Those Pleasant Girls by Lia Weston

In brief: Evie’s nearly broke as her divorce looms. She and daughter have one option – return to the town of Evie’s childhood to capture the eye of her childhood friend. Only Evie isn’t really welcome in town….

The good: It’s a quirky story that captures the issues of a small town.

The not-so-good: Sometimes there was a little too much going on at once for me between Evie and Mary.

Why I chose it: Looked fun, thanks to Pan Macmillan for the copy.

Year: 2017

Pages: 330

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Setting: The small town of Sweet Meadow

Rating: 7 out of 10

If you could redeem yourself by baking, would you do it? If there was a chance you could erase your childhood misdemeanours and snag a new husband with money by returning to the country town of your youth, would you take it? I think most of us would (unless we couldn’t cook to save ourselves). It all seems too easy. In Those Pleasant Girls by Lia Weston, Evie aims to do just that. She’s a stellar baker but her problem is that her mischievous youth was a bit more than childish pranks. The townspeople of Sweet Meadow have long memories, but hopefully they can be cured by their sweet tooths…

It’s a fun idea for a story – cooking yourself into redemption. But Evie has more plans than sugar induced forgiveness. Her divorce is looming and she has little money. She needs to get some quickly and thirty years ago, she and friend Nathan made a pact to marry. Can she hold him to that? Evie’s changed her style of dress from suburban mum to fifties pin up girl in the hope of Nathan falling in love with her. She’s also joined the church committee so she’s in the priest’s line of sight. Meanwhile, daughter Mary is not happy with her uprooting to the country. Being a bit Gothic in a town full of blonde goddesses isn’t easy, but she finds friends in the back of the library – Travis and Mini D. She does have eyes for high school hunk Zach but he could never like her…right?

There is a lot going on in The Pleasant Girls between Evie, Mary and how the other characters feel about them. Sometimes I was a bit confused as to who had a crush on who, who liked who and where they all fit in relationships with each other. Some issues were covered a bit more in depth than others (for example, Travis’ unrequited love for Evie could have been explored a bit more – it’s there, revealed and then disappears). Mary also has a bit of a tendency for graffiti initially, but then that seems to disappear too as she fits in more with the pack. I did find that there were a lot of surprises and the plot moved quite quickly – neither of the Pleasant girls takes things at a leisurely pace!

The town of Sweet Meadow is rendered well, expressing the desolation of a dying country town from the tired shopfronts to the one clothes store specialising in tracksuits well. I could feel the heat, the buzzing flies and the dust. It’s not explicit whether this is an Australian setting (the only possible link is the heat and Mary’s year at school) so it could be a village anywhere. There are some English undertones in the fair that’s held by the church (or maybe I’ve just seen The Vicar of Dibley too much – the committee meetings in Sweet Meadow are just as out there!) The townspeople are quirky too, from Joy Piece, local real estate maven and husband devourer to Amy, mysterious and cynical smoker. Mini D was my favourite character – he has no filter for what he says and provides much of the humour (and truth) for the convoluted lives of Sweet Meadow’s people.

Those Pleasant Girls is a quirky story, loaded with secrets in a small town. While I didn’t adore it, it’s a light read that will make you crack a smile in more than a few places.

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