Christie Somers becomes manager of the Bakery department at White Rose Stores, and, over the course of a summer, helps to transform the lives of the four very different women who work for her. Her arrival is the catalyst for change for: Anna, left reeling when her fiance leaves her for another woman; Grace, trapped in an endless, loveless marriage without the courage to leave; Dawn, about to be married to a man that she is having doubts about; and Raychel, who hides dark secrets from her past. Can the five women develop lasting friendships and make the right choices?
This is the first novel I have read by Milly Johnson and I'm going to be upfront: I wasn't greatly enamoured. However, there are some redeeming features about the novel that I want to talk about.
The first of these is that Milly Johnson definitely has a unique voice and take on life - this is the first chick lit novel I have read that was set almost defiantly in Barnsley. Johnson clearly adores this northern town and uses it to infuse the novel with a very different flavour than those chick lit novels set in London involving glamorous women working in publishing or some such job.
Added to this, Johnson ably represents women of all ages in this novel, with is another refreshing change. We see life through the eyes of a younger woman, one who is middle-aged, and one who is nearing retirement age. This will ensure the novel has great appeal to a wide range of women.
Lastly, I really appreciated the storyline of Anna, who has found herself at forty without a man. These days, the idea that a woman is invited to take part in a makeover television show is not at all far-fetched, and I liked the way Anna was brought out of her shell over the course of the novel. Johnson's descriptions of the new lingerie and clothes that Anna modelled had me wishing I could run out and buy some of them!
Now to the problems I experienced... Although I mentioned that I liked Anna's storyline, I found Vladimir Darq an incredibly far-fetched character, with his vampiric qualities including some genuine fangs! Why is this even necessary? Anna would find a designer exotic enough, let alone one who is allegedly descended from the undead. Pfft. It felt as though this man stepped out of another novel - one perhaps aimed at teenagers? From the fact that Johnson had her characters talking about the Twilight movie, it sounds as though she has a little crush on this style of novel. I would advise her to maybe write one in that genre, and steer clear of the undead in chick lit.
I also found Raychel's subplot very redundant - the other four women sparkled off the page in their own way. Raychel was unnecessarily mysterious, and it took so long to uncover the mysteries that I found myself incredibly bored.
Johnson's "earthy" humour was, I found, also misplaced. I can see that she is trying to aim for a real northern quality to the dialogue, but it felt contrived and made me cringe on a number of occasions. A particular scene in a Thai restaurant as they perused the menu was one such occasion:
" 'Pad Prik Sod?' Anna said dryly. 'I'm not having any more pricks, thanks, I've had enough.'
'Have a Poppia Poo then!' Raychel snorted.
'Pla Kraproa!" Dawn contested, barely able to breathe for giggling.
'Wank Cum Cock,' said Anna.
'You're joking! Where's that?' said Dawn, laughing so much that the tears were running down her face.
'I made it up, you dipstick.' "
There were also a number of occasions when I found myself rolling my eyes at events within the story - such as when one of the women decides to knee a male work colleague in his private parts while at work, because she finds him distasteful... I was left in shock at the idea that a) a woman would do this in a work environment and b) she would get away scotfree because her boss also didn't like the chap. It wasn't at all realistic, and made me lower my opinion of Johnson.
I also didn't like the way she wrote some of her male characters. They really got the rough end of the stick from this author - what with adultery, stealing, assault and imprisonment as some of the many misdemeanours they commit. Sure, Johnson has obviously done this to ensure that her characters are in a rough spot at the beginning of the novel, but these women put up with SO DAMN MUCH. They were complete doormats, and I like my women showing more of a spark - even at the start of a book. The fact that they let their men get away with so much only made it harder to sympathise and connect with them.
In this novel there are some rather sweet stories hiding behind some poorly-written plotlines and misjudged humour. Fans of Katie Fforde will definitely find it to their liking, but I did not find a great deal to enjoy about A Summer Fling. (I am, however, fairly alone in that! Read this review to see the alternative view to help you make up your mind on whether this novel is for you!)