I absolutely love Ruth Hogan’s novels, because they have interesting, quirky characters that I always want to know more about and stories that are ultimately uplifting. I was immediately fascinated by Imelda Burova, with her Russian-Romany background and her gorgeous borzoi Dasha. Imelda has inherited her mother’s fortune telling booth on the seafront in Brighton. Not that Shunty-Mae has gone anywhere. She comes to help when the booth is busy in the summer season and has a disconcerting habit of sitting behind the curtain at the back then interjecting the odd comment when least expected! Imelda is invited to read for people as part of the entertainment staff at the holiday park and this introduces her to a whole new group of people. There’s the three mermaid sisters, a contortionist, Jeanie who has the voice of an angel and the dark, handsome wall of death rider Cillian. Imelda feels an immediate spark with Cillian, but Jeannie’s femme fatale friend Vivien makes it clear that Cillian is off limits. Book ending this tale of 1970s Brighton is our other heroine Billie, who is in a vulnerable place having lost her university job, her marriage and her mum. She receives some life changing news from her Dad, that sends her on a trip to Brighton to meet a mysterious woman who holds two brown envelopes. These will give Billie some clues to a mystery that has spanned forty years, and a love story that has lasted through time.
I really felt for Billie, who has reached a point in life where everything is changing, but she’s willing to take on the challenges she faces. She finds her seventy year old benefactress inspiring and starts to be drawn into the world of Brighton. She meets a family named after precious stones who run the cafe next door to the fortune tellers booth. She has help getting a new project off the ground with a lovely man called Treasure. Then there’s a man she meets on the train who travels all the way to St Pancras once a week just to play the piano. Plus a man who seems to be just a passing eccentric, using his elastic bands to send colour messages to the CIA or MI5, but who witnesses a crucial event that answers so many questions. In the time she spends in Brighton, Billy starts to feel at home. What could fate have in store for her here and is she brave enough to follow the path?
The earlier sections, told by Madame Burova with a heavy dose of hindsight, are so evocative of the 1970s. There’s an incredible bohemian feel to the interiors, such as the decor of the booth, the stunning gypsy caravan that sits in the garden for occasional sleepovers, not to mention Madame Burova’s wardrobe. Lush fabrics and vintage clothes float my boat so I was in heaven here. The central love story is brief, but all encompassing. Cillian is the perfect hero – I was thinking Peaky Blinders as I was reading him so it was hilarious to find ‘Cillian Murphy’ left on a page in the NetGalley copy! It shows that Ruth Hogan and I are on the same page when it comes to passionate love interests. He and Imelda are clearly made for each other, so watching Vivien try to come between them is infuriating. Not that Cillian helps, his taciturn nature and avoidance of fuss can lead to misunderstandings. Imelda isn’t sure whether he’s playing the field, but his eyes are firmly trained on her all the time. I was transfixed by the love story and hoping against hope that Imelda wouldn’t have her heart broken.
This is such a charming and whimsical novel, with a a huge side helping of nostalgia for the time of the seaside holiday heyday. A time when people did take their families to a holiday park and take part in all the entertainments on offer. I love the way Brighton fits Billy perfectly, with her vintage style, bowler hat and the opportunity she gets to potentially bring that retro vibe to the seafront seems perfect. Will she take the chance? More importantly, will the quest that brought her to Brighton and to meet Madame Burova, come to a happy end? I was satisfied with the end, despite the heartache along the way and came away with a real feeling of joy. Along with the apple blossom coming in and birds nesting in the garden, this book has been like a little breath of spring.
Meet The Author
A car accident led to Ruth Hogan taking her wish to be a writer more seriously and the result was THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS – a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. Since then she has had two further novels published, THE WISDOM OF SALLY RED SHOES and QUEENIE MALONE’S PARADISE HOTEL and for her fourth, MADAME BUROVA, she learned to read Tarot cards and developed a hankering for a traditional vardo and pony.
‘I live in a chaotic Victorian house with an assortment of rescue dogs and my long-suffering husband. I am a magpie; always collecting treasures (or ‘junk’ depending on your point of view), a huge John Betjeman fan and I would very much like a full-size galloping horses carousel in my back garden. As a full-time author I am living the dream, and I’m so grateful to all my readers for making that possible. I love hearing from you, so please feel free to drop me a line on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.’ From Ruth’s author page on Amazon.com