I’ve just had a week away in sunny Bulgaria. There was a pool at the hotel, a sea view and time to read: bliss.
I started my first holiday read just before I left, and it sustained me on the plane and through the first day of learning the sunbed etiquette, and trying not to burn. I had offered to lend it to a friend, who needed cheering up, but it occurred to me that I should read it first, just to be sure it didn’t have a hidden unhappy twist.
The Cosy Teashop in the Castle
I need not have worried, ‘The Cosy Teashop in the Castle” by Caroline Roberts is everything the title promises. I haven’t read a pure romance in quite a long time (unless I count re-reading Pride and Prejudice for my book group) and I’d forgotten the sheer joy of a good love story: the will-they-won’t-they-get-togetherness, the unexpected barriers, and the security of knowing that there is going to be a happy ending, because that’s in the rules. Ellie has a dream to get out of her mundane job in an insurance office, so she answers an advertisement to run a tea-room in a crumbling Northumberland castle. Initially out of her depth in every aspect of running a business, her enthusiasm and her baking ability, aided by her late Nanna’s recipe book and ever-present wisdom, ensure she makes it a success. Of course, she falls in love where she shouldn’t, with the Castle’s estate manager, and the rest is a classic romance, with a blend of history (nods to both Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice) but in a totally contemporary setting. I have no hesitation in recommending it to my friend, it cheered me enormously, and was an excellent start to my holiday. I should add that I’m glad I read it in a country where you can get excellent cakes, as the descriptions of the cakes Ellie bakes in the book are truly mouth-watering and yes, there is a recipe at the end for her Nanna’s signature bake.
In Her Wake
My second read was altogether much darker and utterly engrossing. Amanda Jennings’ “In Her Wake” tells the story of Bella Campbell, who, on the death of her parents, is thrown into the most appalling nightmare of identity. Without giving too much away, this is a book about a crime with ramifications across two families and over two decades. I was reading it while looking out on the placid, sun-drenched Black Sea, and although the sun does shine in Jennings’ depiction of Cornwall, the rain and storms that emulate the turbulence of Bella’s experience are far more dominant. One of the constant themes in this story is control. Bella has been controlled by her mother and then by her husband. Other women are controlled by the psychological shocks that life has served them. In the end it is a redemptive narrative, rich in imagery and a dash of myth. It’s an absorbing story and I was with the heroine all the way. If psychological thrillers by women are all about exploring our fears (as Sarah Hughes wrote in this Guardian piece recently) then Jennings goes further and deeper into some fundamental questions: what is the root of the destructive mother-daughter relationship? What lengths would you go to have a child? How can a woman come back from having her agency taken away from her? Jennings takes everyday anxieties and opens up a livid seam of emotional truth. A superb read, I literally couldn’t put it down. Thank goodness I was on holiday and didn’t need to.
The Woman in Cabin 10
My third holiday read wrapped up my week away and saw me home on the plane. I’m just glad I wasn’t travelling by boat, as Ruth Ware’s “The Woman in Cabin 10” is set on a small private cruise ship. It’s a claustrophobic thriller, with elements of the classic locked-room mysteries of Christie and Poe, but set in an entirely modern world. Lo Blacklock is a travel journalist recovering from a truly shocking experience, who is sent on the maiden voyage of a yacht belonging to a wealthy old Etonian. Normally the glittering wealth of this cast of characters would leave me cold, but seen through the eyes of Lo their weaknesses and foibles become only too apparent, until each one seems capable of causing the disappearance of the eponymous woman. It’s a perfectly structured novel, which kept me riveted from beginning to end. If you enjoyed the recent TV adaptation of Christie’s And Then There Were None, then you will love this book. If I try to describe it further, I will spoil it for you, so just read it!