Category Archives: Joanne Harris

Mini Review Madness Part II; Ruiz Zafon, Kelly, Harris, & Le Guin

So as Christmas is now less than a week away (eek) it means that New Year is less than a fortnight away and in an attempt to try and have written about nearly all the books I have read this year I thought  would write a couple of catch up mini-review posts. I would love to give them all a full review but I am running out of days to do that and all of the books have been featured on one of the three podcasts I co-host or host so links for more on them are available below, so really you get even more out of these than you would a normal review, sort of…

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, hardback, 2013, YA fiction, 296 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

I am a huge fan of The Shadow of the Wind and having read Marina, which was published in Spain before it but has only recently come out here in the UK, I am really keen to read it all over again (and indeed might next year) because all the best bits of Ruiz Zafon’s last YA novel made me think of it. Initially this is the story of Oscar and how he finds the mysterious Marina on one of his escapades from the school gates on the edges of Barcelona where he boards. However a mild mystery of a woman in black and an unmarked grave, which Marina instigates they try and find out about, leads them to a much darker mystery and takes them through and under the streets of Barcelona. Sounds good doesn’t it and often it is. There are some wonderful ‘monsters’ and dark chilling moments yet I found myself rather distant and often uninterested in the tale of Oscar and Marina and much more so in the one involving a dark love story from the past. Ideal if you love Ruiz Zafon, or if you have a younger reader who might not be ready for The Shadow of the Wind and so could do with something in the interim.

You can hear myself, Kate, Rob and Gavin discussing this in more detail on the third episode of Hear… Read This

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly (Hodder, paperback, 2013, fiction, 355 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

Possibly one of the best psychological thrillers that I have read this year and one that I didn’t, and won’t write about in too much depth for the fear of spoiling a chilling tale with a nasty twist and sting (or two or three) in its tail. Opening with a letter telling of a deep family secret which we soon learn is written by a woman recently dead, Lydia, we then join her bereaved family as they meet for Bonfire Night, as is tradition, along with spreading Lydia’s ashes. Sophie is recovering from a huge shock to her marriage and also having recently had a baby, a baby who is soon abducted by Sophie’s brother’s new girlfriend Kerry. I won’t spoil the plot any further (though that happens quite quickly on) other than simply saying that if you want a book about deep seated revenge and the darkness it can create then you should read this, as should you if you like a good thriller as this is a marvellous one – surprises will lie in store and you will be gripped to the end.

You can hear Erin and myself in discussion about the book on You Wrote The Book here.

Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure by Joanne Harris (Black Swan, paperback, 2013, fiction, 541 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

After having utterly adored Chocolat (I love the film but the book is so much better) earlier in the year, I was ready to read everything and anything by Joanne Harris. Instead of reading one of her thrillers, ghostly tales or even The Lollipop Shoes I decided to go with my gut (quite literally as they are my favourite fruit of them all) and read Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure which finds Vianne heading back to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, eight years after she opened her sumptuous chocolate shop, despite herself. Here she finds quite a different town from the one she left and an old adversary who of all things may actually need her help. Once again Harris vividly captures a town that has fallen ill at ease and out of sync with itself and indeed the world around it. Themes of race and racism, and generally being different, lie at the heart of a book which from the outside seems sweet but has much more going on darkly below the surface. I enjoyed returning to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and was spellbound (see what I did there) by a tale of Vianne once more.

You can hear myself and Joanne discussing the book on You Wrote the Book here.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (Orbit Books, 1969 (2009 edition), paperback, 273 pages, borrowed from the library)

Hmmm. This is a tricky one to talk about as in terms of plot I am not sure I really understood the full premise the whole way through as there is so much confusing jargon about why Genly Ai finds himself on the planet Winter where the inhabitants have no gender apart from when them go into heat, or kemmer, and could become male or female. Suffice to say he does end up there and becomes part of a political conundrum that almost verges on war though Winter has never seen a war as its inhabitants are not want to fight either. Thematically the book, once you have worked your way through it, is inspired. The way it discusses political issues, possibly based around the cold war, are relevant now as are the themes of gender and sexuality. I just ended up thinking that whilst it was probably ground breaking in its time, whilst as I said it is still relevant now it would probably be more potent as a short story. It needs to hit you over the head, not have you trudging through snow for page after page after page. I also struggled to find a single beautifully written paragraph. So overall I loved the themes and discussions it raised, sadly though I didn’t love the execution of it.

You can hear myself, Gavin, Rob and Kate talking about The Left hand of Darkness on the latest episode of Hear… Read This

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So that is my second and final mini-review madness of the week and indeed the year. Let me know if you have read any of these books, or any of these authors other works and what you thought of them? Also let me know your thoughts on what you think about mini-review posts like these, is it nice to get a quick glimpse of some other reads every now and again or do you prefer the longer (and they are getting longer) fuller reviews?

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Filed under Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Erin Kelly, Joanne Harris, Mini Reviews, Ursula Le Guin, You Wrote The Book!

Chocolat – Joanne Harris

I have had Joanne Harris’ ‘Chocolat’ in the TBR for ages and ages and ages. Why has is shamefully languished there for years? Well, it is one of those rare cases where I have seen (and really enjoyed) the film of the book first and so have had to wait until the actors and plot left my mind so that I could let the story and the prose work with my brain to create it all over again from scratch.

***** Black Swan Books, paperback, 1999, fiction, 384 pages, from my own personal TBR

It is Mardi Gras and the start of Lent (so perfect time to be reading this book) in the small rather sleepy yet picturesque town of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes when two strangers arrive on the change of the winds. From the moment they arrive Vianne Rocher, and her daughter Anouk, cause a stir with the townsfolk both with their sense of the exotic and the mysterious way in which they suddenly arrived.

Rather than attracting the locals to the mystery of them seems to repel them in some kind of fear. This is increased when Vianne decides that she will settle into the town and open a chocolate shop, right opposite the church, at the start of Lent. From here on in she becomes a symbol to Father Reynaud, the local priest and man many seem to fear, of all that is unholy and a detriment to the town. It soon becomes an unspoken war between the two that one of them will survive in this town and see the other disappear, yet who is good and who is bad?

I have to say that even though I had seen the film, though it has been a while, ‘Chocolat’ as a book was a whole lot darker and less twee than I thought it would be before picking it up. One of the many things that I admired so much about it was that under the tale of outsiders coming to a place, and quietly causing mayhem, there was the huge theme of people’s individuality and that being different should be celebrated and not ostracised, yet ‘Chocolat’ is also cleverly not a book that smacks you over the head with a moralistic tone.

The other thing that I really loved about ‘Chocolat’ (and again even having seen the film, which I will now stop mentioning) was the way it felt like a rather modern fairytale for grownups and also a book which has that delicious, pun intended, sense of the magical and the real merging and mingling without any spectacular fireworks or magic spells. You as the reader get to know Vianne rather well and yet, like with the town’s people, she is slightly an enigma. You find yourself asking, as everyone else in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes does, if indeed Vianne might just be a witch, or is it all smoke, mirrors and scrying in chocolate?

“I know all their favourites. It’s a knack, a professional secret like a fortune-teller reading palms. My mother would have laughed at this waste of my skills, but I have no desire to probe further into their lives than this. I do not want their secrets and their innermost thoughts. Nor do I want their fears or gratitude. A tame alchemist, she would have called me with kindly contempt, working with domestic magic when I could have wielded marvels. But I like these people. I like their small introverted concerns. I can read their eyes, their mouths, so easily; this one with its hint of bitterness will relish my zesty orange twists; this sweet smiling one the soft-centred apricot hearts; the girl with the windblown hair will love the mendiants; this brisk, cheery woman the chocolate brazils.”

Like every town anywhere Lansquenet-sous-Tannes is full of secrets and for some reason, could it be the scent of chocolate in the air or Vianne herself, it is in the chocolate shop that people feel suddenly they can share what is going on behind closed doors. This of course creates some wonderful off shoot storylines and some marvellous characters. My favourites were most probably Josephine Muscat; a woman under her husband’s violent thumb and made out by all to be a crazy thief, and also Armande Voizin; the oldest woman in the town who people have to respect for that but also think is a witch and elderly rebel, an embarrassment even to her family.

“’Well, well, it’s M’sieur le Cure.’ The voice came from just behind me, and in spite of myself I recoiled. Armande Voizin gave a small crow of laughter. Nervous, he?’ she said maliciously. ‘You should be. You’re out of your territory here, aren’t you? What’s the mission this time? Converting the pagans?’
‘Madame.’ In spite of her insolence I gave her a polite nod. ‘I trust you are in good health.’
‘Oh do you?’ Her black eyes fizzed with laughter. ‘I was under the impression that you couldn’t wait to give me the last rites.’     

The final brilliant thing that I really liked about ‘Chocolat’ was that Harris, as you can see from the excerpts I have chosen, writes the book in both the perspective of Vianne and Father Reynaud. This gives you a really interesting double perspective of how they feel about each other and how they both see the people in the town of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes from completely different outlooks. She also manages somehow to make neither party really bad, even though there is one side you are rooting for more than another, even though each one has flaws and rightly or wrongly sees themselves as the right party in all of this.

So are there any negatives, honestly I couldn’t say there were. I just really enjoyed the experience of reading ‘Chocolat’, I loved the characters, the slight dark atmosphere the book has that broods and builds and of course I loved the chocolate which completely takes over your senses, you can taste and smell it coming off the page. In fact maybe that is the slight concern with the book, the amount of chocolate that I simply HAD to eat, I had no choice, whilst reading it.

As I am planning on reading the next two of the books in the ‘Chocolat’ series, I could (if the books have chocolate in them this much and this wonderfully) end up the size of a house and be sending Joanne Harris a large invoice for all the chocolate I have had to buy for the cravings and the membership I will need for a gym afterwards. ‘Chocolat’ is truly a delicious book and I am excited to have so much more Joanne Harris to look forward to.

Who else has read ‘Chocolat’ and what were your thoughts? Which of Joanne Harris’ other books have you read and would recommend? I have a real hankering to watch the film, with a big box of chocolates, later – in fact that could be my Friday night sorted.

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Filed under Books of 2013, Joanne Harris, Review, Transworld Publishing