Comfort Reading, Fluff

The Love Verb – Jane Green – 9/10

“It is about women remembering who they were before they had children.”

Callie Perry has it all: a handsome, successful, although not flawless husband, wonderful children, a slightly wayward little sister, a successful photography business and generally a life full of love and wonder and laughter. So when her breast cancer returns as neoplastic meningitis (brain-related cancer), those she loves are shattered, but rally around her.

Normally I wouldn’t pick this sort of book up, being a bit of a romance/chick lit snob, but I’d seen it positively reviewed around the place and it was just the ticket for a brain-free read. As you know, I didn’t fare all that well with that bastion of chick lit, The Horse Whisperer. This, as you can see from the 9/10 rating, was a whole different receptacle of aqueous-dwelling vertebrates.

I loved pretty much all of the characters. Callie was a bit perfect, Stella was a bit bratty younger sister-ish, Mason clearly had an agenda, but I cared about them, I wanted their lives to keep being fluffy and pink. I loved the crazy earth mother Honor, and was pleased that Green chose to include enough back story that we could see where she came from.

And Green does not hold back with the heartbreak when the plot gets going. In a sense, there isn’t much plot – lovely woman gets sick: effect on family. But Callie’s illness is chronicled in enough detail to be very credible (it did not surprise me that Callie was based on a real life woman known to the author), but not so much that it’s gory. Think Before I Die.

Plus it gets several extra points out of ten for including a recipe at the end of every chapter: Chocolate Chestnut Truffle Cake, Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle, Ginger Almond Chicken. Seriously, I’m going to have to hold onto this book for a while just so I can try out the recipes!

Additional info:
This was a personal copy bought, against all my principles, at the supermarket. In my defence, it was not Sainsbury’s, who won this year’s Chain Bookseller of the Year.
Publisher: Penguing, paperback, 401 pages.
Order this from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.

The Horse Whisperer – Nicholas Evans – 4/10

“Sometimes what seems like surrender isn’t surrender at all. It’s about what’s going on in our hearts.”

Grace and Judith take their horses out on a snowy New York morning. A collision with a sleep-deprived trucker leaves one pair dead and a girl and horse fighting for their lives. Annie becomes convinced that her daughter’s fate is inextricably linked with the fate of her horse, and tracks down a horse whisperer to heal the crippled equine.  Soon it’s not just the girl and the horse whose futures are linked…

Yes I know this is chick lit of the greatest degree – ponies, cowboys, “the massive Montana sky”… Skipping right along:

It is very obvious after about page 100 that it is Annie with whom we are supposed to sympathise – this is Annie’s story, not Grace’s. Grace becomes a truculent, wilful child who is irritating to her mother – instead of the scarred survivor we should see. Annie – well I have no patience with characters who commit adultery, so… I was never going to like her. Evans does convey a very credible character though – she is stressed, trying to do a good job (eventually, just trying to keep her job), doesn’t understand why her child is resisting her helpful efforts, feels guilty for not being around more… I didn’t really understand her relationship with Robert (Grace’s dad) – there is an explanation of how they have got to where they are, but he seemed to just fade out of the picture once Annie and Grace went to Montana.

I quite enjoyed Tom’s back-story and his reticence with actual humans, but could I shake the idea that his name was Robert Redford (I saw the film maybe 8 years ago?)? No. As a reviewer on Bookmooch pointed out, this book was written for film – there’s pathetic fallacy and dark foreboding everywhere.

As for plot… the accident and the recovery are really a shell into which to tuck Annie and Tom’s romance and Annie’s reawakening as a country girl (or some sort of pretence thereat). And I don’t get on brilliantly with this romance business, so to me it was all just a lot of talking and stuff.

Maybe 4/10 is a bit harsh – it achieves what it sets out to do. I just don’t feel emotionally invested in any of the characters, like I did in Love Verb, intrigued by the interpersonal drama like I did in Touching Distance, or blown away by language and situation like in Bel Canto.

Additional info:
This was a personal copy from a big box purchase.
Publisher: Corgi, paperback, 479 pages.
Order this from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.
Current Affairs, YA fiction

Elsewhere – Gabrielle Zevin – 8/10

I mooched Elsewhere for my sister; it
had been recommended somewhere
for young adults, and I am trying to interest her in something other than
Twilight and its offshoots. When it arrived, I thought I ought to read it first
– we have recently had a death in the family and I didn’t want to post off a
tragedy without knowing what I was responsible for. So I sat down to read it.

And looked up three hours later, having
finished it.

A relatively simple structure, based around
the idea that Heaven (or “Elsewhere” here – there is no alternative for bad
people) is much like Earth, but that people age backwards from death until
infancy and are then dispatched back to Earth. Possibly not a revolutionary
idea, but certainly an interesting one.

It was this same not overly ambitious,
rather efficient manner with which Zevin described life, romance and set-backs
in Elsewhere, and apart from some people being born with the innate ability to
speak canine, with which I struggled, I found this a delightful take on tragedy
(our heroine Liz dies aged 15 in a cycling accident). Characters were
reasonable – everyday members of the family and community, nothing
extraordinary – and well-developed, only as far as was necessary, which I felt
was very appropriate for a YA novel.

I haven’t sent it on to my sister, but I
will do once things are a bit less emotional in the family.