Cathy Kelly, Author . Downtown $14 (528p) ISBN 978-0-7434-9025-2

New love, old love, tragedy and skydiving hijinks abound in this ensemble paean to female friendship, a U.K. bestseller from veteran Irish author Kelly (Someone Like You ). In lovely Dunmore, Ireland, Abby Barton, the middle-aged star of the surprise hit TV show Declutter , aims to make a better life for her husband, Tom, and shy teenage daughter, Jess, but when an old love resurfaces, she risks throwing it all away. Salon owner Sally Richardson has a wonderful husband and wonderful sons—and then she learns she's got breast cancer. Blissfully married and newly pregnant, Erin Kennedy moves back to Ireland from Chicago; she hasn't been there since she discovered that her mother was actually her grandmother. And Lizzie Shanahan, divorced mother of two, is nearly bankrupting herself by planning the wedding of a lifetime for her self-involved, manipulative daughter, Debra. Kelly should have confined herself to Abby's and Erin's stories: the glimpse of a family struggling in infidelity's wake is heartfelt and moving, and Erin's fear of facing her abandoned family is beautifully drawn. But additional, unnecessary plot lines stuff an overlong book, and paper-thin, unbelievable secondary characters slow the pace (learning of Sally's death, Debra panics that now her mother's nails won't look as nice as her future mother-in-law's). But fans of Marian Keyes will savor this satisfying testament to the power of friendship and romance to soften life's blows and bolster its joys. Agent, Deborah Schneider . (Feb.)