Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘reading’

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.



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.


Mrs Ali’s Road to Happiness by Farahad Zama

farahadMrs Ali’s Road to Happiness by Farahad Zama is a gorgeous novel, full of delightful characters who made me laugh again and again throughout the events that made up this story. I haven’t read the other books in this series, (I believe this book is the fourth) but that didn’t matter at all. This novel was able to stand alone.

The story centres around the household of Mrs Ali, a woman with a recently retired husband and a grown up son. Mrs Ali is a wonderful manager, who encouraged her husband to open a Marriage Bureau for Rich People, which he runs from the veranda of their home (the main purpose of the business is to keep Mr Ali from getting under his wife’s feet, a complaint my mother makes constantly about my father since his retirement from work).

Mr and Mrs Ali live in Vizag, a town with Muslim and Hindu families. The Ali family are Muslim and when Mrs Ali’s niece Pari, adopts a Hindu orphan, Vasu, both the Hindus and the Muslims are up in arms. The Imam and members of the Ali’s mosque want Vasu to convert to Islam, while the Hindus are adamant that Vasu be brought up as a Hindu, which Pari had already committed to. The religious differences leave the Ali family on the brink of being excommunicated from some of their family, their mosque and community.

Other household problems include the power being disconnected because of an electricity meter reader who recognises that the household should be on a commercial meter because of the family business, a road widening project threatening their home and arguments about when Ramzaan (Ramadan) starts and ends.

The cover of this novel has the words, “A novel of sense, sensibility and exceedingly trying times,” which is clearly a nod to Jane Austen. Mrs Ali has both sense and sensibility, and deals with her trying times admirably.

On one occasion, Mrs Ali took a taxi to visit her family and made the observation that the driver appeared “to regard anyone overtaking him as an insult to his manhood.” This made me snort with laughter, as I have noticed this trait in various male drivers in my own family.

Another character bought a microwave for her family, in order that they could impress their friends and neighbours. The family only had one power point, so the television was unplugged in order that the microwave could be tested and admired. Water was heated up, to everyone’s astonishment, but then two eggs were placed into the microwave…resulting in egg on someone’s face, literally. Reading this, I howled with laughter.

Mrs Ali’s good sense also extends to advising a new groom to give flowers to his bride and to take her out sometimes on their own, despite his father having told him not to spoil women, else they “climb on your shoulders and dominate you.” Mrs Ali tells the groom that in the early days of his marriage he should be depositing happy memories so that when trying times come the couple will have a bank of shared emotions to draw upon. In my opinion, all engaged and newly married couples should be given this good advice.

I used to work with an Indian man and I recognised the traits and mannerisms and even some of the sayings in the characters in Mrs Ali’s Road to Happiness from him and they made me laugh. People are the same everywhere, regardless of nationality and this book reminded me of that. For me, this was the most important message from the book, along with a saying which Mr Ali quotes from the Qur’an, “Your religion for you and my religion for me.”

I am so glad I picked this book up. As I said earlier, Mrs Ali’s Road to Happiness was an absolute delight.




Saving Grace by Jane Green


When I saw Saving Grace, the most recent book by Jane Green, I wasn’t really enthusiastic about reading it. I’ve read and enjoyed most of her novels, but some of her more recent novels have felt too choppy for me. Jane Green has a distinctive style, in which the character’s voices can be quite abrupt, but Saving Grace was much more to my liking with characters who thought in full sentences.

The heroine of the novel is Grace Chapman, a beautiful and elegant middle aged English woman, who is married to a best selling American writer. On the surface, Grace’s life looks idyllic. Grace has a grown up daughter, good friends lives in a farmhouse on the Hudson River in New York state. She sits on the board of a shelter to assist abused women and cooks for the shelter. Cooking is Grace’s passion and there are recipes at the end of some chapters, which is a bonus for people like me who like to read recipes. (I often have great intentions of making recipes I’ve read in novels, but despite occasionally going so far as to buy the ingredients, so far have never followed through with the actual cooking).

Underneath the surface though, Grace’s life is not ideal. Her husband, Ted, is a bully, whose books are becoming less popular. Grace has a history of being a victim. Her mother had mental health problems and when she was ill, treated Grace very badly. Ted’s long time assistant has also recently left their employ, causing their well organised life to deteriorate.

Grace and Ted attend a function where they meet Beth, who seems like the answer to their problems. Grace employs Beth as Ted’s assistant and she quickly becomes indispensable to him. Beth also takes on household jobs and assists Grace with work for the shelter. Little by little Beth insinuates herself into their lives. Beth quickly transforms from a plain and frumpy woman to become slimmer and more elegant, modelling herself on Grace’s style.

Beth also begins to undermine Grace, with Ted and with her work at the shelter, calling into question her sanity. Eventually Grace is misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and becomes dependent on a cocktail of drugs. (The author makes a very strong point here that Americans have the highest incidences of bipolar disease and drug use in the world, and suggests that this is because of the influence of drug companies rather than true cases of mental illness in society). Either way, things come to a head when Grace catches Ted and Beth in an embrace and is locked up in a mental asylum because she became very, very angry. (I found Grace’s anger in this instance to be completely normal and understandable, but what would I know?)

Grace escapes to back to England to her surrogate family, where she is weaned off the drugs, correctly diagnosed with menopause and meets up again with the man who has always loved her. Things end up working out, (I suppose they always do, one way or another) but for me, the biggest part of Grace’s growth was realising and admitting that as both Ted and her mother’s victim, she had also played a part in enabling them to bully her. I don’t agree with bullying in any form, but all of the bullies and victims that I have ever known have both had a particular role in their relationship.

Based on my enjoyment of Saving Grace, I’ll go back to looking forward to reading the next Jane Green book.


Cry No More by Linda Howard


My niece S, who was 11 at the time, gave Cry No More by Linda Howard to me. I’m not sure why she chose it, or even where she got it from. I don’t really have a ‘type’ when it comes to books, but this wasn’t a book I would have chosen.

However, despite my scepticism, I read Cry No More and I actually did have a little cry at the end of the book.

The heroine, Milla Edge, was a new mother, living in Mexico with her obstetrician husband when two men snatched two month old Justin from her in a market and disappeared with the baby. Mila was taken to her husband’s hospital with stab wounds, where her husband had to make the choice of whether to save his wife or to search for their baby. He chose Milla, but ten years later, when the story gets going, the reader learns that Justin was never found and Milla and David have divorced. David has remarried and has more children, while Milla founded and works for an organisation called Finders, who search for lost people. Milla has never stopped looking for Justin.

Milla receives anonymous information about the whereabouts of Diaz, a man who is rumoured to know something about Justin’s disappearance. Watching a meeting between four men from undercover, Milla recognises the man who took Justin and in a rage, she reaches for her pistol, but before she could shoot the man, a stranger knocked her to the ground, holding her down until the four men concluded their business. The stranger disappeared after the meeting without harming Milla.

In a fury after the meeting, Milla goes into a cantina and offers an enormous reward for information leading her to Diaz.

Soon after, the stranger who prevented Milla from shooting the kidnapper turns up at the Finders office. He turns out to be Diaz and he had nothing to do with Justin’s kidnapping. They team up on the search for Justin, who was taken as part of a complicated baby smuggling ring.

The story moves along very quickly and is quite exciting. Milla is a single-minded heroine, who is kind and attractive and honourable. Diaz is a dangerous assassin, a social misfit who is absolutely frightening, yet he loses his heart to Milla. Diaz ends up betraying Milla, but romantically, I wanted them to become a couple.

I’m glad I read Cry No More. If you read it, keep the tissues handy.


The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling


Everyone I have spoken to about The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling has told me how much they have hated this book. Some people said the story was too slow, or there were too many characters or that they just couldn’t get interested in it. Someone said that they didn’t like The Casual Vacancy because they wanted Harry Potter and Ron and Hermoine to be involved and of course, they weren’t.

I quite enjoyed the Harry Potter books, although the movies didn’t really grab me. As a reader, I nearly always enjoy a book more than a movie based on the same book. Brokeback Mountain is the only movie I can think of at the moment that I’ve preferred to the book.

I also struggled (at first) to become interested in The Casual Vacancy. There are a lot of characters whose lives are entwined and it wasn’t until I was a bit more than half way through the story that I didn’t have to actively try to place each character’s when the viewpoint changed.

The story starts with the death of a man who held a place on the local council in the English town of Pagford, leaving what is known as a ‘casual vacancy’. Almost as soon as the news of his death becomes known, jockeying for position begins amongst the remaining councillors and other townspeople, to promote their own agendas. The most controversial issue is that of the Fields, a housing estate where the poorest people in the Pagford community live. Some of the councillors would like to hand the Fields, with its drug addicts and criminals, over to a neighbouring town to administrate. This change would also remove children from the Fields from Pagford’s schools, particularly Krystal Weedon, the high school aged daughter of a drug addicted prostitute.

Barry Fairbrother, the man whose death brings about this story, was a generous, popular do-gooder who had himself come from the Fields. He and Krystal Weedon are the true heroes of this story.

Whole generations of families feature as characters in this book. They include teachers and doctors, social workers and local business people. Some are wife beaters and others are victims. Some are middle aged women looking for their youth. I enjoyed reading the stories about the teenage characters most of all, (I’m not sure if this is a true or a biased opinion on my part, since JK Rowling is best known for her teenage characters from the Harry Potter books).

All of the characters (except Barry, who died) are miserable, some with good reason. Most of the characters also had secrets or agendas they wanted to hide, some emerging as the story is told. By the time I was three quarters of the way through the book I felt very involved in some of the character’s lives and struggles and wanted better things for them, particularly Krystal. Others were just annoying, and I wanted to tell them to grow up and to appreciate what they had.

I would read another book for adults by JK Rowling, although I would appreciate an editor removing more of the boring bits and anything that doesn’t move the story along.



Ten Little New Yorkers by Kinky Friedman


I have a Kinky Friedman story.

Many years ago, while living on the south coast of New South Wales in Australia, a local music promoter named Texas Dave used to bring Texan acts to Moruya, a small farming town. I saw several Blues and Country artists and quite a few who didn’t really fit into any genre in Moruya, thanks to Texas Dave’s promotions. Kinky Friedman was one of the acts who played at the Pearly Shells Hotel, located on the banks of the Moruya River. I believe the Pearly Shells is a nice place to go these days, but at the time, it was a dive, the kind of place you went to if you couldn’t get in anywhere else (because you were underage, or so smashed you had been kicked out of someplace else) but as always for Texas Dave’s shows, loads of people turned out to see Kinky Friedman.

I don’t remember much about his music, but Kinky Friedman told the audience in Moruya some really good stories. He wore a moustache, a huge hat and had a big cigar and was travelling with a former Miss Texas. My strongest memory of the night was Miss Texas standing alone in the middle of the dance floor giving a demonstration of line dancing, which hadn’t been seen in Moruya before. Miss Texas was wearing a big hat of her own, a short skirt and cowboy boots, but she couldn’t get anyone in the Pearly Shells to join her on the dance floor. I remember commenting to someone that I didn’t think line dancing was going to take off in Australia. (I was wrong).

Ten Little New Yorkers is the first Kinky Friedman book I’ve read. I think I tried reading one years ago (probably around the time of the Pearly Shells show) but found his humour not to be to my taste at the time. My outlook has obviously broadened as I’ve gotten older, as I roared laughing quite a few times while reading Ten Little New Yorkers and thoroughly enjoyed the story. The author may not be politically correct, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t funny, and to be fair, he doesn’t discriminate when he takes a humorous swipe. Everyone is fair game.

The author actually stars in Ten Little New Yorkers as a fictionalised version of himself. The Kinkster lives in New York and is a detective, with a missing cat, a cast of unusual friends, neighbours and associates. The story starts with a friend of Kinky’s explaining that the words in this novel are directly from a diary left by Kinky.

The plot is quite slim, but the humour and side stories fill the story out considerably. The story is that murders are occurring in the neighbourhood and Kinky seems to have been framed for them. The victims are all men who have physically or emotionally harmed women.

As a whodunit, I found it quite easy to find the link between the murders and the murderer, as I’m sure most other readers did also. The simplicity of the ‘whodunnit’ really doesn’t matter, as the story is enjoyable. As a character, Kinky is clever and funny and enormously likeable. The title seems to be a tribute to an Agatha Christie novel with a similar title where the victims are picked off one by one (although if I remember rightly, I couldn’t pick the murderer in Christie’s book).

So, if there is a moral to my story, I think it is to give things another go, even if you don’t get them the first time around. I will read more Kinky Friedman stories.  I have also been known to take part in line dances.




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