The first of my four NetGalley reads for the month, and I started with the lightest and easiest one to read as I try to get through my 20 Books of Summer and the second heatwave of our summer (remembering British houses are built to retain heat, not withstand it, before those in hotter climes sigh once more). I requested this one back in February, having been attracted by the jolly cover and nun theme. Yes, I’m one of those people who likes a nun book, even though I’m not religious myself. The NetGalley description suggests it would suit fans of Sister Act, Rev and the Vicar of Dibley, rather oddly – I saw parallels with Richard Coles‘ new series.

Anne Booth – “Small Miracles”

(7 Feb 2022)

It’s the mid-1990s and Saint Philomena’s Convent is down to three nuns, Margaret, shy and not keen on pushing herself forward, but now somehow the Superior, bustling Bridget, pillar of the community, and austere, 90-year-old Cecilia, obsessed with the history of their founder. A lottery win starts off a plot of answered prayers and others helped: this is what I would call a “community” novel, like “The People on Platform 5” or even “Thrown“, with a range of other characters, each with their own story that intertwines with the whole – shy academic Matthew, expert on the convent founder’s mysterious brother, who must have a set of lost paintings somewhere, his capable sister, Sarah, who was one of my favourite characters, George the travel agent with the domineering mum, their handyman and his family.

A mysterious find spurs a trip to Italy, with the nuns staying in character but experiencing some revelations of their own. Their relationships are beautifully drawn, as is Margaret’s grief at the loss of her best friend, Helen, a true sister in the convent and taken too soon, which informs her whole demeanour and way of being. Their religion is also respected and celebrated – not self-conscious, just there, with Margaret regularly talking to God through prayer and asides, and many characters being comforted by their faith. This wasn’t pushy but calming and rather lovely, and the novel can definitely be enjoyed by the non-religious, as I prove.

The plot is cleverly done, with family history, art and a whiff of scandal all coming together, side characters brought in and a lovely resolution which I had half-foreseen but not in the way it happened. There are several delightful cats to whom nothing negative happens, and a variety of characters of different ages, the three main nuns being over 50, and a little racial diversity brought in although in side characters, one a shop owner, one a friend of the convent and its church. A nice, gentle read.

Thank you to Vintage for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Small Miracles” was published on 4 August 2022.