The Country Escape by Jane Lovering

Welcome to the idyllic country retreat of Christmas Steepleton, and let Jane Lovering whisk you away with the most heart-warming, romantic and comforting read of the year.
Leaving London and her ex-husband Luc behind, Katie and her 14-year-old daughter Poppy move into their very own, very ramshackle cottage near the village of Christmas Steepleton on the Dorset coast.

Harvest Cottage has been unloved for many years, so the job of bringing it back to life is a slow and expensive one. So, with funds running low, Katie jumps at the chance when a film company asks to use the cottage as a location. But even as things are looking up, as harvest time passes and autumn chill starts to bite, the prospect of a cold winter in the country is daunting.

Some light relief comes from new friend Gabriel, so different from Katie’s exuberant but arrogant ex Luc. Will their friendship blossom into something more romantic, or will the reality of a tough country winter send her and Poppy scurrying back to the comforts of town?

Time for another trip down to the Dorset coast and the tiny village of Christmas Steepleton which appears to cling to the rocky shoreline by sheer will alone. With the storms that you give them, I always wonder whether it will still be there in the morning after.

The blurb gives a hint of all the drama and events which will be encountered but there’s a lot more waiting. Divorcee Katie has taken her share of the sale price of the (frankly ritzy sounding) London flat after her French husband finally gives up the pretense of being faithful. I knew that getaway cottages and houses in England were selling for astronomical prices but the description of the ramshackle house she buys makes it sound as if Katie got taken for a financial ride. I’ve heard the term “rising damp” but a place that wet inside and complete with it’s own colony of woodlice sounds too bad to be true.

Nevertheless, Katie is glad to get her impressionable fourteen year old daughter away from the trust fund excesses that her wealthy husband could expose Poppy to. Yeah, Luc sounds like a shit and his character never developed beyond that.

I thought Katie took being landed with a traveling caravan and cart horse left in her yard fairly well. But I also enjoyed the fact that she’s a bit more tart and outspoken about this and her life than the heroine of the last Christmas Steepleton book. You seem equally as comfortable writing a variety of character personalities. This time the forthright heroine is paired with a beta hero who’s a sweetie. Let’s hear it for a man who can crochet and make beautiful quilts though I was a bit surprised that Gabriel is still managing to turn out beautiful handicrafts with his seriously deteriorating vision.

The use of Katie’s cottage as a secondary location for the TV detective series that’s been being filmed in the area for the past few books is hilarious as the director immediately gushes over how the place looks like the type of house the serial killer of the story arc would live in. Hmmm, yep Katie keep thinking of the money rather than how your decorating has been insulted.

“The Country Escape” comes complete with the character de jour – the crusty old curmudgeon. Granny Mary lays out some home truths to Katie but she ends up being little more than the stock person designed to do this and get Katie to overcome the past fears of her life. I would not, however, want to be on the receiving end of her piercing glares.

The relationship between Katie and her daughter is fraught with the teen angst and drama that I’m sure most of us remember being a part of back when we were that age or were raising a daughter. Katie wisely picks her battles and knows when she’s been verbally outmaneuvered. Yet Katie also seems to have done a good job bringing up her child and sheltering Poppy from the worst of the trust fund attitudes Luc’s family money could cause.

Gabriel is a lovely man though still dealing with the fallout from a lifetime of bullying. It takes Katie a while to (maybe) realize that she herself is also a survivor of bullying. Honestly her mother ought to be bitch slapped around a bit. This does add depth to Katie’s actions and explains how protective she is of Poppy. Once Gab and Katie finish their relationship dancing around, the end results are worth it.

We stood like this for, what? Minutes? Hours? Breathing one another in. Handing one another all our insecurities silently, accepting them and taking comfort. We only broke apart when a log thumped and fell in the burner behind me and I realised that something else needed to happen.

I didn’t need to speak. Just looped my fingers around his wrist and began to walk and he followed, not pulled along, just… walking. Complicit. I didn’t stop until we reached my bedroom.

‘I think…’ I said, and tailed off. The bed looked crumpled. Inviting.

He looked at it too. ‘I think so too,’ he said, and suddenly we were kissing again, not the decorous, reassuring kisses of downstairs, but kisses that were heavy with desire. Kisses that didn’t confine themselves to mouths but began to wander, and soon clothes were extraneous and then not there, and we were tumbling into one another, falling into the – thankfully clean – tangled sheets as though someone had released some kind of aphrodisiac gas into the room that we were powerless to resist.

I’m fine with how the story ends with a few plot threads still slightly loose. All the characters appear to be headed towards good places and relationships. Perhaps Poppy could use a lesson in the privilege of asking for two Versace handbags for Christmas but I suppose someone needs to keep them in business. B