“Who’s That Girl?” by Alexandra Potter

Thirty-one year old Charlotte Merryweather is a glowing example of the modern woman, a successful businesswoman who owns and runs her own PR company, living in a smart flat in London, with a fabulous sports car and a property developer boyfriend. Her day starts at six in the morning and a work out with her personal trainer, before a busy day filled with business lunches with top flight journalists, meetings with prospective clients, cocktail party press launches and dinner with Miles, her boyfriend. Sounds perfect? Charlotte is stressed out, always tired, a glutton for self help books on how to perfect her life, and has migrated from her dream of becoming a writer in favour of financial stability. So when she follows a diversion because of road works and finds herself face-to-face with her twenty-one year old self, she realises she has the perfect opportunity to undo some of the mistakes she made ten years ago.

The genre of chick-lit has moved on from the straight forward boys meets girl type of romcom, and now spans the spectrum of the life of women in today’s society. This is no exception, and although the publishers are keen to point out on the back cover that this is a romantic comedy, it is really more about a woman coming to terms with the mistakes she made when she was younger, and learning to understand what the important things are in her life, and realising her dreams. There is enough romance to satisfy the chick-lit audience, but this book is squarely in the aspirational category, concentrating on the main characters relationship with herself, her family and friends.

When I reviewed the last book by this author, I said that I thought it was a return to the form she showed in her first couple of books, and this one is even better. I loved the heroine, both as a twenty-one and thirty-one year old. All through the book, you’re wondering why she changes so much from the young carefree woman, into the stressed executive, and when the explanation arrives, it is brief, but as a woman, it speaks volumes and you understand completely how it could change your life.

You do wonder how the author is going to explain the time-travel plot line, and it is a bit of a cliché, but it’s not too overblown and I think she gets away with it. The ending of the epilogue is a bit corny as well, and if I’d written this book, I’m not sure I would have included it, but I guess it was necessary to tie up a particular loose end. It didn’t spoil the book by any means though, so I’m not going to quibble over it!

Overall, an above average chick-lit book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and would happily recommend to other fans of the genre.

Advertisements

“Fire In The Blood” by Irène Némirovsky

Silvio is growing old in his quiet Burgundy house and as the narrator of this story, tells us of the story of his cousins, their family, his neighbours and friends. In his seemingly mundane community, he gradually reveals to us the love, relationships, tragedy and passion that are present now and in the past, and how they affect those whose eyes flash with the passion of the “fire in the blood” that flows through them.

I read Suite Francaise last year, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I wasn’t expecting Fire In The Blood to live up to the same standard, but for me, it actually surpassed it. Némirovsky perfectly describes the rural country villages and towns of between the wars France, with beautiful descriptions of people (“He seemed a good lad, his face thin and soft, with the beautiful anxious eyes of a hare”) and places(“the azure blue of the day grows misty, turns almost green; colour slowly melts away, leaving a delicate hue that is midway between translucent pearl and steel grey”), as well as conveying the emotions of each of the characters with clarity and brevity. Silvio’s narration allows us an apparently objective view of the various family members and their friends and acquaintances, though as the book draws to a conclusion, his own past is revealed along with revelations of relationships that echo through the generations.

The translation of the novel is by Sandra Smith, and for the most part, I loved it, but I did have one extremely minor quibble, when one of the characters refers to “Mum”, as I felt that as all the character names were left as their original French version, I would have preferred this reference to have been to “Mama” or “Maman”. The use of Aunt and Uncle didn’t bother me at all though, it was just this one use of “Mum” that just felt a bit awkward in amongst the French names.

An excellent book, and very brief at just 153 pages, but I would definitely recommend it to others.

“Honey and Dust” by Piers Moore Ede

Piers Moore Ede is living in San Francisco when an horrific road accident while cycling down one of the famous hills transforms his life forever. It’s hard enough dealing with the physical injuries, but back home in London, managing the depression that he starts to suffer from, he yearns for the open countryside and natural world. After spending time volunteering on a farm in Italy, the owner rekindles Piers interest as a lifelong lover of honey, and embarks on a journey of discovery around the world searching out ancient and modern forms of bee-keeping and honey collection. Through the book we learn about not only the fascinating world of apiculture but also how Piers comes to terms with the changes in him following the accident.

This is a wonderful book, in every sense of the word; for example, reading about the tribes in Sri Lanka who hunt for honey filled me with wonder – that the tribes are still able to survive, the methods of hunting, and the risks involved, as well as the wonderful honesty of the author in talking about the depression he suffers from, and the impact it has on his life. There was a mix of history, nature, travel and apiculture in the book, as well as the personal emotional journey of recovery, and was a very satisfying read.

“A Vintage Affair” by Isabel Wolff

Phoebe Swift is working as the head of the costumes and textiles department at Sotheby’s when a tragedy results in a leave of absence, and she decides to change the direction of her career and open her own vintage clothing shop, “Village Vintage”. Buying stock mostly from other dealers, auctions and French markets, she is sometimes asked to look at pieces or collections that some have held in their wardrobes for years, and this is how she comes to the flat of the elderly Mrs Thérèse Bell who has a collection of her dresses to sell. There is one piece, however, she is unwilling to part with, and as the tale of the coat unfolds, could it be that Phoebe’s quest to help Thérèse will also provide her with a release of her own?

The cover of this book would make you think this is a standard, fluffy chick-lit novel, even down to the tagline the publishers have added, “Do fairytale dresses bring fairytale endings?” This is far from the truth. While there are romantic elements to the story, the main themes are regret, loss and friendship, and central to this, is the relationship that develops between Phoebe and Thérèse. Both women feel a sense of responsibility for the fate of beloved friends, and this book shows how they deal with the weight of these emotions that they have placed on their own heads, and the author uses the vintage clothing bring together their tales and those of the other women Phoebe encounters on her journey.

Isabel Wolff’s style of writing flows so beautifully with ease, that I found myself swept up in the story, and finished it in two sittings. Fans of chick-lit should be happy with the romantic elements that have their place in the book, but I was more captivated by the relationship between Phoebe and Thérèse. It was also, for me, a satisfying conclusion, and although not perhaps the expected one for this genre, it was the right one in my opinion.