If you’re anything like me, you’re always on the lookout for a good read. While I love a quality, chunky thrillers and character-driven dramas (I’ve just read 2016 hit novel A Little Life – holy hell it’s amazing but heavyyyyy) sometimes there’s nothing better than a little easy, breezy chick lit, filled with summery stories and romantic escapades. It’s a guilty pleasure we all have – it’s fine.
Whether you’re in the middle of winter in New Zealand and craving a little sun, or in the middle of summer in London and craving a little sun (because... London, innit?), allow me to point you in the direction of two such novels which are guaranteed to open a portal through which you will be transported to European summer in all its glory. A bit of escapism never hurt anyone, did it?
The Thousand Lights Hotel (Emylia Hall)
In a nutshell:
Kit's mother may be Italian, but Kit was born and raised in England, where she and her mum made up one very little - but very happy - unit. When her mum succumbs to a horrible illness, Kit is drawn to her homeland, and to search for the father she has never been given the chance to know. That search brings to her to Elba, an island off the coast of Tuscany, and to the magical Thousand Lights Hotel. Idyllic in every way, Kit soon learns it is hiding a devastating truth; one that threatens to destroy the very foundations of the hotel, and the people within it. A heartbreaking story of loss, betrayal, and redemption, told with all the warmth and beauty of an Italian summer.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Think of all the dreamy things you associate with summer in Italy (regardless of if you've ever experienced it or not...) and rest assured, this novel delivers it. From escapades with bronzed demigods on Vespas, to crystal blue water to plunge into; from sitting around a table with a loud, loving, gesticulating family group, to walking through crumbly streets bathed in golden light wearing your loveliest floaty summer dress. It's all here.
Very best of all, the descriptions of food in all its glorious aromas, textures, and shiver (the good kind) inducing tastes. If there is one thing Italians take seriously, it is their food. Having lived there, I came to truly understand and appreciate their attitude towards food as something so much more than how we consider it. Food is never just something to eat; it is something to experience... something to enrich our day and bring people together. The way this book describes food and the rituals that accompany its consumption does true justice to this most wonderful aspect of Italian culture.
Case in point:
"And nonna's granita, no more than an assembly job, some might say, nothing to it, was the best of all. Oh, the searing headaches that accompanied that first bite! How he'd chew on through them, spoonful following spoonful, the ear-splitting cold of crunching ice, juices of peaches and pears and strawberries running down his chin. He'd sit on her balcony, the chair kicked back on its hind legs, his feet propped up on the railing, eyeing the smoking towers of the steel mill, the water swilling at the seaweed-strewn beach. Another scoop of nonna's ice, and sweeter thoughts would come. "
The Light of Paris (Eleanor Brown)
In a nutshell:
Madeleine lives a life that looks perfect - she has a handsome, successful husband, a big house, and wants for nothing. But hers is a life like Rose's from Titanic if I ever saw one... on the inside, she's screaming. Escaping to her childhood home, she finds no solace in the mother whose perfect expectations she has always failed to live up to, but finds it instead in another, unexpected source; the diaries of her grandmother from her life-changing trip to Jazz Age Paris as a young woman. Clashing with her own memories of her grandmother as exactly the kind of woman Madeleine tries to be - elegant, reserved and perfect - she reads the words of a dreamer who defied her own rigid family to have an adventure in the city of love, writing in cafes, meeting artists, opening her mind, and falling in love. Inspired by what she reads, Madeleine starts to rethink her own life, until a family secret hidden in the diaries threatens to destroy it all.
Why I love it:
One word: Paris. Need another? OK, take two: the twenties! I can't imagine there's a soul alive who wouldn't love to experience arguably the world's most joyous decade in the world's most magical city, but sadly until time travel is made available, or unless we are lucky enough to experience some sort of Midnight in Paris situation, it's not going to happen. This book not only transports you to the magic of this setting, but it ties it in with a modern story that could - with some imagining - all too easily be our own. It has been said a million times, but Paris is quite truly a city like no other; if you quietly harbour a romantic within yourself, you cannot help but fall whole-heartedly under its spell. Even reading as Madeleine's grandmother, Margie (or Maguerite as she is called, to her delight, by the locals) is utterly enchanted by the city, so are we, page by page. So much so, I almost booked a Eurostar ticket I cannot afford to spend a weekend simply writing in the cafes of Paris... sigh.
Case in point:
"They walked without discussing their destination ... the city unfurling beneath their feet. They stopped on the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris, made of pale stone with bastions like Juliet's balcony, and they looked out over the water, the boats passing by, the people walking on the banks, some of them in a hurry to get home, others walking slowly, enjoying the water and the warmth of the fading sun on their faces. Crossing over to the left bank, they passed the Saint-Michel fountain, children dancing under its eager spray, behind them the Notre-Dame laid out against the sky, the stained-glass windows glowing from the inside, and Margie thought Paris would never look so beautiful again."