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Jan 30, 2013

With All My Love by Patricia Scanlan

The ties that bind us..

With All My Love by Patricia Scanlan
Simon & Schuster UK February 2013
Atria Books (US) July 2013
Contemporary Fiction
Review copy provided by the UK publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars

On a crystal clear Mediterranean day, Briony McAllister sits playing with her four-year-old daughter, Katie, while she waits for her mother, Valerie, to join them. Valerie has recently moved to a picturesque town in southern Spain to finally leave behind her turbulent past and find a peace that has always eluded her. Briony has no idea that in a few moments' time her relationship with her mother will change irrevocably. As Katie plays, Briony pulls from her bag an old photo album, found in a box in her mother's new home. As she begins to study the faded photos, a letter falls to the ground. It is addressed to her. My Darling Briony, it begins. As Briony reads the words with mounting shock, realisation dawns. Her mother lied to her about what happened with her beloved grandmother Tessa all those years ago - and denied Briony that most precious of relationships, the type of relationship Valerie now enjoys with Katie. The lives of three generations of women are set to change forever as the past is revisited and the truth unfolds through the undelivered letters Tessa wrote to Briony over the years. Secrets, lies, betrayals and sacrifices - the complex bonds between mothers, daughters and granddaughters are intricately explored as Patricia Scanlan takes us into the hearts and homes of a family at war.

If you tell me "heart gripping multi-generational saga", I'm all over it. With All My Love by Patricia Scanlan has written one here, with all the regrets, jealousies and tragedies that can be endured when writing about several generations of women. Tessa, grandmother to Briony, and Valerie, Briony's mother are all tied together through one special man, Jeff. Valerie and Jeff were sweethearts, and along came Baby Briony which disrupted all the parents' dreams for Valerie and Jeff. Many years later on a beach with her own young daughter, Briony finds a letter from her Grandmother Tess and realizes that there is an unforgivable secret that her mom Valerie kept from her.

The absorbing narrative is structured so that we can get all the angles and all the juicy tidbits from all of these likable characters through flashbacks and memories, as we experience their emotions and feelings as it happens. So many little themes intersect such as insecurities, consequences, jealousies, knee jerk reactions, karma.... abortion? Adoption? Does he love me? Betrayal! There are overbearing mothers whom we can't help but empathize with, despite their faults, and the unsupportive parents whom we actually can see they have a point. I am not going to go into the plot outline of the story, as it is full of the events one would expect from extended families (and more) who are emotionally intertwined through tragedy, but it is told in such a hypnotizing way making this a fantastic read for women of all ages (and I don't want to spoil anything!).

I had a few favorite characters, such as the best friend who was never far from Valerie, and Jeff's father who was supportive to everyone making him a perfect man. And then there were those we would tsk-tsk at, such as Valerie's horrible father Terence, and Jeff's mean-spirited selfish mother Tessa. They are forever tangled in the web they have woven, and only forgiveness and maturity can get them out with minimal scarring.

After this captivating novel, I will definitely be looking for more of Patricia Scanlan's work as I loved her fluid writing style. I highly recommend this for those who want a novel full of emotion, drama and love with unforgettable characters. Scanlan lives in Dublin, so the setting of Ireland was a nice added bonus to this contemporary story, and will probably be yet another bestseller for her.