Reviewed by Emma Crowley
On the morning of Lily's twenty-fifth birthday, it's time to open the very last letter written to her by her beloved mother, who died when she was eight.
Learning more about the first and only real love of her mum's life is a revelation. On the same day, Lily also meets Eddie Tessler, a man fleeing fame who just might have the ability to change her world in unimaginable ways. But her childhood friend Dan has his own reasons for not wanting Lily to get too carried away by Eddie's attentions.
Before long, secrets begin to emerge and Lily's friends and family become involved. In the beautiful Cotswold village of Stanton Langley, nothing will ever be the same again...
I have been a fan of Jill Mansell for as long as I can remember and having written so many books you would be forgiven if things had gotten a little bit routine or stale. Her writing is as strong as ever as was proved by last years sublime release - Three Amazing Things About You. It was a brilliant read from start to finish that stayed with me long after I had turned the last page, I know many other people felt the same as it featured in numerous top tens for the year. Jill just has this way of drawing you into the world she creates full of wonderful characters, storylines and settings.
You and Me, Always is her release for 2016 and again it comes with a beautiful, attractive cover. Admittedly not as strong as last years release but a good read all the same. It is set in the small village of Stanton Langley in the Cotswold’s. This time we meet Lily who on the morning of her 25th birthday opens the last letter left for her by her mother who died when Lily was only 8. The letter is a revelation containing some information that will turn things upside down for Lily but will it be for the better or worse? On the same day Lily encounters Eddie Tessler - a film star fleeing the trappings of fame having gotten himself into an uncomfortable predicament. Lily is just about to discover her life is about to change in more ways than she could have imagined.
I'll admit straight away there were quite a number of characters to get to know in this book, each with their own storyline. At times I did get confused and found it hard to keep track of who was who and what was happening to each person. Saying that each character was well crafted and brought something valuable and worthwhile to Lily's overall story even if by the end I did feel some of them did become surplus to the story. I loved Lily right from the beginning. She could have been all doom and gloom forever wallowing in misery and feeling upset having lost her mother at such a young age. Lily could have been full of resentment and anger but instead having had such a solid, supportive upbringing from Coral and her husband Nick, Lily grew into a well developed, happy young woman who as we meet her is on the cusp of change. Lily's mother Jo died from cancer and needless to say Lily's errant Dad was not on the scene having long since abandoned her. So Jo's friends Coral and Nick continued to raise Lily and gave her the opportunities her own mother would have wanted for her. Now Lily works in Goldstone's Salvage and Treasure - a reclamation company set up by Coral and Nick. Sadly Nick has died and Coral is feeling lonely but may just be ready to open her heart to love.
As I have mentioned there are several characters to familiarise yourself with and Jill has created the ultimate male character in Dan – an airline pilot who has been friends with Lily for as long as she can remember. There were plenty of long, lazy summer days spent messing around the village as they grew up and Dan wishes these moments would continue. Dan is very very attractive and my god does he know it and plays up to it at every opportunity that presents itself. So much so that Lily believes a relationship with him would never be possible nor would she even want to embark on a romantic liaison with him. So when Dan's sister Patsy does a favour for a friend and allows movie star Eddie to hide out in her house. Lily thinks all her dreams have become a reality and true love beckons but as has forever been said the path of true love never does run smooth.
Patsy was another great addition to the book she ran the hairdressers in the village. It was a hot bed of gossip but at the same time we got inside Patsy's head and soon realised her life is not the way she envisioned it and the ticking of her biological clock is only growing louder. A series of internet dates provide hilarious moments for the reader. The incident with the tandem was funny and cringe-worthy in equal measure. I did like Patsy's storyline as I did like her character. I have to mention how she put on the film 'The Holiday' to cheer her up. Bravo for saying this Jill because I am sure there are lots of women who do the very same thing. Patsy offered support and a kind word to anyone when needed especially Lily. I suppose the village as a whole felt they had raised Lily and wanted the best for her. But with Patsy after developing her so well I felt her ending was a little rushed.
There was an awful lot going on in this book that at times I felt the story did stray away from Lily getting the last letter and its subsequent repercussions. Yes the author did come back to it but so much else went on that at times I forgot that Lily was ultimately searching for answers. The letter contained some secrets and once she reads of one Lily wants to discover the truth behind this secret. But in doing so that leads to further secrets (some not so pleasant) crawling out of the woodwork. Several parts (I hate saying this) were a bit clichéd and run of the mill and didn't add anything to the storyline. The further Lily 'feels' she falls for Eddie the more annoyed with her I became because it all seemed so false that there was someone better for her out there and she was using Eddie as a scapegoat. The life of premières and fancy hotels was really not for her – a lovely down to earth girl whose place was in the village with her friends and a special someone who had his eye on her. If the overall storyline had concentrated more on Lily and the new person she meets and what role he had to play instead of having too many other things going on I think I would have enjoyed this book even more. I would have concentrated on the one plot with maybe one other instead of learning about Patsy and Coral and the female film star Lily meets. Things just appeared a bit too stretched overall for me.
You and Me Always is classic Jill Mansell. It was an enjoyable read full of love, loss and how nothing stays hidden forever. But maybe it just lies in wait until the person needs it the most and can do what is best with what has been uncovered. Truthfully this wasn't my favourite book by Jill. Honestly I think I still have Three Amazing Things About You stuck firmly in my head and it did detract from my reading of this book. I had such high expectations and was expecting a read of the same level I experienced last year but it didn't deliver that for me. I'm not saying this isn't a good book it really is but it didn't hit me in the same way and leave the same impact.
Jill has created a wonderful setting and atmosphere in Stanton Langley and its residents and I felt like I was observing a close knit group of women who are always there for each other through good times and bad but ultimately just that tiny little bit of sparkle was missing for me which would have made this book an excellent read instead of just the enjoyable read I found it was. Saying all that long time die hard fans and new fans alike will gobble this up and love it. I'm not disappointed with it and will as always eagerly await Jill's next release as it is a highlight in my reading year.
I'd like to thank Emma for reviewing You and Me, Always which we received from the publisher via NetGalley.