It’s a real pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for the latest book from the lovely Jennifer Bohnet, Summer at the Château, and sharing my review: published by Boldwood Books on 13th May, it’s now available as an ebook (free for kindle via Kindle Unlimited), in paperback, and also as an audiobook. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
Jennie’s wonderful books have been one of my favourite ways to escape from life for quite a few years now – she’s taken me through all the ups and downs of life, whisking me away into the world of her creation. You’ll find reviews of some of her earlier books here on Being Anne (A French Pirouette, The Little Kiosk by the Sea – my personal favourite! – and Rosie’s Little Café on the Riviera) and quite a few other features and guest posts too. I sadly didn’t manage to read A Year of Taking Chances or Summer at Coastguard Cottages – and then she joined Boldwood Books, and I couldn’t quite fit in the reading of Villa of Sun and Secrets or A Riviera Retreat either. But I was able to rediscover her lovely writing this April with Rendez-Vous in Cannes – an absolute delight, and you’ll find my review here – and again with A French Affair which I equally enjoyed (you’ll find the review here). Since then, there’s been another I just had to “pass” on because of a blogging log-jam – One Summer in Monte Carlo – but I knew there wouldn’t be too long to wait for her next one.
Let’s take a look…
Every end has a new beginning…
All NEW from bestselling author Jennifer Bohnet.
When Pixie Sampson’s husband tragically dies, she inherits the beautiful Château Quiltu in Brittany, Northern France.
But unbeknown to her, she also inherits a mysterious lodger, Justine Martin and her 4-year-old son Ferdie.
Heartbroken and with her adventurous Mum, Gwen in tow, they travel to France to put the Château on the market but are soon drawn into a quest to seek the Château’s secrets.
Who is Justine? Why is she living at the Château? How did she know her husband?
Over the Summer months, the Château fills with family and laughter and secrets are discovered and old wounds begin to heal.
Jennifer Bohnet’s books are always one of my favourite ways to escape from life – her books are always guaranteed to make me feel I’ve been away on a really enjoyable holiday with their wonderfully drawn locations, the stories gently told but with plenty of intrigue to keep the pages turning, with characters I can really identify with and believe in, filled with friends and family, and a few surprises along the way.
I was particularly delighted that this book took us once more to Brittany: I remember a special holiday, camping in Finistère in the early 70s, and there was so much I recognised about the setting, a slice of French life perfectly recreated. And it was set in the same area as the last book I read from her, A French Affair, so there were also opportunities to meet up again with friends I remembered – that’s something I always so much enjoy – but if this is your first visit, both books are entirely standalone, and those characters are only part of the supporting cast, nothing that will spoil your enjoyment.
Pixie and Frank had always planned to move to France, running a retreat for writers, living an idyllic life in the château they’d been looking forward to owning – taking advantage of the complex system of “viager” they’d made a down payment, followed by monthly payments for the vendor’s lifetime, awaiting the time when they could finally take ownership and begin their new life. But Frank’s sudden death has rather made that dream an impossibility – we join Pixie as she’s dealing with her grief, considering her future, contemplating too whether it might be a good idea to invite her elderly mother Gwen to live with her, ready to make a start on finalising Frank’s affairs.
And that’s when she comes across the first of many surprises, a secret Frank has inexplicably kept from her – the château is theirs, the vendor already having passed away, so she’s faced with the task of putting it back on the market. With her mother in tow – and what a great character she is – they decide they can at least have a holiday while she makes the necessary arrangements. But the secrets then begin to multiply – the cottage in the grounds has a tenant, a young woman with a child, who pays no rent and might be an obstacle to the sale. But the bigger question is over her relationship with her husband – might the child be his? – when she finds that he visited the area a few times entirely without her knowledge.
That central mystery largely drives the narrative, but this is also the loveliest multi-generational story – Pixie is in her 60s, Gwen in her 80s (she has a few secrets of her own – and it’s so lovely to have older characters carrying the story so well), and when they decide to settle in for the summer they’re then joined by their sprawling family, every individual so very well drawn and developed. The storytelling is just wonderful, the pace gentle at first, focusing on Pixie’s feelings and the practicalities of living at the château, exploring their new way of life – then it increases with the family’s arrival, with new friendships and relationships, as those layers of secrets are slowly and satisfyingly resolved.
The book’s whole sense of place is simply wonderful – like Pixie and Gwen, you soon become entirely immersed in their rural idyll, with the château and its surroundings vividly drawn, gaining a strong feeling of being “home”. The background detail is excellent too – the countryside, the markets, the food and drink, the excursions to nearby towns. The characters are really excellent, and there’s a perfect emotional touch too – you can really feel Pixie’s loss and concerns for the future, her hurt at the secrets Frank kept, his possible betrayal and whether it can be forgiven, and the love there was between them.
Don’t think for one moment that the book is no more than a light read, a chance to enjoy some armchair travel with a few intriguing story lines to follow – it’s so much more than that, an entirely absorbing story that touches your heart. And you know one thing I particularly liked? I wondered where the romance would come in, and really hoped we wouldn’t see Pixie moving on too quickly, leaving her memories of Frank behind – and I was so pleased that we don’t, and the romance develops elsewhere, although the book ends with a perfect note of hope and happiness for the future.
I really loved this one, perhaps my favourite of all the author’s books I’ve read – a perfectly drawn setting, a sure touch with all the family dynamics and the emotional content, a compelling read as all the threads are untangled, and a palpable warmth to the story’s telling. One that fills your heart, the perfect escape – and highly recommended.
About the author
Jennifer Bohnet is the bestselling author of over 12 women’s fiction titles, including Villa of Sun and Secrets and A Riviera Retreat. She is originally from the West Country but now lives in the wilds of rural Brittany, France.