A cookbook, a detective story, a Greek holiday and a vintage shop

What I love about Janet Gordon’s book reviews is that they are so diverse, and this time is no exception. She has included a cookbook to round off the three reviews of novels.

One Italian Summer by Catherine Mangan (Sphere)

 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, all 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  (right – that’s the advertisement over – do I get a free stay pleeeeeeese?)

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 and stuffed shirt boyfriend Peter, after a failed marriage and children he didn’t really want, as he was completely adamant that he just didn’t want any further children.  Lily, on the other hand, whilst unsure whether or not she wanted children, simply wanted to have the choice. And so Peter was dumped.

Anyway –  the five arrive on  Ischia, and not only have I fallen in love with the island, the scenery, and the descriptions of the food and drink, but I’ve also fallen in love with Lily, who fails 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 who also owns a boat and seems completely at their disposal regarding showing them the island and squiring them around.

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!  Whilst Kitty is definitely a Kim Cattrell (Sex in the City) alter ego.

To be honest, whilst I’ve always wanted to visit Capri I’d never heard of Ischia, but now I’ve read “One Italian Summer”, it’s on my list of places I most want to visit.

What a glorious read.

The Vintage Shop of Second Chances by Libby Page (Orion Books)

Whilst I love following the fashion choices chosen by both Annabel and Grace and indulging my not-so-secret daydreams about having a spending spree, in reality, I am a vintage and secondhand clothes girl. My entire wardrobe is made up of charity shop finds interspersed with beautiful bargains I’ve picked up in vintage shops – and up until it fell apart, I was using my mother’s old 1950s crocodile handbag.

So the “Vintage Shop of Second Chances” was right up my street.  Set in the cobbled streets of Frome, Somerset – and yes, I have googled it, and yes, it’s gorgeous and now on my list of UK places to visit.

Lou’s mother has recently died, and having loved vintage clothes all her life, Lou takes the plunge and opens her very own vintage clothes shop right at the top of the cobbled hill.

Meanwhile, over in Clear Springs, New York, Ellen is totally thrown by the discovery that her beloved mother, rushed to hospital after a stroke, is not really her mother and that Ellen is adopted, whilst back in Frome Maggy reeling from her very recent divorce is depressed and dismal slinking around in black “I’m invisible” clothes.

Lou’s proudest possession is the most beautiful daffodil yellow dress hanging in her shop window, and Ellen, over at the orphanage, is handed a picture of her mother wearing a glorious daffodil yellow dress.   Maggy spots the dress in the window of Lou’s shop and is irresistibly lured inside, where Lou persuades her out of her invisible clothes and into colourful, flattering dresses.

This is the most gentle paean to a wonderfully heartwarming tribute to the power of love and family and to the power of a yellow dress. I absolutely adored this.

And whilst talking about second-hand things, one of my pet hates are books with the corners turned down – and if I ever get back a loaned-out book with a corner mutilated like that, that person never ever gets to borrow another book.  So I was thrilled to open a parcel the other day and find a gift from a fellow book lover of a handmade bookmark from Karen at Book Crowns (check out her Facebook page if you’d like one. Isn’t it gorgeous and there are all kinds of different colours.

The Monk by Tim Sullivan (Head of Zeus)

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.  Whilst George is gradually learning to pick up social signals – signals he so obviously lacks naturally – from Ottey, who is gradually turning him into something resembling a social person.  

And 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 own 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.

The way in which the Cross and Ottey interact, 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 to the forensic police worker with a crush on George –  it’s once again a tour de force and typical George Cross.

I reviewed previous George Cross novels and said then:  ‘Fantastic police procedurals and attention to detail’  – and it’s again 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.  This is one detective series that will be read and reread with great delight.

The Art of Friday Night Dinner by Eleanor Steafel (Bloomsbury Publishing)

I’m definitely not the best cook in the world, but I am adept at using fridge food leftovers – and so I was thrilled when “The Art of Friday Night Dinner” dropped through the letter box.

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.  My own ritual includes immediately taking off shoes, jewellery and, of course, my bra the moment I step through the door.  (Incidentally reading Grace’s “bra” article showing off some wonderfully gorgeous bras, there’s one thing that I find vital that she hasn’t mentioned – and that’s a bra extender.  Having been measured several times (and remind me to tell you my story of interviewing June Kenton, who owned Rigby & Peller and who was the late Queen’s bra lady for many years), I’ve discovered that my back size is in-between sizes so I go for the smaller 36 and use a bra extender – which gives me a perfect fit!!   Buy online or in M&S (click HERE).

There’s a recipe for “boozy potatoes”, which I haven’t yet tried but which sound wonderful.  And Lifesaving Carbonara.  She also says, “We rarely actually need pudding”  – Obviously, this is completely tongue in cheek, as she then 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 making.  My latest favourite recipe is known as a sausage and potato bake – but in reality, it includes anything lurking around in my fridge  – my husband has just given it 12 out of 10!

For more Janet Gordon book reviews, click HERE.