Many authors who have written multiple books are recognizable not just by their style, but by common themes that reappear in each novel.
Given that Jen...moreMany authors who have written multiple books are recognizable not just by their style, but by common themes that reappear in each novel.
Given that Jenny Colgan has written so very many books, I expected to find at least a little recycling. Thus, I was surprised by the uniqueness of "The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris."
I had anticipated that it would not be too terribly different from "Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe" -- similar characters, similar romantic circumstances, similarly based around food, but set in a different country.
I was looking forward to a book filled with all the things I imagine France and Paris to be, and I was not disappointed. The cultural setting is more predominant than the geographical, but both are given more than adequate attention, without detracting from the narrative.
This is a story about food and love, yes. There are people who don't know that they are right for each other, and people who do know that they are right for each other. It is so much more than that, however.
There is a rather wide cast of characters, but each one is given as full a personality as their importance to the plot allows and/or dictates.
There is a personal growth and increasing sense of confidence in the main character that is satisfying to witness. She is likable, she is relatable, and she has a respectable moral compass.
There are mishaps, there is sex (they are, after all, in France), and there is humor, but it is applied judiciously and does not cheapen the book.
The secondary main character's own tale is bittersweet. The happy parts are absolutely luscious, and though we know all along that hers is ultimately going to be a sad story, it is handled with grace and tenderness, and it ends up being somehow gratifying.
Jenny Colgan is a much better writer than one might think, given her genre and subject material. Her stories seem simple enough at first glance, like fluff, but (and I may have said this about the last book of hers that I read) there is an unexpected complexity and richness in her storytelling.
I truly enjoyed "The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris." There was a great deal of sheer pleasure in it for me, with all the people going around being French, speaking French, eating like French people... that sort of thing.
I also found myself quite involved in the plot -- really invested in the characters, and curious to know what they would do next -- because it wasn't formulaic, not at all.
I don't have anything critical to say about this book. It didn't blow me away, but it was honestly very good. I'm going to read more from this author, and I believe I'm going to enjoy myself doing it.
In the spring of 2012, I read Anthony Capella‘s debut novel, The Food of Love. I enjoyed it qu...moreReview from Elizabeth Editorializes, my book review blog
In the spring of 2012, I read Anthony Capella‘s debut novel, The Food of Love. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and have been meaning to read more of his work since then. My last trip to the library included The Various Flavors of Coffee, which promised more of the heady, mouth-watering descriptions of smell and taste that I love, and which were abundant in The Food of Love. I finished it this morning.
(For the record, the cover of my copy has “Flavors” spelled the American way, as I have used it in this post, although Goodreads has the British spelling, which is how the author spells it on his website. Why it should need to be spelled differently in the American release, when ultimately it’s the same language, is beyond me, but they did that with the Harry Potter books as well. That’s another rant for another day, however.)
As for sensory descriptions, this book absolutely delivered. I had no idea coffee could have so many variations, and reading this made me want to become more of a connoisseur. There was less food than coffee, which is to be expected, but it was still there. Mainly, it was being eaten, and not cooked, but one can’t have everything.
The narrator of The Various Flavors of Coffee is a self-professed foolish and vain young man, who spends a great deal of the book having sex, thinking about sex, paying for sex, and trying to convince women to have sex with him.
There is rather more description of those acts than I typically prefer, and somewhat crudely depicted at times, but I suppose not exactly vulgar. While I was put off a bit by the slang terms used by the narrator, they seemed to fit the character, as well as the time and place of the scenes in which they were used, and it was a colorful insight into the colloquialisms of the era in that part of London.
Though I felt that it had a great deal of potential, the plot of this book became somewhat convoluted as it progressed, and is difficult to describe. Robert Wallis, the narrator, begins his journey in London as an unsuccessful poet, is discovered in a café by a coffee merchant, and enters the merchant’s employ as an assistant in creating a system of descriptions for coffees.
This system is intended to serve as a sort of universal guide to, well, the various flavors of coffee, making it easier for folks to buy and sell the stuff over long distances with certainty that they will be getting what they expect.
During the course of this project, Robert falls in love with the daughter of the coffee merchant, who is in fact the brains behind the idea. It seems to be partially this interest that prompts Mr. Pinker, the merchant and father, to send Robert to Africa, to source and hopefully grow a particular type of coffee bean.
Soon enough, Robert is bumbling around Africa, making quite a few errors in judgment, among them finding himself infatuated with the slave of another merchant. Meanwhile, Emily, Mr. Pinker’s daughter, is getting herself embroiled in the suffragist movement in London.
This is partly where I find fault with the story. In my mind, it’s tricky to infuse a story with a strong sociopolitical message, and Mr. Capella has, with this book, tried to get the reader involved in not just one, but three (at least) issues. We have slavery and indentured servitude in Africa, and intermingled with that, we have the women’s rights movement in England — not just suffrage, but domestic issues, and that fun period of time when doctors liked to diagnose women who had emotions and thoughts of their own as “hysterical,” and proceeded to give them all sorts of weird treatments that would cause an uproar in this day and age.
There is a side dish of the conflict between pure capitalism, government regulation of commerce, and the manipulation of the stock market by both federal and private agencies. There is also a brief discussion of abolition in South America. I may have missed something, but I believe that covers the main points.
This all gets rather confusing, and for me, it detracted from the plot, and gave the reader less opportunity to become invested in each of the characters. It seemed that the author was simply trying to do too much in one book. Where one or two social causes can be enriching for a story, the addition of so many was distracting. It gave the entire story a rather unfocused feeling, which was a shame, because until these issues began piling on, I was enthralled.
The first third of the book was excellent. I was hooked within the first thirty pages, and very eager to continue reading. When the plot went into so many directions, it felt as though the story was disintegrating somewhat, and I was disappointed. It never fully recovered from that fragmentation.
The book is well-written in the technical sense, and the language is truly lovely at times, even though often quite randy. I don’t have a problem with that, but it was more fun in The Food of Love, which also had better character development. I enjoyed both books enough to pursue Mr. Capella’s other works. His novel The Wedding Officer seems to have been popular and successful, so I will likely try that next.
Between the two I’ve read so far, I’d have to recommend The Food of Love, unless you’re feeling very political, and interested in learning some new words for a woman’s nether regions that were used in the Victorian era.(less)
What a lovely title for a book – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I really enjoy a title like that, although some people might find it clunky or...moreWhat a lovely title for a book – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I really enjoy a title like that, although some people might find it clunky or too much of a mouthful. It’s possible that one of the reasons I like it so much is that it contains an adverb, which is something I feel rather strongly about. I can’t put my finger on what exactly is so compelling about this title; it just has all the right elements to spark my curiosity.
The book was recommended to me by Goodreads because of some similarities to Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, such as the setting, the qualities of the narrator, and certain character relationships. Upon finding a copy at the library, I saw that there was a brief endorsement of the book by the author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson. That sealed the deal for me.
The premise held much potential. The author, Rachel Joyce, created a narrator who is rather unheroic as protagonists go. Harold Fry receives some bad news from an estranged friend, a letter that informs him of her ailing health, and he is thrust back into full awareness of reality, awakened from the torpor in which he has been spending his retirement. The letter has a powerful effect on him, but he has no idea what he can do, or how to respond. He writes a reply to his friend, Queenie Hennessy, and heads off toward town to mail it straightaway.
This errand does not go as intended, simply because Harold is unconvinced that the letter is adequate, and he continues to walk to the next postal drop box while he mulls it over. This happens again, and again, until he finds himself in a conversation with a young woman that brings a sudden clarity to Harold’s thoughts: he must go to his friend in person, and he must send her a message telling her that she should wait for him, that she should continue to live until he arrives. Harold decides to continue walking, without his cellphone, without a change of clothes, without a map. Queenie is hundreds of miles away, but he has a strange certainty that if he just walks to her, he can save her.
Harold’s journey makes up the bulk of the novel. During his walk, he finds the time to sift through his memories, rethink his decisions, and reflect upon his relationships. It’s a very difficult time for him, emotionally and physically. He experiences a wide range of human interaction, and discovers that strangers can be surprising sources of kindness and generosity. It’s very interesting to read about Harold’s revelations, but ultimately, he has led an unfulfilled life, and with each new piece of backstory that the author provides, the story becomes sadder and sadder.
This was not a bad book by any means, but I felt a bit tricked as I neared the end. I had gotten the impression that it would be lighthearted, uplifting, and humorous. Instead, I found myself quite upset as it became clear that most of the unhappy things in the lives of Ms. Joyce’s characters could not be fixed. There was some resolution at the end of the story, but it was not enough to counterbalance the tragedy.
Perhaps only because of my expectations, I could not like this book as much as I had hoped. I had been looking for inspiration, but I was left feeling downcast and blue. I wish I could recommend The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry because of the quality of the writing, the insight into human nature, and the wisdom imparted (in regards to repairing relationships before it’s too late). It is my opinion, however, that the positive did not outweigh the negative enough for me to suggest that it would be a worthwhile expenditure of time.
If you’re looking to read a book about a stodgy older English fellow who learns to change his ways, I believe you’d be better off reading Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, as you’d be more likely to come out the other side of it with a smile on your face.(less)
This was good, but a little too convoluted, which resulted in me going back looking for things I might have missed that would help me understand each...moreThis was good, but a little too convoluted, which resulted in me going back looking for things I might have missed that would help me understand each new plot twist or revelation. It was a little unclear and confusing. I also missed the terrific food descriptions from her other books. I didn't get emotionally involved in this book, but it was interesting and I did get surprised by it once or twice.(less)
What wonderful, lovely, thoroughly enjoyable book! This story is a rare and much-needed departure from the mediocrity of most contemporary fiction. Th...moreWhat wonderful, lovely, thoroughly enjoyable book! This story is a rare and much-needed departure from the mediocrity of most contemporary fiction. The author's tongue-in-cheek social commentary smacks of a modern Jane Austen, and her well-intentioned but endearingly flawed characters are as comfortable and familiar as those of Alexander McCall Smith.
Simonson gives us a clear-eyed, unapologetic look at how people truly think and interact (in the context of the full spectrum of life experiences), which makes the characters so real and relatable. This is not just a love story, but a story about pursuing happiness despite the deterrent of rigid social rules, fighting for love at all costs, overcoming bigotry, learning who your friends are, discovering your own self, and learning to love your family as they are. This is a tall order for any story, but it was managed with skill and subtlety.
On top of all this warmth-inducing content, the book was excellently written in terms of technique and style.
These are not qualities you often find in one novel. That makes Major Pettigrew's Last Stand essential reading, in my opinion, and well deserving of a place on anyone's bookshelf. I plan on buying my own copy after reluctantly returning this one to the library, so that I can read it as many times as I want - and maybe even lend it out to a few trustworthy friends.(less)
This book was really fun and clever. I sped through it, picking it up every chance I got, because it was so engaging. It wasn't an amazing book, but I...moreThis book was really fun and clever. I sped through it, picking it up every chance I got, because it was so engaging. It wasn't an amazing book, but I really enjoyed it.(less)
I was surprised at how little I liked this, given how much I enjoyed Jane Eyre. I could not get into it. I disliked the heroine, disliked several of t...moreI was surprised at how little I liked this, given how much I enjoyed Jane Eyre. I could not get into it. I disliked the heroine, disliked several of the other characters, and did not enjoy the writing style. It seemed deceptive and unclear. I really was impatient for this book to be over, and then the ending was completely unsatisfying.(less)
This was actually really funny. I did not expect that. I'm really enjoying Jane Austen, and I didn't expect that, either. I am almost done with the no...moreThis was actually really funny. I did not expect that. I'm really enjoying Jane Austen, and I didn't expect that, either. I am almost done with the novels, all I have left is to read Persuasion and re-read Pride and Prejudice. Then I can re-read The Jane Austen Book Club and get even more out of it!(less)
I enjoyed this book quite a bit, certainly more than I expected. I had a strange urge to read all of Jane Austen's novels, for several reasons, and I...moreI enjoyed this book quite a bit, certainly more than I expected. I had a strange urge to read all of Jane Austen's novels, for several reasons, and I started with this one because it was the shortest. I had read Pride and Prejudice before, a long time ago, and really disliked it. I thought maybe I was too young to enjoy it, and I really wanted to at least read a few more Austen books just to know what people were talking about and to try to understand what they liked about them. This book seemed a great deal less stuffy than I had anticipated, and I got the impression that the author was using a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor at times. I can't say for sure whether it was intended or not; it's possible I just took it that way because it was impossible for me to take all that high society stuff seriously. Either way, I got a few chuckles out of the book. I hope I was meant to, because that made me much more willing to try another Austen. I enjoyed the characters, even the unlikable ones, because they were written in such a way that their obnoxiousness was amusing. I thought the plot dragged on just a bit, but it was wrapped up nicely and with a desirable ending. I wouldn't say I loved it, and it wasn't a great book, but it was definitely quite a (surprisingly) good one.(less)
This was a crazy and raw book. I picked it up at the campus library when I was in college, and it was certainly not what I expected. I enjoyed it some...moreThis was a crazy and raw book. I picked it up at the campus library when I was in college, and it was certainly not what I expected. I enjoyed it somewhat, but I most likely wouldn't read it again, as it was a bit on the disturbing side for my taste.(less)
I'm tempted to read this over again immediately, but I'll wait. I was completely taken by surprise by this book. I expected it to be boring and stuffy...moreI'm tempted to read this over again immediately, but I'll wait. I was completely taken by surprise by this book. I expected it to be boring and stuffy. In fact, I loved it. I thought it would be similar to Jane Austen's books, but I discovered that (in my opinion) Ms. Brontë could write circles around Ms. Austen.
I felt a great deal of sympathy with the main character. I could not always relate to her, but I felt her to be a very likable heroine. It is nice to read about a woman who makes her way in the world through virtue of her diligence and personality, rather than physical appearance. (Upon reading the afterword, I found that Ms. Brontë had set out to create a character with just those specifications, to prove to her sisters that it was possible to have a successful and enjoyable heroine who was not a great beauty.)
I most likely can't say anything about this book that has not already been said, so I'll just say again that I loved it, and that this is one work that deserves the classification of great literature.(less)