Heiða is a solitary farmer with a flock of 500 sheep in a remorseless area bordering Iceland’s highlands. It’s known as the End of the World. One of her nearest neighbours is Iceland’s most notorious volcano, Katla, which has periodically driven away the inhabitants of Ljótarstaðir ever since people first started farming there in the twelfth century. This portrait of Heiða written with wit and humour by one of Iceland’s most acclaimed novelists, Steinunn Sigurðardóttir, tells a heroic tale of a charismatic young woman, who at 23 walked away from a career as a model in New York to take over the family farm when her father died.
I want to tell women they can do anything, and to show that sheep farming isn’t just a man’s game. I guess I’ve always been a feminist. When I was growing up, there was a female president, and I used to wear the same clothes and play with the same toys as the boys. It was just normal to me.
Divided into four seasons, Heiða tells the story of a remarkable year, interwoven with vivid stories of her animals and farm work and paints an unforgettable portrait of a remote life close to nature.
We, humans, are mortal; the land outlives us, new people come, new sheep, new birds and so on but the land with its rivers and lakes and resources, remains.
I received a copy of this book from John Murray Press via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
I was attracted to this book because it is about a place, Iceland, that I know little about, it is currently a popular holiday destination too. The idea of a female Shepherd, running a farm practically single-handed is worth reading about, so I did.
The book has an informative forward, written by the biographer, who is a notable Icelandic author. The book came into being because Heida wanted to stop parts of her land, which has been farmed since the 12th-century being destroyed by an energy company. This it seems is the catalyst for Heida sharing her life to date, but the story is so much more than this.
Written like a memoir, this story details Heida’s life, much of which has been spent on Ljótarstaðir, her family farm. The writing style is informal. It is emotional, individual and personal, providing a real insight into her life.
It is also a story about preserving a way of life and the individual versus the corporate machine. The unwavering message being, it is not enough to want to keep your way of life, in an ever-changing world, you sometimes have to step into their world and fight on equal terms.
If you enjoy learning about different ways of life and culture and have a love of animals this will be an interesting read for you, like it is for me.
Primrose Farm is Rachel’s very own slice of heaven. Come rain or shine there’s always a pot of tea brewing by the Aga, the delicious aroma of freshly baked puddings, and a chorus of happy memories drifting through the kitchen.
But the farm is in a spot of trouble. As the daffodils spring, Rachel must plant the seeds of change if she wants to keep the farm afloat, and it’s all resting on a crazy plan. She’ll need one family cookbook, her Mum Jill’s baking magic – and a reason to avoid her distractingly gorgeous neighbour, Tom . . .
Swapping their wellies for aprons, can Rachel and Jill bake their way into a brighter future? The proof will be in the pudding!
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK – Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
‘Rachel’s Pudding Pantry’, is a lovely mix of family drama, friendship, romance and humour, with a sprinkling of poignant life experiences that may have you reaching for the tissues.
Not surprisingly, it is full of delicious puddings, as Rachel and her mother strive to find a way of keeping the family farm. There is an empowering, female family dynamic, spanning four generations, which withstands the heartache and tragedy the Swinton women have to face.
The story’s romance grows from an interesting take on the ‘boy next door’ trope. Tom, the attractive farmer at the neighbouring farm is always there to help out, Rachel grew up with him, so he can only ever be a friend, can’t he? The romance is sweet but embroiled in conflict. Is it worth losing their longstanding friendship for a chance of something deeper but riskier?
The Swinton women are easy to like, and all have a strength of character born out of adversity and familial love. They are believable and are written so that you can visualise them and become invested in their future happiness.
The authentic setting in a North Northumberland farming community is another attractive aspect of this book, I love this area and the descriptions and ethos of the community recounted in this story, make it an even more enjoyable read.
Written in addictive, short chapters that get you hooked, each has a title that includes a pudding or cake, which gives the story an added appeal but also makes you reach for the cake tin.
There is a clever connection between the puddings and the emotion of the story. Warm, soft Brownies equating to a warm, empathic friend. Sweet Sticky Toffee Pudding, synonymous with a comforting, conversation with your family.
The perfect holiday read, ‘Rachel’s Pudding Pantry’, delivers a well-paced story about family, friends, loyalty and love, against a background of community, hard work, heartbreak, and heartwarming romance, as the Swinton women learn how to adapt to change, to secure their family legacy.
Q&A with Caroline Roberts – Rachel’s Pudding Pantry
Is there a specific place or moment that inspired you to create The Pudding Pantry?
I think the initial spark was when I saw an image in a
magazine of a lovely stone barn that had been converted into beautiful cottages
in Northumberland, and I also knew of tearooms and farm shops that have been
created in old farm buildings in the area. I was interested in the idea of diversification
in farming, and the need for Rachel and her family to take this step to give
Primrose Farm a future. It was lovely to imagine how The Pudding Pantry would
look once finished, and what a cosy, welcoming place it would become, full of
scrumptious bakes and cakes.
What did you most enjoy about writing this novel (apart from sampling some delicious puddings of course!)?
The romance! How can I not mention the gorgeous next-door farmer, Tom? There is even a rather wonderful, Poldark-style chest-bearing moment that takes Rachel rather by surprise. We see the relationship grow between Rachel and Tom, despite age differences and being farming neighbours, and it’s lovely how that romance unfolds between them, I enjoyed writing that.
And what were some of your absolute favourite puddings that you sampled along the way?
It’s been such hard research, hah, but somebody had to do it!! Sticky toffee pudding is up there as one of my all-time favourites, and I do love a pavlova with summer fruits, the raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake I adapted myself and was very pleased with the result, Susan Green’s Ginger Pudding is a delight, and you obviously can’t beat some gorgeous apple crumble – I like mine with a little warming spice and cream.
We love seeing photos of your gorgeous dog Jarvis on twitter! Does he help or hinder your writing routine?
Hah, at the moment he is still only nine months old, so I
have to admit when I need to settle quietly to write at home, he just wants to
play and is a bit of hindrance, bless him. But when we are out and about on our
walks together, I do get inspired by the landscapes and changing seasons around
me. Both Jarvis and my last dog, Meg, who are cocker spaniels, inspire my
doggie characters – being Alfie, the spaniel, in the Chocolate Shop books and now
Moss, the wonderful border collie, in Rachel’s Pudding Pantry.
And has your writing routine changed over the course of your career?
I’ve had to become more focussed with my writing; having
written seven books in four years. So, I have my own writing room – in the
small bedroom. I also have a proper chair and desk now, rather than writing in
the conservatory or at the kitchen table as my back was beginning to feel it.
But I can write anywhere if need be, as I still write my first draft of each
scene longhand then type it up later. If inspiration strikes, I can often be
found up at 3am jotting down notes or even whole lines of dialogue that just
appear in my head in the middle of the night – strange but true!
What would you most like for readers to take away from Rachel’s Pudding Pantry?
I’d like my readers to be able to escape for a while into
Rachel’s world, with a heart-warming read that feels like a hug in a book.
Rachel’s Pudding Pantry, like your previous novels, is so joyful and warm. However, it does still tackle some serious issues. How do you balance writing about things like grief without taking away from the uplifting nature of your stories?
I want my books to reflect real life with all its trials and
tribulations, which I know can be so very hard at times, so I’m not afraid to
explore the impact of grief and loss. However, I am a very optimistic person
and I strongly believe in the power of love, family, and friendship, to help us
heal and in being kind to ourselves too. That’s where the journey of the story
and our lives take us, and I want readers to feel there is always hope.
Caroline Roberts lives in the wonderful Northumberland countryside with her husband and credits the sandy beaches, castles and rolling hills around her as inspiration for her writing. She enjoys writing about relationships; stories of love, loss and family, which explore how beautiful and sometimes complex love can be. A slice of cake, glass of bubbly and a cup of tea would make her day – preferably served with friends! She believes in striving for your dreams, which led her to a publishing deal after many years of writing.
Fran has always wanted to be a farmer. And now it looks as if her childhood dream is about to come true.
She has just moved into a beautiful but very run-down farm in the Cotswolds, currently owned by an old aunt who has told Fran that if she manages to turn the place around in a year, the farm will be hers.
But Fran knows nothing about farming. She might even be afraid of cows.
She’s going to need a lot of help from her best friend Issi, and also from her wealthy and very eligible neighbour – who might just have his own reasons for being so supportive.
Is it the farm he is interested in? Or Fran herself?
A possible inheritance, a rundown farm, rare breed cows and cheese may seem to be strange themes for a romance but when Fran takes a chance on ‘the good life’, she becomes involved with all of the above and finds that love happens in the most unusual places.
‘A Country Escape’, begins for Fran when she leaves her cheffing job in London to run a distant relative’s farm after she moved into a care home. The farm is rundown but has potential, the question is, has Fran the expertise and finance to realise it? ‘A Country Escape’, gives the reader a chance to do just that. From the first page, you experience life in the countryside with a delightful array of characters both human and animal.
Courage, loyalty and tenacity are all characteristics that aptly describe Fran, she wants to experience something new and is willing to risk everything to have the lifestyle she craves. Antony is a successful businessman as well as the ‘man next door’ he is more than helpful and seems to be the perfect neighbour, but her cousin Amy has warned Fran about his motives, so can she trust him?
Both the characters and the plot are realistic. Dairy farming and artisan cheesemaking are vividly described and allow the reader to experience what Fran does; this makes the story come to life. There is plenty of angst; the appearance of Roy, a rival for the inheritance, and Amy’s fickleness towards Fran’s attempts at running the farm. Both of these sources of conflict, make Fran believe she will never achieve her goal.
There is a lovely romantic thread to this story; it seems nothing is too much trouble for Antony where Fran is concerned, and Issi finds that everything to do with cows is enthralling when the herdsman Tig shares them with her. Both romances are affected by the outcome of the inheritance. Is this Antony’s real interest in Fran, and what will happen to Issi and Tig, if he loses his home and livelihood? The delightful ending has both poignant and romantic elements.
A lovely romantic tale, which provides the reader with everything they need to enjoy an escape to the country.
I received a copy of this book from Random House UK Cornerstone – Century via NetGalley in return for an honest review.