The Real Katie Lavender (by Erica James)

On the whole, I like Erica James' novels. They're light, but have some nice characterisation, and the story-lines are usually interesting without being predictable. I have very much enjoyed two or three of her novels, and so far there has only been one which I really didn't like.

As soon as one of her new books is out in paperback I added it to my wishlist, so was pleased to receive 'The Real Katie Lavender' for Christmas last year. It looked like something light and perhaps a little fluffy: ideal for bedtime reading.

The story is about Katie, aged thirty, who has recently lost her parents. She thinks she's coping fairly well, on the whole. Then she loses her job, and has no idea what she will do instead. Around the same time she's beginning to wonder whether or not she really wants to stay with her frequently absent boyfriend, although he was very supportive through the time she grieved for her parents.

If all that weren't enough for one person to deal with, she is given an unexpected letter by a solicitor, which changes just about everything in her life. At first resistant to follow it up, Katie decides to make a journey of exploration... and, disguised as a waitress, finds herself involved in a family drama. She  friendly with an old lady who has just lost her son in tragic circumstances, meets some relatives who are not at all keen to know anything about her, and also starts to fall for someone who might or might not be her cousin...

While Katie is not responsible for events that unfolded around her, she does seem to be the catalyst for some further family feuds and dramas.  As she begins, tentatively, to become fond of a few people whose existence she knew nothing about a few months previously, she realises that she is endangering a marriage and indeed an entire family by her remaining in touch. So she makes a difficult decision...

It's quite a story, with an interesting premise and some unexpected events that unfold. I thought the book started very well, right at the point of the first drama; however, Katie seemed almost too calm and unemotional, and throughout the book, while I grew to like her, I never entirely related to her. I was more fond of some of the minor characters who seemed more three-dimensional, but the main story is Katie's and it's hard when the main character isn't particularly sympathetic.

I thought it was a good story, even though the storyline feels more like a soap than a novel at times, with so many family problems from past and present, and one liaison which seemed too bizarre to be real. I also felt that the story was rather long-winded in places... there was a lot of introspection, and some conversation that did not seem to go anywhere. It could perhaps have benefitted from some editing.

Still, overall I thought this was an enjoyable novel, just right for light reading before bedtime.  Recommended if you like Erica James' writing, and don't want anything too heavy. Note that this is available for Kindle as well as in paperback.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews 18th January 2013

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