It’s an absolute delight today to be joining the blog tour for A Village Vacancy by Julie Houston, and sharing my review: published by Aria Fiction on 22nd October, it’s now available for kindle via Amazon, for Kobo, and through Google Play and iBooks. My thanks to Vicky at Aria for the invitation and support, and for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
You know how much I love her books by now, don’t you? Pop “Julie Houston” into my search bar, and you’ll find reviews of every book since Looking for Lucy way back in 2016 – and this summer’s Sing Me A Secret (just 99p, I see – free if you have Prime!) is destined to be one of my books of 2020. Westenbury’s now become my second home – and I’m just so glad Julie never keeps us waiting too long for the next visit.
From the bestselling author of A Village Affair comes a laugh out loud new Westenbury tale…
As the Yorkshire village of Westenbury mourns the loss of one of their own, the women can’t help but contemplate who will fill the vacancy in one handsome widower’s life…
Grace Stevens has decided it’s time to move on without her husband. He’s off gallivanting around Devon in search of a new life, and good riddance. It’s time to go back to teaching, so Grace returns to Little Acorns and takes on an unruly class of pre-teens.
As she deals with disasters in – and out of – the classroom including an accidental dalliance with her most troublesome pupil’s dad, helping track down a drug ring and keeping up with her closest girlfriends, Grace begins to wonder more and more about the sparkle in David’s eyes and the sparking chemistry between them.
Could Grace be the one to fill this village vacancy?
Yes, she’s done it again – another book I thoroughly enjoyed from first page to last! But I do think it’s only fair to mention that I suspect it might not be the most comfortable of reads for someone who hasn’t read at least one of the author’s books before – there’s an absolutely enormous cast of characters, introduced via the funeral that opens the book, then the female friends get a little more fleshed out with a night out in Leeds (complete with stripper…) that sets a few of the storylines in motion. But that was one of the things that made me love it – there are new characters too, but I already knew so many of them really well and was more than happy to be dropped back into their lives and see what had been happening for them all. There are small references too to the key storylines from earlier books – there were times it felt almost like being rewarded for being a long-time fan.
There are multiple storylines too, featuring different key characters – but the main story focuses on Grace, returning to work as a teacher at Little Acorns after her husband’s departure, being landed with the year group from hell. That night out brings a new man into her life, perhaps with the possibility of some happiness in her life after previous relationships have disappointed. But it’s quite a story – things take a bit of a turn, a situation that the author handles exceptionally well, before Grace realises that she’s perhaps not looking to the right person to bring her joy.
Juno, GP at the village surgery, and her family are also centre stage for much of the story (if you read Sing Me A Secret, you’ll already know them well), but her life’s not going quite the way you might have expected it to either. And while their stories drive the narrative, there’s another – and a really different one – involving the teenage characters, when you discover that Westenbury certainly isn’t immune to some of the problems you read about in the papers.
As always, one of the author’s strengths is those wonderful three-dimensional characters. I think the children and young people in this book really do deserve a special mention – I loved far-older-than her-years Tilda, Juno’s daughter, from the first time I met her, and I thought she had some of the best lines in the whole book (and she becomes more like a miniature version of her aunt Ariadne every day). That said, Grace’s adopted daughter Pietronella does come a very close second – there were times she had me in tears of laughter.
There’s perhaps a little less of the over-the-top humour in this book than there was in some of the others – the themes are pretty serious at times – but the author really wouldn’t be herself if she didn’t have you in stitches for at least some of the time. I’m so glad she brought back the character of Lithuanian lollipop lady Deimante, now with aspirations to become a teacher – sadly, her grasp of the language is always likely to be an impediment, but her heart’s certainly in the right place. A lot of the humour comes too from the relationships within the circle of friends – and the author still has that perfect balance between laugh-out-loud and those other moments of tremendous warmth and poignancy.
I enjoyed this book every bit as much as I’ve loved all the author’s other books – but (just so you’ll enjoy it as much as I did) I would suggest that you don’t make this one the first time you read her writing, do try at least one or two of the back catalogue first. But I’m now ready for my next visit to Westenbury – my kind of place, my kind of people, and Julie Houston’s certainly my kind of writer.
About the author
Julie Houston is the author of The One Saving Grace, Goodness, Grace and Me, A Village Affair, and Looking For Lucy, a Kindle top 100 general bestseller and a Kindle #1 bestseller. She is married, with 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.
Follow Aria Books: