British writer Fforde (The Rose Revived, 1996) returns, this time exhibiting a spirited sense of humor, a light touch, and a real sense of how families work.
Althea Farraday is, at 40, perfectly content with her life. She has three good-natured teenagers, an ex-husband she was more than glad to say good-bye to, a lovely house in the countryside with plenty of space to garden (her passion), and a pleasant job at a local school. Her life is thrown into an uproar, however, when in rapid succession (1) she loses her job, (2) Frederickthe exdecides he just might want her back, (3) her loving yet high- maintenance younger sister announces that she's pregnant, (4) she meets an immensely attractive (and already involved) architect named Patrick, and (5) she wins a contest to create her dream garden at the famous Chelsea Flower Show. To Althea's surprise, not long after she meets Patrick, his secretary/lover Topaz, a twentysomething with an aerobicized body and expensive tastes, runs off with Frederick, leaving Patrick suddenly single. Then, to Althea's additional surprise, Patrick announces that he finds her as fascinating as she finds him. But consumed with her children and not wanting them to be upset by a new man's appearance in their life, and consumed also with her money problems and with the upcoming Chelsea show, Althea turns a blind eye to Patrick's affections (with one glaring exceptiona night of passion that she can't seem to forget). After much interfering by those who love her mostincluding her three spirited kidsshe manages to iron out the kinks in her life to everyone's satisfaction.
Althea, the womanizing Frederick, the charming Patrick, the shallow Topaz, and the snobbish but warmhearted Juno, not to mention Althea's children (the eldest of whom is a Buddhist), are all cleverly, endearingly, and realistically rendered. Altogether, a considerable improvement over the author's debut.