#Review: The Life You Left Behind by Debbie Howells @debbie__howells @BoldwoodBooks @rararesources #BoldwoodBloggers #publicationday #blogtour #womensfiction #romance

By | February 23, 2022

I always enjoy discovering a new-to-me writer of women’s fiction – Debbie Howells may well already be a familiar name to many because of her best-selling psychological thrillers, but today I’m delighted to share my publication day review of her most recent foray into women’s fiction, The Life You Left Behind. Out today from Boldwood Books, it’s now available as an e-book (free via Kindle Unlimited), in paperback, and also as an audiobook. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation to join the blog tour (starting today…) and for her support, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).

Two strangers.


One missed flight.


It only takes a moment to change a life.


One year ago Casey Cassidy was happy. She had great friends, a wonderful teaching job and a busy life – until with one missed flight, everything changes.


One year later Casey knows what it means to find that once-in-a-lifetime love people dream of. But when Ben leaves, her heart is shattered.


Left facing a year of firsts without him, piecing her life back together seems impossible. But then a friend offers her a home in rural France.


In the solitude and emptiness, Casey needs to comes to terms with what’s happened and find a way to move forward. She has no idea where that will take her one year later…

When Casey – Cassidy to her friends – arrives at the airport for a holiday with her friend Ellie, she frantically unpacks her suitcase to find that she’s left her passport behind. A stranger, Ben, becomes her knight in shining armour, taking her home for the missing passport and out for a meal – and when they sit up all night, talking about anything and everything, she realises she might have found someone very special. But at the book’s beginning, we also know that – a year later – Casey is alone, in the depths of grief, having decided to take a solitary trip to rural France to take time to recover and decide what to do with her life.

Both threads unfold in parallel, a year apart. The romance between Casey and Ben is one of those gloriously all-consuming ones – it’s quite beautifully done, grabbing you by the heart, and you can really feel the depth of their love for each other. It just feels too perfect – and when the inevitable clouds appear on the horizon, it becomes amply clear that there’s unlikely to be a happy ending. And we already know there isn’t, because they’re not together a year on – although we don’t know what happened, Ben is gone, and Casey has time and space to reflect on what happened and to learn to cope with the extremes of her devastation.

I’ll admit that this wasn’t entirely the book I was expecting it to be. I knew there was going to be “solitude and emptiness” in Casey’s future, but the turn that her relationship with Ben took was particularly hard to read – and emphatically not because of the quality of the writing, but because of how deeply you felt the despair and inevitability of what happened. The book presents a painful and convincing portrait of a facet of mental illness that I’d never come across before – solastalgia, eco-grief, a collective despair about the state of the environment. And that environmental theme becomes central to Casey’s attempt at recovery and try to move on with her life – and to turn what happened into something considerably more positive.

It might sound like there aren’t many laughs, but there’s certainly plenty of lightness – yes, even joy – in the early days of Ben and Casey’s relationship. And there are some interesting diversions as she finds herself in France – the diary found on the shelves telling someone else’s emotional story (identity unknown), the opportunistic cat visitors, the new and established friendships – lifting the veil of darkness, and keeping the story moving at a satisfying pace.

It almost feels wrong to say “I enjoyed this one” – the emotional content was much too raw for that – but the author has certainly produced a book with unexpected and considerable impact, along with a compelling story that kept me entirely hooked throughout. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what she does next.

About the author

While working as long-haul cabin crew in her twenties, Debbie trained as a pilot and qualified as a flying instructor. But as the mother of two small children, she wanted a career she could fit around them and started a wedding flower business, Country Flowers. For thirteen years, Debbie created the natural, seasonal designs she became known for to venues throughout the South East.

It was towards the end of this time she started writing, in a notebook in the shade of her garden on her days off, self-publishing three women’s fiction novels, the third of which, Wildflowers, almost but not quite found her a literary agent.

Pursuing her dream of a traditional publishing deal, she went on to write her first psychological thriller, the Sunday Times bestseller, The Bones of You. Four more have followed including the e-book bestseller The Vow, but it’s another long-awaited dream come true that her women’s fiction novels have now found a home with Boldwood.

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2 thoughts on “#Review: The Life You Left Behind by Debbie Howells @debbie__howells @BoldwoodBooks @rararesources #BoldwoodBloggers #publicationday #blogtour #womensfiction #romance

  1. bookescapeswithbabsw67

    After two bereavements in a single week, I took the difficult decision of abandoning this book. It was beautifully written and a lesser author may have been easier on me. I may return in the future, but was all too raw, for me x

    1. Anne Post author

      And very understandably – it’s certainly not the easiest of reads at an emotional level, but the writing is really excellent xx

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