A Village Vacancy – Book Review

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Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

“What was the matter with her that she obviously picked the wrong men? Did she intentionally pick the ones who weren’t right because she didn’t want the responsibility of total commitment, or, deep down, did she feel she wasn’t worth a really good man’s love?”

Such a lovely read that surprised me on so many counts! If you’re looking for a fun read with many memorable characters, who each have complex stories you can really get your teeth into, this one is most definitely for you. I’m so happy to be joining in with this fabulous blog tour with all these other amazing book bloggers. Make sure you take a look at all their reviews too!

As the Yorkshire village of Westenbury mourns the loss of one of their own, the women can’t help but contemplate who will fill the vacancy in one handsome widower’s life…

Grace Stevens has decided it’s time to move on without her husband. He’s off gallivanting around Devon in search of a new life, and good riddance. It’s time to go back to teaching, so Grace returns to Little Acorns and takes on an unruly class of pre-teens.

As she deals with disasters in – and out of – the classroom including an accidental dalliance with her most troublesome pupil’s dad, helping track down a drug ring and keeping up with her closest girlfriends, Grace begins to wonder more and more about the sparkle in David’s eyes and the sparking chemistry between them.

Could Grace be the one to fill this village vacancy?

The beginning

Being from Yorkshire myself, I love a book set in the area, and as soon as I started this one, I could sense the priceless Yorkshire charm – it really put a smile on my face! The story opens with introductions to a wide range of characters, and even though it took me a while to get my head around who was who (there are a lot of characters to keep on top of straight away!) I found them, as well as the attention to detail, to be really refreshing. I felt each character had their own unique part to play and I was sure we’d learn what these were soon enough! The opening to the book focuses on quite a saddening event, but even so, I found this to be crucial in the overall plot of the story. I immediately took a liking to Grace and found the author’s character creation to be faultless so early on. It was already very easy for me to feel involved in the story which I was thankful for, and I couldn’t wait to see what these characters experience throughout the book!

Grace loves to teach and reading about her new, rather difficult class took me back to my own time working in primary schools. I found some of the children to be quite familiar, always trying their luck or attempting to make her angry. I felt like there was such great humour in the book from very early on which seemed to be consistent the more we read, and there’s nothing I love more than humour I can relate to! This complemented the story well and made each character and scene seem even more vivid and memorable to me. Away from work and kids, Grace is going through her own personal problems. After her partner leaves her, she’s left with much more responsibility and is desperate for a little time to herself after being on constant parent duty. She’s also considering looking for someone new – would Tinder be the answer? Or would there be someone much closer by that could fix her loneliness? I hoped she’d be careful with her choices!

I liked how the author touches on subjects such as depression and involves children with additional needs in the book – things that need to be spoken about more and things that are actually quite common and normal than we might think. These issues are discussed delicately and not too much, but I loved how they weren’t just brushed aside. I felt the author was talented in all areas of story-writing, from the serious and sad, to the hilarious and joyful – that is some talent to have! I particularly enjoyed any scene with Grace and her friends; the humour was enough to brighten anyone’s day and keep them invested, and the eventful goings on in Leeds shocked me no end! It also doesn’t take us long to find out just what Grace is like when it comes to men – the firsts sign of some pretty eyes and she’s in a world of her own! Would the first guy she meets after Dan be all he’s cracked up to be? I felt like I had to look after Grace at this point and make sure she didn’t make any bad decisions while she was vulnerable!

“Reception teachers live in the stock cupboard, don’t they? You know, occasionally popping out for a quick mug of tea and a custard cream before heading back to where they belong.”

I enjoyed hearing from the perspectives of different characters and seeing just how full on everyone’s lives seemed to be. Juno was also a favourite character of mine and just how her kids acted in front of new lover, Scott, and his ex, Esme, made me laugh constantly! These children definitely had some quirky, memorable personalities and they really helped to bring the story to life. After such a full on opening to the book, I was ready to get back to Grace’s story and hear just how things progress with her life. I wondered if the mysterious, nameless man she met would return or whether she’d simply move onto the next who showed any interest. The beginning of the story was enjoyable, even if there was a lot to follow and many characters to keep in mind. After a bit of research, I realised I’d probably have a better grasp on the characters if I’d read more of the author’s standalone books, but I was confident the rest of the book would be just as great!

The middle

As Dan reveals he’s having a job interview down in Exeter, Grace realises she doesn’t love him as she once did and is perfectly happy to continue life without him. A new start with the kids and the job she loves. What could go wrong? Well, it’s not long before she has to teach Sex Education to her class of pre-teens, which was definitely not going to go down well! As much as she loves teaching, I felt this class were really testing her, but I found these scenes in particular so realistic. I wondered if a lot of the scenes in this book were purely works of fiction, or whether the author had had some of these experiences herself, just because of how perfectly constructed they were! The author sure knows how to connect with her audience and give them a good giggle, and it was just what I needed to read after all the awful news lately. I felt that this was definitely a good book to lift your spirits if you were on the look out for one!

Grace gets the shock of her life as she’s called into a meeting with the father of one of the challenging pupils in her class. She’s met him before – the last person she expected to see! I found that this character, as well as all the other girls, had so much drama going on in their lives and it was clear to see how they all got on so well. The bond between each of them was evident and I loved how they regularly had each other’s backs, chatting about problems and ways to overcome their issues. It isn’t long before Grace’s mum sees a potential vacancy that Grace could fill – after David recently lost Mandy, perhaps Grace was the perfect person to fill this vacancy seeing as her old relationship was no more. She swears the two are just friends, but would a relationship with David Henderson be so bad? She finds herself noticing him more and more after the chat with her mother, and is soon unable to control those feelings.

With Ross Haddon and David Henderson battling in her mind, Grace has a tough decision to make. She enjoys time with each of these men, each stealing pieces of her heart for different reasons. It’s clear she loves the attentions she gets from each, but would she be able able to chose one or the other? Was she really ready to start a brand new relationship so soon after Dan left for the second time? We learn more about Ross, what it was like to be the father of a child who liked to cause trouble and about his past failed relationship with Natasha. I even found myself feeling sorry for this guy! He seemed so genuine and honest, someone who’d look after Grace and keep her safe. The author has transported us into Grace’s mind and made us easily see through her eyes. Again, attention to detail made everything stand out so much and enabled us to really connect with characters and share different feelings too.

“Juno felt her heart pounding with fury. She wanted to hit him. Pummel him into the floor until he was strawberry jam she could spread on her toast.”

Surprisingly, the more time Grace spent with Ross, the more she could see that angry father in the headteacher’s office. Something wasn’t right, but he redeemed himself with his apology. I made a mental note to keep an eye on this character though as if he decided to hurt her, he’d have me to deal with! There’s more drama as we learn of more information about Scott, and I found myself wondering if this little Yorkshire town could take anymore! I loved how there was always something going on in this story left, right and centre, and there seriously wasn’t a dull moment. Without all the drama though, we wouldn’t have a story as in-depth as this one was. I felt fully immersed in everything at this point and I was dying to know how David plays a part in Grace’s life. Would he surprise us? Would Grace ever change her mind about Ross? The ending of the book was getting closer, and I was still unsure how things would end!

The end

With one character acting very suspiciously and Ross completely flipping out and becoming the complete opposite of the person I thought he was going to be, the ending of the book was such an unexpected ride! I felt so sick in one particular scene where Ross spirals out of control, and I felt so concerned for Grace’s safety. How did she get herself into this mess? Why couldn’t I see what this guy was like below the surface?! Developing a phobia of this guy wasn’t something she’d planned, and I just hoped she’d be able to get out of this situation safely. There was one character who I knew she could trust to help her, and she seemed to have the same idea as me as she picked up her phone! I thought the author had dealt with these difficult scenes well, and I appreciated the fact that she’d included this in the book. It’d be a good learning tool for anyone going through similar abuse at home.

David seems to be quite the catch, and it begins to bother Grace that her friends were discussing their attraction to him. Why did she feel this way about David, who was also her friend? What were these feelings she held for this man? Grace doesn’t have much time to dwell on these feelings at this point as there is an even bigger situation going down involving Ross’ son and a whole host of unexpected characters. Could all these characters be involved in some illegal movement? This particular event made the book even more juicy, and again, Grace and her friends all worked together and were there for one another when they needed each other the most. That’s the thing I loved the most about this book – friendship and family is portrayed so perfectly in a way that makes us get that warm fuzzy feeling inside!

I loved how things began to work out for Grace after all the excitement and bad luck; Noah, Ross and Natasha are out of her hair and moving to a different city, and now she’s been offered a role in the heavenly Year 4 class at work. Things seem to be going so well for her at the moment, as well as for her friends too. Rumour has it that Juno and David are giving things a go, and even though her mind goes into overdrive when the pair are mentioned, I didn’t know how David felt about Grace. Were we in for a surprise or has he already found someone to fill the hole in his heart that losing his wife had left? The ending of the book was leaving me with many questions and I just hoped they would be answered before the final chapter was up!

“Grace hid her face in her mug of tea, trying to work out why the idea of David with another woman was making her feel as though yet another body-blow was hitting her, head-on.”

I could have shed a tear as Grace declares her love for one particular character! I felt the way this played out was very different to other books with romantic elements, and everything we learn about Grace’s feelings was slowly drip-fed through the book until things progress right at the end. I enjoyed just how different this was to other books I’ve read and I was so glad it didn’t take the predictable happy ending route that many books seem to take! The author rounded off the story well; many issues are revisited and resolved, and each character seemed to have their own ‘ending’ so to speak, which closed things off nicely. Very satisfying, and the author has done a great job here. My first read from this author, but definitely won’t be the last – enjoyable, memorable and humourous in equal measure!

Overall thoughts

I really enjoyed this book for so many reasons, and it was such a hilarious read at times. My spirits were instantly lifted, but I was also gripped because of all the unexpected twists you simply don’t expect with a book of this nature! It’s clear the author is a natural born storyteller and seems to entertain her audience with ease. The only thing I was a little lost in was just the amount of characters there is to keep track of, but I think I’d feel much better about this if I read more of Julie’s works. Off to Amazon I go! Brilliantly entertaining, and if this doesn’t make you want a trip to beautiful Yorkshire, I don’t know what will!

A huge thanks to the author of the book, Julie Houston, and Aria Fiction for my copy! You can purchase your own copy of A Village Vacancy on Amazon now, available on Kindle and in paperback. Make sure you’re following the author over on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more updates!

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow, Emily, what an absolutely fabulous thorough review of A Village Vacancy!! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Great too, that as a newly to Westenbury,the characters didn’t totally overwhelm!! LOL!! It really is appreciated when reviewers like yourself take the time to read and review with such detail. Fabulous!! I do hope you’ll come back in the summer and join the blog tour for Frankie Piccione (title probably going to change) and love it if you read the earlier Grace books. Would be more than happy to gift you the 3 earlier Grace books. Don’t expect you to review them, but you’d have them on your kindle for a spare moment!! Just DM me your kindle address on Twitter and I’ll gift them over. Love Julie xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Em says:

      Thank you so much for your lovely feedback, Julie! It’s really brightened my day! I would absolutely love the 3 other books, that’s so generous of you! I’ll send it over to you on a DM – thanks again 😊 xx

      Like

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