I’m delighted today to be joining the blog tour for Elle’s A to Z of Love by Claire Huston, and to share my review. Published on 6th July by Goldcrest Books, it’s now available for kindle (free via Kindle Unlimited) and in paperback via Amazon in the UK and US. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation to read and review, and to the author and publisher for my advance reading e-copy.
I was ever so late to the party when I reviewed Claire’s debut, Art and Soul – I was rather kicking myself, because I really, really loved it (you’ll find my review here). In fact, I remember saying that my first thought was “this is the best romance I’ve read in ages”, and told everyone how much I was looking forward to seeing what she did next – so I was quite determined not to be late this time!
Haileybrook, a beautiful village in the peaceful Cotswolds countryside, is most people’s idea of heaven on earth.
Born and raised in this small slice of paradise, Elle Bea can’t wait to leave.
It should be easy, but every time she packs her bags for exotic adventures, old loves and loyalties pull her back.
Will Elle be forced to forget her dreams of far-flung places and epic romance, or can she grab one last chance to have it all?
An uplifting, romantic story about friends, family and the relationships that make a place a home.
This book really does have the most perfect beginning. As Elle settles down in a quiet corner of the university library to disappear into the pages of her favourite EM Forster (and I loved her already), her peace is disturbed by a young man – a computer nerd, but rather attractive – searching for a book and causing a bit of a commotion. Their exchange is just wonderful – maybe he’s more interested in her friend Serena (men usually are), but she’s looking forward to finding out when she goes to the party he invites them to. But she never makes it to that party – there’s a bit of a crisis back at home in Haileybrook, and she needs to be there to provide support.
And as the story unfolds, as Elle makes a succession of choices between her hopes and dreams and the pull and obligations of “home” and people in her life sometimes behave particularly badly, you really begin to despair that she’ll ever be able to escape and find happiness of her own. But if the book’s beginning is excellent, I really have to say that its ending is even better – after all the trials and tribulations, all the frustrating decisions she makes, it’s a moment that entirely touches your heart and can’t fail to make you want to punch the air and shout “thank goodness for that – at last!”.
The author makes Elle’s succession of dilemmas very real – she’s dreamt since childhood of spreading her wings, leaving Haileybrook behind to see the world and live a little. But she has good friends there – and there’s also Adam, who won her heart when they were at school together, but who barely notices she exists. But they’ve always shared the same dream, and there’s always the possibility that they might just be able to make their escape together. Her family – to put it mildly – is a little unusual. Her father’s really lovely, but as for her mother… her words and actions frequently took my breath away. Thank goodness for Aunt Cath – she certainly fills the void left by her neglectful mother, with exceptional generosity and always accompanied by a lovely slice of cake. The brothers Seth and Toby feature heavily in her life too – along with their grandmother Mrs Cooper, a little forbidding but a source of sage advice and the occasional gentle push.
Haileybrook itself is a dying village – all its amenities are beginning to close down, its residents opposing any notion of changes that might just give it a fresh lease of life. The whole community is quite wonderfully drawn – filled with quirky incidental characters, every one of them vividly drawn and adding lovely touches of humour.
But this is very much Elle’s story – and although there was never any question that I really loved her, there were times when she really made me roll my eyes in despair as she made the wrong decisions, again and again, and being able to achieve her dreams looked increasingly impossible. Sometimes her actions are understandable – she’s a person who cares deeply, wants to please others – but there are certainly times when she severely tried my patience and I really wanted to shake her.
The writing is excellent (especially the dialogue, and the way Elle’s character was developed), and I particularly loved the way the story was constructed – Elle’s life journey seen in slices, sometimes moving backwards to the childhood experiences that shaped her (with a few nicely handled issues along the way). I also really enjoyed the email exchange that punctuates the story – it’s often a device I’m not too keen on, but it’s done so well here, moving the story forward and adding both humour and real insight into the characters involved. And then there’s the romance – and that’s really beautifully handled, filled with obstacles, twists and turns and misunderstandings, with real question marks about how things will work out until the very end.
Despite my occasional frustration (and infuriation) with Elle herself, her story certainly engaged me throughout, and I so desperately wanted her to achieve her happy ending. I really enjoyed this one – something a little different, a lovely read, and I recommend it really highly.
About the author
Claire Huston lives in Warwickshire with her husband and two children. Her debut, Art and Soul, a heart-warming contemporary romance, was published in 2020. Elle’s A to Z of Love is her second novel.
A keen amateur baker, she enjoys making cakes, biscuits and brownies almost as much as eating them. You can find recipes for over a hundred sweet treats at clairehuston.co.uk. This is also where she talks about and reviews books.
You can connect with Claire through her website – and you’ll also find her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Goodreads. You’ll find all her social media links via this Linktree.