Prague is high on my list of places to visit but not somewhere I’ve managed to get to, unfortunately, and with my love of European Christmas markets and wandering medieval towns with cobbled streets and stories and legends at every turn, I’ve always imagined that it’s especially magical this time of year. Happily, one of the joys of reading is being whisked off to a different place, especially when for whatever reason you can’t get there in reality, and that’s why I jumped at the chance to read an early copy of Isabelle Broom’s latest novel, A Year and a Day, the majority of which is set in Prague.
Welcome to a city where wishes are everywhere
For Megan, a winter escape to Prague with her friend Ollie is a chance to find some inspiration for her upcoming photography exhibition. But she’s determined to keep their friendship from becoming anything more. Because if Megan lets Ollie find out about her past, she risks losing everything – and she won’t let that happen again . . .
For Hope, the trip is a surprise treat from Charlie, her new partner. But she’s struggling to enjoy the beauty of the city when she knows how angry her daughter is back home. And that it’s all her fault . . .
For Sophie, the city has always been a magical place. This time she can’t stop counting down the moments until her boyfriend Robin joins her. But in historic Prague you can never escape the past . . .
Three different women.
Three intertwining love stories.
One unforgettable, timeless city.
Of course, it wasn’t only the Prague setting that appealed with this book. The fact that one of the characters, Megan, is a photographer piqued my interest and I also wanted to see how the friends or something more would play out in supposedly one of the most romantic cities in the world. I also liked that the friend in question, Ollie, was a school teacher and not some big shot in the city. I enjoy books where at least some of the characters could be my friends far more than I do reading about unattainable high flyers who have no time for themselves, let alone anyone else. The other characters are equally relatable: there’s Hope, who’s recently left a long-term relationship and is struggling to find her place in the new life she’s stumbled into with Charlie, a follicly-challenged driving instructor. And last but not least, little Sophie, who may be quiet and still live at home on her parent’s farm, but is by far the most travelled of the group and waiting to be joined by her soulmate and fiance in a place they’ve visited many times together.
How these people fare as they wander from hotel to sight to cosy bar to sight and back again, slipping over ice and words while trying to keep warm in the wintry chill of an Eastern European city varies, and the characters’ concerns and sentiments felt pretty real and contemporary. While some turns in their stories were full of modern dilemma, with twists I could guess at, one story in particular left me weeping and shaken, and in dire need of a comforting bear hug or, failing that, a hot spiced wine from one of the stalls in the nearby Christmas market. I was happy to be caught off guard by this story though, it gave the rest of the book a dramatic edge and tempered the sweetness of the other stories to a much more bearable level for me. Yes, there are times when some of the descriptions seem overblown, but I let the characters – and the author – off given I probably will use nothing but superlatives when I finally get to see Prague, too. I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of myth and legend, flashbacks and memories, and finished A Year and a Day feeling wrung out and sated but ultimately hopeful for these people’s futures.
A Year and a Day may well be about these three love stories but there’s also a fourth going on: a love affair with Prague. The descriptions of the city, its sights and people, food and drink brought it alive for me and, if I hadn’t already wanted to visit, the need to see it is now far more urgent. I’m guessing, hoping, that the author loves this place (I’m going to look incredibly stupid if she googled the whole thing and wrote it from virtual trips) but she packs her novel with real warmth and affection for the city, that I have to believe she’s not only been there but is drawn back to it and/or it has a special place in her heart. If you don’t want to see Prague when you finish reading this gorgeous love letter to it, you have neither heart nor soul and don’t deserve to go.
This was a really satisfying read, and apologies to Isabelle, who no doubt took some time writing this, but I devoured it in two delicious sittings. A Year and a Day is a perfect escapist read for this time of year: filled with relatable characters, a stunning location in a magical wintry setting, and with a heart as warm as the spiced wine from the Christmas market. Make yourself a hot chocolate, mute your phone, curl up on the sofa and treat yourself to a few magical days in Prague with some new friends. We all deserve that.
A Year and a Day by Isabelle Broom is published by Penguin UK’s Michael Joseph imprint and is out as an ebook and in paperback tomorrow – 17th November. You can read an extract here and you can buy it from Amazon UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop) or Waterstones. To find out more about the author and her books, you can visit her Author Page on Penguin’s Website, or Follow Isabelle on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy on NetGalley.