Many of us have guilty pleasure reads that we pull out every few years and reread; this is one of mine. The heroine is disagreeable, there are some problematic plot points, and the hero and heroine bicker for much of the book. But every few years I pull it out and reread it, getting sucked in once again to a particularly vivid – and unique – setting, the canals of England.
Julia Fairfax is making a lot of changes in her life. She walks out on her job when a promotion she sought is given to a man, because he is a man. She dumps her sexist, elitist fiancée and applies for a job as a cook on a canal boat. Julia knows nothing about boats, let alone canal boats, but she’s a good cook and is ready for some fun and adventure.
Julia’s hired by the gorgeous, younger, wealthy Suzy, the manager of the boat. The boat is owned by Suzy’s Uncle who agreed to let Suzy try her hand at managing the boat for the season.
The canal boat is a “narrow boat hotel” (70 feet long and less than 7 feet wide), that used to carry cargo on canals. The canals are now primarily for recreation. Suzy’s uncle owns two which travel in a pair and can carry 10 passengers.
Julia isn’t thrilled when Fergus Grindley shows up, ostensibly to deliver a cookbook from her mother. Julia suspects it’s really one of her mother’s matchmaking efforts. Julia knew – and hated – Fergus when they were children.Much to her chagrin, Fergus ends up volunteering to help crew the boat for a few days when their only crew abandons Julia and Suzy hours before their first guests arrive.
Julia and Suzy have to do some creative thinking to make the tours a success after Fergus leaves. Somehow they manage to convince the passengers that it’s fun to help out to get the boat through the many locks on the various canals.
The relationship between Fergus and Julia is one of the weakest parts of the book for me, which I often expect in chick lit. The book is told completely from Julia’s POV making it difficult to know what Fergus is thinking. Fergus is also absent for much of the book, and when Fergus and Julia are together they bicker.
Julia is far from a perfect heroine; in fact, she’s a mess. She’s determined she doesn’t want to get married, and can’t even figure out why she agreed to be engaged to her ex-fiancee. She also isn’t sure what she wants to do with her future. And her reactions to Fergus, particularly in the latter parts of the book, are difficult to understand.
This definitely isn’t for everyone. It’s clearly chick lit rather than romance; in fact, any romance is pretty invisible for most of the book. There are a lot of details about narrow boats and the canals in England. I continue to be fascinated by these details, but a friend was bored by the details and skimmed those parts.
While I found myself rolling my eyes at points during my latest reread, I know that I will be reading this again at some point in the future. The lure of the canals is that strong for me.