Thursday, 9 July 2015

Guest Book Review: Brenda Bowen - Enchanted August

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Everyone needs a place like Hopewell Cottage – a romantic holiday rental on a small, sunny island.

For Rose and Lottie, it’s a refuge from the frenzy of the school gates.

For Beverly, it’s a chance to say goodbye to two lost loves.

And for disgraced movie star Caroline, it offers the anonymity she craves.

But on tiny Little Lost Island, with its cocktail parties, tennis matches and Ladies’ Association for Beautification, will they really find the answers to their very modern problems?

Amazon links: Kindle or Hardcover

Enchanted August is an updated version of Elizabeth Von Armin's classic The Enchanted April first published way back in 1922. I had never heard of the author nor obviously read the original book but the premise was interesting and I was willing to give this new modern take on a classic a go. Brenda Bowen upon seeing the film (I didn't realise there was a film either!) and loving the book decided she wished to write the book set in today's fast paced world which has clearly changed a lot since the books original publication. Was she successful? Well the book worked in some parts and not in others. It took an awfully long time to get going and I came close to giving up but in the last 100 or so pages it began to redeem itself and I found the latter parts enjoyable. Honestly for me the cover is not the most appealing, yes the colours are bright and I can see they were trying to stay a little old school but it wouldn't jump out at me sitting on a bookshelf in a shop. I think there are far more interesting eye catching summery covers around. Indeed the new cover for The Enchanted April is lovely and over the summer I will read this to see how the two books compare.

The book focuses on four very different people at varied stages in their lives but united by one common theme. They are all either a bit lost, unhappy or uncertain as to where their path in life should take them. A sign discretely placed on the noticeboard of a Brooklyn preschool brings Lottie and Rose together for a summer which will bring revelations and surprises but above all else might just make them find the happiness and fulfillment that has been sadly lacking for some time. Hopewell Cottage on Little Lost Island in Maine will do its best to work some magic on its new arrivals. Lost souls are waiting to be found again and owner Robert knows this special place has worked miracles in the past. At the same time he is hoping his own wish for romance may come true.

Lottie and Rose are polar opposites in terms of backgrounds; Rose seems to be the posh yummy mummy at the school gates, one who has the perfect life with the ideal children and a financially stable background due to her novelist husbands continued success churning out thrillers. But her life is far from perfect and behind closed doors her twins cause havoc in particular Ben.Her husband Fred is not as loving as he once was. When did her aspirations suddenly stop becoming achievable and she became relegated to someone under pressure to maintain appearances? Lottie is worn out minding her young son who never sleeps when everyone else does and demands attention non stop, although further into the book he does steal the show more than once. She feels she is not as connected to her husband as when they first married. Her husband Jon seemed sneaky to me initially as if he was hiding something but like most of the characters I eventually saw all sides to him which made me change my opinion more than once. I could see both women were strong underneath but they had lost their way. Admittedly when they first bonded over the notice I found it quite unbelievable two women who had never met could decide to up sticks and leave their families for an entire month. But  I suppose they had reached that point where they were willing to try anything to come back to be the people they once were.

The other two main characters are finally introduced one we eventually reach the island, I can't say I cared for either of them. Caroline Dester - Hollywood starlet wants to escape the media and general spotlight after a disastrous incident at the Oscars. I wanted Caroline to interact more with Rose and Lottie and not just leave them on the sidelines. She isolated herself and ok maybe she wanted that time to heal but in a house with three other people she could have made more of an effort to communicate because ultimately talking things through earlier would have helped. I think the three women could have formed a fabulous friendship early on in the book and this could have been utilised really well. But it didn't really materialise. Beverley Fisher well there was a surprise which I can't go into. Suffice to say Beverly is in the later stages of life and lonely and all adrift. Cold hearted and aloof at first, cooking for the house brings the real Beverley to the fore but I found Beverley's storyline although partly relevant to today's society it was just that little bit too far fetched for me.

What didn't work for me was that well over 100 pages was spent setting everything up. It took too long to get to the island and the action needed to pick up the pace a bit. I was expecting a nice summer read similar to a Karen Swan set in the Hamptons that I read last year, I didn't get that. Yes the descriptions of the island are quite well written but then in other parts of the book there was too much detail or repetition. So much so I had to reread parts several times wondering had I mistaken myself or had the author already said this before. With this kind of book you want to be transported directly to the island and ultimately want to leave there having engaged with the characters and been with them on their journey of renewal and discovery. It didn't happen here for me and to be honest some of the story lines were weak especially Beverly's. The cat issue was just silly I could see it had some sort of symbolism but it just was too dragged out and not realistic.

This was a book of two halves for me as I have said the first half was way too slow but I'm glad I persisted as the later half improved significantly. I didn't hate the book but I can't say I loved it either. It's not the most perfect of summer reads but there are some good basic story lines waiting there to be waded out amongst some of the more tedious plot lines. Some of the resolutions worked for me and some didn't but I will leave you to decide which worked best for you. The cottage does go along way to helping the characters but unfortunately it's magic didn't always fully do it's job for me.

I'd like to thank Anna at Vintage Books for sending Emma a copy of Enchanted August to review. 

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