and this book often had me quite helpless with laughter.
But the author has a quite perfect touch and sense of balance – although you’re never that many pages away from the next laugh, the whole book is also poignant and touching, a really engaging story full of unexpected twists and turns, a strong and believable love story, a tale of corporate greed, a family drama with some real edge, and so very much more. And it’s all shot through with a strong sense of place, some wonderfully drawn characters, and a real flavour of Yorkshire that just couldn’t fail to win my heart.
Cassie is a magnificent focus for the story, with her many different faces – Mrs Beresford to the children at Little Acorns, Cassandra Moonbeam thanks to her gloriously eccentric (and rather wonderful) mother, Cass to her errant husband Mark, mum to her family, Cassie only to her lovely circle of friends. She made me laugh, she sometimes made me cheer, she made me really worry for her, she frequently made me want to give her a big hug – and I really wanted, rather against the odds at times, for her to have the happy ending she so thoroughly deserved.
This review is part of a rather massive blog tour – more details below – and you’ll read far better and more thorough reviews than mine of this lovely book. But you’re very unlikely to find a reviewer who enjoyed it more than I did. I loved this book without reservation.
With thanks to publishers Aria, I’ll just share an extract to give you a taster… and what a shocker this moment was!
‘You’re looking lovely as usual, sweetie,’ Tina said, pouring champagne for me and admiring the new black skimpy cocktail dress I was wearing in honour of this charity ball and auction. ‘Mark been shopping for you again? You must have the only husband in Midhope who not only knows your size, but knows what will suit you and who isn’t afraid to go into Bows and Belles to search for it.’
As she spoke I glanced up at Mark, who ran his fingers down my bare back while continuing his conversation with Simon, Tina’s husband.
‘Now,’ Tina continued, polishing off her drink before reaching for the bottle and refilling her glass, ‘we don’t want to miss any of this auction. I’ve got my eye on the villa in Portugal that’s up for grabs: one week next August. It sleeps fourteen – can you imagine? – so it’ll be jolly expensive, but it comes with a personal chef…’ Tina thrust the auction pamphlet into my hand. ‘Look, Lot four… If we all club together it won’t be too bad. What do you think…?’
‘Sounds heaven.’ I closed my eyes, imagining a week of hot sunshine and no cooking or clearing up into the bargain; being waited on hand and foot while drinking cocktails with my three best friends and our families. ‘Will Clare come, do you think?’
‘I don’t see why not. She’d be able to bring her man of the moment. Whoever that might be…’
‘Should we be bidding on something while Mark is the auctioneer?’ I frowned. ‘I mean, might it not be seen as bending the rules if the auction goes our way?’
‘Oh, it’ll be fine.’ Tina dismissed my worries with a wave of her hand, which turned into a wave of welcome as Fi, Matthew and Clare made their way across the crowded bar to our table. ‘Simon will bid for us. Anyway, it’s who comes up with the best bid. Mark can’t control that. We’ll just have to make sure we urge Simon on to the bitter end… until we have victory.’
An hour had passed, the starter – a doughy, tepid mushroom vol-au-vent – had been served and, in some cases eaten with gusto; in most, attempted and left on the sides of plates. Fi and I, enjoying the champagne and Clare’s tale involving her latest conquest – a traffic warden whom she took up to her office in order to avoid a parking ticket – had to be shushed by Tina as Mark took the auctioneer’s stand and someone on the front table affected a drum roll with a couple of side plates on its wooden top.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the 2017 Midhope Families in Need appeal. The majority of us here in this room will never understand what some families have to go through just to survive and stay together…’ Mark paused theatrically and surveyed the room, smiling. ‘… So, dig deep in those pockets, refill your glasses and let’s get going with the first ten lots in your booklet this evening.’
I felt tears threaten and swallowed hard. Mark had always been determined to put others first, but even so, it was ridiculous to be still so in love with one’s husband after all these years. Fi and Clare were laughing at me: they knew how Mark and I felt about each other.
‘Simon, are you ready?’ As soon as the auction for Lot four – the villa in Portugal – was about to start, Tina shook Simon’s arm none too gently and the white wine he’d been about to lift to his mouth spilt over both their hands. Tina glared at him.
‘Look, I really want this. Do you want me to do it? Shall I bid…?’
Simon was very drunk.
He staggered to his feet with the auction pamphlet in one hand and, after stabilising himself by grabbing the loose folds of the starched white tablecloth, refilled his glass and immediately downed it in one.
‘So, we come to Lot four. A really fabulous villa in Carvoeiro in Portugal…’ The sound of Mark’s steady, encouraging tone momentarily distracted my attention from Simon, who was now standing calmly to my left. Only his eyes, glittering almost manically, portrayed how much alcohol he’d consumed.
‘… We’re up to £2,000. Come on, a fabulous villa for fourteen must be worth a lot more than this. Who’ll give me £2,200?’
Mark smiled at the guests in front of him. He wasn’t going to hurry this; he knew he was on to a winner with this villa.
‘Mr Auctioneer,’ Simon shouted loudly and the whole room turned, surprised, towards our table ‘… Mr Mark Fucking Auctioneer. Tell you what. You stop shagging my wife, as you’ve been doing for the last… um, let me see… two years isn’t it…? You stop shagging my wife and I’ll give you however much you think that’s worth…
About the author
Julie Houston is the author of The One Saving Grace, Goodness, Grace and Me and Looking for Lucy, a Kindle top 100 general bestseller and a Kindle Number1 bestseller. She is married, with the two teenage children and a mad cockerpoo and, like her heroine, lives in a West Yorkshire village. She is also a teacher and a magistrate.
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