Well, I did promise, didn’t I? After sharing the simply gorgeous cover on 15th June, it’s a real delight today to help launch the blog tour and to share my publication day review of Wedding Bells at the Signal Box Café by Annette Hannah: published for kindle by Orion Dash, it’s now available via Amazon in the UK and US. My thanks to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
Many others will be just as thrilled as I am to see Annette achieving her writing ambitions. She’s known (and loved) by many through her hard work as Press Officer for the Romantic Novelists’ Association: others (like me) will go back rather further, perhaps having first met her through her lovely book blog Sincerely BookAngels and enjoyed her friendship at all the many book-related events. I really wanted to love her debut novel – but you do always worry a bit, don’t you? You know, in case you need to just say a few nice things before moving on to the next book – but I always had a good feeling about this one. And my goodness, I certainly wasn’t disappointed – this book was just wonderful, everything I really hoped it would be, and so much more than that…
Here comes the bride…
Lucy Woods has always dreamed of running her very own wedding venue. After moving her eight-year-old son to the countryside she’s surprised to find the perfect location and her best friend, Abbie, eager to help make that dream a reality! Too bad Abbie’s older brother Dominic isn’t keen on Lucy or their big idea!
As a divorce lawyer Dominic doesn’t believe in love at first sight or wedding vows, he’s seen them broken more times than he can count. But when Lucy arrives back in town, his hardened heart begins to crack.
Making her dream come true is a huge undertaking, but Lucy knows that The Signal Box Café is her chance to finally make something of her life. If only the irritating (and oh-so-gorgeous) Dom didn’t make her imagine wearing a white dress and walking down the aisle…
Can Lucy and Dominic find a way to each other this summer or will the wedding bells chime for another couple?
I read many, many romance books every year – I do choose fairly carefully, and as a result thoroughly enjoy almost every one. But every so often a new author comes along, and with their very first book a little magic happens – that’s how I felt about this gorgeous debut from Annette Hannah, and I can honestly say that it’s one of my favourites this year. At heart it’s a fairly classic story of love developing from the most unpromising of beginnings, but the absolute joy is both in its telling and in the many extra layers the author adds to the story.
The relationship between Lucy and eight-year-old son Jackson is quite beautifully portrayed, overflowing with love, when they arrive for a stay in their grandfather’s home of Railway Cottage in the market town of Bramblewood: they’re accompanied by their large shaggy and enthusiastic dog Baxter, and are hoping for their fresh start. You might already know that I’m sometimes not too much of a fan of young children in books, but Jackson – as he pushed up his loose glasses and sighed for his absent father – entirely won my heart.
The initial plan is for a wedding planning business (and I will admit it’s not the first time I’ve read about that this year…), working with childhood friend and photographer Abbie to provide a complete package – and that’s where the “wedding bells” come in. But then Lucy has the vision of turning the signal box where her grandfather once worked into a cafe, a unique venue for her weddings and so much more – and sets about the considerable challenge of doing just that.
Meanwhile her grandfather Dougie is staying at Sycamore Lodge nursing home, getting back on his feet after a fall and with a few other health problems: that’s a location and wider cast of characters that provides a really rich vein for a lot of the book’s humour, and quite a few of the loveliest moments along the way. But the relationship between Dougie and the young family is something rather special too – there are so many scenes and interactions that really warm the cockles of your heart. Dougie’s one of those rarities in some of the books I read – a believable older character, no stereotyping, and his own story provides a rather lovely reminder that later life can be real fun and that it’s never too late for its pleasures to catch you unawares.
And then there’s Cam – Abbie’s brother, Lucy’s childhood friend, and now a hotshot divorce lawyer. He’s distinctly hot to look at (especially when you catch one of those rare smiles), but he really does need to loosen up and relax a little. And, of course, that’s what happens – very slowly, and with a few reversals – and the unlikely romance that develops is strong, believable, and makes you feel particularly warm and fuzzy. And should you be looking for even more warm fuzziness, just wait for his interactions with young Jackson… there’s one in particular that drives a little bit of the action and it makes you want to laugh and cry all at the same time.
Those are just the main characters – but every one in the supporting cast, no matter how peripheral, is just perfectly drawn. The book’s setting is just wonderful too. I have no idea where the fictional town of Bramblewood is – I do know it’s an easy commute on the train to London – but I really think I’d like to live there too. There’s a wonderful sense of place – I loved the walk along the canal, Rosie’s cafe boat, the art gallery, Flowerpots garden centre, and that perfect feeling of community that I always think makes a book particularly special. The emotional touch is just right throughout too – there’s plenty of humour, all so well done, but also a lot of tenderness and poignancy, a combination that makes the whole book so thoroughly enjoyable and feel-good.
And the whole idea of bringing the signal box back to life and giving it new purpose is so different and original – the whole process of getting it up and running is a fascinating enterprise, filled with the most perfect touches of detail that I really must leave you to discover for yourself.
This was the loveliest book. There are times when you can tell that a book is a debut, an author feeling their way, searching for their own voice – but this is an author who’s already hit her comfortable stride, with real confidence and fluency to the writing. Beautifully done, and really highly recommended – this is a book I’m more than happy to shout about, and will do so for some time to come.
About the author
Annette Hannah is a Liver Bird who relocated to leafy Hertfordshire in the 80’s and now lives near a river with her husband, two of their three grown up children and a crazy black cocker spaniel. She writes Romantic comedies in settings inspired by the beautiful countryside around her and always with a nod to her hometown. As an avid reader she became a book blogger and eventually realised her dream to become an author in 2020.
She loves long walks along the river, travelling to far flung places, the odd glass of Pinot Blush and spending time with her friends and family.