Summer Reading 2017

Is it still summer? Yes, I think so – some days anyway. Lots of people are going on holiday right now so here are some titles I’ve enjoyed over the past few months. Happy reading!


A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi

A great summer title to start with. As a lover of most things Italian, I fell in love with this book as soon as I saw the cover. Add to that the fact that the writer is a chef and a foodie and includes scrummy recipes in the book… What’s not to like? Venice is arguably the most romantic city in the world and this is one of the most romantic stories I’ve ever read. Fernando sweeps Marlena off her feet (did I mention that this is autobiographical?) in a ‘love at first sight’ kind of a way which is almost impossible to believe – but we do (because like I said this story really happened!!). But he’s not your average sexy, attractive, tall, dark, lean and stylish Italian man (gasp) and this is where real life comes into the story to create a tale of utter tenderness. Everything is not perfect in this love story. Fernando has certain expectations and in trying to accommodate these and keep her man happy, Marlena almost loses herself and her own joy. However, this is a story of compromises and completeness, and without giving away too many spoilers, the reader will not be disappointed in how it all turns out. Like real life in fact, but with a twist. The writing is evocative and vivid in conjuring up the beautiful and magical city of Venice – Marlena de Blasi does not hold back with her descriptive prose. And neither did this reader. Although I did not go there this summer, the book made me fall in love with Venice all over again.


The Food of Love by Amanda Prowse

What impressed me most about this book, which I suppose would fit into the domestic noir genre – it’s not exactly a thriller nor a mystery but it’s domestic and it’s noir – was the thought-provoking subject matter and the way this is handled by Amanda Prowse. The subject matter is anorexia and the impact this disease can have on a family.

The story is told from the point of view of the mother, Freya, which means the impact is felt from her perspective too. This makes it all too powerful and compelling at times – to see one’s healthy and lovely daughter be brought to near death and total self-loathing must be soul-destroying. And how can Freya help? At times she feels hopeless and helpless but in fact this journey of her daughter’s is also her journey as she learns a lot about herself and her marriage along the way.

My only reservations about this book were an irritation with Freya and the motivation behind some of her decisions (will my daughter still love me if I make her go to hospital?) and the ending. Without giving away any spoilers, this didn’t feel quite right. It was almost as if the author was trying to make the book into a mystery with a certain ending without building the foundations for that. But these are minor quibbles.

I realise I’m not selling the book as a sunny and happy read. Well, it’s not. But if you are looking for a gripping and highly emotive story of our times about how one of the by-products of our society’s obsession with body image (IMO) can destroy lives and relationships, then look no further. This novel is so good that I think all girls should read it at the age of eleven. This book can achieve something.


Held to Ransom by Graham Dinton

This book is described as an ‘Oxford mystery’ which is perhaps a rather sedate and old-fashioned label for a book that is both refreshingly vivid in its writing and topical in its subject matter. It catches the attention from the first page and is fast-paced and gripping throughout with some good twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. The plot-line is contemporary and relevant and issues concerning racism and refugees are handled with sensitivity although the author does not hesitate to give his characters strong voices which provide a well-rounded view and helps make the subject matter even more thought-provoking. Emma, the viewpoint character (a journalist) is warm, likeable, intelligent and yet fallible. I think that she will return in the next book of the series and she has all the qualities to enable her to develop still further. The setting of Oxford is another plus and Emma and the topical plot-line create a pleasant change from the usual Morse/ Lewis type mysteries. There is some teasing love interest which provides a good sub-plot and all the characters are authentic and well-drawn. Excellent structure and pace which is very impressive from such a new author as Graham Dinton. Highly recommended!


The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins

I was pulled into this noir thriller immediately – the viewpoint characters of Olivia and Vivien are both well-drawn and fascinating in their own way. Olivia is the daughter of a renowned scientist who made an important discovery about the dung beetle (it’s more interesting than it sounds…). Olivia is a celebrity too – a historian, author and media figure, she has just had her book published to great acclaim – this is the story of Annabel, a real life surgeon of the past with great achievements and a questionable history of her own. Olivia’s book is heavily based on Annabel’s diary. Vivien is the hard-working, dedicated researcher who helped Olivia with the book. She too is highly intelligent. But the relationship between Olivia and Vivien is not just professional and Vivien is not what she seems… Both women are complex and troubled and when they meet up on holiday in France, it cannot be coincidental and events begin to spiral out of control.

This is a clever book. It is layered with psychology, science, history and perceptive comments about feminism and what lengths intelligent women still sometimes have to go to in order to achieve equal rights and recognition. But it seems there is still always a price to pay.

The book is well written and utterly compelling. Personally, I felt that the ending could have had more impact, but this was the only flaw in an otherwise superlative read.


The Forget-me-not Flower Shop by Tracy Corbett

This is a delightful read. The story is told mainly from the point of view of Evie, creative florist extraordinaire who has escaped the confines of an obsessive relationship and is now off men and determined to make a success of her new venture in the Forget-me-not Flower Shop. Enter Scott, the knock ‘em dead plumber who comes to fix her boiler and who seems a bit of an Italian playboy type (albeit a very practical one). Evie is determined not to fall for him and when we get to hear Scott’s point of view we realise that he is equally determined not to fall for her. Scott has just as many reasons to be off women – an ex who let him down, a disabled mother to support, a sister who doesn’t want to know and who has made him guardian of her son so that she doesn’t have to look after him herself… It’s no wonder that they’re not interested in one another; there are far too many obstacles. Or are there??

What I loved about this novel is Tracy Corbett’s light and witty touch – which is why I wanted to give a quote for the book. It is a romantic comedy, but the author touches on thought-provoking subject matter too and there is a sense of a journey in the warm and likeable characters of both Scott and Evie. There are other characters that light up the journey too – Saffy the Goth shop assistant, Josh the undertaker and Marlon the rescue dog – to name but three. This book is fun – Tracy Corbett takes her reader on a memorable and highly entertaining emotional roller coaster ride. Highly recommended.


The Shadow Wife by Diane Chamberlain

Another excellent read from Diane Chamberlain which explores the subject of different kinds of healing. It is written in multi-viewpoint and in two main time frames and there is a fairly satisfying twist near the end – although I have to admit that I did guess this was coming, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the novel. In time frame 1 (past) twins Carlynn and Lisbeth have a privileged upbringing in a beautiful house overlooking the sea at Cypress Point in Monterey. But all is not perfect. The twins are treated differently by their mother who only wanted one child and who resents the pain daughter number 2 put her through as she was born. (I found this slightly difficult to believe but let it go!) It is then discovered that Twin 1 (Carlynn) has a gift of healing. The story follows the twins through their growing up and into their adult life up to and beyond Carlynn’s saving a baby – apparently stillborn – in a nearby hippie commune in 1967.

Timeframe 2 is the present when that baby (Joelle, now an adult) is stuck in a dilemma of her own. Her best friend Mara has suffered an aneurysm and is in a nursing home, brain-damaged and a shell of her former self and Joelle has fallen in love with Mara’s husband Liam. This is a moral dilemma which gets worse and which is heart-breaking for both Liam and Joelle. Joelle gets in touch with Carlynn to see if she can help heal Mara and thus the two stories and time frames merge with wonderful synchronicity.

This story was fascinating and held me in thrall even though there were a few places where I struggled to suspend disbelief. I liked the descriptions of the locale and adored the emotional turmoil so expertly invoked by this author. As always, intelligently written and highly recommended.

© Rosanna Ley
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