Thursday 4 May 2023

Guest Review: The Boathouse by Stepping Stone Bay by Helen Rolfe

Sun, sand and secrets at the bay!

As a kid, Nina O'Brien spent all her summers at her grandparents' cabin by the beach at Stepping Stone Bay. Long, sunny days full of fun and laughter with her best friends, Leo, Adrian, and Maeve, her friendship with Leo slowly blossoming into love. Until one fateful night changed everything for them all...

Twelve years later, Nina must return to the bay to renovate the old cabin and pass it on to a new owner. But not only does Leo still live in the cabin next door, he works at his family's boathouse right there in the bay. As they begin to work through their differences and what happened all those years ago, can Nina really walk away from him twice?

Maeve has finally returned home to face the past. Her eleven-year-old son, Jonah, loves the sea, unlike Maeve who is terrified of it. But she knows she can't keep Jonah away from the sea or the truth forever..

Review: I always enjoy a book by Helen Rolfe. I have read many of her titles, including some that are part of a series. They can always be read as standalone stories, but I like to find myself meeting up with a familiar face or two in a book. Some of her books are set in the USA, but the action in this one takes place on the south cost of England. I listened to the audiobook version, which was well narrated and kept me happily entertained on a long car journey.

The story concerns a group of friends, three of whom have recently returned to Stepping Stone Bay and the nearby town of Salthaven-on-Sea. The friends left the area following a tragic accident at sea 12 years previously. Nina has returned at her grandfather’s request to do up his seaside cabin where she and her brother spent many happy summers. Maeve has returned after living in Canada for many years and is accompanied by her 11-year-old son, Jonah. Adrian, after marrying and divorcing, has returned having trained as a teacher with a view to working in the area. Adrian’s brother, Leo, is the only one of the group to stay in the area following the accident. He lives in the cabin next to Nina’s grandfather’s property and works in the nearby boathouse where he sells boating equipment and gives lessons. All of them have been deeply affected by the accident, Maeve so much so that she will not let Jonah near the water, although he is pulled towards it and begins to help Leo in the boathouse. Nina and Leo were once lovers and find things awkward to begin with. Maeve is hiding a secret which she must eventually reveal, especially to Jonah. Adrian is suffering from feelings of guilt and, even though he has returned to the area, is resisting Leo’s attempts to get him involved in the business. Can the group eventually come together and rekindle the friendship and more that they once shared?

This really is a feel-good story with great depth that had me completely immersed in the lives of the characters. Despite the tragedy that had so many of them unable to stay in the area, the pull of this gorgeous setting was too much to keep them away. I could understand a longing to return to such a lovely place - it was so skilfully depicted that I too wanted to up sticks and move there with the sea on my doorstep. As well as the setting, the characters were also well described so that the reader could well understand their feelings and their need to return to the bay where they had experienced happy and sad times.  I liked the way in which the story of the tragedy that has affected them all gradually unfolded and also that there was a mystery surrounding Maeve and her son that was bursting to come out. The central characters in the story are joined by locals from the area, including some that readers of Helen Rolfe’s books about the Little Cafe at the End of the Pier will recognise. I can confidently recommend this book; readers new to this author’s work will probably find themselves seeking out more of her books.

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