On an ordinary Friday morning the lives of the residents at 77 Willoughby Street are shattered by the return of Norah Wells. The Mother Who Left six years earlier. She left baby Wilma and 8-year-old daughter Ella in the care of Adam, her husband. Inexplicably, unexpectedly she has come home. 

Home however has changed dramatically from the chaos she left behind. Her best friend, Fay, also god-mother to Wilma, has stepped up, not only to help Adam with the children but gradually replacing her in his and at least one of the daughter’s lives. 

Why did Norah leave? Why did she return? Where was she and with whom? What becomes of The Mother Who Stayed? Finally and most importantly, who is going to tell little Wilma that ‘Mummy’ is not her real mother?

This is an engaging, at times mystical, novel that unfolds through the various voices of the main characters. The nuances of each person are captured  perfectly and are captivating despite being in third-person. 

The children’s confusion, heart-ache, innocence is written in an almost fairy-tale style, often with short, staccato sentences, often with repetition. Whilst this quirky technique might not be to every reader’s taste I found it original and endearing. 

The two daughters are at the core of the novel and their various reactions to Norah’s presence are the catalyst for the non-stop plot twists, action and emotional scenes.

Ella immediately won my sympathy with her naivety and trust in her mother. A mother she believed, despite evidence to the contrary, to have been kidnapped. As a result Ella set up a campaign to find her mother and her twitter feed on this cause is a perfect modern contrast to the rest of the book. Her twitter messages brings in various suggestions, help and a diverse array of character that interact well with Ella. 

During the long period without her mother, Ella had modelled herself on Norah; adopting her lifestyle, her dress sense, her passion for running, learning to love jazz and like her musician mother, learning to play the trumpet. A mother Ella discovers had walked out on her of her on own free will. 

As the truth is finally revealed Ella’s emotional centre is profoundly shaken. Only then does the reader gradually learn that the foundations of their previous life had been far from stable and rather that of a dysfunctional family full of secrets and despair.  

Wilma is the light of this book; surrounded by a quasi-angelic, spiritual aura. Like Norah,she seems to hover between the real world and the spirit world and accompanying her across both is her best friend and pet dog, Louis. He immediately wins our affection and love – entrusted to look after Wilma whatever the price. His pivotal role in the novel is quietly reinforced throughout.

If having an animal in as a major element in a book sounds familiar, you might recall ‘Hamlet’ the pet pig from the wonderful ‘What Milo Saw’ also written by Virginia MacGregor. 

I couldn’t wait to read her second novel and am pleased to say that it did not disappoint. Her writing has become more self-assured, with the story-line more complex and featuring a variety of adult voices. 

Overall its feather light, surreal quality blends exquisitely with modern dilemmas and technology ensuring that this is ultimately an uplifting book. I was hooked from the start and I grabbed every free available moment to read on. I can highly recommend this book.

netgalleyI received this Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a honest and impartial review.

Publisher:                      Little Brown Book

Group Release Date:  14th January 2016

Price:                              £ 14.99   (Hardback – Amazon)  

                                         £ 7.99 (Kindle – Amazon)

Rating:                           4 out of 5 stars.


    1. I agree, I’ve noticed a huge increase in books around families, slightly odd, slightly dysfunctional. Also many have children as the lead character; I must admit some of these books are now my favourite at the moment. Yes, too too many good books all waiting to be read – but at least better than the other way round! Thank you for your comment and wishing you a lovely weekend. 😀

  1. Anonymous

    I’m hooked. Another one of the books you’ve reviewed that I want to read. My reading list is getting longer as a result, and I must make an effort to catch up.

    When is your next review due?


    1. Mike, so glad this review has you hooked and definitely one I think you’d enjoy. I know, there are just so many good books out there and never enough time…when I was younger I never liked sleeping as I felt it was a waste of time when I could be doing something else…usually reading or playing! Next review will be out in a little while…some other posts in the meantime to give a break from the books! Great that you’re so keen!!😀

    1. Eve, I first read about NetGalley in Writing Magazine and thought it sounded a good idea so I signed up. To start with as a new member there are certain books which you can review – in every type of imaginable genre. There seems to be an endless amount of books. Then I saw others as yet unpublished books available to request – which I started to do but only recently have these requests been accepted by the bigger publishers (they want proof previous reviews for NetGalley, where you’re publishing reviews etc). The first time a request for ARC was accepted I was thrilled! This book is a joy to read – my next one is the complete opposite in genre…should be interesting! Wishing you a lovey Sunday. 😀

      1. That sounds wonderful! How fun that you’re getting accepted for ARCs from the bigger publishers. Is NetGalley also the site where writers can post their own unpublished work?

        1. No, I think you are thinking of Wattpad. I know a few bloggers who are publishing parts of their WIPs on there as well as short stories. I haven’t signed up as I’m already so busy with writing, blogging and life! But it is an interesting concept and I will look at it at some stage. As for having a self-published book accepted by NetGalley for review, I’m not sure how that works. Hope this helps a bit, Eve.

  2. Thank you for your wonderful review of a book I’ve heard nothing about, but am sure to download it on my Kindle now. I like books that are ‘different,’ as long as they’re well-written, character-driven, and come from the heart. Sounds like this book covers those three basics!

    1. Pam, this book ticks all those three wonderful criteria! 😀 So glad you liked the review and I would love to hear from you later what you thought of the book. Thank you so much for your comment.

  3. This sounds like a great character study of so many topics. It sounds heart-breaking, but I’m a believer that what don’t break you makes you stronger–hopefully that is true for all the actors in this story.

    I love that the dog is important, too. As they are in so many families.

    1. You guessed it, Jacqui! Heart-ache leading to heart-warming – so worth the read. The number of topics covered was ambitious but the author held them tightly together and never lost the thread. Oh, as for Louis – I wonder if he isn’t the star in some ways – just adorable and so full of wisdom!

  4. That sounds fascinating, Annika. I was struck by how you described the children’s confusion and how Macgregor wrote that part. My grandson repeats quite a bit when he’s trying to sort out something new, so it totally made sense. The children’s pov regarding the bewildering and hurtful adult-world is what really intrigues me about the book. Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂

    1. Diana, you are right, I think the different pov is the making of this book, particularly the children’s which is captured perfectly. The youngest exists is a dream/mystical world part of the time, adding to the magical aura of the book but it is simultaneously rooted in the modern real world. Quite a feat to pull off successfully. I’m sure you’d enjoy this one.

    1. JC, that’s a brilliant idea!! The concept could be extended to a reading a book club but at a luxury holiday destination, people meeting up for a week, sharing literature (and wine / chocolate). Just quiet peaceful reading weeks – oh, just realised that’s what I do in Sweden!!

    1. ☺️Ahh…Jessica, you have me blushing!! Thank you so much for your sweet kind words – well, I better keep up the good job then! Seriously when I started reviewing books last year I was in a real state, thinking I couldn’t do them at all, working for hours and hours…now they’re a joy and ensures I read with care and my full attention.

      1. Really? Well I never would’ve known that! You are clearly a natural! 🙂 I wish all reviews were as honest and thorough. I’m sure I’ve missed out on some great books through the years simply based on reviews that may not have been so objective. 🙂

  5. Great review, Annika! I’m intrigued; what an interesting story. Often the story involves the father disappearing, and not returning. This is different, and I can imagine the conflicts that arise at Norah’s return. Another addition to my TBR list (doggone it’s getting long!)

    1. Julie, that is a neat twist on many such stories with the mother disappearing instead. Adam however is not all sweetness and innocence though! That twist, along with the title and cover is an instant winner as it draws potential readers in to check it out. I’m so sorry…adding to your TBR list!! 😃 There just seems to be an avalanche of brilliant books at the moment. I’m snowed under too! Hope you get some quiet reading time over the weekend.

  6. delphini510

    Another brilliant review Annika. You really leave me eager to follow what happens to
    those children and furthermore; why did Norah leave.
    What are the secrets and why the despair. I did note that the father is not featuring.

    I really enjoyed “What Milo saw” so will buy this one as soon as the price comes down.:)
    All the best

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment and the book is very much one of following the children and seeing the story unfold whilst also catching up what happened earlier in their lives. Adam does feature a bit but I just realised with your comment there are barely any male characters, mainly Adam and Ella’s boyfriend, Sia. Yes, it is rather pricey at the moment but as it has only been out for four months so this might well come down soon. Wishing you a lovely weekend. 😀

    1. Carrie, be reassured, although you will feel heart-ache for the children, your heart will not break…I agree, it’s a terrific title and that is what initially drew me to the book. The cover is also great I feel – striking, bold and use of warm colours.

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