2015 Reading Challenge – Book #18 – The Secret of Happy Ever After

Book #18 – A book with more than 500 pages – The Secret of Happy Ever After by Lucy Dillon
Genre: Chick Lit / Romance
Published: 2011
Country: UK

The Secret of Happy Ever After

Two women, Michelle and Anna are best friends in their early thirties and live in Longhampton, an idyllic town by the canal. While Michelle runs a successful home lifestyle store and is a self-confessed control-freak, Anna is more laid-back and wears her heart on her sleeve. She is also stepmom to three girls and an energetic dog.  When Michelle decides to take over the adjoining bookshop from the retired owner, she hires Anna as the manager because of Anna’s love and extensive knowledge of all things literary. Although everything seems fine for Michelle and Anna professionally, their individual personal lives are a huge mess. Michelle has been separated from her emotionally abusive husband since three years and Anna’s stepdaughters still won’t accept her completely even after four years. Moreover, Anna is desperate for a baby of her own which doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Will these two women ever find their happy ever afters?

A shrewd businesswoman, Michelle loved making to-do lists, accomplishing goals and looking for ways to expand her shops. She had a lot of baggage she was carrying around which made her understandably cautious but her decision to keep everyone at arm’s length was coming across as too vain and self-centered. Anna was regrettably a doormat and her husband Phil, was too soft with the girls. Stuck in a dysfunctional family dynamic through no fault of hers, she didn’t know how to untangle the mess that sometimes comes with a ready made family. She was trying so hard (a bit too hard in my opinion!) but couldn’t connect with her stepdaughters on any level. It didn’t help one bit that her mother in-law was a cantankerous old woman who hated everyone. Out of the three stepdaughters, Chloe, the fifteen year old middle child was the most superficial and selfish brat that you felt quite annoyed at. Lily, who was eight had a wild imagination and was quite insightful for her age whereas Becca, the studious eldest eighteen year old was very sensible, understanding and the most likeable character in the whole book. The two dogs Pongo and Travis sadly couldn’t add any humour and character to the plot.

The only bits I really loved were the bookshop conversations and book reviews where Anna would throw book references freely with her customers with nostalgic excitement and love. Her childhood favourites have been my childhood favourites and I was very happy to come across mentions of The Malory Towers, Famous Five, Miss Marple, Sweet Valley and Harry Potter among several others. It was only Anna’s own sunny nature and her love for books that kept her going. I also loved Michelle’s keen sense of business and how she and Anna played around with the bookshop and made it a homely, comforting place to entice serious bibliophiles.

Or Miss Marple? That would be nice if the weather was good. In the garden, with a plate of hot cross buns and a pot of tea, working her way round St Mary Mead’s homicidal vicars and parlourmaids. Miss Marple talking like Joan Hickson. Everyone being terribly English. Bliss.

Other than that huge positive, there was a serious lack of chemistry between the leads and I couldn’t help but be disappointed. Michelle’s squabbles with Rory, the handsome but messy solicitor failed to hit the ‘Oh-they’re-so-falling-for-each-other‘ note because there seemed to be no brewing attraction between them at all! In fact, I personally felt a much deeper connection between Rory and Anna because of their endless bookish conversations. Phil was mighty pissing off because he failed to see how selfish he was being by taking Anna for granted and seemed to have no backbone as far as anything was concerned. Becca’s shy, sweet nature against Owen’s Peter Pan syndrome was borderline cute but it was quite unbelievable how things went on so smoothly and normally for them even after a whopping life-changing news.

The plot seemed to tie up too quickly at the end with all differences, quarrels and relationships smoothened out a little too neatly after lots of rifts had driven everyone apart. I felt this was the sort of book that needed an epilogue because the ending was too abrupt but there was no such luck there.

To be honest, I didn’t have any feelings for this book. Not in the beginning, middle or even the end. Nada. Zilch. The story had no peaks and troughs and the characters were just too one-dimensional and predictable to appeal to any deeper emotion. I felt more sorry for Anna than Michelle but even then I couldn’t connect with either of them.

The plot went on for too long, dragging and stretching so much till I was groaning and screaming at the characters to move on with their lives and let something else happen.There was more mention of blankets, beds, linens, pillows and unfortunately also books than of anything substantial that could push the story forward. There just wasn’t enough material to keep the plot going for 500+ pages and the book should have stopped at 250 where it would have met a great end. Unfortunately, this chick lit had none of those feel-good zingers that could have made it a memorable one.

 Book Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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