Book review: The Perfectly Imperfect Woman by Milly Johnson

What are your favourite rom-com ingredients? Romance and comedy of course, maybe a few mishaps and misunderstandings, or just plenty of good old-fashioned drama?
The Perfectly Imperfect Woman by Milly JohnsonThe Perfectly Imperfect Woman by Milly Johnson
The Perfectly Imperfect Woman by Milly Johnson

Well here’s a story that has all those much-loved staples and more… a delicious tale in which real life bubbles gently beneath giant servings of Yorkshire humour, a spicy blend of history and mystery, a sprinkling of magic, and platefuls of mouth-watering cheesecake!

Yes, Milly Johnson, the much-loved queen of feel-good fiction, is back and on her very best form for an enchanting romantic odyssey set in a quaint Yorkshire village where time seems to stand still, secrets are hidden, and hearts are mended.

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The Perfectly Imperfect Woman is Johnson’s fourteenth novel and this warm, wise and witty Barnsley author just can’t put a foot wrong. She won the RoNA for Best Romantic Comedy Novel of 2014 and 2016, and her wide-ranging experiences as a columnist, joke-writer, poet, after-dinner speaker and copywriter for the greetings card industry have made her a consummate ‘people person.’

Her entertaining, perceptive and funny novels are packed with the kind of characters we all know… real people with real lives and real problems. And it is this very perceptive and human way of looking at life that has made Johnson such a popular writer with women of every generation.

Marnie Salt has always struggled to get her life on the right track. Abandoned as a baby, she was brought up in a household ‘micro-managed’ by her controlling adoptive mother and spent her childhood ‘hungry for food, hungry for attention, hungry for love.’

She found a warm friendship with the old lady next door who introduced the lonely child to the joys of making and eating cheesecake, revealing her special, secret ingredient which Marnie pledged never to reveal to anyone.

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Now aged 32 and living in Sheffield, Marnie has never lost her love of cheesecake and it is while she is logged on to a cheesecake chatroom one evening that a rather tipsy Marnie ‘meets’ Lilian Dearman, an eccentric, straight-talking 66-year-old, and pours out to her all her fears and frustrations.

Arranging to see each other for lunch, Marnie finds that Lilian is every bit as delightful as she had hoped, and that she owns a whole village in the Yorkshire Dales which has been passed down through her family since the 16th century and is named after a witch who cursed the village and its people.

When Marnie needs a bolthole after a crisis which forced her to leave her job, she accepts Lilian’s invitation to up sticks and take refuge in a cosy cottage named Little Raspberries in Wychwell.

Marnie is sure it will only be a temporary measure but soon finds that Wychwell has claimed her as its own and is duty bound not to leave, even if that makes her very unpopular with some of the villagers. But everyone has imperfections, as Marnie comes to realise, and being a ‘Perfectly Imperfect Woman’ might not be such a bad thing after all...

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Johnson dishes up a sparkling feast of family, friendships, secrets and love as we travel to the captivating village of Wychwell to discover the delights of the Yorkshire Dales, share in the fortunes and misfortunes of a colourful cast of locals, and join in the tears and laughter of Marnie’s journey of love and self-discovery.

Along the way, we learn about secrets from the past, enjoy Wychwell’s manifold dramas, take a few unexpected twists and turns, and meet some extraordinary people, both good and bad.

But what makes The Perfectly Imperfect Woman so extra special is Johnson’s ability to blend heartfelt emotions with laugh-out-loud humour, gritty reality with gorgeous romance, and the supernatural with the downright prosaic.

Poignant, uplifting, packed with heart and soul, and with the tantalising possibility that there could be a return visit to Wychwell, this is the perfectly perfect reading partner for cold winter nights.

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £14.99)