21 June 2014

Book Review: The Guestbook by Holly Martin

"Welcome to Willow Cottage – throw open the shutters, let in the sea breeze and make yourself completely at home. Oh, and please do leave a comment in the Guestbook!

As landlady of Willow Cottage, the young widow Annie Butterworth is always on hand with tea, sympathy or strong Norfolk cider - whatever her colourful array of guests require. A flick through the messages in the leather-bound cottage guestbook gives a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of everyone who passes through her doors.

This includes Annie herself - especially now celebrity crime writer Oliver Black, is back in town. He might grace the covers of gossip magazines with a different glamorous supermodel draped on his arm every week, but to Annie, he’s always just been Olly, the man who Annie shared her first kiss with.

Through the pages of the Guestbook Annie and Olly, along with all the guests that arrive at the seaside retreat, struggle with love, loss, mystery, joy, happiness, guilt…and the odd spot of naked rambling! 

Forget sending postcards saying 'wish you were here' - one visit to Willow Cottage and you’ll wish you could stay forever."

Rating: 4/5

You can buy The Guestbook as an eBook now.

As you can imagine, I am sent lots of books to review, as well as lots of review requests too. Sometimes, things can pass me by, and I have to confess that Holly Martin's book The Guestbook was one such book. However, it caught my attention when I saw an enormous amount of buzz for it on Twitter, with lots of fellow bloggers raving about it. It caught my attention, and so I treated myself to the Kindle version at a bargain price on Amazon. I decided that I needed to give it a try and see if it would live up to the hype of what others have said - it was certainly an enjoyable read, and makes me look forward to reading more from Holly Martin.

Annie Butterworth loves running her guest house, Willow Cottage. It's a popular little place, with bookings often full, and the cottage's guest book gives you a great glimpse into the lives of those who comes to stay there, whether for just a night or for a longer stay. Annie often makes her own contributions in there too, keeping an eye on all her guests wants and needs. Willow Cottage gets a famous visitor when crime writer Oliver Black comes to stay, although Annie knows him far better than some. All of the guests at Willow Cottage are contending with different things in their lives, and the guest book is a cathartic way of them sharing their thoughts. Many wish they could stay forever... will Annie be able to stay despite her own secret heartache too?

I know it sounds silly, but I didn't realise the whole book was written entirely as guest book entries before I began reading. I assumed there would of course be some entries throughout the book, but that it would be a traditional story around them. I did have some doubts when I started, it took me a while to get used to the narrative and to work out who was who, especially when there were several people 'writing' in one entry. There wasn't a lot of formatting going on for my kindle version, therefore I had to have an educated guess at times as to who was talking at the time! Once I settled into reading it though, it was fine and I enjoyed the way it was written.

I have to say that I liked the characters as well. The main one was of course Annie Butterworth, who owns Willow Cottage. We know that there was something sad in Annie's past, and as we learn more about her, I did like her more. She's very good at dealing with her fussiest of customers, the relationship with Oliver Black was fun to read, although I did want the two to hurry up and get together! I really did like Oliver too, he seemed so charming, and perfect for Annie too. The other characters in the book are mainly made up from guests at Willow Cottage. There is a wide range of characters too - from families, to singletons, old and young residents, newly-weds, jilted brides and many more. They are all easy to differentiate, and I loved reading about their lives, their stories and how they came to be at Willow Cottage. They all seemed to fall in love with the guest house too - how could you not?!

The way The Guestbook is written makes you feel like you are sitting in Willow Cottage with the residents, seeing the beautiful garden, the town and everything around them. There is a lot of emotion in the book as well, some moments had me laughing out loud, others had me welling up with tears in my eyes, Martin handles all of the stories very well, making them unique enough to be remembered amongst the many others in the book. Wells-By-The-Sea sounds like a beautiful town as well, you can see why it's a bolthole for so many people, especially Annie and Oliver, after what they have both been through. It's written in an unusual way, and once you get past the initial strangeness, it makes for a great read that you can really get involved with. There's no extra narration to give us information about the guests, aside from what's in the guest book, so it's a skill to put across so many stories in this format. I really did enjoy the book, and think it's one that will be successful through word of mouth, as it seems to be so far. I'm looking forward to reading more from Holly Martin.

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