REVIEW: A Vicarage Homecoming by Kate Hewitt
Can she find happiness and love in the place she once only wanted to leave? As the youngest Holley sister, Miriam has always been a bit of a rebel. After spending several years backpacking through Europe and Australia, she’s now back home… unemployed and pregnant, with no boyfriend or husband in sight. At first, Miriam only wants to hide away from the shocked and prying eyes of her father’s parishioners, but her sisters won’t let her. Determined to help her find her way, they urge Miriam to accept a job working as an assistant to Simon, the new vicar… and to think about what will happen when the baby comes. As Miriam starts putting down roots, she finds an unexpected friendship in her sister Rachel’s ex-fiancé, Dan Taylor. And as she thinks about her future, she finds hope and healing in the most unexpected places. But when the past rushes up to meet both her and Dan, can Miriam stay the course?
Dear Ms. Hewitt,
Yes, the final book in the Holley Sisters of Thornthwaite series is here. Four daughters of the Vicar of Thornthwaite in Cumbria, England find romance or rediscover love within a marriage. Now youngest sister Miriam, the globetrotter who has been content to wander where she wanted with little plan for the future, is finally faced with something that is going to force her to make decisions about her life.
Youngest sister Miriam escaped from what she saw as her restricted life in the small Cumbrian village of Thornthwaite where everyone knew her business. This was not only because it’s a small place but also because her father was the longtime vicar there. Now things are changing as Roger and Ruth are headed to China to a mission and sister Anna is marrying the new Vicar – Simon. It’s for their wedding that Miriam finally arrives home – pregnant and with no boyfriend in sight.
Her family is concerned but not because of Miriam’s unwed pregnancy. They love her and make it clear that they support her in whatever she decides about that. Instead, they worry about the fact that Miriam has a long history of drifting and putting off making hard decisions. But with a set time limit on this one, even Miriam knows she’s got to buckle down and get with the program.
But what does she want? She’s not even sure and begins to resort to her time honored “I’ll think about that tomorrow” mode. Putting off even getting pre-natal scans helps her to postpone things a bit. Then the baby starts moving and kicking. Miriam knows she has a built in support network in her family but would giving the baby up for adoption be a better thing for the child? Honestly, she is almost paralyzed by the situation though she does finally get the scan and go to talk with an adoption agency.
Then after the wedding of her sister and the new vicar, someone shows up who Miriam didn’t expect to see. Is there a chance for this relationship or will it only end up wrecking the other one that Miriam never dreamed of?
I feel as if I need to say straight up that this isn’t a typical romance. Instead it’s a lot of coming of age crossed with friends to lovers with a sprinkling of women’s fiction thrown in. The only POV in the book is from Miriam which is needed to hide what Dan is thinking and feeling.
Miriam comes across as a confused young woman which is what she’s supposed to be. After having decided to carry the pregnancy to term, she is genuinely unsure of what she’s going to do. I liked that merely discovering she’s pregnant didn’t magically change her into a forceful, decision making woman. The realities of being a single mother are things she (finally) begins to contemplate and these give her pause. Her family is there and will help her but she puts thought into what would be best for the baby.
Thornthwaite might not be glamorous London but they’re not completely behind the times. Still, Miriam arrives to a village that is going to talk about her condition. As the youngest daughter of the vicar, she grew up with everyone’s nose in her business and imagining what they’re now saying has her shying away from the parishioners. I was delighted in how a few of them stepped forward and helped her see that her child would be more a “vicarage baby” (in a good way) than she had thought.
Miriam’s talks with her parents were also moving and reinforced the impression I’d gained of them through the first three stories. Ruth and Roger are deeply religious – living their faith as well as presenting it in church. If only all ministers were as conscientious and humble as Roger. I’d take him for my vicar any day.
“Miriam.” Roger leaned over and placed his hand on hers. To her shock she saw tears in his eyes. “I am not disappointed in you, or humiliated by you. And I’m sorry, *so* sorry, that you’ve thought even for a moment that I was.”
“But you must be a bit, Dad,” Miriam protested. “You’re a *vicar*. And I’m such a screwup…”
“You are not a screwup.” Her dad’s voice was fierce. “Miriam, you are a beloved child of God, whether you feel you are or not. And no child of God is a screwup.”
Miriam’s sisters are present in this story and thankfully don’t change their already depicted personalities. Esther is still as brusque, Anna as sweet and Rachel as caught up in her still growing romance with Sam. There are some elements from the sisters’ childhood that have affected them into adulthood and time was taken to address those which I appreciated. They are like any sisters who love each other even as sometimes they drive each other crazy. Some events in their stories are continued and though this book can stand on its own due to the little nuggets (enough but not overwhelming) of backstory lightly sprinkled through, reading those books will help fill things out.
The romance is gentle and slow growing. Of course it’s fairly obvious to readers who is going to end up with Miriam but she and Dan start as awkward survivors of the events in “A Vicarage Wedding.” With no instant feelings about each other, their relationship is given time to germinate. It did help that they didn’t have much interaction while growing up, merely being on each other’s periphery. (Dan is seven years older, had left for uni while Miriam was in school and not developed a relationship with Rachel until long after Miriam had left to see the world). Still, Dan sometimes comes off as a Perfect Man. I would have liked to see his character developed a bit more but what we’re given does convince me that he never truly was in love with Rachel nor she with him.
But wow, does he shine during one particular part of the book. And it was here I laughed until I was almost crying. Poor Miriam’s hazy birth plan “Drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.” doesn’t survive first contact with labor pains –
“What?” The word came out in a desperate screech. “Dan, I need to go to a hospital. I am so not one of those mother earth types who plans a home birth and fries up the placenta. Seriously, that is so not me. I need drugs and midwives and drugs. I really need drugs.”
– Well lets just say that I wanted to quote the entire scene but will limit myself.
“I can’t do this. I can’t do this!”
“You can do this—”
“Shut up,” she snarled. “Shut *up*, you don’t know what you’re talking about; you’re a stupid *man*.”
“True,” Dan murmured. He brushed her damp hair away from her face. “Sorry about that.”
“Oh sure, you’re *sorry*.” She felt furious with a rage that she didn’t understand but could not be contained. “Do you even know what this feels like? No. Of course not. A man could never survive this. And what drugs did you give me? A paracetamol?”
“You should start to feel some relief in a few minutes—”
“I don’t feel anything.” Another contraction came, just seconds after the last. “Except these stupid contractions! I hate them! I hate them!”
I enjoyed watching Miriam grow up. She learns to stand on her own two feet and make decisions (and change nappies) but also sees that it’s fine to ask for help when you need it. She stopped listening to that voice in her head that muttered she couldn’t do anything. “She’d learned to forgive herself and she’d learned to love others.” Her forthright family might need to initially nudge her but she knows they’re standing behind her, ready to support her. Initially I needed to be convinced about the romance pairing but by the end I was and it was delightful to watch the relationship slowly unfold. This is a sweet and fitting ending to a very nice series. B