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.



If you are looking for a break from the current glut of dystopia novels than check out What Milo Saw by Virginia MacGregor, which is a heart-warming and engaging story centred around 9-year-old Milo.

Despite suffering from an eye disease which has left him with only pinhole sight, his depth of vision of the world around him exceeds that of the adults whom surround him.

As his gran, Lou, is put into a nursing home by his struggling mother only Milo can see the suffering and criminal acts carried out by Nurse Thornhill. Along with his pet pig, Hamlet, Milo sets out to expose the nursing home ‘Forget Me Not’ and free his gran from the misery.

Hamlet is a wonderfully crafted animal-character and I never imaged a pig would worm its way into my heart. Lovingly close to Milo’s gran, he snuggles next to Lou to keep her warm, raises the alarm in face of danger. Initially bought by his now absent father, Hamlet became Milo’s life-saver following his diagnosis about his eyes and impending blindness.

Alone to start with, Milo’s naive assumption that he can make a difference helps him to develop some unusual allies.

One is Al, the undercover journalist and also a relation. Al refuses to pander to Milo’s disability rather empowering him with advice on how to gather evidence.

To me more interesting is Tripi, a Syrian refugee who works as a chef at the nursing home and is astounded by the cultural differences compared to those in his country regarding the treatment of elderly relatives.

The story is bang up to date with the inclusion of Tripi, saved from certain death in Syria and now living and working (illegally) in the UK.

Tripi is initially an unwilling ally to young Milo, who helps him not only with accommodation away from the park bench but also helps him in his efforts to seek out his long lost sister. Tripi’s overwhelming sorrow is losing his sister as they fled Syria and he does not know whether she is alive or dead.  With a few deft sentences Virginia MacGregor captures the warmth and exotic nature of Tripi’s former life in Syria; my senses were awakened through the descriptions of the food and country.

Sandy, Milo’s mother, gradually develops from a rather stereotypical overworked single mother to one facing much more complex issues and with time the empathy and understanding for her grows as she herself adjusts to the truth of her situation and becomes aware of her own emerging strength and independence.

Each chapter of the book is written through the viewpoint of one of the main characters. Although in the third-person this is still a very personable and individualistic approach that works well throughout and brings the story neatly towards its resolution.

This touching book is simpler than many in this cross-over genre of fiction / YA, with a relatively uncomplicated sub-plot.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed the softer tones of the book, not squirming from the injustices of life, the difficulties of relationships, living life with a disability. I fell for the warmth and innocent caring spirit of Milo and I will remember him and his eclectic mixture of family and friends (not forgetting Hamlet) long after I finished the book.

Overall I found it an uplifting story and one I would highly recommend.

I received an Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.badge_proreader

This review is out later than usual owing to holiday commitments. My apologies.

Publisher: Sphere

Release date: 13th August 2015

Price: £ 3.85 (paperback – Amazon)   £ 4.99 (kindle – Amazon)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars