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Summer at Hollyhock House by Cathy Bussey: flowing writing and courageous characters

Synopsis

One long summer changes Faith forever…

Faith Coombes should be over the moon when her long-term boyfriend proposes to her. But instead, she breaks up with him. Rob is safe, reliable, nice and … boring. Nothing like the only person who has ever broken her heart…

Unable to afford the rent on another flat and desperate for a new start, Faith takes the plunge and moves back to the village she grew up in, returning to the house that holds so many memories for her. Hollyhock House, the family home of her best-friend Minel, also belongs to the boy who meant so much to her all those years ago…

As Faith falls back in love with the sprawling surroundings at Hollyhock she also finds herself falling all over again for the only person who has truly hurt her.

Can Faith come to terms with her past? Did she make the wrong decision in breaking up with Rob? Or does her heart really lie at Hollyhock House?

 

My review

There’s been a mass blooming recently of romcoms in settings with flower names – bluebell hills, rose cottages, primrose bays and so on. And why not! Everyone loves flowers, and who doesn’t love a romcom. And flowers and romance go hand in hand. But this book, Summer at Hollyhock House, for me is the cream of the crop, the brightest bloom in the meadow.

Two things make it stand out: the flowing writing that’s just so easy to read and filled with marvellous descriptions and imagery, and the courage of many of the characters we meet. Several of them are in unsatisfactory relationships or positions but they have the resolve and strength to break out of the rut they find themselves in. As many of us might know from experience, that is a difficult and frightening thing to do. There’s an atmosphere of positivity and self-belief in the novel which is very uplifting.

Faith is a wonderful heroine. She’s down to earth, genuine and very empathetic. She knows the now Rob-free path ahead won’t be easy, at least initially, but she grits her teeth and gets on with it, ignoring the disapproval from her mother. Fortunately she has supportive friends, and the chance to sink those gritted teeth into an exciting new project: redesigning the garden at Hollyhock House. This brings her into contact with her ex, Rik, and his flighty new girlfriend Lucinda. However, Faith copes well, on the whole, but her heart is heavy.

We get the ending we want, which is de rigueur in romcoms, of course, but the twisting path we have to follow we get there is clever and tantalising. A truly enjoyable,  rewarding and, appropriately, heartening novel.

 

Author Cathy Bussey is a novelist, non-fiction author, journalist for The Telegraph, cycle commentator and editorial consultant. She has a website at www.cathybussey.com.

Summer at Hollyhock House is published by Sapere Books and is available at all Amazon stores.

 

 

See what other book reviewers think of Summer at Hollyhock House by visiting their blogs too.

 

 

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Polytunnel Perils: extract from Total Immersion (coming soon)

From 2011: The Year of All Things Wild and Woolly

Talking about sad episodes, it’s time to mention our polytunnel. Our earnings were a little healthier now that we were with Angling Lines, but there still wasn’t a lot of spare cash. Now, we’d been mulling over the idea of getting a greenhouse or polytunnel for several months. We ate a lot of tomatoes and lettuces but these didn’t thrive outdoors. Despite digging lots of poop from assorted animals into the area of ground we designated as the vegetable patch, the soil remained poor. The only things that did grow were courgettes and pumpkins, and you can definitely have too many of those. Hence, the desire to grow a wider variety of veggies. After a lot of pondering, we opted for a low budget polytunnel off eBay. Stop laughing and bear with me. It looked good in the advert, and was the right sort of size so we paid up and eagerly awaited its arrival. It wasn’t too long coming and we got it up in one afternoon. Given the number of bits of framework and the unhelpfulness of the instructions, that was surprisingly fast. We chose a south-facing spot behind the barn. It was in the female llamas’ field and they were delighted. They had a very interesting time watching us grapple with poles and plastic. Llamas are so wonderfully inquisitive. Once it was finished they seemed very pleased with the new addition to their field and inspected it every now and again. We’d have to make sure to keep it closed, or they’d be in like a shot.

We got to work constructing some workbenches from recycled building materials and quickly covered them with seedlings in yoghurt pots. My inner gardener blossomed. I spent many happy hours pottering around potting things up in there, and Chris likewise. It started to look very impressive and productive. We took the precaution of wiring the framework to two very heavy iron bars that had come with the farm. We had no idea what their original purpose might have been, but we knew they’d come in handy one day and so we left them where they were, on the grass beyond the hangar, and regularly tripped over them. However, all those stubbed toes were worth it as the bits of iron now came into their own.

They, the bits of wire and a few bits of bent framework were all that were left after the first slightly windy night we experienced after erecting the polytunnel. A few moderate gusts of wind and the whole thing fell apart. The plastic ripped and fluttered off around the farm, sending our seedlings flying, only to be consumed or trampled on by the llamas. What a disaster. All that hard work wasted. Evidently the polytunnel was intended for indoor use only. We sighed and collected up any salvageable pieces of debris, and they weren’t many, ignoring the llamas’ giggling.

We learnt our lesson from that act of cheapskateness and decided we would have to invest in a real, proper, heavy-duty polytunnel with thick plastic and a weighty metal framework. It would be worth dipping into our savings if it meant we bought something that would last longer than a couple of weeks and withstand a gentle breeze. And so our new polytunnel duly arrived. This was more like it. It came on two pallets and weighed a ton. Never mind several hours, it took several weeks to erect. The main supporting framework needed concreting in place, wooden doorways had to be constructed and it took the whole family to help with fitting the rest of the frame together and fitting the plastic over, stretching it carefully to fit and cutting off the excess. Leaving a central walkway, Chris built a raised bed to each side which, over a few days, we filled with barrowfuls of llama and chicken poop. The ten-metre long and four-metre wide polytunnel accommodated an awful lot of poop, I can tell you. We were delighted, and, although a bit late, set to on a second splurge of growing seedlings. We hung up a thermometer and marvelled at the tropical temperatures reached in the polytunnel. On a cloudy day when it was 20 degrees outside, the tunnel clocked up 35 degrees. And when it was hot and sunny outside around the 30 degree mark, the thermometer showed upwards of 45 degrees. Surely our lettuces and tomatoes would flourish now.

Word must have got round about our polytunnel because out of the blue, a young man turned up. He explained he was a neighbour, relatively speaking – he lived a good few kilometres away but there weren’t many other habitations between us and him so I guess that did make us neighbours – and that he’d just taken over Les Chapotiers and planned to make a living growing bio (organic) fruit and veg. We’d detected a hint of hippie. He had a polytunnel on order and asked if we’d come and help him erect it when he arrived. We replied that so long as he wouldn’t object to a good bit of swearing going on during the process, then no problem, count us in. We’d found from our few years of heavy labour in France that swearwords are as crucial an ingredient in constructing something as the physical constituents. Cussing concentrates the mind. We weren’t the first to think so. I remember from my childhood Dad going round to help our neighbour, who I knew as Uncle Will, with a car problem. “Damn, I won’t be able to swear so it’ll take ages,” Dad grumbled as he set off. Uncle Will was indeed a gentle soul. We’d often call round as kids and be treated to a biscuit in the kitchen. I only saw the living room once, and the walls were festooned with beautiful embroidered pictures. All Uncle Will’s work.

The young guy never turned up again.

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Christmas Book Bags for Blokes

My recent post about fiction book bags as Christmas presents proved very popular so here another one about creating non-fiction book bags for blokes. (Book bags for ladies coming tomorrow.)

First up, how to sew a fabric bag for a book. There are very clear instructions here on the Design Dazzle website.

I did some research and found out what some of the most popular hobbies for men are. Here are book bag ideas based on those.

 

1. Gardening

First up, a couple of ebook suggestions:

The Garden Seed Saving Guide. To go with this – pair of gardening gloves, small trowel, small flower pots, sticky labels.

Preparing a Garden from the Ground Up. All of the above gift suggestions apply as well as packs of seeds.

 

2. Golf

I don’t know a thing about golf apart from that it’s very popular, so I won’t offer advice on which ebooks to buy. There are zillions of ebooks on the subject to choose from. However, some golf balls, socks, tees or a pair of golfing gloves would fill up a book bag for a golfer very nicely.

 

3. Fishing

Again, there are lots of books out there to choose from, but this looks interesting – Fishing – Learn from the Tips and Laugh at the Tales. Into the book bag go some hooks, flies, line, disgorger, lures, small bags of boilies etc – the list of little fishy gifts is endless.

 

4. Flying

Pilots might enjoy Thunder in the Tummy, a collection of funny true tales by a pilot.

Youngsters thinking of learning to fly will benefit from this book, Teenage Pilot.

Suggested book bag goodies might be a chart, sunglasses, flying gloves, pilot’s watch, model aeroplane, tie with planes on etc.

 

5. Homebrewing and Winemaking

A promising looking ebook for all homebrewers is Beer and Ingredients here.

And for 99 cents you could add a work of fiction on the subject in the shape of Secret Life of the Brewer’s Yeast: A Microbiology Tale.

I came across one for winemaking which was 582 words long and cost $6.99 so for obvious reasons I won’t be recommending that one. Not the sort of ebook you want to see out there.

Again, there are plenty of little things you can put in a book bag – stoppers, brewer’s yeast, straining bags, funnels, tube brushes, litmus paper, labels …

 

6. Shooting

Here’s a good ebook: Why You Can’t Shoot Straight

Gifts for the book bag would be small targets, old CDs to shoot at, earplugs, safety glasses.

 

7. Geocaching

Exploring With GPS: A Practical Field Guide for Satellite Navigation

And a novel to go with it: Twin Falls

You could pop an old-fashioned compass into the bookbag, but most useful for the geocaching man in your life would be a selection of small items he can put in the caches he finds. What happens in geocaching is that you take a small item from the cache you find after signing the log, and leave something in its place. You could also put in a plastic container with a very tight seal in case the geocacher wants to create his own one somewhere.

 

Hope these ideas help.