Saturday, 27 June 2015

Guest Book Review: Michelle Jackson - 7 Wishes in Rome

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

It's April 2005. Lucy is getting over her divorce, Emily is searching for her mother, Sebastian has a crush on Cathy and Nell is so angry with her father that she could kill him. As for Conor, well he’s just being himself. They’re all going to Rome on Wednesday with thirty-five teenagers in tow and now it looks like the Pope is going to die, which could have a serious effect on their schedule.

Over the course of four days, three will find love, one will find himself and the other will find the handbag she has always dreamed of but will fate allow her to buy it?  

Amazon link: Kindle

I've been a huge fan of Michelle Jackson's books since her first release Two Days in Biarritz and count her as one of our great Irish women's authors a lá Claudia Carroll and Cathy Kelly. Michelle's books are not heavy going but easy to read yet at the same time she is capable of packing a punch with her clear messages very relevant to women today. So where has the author taken us this time? Well the answer is to the eternal city of Rome. I've never visited this city before but I knew Michelle would soon have me feeling very familiar with Italy's capital city. 7 Wishes in Rome is not a full length book but yet I wouldn't classify it as a novella as it far longer and you certainly get your value for money. As the author travels regularly and writes holiday articles for a newspaper here in Ireland she can turn her hand to describing any city or country. For me this unique ability is what sets her books apart from any women's author out there in what is already a fairly overcrowded market. With this new story which has a bit of everything Michelle has once again reminded me why I enjoy her writing so much despite there being one or two minor issues for me.

The students and teachers of Ben Head School in the suburbs of Dublin are about to embark on the annual school trip when we first meet them at the airport. Tensions are high, both with excitement from the younger contingent but apprehension on the responsible teachers side as the Pope is very ill and may die at any minute. This would upset the tour schedule as the city would close down and what can a group of teachers do to occupy 35 teenagers? Straight away we are introduced to an awful lot of characters and given a brief background on each person. I'll readily admit I did become confused and had to write each name down so I could refer back throughout the story to who they were and their backgrounds.

Emily Wynn is eager to go on the trip yet doesn't like leaving her young son at home. She is at a stage in her life where a lot of changes have taken place and now she questions whether she is ready to find her birth mother. Lucy Fraser the career guidance teacher is recently divorced yet and looking for love, apart from this I sensed there was something else eating away inside her. Nell Collins is shouldering the burden of her parents broken marriage. Her mother cannot come to terms with living on her own after so many years spent with her husband. Inevitably Nell views Rome as a break and a much needed stress reliever. She aims to take stock of her life and see what decisions need to be mad so she can regain her independence.

Cathy O'Donnell marred to Derrick has gorgeous twin boys but she feels her marriage has become stale. She wants adventure and more admiration and affection from her husband. Will Rome provide some distractions or even temptations? Sebastian O'Keeffe is married to a high flyer in the financial industry Rena. He feels neglected and sees no hope of a young family materialising on the horizon any time soon. His secret affections for somebody may just about to come pouring out. Finally we have Conor Breathnach – resident ladies man on the staff, fancies himself as bit of a heartthrob and he likes to play around behind his girlfriends back. He envisages the trip as an added bonus to ensnare some Italian women. We get a really detailed description of the trip from all points of view and the antics of the students were really what provided the humour. You can just imagine them trying to buy and then sneak drink back to the hotel to have an all nighter unbeknownst to the teachers. But in this case the teachers at some points  became almost as bad as their charges.

Soon I felt like I was right there with the gang as they traversed the streets and sights of Rome but parts were just way too detailed for me. Describing bus journeys, specific meals eaten and shopping trips did become slightly boring. Therefore some of the emotional relationship side of things appeared rushed and required more depth. I found it best to zone in on the characters at times and forget abut the greater details and then I could get to the heart of the story.  Over the course of the book we also flip back and forth between Ireland and Rome as we hear from Reena, Annie (Conor's girlfriend) and Nell's mum Eileen. I found this very annoying and continuously questioned the value of reading about people who weren't even on the trip. But towards the end I realised it was an essential tool in the telling of the story and helped connect the tangled web the teachers found themselves in personally. 

All of the teachers have their personal problems back in Dublin but will the weekend away help solve any of them or only create further distance and anxiety in their troubled worlds? Well if you want to find out I would recommend this delightful read that I enjoyed in two sittings. Normally when a book is marketed as a fun romantic comedy I am often left going huh where was the romance or humour? But here Michelle has hit the nail on the head with a nice balance between the two. I felt this was a real successful departure from her previous books and would love to see her write a full length novel in this vein maybe with just less characters. Yes I had a few small misgivings which I mentioned above but I think readers both old and new to Michelle's work would really enjoy this book as it's nice to see an author trying something different. So download this summery story today and sit back and enjoy.

Many thanks to Michelle Jackson for sending me an ecopy of 7 Wishes in Rome and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

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