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Popular?Book Reviews

ROBIN COOPER: THE TIMEWASTER DIARIES (Sphere HB) Rita fell down the stairs at twenty-two minutes past midnight.' Robin Cooper, author of the TIMEWASTER LETTERS and RETURN OF THE TIMEWASTER LETTERS, turns his hand to diary writing in this hilarious new novel. All the absurdity, bad luck and boundless optimism of his previous books are here, as we discover the man behind the letters. The year starts badly for Robin, losing his job for sending so many letters in work time, and for his wife Rita, who sprains her ankle (yet again). But Robin has a cunning plan - his marrying of the crossword and sudoku into his devilish 'crossoku', which might just make their fortune ...In the tradition of Adrian Mole and A DIARY OF A NOBODY, this is a hilarious and strangely heartwarming story of a great British comic character. Wonderful, zany and exhilaratingly funny. Cooper's sense of humour is spot on. This is a diary that will amuse and delight - I was reminded for some reason, of Reggie Perrin - it's David Nobbs' kind of humour. Incidentally, I didn't think "Crossoku" was confusing at all, I thought it was a brilliant invention

JULIAN CLARY: MURDER MOST FAB (Ebury Press HB) Hello, I'm Johnny Debonair and this is my book - Murder Most Fab . Buy it. You won't regret it. Everything that has happened so publicly is explained. Of course, I'd prefer it if you remember me as I was at my height, before the past caught up with me so spectacularly - TV's Mr Friday Night with an enviable lifestyle and the nation at my feet. My fame might have looked easy to you at the time, but getting to the top of the celebrity ladder is hard work. It took talent, beauty, commitment and, uniquely in my case, a number of unfortunate deaths. If we were being picky you might describe me as a serial killer, but I really don't see myself that way. It sounds trite to say 'one thing led to another' but it's true.As you'll discover I owe something of my rise and my fall to three individuals: my mother, an eccentric country girl who taught me exhibitionism by hanging naked from the clocktower of Hythe town hall; Catherine, my best friend, then partner in business - a devil in red heels, who, in her clear Essex accent, taught me how to 'look after number one'; and Timothy, who broke my heart and caused me to seek refuge in sex, money and celebrity. But in the end you have to take responsibility for your own actions. No one was forcing me, were they? I hope you, the public, can forgive me and enjoy this sordid tale for what it is - my final entertainment for you. Prepared to be shocked - I thought this might be hilariously funny, just as Julian Clary himself is - but it's simply a licence for sordid and lurid accounts of gay sex which, frankly, will turn all heterosexuals off in my opinion. I think you'd have to be that way inclined to be interested in this, and even tolerant and liberal-minded people might find it hard to stomach. I think Julian's obsession with frank and open gay sex descriptions mask his true talent - this could have been screamingly funny, and some people might think it is - Richard and Judy, for example, who think everything is funny. I put it down after about twenty pages, I'm afraid. In that time, the funny bits were just about funny, but the gay sex swamped everything - not to my taste. I'd hoped for a really funny detective novel with a bit of camp Carry-On style innuendo, but found nothing to entice me further in, which is a great shame

JENNY COLGAN: OPERATION SUNSHINE (Sphere PB) Evie needs a good holiday. Not just because she's been working all hours in her job as a receptionist for two high-powered plastic surgeons - but also because every holiday she has ever been on in her life has involved sunburn, arguments and projectile vomiting - and sometimes all three at once. Why can't she have a normal holiday, like other people seem to have - some sun, sand, sea and (hopefully) sex? So when her employers invite her to attend a conference with them in the south of France, she can't believe her luck. At last, the chance to hob nob with the rich and glamorous, to party under the stars, to live the life she's dreamed about. It's certainly the holiday of a lifetime - but not quite in way Frances imagined! Jenny Colgan turns in a better than the usual chicklit novel - great holiday read

MARGARET THORNTON: DOWN AN ENGLISH LANE (Allison and Busby PB) It is 1945 and the charming market town of Middlebeck is thriving once more. For fifteen-year-old Maisie Jackson, life could not be better; school is going well, her best friend Audrey is a constant source of fun and Maisie's mum is finally free from the cruel clutches of her now ex-husband. Best of all, Bruce Tremaine, who Maisie had been corresponding with throughout the war, is due back any day now. With unfamiliar butterflies in her stomach as she daydreams of Bruce's arrival, Maisie tries to still her restless heart and can't help wondering if this is what it feels like to be in love... Her teenage euphoria doesn't last long, however, as when her sweetheart finally arrives, he has a 'friend' in tow - the beautiful and determined Christine Myerscough. Determined, that is, to make herself Bruce's wife... Feeling crushed and betrayed, Maisie throws herself into other aspects of her life and takes on new challenges in order to take her mind off her broken heart. She soon realises that her life needn't be confined to Middlebeck and there are many opportunities in the wide world for someone with her ambition. Having found her calling and proven herself a success, Maisie convinces herself she is over her young love. But has Bruce forgotten about her?

ELIN HILDEBRAND: BAREFOOT (Sphere PB) When Vicki Stowe arrives in Nantucket for the summer with her two young sons, her best friend Melanie and her sister Brenda, she is hoping for peace, rest and comfort. Her mother always used to say that any ailment in the world ? physical or emotional ? could be cured by a little Nantucket sand between the toes. The three women need all the help Nantucket can offer: Brenda has just lost her prestigious job as a professor of literature; Melanie, who has been struggling for years to have a baby, has just discovered that she is pregnant ? and that her husband is having an affair; Vicki herself has been diagnosed with cancer and is facing months of treatment. Although they have the best of intentions and plan to support one another while enjoying the summer, the women soon find life in a cramped cottage with only one bathroom not quite the idyll they imagined. When put-upon babysitter Brenda places a help wanted' ad, the three women find salvation in the form of Josh, home from college for the summer. Soon Josh is part of the chaotic household, acting as childminder, confidant and, eventually something more. More "chicklit" but again this is better than the usual fayre - good dialogue and a reasonable plot

PATRICK GALE: NOTES FROM AN EXHIBITION (Fourth Estate HB) The new novel from the bestselling Patrick Gale tells the story of artist Rachel Kelly, whose life has been a sacrifice to both her extraordinary art and her debilitating manic depression. When troubled artist Rachel Kelly dies painting obsessively in her attic studio in Penzance, her saintly husband and adult children have more than the usual mess to clear up. She leaves behind an extraordinary and acclaimed body of work -- but she also leaves a legacy of secrets and emotional damage it will take months to unravel. A wondrous, monstrous creature, she exerts a power that outlives her. To her children she is both curse and blessing, though they all in one way or another reap her whirlwind, inheriting her waywardness, her power of loving -- and her demons! Only their father's Quaker gifts of stillness and resilience give them any chance of withstanding her destructive influence and the suspicion that they came a poor second to the creation of her art. The reader becomes a detective, piecing together the clues of a life -- as artist, lover, mother, wife and patient -- which takes them from contemporary Penzance to 1960s Toronto to St Ives in the 1970s. What emerges is a story of enduring love, and of a family which weathers tragedy, mental illness and the intolerable strain of living with genius. Patrick Gale's latest novel shines with intelligence, humour and tenderness. Strange but enjoyable - not the first time chapters have been prefaced with descriptions of works of art, but enjoyable all the same.

LAURIE GRAHAM: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING KENNEDY (Fourth Estate PB) A brilliant new novel by Laurie Graham set in wartime London, which follows Kick Kennedy, sister of future US President JFK, as she takes London society by storm. Nora Brennan is a country girl from Westmeath. When she lands herself a position as nursery maid to a family in Brookline, Massachusetts, she little thinks it will place her at the heart of American history. But it's the Kennedy family. In 1917 Joseph Kennedy is on his way to his first million and he has plans to found a dynasty and ensure that his baby son, Joe Junior, will be the first Catholic President of the United States. As nursemaid to all nine Kennedy children, Nora witnesses every moment, public and private. She sees the boys coached at their father's knee to believe everything they'll ever want in life can be bought. She sees the girls trained by their mother to be good Catholic wives. World War II changes everything. At the outbreak of war the Kennedys are living the high life in London, where Joseph Kennedy is the American ambassador. His reaction is to send the entire household back across the Atlantic to safety, but Nora, surprised by midlife love, chooses to stay in England and do her bit. Separated from her Kennedys by an ocean she nevertheless remains the warm, approachable sun around which the older children orbit: Joe, Jack, Rosemary, and in particular Kick, who throws the first spanner in the Kennedy works by marrying an English Protestant. Laurie Graham's poignant new novel views the Kennedys from below stairs, with the humour and candour that only an ex-nursemaid dare employ. Based on fact? I'd say not, but it's hugely entertaining, and puts the Kennedys firmly into perspective.

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