Saturday, 27 January 2007

Love Out of Season by Ray Connolly

Love out of Season
Ray Connolly
Quercus €??

THIRTYISH Amy Miller is a romance writer, but her own romance isn't going so well.

So she heads for a little country hotel where she can hide out and avoid the paparazzi.

Stardust screenwriter Ray Connolly has peopled this funny and romantic story with a cast of winning eccentrics.

It's the perfect book to give someone who's feeling a bit down - a story to read by the fireside, toasting your wounded heart on its loving words.

Funny, fun and fundamentally wise, this is a cracker of a book.


Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Paul Torday
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson €??)

FISHY stories are one thing, but this weird and wonderful first novel is a shaggy dog story too.

Quiet grey fisheries scientist Fred Jones is ordered to co-operate in a plan to bring salmon to the Yemen - to send the pride of the north Atlantic lepping up the wadis on the spring spate.

Naturally he says no. And in a trice, there he is, on the Scottish moors fishing with a saintly sheik and preparing to make a strange scientific breakthrough.

Torday's first book is an odd mixture: tender-hearted accounts of true love, acid satires of the British civil service, al-Qa'ida, big business, modern marriage and newspaper reporting.

It's really funny. Sometimes Torday parodies the style of small but rather self-important papers. A Scottish local paper reports that "the alleged would-be murderer was restrained... with a size 8 Ally Shrimp treble hook on a 15-pound line" and his captor "took less than five minutes to play him".

There are warming descriptions of character. Dr Jones's wife is a grasping woman with no pity except for herself. A colleague is engaged, to a nice boy just like dad, and their love, their considerate distance, is like a draught of clear water.

This is a book you can't put down easily. Torday has an easy command of the gripping twists that play readers through the streams of a story, and at the same time he's a master of character.

It's a roman a clef in a way - British politicians are snickeringly identifiable here. But it's more than that.

It has its faults - the ending is fairly obvious from two-thirds of the way in - but it's a tour de force even with those faults.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

All Because of You by Melissa Hill

All Because of You
Melissa Hill
Poolbeg €14.99

NOTHING is more maddening than wilfully inefficient people. “Oh, you’re so lucky to be together,” they say, dimwittedly, maddeningly, after someone finds their dog or rescues their computer from viruses.

And Tara, the heroic life coach in Melissa Hill’s new bestseller, has an inefficient sister of the first water. Emma sulks her way through life. She can’t get or hold a decent job.

It wasn’t her job that she was bored at school while perfect Tara had perfect marks. She can’t help it if she’s a dull, pregnant failure while Tara has a gorgeous husband and a great job and drives a glossy convertible.

But Melissa Hill is the master of what Aristotle used to call peripeteia – the reversal of fortune. So the contented reader, sitting down by a well-stoked fire with a glass of wine by her side and cat on lap, knows what to expect.

Devilish twists.

The twists are devilish enough to please here - but Hill's let herself down in a way. She's not playing up to her game.

Because the plot of Emma's pregnancy, and the subplots of her sister Tara and Tara's friends Liz and Natalie take an aeon to unreel.

Surprises that should have been sprung in succession like a series of fantastic fireworks all explode with a pop and a bit of a fizzle towards the end, after a long time of hand-wringing and discussion. But it's still funny and an enjoyable read.

Tara and Glenn are at the centre. Tara's the one who has it together, with her life-coaching job and a calm, balanced relationship with geeky, talented Glenn.

Liz, Tara's old pal, is finding the move back to Castlegate tough. She and her husband, Eric, set up a boarding kennels in his hometown, but now Eric is away at work all the time while Liz is in the doghouse, brooding that maybe Eric's the father of Emma's baby.

And Natalie - well, Natalie is rapidly turning into a bunny-boiler. Every new man she meets is Mr Perfect, and she has him fitted out for the groom on top of the wedding cake before she even knows him.

Fun and frolics, full of laughs and oopses.


Saturday, 13 January 2007

Growing Up Again by Caitriona McCloud

Growing Up Again
Catriona McCloud
(Orion €??)

OH, those awful mistakes we make, that wake us up before dawn, trembling and grinding our teeth, and thinking "Why? Why? Why?"

In the case of Janie Lawson, heroine (and I use the term advisedly) of Growing Up Again, the mistakes include her marriage.

Then she wakes up in an unfamiliar - yet strangely familiar - bedroom. She looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar - yet strangely familiar - face looking back at her.

Janie's gone back to the future. She's 15 again, and she has her whole life to live over.

But Catriona McCloud's take on it isn't as limited as Hollywood's. Janie doesn't just have her own life to live. She's got her chance to change the world.

McCloud is in fact Scottish detective writer Catriona McPherson, and she brings the tough love approach of detective fiction to this foray into chicklit land with good effect.

She brings Jane back to the awful clothes, music and wallpaper of the 80s, then she sics her on world politics.

Because Jane's back in her past for a purpose. When she meets a man called Pilchard it all falls into place.

I mean, what would you do if you could persuade Lady Di Spencer that the big-eared bloke who's courting her isn't the man for her?

And you know how the Millennium Bug never sent the world into meltdown? Ever wondered why? That was because Pilchard came back and stopped it - of course!

What about the Twin Towers - what would you do if you could save those thousands of people killed when the planes went into the world's most prominent finance district, and the hundreds of thousands killed since in the 'war on terror'?

We've all had those fantasies - if I could go back I'd be able to make a million by betting on the unknown Shergar, to stop Martin Luther King and President Kennedy being assassinated.

But of course it's not that easy when you're Jane, a schoolkid with just the awesome power of a 15-year-old.

Growing Up Again is set in Scotland, but has the rather anodyne lack of localness of girly books.

But it full of laughs, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you turning the pages.