Book reviews: One Italian Summer by Catherine Mangan, The Art of Friday Night Dinner by Eleanor Steafel, The Monk by Tim Sullivan, The Windsors at War by Alexander Larman, Haarville by Justin Davies
Janet Gordon, who lives in Takeley, reviews best-sellers and debut fiction for the Indie...
As I'm typing this, the sun is blazing through the windows and thoughts have turned to holidays.
Quite rightly so after the torrential downpour that was the month of March with all the horrendous flooding around Sawbridgeworth and the Hallingburys.
One Italian Summer by Catherine Mangan (Sphere £8.99)
With holidays in mind, I have fallen in love with the island of Ischia – just about an hour's ferry ride from Naples - as described in One Italian Summer, the most wonderful half travel guide, half romantic novel.
A group of five friends originally from Ireland - Lily, Dee, Morgan, Ellen and Kitty - have been best buddies for years. Morgan and Dee are getting married and Morgan has arranged "a perfect wedding" on the island at the San Montano (that's the advertisement over, do I get a free stay pleeeeeeease?).
Lily, who feels as if she has been living her dream life as a copywriter in New York, has now unceremoniously dumped her well-to-do, stuffed-shirt boyfriend Peter after a failed marriage and children he didn't really want, simply because he would not compromise on the baby question whilst Lily didn't know whether or not she would want children in the future and wanted to have the choice.
Not only have I fallen in love with the island of Ischia - the scenery, the descriptions of the food and drink - I've also fallen in love with Lily who, failing to negotiate the boiled egg machine at breakfast on the first day, meets Matt, who not only seems to be friends with absolutely everyone on the island but owns a boat.
Ellen, who has left five (!) children and a husband behind to come on this adventure is beset by texts from home, including one asking where her father-in-law's false teeth are! And Kitty is a bit Kim Cattrall from Sex in the City.
To be honest, whilst I've always wanted to visit Capri, I'd never heard of Ischia. Now I've read One Italian Summer it's on my list of places I most want to visit.
As the only place I'm going to on holiday this year is the Isle of Wight (well, at least it's an island), I've lived vicariously through this novel. I absolutely adored it.
This is Catherine Mangan's second Italian novel following The Italian Escape, which I've immediately downloaded.
The Art of Friday Night Dinner by Eleanor Steafel (Bloomsbury Publishing £26)
I'm definitely not the best cook in the world, but I am adept at using fridge leftovers and so I was thrilled when The Art of Friday Night Dinner dropped through the letterbox.
I've browsed this cookery book continually since receiving it and it's packed full of all kinds of recipes – those suitable for using up leftovers, those suitable for impressing a new friend and those when all you want to do is just crash out on the couch.
And for every recipe there's an anecdote, whether author Eleanor is extolling the virtues of a sexy steak and chips with far too much Bearnaise sauce or describing her coming-home rituals. Mine involve immediately taking off shoes and jewellery the moment I step through the door.
There's a recipe for boozy potatoes which I haven't yet tried but which sound wonderful. And life-saving carbonara.
She also says "we rarely actually need pudding". Obviously this is completely tongue in cheek as she follows up with puddings to eat in the bath and "bury me with this tiramisu", both of which sound terrific. No prizes for guessing what I'm going to be cooking.
The Monk by Tim Sullivan (Head of Zeus £20)
DS George Cross is at it again. Having discovered his mother, all those years after she walked out of his life, he's disturbed to find that he actually quite likes meeting her – on his terms, of course.
And then the next case lands on his desk. A monk is found attached to a chair, upside down in a ditch along a country lane near-ish the monastery.
George Cross, the most thorough and painstaking detective on the Bristol force, is quite obviously on the spectrum. His partner is Ottey, who has grown adept in unravelling George's way of working, of speaking and of coming straight to the point.
George is gradually learning to pick up social signals from Ottey, who is gradually turning him into something resembling a social person.
The way in which the two interact and the way in which George unravels the case – from finding out who Brother Dominic really is, to dealing with his father who has his own idiosyncrasies, to finding peace in the monastery and the forensic police worker with a crush on George - means this is another tour de force.
I reviewed a previous George Cross novel and said then: "Fantastic police procedurals and attention to detail." Again this is so true.
The Monk is the fifth George Cross novel – which can be read in any order – and if you're looking for a great crime series you can't do much better than this. George Cross is an absolute delight. And Tim Sullivan has done it again.
The Windsors at War: The Nazi Threat to the Crown by Alexander Larman (W&D £20)
If I had to choose a specialist subject for Mastermind (yes, I know, unlikely) Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII could be one choice. I've long read everything I can on these two, who I find fascinating. I also avidly watched those years as portrayed in The Crown.
In this latest read, Alexander Larman delves deep into the war years following the abdication when George VI - aka Bertie, our late queen's father – ascended the throne.
The Duke of Windsor was a loose cannon – along with Wallis, who he was determined would be accorded the HRH title - and simply couldn't believe that he wouldn't be allowed back into the UK to "assist" with the war effort. That was the last thing the majority of the Government of the day wanted, since the duke was known to be a Nazi sympathiser having accepted an invitation to meet with Hitler.
The back story is that Hitler always thought that if Great Britain were to be defeated then the duke would be back as king and he, Hitler, would be that "loyal friend". Can you imagine?
With the pair not so safely confined to the Bahamas – still complaining bitterly – this is a definite account of those war years and how troublesome the twosome really were.
There is quite a parallel to be drawn here between the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. However, for all their faults, at least the Windsors didn't actually publicly trash the monarchy worldwide.
But is that because Twitter, Facebook, TikTok etc didn't exist or did he really have some family feeling? It's a big read in every sense.
Haarville by Justin Davies (Orchard Books £7.99)
In a small town that no one who doesn't live there can find, orphan Manx Fearty lives quite happily with his guardian Father G and friend Fantoosh.
Manx and Father G repair all the town's devices, which run only because Manx's ancestors founded the town.
All is going well for them until, one random day, two strangers show up at the shop, claiming to be the ancestors and the true heirs to the Fearty shop.
Outraged Manx complains to the elders of the town, but, suspiciously, they immediately side with the strangers and ban Manx from the whole town, forcing him to live in the dirty sector.
But Fantoosh and some of the dirty sector's residents rally around Manx and find out just what the outsiders are planning and, more importantly, how to stop them.
This is an alright book for ages around nine to 12. It's suspenseful and leaves you wanting to find out how Manx can reclaim his shop and how he perseveres when all is against him.
Will Wolfe Gordon