Apr 24 2014 3:30pm

First Look: Donna Alward’s The House on Blackberry Hill (April 29, 2014)

The House on Blackberry Hill by Donna Alward

Donna Alward
The House on Blackberry Hill (Jewell Cove #1)
St. Martin's Press / $7.99 print & digital / April 29, 2014

Abby Foster is a fish out of water in the Maine coastal town of Jewell Cove. The crumbling Foster estate, left to her by a relative she never even knew, has everyone’s eyes on her—an eerie reminder of the long-buried family secrets that have haunted her…forever. Single, stunning, and sometimes too strong-willed for her own good, Abby’s plan is to sell the house and hightail it back to Nova Scotia. But another part of her is intrigued by the idea of starting over somewhere new—and finally learning the truth about her heritage.

Enter Tom Arseneault. The best contractor in Jewell Cove, Tom is determined to restore the beauty and prestige of the Foster mansion—and maybe even work his charms on its beautiful new heir. The attraction between him and Abby is undeniable, and the more time Tom spends on the house the more he wants to be in it with her. But Abby’s not sure she can trust him—or anyone in Jewell Cove who seems to know more about her family history than she does. Home: Is it really where the heart is after all?

Donna Alward's The House on Blackberry Hill is the first book in a new series from a new-to-me author. But it's a familiar setting, a contemporary small-town romance, and it is a satisfying entrant to the genre.

When Abby, the heroine of The House on Blackberry Hill meets Tom, the hero, she has to admit that he is attractive:

Tom gave her clothing a slow perusal and she felt her cheeks heat beneath his scrutiny. Not only was the house a mess, but Abby knew that after her earlier exploration she was as well.

Lifting her chin, she treated him to the same overt examination—looked at his boots, up the long length of his faded jeans, past every button on his cotton shirt, and into his darkly handsome face. She nearly shivered with pleasure. If she looked in the dictionary for “rugged, sexy and capable” it would have a picture of Tom Arseneault.

But his know-it-all attitude rubs her the wrong way. Plus she going only to be in town for a short while. In fact, it took endless badgering by her decreased great aunt’s attorney’s before she finally conceded she needed to do something about the property she's inherited.

One reason is because she is so conflicted; where was this well-to-do family member when she and her grandmother were struggling to make ends meet? And why didn’t her grandmother ever talk about her past?

But after seeing the decaying once proud majestic home, she realizes that she will need to fix up the house before she can either live in it, or sell or rent it. She needs a contractor and the only one available is Tom Arseneault.

She is not in town long before she realizes that her business is the town’s business too. Mainly because The House on Blackberry Hill holds a special significance to the town. It was built by one of the founding fathers, Captain Jedediah Forster, supposedly Abby’s great, great-grandfather.

When a house has been around this long, there are plenty of tales that surround it, like the suspicious death of Edith Prescott, Abby’s great grandmother. Edith supposedly fell down the stairs after a V-E day celebration and died. But why after her death were her two daughters Marian and Iris separated, with the Prescotts moving to Canada with Iris—Abby’s grandmother?

While the town people jokingly talk of the house being haunted, Abby discovers that it is true. The ghost looks very similar to the portrait of Edith Prescott:

As Tom turned to lead her into the kitchen, her heart stopped. Over Tom’s shoulder she saw a woman standing in front of the fireplace. Sad eyes watched her from a pale face. Dark hair curled around her shoulders and her simple, pale blue dress fell just to her knee.

Before she could made a sound, the image faded for just a moment. This was impossible. It had to be a trick of light, something in her imagination. Because the other alternative was that Abby was looking at a ghost.

The more time she spends in Jewell Cove, the more she is tempted to start over there with a new beginning. Plus, she finds that Tom has grown on her in a big way. And the town seems to be encouraging their romance too.

But it seems Tom has a secret—one that appears that everyone knows except Abby.

“You’re a really attractive woman, Abby, but starting anything would be a mistake. It wouldn’t be fair to you.”

That was almost as good of a line as “It’s not you, it’s me.” For some reason it made her angry. Maybe because the dismissal came so easily to his lips.

“Why? Because you’re on the rebound?” She asked the question before she could help herself.

The change in his face was so instant that it made her step backward. Surprise, pain, anger. . .

When starting a new series it can be difficult to find a balance between creating the community, the love interest and future spin-off books, but Ms. Alward doesn’t have that problem here. The House on Blackberry Hill has a wonderful mystery, a sweet romance, and the perfect balance of intrigue about the lives of the secondary characters. If you are fond of small town romances, then you will find plenty to enjoy in this newest release by Donna Alward.

Learn more or pre-order a copy of The House on Blackberry Hill by Donna Alward, out April 29, 2014:

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Leigh Davis, blogger

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