Harper Collins, €13.99

Cathy Kelly must be well used to hearing herself compared with Maeve Binchy by now but as her latest (and eighth) novel 'Always and Forever' proves, the association is very much warranted. With this story, as with all her previous books, Kelly has once again created a set of warm, loveable characters in a familiar world that the reader finds very hard to leave behind at the final page.

Unlike many other chick-lit writers, Kelly always emphasises family ties and the unyielding bond of friendship and in 'Always and Forever' in particular, any romance proves to be more an aside to the deeper themes she’s exploring.

Set in the beautiful town of Carrickwell, three women are happily going about their daily lives until it all comes crashing down around them. Ambitious Mel is finding that motherhood combined with a career is a much harder job than she thought it would be. Caring Daisy is hoping to become a mother until her boyfriend reveals he has other things on his mind, and the fiery Cleo, who has returned home with a hotel management degree under her arm to help her parents manage their family-run hotel, discovers that the business and her family are falling apart.

With their hopes and dreams completely dashed, these three women uncover the support and guidance they so desperately need when the mysterious Leah opens up the Clouds Hill spa at the foot of Mount Carraig.

Initially, reading 'Always and Forever' is like reading four novels in one, as Kelly jumps from one woman’s story to another from chapter to chapter and this can be frustrating and confusing for the reader, especially with a large cast of minor players. However, it also gives the book a soap-opera feel and once used to the style it makes for a more engaging read.

There is a certain innocence and sometimes fairytale quality to Cathy Kelly’s books and there is the inevitable happy-ever-after ending, even for the character who’s had her heart broken. Kelly always follows a tried and trusted formula, creating her story around three or four very different women who are linked somehow through friendship or family, and a change from the formula would be welcome, as Kelly has proved her credentials as a writer. But then again, it’s obvious her fans don’t want her to stray as this, like so many others of her books, quickly makes it on to the bestseller list.

If you don’t want too many surprises from your fiction and instead enjoy becoming lost in the lives of women you’d love to call your friends, Kelly’s book is the perfect read for you.

Amanda Fennelly