I’m going to admit to a certain amount of snobbery when it comes to the genre of novels called ‘ChickLit’. I think three years of English Literature at university and lots of talk about ‘the literary canon’ meant that reading this genre became a guilty pleasure for many people. I would now like to announce myself as a proud reader of ‘ChickLit’. I think some of the writers who seem to be placed in this group are incredibly skilled: Marian Keyes, Jojo Moyes, Adriana Trigiani, Ruth Hogan, Liane Moriarty, Helen Fielding, Dorothy Koomson and Lisa Jewell. I’ve seen all of the above placed in this category both online and in bookshops, but what does it mean? An online definition I read recently was ‘heroine orientated narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of the protagonist’. Apparently it differs from women’s fiction in that it’s lighthearted and appeals to a younger audience. Yet, I wouldn’t agree that all of the above authors fit that definition. It seems to be a title that’s diminutive, even derogatory and probably serves the marketing of books rather than their content. I think there is a great skill in writing an uplifting book, and we’ve never in our lifetimes been in more need of some literary sunshine in our lives. What does that have to do with Freya Kennedy? Well, just as I really needed it, I was able to sit in the garden with this lovely book, mix myself a PImms and let all my cares drift away.
Our heroine is Libby Quinn, resident of Derry, avid reader and dealing with grief following the death of her beloved grandfather. Her love of reading is entirely based in her relationship with her grandad and the many children’s books they enjoyed together. At huge risk, Libby has decided to pool her money and open a bookshop in Ivy Lane. The shop itself is up for auction, and in a state of disrepair. It’s a huge project and Libby has some trepidation, but it’s also lifelong dream that her grandfather was never able to fulfil and she would love to fulfil that dream in his memory. This is something I’ve daydreamed about for many years and I fell in love with Libby’s vision of vintage shop fittings, writer’s nooks, cake and coffee, and shelves full of books. Once she secures the Ivy Lane shop it will take weeks of hard work, help and support from family and friends to get the shop and her flat above up and running. She’s made the sacrifice of selling her house and moving back in with her parents temporarily and with a Dad in the building trade she will have lots of expertise at hand. Libby knows she will have to focus and that means even less time with best friend Jess and fewer cosy weekends with boyfriend Ant in his big house by the sea. How will she fit in with the Ivy Lane community and how will those closest to her cope with her dedication to her dream?
I liked Libby immediately and could understand where she was coming from. I have a similar supportive family, who are always eager to help me with new ventures. It was clear that Libby knows where she’s from and is grounded. Apart from normal concerns such as stinking after a damp day shifting rubbish in the shop, she isn’t focused on how she looks and this was refreshing to see. She is described as a ‘ray of sunshine’ coming to the street and I genuinely think she is. She’s kind, friendly, thoughtful and generous. Plus she loves reading, so I could easily imagine us grabbing a coffee and chatting about favourites. She soon makes friends on the street. Locking herself out of the shop means she has to make her way across to the Ivy Inn and ask to use their phone so Jess can bring the spare key. Here she meets Jo and Noah who run the pub and live together above the pub. Then there’s Harry, the elderly gentleman from the corner shop. I loved how these residents looked out for each other with a pack of biscuits here, a free lunch there and I could imagine Libby reciprocating with a book or a coffee. It was just the sort of neighbourhood it would be lovely to live in right now.
I liked that Libby knew what she wanted and stuck to it. She wasn’t wavered by distractions or feeling a bit rough. It had to be a full blown tonsillitis to stop her in her tracks. Even though there was a bit of wavering and soul searching, I liked that she had the confidence to know when a relationship wasn’t working. Even on the first week that she needs to work a weekend, Ant wasn’t on board. On the first day he didn’t help with clearing out then on the Saturday he wanted to spend the normal weekend together at this place. I wondered when he imagined the bookshop would be open? It wasn’t going to close on Saturday just for him. He then has the temerity to call Libby selfish. Even when she offers a night in a hotel, when she needs to visit the vintage fair and buy furniture, he decides it’s not his thing. I got quite angry with him at this point and even more so when he’s been discussing it behind her back with Jess. The pair practically gaslight Libby into thinking she’s the problem. Luckily a good chat with her mum straightens things out, she tells Libby that she’s allowed to be absorbed in this. Isn’t it her lifelong dream? That usually partners support their other half, but Ant hasn’t lifted a finger. Maybe they just aren’t compatible? This fits with thoughts Libby has been having, and she handles the situation really well. Even when, it seems, Ant might have had his eye on someone else. Noah is a great romantic lead with his craggy good looks, kind nature and sad past. His rapport with Libby is obvious to everyone but her. She has decided to focus all her energies on the shop with no exceptions. She has no time or headspace to spare for romance.
The author keeps the tone light throughout, but still kept my interest all day. Yes, I read this in a day. It lifted my spirits and made me smile, a rare thing at the moment. Towards the end I was desperately hoping for a certain outcome so I had to keep reading. I loved the vivid descriptions of the shop and the way it took shape. It was almost like watching my own dream come to life, which was very inspiring. It made me want to book a reading nook and fulfil my dream of writing a novel. This novel was emotionally intelligent, full of warm, quirky characters, and like opening a box of sunshine. Chick Lit or not I will definitely be checking out this author’s other novels.