The Hidden Cottage by Erica James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
'We all hide things, some more than others...
Mia Channing appears to have an enviable life: a beautiful home in the village of Little Pelham, a happy, stable marriage, a job she enjoys and three grown up children to whom she's devoted.
But appearances are deceiving; the truth is that it's all a precarious balancing act. When the family gather for her son's thirtieth birthday, Daisy, her youngest daughter, drops a bombshell in the way only Daisy can. Once again Mia finds herself cast in the role of peacemaker. It's a role she's tired of, particularly since her husband refuses to believe he's responsible for the problems they're facing. Not surprisingly, Mia longs for escape.
For Owen Fletcher, buying the Hidden Cottage was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and provides the perfect escape for him. When Mia meets him, she must decide whether she has the courage to do something for herself for a change. And if she does, can she ever go back to the life of compromise she had before?'
The story is centred on the Channing family and Mia the mother in particular. It starts by introducing the characters and their place in the novel. Mia is the mother of three grown up children with a lovely house and business in a beautiful village in rural England. Her husband Jeff works abroad and comes home at weekends so does not really have much interaction with the family. Mia is close to all her children and acknowledges that Jeff really has only ever connected with Daisy the younger child.
The book really starts to get going when all the family meet for the birthday of Mia’s son Jensen who is thirty. We also learn they all have their own secrets to keep or tell eventually all waiting for the right time to tell them. Daisy choses her brothers birthday to drop her own bombshell probably because she feels safer with all the family present. Jeff’s closeness to Daisy borders on obsession and so when Daisy announces that she is going to move to Australia he does what he always does and tries to manipulate her to change her mind. Daisy has never really been that strong and normally does give in; she battled anorexia which proved to be caused by her father’s obsession and controlling ways although he never acknowledged that it was his fault. Having met Scott and fallen in love with him Daisy feels she has a strength she never had before and although she is nervous of telling the family and in particular Jeff she feels she can cope. All children are afraid of Jeff their father with good reason, Jensen and his father have never seen eye to eye and he gets on much better with Mia, Eliza the middle child has a distant relationship with Jeff and Daisy although the closest to her father feels suffocated by his controlling manner. Jeff is also given to bouts of temper where on occasion he does lose control which makes him quite an unstable/loose cannon character.
The evening of the birthday marks a turning point in all their lives and through Daisy’s admission of needing to get away from Jeff the others in the family realise their own need to break free and release their secrets which they go on to do over time.
Owen Fletcher moves into the village and buys the Hidden Cottage a place he has history with from when he lived in the village as a child. Owen like the other characters in the novel also has secrets in his past which unravel as the story progresses. In a small closely knit village he is an interesting distraction and the subject of much gossip and speculation made more exciting since he is good looking and apparently single. It’s not long before a party of women from the village descend on him to introduce themselves to him dragging Mia along to make up the numbers. Owen is instantly attracted to Mia and from there the story develops giving Mia more to add to her set of secrets and guilt.
Without giving too much away it does have twists that escalate things for everyone and sets the book on a faster paced ending than beginning. Good intertwining of characters keeps this book moving along well and Erica James ability to connect with the reader through her characters makes this a very enjoyable journey. Every character is written into the story well and it is easy to identify with them although it would have been nice for the reader to form conclusions about characters rather than being led to them by Erica James. That said it was a moving and like-able story although a somewhat predictable ending, it has what it promised, secrets, guilt, romance – great holiday read.