The Fall and Rise of Sadie McQueen by Juliet Ashton: Packed full of surprises, and touching on subjects that will strike a chord with many - book review -

The Rise and Fall of Saide McQueen
The Rise and Fall of Saide McQueen

Community and friendship in a story that blends the harsh realities of life with moments of heart-melting magic and emotional intensity

Cherry Blossom Mews, tucked away in a quiet corner of busy London, is no ordinary place…

Some, including those who live there, would say it’s a place that can work miracles­ – a caring and welcoming oasis of love and friendship that finds you, rather than the other way around.

Get ready to laugh, smile and shed more than a few tears with a bewitching tale of our times from born storyteller Juliet Ashton, an exciting and acutely perceptive author who has the enviable knack of getting to the heart of contemporary life.

After a clutch of warm, wise and original novels, including These Days of Ours, The Woman at Number 24 and The Sunday Lunch Club, Ashton returns to her favourite theme of community and friendship in a story that blends the harsh realities of life with moments of heart-melting magic and emotional intensity.

Star of the show is Sadie McQueen who, for the past three years, has leased a double-fronted space in Cherry Blossom Mews, a small cul-de-sac in a culturally diverse corner of central London. The cobbles muffle the noise of double-deckers roaring past the arched gates, and only yards down the road is a futuristic maze of corporate glass monoliths and the crumbling tower blocks of an infamous estate.

It’s a typical confusion of city styles but Sadie fell in love with the street the moment she first twisted her ankle on its cobbles. Her rented unit now houses her bijou flat and the welcoming Sakura Spa, a once mouldy cavern that she transformed into a chic salon full of ‘space-age calm.’

She has sunk all her money into the lease and refurbishment, and all her hope into the carefully designed treatment rooms, because Sadie is on a mission to connect… to heal herself from a terrible tragedy.

Sadie has wrapped the mews around her like a blanket, after unimaginable loss and unimaginable guilt. Much of that warmth and comfort comes from her neighbours… her employee Fi who props up Sadie with unconditional affection, Amber, the young ‘well of positivity’ who owns the Yummy Mummy Café and Party Emporium, elderly charity shop owner Mary who is ‘allergic to do-gooders,’ and irrepressibly argumentative café owners Bob and Mrs Bob, one small and round, the other tall and angular.

But now Sadie’s hard-won peace is threatened, not only by the prospect of the mews going under, but by a handsome man, aptly named Hero, who has an addictive vitality and towering presence that has woken her comatose heart.

Sadie – haunted by events in her past – has so much to give, and a lot to learn, not least that some ghosts aren’t ghosts at all…

Ashton has her finger firmly on the pulse of life in the big city as she brings us a cast of diverse and delightfully eccentric characters, from plump, loving and adorable Fi to the ill-assorted, little and large double act of Bob and Mrs Bob.

Cherry Blossom Mews might be a small community but there are some big issues bubbling beneath the surface of the close neighbourly bonds and lively badinage. Dark secrets, lies, guilt, addiction and domestic abuse have all played their part in the lives of these offbeat but very real people, and sometimes it is friends rather than family who have the power to heal.

Imbued with the author’s natural warmth, empathy and compassion, packed full of surprises, and touching on subjects that will strike a chord with many, The Fall and Rise of Sadie McQueen is the perfect way to kick off a new year of reading.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)