Synopsis: As 28 year old New York paralegal Rebecca Strand's widowed father lays dying, he confesses a secret: he had an affair 26 years earlier when Rebecca was just a toddler. Now he wants Rebecca to deliver the secret stash of letters he wrote, but never mailed, to the daughter he fathered. Rebecca's lawyer boyfriend, Michael, is adamant that she forget the woman exists. He's sure the woman will be an opportunist who will demand half of Rebecca's father's million-dollar estate. But Rebecca, now without any family in the world, can't help but wonder about her one living relative. With her relationship with Michael in tatters, Rebecca drives from New York City to Maine to find Joy Jayhawk, who operates a Weekend Singles Tour service out of an orange mini-van that her regulars dub "The Love Bus." Enter a cast of lovable, colorful characters, from Joy's eccentric mother to the singles on The Love Bus, and a sexy carpenter for whom Rebecca finds herself unexpectedly falling in love... (from Amazon)
As a reader, it's a rare and wonderful thing when a book just comes together perfectly - - the story works, you're invested in the characters and you simply don't want to put the book down.
The Secret of Joy did this for me. It could have been Melissa Senate's writing style, which I found as pleasing and likable as could be. It could have been the subject matter, which has a strong personal connection to me as well - - I also found out I had a sister as an adult. The subject matter could have been as syrupy sweet as Log Cabin, or as depressing as watching the evening news but Ms. Senate handled it like a pro (and from her own personal experience). She took the good, she took the bad and gave me, as a reader, a book that was emotionally charged, witty and heartwrenching.
The Secret of Joy thoroughly excelled with its characters. I loved Rebecca immediately, flaws and all. Her relationships (with her father, with Michael, with Joy, and with Theo) weren't stereotypical, they emanated realism. Reading the book, you understand why she's with Michael and why she's wavering on staying with Michael. You understand how much she loves Michael's mother and how great it would be to have her as a mother-in-law. You feel Rebecca's pain over the loss of her father and her confusion, shock and eventual strong desire for a bond upon learning she has a younger sister.
The character of Joy, too, was extremely well fleshed out; so much that Joy's hesitation to form any kind of relationship with Rebecca is real and comes across as part of an actual character trait rather than simply advancing the story or creating conflict. I understood Joy's hurt and resentment and her unwillingness to immediately embrace Rebecca into her life.
The "supporting" characters I found a riot. I loved the perfectly named Victor and Victoria, outspoken Maggie, soft and sensitive Ellie and bed-and-breakfast proprietor Marianne. And Theo . . . who could forget Theo, who could quite possibly be coined a perfect man?
And let's not leave out the town of Wiscasset, Maine, which was just as important and vital a character as anyone else short of Rebecca. I could visualize this sweet little northern town in my mind while I read - - so much so that I could see autumn leaves falling and Maggie dashing through the town on her way to show a property, Ellie picking up some of those fabulous whoopie pies to cry into and Theo sitting on his steps, throwing a stick for Spock to catch. Reading The Secret of Joy made me want to visit this vibrant-sounding little town, in hopes that I would see Joy's tiny little house with the Love Bus out front, Marianne's bed and breakfast and Rebecca's yellow house.
I loved every minute that I spent in this book, with these characters. I felt both satiated with joy/Joy and saddened when the book ended because I didn't wish for my time in Wiscasset to come to a close.
In short, I cannot recommend this book enough. To call it simply chick lit would be an understatement for this sleeper of a book. This is the first book I've read by author Melissa Senate but it won't be the last. She is most certainly on my "authors to read" short list.
The Secret of Joy is available at all major booksellers TODAY, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Visit author Melissa Senate here.
Many thanks to Sarah Reidy and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a review copy of this book.