It’s a pleasure today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of The House That Alice Built by Chris Penhall, published as an e-book by Ruby Fiction on 17th August, available via Amazon in the UK and US, on all other major e-book platforms, and as an audio download. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be part of the tour and for her ongoing support, and to the publishers for providing my e-copy for review.
This is the book that won the Choc Lit Search for a Star competition this year, and that’s what really made me add it to my “must read” list – the previous winners have never (ever) disappointed, so my expectations were really high for this rather lovely looking book (isn’t the cover just gorgeous?). And, would you believe it, I’ve never visited Portugal (only Madeira) – so I was rather looking forward to a bit of armchair travel too…
Home is where the heart is…
Alice Dorothy Matthews is sensible. Whilst her best friend Kathy is living it up in Portugal and her insufferable ex Adam is travelling the world, Alice is working hard to pay for the beloved London house she has put her heart and soul into renovating. But then a postcard from Buenos Aires turns Alice’s life upside down.
One very unsensible decision later and she is in Cascais, Portugal, and so begins her lesson in ‘going with the flow’; a lesson that sees her cat-sitting, paddle boarding, dancing on top of bars and rediscovering her artistic talents. But perhaps the most important part of the lesson for Alice is that you don’t always need a house to be at home.
I’d hoped for a well-drawn location, and I certainly enjoyed my visit to Cascais – it’s beautifully described, with its squares and markets and the accompanying tourist invasion that doesn’t detract from the setting’s charm. But this book also tells a really good story – Alice deciding to flee from her problems, only to find that escape proves rather impossible. But along the way, it’s also a heartwarming story of friendship and support, with an initially unlikely developing romance and a rather lovely theme of finding strength in yourself to create new beginnings.
There’s a nice thread of humour that runs through, with a mildly eccentric cast of supporting characters. And the enjoyment was in some of the lovely little touches – the way Alice is warned off every male character because of their apparent reputation, the situations brought about by Mary’s stash of tea and the friends’ attempts to recreate it, the joy when Alice rediscovers her art and creativity.
There’s just a little darkness and threat in the characters surrounding Luis, and even more threat from ex Adam – but there’s also a real lightness in the story’s telling, a feel-good factor that makes it a pleasure to read. And when Alice allows herself to relax – the paddle-boarding, the dancing on the bar, the losing of herself in creating her mosaics and taking photographs – you really do find yourself relaxing with her as she finds what makes her happy and begins to move forward.
There were a few individual characters I really liked, as well as Alice herself. Luis is suitably gorgeous with a few intriguing depths, but I also really liked taxi-driver Ignacio (what a lovely man…) and Carlos at the cafe on the square: I enjoyed too the sub-plot of the on-off relationship between Kathy and Stephano.
Well written, and nicely done – and a nice escapist read to while away a few hours, to feel the heat of the sun as winter creeps ever closer.
About the author
Chris Penhall is a freelance writer and radio producer. Her book, The House that Alice Built, won the Choc Lit Search for a Star Competition 2019.
Born in South Wales, she has also lived near London and in Portugal, which is where The House that Alice Built is set. It was whilst living in Cascais near Lisbon that she began to dabble in writing fiction, but it was many years later that she was confident enough to start writing her first novel, and many years after that she finally finished it! She is now working on her second.
A lover of books, music and cats, she is also an enthusiastic salsa dancer, a keen cook, and loves to travel. She is never happier than when she is gazing at the sea. Chris has two grown up daughters and lives in the Essex countryside. Chris is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association.