It’s a particular pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for Maggie Christensen’s Summer in Bellbird Bay, and to share my review: the first in a new series, this one was published on 22nd February and is now available as an e-book and in paperback. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to the author for my advance reading e-copy.
By now, you might just have noticed that it doesn’t take a blog tour to encourage me to read one of Maggie’s lovely books – she’s been a personal favourite for quite a while. I first discovered her writing with The Good Sister (you’ll find my review here) and went on to very much enjoy the rest of her Scottish Collection. I then became entirely hooked by her Granite Springs series, set in a small Australian country town, with mature characters that I found it so easy to identify with, a location I grew to love (and could now find my way around without the help of a map), and some really well-told and engaging stories (you’ll find all my reviews if you pop her name into the search box – I do still have two books to go to complete the series!). Her last book, A Mother’s Story, was something rather different – a sweeping family saga, the stories of three women, starting in WW2 – and I very much enjoyed that one too (you’ll find that review here). But it’s now time for a new series, and the welcome opportunity to escape from the dreadful UK weather and spend time on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast – just what I needed, and I was really looking forward to spending some time there…
Can Bellbird Bay provide solace to these two broken souls?
When Ailsa McNeil’s marriage falls apart, an invitation to spend the summer with an old friend in Bellbird Bay offers her the opportunity to escape and regroup. What she doesn’t expect is to meet her friend’s twin brother, the first man to stir her emotions when she was an impressionable nineteen-year-old.
As a young man, Martin Cooper couldn’t wait to leave Bellbird Bay. He has spent the past thirty years travelling the world and has accomplished his dream of becoming a celebrated travel photographer. But it has come at a price and, when his career and personal life take a downward turn, he returns to his hometown to consider his future.
When an accident thrusts the two together, their earlier attraction resurfaces. Torn between the desire to protect herself from further hurt and her renewed feelings for the man she’s never forgotten, can Ailsa find happiness again or is it too late?
A heartwarming tale of family, friends, and how a second chance at love can happen when you least expect it.
Do you know, I thought I might miss the familiarity of Granite Springs – but in Bellbird Bay, the author has created another vividly drawn location where I’ll be more than happy to spend my days. Well really, who wouldn’t love it there – the glorious beach, the surf breaking on the shore in the sunshine, the boardwalk with its string of small houses, the abundance of cafes… and then there’s the art gallery, the surf school on the beach, the surf club, Bev’s garden centre… I’m really going to like it here.
And then there’s the cast of background characters – Bev herself, Will at the surf school (with his really sad back story), his son Owen on the verge of surf stardom, John at the gallery, and the enigmatic Ruby who bakes the most wonderful cakes but also has the ability to see into your soul. And against that enticing backdrop, a gently told story of healing and recovery, of new beginnings and second chances, centred on two main characters I immediately took to my heart. There’s a real art to starting a new series, and the author really could give lessons to others on how it’s done – while presenting a story, totally readable as a standalone, that swept me up in its characters’ lives and had me entirely invested in their happy ending.
Living in Canberra, Ailsa’s marriage has hit real difficulties – with her sons now grown and making their own way in life, a difficult mother and a sister caught up in her own new relationship, her husband Bob has become increasingly distant and she discovers the reasons why. So she flees to Bellbird Bay to take stock of her life, to regroup and lick her wounds – to breathe a little, and to spend time with old friend Bev. But her stay coincides with a visit from Bev’s brother Martin – a celebrated photographer who’s experiencing some real problems of his own, but whose abrasive presence makes Ailsa’s stay rather less comfortable. Their separate stories unfold, with a few small dramas and interventions from others along the way – and, in time, the two troubled souls explore the possibility of finding happiness together.
I really loved this book – the beautiful setting, the very real characters, the way the story developed, the slowly developing romance – and the writing was everything I’ve ever enjoyed about the other books I’ve read from this talented author. Her emotional touch is unfailingly quite perfect – her more mature characters always have particular appeal, and their issues and challenges (and the way they respond to them) are always so easy to identify with. She really makes you feel for the individuals too – while unspooling a story that always keeps you entirely engaged in their lives. I’ll be very much looking forward to spending more time at Bellbird Bay – and I rather think you might like it there too.
The next book in the series, Coming Home to Bellbird Bay, will be out on 12th May, and is available for preorder for kindle.
About the author
After a career in education, Maggie Christensen began writing contemporary women’s fiction portraying mature women facing life-changing situations, and historical fiction set in her native Scotland. Her travels inspire her writing, be it her trips to visit family in Scotland, in Oregon, USA or her home on Queensland’s beautiful Sunshine Coast. Maggie writes of mature heroines coming to terms with changes in their lives and the heroes worthy of them. Her writing has been described by one reviewer as like a nice warm cup of tea. It is warm, nourishing, comforting and embracing.
From the small town in Scotland where she grew up, Maggie was lured by the call ‘Come and teach in the sun’ to Australia, where she worked as a primary school teacher, university lecturer and in educational management. Now living with her husband of thirty years on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, she loves walking on the deserted beach in the early mornings and having coffee by the river on weekends. Her days are spent surrounded by books, either reading or writing them – her idea of heaven!