5 of the Best Books to Read on Honeymoon by By Jade Beer, editor in chief of Conde Nast Brides and author of What I Didn't Say
It’s engagement season! And if there’s a rock under the tree for you on the 25th, then you’ll soon be planning a honeymoon. Here are five love stories to make room for in your hand luggage . . .
The author asks for a huge commitment from her readers from the outset of this book. She wants, needs, you to connect with her characters and stay that way, fully invested in every unpredictable twist and turn of their love stories and their more mundane lives, for decades – even when you will undoubtedly and vehemently disagree with their decisions. Only writing this good and characters this well drawn could persuade you to do so.
From the first flushes of juvenile, innocent love where everything is overblown and overstated and where affections are so easily transferred, the personalities of two cousins – Kate and Becca – gently emerge. Wildly different in looks and even more so when it comes to where their moral compasses lie, they have a friendship that is tested many times over.
‘Not everything that looks like love, is love’ we are told – a sentiment that is threaded through, questioned and doubted on just about every one of the following pages, along with the idea of what it feels like to love the wrong person – and how devastating it can be to pretend otherwise.
Ashton weaves her way through the battlegrounds of trying to be a good wife, daughter, friend, boss, lover, confidant, tackling subjects as diverse as infidelity, deceit, betrayal, alcoholism and even sexual fetish, challenging the reader to question how they might react. But for me, it is the tender passages where we see Kate confront her relationship with her own father that moved me the most. Almost the second this storyline emerged, my tears were immediate and sustained and I was right there with Kate, feeling every tightening of her heart as she realised what was coming and how it would be impossible to stop.
The story finally ends where you hope it will but not before an unplanned and excruciating public declaration of love that warmed my own cheeks and several sub-plots that will convince you it’s going in another direction entirely.
The only unanswered question I had at the end of this book was why on earth I haven’t read this author before.
If you’re heading off on honeymoon with ideas of nothing more than Pina Coladas and coconuts, don’t let the partial wartime setting of this novel be a reason not to pack it.
It’s undeniably more love story than history lesson, written in a dual timeframe that effortlessly flits between a 1943 blitzed London and the (almost) present day.
The story opens in 2011 with Northern girl Jess, who is trying to escape an abusive boyfriend. In desperation she breaks into an empty cottage in an affluent part of North London, intending it to be her short-term hiding place. While there, she’s surprised to find a letter from America marked urgent and addressed to a Mrs S Thorne. She opens the letter and in doing so, enables the second part of the story to begin.
Stella Thorne and Dan Rosinski have fallen in love by accident. She is newly but unhappily married to the local vicar Charles, he’s an American pilot who promises to love her forever. And that’s exactly what he does – despite the impossible divide. Some sixty years later he makes one final attempt to get in touch with the woman he never forgot and writes that letter – one of several as it turns out – to the house where they briefly spent some time together. Stella is obviously no longer there but Jess is. And so is Will, a probate researcher who is investigating the family history behind the property.
Jess becomes captivated by the love story from days gone by that is unfolding in the letters. She takes it upon herself to try to unite the two war-time lovers before it is too late. We in turn are captivated by her own slow-burning modern day romance with Will.
Whether we are reading in the past or the present, both stories are equally compelling – and as the author herself says, there are strong parallels between both; ‘Jess’s story is Stella’s story, in the age of the welfare state.’
This is vivid storytelling at its best, exquisite detailing of time and place, laying bare the inequalities faced by women on the home front, expertly well researched without once becoming turgid. Never will you root for two couples more. It takes a very talented writer to overcome the problem of the reader knowing from the very beginning that the wartime romance between Dan and Stella did not survive and, more than that, forgiving Stella the transgression she makes from her dreary marriage to Charles.
This novel is the definition of romance. Let it give you something big to aim for – an epic, life-lasting love story of your own. It will remind you why you’re on honeymoon in the first place. And for extra bonus points, Grey treats us to some wedding planning, just in case you’re not quite over that yet. Once finished, don’t leave this one on the plane or selflessly pass it on. You’ll want to read it again – guaranteed.
To start, a rather naive confession on my part. This is my very first Jackie Collins. And that could be costly. There are dozens more on her back catalogue to add to my reading list now.
Following the ten-million sales success that was Hollywood Wives, the now late Jackie returned in 2012 with a book that has all the ingredients to easily ruin the most perfect honeymoon. Why bother to go snorkeling, skinny dipping or to the spa with your beloved, when you could be reading this instead?
And what a meaty read it is – nearly 650 pages worth of eighties Hollywood with its dangerous women, arrogant men – a near-epic cast of characters to love and loathe, ones with surnames like Money and Python if you will. There is a lot of sex – brace yourself for a certain jacuzzi scene – interlaced with hardened cynicism, temper tantrums, Cocaine highs, bad business deals and sexual abuse. It may well make your own life feel a bit bloody boring.
There are far too many twists and turns and characters to summarise here, but for ease the principal ones are: unlikely best friends Manon Cable (movie superstar), Howard Soliman (studio exec and coke addict) and Jack Python (the most powerful talk show host in town). They are joined by Clarissa Browning (Jack’s cold and aloof actress girlfriend), Jade Johnson (a willowy model with an unsavoury past), Silver Anderson (Jack’s sister and soap star diva), Whitney Valentine (Manon’s ex-wife) and Melanie-Shannon (Manon’s current wife).
Collins is the master puppeteer, delivering plenty of cutting dialogue and a plot that keeps this lot racing along so that whatever you think of the subject matter, you have to admire the storytelling. You may need to push your feminist sensibilities to one side – the women sometimes come across as a bit intellectually challenged, the men gloriously in love with themselves and fond of a double standard – to get the maximum enjoyment out of this romp. But plenty of vintage Collins fans have declared this book her best ever – and when you’ve devoured this, there’s Hollywood Kids to look forward to.
Surely this is what the sun lounger was invented for – just make sure your beloved has something equally absorbing so there can be no infuriating interruptions.
Probably the most evocative book in the line-up, it immediately transported me back to my own Tuscan honeymoon where Montefiore sets most of its action. Location aside, I wasn’t sure how much this book was going to pull me in. Gracie Burton, lonely, old widow, slightly bored of her life, neglected by her daughter and taken for granted by her friends, blows her life’s savings on a week-long cookery lesson in Italy – with her reluctant daughter Carina and granddaughter Anastasia in tow. Word of warning, I felt like my waist was thickening just reading about school owner’s Mamma Bernadetta’s recipes.
I couldn’t see at the beginning how I was going to feel a personal connection to these characters, but it proved to be my favourite book of them all. There is so much more beyond how to cook the perfect gnocchi for Gracie to rediscovered in Italy – and she knows it. It’s far from her first time there.
I loved the layers and intrigue, across time and countries and generations. The unpeeling of Gracie’s character from naïve, put-upon pensioner to the arch manipulator we know she was by the end of the book, is very clever. I’d never have guessed at the adventures that lay in her backstory.
There were parts to Carina’s story that rang uncomfortably true, shining as it did a spotlight on the decisions many working mothers make in their quest to cling to the greasy career ladder and nurture a young family. I loved Anastasia’s evolution from vacuous, if neglected, seventeen-year-old, dumped in boarding school, to a more worldly-wise young woman – one capable of putting an Italian lothario in his place and consoling her distraught grandmother as Gracie’s story gradually emerges.
This book is one of those that makes you wonder where it all came from – where and how the writer managed to conjure and weave such a complex story. The concept is original, the development deeply intriguing and the execution highly accomplished.
It’s no surprise the Santa has such a fiercely loyal readership – I’m about to add myself to its ranks.
This is a very different sort of love story, in fact it’s more about Kay’s love/hate relationship with his job and the bureaucratic beast that is the National Health Service. I’ve included this book in the line-up because it is the one that will deliver the proper belly laughs, written as it is by a bona fide comedy writer.
In essence it is a collection of diary entries that Kay wrote during his on-the-job medical training between 2004-2010 – which was eventually published seven years later – and it is chock-full of hilarious, filthy, deeply disturbing, often revolting but sometimes beautifully tender personal anecdotes. If I was the sort of woman who had more time to sit around reading, I would easily have finished it in a day.
Kay shies away from nothing. Every smell, sight and sound of the A&E department is laid bare, even the bits that were deemed too wrong by his editor to put in this book, are, in fact, published in the book, at the back so you can make up your own mind if you want to go there or not. I did.
I felt all the emotions reading this book. A shared indignation with Kay at the uselessness of government to make the right decisions and senior management to do their jobs effectively; a wall-thumping frustration at the shirking of responsibility by the people who have worked their way up and no longer care but also the incredible warmth for the small human acts of kindness that we glimpse repeatedly along the way.
I suppose this could, under another writer’s pen, have become very political and bogged down in process and protocol. But Kay finds humour everywhere. In death, his own exhaustion levels, the disintegration of his personal relationships and in the shockingly great number of things people will ‘mistakenly’ insert into their own body holes. I am only glad I chose to read this book once my child birthing days were over.
There are so many people who should read this book. Anyone who has ever huffed in to a doctor’s surgery and ranted at the receptionist because the appointments are over running. I.e. Most of us. Anyone who has sacked off visiting a friend or relative in hospital because there was something better to do. In fact, perhaps the only people who should avoid it are those who fear hospitals. Kay’s portrayal is unforgiving and brutal and once you’ve read the degloving story, I’m not sure you’ll ever be the same again.
Jade Beer is the author of two novels:
Everyone is pretending to be someone they’re not. There’s Betsy, the happily engaged twenty-something whose eyes should be all over her wedding plans but are all over another man instead. Her mother Helen, playing the part of the ecstatic mother-of-the-bride, while keeping her own secret love affair under wraps. Nat, who lies for a living and is questioning how much longer she can keep it up. And Jenny – full of love, desperate to be loved back and about to tell one tiny fib that will spark a hundred more.
A royal photographer who refuses to shoot ugly people, a planning-obsessed father-of-the-bride, a family-phobic groom who wants sex not love and three brides-to-be all racing towards the perfect day. But only two will make it up the aisle – and only one will marry. In between the acres of tulle, towering cakes and David Austin roses, who will emerge happy ever after and whose choices will have devastating consequences no one could predict?