This novel compares the lives of sisters Lilly and Neave with the plot of The Pirate Lover, a book Neave stole and read secretly as a child. It made her dream of a world more exotic than her own, filled with passion, betrayal and sacrifice.
A dedicated reader, young Neave strikes up an unlikely friendship with elderly Mrs Daniels, who has an enviable library and plenty of treats despite the sparseness of the 1930s. In Mrs Daniel’s library, Neave stumbles upon The Pirate Lover, and gets hooked by Electra’s story of forbidden love and choppy seas, taking the book home and whipping it out whenever she needs a taste of a grander life.
Lilly, on the other hand, seems straight out of a glamorous movie – fashion-savvy, turning heads, but attracted to the wrong men.
We follow the sisters as they grow into successful adults, starting their own cosmetics company and, for a time, shunning the expectation of marriage and settling down. Neave’s love for the romance novel fuels the business – naming their lipsticks ‘Hussy’, ‘Vixen’ and ‘Catch me if you Can’ helps them gain traction in the young market. While Lilly ultimately gets pulled in by love, Neave seems destined to find it only between the pages of his illicit book.
But when Lily disappears on the day before her wedding, we can only recall (with dread) the book’s opening line: ‘If you’re reading this, then you aren’t where I am, which is dead.’
From that first page you know The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life is something curious and it sure takes you through plenty of turns – more than the standard romance novel. Multiple threads run through the book, told from different points of view, from the engaging early years, as Neave and Lilly’s contrasting characters develop and establish the sisters’ strong connection.
With a cast of quirky characters, in The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life reality and fantasy collide to plot good against evil, challenge the bond between sisters and ultimately question whether true love is everyone’s happy ending. Make sure you read on after the last page for Pywell’s intention behind the book.
Sharon Pywell is the author of two previous novels. She lives in Boston.