Truly Madly Guilty – Liane Moriarty

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9/10. A very clever and perfectly suited cover image!

“Despite their differences, Erika and Clementine have been best friends since they were children. So when Erika needs help, Clementine should be the obvious person to turn to. Or so you’d think. For Clementine, as a mother of a two desperately trying to practise for the audition of a lifetime, the last thing she needs is Erika asking for something, again. But the barbecue should be the perfect way to forget their problems for a while. Especially when their hosts, Vid and Tiffany, are only too happy to distract them. Which is how it all spirals out of control…”

I’ve read most of Liane’s Moriarty’s books – I reviewed The Last AnniversaryWhat Alice Forgot and The Husband’s Secret on KCARAB – so when I saw Truly Madly Guilty on NetGalley I was quick to snap it up and delve into Liane Moriarty’s new cleverly-drawn intricate cast of characters. The strength of her novels has always lain in her protagonists and their interweaving stories, and her latest book is no different.

In Truly Madly Guilty, a raft of apposite characters and couples – cellist Clementine and laid-back Sam, neat-freak Erica and buttoned-up Oliver, former lap-dancer Tiffany and gregarious Vid – all come together for a barbecue one day, which turns out to be a fateful event. Moriarty teases out the details of the catastrophe bit by bit, switching between the hours leading up to and at the barbecue and the weeks following it. As she cleverly builds up the characters’ back stories and details from the days events, we’re led to question both exactly what happened and who was to blame for it.

What starts out as a summer event between friends leads to rifts in relationships, reveals hidden feelings and leaves everyone present feeling guilty and adrift. Will they be able to find their way back to their partners and friends – or will that one terrible day change everything forever?

Moriarty masterfully builds suspense and tension, drawing out the denouement expertly and revealing each character in rich detail. Even the characters on the edge’s of the story’s periphery – parents, grandparents and neighbours – are drawn in to this complex, dramatic and powerful novel.

Many thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for the review copy.

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Film review – Me Before You (Jojo Moyes, Thea Sharrock)

In conjunction with my review of After You – call it a Moyes-a-thon – I’m publishing my first ever film review, of books that have been turned into films, of Me Before You, directed by Thea Sharrock. I loved the book and I was hopeful that with the much-loved Emilia Clarke, Matthew Lewis and Sam Claflin, it would be a film to remember. I made sure I packed plenty of tissues, however – I won’t forget finishing the book on a train and trying to avoid utter humiliation by stifling my sobs (sadly I failed).

Filmed mostly in Pembroke, the film stays true to the book’s English roots (I can’t stand it when they move films to different countries – usually America), and Emilia’s range of bright-coloured, quirky outfits certainly ring true with the paper version of Lou, as does her on- (and off-) screen sunny personality and cheery disposition.

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The scenes between Will and Louise are filmed in a spacious annex to a huge, beautiful mansion – the physical distance between carer and patient echoes the emotional disconnect between the two. The gaping space between them hammers Lou’s discomfort home, contrasted to the small, suffocating nature of her family house. She’s often clock watching on her own, as Will makes his preference to be alone abundantly clear, before going home to her big, noisy family.

The film follows the book truly, though my one MAJOR disagreement was the casting of Patrick. Though Matthew Lewis’ toned physique makes him perfect for Lou’s marathon-loving, ill-suited boyfriend, Patrick is not a likeable character – whereas the loveable Neville-Longbottom-stereotyped Matthew Lewis is. I just couldn’t hate him – despite his attitudes in the film; dismissive towards Lou’s feelings, jealous of Will, overbearing and protective when he senses that their relationship has transgressed from carer and patient into something new. I had cast him in my head as Nathan, who I’m still convinced he would have been perfect as (I would have even forgiven the lack of Australian accent).

I, along with a hundred other people, enjoyed watching as Will’s isolating depression and Lou’s nervous eggshell-treading develops into a relationship of sorts; fragile and tense at first, then comfortable and easy as Will starts to let Lou in and Lou stops being scared of him. The iconic wedding dance scene is beautifully filmed, down to the gorgeous dress and spray of flowers in Lou’s hair – though by this point the contrast between Will’s former life and his current one is painfully ingrained into our consciousness, more so than with the book – as I, like a lot of people who read the book, simply couldn’t grasp the depth of it from the mere words on the page.

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As the film moves to Majorca, where Will and Lou’s relationship finally takes off, we’re hopeful, despite knowing the ending, as the pair enjoy cocktails by the poolside, glorious sunshine and even gorgeous thunderstorms. But here again the film aligns with the book when Will admits to Lou that he’s still intent on ending his life.

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Heartbroken, Lou hands in her notice and seeks comfort home – until she’s called to his side for one last time for him to say his last goodbye. Ignoring the Traynors at first and struggling to cope with the tense atmosphere in the household, Lou finally goes against her mother’s wishes and leaves to be by his side, in the nick of time. The closing scene between the two lovers is poignant and emotional, leaving no dry eyes in the cinema with its simplicity, beauty and Will’s last words to Lou.

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The film had a few bits missing – the absence of Will’s sister Georgia and Steven Traynor’s affair (although it’s implied) and no reveal of Lou’s traumatic experience when she was younger – though this didn’t really harm it; there simply wasn’t enough time to include it all. There were also, for me, a few mis-casts – I’ve already mentioned Matthew Lewis, but I also felt that Camilla and Steven were cast slightly too old to be Will’s parents.

Despite that, Me Before You was well-worth watching, faithful to the book and hitting its contentious message home. Will’s right to choose – the underlying message of the film for me, despite how other people have chosen to interpret it – is keenly, uncomfortably highlighted as we see his constant health struggles with day-to-day life, the huge amount of difficulties added to each simple task, and his clear unwillingness to accept his new circumstances, illustrated admirably by Sam Claflin’s excellent acting.

Whatever your feelings on the book and film, the story raises essential questions about disabilities and our perceptions of them, given its lack of coverage in mainstream entertainment. What we only tend to see in newspaper articles and in online forums is brought to screen for everyone to consider, no matter their abilities. A must-see for sure.

After You – Jojo Moyes

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8/10. A bit bare for my liking, but gives a nice throwback to Me Before You.

“Lou Clark has lots of questions. Like how it is she’s ended up working in an airport bar, spending every shift watching other people jet off to new places. Or why the flat she’s owned for a year still doesn’t feel like home. Whether her close-knit family can forgive her for what she did eighteen months ago. And will she ever get over the love of her life. What Lou does know for certain is that something has to change. Then, one night, it does. But does the stranger on her doorstep hold the answers Lou is searching for – or just more questions? Close the door and life continues: simple, ordered, safe. Open it and she risks everything. But Lou once made a promise to live. And if she’s going to keep it, she has to invite them in…”

The bar for the follow-up to Me Before You was always going to be high: Jojo Moyes’ first novel about Lou Clark, the small-town, everyday girl who falls in love with the disabled man she’s caring for, before she has to say goodbye to him, broke hearts all over the world (including mine). So I snaffled up a copy of After You as soon as it hit the shelves and started reading it as soon as it was delivered.

It’s safe to say that After You took a different turn to what I was expecting. The novel opens up on Lou, living in London and working in an Irish pub at an airport, and thoroughly disobeying Will’s last instructions before he passed away:

“Don’t think of me too often. I don’t want to think of you getting all maudlin. Just live well. Just live.

Despite taking time off to travel after Will’s death, Lou is now firmly stuck in a life far from the one he hoped for her – made up of long, punishing shifts, bereavement support group sessions, horrible uniforms and scratchy wigs, isolation, alcohol – and absolutely no bright-coloured clothes. Contemplating her life one night looking out over London from the rooftop of the flat she used Will’s money to buy, Lou sees a glimpse of a face and, shocked and startled, she falls off the roof and onto a balcony below, seriously injuring herself. Forced to move back home to recuperate, she’s quickly stifled by the life she used to feel so comfortable in – and her old town, which is now full of far too many painful memories.  Everyone – including Patrick and his new fiance – seems to be moving on, except for her. Until a knock at her door changes her life irrevocably – for the person waiting for her on the other side is oddly familiar and yet entirely strange. With one knock, the Traynor family is back in Lou’s life – a side of the family Lou has never met, or been aware of. Accepting this stranger into her flat opens up a whole new world: every aspect of Lou’s life is questioned, thrown into turmoil and turned completely upside down. But along with the chaos comes the possibility of new love – until that’s threatened to be taken away from her, too.

Just how much more can Lou Clark bear to lose – and stand to gain?

After You was never going to be an easy book to write for Jojo Moyes, and it certainly wasn’t easy to read. Lou’s pain and struggle jumps off the page, making for a bittersweet and truly heart-wrenching read. Opportunity mingles with loss, new love with old ghosts, heartbreak with healing. It’s a rare novelist that can evoke genuine emotions for a fictional character, and I think I speak for a lot of other people when I say that Lou Clark made her way into my heart from the first few pages of Me Before You – and stayed there during After You. This beautifully-written novel gives us much-needed closure whilst granting Lou much-needed new pastures. An utterly absorbing, heart-warming and poignant read – don’t even think about not reading it.

Black Rabbit Hall – Eve Chase

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10/10. Beautiful cover – mysterious and evocative, with a lovely use of colour and imagery.

“Amber Alton knows that the hours pass differently at Black Rabbit Hall, her London family’s country estate where no two clocks read the same. Summers there are perfect, timeless. Not much ever happens. Until, one stormy evening in 1968, it does. The idyllic world of the four Alton children is shattered. Fiercely bonded by the tragic events, they grow up fast. But when a glamorous stranger arrives, these loyalties are tested. Forbidden passions simmer. And another catastrophe looms… Decades later, Lorna and her fiancé wind their way through the countryside searching for a wedding venue. Lorna is drawn to a beautiful crumbling old house she hazily remembers from her childhood, feels a bond she does not understand. When she finds a disturbing message carved into an old oak tree by one of the Alton children, she begins to realise that Black Rabbit Hall’s secret history is as dark and tangled as its woods, and that, much like her own past, it must be brought into the light…”

This is a review from my lovely friend and fellow KCARAB blogger, Jane.

1969. Black Rabbit Hall is hidden between the woods and the sea in a forgotten part of Cornwall. A tumbledown, magical place where hot summers slowly slip by, clocks can’t keep their time and all the pleasures of childhood seem endless. For Amber, Toby, Barney and Kitty, Black Rabbit Hall is a sanctuary of nature and play and family time – a respite from school and the bustle of their London lives. Until one summer, when a seemingly small quarrel between the children whips up a much bigger storm – with consequences that reach far into the future.

1990s. Lorna discovers Black Rabbit Hall when searching for the perfect wedding reception venue. Trailing down hot summer roads with her fiancée, the mysterious homestead seems to call to her. Upon discovering the ramshackle house, its downtrodden housekeeper (Dill) and the ferocious and ancient owner Mrs Alton, Lorna finds that she is attracted to the place beyond sense and reason.

Despite her fiancée’s warning, she accepts Mrs Alton’s strange invite to stay at the hall for a few days. The house – with the hint of a secret that seems to remain tantalisingly just out of reach – repels and attracts her in equal measure, but Lorna’s family become increasingly concerned as her captivation with the house’s past ensnares her.

This is a charming and atmospheric novel, beautifully written, capturing hot, endless summers and the approaching threat of a storm that will change so many lives. The two interlocking stories – that of Amber on the cusp of womanhood and Lorna on the cusp of marriage – blend together in a narrative which slowly gives up its secrets, much like the house around which the novel is centred.

With a beautiful cover, and captivating prose, this is a highly recommended read, especially if you want a story with a dash of mystery.

Thanks to Jane for the review!

 

 

The Last Anniversary – Liane Moriarty

LastAnniversary_UKThis is another review for keepcalmandreadabook from my lovely friend and fellow book lover Jane.

“One abandoned baby, two sisters with a secret, one chance to rewrite the past…”

Liane Moriarty is a Sydney-based author who has had 6 bestselling novels in recent years. The breakthrough book which brought her to many reader’s attention in the UK was The Husband’s Secret – you’ll probably remember the eye-catching cover featuring a butterfly in a jar that seemed to be pervasive across bookshops last year.

The Last Anniversary is her latest book to be released in the UK by Penguin and is again set in Australia. As teenagers, Rose and Connie discover an abandoned baby on their home island, Scribby Gum, and raise it as their own. The abandoned baby girl – named Enigma by the girls – does indeed live up to her name.

The Munro Baby Mystery, as it comes to be known, brings fame and fortune to the sisters, and sustains the island community for many years, giving employment and a way of life to the families living there. This year, however, things looks set to change after Connie dies. Her family, cut loose from her settling presence, start to drift and reach for new horizons. The island’s newest arrivals – the intriguing Sophie Honeywell and new mother Grace, who struggles with her baby blues – simply add fuel to the powder keg of secrets on the island.

Liane’s novels have a distinct Australian flavour, coupled with an Australian directness to the dialogue. I especially like the way she captures the realities of relationships; from sparkly new love to the comfort and familiarity of older loves. Her novels are filled with believable characters living with the same frustrations and desires as, well, all of us really. Despite a focus on the female point of view, these are not formulaic, chick-lit novels – there is a dark edge to all of Liane’s books and this novel certainly touched upon some difficult issues.

Liane has a great observational eye, making many real-life situations, dilemmas and day-to-day situations into very intriguing fiction. Even though this is not my favourite Moriaty novel (I read it immediately after Little Lies, which I found more compelling), she still ensures you stay up long past your bedtime to discover how the characters unravel the many complicated webs she has woven…

Many thanks to Jane for the review.

The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House – Stephanie Lam

21443281This is another review for keepcalmandreadabook from my lovely friend and fellow book lover Jane.

‘The first time I ever saw Castaway House, I knew it was meant to be mine.’

The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House is a dual time novel, with chapters alternating across two different eras: 1924 and 1965.

It all begins in the 20s, when recovering consumptive Robert Carver travels to Castaway House to spend a carefree summer by the sea with his older, more worldly-wise cousin, Alec Brey. The summer takes an unpleasant turn when Robert is caught in the ongoing hostilities between Alec and his wife, Clara, both with secrets to hide and reputations to protect. Robert takes refuge by falling in love for the first time. But, as Robert will discover, the beauty of Castaway House is harbouring resentments that will ruin more than just the summer.

In 1965, Rosie Churchill is renting a mouldering, cold room in the once grand Castaway House, which has now been divided into flats. Drawn to live at Castaway for reasons she can’t identify, Rosie is fleeing her own guilty secret after running away from her family home. So when the dishevelled, confused Dockie, arrives, with no memory of whom he is, but with pockets full of cash, Rosie’s interest is immediately piqued. The house reluctantly starts to give up its secret, and it takes a confession from Star, fellow resident of Castaway, for Rosie to fully glean what happened all those years ago – and to understand who she really is.

Capturing both the 1960s and 1920s well, two eras renowned for their hedonism, this novel takes two very different protagonists, Rosie and Robert, and sets them on the path to peeling back the secrets behind the façade of Castaway House. While Clara is absolutely central to the story, we only have the prologue in her own words, leaving the rest of the narrative to Robert and Rosie – presenting us with the opportunity to interpret her actions and the aftereffects across the years and on all the other characters.

Nicely produced, with a cover that firmly fixes the book in the 1920s, this is a gentle and an easy read, perfect for taking away on holiday.

Many thanks to Jane for the review, and Penguin for the review copy.

Lovestruck – Julia Llewellyn

jpeg“Do you trust the ones you love? Jake and Rosie fell in love fast. Before they knew it they were married with kids, and happily living in a cramped flat in London. All the while Jake struggled to make it as an actor – waiting for that big, lucky break. When he got it, everything changed. Suddenly Jake was hardly there, working hard, always in demand – a rising star. But as fame and fortune reveals a side to Jake that Rosie’s not sure she likes, she begins to wonder just how well she knows the man she married. And soon enough she’s questioning how far she can trust the woman always at his side – her best friend Christy…”

Jake and Rosie’s romance is a whirlwind one – eight hours after meeting, they declare that they’re in love with each other. And, years later, they’ve defied all odds and stayed together – through years of marriage and two sons. They’ve also hit the big time – for years, Jake has been trying to hit the big-time with his acting career while Rosie’s been the breadwinner, paying the bills until Jake’s dream comes true. Now it has, and they’re suddenly transported from a tiny flat in Neasden to a palatial manor in ‘the Village’, an up-and-coming place just south of the Thames that is full of yummy mummies and high-fliers.

And so starts a new life for Rosie; one of spending money like water, on expensive clothes (even though she refuses to buy more than one dress for movie premieres and Jake’s events) and over-the-top redecorating. However, her life as a full-time mum is starting to feel a bit empty without Jake by her side, and she starts thinking back wistfully on her old job and their old flat – which, tiny as it was, was always filled with love and happiness. Nowadays, Rosie barely sees Jake, and she’s kept busy with finding new schools for the boys and keeping an eye on her nanna, whose health seems to be going steadily downhill. Never having been close to her mum, their close relationship is precious to her – but now that Rosie is so far away, visiting becomes a struggle.

As Rosie starts to become more discontent with the life and house she’d always thought she wanted, and as she watches Jake transform from a loving husband and doting father into a barely-there, self-obsessed actor, still wrapped around his mum Yolande’s little finger, she begins to wonder if all of this is enough for her. Is their new, glamorous life really what Rosie wants – or is there something lacking? And when things get rough for Jake, will their marriage withstand the fallout..?

Lovestruck by Julia Llewellyn is a feel-good, light-hearted romance novel with a cast of relatable characters that demonstrates how the grass isn’t always greener on the other side…

Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.

The Dead Wife’s Handbook – Hannah Beckerman

The Dead Wife's HandbookThis is another review for keepcalmandreadabook from my lovely friend and fellow book lover Jane.

“Rachel, Max and their daughter Ellie had the perfect life – until the night Rachel’s heart stopped beating. Now Max and Ellie are doing their best to adapt to life without Rachel, and just as her family can’t forget her, Rachel can’t quite let go of them either. Caught in a place between worlds, Rachel watches helplessly as she begins to fade from their lives. And when Max is persuaded by family and friends to start dating again, Rachel starts to understand that dying was just the beginning of her problems…”

Rachel dies on her 36th birthday. One minute she’s enjoying a romantic dinner with her husband Max; the next, she’s dead.

Now Rachel finds herself in a hazy, in-between place, totally alone but fully aware of who she is and what she’s lost. To make it worse, the whiteness that now surrounds her sporadically parts, dropping her back – unseen and unheard – into Max and their daughter Ellie’s lives, where Rachel must observe them as they struggle on without her.

Narrated entirely from Rachel’s perspective, that of the dead wife, the book is divided up into 7 parts, all named for the different stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and acceptance. And it’s not just the family Rachel has left behind who must traverse all of these feelings; Rachel must also run the gamut of grief.

Beginning on the first anniversary of her death, we join Rachel at the point when Max finally succumbs to the pressure from friends and family and starts to date again. After some cringeworthy dates, he meets the beautiful Eve, and the book builds as their relationship develops and Rachel’s heart beaks.

The book touches upon different types of grief, but is also the story of a mother’s love for her child; Rachel for Ellie, Eve for the children she might never have, Rachel’s mother for the daughter she has lost and the granddaughter she fears will be lost if Max remarries.

There are some heartbreaking moments, such as Max’s first night with Eve and the scene when Ellie and Max finally sort Rachel’s possessions, deciding what to keep and what to throw away, and all set against the background of Rachel realising that as an unseen, unheard presence she can only watch as their lives move on without her.

This is a book about death and so it’s quite a maudlin read, even with the heartwarming moments. I can see that for anyone who has lost someone close, this could be very emotive read. I didn’t feel that that the dialogue always worked well – the over repetition of the words ‘Mummy’ and ‘Munchkin’, which pepper much of Ellie’s and Max’s conversations, can grate. Having said that, I enjoyed the development of the story and the premise that life, ultimately, goes on.

The book has a beautiful cover – embossed and striking. I got a sense of a Richard Curtis-style film while reading this. It’s bittersweet but ultimately redeeming.

Many thanks to Jane for the review, and Penguin for the review copy.

Beautiful Day – Kate Anthony

beautiful-day-081907556“Today is the day that things are going to change for Rachel Bidewell. She will walk through the doors of Clifton Avenue Care Home and start a new life. Rachel is returning to work. And as she discovers, juggling a new job, three children and an ex-husband can feel like drowning. Someone needs to throw her a lifeline… Philip doesn’t seem like an obvious lifesaver. He has just lost the one person who ever cared for him and, even as an adult, he doesn’t know how to live in the real world. But might Philip and Rachel each have something the other needs? This is a story of unexpected friendship; of the messy, muddy territory of those broken by life – and what it takes to fix them. It reminds us that the very darkest of days can be funny, heart-warming and even beautiful.”

Rachel Bidewell needs a win. After splitting up with the father of her three children – Jess, Luke and Alec – she’s just landed a new job at a residential care home. When she’s given her first charge, Philip, she’s confident that things are going to start looking up. Philip has lived a sheltered life which, combined with his mental disabilities, makes him a challenge for any care worker – let alone newbie Rachel – but she’s determined to make progress with him and give him the support he needs after his mother’s death.

However, it’s not as easy as she predicts – the care home is overseen by manager Denise, a brusque woman who clearly doesn’t have the residents’ best interests at heart and who seems determined to sabotage Rachel’s progress with Philip. At the same time, Rachel is struggling with her children, very much reeling from her divorce from husband Dom. Most affected is Alec, a serious, thoughtful boy. After he runs away during a school trip, it seems best for him to go and live with his father for the time being – something Rachel struggles to adjust to.

At the same time, work is getting worse as Denise demands that Philip is given to a new carer due to Rachel’s inexperience, which results in him coming to harm – the last thing Rachel wants to happen. But things start looking up for Rachel and Rob when find proof that Denise has been stealing from the company. Realising their ploy, Denise is determined to bury the truth and cling on to her job, but will Rob and Rachel manage to get the proof they need to ensure that she never threatens the residents’ safety again? And will they give in to the sparks starting to fly between them, or is Rachel too scared to acknowledge them..?

In this lovely heartwarming novel, Kate Anthony gives a rarely seen insight into the lives of those that need caring – and the importance of a strong, nurturing relationship between them and their carer.

Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.

The One Plus One – Jojo Moyes

18186807“One single mum… One chaotic family… One handsome stranger… One unexpected love story. The One Plus One is a captivating and unconventional romance from Jojo Moyes about two lost souls meeting in the most unlikely circumstances.”

Life isn’t easy for the Thomases. Jess is a single mum of two – her biological daughter Tanzie, and her stepson Nicky – who works every hour God sends to pay the bills. With no sign of forthcoming child support from her ex Marty, she can barely make ends meet. But life isn’t easy for her children, either; Tanzie is a talented maths genius who longs to go to a specialist school that Jess has no hopes of affording. Nicky is a make-up-wearing misfit who is being relentlessly bullied by the local thugs; their latest spat put him in hospital.

Jess’ hopes are raised when she’s told about a maths competition that Tanzie has a chance of winning – and the prize money can fund the entrance to her dream school. But the competition is all the way in Scotland, and they have no hope of affording train fees. Jess decides to take a risk and drive her ex Marty’s old car – uninsured and untaxed – but things hit rock bottom when she’s caught by the police. The car is immediately impounded, she’s warned she’ll be fined, and now they have no way of making the journey.

Enter Ed Nicholls… Ed’s an ambitious financial hotshot who’s in somewhat of a pickle himself. Offering the girl he’s been hooking up with an insider tip to innocently help her earn some money has completely backfired. The girl informed her brother, who made money off of the transaction, and Ed’s now being threatened with indictment for his insider trading.

When Ed sees Jess and the kids at the side of the road, the police taking their car away, he offers to help by driving them all the next day. And so the four – and the kids’ smelly dog, Norman – embark on a journey that will change their lives forever. Ed is running from his family, who he doesn’t want to disappoint, and Jess is trying to hold everything together for their kids. But she’s hiding a secret from Ed – a secret that is about to destroy their slowly-developing relationship…

The One Plus One is a heartwarming story that initially starts with so much despair and pessimism that I couldn’t wait for the fates to turn for this lovely, down-to-earth mismatched group. It’s a slightly tamer novel than Moyes’ previous offerings – Me Before You and The Girl You Left Behind both had me in absolute tears – but it’s a lovely, bittersweet tale with a real, feel-good ending.

Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.