The Heroine: Past Secrets focuses on a group of women living on Summer Street, a picturesque lane in Dublin lined with beautiful old trees, well-groomed gardens and stately homes. Christie Devlin, a married empty-nester with a passion for art and a gift for seeing the future, ties together this story as she helps her neighbours through their struggles, finally realizing she must face up to secrets of her own. Her neighbour, Faye Reid, a single working mother who has suppressed her zest for life in order to raise her teenage daughter Amber, is devastated when Amber runs away to follow a boy to America. And Maggie Maguire, recently returned home after being betrayed by her boyfriend, is struggling to overcome her high school insecurities. All the heroines must face the consequences of keeping secrets, overcoming obstacles to discover their true selves.
The Highs: I fell in love with Cathy Kelly's wonderful writing within the first chapter. Humorous, light and effortless, the author weaves together description, action and dialogue beautifully. She painted each scene into my mind perfectly. Not only is her talented writing a joy to read, but I found it so inspiring that I was longing to pen a story of my own when I reached the end.
I also grew to be very attached to her characters, especially Faye and Amber Reid. All of the characters are well-rounded and realistic, as well as given compelling personalities that help bond the reader to them. There are no dull wallflowers here; Christie is passionate and caring, while Amber's adventurous and naive spirit was perfectly captured on paper. Faye's anxious temperament was expressed thoughtfully and I really enjoyed reading about her emotional journey from helicopter mom to a new, blossoming individual.
The settings throughout the novel are described gorgeously, with lush details about the plant life being my favourite. I felt that each described setting really represented a part of the character and told the reader a little more about them, just like it should. Christie's warm, well-cared for home reflects her welcoming and soft personality, while Maggie's apartment with each room decorated completely separate from the others, with no flow, represents her jumbled and confused outlook. Every new location brought beautiful descriptions that made reading this book even more pleasurable.
I always love stories about fresh beginnings. There is something so inspiring about reading of another's journey through hell, where they ultimately triumph. It lifts my spirit, and Past Secrets was definitely the great refresher I needed so close to the start of a new year.
The Lows: I felt that, out of the four protagonists, Maggie's character seemed a little bit ignored and rushed. Her story didn't include as many details as the others and I felt like she could have been explored more deeply. I would have loved to understand her choice of career – librarian – or her reasons for letting her boyfriend, Grey, get away with so much. I also felt like Maggie's high school bullying could have used some more drama as those scenes seemed lackluster. I know what bullying can be like and I have definitely witnessed more dramatic scenes in the real world than in this book.
I also wondered why Christie's character was given the ability to see the future. There was no specific reason or plot twist to include it, nor are there any other supernatural elements in the book. I would have preferred if Christie would have been simply very intuitive instead of psychic – not because I don't appreciate a little magic now and then, but because it seemed unnecessary and I really believe that writing is a skill that requires judgement on what to leave out just as much as what to put in.
Final Thoughts: I loved this book and I immediately wanted to recommend it to my female friends, my mother, my aunts and my grandmother. Alas, as none of them are big readers, I simply went to Chapters and bought an armful of Cathy Kelly's books.
Verdict: Past Secrets by Cathy Kelly earns eight antique white roses out of ten.
Buy 'Past Secrets' by Cathy Kelly on Amazon here
Connect with author Cathy Kelly here
Picture from here