Books, Review

Series in Review #9: Willoughby Close

You know I like a series that focuses on the different people in one location. I loved it in Summerhill, I loved it in Laurel Heights … And now, apparently, I love it in Willoughby Close! This series features the people that come to live in the converted stables of Willoughby Close – each of the women has a story, a romance, and of course: a decent amount of amazing Cotswold-country descriptions!

1. A Cotswold Christmas

Story

Anna Vere has escaped to the Cotswolds for Christmas to try to heal from her broken engagement and, far worse, her broken dreams. When her reserved room at a bed & breakfast is flooded, she takes up the offer of camping out in Willoughby Close, the converted stables of the nearby manor house… and is taken under the wing of sexy local carpenter Colin Heath.

What starts out as merely helping a neighbour in need turns into far more as Colin and Anna share a surprisingly intense and emotional connection, weaving their own Christmas magic as they spend the holiday together. But Anna has a secret she’s scared to reveal, something that could destroy the fragile bond they’ve just created, and Colin knows she’s only in England for a short time. Can these two sudden soul mates risk their hearts for a love that has yet to be tried and tested?

Opinion

While this book is officially the first in the Willoughby Close-series, I have to admit that, to me? It felt more like a prelude. Not only is the story significantly shorter than the others in the series, it also doesn’t actually involve someone who lives in Willoughby Close. As a matter of fact, the houses at Willoughby Close aren’t even quite done being converted when Anna arrives!

This is, however, a beautiful way to introduce not only the setting of the rest of this series, A Cotswold Christmas also offers an insight to some of the characters that will center in later stories. Because of that, in and of itself, I would’ve liked this book.

The way the romance is set up, though, made me both love it, and be kind of annoyed at it. You see, exactly because this book is rather a bit shorter than the other ones are, the end of the story seems rather rushed. Many of the problems that kept Anna and Colin apart don’t seem to be actually resolved. Rather, they’ve just determined that they’ll ignore them for now. Sure, you can guess from the ending that a happy ending is eventually arrived at… But still, I would’ve liked to see more of the in-between. On the other hand – I guess that’s what the rest of this series is for, right? (Goodreads)

2. Meet Me at Willoughby Close

Story

Ellie Matthews has come to Wychwood-on-Lea to find a new start for her and her daughter Abby. But, life there doesn’t start out as idyllic as she had hoped. While Ellie loves her cute cottage in Willoughby Close, the Yummy Mummies at the primary school seem intent on giving her the cold shoulder, Abby has trouble fitting in, and her boss, Oliver Venables, is both surprisingly sexy and irritatingly inscrutable.

But miracles can happen in the most unexpected places, and in small, yet wonderful ways. Slowly, Ellie and Abby find themselves making friends and experiencing the everyday magic of Willoughby Close. When Oliver’s nephew, Tobias, befriends Abby, the four of them start to feel like family… and Ellie begins to see the kindness and warmth beneath Oliver’s chilly exterior, which awakens both her longing and fear.

Ellie knows all about disappointment, and the pain of trying too hard for nothing, while Oliver has his own hurts and secrets to deal with. When the past comes rollicking back to remind both of them of their weaknesses and failings, will they be able to overcome their fears and find their own happy ending?

Opinion

You know how sometimes a book and its characters seem just perfect – and then you just don’t really seem to connect? That’s kind of what happened to me with this one. Objectively, I can say that the romance in this book was nice, that the characters went through a good bit of evolution. But on a personal level? This story just didn’t really speak to me as much as I’d hoped it to.

And that’s a pity, because the concept? Straight up my ally! From the daughter that’s been bullied for loving reading too much (relatable much?) to the Oxford-professor that’s not quite as socially apt as he’d like… All the elements were there. But I just couldn’t quite get into the romance as much as I’d have liked to.

None the less, this was still an enjoyable read – and of course: there was plenty of Cotswold nature to make everything better! (Goodreads)

3. Find Me at Willoughby Close

Story

Harriet Lang had the perfect life, so she’s left reeling when everything is taken from her in one fell swoop. Suddenly, Harriet learns her beautiful farmhouse in the Cotswolds is double-mortgaged, her husband Richard’s been unceremoniously fired—and he’s become a little too close to his young, sexy assistant.

Harriet moves into Willoughby Close with her three children, trying to hold her head up high. With the help of her neighbour and newfound friend Ellie Matthews, Harriet starts to rebuild her life–but dipping a toe in the dating pool feels strange and meanwhile her children are struggling in different ways. She wonders if starting over is really possible…

Then Willoughby Close begins to weave its healing magic on both her and her children, and Harriet begins to see a way forward. But when Richard reappears in her life, wanting to make amends, Harriet must make the painful decision about how much of the past can be forgiven—and what kind of future she is fighting for.

Opinion

Fun fact: the set-up of this book? Kind of reminded me of a Cathy Kelly book. And if you know me and my love for Cathy Kelly, then you know that’s about the biggest compliment I can give any book in the romance-department.

Where I expected to love the previous one, this third book in the Willoughby-series got me by surprise, sort of. I didn’t expect to feel for Harriet as much as I ended up doing. After all, in Meet Me at Willoughby Close, she’s shown in the “before” stage of all this drama. And it’s not a particularly pretty image.

Maybe that’s what made this book so enjoyable, overall: not only did we get to see a slow romance… There was also a huge amount of personal growth for the main character. And – as much as I love series that focus on different people in one location? I probably love personal growth even more 🙂 (Goodreads)

4. Kiss Me at Willoughby Close

Story

After her husband unexpectedly dies, Ava moves to Willoughby Close, trying to keep her chin up and herself to herself as she’s always done—not answering questions, not making friends, and not seeing much of a future. Her marriage was far from perfect, but it offered her a much-needed security that has now been ripped away. She’s not sure what to do now that she’s thirty-five, widowed, penniless… and unexpectedly pregnant with her late husband’s child.

Jace Tucker is the over-the-top sexy caretaker of Willoughby Manor, and he can see beneath Ava’s glamour girl act to the hurt she’s been hiding for so long. She has secrets for a reason—and so does he. The last thing she needs right now is a fling with a man who hides a past as regrettable as her own.

But with a baby to think about, and neighbours determined to be her friends, Ava finds herself starting to change and even more alarmingly, beginning to hope. Can Willoughby Close work its everyday magic on a woman like her? And when the past comes calling for both her and Jace, will they have to answer for their previous mistakes?

Opinion

Here’s the thing: more than any of the other books? This one had me shook with some of the revelations. And I’d say that’s probably part of what I like about this series: each character has such a different background. And for some of them – in this book in particular? That background is the thing you wouldn’t wish on anybody. At the same time, though, that just means it’s that much more gratifying when they actually get their happy ending.

There were many twists and turns in this book in particular that I didn’t expect. However, Kate Hewitt managed to tie every single piece of the puzzle together with the previous couple of books. Not only do you get parts of the previous book, but narrated from the new MC’s POV. You also see this slow unfolding of things that seemed almost irrelevant in previous books – and now, suddenly, they’re brought to the front. That was particularly the case for Jace and his background story. Which, by the way, if you read this series: I’m quite curious to know whether you thought it was smoothed over to quickly? Because I did kind of have that impression… (Goodreads)

5. Marry Me at Willoughby Close

Story

Alice James has been a drifter her whole life, working her way through several foster homes before ending up in Wychwood-on-Lea, feeling anchorless and invisible. When a chance encounter leads to Alice accepting a position as a caretaker and companion to Lady Stokeley, she starts to feel as if she might finally be able to put down some roots and live the way other people do.

Then, Lady Stokeley’s nephew, city banker Henry Trent, storms into Willoughby Manor, seeming to find fault with everything, including Alice. As the next in line to the manor and title, he threatens to upturn everything she’s started to build. But Henry is hiding his own secret fears and weaknesses, ones he’s desperate for no one to discover. A surprising and inconvenient attraction that simmers between them leaves Alice feeling more confused than ever, and Henry torn between duty and desire, fear and love.

When circumstances become even more difficult, both Alice and Henry must decide who they really are, and what they are willing to fight for. Could Alice possibly the next Lady of Willoughby Manor?

Opinion

Look, here’s the thing: the moment you read a question like that last one in the description? You already know what the answer is going to be. That’s not why you’re reading a book like this – no, you’re reading it to see how the characters will arrive at that point. And in the case of this particular point, you also get to see how exactly the characters from the past books are doing now. (Well, kinda, I didn’t see enough of Anna and Oliver.)

From the get go, the tone in this book was slightly different than it was in the previous books, though. For one, Alice is significantly younger than the other leading ladies were. Second, the focus, while still on the romance in a large part, is divided just about evenly with Lady Stokeley’s declining health. And that might just be what made me love this book the most out of the entire series. You see: it made me feel so much for the inhabitants of Willoughby Close. And for a character that, up to that point, had stayed largely in the background, only giving the occasional piece of good advice? The pain at the eventual end of her arch was not something I was expecting.

And of course, there’s the fact that Henry is this amazingly grumpy Lord-to-be who falls for maybe the most innocent, yet most scarred main character we’ve seen so far… As I said: this one was definitely my favourite out of the entire series! (Goodreads)

All in all, I really enjoyed this series. It had just that exact balance between romance and character growth that I really enjoy. And of course, there was the nature, the anglophilia-fix and, you know… The fact that is actually the series that precedes a book I read last Christmas? That’s right, Cupcakes for Christmas is part of a (possible) follow-up series to this one! So hey – if you’re not quite done with (the people at) Willoughby Close? There’s more for you there! (And hopefully – hopefully – even more to come!)

-Saar