It’s such a pleasure today to join the blog tour – last stop! – for The Little Village Library by Helen Rolfe, and share my review: it was published on 6th February by Orion, and is available as an e-book, paperback and audiobook. My thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for the invitation, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
I have to say it was quite a novelty to read a full-length novel from Helen – I’ve so loved her two recent series, set at the Café at the End of the Pier (complete book now available – you’ll find it here) and in Lantern Square (complete book to be published in August – you can pre-order it here). If you pop the author’s name in the search box (on the right) you can catch up on all those reviews if you’d like to.
And now, another new location, and new people to get to know… but I was rather looking forward to discovering Cloverdale. Let’s take a closer look…
It takes a village…
Cloverdale is known for its winding roads, undulating hills and colourful cottages, and more recently, its Library of Shared Things. Need a ladder, a hedge trimmer or a waffle-maker? You can borrow it from the Library of Shared Things.
Single dad Adam is doing a good job of raising his daughter, Zoe, whilst burying his past and moving forwards. When he agrees to run a mending workshop at the Library, new friendships start to blossom.
Jennifer is a volunteer at the Library. When her younger sister Isla moves back to Cloverdale after their mother dies, Jennifer finds herself wondering whether Isla is hiding something.
And when Adam’s daughter Zoe makes a startling discovery, it’s time for the people at the Library of Shared Things to pull together and help one family with its biggest challenge of all.
This is a novel with community at its heart. It’s about the kindness we can find when we least expect it and the bonds we can form when we’re not even looking.
A word first, I think, for the idea that gave birth to this book – the quite inspired Library of Shared Things. And in the wonderfully drawn community of Cloverdale, it becomes so much more than where they go to borrow their leaf-blowers, waffle makers and power tools. It becomes a real hub for the village’s residents, with its range of activities like the “how to” sessions and dance classes, as well as being somewhere the lonely can always find friends and conversation.
The central characters are quite beautifully drawn. Jennifer, the driving force behind the library, was quite complex and particularly relatable – and then there’s her rather exotic and unreliable sister Isla, newly returned to the village, getting a few people a little hot under the collar. Adam and his family are a bit of an enigma – a dad with two children, and an absent wife – and his story provides everyone with lots of opportunity for speculation. And then there’s Viola, bit of a perfectionist and superwoman – but why is there such tension between her and Jennifer when they were once such close friends?
What follows is a story with rather darker edges than you might be expecting, and a few quite heavy issues – but they’re all particularly sensitively handled, taking the story in directions you might not be expecting (and that’s always a good thing), and the secrets revealed all come as a bit of a surprise.
I’ll will admit that I did find this book just a little bit heavy on the dialogue – although always particularly realistic and well-done – with characters explaining things, sharing their secrets and stories, and that did start to slow the pace a little more than I’d have liked it to. But then again, there’s a scene towards the book’s end that has you reading through your fingers, heart in mouth – and the pace picks up as much as you could ever ask for.
The author’s writing is, as always, superb – she really does have a particular skill for creating a community you find yourself living in the heart of, peopled by characters who become entirely real. And this is an excellent story – a whole set of strong stories really – with a depth and unpredictability that I very much enjoyed.
About the author
Helen J Rolfe writes contemporary women’s fiction with an emphasis on relationships and love. She enjoys weaving stories about family, friendship, secrets, and characters who face challenges and fight to overcome them. Helen enjoys creating strong female lead characters and although her stories often deal with serious issues, they always have a happy ending.