When story-lover Anna takes over Longhampton's bookshop, it's her dream come true. And not just because it gets her away from her three rowdy stepchildren and their hyperactive Dalmatian. Unpacking boxes filled with childhood classics, Anna can't shake the feeling that maybe her own fairytale ending isn't all that she'd hoped for. But, as the stories of love, adventure, secret gardens, lost dogs, wicked witches and giant peaches breathe new life into the neglected shop, Anna and her customers get swept up in the magic too. Even Anna's best friend Michelle - who categorically doesn't believe in true love and handsome princes - isn't immune. But when secrets from Michelle's own childhood come back to haunt her, and disaster threatens Anna's home, will the wisdom and charm of the stories in the bookshop help the two friends - and those they love - find their own happy ever afters?
I've been lucky enough to have read all of Lucy Dillon's previously published novels (The Ballroom Class, Walking Back to Happiness and Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts), all of which have been brilliant stories, and such lovely reads. I was therefore thrilled to receive her new book, The Secret of Happy Ever After, complete with gorgeous wintery cover and decided I had to get stuck into it. With Lucy's books, I always feel like I'm guaranteed a lovely, heart-warming story and this book certainly delivered on that. I think I would even go so far as to say that it's my favourite of her books so far, and that's no mean feat considering how much I have loved her previous books. So without further ado, allow me to tell you exactly what it was about The Secret of Happy Ever After that had me hooked.
Although the book begins with a prologue following a new character into Longhampton called Michelle, she isn't actually what I would consider the actual main character of the book for the most part. Michelle is living alone after the end of her awful marriage to a slimy husband, and is running a very successful homewares shop. However, she won't admit her feelings of loneliness to anyone, not even her best friend Anna. When the opportunity arises to buy another shop, the bookshop next door in fact, she does and puts Anna in charge of it, knowing how much her best friend adores books of all shapes and sizes. The friendship of the pair however is soon put to the test because neither will divulge their secrets to each other, and the weight becomes too much to bear for the women. Michelle's secrets however are ones that she is sure going to ruin her hard-earnt reputation, and she's troubling herself worrying about it. She does come across quite cold and harsh, even to her best friend Anna but reasons for that do become clearer as you read on.
Anna is struggling with very different problems. I really liked Anna though, she is such a realistic character and I felt so sorry for her throughout the book. She's happily married to her husband, but the marriage isn't fulfilling Anna completely. Yes, she's step-mother to his 3 daughters, but Anna is desperate for a baby of her own and xx isn't so sure. However, Anna tries to be the best mother to the 3 girls that she can be, and run the bookshop as well, the job of her dreams really. Anna's passion for books is absolutely fantastic and it made the book such fun to read, hearing her gush about all the childhood books that I enjoyed, and seeing her trying to bring more people into reading is fantastic! I don't think I have ever read a book set in a bookshop with a character so passionate about books, and I'm really pleased Lucy Dillon has created such a wonderful character and setting for this book. She's very much the opposite of Michelle, very warm and inviting and I think that's why I warmed to her so much, there was nothing to dislike!
Something I really liked about this book was the small book reviews at the start of each chapter by characters in the book. It's just a nice little creative touch, and it was fun to be reminded of a lot of my childhood reads again, especially the fantastic Malory Towers! It was also nice to see a reappearance of the leading character from one of Dillon's previous novels, Rachel from Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts, and catch up with her and her life, without it intruding too much on this book. I just found this book was a pleasure to read from start to finish, and I never really wanted to put it down. I was so wrapped up in whether Anna was ever going to get the family of her own she'd always wanted and whether she'd make the bookshop a success, and why Michelle was such a cold fish and what exactly this dark secret is that her ex-husband holds against her throughout the book. As I said, although I felt Michelle was very cold and somewhat unlikeable in parts, you do feel sorry for her because you know something is bubbling away beneath the surface, and I was just willing the women to confide in each other! This read really touched me, I did shed a bit of a tear for a few particular scenes and I just think this is the perfect book to curl up with under a blanket and just devour... it's simply brilliant.
ISBN: 978-1444727036. Published by Hodder Paperbacks on 10th November 2011. Pages: 512. RRP: £6.99. Also available as an eBook.
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitchloe.blogspot.com
Thank you for reading.
I loved Lucy Dillon's Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts and Walking Back To Happiness. Both of these books have such a cosy feel to them and very believable storylines. Having enjoyed these books so much when I heard Dillon was releasing another book this year based in the same town as her previous two books I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy.
In The Secret of Happy Ever After we follow the lives of friends Anna and Michelle. Both are facing obstacles in their lives which they need the help of others to help them get around. Michelle is very career driven and decides to take on the shop next door to her own shop, but she has to keep the shop as a book shop for a year at least and who better than to take control of the shop than her friend Anna whose passion in life is working with books. The storyline includes the usual Lucy Dillon content with the dogs but the book also flows mainly around the topic of reading and books which for me and for main character Anna is a dream come true.
Although the book centres around both Anna and Michelle we pick up a lot about the characters around each of them so there is always something going on all the way through the book which keeps it flowing at an even pace all the way through.
Although we know both Anna and Michelle have something emotional that they are battling in their lives I felt more connection with Anna as we know straight from the off what it was that was a constant battle and a cause for upset for her so we really feel for her the whole way through the book. Whereas with Michelle we don't find out what it is that is causing her heartache until the near end of the book so at some times her character came across as a little cold and hard until we find out what lies beneath.
It is obvious from when we first meet Michelle that she has skeletons in her closet and I think this is one of the first books I have read where I couldn't guess what secret she was harbouring so I was very shocked when it was revealed towards the end as it was totally unexpected this managed to keep me intrigued all the way through this book. Due to the festive cover I was hoping there would be more of a festive feel to it but having said that I still really enjoyed this book and it is really one you can read any time of year.
There is such a lovely mix of characters in this book and this mixed with a believable storyline made for a beautiful read which I would pick up again and that I would also highly recommend.