It’s far too long since I last read and reviewed a book from Samantha Tonge, so I’m delighted today to be joining the blog tour for her latest, Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage. Published yesterday (15th April) as an e-book by Aria Fiction (available for kindle, Kobo and via Google Play), the paperback will follow on 8th July (available for preorder via Amazon and Bookshop.org). My thanks to Vicky Joss at Aria for the invitation and support, and for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
And when I say “far too long”, it really is – it was 2016 when I reviewed How To Get Hitched in Ten Days (review here), and 2018 for the lovely One Summer in Rome (you can read that review here). I did really want to read Sam’s last book, The Winter We Met – and I read some great reviews – but the subject matter was sadly just a bit too close to home for me at the time. But no such problems this time – and I was really looking forward to this one…
A new start can come from the most unexpected places…
It’s been years since Lizzie Lockhart spoke to her parents. But she was safe in the knowledge she knew everything about them. Once upon a time, they were as close as could be. Until they weren’t.
After receiving the earth-shattering news of their passing, Lizzie decides it’s time to unearth some family secrets and find out just who her parents really were… starting with Streamside Cottage. A cottage Lizzie never knew existed, in a place she’s never heard of: the beautiful English village of Leafton.
Leaving behind London, and the tattoo parlour she called home, Lizzie finds herself moving to the countryside. Faced with a tight-lipped community, who have secrets of their own, Lizzie is at a loss for what to do, until her rather handsome neighbour, Ben, steps in to help.
As Lizzie finally begins to piece together the puzzle of her family history she realises she has to confront the truth of the past in order to face her future.
Having read some of those early romances, I’ll admit I was perhaps expecting this book to be a little lighter – but that’s in no way a complaint, because I thoroughly enjoyed the way the author blended dark secrets and thriller elements into this excellent story.
After an over-protected – loving, but a little stifling – upbringing, Lizzie has struck out on her own, training as a tattoo artist, a job she really loves. She’s become estranged from her parents, but their loss in a tragic accident hits her hard – and when she discovers that they owned a property in the village of Leafton that she didn’t know about, left to her aunt in their will, she decides to visit for a while with no particular plan other than to try to understand a little more about the parents she thought she knew so well. The cottage is a little neglected, but she takes solace in its beautiful natural setting – the woodlands, the river, all beautifully and vividly described – and is welcomed by the community, finding a particular friend in postman Ben, along with a nice frisson of attraction. But she’s no closer to understanding why her parents kept the place a secret, although she does uncover all kinds of other details about the cottage’s past.
At first, I was expecting a touch of the supernatural – some of the stories she uncovered seemed to be leading that way. But then – and it’s beautifully led up to – the secrets she really wanted to uncover begin tumbling from the woodwork, and the whole book moved in a direction I never expected. And it’s so well handled – that steady drip as the truth becomes clearer, the glimpses of her past life fed into the narrative, the real surprises as the full story slowly emerges.
At the book’s centre, Lizzie is superbly drawn, and very likeable – independent, a little quirky, passionate about her art and the future she’s chosen – and I really liked the way her character fleshed out as the story unwound, with those early glimpses of her former life and her increasing understanding of the difference between wrapping in love and over-protection. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where tattooing played such a prominent part either – small facts beginning each chapter, relevant to what follows, that I found simply fascinating – and there’s some really well developed detail about an art that’s often misunderstood and the reasons why people might choose that particular adornment.
The story that emerges is dark and unexpected, but the whole book is particularly well balanced – there’s lightness and humour too, a slow-burning and believable romance, and a lot of warmth in the character interactions. It’s certainly a page turner – and I rather enjoyed the fact that it almost encouraged me to draw my own conclusions about the way the story was going, only to find that I was far wide of the mark. That’s really clever writing – and it certainly kept me on my toes, and rather on the edge of my seat. The final revelations might have been a surprise, but were wholly consistent and believable with the way the story unfolded.
Very different and original, I thoroughly enjoyed this one – and I’ll definitely look forward to reading more from Samantha Tonge.
About the author
Samantha Tonge lives in Manchester UK with her husband and children. She studied German and French at university and has worked abroad, including a stint at Disneyland Paris. She has travelled widely. When not writing she passes her days cycling, baking and drinking coffee. Samantha has sold many dozens of short stories to women’s magazines. She is represented by the Darley Anderson literary agency.
In 2013, she landed a publishing deal for romantic comedy fiction with HQDigital at HarperCollins and in 2014, her bestselling debut, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award. In 2015 her summer novel, Game of Scones, hit #5 in the UK Kindle chart and won the Love Stories Awards Best Romantic Ebook category. In 2018 Forgive Me Not heralded a new direction into darker women’s fiction with publisher Canelo. In 2019 she was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association romantic comedy award.
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