Book review: The Valentine’s Card by Juliet Ashton

What do you do when the man you love dies on Valentine’s Day... the exact date you had hoped to seal the deal on your relationship?

Prepare to laugh, cry and everything in between as Juliet Ashton takes us on an emotional rollercoaster ride in her perfectly pitched debut novel, a journey through grief, despair, discovery and renewal in 390 emotion-packed pages.

Heart-wrenching, heart-warming and with love and friendship nestling at its cosy, clever little core, The Valentine’s Card is an enchanting package delivered with the promise of mystery, black comedy and plenty of true romance.

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Irish girl Orla Cassidy is more than happy with her life in Tobercree – she has her family, her job as a primary school teacher and the love of her actor boyfriend Sim Quinn, a decorative, easy-going kind of guy who is on a relentless mission to charm the world.

After years of scraping by in Dublin’s theatrical circles, Sim gets his big break when he is cast as the dashing male lead in the BBC’s latest costume drama.

It means moving to London for five months and he wants Orla to go with him. But even a woman in love has to be pragmatic and besides, the thought of being able to watch reality TV shows, wear shapeless pyjamas and eat toast for dinner is secretly rather attractive.

But after five weeks away, Orla is missing him like mad and she is certain that this year’s Valentine’s card from Sim is going to change everything.

That morning his card duly arrives but before she can open it, Sim’s London agent telephones with the devastating news that her beloved boyfriend died suddenly that morning.

As Orla travels from Ireland to London to live and breathe Sim’s final moments, she cannot face opening the Valentine’s card and reading his last message.

It was meant to be her fairytale ending, but it now it’s only the beginning because Sim’s journal reveals that all was not as it appeared. The man she thought she knew so well had secrets that will blow apart both the past and the present...

Ashton’s story packs plenty of surprises as well as a big, emotional wallop but what really makes the story zing is her entertaining supporting cast, from Sim’s adorable neighbour Maude, a woman who ‘had grown older without losing any of her juice,’ to Orla’s best friend Juno whose Irish wit and charm often threaten to steal the show.

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Watch out for the new kid on the block...

(Sphere, paperback, £6.99)