Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Seven Secrets of Happiness by Sharon Owens

As December arrives and the festive season approaches, I like to read books with a Christmas or wintry theme.  

Over the past couple of years for some reason, most of my seasonal reads have been by American authors and to be truthful I've found the majority of them are just too sweet and overly sentimental for my tastes.  

Yes, Christmas time should be a time of peace and goodwill and families and happiness, but let's face it, we all know that very often it doesn't quite work out like that.

Although Sharon Owens' The Seven Secrets of Happiness (published by Penguin in 2010) does have a message, and makes the reader take a look at what really does make us happy and what really does matter in life, it's done in a way that is not patronising, or twee or down-right tooth achingly sweet.   

So, to the story.  It's Christmas Eve and Ruby O'Neill is waiting at home for her husband Jonathan.   She wants to decorate the tree, settle down with a drink and look forward to a few days together without the pressures of work for a change.  Ruby and Jonathan are happily married, they are attractive, succesful, reasonably wealthy, have a beautiful home and are madly in love.

Tom Lavery is a widower, his beloved wife Kate died some years ago, he misses her dreadfully and wonders how much longer he can carry on without her.  Tom is delivering the last of the Christmas trees from the Camberwell estate where he is the head gardener and Ruby is the last customer on his list. 
Just a few hours later Ruby's life is shattered.  Her dreams in pieces, her hopes for the future destroyed and the Christmas tree standing in the corner.

Over the next months and years Ruby gradually starts to learn to live again, but swears that she will never love again.  Helped by her dearest friend Jasmine, she starts to build herself a new future and every now and again Tom shows his face in her life.  Ruby discovers that there are seven secrets to happiness and if she considers these and remembers them, then life could be good again.

Sharon Owens has that Irish women authors gift - the gift of making her characters seem real, making them recognisable, making them flawed yet likeable, and making the reader interested in what will happen on the next page, and the next, and the next.    

I liked the character of Ruby, but I loved Tom and I loved Jasmine, for me they were the two that stood out.   Ruby's discovery of the seven secrets of happiness could have been twee and over the top but Owens links the discovery of each secret to seven velvet handbags that Ruby has made - each recipient of a bag has a story to tell about what can make them happy, and it's not in the least bit sweet and sentimental, it's very cleverly done.

Despite the title, don't expect happiness straight away, I had a lump in my throat by page 25 but there are plenty of smiles along the way.   A great seasonal read.

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