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‘You need sex’, Beatrice proclaimed. ‘And maybe a new kitchen.’

‘I need more than sex. I need a life.’ Viola looked at all the chrome surrounding them as she delivered a cup of coffee to her older sister. The kitchen was cold and impersonal, just like her ex-husband Charles, who’d picked it all out. ‘And definitely a new kitchen.’

‘Start with sex. It’s easier.’ Chapter 1, page 10

 

So begins How Sweet It Is, Kate Perry’s new book and the latest installment in the London-based Summerhill series. Perry (not to be confused with Katy Perry, the black-haired musician) writes refreshingly upbeat, funny, fast-paced, plot-driven books. Her writing is addictive: once you start reading it, you just can’t stop.

HowSweetItIsHSI_WebPerry’s novels remind me of Jilly Cooper’s early named titles (Emily, Octavia, Imogen, Bella, Prudence and Harriet), featuring madcap heroines who get themselves into all manner of scrapes, only to rescue themselves, much to the chagrin of the slightly fallen heroes, who are left waiting in the wings. Perry’s books, while undeniably contemporary and current, share with Cooper’s titles that slightly retro, old-fashioned romance feel, which, in turn, makes them all the more appealing to modern audiences.

I first came across Perry through the Laurel Heights’ ebooks, which are set in a very select area of San Francisco and focus on a group of young women, who we see, in the 12 books, bond together both as friends and family. The Summerhill series is loosely linked to Laurel Heights through Rosalind Summerhill, the protagonist of the first novel, Say You Will. A member of an extremely fragmented, aristocratic family, Rosalind returns to her native London to attend the funeral of her ne’er-do-well father, the ninth Earl of Amberlin, only to discover that he has left a huge emotional and financial mess behind. Over the course of the series, Rosalind, her five sisters and their mother mend their relationships and also bond with their new half-sister, Summer, forming lasting attachments over macarons and cocktails. While doing so, they also find the loves of their lives, their particular ‘Magic Men’. The books don’t disappoint.

Perry’s talent as an author lies in her ability to create authentic, extremely funny dialogue, endearing and enjoyably flawed characters, usually searching for something or someone, and great plots that meander towards the finish – with the added interest of the odd waif and stray (or gnome) thrown in along the way. We know in a Perry title that the heroine will invariably get her man, but she certainly has to jump through many, many hoops to do so.

How Sweet It Is, the sixth Summerhill book, sees protagonist Viola reeling from a bitter divorce. As the book opens, Viola’s confidence is at an all-time low and yet she’s doing her best to pull her life together, not just for herself, but also for Chloé, her teenage pseudo-goth daughter. Suffering from negative self-esteem issues, Viola is trying desperately to find her métier in life, but is rapidly coming to the conclusion that she has no particular skill, other than her ability to spot great art. It’s thus just a hop and a skip for her to make the decision to set up her own gallery.

Finn, a brilliant artist, who refuses to exhibit his work, is Viola’s ultimate goal. She’s convinced that she needs him to make her opening exhibition truly great, but Finn lives in Paris in self-imposed exile and refuses to play ball. He believes that his uncle killed himself after being pressurized into exhibiting his work by Finn’s wicked father. Viola is determined to show Finn’s art, however, and when Finn moves to London temporarily for work, all bets are off.

As in other Perry books, location is important in How Sweet It Is, the author showing us the best of London, where the Summerhills reside, and also Paris, where Finn lives. Perry’s London, like San Francisco in the Laurel Heights’ titles, is a wealthy one, her protagonists, for the most part, living, working and socialising in and around Mayfair, Kensington and Knightsbridge.

Her protagonists are glamorous: Formula One racing drivers, Hollywood actresses, former rock stars and internationally renowned photographers. They are generally beautiful, sexy and charismatic, but they are also real people – conflicted and flawed and desperately, desperately in need and in search of love, whether they acknowledge it or not. The hinterland of characters, who support them and often become part of the ‘gang’, move in and out of Perry’s books, helping to create an authentic landscape, one in which her readers themselves would happily live and play.

While this is possibly one of my favourite books from the series, I have to confess that Viola didn’t really resonate with me in the earlier books, other than as the sister who looks tired and haunted and as the mother of the highly engaging Chloé. Here, however, she emerges as an intelligent, vulnerable character, desperate to bond with her extremely bright but rebellious daughter, while also regaining a sense of her own worth. Divorce has debilitated her, but art and the love and support of her family and friends help Viola on her way to being reborn, a phoenix rising from the ashes of her previous life, able to take up her proper place in the world, Finn, her worthy partner, by her side.

This is a very enjoyable book and if you haven’t read the other titles in the series, please do.

Put simply, Perry’s novels are like a glass of champagne – heady, addictive and leaving one with a taste for much, much more.

Personally, I can’t wait for Beatrice’s tale. Not long now…

 

How Sweet It Is, published on 12 January 2015 in ebook and paperbook format.

 

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Viola’s older sister, Beatrice, features in the forthcoming Give a Little, published in March 2015.

 

The Summerhill series:
1: Say You Will (Rosalind)
2: Lost in Love (Portia)
3: Let’s Misbehave (Gigi)
4: Stay the Night (Titania)
5: Once Upon a Dream (Summer)
6: How Sweet It Is (Viola)
7: Give a Little (Beatrice)

 

 

 

Also of interest:  ‘Dallas does Christmas – albeit reluctantly, a review of JD Robb’s Festive in Death; and ‘Love letters from the heart – our Top 20 love letters

 

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