Monday, 8 February 2016

Reviewed: A Home in Sunset Bay by Rebecca Pugh







A Home in Sunset Bay will be published by Carina on February 9, 2016.


Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.



A Home in Sunset Bay is Rebecca Pugh’s second novel, and having liked her debut Return to Bluebell Hill last year, I was looking forward to reading her next book. The first thing I noticed about A Home in Sunset Bay was how much Rebecca’s writing has developed. It felt clearer and more grown up, like the author had really come into her own style of writing and was enjoying the storytelling just as much as the reader was meant to. After the first couple of chapters, I was finding the book increasingly difficult to put down and that was all credit to the author for grabbing my attention early on.

Everything in this book is very vividly described. Set in the seaside town of Sunset Bay, this was my absolute favourite aspect to see brought to life through Rebecca’s words. I wanted to escape to the seaside myself, dodging seagulls, scoffing fish and chips and ice cream and having a nice summery walk along the beach. The seaside is my favourite place to be and so I couldn’t have adored a setting any more than I did Sunset Bay. It’s a real picturesque location and the author leaves no detail left desired – the setting is described beautifully.

The beginning of the book introduces us to two sisters living, at the time, very different lives. Younger sister Mia is busy working at Dolly’s Diner, the old-school diner that once belonged to her now passed-away Grandma Dolly. Mia’s life is her work, though she does have her eye on her sadly taken friend Cal, and she can’t imagine being without the diner. Laurie is living her own life in London, with her supposedly perfect job and perfect boyfriend. The moment she catches her boyfriend in bed with another woman is not so perfect, however, and she swiftly makes her escape to Sunset Bay.

I really liked and connected with both sisters, though I was probably a bit more drawn to Laurie. Their story wasn’t really what I was expecting, as I thought there’d be more animosity and bad blood between them which wasn’t exactly the case. I’m trying to avoid spoiler territory but I guess I was a bit disappointed things weren’t massively difficult to resolve. I absolutely loved the first half of this book, couldn’t wait for the sisters to meet again and air their dirty laundry. The build up to them seeing each other, and the tense and awkwardness after, was really engaging reading and I was fascinated waiting to see what would happen next. But then around the mid-way point, there was a bit of a lull and the second half of this book fell a teensy bit flat for me.

Other than a family that needed fixing, there was more to A Home in Sunset Bay, like, of course, the romantic elements. It’s made pretty clear early on who Mia likes, and being written so obviously (I’m sure we were meant to know the feelings there), I was expecting a twist along the way. The thing is, I love a good sweep-you-off-your-feet romance, and after reading Return to Bluebell Hill I know Rebecca can write one, but I didn’t really feel the romance element in this book. It was all a bit predictable and didn’t add a huge amount to the story.

There’s a bit of love on the horizon for Laurie, too, and her story did interest me more. I think that was down to feeling like I knew her love interest, as we get to hear a bit about his life and his mentality. Though Cal’s mentioned more, I didn’t feel like I knew anything about him. I could picture him but his personality was a bit missing. I guess throughout I just craved a bit more depth and background for the supporting characters. Mia and Laurie were so highly developed, characterisation is obviously something the author is good at, but personally I would have liked to get to know the other characters a bit more too.

Although my rating is the same, I really enjoyed A Home in Sunset Bay quite a bit more than Return to Bluebell Hill. The author’s writing has improved lots, with the characters and dialogue feeling a lot more natural and realistic, the pacing and flow to the story tighter and more absorbing and the ending just as sweet as ever. Sunset Bay, its sights and its weather and its beauty, although occasionally a bit over-described (repeated words like toasty and balmy began to grate on me a bit), was stunning and a dreamy location to set the story in, especially as we’re all eager for some sunshine to head our way. I would love to revisit Sunset Bay in future books by Rebecca Pugh, and also to have the chance for a catch up with the lovely characters of Laurie and Mia to see where their lives have taken them. A Home in Sunset Bay is a sincere, summery tale of the bond between two sisters, and how the chance to put things right may be waiting just around the corner.








Chapter One

Above the familiar stretch of golden sand in Sunset Bay, the sky was a brilliant blue, and within this blue the resident seagulls swooped and dived like miniature stunt-planes as they called to each other in morning merriment. The sky was their playground and they took advantage of it, gliding together with their wings spread wide, slicing with precision through the air. On the horizon where the sea met the sky, Mia could see a smattering of white blobs, sailboats she realised, which looked as if an artist had smudged them into the distance with his fingertip. This early in the morning, and with it only being mid-June so not yet in the busiest throes of summer, she had the entire beach to herself and it was the most wonderful feeling in the world.

She maintained a steady pace as the sea rushed up to kiss the soles of her trainers and remained focused on the point up ahead near the craggy rocks where she’d stop, turn, and head back in the direction she’d come from. This had become a habit since she’d relocated to the seaside town, but she felt as if she’d been doing it all of her life.

It was invigorating, jogging alongside the sea as it frothed and rolled and sprayed, and when she was alone like this, she felt like the beach belonged to her. She loved the feel of the sea breeze buffeting her cheeks, and found the song of the circling seagulls strangely comforting. Nothing could beat beginning the day in this way, which was why she didn’t mind waking up that little bit earlier to ensure she had time to do so.

When she’d moved to Sunset Bay, she remembered thinking to herself during that first morning on the beach, ‘I could get used to this,’ and get used to it she had. The town thrummed through her veins and she thrived on the very essence of it. It was a delicious slice of seaside paradise which came with the added bonus of a busy seasonal fair on the pier, coupled with the sweet scent of doughnuts, the bustling Christmas market when December rolled around and, last but by no means least, Dolly’s Diner, which had been handed down to Mia by Grandma Dolly when she’d sadly passed away. Life had always been brighter and felt so much more exciting beside the sea, so Mia had shot down there like a whippet as soon as she’d been able to.

As much as she loved the town she lived in, there were times when she’d gaze out across the ocean and wonder what else was out there. She lapped up holiday tales from the locals eagerly, desperately trying to picture their descriptions in her mind. As they recalled their vibrant cocktails sipped at the poolside and the unbearable, sweltering heat they’d had to endure, she would imagine herself in the same scenarios and feel a deep yearning in her chest. There were days when the urge to leave and go exploring for a couple of months was so overwhelming that she’d fling open her wardrobe doors and greedily seek out her suitcase tucked away at the back, hidden in the shadows of her hanging clothes. Her fancy ideas of jetting away were replaced with the reality of her responsibilities soon after.

‘Good morning, Mia!’

She spotted Jack Nelson up ahead and waved his way. Jack, like many of the older generation in Sunset Bay, had been close friends with Grandma Dolly, which was how Mia had come to know him. When Grandma Dolly had passed away, the townsfolk were devastated, but they’d supported Mia through it all, bringing pies and stews to the cottage. ‘We’re here if you need anything,’ they’d all told her with sincerity in their eyes while lingering on the doorstep. She often crossed paths with Jack early in the morning, their meetings always accompanied by his bouncy black Labrador. Willie honed in on his first victim of the day. He greeted everyone in the same frantic manner, and to Mia’s dismay he began bounding towards her with his hind legs kicking up the sand.

‘Willie! Down boy!’ yelled Jack, shielding his eyes with his gnarled hands. He brandished his walking stick in the air and wiggled it about with a fierce determination, as if that would stop Willie in his tracks, but it didn’t work and they’d both known it wouldn’t. Once Willie set his mind to something there was no stopping him.

Mia braced herself as the blur of black fur continued towards her, quickly closing the distance between them. His ears flapped and his tail wagged manically. ‘Willie, no …’ she whispered in horror as she braced herself for the inevitable impact. Given the speed Willie was running at, he’d send her flying if he didn’t slow down or stop, the latter being preferable, but her quiet wish went unnoticed and Willie took the final leap. His front paws slammed into her chest with such force that she flew back onto the sand and landed with an almighty ‘Ooof!’

‘Bloody dog!’ Jack roared, approaching as quickly as his little legs would carry him. ‘Never listens to a word I say.’ When he finally reached Mia’s side, he tugged Willie back by his collar and held a hand towards her to help her back onto her feet.

‘Oh, he’s fine!’ Mia laughed as she accepted Jack’s hand and returned to an upright position. She brushed her backside free of sand as Willie whined beside his owner. His strength tugged Jack’s hand back and forth as he tried his best to keep a tight grip on the collar to prevent another tumble. ‘He’s just happy to see me, aren’t you, boy?’ She gave Willie’s head a good scratch, unable to be angry as she looked into his chocolate-drop eyes, then tightened her long, brown ponytail and smiled at Jack. ‘Well, I’d better carry on,’ she said brightly.

‘Righto, Mia. I’ll be in for my breakfast soon!’ Jack patted his stomach then whistled for Willie to follow him. The two of them headed back towards town while Mia jogged in the opposite direction, smiling to herself. It might have only been a simple life in Sunset Bay, but it was a life that made her feel endlessly content.

***


Fighting against the temptation to stop and walk, Mia pushed herself onwards and jogged back across the stretch of sand, hurried beneath the pier and followed the uneven path that led back up to town with the rocks crunching beneath her trainers. When she arrived at Honeysuckle Cottage, she leant against the fence and allowed herself a few moments’ break while she waited for an oncoming stitch to pass. It seemed the delights of Dolly’s Diner were taking their toll on her fitness, no matter how often she exercised.

The street on which Honeysuckle Cottage sat seemed a world away from her childhood home in Richmond, London, which had been a three-bedroom, modern townhouse complete with garage and a large, neat driveway. Her mother, Marnie Chapman, was a stickler for tidiness and believed that everything had its place. Each and every item was dusted and polished to within an inch of its life. Mia didn’t mind tidiness at all, but there was something obsessive about how her mother handled the cleaning; quite obsessive was how Marnie Chapman handled everything, come to think of it.

In contrast, Honeysuckle Cottage was crammed and cramped with shelves full of knick-knacks, and rooms positively bursting with charm and character. Honeysuckle Row itself was a closed-in, quiet cul-de-sac, with three cottages either side of the road and two sitting snug at the bottom with the sea visible behind them.

Beneath the ground-floor windows, troughs filled with an abundance of wildflowers hung sweetly. They were wild, free, and vivid in colour, blossoming beautifully in the sunshine. She’d always preferred this to the identical, bland townhouses of the street she’d grown up on. The lack of order and neatness was more charming than untidy, exactly how you’d expect a cottage by the sea to appear.

After stepping inside, picking up a pile of post and discarding it on the rickety table beside the front door, Mia hurried up the stairs. The only thing she had on her mind was a cold shower. Afterwards, she dried her hair, tugged on her Dolly’s Diner uniform and smoothed it down against her thighs. She slipped on the white plimsolls and left the cottage, ready to begin another day in Sunset Bay. Leaving Honeysuckle Row, she headed towards the busier part of town, where the Cobbler’s Pub, Minnie’s Cornish pasty shop and the newsagents could be found nestled along the street.

When she approached Dolly’s Diner a short time after, she eyed the white exterior and tried to picture it years ago, back in 1951 when it had first opened its doors to the public. Grandma Dolly had told the tale of Dolly’s Diner’s birth numerous times throughout the years Mia had spent with her.

The diner had begun life in Sunset Bay as an abandoned petrol station which had gone out of business when the owner had upped and left. Apparently, Grandma Dolly had passed by the station plenty of times and the more she’d looked at it, the clearer the vision in her mind had become. Grandpa Robert had been in love with Grandma Dolly since the first day he’d set eyes on her, when they’d passed each other by chance on the beach. They’d quickly grown fond of each other’s company.

Grandma Dolly had been fascinated by the original American diners, so much so that her life’s dream had been to open up her very own in Sunset Bay. There’d been no way on earth that she’d have been able to afford the premises herself as she’d only worked part-time in the newsagent’s, but little did Grandma know that Grandpa Robert had friends in quite a few places.

One night, as they’d been returning from a dance over in the next town with a bunch of friends, Grandpa Robert had stopped the car in the petrol station’s car park and switched off the engine. Grandma Dolly always laughed and said she’d readied herself to give him a swift slap if he’d gone there to try something ‘rude’ with her. Grandpa Robert had climbed out of the car, walked around to open the passenger door and held out his hand for her to take as she’d stepped out, in true gentlemanly fashion. He’d pulled a key from out of his pocket and slotted it into the keyhole. He’d pushed the door open wide and stepped inside, beckoning for Grandma Dolly to follow him. Inside, he’d got down on one knee and asked her to marry him. After she’d cried out a very emotional ‘yes’ in reply to his proposal, he had slipped the engagement ring onto her finger and slipped the key into the pocket of her cardigan. He’d bought the premises for her. It had taken a while for Grandma Dolly to transform the place into the vision she’d had in her mind, but she’d managed to get there with the help of her beloved. They’d married quickly and moved into Honeysuckle Cottage as soon as they’d been able to.

As Mia approached the diner now, she spotted the familiar figures standing outside talking among themselves happily. Her heart sang at the sight of them. Even if she’d been able to choose, she wouldn’t have been able to pick a better bunch of friends to work alongside. They each brought their own unique personalities to the diner and without them it wouldn’t be the same.

‘Morning, gang!’ she called cheerily with a little wave. They were all there. Marco and Cal, the cooks, and Pollyanna, the waitress. They were a small team but they worked brilliantly together and surprisingly slid through the busy periods with ease. ‘How are we this morning?’ Her fingertips were already touching the key in the pocket of her dress, eager to get inside. ‘Ready to rock and roll?’

‘Aren’t we always?’ Pollyanna giggled as she adjusted the mint-green bow nestled among her blonde curls. The bow matched the colour of their knee-length dresses perfectly. ‘Can I pick the first track on the jukebox?’ she asked sweetly, clapping her hands together in a prayer pose and pouting her rosebud lips. ‘Pretty, pretty please?’

‘Go on then.’ Mia laughed as she pushed open the door. ‘Are you both okay?’ She directed the question towards Marco and Cal as they passed her by.

They nodded. Cal offered her a grin which, even after being audience to it a billion times, made her knees go weak. The man was indescribably handsome, there was no denying it. If he’d worked out front rather than behind the scenes in the kitchen with Marco, she’d never be able to get a thing done, she was sure of it. His deep-green eyes, mocha hair and chiselled jaw formed a very attractive man, a man who could easily distract a woman just by merely being present. It wasn’t only his appearance that drew Mia in, though. Beneath the dreamy exterior, Cal was a genuinely nice man. He was caring, sincere, loyal and ridiculously childish sometimes, which made her laugh endlessly. She caught a whiff of his aftershave as he slipped by and managed to catch herself before audibly inhaling.

When Cal had first arrived in Sunset Bay, Mia had spotted him sitting in one of the booths on a miserable Monday morning. He’d been staring into a cup of cold coffee wordlessly. She’d approached with caution and asked quietly if he wanted a refill, instantly wanting to back away from the gloominess surrounding him. She had no idea of what to say to a complete stranger who looked so sad. When he’d glanced up at the sound of her voice, she’d swallowed quickly, taken aback by the intensity of his gaze, his unwavering line of sight, not forgetting his ridiculously good looks. A slow smile had crept onto his mouth and he’d nodded, inviting her to sit with him when she returned with the coffee jug. It hadn’t been busy, Monday mornings never saw the staff rushed off their feet, so she’d agreed and they’d got talking. He’d had his heart broken by his childhood sweetheart, who’d apparently told him, after being inseparable since their teens, that she wanted different things and didn’t want to be tied down. Cal had moved to Sunset Bay on the recommendation of his parents who had lived there for almost thirty years. Bizarrely, after just half an hour of chit-chat with Cal, Mia had been captivated by him. She’d barely taken her eyes off him throughout the entirety of their conversation, even when she’d sipped at her own coffee that he’d poured for her with amusement when she’d taken the seat opposite. He’d been in desperate need of a job, and the diner had been in need of an extra cook to give Marco some relief on the weekends. As fate would have it, Cal had worked in a few eateries beforehand and had some experience. Turned out he’d just been being modest because he was actually a dab-hand in the kitchen, almost putting Marco to shame. He’d been there ever since, now a part of the furniture as well as a part of Mia’s life, too.

As they’d grown closer and she’d seen the other sides to Cal, the more sensitive side being one of her favourites, she’d quickly became attracted to him. There was something that pulled her towards him. His easy charm, his winning smile, his sense of humour? She wasn’t sure. Perhaps it had been a combination of all of those things. She’d spent hours at home, wondering if Cal could possibly feel the same way about her, obsessed over it almost, questioning every smile he directed her way, every accidental touch. He was nothing like the other men she’d had in her life, childish and commitment-phobes. He genuinely cared about her, worried for her, and when Grandma Dolly had passed away, he’d comforted her, made her hot soup on the cold nights and held her whenever she’d cried. That was when Mia had fallen in love with him, she was sure of it. When he’d scooped her up and held her tightly until her broken pieces had slotted back together. She’d felt like they’d had a connection and was sure it would lead to them finally becoming a couple, but then the rug had been completely whipped from beneath her feet and Hannah had stepped onto the scene. Her hopes had disappeared immediately. She’d taken one glance at Hannah and known she didn’t stand a chance. So she’d backed off, refused to ponder any more on the subject, except her heart hadn’t refused to step away so quickly. Quite honestly she’d been gutted, but in truth, she supposed it was safer this way, because then she’d never be able to get let down. She’d been let down before and it had hurt, by someone she’d trusted infinitely. She couldn’t go there again. She still had deep feelings for Cal, would still sometimes find him watching her and wonder what was going through his mind. She’d tried to put the thoughts of him to rest but they refused to be silenced, and so every time she saw him those thoughts grew wild and frantic with excitement. She was glad she had the diner to keep her busy, to keep her mind on other things besides him.





2 comments:

  1. I adored this book! it was all so vivid xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm definitely wanting to book myself a seaside holiday right now! xx

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