Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Monique and Issy are teachers, housemates and lovers of musicals! Their Friday night routine consists of snacks, wine and the Frozen DVD. So when Monique’s boyfriend moves to America for a year and her sister Hope moves in because of her own relationship woes, Friday nights get a new name… ‘The Singalong Society for Singletons’!
It’s a chance to get together, sing along to their favourite tracks from the best-loved West End shows, and forget the worries of work, relationships and love (or lack of it). But when Issy shares the details of their little group further afield, they get some unexpected new members who might just change their opinions on singledom for good….
The Singalong Society for Singletons is the début full length novel from Katey Lovell. Previously she had written a series of short stories called 'The Meet Cute' which I hadn't read so this new book was a chance to discover the writing of Katey. Months ago when I saw this cover pop up on Twitter I knew I had to read this book as I thought the colours and pictures were just magnificent and really you couldn't find a better, snappy title. The title is so apt for the actual plot of the book and those who read this story may find themselves forming a similar society considering the magic of musicals that works so well on the girls. OK so musicals mightn't be the correct focus for everyone but there is plenty of inspiration and food for thought to be found between the pages of this very enjoyable book.
Right from the beginning I completely identified with the main characters who work in a school as I am a teacher myself and I found all their moans and groans and happiness at times regarding their jobs completely justified. I found myself nodding along in agreement and relishing the fact even though the may have been fictional characters that they knew just how tough the job of a teacher can be but also how exhilarating. Katey had obviously had done such in-depth research and she nailed this aspect of the novel to a t. Yes being teachers was not the sole focus of the book yet I feel it warrants a mention because for once I genuinely understood what the characters were going through. The main characters bar Hope and Connie who are not teachers were people who I felt I could call friends and best mates. Putting this aside the book focuses on a sort of a club if you wish to call it that or a society as mentioned in the title. A love of musicals combined with dire relationship statuses force the girls to come together and bond and maybe find their ever lasting happiness.
The book opens with a prologue as Monique (who will eventually become the driving force behind the society) believes now is the time to propose to long term boyfriend Justin. Her anticipation and hopes are at fever pitch as she feels the time is right after so long to move the relationship up a gear. 'He was my other half, the love of my life, and that's why I steeled myself up to pop the vital question. I couldn't envisage a future in which we weren't together'. But then her dreams of a blissful future come crashing to a halt as after seeing the musical Wicked Justin announces he is off on a year long work trip to America. Monique is devastated and can't see a way forward. How can she survive a year without the man she loves? Will he not be tempted by American beauties? Realistically she has no other choice but to suck it up but what the brain says the heart finds very challenging to do. Monique begins to wallow in her misery and the house she shares with Issy a teacher in the school where Monique works as a teaching assistant becomes the place where she can retreat from the world and gorge on takeaways, wine and all the bad stuff that one needs on a Friday night after a long working week.
The reader could tell from the outset that Monique and Issy had a unique bond and they would be there for each other all the time. They would revel in the good times and wallow and comfort in the bad. 'That's the great thing about our friendship we tease each other mercilessly, but we can switch to drying each others tears in a matter of seconds if needs be'. By January Justin believes a long term break might be the answer which just sees Monique wonder even more how will she get through the year? But Issy and her fellow friend Connie and sister Hope will be there and although not everyone is happy at first soon The Singalong Society for Singletons is born and surely musicals bring out the best in everyone. There's nothing like singing along to a good song to brighten anyone's mood.
The remainder of the book follows the months as the girls navigate the year through a series of musicals with two men Liam and Ray even joining. Yes the society was formed to cheer the women up but some males do add a bit of spice and flavour to the story. The beginning of each chapter brings us to the girls house on a Friday night as we catch up on their week and what stages they are at in their personal lives. It really is a chance to let to go of all their worries and problems and let some other people listen to what anyone may need to get off their chests.
Truthfully I did find it slightly repetitive that most of the book was set in the girls house bar a trip to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Yes within the chapters we were filled in on what had been ongoing during the week but it just became a bit mundane to know each chapter was set in the same place but I had to push that to one side and focus on the story at hand. Also I was worried that there would be far too many mentions and focus on musicals. I can't say I am a fan and wondered would I recognise any of them but surprisingly I didn’t mind it in the slightest. Frozen, The Lion King,Fame, Grease and Les Miserables are just a few I recognised. There were probably references scattered throughout the book to the musical the girls were watching that week but as I wouldn't know them that in depth they passed me by but I'm sure die hard fans will find them and enjoy them for what they are.
I'm glad the book didn't focus entirely on Monique as I felt if this had been the case the book could have fallen quite flat. Issy as well as being a firm friend and support to Monique had her own problems. I could sense something had happened in her past and events in the present were bringing this all back to the forefront of her mind. She seemed a very closed book in some senses. She was there for Monique when needed but kept some of her own personal stuff quite close to her chest. But maybe there might be someone there who could help her through what she was attempting to confront after so long and the happiness she deserved could be just around the corner.
Hope - Monique's sister was a character that I was so glad was included in this book, tere needs to be more characters like her in books and thank you Katey for having her as part of the society. Hope is a woman who knows who she is and is never afraid to show it, she is proud of the person she has grown to be. The only problem is her partner Amara can't accept that it's not right to hide behind closed doors and keep true love a secret. Her parents should be told. I accept Amara found herself in a very tricky situation but I felt more for Hope as she knew there was nothing wrong with the love they felt for each other and she only wanted to share it with the world. Being kicked out of the flat they share wasn't the answer. Staying with Issy and Monique and reluctantly at first engaging in the Singalong Society may help her to see where her life's path should go.
Connie perhaps was the most reserved of all, she was a health freak and I would have loved her to just relax and let go and gorge on all the junk and enjoy the musicals. She worked in an office in a repetitive job and her home situation was trying and draining. I sincerely hoped that the girls could work a little magic and maybe she would find the independence and happiness she so desperately craved and needed.
There was a good solid storyline here even at times I did find Monique very frustrating. I wanted to shake her and say come on just get over Justin- a year is an incredibly long time and a lot can happen. At the same time I never really felt even from just reading the prologue when we meet Justin briefly that they had such a deep and ever lasting love. I felt there was someone better out there for Monique and she needed to be more assertive and believe and I am glad over the course of the year she attempted to do this particularly in relation to her career. Monique slowly began to realise we can't just wander along in life hoping the one or the fulfilment we need will just magically appear. We need to go out out there and actively look for ourselves and with a little help from her friends in the society maybe Monique had that little bit of a push and a support that she needed.
Fans of musicals will absolutely devour The Singalong Society for Singletons but those that don't will also find something here for them to soak up and relish. Despite loving the cover and title I'll admit I was apprehensive would I like this book? I thought it would all be too much with endless talk of musicals etc and yes that was here but I looked deeper and found a story of women and two men who came together through a shared passion (for most of them anyway) for musicals. The Singalong Society for Singletons was an enjoyable read with a cast of characters you are instantly rooting for and can identify with. I spent a nice few hours in their company and look forward to what Katey Lovell will write next.
Many thanks to Harper Impulse via NetGalley for my copy of The Singalong Society for Singletons to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.