Books for Summer: Pop fiction

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The Independent Culture

These days, popular fiction is more likely to end in a divorce shower than a wedding. Topping the list of this summer's undomesticated dramas is Elizabeth Buchan's hard-hitting morality tale The Second Wife (Penguin, £12.99). In a sequel to Revenge of the Middle-aged Woman, Buchan catches up with Minty, the woman who stole her best friend's husband. Minty - a satisfyingly complex anti-heroine - is pilloried by stepchildren and sidelined by her spouse. More gallingly still, first wife Rose has reinvented herself as a loved-up blonde.

Nicholas Coleridge's expansive saga A Much Married Man (Orion, £12.99) takes a more laissez-faire approach to separation. Well-meaning toff Anthony marries at 18, then continues to re-tie the knot through his thirties and forties. It's not long before he has populated the Oxfordshire countryside with horsy daughters and delinquent sons. His happiest moments, however, are shared with a Bayswater masseuse.

Plum Sykes's New York novel The Debutante Divorcee (Viking, £12.99) is the next best thing to a pile of Condé Nast glossies. In an affectionate satire of Park Avenue's very rich, very young divorcees, Sykes's newly "unwed" heiresses order in couture and order out for party decorators. With a vocabulary camper than Carrie Bradshaw's, all are in agreement that matrimony should be like an Eternity ad : "a very gorgeous you, a hot him, and oodles of vanilla-colored cashmere sweaters."

Jilly Cooper's long-awaited bonkbuster, Wicked! (Bantam , £17.99), is an altogether scruffier affair. Set in mythical Larkshire, the story switches between two schools - a sink comprehensive, and Bagley Hall, a private school with cathedral attached. "Larks's" new headmistress, Janna Curtis, is pursuing better results. Bagley's charismatic head, Hengist Brett-Taylor, is pursuing Janna. Unusually for a Cooper novel, no licking or slobbering takes place until page 170 - unless you count the attentions of Cadbury, an over-enthusiastic chocolate Labrador.

Pastoral fantasies take a more sombre turn in Rachel Hore's debut, The Dream House (Pocket, £6.99). Kate Hutchinson, stressed-out working mother of two, exchanges Fulham for Suffolk, only to find out her husband is having an affair. With a four-bedroom period house finally in her grasp, Kate's personal life implodes in a flurry of recriminations and court orders. Katie Fforde's relocation romance, Practically Perfect (Century, £10.99) adopts a pragmatic approach to men and property. Designer Anna has staked her future on renovating an idyllic cottage. Midway through ripping out the floorboards, she's visited by listed buildings officer, Rob Hunter. A combative pas de deux ensues, followed by a cathartic tumble between the Cath Kidson sheets.

The peri-menopause is the sexy theme of Terry McMillan's blockbuster, The Interruption of Everything (Viking, £17.99). Marilyn Grimes is a 44-year-old black Californian with a 44-inch waist and a "PMS attitude". Instead of seeking comfort in an affair, Marilyn turns to sex toys and a personal trainer. "You sound like you could be a rich white woman," one character tells her. It is not a compliment. Set in an era when housewives were expected to be desperate, Anthony Capella's The Wedding Officer (Time Warner, £12.99) offers escapism in the form of old-fashioned romance. James Gould is 22 when he arrives in occupied Naples, where his duties include dissuading Allied soldiers from marrying Italian girlfriends. To humanise him, the locals employ a beautiful young cook called Livia. Gastroporn takes the place of emotional porn as James discovers the glories of regional Italian cuisine.

In her dignified epic The Saffron Kitchen, (Little, Brown, £14.99), Yasmin Crowther reminds us that not all stories of exile are sun-kissed affairs. After 40 years in London, Maryam Mazar is prompted by family crisis to revisit her girlhood village. Memories of an authoritarian father, a general under the Shah, are tempered by the shock of her return to the minarets and mountains of home.

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