P.S. From Paris

P.S. from Paris (US edition)P.S. from Paris by Marc Levy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m going to be upfront and personal here. I am a dyed in the wool Francophile. I get giddy at all things French. Anything to do with France and I’m pretty well sold on the concept. I follow bloggers from France, I buy photography books with photos from France, I dream of the day I can visit the country and I even own salt and pepper shaking in the form of the Eiffel Tower. (Yes, I really do and they are glorious.) So to learn that Marc Levy is a French writer who has written a romance novel that I get to review seems almost too good to be true. I was pretty well in love with it before I’ve even read the opening lines.

This story is told from two main protagonists’ points of view; Mia and Paul. And there are inherent complications in the romantic situation where Mia and Paul are involved. Both of them are tangled up with other people romantically. We have Mia, who is a successful British actress married to a chump who is having an affair with the co-star and we have Paul, an American writer who has taken refuge in Paris because he found the fame of writing a best seller too much to cope with whose girlfriend Kyong lives in Seoul. But these prior romantic situations do cause problems. Mia’s husband wants to be forgiven for his bad behaviour and taken back and Kyong appears to be holding Paul at arm’s length when he makes a trip to South Korea.

This is a lovely romance story that avoids the dreaded insta-love situation; in fact, love isn’t mentioned until the very end of the novel. The love story unfolds under the guise of friendship, because Mia and Paul appear to want to ignore the fact they are attracted to each other. There is a great supporting cast of characters in the form of friends who watch with amusement as they see the romance developing. There are charming situations where mayhem unfolds, such as a night at the Opera House resulting in a possible legal situation and times in which one person thinks the other person is lying about facts about themselves and it turns out to be misunderstandings and there are texting conversations that feel adolescent in pace and fervour but are sweet. The city of Paris plays a great supporting actress role for the book, where we are taken on walks through the city and see some of the sights that make a Francophile sigh with delight.

I wanted Mia and Paul to end up together, although there were times when it didn’t appear to be likely. The times when Mia and Paul realise that they do have feelings for one another and how it is played out are what romantic dreams are made of. Levy is absolutely brilliant at writing snappy dialogue between characters, but one issue I had was that he seems to forget to show us, the reader, that there is more than a conversation happening. For example in one scene we follow a conversation in which Mia and Paul are walking along a street, only we don’t know that until Paul is pulling Mia away from the path of an oncoming car and telling her to watch herself. It just came out of nowhere; I had no idea that they were walking as they were talking. It was odd. And it happens more than once in the book. We are privy to the thoughts of both Mia and Paul and it includes some rather amusing inner monologues but because there is no differentiation between the type the thoughts can become jumbled and confusing on reading. One person’s inner thoughts are followed immediately by the thoughts of the other, making for a muddle of words.

Much like French films are very different from English films in style and focus that take time to become accustomed to and then appreciated, this romance is written in what must be a very French method. Paris was delightful as always and I would definitely read more of Levy’s other works.

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White Lies

White Lies

Three Stars

 

After a night of celebrating his 40th birthday, Sam and Neil Davenport are involved in a horrific road accident where they injure David McAllister horribly. Neil was driving under the influence of alcohol and asks Sam to take the blame for the accident, which, under the stress of the situation, she agrees to. But guilt eats away at Sam and she goes to the hospital that David was taken to, to apologise to him face to face. Except that she can’t. And instead gets drawn into a physical attraction with the very man she is accused of hurting without his knowledge that she is the accused driver. It doesn’t help the situation that Neil recently had a one night stand with Megan from the office and Sam’s trust and faith in her marriage has been blown to smithereens.

 

Relationships grow, get torn apart, change and morph into something different from what they originally started as and things change forever and yet remain the same. This is a fascinating book that explores the pressures on marriages, the thrill of new relationships and the pull of the old and satisfying. There is something to be said for better the devil you know. Each of the major characters in this book are well drawn, with each having flaws that shine through, making them more human or that little bit creepy.

 

You feel a very real sense of sympathy for Sam as she tries to work out where her allegiance lies, whether to take a chance on a new relationship with David or to trust that the years of marriage with Neil can heal and go back to being something she can rely on. You feel the pull she feels towards each man and the responsibility towards her two teenage children who need her desperately. The struggle she feels is plainly spread out for the reader to experience themselves.

 

The writing is interesting and the author has kept the pace steady with no slow periods of time filling. The story follows the course of one year as suggested in the contents, although it is not so easily reflected in the actual manuscript.

 

This is a great read.

I’ll Have What She’s Having

I'll Have What Shes Having

 

This work of non-fiction starts with giving the reader an insight into the personal life of Nora Ephron, the woman who famously brought us the iconic line “I’ll have what she’s having” from the movie “When Harry Met Sally.” We learn about her early life as a child of writer parents working in Hollywood, her personal relationships and her climb up the corporate ladder of Hollywood to become a director.

Taken from personal interviews conducted by the author herself and much sleuthing (her word) through the many reports written on the actors in magazines or told on television, this is a well-researched book.

At times the book can be a little confusing because the people Carlson was writing about don’t immediately come to mind so there is no metal foundation to place the information on. But when Carlson writes about people who are well known in the public eye, the flow was much easier to follow.

Carlson has managed to find any number of titbits about the actual making of the movies, the actors who had roles and the scenes created but not making the cut which is fascinating. She delves into the atmosphere on set and creates a panorama of the actors and their personalities which is so often hidden behind the perfectly constructed images created by publicity people to make the actors seem more appealing. This book is written openly enough that not everyone comes out smelling of roses. The temper tantrums, ridiculous demands and every facet of peoples ego’s are shown from every aspect.

The genesis of each movie are explored as well as the writing process including. “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “You’ve Got Mail” three of the most enduring romantic comedies of the 90’s to be directed by Ephron. It shows Ephron’s style of working with other people until the scene was perfect and then she would cling to her vision and demand that it be produced by the movie crew.

All in all this is a absorbing read for anyone of a certain age, fans of the historic trilogy or for the movie buffs who want a closer understanding of the dynamics behind the scenes.

Lady Be Good

Lady Be Good

Set in London, 1925, this story revolves around master spy Douglas Childers, a member of the English aristocracy and Russian princess, Serene Highness Olga Novikov who had to flee her homeland in the wake of the Bolsheviks taking over and overthrowing the Russian Imperial family earlier in the previous decade.

Olga finds herself working as the head of housekeeping in the exclusive Grand Russe Hotel, which is not at all the future that she had envisaged for herself growing up. Douglas is an intelligence agent working to discover the Bolsheviks bomb making expert who is causing mayhem around the country. Their paths cross and attraction is instant even though it holds certain dangers for both of them in their own way. Douglas is spying on Russian thugs who inhabit the suite next door to the one he has taken, breaking up violence against women and learning a smattering of Russian as he goes. Olga works hard as the head of housekeeping but the inherent regalness cannot help but show through her demeanour, appealing to Douglas. The other issue that could cause trouble in any potential relationship between the couple is that Olga’s cousin Konstantin is the criminal that Douglas and his team are trying to catch. Olga is being extorted by her cousin and yet at the same time feels a certain level of kinship with him as he is the only relative left alive from her family causing her to make decisions that are questionable to say the least.

This is a romance story with a small dose of mystery thrown in, but you certainly won’t read it as a cosy mystery. This is an easy enough story to read although the sex scenes sound hollow and are written in a very old fashioned manner with expressions such as “spreading her inner petals” being used. This very much reads like it is part of an ongoing series that has other characters main storylines in other books.

Likeable enough, but not enough in the actual story to make reading the previous books vital.

The Hickory Stick

The Hickory Stick

Three Stars

 

Barnaby Madden was nineteen and ready to make something of himself in the very early Victorian era of 1839. He knew he didn’t want to follow his father into working the seas, but he needed to have some kind of career to set him up for life, when along came a helpful friend to show him a lucky advertisement asking for constables for the law enforcement in the local area. With nothing to lose he set out to apply and despite lying about his age he was accepted into the force. What follows this introduction to the hero is the daily ups and downs of life as a roving constable in country England.

 

Barnaby is a likeable lad and it has to be said that he certainly gets his fair share of luck with the ladies. He deals with all manner of situations from theft to rape to smuggling illegal substances in his daily work. This story shows the harsh reality and dangers of having to find somewhere to live, being an unwelcome interloper to a community and the skills required to ingratiate himself into the said community.

 

Often based on real people and their real stories, there is a good mix of fiction and historical nonfiction woven into this story. The characters are finely drawn and lure you into the piece. It is a fun book to read, often feeling like the diary of Barnaby Madden rather than a story being told from an outside source. It does end somewhat awkwardly however, with no sense of closure to the story; rather the desire to keep reading about his story is strong.

 

Easy summer reading.

Wives of War

Wives of War

Three Stars

 

 

Wives of War is a simple book that can be finished in a couple of days and although a dash predictable, is a good light summer read.

 

We follow three points of view in this novel, that of Scarlet, Ellie and Lucy. Scarlet is an upper class girl with good breeding, engaged to Thomas but unwittingly in love with his brother James. Ellie is an Irish lass living in UK with a poor but hardworking family. She is the life and soul of the party who doesn’t handle the war front and its stark reality and harshness well at times. And Lucy is a strong, almost heroic character, a hard worker whose background is not clearly defined, but she is independent and wants to be a doctor in a time that females in the profession were scarce.

 

We follow the beginning friendship of Scarlet and Ellie as they meet on the train to go to their first deployment and we meet Lucy as a separate character already on the war field hospital. Each woman has her own reasons for being a nurse, but they find support, acceptance and even a kind of love between the three of them as the fury of the war takes over. Each woman has her own clearly defined relationship trials, falling in love with the brother of a fiancé, a doctor and an American soldier. True love doesn’t always run smoothly, and the love triangle between Scarlet and the two brothers was a tad boring because it took so much time, but all’s fair in love and war as they say.

 

Themes of commitment, love and domestic violence, unplanned pregnancy in a time when it was frowned upon and what true love will and won’t accept and many others are explored in this story. At times this book was too predictable, and yet at times it gives a sanitised glimpse into the very real conditions men and women found themselves in at the war front. The characters are drawn well enough to warrant interest in their storylines, but lack a certain believability, deficient in truthfulness to their characteristics and very real differences in how they were raised in an era that class still mattered.

 

This is a romance novel set in World War Two but leans more heavily on the romance than the historical fiction side of the equation, although care was taken to try and get some of the historical information correct. If you’re not looking for complexity in your storylines then this book might be just up your alley, making it a perfect summer poolside read.

Mock My Words

Mock My Words

Three Stars

 

David Tan is a literary genius. He has written two novels that have won major literary prizes. He is Chinese but writes in English prose too beautiful for words. He is married to Laura, a go-getter woman who prizes her career highly and they live in the United States of America. It all sounds idyllic doesn’t it? Except it’s not. David and Laura’s marriage is rocky to say the least and David’s new job as a lecturer of Literature at the fancy university is creating a huge amount of stress for him because whilst he might be profound with the written word, he is far from proficient in the English language, which leads to all manner of confusion and frustration both personally and professionally.

 

This is a simple read, not too long at 215 pages and easy to get through. The frustration that David experiences in his inability to physically express what he is mentally thinking and feeling is very real as he grapples with the language. The linguistic style is stilted and halting, very much like a new language speaker is. The way the relationship between Laura and David is described I’m sure meant to be a light hearted expression of a marriage falling apart, but at times it was difficult to read because it was so abusive. David is walking on eggshells around his wife, doing everything he can to win her affection and she is, even though I’m sure the author meant her to be sympathetic, in a word, a bitch.

 

The story has a nice cylindrical feel to it starting as it ends, making it a clever twist from the author. The characters are not all likable and you do feel strongly sympathy for David and the challenges before him. There is a nice group of background characters who become David’s friends and support network. A fair proportion of the story is given over to Laura’s working experience and the challenges set before her with a nice twist that plays into the whole story.

 

Looking at the difficulty of enveloping oneself into a foreign culture, what it takes to make a relationship work and how difficult life is in the academic world with student evaluations and self-righteous behaviour are all explored here. It is an easy story and provided some entertainment on a summer’s day.