Book review: Summer Daydreams by Carole Matthews

There’s no doubt about it ... a novel’s leading character can make or break a book.

Tuesday, 19th June 2012, 7:00 am

So Carole Matthews can rest easy, because no-one out there can fail to fall in love with her new leading lady – an enterprising and captivating girl-next-door who goes by the rather homely name of Nell McNamara.

In no respect has our Nell ‘got it all,’ as those in the know would say, but she has got everything you need to make her journey from chip shop worker to luxury handbag entrepreneur one of the summer’s most sparkling reads.

Rain or shine, Matthews’ books are always guaranteed to make you smile and Summer Daydreams has to be one of her best books yet. And, with 19 novels already under her belt, that takes some doing!

The secret of her success is to create people we can all recognise, cast them adrift amidst everyday dreams, dramas and dilemmas and sprinkle over her special magic stardust of warmth and humour.

Nell McNamara has a happy life – her boyfriend Olly, who works nights in a pizza factory, adores her, their four-year-old daughter Petal is the centre of their world and Nell has a steady job in the local chip shop.

The main problem is that shift work means Nell and Olly are like ships that pass in the night as they constantly have to juggle their time around caring for Petal. Nell knows that money isn’t everything but is also only too well aware that life is certainly a lot harder if you don’t have any.

So when Nell makes an astonishing success of revamping the fish and chip where she works, owner Phil persuades her that she has so much more to offer than serving up food and should move on to something bigger and better.

And what could be ‘bigger and better’ for Nell (who has inherited her mother’s handbag-fiend gene) than to make her own luxury, designer bags?

As the business takes off and her extravagant creations start flying off the shelves, it seems Nell’s dreams are finally coming true. But Olly is feeling insecure and the precocious Petal sometimes thinks she hasn’t got a mummy any more. Has success come at too high a price?

Summer Daydreams is so much more than a story about Nell, lovable and inspirational as she is. Matthews brings us a whole host of other three-dimensional characters who deserve a welcome share of the limelight ... long-suffering Olly, chip shop boss Phil and his two assistants Jenny and Constance, whose own stories feed our imaginations, and the adorable, cheeky little Petal.

All mums will recognise Nell’s constant juggling of family and work life, her desire to tap into her talents, and the guilt that can come from following your personal dreams whatever the cost.

This is stylish and entertaining summer reading...don’t set off on holiday without it!

(Sphere, paperback, £6.99)