#Review: Only May by Carol Lovekin @carollovekin @honno @RandomTTours #newrelease #blogtour #OnlyMay

By | May 30, 2022

It’s a delight today to be joining the blog tour for Only May by Carol Lovekin, published in paperback by Honno Press on 18th May, and to share my review. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.

I know it’s wrong to have favourites, but I’ll admit it – I’ve been entirely blown away by every book Carol has written, and was so looking forward to this one. Her first published novel, Ghostbird, has always had a particularly special place in my heart – it taught me that I didn’t need to race through a book to declare how much I enjoyed it, that a slow exploration of the beauty of the writing, allowing it to have its full emotional impact, can be quite a heady experience. I also remember how very difficult it was to find the right words for my review – but I got there, and you’ll find that review here (together with a publication day interview). And then came Snow Sisters, a full week set aside for reading, the magic in its words, everything I’d ever wanted it to be – followed by another real struggle to find the right words for my review. And then there was Wild Spinning Girls, with its sublime writing and imagery that’s still seared into my memory – once more, I eventually managed to pull together a half-decent review (you’ll find it here).

And it’s now Sunday afternoon, a few days since I finished reading, and I’m again wondering how on earth I can write a review that even begins to do this latest book justice…

Listen. The bee walks across my finger, slow as anything and I can see through the gauzy wing, to the detail of my skin. You aren’t looking in the right place. If you look her in the eye and tell a lie, May Harper will see it. And if she doesn’t see it, the bees will hum it in her ear.


Her kind mother and her free-spirited aunt have learned to choose their words with care. Her beloved invalid father lives in a world of his own, lost in another time, the war he cannot forget.


On May’s seventeenth birthday, a casual evasion from her employer hints at a secret hiding at the heart of the family. Determined to discover the truth, May starts listening at doors…


She begins watching the faces of the people she loves best in all the world, those she suspects are hiding the biggest lie of all.

The book is set in Wales in the late 1950s – although it also has a timeless quality, an other worldliness, an atmosphere all of its own – and as May reaches her seventeenth birthday, her senses tell her that something isn’t right. She’s particularly closely attuned with the natural world – the companionship of the bees is a striking recurring motif. And she also has a gift – perhaps inherited from her grandmother, now lying in the nearby churchyard which she regularly visits to find peace and contentment – that means she can unerringly detect a lie from the look in a person’s eye. But her current unease is more about a disturbance in the air, the partly overheard conversations, the fixed smiles – and it slowly becomes clear that there are secrets she never suspected underlying her idyllic childhood.

The characterisation in this book is stunning. May has a particularly close relationship with her mother Esme – you can feel the love between them, but there are sometimes those familiar small niggles when she’s a touch over-protective or treats her like a child. Esme is a woman of her time, caring for her family, setting about the next load of washing however tired or troubled she might be – unlike her sister Ffion, a flamboyant free spirit living in her dilapidated caravan, nurturing May’s interest in magic and her affinity with nature. And then there’s father Billy, fragile and in a wheelchair, still suffering the devastating after-effects of his wartime experience – and he and May have a beautiful relationship, tender and caring, as she helps her mother look after his needs around the shifts they both work at the local hotel. He speaks rarely – but when he does, his words are impactful and carefully chosen.

The book’s cast is small. Other than a few incidental characters – all material to the development of the story – the others (all beautifully drawn) are Connie, the owner of the hotel, who inadvertently makes May increasingly suspicious that there are secrets within her family, Connie’s partner Amelie who befriends May at a time of particular need, and May’s childhood friend Gwen who is her only non-family support and confidante. And my focus on the characters rather than the narrative is wholly deliberate – because, however devastating for all concerned, rather than being about the secret itself this book is primarily about its impact on May herself and the family unit at the story’s heart.

I must mention atmosphere – to call it claustrophobic would be wrong, but the closeness of the family is almost suffocating, although offset by the palpable love between them and the sheer joy May experiences through her involvement with the natural world. The writing is simply wonderful – there were passages I marked at first because of their language and carefully chosen words or their exceptional emotional impact, but that was something I soon abandoned when I felt I needed to note everything. The pace is slow – and that feels like a criticism, but the story unfolds in the only way it possibly could, with exquisite care and an infinitely loving touch, exploring the complex issues and their impact on characters about whom I cared deeply.

This was a beautiful read, poignant and deeply moving, filled with love – and entirely unforgettable. Without question, this will be one of my books of the year – very highly recommended.

About the author

Carol Lovekin has Irish blood and a Welsh heart. She was born in Warwickshire and has lived in mid Wales since 1979. A feminist, she finds fiction the perfect vehicle for telling women’s collective stories. Her books reflect her love of the landscape and mythology of her adopted home.

Also by Carol Lovekin:

GHOSTBIRD: ‘Charming, quirky, magical’ Joanne Harris

SNOW SISTERS: ‘… a novel of magic, of potent spells, and of great beauty.’ Louise Beech

WILD SPINNING GIRLS: ‘an author with magic in her writing whose words enhance the lives of those who read her.’ Linda’s Book Bag

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6 thoughts on “#Review: Only May by Carol Lovekin @carollovekin @honno @RandomTTours #newrelease #blogtour #OnlyMay

  1. Rosie Amber

    I love these lines Anne: ‘If you look her in the eye and tell a lie, May Harper will see it. And if she doesn’t see it, the bees will hum it in her ear.’ – it all sounds very intriguing.

    1. Anne Post author

      It really is a wonderful read, Rosie – if you try it, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did…

  2. alexcraigie

    A terrific review, Anne! I was going to buy the Kinde version but I might buy the paperback because it sounds like a book I’ll keep coming back to.

    1. Anne Post author

      Thanks Alex – and with that perfect cover, I think I must buy a paperback to grace my shelves too…

  3. whatcathyreadnext

    I thought you would love this when I read it myself for the blog tour and knew you were taking part in the tour too.

    1. Anne Post author

      Ah Cathy, you know me so well – glad I didn’t disappoint! 😊

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