I was so delighted this week to see that Julie Houston’s Sing Me A Secret had been shortlisted in the Popular Romantic Fiction category of the 2021 Romantic Novel of the Year awards – and as today (4th February) is paperback publication day (available from Tesco, Waterstones, or your favourite local bookshop), I really couldn’t think of a better reason to share my review again. I can still remember my delight when I read the ebook (still available free with Amazon Prime) on a lovely sunny afternoon in the garden – and when I put it down, my first thought was “that was absolutely perfect”.
I must add though that it’s a very strong field in that category this year – as well as Julie’s book, there’s Sue Moorcroft’s Christmas Wishes (yes, another of my books of the year… you’ll find my review here), Carole Matthews’ Summer Days and Sea Breezes, Philippa Ashley’s A Perfect Cornish Escape, and The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver. Many congratulations to them all – I have no idea about the alchemy involved in choosing the final winner, but I most certainly don’t envy anyone the task.
Now I do know I’ve said it before (many times!), but I adore Julie’s writing. The first book I read and enjoyed was Looking for Lucy way back in 2016 (you’ll find my review here, along with an interview – and I remember driving up the M62 to see the advertising hoarding she’d arranged for its release!), and I really liked An Off-Piste Christmas too (review here) – but it was A Village Affair (review here) that finally secured Julie a place on my “very favourite authors” list, and the wonderful books have kept on coming. I so loved Coming Home to Holly Close Farm when I read it in February 2019 (review here) – and, after Sing me A Secret, I really enjoyed A Village Vacancy too when I read it as an ebook (paperback to follow in November – you’ll find my review here).
But let’s take a closer look at Sing Me A Secret…
The four Sutherland sisters have all had very different paths in life, but one secret and a slighty tense production of Jesus Christ Superstar are about to bring them all back together again…
When the news that pop-superstar Lexia Sutherland is returning to Westenbury, not everyone is thrilled by the news – including Lexia. There are too many memories she doesn’t need to face – or need re-surfacing. Meanwhile, Juno Sutherland just wants a little peace and quiet.
As the local village doctor, she’s got her priorities in order; kids, job, husband, tenacious pony, a role in the village musical… So when the sexy new locum turns up – and steals her office – the last thing she needed was to be hit with rising temperatures and an over-active imagination.
Will these sisters be able to uncover the past, deal with the future and put on the performance of a lifetime?
And my review – just one more time…
Whenever I review one of Julie Houston’s quite wonderful romcoms I really can’t help saying the same things as I sing their praises – the wonderful humour that ranges from gentle to totally over-the-top, the unexpected poignancy when you find you have a stray tear in your eye, the believable central love story, the strongest of story-telling, the edgy family drama, and that glorious touch of unmistakable Yorkshireness. And she anchors it all with the most superb three-dimensional characters – people you feel you know, and often take to your heart – whether they’re central to the story or just making the most peripheral of cameo appearances.
Juno is a doctor, working part-time at Westenbury village surgery, and I loved her. The husband and wife team who run the practice (although office manager Marian would probably suggest that she’s the one who’s really in charge – what a great character!) decide to recruit another doctor, and Juno finds herself working in a (newly decorated) cupboard to give him a suitable working space. Her husband is working abroad, and she’s perhaps missing him rather less than she should – but after a particularly unfortunate first encounter, she really doesn’t expect new doctor Scott Butler to get her quite so hot under the collar, particularly in view of his atrocious reputation.
At home, she has another husband and wife team, a distinctly eccentric pair who “do” for her (again, the most wonderful characters!), and two children that she needs to wrangle. I must particularly mention her horse-mad daughter Tilda (I’ll leave you to meet the horse yourself – just don’t make any sudden movements or turn your back), because she’s one of those great youngsters who’s middle-aged before her time, and I really loved her varied observations on life (and her passion for her teacher).
And then there’s the wider family – two (very different) sisters who live in Westenbury, and another (Lexia) whose life has followed a very different path. Pandora has aspirations rather above her station, and runs the village choir (with a particularly firm hand) – but musical theatre beckons, and her attempt to win a national competition with her production of Jesus Christ Superstar adds a lovely extra storyline laced with characters and laughs. Ariadne’s a classics teacher, witty and dry, a great counterpoint to the scatty one and the control freak – but it’s Lexia’s story, when she unexpectedly returns to the village, that sees the uncovering of some long-hidden secrets that rather blow everything apart.
I read this book in one afternoon in the summer sunshine, and I was totally enchanted by it – I laughed (lots and lots), I cried a bit, and at times it had me right on the edge of my seat wondering where on earth the story was going. And at the end – one of those perfect endings that fill you up but make you wish there were another few hundred pages – I felt I’d had one of those totally perfect afternoons. One reviewer said of A Village Affair “books like this are the reason I read” – I do wish I’d been the one to say it first, but I really think this one was even better.
If you’ve never tried one of Julie Houston’s books before, do try this one – I adored it, and it’s absolutely guaranteed to be one of my books of the year.
And, of course, it was – in case you missed it, you’ll find my Books of the Year list for 2020 here. And if you’d like to see all the other wonderful books shortlisted for the 2021 Romantic Novel of the Year awards, you’ll find the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s post here.
About the author
Julie Houston is the author of The One Saving Grace, Goodness, Grace and Me, A Village Affair, and Looking For Lucy, a Kindle top 100 general bestseller and a Kindle #1 bestseller. She is married, with two teenage children and a mad cockerpoo and, like her heroine, lives in a West Yorkshire village. She is also a teacher and a magistrate.
Follow Aria Books: