Just in time for Mother’s Day comes Trisha Ashley’s entertaining new novel, The House of Hopes and Dreams. The Lancashire-born novelist has garnered plenty of plaudits over the years – Katie Fforde describes her as “one of the best writers around” while Carole Matthews praises her novels as “warmhearted and comforting”.
The best thing about Ashley’s writing in my view is that she’s utterly original. She doesn’t follow the crowd, always comes up with new settings and ideas and combines excellent storytelling with a touch of wry humour.
Her latest book tells the story of Angelique Arrowsmith, a successful stained-glass artist who lives and works with her much older artist partner and mentor Julian Seddon. But when Julian dies while she’s visiting her mother and stepfather in Antigua she is swiftly chucked out of the house and studio she and Julian shared. The culprits are Julian’s hard-hearted son Nat and his dreadful wife Willow – a terrible twosome who deserve a novel all to themselves.
Angelique – or Angel as she prefers to be known – soon falls on her feet though. Her old friend Carey Revell, the recently sacked presenter of a TV renovation show, has unexpectedly inherited Mossby, a vast ancestral pile in Lancashire. Keen to renovate the mansion and create a new TV series around it, Carey invites Angel to move in and restore the stained-glass windows in the oldest part of the house.
As the couple get to grips with the restoration, they encounter stacks of problems, including a vengeful housekeeper, a tricky ex-girlfriend of Carey’s, an old legend surrounding one of the house’s famous windows and some dark family secrets.
Several elements make this novel stand out from the crowd. One is Mossby itself, which Ashley describes in loving detail (note to the publishers: it would be great to have a plan of the house and garden when the paperback edition comes out). Another is the sheer likeability of Angel and Carey and the third is Ashley’s trademark comedy. Along with the ghastly Willow, I loved the character of Fang, the fierce Chihuahua puppy dumped on Carey by his flakey ex-girlfriend. Angel is so worried about the possibility of Fang getting glass shards in his paws that she orders a dashing set of boots for him to pad around her studio in.
The denouement of the novel is slightly predictable but this is a charming and ultra-readable tale that is bound to soar up the bestseller lists. As an added bonus there’s also a batch of Hopes and Dreams recipes, from stained glass window biscuits to the aptly named Angel cake.
The House of Hopes and Dreams by Trisha Ashley (Bantam Press, £12.99)