22/03/2008

A Breath of Fresh Air (by Erica James)

On the whole, I enjoy Erica James' writing. I only discovered her about ten years ago, and have read each of her books so far. I decided it was time to start re-reading the earlier ones, since I had entirely forgotten what they were about.

I was a little scathing about 'A breath of fresh air' when I first read it in 2000, although I quite liked it. But then I wasn't quite such an avid reader of modern fiction, at the time. Since then I have become a lot broader in my reading; I hope it hasn't made me less discerning.

This time around, I found myself enjoying the book so much that I read well into the night twice, long after I should have been asleep. I finished the book in two days.

It's the story of Charlotte, who has been in an unhappy marriage, living in various places around the world. When that comes to an end, she returns to her home village, living near her parents and also her rather over-protective sister Hilary. Hilary's husband is an estate agent; he not only arranges the sale of the house Kathy wants to buy, but finds her a tenant for the granny flat: the rather handsome Alex.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that Charlotte and Alex would find each other attractive, and that they would also have misunderstandings and irritations, and take a while to get to know each other. Predictable, yes - but done very well, since Alex is a really very nice man. Not too good to be true, either. Charlotte, as well, is very believable - confused about her emotions, not sure whether she's done the right thing in returning to her old home.

There are other people involved, as happens in village novels - the slightly bizarre Derek and Cindy, who run a health studio and have painted their house shocking pink, for instance. They're caricatured, and yet they too show a human side when circumstances become difficult for them. I really liked their teenagers, too - the serious Barry, who isn't into fast cars, women or sport, but wants to study for his A-levels and then read medicine at university, and the rebellious black-clad Tiffany who fights her parents all the time, and yet is an excellent babysitter for Hilary.

I had totally forgotten the plot, and all the characters when I re-read the book. I didn't know how it was going to end, and didn't even remember the unexpected events in the book.

This was apparently Erica James' first published novel; her later ones are deeper and longer, but on the whole, I thought it a very good light read. Recommended for holidays or weekends, when you have time to read something encouraging, but don't want to exercise too much brain power. I'm pleased to see that it's been re-printed and is still available in both the UK and USA.

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