You and Me, Always
While I don’t love every book Jill Mansell writes, even her non-DIKs are comfort reads for me. You and Me, Always features numerous characters and multiple romances, and I initially had more trouble than usual getting into the story. But Ms. Mansell soon worked her usual magic for me, gradually intertwining seemingly disparate characters into a truly lovely story in which many different couples get a happy ending.
At first I thought the theme of the book was it takes a village to raise a child, because 25-year old Lily Harper was raised by the tiny Cotswold village of Stanton Langley. When her single mother died while Lily was a young girl, her mother’s friend Coral and Coral’s husband took responsibility for Lily. But seemingly everyone in town taught Lily something. But as I read further I realized that the true theme of the book might well be everyone has secrets and they all come out eventually.
In Lily’s mother’s last days she wrote a series of letters for her daughter to open – one on each birthday – until she reaches twenty-five. When Lily opens her mother’s final birthday letter she learns the name of the man who was the love of her mother’s life, Declan Madison. This sets Lily on a search to meet Declan and learn more about her mother. When Lily meets Declan, she learns her mother was the love of his life as well. While Declan is not Lily’s father, he soon falls into that rol and becomes connected in important ways with all of Lily’s friends in the village.
But the novel is about far more than Lily’s quest to meet Declan, and it’s about far more people than Lily – although she’s a delightful heroine. In fact, we have three heroines this time: Lily, Coral, and Patsy (Lily’s former babysitter and now friend). At first Patsy provides comic relief by means of a series of disastrous internet dates. But as we learn Patsy’s secrets, the depth of her character and longings are revealed. At first, Coral, still mourning the death of her husband, seemed to be included merely as a mother figure for Lily. But she gradually comes back to life over the course of the book.
The story is a mix of funny and touching scenes. Most of the key characters – and there are far too many to describe here – get involved along the way with at least one person who doesn’t turn out to be their eventual happy ending. So be warned: if you want a straightforward romance featuring one heroine and one hero, this is not the book for you.
In her path to a happy ever after, our primary – Lily – lusts after her lifelong friend Dan, but recognizes that he sleeps around too much for any smart woman to be serious about him. When Lily discovers a famous movie star hiding out in her friend’s house she gets swept into his world, just as he gets swept into the life of Stanton Langley. As for Dan, he seems superficial at first, until we slowly discover his secrets and the reasons for some of his behaviors,
While the first few chapters are a bit of a jumble, I gradually began to get into the story and to be comforted by the author’s style. And even though many characters are thrown in along the way, they all make sense, helping to reveal the personalities of the main characters, and serving as potential lovers for each of them. As a side note, there’s at least one cameo by a heroine from a previous romance novel that is very sweet. Admittedly brief, if you haven’t read the author’s other books it will just be a throwaway scene, but for me, it was very nice. You and Me, Always hit the spot and I am already looking forward to Jill Mansell’s next romance.