Wednesday 12 August 2015

Reviewed: Return to Bluebell Hill by Rebecca Pugh

Return to Bluebell Hill was published by Carina on June 18, 2015.

Thanks to Rebecca for arranging the Netgalley review copy.

Return to Bluebell Hill is Rebecca Pugh’s debut novel and I thought it was told beautifully. There was a real warm and cosy feel to this book which made me feel all at home. Jessica McAdams is returning to Bluebell Hill, attending the funeral of her parents. She hadn’t been in contact with her parents for years, not since she left, and Bluebell Hill is not a place she ever planned to return to. But after being reunited with her old nanny Esme, and meeting the rather dishy gardener Reuben, Jessica begins to realise that leaving Bluebell Hill again will be tougher than she had ever imagined. First things first, I was drawn into this story straight away. The book just hooked me and it was compelling throughout. There was something about Bluebell Hill that had me intrigued, thanks to Rebecca’s delicate writing and hints at secrets lurking at the bottom of Bluebell House. There was more than just a romance here – the book touches on regret, forgiveness, friendship and there is a bit of suspense running through the story, especially in the first half of the book. Honestly, I preferred the first half more, when we know there’s going to be a secret uncovered but we’re left in suspense, trying to piece things together and work it all out. That was the most interesting part of the story to me – although I did like the rest too, I preferred it when it was a bit more intriguing, a bit more thought-provoking, and a bit less predictable.

Something that I really enjoyed about this novel was the descriptive writing which was used throughout. Rebecca has such a lovely way with words and she builds a great picture of every setting, character and event in the book. The setting of Bluebell Hill was divine. I could just sit back, daydream a little and let Rebecca take me there, as vivid as her description was. She created such a bold picture in my mind that I felt like I knew the area almost as well as anywhere I’ve ever been, and it felt like such a peaceful, picturesque area. A gorgeous setting, relaxing and free from all the general business of the working life. It had a really sweet feel to it – I think I want a reading holiday there!

Jessica is a likeable character. She’s a nice, down-to-earth girl who just wants to find her place in the world. At times I was a bit envious of her best friend Sarah, who had free reign to try and talk some sense into her because Jessica is definitely a bit frustrating at times. She likes to have an idea and stubbornly stick to it, even when the whole world is shouting the opposite at her. Having said that, I found her an easy character to root for and wanted the happy ending for her that she is dreaming of. We meet the character of Reuben early on too, and he sure had me swooning. He was funny, considerate, hard-working, sexy, full of heart and a bit of a hunk of course. I’m thinking there’ll have been a few readers who’ve had their hearts stolen by Reuben… I liked the dynamics between him and Jessica, how they seemed to easily fall into a comfortable friendship. Refreshingly, Reuben was a family man and very content spending his days with his mum and family and I did wonder towards the beginning whether Jessica might feel a bit envious of him having a happy family, whereas hers was broken from her childhood. There was a nice contrast in their characters which made things interesting.

I thought there were a few things that could have been explored and developed further, especially the story of Jessica’s parents. Jessica is returning to Bluebell Hill after the death of her parents who she never really had a relationship with. That’s a pretty big move, but there were so many questions I had that didn’t get answered. For a start, I’m not sure we ever do find out how her parents died. I actually thought that meant we were going to discover something suspicious or a secret to do with their deaths considering it’s a pretty big detail to overlook when that’s what the story revolves around. I would have also liked to understand more why Jessica’s relationship with her parents was so bad. We do get told that they didn’t have much time for her and that they were always out, but we don’t learn how much that affected Jessica at the time. She says she doesn’t have good memories of her childhood but I wanted to know a bit more – what moments was she affected the most by having distant parents? How did she feel every time Esme had to be there for her instead of her mum and dad? How did things become so bad that she decided to leave to London and never look back, never keep contact? The story of Return to Bluebell Hill was honestly beautiful but I do think that I would have been able to connect with Jessica more if I could have learnt a bit more about her past. It was definitely touched on, I just wanted more.

All in all, Return to Bluebell Hill was a really heart-warming book with sweet characters, an idyllic setting and a secretive story that will have you fascinated. The flow and pace to the story was good, pretty fast but not to the level I couldn’t keep up. More the opposite, I could not put this book down. One final part I did enjoy was the epilogue. I’m not a huge fan of epilogues, though most books I read do seem to have them. I don’t see why everything has to be tied up so nicely, I love the chance to use my own imagination to decide what will happen to the characters in the future. The epilogue here has a touch of that, I could tell you everything that has happened to every character. I don’t think it’s needed. But, the most important aspect of this book for me was seeing the growth and development of Jessica’s character and of course, without spoilers, I thought Rebecca’s epilogue delivered that exceptionally. I was cheering on Jessica’s character at the end and a little sad to see the story finish, if I’m honest. Return to Bluebell Hill is a promising debut – you don’t really doubt where it’s going to go, but it’s delivered well all the same. I’ll be looking forward to reading the next book from this author.

A sweet book that I couldn't stop reading. Could have done with a bit more explaining but it was still a warm, heart-warming, enticing story.

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