Together, Again

by Milly Johnson

In a way, this book returns us to Milly’s often-used foundation of three women whose lives intertwine and whose relationship supports one or more of them escaping from a desperate situation and the others finding happiness and fulfillment.

Three sisters born seven years apart meet at their family home upon the death of Eleanor, their mother. And I use that “mother” term loosely. Maybe I should instead say “the woman who gave birth to them.” The two older sisters (around 38 and 45)have only seen each other sporadically and perfunctorily. Neither has seen or heard from the youngest (31) for 15 years since she ran away at age 16. They hardly know each other and aren’t particularly fond of what they do know. Jolene, the oldest, is married to a very bad man and is very unhappy in her marriage. She is also a very successful romance novelist who seems to write the same type of books Milly herself does. Also, they are both on their 20th book. And I hope that’s all their lives have in common, but I suspect not.

Later, in bed, Annis didn’t go to sleep immediately but sat up reading one of Jolene’s books, the only one she hadn’t read. It was about a well-to-do woman who left an abusive husband and had to build up her life from scratch. Jolene wrote a lot about women in need of a renaissance and she wrote about them too well. Annis had met women like them in her own life, so she could sense the ring of truth in her stories and her characters.

Marsha is the owner of a thriving company and is very well-off. She is single and has never had a successful long-term relationship thanks to having unresolved issues from her girlhood platonic affair with the family priest. (It is funny that she apparently once went on a blind date with the same crazy loser that Juliet in An Autumn Crush did!-I love these little threads to her other books Milly always includes.) Annis is something of a mystery, except we know she has had a very rough life. At first homeless, hungry, and going from pillar to post, for the last 7 years she has at least been relatively safe and befriended by a somewhat mysterious group of women who work at a cocktail bar and maybe something else. She is very wise, thanks to her experiences, and is the catalyst for Jolene and Marsha to find their paths forward.

There are a lot of mysteries and questions that run through this book. Why did Annis run away at 16? Why did her parents apparently not try to find her? Why, even when most desperate, did she not ever try to make contact with her family? Especially her sisters? Why does Jolene stay with such a vile man? Exactly how vile is he? Why did Eleanor leave the bulk of her fortune to Annis of all people? What’s with Sally and her extreme reaction to reading “the letter” Eleanor entrusted her to deliver after her death? Eleanor’s letter is revealed bit by bit to the reader throughout the book. The answer to the first question is telegraphed pretty clearly before it is spelled out, others are revealed at various points, and some come only at the end.

Most of the questions and drama involve Annis and Jolene. The three sisters forge strong loving bonds with each other as the book progresses, and each of their lives and challenges are explored. Two of the three sisters are in hopeful romantic relationships by the end of the book. And the other finds freedom. So yes, it has much in common with many of Milly’s books, but it does forge some new ground. It has plenty of funny observations and commentary, but not as much comedy as many of her earlier books. A lot of comedy would be out of place in this one. It deals with some serious and disturbing issues and people. Usually, Milly’s villains are despicable human beings, but they fall short of being mentally ill. In this one, we have 3 really sick people and one that comes pretty darn close. I admire Milly for bravely breaking new ground and forging new paths with each novel, especially lately. But I also love that she is keeping true to many of the aspects that I love and that really work. It’s probably one of her best books, but it’s not a personal favorite. **Spoiler**

I wasn’t too enthralled with either romance. I just could not understand Jolene’s choices even given her childhood. It is certainly not the first time Milly has had a “wet lettuce” as one of her main characters, this one seemed to be less understandable. I felt that the reveal of her husband’s perfidy was a little handy. I would have preferred for her to break free without needing that extra impetus. Sally’s enlightenment seemed to come out of nowhere. I do miss the comedy and although the ending was satisfying, I didn’t find myself wanting to cheer.**End spoiler** 

 Oh well. No book is perfect, and my bar has probably become too high for Milly. I guess that’s on me.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Woman in the Middle

By Milly Johnson

Shay had too much of a past history of being honourable, a good girl who flew under the radar so she wouldn’t upset any more applecarts, who stood in the shadows propping up those who wanted to stand in the sun.
But Mrs Nice Guy was having a day off today.

Milly has done it again! Shay is a wife and mother of two grown children and is in her mid-forties. She is also caring for her beloved mother who, though she lives alone, is in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s. Shay goes to her house almost every day to do what needs to be done. Her father is in a coma in a care home and Shay visits him faithfully. There is something wrong with her marriage of 24 years. Although everything is OK on the surface, she and her husband have not had sex in months. Her feisty (too feisty)free spirit of a daughter keeps going back to a bad boyfriend and is struggling financially and career-wise. Her sweet and gentle son has given up his art and gotten himself engaged to a controlling older woman. And her sister is a selfish piece of….work.

Shay, who is a lovely woman both inside and out, is in the middle, trying to keep everyone around her afloat with no help from anyone. Yet, though she is put upon, she is not a doormat. (Yay!) She seems like a real person. Someone you could really know, and whose challenges many women will relate to. The reader realizes long before Shay does that her husband is a lost cause and is not worthy of her. We also know that there is a tragic secret in her past that changed the direction of her life and separated her from her first love: a love she still yearns for in unguarded moments. As her mother reaches the end, secrets are revealed which further turn her life upside down. Her marriage is irretrievably broken and Shay goes back to her childhood home to try to heal.

Milly’s style continues to move forward from the template that served her so well for years. Shay is a woman rising like a phoenix from a difficult situation. That is a familiar theme to her readership. But the story is more realistic and her writing is more thoughtful and leisurely. The book is funny and full of lovable and sympathetic characters as well as dastardly villains. Yes, there are moments of high drama and plenty of justice to be meted out, to be sure, but everything is more down-to-earth and not so extreme. There is wit and humor, but very little rambunctious comedy. There is eventually a sweet romance, but it is there only to complete Shay’s journey to a happy fulfilled life.

I love the old Milly-style, but I also love the more evolved Milly. Wherever she goes next, I am there.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 23, 2021

I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday

By Milly Johnson

I don’t want to get back to reality, said Robin inwardly. He felt protected here in this odd little inn. It was as if it was enchanted, like the Beast’s castle when Belle walked in and found all the luxury food waiting for her. He wouldn’t have been at all surprised if clocks and candelabras had started dancing around the room singing “Be Our Guest.”

In reading the description of this book and right up to about the 20% mark, I thought I knew where this one was going to go. It starts out as a fairly typical Milly Johnson. She really likes to have 3 stories going at once. In this one, 3 couples get lost during a terrible snowstorm two days before Christmas and end up together in a deserted but charming inn (Which is magical. Of course.) One couple, once passionately in love, is meeting to sign their divorce papers after years of acrimony. They are tired of fighting, have new partners, and just want to move on with their lives. Couple number two is the head of a large company who is accompanied by his unappreciated PA who has been in love with him for years. The last couple is a very happy gay couple who have been together for over 30 years.

I settled down to enjoy the journeys of at least several characters who had to learn, grow and break out of self-destructive patterns in order to find fulfillment and happiness. Of course, finding happiness would also mean finding true love with the obvious person as well. Well, all did not go according to plan. I am happy that Milly has grown out of her usual formula that all of or most of her early books incorporate, as delightful as most of them were. It became pretty obvious pretty early on, that the love stories were not going to follow the usual romantic comedy playbook. For one thing, Two halves of the prospective couples were so unlikable, almost toxic, that I was rooting for the people they would naturally be paired up with to run far and fast in the opposite direction. To make it more confusing, One of the prospective love interests was already in a very happy and healthy relationship albeit “off-screen”. So It was not predictable how all this was going to play out, romantically speaking.

Don’t worry. There are happy endings in this one and a love story or maybe two by the end. But it does not go how you think it would at the beginning. Turns are taken and there is some suspense up to the final climax. And that is a good thing. Once again Milly delivers a satisfying, touching, and amusing story. As always, it was very English. The title is based on a popular British Christmas song that is virtually unknown in the United States. And a dose of Jane Austen-love never hurts.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 21, 2021

The Magnificent Mrs. Mayhew

By Milly Johnson

The girls here do not become nurses and social workers and shop assistants: they leave as soldiers, tough, adroit, capable, and fully aware that self must be preserved at all costs. Kindness is a weakness and it will be used against you.” Miss Palmer-Price saw Sophie’s eyes blink as if there was a massive surge of brain activity behind them. And she was right, because less than an hour ago Sophie had been sitting in Religious Education hearing evidence to the contrary. “But Jesus . . .”

Your inner strength and resilience will attract rich, powerful men, and I’m sure you’d want one of those, my dear; which girl wouldn’t? Trust me, love is no substitute for a private jet. Choose the most successful man you can find, put him first in your life, and scythe to the quick anyone who stands in your way. But power does corrupt itself, so occasionally that will involve self-sacrifice on your part. Emotion will be of little use to you at these times. Get used to controlling it, not it controlling you; and that discipline starts with leaving kindnesses to the devotees of the Dalai Lama. Thank you for listening.”

Well, I won’t add to the praises I have poured upon all of the previous books I have read by Milly Johnson for fear of being repetitive. I am very happy that this book and the previous book I have read by this stupendous writer, The Perfectly Imperfect Woman, have branched out from Milly’s usual tried and true formula (3 middle-class ordinary women friends in bad relationships, one a hopeless doormat, find their mojos and happy endings). In this one, we have a lovely young girl, Sophie Mayhew nee Caladine, from a cruel and cold family who has been turned into a Stepford wife. She is posh, rich, and famous. She breaks out of her virtual prison as the appendage of a rising politician and hides away in the one place she was happy in for one summer in her girlhood. She is embraced by the small village community, makes some wonderful friends, and finds love with the vicar. There is always some tension and suspense in the background because you know her uncaring family, her psychopath husband and his political machine are looking for her. Will they find her? Will she return to her former role as “Sophy the Trophy”? Or will she find her true self and be strong enough to resist the forces who want to use her and abuse her and find her happy ending?

Well, we know how it will all end. But the value is in the journey, not the destination. As usual, there is plenty of wit and comedy to spare as well as the touching, sad, and scary moments. Milly is a master at making the reader love and care about her protagonists and their fates. And her ebullient voice makes every page a treat. **5 out of 5 stars**

January 18, 2021

The Perfectly Imperfect Woman

by Milly Johnson

Marnie opened up another bottle of wine as they messaged back and forth. Somehow the conversation segued from recipes for cheesecakes to recipes of disaster – i.e. Marnie’s life. Lubricated by fermented grapes, a dam burst inside her and out it all poured in a torrent. Everything…. And Marnie went past caring if the person she was typing to was a genuine elderly lady, a Daily Mail reporter or a serial killer called Darren.

As usual, Milly Johnson does not disappoint. In this one, Marnie Salt is an attractive, smart, ambitious woman who is also good and kind. She is greatly flawed, as is typical in Milly’s heroines, in that she makes very poor choices as far as her relationships with men and friends are concerned. She is epically embarrassed at work due to still another poor choice. She quits her job and moves to a small village, virtually owned by a new older friend she meets in a chat forum online, and finds her mojo and her happy ending. This is not a spoiler as all of Milly Johnson’s endings are super happy and satisfying. There is a little magic involved and more than one mystery. And Cheesecake! If you don’t like cheesecake, you might not like this book.

As Marnie repairs herself, the reader finds out more and more about her painful past and her destructive mother and sister. Milly really likes to pile on her heroines before she triumphantly resurrects them. But the gradual reveal of what Marnie had to endure as a child helps us to understand her so we can’t blame her.

What a vile family you have, dear. No wonder you have so much difficulty negotiating life. They’ve imprinted a faulty map in you. Totally understandable why you keep losing your way. I have the same map imprinted on me too. We have more in common than you could know.

I can’t help but think this is a book that might have a sequel at some future date. Or at least be revisited in a future book. Although the ending is very cathartic and answers many questions we have been teased with throughout the book, there are a few questions and mysteries left unexplained. Spoiler Alert  Is there a connection between Mrs. McMaid and Wychwell? Who were Marnie’s biological parents? Is she related to Lillian’s family in any way? why the resemblance between Marnie and a family portrait in the Manor House? Where is the baby’s body that was supposedly killed with the witch? Did it live? Will her terrible sister resurface and get her comeuppance? And most importantly, What is the Cheesecake’s secret ingredient? In looking at all the questions, I think the reader does know the answers, other than to the last question. Starting with, yes, there was a baby and yes it did live. End Spoiler

Marnie was a great character in a book of great characters. She is smart, successful, funny, and has a good heart. Although she frustrated me to start out with as far as her poor choice in men, I like that when she learned her lesson, she did not backslide into more poor choices, although she did have me worried a few times. She got more strong and powerful as the book went on without losing her kind and generous nature.

She wasn’t someone on a piece of elastic that could be dropped and picked up again when it suited. Nope, she wasn’t that Marnie now and the awareness that she wasn’t shocked her in a warm way. Could she be actually growing up at last? Thanks to a batty old lady who had seen her warts and all and still valued her as something precious? **5 out of 5 stars**

January 4, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Queen of Wishful Thinking

By Milly Johnson

Bonnie took them from him and felt a fizzy thrill zip around inside her. She’d done it. She’d actually done what she had wished she could do. These were not only keys for the doors of a little house, they were keys to a new life, a life without Stephen. Her freedom. She wouldn’t be going back to him, whatever he said, whatever he did. A Queen of Wishful Thinking would only ever move forwards.

I’m one of those idiots that didn’t think I’d be really happy without possessions.’ He locked eyes with a startled Gemma and went on in a voice that was raw with feeling, ‘But I was so wrong. Things don’t make you happy, people do. Which is why I am walking out of this door now and leaving.’…Look after yourself, Pat,’ said Lew. ‘I will. And you. Life’s too short to struggle on when you know you’re in the wrong place. See you around. Keep in touch with me. Please.’ And before Lew could say that of course he would, Patrick, like a hirsute Elvis, had left the building.

Milly Johnson has a great gift. She has a way of making the reader (me, at least) of not just disliking or not approving of the adversaries to the sympathetic central characters but hating them with a passion. Usually, these are bad spouses and that is the case in The Queen of Wishful Thinking. It is the journey two nice people who are meant for each other but who have to lose their spouses from hell first. But it is also about a woman finding fulfillment in a career and life outside of any romance. It is set in the fascinating world of antiques-So much more interesting than ice cream shops or tea shops! And this world, both in and out of the antique “emporium”, is full of complex and fully rounded secondary characters both funny and sad.

Character development is another of Milly’s great gifts. In this one, Milly largely avoids writing our heroine, Bonnie, as a complete and utter victim. Yes, she is victimized and victimized horribly, but she is a woman with a plan. That said though, some of her decisions later in the book, were still very disappointing. I appreciate that the author tried to explain how Bonnie got herself in such untenable situations and was trying throughout the book to get herself out. That hasn’t always been the case with Milly Johnson and it often has tempted me to throw my Kindle across the room. If it had been a paper book, I probably would have!

Her hero, Lew, is also in a very unsatisfactory marriage. The reader understands much more than he does throughout much of the book how very unsatisfactory it is. Once he gets the whole picture, he acts with strength and decisiveness. It is such a relief when his wife is fully exposed and Lew sees the light.

So once again, I’ll add this novel to the long list of Milly Johnson home runs. Full of humor, tears, great interesting characters, loads of tension and suspense, and a fully realized happy ending to sigh over. Milly Johnson is not for the faint of heart, but The greater your storm, The brighter your rainbow. **5 out of 5 stars**

August 20, 2020

Sunshine Over Wildflower Cottage

by Milly Johnson

Geraldine seemed entranced by the moths, their wings flittering against the hot glass, drawn by the brightness which would burn them, yet they came back for more. ‘Look, they’re being hurt and can’t pull away. Pain becomes their oxygen.’

I really enjoyed the story of Viv and the mystery of why she was at Wildflower Cottage very much. The story is split between young Viv’s life and her friends at the small animal shelter, and her Mother, Stel, at home. There are also the stories of Stel’s friends, “The Spice Girls,” Caro, Lynn, Iris, and Gaynor.
Stel is the designated dumb doormat in this one. Although a wonderful mother and generous, warm hearted person, She is needy and babyish when it comes to her daughter and especially men. Her entanglement with an evil abuser is totally avoidable every step of the way, so I didn’t have much sympathy for her.

“‘My mum is lovely,’ said Viv. ‘But where men are concerned, she has no sense at all. Luckily, she isn’t quite at the stage where she’s writing to serial killers in prison, though.’ She smiled and Geraldine chuckled softly. ‘She wants to be loved so much and so she believes everything men tell her, but she couldn’t spot a nice man if he had “nice man” tattooed on his face.’”

Because of that though, her story did not frustrate or cause me anxiety (much.) Gaynor was a bitter mean person pretty much all the way through, but I loved Lynn and Iris’s cheer-worthy tale, and Caro was awesome. It wasn’t one of Milly’s more hilarious novels, but I loved what humor there was. It kept me engaged and turning the pages eagerly anticipating the happy endings. **4 1/2stars out of 5**

June 2, 2020

Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Café

by Milly Johnson

‘That is amazing,’ laughed Connie. ‘You didn’t really ring up and make a false appointment though, did you?’ ‘Oh you have no idea how many hand grenades I’ve pulled the pins out of which are set to go off this week, Connie,’ said Della, noticing Connie’s sunflower picture on the wall out of the corner of her eye. Be like the Sunflower . . . She could give those giant plants lessons in bravery and boldness with what she’d implemented since Friday.

Another delicious dramedy from Milly Johnson. This one has her standard 3 women getting revenge against bad men formula, but it does deviate somewhat. There are cases of dumbdoormatitis, as is usual in a Milly Johnson, but none of the protagonists actually succumb to the disease in this story. One of the women’s triumph is on a separate track than the other two but is no less cheer-worthy. Her fortunes meet with the others at the end (literally). Also, the romance is definitely on the light side. One of the women has a fairly significant one, but the other, as sweet as it was, is just tacked on, and the 3rd woman does not have one at all. The main bad guy’s impending doom is so relentless that I almost felt myself starting to pity him a bit. However, in a massive takedown, our heroine ticks off all of his bad acts and selfish decisions over the years and I was back on board. That said, I do like that in this book, she does give him some redeemability at the end.

One of the aspects I loved, and I have seen this in several of her books, is a hint of the supernatural: A house that is a great judge of character (and acts accordingly) and a couple of ghosts that come to rescue their loved one. Sunflowers are a symbol and theme throughout the book but the Tea at the Cafe part really has nothing to do with much at all which makes it a strange title.

When you pick up a Milly Johnson book, you pretty much know what you are going to get if you’ve read even one of her books. This does show a willingness to deviate from and toy with her usual tropes just a bit, and I loved it. I hope I see more of this growth in future books. But I won’t complain if her heroines remain kind, gentle, and good women who find their inner Boedicas by the end. **5 out 5 stars**

April 19, 2020

Teashop Around the Corner

By Milly Johnson

That will be lovely, darling,’ said Margaret. She was such a lucky woman: she had her Bernard and their beautiful daughter Melinda, a vet working in a gorgeous part of the Dales. Molly had an unhealable broken heart and a son, daughter-in-law and grandson who made the Addams Family look like The Brady Bunch.

They began to come three days later. The first postcard had a picture of Leeds Town Hall on the front. Dear Ms Merryman. I read your story on the internet and I felt compelled to write to you.

Another gem from Milly which follows her usual winning template about 3 women who find their way and get their lives and relationships straightened out. This one held no surprises, but the joy is in the journey. As usual with many of her books, the romance takes the second stage to the ups and downs of 3 damaged and victimized women (and men too!) who find their strength and fulfill their dreams by the end. The romances are pretty sweet though. I liked that this book featured a wonderful kid who is also rescued from an intolerable situation. I would love to see more of Ryan O’Gowan.

This one had me boohooing from about the 80% mark on. And also laughing and reveling in the various comeuppances. I don’t think Milly is capable of writing a bad book. And she is so funny! I do admit that usually one of her main characters will always irritate me to no end and this book is no exception. Molly is just so stupid and weak at the beginning, but I always forgive them by the end with one notable exception in another book. In this one, Molly’s epiphany,especially, is nothing short of epic. **5 out of 5 stars**

March 19, 2020

It’s Raining Men

By Milly Johnson

This was a typical Milly Johnson novel, and that’s a good thing. The same basic lovable characters: 3 friends in bad relationships who find happy endings with men worthy of them. This one has a fantasy element, which was intriguing and added even more interest to the story. The ending, as always was super happy and satisfying. I listened to this one and it was a lot of fun. **4 out 5 stars**

December 16, 2019