Sunday, May 04, 2014

Sarra Manning - Pretty Things

Pretty ThingsPretty Things by Sarra Manning
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I must confess I do not remember how I came by this book. Did I buy this book off a second hand book stall? Did I order it off some online book shop? Was I gifted this book? My memory being what it is, I should go back to writing the date and venue of purchase on the fly leaf. It is a good habit that I have lost in recent times.

This novel is touted as a Splashproof beach read and has a 100% waterproof cover. By rights it should be something you read and feel faintly dissatisfied with. Or you should feel like you just wound up wasting a precious day or two of your life. But that does not happen.

Despite its ditzy appearance, the book gets to the core of the matter and keeps you chuckling and turning the pages with pleasure.

Brie, Charlie, Walker and Daisy are four 17 year old London kids. Charlie does not want to spend his summer watching inane television shows with his best pal Brie. So he joins a drama club for the summer and persuades Brie to go along. Walker is genuinely interested in movies as a career and feels the drama club will help him. Daisy is opting for this as she wants something good on her college application.

They get to train with Lavinia, who was big on the Stage at one time.  She chooses The Taming of the Shrew to play and our foursome land the four lead parts.  They start hanging out together and a chain of events is set in motion that changes (somewhat) their attitude towards life.

Brie has self-image issues. Charlie is gay but likes only straight people. Walker is nicknamed Shagger and Wanker but has fallen hard for Daisy. Which is no use as Daisy is the super-bitch Lesbian.

Brie, Charlie, Walker and Daisy get a chapter each by turns to describe the progress of the summer through their own eyes. As we can see, all these characters have a different voice and a different way of looking at things.

Despite the story being a teen-lit, it is not all fluff. The problems and the issues they face are real. The author maintains a light tone which is appropriate for a beach read and also manages to slip in enough seriousness to keep you engrossed. The language is very witty and she is really best at describing things comically.

If you are in the mood for a light read which is not aimed at airheads, this is a perfect book for you.

I re-read the book especially to be able to write about it.

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Thursday, May 01, 2014

Alexander McCall Smith - La's Orchestra Saves the World

La's Orchestra Saves the WorldLa's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I discovered Alexander McCall Smith via his Sunday Philosophy Club series, also known as Isabel Dalhousie series. He is better known as the author of the No. 1 Detective Agency series.

He seems to like writing series of novels on a set of characters and places. He also wrote (or is still writing) the 44 Scotland Street series.

I love his series. It is nice to settle into a familiar world of characters and curious stories that surround them. But I am afraid they are a strain on my pocket.

You see, Alexander McCall Smith is not found widely in the libraries that I visit. I fall so deeply in love with his stories, that I wind up buying the books, which puts a strain on my pocket.

I have just finished buying up the entire series of Isabel Dalhousie. Now it looks like I will have to start buying up the 44 Scotland Street series as well. They are so good, I just HAVE to read them.

In the meantime, I found La's Orchestra Saves the World in my Library.

La, short for Lavender, was brought up on the hills of Norfolk. After completing her school, she moved to London to study at Cambridge. This was in 1930. She wanted to do something with her life. But she found herself being courted assiduously by Richard Stone. She married him and found herself settling into a comfortable domesticity.

After a few years her husband leaves her. She is heartbroken and moves to Suffolk to start her life over. By now, the war is upon them and she finds she is better off in Suffolk. She tries to help with the war effort as she can. In the process she meets Feliks, a Polish Air Force personnel who has relocated to England.

She falls in love with Felix but her love is unrequited. Yet they enjoy a friendship with each other. A friend suggests that she start an orchestra as a lot of people are keen on it. The orchestra becomes a part of her way of coming to terms with a lonely life.

This is an unusual novel from Alexander McCall Smith, whose characters are usually laid back, artistic and easy going. This novel is very concerned with the times it is set in. The war is very real here. It depicts how people try to keep going on with their lives despite the huge upheavals that are taking place in their world.

La reminded me of Isabel Dalhousie in some ways. They were both well-to-do women, who don't have to depend on anyone financially. They both like speaking their mind and often find their foot where their mouth should be, even if their intentions were good. But Isabel is a very well sorted woman as far as her personal life is concerned, and poor La is very vulnerable.

Alexander McCall Smith is always very rewarding to read.

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