A Year at Castle Court by Holly Hepburn - book review: The perfect read for long winter nights

It's crunch time in more ways than one for two best friends when they invest in their long-held dream to open a hand-made biscuit shop in a historic corner of Chester.

A Year at Castle Court by Holly Hepburn
A Year at Castle Court by Holly Hepburn

Combining Cat Garcia’s love of cookery with Sadie Smart’s artistic flair should be a recipe for success… but for some rival shopkeepers the new business leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Holly Hepburn, author of the two much-loved series, Star and Sixpence and Picture House by the Sea, heads off to one of the North’s most beautiful cities for a delicious story brim full of conflict, secrets, rollercoaster emotions and mouthwatering food.

A Year at Castle Court is Hepburn’s four Castle Court e-novellas collected together as a novel for the first time and her many fans will fall in love with the feisty and fun Cat and Sadie as they battle through a year of hard graft, romance and rivalries.

Sadie is a single mum to her daughter Lissy, aged five, and the two have become a ‘team’ since Sadie split up with her husband Daniel six months ago. Still nursing a broken heart over Daniel’s betrayal, Sadie is struggling to cope alone and going through a crisis of confidence.


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Cat, her best friend from childhood, is burned out from working long hours as a chef in the Michelin-starred restaurants of Paris and in need of a change from the glittering career that has recently lost its shine.

The time seems just right to finally fulfil their childhood dream to open the Smart Cookies Biscuit Emporium in gorgeous Castle Court, a three-storey food court tucked away behind Chester’s famous Rows. Organised and methodical, Cat is a firm believer in a ‘To-Do List’ while Sadie is the careful, cautious partner.

And they soon discover that Castle Court has its own community… a little haven of delight against the stresses of the outside world. But not everyone welcomes the new business. The patisserie owner is less than pleased by what she sees as direct competition and Greg, who runs the fancy bistro, doesn’t think Sadie and Cat have the talent or business acumen to succeed.

Luckily, there is support in the form of the handsome Jaren Smit, who owns the Dutch waffle house opposite Smart Cookies, and Swiss chocolate-shop owner, Elin. And if all else fails, the friends can drown their sorrows in Seb’s cocktail bar on the third floor.


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But secrets from the past are never far away… can the two friends make a success of their dream business?

The ties that bind the irresistible Cat and Sadie lie at the heart of this tasty romp set amidst the quaint streets of Chester. There are laughter, tears, triumphs and disasters as the two women cross swords with some of their neighbours, but find solace in friendships old and new.

Hepburn is a master storyteller, delivering drama, suspense, comedy and romance with her trademark warmth and wit. Add on a glorious backdrop, a year’s worth of action and a captivating cast of characters, and you have the perfect read for long winter nights.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)