Libby Page was one of those authors that completely passed me by until I started book blogging and this is the first of her novels that I’ve reviewed. I don’t know why I hadn’t picked up one of her books before, because reading this gave me the same feel as an Adriana Trigiani or Marian Keyes novel. There were strong female characters, female friendships, achieving ambitions and fulfilling long held dreams. There are deep emotional aspects bringing flavour and depth to her story, but also enough icing and sprinkles to lift the spirits. Here the sprinkles were one of my favourite things, vintage clothing. Our heroine is Lou, who moved to a small market town to care for her mother who was terminally ill. Since her death Lou has been working hard, selling the family home and buying a shop with flat above in the town centre. With builder Pete upstairs creating her living space, Lou has opened the shop and is looking at ways to save money and boost business. Pete puts her in touch with Maggie, another lady who has gone through a big change. Maggie’s a grandmother and often provides care for her grandchildren in the house that was the family home. However, her husband has recently left Maggie for a younger woman and she is rattling round in the big house. So, when Pete suggests that she rents a room to Lou until her flat is ready it turns out to be a lifeline for both of them. Finally, we have Donna, who works at her family’s hotel in the US. In a daily uniform of jeans and hotel sweatshirt, Donna follows a routine where she does the paperwork and the books and checks in on her elderly parents, but she too has a shock in store. When her mother suffers a sudden mini-stroke, her conscience causes her to disclose a family secret – they are not Donna’s birth parents, her mother was a woman from a small market town in England.
The thing that links these disparate women is a vintage dress. 1950’s in style and a stunning buttercup yellow this dress has a full circle skirt just made for dancing. Embroidered with meadow flowers, the dress hangs above the counter in Lou’s vintage shop and is the only item that isn’t for sale. It’s flanked by a picture of her mother Dorothy, the owner of the beautiful dress. I love vintage clothes and this dress, plus the descriptions of her shop really did draw me in. I love colour and just reading Lou’s outfits and her transformation of Maggie’s wardrobe made me smile and inspired me to be more colourful again. The warm feeling I got from Maggie and her beautiful home helped as well and within a couple of chapters I had completely relaxed into their world. Each woman had her own chapters throughout so we could see things through their viewpoint. While I felt an immediate kinship with Lou and Maggie, Donna seemed less accessible. She was very intent on routine and was considered abrupt or even rude by some people. I wondered if she was neuro divergent and suffering from anxiety, so her routines and uniform might have come from an inability to change or decide when under pressure. All these women face change and have to start life anew. In between their narratives are very short chapters from the past, where a young woman is making a yellow embroidered dress for a secret assignation with a man she’s fallen in love with.
I really enjoyed the journey to understanding the owner of the stunning dress and how it ended up at Lou’s shop. There is a revelation for all concerned when Donna gets on a plane and travels to England and to Lou’s shop. A series of letters between sisters add an extra clue to the mystery. Aside from this main story there are other subplots that also caught my imagination. I loved Maggie and her journey of rediscovery is a joyous one. When Lou arrives it’s clear Maggie is trained by years of looking after someone else: her husband, her children, guests. She’s not putting any love into herself and this shows in her completely black wardrobe. A little bit of input from Lou and she’s wearing orange with combinations of colours she didn’t expect. This small change and their growing friendship means that Maggie is busy for the first time in a long time. Her children can’t rely on her for free child care because she’s not home and this is just the start of Maggie accepting her divorce and creating a new life for who she is now. That’s partly a case of reconciling with her past and a summer in 1960’s London where she was the sort of girl who wore yellow Mary Quant boots and fell in love with an artist. There is romance here, but it’s not the only story. This story is about women supporting and inspiring each other and being our best selves. I liked that there was a lot of emphasis on self- care, from the colourful vintage clothes to taking control and finding our passion in life, instead of being the care givers we’re often expected to be. I came away from this story glad that society’s moral standards have changed and that for many women their lives are no longer ruined by shame or fear of what the neighbours might think. I felt like I’d been given a warm hug and I came away from the story smiling and inspired to wear some of my more colourful clothing.
Published on 16th Feb 2023 by Orion.
Libby Page graduated from The London College of Fashion with a BA in fashion journalism before going on to work as a journalist at The Guardian. After writing, her second passion is outdoor swimming. Libby lives in London, where she enjoys finding new swimming spots and pockets of community within the city. The Lido is her first novel. Follow her on Twitter @LibbyPageWrites and Instagram @TheSwimmingSisters
I was enticed into our heroine Anya’s world for two main reasons: Glasgow is one of my favourite cities and I too had a back up man. My best friend Elliot and I made a pact when we were moving on from sixth form. He didn’t know that I was head over heels in love with him, but he was my best friend and I didn’t want to ruin anything (we did ruin things a few years later, after university, but that’s another story). So we decided that if both of us were single at the age of 40, we’d get married. Life takes strange turns and although we were still in touch, Elliot had a long term partner and three children by then and I was a widow. We’ve all had a break up or other difficult life event and been overcome with a bout of nostalgia. Sometimes what has happened to us has been so scary and life changing, it makes more sense to lapse into the past, revisiting times and people who feel safe. We’re always doing this through rose tinted spectacles forgetting the negative aspects of the relationship or memory. So I could really understand Anya’s reasoning, especially after the shock she gets on a visit to Sunday lunch at her boyfriend’s mother’s home. In fact it’s on their way home, as they drop into a Shell garage, where Callum ends their four year relationship. Because he hadn’t wanted to upset his mum by doing it sooner. So Anya is facing a massive life change. The couple live together in Callum’s flat and while he can find somewhere to stay for a few days until she gets herself together, he will want her to move out by the end of the week. What else can go wrong?
Glasgow’s west end is a beautiful setting, giving both atmosphere and warmth to the story. I love the beautiful Victorian stone homes in the area and I have imagined myself living in one of them, but they’re pricey and only for the city’s professional classes. People like Anya’s cousin Claire. It’s her sister Georgie who suggests that Claire might want a lodger. Georgie gets on better with Claire than Anya does, because Anya finds her a bit stuck up and joyless. She also dislikes her creepy partner Richard. So once her best friend Paddy has helped her move to a single mattress in Claire’s back bedroom, Anya lies there wondering if life could get any worse? Then the next day she loses her job. As she’s going through her badly packed boxes she finds her old year book from school and a note from Euan. In her final year of school, Euan and Anya had a casual connection that could perhaps have become something more had he not been going away to university. They were never officially together, so they didn’t really break up, but they did make a pact. If they are both single when they are thirty years old they will make a go of it together. In a wave of nostalgia, borne out of feeling her life has fallen apart, Anya starts to search for Euan when she’s surprised by a message from a mutual friend. Jamie has also been looking for Euan, maybe they could join forces?
For me, this romcom worked because it is so much more than a simple boy meets girl. This period of time is transformative for Anya in so many different ways. She learns so much about herself and for me that is the most interesting part of the story. She and sister Georgie live in Glasgow with their parents living out in a suburb of the city. Anya and her mother have a spiky relationship because she has very set ideas about how life should be. Anya’s favourite pastime is cooking, in fact she finds that in the week where she’s alone in Callum’s flat, the night she cooks from scratch is when she feels most relaxed. For a little while she’s been running a page on Instagram called anyaeatstoomuch and her friend Paddy suggests that she could develop this hobby into a business. So she starts to look into turning it into a catering company, but in the meantime her mum isn’t going to let her sit around feeling sorry for herself. She finds her a job looking after the granddaughters of a woman she knows, their mother is working as a beauty influencer. These terrible twins are brilliant comic relief, being both unruly and sneaky, but subdued by Anya’s incredible food. It could be a complete waste of her time, or it could provide opportunities.
This is just one of the things that Anya has to learn. She can’t continue to drift and let life happen to her, she has to take control to get the life she wants. There was a sense of mystery too, in the search for Euan and the dead ends they find but I also wondered about Jamie. His interest legitimises Anya’s search, just when everyone else is telling her she’s behaving like a crazy person. I could understand her need to look back when everything else is falling apart, but what was Jamie’s reason for looking for Euan? I was also concerned about Claire’s fiancé Richard. He’s very furtive, lurking around corners and exercising his ability to soundlessly appear in the room. Their relationship also teaches Anya something important, just because someone’s life looks perfect it doesn’t mean it is. We all show a very edited version of life on social media and the reality is often very different. Another lesson is that having everything you want – the fiancé, the West End house, the great career – doesn’t necessarily mean you’re happy. It’s all these bits of learning and the potential growth Anya could make in her emotional life and career that really make this story. I was rooting her her to make the right choices, survive the terrible twins and forge an exciting life for herself, whether a man is involved or not.
Published 19th January 2023 by Penguin
Meet The Author
Phoebe Luckhurst is a journalist and author, who has written for publications including the Evening Standard, ES Magazine, ELLE, Grazia, Sunday Times Style, Guardian, Telegraph and Grazia. The Lock In is her first novel and this is her second.
I’ve been a fan of Fay Weldon’s writing my whole reading life, from the time I finished the reading scheme at school and started to read proper grown-up novels. My imagination was really stirred when the TV series Life and Loves of a She-Devil hit our screens in 1986. I was thirteen, the age when a program with even a hint of sexual content was the subject of school playground chatter – if we’d had phones back then the boys would have been showing us all the ‘dirty bits’. I wasn’t allowed to watch the series. Those were the years of my parents being in an evangelical church and completely losing their minds. Anything thought to be a bad influence, particularly if it had sexual content, was banned. Pre-marital sex was a huge no-no, to the point I had to pretend to be seeing something else when all my friends went to see Dirty Dancing. Yet my reading material wasn’t policed quite as strongly and I raided the library for books by the author who’d caused all this furore. I fell in love with her combination of dramatic relationships, strong and transgressive women, feminism, and a sprinkle of magic realism.
Of course my first port of call was The Life and Loves of a She-Devil and it crossed almost every boundary I’d ever been given. After her husband reveals he’s leaving her for his delicate and dainty mistress Mary Fisher, wife Ruth lots herself in the cloakroom and starts a transformation. She will leave being a vulnerable, human woman behind. She will become a she-devil. What follows is a rather visceral journey to becoming a creature without feeling, capable of wreaking the ultimate revenge. I loved her freedom, even when it meant making choices that I couldn’t believe, like sleeping with the dirty old park keeper in his cluttered shed. Her power was intoxicating and her sheer force is too much for the old man who has a seizure. Ruth takes on many guises to get to where she wants to be – joining a commune where food is minimal and hard work is a daily reality in order to lose weight. Her sexuality is completely fluid as she sleeps with women and men, a priest and the doctors who carry out her extensive cosmetic surgery. I loved that there was no judgement and no boundaries. I think the best revenge is to live well rather than follow Ruth’s path, but it’s a bold path and it’s the ultimate in evil.
At the edge of 18, while studying for my A’Levels and applying to universities, I was drawn to the book Growing Rich. The three girls at the centre of this novel – Carmen, Annie and Laura – live in a rural village called Fenedge and are at the same crossroads in life that I was. Local businessman Bernard ? Has sold his soul to the devil, in return for the fulfilment of all his desires and one of them is Carmen. Unfortunately, Carmen is not easily obtained. The girls have always dreamed of flying far away from their little village and no one has wanted to leave more than Carmen. However, it’s Annie who flies off to the glaciers and mountains of New Zealand and into the arms of the man of her dreams. Laura gets married and starts having babies. So it’s Carmen who seemingly stays still and is ripe for the picking with Sir Bernard and the Devil in pursuit. However, they underestimate Carmen’s will and self-worth. She is not giving away anything, including her virginity, until she’s good and ready but she’s not above enjoying Sir Bernard’s inducements to change her mind. This is a beguiling mix of hormones, magic, astrology and a deadly game with the ultimate adversary.
The Cloning of Joanna May asks questions about motherhood, identity and the ethics of scientific research, whilst also being an entertaining and humorous read. Joanna believes herself to be unique, but when she is unfaithful her rich husband exacts a terrible revenge. He fractures her identity by creating Jane, Julie, Gina and Alice, four sisters young enough to be her daughters and each one is a clone of Joanna May. If there are five of us, what makes us an individual? Is self innate or formed by experience? Is self even a constant thing? Weldon has the wit and creativity to explore and answer those questions, in very cunning ways. How will they withstand the shock of meeting and if they do become close, could Carl, Joanna’s former husband and the clones’ creator, take the ultimate revenge for his wife’s infidelity and destroy her five times over? This is a witty and deceptive read, that’s much deeper than it seems especially where science has now caught up with fiction.
Finally, there’s Splitting and Affliction, both of which concentrate closely on state of mind and sense of identity. Affliction is a remarkably easy read – despite it’s difficult subject matter. I don’t know whether I’d fully grasped how abusive this man was at the time I first read it, but reading it again having gone through the experience for real wasn’t comfortable. Spicer is the abusive husband in question, he’s selfish, he undermines wife Annette and has a full set of skills from victim blaming and gaslighting to being physically, emotionally and financially abusive. We’re unsure whether Spicer has always displayed such extreme behaviour, because he has started to see a therapist which seems to have been the catalyst for talking about these issues. It’s a clever and witty novel, but is probably for those who like their comedy jet black not those who are sensitive about physical violence, alternative health converts, or trendy London types. The premise is that Annette and Spicer’s marriage is doing okay, even if not entirely faithful. This is the second time around and the proof that they’re enjoying their newfound sex life is a baby on the way. Spicer becomes embroiled with two hypnotherapists after becoming jealous when Annette writes a successful novel and starts to see things differently. Annette seems to be changing too, each seems to think the other person’s perception is altered and it becomes very difficult to work out which narrative is reality. I enjoyed the depiction of unscrupulous therapists and there’s a lot of humour despite some traumatic themes and events.
Splitting covers similar ground in that a couple are at war and perceptions might not be what they seem. Lady Angelica Rice was teenage rock sensation Kinky Virgin, but she gave up her career to marry Sir Edwin Rice. Unfortunately he turned out to be lazy and completely bankrupt, so in this unhappy union Angelica’s ‘splitting’ began: a chorus of four women in her head, each with an opinion and all of them clamouring to be heard. Now, eleven years on, Edwin is suing her for divorce and her alter egos want their revenge – the usually meek Jelly, the sexually insatiable Angel, the competent and practical Angelica and Lady Rice make a formidable team. It’s a slightly chaotic novel, with many voices and the possibility of more emerging over time as she deals with a derelict house. Is this really a house or do the rooms represent parts of Angelica’s identity. How can she ever find her real self, with four women and only one body to house them all? Is she going to be able to fight for her place and does she even want it anymore? I wondered whether she would ever be able to reconcile these different identities or if the splitting would continue.
One of the most interesting of her written works was her 2002 autobiography, wittily titled Auto Da Fay, where she still played with ideas of identity and the ability to capture a person in writing. She conveyed the difficulty of writing a life that is continuing to grow, change and evade you, even while you’re trying to pin it down in words. She was born in New Zealand, the youngest of two sisters born during her mother Margaret Jepson’s short marriage to Dr Frank Birkinshaw. Her birth is interesting, because it is surrounded by themes of turbulence, change, dislocation and separation. After a large earthquake in Napier spooked Margaret, she fled to a rural sheep farm for three months, away from their normal home, their things and her husband who was being unfaithful. It was an emotional earthquake that echoed down through the women of the family, derived from Fay’s aunt who was discovered in bed with her Uncle at the age of 17. The family fall out caused psychosis in that the aunt never recovered from, possibly because she was blamed rather than the Uncle. Weldon felt her grandmother deserved blame too, because she had failed her daughter. Her mother’s upbringing was very bohemian, she was shaken by her experience in New Zealand and returned to England. There she lived with her husband’s extended family and gave birth to her daughter, who she named Franklin but became known as Fay. This could have been the basis of her interest in split identities, as she noted that she had to take library books out in the name Franklin but was always Fay when she read them. In fact she ended up studying psychology at university, started her writing career drafting pamphlets for the foreign office then became an agony aunt in a national newspaper.
For someone who’d been taught there was one correct way of living, reading about Fay’s life was inspiring and gave me permission to make mistakes. Fay’s marriage to a school teacher who was twenty-five years her senior, with an agreement that her sexual needs would be satisfied by partner’s outside the marriage. I was fascinated by how she wrote about this period of her life, distancing herself from it by referring to herself in the third person. It was during her marriage to her second husband that she wrote her first novel The Fat Woman’s Joke in 1967. It was as if her creativity was unleashed as she wrote thirty novels in quick succession, along with television plays and a version of Pride and Prejudice where she played with the marital politics of Mr and Mrs Bennett. This was to become a theme in her work, becoming more and more extreme as she found magical ways for women to transform themselves in order to negotiate a male dominated world. This could land her in hot water, particularly in her ‘she-devil’ sequel The Death of a She-Devil where a man must change gender in order to inherit, something she blamed on fourth wave feminism and a lesbian character who did not relate to men at all. Sometimes, it was as if she enjoyed controversy, such as writing a novel containing product placement for a luxury jewellery brand. At the end of her autobiography she says nothing interesting happened to her after thirty, she was just scribbling; but she was also offering controversial views on rape, porn, cosmetic surgery and transgender rights. At 91, she was still creating, supporting other authors and managing to keep herself in the public eye. For me, she dared to make women misbehave. She made them powerful, badly behaved, successful but also gave them permission to fall apart. I didn’t agree with everything she said, but I loved her ability to confound, to say the thing you didn’t expect and create these complex psychological and magical worlds to get lost in.
Who doesn’t love a witchy novel at this time of year? In fact, the only thing better than a witch novel is a whole series of them. Here I’m recommending series and one-offs that really fit the bill on these cold autumn afternoons. They’re exactly what I want on a Sunday afternoon, snuggled on the chaise langue with the log burner lit and preferably a pack of M&S Belgian Chocolate Toffee Popcorn. Bliss. There are golden oldies and a few new books to bring a sprinkle of magic into your Halloween.
Joanne Harris’s Chocolat Series
Whenever I pick up Chocolat I immediately feel enclosed by this sumptuous and magical world that Joanne Harris has created. It is the book equivalent of sitting in a candlelit room, Christmas tree sparkling magically in the corner, a warm fire and some real hot chocolate. It’s as if Vianne Rocher is enchanting me from between the pages. From the moment the changing wind blows her into the village of Lansquenet she begins to work her magic on the villagers, much to the disgust of parish priest Father Reynaud. She establishes a chocolate shop directly opposite the church and so begins a struggle for power. Her magic is subtle, but she is an amazing chocolatier and she has the ability to discern which one of her chocolates will be someone’s favourite. With her chocolate pot always simmering and ready with a listening ear, her shop soon becomes the regular haunt of some of the villagers. However, the priest is preaching against Vianne Rocher. He doubts her morals, dislikes the sense of indulgence she’s creating, and is suspicious that she may be a witch. Maybe he’s seen Pantoufle, the imaginary friend of Vianne’s little girl Anouk. This push and pull between church and chocolate is left behind in her second novel The Lollipop Shoes where we follow Vianne to Paris where they live above her chocolate shop. Then Zozie De L’Alba sweeps into their lives, the woman with the lollipop shoes, but she isn’t all she seems. Seductive and charming on the surface, she can also be ruthless and devious. Again, Vianne finds herself with a powerful enemy. Should she do what she’s always done before and run?
Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé takes us back to Lansquenet and feels like a lighter novel, more suited as a sequel to Chocolat. It’s a letter from an old friend that brings her back to the village, but this is an unusual letter, because Vianne’s friend is dead. She finds the village changed since her last visit, with a new community blown in with the wind. Where once the river gypsies were the village has grown, there’s now a hint of spices, veiled faces and a minaret as North African migrants have settled. So Reynaud could have a new enemy. However, Vianne finds that he’s in trouble, could this possibly be the reason she’s been drawn back to the village? I loved the feel of this novel, with old characters popping up and old adversaries seeking change. It really felt like the story had come full circle so I was surprised when I heard there was another part to the series. The Strawberry Thief is every bit as atmospheric as Chocolat and all seems settled in Lansquenet. Vianne and her youngest daughter Rosette have settled in the chocolate shop. Even her relationship with Reynaud has settled into a friendship. It’s when the florist Narcisse dies that the wind changes. His will is cause for gossip and then someone opens a shop in the square, opposite Vianne, The strange pull it exerts seems familiar, but what could this mean for Vianne. This series is so warm and the settings are absolutely enchanting. The magic is sprinkled throughout, but Vianne is not just an enchantress. She’s a catalyst. A force for change. She inspires people to cast off rules and do what makes them happy. She gives women who are unhappy and even abused, the strength to leave. She frees people and that is an incredibly powerful gift to have.
A Witch in Time and The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers.
I’m relatively new to the work of Constance Sayers, but I’ve certainly made up for the oversight since. A Witch in Time is high on my TBR for the end of this year, but it sounds just up my street. We go to four different time zones, into the lives of four different women, but between them there’s just one star-crossed love. In 1895, sixteen-year-old girl called Juliet begins a passionate, doomed romance with a married artist. Next we’re in 1932, with aspiring actress Nora as she escapes New York for the bright lights of Hollywood and a new chance at love. Then it’s 1970 and we meet Sandra who lives in California, it’s perfect for her music career but she’s threatening to tear her band apart with a secret love affair. Finally, we reach the 21st Century and a confused Helen who has strange memories of lives that she hasn’t lived. These are tragic lives, cursed with doomed love, because Helen was bound to her lover in 1895, and trapped by his side ever since. She’s lived multiple lifetimes, under different names, never escaping her tragic endings. Only this time, she might finally have the power to break the cycle.
I was determined to have an early copy of The Ladies of the Secret Circus as soon as I saw a trailer for it on Twitter.
The surest way to get a ticket to Le Cirque Secret is to wish for it . . .
As a huge fan of The Night Circus I knew this was for me and thankfully I managed to get a copy on NetGalley. This time Sayer’s takes us back to Paris in 1925 where to enter the Secret Circus is to enter a world of wonder. See women weave illusions, let carousels take you back in time, and see trapeze artists float across the sky. Bound to her family’s circus, it’s the only world Cecile Cabot knows until she meets a charismatic young painter and embarks on a passionate affair that could cost her everything. In the 21st Century, Lara Barnes is getting married and feels on top of the world, but when her fiancé disappears on their wedding day every plan she has for the future comes crashing down. Desperate, Lara’s search for answers unexpectedly lead to her great-grandmother’s journals and is swept into a story of a dark circus and ill-fated love. There are secrets about the women in Lara’s family history, which need to come to light. They reveal a curse that has been claiming payment from the women in her family for generations. A curse that might be tied to her fiancé’s mysterious fate. Both of these tales are full of spells, magic and ancient curses, but they’re also colourful, romantic and full of wonder.
The Practical Magic Series by Alice Hoffman.
I write about these four books every Halloween and I should perhaps look for some new material, but I can’t stop because I love this author and these four books are a brilliant witch series. Although Practical Magic was the first book in the series, followed a very successful film with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock, it’s actually the third instalment of this story following the Owens family try to juggle life with their witchy heritage. Hoffman went on to write two prequels and a sequel to Practical Magic where we meet a different generation of the Owens family, both as teenagers and then as elderly ladies, hoping to change change the curse that’s been controlling their lives ever since the witch trials. We start in Magic Lessons when baby Maria is left abandoned in a snowy field near the home of Hannah Owens. Hannah is a healer who lives in isolation, but the women of the town manage to make their way to her door for the remedies they sorely need usually due to the pains and consequences of love. When men feel threatened they do terrible things and when Hannah is set upon by the men of the village, Maria escapes and makes her way down to the Caribbean as a servant. However, when the man she loves betrays her, Maria follows him back to Massachusetts and begins a war against the Puritan settlers. Will her quest for revenge blind her to real love and curse her family for a generation? Then we jump to the 20th Century and the Owens sisters Franny and Jet, with their brother Vincent. Their mother knew they were special because they each have their own talent: Franny with the blood red hair can talk to birds, Jet is so beautiful and incredibly shy but in the quiet she can read what people are thinking. As the teenagers start to interact more with the outside world, it seems that Vincent’s charisma may get him into trouble. Yet it’s Jet’s world that may be turned upside down by the curse of the Owen family.
Practical Magic is actually the third in the series and we’re one generation on, in the same house in Massachusetts. Gillian and Sally live with their aunts Franny and Jet, they keep themselves to themselves mostly, but the girls know that if the porch light is left on at night, women who wouldn’t give them a glance by day seem to find their way at night. Gillian is the wilder one of the sisters, roaming from state to state and attracting all the wrong men. When she returns to Massachusetts, homebody Sally knows that she’s brought trouble home with her. Even their magic might not cover her tracks as a handsome investigator arrives in town asking questions. Since her husband died Sally has lived quietly, avoiding her magical skills and men. Now her sister’s return might jeopardise the stability she’s created for her girls. They may need help from the aunties for this. Hoffman’s fourth in the series, published last year, is The Book of Magic. The three generations of Owens women who all live in the same small town in Massachusetts, have found a way to accommodate their family curse and their magic skills. Until Sally’s youngest daughter Kylie falls in love with her best friend. As the curse does it’s worst the family must find a book of magic, the only one with the knowledge that might break the family curse and allow the younger generation to love without limits or fear of tragedy, Sally will have to embrace the skills she’s avoided for so long and as the family fight to save their youngest member, one of the oldest gets wind of a change coming. A fitting end to a brilliant series,
The Waverley Sisters Series by Sarah Addison Allen.
This is a lovely and light two part series set in Bascom, North Carolina. They’re warm books that focus on family first and spells second, plus it’s full of food and charm so it wins me over straight away. It seems everyone in Bascom has a story to tell about the Waverley women. They live in a house that’s been in the family for generations, have a walled garden that mysteriously blooms year round, and then those rumours of dangerous love and tragic passion that surround them. Every Waverley woman is somehow touched by magic, but Claire has always clung to the Waverleys’ roots. She stays grounded by tending the enchanted soil in the family garden and makes her sought-after delicacies – famed and feared in town for their curious effects. She has everything she thinks she needs – until one day she wakes to find a stranger has moved in next door and a vine of ivy has crept into her garden . . . Is Claire’s carefully tended life is about to run gloriously out of control.
In the second book we see more of Claire’s sister Sydney and her daughter Bay. It’s October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are also made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree…and the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store. Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. She makes handcrafted confections with specific intentions, like rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds. Her remedies are effective, but the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and maybe even her belief in her own precious gifts.
Sydney Waverley, too, seems to be losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby — a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has. Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?
When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost. This is a real happy ever after story, filled with magic and warmth.
I must admit there are witchy books that are still on my TBR. I’m so surprised, but I’ve never read A Discovery of Witches and would love to read them after seeing a couple of episodes of the TV series. I love the mix of historical fiction and the gothic, and the addition of other magical beings such as demons and vampires. It also has incredible settings from Cambridge UK, to Venice and Elizabethan England. I must make time for them. Also on my pile is Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart, a YA fantasy that’s based in a Jamaican tradition. I love reading about witches and magic from such different parts of the world and this is nearly at the top of my stack. I love that this is marketed as a more thrilling, fiery and powerful tale. Iraya Adair and Jazmyne Cariot are sworn enemies, but come together to carry out their revenge on a woman who threatens them both. This is an uneasy alliance and nothing is certain, except the lengths these women will go to for vengeance.
The Ex-Hex is a brand new rom-com that has apparently been a huge hit on TikTok. Vivienne was broken-hearted when she and Rhys broke up nine years ago. She tried bubble baths, then vodka and in the end she cursed him. Now Rhys is back to adjust the town’s ley lines, but everything he touches goes wrong and the village of Graves Glen seems out of balance. What if Vivienne’s hex wasn’t as harmless as she’d thought? Finally there’s The Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Mangu Sandanna, a book recommended to me buy one of my fellow bloggers in the Squad Pod. As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon has lived her life by three rules: hide your magic, keep your head down, and stay away from other witches. An orphan raised by strangers from a young age, Mika is good at being alone, and she doesn’t mind it . . . mostly. But then an unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches, and Mika jumps at the chance for a different life. However, as this new life might be threatened, Mika must decide whether to risk everything to protect her found family. You’ll be the first to hear how I get on.
Rachel Marks writes books that are deceptively simple, they flow well and it’s easy to find yourself six chapters in and fully immersed within the character’s world before you know it. Her novels are probably categorised as Contemporary Romance, but that suggests they follow a formula set down as far back as Shakespeare – from boy meets girl, through obstacles and eventually to the ubiquitous happy ending. I think there’s more to her work than that. Marks specialises in the messiness and complexity of modern relationships, tackling issues like mental health, addiction, divorce, co-parenting and bereavement. She has proved herself to be psychologically astute when it comes to the dynamics of relationships and families, and when I pick up one of her novels I know it’s going to be about relationships, but always with a twist or different perspective. Hello Stranger is no exception as we meet Lucy and Jamie, talking in bed one morning like any other couple. Except Lucy and Jamie are the loves of each other’s life and they are breaking up.
The book splits from this point, into the before of their break-up and the after. We get to see them meet for the first time and take the first tentative steps into their relationship towards the morning we’ve just witnessed. In between are the chapters looking at the aftermath from both points of view. I promise you, you will read this absolutely rooting for this couple just as I did. It’s heartbreaking to find that at the centre of their break-up is the question of whether they want to have children or not; Jamie does, but Lucy doesn’t. Lucy is something of a free spirit, who doesn’t really want the conventional life that she’s seen play out for her sister, who is married with two children. Lucy loves being an aunty more than anything, but has never felt maternal or had a sense of her biological clock ticking. She knows that people think she’ll change her mind one day, but Lucy doesn’t think so. It’s not a flippant choice, it’s something she’s thought a lot about and weighed up the pros and cons endlessly. She knows that her choice makes her unnatural in a lot of people’s eyes and she knows how much it disappoints her mum, who would love more grandchildren. She can’t feel what they want her to feel and it would be wrong to have children just to make others feel comfortable. I really felt for her, especially as she goes into the dating world knowing this about herself. I can’t have children and have an invisible disability so I was always concerned about when to slip this information into conversation. It’s not really a first date type of topic, when you want to be thinking of nothing more than whether there’s a spark between you. Yet, when is the right time to drop a bombshell like this on someone? If you wait till you know it’s a long term relationship haven’t you misled them? The problem is there are some things that society tends to assume about young women; they will be healthy and they will want to have a family.
Jamie is one of life’s good guys, the sort of boyfriend who will pop to the shop to buy some tampons and throw in a bar of chocolate without being asked. He’s thoughtful, open and honest. He does have baggage though. He lost his father at a very young age and still carries some guilt that he was not there when he died suddenly from a heart attack. His family also suffered the loss of a child, when his brother Thomas was stillborn. Children are an emotive subject for Jamie and he’s always known he wants them, to create a family of his own, now that it’s just him and his mum. He finds Lucy a challenge, but in a good way. She pushes him out of his comfort zone by taking him on an activity holiday in Andalusia where they go rafting over rapids. At first he’s nervous, but he finds it exhilarating. In fact Lucy is an exhilarating sort of person, she’s lively, talkative and full of ideas and plans for the future. It’s not long before he’s in love with her and he knows this is different from anything he’s felt before. He wants to be with this girl for life. When they finally discuss children, it’s clear this is something he has assumed she would want in the future. He’s known that travelling the world is important to her and he wants to discover new places and have adventures with her, but knows that realistically parenthood will curb that wanderlust. Despite finding themselves constantly back at this impasse, they don’t break-up. Lucy is as in love with Jamie as he is with her. As their relationship continues to go through milestones the question becomes ever more important, but it is essentially unsolvable. No one can compromise without sacrificing the life they want.
Is Lucy enough for Jamie, or will he come to resent her as the reality of being without children starts to sink in? Lucy can’t imagine having children for Jamie’s sake, wouldn’t she start to resent them for the changes in her life and the loss of the life she wanted. Maybe they just aren’t right for each other, despite the deepening feelings. For Lucy, Jamie is enough and she imagines a great life just the two of them. Lucy is immovable and it is up to Jamie to choose, but he can’t imagine life without Lucy in it. We follow every heart rending discussion that leads us to that morning in bed, but who will make the choice? It will take a catalyst to break the deadlock between them and throughout the book I could feel the tension rising towards that moment. I only know that once the choice was made I was desperately sad and kept hoping they would come back together, because this was a romance after all and don’t they always have happy endings?
I applaud the author for creating a character who has a point of view that many people still find difficult to understand, but making her sympathetic and loveable. She knows all the arguments and insults that people will throw at her for her choice; unnatural, cold, not a real woman, selfish. I have had the selfish argument mentioned to me in a discussion about the different siblings in a family. The childless couple were branded as really selfish, spending all their time playing golf, going on cruises and suiting themselves. I was dumbfounded by this argument that only by having children can we be truly selfless and found myself asking whether her children had wanted to be born? I kept hearing her say ‘we wanted’ children and surely that’s no less selfish than someone wanting to travel the world. People have children because they ‘want’ them, not because they’re doing the world a favour. If we stop using emotive words and assuming there’s one right way of being a woman, the decision to have children is simply a choice.
I have friends on both sides of this life choice: people who can’t have children; people who’ve sacrificed their desire for a family to stay with a partner who didn’t want them; people who thought they didn’t want children then became pregnant accidentally; people who’ve broken up with a partner who didn’t want children. There are also people like me, who lost several pregnancies, haven’t had children, then became a step-mum at 45. It’s never an easy road and I think we need to be more respectful of other people’s choices on this issue. Not everyone wants to be a parent and that’s okay. I felt sad for Lucy, terribly so, but I also felt strangely proud of her for sticking to her gut instinct and not being swayed, even by the person she loved most. To leave such a beautiful and loving relationship takes such courage and I didn’t envy their eventual decision. Marks has once again written such a bittersweet novel. I love the way it delves into the complexities and assumptions around motherhood. She takes two incredibly likeable characters and places them in such an impossible situation. However, what she also does is show that time mellows all experiences, even the painful ones. There is healing there for Lucy and Jamie, whether they eventually stay together or not.
Published on 18th August 2022 by Penguin.
Meet the Author
Rachel’s first two novels, Saturdays at Noon and Until Next Weekend, dealt with issues like addiction, divorce, parenting and re-marriage. Hello, Stranger is her third novel and came out in August. She lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and three children. When she’s not writing, she loves travelling, snowboarding and photography.
If you would like updates on upcoming books, offers etc you can follow Rachel on Twitter @Rache1Marks and Instagram rachelmarksauthor.
A notebook full of secrets, two untimely deaths – something sinister is stirring in the perfect seaside town of Morranez…
It’s summer and holidaymakers are flocking to the idyllic Brittany coast. But when first an old traveller woman dies in suspicious circumstances, and then a campaign of hate seemingly drives another victim to take his own life, events take a very dark turn. Mila Shepherd has come to France to look after her niece, Ani, following the accident in which both Ani’s parents were lost at sea. Mila has moved into their family holiday home, as well as taken her sister Sophie’s place in an agency which specialises in tracking down missing people, until new recruit Carter Jackson starts.
It’s clear that malevolent forces are at work in Morranez, but the local police are choosing to look the other way. Only Mila and Carter can uncover the truth about what’s really going on in this beautiful, but mysterious place before anyone else suffers. But someone is desperate to protect a terrible truth, at any cost…
Louise Douglas’s latest novel has a slow start, but then drew me in as it delved into the past and the Balkan War. We are in a small seaside town in Brittany where Mila and her cousin Sophie grew up. Now Mila is back with her life turned upside down. In London she was starting to write her novel and enjoying her relationship with boyfriend Luke, in fact they have even talked about marriage. Then across the channel something terrible happens. Sophie and her husband are lost at sea, leaving their teenage daughter Ani an orphan. Mila’s aunt asks her to travel over to Brittany, to help with their business and bring some comfort to Ani. Mia and Ani have been living in the sea house for a few months now and Mila has so many mixed feelings about looking after her niece. She loves Ani, but isn’t sure she’s very good at being a parent. She finds it hard to have the tough conversations and thinks that Ani will be much better off when she flies out to the Swiss boarding school she’s enrolled at for the new term. Mila is sure they’ll be better trained to deal with a bereaved teenage girl than she is. When Ani disappears one afternoon, Mila finds her at an old camper van in a nearby field where an elderly lady appears to be living. Gosia looks like shes been living on the road for a long time and Mila is concerned about her, but first needs to get Ani home. However, the very next morning she notices smoke rising up from the field where Harriet’s camper van was parked. By the time she gets there Gosia has died.
Gosia’s death is the first in a series of disturbing events for Mila. Mila’s aunt continues to run the investigations business she set up with Sophie, and in the short term Mila has been helping out. However, for the long term her aunt has hired someone from the girl’s past and as soon as Mila hears Carter Jackson’s bike roaring into town she knows there’s unfinished business. Mila had complicated feelings for Carter, made even more painful by the fact he was so clearly in love with Sophie. Mila isn’t happy with him being back in the area, doesn’t know if she can trust him and hates those painful adolescent feelings he reawakens. Close to the sea house, there is an archaeological dig taking place at a series of dolmans or ancient dwelling places. The wife of the dig’s professor has been in to the agency to ask if they will follow her husband, because she has suspicions about him being involved with someone on the dig. Mila thinks it’s just the sort of PI work the company doesn’t get involved with, but with Carter happy to take the assignment and the money needed by the business they go ahead. When photographs turn up showing the professor meeting a young girl, local tensions start to build. Especially when someone blows up the image and fly-posts them around town with the title ‘Professor Pervert’. When the professor goes missing Mila starts to wonder if they’ve been paid to frame an innocent man. Then he turns up dead, an apparent suicide that Carter and Mila think may be staged. What does the professor know and is there a link between him and Gosia?
I found Mila a bit frustrating if I’m honest. It’s clear that all Ani needs is someone to show they love her and that they want to be with her. Mila feels constantly between things and her niece is actually very wise when she points out that Mila is constantly saying she needs to get back to her life, as if what she’s doing now isn’t living. What has happened in Morrannez to change Mila? Is it the slowed own pace of life, or that feeling of being home? Is she actually enjoying the parenthood she feels has been thrust upon her? She says she wants to be with Luke, but only ever calls him to ask for his police perspective on the case. She can write wherever she is so does she even want the life she had in the UK any more? I knew what I wanted to happen, mainly for Ani’s sake more than anything as she’s already been left by two parents. The case really gelled for me as Mila comes across clues such as Gosia’s scrapbook/ journal and the video clip she watches from the Bosnian war. This piece of film is such a moment of horror amongst the lighter tone of the book so far, that it has a huge impact. The politics and complexities of the Balkan War are well researched and it was so interesting I wished it had been introduced earlier in the novel, perhaps as a separate time strand. I felt as if I was really gripped by the mystery for the first time, but it didn’t seem long before the e-book ended. This might not seem so jarring when reading a physical copy as we get more sense of where we are in a novel when we’re turning the pages. I truly enjoyed the way the threads of the case linked back in history and I also liked the short trip back to Sophie and Mila’s teenage years to get a flavour of their friendship. The relationship between Ani and Mila tugged at my heartstrings though and kept reading in the hope that Mila would find a way of being with Ani and perhaps staying in France where I felt she belonged.
I love Jojo Moyes. Like many people I was introduced to her writing with the novel Me Before You. I became immediately attached to Louisa Clark, mainly because I felt that Moyes had created her character by stepping inside my head! My husband was paralysed due to MS and when I fell in love with him he was in a similar wheelchair to Will, with the same interests and charismatic spirit. Sadly, I lost him in 2007 and I have read Moyes’ follow up novels and found her depiction of grief and moving forward intelligent, moving and real.
The Giver of Stars is a different type of novel, more historical fiction than romance. It’s setting is the Depression era and a small town in rural Kentucky where the Van Cleeve family own the mines where most people work. Levels of rural poverty are high, African-Americans are still subject to segregation and while middle class women are expected to stay home and know their place, women in poorer families are working hard while trying their best to feed and look after ever-growing families. Into this setting comes Alice, the English bride of the heir to this mining fortune. Bennet Van Cleeve is handsome and considerate, and their marriage seems to start well but once they reach the family home things change. Bennet lives with his father and the death of his mother still hangs heavy over the house, with everything still being run to her exacting standards. Alice finds she has little to do and the house is full of her late mother-in-law’s ornaments and china dolls. She daren’t change anything because Mr Van Cleeve doesn’t like anything to be out of it’s normal place. More worrying is the change in Bennet now they are home, despite showing some desire at the beginning, the proximity to his father seems to be affecting their sex life. Several months down the line their marriage is still unconsummated and Mr Van Cleeve keeps hinting about grandchildren, adding to the pressure she feels.
When a town meeting is called to discuss President Roosevelt’s initiative to get the rural poor reading, Alice senses an opportunity and an outlet for her unspent energy. Margery O’Hare will head up the initiative. She is an outspoken and self-sufficient women who doesn’t listen to the opinion of anyone else, particularly men. She opens a door for Alice to escape the claustrophobic Van Cleeve household, into the wild forests of Kentucky. Alice learns to ride a mule, and along with Margery and two other local women she sets out as a librarian for the Packhorse Library. At first, rural locals are suspicious of an Englishwoman coming to the door offering them books, but soon Alice finds a way in and starts to be trusted. She also finds she likes the open air, the smells of the forest and singing of the birds. She enjoys the freedom of more casual clothes and the camaraderie she is building up with her fellow librarians. She is close to Margery and when she confides about her marriage, Margery loans her a book she has been sneaking out with the novels and recipes. It is an instruction book on married love and Margery has been loaning it to poor women on her rounds who are inundated with children and need educating about sex. Alice takes the book home and a series of events are set in motion that change not only the Van Cleeve household, but the whole town.
Old Mr Van Cleeve is determined to deal with Margery O’Hare and vows to destroy the Packhorse Library altogether. Margery is shrewd and is sure that a devastating flood had more behind it than high rainfall and suspects the mines. However, she has left herself vulnerable with what Van Cleeve sees as evidence of transgressive behaviour: she is exposed as having a relationship out of wedlock, she has hired an African-American woman who used to run the coloured library and she is encouraging townswomen to take control of their own lives. She seems impervious to other people’s disapproval so what lengths will he have to go to in order to stop her? Meanwhile, Alice starts to fall into a friendship with Frank who helps out at the library by chopping wood, putting up shelves and being a general handyman. They bond over poetry and spend hours talking and working side by side in the library building. The other librarians have seen what’s happening, but Alice doesn’t seem to realise this man is falling in love with her.
I loved this book and writing about it again has made me want to reread it. I was on holiday the first time and I stayed in my holiday cottage for two days to read it cover to cover. As always with Moyes, it is beautifully written and researched, with characters I fell in love with. She writes about relationships with so much insight and emotional intelligence. She captures the tensions of the Depression perfectly, depicting the rural poverty where work is scarcer and poor women really take the brunt of the economic conditions. Stuck at home with ever growing families they must have felt desperate for a break. They had land to grow vegetables and keep livestock, but there was still worry over where the next meal was coming from and hoping and praying that there are no more mouths to feed. Just as in the recent pandemic, money worries and pressure meant more domestic abuse. Margery is determined to educate these women to keep themselves safe and prevent their families growing. The town hasn’t kept up with the national shift in women’s attitudes and opportunities. Moyes shows that feminine power is on the rise and the new attitudes towards feminism, as well as marriage and sex, could end up battling against old money and old values. For the women, the poorer families and those residents who are African-American losing the power struggle could be disastrous, and some characters might pay a high price. I was braced for tragedy, but found myself desperate for the progressive characters and attitudes to prevail. It was this struggle that built the tension and kept me reading till 2am! Moyes achieved something real, romantic and historically significant with this novel, but most of all it is simply great storytelling. This book is an absolute must read and I still think it is probably her best novel to date.
Lizzy’s last novel was a great modern romantic comedy that, thanks to it’s main character, managed to avoid being too schmaltzy and sentimental. It also contained a healthy dose of self-discovery and self-love for a young woman who was low in confidence and used to drifting in life. In The SetUp she’s done it again. Mara is just the sort of quirky and unsure girl that readers fall in love with and I did. Being in my late forties, Mara reminded me of a time I wasn’t sure of myself and I mostly wanted to give her some hope and a big motherly hug. We meet Mara as she’s leaving for a weekend in Prague with her best friend Charlie. This is going to be real quality time for them, something that’s been difficult to get organise since her friend became a Mum. Everything in her friend’s life has changed and while Mara is pleased for her, she can’t help but feel pushed out. Charlie’s going through a whole raft of life experiences that Mara simply can’t identify with or share. The holiday is an attempt to get their friendship back on track so she’s terribly disappointed when Charlie cancels at the last minute. So Mara is in Prague alone and while wandering one day she sees a sign for palmistry and fortune telling. Mara is astrology mad, often reading her daily horoscope first thing in the morning. So on a whim she decides to have her fortune told. There is a change on the horizon, the fortune teller explains, a tall and dark man will literally walk into her life imminently. This is everything Mara has wanted to hear and she’s still digesting the news when the fortune teller explains she has to run, even leaving the keys for Mara to lock up. Within seconds the door opens and in walks a tall, dark and handsome musician called Josef, all set to play cello in the nearby concert hall. He asks for his fortune and who is Mara to object? She wants to get to know him better, because this might be her ‘one’. So she gives him a very specific fortune – when he comes to play in England later that year he will meet a woman called Mara in the pub on the seafront at Broadgate and she is his destiny.
Mara has been drifting through life. After knowing what she wanted to do from an early age and doggedly followed her dream of going to film school. She now has an encyclopaedic knowledge of classic cinema and rom-coms too of course. She even has a little card index of all the films she’s seen, because she loves nothing better than showing one of them to someone who’s never seen it before. She completed almost three years of her degree course, when a lack of confidence and blind love and trust for someone proved to be a toxic combination. She thought that he was the one. He thought he knew more about film than Mara, because he had the more serious taste, for art house cinema. As they worked on their final project together, Mara was envisioning them being a great team and she was proud of her script about a taxi driver falling in love with a passenger. All was well until Mara heard what her boyfriend really thought, both of her and her work. Then to add to her broken heart, he stole her film. Unable to stick up for herself and claim the work as her own, instead she packed her bags and left university for good. Now living in sunny Broadgate, on the south coast, Mara is trying to make friends with her work colleagues at the town’s 1930’s lido. Directly on the sea front, the lido is a great example of Art Deco architecture but isn’t used nearly enough by the people of the town. Mara is full of ideas, but it’s whether her boss will agree to them. Every idea she puts forward seems to be blocked or put on the back burner to think about at a later date. Mara senses there is more to this than mere apathy and starts investigating. To improve her finances she advertises for a new roommate and is gratified to find Ash, a local handyman/ builder who is keen to make friends, but also help her revamp the flat. Finally and to add to her new found enthusiasm for work, she decides on a bold new look at the hair salon too. When Josef arrives in the autumn every aspect of her life is going to be perfect.
I’m guessing that Lizzy Dent is placed within ‘women’s fiction’ or categorised as modern romance, two descriptors that critics can be sniffy and superior about. I think this book is the very best of it’s genre and isn’t simply a romance, at least not the conventional sort. What I enjoyed most about this book was the transformation of Mara, from her new look and the confidence it brings, to the inner growth that becomes wisdom and really transforms her outlook on life. As Mara works on the big anniversary project for the lido she starts to appreciate her new home town and the history of the incredible Art Deco building where she works. The excitement about her work brings her closer to her colleagues and they start to really bond as friends, in fact it is Samira from work who recommends a hairdresser to give Mara’s look an overhaul. She starts to appreciate their quirks and their work skills. In turn they are impressed by Mara’s ideas and enthusiasm and their appreciation gives her confidence professionally. The negative voice that was once a constant narrator in her mind, becomes quieter, allowing a stronger, more nurturing voice to develop. I was desperate for this little team to triumph and save such a unique landmark for their community.
Romantically, Mara isn’t remotely self-aware. She believes in fate, destiny and ‘the one’ – a viewpoint that her new roommate Ash finds hilarious. He doesn’t believe there’s a ‘one’ or a specific destiny awaiting him. I loved his common sense approach to life and love. He tries to get Mara to see that Josef is merely a fantasy and the likelihood of him turning up is very slim. He wants Mara to grab hold of life and to make choices for herself: pursue things that make her happy; wear things that make her confident and comfortable; improve her relationship with the family she seems to have cut out of her life. The author keeps us guessing over what will come next for Mara and I wanted to carry on reading straight through in one sitting to find out. I became so invested in her as a character and Ash is so loveable too, the sort of man I just know gives the best hugs. The depiction of female friendships is so positive and true to life. I haven’t had children and only became a stepmum at the age of 46, so I felt that distance when my friends became mums like Charlie. I had to learn how much they needed new friends who were going through the same thing, but they needed their old friends to hang in there just as much. I loved the last minute twist to the tale that forces Mara to make a choice, between the destiny and romantic fantasy of the old Mara and the more confident and certain Mara, able to make her own choices with conviction rather than leaving the universe to decide on her behalf.
Published by Viking 9th June 2022
Meet The Author
Lizzy Dent (mis)spent her early twenties working in a hotel not unlike the one in her first novel, The Summer Job. Soon to be a TV series! She somehow ended up in a glamorous job travelling the world creating content for various TV companies, including MTV, Channel 4, Cartoon Network, the BBC and ITV. She writes about women who don’t always know where they’re going in life, but who always have fun doing it. The Setup is her second novel.
Evie Del Rio was the one, as far as Ed Nash was concerned.
Their teenage love was the inspiration for his song ‘Used to Be’ and helped Ed’s indie band, The Mountaineers, to international fame.But when Evie and her family suddenly up sticks and leave their London home without a forwarding address, she leaves a heartbroken Ed behind too.
Over thirty years later, washed up rocker Ed is suddenly back in the limelight when Evie’s love song is used as the theme tune for a new TV drama. Once the song is later featured on TV documentary ‘Musical Muses: The Girl in the Song’ it’s suddenly not just Ed who’s asking…
What happened to Evie Del Rio?
As a child of the 90’s I loved how this book opened with teenager Cassie finding out her mum is the inspiration behind one of the songs of the decade. Thanks to the 90’s becoming all the rage and an inspiration for TV, ‘Mum’s Song’ as Cassie and her brother now call it, is having a resurgence. Written back when her mum and musician Ed Nash were dating in the 1980’s, it wasn’t released until his band The Mountaineers produced their debut album ten years later. Now it’s one of the most downloaded songs of 2018. Cassie thinks the song isn’t bad, but the lyrics that have graced many a wedding become a bit cringe when you realise they’re about your Mum. As a teen I dreamed of meeting Damon Albany, who of course would fall madly in love with me and I would become his muse. So there was an element of nostalgia and wish fulfilment drawing me in from the first page.
Then we see the same situation from Genie’s point of view. Genie is Cassie’s mum and was once Evie Del Rio. Now she’s Genie, mum of two and with ‘a lovely big hunk of a husband’ called Gray. I was intrigued by what had made Evie’s family leave London all those years ago. Along with the change of name, there seemed to be something more going on than avoiding embarrassment over a song and a long ago romance with a rock star. Son Will is really taking the brunt of his mum’s newfound notoriety. Even adults think Genie was some sort of sex kitten and teenage boys don’t hold back. They chant about how many pop stars his mum has shagged on the football field, well they did until he broke someone’s nose. Yet Ed keeps blithely on, talking about his relationship with Evie and the origin of the song. Genie says he’s embellishing, but something about that time clearly gets under her skin. As we travel back and forth to Genie’s teens, when she’s still Evie, we slowly see more of their story revealed and secrets emerge that have been kept for a long time.
I thought this was an interesting idea for a book and as a middle aged stepmum to teenage girls I loved the idea of them getting an insight into the past. Imagine suddenly finding out that the person they see every day was once as exciting and full of promise as they are now. The multiple perspectives kept my interest, because it showed how the situation affects different members of the family. I loved Genie’s husband Gray, a lovely, solid and reliable anchor in a difficult time for his family. There are sensitive issues, but they are handled with care and empathy. I would recommend this nostalgic read, full of endearing characters and with a central mystery that unfolds slowly and with sensitivity.
Published by Cahill Davies 8th July 2022
Meet the Author
I’ve always enjoyed the written word and I have a great passion for music so I decided to put the two together and the result is my debut novel ‘What Happened to Evie Del Rio?’
I like to think I’m enjoying my ‘middle youth’ rather than my ‘middle age’. I’m married and Mum to two sons and a black rescue cat called Hector.
I enjoy going to gigs and discovering new music. I also love reading women’s fiction but I do have a bit of a penchant for crime and psychological thrillers! If I’m not on social media, reading or listening to music then you will probably find me on a football pitch cheering on my youngest son and his team.
Three estranged sisters. Six months to come back together.
When Georgie, Iris and Nola’s mother died and their father disappeared into his grief, the sisters made a pact: they would always be there for one another, no matter what.
Now, decades later, they haven’t spoken for years and can barely stand to be in the same room. As his health declines, their father comes up with a plan to bring them back to one another. In his will, he states that before they can claim their inheritance, they must spend six months living together in their childhood home in the village of Ballycove, Ireland, and try to repair their broken relationships.
As the months progress, old resentments boil over, new secrets threaten to come out and each sister must decide what matters more: their pride, or their family. Can they overcome their past and find a way to love each other once more?
This is another comforting instalment of what Faith Hogan does best – the charm and quirks of an Irish village, picturesque settings, a pinch of humour, and complicated female relationships. The latter being three sisters with so many differences it might take a lifetime to sort them out, never mind six months. Each has enough endearing qualities that it’s possible to see through the more difficult parts of their personalities. Iris is the oldest sister and, to borrow a phrase from Helen Fielding, the other two see her as ‘the smug married one’. Neither can stand Iris’s husband Miles, who is controlling, unfaithful and created a rift in the family when he was caught stealing from the family distillery. Georgie loathes him for that and the creepy hold he seems to have over their elder sister, a resentment that possibly dates back to Iris’s role as mum to the younger girls when their mother died. I felt for Iris the most. Having stuck her neck out for Miles in their teenage years, he repaid her by stealing when he should have been learning the distillery’s secrets in order to take over from their father. Over the years Iris has become lost, acquiescing to Miles’s wishes even when it came down to something very important to her. She wanted children. He didn’t. Now he has a mistress, a baby on the way and would like to talk Iris into giving him everything they own. Georgie has the balls in the family and was determined to leave Ballycove and make a success of her life. Now in her thirties she’s expecting promotion and a partnership at the marketing firm where she works, but the board have decided against it. It turns out that Georgie is universally disliked by all her co-workers. Her work is exceptional, but her manner is rude and condescending. Unable to take being passed over, Georgie’s summons home comes at just the right time. However, underneath her bullish exterior she is devastated at the loss of her father who she was very close to. The youngest sister, Nola, is the beauty of the family and the baby. She spent her teens desperate for a life beyond Ballycove and moved to London as soon as she could to study acting. Having had a burst of success playing a favourite new addition in a British soap opera, she turned an original two week part into years, but was recently shocked to be told she was being killed off. Unable to admit to failure, after a long time attending auditions which came to nothing, Nola is returning home broke and without an agent.
I loved the way these sister’s personalities rub against each other, often in complete ignorance or misunderstanding of how the other is feeling. They neglect to realise that they need to meet as they are now. They’re making assumptions about each other based on old information, they base it on the way they acted as teenagers because that’s when they were last this close. To place them back in the family home, while grieving and with all these old resentments flying around, is a massive gamble and I enjoyed finding out whether it would pay off. The way that each sister veered towards their own niche within the estate was fun, because it balanced out the arguing and negativity. Here each woman was in their element: Iris loves creating homes and cozy spaces for people to enjoy; Georgie loves a challenge and when that’s matched with a tribute to their mother she’s all fired up; Nola starts to realise that here in Ballycove she’s been successful and can now use that experience to help others follow their dreams. There’s a wisdom that comes with age and the sisters are surprised to meet others who stayed or returned home. It’s Iris who seems to make that connection in her mind, that she can have what she wants and be fulfilled as she is. She doesn’t need a man to help her reach her dreams and she is surprisingly capable. I was desperate for her to send Miles on his way and realise her own worth, to fight her corner, but I had to wait to the very end to find out whether she would. The main focus though is the three sisters and whether they can come together, to use their complimentary skills to keep their childhood home and their parent’s memories alive. This is a cozy but emotionally intelligent read, all set within beautiful countryside and written by an author whose love for rural Ireland is evident throughout.
Meet The Author
Faith Hogan is an award-winning and bestselling author of seven contemporary fiction novels. Her books have featured as Book Club Favorites, Net Galley Hot Reads and Summer Must Reads. She writes grown up women’s fiction which is unashamedly uplifting, feel good and inspiring.
Faith’s Kindle Number 1 bestselling book, The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club is published in May 2021. Your 2022 Faith Hogan fix – The Gin Sisters’ Promise is out now!
She writes twisty contemporary crime fiction as Geraldine Hogan.
She lives in the west of Ireland with her family and a very busy Labrador named Penny. She’s a writer, reader, enthusiastic dog walker and reluctant jogger – except of course when it is raining!