I am asked to review many books, stacks of books, by publishing houses and by other authors.
Rainy Day Sisters, by Kate Hewitt, truly, is in the top three I’ve read. I loved it. I related to it. I laughed and even teared up a bit.
Two half sisters who hardly know each other. A charming coastal village in England. Wind and rain and tea. A mother off her mean rocker who has just publicly embarrassed her own daughter. Hiding from life and falling in love with a person you never expected to fall in love with. Becoming friends, finally.
This is a perfect book for fall on and – hang on, I’m going to be sappy – a rainy day.
Here’s an excerpt, but before you read it, pretend that you are soon going to a pretty coastal village in England…..
Lucy Bagshaw’s half sister, Juliet, had warned her about the weather. “When the sun is shining, it’s lovely, but otherwise it’s wet, windy, and cold,” she’d stated in her stern, matter-of-fact way. “Be warned.”
Lucy had shrugged off the warning because she’d rather live anywhere, even the Antarctic, than stay in Boston for another second. In any case she’d thought she was used to all three. She’d lived in England for the first six years of her life, and it wasn’t as if Boston were the south of France. Except in comparison with the Lake District, it seemed it was.
Rain was atmospheric, she told herself as she hunched over the steering wheel, her eyes narrowed against the driving downpour. How many people listed walks in the rain as one of the most romantic things to do?
Although perhaps not when it was as torrential as this.
Letting out a gusty sigh, Lucy rolled her shoulders in an attempt to ease the tension that had lodged there since she’d turned off the M6. Or really since three weeks ago, when her life had fallen apart in the space of a single day—give or take a few years, perhaps.
This was her new start, or, rather, her temporary reprieve. She was staying in England’s Lake District, in the county of Cumbria, for only four months, long enough to get her act together and figure what she wanted to do next. She hoped. And, of course, Nancy Crawford was going to want her job as school receptionist back in January, when her maternity leave ended.
But four months was a long time. Long enough, surely, to heal, to become strong, even to forget.
Well, maybe not long enough for that. She didn’t think she’d ever forget the blazing headline in the Boston Globe’s editorial section: Why I Will Not Give My Daughter a Free Ride.
She closed her eyes—briefly, because the road was twisty—and forced the memory away. She wasn’t going to think about the editorial piece that had gone viral, or her boss’s apologetic dismissal, or Thomas’s shrugging acceptance of the end of a nearly three-year relationship. She certainly wasn’t going to think about her mother. She was going to think about good things, about her new, if temporary, life here in the beautiful, if wet, Lake District. Four months to both hide and heal, to recover and be restored before returning to her real life—whatever was left, anyway—stronger than ever before.
Lucy drove in silence for half an hour, all her concentration taken up with navigating the A-road that led from Penrith to her destination, Hartley-by-the-Sea, population fifteen hundred. Hedgerows lined either side of the road and the dramatic fells in the distance were barely visible through the fog.
She peered through the window trying to get a better look at the supposedly spectacular scenery, only to brake hard as she came up behind a tractor trundling down the road at the breakneck speed of five miles per hour. Pulling behind her from a side lane was a truck with a trailer holding about a dozen morose and very wet-looking sheep.
She stared in the rearview mirror at the wet sheep, who gazed miserably back, and had a sudden memory of her mother’s piercing voice.
Are you a sheep, Lucinda, or a person who can think and act for herself?
Looking at those miserable creatures now, she decided she was definitely not one of them. She would not be one of them, not here, in this new place, where no one knew her, maybe not even her half sister.
It took another hour of driving through steady rain, behind the trundling tractor the entire way, before she finally arrived at Hartley-by-the-Sea. The turning off the A-road was alarmingly narrow and steep, and the ache between Lucy’s shoulders had become a pulsing pain. But at last she was here.
There always was a bright side, or at least a glimmer of one. She had to believe that, had clung to it for her whole life and especially for the last few weeks, when the things she’d thought were solid had fallen away beneath like her so much sinking sand.
The narrow road twisted sharply several times, and then as she came around the final turn, the sun peeked out from behind shreds of cloud and illuminated the village in the valley below.
A huddle of quaint stone houses and terraced cottages clustered along the shore, the sea a streak of gray-blue that met up with the horizon. A stream snaked through the village before meandering into the fields on the far side; dotted with cows and looking, in the moment’s sunshine, perfectly pastoral, the landscape was like a painting by Constable come to life.
For a few seconds Lucy considered how she’d paint such a scene; she’d use diluted watercolors, so the colors blurred into one another as they seemed to do in the valley below, all washed with the golden gray light that filtered from behind the clouds.
She envisioned herself walking in those fields, with a dog, a black Lab perhaps, frisking at her heels. Never mind that she didn’t have a dog and didn’t actually like them all that much. It was all part of the picture, along with buying a newspaper at the local shop—there had to be a lovely little shop down there, with a cozy, grandmotherly type at the counter who would slip her chocolate buttons along with her paper.
A splatter of rain against her windshield woke her from the moment’s reverie. Yet another tractor was coming up behind her, at quite a clip. With a wave of apology for the stony-faced farmer who was driving the thing, she resumed the steep, sharply twisting descent into the village.
She slowed the car to a crawl as she came to the high street, houses lining the narrow road on either side, charming terraced cottages with brightly painted doors and pots of flowers, and, all right, yes, a few more weathered-looking buildings with peeling paint and the odd broken window.
Lucy was determined to fall in love with it, to find everything perfect.
Juliet ran a guesthouse in one of the village’s old farmhouses: Tarn House, she’d said, no other address. Lucy hadn’t been to Juliet’s house before, hadn’t actually seen her sister in more than five years. And didn’t really know her all that well.
Juliet was thirty-seven to her twenty-six, and when Lucy was six years old, their mother, Fiona, had gotten a job as an art lecturer at a university in Boston. She’d taken Lucy with her, but Juliet had chosen to stay in England and finish her A levels while boarding with a school friend. She’d gone on to university in England, she’d visited Boston only once and over the years Lucy had always felt a little intimidated by her half sister, so cool and capable and remote.
Yet it had been Juliet she’d called when everything had exploded around her, and Juliet who had said briskly, when Lucy had burst into tears on the phone, that she should come and stay with her for a while.
“You could get a job, make yourself useful,” she’d continued in that same no-nonsense tone that made Lucy feel like a scolded six-year-old. “The local primary needs maternity cover for a receptionist position, and I know the head teacher. I’ll arrange it.”
And Lucy, overwhelmed and grateful that someone could see a way out of the mess, had let her. She’d had a telephone interview with the head teacher, who was, she realized, the principal, the next day, a man who had sounded as stern as Juliet and had finished the conversation with a sigh, saying, “It’s only four months, after all,” so Lucy felt as if he was hiring her only as a favor to her sister.
And now she couldn’t find Tarn House.
She drove the mile and a half down the main street and back again, doing what felt like a seventeen-point turn in the narrow street, sweat prickling between her shoulder blades while three cars, a truck, and two tractors, all driven by grim-faced men with their arms folded, waited for her to manage to turn the car around. She’d never actually driven in England before, and she hit the curb twice before she managed to get going the right way.
She passed a post office shop looking almost as quaint as she’d imagined (peeling paint and lottery advertisements aside), a pub, a church, a sign for the primary school where she’d be working (but no actual school as far as she could see), and no Tarn House.
Finally she parked the car by the train station, admiring the old-fashioned sign above the Victorian station building, which was, on second look, now a restaurant. The driving rain had downgraded into one of those misting drizzles that didn’t seem all that bad when you were looking out at it from the cozy warmth of your kitchen but soaked you utterly after about five seconds.
Hunching her shoulders against the bitter wind—this was August—she searched for someone to ask directions.
The only person in sight was a farmer with a flat cap jammed down on his head, wearing extremely mud-splattered plus fours. Lucy approached him with her most engaging smile.
“Pardon me—are you from around here?”
He squinted at her suspiciously. “Eh?”
She had just asked, she realized, an absolutely idiotic question. “I only wanted to ask,” she tried again, “do you know where Tarn House is?”
“Tarn House?” he repeated, his tone implying that he’d never heard of the place.
“Yes, it’s a bed-and-breakfast here in the village—”
“Eh?” He scratched his head, his bushy eyebrows drawn together rather fiercely. Then he dropped his hand and jerked a thumb towards the road that led steeply up towards the shop and one pub. “Tarn House’s up there, isn’t it, now, across from the Hangman’s Noose.”
“The Hangman’s—” Ah. The pub. Lucy nodded. “Thank you.”
“The white house with black shutters.”
“Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.” And why, Lucy wondered as she turned up the street, had he acted so incredulous when she’d asked him where it was? Was that a Cumbrian thing, or was her American accent stronger than she’d thought?
Tarn House was a neat two-story cottage of whitewashed stone with the promised black shutters, and pots of chrysanthemums on either side of the shiny black door. A discreet hand-painted sign that Lucy hadn’t glimpsed from the road informed her that this was indeed her destination.
She hesitated on the slate step, her hand hovering above the brass knocker, as the rain continued steadily down. She felt keenly then how little she actually knew her sister. Half sister, if she wanted to be accurate; neither of them had known their different fathers. Not that Lucy could really call a sperm donor a dad. And their mother had never spoken about Juliet’s father, whoever he was, at least not to Lucy.
Her hand was still hovering over the brass knocker when the door suddenly opened and Juliet stood there, her sandy hair pulled back into a neat ponytail, her gray eyes narrowed, her hands planted on her hips, as she looked Lucy up and down, her mouth tightening the same way her mother’s did when she looked at her.
Two sleek greyhounds flanked Juliet, cowering slightly as Lucy stepped forward and ducked her head in both greeting and silent, uncertain apology. She could have used a hug, but Juliet didn’t move and Lucy was too hesitant to hug the half sister she barely knew.
“Well,” Juliet said with a brisk nod. “You made it.”
Kate Hewitt, author bio:
I’m an American living in England with my husband and five children, having moved recently from the wilds of Cumbria where Rainy Day Sisters is set to the gentler climes of the Cotswolds. I love writing, reading, and baking delicious but rather lumpy looking cakes.
A longer blurb, for those who want a bit more about Rainy Day Sisters….When Lucy Bagshaw’s life in Boston falls apart, thanks to a scathing editorial written by her famous artist mother, she accepts her half sister Juliet’s invitation to stay with her in a charming seaside village in northern England. Lucy is expecting quaint cottages and cream teas, but instead finds that her sister is an aloof host, the weather is wet, windy, and cold, and her new boss, Alex Kincaid, is a disapproving widower who only hired her as a favor to Juliet.
Despite the invitation she offered, Juliet is startled by the way Lucy catapults into her orderly life. As Juliet faces her own struggles with both her distant mother and her desire for a child, her sister’s irrepressible optimism begins to take hold. With the help of quirky villagers, these hesitant rainy day sisters begin to forge a new understanding…and find in each other the love of family that makes all the difference.