‘She’s made a promise to herself: ‘No swearing. No drinking. No stealing. No fires.’
Potentially, one of the greatest hooks ever – we all know that promises like the above mean it’s all downhill from here! (Actually, I make a similar promise each day before going to work and, let me tell you, it turns out about as badly as you can imagine!)
Evie Pleasant, nee Bouvier, has returned to her hometown of Sweet Meadow after a painful divorce and the death of her mother, who left Evie her house. Readers can already start to picture Evie in their mind with the image of Jacqui Kennedy, as Bouvier was Jacqui’s maiden name. This is the image that Evie is now cultivating – she has thrown out all of her “dag” clothes and bad habits and has redefined herself as a 1950s pin-up girl, with all of the make-up, stilettos, dresses, plus cake-making to go with it. Her 16 year old daughter, Mary, simply responds as teenagers do, with an eye-roll and, “Whatever”, as she slouches off to school to make friends with fellow geeks and goths, Travis and Mini D.
The problem is, Sweet Meadow isn’t buying into Evie’s change into complete sweetness and light. As children, she and her best friend Nathan were the original hellraisers. It’s not that they really meant to be bad, it’s just that they couldn’t help getting into mischief together – which is where the promise to herself of no swearing, drinking, stealing or fires has come from. All of these happened, on multiple occasions, during her childhood and many townsfolk are sure a leopard doesn’t change its spots.
Evie, though, is determined to win the town over and determined to win over Nathan, who is now the town’s chaplain, so they can be together just like they promised each other as children. Evie begins this plan by joining the church committee and baking up a storm… to start with.
I literally laughed out loud at moments reading this book and did not want to finish it. Lia Weston has a way with words and we can all see the humanity in her characters – from Evie, desperately trying to be good, to Mary, 16, trying to find her place in the world, and even to Nathan, oblivious to everything around him. There are many more characters who feature throughout the book and they are all interesting, all have their own story, and even Joy, the zealous, painful, real estate agent, has a human side and a reason for everything.
The only jarring moment for me was about a quarter of the way through the book when one of the characters mentioned that they like AFL. I did a double-take and flicked back through the book because, with the references to joining the church committee and trying to be good, I had assumed that Sweet Meadow was a small town in America rather than in Australia. Given the author is Australian, and from Adelaide, it makes sense that it is set in Australia, though.
In between the laughs, there are some painful realisations, meaning the book is not purely humour nor chick lit, and it does have a bit more depth than expected, even if readers can foresee some of the ending. This is Weston’s second novel, her first being The Fortunes of Ruby White, released in 2010, and I’m heading off to find a copy of it now.
Reviewed by Michelle Baylis
Rating out of 10: 8
Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: April 2017