Ahead of Valentine’s Day, reviews of Jill Mansell’s new novel, The Unpredictable Consequences Of Love, and Lucy-Anne Holmes’s Just A Girl, Standing In Front Of A Boy.
The Unpredictable Consequences Of Love by Jill Mansell (£14.99, ebook £4.62).
Jill Mansell is the queen of chick lit, her latest work bringing her bestselling novel count to a very impressive 25.
Titled The Unpredictable Consequences of Love, it’s somewhat ironic that the plot is extremely predictable.
But then again, that’s generally what you want from an easy read.
Following four impossibly good-looking characters, Josh, Riley, Sophie and Tula, the plot charts the ups and downs they go through before they inevitably end up paired off in impossibly perfect relationships.
Serious issues such as depression and suicide are handled sensitively, and while the fact every character ends up blissfully happy by the end is a little unbelievable, the book still leaves you with a warm and uplifting feeling.
It’s also set in Cornwall, and the descriptions of the tranquil beaches and quaint seaside towns will have you longing for a summer break.
Mansell has a gift for creating likeable and engaging characters, and although you may recognise this is an overly fluffy and romantic tale, it won’t prevent you from not being able to put it down.
Just A Girl, Standing In Front Of A Boy by Lucy-Anne Holmes (£6.99, ebook £2.62).
50 Ways To Find A Lover author Lucy-Anne Holmes returns with a tale about love and friendship.
Twenty-seven-year-old Jenny Taylor, aka Fanny, is happy with life, despite a childhood of never being ‘good enough’ for her parents and a crushing first love experience.
With the help of her best friends and her ‘Smiling Fanny Manifesto’, her days are never the same.
But, Fanny’s life takes an unexpected turn.
Firstly, her estranged mum announces she has left her dad to come and live with her. As her mum tries to rebuild their relationship, Fanny is confused about her mum’s motives.
Secondly, she agrees to marry workaholic Matt, much to the disapproval of everyone.
And thirdly, she meets Joe King. Fanny believes it is ‘love at first sight’ but she is engaged to Matt and surely loves him... doesn’t she?
Funny and entertaining, this novel will have you laughing, and crying, from start to finish.
Eat My Heart Out by Zoe Pilger (£11.99, ebook £6.47).
It’s rare that a debut novel has the power to both make the reader laugh out loud and sigh with admiration, but Zoe Pilger’s does just that.
At not yet 30, Pilger is somewhat of a wunderkind – art critic at The Independent, on track for a PhD in love and sadomasochism at Goldsmiths College, University of London, all alongside penning this cheeky literary debut.
Her semi-autographical anti-heroine, Anne-Marie, is a 23-year-old Londoner, confused about life, love and what it means to be a woman.
So far, so Lena Denham, you might think.
But while Pilger has captured the realities of life for young women of the millennial generation – hapless, contradictory, imbued with a grandiose sense of entitlement – her whip-smart book also has a clear legacy of absurdism, harking back to Flynn O’Brien’s The Third Policeman or John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces.
It’s clever, delightful stuff, and you can be sure we’re going to see a lot more of young Ms Pilger.
Completion by Tim Walker (£14.99, ebook £6.02).
With house prices rising again and experts warning of another property boom, Tim Walker’s deliciously funny novel is bang on the money.
It tells the story of the Manville family, viewed through the prism of their beautiful, rambling North London house which was once held in awe by their middle-class circle of friends.
But by the time we are introduced to them, successful children’s book author Pen and advertising whizz Jerry are divorced and about to sell their home, until something happens to put a spanner in the works.
Walker’s clever observations on materialism, parenting, love, friendship and even internet dating are piercingly accurate, but served up with a generous dollop of humour.
Better still, he manages to make the main characters so likeable, we actually care what happens to them.
Fluidly written, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, this debut from Walker is guaranteed to leave readers wanting more.
The Days of Anna Madrigal by Amistead Maupin (£18.99, ebook £6.99).
Fans of the Tales Of The City series will welcome this new addition that both moves the story forward but also reveals more about the past.
The Days of Anna Madrigal starts with the title character, a transgender landlady, now living with her young carer near the Castro district in San Francisco.
Now 92, Anna is thinking about her past – starting as Andy in a whorehouse trailer park and detailing her transformation, her loves and her secrets.
There is a sense of melancholy and foreboding lingering across the story, and the metaphor of the Monarch – migrating butterflies where younger generations finish the migration – represents Anna’s glorious existence being handed on to those generations who follow.
If you haven’t read any of the books in the series don’t start here, go back to the beginning with Tales Of The City.
If you’re an avid reader, you’ll be delighted to catch up on the character’s latest exploits – though you may miss San Francisco being replaced by the new-agey Burning Man festival for various parts of the book.
Also, while we aren’t talking 50 Shades Of Grey, there are parts of the book not for the easily offended.
White Beech by Germaine Greer (£25, ebook £15.08).
In 2001, at the age of 62, Germaine Greer decided to acquire a rainforest – 60 acres of abandoned dairy farm in south-east Queensland that had been ruined by decades of wasteful timber felling, unwisely introduced species and commercially motivated despoliation of all kinds.
White Beech is her account of her decade-long attempt to ‘rehabilitate’ (her preferred word) this ‘steep rocky country’, to allow the complexities of the ancient ecosystem to reassert itself.
The work is complex and painstaking, but by the end of the decade she has seen a wealth of traditional fauna and flora return to Cave Creek.
As you’d expect from Germaine Greer, however, this is no mere anecdotal chronology.
It’s a dense, angry and scintillating exploration of Australian history, botany, zoology and politics, an extraordinary blend of exhaustive nature notes, assiduous scholarship and biting polemic.
The structure is forest-like itself, a series of rich outgrowths that combine and accumulate to add on layer after layer of context, from the history of dairy farming to the near-suicidal dangers of logging.
There is far more detail than the average reader could possibly need, but Greer’s almost mystical sense of mission is utterly infectious, as is her ability to match huge passion with steely argument.
Overall, one is left breathless with admiration for this extraordinary thinker, writer and doer trying to change the world.
Breach Of Promise To Marry: A History Of How Jilted Brides Settled Scores by Denise Bates (£12.99).
These days weddings might be big business for venues, caterers and dress shops, but from the late 18th century up to 1970, jilted brides could be the ones raking in the cash thanks to a now-defunct law.
Breach of promise to marry allowed women whose engagements were broken off to go to court to claim back compensation for anything from damage to reputation, to being less likely to find another husband, to even good old-fashioned heartbreak.
In times when a woman’s ability to marry was key to securing her future, breach of promise was an important tool in giving her the money she might need to survive after being left alone.
But there were, inevitably, also a fair number of bridezillas who used the law for ill-gotten gains from unsuspecting men who’d never proposed.
Stories of either the man or woman being wronged are fascinating, but unfortunately Bates is hindered by the lack of detail available from court reports of the time, meaning many of the snippets of love turned sour leave the reader frustrated at not knowing more.
However, there’s an incredibly detailed amount of information on the law that can’t fail to interest history buffs and legal eagles alike.
I Love Mum by Joanna Walsh and Judie Abbot (£6.99).
If you’re after a warm and fuzzy feeling, you could do much worse than read I Love Mum by Joanna Walsh, who previously wrote The Biggest Kiss.
Told from the perspective of two tiny tiger cubs, the prettily illustrated tale takes you through a day spent with their adored mum.
Their mum can swing them the highest at the park, make up the best games and tuck them in so that they’re cosy all night long.
And even if the cubs have fallen out with each other, it’s not long before their dear old mum has encouraged them to kiss and make up.
It’s a charming tale told with rhymes and lively language, making it a joy to read aloud.
However, sweet as the message is, the book could grate if you’ve had a trying day with your little one...