5 October 2011

Book Review: Winter Flowers by Carol Coffey

When her dishevelled, eight-year-old nephew Luke comes knocking on her door in the middle of the night, Iris Fay knows her sister Hazel is in trouble again. This time, it is a house fire started by her drunken boyfriend Pete Doyle. As Iris is drawn back into Hazel's dysfunctional lifestyle, she is haunted by her own past and also by the childhood memories she has kept secret from her sister. When Pete becomes an even greater threat to the family and her sons are placed in danger, Hazel realises she must turn her life around or else lose them. But then she stumbles on a pile of letters in her mother's attic and their contents spiral her into an even darker place. Meanwhile Iris, too, is confronted by her past when her former husband Mark suddenly comes back into her life, looking for answers. Can the sisters face up to their memories and find the future they long for? Or will the secrets of their childhood continue to destroy them and those they hold dear?

I really love trying new authors, and occasionally a book comes along that really grabs my attention and makes me want to read it straight away. Carol Coffey's third book with Irish publishers Poolbeg was one such book, and the gorgeous snow covered cover really caught my attention, and the story sounded really great too, very interesting and not too light and fluffy. The tag line on the front from the Sunday Independent claiming it's a "must-read for fans of Jodi Picoult" also piqued my interest, since I love Jodi's books, I was therefore pretty sure I would enjoy this too. It's a large paperback, which isn't my favourite style of book, but luckily the story inside was absolutely fantastic and I really struggled to put this book down.

The book is about 2 sisters, Iris and Hazel, who are struggling with their lives and the secrets they are both hiding from everyone else. Iris knows her sister struggles with being a mother to her 2 young sons Jack and Luke, but can't bring herself to act on it, especially given her own actions in the past. But when Hazel's boyfriends put the two young children in danger, both Hazel and Iris realise big changes have to be made to protect the boys, and themselves. I have to say I didn't really like Hazel throughout the book, she was quite selfish and as a mum myself, I got fed up with the way she put her own feelings above those of the two boys, again and again. However, when she tries to change, you can see how hard she tries and you can't dislike her then, she's just a confused and struggling woman at the end of the day. Iris was much more likeable, although she has a shocking secret that might turn that likeability on its head when its revealed. I found her to be a nice character, one that wants the best for her family, and I thought how she protected her sister was very touching.

As I said, there are quite a lot of secrets in the book that come out as the story progresses, and I don't want to spoil the book at all by putting any of them here because they really need to come out as you're reading. Coffey has done a great job of hiding these secrets about the characters and their pasts from the reader, because I certainly didn't see any of them coming, but when they're revealed, you do see how they've affected the characters and the decisions they have made with their lives so far. Some of them are really surprising, but Coffey writes them in a really empathetic and touching way, she deals with the issues really well, and you can tell she has really put the research into the topics that come up throughout the book. Some people may find this book a bit too sad and depressing, but I enjoyed the story-telling and found that Coffey's use of the third person was a great narrative voice, and it was very easy to read, and written really well.

This is a great book that really had me consumed right from the beginning, and I couldn't help but want to know what else was going to happen to Hazel and Iris as the book progressed. Yes, it is quite sad and has its tear-jerking moments but it's extremely well written, and is certainly a thought provoking read. It might not be for everyone due to the subject matters covered within, but go into it with an open mind, it's worth it, trust me.  After enjoying this book so much, I will definitely be looking out for more of Coffey's work in the future, as well as her previous 2 releases. The cover is gorgeous, the story is fantastic and well written, there's nothing to dislike here at all. I think Carol Coffey is a wonderful voice in modern Irish fiction, and highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a really great story!


  1. I wasn't sure about this book at first, but after your review it's on my wishlist, thanks!

  2. Sounds like it could be interesting - thanks for sharing your review!

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

  3. wow i read this book and LOVED it i am number 1 fan of Carol Coffey !!!!! "like" her page on Facebook "Carol Coffey"