Book reviews

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I Will Marry George Clooney (By Christmas) by Tracy Bloom


I Will Marry George Clooney (By Christmas) by Tracy Bloom was a light and mostly entertaining read, apart from the heroine’s issues with her horrible teenage daughter.

The title of this novel was the only reason I picked the book up. This title would have worked equally well using any number of other actors,* but at the time this book was written, George Clooney was probably the most well known bachelor in the world. Now, of course, he is married and not nearly as interesting as he used to be.

Michelle, the 36 year old single mother of the afore-mentioned horrible teenage daughter, works in a chicken factory. She gave up her dream to be a chef when she fell pregnant with her daughter Josie, who is now 15. Michelle has never disclosed to her parents, her best friend or her daughter, the name of Josie’s father. Who Josie’s father is, is a complicated matter. To set you straight from the beginning, it wasn’t George Clooney. Michelle obviously has a bit of a crush on George Clooney, or at last the character he played in a movie called One Fine Day.

Josie is a pain in the neck. She and Michelle constantly butt heads, very often over Josie’s attachment to her loser boyfriend, Sean. (My advice to Michelle would be to pretend to love Sean as a future son-in-law, in a type of reverse psychology thing, as then Josie would have realised Sean was a loser much sooner than she actually did).

Michelle is horrified when Josie announces that she intends having sex with Sean at Christmas, when she turns 16. Michelle makes a deal with Josie that if Michelle marries George Clooney, then Josie will abstain from giving Sean this particular present.

Josie ridicules Michelle’s likelihood of marrying George Clooney, but agrees to the deal. (I’m with Josie on this one, as short curvy women who work in chicken factories don’t seem to be Mr Clooney’s type). However, Josie spends most of her time ridiculing Michelle and it gets a bit tiresome after a while. (My next piece of advice to Michelle would be not to buy into Josie’s ridicule, as it only encourages her to continue behaving badly).

Michelle pursues George Clooney by organising a charity event for Not On Our Watch, which is actually a real charity founded partly by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon for the purposes of providing relief and humanitarian aid to the victims of human rights violations. Michelle sends an invite to the charity event which is being held on a day when George Clooney is in London for a movie premiere. The event raises a significant amount of money, however George Clooney does not attend Michelle’s fundraiser. (Don’t think too badly of him. Obviously he couldn’t attend, because Michelle is fictional).

During the course of the story Josie’s father turns up, and Michelle, Josie and an old boyfriend of Michelle’s drive to Lake Como in Italy to hand over the cheque to George Clooney. The characters also manage to resolve some family issues.

I probably wouldn’t read another book by this author. The heroine’s delusion about marrying George Clooney was funny but not strong enough to carry the whole novel. Plus, Josie’s behaviour was terrible. Her character would seriously put would-be-parents off having children. However, if the author writes I Will Marry Johny Depp I may rethink my decision.

*How about, I WILL Marry Colin Firth Tomorrow. That’s true, I would. Or I would if I knew him and he wanted to marry me too and I wasn’t already married. I hope he isn’t already married too, because then it would get messy. I would also consider I WILL Marry Brad Pitt if He and Angelina Jolie Get a Divorce, although I wonder what the magazines would make of that. I don’t think photos of me alongside Angelina Jolie would do me any favours at all. Probably my ego couldn’t cope with the criticism which would likely come my way from stealing gorgeous Brad from the beautiful Angelina. I WILL Marry That Gorgeous Fellow Who Was in that Movie With Whats-Her-Name, You Know the One? might be more suitable. We’ll see.



The Travelling Tea Shop by Belinda Jones


Is there a genre of fiction called Food Lit? If so, The Travelling Tea Shop by Belinda Jones fits right in. Sadly, there weren’t any recipes mixed up in the story, but there were lots of references to yummy things. I liked the cover too, the pink and green is really pretty and the cake silhouettes look fantastic. Since I love cake and biscuits and pastries and pies and just about everything that can be found in a bakery window, this cover is my idea of perfection.

The story is a romance, (yes, this is obvious from the pretty, girly cover), but with travel and food thrown in.  The story was enjoyable while I was reading it, but not memorable in any way. Just the thing for an afternoon on the couch.

The heroine of The Travelling Tea Shop is Laurie, an English woman living in the USA. Her business is arranging the most wonderful holidays for her clients, one of whom is a famous English baker named Pamela someone-or-other.

Pamela is writing a new cookbook, which are to be based on areas visited during the trip Laurie plans for Pamela and her family. Laurie ends up accompanying the group as they travel between New York and Vermont, visiting areas which are famous for particular sweet treats, with Pamela swapping recipes with other famous chefs along the way. Boston Cream Pie, Victoria Sponge, Whoopie Pies, Salted Caramel Cupcakes, Red Velvet Cheesecake and many more lovely descriptions of cake left me raiding the pantry to find something sweet to scoff while I read. (I found chocolate, if anyone cares).

Laurie gets caught up in Pamela’s family troubles, of which there are many. Pamela is getting a divorce and is struggling with her emotions. Her feisty mother, who is driving the red, double-decker bus the group is travelling in is a breath of fresh air, but Pamela’s spoiled teenage daughter, Ravenna, needs a good smack. (Not that it is politically correct for parents in Australia to smack their children anymore, but you know what I mean). Ravenna has an eating disorder, a nasty boyfriend and a sense of entitlement, which poor old Laurie gets to deal with. The situation is complicated when an accident leaves Pamela’s mother in hospital and an old boyfriend of Pamela’s joins the group to drive the bus.

Laurie has problems of her own which come to a head during the trip too, but fear not, with a cover this pretty, you know things will work out for the best for everyone.

I would read another book by Belinda Jones on a lazy day, but the story, (apart from the fantastic idea of combining travelling with a cook book author and all of the lovely descriptions of baked treats), was probably not distinctive enough for me to particularly recommend unless you’re a sucker for romance, travelling and cake.





Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

leavingYou always know where you are with a Jodi Picoult novel, reading about some terrible dilemma or other and trying to guess the twist. They are almost comfort reading.

I did guess the twist in Leaving Time about half way through, and texted my guess to Honey-Bunny, who had already read this book. She very wisely didn’t respond, leaving me to enjoy the rest of the story without being completely sure of myself or the author.

Leaving Time follows the story of Jenna Metcalf, who has been searching for her mother, Alice, for over ten years. Alice was a scientist who studied grieving elephants. She disappeared after a terrible accident (or possible murder?) at the family’s elephant sanctuary, when an employee was trampled by one of the elephants. Jenna’s father has been in a mental asylum since the accident, which happened when Jenna was a toddler.

Jenna lives with her grandmother, who refuses to talk about Alice with Jenna. Eventually Jenna starts to actively search for her mother, using the services of Serenity Jones, a once celebrated psychic who had her own television show, and Virgil Stanhope, a former police officer. Virgil originally investigated the accident at the elephant sanctuary.

The novel is told by all of the characters in turn, Jenna, Serenity, Virgil, and Alice. Alice’s chapters tell the history of Jenna’s search, from when she first met Jenna’s father in Africa and fell pregnant, to when she came to live at his elephant sanctuary in New England. Alice’s story is mixed in with the findings from her research and examples of elephant’s behaviours, which are more interesting than I would have expected before I read this book.

I’ve read quite a few Jodi Picoult books and enjoy them, despite some of the issues she raises having no happy solution or answer at all, but Leaving Time is a gentler read. It doesn’t even bother me that I sometimes think I am reading the same book over and over, just with a different set of characters and issues to resolve, as I said earlier, sometimes it is comforting to know where you are with an author.

In Leaving Time, there are no nasty dilemmas to ponder over, except for the plight of elephants in captivity. I will never see an elephant in a zoo or away from its natural environment again without feeling terribly sad for the elephant.

I don’t think Leaving Time is one of Jodi Picoult’s best books, but readers who enjoy her work will enjoy Leaving Time.



Saving Grace by Fiona McCallum


Farm romance is a popular genre of fiction in Australia at the moment and Fiona McCallum’s novel, Saving Grace, fits right into this style. Personally though, I would rather get up in the middle of the night to assist a cow to give birth than read another farm romance novel. Once was enough, thank you very much.

I found myself cringing with embarrassment while I was reading this, hoping that no one outside of Australia ever reads Saving Grace and thinks these characters are representative of our national character. If I had read it on the train, I would have hid the cover.

Saving Grace is an extended Mills and Boon-type novel, except without any romance, a hero or a plot. To make matters worse, the heroine, Emily, is a dopey, whinging, wuss. There was some sex, which sadly, was bad. Not dirty bad or even bad because it was unbelievable and ridiculous, but bad because we learn that Emily’s husband is selfish both in and out of bed. Ho hum.

At the age of 28, which is almost ‘on the shelf’ in the Australian country – according to this story anyway, Emily married the richest farmer in the district. Three years later, after lots of bad sex, not being allowed to work, not being allowed to have a dog and being constantly ridiculed and put down, Emily gets herself a puppy which she names Grace, finds a friend and starts to think about leaving her husband.

Emily’s mother is also an emotional bully, so it is not surprising that Emily chose someone with a similar personality to marry. I’m not so hard-hearted that I couldn’t feel sorry for Emily, but she voices every anxiety she has, which stops being interesting really quickly. Emily even whined to her best friend at her best friend’s husband’s father’s funeral about her own problems! *

Eventually Emily left her husband and rented a beautiful old farmhouse which she dreams about turning into a B & B. She has the opportunity to buy the farmhouse, but after accepting a very low financial payout from her husband when they separated, she didn’t think she could afford the property (which was actually ridiculously cheap). By the end of the novel, this issue still wasn’t resolved. Nor were any of Emily’s other problems, because the rest of the story is to be dragged out over another two novels.

Several potential heros presented themselves during the second half of the book, but nothing came of them either.

I’ll tell you the biggest reason why I think Emily is dopey, but beware, skip this paragraph if you intend to actually read Saving Grace. Emily’s grandmother had a big jar of buttons with some other funny little stones which no one was ever allowed to touch. Emily’s grandmother died and Emily kept the buttons as a keepsake. Then Emily found an old letter to her grandmother from a Prince (Oooh)who was from a country famous for diamonds. Emily’s grandmother sometimes talked about her diamonds, but no one knows where the diamonds are. I wish someone had asked me, because I think I know where the diamonds are, but believe it or not, by the last page of this bloody book, the diamonds still hadn’t been found.

Hopefully something will actually have happened by the end of the next book or the one after that. Personally though, I don’t care, because I’ll be out in the paddock helping some poor cow give birth.

*If anybody is any good at punctuation, are all of the apostrophes in that sentence right? I’m never quite sure about apostrophes.



The Broken by Tamar Cohen

tamarThere is an important lesson to be learned reading The Broken by Tamar Cohen, which is; DO NOT get involved in other people’s marriage break-downs.

Josh and Hannah are a young married couple who are struggling. Money is tight, as Josh is a lowly paid school teacher and Hannah is a freelance writer, who needs to fit her work around looking after their four year old daughter, Lily. Josh and Hannah are best friends with a golden couple, Dan and Sasha, who are well off, attractive and who seem to have everything going for them. They all pop in and out of each other’s houses, eat out together, get drunk together and their respective children are playmates. (The other lesson in this book is probably to make sure you have a wide circle of friends, rather than an exclusive sort of friendship with just one other couple).

Dan, however, has been shagging around, and when he falls in love with a 24 year old model, he tells Josh. Josh tells Hannah, who tells Sasha and surprise, surprise, she is heartbroken. Dan and Sasha ask Josh and Hannah if Josh can move in with them temporarily, so their daughter, September, can adjust to their separation. In the beginning, Dan truly believes he and Sasha will have an amicable break up, while Sasha is convinced Dan will come to his senses and come crawling back to her. Josh and Hannah believe that they will be able to stay friends with both parties and are determined not to take sides, although Hannah hopes Dan and Sasha will reconcile.

Sasha’s unhappiness and anger grows as she realises that Dan is not coming home, and she imposes dreadfully on Hannah, who has never learned to say ‘no.’ This situation would probably have improved eventually, except that Sasha’s behaviour becomes more and more unhinged. Hell has no fury like a woman scorned and all of that.

Josh and Hannah’s marriage, which was already struggling, suffers from the added pressure Sasha and Dan put on them. All of the characters are dysfunctional in their own way, including the only person who I thought was sane, in a last minute twist which I didn’t see coming. The Broken is an apt title for a book with this particular set of characters. It is very difficult to know which of the character’s stories to believe.

To be fair to Josh and Hannah, it wouldn’t have mattered what they did when they were placed in this situation, because there was no right thing for them to do. Taking sides with their friends came back and bit them. Trying not to take sides didn’t work either. Sadly, the marriage break-downs of your friends in real life, although not as dreadful as Dan and Sasha’s, often means the loss of friendships too. Like everyone else, I know this from experience.

If you like psychological thrillers, The Broken will probably be up your alley. I wouldn’t go out of my way to read another book in this style, because I prefer more sweetness and light in my recreational reading, but that isn’t the author’s fault. I will heed the author’s warning and mind my own business when it comes to other people’s affairs. The most unlikely people can turn out to be bunny-boilers.



The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Sparks


The Girls of Slender Means, by Muriel Sparks is actually a very slender novel, and up until the last chapter, when the story unexpectedly made me cry, I would also have said that it was also a very slender story.

The book is set in 1945 in London. The girls live at a hostel called the May of Teck Club, which was founded by Queen Mary before she married King George. (She was known as Princess May of Teck). The girls are all poor and under thirty years of age, except for three older women who for reasons unknown, were allowed to stay on past the age of thirty when most were expected to leave the hostel.

The girls are a mixed bag. There is the beautiful Selina, who has oodles of lovers. Joanna, who has a captivating voice, teaches elocution and recites poetry and psalms.  Jane works in publishing, which she calls “the world of books,” while writing fake letters to authors with the intention of having them write back to her so she can sell their letters (and autographs) to her boss. Nancy is a nondescript clergyman’s daughter who is having an affair with a married man. Dorothy tells the others of her filthy luck when she falls “preggers,” and Pauline pretends to the other girls that she has a lover.

One of the girls owns a Schiaparelli dress, which all of the girls who can fit the dress, borrow. They count calories and sunbake and laugh. It is wartime, with rationing in place. Food and other necessities are scarce and London is a dangerous place.

Each word in the book seems to have been carefully chosen and is exactly the right word. The humour is clever and occasionally even laugh out loud funny. The characters are very human and range from good to bad to wicked.

The story seemed very slight to me, until a terrible event in the plot turned me on my head. After this, I couldn’t read fast enough to find out what was going to happen, and if all of the girls would escape unscathed. Sadly, they didn’t, (I didn’t expect to get teary on the train over this book either, but I did).

I haven’t read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which is probably the author’s most well known book, but will make the effort soon.



Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell


Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell didn’t thrill me the way Mozart’s music does.

To cut a long, (and mostly true) story short, Mozart came to know the Weber family (Dad, Mum and their four daughters) as a young man. As young men tend to do, he fell in love with Aloysia, who was the pretty one. The other girls were Josepha, who was Daddy’s girl, Constanze, who had a great personality and Sophie, who as an old lady narrates the story to a Mozart fan.

Unfortunately, Aloysia played up on Mozart while he was out of town, fell pregnant and married someone else.

Daddy Weber died, so Mummy Weber and the other three daughters moved to a new town. Mozart found himself in the same town as Mummy Weber and her three remaining daughters, and despite Aloysia’s fickleness and Mummy Weber’s craziness, he moved in with the Webers as a lodger. Mozart then fell in love with and married Constanze, (the one with the great personality), who, although she couldn’t sing as well as Aloysia, had great legs.

If you are a Mozart fan, you may enjoy this book, which highlights the Weber family, with Mozart as a character of middle importance rather than as the main focus of the story. For me, I’d rather listen to Mozart’s music.


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