REVIEW: A Cottage Full of Secrets by Jane Lovering
Cottage Two, Bracken Ridge Farm sits at the end of a pitted track, with the glorious Yorkshire moors stretching behind it.
Just a simple two up, two down, the cottage holds the promise of a new start for two very different women, but it is also full of secrets.
Fifty years ago, newly-wed Stella is relishing making the little cottage a happy home. But for all the lovingly handmade curtains, and the hot dinners ready on the table for her husband, Stella’s dreams of married life jar painfully with the truth.
Fifty years later, the cottage is a new beginning for Tamzin. Determined to get away from her previous life, she makes the move to the wild and vast Yorkshire countryside.
When Tamzin finds a sepia photo of a woman, Stella, standing in the cottage’s garden, there’s a sadness in her eyes that Tamzin recognises. As the cottage reveals more of its secrets, Tamzin is desperate to find out whether Stella got her happy ending. And as she gradually makes new friends, and starts to win over her mysterious neighbour Euan, Tamzin dares to dream about her own happy ending too…
CW – domestic abuse, domestic violence, past injury to an animal
Dear Ms. Lovering,
I love it when the setting of your books goes back to a cottage in Yorkshire. From the start, it’s clear that recent life hasn’t been easy for either of the women who, fifty years apart, live in the stone cottage far out from town. Young early 1970s bride Stella has a plan to escape and through her naive and stumbling recounting of her married life, we can figure out why she feels the need to flee her husband. Older contemporary Tamzin has arrived fleeing from her own abusive past along with an adult fox she saved who was injured as a kit. A strange neighbor lives next door to Tamzin who she tries to avoid if at all possible.
When she can’t find the cottage mains stopcock (US=water shut off valve), a knock on his door is necessary. That also gets her the name of a female handyperson named Jill from whose keen eye no needed household repair can be hidden. In asking for a female, Tamzin has unknowingly revealed a bit of herself to Jill – who has worked for women who feel more comfortable with a woman in the house instead of a man – and Euan – because a survivor knows a fellow survivor.
Tamzin soon uncovers a past mystery about a former resident but before she can solve that, her past arrives whether she’s ready to face it or not.
The down-to-earth people of Yorkshire are a delight. They notice much but don’t (immediately) comment on these things. No, they sit back and wait as endless cups of builders tea are made and drunk and until a person is more ready to talk about things in their lives that are dark or plaster walls that are damaged. I was drawn into the location as Tamzin and her fox, Brack, explore their new surroundings – the moors of Yorkshire. Next door neighbor Euan has reason to know the areas well and serves as an intro to the wild animals and hidden places.
I seem to be reading quite a few books with victims of domestic abuse/violence. As with the most recent one, “Drawn by the Current,” the details here are evocative of what survivors endure. Two victims suffered violent attacks while two others have been subjected to emotional abuse and manipulation. All of them must face the emotional and physical scars of the battering and try to regain and rebuild their sense of worth as well as their confidence. None of them are portrayed as being the same way and yet as one character states “survivors know survivors.” There are similarities in the way they view and react to the world now that have marked them. I was thrilled that two characters are planning on seeking therapy and realize that “the healing power of love” won’t be enough.
The book isn’t all doom and gloom. Tamzin has kept her sense of humor as well as a bit of wonder at the natural world she’s now a part of. Before, she’d lived in touristy Truro but now with just one neighbor, a handyperson, and the local townspeople (a drive away) who are thrilled at her purchases for her DIY projects around her, she’s out of the house much more. Part of this is because her rescue fox (some vague details are given about what caused his injury) can now be outside. It’s lovely to watch them explore the countryside. I totally get that Tamzin and Brack are both injured creatures, hurt by cruelty and slowly healing. Others might not understand why Tamzin is willing to put up with fox urine in the house but, though she knows Brack isn’t a pet and is working herself up to taking him to a local wildlife sanctuary, he’s her fox and she does love him. They’re both damaged but they’re not worthless. Once we see Euan’s true colors, their gentle and slowly growing relationship is wonderful to watch.
The bits of humor sprinkled through the story serve to lighten what could have otherwise been a fairly dark story. Having Stella’s story told in the order that it was puzzled me a bit but though there is a clue midway in the book, her ultimate fate wasn’t revealed until the end. Brack’s HEA brought tears to my eyes while Tamzin’s HFN felt right. B