Title: A Room at the Manor
Author: Julie Shackman
Published: July 1st 2018
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4.5 stars
When her Maltese love affair turns sour, Lara McDonald returns to her quiet Scottish hometown of Fairview heartbroken, yet determined – instead of looking for another PR position, she decides to follow her dream of baking. She impulsively takes the first job offered and finds herself working for local dragon Kitty Walker in her tea room, True Brew.
Lara’s life is full of surprises, however, not the least being an unlikely friendship forged with one of Kitty’s elderly customers, the former laird Hugo Carmichael. The Carmichael family has lived at the beautiful Glenlovatt Manor for almost three hundred years and, although in need of renovation, Hugo, his son and grandson currently make it their home.
There’s something about Lara that Hugo likes, and when Hugo suddenly passes away, Lara is stunned to discover she is mentioned in his will. But not everyone is happy with the old Laird’s faith in Lara.
A story of love, family, hope and trust, A Room at the Manor will delight every reader keen to find their place in the world.
A Room at the Manor was a perfect fit read for me. Julie Shackman incorporates all the good things that I love in life and my books in her novel. There is plenty of tea, tea rooms, delectable desserts, family secrets, an aristocratic setting, humour and a sweet romance in A Room at the Manor. Although it is only half way through the year, A Room at the Manor is one of my top romance reads of 2018.
An overseas love affair that has come crashing down is the catalyst for the main protagonist A Room at the Manor, Lara McDonald’s return home. Lara calls the quaint Scottish town of Fairview her home. When we first meet Lara she has a broken heart, but she is determined not to let it get her down. Instead she soldiers on, changing careers, swapping PR for baking, a dream she has always had, but has never been able to fulfil. Standing in the way of Lara’s ambitions is Kitty, the owner of True Brew, a local teashop in Fairview. Kitty is happy for Lara to play waitress rather than experiment with her baking. But good fortune comes Lara’s way when a chance encounter with an elderly customer and the friendship that follows results in a surprise opportunity. Suddenly Lara is thrust into a world and family far removed from her own. Glenlovatt Manor, a beautiful local stately home is now a big part of Lara’s life and along with Glenlovatt, comes the current Laird, as well as his son Vaughan. A Room at the Manor follows Lara’s rags to riches style journey from tea shop waitress, to the lady of the manor.
It is hard to resist a book that appears to tailored for you. As I mentioned in my introduction, A Room at the Manor combines all my favourite things – namely tea, yummy sweet treats, baking, a Cinderella romance and a stately Scottish setting. I loved A Room at the Manor, it was nicely written contained a straightforward plot and a fine set of characters to compliment the narrative. I pretty much had a grin on my face from the opening to the close of the novel. A Room at the Manor was such a feel good novel and the perfect winter treat. I couldn’t wait to get back to it and snuggle under the covers with my new friends from Fairview. Shackman makes sure that her characters feel like friends.
I seemed to fall in love with Lara, the lead of A Room at the Manor instantly. I sympathised with her predicament (a broken heart and unsatisfactory job). At every point in the novel I could feel myself cheering her on, hoping that she would make a success of everything in her life, love life and career. What was great about Lara was her attitude to life. She is creative, fierce, determined and tough. Lara also showed moments of genuine care, self-doubt and vulnerability. This is witnessed in her interactions with her family, friends, love interest, customers and passing acquaintances. Lara seems to add a ray of light to all those when comes into contact with and this contributes to our attachment to this protagonist.
Supporting Lara are a fantastic bunch of secondary characters that all seemed to occupy a place in my heart by the time I reached the close of A Room at the Manor (except for Kitty, True Brew’s battleaxe). Shackman’s dialogue and interplay between her characters was completely engaging. I also appreciated how each character had their own individual back story which filled in the narrative. There is also a great sub storyline involving a lost love and a deeply held secret, that has a direct impact on the present day.
Love plays a core role in A Room at the Manor. When we meet Lara she is heartsick, still dealing with the fallout from her Maltese love affair that went terribly wrong. Then our hopes in the love department are raised and we are gifted with a beautiful rag to riches, or Cinderella style love story. With the endearing Hugo, the Laird of Glenlovatt, cast as the fairy godfather, Vaughan, his grandson as the mysterious but handsome prince and Lara as Cinderella. Lara’s pathway to happy ever after is still fraught with plenty of tension, some quarrels, a few bumps, a love triangle and plenty of misunderstandings. We do have a strong indication that our leading lady will end up in the arms of her love interest, but the predictable element of this novel worked for me.
One of the aspects of A Room at the Manor that made it a winner in my eyes was the authentic Scottish setting. I just loved the rolling green hills backdrop. This is a setting that is vivid, authentic and straight from the heart. It also represented the closest thing I could get to making the trip over to Scotland (one day). Shackman infuses her novel with a good dose of tradition, Scottish culture, humour and rich landscape descriptions. It proved to be the perfect escapist read.
My final word to convince you to give this book your time is the sublime food based elements that come to play throughout this delightful novel. From the beginning, we are blessed with so many wonderful descriptions of baked treats. Shackman’s prose in this area is full of colour. My head was swirling and my mouth was watering as I took in the passages highlighting Lara’s baking pursuits. I adored the scenes detailing Lara’s experimentation with the different desserts she concocts. The only two drawbacks of this aspect of the novel was that I felt hungry all the time I was reading about Lara’s tea shop adventures! I also would have loved a supplementary recipe list included at the end of the novel of some of Lara’s favourites.
The added layer of a past romance and long-held family secret, the gentle friendship between the elderly and the young, the benevolence of dear Hugo, all culminate to make A Room at the Manor a bewitching read. I recommend this novel highly, it will be sure to enthrall all contemporary romance fans and those who appreciate a little sweetness in their life.
A Room at the Manor by Julie Shackman was published on 1st July 2018 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of A Room at the Manor, Julie Shackman visit here.
*I wish to thank Allen & Unwin for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.