Didi and Shay were just eighteen when they fell in love. Although their backgrounds were very different – she was middle-class and educated at a private school and her parents owned a country house hotel, he went to the local comprehensive and his father was a petty criminal who was in and out of prison – they were confident this didn’t matter, that their love was strong enough to overcome any obstacles. Then something happened which made Shay leave without even saying goodbye, leaving Didi heartbroken. Thirteen years later she is managing the family hotel in the Cotswolds, is engaged and soon to be married and is feeling happy with her life. When Shay returns to the village she realises that her feelings for him are just as strong and her hard-won contentment is shattered. However, she’s determined not to show him how she feels – and in any case, he isn’t planning on staying permanently, just long enough to fulfil a promise he’s made to his father. However, his return is disturbing in another way as there are still many unresolved issues surrounding the scandal which forced him to leave all those years ago. So, it isn’t long before buried secrets are exposed, forcing everyone involved to confront what happened then, to attempt to make reparation and to reassess the future.

Although I’d been aware of Jill Mansell as a popular Chick Lit author, I hadn’t read any of her books until I was sent an ARC of this one to review. I found it an easy to read, if rather predictable story. It has multiple storylines and a number of nascent romantic relationships, all of which involved challenges which needed to be overcome before their happily-ever-afters could be achieved. Whilst I wouldn’t expect much depth of character development from a book in this genre, I was disappointed to find that most of the characterisations felt rather too stereotypical and two-dimensional. There was just enough emotional depth in some the author’s observations of the challenges some of her characters were facing, particularly in connection with loss, mourning and serious illness, to off-set my frustration that there weren’t more examples of it.

Although I can recognise the appeal of this type of entertainingly written, light-hearted romantic story, I’m sure that had I read it at any other time I would probably have been inclined to give it a lower rating. However, reading it during the closing days of 2020, a year dominated by the fear and misery of Covid19, I was able to put my reservations to one side and just indulge in the feel-good optimism of the author’s storytelling-style!

Personal read: 3*

Headline    21st January 2021
ISBN: 978-1-4722-4853-4