Author Archives: happyanddandy

About happyanddandy

40 something living in NW London UK. I work as a Practice Nurse and have a husband, 2 teenagers,1 dog and 2 cats at home. Never without a book or some knitting. Favourite writers are Anne Tyler, Barbara Trapido and Monica Dickens among others. Looking forward to reviewing here.

My Favourite Wife by Tony Parsons

Blurb from inside the flap;

Hot shot young lawyer Bill Holden and his wife Becca move their four-year-old daughter to the booming, gold-rush city of Shanghai. It is a place of opportunity and temptation, where fortunes are made and foreign marriages come apart in spectacular fashion. Bill’s law firm houses the Holden family in Paradise Mansions – a luxury apartment block full of ‘second wives’: beautiful young women like JinJin Li, ex-school teacher, crossword addict, dedicated roller skater and the Holden’s neighbour. After Becca witnesses a near-tragedy, she returns temporarily to London with Holly – and Bill and JinJin are thrown together. Bill wants to be a better man than the millionaire who keeps JinJin Li as a second wife. Better than any man who cheats. Becca is his best friend. But in the end can he give JinJin anything different – can he give her the love she deserves? And can he love his wife too?

My Favourite Wife is a book about the men and women of our time – their struggles, their joys and their secret longings. Above all it is a book about where sex, romance and obsession ends, and where true love begins.

I chose to read this because I have enjoyed Tony Parson’s previous books. This is the story of Bill, a young lawyer who moves to Shanghai with his wife and child for a better life. Bill inadvertently gets involved with a Chinese woman and ultimately the saga is about the agonies of having an extra marital affair, loving two women at the same time and the angst of what he should do. He goes to extraordinary heroic  lengths to come up smelling of roses.
I did not warm to Bill as the main character and ultimately did not enjoy reading the book. Shanghai is painted as seedy and unpleasant  with very few redeeming features.  Apart from one female lawyer colleague all the other Chinese female characters are prostitutes or kept women and we are lead to believe that Bill gets to know them, sees past the veneer of their ‘working’ lives, defends them stoically while his other male colleagues just get stuck in. It’s almost misogynistic leaving an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
His wife, Becca is saintly and forgiving, painted as the perfect woman as is the mistress  Jin Jin Li. Explanations as to why Becca left Shanghai to return home are glossed over and an affair with a doctor who just happens to be in the right place is only hinted at. ‘Touching faces with fingertips’ was an irritatingly overused phrase.
The book gives us some useful insight into the rapid societal changes  taking place in China, it highlights the evident  social inequalities and helps us understand some of their customs.
Ultimately I think Bill and Becca are not  believable characters to me and I was disappointed. I would be very interested to read what others think.

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Slam by Nick Hornby

Synopsis from Amazon

Just when everything is coming together for Sam, his girlfriend Alicia drops a bombshell. Make that ex-girlfriend—because by the time she tells him she’s pregnant, they’ve already called it quits. Sam does not want to be a teenage dad.

There’s only one person Sam can turn to—his hero, skating legend Tony Hawk. Sam believes the answers to life’s hurdles can be found in Hawk’s autobiography. But even Tony Hawk isn’t offering answers this time—or is he? In this wonderfully witty, poignant story about a teenage boy unexpectedly thrust into fatherhood, it’s up to Sam to make the right decisions so the bad things that could happen, well, don’t.

I finished reading this book very quickly and it wasn’t challenging at all. Hornby has captured the essence of the self absorbed young teenager in this book. I know because I have one of that age! However the other characters in the book are given very little depth. We know what happens to Alicia and Sam’s mother for example, but we don’t know about them as individuals and the orbits they move in. I feel I hardly know Alicia by the end of the book apart from the fact that she has had a baby. But maybe that is the point Hornby is making – it’s all about Sam – It’s not enough for me though. Sam’s dialogue with Tony Hawks was irritating at times and the use of ‘whizzing’, whereby Sam sudenly finds himself in the future for short periods, I didn’t think added anything positive to the book. Overall the novel kept my interest and I read it in big chunks. I’ll leave it out for my teenagers to peruse but neither of them have any interest in skateboarding and I suspect that would put them off choosing it to read it.

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Worldwide Adventures in Love by Louise Wener

Blurb from the back of the book;

Mysterious and inviting, Jessie and Margaret are drawn to their reclusive neighbour’s house. It offers an escape from the dreary summer of 1977 and their fragile family life, into a world they can only dream about. When the house suddenly burns down at the same time as their mother moves out to live with her new boyfriend, and their father develops an unhealthy crush on a woman in their street, life seems bleak for the girls.

Escaping the claustrophobia of family life isn’t easy, until the story of an eccentric and beauthiful female explorer form the 1930’s unfolds in a series of letters. In these letters she tells stories of far flung places, secrets, doomed love and adventure.



What a delightful book to read! The author gets into the skin of Jessie a young teenager and writes the story wholly from her point of view. Growing up in the 1970’s Jessie and her younger sister Margaret are thrown in to the turmoil of separating parents. Alongside is the story of a neighbour Edith whom the girls get to know briefly before she dies in a house fire.

Since the author so masterfully writes from a child’s point of view, the reader is able to experience the rollercoaster of emotions that can devour you at Jessie’s tender age. The toe curling embarrassment of your parent’s behaviour, the love and hatred of friends and relatives and the dull familiarity of routine at home. Jessie muddles through this disruptive time looking for support from her sister who is suffering her own private turmoil. Interspersed with the sisters’ plight is the poignant story of Edith told by personal letters.

This book is well crafted. The story develops slowly and engrosses the reader to the point where you really care what happens to all of the main characters. I would definitely look for more to read by this writer.


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The Stepmother by Carrie Adams

Blurb from Amazon;

Two women are vying for position in one man’s life. Their greatest fear is each other. But there’s no point taking sides because, as they are about to find out, there are just too many. The Ex: She managed to keep her divorce amicable by burying past hurts. It cost her dear, but it’s worth it to see her three daughters so happy. Now everything is going to change. Jimmy wants to remarry. Bea worries about how the girls are going to feel having to share their father. But it’s not the children’s reaction that shocks her- it’s hers. The Girlfriend: The only thing she’s done wrong is fall in love with a man she can’t call her own. His daughters come first. No matter what. Try as she might, she can’t seem to get them to like her. She doesn’t understand. The divorce wasn’t her fault. Jimmy swears it was no one’s fault, some relationships just break down. But if that’s the case, how secure is hers?

This book is written from two perspectives. A mother of three girls, Bea, and Tessa, the ‘Stepmother’. It is a story of modern family life warts and all. Both women are deeply in love with the same man, James who ultimately has to choose between them.
Initially you are plunged into the everdyay turmoil of Bea’s life with her children and small snippets are given as to what happened to the marriage of Jim and Bea which ended ultimately in divorce. We are then introduced to delightful Tessa who tries her absolute best to learn how to deal with other people’s children full on. The author helps us to really see how difficult it can be to step into life with a man who has a ready made family.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is well written, interesting with plenty of twists and turns to keep you turning the pages. I was completely divided as to whom I thought James should end up with. Bea or Tessa?  The suspense continues right to the end. Recommended for all those who are considering taking on the role of Stepmother!

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The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen

From the back of the book;

In Boston, there’s a killer on the loose. A killer who targets lone women, who breaks into their apartments and performs terrifying ritualistic acts of torture on his victims before finishing them off. His surgical skills lead police to suspect he is a physician – a physican who, instead of saving lives, takes them.

But as homicide detective Thomas Moore and his partner Jane Rizzoli begin their investigation, they make a startling discovery. Closely linked to these kilings is Catherine Cordell, a beautiful medic with a mysterious past. Two years ago she was subjected to a horrifying rape and attempted murder but shot her attacker dead. Now she is being targeted by this new killer who appears to know all about her past, her work at the Pilgrim Medical Center, and where she lives. The man she believes she killed seems to be stalking her one again, and this time he knows exactly where to find her…

Compelling and stunning read which has kept me gripped all afternoon although I have had to take several breaks from the horror of the words. This book highlighted for me how ambivalent I feel about this genre. Well written, plotted and totally engrossing however I am very disturbed by the vivid descriptions of tortured victims. I usually elect not to read or watch this kind of thing on TV as it plays on my mind and I feel slightly traumatised by the ordeal. On the other hand I would not want to miss out on such a rollercoaster ride. I love the portrayal of the characters Rizzoli and Moore, the suspense and build up are fantastic. It’s all excellent. I will read more of Tess Gerritsen but I need a good break first.

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The Battle for Big School by Sarah Tucker

Blurb from the back of the book;

There are 50 places at The Oaks, the best grammar school in Letchbury, and 1,000 children applying. Competition is fierce and parents are prepared to do everything and anything to get their child one of the coveted spaces. Close friends Lily, Julie, Karen and househusband Paul aren’t overly concerned. After all, aren’t their children bright and sociable enough? But they’re quickly shaken out of their complacency when enrolment time approaches and turns out to be little more than a rigged lottery, where only the most ruthless hold the cards. Marriages and friendships crumble under the pressure, fake addresses abound and tutors rates soar. As measures get more and more extreme, the four quickly rally their troops and throw themselves into the battle for big school. Initially wary to be in competition with each other, they realise that the only way of out-smarting the rest of the pack is by coming up with a plan. Because getting their kids into The Oaks will demand determination and strategy akin to Mission Impossible …

A very light quick read. If I wasn’t so obsessive about finishing a book once started I definitely would have stopped after a few chapters. I heard an interesting interview on the radio with the author last year which motivated me to pick up this book. Also having been through big school selection fairly recently I thought I would be able to identify with some of the main characters. Unfortunately this was not to be. The main focus of the book is about the organisation of a charity fashion show instigated by a mother to impress the Headmaster of the local grammar school in order to gain preferential admission for her child. In fact that is totally what the book is about. No mention in the blurb. It is so far removed from my reality of parents in the playground being ex top models and successful journalists for example that the average reader might be inclined to switch off as I did. However I am sure there are some readers out there who would enjoy it as it bounds along with gusto and the ending, not so obvious as you would think, is mildly amusing.

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South of the River by Blake Morrison

From the back of the book; –

‘South of the River’ opens on the new dawn of Labour’s election victory in 1997, and ends five years later. But this is not so much ‘state of the nation’ as state of our souls, marriages, families, hopes and careers – a sharp and sexy portrait of a dysfunctional group of characters, all different yet connected. There’s Nat, a failed dramatist, falling for a younger woman; Anthea, an eco-friendly lost soul obsessed with foxes; Libby, hardworking mother and advertising executive; Harry, Nat’s friend and ex-pupil, a journalist with a guilty secret of his own; and Jack, Nat’s unexpectedly poignant uncle, who lives for fox-hunting. Intimate and disconcerting, compelling and comic, an anatomy of the way things are, ‘South of the River’ is the big British novel for our times – and a tour de force.

This is an epic novel over 550 pages of small print. It’s taken ages to read. At the start it was difficult to juggle the main characters Libby, Nat, Anthea, Harry and Jack and retain the information about them and their lives, however this becomes easier as you go on. Their stories (and they are almost individual stories) are set in the early Blair years and a theme of foxes reverberates through the pages, not just fox hunting but foxy fairy stories are included. The main characters do relate eventually, some more tenuously than others. The main characters lives are explored in great detail and that is what I appreciated most about the book. My favourite was family and work juggling advertising executive Libby married to the very annoying self absorbed lazy Nat.
The novel is well written, intricate with lots of sex including a very odd tale within a tale of a couple stuck together after copulation!
The book rolls along gently and finishes gently. The characters and the writing make you want to continue find out what happens. Not to be recomended for those who like action packed novels. I really enjoyed it.

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The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber

From Amazon;-

Meet Sugar, a nineteen-year-old prostitute in nineteenth-century London who yearns for escape to a better life. From the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, she begins her ascent through society, meeting a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters on the way. They begin with William Rackham, an egotistical perfume magnate whose empire is fueled by his lust for Sugar; his unhinged, child-like wife Agnes; his mysteriously hidden-away daughter, Sophie; and his pious brother Henry, foiled in his devotional calling by a persistently less-than-chaste love for the Widow Fox. All this is overseen by assorted preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all stripes and persuasions.

Teeming with life, this is a big, juicy must-read of a novel that has enthralled hundreds of thousands of readers-and will continue to do so for years to come.

I just loved this book and am so sorry to have finished it.

It’s like a private serial of ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ but X rated – it is really crude in places but fitting in context. The book is very detailed but never ever dull. What an achievement. It’s a sorry tale mostly about the lives of women in the late 19th century. The utter dependence on men of both rich and poor women and children alike. The seediness and filth of London at that time. The lustrous richness of those with money. It’s all here. I kept trying to second guess what was going to happen. Things are left open at the end – I wonder if there is a second book in the making?

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Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

From the back of the book;-

Matilda is a young girl in Bougainville, a tropical island where the horror of civil war lurks. Mr Watts, the only white person, is the self appointed teacher of the tiny school where the only textbook is Dickens’ Great Expectations.

The book is narrated by Matilda, a young teenager. In the first part of the books she carefully paints a picture of life and people on the tropical island village where food is plentiful but not much else in the way of material goods. Many of the men have gone away to join the rebel army leaving mostly women and children but there is one white man who remains to step into a teaching role in the school. He reads ‘Great Expectations’ to the children and some of them including Matilda become enthralled, developing an other world in their imaginations where they can go to get away from the harsh realities of life. For Matilda, ‘Mister Pip’ and the teacher, Mr Watts, become a major diversion from boredom of teenage life and the stressful relationship between herself and her strong willed mother. As the reader, I began to love Lloyd’s characters and so it comes as a tremendous goose pimply shock when the ‘redskins’ arrive with menace to disrupt the flow of life on Bougainville.

The book is beautifully developed and well written. I think it struggles towards the end with Matilda as an adult but this hardly detracts from this great piece of literature.

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Double Fault by Lionel Shriver

Synopsis from Waterstone’s

‘Love me, love my game’, says twenty-three year-old Willy Novinsky. Ever since she picked up a racquet at the age of four, tennis has been Willy’s one love, until the day she meets Eric Oberdorf. She’s a middle-ranked professional tennis player and he’s a Princeton graduate who took up playing tennis at the age of eighteen. Low-ranked but untested, Eric, too, aims to make his mark on the international tennis circuit. Willy beholds compatibility spiced with friendly rivalry, and discovers her first passion outside a tennis court. They marry. Married life starts well, but animated shop talk and blissful love-making soon give way to full-tilt competition over who can rise to the top first. Driven and gifted, Willy maintains the lead until she severs her knee ligaments in a devastating spill. As Willy recuperates, her ranking plummets whilst her husband’s climbs, until he is eventually playing in the US Open. Anguished at falling short of her lifelong dream and resentful of her husband’s success, Willy slides irresistibly toward the first quiet tragedy of her young life.

Having read Lionel Shriver before I was already used to her style so was able to get into this novel quickly. The story is about an intense relationship between two tennis players described in minute detail. I found myself taking the male side more and more as the female character becomes loathsome as her career disintegrates around her. She blames her husband and takes it out on him becoming physically abusive in the end. Meanwhile he becomes very successful but his wife is unable to support him. It is a story of marriage destruction and a very sad one. No happy ending here! Would appeal to tennis lovers.

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