Monday 25 September 2017

When quality escapism is this good, who needs realism?

Fiction A Gift To Remember Melissa Hill Simon & Schuster, €12.99, pbk, 460 pages

Giver of gifts: Melissa Hill
Giver of gifts: Melissa Hill
A Gift To Remember - Melissa Hill
Rowena Walsh

Rowena Walsh

Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350

She has always been prolific, but it seems that Melissa Hill thrives under deadline pressure. She signed a six-figure deal to write crime novels with her husband under the pen name Casey Hill and their joint endeavour has garnered much critical acclaim. But that's not enough for one of Ireland's most successful fiction writers.

Although she has several bestselling chicklit novels to her credit, which have sold more than one million copies worldwide, Melissa certainly isn't resting on her laurels. This year alone she has released two books under her own name. It's only a matter of months since The Guest List made its way up the bestseller list and now A Gift To Remember is joining it on the bookshelves.

The Guest List was a typically charming story from the woman who had been hailed as "the queen of the big plot twist", but I had wondered if perhaps Hill has been stretching herself a little too much. The slight tale felt a little rushed, although it did deliver escapism in spades.

I had the same feeling after reading the closing pages of A Gift To Remember. It's Melissa's first novel with Simon & Schuster and the publishing company must be delighted to have a guaranteed bestseller in the saturated Christmas market.

S&S refer to Melissa as the queen of the modern fairy tale and certainly A Gift To Remember, set in a festive New York in the run-up to December 25, has a touch of magic about it.

Darcy Archer (the first of many, many literary references) works in an independent book shop on the Upper West Side, a job that enables her to indulge her passion for literature and her capacity for daydreaming. Much to her dynamic Aunt Katherine's horror (Darcy's parents died when she was just a child), she would prefer to spend her nights curled up with one of her favourite books for company, rather than meeting an eligible man.

But all that is about to change when one day Darcy oversleeps and crashes into a man out walking his dog while she is cycling to work. Aiden is rushed to hospital and when he wakes up has forgotten almost every detail of his life, apart from his Husky.

A guilt-ridden Darcy takes the animal (named Bailey) to reunite him with his owner and then sets out to help Aiden rediscover his life, secretly enjoying the distraction from her humdrum routine.

It seems that he lives the life that Darcy has always dreamed of – one of travel, books, adventure – while she has lived vicariously through her beloved books.

As she becomes increasingly enmeshed in Aiden's life, she begins to wonder if he could be the one. But has Darcy let her imagination run riot? Aiden may not be who he seems – and who is the mysterious woman in his life?

All fairytales require a certain suspension of disbelief and A Gift To Remember is no exception.

After all, it's hard to believe that there's no security alarm code for a house that boasts a Rothko painting in its hall.

But you don't read Melissa Hill novels for their gritty realism, so, quibbles aside, this latest offering proves that she has form in delivering a quality slice of escapism. Darcy is an appealing heroine and only the hardest of hearts wouldn't root for her, while her tale is the perfect antidote.

Hill certainly captures the magic of New York, leaving this reader yearning for more, while also hoping that her next deadline isn't many, many months more.

Irish Independent

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