REVIEW: Home on Folly Farm by Jane Lovering
Needing an escape, Dora swapped city living for life as a shepherdess on her grandad’s Yorkshire farm. More than a decade later Dora is still there, now farming the fifty acres and caring for the one hundred rare sheep by herself. She never hears the call of the city, but instead relishes the peace and simplicity of life on the Moors.
When Dora’s glamorous but quarrelsome sister Cass, her teenage nephew Thor and his handsome tutor Nat, turn up for an unexpected and unreasonably long stay, life on the farm is thrown into chaos. Cass brings with her unwelcome memories from the past, and of someone who once stole Dora’s heart.
Dora takes refuge in the comforting routine of the farm, the sheep never allowing her too much time to dwell. But, as the seasons change, the snow starts to melt, and as lambs begin to fill the fields, Dora can’t keep hiding in the hills. Because even though she’s trying, Dora can’t run away from a love that never really let her go…
Dear Ms. Lovering,
With “Home on Folly Farm,” we’ve left the Dorset “Seasons by the Sea” series locale and have headed north to Yorkshire and Ryeland sheep. Of course I had to go look up the heritage sheep breed that heroine Dora raises on the farm she inherited from her taciturn Yorkshire grandparents along with a house that’s over 300 years old. Then of course (part, the second) I had to go find images of what I think Folly Farm might look like. It seems that B&B opportunities to stay on a working sheep farm is a thing.
As the first-person story is told from Dora’s POV and she runs a sheep farm, there are a lot of sheep in this book. There’s also a lot about the everyday hard work that Dora does, day in and day out. When her pampered and indulged younger sister, who doesn’t hesitate to say what she feels, arrives along with her twelve year old son and the son’s tutor, Dora is understandably not happy. Cass is the type of spoiled person who issues commands rather than requests and who manages to slough off anything she doesn’t want to do (which is mostly everything).
“I stared at her for a second. ‘Did you originally come with a filter and it fell off in the wash or something?’
‘Sorry.’ She sounded completely unapologetic. ‘But it’s true.’
Meanwhile Cass’s son Thor (shortened from Hawthorn. Yes.) and tutor Nat add to Dora’s frustration. Thor has also been catered to his whole life (both by his mum and his grandmum) and lives on his vlogging channel (he’s going to be an influencer according to Cass). But it’s the tutor who throws Dora for a loop as she initially thinks he is someone she once knew in her wild youth. While he dispels that, what he tells her about his family saddens her. Oh, and then there are the sheep rustlers plaguing the area. But what on earth is Dora going to do with all these people crowding her life and shattering the peace she’s found away from London?
‘Do they all have names?’
I had to hand it to him, Nat had got this small talk mastered. He was probably in huge demand among the home-schooling fraternity in south London. ‘No. Just Willow, because I had to hand-rear her and you can’t keep calling them “the lamb” when they are the size of a Labrador and getting in the pantry every five minutes. You have to have something to shout so they know who you’re cross with.’
‘Right.’ He stared off over the green hills again. ‘You aren’t much of a one for chatting, are you, Dora?’
‘Nope.’ And then, because I felt a bit sorry for him and because there was something very appealing about him sitting there, with the sun bouncing off the barn wall hard enough almost to be audible, and the bucolic scenery, ‘I don’t get much practice.’
‘But you talk to the sheep. I’ve heard you.’
‘Well, of course. It’s a bit rude to go in unannounced and tip them up to feel their udders. I at least say “excuse me”.’
The combination of his deep laugh with the sun, his crinkled eyes and his lean shape made disturbingly tingly things happen around my body. It was disconcerting.
This is not a romcom and though it does have a lot of humor, that is mixed in with some heavy hitting subjects. Dora has always loved the farm and farmhouse that her family have owned and worked for over 250 years. She’s trying to help bring back one of the oldest sheep breeds in England, Ryelands, known for being incredibly hardy and producers of wool sought after by boutique weavers and spinners. As she’s running a one-woman operation, the house hasn’t been kept up the way it used to be but she’s fine with it. Dora will admit that her sister’s interior decorating schemes do make it look much nicer however the two sisters clash over what ought to be done with the place.
Since Cass gets part of the farm profits without lifting a manicured finger to help, Dora has some simmering feelings to go along with older ones dating back to when Cass got pregnant and their mother began to ignore Dora to hover over her pregnant daughter and then her grandson. Thankfully tutor Nat shares Dora’s frustrated feelings over Cass and their descriptions of Cass are funny if at times a bit harsh.
‘God, she’s ghastly,’ I said without thinking.
Nat laughed. ‘She has her moments but she’s my employer, so you never heard that from me.’
‘Well, she’s my sister and I still think she’s awful.’
Nat turned to head towards the barn. ‘I’m sure you love each other,’ he said. ‘Deep down.’
‘If by “deep down” you mean “in hell”, then that’s probably what it will come to,’ I said darkly.
At times Nat seems almost too good to be true. He’s handsome, well spoken, can tactfully deal with his employer and also finesse Thor into educational activities about the farm despite the fact that Thor lives to vlog.
I had a feeling that there was a lot more to these characters than Dora knows or lets on. At first Cass made me want to bean her with a yogurt container while I wanted to snatch away Thor’s iPad but there are reasons why they act as they do and the reasons – which are carefully doled out with a light touch – make sense. Dora’s past is also hinted at but not with heavy handed dollops of backstory. Instead, it is fully revealed when it is needed for Dora to confront her ghosts and demons.
The climax of the sheep rustling had me laughing as images of “Shaun the sheep” mixed with a tiny bit of “Scooby Doo” flooded my brain. It’s a wee bit farcical but I loved it anyway. Were I Dora, I would also not quibble with replacing Thor’s iPad.
Even when reconciliations and long concealed explanations are made, things aren’t immediately hunky dory between anyone. The tensions are of long standing and I was glad to see that the characters are given time to accept and come to terms with everything. The romance is a nice slow burn but there are some sex scenes though not too explicit. There is one aspect of the story I’m still thinking about that upon reflection made me slightly uncomfortable but there were two sides to it and neither side was totally innocent nor totally to blame – so I guess it equals out. What I appreciated the most is how the character’s pasts influenced and shaped their actions and how much they all changed and matured over the course of the story. B