The Happiest Ever After by Milly Johnson: Warm, witty and a wonderfully woven tale – book review –

When you feel like you’ve lost all that you once held dear, is it still possible to find that elusive happy ever after?
The Happiest Ever After by Milly JohnsonThe Happiest Ever After by Milly Johnson
The Happiest Ever After by Milly Johnson

Life, as we all know, is a patchwork quilt of fortunes and misfortunes, and there is no writer better at unpicking the stitches of what makes us human than down-to-earth , Barnsley born-and-bred Milly Johnson, one of the best-loved and most successful women’s fiction writers in the UK.

Her heartwarming, funny and uplifting novels – which exquisitely nail the importance of female friendship, family, community and the magic that comes from kindness – never fail to strike a chord with her army of adoring readers.

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But this seasoned and sensitive author – with her trademark no-nonsense northern humour and honesty, and ability to write about real people and real issues – is not afraid to peer into some dark corners and explore more than just life’s fuzzy feel-goods.

A firm believer that there is too much ‘snobbery’ about romantic fiction, with some seeing it as ‘lesser’ than other genres, Johnson declares proudly that love-centred stories are as deftly plotted as crime novels, and as beautifully written as literary novels.

And to prove her very valid point, she casts her own special brand of stardust over this warm, witty and wonderfully woven tale of a young woman who – under the most unexpected circumstances – finds herself living the life she yearned for, even though it might not actually belong to her.

Polly Potter is only in her mid-thirties but she is merely surviving, and certainly not thriving. She used to love her job as a successful business consultant, helping struggling companies to pull back from the brink of closure, but then her mentor died and her new boss decided to steal and repackage her ideas... and make her life hell.

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Polly also used to love her partner Chris but now almost everything he says and does irks her, and she can’t forget that he cheated on her and has done very little since to repair the ever-growing chasm in their eight-year relationship.

The only place where her life is working is on the pages of the novel she is writing at the creative writing class she secretly attends every week. It’s there that she can invent a bolder, more successful version of herself as the fictional Sabrina Anderson who is making plans to leave her husband and flee to pastures new.

And now Polly has a plan of action too. She is changing for good her ‘default setting of putting others before herself’ and aims to leave everything behind and live the life she’s always dreamed of.

But when unforeseen circumstances lead to memory loss, Polly ends up believing she really IS Sabrina and is taken in by kindly Marielle Bonetti. Soon confident, ‘kickass’ Sabrina is living at the heart of a noisy Italian family restaurant in a small seaside town. Run by Marielle’s son Teddy, the restaurant is a much-loved place but is facing the threat of closure as a rival restaurant moves in next door.

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Sabrina can’t remember her life as Polly but what she does know is that she is living a different life from the one she used to have. Could this brave new world really be hers after all?

The creative writing spin on this gorgeous, heartwarming tale is the perfect riposte to all those cynical romance fiction critics... with its wickedly clever plotting, a cast of precision-drawn characters that we can both love and hate, and Johnson’s piercingly authentic insights into human frailty and foibles, The Happiest Ever After is pure storytelling magic.

In Poppy, we have a woman whose fears, frustrations and foiled dreams are a brilliant match to many in contemporary society, and it’s her journey – and the entertaining course it takes – from downtrodden ‘victim’ to feisty free spirit that is the lynchpin of this slice of dazzling inspirational escapism.

And as always in Johnson’s vibrant, romantic odysseys, there are fascinating explorations of emotive themes like broken relationships, motherhood, the heartache and joys of family life, the blossoming of self-confidence, and the discovery that second chances really are possible.

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Peppered liberally with the author’s irrepressible, Yorkshire-flavoured wit – not least a welcome reprise of her hilarious Daily Trumpet gaffes, and sharing laughs with Marielle’s Mad Cows friendship group – this is reality and fiction in the most perfect and seductive harmony. Don’t miss the ride!

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £16.99)

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