Her work at “Table Manners” keeps event planner Isabel Serranti busy but having a ball. She juggles everything beautifully, even if it all gets a bit manic at times. But nothing prepares her for her latest assignment: to help throw a last-minute charity ball at Pastiles, the country estate where she grew up happy until her inseparable childhood friend and estate owner’s son, Simon Monkwell, turned sullen and uncharacteristically mean to her. Simon is now a big-shot entrepreneur whose name is always in the headlines. As her boss is eager to secure this great man’s future favors, Isabel has no choice but to accept.
Except for the fact that Simon is away for most of the planning, nothing else goes right for Isabel. Whether it is the Monkwell family with their eccentricities and strange, poisonous pets, Simon’s younger brother - who now seems very interested in her - or even the curiously dilapidated condition of the Monkwell estate, Isabel finds it surprisingly difficult to get things done. Then Simon comes home, at once a stranger and a friend, alternately standoffish and intimate, leaving a wary Isabel feeling utterly bewildered. It is like her childhood all over again. But Isabel sets aside her misgivings when things take a nasty turn and Simon needs her help. Together they make a bold attempt to pull off something audaciously devious; how things eventually turn out makes for an engaging read.
Originally released in Great Britain under the title The Party Season, this Sarah Mason novel is a fresh, lightly entertaining story with some unexpected suspense. Isabel Serranti is in a profession that guarantees fun, amusing anecdotes, charmingly eccentric co-workers, and quirky clients. A plethora of interesting side characters help carry the whole show as the so-called hero/villain of the novel, Simon Monkwell, around whom the whole story revolves, is absent for most the novel - although his presence is strongly felt through his past actions. But when he does put in an appearance late into the story, he lives up to his portrayal, then proceeds to break all preconceptions. Readers experience events through Isabel’s eyes and there is rarely a dull moment. Although overall entertaining, the novel never goes beyond light-hearted.