Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book Review: The Memory Garden by Rachel Hore

Hey guys! I've another 400+ pager for you today.

Cornwall is one of those places I've never been to but always been fascinated by (nothing to do with pasties, I swear), so when I saw that the majority of this novel was set there, I was sold. Here's the back cover bit:

Lamorna Cove - a tiny bay in Cornwall, picturesque, unspoilt. A hundred years ago it was the haunt of a colony of artists. Today, Mel Pentreath hopes it is a place where she can escape the pain of her mother's death and a broken love affair, and gradually put her life back together.

Renting a cottage in the enchanting but overgrown grounds of Merryn Hall, Mel embraces her new surroundings and offers to help her landlord, Patrick Winterton, restore the garden. Soon, she is daring to believe her life can be rebuilt. Then Patrick finds some old paintings in an attic, and as he and Mel investigate the identity of the artist, they are drawn into an extraordinary tale of illicit passion and thwarted ambition from a century ago, a tale that resonates in their own lives. But how long can Mel's idyll last before reality breaks in and everything is threatened?

Shifting imperceptibly from one generation to another, The Memory Garden vividly evokes the lives of two women, born a century apart, but who face the same challenges to their happiness and survival.

Firstly, I don't think the blurb is 100% accurate. The story does shift from that of Melanie Pentreath, a writer/teacher in the 2000s, to Pearl Treglown, a servant in the early 1900s. But while Pearl is struggling with recent shocking family revelations and the effects of an illicit love affair, Melanie is trying to get over her ex-boyfriend and deal moreso with her relationship with her father than the death of her mother. The only real challenge Melanie is facing is one of her own - she needs to figure out where she belongs, and who she wants to share her future with. 

I didn't instantly find Melanie likeable - it's not that I disliked her, it's just that I couldn't get a clear picture of her in my head. Usually when I start a book, I instantly picture the character - with this book, the main character seems to be the house. I just wanted to move in and start helping to clear the vines and uncover the paths. The writer conjures up an image of somewhere that is truly idyllic - and when I googled Lamorna Cove, it was just as I imagined it to be. It's a stunning place.

The author has really done her research into the artists of Lamorna Cove - her descriptions of the paintings are bang on, as you can see for yourself if you look at some of the work by artists that she mentions (Dame Laura Knight, for example). 

Melanie's story is good, it plods along at a steady pace and there aren't too many twists or turns - there's a story arc involving a Croatian lady which I find completely unnecessary, but it doesn't take away from the overall feel of the book. It's Pearl's story, however, that made me want to devour this book. It's so beautifully written and it brings the Old Hall alive, if only for a few pages at a time. I also love how the writer wrapped Pearl's story up - it was touching and sentimental without being twee, and it closed the book on a hopeful and happy note despite the reader knowing otherwise from earlier on in the book.

All in all, a solid read and one I'd recommend, if a little too long. It almost reminded me a little of Helen Moorhouse's The Dead Summer (which I reviewed HERE), but without the ghostly element. 

S xx

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review: 50 Shades of Grey.

I'm not going to give you a traditional review of this book (I'll do a little one at the end), and I'm not going to go down the hilarious taking-the-mick/parody route that has been done so much better than I ever could (Kitty Catastrophe and Karen, to name my favourites). I'm just going to get a few little things off my heaving bosom. Sorry - my chest. It's infecting me already.


The back cover: 

Romantic, liberating and totally addictive, this is a novel that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

When literature student Anastasia Steele interviews the successful entrepreneur Christian Grey, she finds him very attractive and deeply intimidating. Convinced that their meeting went badly, she tries to put him out of her mind - until he turns up at the store where she works part-time, and invites her out.

Unworldly and innocent, Ana is shocked to find she wants this man. And, when he warns her to keep her distance, it only makes her want him more.

But Grey is tormented by inner demons, and consumed by the need to control. As they embark on a passionate love affair, Ana discovers more about her own desires, as well as the dark secrets Grey keeps hidden away from public view...

It doesn't sound so bad on the back, does it? I actually read the synopsis of this a while back on Amazon when they were running their 2 for 7 deal on paperbacks, and skipped it over in favour of Susan Hill's The Woman in Black. I later succumbed to all the hype and bought it in Tesco for around e7. I can honestly say, that this is without a shadow of a doubt, the worst book I have ever, EVER read, and I have been reading since I was three years old. 

Firstly, as you're all probably aware (or maybe not), this started life as a Twilight fanfic called... eh... Master of the Universe. You can read all about that HERE, where they do a couple of nifty comparisons between the two. Are we all picturing He-Man now? Yes? Good.

I don't know how it was published in its current form. The writing is so juvenile, it's actually hilarious. E.L. James writes as if she's just discovered the existence of  metaphors and similes. "She has her teeth in a book". "He's all muscles and shoulders in his t-shirt". "His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel". I burst out laughing several times while reading it. Also, I'd like someone to tell me what "sandles" are (page 428). Bad editor. BAD. 

What I want to know is, why has the world gone 50 Shades mad?! Apparently, Virgin Atlantic will now be providing an audio copy of the book for their passengers to "enjoy". You can read the article in Cosmopolitan here. I'd like you to read, in particular, this quote from Virgin Atlantic's head of PR Fay Burgin:

"We want to give our female passengers the chance to enjoy the book in an intimate way, away from prying eyes. Of course, we can't promise to spare any blushes and can't be held responsible for any risque* behaviour that listening to the recording inspires."

Are you serious, Fay Burgin? Have you read the book? The only risque behaviour that could possibly be a result of reading this book "in an intimate way" is for someone to have an episode of the  Gerard Depardieu kind from laughing.

I'm interested, also, as to what you picture when you think of Christian Grey. For me, it's now a mash-up of He-Man, Winnie the Pooh (thanks Kitty) and this ungodly creature:

Why have women started declaring Christian Grey as "The Ultimate Man"?! What's so great about a moody prick who likes to control stupid girls? Is this what women want, a brutish bully that throws money at them and makes them feel like shit? Oh, but it's okay, is it, to want to hurt someone every time you look at them, as long as he leaves painkillers? There's nothing sexy about Christian Grey, he's a domineering asshole, yet women are gaga over this fictional idiot. He also appears to have fingers the length of bananas. Or something equally as long and impressive. Are there any Buffy fans among us? Remember the episode Hush? Remember "The Gentlemen"? That.

Type "laters baby" (worst catchphrase EVER) into eBay or Etsy and marvel at the bucketloads of cushions, rings, handcuffs, posters and other various objects emblazoned with that stupid saying. It's ridiculous. I do quite like the cake though. I could eat that cake, even if his lips are a little weird. 

Throughout the book, Ana blushes so much that someone should really send her the No.7 Rosy Tone Colour Control, and bites her lip so much that I imagine by the end of the third book in the trilogy, she'll look like this:

Ana's attitude to technology is also amazingly stupid - she refers to the laptop on more than one occasion as "the mean machine". Ana, it's a Macbook, not Optimus Prime. I won't mention her Inner Goddess for fear of exploding with rage, but I'll say this: Lizzie McGuire has a lot to answer for.

To finish up this incredibly jumbled post, I'm going to leave you with three things. One, the funniest line in the entire book. This is thought by Ana as she's tying her hair up in pigtails:

" The more girly I look, perhaps the safer I'll be from Bluebeard."

Two:  E.L. James, not content with the mysterious weirdo Christian's skeletons and his tortured past, introduces a mysterious 'Situation' to deal with towards the end of the book. Nothing makes me want to rush out and spend another 7 quid like a mysterious Situation.

And finally, Three: My actual review of the story.

50 Shades in 50 Words
Holy Cow. Hips. Long Fingers. Go. Stay. Inner Goddess. Yes.
No. Go. Stay. Cry. Bite Lip. Stay. Go. Taciturn. Breathe.
Holy Cow. Bite Lip. Stay. Go. Long Fingers. Yes. No.
Bite Lip. Cry. Holy Cow. Situation. Inner Goddess. No. Yes.
Bite Lip. Don't. Do. Cry. Long Fingers. Ow. Cry. Cry. 

I don't know how I finished it, but I did. It fried my brain - probably at the base of my medulla oblongata near where my subconscious dwells.

Please don't waste your money. Get a Harlequin Blaze. Or a comic.

S xx

*My keyboard shortcuts aren't working. Imagine there's a fada on the "e". 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Review: A Bend in the Road by Nicholas Sparks

To try and do something about the fifteen thousand times I hear "Mammy, I'm boreddddddddddddd" on an  average wet day, I rejoined the library and joined the 7 year old up too. Frankly I don't know why I stopped going at all, I just think I forgot about it to be honest. Our local county library only costs 2.50 per year for adults, and it was free for the little man. He was delighted - he came home on Friday afternoon the proud carer of 3 Dr. Seuss books he hadn't read, and some other disgusting looking one about giants and snot. I picked 4 this week - the first of which I read today, it's 'A Bend in the Road' by Nicholas Sparks.


A Bend in the Road is Nicholas' fifth novel, following on from well-loved novels such as The Notebook,  A Walk to Remember and Message in a Bottle. It was published in 2001. Here's the cover stuff:

Miles Ryan's life seemed to end the day his wife was killed in a hit-and-run accident two years ago. Missy had been his first love, and Miles fervently believes she will be his last. As a deputy sheriff in the North Carolina town of New Bern, he not only grieves for Missy, but longs to bring the unknown driver to justice.

Then Miles meets Sarah Andrew. The second-grade teacher of his son, Jonah, Sarah had left Baltimore after a difficult divorce to start over in the gentler surroundings of New Bern. Perhaps it is her own emotional wounds that make her sensitive to the hurt she sees first in Jonah's eyes, and then in his father's. Tentatively, Sarah and Miles reach out to each other. Soon they are both laughing for the first time in years... and falling in love.

Neither will be able to guess how closely linked they are to a shocking secret - one that will force them to question everything they ever believed in... and make a heartbreaking choice that will change their lives forever.

Although I've seen all of the movies based on Nicholas Sparks' books, I've never read any of them. I really liked this one - I loved both main characters. Miles is beautifully written as the grieving widower, the man who is trying his best not to let his obsession over finding out who killed his wife interfere with his daily life. His devotion to his son Jonah is apparent in every exchange between the two. Sarah, too, is dealing with a huge emotional burden - her divorce, and in particular the reasons for the divorce. Hearing that her ex-husband is due to be remarried also hits her in a way she wasn't expecting. Miles is different from any other man she has known, but she is uncertain how he will feel when she reveals some of her past. They're both initially nervous around each other, and it's endearing rather than annoying.

Sarah is Jonah's teacher, and agrees to give him the extra help he needs with his schoolwork after falling behind when his mother died. Miles and Sarah grow closer, until we can see them gradually opening up to each other and falling in love. It's a tender romance, one that isn't rushed, and it culminates in both characters being able to relax and enjoy the company of a kindred spirit.

As expected, something comes along to test their feelings. Miles' obsession with finding out who killed his wife reaches a dangerous level, and when Sarah discovers something disturbing, it puts her in an unenviable position. Will they be able to get through this? And will they still be together at the end of it?

I read this book in one sitting - all 445 pages of it. I couldn't put it down. The story of Miles and Sarah is told to us in the book by an unnamed man - one who is pivotal to the story. I did have my suspicions about who the mysterious male narrator was, but it didn't destroy the story for me when we discovered who it was. There is an underlying theme in the book about forgiveness, but I think it's mainly about how to move on with life and cope with past pain without letting it consume you.

Sparks managed to give both the killer and the victim's wife very similar (if not the same) issues, and I was surprised to find myself rooting for the killer at the end (I use the term 'killer' loosely, by the way). The end is a little bit twee, but all in all I really liked it and I'll be picking up a few more of Nicholas' novels the next time I'm in the library.

I despise the term chick-lit, but I'd describe this as 'chick with a kick'. It's a little meatier than some of the romance novels aimed at women (meaty as in lots to sink your teeth into, not as in that book with the word grey in the title of which we shall not speak) and all the story arcs are interesting and well-written. 

Consider me a new fan.

S xx