Wednesday, 30 September 2009

What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazell

Simon & Schuster
Suddenly, everyone’s pregnant
You’d think it was infectious, wouldn’t you? The baby virus. So here’s ‘the world’s bestselling pregnancy manual’, as it says on the cover.
Wasn’t there some controversy?
Heidi Murkoff isn’t a doctor, and there was criticism about her writing on illness, and especially on diet, in pregnancy. And people said the early editions made labour and motherhood sound like hell.
Accurate, then?
Ah, now - their advice is actually down-to-earth and sensible. In this fourth edition - the best one to get - Murkoff and Mazell talk about everything you can possibly imagine wanting to know. Get a highlighter and sticky bookmarks, mark questions you want to ask your doctor, and bring the book with you.
OK, let’s see, what do they say about… smoking?
They advise not to smoke when pregnant, and not to hang around smokers. They also recommend not drinking alcohol - certainly not drinking a lot. And they have good words on cocaine, marijuana, heroin. Things people might be afraid to ask a doctor.
Oh dear, scolding?
There is a certain tut-tuttiness, but generally they lay out the book month-by-month, and offer sound sense. For instance, they talk about work and pregnancy - when you should tell your boss and colleagues, what kind of work you shouldn’t do when you’re pregnant, even whether you should play Mozart to your bumpy tummy.
Eh? Take it easy
Last thing you should do is take it too easy - they advocate keeping fit. By the way, there’s a good section on how to get pregnant (get that filthy look off your face; it’s about diet, ovulation and so on). And they have a bunch more books on toddlers, nannies, pregnancy diet and pre-pregnancy planning.
So I should buy it?
Woolly little booties, a baby sling and this book. I’m off to Mothercare.
The What to Expect page - helpful pregnancy, baby and pre-conception advice

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Kids with magic?
Secret super-powers. The Beaumont family always discover their ‘savvy’ on their 13th birthday. When Fish turned 13 the family had to move inland, because the storms he caused were too dangerous near any large body of water.
What do the others do?
Rocket (16) is electric. Grandpa can make land - when Mom and Pop married he made them six acres as a wedding present, moving neighbours’ homes further apart without their noticing.
Mom and Pop?
Pop doesn’t have a savvy; his family’s talent is losing all their hair by 30. Mom’s savvy is to be perfect - not an easy one. Grandma used to catch radio waves, so there are jars of happy tunes and inspiring speeches all over the house.
A great book for kids?
If you’ve got readers, they’ll just gobble it up. It’s a gorgeous book, about a quirky but happy family who look after each other, and about teenagers finding their way.
Teenagers? Oh no!
Oh yes. Mibs (for Mississippi: the kids on the school bus call her Missy Pissy), turns 13 as it starts. She’s dying to see what her savvy will be - but it’s no longer important on the day. Poppa’s car is crushed in a crash, and he’s hospitalised far away, in Salinas, Kansas.
Her savvy isn’t raising the dead and healing the halt?
What do you think? Mom, Grandpa and little Gypsy take the family clunker to Salinas, bringing Rocket to charge the battery. Mibs decides she has to get to Salinas too, and hides away in Lester the Bible salesman’s bus with brothers Fish and Sampson - and Will Meek, the preacher’s son she fancies, and Bobbi, his cool sister.
A Bible salesman? A flake?
Far from it - Lester is dead sound, and when he stops to rescue Lill the waitress, whose car has broken down, things get even more interesting.
Maybe I’ll read this myself
Good idea. I love this book. Sweet, kindly, courageous, funny, hopeful. Love it.

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

Bantam Press
Ain’t it grand to be bloomin’ well dead?
Not dead but sleeping - or in the case of Lara’s ghostly Great-Aunt Sadie, doing the Charleston while smoking gaspers at cocktail parties.
Sadie masochism?
Sadie died aged 105, unvisited, in a nursing home. At the funeral she turns up as a 23-year-old ghost in a silky shimmy dress. She’s horrified at Lara, still drooping over a guy who dumped her by email. “Why don’t you take a new lover?” she asks, astonished. “Or several?”
I’m sorry for her trouble
“Don’t be a trailer,” dead Sadie tells Lara. “You can want and want a man, but if he doesn’t want you back, you might as well wish the sky were red.” Sadie’s more interested in getting Lara to find her necklace - mysteriously missing from the nursing home - and steal it back.
I sense the grinding of a ghostly axe
Sadie drags Lara into japes, mocking her cautious nature and demanding that she take crazy risks, like asking sexy American executive Ed Harrison out on a date after crashing his business meeting - Sadie has a far from otherworldly interest in delicious Ed.
Nothing like entrepreneurial eroticism
That would be Lara’s Uncle Bill, a coffee magnate who leveraged ‘two little coins’ into a worldwide business - and an irritating trope. The US president rings him for chats. They’re making a film about him, starring Pierce Brosnan.
What a great role model
That’s what he thinks; he runs seminars where people hold up the ‘two little coins’ he started with and chant that they too can succeed if they start from nothing. But sexy Ed snarls: “The only people who go to those seminars will be self-deluding fantasists, and the only person who’ll make money is your uncle.”
Should I buy it?
Only if you want to bust your sides laughing, adore the characters and be pulled in by a great plot full of twists. Brilliant!

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Penguin Fig Tree
A story about maids in the Deep South?
Don’t expect to put this book down once you pick it up - the story sucks you in and won’t let go. And it’s funny. Set in the 1960s, when Mississippi was the heartland of American apartheid, it’s about how the most powerless people start things changing.
Gripping stuff?
Our heroes are saintly Aibileen, who loves her white boss’s neglected little daughter; Minny, the sassy-mouthed maid who’s the best cook in town; and Skeeter, a white girl who wants to be a writer. Skeeter is trying to find out what happened to Constantine, who brought her up - but no one will talk. And she’s consulting Minny for her house cleaning column.
Her what?
Everyone has to start somewhere. Skeeter (so nicknamed because she’s skinny as a mosquito) writes a column on difficult stains, with advice from the expert: Minny, who has just been sacked by her white lady employer, Hilly Holbrook.
I sense a vicious villain?
Hilly is vile. She runs the bridge club, the ladies’ dances, the whole Jackson social scene, and she’s demonic in her control. Her ambition is to get people to instal outside toilets for the ‘help’ to use, so white bottoms don’t have to sit on the same toilet seats as black ones.
Noble, eh?
Lying Hilly has told everyone Minny is a thief. But Minny gets a job with the only one who hasn’t heard: Celia Rae Foote, a white-trash girl who married the man Hilly had her eye on.
Oooh, bad move
Worse, poor Celia doesn’t know what she’s done, and keeps trying to get in with Hilly and the ladies. Then Skeeter decides to write a book about maids in Jackson, and she gets together with Aibileen to collect all the maids’ stories.
Aren’t they scared?
Oh yes. But that’s what makes this story brilliant: the real horror amid the sugar-coated niceness. Funny, sad, angry: this book has everything.

Monday, 7 September 2009

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Simon & Schuster

A dish fit for a king?
The most beautiful woman in England, they called Elizabeth Woodville, back in the 15th century. “I didn’t raise you to be a poor widow,” her witchy mother tells her, “alone in a cold bed, her beauty wasted on empty lands.”
And so say all of us
Never fear: enter the usurper king, Edward IV - the Yorkist commander who has booted out the Lancastrian king Henry VI. Elizabeth, daughter of a big Lancaster supporter, is a descendant of Melusina, an Anglo-French water goddess, so she’s able to slither into his affections.
Is this a real historical person?
Elizabeth? Oh yes. Mother of the Princes in the Tower, poor mites. Though Gregory (like many actual historians) believes that the ‘false pretender’ Perkin Warbeck was the real deal. He was the younger of the princes, and had (she reckons) been hidden away in Flanders by a Jewish merchant pal of Elizabeth’s.
She’s a pale and distant beauty?
She’s a hard-edged rip. Herself and the magical ma are constantly ill-wishing those who would use the lady ill. Edward’s cousin ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’, who was the politico that got him the throne, went on to plot with his brother to oust him.
Lovely, lovely people
Believe you me, the Plantagenets were a nasty bunch of snakes, surpassed only by the Tudors who finally got the knife in them. Anyway, our Liz and the ma are forever whistling up ill winds (which almost wreck Warwick and one of his invasion forces, but then go on to do the same to her Ed), and writing their enemies’ names in blood and putting them in lockets.
Bit daft, eh?
Well, the 15th century was kind of like that anyway. Everyone believed in witchcraft, though witches ran the risk of being strangled at a crossroads by a blacksmith.
Why don’t we have these books about Ireland?

Doubtless because we’re much, much nicer.

One Day by David Nicholls

Hodder & Stoughton

The latest fashion across the water?
One Day is a Brit hit, a wry love story told through 19 years, set on St Swithin’s Day every year.
Et pourquoi, ca?
Symbolism, don’t you know - traditionally the English weather on that saint’s day, July 15, is a predictor of the weather for the next 40 days; if it rains it’ll be a summer of rain, if it’s sunny it’ll be glorious.
Hope it keeps fine for them
When we meet them Emma has just got a brilliant degree. Dex isn’t too bright, but is gorgeous, a more useful talent.
She soars, he sinks?
Oh no. Soon he’s seducing his way around South Asia, TEFLing (Teaching Eroticism as a Foreign Language), bronzed, slim and having a great time. Emma gets a dismal job in a greasy caff. They write letters, each dazzling the other. They sorta plan to get together at 40 if they haven’t found anyone else.
Eejits - why don’t they just get it on?
Wouldn’t make a satirical novel then, innit? Dex sinks inexorably towards his destined career, as a TV presenter on a laddish show called largin’ it. Emma rises briefly, becoming a teacher, but then, alas, writes a series of teen novels.
Why do I sense an unhappy ending?
Somethin’s gotta give. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of awfully BBC humour. Emma gets off with Ian, a comedian working days in the caff. Dex weds a terrible Tory and they have a daughter, Jasmine. There’s an Irish sandwich tycoon in there too.
Lovely people?
She’s a misery-guts; he seduces every woman he meets. I have no doubt that we’ll soon be picking up the hit DVD of the TV version.
And this David Nicholls chap is?
Kind of a political lads’ chicklit writer - his first, Starter for Ten, was about a working-class Marxist kid trying to get off with a rich gel and on to a TV quiz show.
Should I buy it?
More of a lads’ book, I’d say. But if you love those chirpy English comedies, go for it.