Summerwater by Sarah Moss

Summerwater by Sarah Moss

Set over the course of one day at the height of summer in a run-down Scottish cabin park in the Trossachs, Summerwater is a short novella (not so easy to tell when reading on a kindle) that gives us access to the innermost thoughts of the inhabitants of six of these cabins – one from each in the morning and another in the afternoon.

With so many different viewpoints, it is almost like a series of linked short stories and does feel a bit disjointed at times. The stream of consciousness style of writing gives the reader a unique insight into every thought and feeling that passes through the character’s mind; in some cases we get the same situation from both partners, and the difference in their thoughts is very revealing.

Anyone who has ever taken a similar holiday in Scotland will be familiar with this type of weather; it’s par for the course. What I found strange was that very few of them ventured out, allowing themselves to be stuck indoors, as you don’t go to Scotland for the weather. One lady goes running, a teenage boy goes for a trip in his kayak, and the elderly couple go out in the car; otherwise everyone else mostly stays indoors. The writing emphasises the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped and shut in.

By being party to the thoughts of each of the characters, we learn that they watch each other, but there is very little interaction between them. There are some Ukrainians in one cabin having parties and playing loud music late into the night; also an ex-soldier camping in the woods. We do not hear what they are thinking which only adds to the suspicion and the tension.   

Each of the characters has a distinct voice, but some of their thoughts are a bit insular and depressing. Between each chapter is a short piece on the natural world surrounding the park; perhaps a reminder that the humans are not the only creatures living there.

I have not read anything by Sarah Moss before, but will definitely try some of her earlier novels as the quality of the atmospheric prose more than made up for the abrupt and unsatisfying ending.

Thanks to Picador and NetGalley for a copy to review.  

The Detour by Jennifer Ammoscato

The Detour by Jennifer Ammoscato

Michael lives a very ordered life; a computer coder, somewhere on the autistic spectrum, he has everything organised just how he likes it. His routine is thrown into complete disarray following the death of his mother. In her will, she asks that Michael drive, with her ashes and her pug, Puddles, across the country to Lebanon, New Hampshire, where she was born. To say that this is well out of Michael’s comfort zone is a huge understatement but, driven by guilt at not having been there when she passed away, he makes the necessary preparations and sets off on his epic adventure.

It is wonderful to watch as Michael’s confidence in his own abilities grows, and he realises that he can cope even when things don’t go quite according to plan. His best friend, Savannah, who lives in New York, is really worried about him – he video calls her every evening to reassure her all is well.

The Detour is well written with believable characters, lots of humour and a nice surprise of an ending (you’ll have to read it for yourself). I enjoyed the road trip element, reading about all the places Michael stopped along the way and how the journey helped him come to terms with his mother’s death.

One slight criticism would be that the artwork on the cover could have been a lot better; it  really didn’t do the book justice.

Thanks to the author for a copy of The Detour that I review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

The Jane Austen Society is a fictional account of how the society came into being, in the Hampshire village of Chawton, just after the second world war.

This is where Jane Austen lived for the last few years of her life, and where she wrote some of her best known works. Love for her writing brings this diverse group of people together; most of them live in the village, with the exception of the American movie star, Mimi, and her friend from Sothebys. They are all suffering in one way or another and find solace in Jane Austen’s writing.

The pace is slow to begin with, as we are introduced to all the characters and their backstories, but picks up after the reading of Mr Knight’s will when the society’s task becomes more urgent. It does not help that Jane Austen was in no way as popular then as she is now.

While you do not need to have read the works of Jane Austen to make sense of this story, it would certainly enhance your enjoyment as there are echoes of some of her stories in the relationships in the book. The period detail is good on the whole, but there are some jarring words and phrases that would definitely not have been used in Chawton in the 1940s.

The Jane Austen Society is beautifully narrated by Richard Armitage, whose skill makes it easy to differentiate between the many characters. I had not read anything by Natalie Jenner before, but will definitely be on the lookout for her next book.

It Started with a Secret by Jill Mansell

It Started with a Secret by Jill Mansell

Every year I look forward to reading the latest book by Jill Mansell, and It Started with a Secret was no exception – enjoyable escapism and a lovely Cornish setting.

When Lainey and Kit lose their jobs at a French chateau, they apply for a live-in position with a wonderfully eccentric family in Cornwall, but have to pretend to be a couple when they are really just good friends. This causes a few misunderstandings, but by then the family have come to rely on Lainey and Kit, and so they are forgiven.

There is a lot of humour in the stories of Majella’s internet dating, Sir Richard’s obsessive fans, and Seth’s weird mother to name but a few. There are also some truly awful characters, but I’ll let you discover them for yourself.

Jill Mansell writes believable characters who inhabit a world so realistic you almost forget you are reading a novel. I read somewhere that St Carys encapsulates everything that Jill loves about Cornwall (she created it initially for a previous book, Meet Me at Beachcomber Bay) without all the downsides; it certainly sounds idyllic.

I definitely recommend It Started with a Secret, and if you have not read anything by Jill Mansell before you have her extensive back catalogue to look forward to.

Beach Read by Emily Henry

Beach Read by Emily Henry

Beach Read is marketed as a light-hearted romantic comedy, but it is actually quite hard to place in any particular genre; it’s neither one thing nor the other. The cover, while attractive to look at, is very misleading.

January and Gus end up living next door to each other on the shores of Lake Michigan. Both are published authors having trouble with writer’s block. They hatch a plan to swap genres to see if this will inspire them, and offer to help each other with their research. This is the interesting part of the story, as the writer explores why men can be so snooty about books written by women. I would have liked more on this subject, and less about the ‘Cult’ subplot which felt like it was in the wrong book.

The writing was good, but I did not like either of the main characters, and their romance felt contrived. Part of the problem was that the story was told solely from January’s point of view; in this case it did not work for me. Alternate chapters from both main characters might have given a more balanced view.

The lakeside setting was underused – it seemed strange that they rarely went to the beach – considering the book’s title and cover. There were a lot of repetitive phrases that became a bit annoying, and some of the dialogue was very cheesy. January, especially, did not come across as a mature adult.

Judging by the number of five star reviews for Beach Read, I realise that I am in a minority. Sometimes you just can’t put your finger on why a book does not appeal.

Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for a review copy.

SfEP badge Intermediate Member Social