Hetty’s Farmhouse Bakery by Cathy Bramley – a Cumbrian woman wonders if her pies may be her future

Hetty's Farmhouse Bakery: Amazon.co.uk: Bramley, Cathy: 9780552173940: Books

Hetty’s Farmhouse Bakery by Cathy Bramley

 

Hetty is a farmer’s wife, a mum to Poppy, and will bake pies for every good cause in the area. However, when Poppy is asked which woman she admires, it is her aunt Naomi she names, and Hetty begins to think that she wants an independent role, not just to back up her busy husband. While she loves her husband Dan he is completely wrapped up in the family farm that he inherited unexpectedly early before he could follow his dream of training as a vet. She gets on extremely well with her sister in law who runs a farm shop, her mother in law who lives locally, and her life long best friend Anna, single mother and school nurse. 

 

This is a novel of a woman who realises that she wants to establish something for herself, her own business, a new start surrounded by those whom she loves. Set in the beautiful hills of Cumbia, this is a book which establishes a sense of a lovely if remote place, where the community is close and gossip spreads. It looks at the life of contemporary farmers who diversify into other ventures to survive. It examines long term relationships and friendships, old and new romance, and new opportunities. Hetty tells the story from her own point of view, and Cathy Bramley is so skilled at creating a voice of a lively and sometimes confused woman. Hetty’s particular talent is making free form pies with delicious short crust pastry, and it is this skill which she believes she can use to establish her own business, and much of the novel describes how she tries to do so in the face of unforeseeable difficulties. With funny dialogue and some moving moments, this is an engaging and endearing book.

 

The book begins with Hetty meeting Anna at the parents evening for their respective children. Bart, Anna’s son, is a match for Poppy who has a cheeky sense of humour, whereas Hetty’s nerves and style is to blurt out what she is thinking, much to the embarrassment of her offspring. Rusty, Hetty’s much loved and elderly dog is ill, and the situation makes Hetty reassess her daily life. When Naomi secretly enters Hetty’s pies for a competition for best Cumbrian foods, it makes Hetty wonder if she could do more to establish the sale of her pies through different outlets and create a business. As she receives an exciting invitation it creates tensions with her husband, and begins to make her reconsider past loyalties.

 

This book can be seen as quite a light read on one level, with a family and friends at its heart. Yet it also has a lot to say about the role of women within a community and a marriage. Hetty’s situation is not uncommon in contemporary life, with a long time relationship which has its challenges and secrets. I found it really enjoyable and difficult to put down, as I became so involved with Hetty’s discoveries and decisions.The dialogue is lively and realistic, funny and endearing. This is an entertaining book which I really recommend to anyone who enjoys a book with a light story with deeper themes.

 

 Anyone who reads this blog regularly will realise that I enjoy a variety of books, and the difference between this book and yesterday’s sizable novel of much of John Ruskin’s life is considerable! 

Jack and Bet by Sarah Butler – life, love and living in cities in a gentle novel

 

This is the story of four people who are changed and challenged by a marriage that has lasted for seventy years, and a London that is changing on a daily basis. As they move through this beautifully written story together, other people and the places in which they live have a huge impact. This is about the places people inhabit, the destruction of homes, and how the impact of rooms and memories affect people’s expectations. With characters of a great age there is always some sadness for past choices and limited futures, but there is still a lot here of hope, humour and opportunities. This story is written with  keen insight into the lives of those on the edge; the elderly couple, the immigrant and the much married man trying to do his best in his opinion. I found it a lovely engaging read, full of genuine feeling for an elderly couple who are close yet each with their own views. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this gentle yet powerful book. 

 

“Jack Chalmers was a man of few words, married to a woman of many”. He takes a daily walk to the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, leaving his wife Bet in their “new” flat  in which they have lived for five years since their estate has been demolished. While Jack had fought against the destruction, he has been forced to accept it, like he did being in the army during the latter part of the Second World War, and other  aspects of his life which will emerge later. Bet waits at home, having difficulty with the basics of life, but set on having a party to celebrate their seventieth wedding anniversary. Jack meets a young woman, Marinela, a student from Romania who is studying photography, and she happily offers to take photographsat the party.  Meanwhile Tommy, their son, is keen to make changes in his parents’ lives. He wants them to go into a home where they could have continuous care, but they are reluctant to give up their flat and independence, even though they miss their old home with its views and memories. When Bet’s secret is revealed, Marinela has the opportunity to move from her uncomfortable room into a more spacious flat. She has a secret life working to support herself, and many memories of her family in Romania. When an old love surprises her, she has to rethink a lot about her life.

 

The characters that Butler has created in this contemporary novel are genuine and sincere. Jack and Bet have so many memories, and so many of them together, yet Bet in particular has a significant alternative story of choices made and roads not travelled. This is a book of kindness, but also the realities  of contemporary life in London, with all of the squeeze on housing. It is about people making the best of what life offers them, and finding true love against the odds. Although tinged with sadness, I truly enjoyed this book and would recommend it as a gentle read that reveals life in our cities with real impact. 

 

This book is a real celebration of the lives of older people, and is such a lovely story. The cover of the edition that I read is so clever, with lots of little hints about the story. Great design!