It’s a pleasure today to be helping launch the blog tour for Matchmaking at Port Willow by Kiley Dunbar, and sharing my publication day review: published by Hera Books, and it’s now available for kindle, Kobo, or via Apple. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to everyone involved in providing my advance reading e-copy.
I first discovered Kiley’s lovely books through her second, Christmas at Frozen Falls – I absolutely loved it (you’ll find my review here), and was more than happy to add it to my Books of the Year list for 2019. I then really enjoyed Summer at the Highland Coral Beach in March 2020 (review here) when Plockton (the inspiration behind Port Willow Bay) immediately joined Lapland on my ever-growing bucket list. I never have managed to catch up with her first book, One Summer’s Night, but I did read and review the sequel, One Winter’s Night – heartwarming, uplifting and gorgeous (you’ll find the review here). But then came The Borrow a Bookshop Holiday, and I really thought it was her best yet – without question destined to be one of my 2021 books of the year, and I really can’t imagine that anyone who loves the books that I do could fail to agree.
And this time we’re back in Port Willow – and as I decided to leave a real life trip to the Highlands as a treat for next year, I was particularly looking forward to this one. Let’s take a closer look…
Beatrice Halliday has been working hard at the Princess and The Pea Inn, loved up with landlord Atholl and enjoying planning events for the locals. But at Christmas there’s a kick – as she realises she’s expecting.
Despite being fearful of the future, Beatrice is graced with a distraction: the prospects of helping a romance flourish when a married couple spend their first child-free holiday at the Inn – and it becomes clear they need some help rediscovering each other. In true Beatrice fashion, she can’t help meddling.
Featuring the story of a first love, a new family, a marriage in crisis, and an octogenarian love affair, you’ll fall head over heels for this heart-warming rom-com.
I adored the Port Willow setting when I read the first book the author set there – vividly created, filled with quirky and well-drawn characters – and I’ve always thought I’d love a stay at the Princess and the Pea Inn, enjoying Gene’s wonderful food, learning about some new crafts on one of Atholl and Beatrice’s special breaks and experiencing the warm welcome that they give every guest that crosses their doorstep. Don’t worry if this book is your first visit – you’ll soon feel entirely at home there, and love discovering the beach with its white coral sand, the bothie where Atholl teaches willow weaving, chat with some of the eccentric locals who prop up the bar. In the last book, Beatrice was a visitor who never returned home – now she’s helping run the business, very happy in her relationship with the lovely Atholl, improving the hotel itself and the breaks they offer with her special little touches. And when she finds that she’s expecting a baby, it’s more than she could have possibly hoped for – especially after all the trauma she’s experienced in the past.
But while this book follows Atholl and Beatrice’s path to parenthood, the book’s focus is largely on some of the inn’s visitors. I always think it’s particularly brave to focus a story on a character who’s initially unlikeable – Nina’s a highflier, English but having had a stellar career in New York finding luxury products for rich clients, her contacts found through her glamorous boyfriend Luke and the lifestyle he’s made her familiar with. But he’s very cruelly moved on, and she finds herself banished to the wilds of Scotland as Christmas approaches, with one last chance to prove herself by finding some unique products that the company can develop. She’s hurting badly, but she’s also very difficult to like – it’s impossible to find bubble tea and the diet she’s used to in Port Willow, she really doesn’t have the right shoes, she was expecting a media centre at the hotel rather than a computer and printer set up in a newly painted and windowless room, and she initially makes no attempt at all to endear herself to the welcoming locals. But there’s a certain magic to Scottish homemade shortbread, and she slowly unfurls a little – helped by an unlikely friendship with Murray the decorator (known to all as Mutt) who has depths and issues of his own.
And Beatrice – an incurable romantic – is excited to welcome a couple of competition winners as the hotel’s guests. Ruth and Mark are empty-nesters, ready for their first childless holiday, and she expects them both to be ready to rekindle their marriage and rediscover their former relationship – but it turns out that the couple aren’t really on the same page, their happy ending might take rather more work that she expected, and might even be doomed to failure.
I really enjoy the author’s writing – her characterisation is always so excellent, the humour well-judged, her emotional touch always perfect, issues always very sensitively handled, and I particularly enjoyed the setting of this one and all the character interactions. Loved-up Beatrice’s passion for trying to help others bring romance into their lives is just wonderful – and her own relationship with Atholl really warms the heart as their own story develops, with some of the loveliest touches.
Nina’s enemies-to-friends romance is well handled and convincing too – and I really loved Mutt. But although she certainly redeems herself with particular panache as the story unfolds, I really did find it quite difficult to sympathise with or warm to her character. For that reason – and that reason only – I’ll admit that this perhaps wasn’t quite my favourite of the author’s books, although I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others. In fact, I really rather hope we’ll return again to Port Willow – I’ve grown particularly fond of Beatrice and Atholl, and I rather like it there…
About the author
Kiley Dunbar writes heart-warming, escapist, romantic fiction set in beautiful places, with One Winter’s Night being shortlisted for the RNA Romantic Comedy Novel Award 2021. Kiley’s five previous novels are: The Borrow a Bookshop Holiday (May 2021), One Winter’s Night (September 2020), Summer at the Highland Coral Beach (2020), Christmas at Frozen Falls (2019) and One Summer’s Night (2019).