A pleasure today, as it always is, to be joining Bookouture‘s Books-on-tour, this time to share my review of The Missing Letters of Mrs Bright by Beth Miller: published on 9th January, it’s now available via Amazon for kindle and in paperback, and in other e-formats via Apple Books, Kobo and Googleplay. My thanks to the publishers for inviting me to join the tour, for my advance reading e-copy (provided through netgalley), and to Sarah Hardy for her ongoing support.
I really enjoy Beth Miller’s writing. I can still vividly remember how much I enjoyed The Good Neighbour, although it’s over four years since I read it (you’ll find my review here). And her first book for Bookouture, The Two Hearts of Eliza Bloom, entirely drew me into its world and made me feel strongly about its characters: you’ll find my review here. But I think this latest might just have been the book I was waiting for – everything I’ve always enjoyed about the author’s writing, but with a storyline and characters that really would have totally justified having “Anne, you’ll love this one” written on the cover.
Sometimes it takes losing something to see where you truly belong.
For the past twenty-nine years, Kay Bright’s days have had a familiar rhythm: she works in her husband’s stationery shop hoping to finally sell the legendary gold pen, cooks for her family, tries to remember to practice yoga, and every other month she writes to her best friend, Ursula. Kay could set her calendar by their letters: her heart lifts when the blue airmail envelope, addressed in Ursula’s slanting handwriting, falls gently onto the mat.
But now Ursula has stopped writing and everything is a little bit worse.
Ursula is the only one who knows Kay’s deepest secret, something that happened decades ago that could tear Kay’s life apart today. She has always been the person Kay relies on.
Worried, Kay gets out her shoebox of Ursula’s letters and as she reads, her unease starts to grow. And then at ten o’clock in the morning, Kay walks out of her yellow front door with just a rucksack, leaving her wedding ring on the table…
This emotional and heart-warming novel is for anyone who knows it’s never too late to look for happiness. Fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, A Man Called Ove and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will fall in love with this feel-good and moving story that shows you that the best friendships truly last forever.
One day, I might just sit down and write a list of everything I love to see in a book that wins my heart – although I really don’t need to any more, I’ll just point them towards this wonderful read and say “it’s ALL here”. Older characters, fresh starts and new beginnings, a fine touch with the emotion, laughter and tears, friendship and love, a really strong sense of place, the most wonderful supporting cast… and the author’s even included the story of Kay’s daughter Stella, not to appeal (probably…) to the younger reader, but a strong story in its own right exploring both her own fresh start and the impact of Kay’s actions on the mother/daughter relationship. This book… well, it was just perfect in every way, and I enjoyed every single moment.
Where shall I start? The writing, maybe – and I just loved the easy, almost conversational style, the use of dialogue that was so absolutely real (akin to eavesdropping on conversations you sometimes really shouldn’t be party to), the deftness of touch with the emotional content that takes you from a chuckle to a tear with extraordinary ease. Kay herself becomes your best friend – you share her feelings around leaving her marriage of 29 years, and I defy any reader at or beyond their middle years not to identify with her in some way (yes, even if you haven’t dedicated your life to the world of stationery).
The female friendships are just wonderful. Rose is critical in the way a close friend is permitted to be, and as supportive as anyone could possibly ask for: and the strong relationship with Bear (Ursula) is revealed beautifully through Kay’s letters (and one in return, at a particularly significant point in the story), and exceptionally moving.
There are secrets – slowly revealed, and quite beautifully handled. But in a way, they’re not what drives the story – what really keeps the pages turning and your heart engaged is the way Kay remakes her life, handles her relationships and what life throws at her, finding a way to be happy, and the story’s ending leaves you excited and uplifted by what might follow. There are some significant lows along the way – with moments that are deeply moving and have you reaching for the tissue box. But it’s all about the balance – it’s absolutely right, and that’s such a difficult thing to achieve.
If you can tear your eyes away from Kay, there are some superb supporting characters. Husband Richard is completely real, and I did rather like the way his life progressed – and his mother Alice is simply wonderful, with her cut glass accent, her identification with the royals, and her unique delivery of a put-down line. There are strong characters in Stella’s story too – inhumane housemate Gabby, the magnificent Piet with his mangled expressions (he’s Dutch) and total absence of inhibitions, and the rather lovely Newland (yes, it’s from Edith Wharton). Even the very minor characters are so well drawn. Imogen might never be more than a voice on the phone as Kay arranges her next stay at Bryn Glas, but I really liked her – and I did have rather a soft spot for poor Anthony in the wake of Kay’s departure.
And then there’s that strong sense of place – from Snowdon to Sydney to Venice, with descriptions and small touches of detail that bring them to life. And goodness, I’ve never actually been to Hoylake, but one turn the story takes almost made me want to head to the Wirral (almost…).
This is a book with a strong message – not one that’s hammered home, but it’ll certainly stay with me. Life isn’t a rehearsal – it needs to be grabbed in both hands, making the most of every opportunity.
So, have I left you in any doubt? Yes, I really loved this book. And might it be one of my books of the year? Oh yes, I really think it might….!
About the author
I have been told that I write like a tall blonde, so that’s how I’d like you to picture me.
I’ve published three novels, with one more about to be born, in January 2020. I’ve also published two non-fiction books. I work as a book coach and creative writing tutor.
Before writing books, I did a lot of different jobs. I worked in schools, shops, offices, hospitals, students’ unions, basements, from home, in my car, and up a tree. OK, not up a tree. I’ve been a sexual health trainer, a journalist, a psychology lecturer, a PhD student, a lousy alcohol counsellor, and an inept audio-typist. I sold pens, bread, and condoms. Not in the same shop. I taught parents how to tell if their teenagers are taking drugs (clue: they act like teenagers), and taught teenagers how to put on condoms (clue: there won’t really be a cucumber). I taught rabbis how to tell if their teenagers are druggedly putting condoms on cucumbers.
Throughout this, I always wrote, and always drank a lot of tea. I’m now pretty much unbeatable at drinking tea.