I’m delighted today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of Take a Chance on Me by Beth Moran: published on 4th February by Boldwood Books, it’s now available as an ebook, in paperback and as an audiobook. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
I was so pleased to see that Beth didn’t keep us waiting too long for her next book! I so wanted to read Christmas Every Day – and the reviews are wonderful – but I’d really overcommitted myself (as I so often do…!) and just couldn’t fit in one more Christmas book no matter how much I tried. I’m not sure why her books have evaded my radar until now – I really like the look of some of her earlier ones too, and it’s always rather nice to discover a new-to-me author who has a back catalogue for me to explore.
So let’s take a closer look…
Meet Patrick Cooper – desperately down on his luck, and head-over-heels in unrequited love with his best friend Bridget.
Meet Bridget’s sister, Emma Donovan – eternally single maker-of-cakes for many a happy couple, whilst never making it down the aisle herself.
Emma has four younger sisters, all of whom are married or getting married, and an Italian mother who can’t understand what is ‘wrong’ with her eldest daughter, who seems to be stranded on the shelf.
Despairing of her own ability to find a suitable husband, Emma agrees to be part of a compatibility project to get married at first sight.
Meanwhile Cooper is struggling to get over his crush on Bridget and seems destined to stay firmly on the shelf too. Perhaps it’s time his fate was taken out of his hands…
Is happily-ever-after just about daring to take a chance, or do you need some extra magic to make love last?
Join Beth Moran, Cooper and the Donovan sisters on this life-affirming and uplifting tale of love, family, friendship, and risking it all for happiness.
Oh my goodness, where do I start with this one? I’ve spent the most perfect couple of days surrounded by the warmth of the wonderful Donovan family, and when I finally found myself alone again I felt quite bereft – I entirely loved this book, and it’ll definitely be a contender as one of my books of the year. It’s not very often that I start a review like that, but I was mildly horrified to see a few distinctly lukewarm early reviews – I’m really not sure what those readers were expecting, but trust me, I felt it more than delivered on its promises at every possible level.
There is a large central cast – five sisters and their Irish Italian parents, plus all their various partners and family members. While the main focus may be on Emma and Connor and their involvement with the compatibility project – marrying someone you’ve never met – the book also follows all their individual stories, and that (for me, at least) lifted the book into a whole different “romcom-plus” category.
Bridget (the Young One) works on the project for the horrendous Professor Cole, alongside the wonderful Connor (who I loved from our very first introduction): she’s been engaged to Paolo forever, Connor knows he has no hope of ever winning her heart, and as her marriage draws nearer resigns himself to the fact that he’ll never be more than her closest friend. Her twin, Annie, is married and lives in New York – distance proves no obstacle to keeping in touch, but her sisters feel there’s something not quite right within her marriage. Orla’s the one with the family of her own, a touch stifled by it all, making a bit of a bid for freedom: Sofia and husband Moses run the New Life church, and she’d give anything to have a family.
Then there’s Emma (the Old One) – firmly on the shelf to the consternation of her mother Gabriella (who is perhaps the best character in the entire book…), running a successful cake making business, supremely organised and capable, but believing that true happiness can only come by finding a partner of her own. And the family’s completed by father Bear (maybe the second best character in the book…), who gives the very best hugs and sage advice, but struggles with the debilitating impact of ME.
The central premise – the marriage at first sight and everything that comes after – is superbly handled, and that story is threaded through all the twists and turns of everyone else’s lives. The voices of the book are Emma and Connor – both tremendously endearing as you share their inner thoughts and emotions, and yearn for them both to find whatever happiness they can. But more than anything else, this is a story about love and family – there’s a closeness, a fierce and precious love that warms your heart, that makes you wish it was a family you could be part of, that brings a tear to your eye on so many occasions. There are the compulsory sprawling Sunday lunches when Gabriella catches up with their lives (and shares her opinions – whether they want to hear them or not), the Wednesday wine nights when they catch up with each other – and, in between, there’s the Sister App where they share their thoughts (except for those times when they don’t). They might hurt each other at times, intervene and interfere when it’s not invited – but this is a family that loves and forgives, and one I’ll never forget.
This book made me cry at times, to want to leap in and be able to sort things out for them – but, as I couldn’t do that, I’d have been happy just to give a few of them a hug when they were hurting. And I’ve just realised I haven’t mentioned that the book is also extremely funny – if I was a “laugh out loud” person, I’d have done so many times as these very real people behaved as real people do. The book’s ending is perfect, emotional and perfectly judged, absolutely everything I’d hoped for – and the fact that neat bows aren’t tied on every single thread made it feel even more like a slice of real life than it already did. I’d love to spend more time with this wonderful family – if the author ever thinks of writing a sequel, I’ll be first in the queue.
As the book clearly wasn’t what some readers expected, I wondered if it would help if I made some “if you like x” comparisons. My first thought was Marian Keyes – and yes, I thought this book really was that good, with a very similar feel to her earlier writing. A touch Cathy Kelly maybe (although I haven’t read a book from her in years…), a bit Anna McPartlin (with added Italian touches…), maybe a bit Mhairi McFarlane in the romantic parts? But Beth Moran has a style and presentation all of her own – I really loved this book, and recommend it most highly.
About the author
Beth Moran is the author of four novels, including the bestselling Christmas Every Day. She regularly features on BBC Radio Nottingham and is a trustee of the national women’s network Free Range Chicks. She lives on the outskirts of Sherwood Forest.