Taking inspiration from carefree holidays to Spain as a teenager, Jenny Oliver’s new novel, The Summer House by the Sea, is the perfect sun-soaked vacation read. It’s an uplifting and heartfelt story about revisiting the past and embarking on fresh beginnings, with a few gentle life lessons along the way.

When Ava Fisher is hit by a bus, escaping with just a few bruises, she starts to re-evaluate her life and the direction it’s heading. At the same moment that Ava was almost killed, her grandmother passed away, giving Ava’s close-encounter with death even more significance. Taking advantage of her grandmother’s now vacant house by the sea, Ava goes to Spain where she plans to recapture the relaxed days of her youth in the sun.

Back in England, Ava’s brother, Rory, makes a bad decision at work, which sees him publically shamed on twitter and his credibility as a filmmaker in tatters. His marriage is also hovering on the brink of divorce, so Rory escapes to Spain with his young son, Max, to get some perspective on life. Thrown together for the first time since they were children, Ava and Rory discover the eccentricities of the people that live in the small beach town, and start to learn more about their late mother, who they both view in very different ways.

Together Ava and Rory explore their mother’s secrets and begin to see where their own lives – as well as their relationship as a family – went wrong. The siblings go back to their roots, rediscovering what made them happy as youngsters and what makes them content as adults. A project in the form of a run-down café that they both have fond memories of gives them a new purpose, and the makings of a fresh start neither asked for but both desperately needed.

If you like contemporary women’s fiction with a summery twist, you’ll adore The Summer House by the Sea. In much the same way that Rory and Ava escape from their everyday lives, this story provides 344 pages of pure, unadulterated escapism with a delightfully sunny setting and characters that are constantly learning along the way. Oliver describes the sights, sounds, scents and tastes of Spain with such clarity that you’ll wish you were sitting at a little beach-side café with a freshly baked pastry, amidst the bustle of the townsfolk and watching the world go by.

Ava and Rory have an enforced digital detox over the summer, though both of them find it difficult to stay away from their phones and social media. So that’s no whatsapp, no twitter, no facebook, and no keeping track of what everyone else is doing or saying. It’s a lovely reminder of what is and what isn’t important in life. The pace of the story is fairly sedate, which isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it’s perfectly in keeping with the theme of the book.

Like all the best summer reads, The Summer House by the Sea features gorgeous weather, sparkling sea, light romance and a dash of poignant family drama, making it the ideal book to pack in your holiday suitcase.

★★★★

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