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“I think,” Lucien began, “that we accept the love we believe we deserve. And unfortunately, Noah doesn’t believe he deserves any.”
For twenty-two-year-old Noah, the revelation that his biological father is an ex-professional footballer is like tearing the wrapper from a cheap chocolate bar and discovering he’s won the elusive golden ticket. Every homeless young man’s dream, right?
Wrong. Because his father has also served a lengthy prison sentence. For murder.
With nothing to lose and facing a winter sleeping rough, Noah travels to France to meet him. Despite an angry encounter, Noah reluctantly agrees to stay at the ancestral home of one of his newfound father’s friends until he finds his feet.
Twenty-five-year-old Toby loves his village of Rossingley so much he’s never left. Working as a manny caring for the children of the eccentric sixteenth earl is his dream job. Sure, he’d like to travel someday and maybe find a boyfriend, one who doesn’t treat him like a doormat. But with his deformity denting his confidence, Toby counts his blessings and takes what he can get. That is, until a sullen, handsome misfit comes to stay, flipping Toby’s ordered village life upside down.
I’ve become a big fan of Fearne Hill’s writing over the past year or so, to the point where I’ll read anything she writes. To Mend a Broken Wing is the fourth full-length book in her Rossingley series, which I’ve had mixed reactions to; I read the second book and wasn’t wild about it, I listened to the audiobook version of book one and really enjoyed it, and haven’t got around to the third, so I approached this one with a little bit of trepidation. I’m pleased to say that I liked it a lot, and that not having read the previous book wasn’t a problem, as any background information I might have missed is included here.
The fictional Rossingley estate is in the south of England, and is the family seat of the Duchamps-Avery family, Earls of Rossingley. The current earl, Lucien Avery, has made his home there, and lives with his husband Jay and their three children, twins Arthur and Eliza and toddler, Orlando (Lucien and Jay’s romance is book one, To Hold a Hidden Pearl).
Lucien might be an earl, but he’s a working one; he’s a consultant anaesthetist and Jay is also a doctor, so they employ a live-in ‘manny’, Toby, the nephew of the estate manager. Toby grew up in Rossingley village and has lived there all his life apart from a few years spent at university in Bristol; he’s cheerful, sweet and down-to-earth, wrangling three kids with seemingly effortless patience and good humour. Life hasn’t always been easy – he was born with a rare condition which resulted in his having one arm that ends below the elbow – but he loves his charges, his job and the comforting sounds, smells and rhythms of provincial life. The downside to it is that his love life is a bit… well, close to non-existent, but he wouldn’t really want to live anywhere else.
Into this loving, happy home comes twenty-two-year-old Noah Bennett, full of bitterness, anger and frustration after learning the truth about his parentage. He grew up without a dad and with a mother who never really cared about him, and now she’s remarried Noah just… doesn’t fit. At the beginning of the book, he’s just found out he’s the son of (former) footballer Guillaume Guilbaud (To Take a Quiet Breath) who knocked up his mum when she was just seventeen and they were drunk on a beach on Ibiza; and as if that’s not bad enough, his “sperm donor” is also a convicted murderer who was only recently released after serving fifteen years in prison. Full of anger, resentment and lots of other feelings he doesn’t know what to do with, Noah spends the last of his money on a train ticket and heads off to France to find his errant father and tell him exactly what he thinks of him.
If Noah had an actual plan, what happens next wasn’t it. The white man who opens the door at the house he’s been directed to is clearly not his father, and when Guillaume arrives shortly afterwards, Noah is surprised at the gentle care he displays towards the other man who is, apparently, his husband, Marcel. Noah hadn’t expected to be received with open arms – in fact, he’s not sure what he’d expected – but Guillaume’s mixture of cold courtesy and simmering annoyance is enough to convince him this visit was a terrible idea. Having no money left, he asks Guillaume to help him get back to England.
Guillaume goes one better. He and Marcel accompany Noah back to the UK and take him to stay with Marcel’s best friend, Lucien Avery, at Rossingley, figuring it’s probably not a good idea for father and son to see too much of each other while their tempers are so frayed. A bit of distance is needed to give them both a chance to work out how – or if – they want to be a part of each other’s lives without punching each other’s lights out.
At first, Noah has no intentions of sticking around. Somewhere like Rossingley is certainly not for the likes of him and everyone in it is so happy, it’s just fucking weird. Lucien is the weirdest of the lot, but Noah quickly realises there’s steel beneath the eccentric and coolly aristocratic exterior when Lucien explains that while he’s very pleased to have him to stay, Noah is not going to just loaf around and is expected to make himself useful in some way. If working in the garden doesn’t appeal, he can pick up some shifts behind the bar at the local pub.
Noah is a ball of seething resentment when he arrives at Rossingley, and it’s easy to understand why. Life has dealt him a shitty hand, but he has to learn to let go of all the negativity that’s pulling him down and will keep pulling him down if he lets it; to leave the past behind if he’s going to forge ahead and determine his own path in life. Part of that process is learning that other people have had it tough, too – in different ways, maybe, but in ways that make their suffering no less valid – and how to deal with the things life throws at him in a more mature and rational way. Lucky for him, he’s got a lot of people around him who are only to willing to him on his way if he’ll let them.
Noah’s budding romance with Toby plays just as large a part in the story as his character growth. Toby is kind, funny, cute and endlessly cheerful, and if Noah hadn’t already known he was bi, the slow-growing attraction he feels for Toby would have confirmed it. They have great chemistry and their love story is sweet and warm and lovely; neither of them quite believes he’s deserving of love (Toby is very conscious of his arm even though he tries hard not to show it; Noah is just so bitter at the world) yet they find what they need in each other. One moment that’s stuck with me that shows just how right they are for one another – and just how far Noah has come – comes late in the book when they argue and Noah, instead of flying off the handle, takes the time to really think about what Toby said and then apologises. It’s proper, grown-up communication and I’m always here for that in a romance novel.
I like the found family aspect of this series and enjoyed catching up with characters from the previous instalments, especially larger-than-life Lucien, who is always a delight but is never allowed to overwhelm the story. The fraught reelationship between Noah and Guillaume is handled really well, too, and Noah’s reaction to finding out Toby’s mother is the local vicar is a hoot.
The only thing I didn’t like was the sudden switch to Lucien’s PoV in the epilogue. On the one hand, it does bring a sense of closure to the series (I’m guessing this is the final Rossingley book), but on the other, it was quite jarring after having the rest of the narrative divided between Noah and Toby.
All in all however, To Mend a Broken Wing is a charming, funny and heartfelt grumpy/sunshine romance and I’m happy to recommend it.