With the summer's heat still upon us, wouldn't it be nice to take a break and read about someplace cool and inviting? After a five-year absence from the bookstore shelves, beloved Scottish author Rosamunde Pilcher offers her readers a refreshing respite with her latest offering, Winter Solstice.

Pilcher's delightful tale is set amongst her favorite places London, Hampshire, and Cornwall, England, and the great highlands of Scotland. Her story, which begins as fall turns to winter, follows the lives of five distinctly different people and their search for happiness.

The main character, who binds the entire story together, is Elfrida Phipps, a gently eccentric former actress who has retired to live out her life in a comfortable fashion. When her dear friend Oscar Blundell loses his wife and daughter to a tragic car accident, Elfrida steps in to help Oscar get on with his life. Oscar owns half of an old estate house in Scotland, and it is here that he and Elfrida start their lives anew. As they settle in to a life of quiet contemplation, their plans for a solitary Christmas are interrupted when Elfrida's cousin, Carrie Sutton, comes to visit along with her young niece, Lucy. It seems Carrie is quietly recovering from the heartbreak of a failed love affair with a married man, and Lucy's self-centered mother and grandmother have abandoned the teenager during the holidays. The house party becomes even livelier with the arrival of Sam Howard, a handsome textile-company executive who has unexpectedly come to buy the estate house.

While each character is plagued with loneliness and regret, it seems as if fate has united them in the dilapidated old house. And it is in this house, on the shortest day of the year, that these five people will find each other, and ultimately find happiness for themselves. As in her previous bestsellers, The Shell Seekers, September and Coming Home, Winter Solstice is filled with the grace, warmth, and sentiment Pilcher's legions of fans have come to expect from her books. But it also delivers an extraordinary tale of tragedy and intrigue, with a powerful testament of love's healing ways that will undoubtedly draw a whole new audience to this remarkable novel. Winter Solstice was well worth the five-year wait.

Sharon Galligar Chance is the senior book reviewer for the Times Record News in Wichita Falls, Texas.

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