When Ava Chiltern’s world falls apart, the only ray of sunshine is that she has unexpectedly inherited a small vineyard in Provence.
But she knows nothing about wine, is terrified of venturing out into the world alone, and is not sure whether she really wants to ‘start over.’
If you need your own fix of French sunshine and culture this summer, sit back with a glass of vin rouge and wallow in a warm-hearted, romantic and spirited debut novel from award-nominated journalist Ruth Kelly.
The Little Vineyard in Provence – with its stunning backdrop on the Cote d’Azur and a cast of cleverly created and imagined characters – is Kelly’s first book under her own name after ghostwriting the stories of both celebrities and ordinary people.
And it’s well worth packing this little beauty in your suitcase as you head off beach or pool-side on your own summer escape.
Ava Chiltern is devastated that her marriage to childhood sweetheart Mark has become nothing but a lie. She has discovered that for the past five years her husband has been squandering their money on gambling and dodgy deals that have now left them thousands of pounds in debt.
To make matters worse, Mark has walked out, leaving Ava and their prickly, selfish 18-year-old daughter Sophie to fend for themselves, with their house repossessed and no money. But just when Ava couldn’t feel any lower, she receives the news that her 93-year-old French grandfather has died.
When Ava was a child, she used to spend magical summers picking grapes at his vineyard in Provence before a rift with Ava’s mother tore the family apart. But now the grandfather she adored but hadn’t seen for over 30 years has left money to her sister Olivia, and his home and entire vineyard, Chateau Saint-Clair, to Ava.
Fearful of giving up on all she has ever known, Ava is encouraged by her do-or-die best friend Emilia to go back to the place where she was once happy and to ‘seize the day’ and suddenly, she feels something extraordinarily foreign to her…‘genuinely, heart-skippingly excited.’
Still unsure whether it would be madness to walk away from her marriage and take a chance on a place she fell for as a child, Ava heads to Provence and discovers the chateau and vineyard are now sad, unloved and in need of rapid repairs.
But with the lure of fresh coffee and croissants for breakfast, a glass of red with the handsome local waiter Jacques who makes Ava feel young again, perhaps this really could be the start of a new chapter in her life.
Kelly’s entertaining debut is overflowing with intrigue, family feuds, mystery and new beginnings as Ava takes her first tentative steps towards happiness and independence amidst the wines and vines of enchanting Chateau Saint-Clair.
Despite its distinct French-style flavour of romance, fun and drama, this is a story written with unexpected emotional depth and a warm understanding of the dynamics of family life as we watch Ava mature from dithering, dependent wife to a confident and daring businesswoman.
Add on a vast horizon of sun, sea, blue skies and gallons of delicious Chateau Saint-Clair, and the scene is set for the perfect holiday read.
(Trapeze, paperback, £8.99)