Monday, June 23, 2014

Books for the Beach (Or Any Kind of Vacation)

In The Beach House by Jane Green, Nan has lived in a rambling old home for many years on Nantucket.  The home is one of the last of its kind with the old houses being torn down in favor of new development.  When Nan, an eccentric widow, learns she is short on funds, she decides to open the house to summer boarders and looks forward to the house being alive again with people.

Besides Nan, Green tells the story of three couples (two of them married), and their relationship difficulties which lead some of the characters to Nan's home for the summer.  It is there that they find resolutions to their problems and love.  Also, Nan has her own problems trying to decide whether to keep the house with all the renovations needed and keeping developers at bay.  Then, there is a surprise visitor that changes everything not only for Nan but also for several of the characters.

I loved the beginning of this book which illustrated how eccentric Nan is.  She doesn't care what people think, and there is something refreshing about that.  What I also liked was getting to know the different characters and their situations before their lives intersected at Nan's house.  The plot has some predictable elements, but it is a nice story.  

I discovered Sue Hepworth not through her books but through her blog which I happened upon last year, and I loved what she had to say.  

Plotting for Beginners by Sue Hepworth and Jane Linfoot is an epistolary novel about Sally Howe.  The novel is set in a small village in Derbyshire in England.  Sally is in her fifties, with grown children who have left the nest.  Now, she faces menopause, and her husband, Gus, has decided to take a year off to have his own Walden experience but in a rustic cabin in the Rocky Mountains.  Sally decides to use the year to reassess her life, get through menopause and jump start the writing career she has always wanted.

While Sally's looking forward to her own solitude, it doesn't happen with visitors popping up wanting to stay at her house.  And to her surprise, she discovers that she's still attractive to the opposite sex.

This book is a fun read.  It's witty and intelligent and wise.  I liked the descriptions of her village.  The journal entries about her writing class and e-mails from fellow class members are entertaining.  Also, I enjoyed reading about Sally's writing process and the challenges of a writing career.  I highly recommend this book.

Sally is back in Plotting for Grown-ups by Sue Hepworth, and this novel takes place several years after Plotting for Beginners.  Sally is sixty, and her marriage to Gus has ended.  To make matters worse, her agent can't find a publisher for her new book.

Several characters from Plotting for Beginners appear in this novel as well as a few new characters.  Sally mixes business and her love life with Kit Wyatt--handsome yet moody publisher/Daniel Craig look alike.

As with Plotting for Beginners, this book is an epistolary novel with the same wit and truthful observations.  Again, I liked reading about the joys and challenges of Sally's writing life, and how she navigates it along with the conflicts of her personal life.  I recommend this book.

I read Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding on a recent airplane flight home.  This novel was exactly what I was looking for--an escapist story with some humor and some adventure.  

British freelance journalist Olivia Joules gets involved with some undesirable people.  She's covering a face cream launch in Miami when she meets Pierre Ferramo and his friends.  Is Ferramo a Hollywood producer, international playboy or member of al Qaeda?  Soon, Olivia is working with MI6 and finds herself in places like Honduras, The Sudan, and even Hollywood.

I've read the reviews where people compare this book unfavorably to the Bridget Jones books, and this novel isn't as good, but it isn't that bad, either.

The story moves quickly and takes on some 007 overtones once Olivia starts working with MI6.  Olivia is a brave heroine, and the story is never dull.  If you're looking for this kind of entertainment, then this is the right book for you.

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