Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

I think this is an intriguing novel because of the many different levels that it works on. I see it as a fairytale for adults. Certainly, there are the usual qualities: a gutsy and resiliant heroine, a 'baddy' who gets his comeuppance, a love affair, and a magical element which is mainly played out through sensual descriptions of the main character (Vianne)'s chocolate shop. There's an ominous Handsel and Gretal element going on, to my mind.
The plot is concerned with Vianne and her daughter arriving in a French village and opening a chocolate shop directly opposite the church, much to the consternation of Father Reynaud who believes it is a spiritual danger to his people, as it is the beginning of lent. He makes it his mission to rid the town of them...

There is a definite feeling of supernaturalism to the story and also the conflict between spiritualities: good versus evil, organised religion versus ancient spirituality and different concepts of sin- it is written from various character's points of view making the debate more complex as the readers' sympathies are divided. The pithy characters are believably drawn and the various villagers add to the richness of the book, whilst also dealing with that universal topic that affects all communities; that of newcomers and locals, insiders and outsiders and the symbiotic relationship between them.

Read it if you like unconventional happy endings and mouthwatering descriptions.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Return by Victoria Hislop

What I liked about this book was the fact that the reader starts the novel thinking they're reading an archetypal modern tale of a woman in an unhappy marriage going to a foreign country to find herself and then they're hit right in the face by something completely different...
Two parallel stories run through the novel: a love story plays out against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, the outcome of which has reprecussions for Sonia, a disaffected thirty-something living in modern day London. Sonia first comes to Granada, Spain for a salsa dance holiday and for a break from her cold and selfish husband but finds more than she ever bargained for.

The Return is poignant, heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful as Spain comes to terms with its turbulent past. I particularly loved how Hislop contrasts the spirit of flamenco and family with the brutality and confusion of war. It combines two things I look for in a novel: thought-provoking and unputdownable and in addition, fuels my passion for all things Spanish!

Read it if you like a bit of grittiness with your contemporary women's fiction.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Confession of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn

Normally I'm quite slow in getting round to reading books hot off the press so a paperback published this year is really fast work for me. This is one off the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club list and as an avid viewer of 'The Tudors' my appetite was immediately whetted to read a novel about Katherine Howard, Henry VIII's doomed fifth wife.

The novel doesn't set out to give a factual historical account; as Dunn herself says, we all know Katherine's fate- she gets beheaded. This is about her life beforehand, exploring how a young, undeducated girl, very low down on the nobility pecking order, ended up becoming- albeit briefly- the Queen of England.

Most of the factual action happens off-stage, as it were. Henry never appears as a character in his own right, nor does Katherine's lover Thomas Culpeper. The book focuses, mainly through flashbacks, on the significant events in Katherine's personal life as seen through the eyes of her friend and lady-in-waiting Cat Tilney. It's the relationship between the two women that's the true story of the book, I think. There's an underlying sense of resentment and almost a love-hate relationship certainly on Cat's part. Her lover Francis Dereham was formerly Katherine's and he's being held in the Tower on suspicion of being 'pre-contacted' or engaged to Katherine. This would make a fool of the ageing, marriage-bruised King, not a good situation to be in.

I was really intrigued by the dynamic Dunn created between the two women as their pasts and ultimately their fates are intertwined and there is also an interesting power shift as we wonder who's really in control.

Cat's relationship with Dereham is fictional and provides and explanation to the events whilst driving the plot. We're never quite sure of his motives, as Cat, the narrator chooses not to tell us.

The book avoids any typically Tudor grisly descriptions and in a way, is all the more chilling for it as Cat truly believes Dereham will be released when it's all cleared up. He was in fact hanged, drawn and quartered a month after the novel ends.

Read it if you enjoy historical fiction without being bombarded with fact and figures, and if you enjoy questioning the narrator's motives

Monday, 18 July 2011

A Perfect Life by Raffaella Barker

I read this a couple of weeks ago and here are my thoughts on it...

We all know families like the Stones. You see them on the school run; they're the neighbours in the huge house at the end of the lane, slightly set apart from everyone else. Good looking, plenty of money, four kids. Seemingly perfect, although with their Bunyan-esque names (Angel, husband called Nick and the kids are named after various precious rocks) you can guess there's a morality tale coming. That's the premise of the novel really, a delve under the surace to reveal family secrets, bitterness, addiction and yearnings.

The characters should be detestable but they're absolutely not, not even Nick, the recovering alcoholic, sex-addicted errant husband. I think this is down to the fact that the story is told from varying points of view- Angel's, Nick's and their eldest son Jem's- so we get everyone's perspective. Jem's accounts are in first person too, in all its late-teenage glory, making him by far the most sympathetic and engaging character.

The reader is drawn in quickly because the novel is written wholly in the present tense, no mean feat. I use the present tense quite a bit in my own writing and it makes the action so immediate; there's a real sense of not quite knowing how things are going to unfold, both for the readers and the characters. I couldn't put this book down although it was in a kind of mesmorizing 'train-crash' kind of way rather than a plot-driven thriller and the changeable points of view intrigued me. But you utterly believe in the characters and care about them and you really hope they find their own redemption at the end of it all.

Read this if you're suffering from 'perfect family' envy!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Hi and Welcome!

Write about what you know, they say. Hmm. Parenting? There's probably enough out there already and I don't think I could make my domestic mayhem seem amusing. Besides, my pre-teen son would probably disown me... 'Bloody hell, Mum', accompanied by a heavy perhaps not. Cookery? No, spare me from this foodie faddery and it's bad enough having to do it without writing about it as well. Writing? As an aspiring author, I considered this, regaling all with my hits, misses and oh-so-nearlies. I've spent about a year writing, writing and more writing short stories (and some poetry when the mood takes me) and had a grand total of one published in a magazine (Prima, May 2011 edition if you're interested) and have been shortlisted for two competitions: Writers & Artist Yearbook 2011 and The Yellow Room Magazine Spring 2011. So I guess I'm on the right track somewhere along the line, but not an awful lot to write about.
So it struck me I could always write about what I've read, rather than what I've written. And as I'm a newbie blogger and all round nice person (mostly!) it's mainly gonna be good stuff, or stuff I've enjoyed. Hence the title Books I loved!

See you soon