The Ballroom Cafe by Ann O’Loughlin

Okay, so as promised in my Summer 10, I have been trying to read one book a week during the summer holidays as it is something I really love and miss during term time when I am so busy with work, so here is the first of my catch-up review posts! I have to admit, I chose this book partly because it was free on Kindle, which during my travels in Spain was the only way for me to access English books, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. It may not be a well known, best-selling author or a book that has won dozens of prizes (which is probably the reason it was free), but it really was a very enjoyable book, and I will be keeping a lookout for more by this author in the future.

The story revolves around Ella O’Callaghan, who lives with (but never speaks to) her sister Roberta in their old family mansion in Ireland. With the bank threatening to take the house to pay for their debts, Ella decides to put her baking skills to use and opens a cafe in the old ballroom which invites the gossipy outside world into their home, much to the disgust of Roberta. Enter Debbie, an American woman trying to find her birth mother before her cancer forces her to return home. Debbie ends up working for Ella in the cafe while trying to unearth the secrets of her past, and boy does she unearth some interesting ones in the small town!

The plot is basically set around the Irish adoption scandals of the 1960s and 1970s that films like Philomena brought to the public’s attention, which adds that little bit of history to a book that I always like. It is estimated that nearly 2,000 Irish newborns were taken from their unmarried Catholic mothers and sent to America, while their mother’s were told the baby had died. I can’t imagine what that must feel like when these women found out about the scandal, but this book does a pretty good job in this aspect. The characters are realistic and funny, and you can feel their heart-break as the layers of secrecy come to light- you even end up feeling sorry for Roberta a bit, despite what she has done.

I really enjoyed reading this book- it was well written with a few good twists yet is a nice gentle story despite the topic. It was a perfect holiday read and I would certainly recommend it.

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