In the teeming market of romantic fiction, a clever, classy page-turner always acts like a breath of fresh air.
And they don’t come with more pizazz than Rival Passions, the second glitzy novel from Irish author Zoë Miller who finds rich inspiration in the breathtaking Wicklow countryside for this delicious concoction of realism and romance, home life and high life, ambition and compromise.
There’s all the stock ingredients here – glamorous settings, handsome heroes, beautiful heroines, oodles of passion and a sprinkling of mystery – but Miller works a kind of magic in the mixing process.
The result is a super family saga full of domestic drama, human emotion and just enough intrigue to keep you hooked from page one, all set against the alluring backdrops of lush and lovely Wicklow and the glittering Côte d’Azur.
Stars of the show are 35-year-old twins Serena and Jack Devlin who are joint owners of the luxury Tamarisk Hotel in Wicklow, the ultimate retreat for socialites and celebrities, and currently aiming to win Ireland’s Exceptional Haven of the Year award.
It’s two years since they took over the running of the hotel from their widowed mother Charlotte and it is famed as the kind of chic establishment where pampered guests enjoy sound-proofed suites and can even specify the thread count in their cotton sheets.
Attention to detail and making sure that her clients have the ultimate experience is as natural as breathing to Serena, but success has come at a cost.
Behind her carefully cultivated public image as a top hostess, her private life is far from flourishing.
Husband Paul, a research scientist, is kind, considerate and protective and their four-year-old daughter Harriet is a delight to them both, but Harriet sees little of her busy mother and Paul is desperate for Serena to cut down her workload and have another baby.
Serena knows she lives two lives, both at terrible odds with each other, and she has no idea how they can be reconciled. Will she have to sacrifice her marriage for her career?
Jack, meanwhile, is struggling to recover from the death of his wife Amy a year ago and has been finding solace for the last six weeks at their sister hotel, La Mimosa, in the south of France.
He has reached the stage where despair, guilt and anger have finally been replaced by resigned acceptance ... but he’s still reluctant to return to Tamarisk.
When he misses his flight to Ireland, he visits a cafe in Nice and in a heartbeat his life changes. English waitress Jenni catches his eye and for Jack, it’s like someone has ‘lobbed a tiny gemstone into the still, flat pool of his consciousness.’
He knows he should be returning home rather than allowing himself to be caught up in a fizz of instant attraction, but is his birthright more important than following his heart?
Back in Ireland, their mother Charlotte is reflecting on her own life, only too aware that neither of her children is happy and that she is partly to blame.
Life for the privileged Devlins is growing more and more complicated...
Miller’s novel is a classic modern tale about the dilemmas facing working families... it’s also an entertaining curl-up-and-enjoy book for those long winter nights.
(Piatkus, paperback, £7.99)