Review: The Little Breton Bistro by Nina George

The Overview

The Little Breton Bistro (released 2nd March) is the latest offering from Nina George. Having devoured The Little Paris Bookshop on honeymoon last year, I couldn’t not request this ARC when I spotted it on NetGalley, and was pretty chuffed when my approval email came through!

The Little Breton Bistro follows protagonist Marianne on a quest to rediscover life. The book opens in Paris, on the banks of the Seine, as she prepares to take her own life. Stuck in an unhappy and loveless marriage to a dull and controlling man, Lothar; she just can’t see the point of going on living.

Her plan is thwarted by a homeless man who pulls her from the river, and she is whisked off to hospital for treatment. While she is in the hospital, she finds a small tile painted with the image of a beautiful port town, Kerdruc, in Britanny. She decides to escape the hospital, fully intending to complete what she started in Paris in this beautiful little port town.

The journey from the hospital in Paris to Kerdruc is full of quirky coincidences, and when Marianne finally arrives in Kerdruc, she is mistaken for the new chef at Ar Mor bistro. This is the turning point in Marianne’s story; and from this point we see her rediscover the joys in life, and help guide the people around her too.

The Review

Part of what really made the story for me were the descriptions of the landscape that flow throughout – George’s words paint a stunning image of the Breton coast, from sights, smells, to colours, and emotion.

As is her signature style, The Little Breton Bistro flows with an engaging and easy to follow storyline. A host of characters grace the pages, each of them contributing a different theme to the book; and contributing to Marianne’s transformation – we watch her turn from suffocated and timid to powerful and confident in herself. Her husband Lothar, by contrast, does exactly the opposite – although for the vast majority of the book he is only present in Marianne’s guilt; by the end of the story he has been stripped of the control he once had over her. This book is about love – new, enduring, unrequited – as well as birth, death and friendship. As her life changes from everything she once knew, Marianne arrives at a point where she must decide to hold on to the past; or embrace the future.

George’s writing style and stories always remind me of the film Amélie – colourful, full of life, with a sprinkle of the eccentric. French-ness. It is a winning combination.

I was surprised to learn that Nina George has written 26 books, as well as over 100 short stories – a quick Amazon search suggests that The Little Paris Bookshop and The Little Breton Bistro are the only ones to have made it across the continent to our bookshelves. Hopefully there are many more to come!

With thanks to Little, Brown Book Group UK for the ARC.

the little breton bistro

Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

I’m going to put it out there, straight up: I have never read any of Jodi Picoult’s books before. I have a small collection of them on the bookshelf, hidden among my TBRs and old favourites, and obviously went along and cried to My Sister’s Keeper when the film was released; but nothing more. So, when a friend, a massive Picoult fan, got in touch to say she was holding a reading from her new book at the Sage Gateshead (and that the tickets included a copy of the book!) I jumped at the chance to go along.

Picoult was at the Sage as part of the tour to promote Small Great Things, her latest book. The evening consisted of a reading from the book followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

I knew from the reading that this was going to be a book quite unlike anything I’ve read before, and so I spent a little time mentally preparing myself before picking up Small Great Things towards the end of January.

DSC_0874.JPG

The book tells the story of Ruth Jefferson, an African American Maternity nurse with over 20 years’ experience in looking after new mothers and their babies. One day, at the start of her shift, she takes over the care of a newly-born baby boy, Davis Bauer. His parents, two white supremacists, lodge a complaint with the hospital and insist that no African American personnel are to touch their son. The hospital complies with their request and Ruth is taken off the case. However, as a result of a staff shortage, a colleague asks her to keep watch over the baby while she deals with another delivery – and he dies.

What follows is the story of Ruth’s journey through the American justice system, leading up to her trial. The narrative is split between the views of Ruth; Turk, the white supremacist father; and Ruth’s attorney Kennedy. The ever-changing narrative allows us to see into each of our protagonists’ lives, away from the trial – their history, their beliefs, and how they came to be in the position they are in currently. I found this to be a very effective way of telling the story, and thought it added a great amount of depth. This way, nothing the reader sees is clear cut. You cannot help but feel for Turk, as he mourns the loss of his first child; even while at the same time you are filled with disgust and horror at his behaviour and the way he lives his life. Similarly, while you feel shock and horror at Ruth’s tale and the everyday discrimination she experiences purely as a result of her skin colour; you can’t help but be angry with her when she holds back information from Kennedy. Over the course of the book, we see Kennedy assess the way she approaches and deals with racism, and the way this changes, as a result of her relationship with Ruth.

Whilst I may have gotten a flavour of the book at the reading, I was absolutely not prepared for how completely uncomfortable this book would make me feel. All. The. Time. I don’t think I’ve ever read another book which created such an ambience of anticipative tension. It drags out those elements of society that it’s all too easy to look away from and try to ignore; and sits them right in front of you across 494 pages of unapologetic rawness. Picoult is without doubt an accomplished and skillful storyteller, and the tale is made all the more impactful by the fact that both Turk and Ruth are based on real people, with similar stories, who she met with and spoke to over the course of her research. Small Great Things is great indeed, and I certainly look forward to reading more of Picoult in the near future.

dsc_0872

Review: Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson

I have not come across a huge number of books which can hook you on the first page; even fewer that can do so in the first paragraph. But the rawness of the opening sentence of Snowblind sets the tone for what is a very clever crime story and an outstanding first novel:

The red stain was like a scream in the silence.

The first book in Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series, Snowblind follows Ari Thor Arason, a young police recruit about to finish his training. He is offered a job with the police force in Siglufjordur, a small town he doesn’t know much about except that:

…one could hardly travel further north in Iceland; a place probably closer to the Arctic Circle than to Reykjavik.

He accepts, leaving his girlfriend and their apartment behind in Reykjavik and moving to the town where nobody locks their doors and, in the words of his sergeant, nothing ever happens.

Except when it does.

Installed in Siglufjordur, Ari Thor tries to settle into life in a small town surrounded by mountains. He takes piano lessons with Ugla, a young woman who has also recently moved to the town and understands his feelings of entrapment and claustrophobia. On Christmas Eve, alone on the evening shift, Ari Thor receives a phone call which marks the beginning of an investigation that will chill the town to its bones. When a young woman is found seriously injured in the snow and an elderly, famous writer meets his death in the local theatre, Ari Thor must battle community secrets, heavy snowfall, and the avalanches which block off the only route in or out of the town.

Snowblind is an excellent novel, and an impressive debut from Jonasson. The characters are skilfully interwoven using a variety of narrative viewpoints, and there is a large enough quantity of these to tax your brain into trying to piece them all together; while not being so overwhelming that it’s impossible to keep up with what’s going on.

Jonasson’s description of the wild, raw beauty of Iceland and its small, isolated towns paints a picture of the country in the reader’s mind which is both impressive and intimidating, at the complete mercy of the elements. His writing evokes the sense of absolute claustrophobia that Ari Thor feels at being surrounded by snow and unable to escape, and the reader feels all of this with our protagonist. The book keeps you guessing until the end, culminating in a twist that I, for one, most definitely did not see coming.

This sophisticated piece of Icelandic Noir is perfect for curling up against a cold, dark evening. I’m looking forward to getting started on book 2 – Nightblind!

dsc_0476