I’m really delighted today to be joining the blog tour for the latest book from Jane Lovering, The Forgotten House on the Moor, and sharing my review. Published on 22nd June by Boldwood Books, it’s now available as an ebook (free via Kindle Unlimited), as an audiobook, and also in paperback. My thanks, as ever, to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading copy (provided via netgalley).
I so look forward to every new book from the wonderful Jane Lovering – I’ve been reading and thoroughly enjoying them for quite a few years now, and I can honestly say I’ve loved every single one (pop her name into my search bar – you’ll find loads of reviews!). She’s a regular on my Books of the Year lists – last year with Home on Folly Farm, now rebranded as Home on a Yorkshire Farm (you’ll find my review here) – and since she’s joined Boldwood, her books really have just got better and better. In fact, I think I might just have said “this is her best yet” about every book she’s ever written – and I could certainly have said it again about her last, A Cottage Full of Secrets (published last February, and free for kindle via Prime – you’ll find my review here).
So, let’s take a look at her latest…
Mystery, mayhem, a manor house and a generous serving of romance…
When police knock on Alice Donaldson’s door at 4am, she knows the news won’t be good. There’s been an accident involving her ex-husband Grant, and as his existing next of kin, they need her help.
Grant is missing up on the North York moors, but the Grant Alice knew could barely be persuaded out on a walk around the block. What on earth possessed him to go on a hike in the middle of the night?
Alice soon finds herself working with Grant’s girlfriend Jenna and Jenna’s gorgeous ‘Lord of the family Manor’ brother Max, to find out what has happened, and what caused Grant’s accident at The Fortune House – the spooky house out on the moors.
The locals tell all manner of ghoulish stories about The Fortune House, which Alice is not minded to listen to. But before long, things take a turn for the strange and Max and Alice have a new mystery to solve.
While all the while Alice can’t help hoping she might meet the requirements to be Max’s ‘Lady of the Manor’ at his country pile, Hatherleigh Hall.
There’s something about Jane Lovering’s female leads that I always love, and Alice Donaldson is no exception. She lives an unexceptional kind of life – very aware that she’s a bit plain and rather overweight, she’s content to fade into the background, doing the same admin job at a window fitting company for the last eighteen years, living her solitary life and marking time by the dog walking man who lives on one side of her and the noisier family who live on the other. Her life’s been marked by disappointment – when her husband Grant walked out and disappeared six years ago it wasn’t particularly traumatic, they really didn’t have much of a marriage.
But when the police turn up on her doorstep in the early hours, her life’s about to change a little. Grant has apparently been killed in an explosion at Fortune House, an isolated house on the moors with something of a ghostly reputation – a bit of a surprise when he barely left the sofa throughout their time together. And when she decides to visit the place where he died, she comes across Max and his sister Jenna – he’s a psychologist (and certainly makes her heart beat rather faster), and Jenna was Grant’s new partner, entirely devastated by his loss – and their lives become increasingly entangled when she agrees to help Jenna find out what happened.
The characterisation in this book is just wonderful. Its voice is Alice’s, and I adored her from the very beginning with her absence of any self confidence, her self-deprecating humour, her essential awkwardness – but also her warmth that brightly shines through. Max’s interest in her – he can see beyond her appearance to the beauty within – sees her blossom, to find some bravery, to contemplate making changes to her humdrum life and to see the possibility of a different future. But she’s not the only character who’s struggling – Jenna’s wonderfully flaky, but with good reason given her recent life experiences and having lost the man she planned to make a future with. It’s brave to focus a book on such a small cast of characters, but I enjoyed every moment of their interactions as Alice was drawn into their privileged lives at Hatherleigh Hall and the relationships developed.
Another thing I really enjoyed about this book was the setting – the deserted house on the moors, its isolation and inaccessibility (well, it certainly proved difficult to get to at times for Alice…), its history and ghostly reputation, the accounts of paranormal activity that are interspersed throughout the narrative. I’m often not a particular fan of spooky elements in a story, but the author pitches things just perfectly – nothing that gave me nightmares or kept me awake at night, but always enigmatic and intriguing.
And it wouldn’t be a book by Jane Lovering without that great balance between the ever-present humour – the set pieces and the wonderful one-liners – and the sensitively handled issues and emotional moments. There were times in this book when I found myself laughing out loud – always with Alice, never at her – and other times when it really made me a little tearful. The central romance is a really lovely slow-burn one, authentic and believable (I rather fell for Max too…) – and I also really enjoyed the book’s surprises and the distinctly unexpected path the story took at times.
And you’re waiting for me to say “her best yet” again, aren’t you? Yes, I think I just might – it’s a really different read for all sorts of reasons, but filled to the brim with absolutely everything I love about the author’s writing. Highly recommended by me.
About the author
Jane Lovering is the bestselling and award-winning romantic comedy writer who won the RNA Novel of the Year Award in 2012 with Please Don’t Stop the Music. She lives in Yorkshire and has a cat and a bonkers terrier, as well as five children who have now left home.