"The Shell Seekers" by Rosamunde Pilcher
I absolutely love this book and find myself re-reading it at least once a year. I usually have a couple of copies lying around (3 at the moment) because I inevitably end up loaning it to someone and they love it so much that I let them keep the copy they borrowed! This is a very touching and comforting sort of book... a perfect accompaniment to snuggling in a blanket on a cool evening while sipping hot chocolate!
Don't be fooled if you find a copy with the old floral cover (I love the new one shown above, but haven't bought one with that cover yet) ... "The Shell Seekers" isn't a romance novel... there is romance in there, but its not the bosom-heaving-bra-buster that I once feared it to be.
We open the book to meet Penelope Keeling, a woman in her mid 60s who is coming home, having just checked herself out of the hospital after having a (possible) heart attack. As she settles back into her home and life in the country, we are introduced to her three grown (and incredibly selfish) children, all with their own problems and dramas. As the novel progresses, we watch Penelope's life unfold in both the present and the past, as well as through the eyes of her feckless children.
We walk alongside Penelope as she suddenly must grow up at the start of the second World War. With all of its horrors, she decides she must do her part and joins in the Women's Corps... a decision she comes to regret. We share in her joys and tears as she becomes a wife and then a mother, falls in love and even loses those she loves to the war. We see her at war's end, leaving her childhood home by the sea and forging a new life for herself with a shiftless husband. We watch her raise her children and go on being kind and giving to all she meets, even at times when she has nothing to give but a kind word and a warm meal.
Years of wanting to visit the home of her youth finally come to a head and, despite her heart condition, Penelope travels back to the town where she was young and loved. It is there that she learns that while you can't truly go home again, those we lose along the way are not really lost, but become a part of ourselves.... and in that way continue living on....bringing her life full circle. In the same unselfish way that she has lived her life, Penelope has one more gift to give... a decision that has ramifications not only in her life, but in her children's lives and the lives of those around her.
Of course I am leaving out a lot of the story... but you can discover Penelope the way I did, one page at a time until she became someone I love dearly.... someone I would have loved to know. There is a reason that this book has come to be such a beloved favorite of mine, and I hope you can discover a bit of that sweet magic for yourselves.
Why: Several of the characters are sleeping with one another out of wedlock, and, given that its set in England, alcohol consumption is throughout the book. Still, there is no foul language and nothing graphic is written detailing anyone's sordid love life.