4 Nov 2015


Source: Received for review from the author. My sincere thanks to Ian for sending paper copies.

BACK COVER BLURB: Barbara Baker is indebted and alone, trying to bring up a child on her modest salary as a nurse. Following a vicious attack, she is befriended by a colleague's brother who offers her a comfortable home and the chance to recover from her recent problems. She accepts, a little reluctantly at first, and despite their differences a cosy family life begins to form around them. However, Barbara's past is starting to catch up with her.
- Contains what might be considered a slight spoiler, scroll over to hi-light text.

FIRST SENTENCE {Chapter 1}: Weary and placid, Barbara Baker walked slowly back down the gleaming white corridor after having taken a paracetamol to room 23.

MEMORABLE MOMENT {Page 64}: "How much?"
"About two hundred."
"Two hundred pounds? That's not too bad. You'll have that sorted out and paid back in no time now you're here."
"No, two hundred percent on the interest. I borrowed eight hundred, you see. So it soon adds up, and I haven't paid anything back in three months, so I already have a quite bigger debt."

BACK COVER BLURB: After many years of avoiding the press, the Gibraltarian actress Verity Xuereb-Smith finally agrees to give an interview to be published as a series of articles in a woman's magazine. As the conversation with the journalist progresses, she watches the years of her life go by and begins to evaluate her achievements. Soon she is caught between frustration and nostalgia, between her despondency with the present and her determination for the future.

FIRST SENTENCE {Chapter 1}: Verity Xuereb-Smith sat high up on a stool at one of the round tables positioned in a semi-circle around the counter of the Malaga airport branch of Cafe y Mas.

MEMORABLE MOMENT {Page}: You hold up some object - a tin, a jar, a packet, whatever - grin rather inanely to the camera and think "diminishing mortgage" or "new car" and just go for it. It's a bit like the old joke about lying back and thinking of England.

Ian PembertonBACK COVER BLURB: Looking for a better life in the sun, the British couple Ian and Madeline Pemberton give up their jobs and head off to the south of Spain to make a new start. At first they are charmed by the pleasant climate and lifestyle, but soon the practical side of living in a different country presents them with some unexpected experiences and challenges. Not the least of which is 'Venus'.

FIRST SENTENCE {Chapter 1}: Ian and Madeline Pemberton sat together at the breakfast table, munching on toast with butter and cautiously sipping at boiling-hot instant coffee.

MEMORABLE MOMENT {Page 81}: Madeline looked at Ian expectantly as it soon transpired that there were no scissors far and wide, apart from a pair Ian realized he had left inside the premises in a kitchen drawer that morning.

MY THOUGHTS: One of those rare authors who skilfully take what could best be described as the largely mundane only to write a novel that is anything but. Not stories that instantly grabbed me but stories that slowly but surely, page by page, drew me into the lives of their characters. Characters that though in many ways are (stereo)typical Brits will I'm sure relate to many others given their topical and often worldwide concerns.

In what I felt was a clever and nice touch though NOT a trilogy as such the books do have some characters in common (albeit ones that feature only very briefly in Verity Xuereb-Smith and even more briefly in Ian Pemberton) making them novels destined to be read together.

Barbara Baker- Not least because of its dramatic and heart-wrenching climax (one it has to be said I didn't see coming and believe me this was one of those books that wasn't short on opportunities for the read to second-guess events) overall this was my favourite of the three books.  

Illuminating many current topics of conversation - financial and cultural, the state of our health service, etc. For me, in one of the strongest pieces of writing I've read in a while, the most striking, poignant and indeed thought provoking revolving around a conversation between the middle-aged, white and gay, Ian, and the son of Barbara Baker, Tony, a teenager of Caribbean descent, regarding the negative connotations ('blackmail', 'blackleg', 'black Wednesday' etc.) surrounding the word black.

Verity Xuereb-Smith- An OK read but my least favourite and what I felt was the weakest of the three books.

An ageing actress who agrees to do a piece for a journalist whilst on an aeroplane homeward bound from Spain to Cambridge, essentially this takes a look at the look at 'celebrity' or at least I suppose what used to pass as celebrity in a life that far from all 'hearts and roses' is full of monetary and relationship struggles.

Punctuated with clips of scripts from the screenplays Verity was in. I guess for some this might have added something but I'm afraid, never a fan of this kind of format, it did very little for me personally. And yet otherwise well written, like Barbara Baker and Ian Pemberton the appeal of Verity Xuereb-Smith really does lies in its characters (love them or loathe them) rather than in any action.

Ian Pemberton-  Full of banal, intricate details concerning the setting up of a shop in Spain (having read the book something I now feel qualified to do) and, oh dear, least I sound like a certain character, there were times when quite lengthy portions of dialogue were written in Spanish with only the slightest hint (if any) as to what exactly was happening.

Still, like the previous books, character driven. Any of the misgivings I had about the plot/dialogue paled into insignificance when given the deliciously awful Madeline  and the insight into the psyche of many a Brit abroad she offered.

My favourite character of them all by far. Without giving too much away one of those wonderful individuals who as far as they are concerned not only do the Spanish drive on the wrong side of the road BUT everything about their cars is on the wrong side and that's before they even begin on how they all speak 'foreign' -  I couldn't get enough of her.


Brandi Kosiner said...

Glad to hear that some of these worked for you.

Kelly said...

I honestly didn't think I liked the sound of these from the blurbs... but your review made me think again. I must admit I'm intrigued now and may have to add them to my wish list.

I do love when an author writes stand alone novels, yet has characters that pop up, even briefly, in more than one story.

Literary Feline said...

Making the mundane interesting is hard to do. It sounds like these books were a mixed bag for you.

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

Looks like on the whole these tended to work. I'm curious about that last one especially since you couldn't get enough. Brilly reviews!

Aunt Mary said...

Excellent reviews Tracy, I think the second book is interesting :)

Suko said...

Terrific reviews! The last one interests me the most.

Brian Joseph said...

These sound like really good books.

I think that stories focusing around everyday events can be some of the most worthwhile. Plots of this sort often give an author freedom to really develop characters, display great writing, etc.

ClaudineGueh@CarryUsOffBooks said...

Interesting ... they all had my attention but Ian Pemberton was the one that I was most attracted to.