Fanny Blake unfailingly produces the kind of books I love to read, and it’s a real pleasure today to share my review of her latest, An Italian Summer. Published on 26th July by Orion, available for kindle, in paperback and audio, my thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.
A compelling novel about friendship, family secrets and second chances, set against the backdrop of southern Italy.
Sandy is in her fifties, and at a crossroads in her life: she’s a teacher and respected by her pupils, but she feels she is being sidelined in favour of younger colleagues. So when her mother dies, leaving her a sealed envelope addressed to an unknown woman living in Naples, Sandy decides to head to Italy to resolve the mystery by delivering the letter herself.
She books herself on to a small sightseeing trip from Rome to Naples and the Amalfi Coast, hoping to meet some like-minded people along the way. Who is the mysterious woman she is searching for? And will Sandy find friendship, or even love, along the way…?
The small group holiday is familiar territory for me – I’m something of a veteran – and this book captures the experience quite perfectly. The characters were immediately recognisable (yes, there’s always an Alan…), the friendships quickly formed, secrets shared, problems discussed and the different alliances that form. And there’s always the cheery and over-enthusiastic tour guide, and the brittle party girl to make life a little more difficult for everyone – although maybe with not quite to the degree of impact that Lia has on this group.
Fanny Blake has a really special touch with characterisation and every individual on this holiday is impeccably and perfectly drawn, their “real lives” emerging and revealed – and the fact that they’re beyond the first flush of youth makes such a refreshing and welcome change. Sandy herself is so very likeable – her sadness over the loss of her husband quickly followed by the death of her mother, her uncertainty about her new relationship, her work concerns, her worries about her family, all so very real and easy to identify with.
If you should be planning a trip to Rome, Naples and the Amalfi coast, this book could almost be used as a guide – the research is impeccable, the “must see” locations (and some of the “maybe don’t bother” ones) described in vivid detail. I particularly liked the focus on the food, and the book is full of the tastes and aromas any visitor to Italy will recognise – but summer visitors will also be familiar with the heat and crowds at every attraction, so well captured that I found myself reaching for my bottle of water.
I loved the mystery at the book’s centre – the letter, the search, the extracts from the mother’s journal that punctuate the text – and anticipation of the outcome keeps the pages turning while living through the twists and turns in the dynamics of the relationships within the group. There’s a lovely focus on fresh starts and moving on, and also some interesting themes around family relationships in their infinite complexity.
This book would be a perfect holiday read – but also a wonderful way of travelling and enjoying the Italian experience without ever having to leave your armchair. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
About the author
Fanny Blake was a publisher for many years, editing both fiction and non-fiction before becoming a freelance journalist and writer. She has written various non-fiction titles, acted as ghost writer for a number of celebrities, and is also Books Editor of Woman & Home magazine. She has written eight novels, including House of Dreams and Our Summer Together (the links are to my earlier reviews).