"A Desirable Residence" by Madeleine Wickham (aka Sophie Kinsella) (Thomas Dunne Books, 304 pages, $25.99)
What it’s about:
Liz and Jonathan Chambers are in the midst of a minor crisis. They took a risk and bought a tutorial college in Silchester, England, that they hope to reinvigorate by offering new classes, such as modern languages. But to pay the steep mortgage on the college, they counted on selling their family home — which hasn’t happened and doesn’t seem likely, given the flat real-estate market.
Then Liz meets realtor Marcus Witherstone, who suggests renting out the home instead. It seems like a plan, but things go awry. Liz starts falling for Marcus, who is a well-off man, and she begins daydreaming about the easier life she’ll have once he leaves his wife for her. Meanwhile, Marcus’ wife, intent on having her children become academic stars, is making her whole family more than miserable.
And although Marcus does find renters for the Chamberses’ house — a young couple from London — they have troubles of their own, which is a problem for Liz and Jonathan because their teenage daughter has started spending all her free time with the couple. Loads of secrets, deceptions and poor decisions by many of the characters all lead to one big, glorious mess that must be sorted out.
Why read it:
Madeleine Wickham is flat-out funny. She is, in my humble opinion, the best comedic chick-lit writer, creating characters who are extremely likable but who tend to do really silly things that cause them to get into all kinds of scrapes. Wickham was a successful novelist for years in Britain before she wrote the megahit “Confessions of a Shopaholic” under the pseudonym of Sophie Kinsella. Since then she’s written several books as Kinsella (including the “Shopaholic” series).
Her American publishers are going back to her earlier British books and releasing them for the first time in the States. “A Desirable Residence” was first published in 1996 but given the recent state of the housing market here, it feels like a fresh read.
Note: This is a British book that hasn’t been changed for American readers, so it has all sort of expressions and words that feel foreign (I mean, really, who’s ever heard of a tutorial college? Or a Common Entrance exam?), which adds to the fun and you can almost imagine you are transported to England. A perfect summer read.
If you liked this:
Try 2007’s “The Gatecrasher” or 2009’s “Sleeping Arrangements,” also Wickham books rereleased in the U.S. Or, if you haven’t yet read “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” give that one a try. The book is much, much better than the movie that was based on it.