Friday, November 30, 2012

Leaves - Michael Baron

Leaves is set in the Connecticut River Valley during the month of October, when the leaves on all the trees there turn into a vivid array of assorted colours and hues as autumn arrives and they begin to fall. Here we meet the Gold family siblings who were brought to the valley from Long Island thirty two years earlier by their parents. After they arrived Bethany and Joseph Gold decided to stay in the Valley with their five children and to open The Sugar Maple Inn .

The Inn has been the cornerstone in the lives of Maria, Maxwell, Dorothy, Corrina and Tyler and all their partners and children. Now though, following the recent death of their mother and with both their parents gone they jointly decide to sell the Inn to an organisation which operates country inns all along the Eastern Seaboard. The inn will be officially handed over on November 1st. So as October begins the brothers and sisters prepare for the last days of ownership of the place which has played such a huge role in their lives and holds so many memories and ghosts from the past.

October is traditionally a very busy month in the Valley, especially as tourist (locally known as “tree peepers”) come from all over the country and indeed the world, to see the phenomenon of the beautiful Autumn leaves. The rooms at the Sugar Maple Inn are usually all taken way ahead of time and this year the restaurant, which is run by Deborah Gold, is fully booked too. Deborah is renowned for her culinary skills, particularly her sauces which always surprise and delight. Since the Gold’s opened the Inn, all those years ago, they have hosted a Halloween Party for all the people in the town as well as their guests. It is a tradition that has never been broken and this year is no exception. The show will go on even though head organiser, Mrs Gold, is no longer there. The children join together to make it happen, but, tempers fray and tensions rise as the event gets closer. We join the Gold’s on October 6th, 25 days before the party.

This is a lovely story of love and loss and family ties. It looks at people experiencing various stages in their life and relationships and examines how these events affects them. The Gold family have always been close and Michael Baron explores what happens to that closeness when the pivotal anchors are no longer there. The story does have a large cast of characters but because the focus stays on them, it is easy to keep track of who’s who. I really wanted to know what happened next by the end of the story and was delighted to read that Michael Baron plans to write more books about the Gold’s. As each of the siblings is at the beginning of something when this first book ends, is it easy to see where the material might come from.

Intriguingly, Michael Baron is the pseudonym of a well known author whose work is of a different genre than the books penned by Michael Baron. On his website he doesn’t show a photo of himself and says that the work he writes under his real name is much at odds with this work. I REALLY want to know who he is.............

I did enjoy reading this book. It is mostly warm and feels good. An ideal story to read sitting in front of the fire in late autumn or winter, especially as it also has a little touch of magic thrown in.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Peaches for Monsieur le Cure - Joanne Harris

Peaches for Monsieur le Cure, by Joanne Harris, (or Peaches for Father Francis in the USA) is the third book in the Chocolat series following the life of Vianne Rocher. In this book we find Vianne being called back to the village and the people of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. In the intervening eight years since her first adventure there in Chocolat, she has lived in Paris with her partner, Roux and two daughters, Anouk and Rosette. A mysterious letter from Armande Voisin arrives unexpectedly beckoning Vianne back to the place where she once set up a Chocolatiere and created the first Easter chocolate festival in what had once been a traditionally quiet, religious and conservative French village.

Vianne is haunted by the letter as her friend, Armande, has been dead for eight years and is now calling her from beyond the grave with a message of foreboding about the people and the village she was once so fond of. Filled with curiosity and dread, Vianne decides to take a trip back to Lansquenet to see for herself what has been happening and perhaps to uncover the meaning behind Armande’s words. Roux does not want to go with her and find things changed, yet again, so she sets off with Anouk and Rosette for the reunion she has put off for all these years.

Vianne’s reason for leaving Lansquenet in the first place was because of the conflict she encountered with the strictly catholic attitudes of some of the villagers and in particular, her nemesis, Father Raynard who inferred she was a witch and accused her of evil doings. Upon her return, she finds that Father Reynard has become slightly more liberal in his attitudes, not least of all because there is now a large Islamic community living in the neighbourhood.

Whilst relations between the Father Reynard and the leaders of the Muslim community, the Said family, have now deteriorated to the extreme, they were not always so fraught. When the immigrants from Morocco first arrived at Lansquenet a few years ago they were less traditional, but, recently things have changed. Now they have become very strict in their teachings and practices and insist the women adhere to wearing traditional dress. They have built a Mosque and call the men to prayer throughout the night and day. There is conflict between the old Catholic and the new Muslim communities and Father Francis has been accused of an arson attack on the Muslim school. It is left to Vianne to unravel what lies behind the tensions and who set fire to the school which had once been her Chocolatiere.

I loved reading the first book in this series, Chocolat. I was disappointed with the film which, whilst fairly entertaining, did not come close to showing us the magical undertones of the story and the intolerance which lies behind people’s beliefs and assumptions. The core essence of the story is of conflict and injustice and what love can do to break through those binds.

Joanne Harris goes back to the theme she was following in Chocolat but now adds in more things for us to assume and misjudge. She is masterful at building tension and intrigue in this story and on every page there is a question. Questions of faith; conflict; religious intolerance; the past; good; evil; tradition; conservativeness; liberalness; injustice; revenge; truth and lies abound. Behind a charming title lurks dark secrets and raging conflict. Assumptions and stereotypes are everywhere and as a result people’s lives have been and will be destroyed.

Peaches for Monsieur le Cure, is one of the best books I have read this year. I know I will read it again and again. If you want to snuggle up with a great book containing controversial topics viewed from many perspectives and catch up with some old friends at the same time, then this is the book for you. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


Friday, November 16, 2012

A Walk in the Park - Jill Mansell

Lara Carson is back in Bath after leaving eighteen years before following a huge argument with her father and stepmother. Finding herself without a home following the fight, alone and desperate she heads north to her Aunt Nettie’s house in Keswick where she remains from then on. Other than her father, nobody in Bath knows where she is. Now, back for his funeral, Lara’s best friend from those days, Evie, is delighted to see her again. Evie is soon to be married to Joel and invites Lara back for the wedding. Lara is praying that she doesn’t run into her boyfriend at the time she left, Flynn Erskine. Lara has a secret which she has been keeping from him and when she and Flynn do bump into each other, Lara has to decide how to handle telling him the truth.

I love the way Jill Mansell writes. I know I have said this before, but, for me, the fact that there are so many well drawn characters in her stories separates her from most other authors writing in the same genre. There are often big and bold characters and they fill the pages with colour, warmth and humour. A Walk in the Park is no exception. Although there are lots of people involved it is not confusing, which is a testament to the clarity with which Jill Mansell writes.

Here is what I said in my last review of Jill Mansell’s “Nadia Knows Best” “The thing I enjoy most about Jill Mansell’s books is the way all of her characters play such a big role in the story she is telling. They are not peripheral to the plot, they are an integral part of it and at times one could be forgiven for wondering who the main character is.”

The same is true here too.

As well as the story of Lara and Flynn there are other storylines which are intricately woven into this tale. We get to learn more about Lara’s mother who died three years before Lara left Bath for Keswick. Jill Mansell looks closely at the relationships between parents and children, family links, old friends, new friends, best friends and romantic ties too. I loved (almost) all of the characters involved. I didn’t want to put it down or for the story to end.

A Walk in the Park has recently been released and is published by Headline Review. I can recommend it to anyone who wants to read a lovely story and be thoroughly entertained by enjoyable characters. You can check out more on Jill Mansell and her work here:



Monday, November 12, 2012

Winning the City - Theodore Weesner

Winning the City is the story of Dale Wheeler, a fourteen-year-old basketball player who dreams of winning the Detroit city league basketball tournament. Set in the early 1960's, we first meet Dale when he is already playing for and believes he is about to be named co-captain of his school team.

His dream is to set up a team of his school mates to compete for the city tournament, be co-captain and gain fame and fortune by being the star player. He believes he will be able to lead himself and his alcoholic, melancholy father into a better life after his success. His mother left them when Dale was two years old and his heartbroken father now works the second shift at the local Chevy plant and is never home before midnight. Instead of being home alone every night, for the past three years Dale has worked hard practicing playing ball and making sure he does his homework by himself.

Just as Dale is about to talk to the team about his intentions, a wealthy, ex basketball star (who also happens to be Dale’s fathers boss at the plant), comes along to the school with sponsorship money, uniforms, a coaching schedule and his two sons in tow. He offers to coach the school team to compete in the City tournament. Unfortunately, there is no place for Dale on that team as the sponsor's younger son plays the same position as Dale and although he is not as good, he gets the spot on the team.

The story from then is about what happens to Dale in the following weeks and months and how he deals with the devastation left in the wake of being left off the team.

Theodore Weesner has written a remarkable story of a boy who has his dream snatched from him through no fault of his own and in spite of working long and hard to succeed. He draws a landscape of poverty, desire, neglect, loneliness and longing which is at times heartbreaking, shocking and pitiful. Some of the incidents Dale encounters are cringingly embarrassing, but, I never stopped willing him on, even when I wanted to shake him for acting so stupid. At first I found it really difficult to get into the rhythm of the narration but it is a testament to Theodore Weesner's writing that I immediately cared for Dale and wanted to know the outcome of the story. I am so glad I persevered.

The story of Dale Wheeler is still very clear in my mind and every time I think of some of the events in the tale, my stomach churns for him. I was particularly interested to read the "About the Author" section at the end of the book which talks about Theodore Weesner’s own life story. There are some amazingly close parallels between the story Theodore Weesner has written about Dale Wheeler and his own life, which made the tale even more tragic and haunting.

If you want to read a totally absorbing tale then be sure to pick up this redux version of Winning the City by Theodore Weesner. The book was originally published in 1990 and was republished last month. You can find a copy here: