Book review: ‘The Other Mothers’ Club’ by Samantha Baker

They’re no wicked stepmonsters.

When Eve falls in love with Ian, a widower, she understands he’s a package deal — but doesn’t quite realize what that means until three living, breathing, scowling children are before her, resolutely telling Eve she’s not their mum.

Not that she’s trying to be, mind you. She’s not quite sure what she’s doing — other than loving their father. It’s through these difficulties and reaching out to Clare, Eve’s best friend, that she begins to realize how common it is for women to be thrust into unconventional family situations, playing stepmother to children who may or may not be prepared to welcome them.

Clare herself is wrestling with the sudden reappearance of Will, her teen daughter’s father — a man who has been MIA for the past 14 years of Louisa’s life. Add to this mix Lily, Clare’s younger sister, dating a man with a daughter; Melanie, a successful business woman dating an IT professional with a child of his own; and Mandy, an overtaxed mother struggling to blend her teens with her boyfriend’s brood. Together, the ladies form an impromptu support group — and reach out to one another, especially when life gets tough . . . then tougher.

Samantha Baker’s The Other Mothers’ Club was an entertaining, often poignant look at what it means to form a family, create new friendships, become a parental figure (even when skeptical) and form attachments where you didn’t think possible. If you can get past the approximately 1,000 characters in this story — perhaps by drawing a map, as I contemplated — it’s an enjoyable read.

Set in present-day London, Baker’s characters are all incredibly different women with one thing in common: a stepmother link. Either they are one, want to be one, had one, will soon become one — whatever it is, that stepmother persona is lingering over them. Eve’s story kicks us off and, through the novel, is the plot we most return to — and the one in which I was most invested. Thirteen-year-old Hannah, Ian’s oldest daughter from his first marriage, takes an instant dislike to well-meaning Eve, and the tension crackles like electricity. I kept waiting for the stress to bubble over, covering anything and everything. The scenes featuring the two of them in a single room actually made my heart pound.

It’s not all bad news bears for Eve, though. In an unlikely twist, she hits it off immediately with 5-year-old Alfie, who’s content to play action figures with her, chat and generally be adorable. Thank God for Alfie, because once Eve moves in with the brood? Well, chaos erupts. Serious chaos. And her feelings for Alfie become the bright spot in her otherwise uncomfortable new life.

The thing holding me back from giving The Other Mothers’ Club a glowing review is, as I mentioned, all the people. Honestly, I think Melanie and Mandy’s storylines could have been cut completely and we wouldn’t have missed a thing. I guess it’s not much of a “club” if it only includes three members — two best friends and a sister — but hey, that would have cut down on the page count . . . and my confusion levels. No matter what they said or did, I never got close to Mandy or Melanie. They felt severely undeveloped as characters and only distracted me from the more interesting, compelling plotlines.

What kept me reading were the poignant moments, like when Clare realizes having her first love back in her life means actually having to share her daughter — their daughter, the one Will wanted nothing to do with, for the first time in her life. As the years have passed and Clare has thrown herself completely into motherhood, she realizes what’s given up in order to give Lou everything she needs, and without any help. And it’s a lot. That’s a familiar trope, sure, but Baker’s writing elevates it to a different level.

With so many families having stepdads and stepmoms, stepgrandparents and stepchildren, it’s amazing to me a book like this hasn’t already been written (or have I just missed it?). And by the close of it, I really cared about Eve, Clare, Lou and Lily — and was actually sorry to see it end. No need to be a stepmother to enjoy this story of friendship, change and love. Fans of women’s fiction, stories of motherhood and pregnancy and British chick lit will find plenty to enjoy in this one — just keep a homemade character map handy.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0061840351 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program

Please note the book was originally published in the UK under the name The Stepmothers’ Support Group and still appears that way on some sites. As Baker notes on her website, her publisher wanted to change the name “to make sure everyone realised that [T]he Stepmothers’ Support Group was not just for stepmums but a novel about female friendship and modern relationships.”