Hello all! We are back! We’ve gone and got the decorators in and we’ve got a shiny new look (and sort of new name) to boot 🙂 I felt with the blog approaching its two year anniversary (go figure) that it was time for a bit of an update. And what better way to kick things off than with my latest book review which I finished just a week ago, of the newest outing from Giovanna Fletcher.
The ever lovely YouTube vlogger, novellist and journalist (who I had the pleasure of meeting at her recent book signing at the Chelmsford branch of Waterstones – the picture is below. She was tops!) has won plenty of praise from me before for her books on this little corner of the web, so let’s see what I thought of this one…
“Always with Love” is the long awaited sequel to her debut 2013 novel “Billy and Me” (my review of which is here), which followed the adventures of shy and retiring tea room waitress Sophie May, as she met and fell in love with dashing Hollywood actor Billy Buskin, and the ensuing trials and tribulations they encountered together. Giovanna also wrote and published a festive novella in the interim in 2014, which followed them the Christmas immediately after the first book as Billy began his career break in Rosefont Hill with Sophie, by now the owner of ‘Tea on the Hill’ following the tragic death of its original owner, Molly, and also as her widowed mum met and became engaged to Colin, himself a widower with two young kids, Charlotte and Aaron.
This new novel picks up immediately following that novella, as Sophie and Billy jet off to Los Angeles for a vacation to see his family, who moved lock stock and barrel out there when he became a teen acting sensation, and are now settled in a sprawling Hollywood hills pad. Though welcomed with open arms on her initial meeting with them all, Sophie quickly find things aren’t all that they seem with his family – particularly with his controlling, over bearing mother Julie, who worries that her son is about to throw away all his hard work and dedication over, in her eyes, a plain and simple girl.
As a result, Billy finds his temporary career break over sooner than expected, when (partly thanks to a bit of social engineering from his mum) he is cast as leading man in a new action packed blockbuster ‘The Pious’, working with renowned film director Ralph Joplin. What then follows, as a new year beckons, is the start of Billy and Sophie being in, and working through, a long distance relationship as she travels home to Rosefont Hill to run the tea room, help her mum and Colin prep their spring wedding and also come to terms with some other drastic life changes.
As always, I won’t spoil it for those yet to read it, but I will comment on the things that stuck out the most to me reading this novel. One of its central themes is that of dreams, and having the courage to pursue them that shines through brilliantly in all its characters, and particularly for Sophie, who, now two years into a relationship with Billy, is thinking about her own path and her own dreams and looking to the future, whilst trying to come to terms with her past – in more ways than one.
The same shy and retiring waitress of the first novel has come of age and Giovanna illustrates that perfectly with how she is now running the tea room, employing her own staff and thinking about her own aspirations for what to do with the place – a quality that seems to rub off on Billy’s sister, bubbly Lauren, who, fed up of their mum’s controlling behaviour, persues first an internship in fashion in Los Angeles, which then leads to an assistant job in Paris.
I also loved – and call me a sentimental old fashioned thing – the way Sophie and Billy communicated in handwritten letters whilst living apart from each other. There’s something so gloriously romantic about that kind of thing, and about using a timeless method as putting pen to paper, and, just as with the first novel, really made me root for them (regular readers will know I LOVE a good romantic ship-fest) to overcome whatever obstacles they were set to face next. I am officially, after reading this book, what-I-call Team Bilphie (Billy and Sophie, for those asking. DUH).
“Always with Love” for me certainly didn’t disappoint. Just as gloriously warm and romantic as its predecessor, but with more wit, side splitting humour, panache and maturity, and stronger character development, it’s exactly the sequel I was hoping for and more, and one Giovanna should be proud of. It’s a truly captivating novel that’s a real labour of love for author and creation alike.