Review: ‘Foreign Fruit’ by JoJo Moyes

I have to be honest: the first couple of chapters of this book made me think it wasn’t for me.

But then comes the rest, and the realisation that this is something beautiful yet corrupt in the most intriguing way. Moyes does her usual thing with brilliant style: she underplays, doesn’t push too far, and shows the fragility of the human condition.

Lottie is a re1172549al anti-hero: dark, moody, short-tempered, you shouldn’t like her. But you will; she’s hurt and damaged but doesn’t demand sympathy for it. In fact she asks for nothing; she doesn’t know what she wants – it’s what makes her so likeable and relatable. Her actions are that of an uncertain young girl, then young woman, then elderly woman – and the change is palpable when she finally becomes certain of her life right in the closing pages of the book.

The storyline behind Lottie is simplistic yet artfully handled. The complexities of love are nothing new in literature, but Moyes captivates with the constant hopeful tension mixed with a dreadful longing throughout. Guy, for being a critical incident for Lottie, is underused and rightfully so; the enigma element aids the uncertainty and unknowability of what life hands you perfectly. Likewise, although we’re convinced we know, it’s never explicitly stated what Adeline does, or what Celia concocts in her warped version of perfection; we’re left in the simmering tension making our educated guesses throughout, and its this that drives you through the book and leaves you longing for more.

Another honesty moment: the switch to a more present-day scenario halfway through did not sit well with me at first. It took a good couple of chapters for me to come to terms with why this had been done, to show the unending nature of both Lottie’s problem and the problems faced by the new Lotties of the world. It also helped that you ended up rooting
for Daisy in particular; the jilted new mother brought out the fighter in me, and you can’t help but cheer her on as she stops being dull old Daisy and becomes something better than she’d ever been.

So yes, there are a couple of hiccups, but the core of this novel is so strong that the current will wash you away with it before you know what’s happening, and take you from tumultuous waves to safe shores and back again throughout. It’s a brilliant book (albeit with a rather forced title) and another Moyes classic.

Review: ‘Going Dutch’ by Katie Fforde

This book makes it into a rare and not-often-conceded to list: books I wouldn’t recommend. There aren’t many, and to be fair I did finish this book, but it was more out of unwillingness to give up than enjoyment, I have to say.

The characters are all hideous stereotypes; the divorced mother ‘refinding’ 527836-_uy200_herself and
eventually one-upping the ex, the posh country girl who says ‘golly’ a lot, the charming young man everybody loves, the rogue who finally settles down, the bimbo girlfriends whose sole purpose is to show how wonderful the ‘real’ women are…And yet to all these stereotypes there’s very little development; they start and end the same people, despite explicitly telling you how much they’ve grown and developed and progressed – no, they haven’t, stating it doesn’t mean they have.

And that’s sort of the theme of this book; it’s a series of declaratives trying to trick you into thinking implicit and mystical things are happening. In short, nothing like that happens. Everything you think will happen, happens, and there’s not a surprise in sight. Even things that should be interesting and breathtaking – man overboard! – end up being another dull event because everyone’s so ‘stiff upper lip’ they can’t crack the facade to show worry.

The females annoy me most of all. They flit between careers, allegedly finding themselves but actually and unashamedly waiting for a man to fix their lives. They don’t have a thought in the book, let alone a conversation, that isn’t to do with men; empowering this ain’t. And, of course, the solution comes with a good makeover for one character, and a romantic ‘revelation’ (obvious since the start but never mind) for the other; not because they’ve learned how to actually live an independent life or hold their own, but because they look good and have a new boyfriend. I mean for goodness’ sake, the only reason women are invited on a boat trip in this book is to feed and make tea for the men, which made my blood boil; I’m all for playing to your strengths but there wasn’t one woman who didn’t cater (literally or metaphorically) to a man throughout the whole book.

I’ve ranted long enough; don’t go Dutch this year, go to a faraway beach and find another book to enjoy yourself with – ‘The Woman Who Stole My Life’ might be a start. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed ‘The Rose Revived’ by Katie Fforde, but this was not a pleasant sail and choppy waters lie ahead for those who enter the world of Jo, Dora and their men.

Review: ‘The Woman Who Stole My Life’ by Marian Keyes

41vmazlew0l-_sx323_bo1204203200_I love a bit of Marian Keyes, and ‘The Woman Who Stole My Life’ was hideously addictive – for both good and (sort of) bad reasons.

The good: I loved main character Stella. She was everything a normal human female is, and therefore someone whose journey you end up feeling quite personally. You want her to be happy, to resolve conflicts, to be successful…although, of course, you can’t always get what you want! Likewise Mannix was great, if a little confusing in his initial descriptions as to his looks (he later became the God of all things sexy, it was a little skewed from his early depiction!), and again an incredibly real character.

Which leads to the niggle of the bad, and yet a bad that is entirely addictive for its own reasons. There was not a single character outside of these pair that felt realistic; they were all stereotypes (the businesswoman, the artist, the hippy chick, the moody teen – you name it, it was there!) and selfish stereotypes at that. I was screaming at Stella throughout the book about how awful these people were to her, but as I’ve said this was addictive in itself for making you want to see her through to her own personal happily-ever-after to spite these selfish people! Perhaps they were this way to deliberately highlight the ‘right path’ and the ‘good life’ options facing Stella, but my God they made my blood boil in the process!

It was refreshing to see an honest portrayal of money; in books involving New York and potential high-level success, money often gets to be this magical object with no real limit, but this wasn’t the case here. For Roland and his debts, Stella and her ability to live in New York, Ryan and his karmic mission, all money had a value and a limit, and it was interesting to see how this created the stresses we all know and fear at times in our lives. Nothing in this book was unmovable but neither was it wiped away by unrealistic pots of gold or good fortune; this book is enjoyable because, at the core of it, it contains things we’ve all felt and worried about, and shows us the light at the end of the tunnel without blinding us.

It’s a fabulous night-time obsession, and ‘The Woman Who Stole My Life’ will not disappoint you when you inevitably look up and realise you forgot to sleep because you were too busy reading – just remember to keep blinking!

 

“One day, sitting in traffic, married Dublin mum Stella Sweeney attempts a good deed. The resulting car crash changes her life.

For she meets a man who wants her telephone number (for the insurance, it turns out). That’s okay. She doesn’t really like him much anyway (his Range Rover totally banjaxed her car).

But this chance meeting sparks a chain of events which will take Stella thousands of miles from her old life, turning an ordinary woman into a superstar, and, along the way, wrenching her whole family apart.

Is this all because of one ill-advised act of goodwill? Was meeting Mr Range Rover destiny or karma? Should she be grateful or hopping mad? For the first time real, honest-to-goodness happiness is just within her reach. But is Stella Sweeney, Dublin housewife, ready to grasp it?”

Review: “Lyredbird” by Cecelia Ahern

I love Cecelia Ahern, I think she’s a beautiful author who makes the normal extraordinary and reminds us to appreciate the everyday without preaching morality or life lessons. In short, I have yet to see her do wrong, and ‘Lyrebird’ keeps that record intact.

The tale of Laura Button, a girl who mimics like a lyrebird without thinking after 26 years of living in relative isolation, Ahern writes about an unknown talent that inadvertently shows people who they are, making them understand the bad to come through to the good.

There are bits, I admit, which made me have temporary (and then cured) doubts: I have never been a fan of writing in present tense for example – ironically, it makes me tense because it just feels a bit unnatural when telling a story. Likewise, the introduction of talent show StarrQuest after being surrounded by natural innocence and beauty felt a bit jarring, but it was one of those plot lines you had to give a chance to, because it all made sense as part of the journey of Laura as a lyrebird. She had to be found, spread her wings, fall and rise again, and without this it wouldn’t have been so captivating and heartwarming. So the niggles died with the final rise of the lyrebird, and rightfully so.

With worries put aside, it turned into a narrative where you felt Laura’s development as your own because of how skilfully Ahern wrote her innocent nature; without that genuineness of her innocence, it might have come across as cloying or sickly, but it was handled wonderfully to allow you to access the real nature of Laura’s transition to the actual world.

It was a shame to see Rachel tale off as her partner’s due date loomed as she had an interesting relationship with Laura, but Bo was included just enough to see her rise, fall and rise again alongside Laura to redeem herself and start anew. Solomon was interesting if a bit stereotypical in being the brooding male, but he contrasted to and opened up Laura well, allowing her to have something of a foil to develop against.

I enjoyed the hints of stories within the plot as well; Gaga and the mother’s tale of woe wasn’t overextended, the Toolin affair wasn’t dragged out, things were what they were and the future, the change was the focus; a refreshing change from overly-emotional focuses in other books.

In short, everyone should experience the lore of the lyrebird for themselves; oddly enough, it’s not just the characters who come out of this thinking about who they are and how they perceive the world, and that’s what makes Ahern truly magical.

Review: ‘The Geography of Bliss’ by Eric Weiner

Not something I would usually read, but on recommendation I picked up Eric Weiner’s ‘The Geography of Bliss’ hoping that – at the very least – I would come out of it with an idea of where to holiday in the future.

Technically I did, there are places I would love to explore as a result of Weiner’s cross-country ramblings, but it’s only the geography part that was fulfilled – ‘bliss’ seemed lost in the ether somewhere. But then, there’s a huge debate behind the question as to whether it was ever locatable – but that’s a question beyond a review!

‘The Geography of Bliss’ is fascinating; once you get past the excessive quoting of psychological and literary scripture, its engaging to see how on earth you go about finding happiness, something which a lot of us attribute to being within us, and not in a location as such. The anecdotes arising from Weiner’s travels are fascinating and well-told; anecdotes are often subject to being hideously boring when they don’t involve us, but Weiner’s brevity of style and humour allow him to escape this pitfall.

I have to say, that was the overwhelming joy of Weiner’s work; he has a sardonic, witty style that makes you laugh and groan in response to his humour. His background as a reporter also helps; his tales and exploits are tinged by personal bias, rather they are written for the objective public. He makes his work accessible by forgetting about himself, using his involvement as almost a vessel for our entertainment and intrigue. It’s a skill I haven’t come across in many first person texts, and what makes this book thoroughly engaging.

‘The Geography of Bliss’ won’t actually give you the answer to happiness, but it will give you an entertaining ride on the way to figuring out what and where it might be, and is certainly worth stopping in place for to enjoy and ponder about at your own leisure.

The Naughty and Nice List

I have been very neglectful of this site recently, and for good reasons – my latest project, Literacy Stars is taking off and I am incredibly proud of it, as well as being incredibly exhausted from all the time it’s taken!

Excuses aside, my recent reading hasn’t stopped in the background, so here’s the pre-Christmas naught and nice list from my reading trawls of late…

 

Nice: 

  1. ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill – a truly harrowing book, made all the more impressive by it being a product of the 1980s yet sounding like it’s straight from the Victorian era! It’s detailed but in the best possible way – you feel every moment and, for a story where (when you reflect on it and realise) very little happens, you feel like everything has changed througho
    51bmm0isz7l-_sx324_bo1204203200_

    The clear candidate for top of the list! 

    ut the course of this little novella.

  2. ‘Facing the Congo’ by Jeffrey Taylor – a fascinating insight into life on the Conga in former Zaire, exploring the lines between adventure and exploitation, daring and foolishness, and adding a little education along the way.
  3. ‘The Year I Met You’ by Cecelia Ahern – this only just makes it onto the nice list, but it’s a standard sweetheart of a book from Ahern, removing romantics in favour of life-changing relationships beyond the conventional. It’s that everyday magic and love Ahern specialises in, so worth a read.
  4. ‘The Taliban Cricket Club’ by Timeri Murari – this is the best of the bunch; fascinating, insightful, moving and wonderful, you don’t have to love cricket to love this haunting and beautiful story of being female in a repressive regime and the bravery required to free yourself – a bravery embodied by the glorious game itself.

Naughty: 

  1. ‘Early One Morning’ by Virginia Bailey – somewhat interesting in places but entirely predictable and overly-cliched for such a serious topic. A lot of potential that isn’t fully expanded on, which is a shame considering that Rome is a vantage point lost when considering the war in modern culture.
  2. 51rpuevkfl-_sx324_bo1204203200_‘Gorky Park’ by Martin Cruz Smith – I started off loving this dark Russian detective book, but its desperation to be the first in a series let it down, meaning the story finished in a fallen hurdle rather than a rising leap, and the pathos drooped woefully.
  3. ‘The Russian Debutante’s Handbook’ by Gary Shteyngart – what can I say? Our leading man Vladimir is a feckless pig who oscillates between naive and dangerously arrogant so frequently the book needs to be solved with nausea medication and a flow chart of events. Quirky but too much so for this reader.

Review: ‘Early One Morning’ by Virginia Baily

On a recommendation, I picked up ‘Early One Morning’ late one evening and must admit, I foun9780349006512d it difficult to keep hold of it.
For starters, writing in the present tense will never be something my mind is comfortable with – it feels too jarring and ineffectual in a narrative, because a narrative can rarely actually be present tense; you don’t often narrate as you observe, you narrate as you recount. And the past tense in this book, in my opinion, is a recount; it’s embedding Chiara’s past and present to show how she roved from the then to the now.

Chiara and Simone were difficult to believe in as well. They were allegedly older ladies, but we’re repetitively told they aren’t past their prime – well if they were having lives in the 1940s as adults, they certainly couldn’t be party animals in the 1970s. Now this isn’t me saying they should have been sat at home knitting and waiting for pension day, but some sense of age and perspective was needed to make them more believable and realistic.

And to alay fears of being ageist, Maria was a difficulty to me as well; at one moment a loving family member, and at another a Roman goddess. I physically cringed at the description of her ‘creamy breasts’ – a sixteen year old, come on – and couldn’t figure out where her real emotional value lay. Yes she’s a teen and they’re difficult at the best of times, but there’s normally one element of them you can pin down – Maria didn’t have this. Her switches flipped constantly, and it was too emphatically enforced every few lines that she would only call her dad Barry and her mother Nora was a traitor. It was too much; subtlety would have been wonderful here.

What I did enjoy, however, was the storyline about Daniele Levi and Chiara’s authorised kidnapping of a young Jewish boy about to be sent to a labour camp. The notion of a mother’s sacrifice is nothing new, yet Senora Levi’s decision was beautifully stoic and incredibly moving for the shortness of its appearance. Likewise, the transformation of Daniele from mute to recovering to addict was well handled and executed; not overplayed, and certainly not garish. It was what it was, and was a reminder of how well other incidents could have been handled.

Equally, dealing with Cecilia’s epilepsy in a time where it was still misunderstood and scorned was fascinating. It’s not often we think about epilepsy as debilitating now, with media portrayals in hospital dramas and such like of a fit being something you ‘get over’. Of course it’s not, and Cecilia’s story illustrated that, and it was a refreshing yet harrowing plot. I feel her ending lacked justice for how well she had been built up, and I really struggled to believe that Chiara, whose most authentic trait was the love for her sister and Daniele, would just abandon her and fail to mourn afterwards. It felt cold, cruel and out of spirit with who both of them were.

Perhaps, then, it is worth picking this up; I was keen to finish for the positive reasons of intrigue, but there are obvious narrative flaws. It is, therefore, a book for passing the time rather than consuming it, I feel.