Monday 20 November 2017

Books: Summertime ... and the reading is easy!

Buckets, spades, bikinis and books, It’s that time of year again. So Anne Marie Scanlon dons her shades and selects some summer reads.

Relaxing by the pool: No matter what the weather, a good book will always provide some welcome relaxation
Relaxing by the pool: No matter what the weather, a good book will always provide some welcome relaxation

The Irish summer can, let’s face it, be a series of unmet expectations as we can’t rely on the weather. A good book can provide some much needed distraction and so you don’t add a dud read to your woes I’ve taken a look at five of the latest.

For a proper summer read you can’t go wrong with Fiona Walker and her world of posh English people, pretty country villages, horses and dogs. Kat, the heroine of The Country Escape, an ex-nurse from Watford, has inherited a small piece of the massive Eardisford estate after nursing the last owner, the aristocratic Constance Mytton-Gough, for the last years of her life. 

Kat can stay on the land until she dies, or marries.  The new owner, a billionaire businessman, isn’t too pleased and dispatches his Bondesque PA, the beautiful Dollar, to get rid of Kat and her menagerie.  Dollar employs movie star, charmer and equestrian Dougie Everett to take care of the estate’s horses and to seduce Kat into marriage. This is a jolly nice romp but Walker also tackles some darker issues. She has such great skill that she’s able to blend the comic light tone with the darker material without ever compromising either. 

Catherine Alliott covers similar territory in My Husband Next Door as her characters are often nice English people who like dogs and horses and live in picturesque little towns. Ella is a typical Alliott woman, jolly nice and decent — the kind of girl who finds “a kind and wealthy investment banker to marry and have children with, and live in a tall Chelsea townhouse”. Instead Ella married celebrated painter Sebastian Montclair when she was 19 and pregnant with their first child. 

Ella, now in her mid-30s, and her two teenage children live in a farmhouse in Oxfordshire while her estranged husband lives in one of the holiday cottages in the back garden. Ella is enjoying a romantic flirtation with dishy landscape gardener Ludo yet is devastated when Sebastian moves out of the back garden and into Oxford. 

As ever, Alliott is brilliant at painting an exact picture of the English middle class whilst at the same time gently satirising them. Alliott’s books are far too easily dismissed as mere ‘fluff’ but like Walker she is, apart from being entertaining, an exceptionally good writer and great at producing a wonderful summer read. 

Rosie, the heroine of After The Honeymoon by Janey Fraser shares many similarities with Alliott’s Ella — she’s in her mid-30s and runs a hotel with guest chalets. Like Ella she became pregnant as a teen, (unlike Ella conception occurred the first and last time she had sex). Having been disowned by her father the pregnant teenager ended up in the Greek island of Siphalonia where she now part-owns and runs the Villa Rosa. 

As the action kicks off, Rosie has rediscovered sex and has started a relationship with a handsome local.  Her feelings for the Greek are suddenly thrown into jeopardy when three sets of newlyweds arrive to spend their respective honeymoons in Villa Rosa. The first couple are celebrity fitness guru Winston and his new bride Melissa.

The second new bride, Emma, is a school dinner lady and devoted mother of two small children, who felt pressured into marrying their father Tom and doesn’t want to be on holiday without her children.  The third couple are a mysterious French pair who spend their days making l’amour. 

Rosie is horrified to realise that Winston is her son Jack’s father. Winston doesn’t recognise Rosie. Should she tell him? Does she still love him?  And what about his brand new wife? Winston has his own problems as his teenage stepchildren have joined their mother on honeymoon. Once you suspend disbelief this is a good holiday read. With many ‘chick lit’ books you can see the outcome from page one but Janey Fraser doesn’t fall into the trap of formula.

In You’re The One That I Want by Giovanna Fletcher, Maddy, Ben and Rob have been best friends since they were nine. They are all lovely people who always do the right thing. At the start of the novel Maddy is walking up the aisle to marry Rob but desperately wants Ben to speak up and declare his love for her.  The novel then begins with the trio meeting, aged nine, and the story of their tripartite friendship is told from each of their perspectives. 

Unfortunately, there is absolutely no difference in voice between Maddy, Ben and Rob and that voice does not change as their ages do from 9 to 26.  The story really doesn’t get going until half way through when Ben confesses his love to Maddy. If you want a book that’s not going to distract you in any way shape or form then this could be the one you want. 

The Irish immigrants in Kate’s community in Nicole Mary Kelby’s narrative have an exaggerated small town mentality and fear people talking about them. Oh yes, people will indeed talk about The Pink Suit but I can’t imagine anyone having a bad word to say about it. On the other hand if you like a fully engrossing read this is a must have novel.

It is beautifully written and utterly fascinating. Ostensibly this is the story behind the famous pink suit worn by Jackie Kennedy on the day President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963 and the Irish seamstress Kate who plays a pivotal role in its creation. In fact it is so much more, it’s a story about passion, fashion, Irish immigration to the States, the ‘American Dream’ and like the suit itself full of subtle nuances.

I was so engrossed by the story that I completely forgot about the ultimate fate of the pink suit. This is an utterly fabulous book and one that I cannot recommend highly enough.

The Country Escape Fiona Walker,  Sphere, €11.50

My Husband Next Door Catherine Alliott Michael Joseph, €18.75,

After The Honeymoon Janey  Fraser Arrow, €11.50

You’re The One That I Want Giovanna Fletcher Michael Joseph, €9.50

The Pink Suit Nicole Mary Kelby Virago,  €20.00

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