March 4, 2016

Round trip ticket from Spain to London

The following books were kindly sent to me by the self-published author, Steven Hugh, who requested a review. :-)

The first in the trilogy, Barbara Baker, focuses on a woman who is struggling to raise her young son on a nurse's salary in England. It's not quite as cut and dry as that, however. At the very beginning of the novel something quite shocking happens to her which thrusts her into the path of recently retired Roy Sterling. Soon (shockingly soon) the three are living together in Roy's home and he is more or less financially taking care of them all. There is a dark cloud which hovers over Barbara but which she makes no mention to anyone not even her son, Tony. The hardest part about this book were the sudden jumps in time without any forewarning. Luckily, it was very linear so the reader wasn't left wondering if they were reading a passage from the present, past, or future of the characters. I felt it was pretty slow going but by the end I was too invested not to continue on with the series. (The end is a bit of a shock which I enjoyed.)

Having finished the sequel, Ian Pemberton, I felt that these books are less a series and more a collection of character pieces. There is the briefest mention of Barbara and Roy from the first book but besides that this is a standalone piece. Ian Pemberton revolves around a couple who move from Leicester to Spain to start up a garden furniture business. No, I'm not making this up. The entire book is about a couple trying to make it in Spain selling statues, fountains, and garden gnomes. I found the wife, Madeleine, the most annoying character I've encountered in literature in quite some time. She's vapid, self-obsessed, and obnoxious. Hugh has a gift for descriptive prose and characterization. It's obvious that the locations that are described are very familiar to the author. Despite not finding the majority of the characters in this book likable they all felt believable. Downside: Many passages were in Spanish without direct translation. I found this device tedious but I understand why it was used (they are in Spain after all). Also, there is an undercurrent of racism against Muslims in both this book and its predecessor which I feel needs to be mentioned.

It wasn't until I reached this last book in the series, Verity Xuereb-Smith, that I figured out the reoccurring theme of all three books. (I was helped along a bit by the title of the trilogy, Beginning Again, which I had forgotten until looking back at my initial email from Steven (sorry!).) All of these title characters are looking for a fresh start. They're turning away from the people that they were and discovering who they always wanted to be. Barbara wanted solitude and respite. This was natural as she had already suffered so much turmoil (spoilers!). Ian was tired of his boring job and the drab scenery of Leicester (fool!). He wanted to be in charge of his own life and he fell in love with Spain. Now there's Verity who is an aging actress who has definitely seen her fair share of drama (ha ha ha I am hilarious). I found this one to be the most enjoyable of the three and I think a lot of that had to do with the structure. The moving plot device is that Verity is being interviewed while on a plane ride from Spain to London. The chapters flip flop between interview style question and answers about Verity's career and snippets of her scripts. Apparently I really enjoy reading scripts. I felt the ending was rather abrupt but overall quite good.

I wanted to give an overall summary of my thoughts on this trilogy but I find myself indecisive. On the one hand, I found them quite slow moving at times and not exactly action packed. On the other hand, I found them to be interesting character studies and now that the theme is obvious to me I think they're rather charmingly optimistic. If you're looking for something easygoing that won't take terribly long to get through (I read each book in a couple of hours) then this trilogy is for you.

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

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