The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell, Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles, After the Party by Lisa Jewell, Foursome by Jane Fallon, Mr Almost Right by Eleanor Moran and Love Nest by Julia Llewellyn reviewed by Laura Barnett
While the Sex and the City movie franchise chugs on, drawing our favourite cosmopolitan-swilling Manhattanites ever closer to middle age and possible death by excessive Botox injection, Candace Bushnell has chosen a different way to rejuvenate her heroine, Carrie Bradshaw. In The Carrie Diaries (HarperCollins, £14.99) we meet Carrie as a 17-year-old high-school senior in small-town Connecticut, writing stories, wearing her grandmother’s mink stole and falling for the impossibly handsome new boy in town. A photograph of Bushnell herself as a teenager smiles from the inside cover, presumably to increase the book’s teen appeal. But the book has appeal enough of its own, intelligently recounting Carrie’s coming-of-age narrative – even if a 17-year-old who drinks martinis, customises handbags and uses words like “egregious” feels a little too old for her years.
In Moonlight in Odessa (Bloomsbury, £11.99), the first novel by Janet Skeslien Charles, 23-year-old Daria has an engineering degree, perfect English, and even more perfect cheekbones. Floored by Ukraine’s post-perestroika economy, she takes a job as a secretary at the Odessa branch of an Israeli logistics company – and soon finds that her boss is chief among her unwelcome suitors. To deflect his advances, Daria sets him up with her busty, bottle-blonde neighbour, Olga – and then moves into professional matchmaking, moonlighting as an interpreter for Soviet Unions™, a dating agency that facilitates hasty, long-distance matches between lustful American men and impoverished Ukrainian women. The book is a real treat: vividly told, wickedly funny and brave enough to confront the clichés and misinformation that still abound about life on both sides of the old iron curtain.
With After the Party (Century, £11.99), Lisa Jewell revisits the territory of her own first novel, 1999’s bestselling, genre-defining Ralph’s Party. Eleven years after their first kiss, celebrity agent Jem and painter Ralph are living with their two children in apparent familial bliss in London’s Herne Hill. But the fault lines in their relationship are beginning to show, and when Ralph takes a solo trip to LA to stay with his old friend Smith, and Jem finds herself thinking a little too often about a certain handsome school dad, those hairline cracks grow ever wider. Jewell writes, as ever, with wit and verve, and the reappearance of Jem and Ralph is sure to delight those who loved them the first time round – so it’s a shame that, this time, Jewell’s plotline feels so utterly predictable.
Also in solidly predictable territory is Foursome (Penguin, £7.99) by Jane Fallon. Her last two novels brought an irresistibly dark twist to the chick-lit template. Here Fallon traces the nightmarish falling-out that occurs as two married pairs of best friends – Rebecca and Daniel, Alex and Isobel – are ripped apart after Alex confesses his long-held love for Rebecca. Fallon’s tone is still winningly acerbic but her characters are sketchily drawn and her narrative meandering: the book feels rushed.
Mr Almost Right (Penguin, £6.99), by Eleanor Moran, is a much more rewarding read. Thirtysomething costume designer Lulu is thrown into confusion when she falls for Charles, the married star of the low-budget TV period drama she’s working on. What could feel like the hoariest old story in fiction is enlivened by Moran’s keen ear for dialogue, her vivid, authoritative depiction of the controlled chaos of a film set and her cast of charming subsidiary characters.
With Love Nest (Penguin, £6.99), Julia Llewellyn also draws on an assortment of dramatis personae, linked by their various forays into the property market. Llewellyn’s characters are deftly drawn, her touch is light and her property-ladder plot device proves a lot more interesting than it may sound.
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