Books Reviews with the Curious Ginger Cat

Books reviews, book tours, cover reveals and anything else book-related.

Book Review: Christmas at Rachel’s Pudding Pantry (Pudding Pantry, Book 2) by Caroline Roberts

on
Friday, 13 December 2019

Christmas at Rachel’s Pudding Pantry by Caroline Roberts


Title: Christmas at Rachel’s Pudding Pantry (Pudding Pantry, Book 2)
Author: Caroline Roberts
Publication Date: 31 October 2019

Blurb

The first snow is falling over Primrose Farm, the mince pies are warming, and Rachel can’t wait to share a kiss under the mistletoe with her gorgeous new flame, Tom.

If only it was all comfort and joy . . . The arrival of Tom’s ex brings an unwelcome chill to the farm. And despite Master Baker Mum Jill’s valiant efforts, the new pudding pantry business is feeling the pinch.

With a spoonful of festive spirit, a cupful of goodwill with friends, and her messy, wonderful family by her side, can Rachel make this a Christmas to remember?

Review

It’s that time of the year again, the Christmas novels have been released and there is nothing that quite compares to curling up under a blanket and indulging in some festive frolics.

Christmas at Rachel’s Pudding Pantry, being book 2 in the series, re-introduces the reader to the residents of Primrose Farm. Rachel Swinton and her mother Jill have been running Primrose Farm since the death of Rachel’s father some 2 years earlier. Money is tight. Turning one of the barns into a tea shop, named the Pudding Pantry, seemed an ideal solution, but as winter draws in the number of customers dwindles. Looking for a new plan to keep the farm afloat, Rachel and Jill decide to have a go at running a ‘pudding club’. Will this prove successful enough to support the farm through the slow winter months…?

In between the farm, the pudding pantry, the new pudding club and being single mother to young Maisy, Rachel may have bitten off more than she can chew. Her hectic schedule leaves little time for her budding romance with neighbour and fellow farmer, Tom, and the situation is further compounded when a figure from the past arrives to cause trouble.

As the tale flitted between a whole host of problems that keep appearing for poor Rachel and her family. I was particularly drawn in by a scene during a snow storm in which Rachel and Tom work against the clock to save their flocks. The writing flows well and the pace of the story is just right.

Christmas at Rachel’s Pudding Pantry is an uplifting and heart-warming story of family, friendship and indulgent deserts. Cosy, romantic and funny, it is a perfect easy read for a cold wintery day. However, be warned that in addition to the mention of numerous mouth-watering morsels, the book contains a number of Christmas recipes that will very likely tempt you into a bit of festive baking.

Thank you to One More Chapter (Harper Collins) and Netgalley for providing me with a review copy of this book.

About the Author

Caroline Roberts
Caroline Roberts is the Kindle bestselling author of the Cosy Teashop series. She lives in the wonderful Northumberland countryside with her husband and credits the sandy beaches, castles and rolling hills around her as inspiration for her writing. She enjoys writing about relationships; stories of love, loss and family, which explore how beautiful and sometimes complex love can be. A slice of cake, glass of bubbly and a cup of tea would make her day – preferably served with friends!

Social Media & Website Links:
Twitter: @_caroroberts




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Book Review: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

on
Wednesday, 11 December 2019
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Author: Diane Setterfield
Title: Once Upon a River
Publication Date: 17 January 2019

Blurb

On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames, the regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open and in steps an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.

Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

And who does the little girl belong to?

An exquisitely crafted multi-layered mystery brimming with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.

Review

For thousands of years, people have been sharing and listening to stories. Storytelling provides a flow of knowledge through the generations, passing along traditions, history and legends. A key theme in Once Upon a River is the art of storytelling and Setterfield’s own narration will certainly draw you in.

The story begins at the Swan Inn in Radcot, a town where superstition and storytelling are at the very heart of the community. An injured stranger stumbles through the door of the inn, carrying the lifeless body of a small girl. When the girl comes back to life, so begin the questions – Was she really dead? Who is she? Who is the unconscious man who carried her into the inn? he story quickly settles into a pursuit for truth, gradually unraveling the mystery of the girl’s appearance and her identity. With the hunt for the child’s true identity, comes the resolution to a few long-standing mysteries that have plagued a few of the main characters.

The plotting of the tale is very well done and results in a rich, multilayered story. The Thames river plays a significant role in the book, and with a part-gothic, part-folklore feel, the tale twists, turns and meanders along, like a metaphorical river.  I enjoyed the balance between science and folklore within the story, with mentions of Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution and Rita's description of childbirth, running alongside more mythical beliefs such as the dragons in a local village and the intriguing story of Quietly the Ferryman and his watery mission. The book does address a number of themes, such as racial abuse, poverty, disability, mental health, death and yet it remains hopeful and positive.

One of the real joys of this book is the writing. The wording is very clever, frequently including river-themed metaphors whilst flowing along in a lyrical fashion, almost echoing the ebb and flow of the river. As a reader, you get the impression that much thought has gone into every single sentence. The author definitely has a way with words.

The characters are a delight. I did find the sheer number of central characters a bit confusing at first, yet I was struck by how the author masterfully creates such richly drawn characters with such apparent ease. Despite the era in which the story was set, I enjoyed seeing how strong each of the female characters were, no matter their position in life.

The story is wordy and gentle, this is not a fast-paced seat-of-your-pants kind of book. However it grabbed my attention and the final chapters are well worth the journey for the patient readers among us. It is a book that reaches over genres and is quite difficult to categorise. If you enjoy a mystery, or a historical novel, or even a fairy tale this may be a book for you.

Once Upon a River is a beautifully written, haunting and immersive tale. It really was a treat to read.

Thanks to Netgalley UK and Doubleday Books for providing a copy of this book for review.

About the Author


Diane Setterfield
Diane Setterfield is a British author. Her bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale (2006) was published in 38 countries worldwide and has sold more than three million copies. It was number one in the New York Times hardback fiction list for three weeks and is enjoyed as much for being ‘a love letter to reading’ as for its mystery and style. Her second novel, Bellman & Black (2013 is a genre-defying tale of rooks and Victorian retail. January 2019 sees the publication of her new title, Once Upon a River, which has been called 'bewitching' and 'enchanting'.


Born in Englefield, Berkshire in 1964, Diane spent most of her childhood in the nearby village of Theale. After schooldays at Theale Green, Diane studied French Literature at the University of Bristol. Her PhD was on autobiographical structures in André Gide’s early fiction. She taught English at the Institut Universitaire de Technologie and the Ecole nationale supérieure de Chimie, both in Mulhouse, France, and later lectured in French at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK. She left academia in the late 1990s to pursue writing.


The Thirteenth Tale was acquired by Heyday Films and adapted for television by the award-winning playwright and scriptwriter, Christopher Hampton. Starring Vanessa Redgrave and Olivia Colman, it was filmed in 2013 in North Yorkshire for BBC2. The TV rights to Once Upon a River have even sold to Kudos (Broadchurch, Spooks, Grantchester).


Diane Setterfield has been published in over forty countries.


Diane lives in Oxford, in the UK. When not writing she reads widely, and when not actually reading she is usually talking or thinking about reading. She is, she says, ‘a reader first, a writer second.’

Contact & Social Media Links:

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Book Review: Willow Walk by SJI Holliday (Banktoun Series, book 2)

on
Tuesday, 10 December 2019
Willow Walk by SJI Holliday


Title: Willow Walk (Banktoun Series, Book 2)
Author: SJI Holliday
Publication Date: 10 June 2016

Blurb

When a woman is brutally attacked on a lonely country road by an escaped inmate from a nearby psychiatric hospital, Sergeant Davie Gray must track him down before he strikes again. But Gray is already facing a series of deaths connected to legal highs and a local fairground, as well as dealing with his girlfriend Marie's bizarre behaviour. As Gray investigates the crimes, he suspects a horrifying link between Marie and the man on the run but how can he confront her when she's pushing him away?

Review

In 2015 I reviewed the first book in the Banktoun Series, Black Wood.  Reading the author’s most recent offering, Violet, reminded me of my intention to read the further two books in the Banktoun trilogy and I have finally caught up with Book 2 – Willow Walk.

One of the joys of a series is getting the opportunity to revisit former settings and catch up with characters we know. In this case, we are re-introduced to Sergeant Davie Gray.  Davie has found happiness with local lass, Marie Bloomfield, and whilst early days, all seems to be going well until Marie gets the feeling that someone is watching her. Is it purely the result of an overactive imagination, or is her past coming back to haunt her…?  Whilst Marie is becoming increasingly distant, Davie is preoccupied by the discovery of a body and the escape of a psychiatric patient from a nearby hospital.

Banktoun is the perfect setting for a thriller, being a small and claustrophobic Scottish town which really adds to the atmosphere and sense of unease that permeates the story. As with all of Holliday’s books, the characters are compelling and believable. Davie is rather straightforward, which is a refreshing change for a main character. Having met him first in Black Wood, the reader gets the opportunity to know him better during this second book. In contrast, Marie certainly has her issues, yet her erratic behaviour makes her an interesting character. However, the person who really fascinated me was Graeme and his letters. I couldn’t decide whether I had any sympathy/empathy for him or not.

Willow Walk is dark, disturbing and utterly compelling. I was hooked from the very first chapter. This is not a book that slowly and gently settles the reader into the tale, but one that hits you from the start and doesn’t let up. It’s fast-paced and tense, and will leave the reader sat on the edge of their seat.

This is a tense and sinister tale, addressing some controversial and relevant themes, including how society addresses mental health problems and also the issue of legal highs. There are twists and turns that make this book completely unputdownable.  A thoroughly entertaining and unnerving blend of crime fiction and psychological thriller, Willow Walk is a great follow-up to book 1 of the Banktoun series.

Whilst the book can be read as a standalone, I would recommend reading Black Wood first, as there is some backstory which would be more obvious to the reader if the books are read in the correct order.

I am now very much looking forward to reading the third and final book in the series – The Damselfly.

About the Author

SJI Holliday
SJI Holliday grew up in East Lothian. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham competition. Her debut novel, Black Wood, was published in 2015. She is married and lives in London.

Social Media Links:
Website: sjiholliday.com
Twitter: @SJIHolliday
Facebook: @SJIHolliday
Instagram: @susijholliday



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Book Review: Violet by SJI Holliday

on
Saturday, 7 December 2019
Violet by SJI Holliday


Publisher: Orenda Books
Date of Publication: 14 September 2019 (epub) ; 14 November 2019 (paperback)

Blurb


Carrie's best friend has an accident and can no longer make the round-the-world trip they'd planned together, so Carrie decides to go it alone.

Violet is also travelling alone, after splitting up with her boyfriend in Thailand. She is also desperate for a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express, but there is nothing available.

When the two women meet in a Beijing Hotel, Carrie makes the impulsive decision to invite Violet to take her best friend's place.

Thrown together in a strange country, and the cramped cabin of the train, the women soon form a bond. But as the journey continues, through Mongolia and into Russia, things start to unravel – because one of these women is not who she claims to be…

A tense and twisted psychological thriller about obsession, manipulation and toxic friendships, Violet also reminds us that there's a reason why mother told us not to talk to strangers...


Review


I think I can sum Violet up in one word – terrifying! What’s terrifying about it, is the plausibility of the story.  

There is so much I want to say about this book, but I can’t do so without revealing some of the plot. This is the type of book where the less you know about the story the more impact it has and, as such, I’m keeping my review short and sweet.

As an adult it can be really difficult to make new friends, so if you find someone you ‘click’ with, life just seems that much brighter. So when Violet meets Carrie whilst desperately trying to get a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express out of Thailand, fate seems to have dealt her a good hand. Violet is immediately caught up in Carrie’s energy and spirit. Reluctant for their encounter to end, she manipulates the situation to ensure that they continue their travels together. There is definitely an edge of obsession in Violet’s immediate clinginess towards Carrie. As the reader gradually discovers, this is a friendship that comes with consequences.

The writing and plotting in Violet really is a treat. The author has timed each twist and each reveal impeccably, resulting in an exponentially increasing flow of intrigue as the tale heads towards its conclusion. There is an underlying tension and sense of unease throughout the story which left me with the unshakable sensation that ‘something is about to happen’. The tale is interspersed with wonderfully vivid narrative about the exotic locations and the girls’ travel experiences.

The characterisations are equally brilliant. With the many twists, turns and reveals on the journey, it is difficult to decide who is good, who is bad or if the characters can even be labelled in such a ‘black and white’ fashion. The characters are both compelling yet unsettling. If feels somewhat karmic that they have been drawn to each other’s lives, and the evolution of their burgeoning friendship is fascinating to watch. Interestingly the story is told in first person narration from Violet and e-mails from Carrie, which provides an immediate distinction between the two voices.

It is difficult to review this book without giving anything away, but trust me, it is an absolute humdinger – atmospheric, menacing and totally riveting. I simply couldn’t put it down.  The plot speeds along weaving a tangled web that leaves you doubting not only the characters but also your own logic and reasoning. It twists and turns like a metaphorical Trans-Siberian Express, leaving the reader shocked and speechless by the very last page.  I thought this book was absolutely fantastic and I would highly recommend it to fans of psychological thrillers!

I was fortunate enough to win a copy of Violet and therefore must give a big thanks to SJI Holliday for her generosity.

About the Author

SJI Holliday
S.J.I. (Susi) Holliday grew up in East Lothian, Scotland. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham prize.

She has written three crime novels set in the fictional Scottish town of Banktoun, which are a mix of police procedural and psychological thriller. They are: "Black Wood", "Willow Walk" and "The Damselfly" - all featuring the much loved character, Sergeant Davie Gray.

Her serial killer thriller "The Deaths of December" (written as Susi Holliday), featuring Detective Sergeant Eddie Carmine and Detective Constable Becky Greene was a festive hit in 2017.

Her spooky mystery "The Lingering" was released in September 2018.

Her latest book "Violet" - a psychological thriller set on the Trans-Siberian Express is out in September 2019.

Social Media Links
Twitter: @SJIHolliday
Facebook: @SJIHolliday
Sign-up for updates and giveaways here: http://eepurl.com/beHpez

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Blog Tour & Book Review: Little Siberia by Antti Tuomainen (Translated by David Hackston)

on
Saturday, 19 October 2019
Little Siberia by Antti Tuomainen


A big thanks to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours and Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in the tour for Finnish writer, Antti Tuomainen's new book Little Siberia. Thanks also for the advance review copy that was provided in readiness for the tour. After reading the blurb I couldn't wait to get stuck in!


Title: Little Siberia
Author: Antti Tuomainen
Publisher: Orenda Books
Publication date: 17 October 2019


Blurb

Fargo meets Nietzsche in this atmospheric, darkly funny thriller by the critically acclaimed author of The Man Who Died and Palm Beach Finland. A huge Finnish bestseller, Little Siberia topped both literary and crime charts in 2018, and has gone on to sell rights in 24 countries.

A man with dark thoughts on his mind is racing along the remote snowy roads of Hurmevaara in Finland, when there is flash in the sky and something crashes into the car. That something turns about to be a highly valuable meteorite. With euro signs lighting up the eyes of the locals, the unexpected treasure is temporarily placed in a neighbourhood museum, under the watchful eye of a priest named Joel.

But Joel has a lot more on his mind than simply protecting the riches that have apparently rained down from heaven. His wife has just revealed that she is pregnant. Unfortunately, Joel has strong reason to think the baby isn’t his.

As Joel tries to fend off repeated and bungled attempts to steal the meteorite, he must also come to terms with his own situation, and discover who the father of the baby really is.

Review

The book is basically a mystery story surrounding a meteorite which, after landing in the small Finnish village of Hurmavaara, is being temporarily stored in the local museum whilst awaiting collection by scientific authorities who intend to transport the item to London for testing. The meteorite is worth a significant sum - €1 million. A sum sufficient to make some of the locals wonder what impact that money could have on their lives.

Disillusioned military pastor, Joel Huhta, is the protagonist of the story. Married to Krista and expecting their first child, he should be a man looking forward to the future, however he has reached a bit of a crossroads in his life. He is questioning his position, his faith and even his marriage. His inner turmoil is a significant part of the story. The appearance of the meteorite and the madcap capers of some would-be thieves seems to lend Joel a sense of purpose, if only temporarily. Paranoia sets in as Joel realises that the most likely suspects are the 4 men who are helping Joel to guard the meteorite.

Whilst not being particularly fast-paced, the tale is extremely compelling. Swinging between action and introspection, there is something about the story which draws you in. There is a starkness, arising from a combination of the cold, icy setting and Joel’s emotional isolation, which lends itself to the tale. Given the setting, the book does have some obvious ‘Nordic Noir’ traits, however, as with Tuomainen’s previous books, there is a vein of dark humour running throughout that is not so typical of the genre. The humour adds a lightness to the tale. I’ve seen the book described as ‘Fargo-esque’ and I can understand the comparison in view of the clumsy criminal goings-on (I won’t say any more in case I give too much away, but one scene where Joel follows the thieves to a cabin is quite something!).

Despite the humorous tone, there are some dark themes explored in the book. As in any small remote town, everyone knows each other and there are secrets and tensions simmering below the surface. No one is quite as they seem. Everyone is a suspect. Is there anyone Joel can really trust? 

Little Siberia is a great mix of humorous crime caper/heist combined with a serious look at loss of faith, trust and forgiveness. A unique, funny and poignant tale and, ultimately, a brilliant read!

About the Author

Antti Tuomainen
Finnish Antti Tuomainen was an award-winning copywriter when he made his literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author. In 2011, Tuomainen’s third novel, The Healer, was awarded the Clue Award for ‘Best Finnish Crime Novel of 2011’ and was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award. Two years later, in 2013, the Finnish press crowned Tuomainen the ‘King of Helsinki Noir’ when Dark as My Heart was published. With a piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen was one of the first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula, and his poignant, dark and hilarious The Man Who Died (2017) became an international bestseller, shortlisting for the Petrona and Last Laugh Awards. Palm Beach Finland (2018) was an immense success, with The Times calling Tuomainen ‘the funniest writer in Europe’.



Website/social media links:
Website: http://www.salomonssonagency.se/antti-tuomainen
Twitter: @antti_tuomainen


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You can follow the other stops on the blog tour, or catch up with previous stops, by visiting the blogs listed below:

Little Siberia blog tour



PRAISE FOR ANTTI TUOMAINEN

‘ Told in a darkly funny, deadpan style... The result is a rollercoaster read in which the farce – there are some wonderful car chase sequences, as well as deadly slapstick involving samurai swords, saunas, lost clothes and corpse disposal – has some serious and surprisingly philosophical underpinnings... at times, extraordinarily poignant’ The Guardian

‘Right up there with the best’ TLS ‘Deftly plotted, poignant and perceptive in its wry reflections on mortality and very funny’ Irish Times

‘As delicious as it is toxic’ Sunday Express

‘A winner right from the first sentence … an offbeat jewel’ Publishers Weekly

‘A tightly paced Scandinavian thriller with a wicked sense of humour’ Foreword Reviews



Book Review: Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller [Audiobook]

on
Monday, 7 October 2019
Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

Title: Swimming Lessons
Author: Claire Fuller
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 1 February 2018

Blurb

'Gil Coleman looked down from the window and saw his dead wife standing on the pavement below.'

Gil's wife, Ingrid has been missing, presumed drowned, for twelve years.

A possible sighting brings their children, Nan and Flora, home. Together they begin to confront the mystery of their mother. Is Ingrid dead? Or did she leave? And do the letters hidden within Gil's books hold the answer to the truth behind his marriage, a truth hidden from everyone including his own children?

Review


One of my favourite things about starting a new book is reading the first line – how will the story start? How will the author set the scene? Is that first line going to immediately draw me in? A great first line is so important! So, how does Swimming Lessons stand up to my exacting criteria - Gil Coleman looked down from the first-floor window of the bookshop and saw his dead wife standing on the pavement below.” We have characters, we have a setting and we have intrigue – I definitely wanted to hear more.

Swimming Lessons is about a family unsettled by grief. It has been 12 years since Ingrid Coleman went missing from the family’s beachfront home in Spanish Green, Dorset. A body was never found, yet she is presumed drowned. In the present day, her author husband, Gil, believes he sees Ingrid from a bookshop window and runs after her, resulting in an accident which brings his daughters, Nanette (‘Nan’) and Flora back to their childhood home.

The story is told from two narratives and two timelines – Flora (the younger daughter) provides a current-day narrative as she returns to her family home, causing her to re-visit her mother’s disappearance; and Ingrid (the missing wife and mother) provides a glimpse into the past through a series of letters that she wrote to Gil and hid inside his extensive book collection. Whilst Flora’s chapters provide an interesting insight into the impact of Ingrid’s disappearance on the family, it is Ingrid’s letters which really push the story along. They gradually build a picture of how she and Gil first met and fell in love, before chronicling the progression and, finally, the dissolution of their marriage.  It is a story commencing with a forbidden love and ending in betrayal.

It is poignant that whilst Ingrid’s disappearance remains a mystery, her daughters are unwittingly living amongst the piles of books that contain some of the answers they so desperately seek. Ingrid's letters remain hidden within those dusty tomes. The reader is not told whether Gil has read all of those letters, however given the state of the house when the girls first arrive, it appears that he had found at least one of the letters and had been searching through the books hoping to discover the rest.

Ingrid comes to life through her letters. We know that she had other ambitions as a young woman and we come to understand that motherhood did not come easily to her. The book cleverly provides a rather unusual view on family life and motherhood which gives real insight into Ingrid's character. There is real depth to the character and, despite her absence, Ingrid comes across as the leading protagonist in this tale. In contrast, the supporting characters remain a bit of a mystery. We do not learn much about Nan at all and all we know about Gil is through Ingrid's eyes, which tell of a selfish, arrogant and unfaithful man. As a reader, we know of his love of books, his writing frustrations and his fascination with 'marginalia', however we don't know whether he really loved Ingrid, whether he feels guilt over her disappearance or whether he has missed her for the past 12 years. Even Flora, the other main protagonist, is somewhat lacking in depth and I must admit that she was a bit too whiny for my taste. This is really Ingrid's story.

As an avid reader of books, I did love one particular quote in which Gil says "Forget that first edition, signed by the author nonsense. Fiction is about readers."  I don't fully agree, as I do have a few much-loved signed first editions. However I do like the nod to the reader. It takes a huge amount of determination, skill and creativity to write a book, and it takes readers to make that book successful.

Swimming Lessons is a tense and uncomfortable tale, a character driven novel which combines an underlying mystery with the grief and tragedy befalling a broken family. It raises the question of whether it is better to know the ugly unpalatable truth of a matter or whether it is better to live without knowing and to be able to retain hope? Fuller has an eye for observation and detail which elevates the story and pulls the reader into the tale. Swimming Lessons is eloquent, slow-flowing, poignant and absorbing.

I listened to the audio version of the book via Audible, brilliantly narrated by Rachel Atkins. At 9 hours 23 minutes long, it was the perfect length to listen to over the course of a week, during my daily commute to and from work.

About the Author


Claire Fuller
Image courtesy of Goodreads
Claire Fuller trained as a sculptor before working in marketing for many years. In 2013 she completed an MA in Creative Writing, and wrote her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days. It was published in the UK by Penguin, in the US by Tin House, in Canada by House of Anansi and bought for translation in 15 other countries. Our Endless Numbered Days won the 2015 Desmond Elliott prize.

Claire's second novel, Swimming Lessons was published in 2017. IT was shortlisted for the Encore Prize, selected as a Book of the Month book in the US.

Claire's critically acclaimed third novel, Bitter Orange, was published in 2018. .

Social Media Links
Website: www.clairefuller.co.uk
Twitter: @clairefuller2
Instagram: @writerclairefuller
Facebook: @clairefullerwriter

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Book Review: The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris [AUDIOBOOK]

on
Saturday, 7 September 2019

The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris


Title: The Strawberry Thief
Author: Joanne Harris
Publisher: Orion
Publiction Date: 4 April 2019

Blurb

Return to the world of the multi-million-copy bestselling Chocolat....

Vianne Rocher has settled down. Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the place that once rejected her, has finally become her home. With Rosette, her 'special' child, she runs her chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, is part of the community. Even Reynaud, the priest, has become a friend.


But when old Narcisse, the florist, dies, leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, the life of the sleepy village is once more thrown into disarray.
The arrival of Narcisse's relatives, the departure of an old friend and the opening of a mysterious new shop in the place of the florist's across the square - one that mirrors the chocolaterie, and has a strange appeal of its own - all seem to herald some kind of change: a confrontation, a turbulence - even, perhaps, a murder...

Review

The Strawberry Thief is Harris’ fourth novel in the series set in the small fictional village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, in south-west France. It is published some 20 years after the bestselling Chocolat (the first in the series) which was later adapted into an Oscar-nominated film starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche. I read and loved Chocolat when it was first released back in 1998, however I will admit that I have not yet read the other two books in the series (an omission which I intend to correct as soon as possible!).

The story follows the life of Vianne Rocher and her 16 year old daughter, Rosette.  Both charming characters, they have long since settled in Lansquenet, becoming a part of the sleepy community. There is a very clear sense of place throughout the book. Vianne runs her chocolate shop, weaving her delicious form of magic over the local residents, whilst Rosette, her special ‘winter child’, runs free to laugh and draw. Having lost her elder daughter, Anouk, to the bright lights of Paris, all Vianne wants is to keep her younger daughter safe and by her side.

However, their sedate village life is shaken by the sudden death of florist, Narcisse. A quiet man with little time for other people, Narcisse had a soft spot for Rosette and after his death it is discovered that he has left a plot of woodland, his ‘strawberry wood’, to Rosette, a bequest guaranteed to raise the ire of his pushy daughter Michèle who thinks there may be something of value hidden in those woods. Narcisse also leaves a handwritten letter (an atheist’s version of a last confession) for the priest, Reynaud. It is a letter which tells the poignant and tragic tale of Narcisse’s childhood and which will have ramifications for several other characters.

There is further tension in the village with the arrival of tattooist Morganne Dubois, who has taken on the lease to Narcisse’s shop. A mysterious creature, she quickly weaves her own form of magic (or maybe enchantment?) over the village, dividing loyalties as villager after villager visits her shop, leaving with one of her unique designs forever inked on their bodies. Vianne knows that she should be welcoming to this stranger, yet she cannot shake off her lingering doubts as to the tattooist’s motives. Or, are her feelings merely a reflection of her own fear of people moving on without her?

The tale is told from three viewpoints, Vianne, Rosette and Reynaud. Narcisse’s death proves to be the catalyst that triggers some deep moments of self-reflection from those characters: Reynaud’s guilt from his own childhood confession, Vianne’s fear of change and loss, and Rosette’s awareness of the differences between her and her friends. This is an intricately woven story, and the use of those three narrators allows the various plot threads to be gently and gradually entwined to produce a complex and multi-faceted tale.

Set during the weeks of Lent, this is a story of conflict: indulgence and denial; church and atheist; guilt and absolution; summer and winter; friend and foe; a settled life and a life on the wind.


I particularly enjoyed the development of Rosette’s character. The story begins with a naive, wild and unusual girl, one who has never found her voice, to a wise, complex and confident young woman who knows her own mind and wants to find her own feet. As Vianne tells us on more than one occasions, “All children are stolen… We keep them close, as long as we can. But one day, the world will steal them back.” Very wise words.


The story is written with a wonderfully descriptive flair. From the scent of the chocolate beans cooking, to the taste of Vianne’s hot chocolate, and the sound of the whispering wind, the reader will find their senses almost overwhelmed by the sounds, smells and tastes oozing out of the pages. In the 20 years since Chocolat, I had forgotten just how beautiful and evocative Harris’ writing can be. Her biography refers to her having synaesthesia and I wonder if experiencing senses in such a unique fashion maybe influences her ability to create such a sensory experience.

The Strawberry Thief is a beautifully written, poignant and timeless story, full of magic, mysticism and mystery. It is a tale of family, guilt, redemption and transformation, with some darker themes of xenophobia and greed. The Strawberry Thief is a rich and captivating tale, and one which will stay with me for a long time. I would highly recommend it.

Despite being the fourth book in a series, this is a story that has the strength to stand on its own. Although I do now plan to go back and read the second and third books.

I listened to The Strawberry Thief on Audiobook during my commute to and from work. I believe the narration was undertaken by the author herself, which in my opinion adds to the experience as the tale will be told exactly how the author intended. I must admit to finding it a bit difficult to identify the switch in narrators at first, however I soon discovered that I could identify those switches from subtle variations in the writing/speech patterns as I got to know the characters better.  I thought the book worked very well in audio format and I thoroughly enjoyed the listening experience.

About the Author

Joanne Harris
Photograph from amazon.co.uk


Joanne Harris is an Anglo-French author, whose books include eighteen novels, three cookbooks and many short stories. Her work is extremely diverse, covering aspects of magic realism, suspense, historical fiction, mythology and fantasy. She has also written a DR WHO novella for the BBC, has scripted guest episodes for the game ZOMBIES, RUN!, and is currently engaged in a number of musical theatre projects.

In 2000, her 1999 novel CHOCOLAT was adapted to the screen, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. She is an honorary Fellow of St Catharine's College, Cambridge, and in 2013 was awarded an MBE by the Queen.

Her hobbies are listed in Who's Who as 'mooching, lounging, strutting, strumming, priest-baiting and quiet subversion'. She is active on Twitter, where she writes stories and gives writing tips as @joannechocolat; she performs in a live music and storytelling show with the #Storytime Band; and works from a shed in her garden at her home in Yorkshire.

She also has a form of synaesthesia which enables her to smell colours. Red, she says, smells of chocolate.

Contact Links
Twitter: @joannechocolat
Instagram: @joannechocolat


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