The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder, By Rebecca Wells

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The Independent Culture

There's a bit of a vogue for these six/seven-word titles in upmarket women's fiction right now, a fashion which Rebecca Wells might have begun with The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Targeting intelligent women who want something relaxing to read without feeling they're being patronised, Wells's novels have the right mix of love and pain, told in a sparky yet sympathetic voice.

Young Calla Lily Ponder is the adoring daughter of M'Dear, the idealised mother figure who teaches her all she knows, which here turns out to be hairdressing. This is no ordinary hairdressing, though: Calla knows how important it is for women to feel good about themselves. When her beloved mother dies, the women in her life marshal themselves around her to make her feel better.

Set largely in 1960s Louisiana, the novel brings in the civil rights movement, just to give the upbeat message a sense of realism. But ultimately, there is too much New Age "angel therapy", and too many exclamation marks to win me over.