21 October 2011

Book Review: If Only You Knew by Claire Allan

Cousins Ava Campbell (married, sensible, feeling old before her time) and Hope Scott (single, debt-ridden, in love with a man who will never love her back) have nothing in common. But fate is about to throw them together. When their beloved Aunt Betty the free-spirited black sheep of the Scott family dies in France, the girls find themselves flying to the picturesque village of Saint Jeannet, tasked with sorting through her belongings and fulfilling her last wishes. To guide them on their way, Betty has left them a series of letters detailing her own life, the heartbreak that led her to move to France and the peace she found there with her beloved Claude. As the women find each letter, a different layer of Betty's life, and their own lives, unfolds with hilarious, devastating and life-affirming results. A story of secrets, love, loss, longing and purple shoes.
 I've read a couple of Claire Allan's books now and she has a real knack for writing really warm and realistic characters that you want to read about in a well woven and written story. It seems that Irish authors are really on the up at the moment, and it's a terrible fact that they are often overlooked by the bigger name publishers because they are a lot better than some of the big names I read if I'm totally honest... especially celebrity authors! The cover of this book caught my eye, it isn't anything amazing yet it intrigued... what did the wedding dress and purple shoes have to do with the story, and exactly what secrets was Betty hiding from her 2 nieces.

The 2 nieces in question are Ava Campbell and Hope Scott. Ava is happily married to husband Connor, and together they have their two year old daughter Maisie, a delightful but lively young thing, and Ava is feeling a little fed up of juggling all the balls by herself, and never seeing Connor as they both work so hard to provide for their families. On the other hand, Hope is hopelessly in love with her best friend and flatmate Dylan, and has been for as long as she can remember. The two cousins barely know each other but are thrown together after the death of their Aunt Betty and her request that they clear out her farmhouse in France. Neither woman is keen to go but luckily they decide to honour Betty's wishes and are surprised by what they find. Ava was a wonderful character, a busy working mum who constantly feels the guilt she isn't there for her daughter all the time (what mum doesn't know those feelings?!), and I really warmed to her, she was so nice and through the revelations that appear in the book I felt so sorry for her. Allan has written her as a sympathetic character, but she has an inner strength that I really loved.

Hope was one that took a little while for me to warm to but once I did, I thought she was great. As a reader, you can see her love is unrequited, but she's sure Dylan must have feelings deep down. I felt sorry for her believing in that, I'm sure most of us have experienced those feelings once in a while and it is a hard thing to go through. However, I enjoyed watching her grow as a person as the book progressed, and especially how she supported her cousin through her own turmoils too. In fact, the reactions both women had to their letters from Betty was truly touching, and it's nice to feel the love from the elderly woman to the nieces she never really got to know, yet she seemingly could read them like a book.

Allan writes about France really well, perfectly describing not only Betty's beautiful old house, but the sights that Hope and Ava go to see at the same time. There is really only one French character that we meet, Jean-Luc, who is pretty much your typical French heart-throb lol. He was a nice male addition to the otherwise female cast, but wasn't overly prominent. I found this book to be very emotional and touching, especially when the letters from Betty are revealed, detailing her own love story. I have to moan a little bit because I felt the font that the publishers printed Betty's letters in was really hard to read, and I did struggle to work out a few words along the way, which did slow me down a bit. However, I pushed this to one side in my head because it was so enjoyable, a very heartfelt read and Allan's writing really brings to life not only Ava and Hope in the present day, but Betty through her letters too. It was a joy to read, and Claire Allan seems to be going from strength to strength. Definitely a book I would recommend!

Rating: 5/5


  1. I conpletely agree with this review and the marking of 5/5 for this fab book!Claire Allan is def one of a new generation of fab Irish female authors and love her books!def agree with the point about the font for Betty's letters bit hard to read at times especially through the tears!lol

  2. I love the sound of this one. I hadn't heard of Claire Allan before so thanks for introducing me to a new author. On my wish list now :-)