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Thursday, 23 March 2017

Review: Heartbreak Hotel, Deborah Moggach

Despite me never reading the book The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, on which the film adaptation is based, I had a feeling I would love "Heartbreak Hotel", since it's written by the same author.

I was right.

Our hero is Buffy, a retired actor with a confusing collection of ex-wives, children and step-children which requires a detailed family tree of which to keep track. One day, he finds out he has been left a B&B by one of his dearest friends (whom he consequently had lost touch with for a while) near Wales. He takes the leap and moves away from London into the shabby B&B and starts out on a little adventure.

He quickly realises, though, that he needs to offer more than the standard service - particularly because the B&B itself has seen finer days. He has an idea to run "Courses for Divorces", different things that exes might recently find themselves unable to do as their ex used to do it - car maintenance, cooking etc.

Interspersed with Buffy's plans are an array of chapters about different people whom end up on these different courses. For most, it is a welcome week away; for others, it represents the start of a whole new life.

Moggach's book is written with warmth, humour, and the belief that while one doesn't necessarily need romantic relationships, they can be wonderful to the people that are in them. It's not just romance, however - friendships are made and rekindled, pasts reconciled, and new avenues explored. It really is a little gem of a book that will keep you smiling and laughing the whole way through.

Review: The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

South Carolina at the height of segregation, and racial tension is at its highest. Lily, a fourteen year old living on a peach farm with a harsh father and a black servant (her only friend), longs more than ever before for her mother - a mother she believes she killed.

One afternoon, Lily accompanies Rosaleen to register to vote. However, three white men stand in the way. Refusing to kowtow, Rosaleen gives them a piece of her mind but unfortunately gets more back than that.

Lily helps Rosaleen break free from the hospital in which she's being kept (after said men came to the prison to beat her to within an inch of her life). The only route Lily can think of going is a route marked out by a picture of a black Virgin Mary.

The road leads them to the home of three beekeeping sisters; August, June and May Boatwright. They offer sanctuary to Lily and Rosaleen, as well as (in August's case) warmth.

Rosaleen is entirely at ease straightaway, but Lily takes a little longer since she has lied about why she has come. Fearing she might be sent away, she keeps the truth inside but her suspicions are that August knows.

Free from her father's fearsome shadow, Lily is able to rebuild herself with the help of August, whom shows her the ways of beekeeping. By the time Lily realises she needs to tell the truth, however, terrible events occur that make her hold the truth tighter still.

 It's refreshing, though, to see a historical novel about black women whom are the mistresses of their own lives, rather than trying to display their own identity within the constraints of their white masters and mistresses. The women clash and bond and look after each other, and there's no question of August, June and May being beholden to any one else. They are well known and respected in the community and the honey business does not suffer with the knowledge that the creators are black. Relationships - familial, romantic, platonic - form the heart of this story with an undercurrent of racial issues being explored. It's a rich novel with substance and depth, with much of what we know about the time being questioned within the microcosm of the Boatwright family.