Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Emma's Review: The Year That Changed Everything by Cathy Kelly

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Three women celebrate their birthdays . . . 30. 40. 50. But their milestone birthdays mark the start of a year that will change everything . . .

Ginger isn't spending her 30th the way she would have planned. Tonight might be the first night of the rest of her life - or a total disaster.

Sam is finally pregnant after years of trying. When her waters break on the morning of her 40th birthday, she panics: forget labour, how is she going to be a mother?

Callie is celebrating her 50th at a big party in her Dublin home. Then a knock at the door mid-party turns her perfect life upside down . . .

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Many thanks to Orion Publishing for my copy of The Year that Changed Everything via NetGalley to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Although not quite back to the Cathy Kelly of old, where years ago upon discovery of her books I devoured one after the other and then was left anxiously waiting for something new, The Year that Changed Everything is certainly heading back in that direction. Admittedly, I haven't read the last two or three books that Cathy has published because the last one I did read just didn't feel up to the standard of all the others I had previously read. Sometimes, I feel the need to take a break from an author and come back to them after a period of time, that is what I have done with this author recently and I am glad I did because I really enjoyed this book and was able to read it in two sittings.

It's not without its faults as I did feel some sections, and even in fact some characters, were far stronger than others. Certain areas did require more development and fleshing out but overall this was a very good read with three distinct women with three separate storylines which eventually do have a connection. Although don't be in anticipation in any sense of the word with regard to said connection like I was. I was reading through, enjoying the chapters and the development and wondering when will this connection be established. It only emerged very near the end and it just felt too tentative for my liking so I glossed over this aspect of the book because really it is about the journey these women undertake rather than the eventual outcome, important thought it is. I thought what I experienced with them to reach that point was far more impressive than the final result.

The book is split into five parts overall, some shorter than others and in my mind not necessarily needed. Part one introduces us to the three women we will be following and it is a time for the reader to establish who they  may connect or identify with the most. Initial impressions do have a lasting effect and of course one's opinion might change throughout the remainder of the book but for me I knew instantly who I identified with the most and who I wanted the most positive, life changing experience for. As we meet each women they are celebrating a significant birthday and said birthday will bring about changes for all, some good, some bad, some hard to work through but ultimately you hope that the women can make it through the difficult, challenging times to emerge even more stronger and independent on the other side.

Callie Reynolds on the outside appears to have it all, she is about to arrive for the glamorous fiftieth party thrown for her by husband Jason. To many it would seem she has the perfect life with a teenage daughter, a man who adores her and provides her with all the trappings of a rich and sumptuous life. But Callie is not happy with the flashy lifestyle even though herself and Jason had nothing and worked hard to reach the point that they are at today. It was clear from the start that Callie was insecure with regard to everything in her life. Being peri-menopausal didn't help either and combined with a fractious teenage daughter in Poppy, Callie isn't the happiest of people. Callie is a person in pain and it's not helped by the ten year estrangement from her family which is all down to Jason and his nature.

We didn't really get to know Jason throughout the book aside from interpreting other people's opinions of him and the subsequent uncovering of his actions. But from I gleamed from the book, he was controlling and manipulative and to all intents and purposes he wanted the world to think everything in his life was perfect and not one thing would ever go out of place. Callie when she first met him must have wanted the same but the reader can see the life she is living now is not all a bed of roses and even if it was she really wasn't that at ease lying in it. The arrival of unexpected guests at the party leads to a shocking and hurtful revelation, lives are torn apart and never will be the same again. The dream lifestyle comes crashing down and Poppy and Callie are the ones left to deal with the fall out as Jason makes his escape. The man she thought she knew was a far cry from the image Jason like to portray to the outside world.

The question remained could Callie lift herself up from the scrapheap, left with nothing and try and make something of herself and give Poppy a more realistic, down to earth future? Where can she turn to now that housekeeper and friend Brenda has done all she can to help? I felt Callie was very weak emotionally after the big event. It didn't help aside from what had happened previous to this she was feeling old, anxious and irritable with life in general. To be honest I felt Callie needed a big reality check and to come back down to earth and realise that we don't all live in gilded cages provided with everything we could ever wish for. In this book she certainly got the check she needed even if she became over reliant on something to get her through. What she does to overcome her obstacles and issues was very brave given the history around the situation but it was a step that needed to be taken if she hoped that the year would be the one that changed everything. I had read more or less the same storyline as Callie's in another book last year so I felt this had all been done before and I knew what the outcome would be. So Callie wasn't the person I was eager to read about all the time instead that was either Sam or Ginger with Ginger winning it for me.

Sam is turning 40 and expecting her first child with Ted. She has been through the millstone of rounds of IVF which led to heartbreak and devastation but now unexpectedly she is about to become a mother. A most joyous occasion for anyone. She is eagerly awaiting the arrival of the child who will change her life and further cement the deep love she has for Ted. So why is there this niggling sensation at the back of her heart and mind that really she is just not up to this - the most challenging thing one encounters in life? Fear, anxiety, worry and insecurities invade her on a daily basis. Given her own mother is as cold as ice and couldn't be further from the loving, nurturing mothers one sees on the cover of baby books how will Sam know what to do? Sam makes a wish to learn to be a good mother.

Oh how I felt for Sam and given I have never had any experience of said situation myself I thought the author did such a fantastic job of portraying a woman who was all at sea lost in a myriad of emotions, afraid she can't do what is best for this very much longed for child. I felt every bit of her pain and anguish and even when a healthy baby girl makes an appearance the worries don't go away only increase. Sam's sister Joanne was a stalwart support to her but if a person can't explain or confess how they are feeling how can help and resolution even be sought? A sense of doom enveloped Sam and I hoped she would find the courage to express how she was feeling and with this landmark birthday and the new arrival now was her opportunity to do so. I felt her struggles and it was such a realistic portrayal of what many women all over the world endure.Unfortunately some do silently for too long.

The third and definitely my favourite character was Ginger, she spoke in volumes to me and I think she will to many readers. I saw plenty of myself in her and I felt she expressed things far better than I ever could with regard to the way I feel about certain things. Ginger is turning 30 and when we meet her she is bridesmaid for her best friend.What unfolds was just horrifying to read and will bring a tear to your eye. No one should have to hear what was said about Ginger. It was cruel, spiteful and hurtful and left me wanting to reach out and give her a big hug. No one could blame her for fleeing and perhaps locking herself away but a year of change lies in store for her. It's up to Ginger whether she makes the most of the opportunities presented to her. Most of which will expose her sheer talent and dedication and perhaps give her the freedom to become the woman she was destined to be.

Ginger is a woman who hides everything. Her feelings are kept close to her chest, hidden away from family and friends but writing an agony aunt column for the newspaper under the pseudonym 'girlfriend' affords her the chance to get things off her chest without fear of discovery. Ginger is a fragile soul, like  a wall flower, happy on the outside but internally hiding so much. She stresses over her large size. Ginger wants a happier more contented her, a different life, a thin life. At work she is sassy and full of smart comebacks when needed. With her family she is kind, caring and helpful but behind it all she hides what she terms a dark secret and yes it is heartbreaking and I felt such empathy with her. Food fills all the dark holes inside her but there must have been a root cause to this and I was keen to discover what it was.

Ginger out of all three of the woman was the one who I felt had the most get up and go, the ability to turn her fortunes around. Enduring several public humiliations probably spurred her on but still I thought she worked through things under her own steam with courage and bravery and I really wanted her as a friend. I thought she was someone you could sit down and talk to and you wouldn't notice the hours passing by as you talked about anything and everything, sharing your deepest worries and fears. Ginger was always to be admired for the way she dealt with things in her job. Her attitude to life over the year slowly started to change and I was rooting for her at every step of the way. Her journey was not without its disappointments, heartache and anguish but whoever said life was easy and reaching your ultimate goal, your happy place is not easy either.

As mentioned previously the book wasn't all perfect, I felt after so much brilliant development of the characters the final third was just too rushed. The connection established was just too tentative and wishy washy, I would have loved a more firmer connection. It all just seemed to happen so suddenly and I didn't feel a deep, believable bond was formed between all three women even though that was what the author would have liked us to feel. I know where the author was going but didn't feel that point was reached. I am glad though I have come back to Cathy Kelly's writing. I did enjoy this book and the messages and sentiments behind it even though not all were pulled off to a deeply satisfying conclusion. The Year that Changed everything is most definitely worth a read. Ginger has made a deep lasting impression on me and I hope she will too with many other readers.

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