It’s an absolute pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for A Village Secret, the latest book from Julie Houston, and to share my review: published by Aria Fiction on 14th April, it’s available now for pre-order as an ebook (for kindle, and Kobo) and in paperback. My thanks to the publishers for my tour invitation, to Amy Watson for her ongoing support, and for my advance reading e-copy.
I might just have mentioned a few times before how very much I always enjoy Julie’s wonderful books. I might have started a little bit late, with Looking for Lucy (you’ll find my review here, along with an interview) – but although I really enjoyed that one, she really confirmed her place on my favourite authors list with A Village Affair (review here) and then Coming Home to Holly Close Farm (review here). I thought her next one, Sing Me a Secret (review here) was as close to perfect as you could get, and many other readers agreed – I think I was almost as delighted as she was 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 thoroughly enjoyed A Village Vacancy (review here), and A Family Affair delighted me too (here‘s that review). And now we have another – I was rather looking forward to this one…
When Jennifer goes up to Cambridge University with her head full of the Romantic Poets, she never dreams that she will find her very own Byron. But then she meets gorgeous actor Laurie Lewis, and finds herself living a real-life love poem.
Fifteen years and two children later, Jennifer and Laurie’s relationship is starting to feel more like an epic tragedy. After a series of revelations turn her world upside down, Jennifer will do anything to keep her family together – even if it means moving hundreds of miles away to Laurie’s childhood home in Westenbury, Yorkshire.
As she reluctantly enters into village life – complete with interfering in-laws, new friends and a surprise delivery of alpacas – Jennifer is amazed to find herself feeling happy for the first time in years. But the village holds one last, devastating secret and Jennifer must decide once and for all what she wants her future to hold.
I’ve mentioned before that I always pick up the author’s next book with particularly high expectations – I expect to love every new one as much as the last, and she never lets me down. I will admit though that it did take me a little while to get into this one, as young Jennifer heads to Cambridge to pursue her passion for the Romantic poets and finds her own real-life Byron. And much as the reality of Byron himself might disappoint, so does self-obsessed Laurie: his own greatest fan, he believes he’s destined for film stardom, but instead the pinnacle of his success is his role in a TV soap opera… until his character is cancelled (amid a bit of a scandal) and they can’t continue to live the high life any more. Instead, they find themselves living at his family’s rundown farm in Westenbury in Yorkshire – while he continues to pursue the impossible dream, and Jennifer does all she can to keep the family’s heads above water.
And, for me, their return to Westenbury was the point when this book really took off – no-one writes Yorkshire quite like Julie Houston, and this time her canvas is filled with the most wonderful quirky characters (and a few familiar faces from her earlier books), a whole menagerie of animals, and a heroine who discovers how strong she can really be. As always, the great appeal of this book lies in its characters, drawn from across the generations, along with that mix of observational and situation-driven (sometimes raucous) humour and exceptional poignancy that she does so very well.
Laurie really is beyond redemption, but exceptionally well-drawn – and Jennifer, once her eyes are opened and she realises that she’s the only one keeping them afloat, becomes increasingly sympathetic and likeable. As a portrait of a marriage disintegrating through neglect, it can be pretty difficult to read at times – but I really did enjoy that focus on family and relationships that kept the pages turning (and I particularly loved the way Jennifer channelled her frustrations… quite wonderful!). There’s even a light touch romance in the mix – it was something I really welcomed, and a developing relationship I found entirely real and convincing.
There’s a particular warmth about the later part of the book – perhaps not always as evident at its beginning – and as the story built I found myself really rooting for Jennifer and hoping she’d find her way to a happy ending despite the many obstacles in her path. The author’s books unfailingly leave me with a broad smile on my face and a bit of an ache in my heart – and this one was certainly no exception. Recommended by me!
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, with two adult children 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 Dev Patel in attendance.
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