Dec 2013 TBRThese two books are another pair that go together. And some people would call them ‘chick lit’. And some of those people would say this in a disparaging way, with a sneer. They might suggest this is trashy. Not worth reading. That people who read them are a bit rubbish, a bit lightweight. Not proper readers of proper books. Not ‘proper’ readers of ‘proper’ books. They might make the little quote mark movements with their hands and everything.

Well, to be honest, I’m a bit sick of that. OK, I don’t read a lot of ‘genre’ books myself. That’s mainly because I’m a bit feeble, so thrillers, mysteries, crime novels, sci fi, horror – they all have a bit too much guts and violence for me. Though I like a cosy mystery with a lady who does quilting and an off-stage corpse. I read a lot of different books. I read travel books, biography, autobiography, psychology, books on music, popular fiction, literary fiction, Virago books, feminist books, books on computers and business and running a hotel, books on books.

I read different books for different purposes. We all do, don’t we. I like some authors who are seen as ‘chick lit’. I don’t like others, just because I’m not hugely keen on formulaic books about women choosing between the dangerous stranger and the sweet friend. But you know what? Some of the best books I’ve read have been genre books. Connie Willis’ “To Say Nothing of the Dog” – alternate history / sci fi / fantasy. “Flowers for Algernon” – sci fi. Some of Marian Keyes’ books, the one reviewed below in particular. And I can tell you something else. Some of the so-called ‘literary fiction’, the ones we’re meant to aspire to, the ‘good’ reads, have been rubbish. And, if we’re going to say it as it is: formulaic. How many of those housewife-pressured-to-be-perfect-in-a-stifling-marriage books have you read that claim to be good literature. How many books that read like self-conscious writing exercises, like the written equivalent of those paintings you do for A-level art where you have to capture the reflection of an old lady and a striped apron in a piece of tin foil?

Sometimes you need something easy. Sometimes you need to escape. Sometimes you want a challenge. Sometimes you want to learn about something – and actually, if that’s learning exactly how to run a cake shop or market handbags (I’m looking at Carole Matthews for that last), you can learn as much from a ‘light’ novel as you can from a work of non-fiction. Some ‘literary fiction’ tells us NOTHING; some ‘popular’ fiction tells us, for example, exactly what it’s like to be depressed.

I try not to criticise people for what they’re reading. Hell’s teeth: they’re reading. I don’t really care what people read. I read Young Adult fiction: does that make me childish? I don’t think so. Stop beating up other people for their reading choices. As long as something is well written (by which I mean tells an effective story; does it without too many distracting mistakes; entertains you and does any other job you ask it to do) then who is to say what someone else should be reading. On the other side of the coin: no more guilty pleasures. Do I feel guilty curling up with a slightly silly romance that I know a good friend in a difficult situation is also reading? No, I do not.

Rant over. Here are some book reviews!

Debbie Macomber – “The Manning Sisters”

(13 November 2013)

I read this one because I bought a copy for a friend and she was also reading it. I love readalongs! (And I read it in November but it went so well with the next one …) This looks like a satisfyingly fat novel but is in fact two bound together. However, they’re related to one another, with their heroines being sisters, and it was nice reading them together (although, editor’s note, one seemed to have a slightly changing hair colour across the two books!).

The first book centres on Taylor, who  has run away to Montana to take up a teaching position and escape a broken heart. But then she meets unreconstructed cowboy, Russ, living with his teen sister and trying to control her ways. Nature, naturally (ha) runs its course … In the second book, Taylor’s sister, Christy, comes to visit, and meets Russ’ best friend, Cody, the sheriff. But she’s got a fiancé back home – what’s a girl to do?

Although these are a bit more romancey with a less detailed setting and background of town life than the Macombers I most enjoy, they are competently done and have a nice line in side characters and some details of life in Montana (didn’t one of her Cedar Cove characters go there, too?). Absorbing, and very handy when you need something light and undemanding but competent and nicely done. Not as good as Cedar Cove, but I’ll carry on with the other two (four) books in the series.

Marian Keyes – “The Mystery of Mercy Close”

(4 May 2013)

Private investigator Helen Walsh’s world is collapsing around her. The economy has crashed, she’s back at home with the hilarious and terrifying Mammy Walsh (who’s celebrating all of her daughters leaving home by giving up cooking entirely and living on cake), she has a lovely boyfriend but he has the kind of baggage she never really wanted, and to cap it all, the seagulls have started turning into vultures (again).

Known for being no stranger to depression herself, Keyes manages to describe in this novel exactly what it’s like to sink into depression (and not only that, but to sink BACK into depression, which is just as scary in a different way as the first time it happens) and all praise is due to her for getting this into a book which will appeal to those looking for a light read and maybe educate a few people who weren’t expecting this and might not read non-fiction books, memoirs or even the various brilliant cartoons on the topic. She even gets in people’s (non-useful) reactions and what the medical profession do to help, but this is all packaged neatly into a fun-filled and eventful plot with lots of other things going on, so it doesn’t drag you down and, while integral to the plot, doesn’t overwhelm.

The rest of the book is about Helen’s attempts to track down a missing boy band member, with plenty of satire and laugh-out-loud moments and clues just as likely to come from Mammy Walsh’s close readings of Hello! magazine as the scary stock villain down at the local pool hall. All the Walsh sisters we’ve met in the other novels are here, plus the usual playful language, set pieces, shoes and attractive gentlemen. A masterclass in working an ‘issue’ into a book in a seamless way that is actually useful and worthwhile.


I’m currently reading Sebastian Coe’s autobiography, which is really good, although could have done with an editor’s pen over it, and just finished another travel book with an unusual twist. Hope you didn’t mine the rant up there: what do you think? Are all genre books rubbish and should their readers be forced to read more ‘worthy’ tomes? I don’t think so … but you might, gentle readers. Who knows? Do tell!