The Mill Grange series - Jenny Kane
Only the first two books of this series have been published so far, but I know Jenny is already hard at work on Book 3 and I can't wait!
I should also point out that RomCom is definitely not my usual genre of choice when it comes to fiction. It's usually a bit too light and fluffy and unrealistic for my tastes. Many of the characters are insipid and the plots are often very predictable. It's usually the kind of book I read when my brain is tired and I don't want to have to think too hard about anything. That said - I'm absolutely not disparaging the genre as a whole. I've read some very good books in this style and even some of the ones I've been less keen on personally, have been well written and good examples of this kind of fiction. It's purely a matter of personal taste.
But here's the thing. Occasionally, I come across a really good one and it sticks. I read Jenny's Cornish Escapes duology and thoroughly enjoyed them. I've also read her Jennifer Ash Folville Chronicles inspired by the legend of Robin Hood and am eagerly awaiting the next release in the series. Therefore, when I saw that she had begun a new series inspired by Northmoor House, a place I'm hoping to go to on a Writer's Retreat next month led by Jenny and her 'Imagine' co-creator, Alison Knight, I was keen to read it.
Midsummer Dreams at Mill Grange is the first in the series and is the story of the restoration of Mill Grange. 'Thea Thomas needs to get away from her old life... and the interfering ex who won't leave her alone. When she lands a job heading up the restoration of Mill Grange, a stunning Victorian manor in Somerset, it feels like the perfect opportunity to start afresh.
What she didn't anticipate was how hostile the volunteer team – led by the formidable Mabel Hastings – would be about accepting new leadership. And with the deadline looming before the grand opening, Thea is in desperate need of more volunteers.
A broadcast appeal on the local news attracts the interest of troublesome but undeniably attractive celebrity historian Shaun Cowlson, who wants to make a TV programme about the restoration. It's hard enough adding one more big personality to the mix – but then her ex turns up as one of the volunteers! What seemed like a dream come true is fast becoming a total disaster! Can Thea find a way to save the manor?'
Anyone who knows me in real life will tell you how quick I read under normal circumstances, but when a book really grabs me, I get even quicker. Usually, this level of speed reading is reserved for the latter pages of thrillers by authors such as Linwood Barclay and Robert Goddard. However - much to my surprise - I found myself zooming through the second half of MDAMG. I felt the same level of excitement and anticipation as I usually get from slightly faster paced books and it made me wonder why. What was it about this book that had got me excited? It had all the usual features of a contemporary romance - couples who were clearly meant to be together, obstacles in the way, a villainous ex, coincidences galore and in many ways it was inevitable that all would end well, as in this genre, it always does! However, in spite of knowing this, the pages were turning quicker and quicker. I realised that it was because there was more depth to both the characters and the stories than you often find in RomComs. There was architecture, there was history, there was archaeology, there was even a fictionalised version of Time Team (which I love!) and the villain was someone I could perceive as a genuine threat. When the explanation of his behaviour finally came, it wasn't one I'd expected, but it made perfect sense.
Last week I moved onto Autumn Leaves at Mill Grange with the slightly tenuous excuse that as the book is set on the Devon/Somerset border and much of the action takes place in Cornwall, it fitted quite nicely into my position on the route of being (at the time) on the Devon-Cornwall border myself.
Quite often when you read a sequel to a book you've particularly enjoyed, it doesn't match up to your expectations. I'm happy to say that wasn't the case here. ALAMG was just as good as the original and I loved the way it moved the relationships between the main characters forwards. Yes, there is still the RomCom traditional 'all is well' ending and there is still the idea of getting everyone happily paired off (or at least with the hint that certain people will get together in the next book!), but as with MDAMG, there is that deeper element that brings a touch of realism to the books. In Autumn Leaves, the reader is shown that happy endings don't come about by chance, they have to be worked for - people have to grow and develop together and even the nicest people make silly mistakes (but these can be forgiven). The characters are developed further and given more depth - we find out more of their back story and we see the reasons for their insecurities (and these are very real things I could identify with). There is more history and more archaeology and I can't wait for more of the series!
I have to leave Mill Grange and its inhabitants behind now, as I move across the county, but they are definitely a group of people I will return to once Jenny gets Book 3 out! For someone who doesn't normally like this genre of book, this series has really captured my interest and I can only put that down to the author!