Three Weddings and a Proposal by Sheila O’Flanagan – a woman must consider her options in contemporary Dublin

Three Weddings and a Proposal by Sheila O’Flanagan 

Delphine’s story is at the heart of this contemporary novel which deals with a woman’s choices. On one level she is a successful woman, an Executive assistant to Conrad Morgan, a multimillionaire businessman. Her relationship with her boss is one of devotion “I never want him to be disappointed. He depends on me to deliver”. He is the head of an investment firm, moving and growing other people’s money and he is remarkably successful. Delphine is first seen buying a bracelet for his young and beautiful girlfriend Bianca, a fabulous thirtieth birthday present with beauty and history. On the other hand, Delphi as she is known to her extensive family, has no permanent boyfriend, or husband, an empty if wonderful house, a career which takes her on amazing trips around the world. She has female friends, but it soon emerges that she cannot find a plus one for her brother’s wedding. This book looks at, through Delphine’s eyes, how women think of their work, their careers and relationships. Her voice is of a woman who wonders if she has it all, indeed, whether she wants everything. Lively, funny and realistic, this is a story of  a woman whose family has expectations of marriage as the route to happiness, who has business acumen if not ambition, and has to consider in a relatively short time her options. I really enjoyed it and found it an enthralling read. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this contemporary novel. 

The book opens as Delphine is trying to buy a bracelet for some £100,000 while coping with the demands of her brother to let him know the name of her plus one for his wedding. She comes from a large family in Dublin, where it is important to live close to each other in all senses. Delphine’s singleness is a cause for concern for her family, and the nature of her relationship with her demanding boss is perhaps misunderstood. A law graduate, her successful career has been built on arranging life for Conrad, making sure he is at all his meetings well prepared, his business and charitable interests well organised. Although not earning money directly for the company, she eases the way for Conrad to earn fantastic amounts for investors and himself. She likes his wife Martha, the ultimate executive’s wife, making a home for him and the children and entertaining contacts suitably. More recently Conrad has found a much younger girlfriend, and while Delphine has met her and quite enjoys her company, she knows that Conrad’s lifestyle has changed. An unpredicted event means that Delphine must consider everything, her relationships with past boyfriends, her family’s expectations for her. She realises that men’s and women’s attitudes to their careers are so different  that it can be difficult to understand where they overlap. She also realises several things about herself, if only how she reacts to pressures that she could have never foreseen.

This book has much to say about women’s lives in a post – pandemic world. It speaks of their fear of missing out compared with their career progress, the pressure from well meaning family and friends to “settle”, and the real need to find their own way. It shows real insight, a powerful view of women’s lives through fiction, a strong voice in the face of discrimination against women in the workplace despite their progress towards equality. It is entertaining and meaningful, a real dose of reality amongst the humour and personal crisis. The writing takes the reader along, cleverly posing and answering questions, and I recommend it as a vividly written novel of a woman’s life and choices. 

Nearest Thing to Crazy by Elizabeth Forbes When a life is questioned…

Nearest Thing to Crazy by Elizabeth Forbes

It all begins so innocently. A village group of friends enjoying lunch together. Everyone is relatively well off, living in beautiful houses, knowing who their friends are, certain of their place. There may have been cracks; an affair, difficult parents, money worries. There is nothing really to worry about, though, everyone is so nice. Into this perfect summer day walks Ellie. Attractive, vibrant, she catches the eye, is reluctant to share her own story but open to everyone else’s secrets. She seems keen to blend in, even bond. She seems to be alone, having moved into a new barn conversion, apparently fleeing from London. Cassandra is welcoming, attempting to include her, offering lifts, an outing. Within days something seems to be not quite right, confidences exchanged are used, “concerned” allegations are made. Cassandra begins to think that there is more to Ellie than meets the eye, and that writing a novel may be a cover for something else, far closer to home.

This is a brilliantly written and plotted tale of clever invasion of a conciousness, seen from the eyes of a woman who is rapidly becoming concerned and confused about this new person in her life. Cassandra, narrator and perhaps victim is a woman who begins to feel besieged in the most insidious of ways. This is a sort of domestic thriller, though not in the sense of physical danger. Cassandra is married to a man, Dan, whom she loves but who can be distant. Their only child, Laura, is becoming distant from her, at university and apparently closer to her indulgent father. A mother who is manipulative, who likes to wound her daughter, must be visited regularly, even though nothing is ever good enough. The things that Cassandra enjoys – gardening, cooking and being in the domestic sphere, seem inadequate compared with the stylish life of Ellie, successful ex journalist and novelist. This is a book that has a lot to say about the insecurity felt by women in society, when violence is not only physical. I found this a chilling and effectively written novel, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

Cassandra loves her husband, “cosy Dan”, relaxing at weekends, interested in gossip, mostly thoughtful, despite his worries about his job in the notoriously fickle world of advertising. Laura is further away, and her visits can be spasmodic, but there is evidence that she needs her mother despite her usual air of self-containment. Cassandra’s mother, safely in a residential home is “brutally honest” bitter, accusing, and impossible to please. Cassandra has her worries, but also her joys, such as her garden, her friends, her community. Ellie seems to be trying to undermine that, suggesting that she is upset, perhaps a little unstable. Cassandra confides that she had post-natal depression when Laura was born; perhaps, it seems Ellie is suggesting, that depression is returning.

This is a novel where the narrator discovers that she is being undercut on every side, forced to question everything, must respond to what is being insinuated. She feels she has no where to turn, no one to believe her, in her doubts about her husband, her daughter, even her own thoughts. This is such a clever novel, exploring the pressures that can be placed on women in contemporary society, the control that can be exercised without being suspected. It questions what can be believed, who has the truth, even if it exists. It works on the fears that many people have, especially women. An intense read, it has much to say about the nature of truth, and how far we can trust others and our own perceptions of life.    

The Ash Museum by Rebecca Smith – a intergenerational story of memory, life and small objects

The Ash Museum by Rebecca Smith

Every family has the objects, bits and pieces that can bring alive generations past, bring back memories of those that maybe lost. In Rebecca Smith’s novel the Ash family is brought vividly to life in an imaginary museum of the seemingly inconsequential newspaper cuttings, tickets, photographs and so much more. Focusing on the life of Emmie, child of the 1970s with all its casual racism, and following her through various other phases of her life up until and including 2012, it also reveals the story of her grandfather, plantation manager in India, her father, child of an invisible family, and the family in Britain who waited and dealt with the unexpected. Told in a way that is deeply affecting yet retaining some humour, this book tackles different events and experiences from the existence of the everyday items that mark out lives, from chair backs to school jumpers, an old atlas, postcards and fragments of broken china. Subtly lives end, lives begin, and lives change forever, summed up in objects with brief museum labels. Despite the different time periods, the variety of experiences and the suggestions of objects from various countries and times, this book flows well and leaves the reader to pick up the hints of emotions, injustices and expectations. This is a beautifully written novel that quickly becomes absorbing as the reader highlights the essence of the small histories contained in objects of great familiarity. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this enjoyable book.

The book opens with a welcome to the Ash Museum, “telling the story of one hundred years of the Ash family”. It warns that it is not going to be chronological, but actually I think that it is one of the valuable elements of the books that it does move between decades, telling short or longer stories, illustrating glimpses of relatable life. A large section tells of Jay and his experiences with his small daughter Emmie, as a village fete highlights the assumptions of misconceptions attached to people who were different in the 1970s, painful hints of behaviour that amounts to racism. Emmie’s own experiences hints of a girl who stands out, deals with challenges, and enjoys friendship. Another section deals with James’ life in India, a generation before, when a young woman is taken from the tea fields to be an invisible wife, have children who are loved, struggle with a new lifestyle. Individuals are introduced, my favourite being the dependable Lucinda who resolves to make the best of new responsibilities with additions to her life.

This is such a well written and inviting book, which makes a virtue of different points of view, the little hints of life that convey so much. Emmie is a wonderful character, with decided views on her life, happy in the unexpected gift of a child, sensitive to the stories to be found in a family museum with few visitors, as well as the tiny objects that remind her of a previous generation. Her experiences of a childhood in the 1970s, when being a person of colour caused some fairly offensive behaviour is so well handled, with affection and an eye to so many subtexts. This is a lovely book which combines historical fiction with insights into more contemporary life, offering vivid insights into the lives of women, of family stories, and the impact of memories.  

A Thousand Goodbyes by Ruth Graham – The Surprising Life of a Funeral Celebrant

A Thousand Goodbyes by Ruth Graham

There are some jobs and occupations that mean seeing a lot of life, and being a funeral celebrant is one of those jobs. Meeting the families and friends of those who have recently suffered a loss can be daunting, but in Ruth’s hands it becomes vivid and even life affirming. Having endured mixed receptions as a stand up comedian, she has encountered tough audiences, unhelpful comments and startling circumstances before; in this book at least people are usually willing to listen, but there is still a large element of the unknown. I have taken a couple of funerals myself, my Vicar husband has taken hundreds, and yes, I have been that family a few times. Ruth manages to take this most basic of urges, to say goodbye, and makes something of it, when the family is fulsome or reticent, providing few details about the deceased beyond the fact that “she liked ironing”. This account is lively and not full of sadness; instead it reflects on the things that can go wrong in a time when the writer is ‘on show’, the human, mechanical and other slip ups that could ruin an event, when the group of people present often do not comment but merely look shocked. Like all books which reflect on a person’s profession there will be points of recognition for common experiences, and sometimes a wince of shared pain. It is not only a solo recitation of varied experiences as Ruth includes short stories by other celebrants of their significant memories, and they are certainly different! This is a memorable book – in the right sense- and I was very interested to read and review it.

One of the many interesting things about this book is to discover that funeral celebrants like Ruth are not necessarily humanists who will not allow any hint of religion in the service. Her abiding rule is that it is for the family to decide what goes into the service. Her job is to take what she is told, even if it proves to be fictional as on one occasion, and make it into a positive experience if at all possible. It does make life difficult when the family or friends have little material to offer, or want to offer tributes that simply take up too much time in a crematorium where each service has its slot which must not be exceeded. There are touching stories of where a family has few material resources to pay for the farewell, as well as those who have the money but not the will to actually spend it. There are funny stories, entertaining tales of the simple logistics of going into family homes where a range of human and pet behaviours come to the fore. It is not a depressing read, if only because of Ruth’s willingness to tell a story, even if it is against herself.

Ruth is keen to point out that having an “ordinary” life is not the point. “In fact, the more funerals I do, the more staggering stories of bravery, evil, hardship, generosity and love, I see. Lives full of drama that you couldn’t make up. It’s the stuff of best sellers!”. For a book with this subject it is a positive book, an admission that while doing her best, and working hard, things may not go quite to plan.

The events of the last months are tackled in the final section. Admitting the difficulty of taking a funeral with a tiny number of people, Ruth points out that she says to families that it is not a show, but an opportunity to mark a loss together without “the eyes of others upon them”. Her final encouragement is “to live your life to the full…and we will find the words.” This is a book that is full of finding the words to describe the most difficult of days, but with a lot of dedication.   

How to be Both by Ali Smith – Two views of life, time, art and so much more

How to be Both by Ali Smith

Two stories, two points of view, two ways of looking at life in different times. This is a 2014 novel that has much to say about so many subjects, and famously switched the order of the halves in different copies. The copy I tackled had the 1460s section first, before the near contemporary section. Thus mine was in chronological order, but everything else was flexible. The 1460s section is a sort of stream of consciousness story of a painter, who is brought up to make the bricks that construct the buildings around them, but learns of the way they can be painted, can be used to capture something of a person, an angel, a creature. Not that it is easy; paints cost money or at least the colours to make them, and not every one appreciates their value, their true cost to a painter. “Cause that’s all the life of a painter is, the seen and gone disappearing into the air, rain seasons, years, the ravenous beaks of the ravens. All we are is eyes looking for the unbroken or the edges where the broken bits might fit each other.” The painter looks back on their life, not knowing the end or the beginning of it, recognizing people, places, paintings, emotions and so much more. The glimpse of a woman, the walls around them, the way that life and paint could flow. The episode where the painter is asked to paint walls in a palace, to capture gods, angels and people to avoid a boring blank space, and the vital question of whether someone who paints better should be paid more. This is a vivid insight into a world of art and uncertainty, and so much more.

The second half of the book in my edition features a teenager called George. It often features dialogue written to tell the story. It is a script – like construction, with digressions into George’s though or descriptions. This is appropriate in a way; George’s late mother is the main character and she was an avid internet user who created “Subverts”, small pieces that would pop up with slogans challenging the status quo, often based on art subjects. George has pictures, a tiny bit of film, and so many memories of unusual conversations with her mother, who challenged so many assertions made by her thoughtful teenager. Impulsive and brilliant, George’s mother tried to get George to think, to appreciate art, to think about her attitudes. George tries to recreate her dancing, her language, her concerns, but is aware that essentially her mother has gone. A big adventure is to see a piece of work, paintings, that depict strange challenging figures, non specific in their way, along with the moral question as whether an artist should be paid more if the paintings are better. “Is it me or is it the work that’s worth more? George says”. There are so many points to think about, some specific to George, some questions that are for the reader to think about, overall a touching portrait of a young woman trying to reconcile death, art and so many other questions.

This is an unusual and thought provoking book which challenges the reader throughout, not just in terms of format but also in terms of content, as both sections ask so many questions. Time, chronology and so much more is a slippery concept in this book. It is a memorable and intense book, a real triumph of the novel to challenge every boundary, and to create real reactions in every reader.

Because of You by Dawn French – the intense strength of women

Because of You by Dawn French

This is a deeply felt book of one of the strongest emotions on earth, the love of parents for their child, specifically mothers. When two girls are born into a new millennium, no one could predict the paths their mothers were now on.  This is a contemporary look at how women react to events that threaten to overwhelm them. Whether affluent and well resourced, or living in a tiny flat, both women discover love and loss, and have to sort out a new way to live. With shocks and surprises en route, the author looks at the costs of motherhood and the relationships that can surround it and the families which are created and potentially sustained by the arrival of a child. With a near forensic eye for the way that people react to the unimaginable, the author has set up and explored situations which anyone would struggle with in the telling details of dialogue and characters which seem to take on their own lives. Some humour, some darkness and genuine emotions are displayed by realistic characters which range from a young student to an image obsessed politician, a hospital cleaner to a woman with seemingly unlimited resources. From the naturally intuitive to the completely dense, there are characters in this novel who transcend their time, their motives being more complex than can be easily explained. This is a moving novel which upsets and rebuilds in so many ways and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

Two couples are in delivery rooms of a London hospital. One woman is in labour with a much awaited child, as Anna is desperate for a baby to give her a purpose as she is tiring of being the appallingly self centred Julius’ wife. A midwife realizes as she tries to shove him and his camcorder out of the way “It was evident that no one could love Julius more than Julius loved himself”. As the events of the next twenty four hours, and indeed the next seventeen years unfold, it transpires that her assessment is correct. Anna will struggle, in a different way from the physical pain she is experiencing now, but will maintain her dignity and more throughout. Of the other couple, Hope is a determined young woman who is proud of her work as a hospital cleaner, for whom “This baby is a happy surprise”. Her partner, Quiet Isaac, is reacting a completely different way, whispering encouraging words. The two couples are polar opposites in their relationships, their dreams for their daughters. When catastrophic events overtake them, their different reactions speak so much of the people they are, and who they will become.

This is a powerful novel which provides some deeply emotional moments as the intensity of mother love is revealed. It is not only the four protagonists who have to cope and move on with their lives, but those around them who are variously surprised and moved by the situations of the women. This is a book of strong women whose strength is destined to be shown in different ways with rare intensity. The characters, the settings and the lively dialogue all contribute to an amazing reading experience.

Lost Property by Helen Paris – a young woman wants to organise loss in a sophisticated and enjoyable contemporary tale

Lost Property by Helen Paris

Dot Watson is a very particular person. Her work in the Lost Property office in London means that she accepts all the items that people have left behind,  disregarded, or simply lost on various forms of transport across London. Labelling such objects correctly and placing them in the well ordered stacks is very satisfying; returning the correct item to someone pleases her even more, like a miniature mystery solved. She is always methodical in her life, wearing a uniform of her own devising, carefully avoiding social events and trying to reduce what could be chaos into a manageable lifestyle. As this young woman narrates her own story, events begin to create more challenges that cannot be controlled, and her sense of loss begins to overwhelm her.

 This novel of contemporary life looks at family, secrets and lies, how women in particular make choices that define their own and others’ lives, and how loss of special relationships can affect everything. While not the first novel of a lonely young woman whose life is restricted by the past, this is a sophisticated and unmelodramatic book that brings out so much about every character, even the minor contributors, and the importance of objects. Paris is so skilled in capturing how objects can evoke a person, a memory, an emotion. As she tells the story of Dot, her memories and her relationship with her parents and sister, the freedom of a past life, this very human story endues objects with a life that is more than the debris of the unwanted, instead making even mundane items take on importance. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this enjoyable book.

The novel opens with a prologue, describing how a thoughtful Dot is sometimes to be found paying “attention to details”, and “staring at the rows and rows of loss”. She had once wanted to be a librarian, keeping tickets safe, ordering books, obeying rules. She has made looking after lost property a vocation, in contrast with her colleagues, who temporarily mislay things, mess up the system, are not interested in the imperative to keep things safe. As the novel progresses we are told of Dot’s mother, forgetting reality and the daughters who make decisions for her. Philippa is her older sister, with her wealthy husband and perfect children. She too has a passion for order, for cleanliness, for sorting out people. Despairing of Dot, eager to deal with her mother on her own terms, Philippa is the would be matchmaker who is keen to organize people rather than objects.  Dot treasures memories of her father, the two of them having imaginary adventures, solving memories in the way of earlier residents of Baker Street. A traumatic memory, a secret life and the determination to reunite a person with their treasured objects causes Dot to swerve from her course and discover more.

This is a carefully written book which brings the character of Dot as she narrates her experiences alive. Paris has succeeded in explaining an arcane system  which mainly predates computers through the eyes of someone who understands the importance of order. She is so good at describing the layers of objects, the small details that makes the difference between apparently similar umbrellas, bags and the everyday things that tell stories in a detective like manner. It is a touching picture of a mother who has become confused, lost and distant from those who remember and love her. I particularly enjoyed Paris’ description of a silent London hinting at the past, of how “the city reveals the layers of its history”, of the people who walked there over the century. This is a very readable book which offers real insights into a woman’s life and has hints of realistic humour in its relaxed style.       

My Kind of Happy by Cathy Bramley – Fearne wants to discover what truly makes her happy

My Kind of Happy: The new feel-good, funny novel from the Sunday Times  bestseller: Amazon.co.uk: Bramley, Cathy: 9781409186793: Books

My kind of Happy by Cathy Bramley

This book asks the question “What makes you happy?” Cathy Bramley has written a novel which is moving, funny and romantic, as a young woman asks herself this question in the wake of a family tragedy which occurred a year before the book begins. As Fearne comes to terms with her loss, especially in the face of other people moving on with their lives, she begins to realise that settling for a safe job with little adventure is now not enough, that she must actively seek out what makes her happy. The discovery that she wants to use her love of flowers, arranging them and passing them on to make others happy is central to this novel. Bramley has created characters that linger in the mind with their various attributes, ways of speaking, and expression of what they want and need from life. The setting, of a small Derbyshire village which features characters from other novels, is a comforting creation with real a sense of community. Those characters who have previously featured in other novels add to the texture of the book, but are sufficiently well established in this book that no previous knowledge of Bramley’s writing is necessary, but it adds a sense of recognition for interested readers. Fearne discovers a lot about flowers in this novel, not just how to arrange them but also how they can have a real effect on peoples lives, not least on life events but also in expressing feelings. As she discovers that coping in a small business is not always easy, despite her skills, she must come to terms with the complexities of life. Featuring a special dog, Scamp, and some fascinating people, this is a really enjoyable book.

The book opens with Fearne and her best friend Laura at a spa, as both seem to need a boost. Laura is an accountant, tired after the beginning of the year tax tussle, but Fearne admits in her role as narrator “I’d been stuck in a rut for months now and couldn’t see my way out of it”, so she will try even a crystal healing session. After the mixed feelings revealed in the session, Laura reveals a secret which rocks everything for Fearne. Within hours though she realizes she must move on from her situation, and the discovery of an old letter makes her revaluate everything, including her job in marketing which has occupied her for years. Remembering her deep love for her grandmother’s occupation of florist, she signs up for a brief course, and the discovery of a village where a wedding is taking place results in not only meeting new people, but the decision to take a chance on a new career.

This book demonstrates Bramley’s skill in establishing multi dimensional characters, who all have their gestures and quirks which attract, infuriate and make them seem very real. As she comes to know a new community and makes new friends, she discovers that her life involves real risks in order to achieve what she wants. This is a genuinely enjoyable book which I found to be involving, charming and entertaining. Originally published in four ebooks, this paperback edition drew me in for the four sections which actually flowed very well. Fearne is a lovely character whose honest, if fictional, progress is far from smooth but really engaging. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it as an wonderfully escapist read.     

Escaping from the Shadows by C. L Tustin – a young woman faces problems of family and friends.

Escaping From the Shadows by C L Tustin

This is Anastasia’s story, told with surprises and a range of secrets revealed. She seems to have it all; she is attractive, vibrant and talented. Her father was a rock star, she moves in wealthy circles with a house in the country and Belgravia, London, and has wealthy friends. On the negative side, her mother died tragically when she was young, and her father abuses her in several ways. This is an intensely written, fast paced novel of a certain lifestyle in the late twentieth century, imaging the relationship between two or three families interconnected by obsession, attraction and jealousy. It revolves around Anastasia Travess and Piers Talbot, their special relationship against the background of his brothers and the remarkable events of a few months. It takes place in wonderful houses, nightclubs and similar venues, all described in striking terms. It all makes for a compelling read, which I found hard to resist one started. I found it an exciting novel, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this dramatic book.

The book opens with a desperate woman taking her small daughter with her in the night, driving her husband’s Bentley. It becomes obvious that leaving her husband is something that she has been pressed to do by her friends, concerned by her husband’s treatment of her. Exactly twenty years later that once small girl, Anastasia,  reflects on her mother’s death during that desperate flight, and where that has left her with her father whose frequent affairs and cruelty have left her wishing to avoid him. As her favourite person, Piers, arrives at the house, she is overjoyed to see him despite the presence of her current boyfriend, Bryan Darnel. She is hosting a Christmas party, but not all the guests are welcome, including her own father and one of Piers’ brothers, Mark. Piers is worried for his own father, and when Anastasia’s relationship breaks down, he is aware that he must travel abroad for his work for extended periods, so asks if she has truly finished her relationship with Mark from several years before the events of this novel. He suggests that she gives him another  chance. Their relationship soon becomes difficult, especially as there are many unresolved issues between them, including Piers’ long time connection with Anastasia. There are several other people on the scene, including two members of her father’s old band, one of whom is married to her godmother who knew her mother well. As the situation develops, unfortunate questions arise involving guilt and memories, obsession and secrets.

This is a book in which deep feelings spiral into violence, and the borderline between love and hate becomes very thin. It is fast paced, as a variety of places are the site of strange events, and people meet various challenges. It is a story of sibling rivalry and difficult family relationships, mixed with danger and recrimination. It is a complex story of a young woman dealing with life and love. I found it entertaining as it deals with the lives of the rich and within the novel, famous. This is a book which acknowledges that some relationships are about control and oppression, which can spiral into awkward and painful confrontations. It is an intense read.    

Coming Home to Maple Cottage by Holly Martin – a perfect autumn winter escapist read

Coming Home to Maple Cottage by Holly Martin

Coming Home to Maple Cottage by Holly Martin

This is a charming autumn/winter book, with events happening throughout the seasons. Holly Martin has created some vibrant and realistic characters dealing with less than perfect situations, complex family issues and challenges along with romance. Sandcastle Bay is a coastal village where the story is set and some of the characters have appeared in other books, but this is very much a standalone book which I enjoyed (and read quite fast!). Isla Rosewood lives in a cottage with her nephew Elliot following her brother Matthew’s death. Elliot’s mother effectively disappeared before the tragedy, so Isla has given up her flat, career and life in London to look after the little boy. She has support from her family, but the real involvement in their lives comes from Leo Jackson, Matthew’s best friend and Elliot’s godfather. Leo has a difficult history in the village, and Isla knows him well enough to be wary of him, but his care for Elliot is transforming, and she begins to wonder. A series of challenges makes for difficult decisions, and much is discovered about people, their feelings and more in this book which shows real insight into village life and contemporary relationships.

The book opens with Isla and Leo meeting four years before the main narrative of the book, on the evening before Elliot’s christening. Their encounter that night is memorable, but Leo’s behaviour drives Isla back to London. The book properly begins with Isla and Elliot living in Hot Chocolate cottage, and Leo visiting nearly every day. Having been let down previously, and knowing Leo’s reputation, Isla resolves to keep him at arm’s length as far as romance is concerned, though acknowledging that he is a positive element in Elliot’s life. This is difficult to understand for family members in the village, and those who take a great deal of interest in the affairs of others. A very funny scene in a local café shows how people are keen to know exactly what is going on, despite Isla’s reservations. As activities continue in the village, Isla, Elliot and Leo are drawn together. Her confusion is not helped by her two enormous concerns. She is not earning any money as she has been living off proceeds of her London flat sale, but it is now running out. The cottage’s mortgage is paid off, but Sadie’s, Elliot’s absent birth mother, name is still on the title deeds. Isla has been granted guardianship of Elliot, but full adoption has been difficult to achieve as no one has been able to discover Sadie’s whereabouts, though she is suspected to be somewhere exotic. With an ongoing job search and the background concern about Elliot’s future, Isla has little time to spend on considering a romantic future with the dangerously attractive Leo.

This is an enjoyable book with consistent and well-drawn characters who reflect very real life concerns. Even minor characters have their contributions to make to this frequently funny book, especially when the frank and talkative Elliot asks some awkward questions. When Isla experiences challenges and Leo faces difficulties with his past, they are evidently part of a close and enviable community. This is a well written book which has a strong romance at its heart, but also looks at real life problems. I recommend it as a contemporary escapist read which has some fascinating twists and turns.