Katie Fforde is always a reliable light read. I was of course attracted to a book which has so much in it about gardening. Philly is a young woman who lives with her charming grandfather and runs a small nursery. Her best customer is Lorna, an older woman who is restoring the garden of a big house. The house belongs to Peter, whom she’s known forever and has a tendresse for but he’s taken up with an extremely managing younger woman whom he met on the internet. Peter’s mother Anthea is one of those formidably energetic seventy-somethings we’d all like to be one day. Two more characters then enter the scene: Jack, a sculptor and Lucien, a handsome young man who has broken with his grand family in order to follow his dreams and become a chef.
The garden restoration is perhaps too quickly and easily achieved but this is fiction and at least Katie Fforde bothers to put in some plant names. The ‘Secret Garden’ of the title is found at the bottom of Anthea’s garden: it has a wall and a door covered in brambles and everything! No need of a robin to show the way. This is also transformed remarkably quickly into a magical place.
There are three sets of lovers in this book and it’s nice that two of them are older couples. Lorna’s doubts and fears about starting a new relationship in her fifties are very convincingly described. I found the book a little thin but enjoyed it very much while I was actually reading it. Gardens and happy endings: what’s not to like?
The Second Bride is a much meatier book. I’d enjoyed The Vicar’s Wife (reviewed here) and was pleased to be given the opportunity of reading another book by the same author. Like TVW, it is set in Goswell, Cumbria. (There are more Goswell books, which I shall seek out.) Again we have modern day problems set against those of the past, with some historical detective work linking the two. In the present day, Ellen is living happily in Goswell with her second husband and her two daughters, the elder away at university. Out of the blue, her husband informs her that his daughter from his first marriage is coming to live with them for a year while her mother swans off to America. Not surprisingly, the teenaged Annabelle has no wish to leave home and stay in the middle of nowhere and behaves impossibly badly. Suddenly, Ellen’s perfect life starts to unravel. She realises how little she knows about her husband’s first marriage and resents the fact that he can’t or won’t see how Annabelle is upsetting her and that he spends Dad time with her rather than with their young daughter. Then her girls start behaving uncharacteristically and the whole family seems about to fall apart.
Ellen’s best friend is Jane, the modern day occupant of the vicarage in The Vicar’s Wife. Jane had found a shopping list which set her researching the life of a woman who had lived in the same house. Ellen finds a death certificate hidden under the floorboards in the attic. Like Jane with her shopping list, Ellen becomes obsessed with solving this little mystery. Who was Sarah, who died in Kendal in 1872, and why had someone hidden her death certificate? The narrative moves between the present and the late nineteenth century in search of the answers.
I found this book slow to begin with and a little hard to get into but once the detective element came in, I was as keen as Ellen to find out more about Sarah. Hers is a sad and shocking tale and I was more interested in that than in finding out whether Ellen could save her marriage. It’s all quite gripping and I recommend it for readers who like these fashionable backwards and forwards narratives.
These books are out this month and I read them courtesy of NetGalley.