REVIEW: Return to Embthwaite Farm (The Mowbray Sisters Book 1) by Kate Hewitt
Welcome to Embthwaite Farm, a charming English home in North Yorkshire, belonging to the fractured Mowbray family…
When Rachel Mowbray left behind her family farm in North Yorkshire at eighteen, she never planned on returning. But when her ex-childhood sweetheart calls and insists she return due to her father’s declining health, she travels north. Every moment home reminds Rachel why she left—her sister Harriet is both hostile and cold, her father barely communicates with anyone, and the house feels stuck in time. Plus, her old neighbour and ex, sheep farmer Ben Mackey, still has the power to make her pulse race…a decidedly unwelcome realization!
As a can-do businesswoman, Rachel wants to sweep in and fix everything, but it seems as if no one actually wants her help and nothing goes according to plan. Even more alarmingly, she must face the confounding memories of her own childhood—and she questions how many of them she can truly trust.
As Rachel navigates her father’s health crisis and confronts old hurts with her sister and community, she wonders if she can finally find her happily-ever-after in the most unexpected place of all—home. But will she—as well as Ben—have the courage to fight for their future together this time?
CW – one character has
Dear Ms. Hewitt,
Adding tags to this review reminded me of how many books I’ve read that are set in Yorkshire. Watching “All Creatures Great and Small” has taught me a bit about taciturn Yorkshire farmers and the Yorkshire accent. Poor Rachel thought she wanted nothing more than to leave and see the world. Maybe she’s not quite done with her home county just yet.
Rachel works hard in a finance job in London. It’s cut throat and to succeed, you have to be there to be seen and also be willing to give up holidays or time off for family stuff. Now that she’s finally in Ibiza on a long delayed vacation, on a sun lounger, on the beach she doesn’t want to answer her buzzing mobile. When she finally gives in, it’s someone she didn’t expect to hear from – Ben – the person Rachel had a crush on her whole life but who wouldn’t make any effort to keep her from leaving as she headed off to uni.
After being guilted into coming home early and driving up to Yorkshire, Rachel arrives to what she expects – a sullen and hostile younger sister and a father who prefers to stay in the barn with the cows. They’ve never seemed to want her there so after a while, Rachel had finally stopped going and trying. Her goal now is to get her father to his medical appointment and then leave. But the longer she has to stay, the more Rachel realizes that maybe what she remembers of her childhood isn’t exactly what happened and perhaps it’s time to talk and correct misunderstandings.
There’s quite a lot packed into this story: going home again, memories, dysfunctional families, abandonment, choices, sickness, not-the-favorite-child, and misunderstandings – most due to age and pride. I’d say most families have had to deal with one or (probably) more of these.
Rachel remembers her childhood as unhappy with a mother who cried often and ultimately abandoned the family. Her best friend and crush Ben seemingly ignored her during years of school only to reconnect for a short period before not being willing to even talk with her about her plans for university. Sister Harriet appears to both want Rachel to shoulder some of the load at home while also resenting her older sister for showing up. Father Peter is a typical laconic farmer who is also stubborn and set in his ways. Within a few hours, Rachel is already fed up and seething. Yet Ben is right, if her sister thinks their father should see a doctor then something is wrong.
Little by little, bit by bit, Harriet and Rachel talk. Rachel discovers that a lot of what she remembers is how she saw it (obviously) but that she also never questioned some things. Communication is a two way street but she put aside asking heavy questions or delving too deep as all she wanted was to leave and as she didn’t feel wanted, she never made the effort. Thus a cyclical, self fulfilling twelve years of avoidance and pain have built up between the sisters while their father has remained dour and silent.
Resolution comes slowly and after a lot of rethinking on Rachel’s part (as the main POV is hers). Her initial attempts to ask Hats about her childhood memories and her pronouncements that she’s sticking around are met with (understandable) skepticism by Harriet as Rachel has skedaddled every time before. Rachel is also surprised to learn some of what is behind why Harriet stayed and that Harriet actually has some plans for her life. There’s a lovely scene near the end that shows the closeness that the sisters once had and will (hopefully) have in the future.
The medical situation with their father is fraught and as someone dealing with it a bit with my own mother now, I can understand. Peter Mowbray is a proud man who doesn’t want any palaver about anything. Yet there are also fleeting moments when Rachel sees the fear on his face before his defiance kicks back in. When they do finally get a diagnosis, I can understand Peter’s reaction and his choice even if Rachel briefly struggles with it.
When it comes to Ben, there is a great deal to be worked out. Rachel’s discussions with her female boss (and yay for her) get Rachel thinking of what she might be leaving on the table and of what she might regret in years to come. Slowly she and Ben edge towards revisiting the past and thinking of the future. Rachel has thought of events that hurt her and that changed the way she acted and/or what she decided she wanted. When she mentions these to Ben, his “oh that’s ancient history” response annoys me as much as it does Rachel. Yes, they were eleven but it hurt and despite Rachel initially agreeing to stop revisiting a few things, I was delighted when she finally sticks to her guns and Ben awkwardly confesses why he acted the way he did.. After twenty years – the air is cleared! It still doesn’t mean everything is hunky dory but this time Rachel is willing to voice what is bothering her and Ben is willing to take a risk and answer her. I feel they’re finally ready for their future but am also pleased that Rachel makes her decision based on her needs and wants. I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen, in the next book, with Harriet’s plans and dreams. B