Published: 7th Jan 2021 Aria and Aries ISBN: 978-1800245983
I felt like I’d stepped into a little oasis when I picked up this ARC. I had been reading a very bloody crime novel just before so this was like a balm for the soul! Cassandra appears to have everything she could want in life. She lives in an incredible refurbished farmhouse on the South Downs with attached stables. Her long term partner, David, is a successful businessman who just happens to be charming and good looking. They have money and she can spend her time schooling horses then dressing for dinner from her beautiful walk-in wardrobe. David calls her Sandie and they’ve been together over ten years – in fact ever since she was involved in a car crash that killed both of her parents. David was first on scene and helped her out of the wreckage. They’ve never been apart since. He was attentive in the days following the accident, there for her therapies and as she was wheeled out of the hospital it seemed only sensible to stay with him – there being nowhere else to go. So why is she feeling dissatisfied and as if she’s drifting?
He catalyst comes as she’s out riding one morning and stops for a breather in one of the top fields behind the house. As she looks down to the farmhouse she sees David, who is working from home, and their cleaner Melanie coming to sit outside with a cup of coffee. She wonders to herself about the last time David paused his day to have a moment with her. Then she sees Melanie rest her hand on his arm, in a familiar way and she starts to sense that there’s more going on she realised. The incident brings to the forefront of her mind many things about her life that she’s unhappy with. David is all about appearances, so the house must be kept tidy at all times. She’s almost trained to wash a cup or plate immediately after she’s used it. He likes to come in and find the house immaculate. He calls her Sandie or Sandra when her full name is Cassandra and he likes her to dress well especially if they’re going to a party or function for work. Even then she can’t let loose, no dancing or drinking excessively, nothing that might show him or the business in a bad light. Yet, that very evening at a barbecue, she sees him exiting a private bit of the house, again with Melanie in tow. When she finds an earring in their bedroom, she can’t ignore things any longer. It’s not just the obvious infidelity. She needs something different.
On impulse she picks up The Lady magazine, drawn in by the cover photo of a man walking from a tunnel of trees. The man is a writer, Hunter Harcourt, and his article about ancient byways and the magic they possess. Within the adverts though she finds an advert that catches her eye; a family in a Manor House in Cornwall need help with the stable yard and a growing family for six months. This might be just the breathing space she needs. With David seemingly unrepentant about his affair, Cassandra finally asks him the one thing she has always wanted to know – will he ever be willing to have the children she has always wanted? David is adamant, children are not in his future. So, early one morning Cass hitches the horse box to her Range Rover and takes a leap of faith. She drives to Cornwall, only stopping at Melanie’s home to return the earring. What she finds in Cornwall is space enough to think, but activity enough not to dwell on what has happened. She falls in with the Kinsman family and their gorgeous children very easily. The Manor House and grounds are beautiful and Caspian soon finds his feet with the other horses. Cass finds solace in the rugged Atlantic coastline and the time spent with the children. She is shocked when, on her day off, she is looking for something to fill the hours when she happens on a talk on local history by a local author, Hunter Harcourt, otherwise known as Luke. Their meeting begins a friendship that seems so natural, almost as if they’d met before.
There was so much to like about this book. I love Cornwall and I felt as though I was there, with the descriptions of the villages, the beaches and those ancient places that seem to hold magic. I loved watching Cass unfurl in her new environment as she fits in so beautifully with the Kinsman family, the landscape and the new friends she makes such as surfer Robin. This is about someone awakening and finding their authentic self, something she’s never been able to do before, having been so busy fitting around David’s standards and timetable. Cass went straight from her parent’s household to David’s with no gap between. This is the first time she has stood on her own two feet and her confidence grows. The relationship with Luke seems so predestined that it was a huge disappointment to find out he’s married to the feisty Amanda. We soon see the cracks in their marriage though, not just her infidelity, but their differing views on where to live seem insurmountable. The natural way Luke and Cass seem to fit together seems to be pre-ordained – this is where I felt more could have been made of the supernatural aspect of the story.
Soon after arriving Cass finds that the manor is haunted by several ghosts, but the one she seems to see most is the young girl who had fallen in love with the gamekeeper. Cass feels that, just like the ancient byways, there are spaces within the fabric of time at the manor, where ghosts may appear. Cass has an affinity with the the young woman in her peacock blue dress, but could it be more than that. It felt like the author was flirting with the idea of Cass and Luke being a reincarnation of the couple – the references to her gypsy soul, the sense they have of meeting before, the apparition Cass sees and hears. I think this could have been explored even more than it was. Cass clearly has some psychic ability; she experiences the ghost of a maid, has vivid dreams about places and people from another time, and at one point hears a ghost ship. I found myself wanting more of this and would have loved to know more about the daughter of the house and the gamekeeper, possibly in another time frame. Luke is a dream of a man, gentle, intelligent, loves the outdoors and animals and seems to know himself very well. His marriage seems to be one made when young, when differences in outlook seem to matter less and we think love can overcome anything. Sadly, Luke finds as he gets older, the more he needs the pace of life in the country whereas Amanda is a city girl who needs the bustle and the noise.
Of course I wanted David to get some sort of comeuppance for his awful behaviour. Even in absence he tries to push Cass’s buttons by ordering her home, then pleading that he loves and misses her while mentioning someone he’s having casual sex with in the next breath. He is arrogant, fussy and I couldn’t think of a single reason Cass should return to him at the end – other than habit and conditioning. I won’t ruin the end, but it does keep you hooked to the final pages when a terrible secret emerges. This was a gentle romance, set in a beautiful part of the world and is as much about Cass falling back in love with herself as it is anyone else. It’s a voyage of self-discovery, where slowly she heals and finds her authentic self. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and a little oasis of calm in a busy month.
Meet The Author
Kate Ryder is an Amazon Kindle international best seller who writes timeslip and romantic suspense in a ‘true to life’ narrative. On leaving school she studied drama but soon discovered her preference for writing rather than performing. Since then, she has worked in the publishing, tour operating and property industries, and has travelled widely.
A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors, in 2017 Kate signed a 4-book contract with Aria (digital imprint of award-winning independent publisher, Head of Zeus). Originally from the South East of England, today Kate lives on the Cornish side of the beautiful Tamar Valley with her husband and a collection of animals.