The final day of the blog tour, and it’s a real pleasure today to share my review of An Escape to Provence by Sophie Claire. Published by Hodder & Stoughton, the paperback was published on 21st July – and it’s also available as an e-book (just 99p at the moment) and audiobook. My thanks to Ollie at Hodder for the invitation and support, and for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
You might already know that I first discovered Sophie’s lovely writing through the short stories she contributed to the Miss Moonshine anthologies, but discovering her full-length novels has been an absolute delight. I started with The Christmas Holiday, back in December 2019, that I thoroughly enjoyed (you’ll find my review here) – I had hoped to follow through with a review of A Forget-Me-Not Summer in June 2020 when it was published in paperback, but unfortunately life went a little pear-shaped and it just wasn’t to be. But I was then able to return to Willowbrook at Christmas with A Winter’s Dream in October 2020 – and it was a really gorgeous romance, everything Christmassy you could possibly ask for, a really well told story, the strongest of characters, a touch of armchair travel, with plenty of emotional content and a few gentle laughs along the way (you’ll find my review here). But it really is about time that I read one of Sophie’s summery books – I couldn’t fit in Summer at the French Olive Grove last year, but there was no way I was going to miss out again…
Where there’s a will, can love find a way?
When cynical divorce lawyer Daisy Jackson unexpectedly inherits a ramshackle farmhouse in Provence, she sets off for the French countryside to oversee renovations herself.
But Gabriel Laforet has other ideas. A local builder with ties to the property, Gabriel is determined to see Daisy off and preserve the characterful, charming farmhouse – which, but for a missing will, he knows is rightfully his.
When the two meet, it’s clear they couldn’t be more different: Gabriel has lived in the small country village all his life; Daisy is a city girl whose career means everything. He is laid-back and messy; she is used to being in control. As they begin to work together, sparks fly. Yet they’re inexplicably drawn to each other and, in the heat of the Provence sun, secrets begin to spill. Perhaps Daisy can trust him with her carefully guarded heart after all?
But Gabriel is still searching for the missing will that proves the farmhouse belongs to him – and in doing so, risks upturning everything he and Daisy have started to build together…
Daisy’s only thought when she inherits a farmhouse in Provence – from a distant relative she never knew – is to get the renovations done as quickly as possible so that she can let it to summer visitors. But “quickly” is apparently a rather alien concept to her builder Gabriel, and she decides that the only way to get things moving is to be on-site for a while. And at the book’s beginning, she’s very difficult to like – she arrives with her business wardrobe and her Louboutins (and her severe clear-lensed glasses…), brandishing her mobile phone and the spreadsheets on her laptop, ready to throw money at the problem (while also throwing her weight about) and return to her busy life as soon as she possibly can.
But laid-back Gabriel won’t be rushed – and she discovers that the reasons for his reluctance are rather more complicated than she thought. If a will had been found, he’d expected the farmhouse to be his – it was his former home, and he’s emotionally attached to the property in a way Daisy couldn’t possibly understand. But when they reluctantly begin to work together, things start to change – she softens around the edges a little, begins to see the beauty of the house and its setting, and to slowly understand the builder with a complex past. And her own secrets begin to surface too, her own difficult past that made her what she now is, as they slowly grow closer.
The chemistry that develops between these two very different individuals is simply stunning – a romance I really believed in, with a growing warmth and emotional depth I could really feel. Daisy’s personal journey – facing up to her own issues, opening up, letting her guard down, being won over by the warmth of the community and the simpler life – entirely transformed her from the brittle and hard-edged person I disliked so much at first encounter, and I became entirely invested in her finding happiness and a place to belong. And as for Gabriel – perhaps an unconventional romantic lead, but he certainly made my heart beat rather faster. I really liked his complexity – his damaged past, his old-fashioned sense of morality, his innate gentleness (his messiness and stubborn resistance perhaps rather less so…) – and the way he was so much part of the close local community where he’d lived his whole life.
And I must mention the author’s exceptional ability to paint a vivid setting – I’ve never been to Provence, but she really did make me fall in love with it, and the dilapidated farmhouse soaked in history and love. The whole book is infused with sunshine, and the region’s tastes, sounds and aromas – some wonderful descriptions, and the loveliest multi-sensory experience. I very much enjoyed her drawing of the local community too – Gabriel’s friends who at first close ranks against the newcomer, but slowly begin to embrace Daisy with the warmth of their friendship too.
This was the most perfect summer read – one that you really must pack in your suitcase – and I absolutely loved everything about it. Highly recommended by me!
About the author
Sophie Claire writes emotional stories set in England and sunny Provence, where she spent her summers as a child.
She has a French mother and a Scottish father, but was born in Africa and grew up in Manchester, England where she still lives with her husband and two sons.
Previously, she worked in Marketing and proofreading academic papers, but writing is what she always considered her ‘real job’ and now she’s delighted to spend her days dreaming up heartwarming contemporary romance stories set in beautiful places.
Sophie is a member of Novelistas Ink, a group of writers who meet regularly and share a blog. The Novelistas’ support and encouragement was invaluable during her journey to publication and continues to be so.