The fourth book in the Island Cottage Series by Rebecca Alexander, Coming Home to the Cottage by the Sea is an endearing story that takes place across two time periods. Much like the other books, it’s the back-and-forth storytelling between those two time periods that makes this such an intriguing read.
It’s noteworthy that you could read this book without having read the others. Is it better to read them all in order? Probably, especially since previous characters make appearances. But it’s not a requirement.
Coming Home to the Cottage by the Sea starts off with Olivia Elliott, or Libby, returning to the islands that are the setting for the entire book series. Her return is due to a set of unique circumstances. Her job as a costume designer for an upcoming television series has brought her here because it’s filming on location.
This allows her to see her family, who she hasn’t seen in quite some time. While home, she hopes to salvage her grandparent’s cottage on Morwen Island, which is in disrepair.
She’s also stuck between an old flame — Jory Tretheway — and the possibility of a new romance. This is really the main focus for Libby, and it’s not obvious where her heart really lies. She’s in a complicated situation with two very different men, which is made more complicated by the history she shares with Jory, who she’s known since childhood.
Unfortunately, her character is a bit insufferable. And while she’s still a character worth rooting for, she’s also one worth rolling your eyes at. Even in the moments where she’s focused on history or making smart decisions in regard to her career, she winds up being quite a flat character.
Much of that is due to the lack of depth when it comes to the storytelling. There’s so much interesting backstory when it comes to her family and the teenage romance that has her stomach in knots, but the story doesn’t delve into it as deeply as it could.
It’s a little too plot-driven when what’s needed is more descriptive detail and a slower pace. That’s especially true in some of the more climactic moments.
On top of that, the story is often too dialogue-heavy. There are several emotional moments that would be better served with additional narration instead, or more descriptive detail in between.
That said, the setting is painted beautifully. The imagery of the varying islands, the different types of sand, and even the dilapidated old cottage make the reader yearn to be a part of this fictional community.
This is true in both timelines. The setting is just as captivating during the WWII timeline, if not more so. And the WWII timeline is markedly more interesting than the one taking place in the present day.
In that timeline, we follow Nancy Baldwin in that timeline, a woman who has joined the land army to help with the war effort. Eventually, we learn of Nancy’s emotionally difficult past.
Her story carries several parallels to Libby’s, from the way she’s viewed at the job she’s taken on to the way her own love story begins to unfold. Nancy’s secrets and the friendships she develops make for a fascinating story.
It’s this part of the book that makes Coming Home to the Cottage by the Sea a true page-turner. And it’s this part that carries real, visceral emotional weight.
The twists that come from this part of the novel are shocking and emotional. Yet, the same flaws hinder this section as well. The story being told here deserves more detail, more complexity, and a slower pace.
I’d have also appreciated more connections between the two storylines. However, the hints of how these stories intertwine are certainly there, and again, that vehicle of storytelling makes this entire series really special.
Overall, this is a really enjoyable read, despite its flaws.
Coming Home to the Cottage by the Sea will be available Tuesday, July 18th.