July heralds the end of school (delight for students and despair for parents), lazy weeks by the sea and a determination to make every weekend out of the office count.
So, despite London’s determination to oscillate between stormy and sunny weather, it is officially summer.
And with summer, comes summer reads.
I’m particularly fond of the kind of summer read that conjures up sunshine and virtual tans. And Suddenly Last Summer does just that.
The third in the O’Neil Brothers Trilogy – the wonderfully talented Sarah Morgan’s first foray into the world of single title novels – it’s set in idyllic Vermont, in the family-run resort Snow Crystal.
Unlike the first book in the series, Sleigh Bells in the Snow, delectable business man Jackson O’Neil’s story) and the third, Maybe This Christmas, out later this year and will tie up all loose ends for daredevil skier Tyler), Suddenly Last Summer looks at the resort off-season.
The “odd one out” of the family, Sean O’Neil is summoned back from his hectic career as an orthopaedic surgeon in Boston when his grandfather is taken ill.
But on his return he finds himself more and more drawn to Élise Philippe whom he had a scorching night of passion the previous summer.
Élise is far too busy to get caught up with Sean again; she’s got to focus on the opening for the new café, her own personal project, and besides it’d contravene her one-night-only rule. But that night last summer really was quite electrifying…
In some ways, the reuniting of the couple seems far less important than the way in which they have to work through what Snow Crystal means to the each of them.
For Sean, that means facing his guilt about the fact that he rejected his family and their rural lifestyle after his father’s death, and for Élise it means reliving some horrific memories of what happened to her, back in Paris.
Both characters feel guilt for situations that were out of their control, and each forces the other to confront this.
But that’s not to say that it’s all doom and gloom. Élise and Sean are funny. We’re talking laugh out loud funny. High levels of good quality banter. One of my favourite lines in the entire book is when Élise describes her reactions to their conversations:
“Flirting with him was like dancing with fire.”
And of course there’s the food.
Élise is a chef, and the kind of passionate chef that reminds me of my Italian grandmother. Growing up in a family where the kitchen and cooking together was an integral part of family life, any novel that manages to capture this often really moves me.
Boy can Élise cook. There’s a description of savoury mushroom pastries that practically made me salivate:
“Picking up a fork, she cut into one. The pastry was a pale golden-brown, crisp and buttery. It flaked in the mouth and melted on the tongue, blending perfectly with the creamy filling.”
But with that passionate nature, comes passionate reactions. Flashbacks to that night last summer, coupled with a number of rather deliciously sexy scenes set in the present (all I can say is that I’ll never look at a forest the same way ever again) that raise the heat. But their reactions to this are quite singular, especially Élise’s. And it’s this, perhaps, that makes her really unique amongst many romantic heroines. It’s less about her lack of passivity, and more about the fact that she has a real upfront and refreshing approach to sex:
“Sean is un beau mec…A hot guy. Sean is very sexy. We are two adults who chose to spend a night together. We are both single. Why would it feel awkward?”
Of course, this detachment doesn’t last long, especially when Sean starts repairing the deck for her new café. Working there, day after day in the sweltering heat, with all that sexual tension simmering between the two of them… Well now, that’s what I call a good summer read.
Join me next Wednesday for a review of Sheila Roberts’ The Cottage on Juniper Ridge…