LONG before we had footballers' wives there were Hollywood wives.
Back in the olden days of the Eighties and early Nineties, before Wags, Botox, budget airlines, Heat magazine and internet gossip sites, the only place you could access the then rarefied celebrity lifestyle was in the pages of the "bonkbuster", a blockbuster saga of the rich and beautiful, the famous and infamous, awash with expensive drinks, designer drugs and brimming with the two vital ingredients -- sex and shopping.
In those days, before the advent of Bridget Jones and her countless imitators, heroines did not wear granny pants and struggle to pay the bills. The Glamazons in the bonkbusters lived to spend and bed. In the olden days a holiday suitcase was not properly packed if it didn't contain at least one of the "Holy Trinity" of bonkbuster writers -- Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz or Shirley Conran.
It's at least 20 years since I've read a Jackie Collins book. When I was in my teens I gobbled up her books, especially those about Lucky Santangelo, but then I got sophisticated and put away childish things. More fool me.
The Goddess of Vengeance (Simon & Schuster, paperback, €17.15), the latest episode in the Lucky saga, is a great read. This is classic Collins and you really have to hand it to the woman. She's in her 70s and has been writing for more than four decades. She could be forgiven for churning out more of the same best-selling formula and yes, while The Goddess of Vengeance, does follow a certain Collins template (glamorous locations such as Hollywood and Vegas, movie stars, nightclubs, drugs, designer dresses and a great deal of blockbusting bonks, including lesbian pensioners) her writing remains pacy and her cultural references bang up to date. A stripper/hooker getting misty eyed about her wedding recalls "they'd gotten hitched by a Lady Gaga lookalike six months ago after indulging in a drunken orgy with several Scottish footballers".
There are several concurrent plots that revolve around Lucky, her teenage daughter Max, her best-friend, the Madonna-like superstar and toy-boy loving Venus, Hollywood heartthrob Billy Melina and Armand, a coke-addled misogynist multi-millionaire who is determined to take over Lucky's Las Vegas resort and casino. The seemingly unrelated plots all converge to make for a, typically Collins, explosive finish. Read it.
Fame by Tilly Bagshawe (Harper, paperback, €10.55) covers much the same ground as Collins with the plot centring on a remake of the Hollywood classic Wuthering Heights. Sabrina, a former homeless runaway, is a young actress going off the rails and in rehab, Viorel is the leading man of the day, a former Romanian orphan adopted by a leading British MP, Dorian is the producer and director whose future depends on the success of his movie, and Tish Crewe is a nice, posh English girl with an adopted Romanian son and a ne'er-do-well brother running the family pile into ruin. The action takes place in Hollywood, Romania and the aforementioned stately home in England.
So far, so typical. But Fame is far more than the sum of its parts. Bagshawe has an engaging style, can fair spin a yarn, and made this reader laugh out loud on several occasions. Like Collins, she knows the workings of Hollywood. As one ex-wife, stuck in social Siberia without the cachet of her famous ex-husband laments "As his ex-wife I'm nobody. I'm Kevin Federline." With Fame, Bagshawe, (sister of chick-lit author and Tory MP Louise) has managed to create a genre that is a near-perfect blend of Catherine Alliott-style chick-lit with vintage Jackie Collins glamour and more than enough bonkbuster sex -- you wouldn't want to read this on the bus if you blush easily.
The same can be said for Champagne Secrets (Trans- world, paperback, €7.99) by Amanda Brunker, Ireland's answer to Ms Collins. In this, the third of the Champagne series featuring journalist Eva "the Diva" Valentine, there's plenty of sex, oceans of champagne, a sprinkling of drugs and exotic locations. Brunker describes the series as "Raunch Lit" and she's not lying as Champagne Secrets is absolutely filthy. It's all in good fun but this is not a book you would want to give to your maiden aunt.
In between the various couplings and gymnastic escapades, Brunker peppers the text with some very funny one-liners. When heroine Eva goes undercover in a nightclub to expose dodgy dealings she inadvertently touches P Diddy-like music producer Trappin and knows from the reaction of him and his entourage that it's as if "I had just clapped the queen on the back, or asked Mariah Carey if I could borrow her lip gloss".
Ironically, Candace Bushnell, the creator of Carrie Bradshaw and, more importantly, sexpot Samantha Jones, gives us a blush-free summer read. Summer and The City (HarperCollins, paperback, €13.99) is the second of the Carrie Diaries the prequel to the Sex and The City series, which follows the adventures of 17-year-old Carrie as she arrives in New York for the first time. The Carrie Diaries series is ostensibly written for teens but is a must-read for SATC fans of all ages as it describes how suburbanite Carrie arrives in the Big Apple, loses her virginity and details how she becomes friends with Samantha (engaged in this book), Miranda and Charlotte.
Even if you are not a teen or a die-hard fan this is still a great read and, to my mind, is as sophisticated as any of Bushnell's "adult" books and certainly as thoroughly enjoyable. Also, adults of a certain age will enjoy the subtle references to the Eighties, from shoulder pads to her description of SoHo, (now one of the most expensive areas of real-estate in the world) as "a deserted patch of run-down blocks with cobblestone streets and enormous buildings that were once factories". As is usual in Bushnell's books, the real star of the piece is New York City itself and this book is very much about Carrie falling in love with the city.
For less raunchy and more traditional holiday fiction try Melissa Hill's best-seller Something From Tiffany's (Hodder & Stoughton, paperback, €12.99), Patricia Scanlan's Love & Marriage (Bantam Press, paperback, out on July 7, €13.99) or Consequences (Hachette Books Ireland, paperback, €13.99) by Muriel Bolger. All three Irish authors are good at detailing emotional human stories. In Something From Tiffany's, two very different men go to the iconic New York store to buy two very different gifts. Ethan, a widower, purchases an engagement ring for his girlfriend Vanessa, which he intends to give her on Christmas Day. Meanwhile, cheapskate Gary gets the cheapest charm bracelet he can for his girlfriend Rachel. After an incident with a taxi, Gary and Ethan get their Tiffany bags mixed up which makes for a very surprising Christmas Day for their respective girlfriends.
Bolger's Consequences starts out with three couples and one bachelor spending a two-week holiday in Spain. The "consequences" of the title emerge when they return to Dublin, with marriages under threat, terminal illness and infidelity -- the stories of all the individuals involved intertwine and there's no shortage of drama. Family sagas and intertwined stories are familiar themes to fans of Patricia Scanlan and her latest book Love and Marriage will certainly not disappoint them. This is the third part of the trilogy which included Forgive and Forget and Happily Ever After. Set in post-crash Ireland it follows Barry and Aimee as they deal with the dramas of everyday family life.
Some people will dismiss these books as "candyfloss" or "trash". Let them. There's a time for reading Ulysses and trust me, it's not on the beach or in a rain-battered caravan. So, forget intellectual pretensions and treat yourself to a little fantasy and fizz. Your brain deserves a holiday just as much as your body.