21 January 2008

Book Review: The Flirt by Kathleen Tessaro

"'Unique situation available for attractive, well mannered, reasonably educated young man.Hours irregular. Pay generous. Discretion a must.' In a small office in Half Moon Street, Hughie Venables-Smythe discovers the world of the professional flirt. A timeless art, it can save a marriage or lift a heart faster than any therapy. Letitia Vane runs a bespoke lingerie shop in Belgravia and understands just how to make women feel beautiful. But she cannot let her guard down and fall in love, least of all with Hughie. Olivia Bourgault de Coudray is in an unhappy marriage to a very wealthy man. When a series of beautiful notecards begins to appear, with intriguing clues handwritten on each, her interest is piqued. But the same clues are being delivered to Letitia. Who is flirting with whom? And is flirtation as innocent as it seems -- or can it lead to far more dangerous territories of the heart?"

The Flirt is almost a collection of mini-stories in one. It follows the lives of several very well-to-do people living in London, their lives and their loves. The characters range from a billionaire's wife, to a bespoke Lingerie designer, to The Flirt himself. There are also more characters interweaved throughout the story who crop up regularly in the book. Hughie Venables-Smythes, a young twenty-something wannabe actor gets recruited to be a professional 'flirt'and is sent all over London flirting with women and making them happy.

Leticia Vane is a bespoke Lingerie designer, who despite outwardly appearances is living alone, eating just one meal a day to stay thin and is actually quite a sad character. Socialite Olivia Bourgalt de Coudray is married to a Tennis Ball mogul, but is living a secluded life, stuck in her billion-pound mansion with not much to do. So when the opportunity arises to help with an art gallery, Olivia grabs the chance with both hands.

As you can see the character names in the book aren't really names you would come across in everyday life, and this is reflected in the lives of the characters and also their personalities in this book. This does create real escapist fiction, as you are transported into the world of these rich high-flying people, and although on the surface they seem to have everything they could want, you see their deepest desires and troubles, which makes for interesting reading.

The characters were well-developed and easy to follow, which is good because there are quite few characters in this book as well as the main ones - friends of Olivia; an upcoming artist/single mother Rose 'Red' Moriarty, Sam the Plumber, Henry, Jez and Marco, fellow flirts of Hughie...I could go on! So it was imperitive the author made them interesting and easy to follow which I think she has done remarkably well.

The story itself is divided into very short chapters, ranging from just 2 pages in length to 5 or 6. The title of each chapter hints to something happening in that chapter, and I found them a good divider between characters also, as I found no immediately following chapters followed the same characters. It is well-written, witty and funny to read and thoroughly enjoyable. I also found that this being written in the third-person made it easier to read, given the scope of characters, first person would have been just too confusing!

Again though I must point out excessive, and unnecessary use of, in my opinion, the most awful word in the English language, the C-Word. I don't think it is nice, it didn't add anything to the book and seemed out of place coming from the mouths of these well-off characters. It is actually this which has caused the book to lose 1 star from me, as if she had not written in this way, it would most certainly warrant 5 stars from me!

So overall, I think this is a very good introduction into the works of Kathleen Tessaro if you haven't read her previous novels like me, and I expect something fans of her will also enjoy. As mentioned, do expect some coarse language, but this seems to be commonplace in most books these days. I was really gripped by this one, I struggled to put it down and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone (though perhaps not the feint-hearted due to some sexual scenes and the c-word!). A real piece of escapist women's fiction, and jolly good fun. 

Rating: 4/5

3 January 2008

Book Review: The Yorkshire Pudding Club by Milly Johnson

"Three South Yorkshire friends, all on the cusp of 40, fall pregnant at the same time following a visit to an ancient fertility symbol. For Helen, it's a dream come true, although her husband is not as thrilled about it as she had hoped. Not only wrestling with painful ghosts of the past, Helen has to deal with the fact that her outwardly perfect marriage is crumbling before her eyes. For Janey, it is an unmitigated disaster as she has just been offered the career break of a life-time. And she has no idea either how it could possibly have happened, seeing as she and her ecstatic husband George were always so careful over contraception. For Elizabeth, it is mind-numbing, because she knows people like her shouldn't have children. Damaged by her dysfunctional childhood and emotionally lost, she not only has to contend with carrying a child she doubts she can ever love, but she also has to deal with the return to her life of a man whose love she must deny herself."

What I enjoyed most abot the novel was the easy way in which the author has weaved the stories of the three women with that of the other women. It reads so easily and wonderfully, you just can just lose yourself in the story, it is so absorbing and a simple joy to read! Throughout the book, the story switches regularly from focussing on one of the women then to another, and often with chapters containing them all together. This is a great technique in the book and makes it veryenjoyable for the reader.

Each of the characters are well written and you feel as if you know all of the women. You are given a history on all of them, and we fully go into their lives and feelings about being pregnant, from discovering they are expecting right up to the birth of one of the children. Helen's character started as being the one I disliked the most, but by the end I had the most respect for her and was willing it all to work out for her! Elizabeth was a very hard character to like, a woman who didn't like anyone getting close to her, and this is how the author has written her as well. And finally Janey is the comic relief throughout the book, and probably my favourite character. Each of the women are very different, yet all are fundamentally the same, experiencing everything together, and have a wonderful friendship which is lovely to read.

I also liked the human aspect of the story, watching each woman cope with the pregnancy and reading about how their feelings changed towards the baby by the end of the book. As well as the main 3 characters, there are several supporting characters too. John is the one Elizabeth let go, but he's moved back to town and befriends her once more. George is Janey's husband, a man so desperate to be a father he'd do anything to have a baby with his wife. Simon is Helen's slime-ball of a husband, and someone I absolutely detested. I found the scenes between these 2 particularly hard to read. There were also the work colleagues of the characters but they don't really need a mention! The male characters in the book were also well written and their feelings weren't left out which is a sign of a great writer.

For a debut novel, I think this one is amazing. I was hooked right from the start and just couldn't put it down. The story is a wonderful one to read and just reads so incredibly well. You are taken right into the lives of these women and so many emotions and secrets are revealed throughout the book, you are left guessing about certain things right up until the end. The author has a wonderful writing style which makes for easy and simple reading, yet managing to keep you hooked as well. The book is written in the third person which allows for easy switching between the characters. Simply superb, I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone. A pure joy to read. 

Rating: 5/5