I’m so delighted today to be launching the blog tour for A Family Affair by Julie Houston – you’ll know she’s always a personal favourite – and sharing my publication day review. Published by Aria Fiction, this one’s now available for kindle, Kobo, through Google Play, and via iBooks – but you’ll have to wait a little while for the paperback, out in February 2022. My thanks to Vicky at Aria for the invitation and support, and also for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
I’ve featured Julie’s wonderful books so many times that it’s difficult now to find anything new to tell you – so I’ll just say again how much I adore her writing. I discovered her books with Looking for Lucy (although that wasn’t her first – but you’ll find my review here, along with an interview) – and I then really enjoyed An Off-Piste Christmas too (review here). But it was A Village Affair (review here) that finally secured Julie a place on my “very favourite authors” list – I can still remember reading it on a sunny afternoon in the garden, putting it down at the end, and thinking “this book is perfect”. I really couldn’t have been more delighted when it won the prize for Popular Romantic Fiction at the RNA’s 2021 Romantic Novel of the Year awards. But the wonderful books have kept on coming – I loved Coming Home to Holly Close Farm when I read it in February 2019 (review here) – and I thoroughly enjoyed A Village Vacancy too when I read it as an ebook (the paperback’s out in November 2021 – and you’ll find my review here).
And, just when I was ready to read this one, everything came right – the rain finally stopped, the sun came out, and the temperature outside was rising. As I set up my recliner in the garden, I don’t think I’ve looked forward so much to an afternoon of reading in a very long time…
Joining the family business was never going to be easy…
Frankie Piccione is done running away from her responsibilities, well for now anyway. Having escaped Westenbury after suffering a shattered heart, it’s time to take up her place on the family board. Piccione’s Pickles and Preserves needs Frankie. Frankie knows she can make the business work.
But with her brother Luca and the new, rather attractive, Cameron Mancini watching her every move, she’s going to have to come up with something special to get them off her back and recognising she belongs on the board just as much as they do.
With the help of her Aunt Pam and best friend, Daisy, Frankie is thriving with her new sense of purpose. Until someone from her past walks right back into it…
Perfect for fans of Heidi Swain, Milly Johnson and Marian Keyes.
Whenever I pick up a new book by Julie Houston, I wonder whether it will meet my high expectations and be another book I’ll love as much as the many I’ve read before – she’s set the bar particularly high, but has never yet failed to delight me.
At first, this is Frankie’s story – she fled Westenbury a few years ago after a very special relationship fell apart, but is now back to take her place on the board of Piccione’s Pickles and Preserves, the rather tired and ailing family business run by her father and grandfather. American go-getter Cameron has already been brought in to try and fill the big shoes of Auntie Pam, recently retired, and it does seem that the only expertise Frankie can bring – she trained to be a nurse, spent time in Italy with her family, and had a spell as an air hostess – is her knowledge that their lemon curd has a definite absence of Sicilian lemons and the honey is distinctly ordinary. Her mother, now married to the local parliamentary candidate, is a bit of a horror – it’s Auntie Pam who stepped in to take her place, giving her all the support, warmth and security she could possibly want while growing up. But Pam does have quite a story of her own – from the time she joined the family business as a fifteen year old in the 1970s, through a series of events that changed the course of her life.
I’m not going to even try to retell the full story, but I really think there’s a particular skill in telling a story over three distinct timelines – Pam’s coming of age story starting in the 70s, Frankie’s love affair and its sad end that sees her running away, and the present day story following her return – and the way it’s done in this wonderful book is just about as perfect as you could possibly hope for. There’s never the wrenching that you can sometimes feel when moving from one story to another, that “oh no” feeling that you’d prefer to stay with the story you’ve become immersed in – all three are equally engaging with twists and turns that involve you totally. I think that’s largely down to the strength of the two main characters, both women finding a place in your heart, and the creation of a superb supporting cast where every individual leaps into life from the pages. But it’s also down to the wonderful storytelling, effortlessly moving from the 1970s world – just perfectly recreated, with so many little touches that you’ll recognise and smile when they feel so familiar (no, I never made it to Wigan Casino either…!), a real slice of social history – to developments in the present day.
This book really does have a bit of everything – plenty of romance, strong friendships, family relationships, drama and betrayal – and the pace never wavers for an instant. And, of course, the other thing that never wavers is the essential lightness with which the book is infused, whatever traumatic events the characters might be going through – the author’s sense of humour, and the way it plays into the story, is one I most definitely share, whether simply raising a smile or leaving me helpless with laughter, and all with that distinct Yorkshireness that I love so much (and, in this book, a touch of Italian too!). And she shifts with absolute ease from humour to poignancy and heartbreak – there are a lot of moments in this book that can’t fail to bring a tear to your eye, particularly through Pam’s story. And there are plenty of more weighty issues too, along with matters of the heart – cultural differences particularly well handled, social conventions and expectations through the 70s, sustainability in the present day.
But I must say a little more about the characters – and it really was an absolute delight to be back in Westenbury, with quite a few characters from previous books making cameo appearances. It felt like a particular treat if you’ve read any of the author’s previous books – I was particularly thrilled to meet Deimante again, with her fractured English and passion for football – but so cleverly done because not recognising the references really wouldn’t spoil anything for a new reader. We even return to Holly Close Farm, where Frankie moves in with her wonderful best friend Daisy in one of the cottages I remember being built and given to her and her sister – and where Cameron, becoming an increasingly rounded and intriguing character as the book goes on, then moves into the one next-door and gets Frankie a little hot under the collar.
This isn’t the first time I’ve read one of the author’s wonderful books from cover to cover in one afternoon in the summer sunshine, but I find her writing totally enchanting – it ended, with a few surprises, in the way I really hoped it would, leaving me with a smile on my face, a bit of an ache in my heart, and the feeling that I’d read and enjoyed something rather special. Highly recommended by me – I loved every moment.
About the author
Julie lives in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire where her novels are set, and her only claims to fame are that she teaches part-time at ‘Bridget Jones’ author Helen Fielding’s old junior school and her neighbour is ‘Chocolat’ author, Joanne Harris.
After University, where she studied Education and English Literature, she taught for many years as a junior school teacher. As a newly qualified teacher, broke and paying off her first mortgage, she would spend every long summer holiday working on different Kibbutzim in Israel. After teaching for a few years she decided to go to New Zealand to work and taught in Auckland for a year before coming back to this country. She now teaches just two days a week, and still loves the buzz of teaching junior-aged children. She has been a magistrate for the past nineteen years, and, when not distracted by Ebay, Twitter and Ancestry, spends much of her time writing.
Julie is married, has a twenty-four-year-old son and twenty-one-year-old daughter and a ridiculous Cockerpoo called Lincoln. She runs and swims because she’s been told it’s good for her, but would really prefer a glass of wine, a sun lounger and a jolly good book – preferably with Matthew McConaughay in attendance.
Follow Aria Books: