Monday, 22 February 2016

Emma's Review: The Forgotten Summer by Carol Drinkwater

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Secrets ripen and fester over a long sweltering summer in France . . .

The annual grape harvest at the Cambon family's magnificent vineyard is always a cause for celebration. But not this year. When an accident destroys the crop, leaving the estate facing ruin, Clarisse Cambon knows exactly who to blame - her daughter-in-law Jane.

It's just the latest incident in a decades-long feud whose origin both women have concealed from Luc, who struggles to keep his wife and mother on speaking terms. But is Luc the saint he appears to be? When tragedy strikes, Jane is thrown into doubt. What secrets has her husband been keeping?

Forced to take charge of the ailing vineyard, Jane uncovers further proof that Luc may not be the man she fell in love with twenty years ago. And, worse still, she knows that her old enemy Clarisse is the only one who knows the truth . . .

Amazon links: Kindle or Hardcover

The Forgotten Summer by Carol Drinkwater has such a brooding atmospheric cover showing us a woman strolling through a vineyard with a bike at her side. A vineyard in France set on acres of land is supposed to be idyllic but the dark foreboding clouds gathering overhead suggest anything but bliss and peace shall prevail throughout the course of this book. I had never heard of the author before reading this book and admit it was the cover that grabbed me. I had expected a nice easy read detailing long, lazy summer days in France heading towards the annual grape harvest with a bit of family drama thrown in. I got an awful lot more and was pleasantly surprised at the depth and emotion contained within this book. The Forgotten Summer proved to be an absorbing read packed full of drama, intrigue, mystery and family secrets which come to fruition over a year in the life of the Cambon's who live on a magnificent although troubled vineyard in France. Comparisons are made with Santa Montefiore and Victoria Hislop, both of whom are authors whose work I have adored, so this book had to be strong with a good plot and character development for such comparisons to prove true. Although initially I did find parts a bit slow the book turned out to be a brilliant read that drew me in ever so slowly until just like our main protagonist Jane Cambon I was dying to discover all the answers and secrets which had been kept hidden and to know why such mystery was needed in the first place? A fantastic love story combined with history and the unknown made for a fascinating read.

Jane Cambon is happily married to Luc who stands in line to inherit the vast Les Cigales estate famous for the quality of wine and olive oil it produces annually. The couple split their time between London and the estate and visit several times a year and always for the annual grape harvest. Although relations between Jane and her mother-in-law Clarisse are anything but cordial due to an event that occurred when Jane was just 14. We are drip fed hints throughout the first half of the book as to what may have caused such an iciness between the pair. I wanted the answer immediately but as they say patience is a virtue and we were not kept in suspense too long as this event is not the main element of the book although what occurred on that fatefully night will have repercussions further down the line. Jane is a translator and can take her work anywhere, as can Luc who makes films on various subjects that catch his eye. Luc is very driven and energetic, his work is his life and although he does his best to keep the estate running and in top shape his strict, cold hearted mother prefers to do things her own way without much help or advice. Slowly the estate is losing the charm it once had, production is not what it could be and since the death of her sister-in-law Isabelle, Clarisse has not been the same. There is a history to the family and how they came to settle in the area. To the locals even after all these years they are outsiders and not to be trusted. Clarisse, Isabelle and Luc escaped from Algeria during the war when the French attempted to keep Algeria in their control. Although French citizens the family had made their fortune in Algeria and when they returned and bought the estate they were viewed as traitors. I did wonder what this had to do with the overall storyline and actually asked myself this question several times during the book but Carol's writing and thought process was brilliant as every element of the story needed to be in place whether I viewed it as a minor or extra aspect at the time.

Luc and Jane appeared to be at a crossroads in their lives despite having been married for twenty years. Luc can see his responsibilities are growing and that more time will be needed at the estate. Jane is torn she loves Luc passionately but yet has commitments in London especially as her father is slipping further into dementia. Luc too is being secretive - many trips away, unanswered phone calls and secrecy surrounding his latest project. Clarisse is becoming ever more demanding believing the couple need to be full time on the estate but really you can't blame Jane from wanting to stay in London considering how angry, antagonistic and demanding Clarisse is. The open hostility between the pair is palpable and you were left wondering how could Luc maintain his marriage whilst keeping his mother happy whilst all at the same time making sure the estate is running successfully and making a profit? Then tragedy strikes which I hadn't seen coming in a million years and it left me devastated as so many questions were left unanswered and opportunities were lost. This event sees a huge shift in the novel, truthfully it had been a bit languid and slow up to that point I suppose you could compare it to the long hot Summer days in the French countryside but from this point on the story took on a whole other level. The secrets and lies began to pile up and I never knew who to trust or what to make of events. You are told one thing which makes you think differently about certain characters and their actions and you form an opinion only to find several pages later what you thought was true was not the case at all. Carol did a splendid job of keeping me guessing as to what the overall outcome would be. I was kept on my toes and bit by bit the layers were peeled back and so to were they for Jane as she undergoes a healing process and a rejuvenation. I was with her every step of the way and by the end she was a totally different person from the character we met in chapter one. Her transformation was incredible her attitudes, her strength and where with all shone through. I think she didn't realise she had the ability within her to continue on and I would have been the same considering the evidence presented to her would have left anyone in doubt.

Carol Drinkwater does emotion so well and the book was full of it. I really was on an emotional roller-coaster with all of the characters. Each had their part to play be it the main characters of Luc, Clarisse and Jane or the family who lived and worked on the estate - the Lefevre's who supported the family as best they could. I felt Jane's devastation at the turn of events. Yes there had been recent troubles between herself and Luc but underneath all that you could sense they had a deep and lasting bond and strong love for one another that would weather any storm but Luc clearly had been hiding things and I hoped with all my heart that Jane could uncover the truth and not have a changed opinion of him through misinformation, lies and secrets. 

As the book was divided into sections I felt each part grew in strength and the pace followed that of a year in the vineyard each season bringing with it new challenges and things to do. I became ever more engrossed in the story and was delighted to witness the transformation of Jane as she unravels the clues and spools of information hidden within plain sight if you looked hard enough. She begins to break down barriers and attempts with every ounce of strength to make the vineyard the success it once was and return it to its former glory. Throughout the book we have flashbacks to when she first met Luc and at times they did crop up in the most unusual of places but overall they slotted in well with the main plot and themes of the book.

The Forgotten Summer was a delight to read. I had expected a story similar to that I had read by Fanny Blake of a family holidaying abroad and their underlying issues come to light but this was totally different and the comparisons to Santa Montefiore and Victoria Hislop were justified. In fact I would have liked even more of the historical element used within this book as the two aforementioned do with their books. The author clearly did a lot of research for this book and the fact mixes well with the fiction. I now know more about the Algerian War of Independence and what goes into producing wine. But where she really did shine through was her character development but also her vivid descriptions of her settings. The estate and it's surrounding land hummed with life and activity and was brilliantly described a real sense of time and place was evoked. I'm really glad I took a chance on this book because it turned out to be an excellent read and I look forward to reading more from this engaging,intriguing author.

Many thanks to Gaby Young from Penguin/Michael Joseph for my copy of The Forgotten Summer to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

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