Two new names to remember – reviews

Do you review the books you read? I don’t mean the blockbusters whose names crop up with predictable regularity. They are managing quite well without our help, thank you very much.

I mean, if you discover a new name among the bookshelves, take a chance on their book and find you thoroughly enjoy it. Do you then take the time to write a review, even just a few lines? You should because reading what other people think is how undiscovered writers are, well, discovered.

If a novel’s already got a gazillion ratings and reviews, I don’t usually trouble myself. But if I read a book and I think it’s great and only a handful of others have reviewed it, then I always write a quick comment. I used to think I had to take ages penning a long treatise, impressing with my literary knowledge. I soon put a stop to that. These days I go for an honest reaction, shortly after finishing reading and leave the PhD theses to the erudite book bloggers and academics.

One other thing, call me a softie, but if I don’t get on with a book, I don’t waste my time penning a one-star review and breaking some writer’s heart. I know how much courage and stickability it takes to write a book, any book. It might not be to my taste but it probably will be to someone’s.

This preamble is to introduce my reviews of two books I enjoyed recently by novelists I’ve never come across before. Indeed, I believe they’re both debut authors. Domestic Bliss and Other Disasters by Jane Ions is hilarious and very well observed. A new comic voice on the block. A Spell in France by M C Clary is a well-constructed thriller, set partly in Nice, featuring an unsettlingly distant older husband and his naive, much younger wife. I thought I was heading for Manderley, then it all went in a different direction.

Maybe give them a try. Oh, and please review afterwards!

Domestic Bliss and Other Disasters by Jane Ions

To write a comic novel with lovable, relatable characters, a gripping plot and lines that are actually laugh-out-loud funny is no mean feat; to achieve this as a debut novelist is nothing short of a miracle. But Jane Ions has cracked it. The voice of Sally Forth (I know!) is hilarious and appealing from the off. There is so much to enjoy: Sally’s teenage son and his troop of oddball girlfriends; the lean-to constructed from rubbish at the side of the house: a running gag about the tabloids’ love of labelling all older women ‘Grans’, and Sally’s long-suffering husband Bill, an MP and – unusually in these strange political times – the only proper grown-up in the household. If you like the Nina Stibbe style of well-observed comedy with a heart, you’ll love this. A very worthy CWIP short-lister. I look forward to reading the next Jane Ions novel. 

A Spell in France by M C Clary

Shades of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca in this thriller, set mostly in Nice. Sylvie, a new and rather naïve bride, is on holiday with her much older, rather distant, husband Trevor when he collapses in the street and is taken off to hospital. Confusion surrounds what takes place next. We follow Sylvie over several years as she attempts to unpick what really happened to her husband. The Cote D’Azure and the art world in which Sylvie finds herself working are nicely recreated, as is the character of Sylvie herself, our narrator for a good part of the book. All in all, a satisfying thriller.