Monday, 6 April 2015

Book review: A Seaside Affair by Fern Britton

"When the residents of the Cornish seaside town of Trevay discover that their much-loved theatre is about to be taken over by coffee chain, CafĂ© au Lait, they are up in arms. It is up to Penny Leighton, hotshot producer and now happily married Cornish resident, to come up with a rescue plan. Armed with only her mobile phone and her contacts book, she starts to pull in some serious favours. 

The town is soon deluged by actors, all keen to show their support and take part in a charity season at the theatre. One of the arrivals is Jess Tate, girlfriend to TV heartthrob Ryan Hearst. His career is on the rise while hers remains resolutely in the doldrums. But when opportunity comes calling, it isn’t just her career prospects that are about to change. Trevay is about to put on the show of its life – but can the villagers, and Jess, hold on to the thing they love the most?"

This is the first book I've read by Fern Britton and I'm glad I've introduced myself to this wonderful author. I was first attracted to A Seaside Affair from the summary, pretty cover that stood out to me from the shelf. When I read it, it was raining and murky outside but it suddenly transported me into a sunny, summery seaside world. 

I'm a village girl at heart, so I engaged straightaway with the storyline - saving a rundown theatre from being taken over by a large coffee chain. It's the kind of thing that does happen in small villages, where communities work together to stand up for what they believe in - I felt at home reading this. 

There are many characters in the story but, thankfully, it doesn't get confusing. They have clearly defined personalities and are all really different from one another which provides interesting variety and some unusual but heart-warming friendships. I also liked the different and rather unusual take on famous people in the story - rather than being mega-famous, wonderful superstars they are actually portrayed as what I believe they would be like in real life- some are self-indulgent and arrogant and some are just not really on this planet. Take Red for example- a world-famous singer who is definitely not in our reality- her head is firmly in diamond encrusted clouds. In particular I enjoyed reading about Ryan Hearst, a TV superstar who is, frankly, a bit of a tool. He frustrated me throughout the story with his arrogance and I felt like screaming at his girlfriend Jess, 'LEAVE HIM! you can do so much better!!' he provided another fascinating layer to the story. 

My favourite character was Penny, recently married to Trevay's vicar, but not by any means your usual vicars wife - a hard-working, determined TV producer with a little black book chocker full of A-list contacts, she pulls together the SToP (Save the Pavillon) campaign and works hard to try and stop Cafe Au Lait, the large coffee chain, from taking over the run down theatre.  

The only element I wasn't as keen on in the book was that real-life celebrities are used as contacts to promote the SToP campaign. The main characters in the book are all fictitious and their level of fame and wealth clearly defined so that you know where they stand in the fame pecking order. Ryan Hearst is a well-known TV superstar and Red, a mega famous singer seems to be on the same scale as  Katy Perry or Taylor Swift. Personally, I'd have preferred it if this fictitious theme was kept running throughout the story and Penny's black book was full of make-believe superstars that could join in the promotion of the pavilions. Instead, real-life celebrities such as the Downton Abbey cast, Richard Gere and Richard Curtis are used. To me, it blurred the lines of fictitious story with real life too much, and broke that line of escapism that I love books for creating. I presume that Fern chose to include real-life celebrities to highlight the interest the SToP campaign creates, and how really well-known celebrities are keen to back the campaign but, personally for me, it didn't work. 

Despite that (and it is just me, I know some people might prefer the personal, real-life element to the story) the rest of the book is an absolute treat. The characters are bold and vibrant and you are sucked into their worlds. The location is beautiful and I could see myself sitting on the clifftop tucking into fresh fish and chips with the rest of the characters. It really is a wonderful, absorbing read that I'd recommend, especially to read on a sunny day in the garden while sipping on a glass of something cold! 

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