Coming Home to Maple Cottage by Holly Martin
This is a charming autumn/winter book, with events happening throughout the seasons. Holly Martin has created some vibrant and realistic characters dealing with less than perfect situations, complex family issues and challenges along with romance. Sandcastle Bay is a coastal village where the story is set and some of the characters have appeared in other books, but this is very much a standalone book which I enjoyed (and read quite fast!). Isla Rosewood lives in a cottage with her nephew Elliot following her brother Matthew’s death. Elliot’s mother effectively disappeared before the tragedy, so Isla has given up her flat, career and life in London to look after the little boy. She has support from her family, but the real involvement in their lives comes from Leo Jackson, Matthew’s best friend and Elliot’s godfather. Leo has a difficult history in the village, and Isla knows him well enough to be wary of him, but his care for Elliot is transforming, and she begins to wonder. A series of challenges makes for difficult decisions, and much is discovered about people, their feelings and more in this book which shows real insight into village life and contemporary relationships.
The book opens with Isla and Leo meeting four years before the main narrative of the book, on the evening before Elliot’s christening. Their encounter that night is memorable, but Leo’s behaviour drives Isla back to London. The book properly begins with Isla and Elliot living in Hot Chocolate cottage, and Leo visiting nearly every day. Having been let down previously, and knowing Leo’s reputation, Isla resolves to keep him at arm’s length as far as romance is concerned, though acknowledging that he is a positive element in Elliot’s life. This is difficult to understand for family members in the village, and those who take a great deal of interest in the affairs of others. A very funny scene in a local café shows how people are keen to know exactly what is going on, despite Isla’s reservations. As activities continue in the village, Isla, Elliot and Leo are drawn together. Her confusion is not helped by her two enormous concerns. She is not earning any money as she has been living off proceeds of her London flat sale, but it is now running out. The cottage’s mortgage is paid off, but Sadie’s, Elliot’s absent birth mother, name is still on the title deeds. Isla has been granted guardianship of Elliot, but full adoption has been difficult to achieve as no one has been able to discover Sadie’s whereabouts, though she is suspected to be somewhere exotic. With an ongoing job search and the background concern about Elliot’s future, Isla has little time to spend on considering a romantic future with the dangerously attractive Leo.
This is an enjoyable book with consistent and well-drawn characters who reflect very real life concerns. Even minor characters have their contributions to make to this frequently funny book, especially when the frank and talkative Elliot asks some awkward questions. When Isla experiences challenges and Leo faces difficulties with his past, they are evidently part of a close and enviable community. This is a well written book which has a strong romance at its heart, but also looks at real life problems. I recommend it as a contemporary escapist read which has some fascinating twists and turns.