REVIEW: When You Were Mine by Lisa Swift
Life is a love song when you find the right notes
Maggie and Ibby make up a happy – if unconventional – family. After meeting at university, they now live in the village of Applecroft on the beautiful West Country coast.
Okay, so Ibby’s gay and prone to disastrous dates, while couples’ counsellor Maggie spends her days helping people with their relationship problems despite having no sex life of her own. Nevertheless, they’re devoted to bringing up teenage daughter Amelia – the result of a drunken one-night stand when they were students – in a stable and loving family.
Until a face from the past – in the form of hard-partying rock star Jordan Nash – disrupts their quiet lives. As Jordan struggles with his personal demons and old secrets are revealed, can Maggie and Ibby stay strong? Or will bringing back the past threaten all that they’ve built in the present?
CW – there is past and present drug and alcohol use along with homophobia
Dear Ms. Swift,
It’s been a while since I read “Friends with Benefits,” but I’ve always meant to try another of your books. This one sounded off-beat but also like I might enjoy it. It’s a mix of women’s fiction, rom-com, second chances, redemption, found family, and a touch of YA.
I won’t try and add to the blurb as I think readers would do better going into the book without much more information. Letting things unspool as the book moves along worked for me. I did suss some of the secrets but was having such a good time reading the story that it didn’t bother me. Fair Warning the book dives a bit deeper than the cartoon cover might lead one to expect.
The unconventional family at the center of the book is delightful. In their uni days Ibby, Maggie, Other Max, and Max became friends. Plenty of alcohol was consumed and as Other Max tells his new girlfriend Nicki, all of them – at one drunken time or another – have slept with Maggie at least once. Nicki is a bit stunned but Maggie confirms it. She was gay Ibby’s one and only het sex encounter and that just happened to lead to their daughter Amelia.
Amelia is so a thirteen year old whose shrug means “yes,” who rolls her eyes, who is in love with sixteen year old Isaac enough to take coding class, whose best friend swoons over the lead singer of a band who is as old as their parents (yuck, he’s like over thirty!) but who is basically a good kid. Maggie is a relationship counselor who worked her butt off to get her PhD while – along with Ibby – raising Melie. Ibby is a freelance journalist who also converted an ice cream truck into a mobile used book store, which he operates at the beach in Bristol, who adores his daughter. His statement to Amelia about his feelings on the day she was born is hilarious and the way he handles being the one at home when Melie starts her first period is epic. He’s a good dad.
… he bent to kiss her hair. ‘Did I ever tell you about the day you were born, Melie?’
‘No. Tell me.’ Amelia snuggled deeper into his arm. She loved hearing stories about when she was a baby.
‘Well, you were all gooey and horrible when you popped out.’
‘I know, right? Your mum got the first cuddle, then the midwife put you in my arms. You looked pretty unimpressed by me. Like you could just about put up with the mummy-shaped thing that brought the food, but the daddy-shaped thing, meh.’
‘What did I look like?’
‘Ugly as hell.’
‘I did not! You’re ugly as hell.’
‘Seriously. You were all wrinkly, covered in this downy black fluff. You looked like an elderly miniature chimp.’
‘No way,’ she said, poking out her lip. ‘Bet I was cute.’
‘Well, I never said you weren’t cute,’ Ibby said, smiling. ‘You were the most beautiful ugly thing I’d ever seen.’ His eyes glazed and he blinked a few times. ‘And that was it, I was done for. I knew I could never let my tiny chimpy daughter go. I held you cradled in one arm and your mum’s hand with the other, and I swore I’d never let anything bad happen to my little girl.’
I guess Ibby could technically be termed the Gay BFF but he’s a lot more than that and I came to love Ibby even if at first he isn’t willing to stick his head above the parapet of standing up to homophobia. Yes, Ibby isn’t a perfect Gay Hero but rather a dad concerned about how any public stands could affect his daughter in terms of abuse or bullying. But he really regrets saying no to the man he’s just started dating.
Maggie has an interesting counseling session that turns into an embarrassing meeting later that evening at the local pub. Thankfully she immediately realizes where she has to draw the professional line. She’s also had two past relationships that have scarred her. When one comes back from out of the blue and affects not only Maggie but also her family, she comes out swinging. I do, however, question her taste in often wearing a stegosaurus dinosaur onesie.
Yes, about that past relationship. This is what is going to drive the rest of the plot and it’s going to end up affecting most everyone including Melie who watches her tight knit and loving – if unusual – family (which she has thankfully never been bullied about) come under fire.
The plot twists back and forth. A hefty amount of “only in a book” occurs. Money really can buy your way out of some problems and issues but (yay!) other things must be examined, faced, worked out, or owned up to. When one character first appeared, I was not enamored. Yet, the scene also seemed to be straight out of true life rock star excess stories. I appreciate that the story doesn’t pull its punches. Painful past events come back to haunt people and there are reckonings (also yay!). The ending yielded a twist that I sort of guessed was coming along with some neatly wrapped up threads. Perhaps a bit too neat, tidy, and feel-good but I liked almost all of the characters by then and enjoyed smiling at their happy families. B