I’ve got two contemporary romance reads today, both with a twist, and I just want to do a quick moment of praise for Claire Huston. She contacted me to ask me if I’d like to read her novel, “Art and Soul”. Now, I do get emails about books quite a lot, and they are often not the kind of thing I read, or there’s not really enough info for me to go on. They are also often form emails, pretty obviously sent out to loads of book bloggers. Claire was different. She had obviously read my blog (shocking, honestly), she referenced pics of my TBR she’d seen and how she didn’t expect me to get to the book immediately. She had picked up on the fact that I mostly read non-fiction and literary fiction but that I’d also read books by several authors that meant I might want to read her book. She followed my blog and has engaged with it. There was a standard bit about the book, which is of course fine and told me enough about it. So I said yes, and then I did wait a bit to read it (sorry) and – it was good! Hooray! But what a splendid introduction, which worked in that I read the book, am doing this review here and will also pop one on Amazon.

I have another book after that which I picked up from NetGalley and is the first lockdown novel I’ve read. I had slightly mixed feelings about it, but I did read it through and felt interested that I’d probably read an early if not the first example of this topic being novelised!

Lastly, a couple of Shiny New Books links to round off the year (I’m already reading my first one for 2021).

Claire Huston – “Art & Soul”

(30 August 2020 – ebook)

Becky is a life-fixer (not just a life-coach), knowing each client will loathe her for her interference at some point but love her at the end of the process. After having a baby and concentrating on being an invisible fixer at weddings, she’s getting back into the client work and pitches to irascible artist Charlie, in a creative and personal slump, who does not want to be fixed. Yes, of course there will be a spark there, but it’s an unconventional story and romance with just as much interest in the other characters – gallery owner Virgil and his scary assistant, Becky’s best friend, the rather uncompromising Ronnie, and Phoebe, Charlie’s daughter. Another unforgettable character is Becky’s son, Dylan, and I loved the way the other characters interacted with him.

While it’s a very modern romance, with Becky standing for no nonsense and Charlie cleaning and caring, and there are fun literary references scattered through as well as commentary on how we talk about art, what impressed me most was Claire’s control of her plot – while the central story is simple and understandable, there are machinations along the way and also strings of subplots that swirl around the main action, all handled absolutely impeccably and in an assured way that is surprising in a first novel. Bravo for that! A thoroughly enjoyable read that will keep you on your toes.

And no, I didn’t spot the E.M. Forster reference, which I had forgotten about until I revisited the email Claire sent me!

Thank you to the author for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review.

Chloe James – “Love in Lockdown”

(03 November 2020 – NetGalley)

The first lockdown novel and specifically written to make “you smile, as well as perhaps shedding a few tears and given you a small pocket of sunshine, even if it is only for a while”. Sophia and Jack live in two flats with balconies in a block, and once they get chatting after the Thursday clap, they draw closer, helping each other as well as their local community. All the First Lockdown stuff is here – the claps, the loo roll shortages, only going out once a day, shielding, and it’s odd to read this so soon in a novel – I’m not sure if it’s Too Soon for me. With Sophia’s mum a doctor and her flatmate a midwife, Jack shielding due to a health condition and other characters being elderly, sometimes it feels a little  bit like an infomercial reminding us about hand sanitiser, but it does capture the details of this strange time – including, pleasingly, people making scrubs for the local hospital. 

In the afterword, we learn that some of the details in the story have come from people closely connected to the author – so she’s obviously written it partly for them and writing from the heart and from lived experience does make it come alive and feel less planned and didactic. The story is well done and the plot handled deftly: we root for our two characters and the side-characters, too. I’m glad I read it, even though it felt a bit close to the bone at times.

Thank you to Avon Books UK for making this available to read through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Shiny Loveliness

I’ve recently reviewed both of these books on this blog, but I also reviewed them in a different, longer and perhaps more serious mode for Shiny New Books.

Nancy Campbell’s “Fifty Words for Snow” with its worldwide cover and lovely snowflake images is an ideal winter read or Christmas gift – read more.

Rory Fraser’s “Follies” takes us through the history of buildings with no purpose, with a gorgeous watercolour of each one – another great gift idea for any time of year – read more.