Starter For Ten – David Nicholls

Starter for Ten

Brian Jackson is studying English Literature at university. It is a whole different world to the one he has been accustomed to for eighteen years as he tries to avoid social pitfalls, make new friends, reinvent his image, try not to antagonise the strong-minded Rebecca Epstein, get the girl of his dreams, Alice…all whilst trying to do well academically. It is not an easy task for Brian, who soon focuses his efforts on entering on the university’s team for University Challenge, something that holds significance for him and his father, and something that could hold the key to improving his social status and popularity. If only he could avoid the numerous obstacles that life keeps throwing his way to reach the finals…

 

Starter For Ten is a hilarious coming-of-age story as Brian stumbles from one misfortune to another, a particular cringeworthy moment is when he meets Alice’s parents. Talking of Alice, his relationship with her seems doomed from the start – you can sense that she isn’t really committed as much as Brian is, and it is a bit weary as Brian acts so obliviously to this when it is obvious that Rebecca is in love with him and has more in common with him. It is only at the end when Brian realises this, and we don’t even read about him making that realisation. David Nicholls captures the awkwardness of those first moments in going to university and trying to fit in against a backdrop of cultural references and political notes from the 1980s, such as the styles and Spencer’s unemployment. Despite the title, the emphasis is more on Brian getting to grips with life and standing on his own two feet, having the courage and conviction to gain what he wants. However, the parts surrounding the quiz are humorous, in particular, quiz freak Patrick’s obsession with winning after his defeat the previous year. The culmination of the University Challenge plot strand was unexpected and made for an unusual ending!

 

This was a great read but I felt it lacked the emotional punch that One Day had (due to personal preference I think).  The supporting characters in Starter For Ten aren’t given enough description to make them feel real and as though you can connect and sympathise with them. However, I would still recommend this highly.

Golden Lies – Barbara Freethy

Golden Lies

Riley McAllister gets more than he bargained for when he visits an open day for an antiques TV show with his grandmother and a Chinese golden dragon statue that has been hiding in the attic for many years. The statue draws the attention of the Hathaway family, in particular, David Hathaway. He offers to buy the statue from Riley and his grandmother and organises for the statue to be kept overnight in his store for tests and examinations. Riley is wary but concedes in the end. News soon emerges that David has been attacked in Chinatown and the statue is missing. Why was he there? Who was the culprit? Where is the statue now? It is clear that the Hathaway family have a lot of deep secrets and together with David’s daughter Paige, Riley soon discovers that the statue is a lot more important that he once thought, and wanted by a lot of people who will do anything to get it. Riley soon develops feelings for Paige, but his history leads him to question who he can really trust…

 

Overall I enjoyed the story – mainly the mystery surrounding the statue, and the way that Paige and Riley’s falling in love was gently interweaved through the narrative. I thought that the parts which alluded to sex detracted from the pace of the novel and the main mystery itself. It did come across at times as not knowing what genre it wanted to be. The other plot threads such as David’s affair and the introduction of Alyssa added to the story but the ending seemed a little rushed. I also thought Riley’s character could have been developed a little further – his actions and speech did seem confusing as he often switched moods, and more could have been explained about his parents. 3.5 stars.

The California Club – Belinda Jones

It has been some time since they have last seen each other but the Brighton Belles are reuniting! It starts off with Lara, Zoe, Sasha and Elliot (plus one unwanted girlfriend) meeting at the airport as they are about to embark on a trip to the sunny shores of California. Things have changed since they last met: Zoe craves celebrity stardom, Sasha is confused as to whether she is more than a pretty face and struggling to find any meaning to her life, and Lara has been in love with Elliot for 10 years and counting. However, Elliot is getting married to the highly strung Elise…Lara is also contemplating wehther to sell her mother’s cherished B and B, which holds fond memories for her and her friends.

When the four meet fifth member Helen they are amazed at how much she ahs changed from the practical and serious woman to the carefree and content Californian chick that now stands before them, and it is all thanks to the California Club, Helen hints at mysteriously. Soon the four friends and Elise are intrigued and get involved with the California Club, which forces them to face us to their problems, and realise their dreams…

I thought that this was a hilarious and sassy read, and Lara made a fantastic main character, although her B and B story felt a bit misplaced. The bonds between the five friends are so strong and believable that it really adds to the story. I also liked Joel: cocky, arrogant but kind, and I thought he would have made a better fit for Lara rather than Elliot, a guy who has been so blind for the last 10 years (and counting) that his best friend harbours feelings for him. He later confesses that he had feelings for her but his explanation that he wanted to get the “bad relationships” out of the way before he declared his true feelings for her was a bit bizarre. Elliot makes a nice friend but as a romantic hero, he was quite cowardly and irritating.

From the two novels by Jones that I have read, both set in California, the emphasis is on the heroine ending up with the man who she has always loved, rather than any prospective partners that crop up along the way. In California Dreamers, although it was strange, I embraced the reunion of Jonathan and Stella, but here, I was wanting Lara to move on from the man she has wasted 10 years over only to get nothing during that time. However, I am growing to admire Belinda Jones as a writer – her style is great, striking a perfect balance between tenderness, emotion and humour without being too crass. The California Club was another great read of hers although I didn’t like the ending. 4 stars (despite Elliot).

The Book of Awesome – Neil Pasricha

So life is dull, depressing and dark…but what about all the little things that make the world a more awesome place to live in? Neil Pasricha has taken it upon himself to document all the things that he considers to be awesome, from high-fiving a baby to the joys of bubble wrap (pop pop). It is a funny list, and it really makes you realise or reconsider all previously forgotten awesome things. For me, some of the things are less awesome than others. The book ends after a poignant tribute to Pasricha’s late friend, which contrasts to the light hearted tone of the rest of the book, before embarking on a last awesome thing: a philosophical note (thinking about all of the things that ahd to happen or not happen to put you here on earth in this time and place), which I found less awesome (I’m not really an existentialist thinker) that managing to squeeze through the gap in a doorway as the door is closing  and you don’t lay a hand on the door (it is impressive but I did this about 8 years ago, and the person behind me was not impressed). Some of the things on the list made me laugh and I recommend this as a read that will brighten up your life – awesome! 4 stars.

Read more about Pasricha and awesome things at his blog:  http://1000awesomethings.com/

 

Mr Commitment – Mike Gayle

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Mel and Duffy have been in a blissful relationship for 4 years, but that all changes when Mel proposes to Duffy. Duffy loves Mel, but he can’t bear the idea of committing to her. Can he ever change his mindset or will he risk losing the “one” because of his refusal to marry her?
It is another well written guy-lit book from Mike Gayle, but I preferred My Legendary Girlfriend. Although Gayle tries to present Duffy as being a character that you should sympathize with, he comes across as idiotic at times, with an obsession to his bachelor-like lifestyle and his TV. I feel a bit sorry for Mel! In the end, Duffy realises his error and he reconciles with Mel, and proposes to her. It is an adequate tale but I found the story a little lagging, and the other side stories e.g. his sister’s baby, Dan’s ex getting married and Mark and Julie didn’t really add anything to the narrative. 2.5 stars.

50 Ways To Find A Lover – Lucy Anne Holmes

50 Ways to Find a Lover

Struggling actress Sarah Sargeant is cynical about love, and is put forward by her father to enter a dating reality show. Sarah misses out on a spot in the show, but soon comes up with the idea of setting up her own blog as she details her 50 ways to find love, and the results on her love life. Her blog garners widespread interest but will it do more harm than good, or can she find love through her blog and find the one?

I enjoyed reading this, the main story was very god and I like the Eamonn/Marcus twist. It was a hilarious read and the friendships between Simon, Julia and Sarah are a joy to read. They seem real and very honest. I did however feel that Holmes overdwells on sex during the novel – the narrative, Simon’s business and Sarah’s blog. It may suit some people but for me it did get a bit much at times. It was a better read than Unlike A Virgin and the ending was great: romantic with some hilarious moments. 3.5 stars


The Beach Cafe – Lucy Diamond

Evie Flynn is a bit of a black sheep in her family – the one who can be counted on to disappoint everyone – never having to manage to hold down a successful career, get married, have children nor own her own hown. Tragedy strikes when her aunt Jo dies in a car accident, and everyone is shocked when Jo leaves her cafe in Cornwall in her will. Everyone expects Evie to sell the cafe but she has fond memories of her aunt, the cafe and the beach but can she prove to her family and to the other villagers, and herself, that she can make the cafe a continued success?

This reminds me of Meet Me At Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan: unfavoured child in stale relationship and career decides to be adventurous by running her own cafe, despite never having run a business before, and making new friends, overcoming big obstacles and forging new relationships in the process. However, I think that The Beach Cafe is a far better read: it is well written, emotional, romantic and funny. Evie is a likeable character and her attempts to carry on her aunt’s legacy, thus changing everyone’s opinion of her, are inspiring to read.Her burgeoning relationship with Ed was sparky and lovely to read (he hides a secret but his situation seemed to be resolved rather quickly, but it paved the way for Ed and Evie to reunite). Phoebe’s story and the way she connected with Evie was good, and Evie’s encounter with her first love Ryan is memorable – thyey say you never forget your first love but this is one she should definitely move on from!

The story is consistently engaging and the descriptions make the village an ideal place to live. A great read! 4.5 stars