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Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Review: The Last Voyage of the Valentina, Santa Montefiore.

A definite must-read for anyone in the mood for a dreamy escape.

Alba Arbuckle is a fiery, passionate young woman living on a houseboat in London. Her lifestyle is one of excess and indulgence, not least when it comes to her loves. Enter Fitz, a handsome man whom happens to be the literary agent of Alba's author neighbour, Viv. When Alba finds a portrait of her mother, of whom her father never speaks, and demands to know the truth, Viv concocts a plan that will give all of them what they need.

Alba and Fitz, pretending to be a couple, visit Alba's father's and stepmother's vast estate in the country. Fitz ingratiates himself with the family, playing his role a little too well, in order to win over her family and Alba herself. It works - Alba slowly opens up to Fitz, but with it opens a vulnerability in her that drives her to Italy in order to search her past.

Alba's story is interspersed with the story of how her father and mother met in the sleepy town of Incantelleria during the Second World War. As the story goes on, the mystery both unravels and deepens, until the final part of the novel where the true loss of Valentina is revealed.

Santa Montefiore creates a love story that is fluffy, warm and inviting. Rich descriptions abound (though I did roll my eyes at the relentless use of 'simple') and the reader is drawn into the family drama; empathetic with Thomas, whose wife's death hangs over him still; Alba, spoiled but you feel for the mother she never knew; and Fitz, who doesn't know just what to do about Alba.

The resolution is a happy ending, in one way, but not necessarily the classic love story ending the reader might be expecting. This is definitely fiction for escapism, a curl-up-on-the-sofa or whisk away to a foreign beach kind of read.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Review: The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

Two short, eerie prologues set the tone for this smash hit of a novel, The Girl on the Train. A body in the woods followed by a woman fearing for her life.

Rachel catches the 8:04 in London Euston and returns just before six each day. Her train stops at the same signal each day, which gives her plenty of time to look out of the window and stare at the houses beyond the tracks. Two of these houses hold particular meaning for her. One, the house in which she and her ex-husband lived. He still lives there, with a new wife and daughter.

The other one is a bit more of a mystery. She calls the couple Jason and Jess and imagines their lives for them. Perfect couple, perfect life. And she reflects on how she has fallen.

Then one day, she sees something that could change the course of not her life but the lives of those who live in these two houses. And she is determined to solve the mystery.

This is no small feat, however, between her alcoholism, her blackouts, and the trouble with her ex and his wife. And as she unravels the mystery, slowly but surely, she comes to discover the gaps in her own memory, so convincingly filled by others, are not what she previously believed.

I found The Girl on the Train to be one of those books that you just have to read wherever you are - making a cup of tea, doing the housework one handed, staying up as late as you can... It's brilliantly paced and the three points of view - Rachel, Anna (the new wife) and Megan (the actual name of the woman Rachel called Jess) - help the mystery keep pace as each chapter reveals something new.

Highly recommend this book - but don't start it just before you go to sleep as you once you start it will be very hard to put down.

Review: The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson

Firstly, hats off to the translator of this book, for so brilliantly getting across Jonasson's dry humour in this novel.

Allan Karlsson is sitting in his bedroom of his nursing home, waiting for his one hundredth birthday to start when, suddenly, he decides he doesn't want to be there anymore. Rather sprightly, for someone who is turning one hundred, he climbs out of the window and decides what he wants to do next. He heads for the bus station and has an encounter with a man which decides the course of his next few months.

Interjected are episodes of Allan's past, which bring him into several of the world's most important events in the most random ways. From the Spanish Revolution, to Operation Manhattan, to boozing with Stalin, Allan's life and the crazy events that happen almost by accident make extraordinarily entertaining yet still plausible reading.

It is one of the funniest books I have ever read without it meaning to be... the comedy isn't overt, it's implicit in the way that he wanders into things and cleverly but nonchalantly wanders out of them, too.

For anyone needing a genuinely good read but also some light relief from the cracker that 2016 is turning out to be, find this book.