Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Every summer, in a rambling castle in Kenmare, south west Ireland, the TV crews descend to film the nation's favourite cookery competition. For Diana, a celebrated TV chef, it's a way to keep her castle running. But this summer, it will be different. There's a lot more at stake than the perfect muffin. Bea, the cupcake queen, is determined to remind everyone why she deserves her own TV show, at whatever cost. Connor, the bad boy of the restaurant world, is determined to put his lurid past behind him and turn over a new leaf. And food blogger Darcy finds that returning home to the castle means stirring up some long-buried feelings for someone she'd never quite forgotten.
Previous to reading the newest book from Kate Lord Brown, The Taste of Summer, I had read and enjoyed both The Perfume Garden and The Christmas We Met. Straight away this book looked different from what she had written before. The cover was vibrant and colourful, perfectly evoking summer parties outdoors enjoying the sunshine and indulging in tasty treats.
The Taste of Summer is set in Kenmare, County Kerry in Ireland, a place where I used to go on my summer holidays when I was younger and centres around Darcy returning to Castle Dromquinna to help her mother after a recent nasty fall. Darcy's mother Diana Hughes has run a successful hotel and restaurant for a number of years but is also famous for her TV cookery shows, most noticeable Ireland's Top Chef the finale of which is being filmed in and around the castle. Darcy herself was, and still is, inspired by her mothers love of food and cooking. She writes her food blog and wishes some day to venture further into the restaurant world. Dotted throughout the book are recipes which were a lovely addition. Darcy is returning from San Francisco and the reader senses she would much rather still be there as she is only beginning to spread her wings and experience all the world has to offer particularly in the culinary world. But if her mother needs her to help she knows she must return and upon doing so she discovers the castle has not been doing as well as it once was and despite the best efforts of Michelin starred and hunky chef Conor things definitely need to improve if the family want to keep the castle open.
Briefly at the beginning of the book for a few chapters we are taken back to London in 1969 and read of a young girl called Colleen married to an older man, a doctor named Timothy. She has a young daughter but for various reasons she is unhappy in her marriage and finds life tough dealing with an upset baby day in and day out. Colleen takes drastic action and that is the last we read of these sections for quite some time in the book. With this author I always look for the historical aspect in her books that she mixes so well with the present to create a story that has mystery and suspense at its heart. I felt we were only getting going reading about Colleen and then it was over. I wanted to know a lot more and really get inside her head just to see what she was thinking and why she felt it necessary to act the way she did putting all thoughts of others out of her head. That's what this book was missing the historical element that I have come to expect and enjoy. It felt as if a different author had written this book and it was more geared to chick lit and chapters were there simply to meet the word count. The magic I had felt in the previous two books wasn't present here despite some parts of the book being good.
Overall this wasn't a really bad read but it didn't exactly grab me and it's certainly not the one of the best books I have read this year and I did struggle to reach the end only persisting to see how everything panned out and had my suspicions proved correct. One aspect of the book that was strong was the descriptions of the castle and the surrounding countryside of Kenmare, it would make you want to pack a bag and visit that beautiful part of the country. Alongside this was the mouthwatering descriptions of all the food being cooked, be it the sumptuous cakes and deserts baked by Bea or the extravagant meals cooked by Conor. Don't read this book on an empty stomach make sure to have a tasty treat by your side.
The books moves along at an OK pace but yet not really anything seemed to be happening. All the descriptions as mentioned above, gorgeous though they were, just seemed like they were filling in for the main event in the book which didn't come until the very end and even then that seemed rushed and swept under the carpet too quickly even if it did provide the answers to questions that had come into my mind. In the hopes of making improvements to the restaurant and attracting more business a new chef is employed who specialises in deserts and cupcakes. In steps Bea who on the outside appears to be all sweetness and light and wants the best for the castle and to showcase the wonderful array of treats she can make. She wants to help everybody out and always has such good suggestions to offer even if she does appear at moments when other wished she wasn't there. The reader can see that all is not as it seems with Bea. She presents a particular persona to Diana, well of course she would as she is her boss but with Darcy and Conor she can be downright rude and nasty. Bea was sinister, devious and a character anyone would find hard to like. I wanted to get inside her head more and maybe a chapter told from her perspective earlier on in the story might have brought a bit more edge to the book. The more dangerous, manipulative aspect was there but was outweighed by the nice light, fluffy descriptions of food and trying to make a go of the hotel. For me it just didn't gel well together and it would have been better if the author had have gone one way or the other. OK so all the loose ends were tied up in the end and I had partly guessed what happened but it was all too little to late for me.
Darcy could have been a fantastic character but I felt she was under developed and although she had a tough recent past romance wise she shouldn't have been blamed for what happened. There were times I wanted her to stand up more for herself and tell her mother what she believed was going as life at the castle doesn't run smoothly particularly when it came to the filming of the finale of Top Chef. On the romance front it was clear where her heart lay but she needed to be more forceful and crack the hard exterior said person was creating around themselves. I did hope Darcy had a happy ending despite all the upheavals thrown in her path.
The Taste of Summer could have been brilliant but truthfully it was only OK. I was disappointed I didn't get the gripping, absorbing read from Kate Lord Brown that I have come to anticipate. If you want a nice light summer read than this will suit you and normally I would enjoy a book like this but sadly it proved not to be the book for me. Hopefully Kate's next book will see much more delving into the past with a storyline running in the present because that's where she excels best.
Many thanks to Orion books via NetGalley for my copy of The Taste of Summer to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.