Author Archives: David Proffitt

The One Plus One

One Plus Oneby Jojo Moyes

Having previously read several Jojo Moyes books I was pretty sure what to expect – captivating characters, a great plot and quality writing. And that is exactly what I got. The plot itself is typical rom-com fodder, but the important thing is the way it is told. Jojo Moyes has the ability to make her characters come to life on the page. 

We all know how hard it can be to recover when life when knocks us down, and how difficult it can be to retain our optimism when you feel that universe is conspiring against us. But that eternal optimism despite everything life has thrown at her is what makes the leading lady, Jess Thomas, such an endearing character. Despite having to hold down two jobs to keep her and her two children fed and watered, she remains confident that things will get better. 

On the other hand, Ed Nichols has it all: the perfect job, a flat in London, a holiday home by the sea, his own company and, on the face of it, a bright future.

But all is not as it seems, and that is where the story begins. 

The One Plus One is a modern love story with just a hint of the Romeo and Juliet about it. But like all good books, there is a lot more going on underneath the surface. Jess’s optimism is tested to its limits by the circumstances of a life she no longer seems to have any control over. But it is that very “silver lining” approach that turns Ed’s life around. As he faces losing everything he has ever worked for, seeing at first hand Jess’s determination to do the best for her children is something of a revelation. He begins to realise that for one he has the opportunity to do some real good, to do something that will improve the life of someone else.

It doesn’t hurt that on their journey – physical and metaphorical – they find themselves growing ever closer.

For me, Jojo Moyes is one of those writers that can turn a seemingly simple tale into something quite deep and inspiring. Her characters are easily identifiable and I can’t help feeling some empathy towards them and their plights. Whilst tragedy is always at the heart of a good novel, particularly a love story like this one, humour is also a key element, and in The One Plus One Jojo Moyes gets the balance just right. It is witty, absorbing and a joy to read. 




The Other Hand

The Other Handby Chris Cleave

According to the blurb on the back of this book, the story is too special for them to say anything about what happens. They even implore the reader not to tell anyone once they have read it. All we are told is that it is the story of two women whose lives “collide” where there is a terrible choice to be made. Then they meet again two years later. And that’s it! There is even a letter inside from the editor saying all kinds of wonderful things about the story.

But does it live up to these lofty expectations?

This is not just the story of the two women whos tales are being told. It is the story of a clash of cultures, of hope, desperation, despair and love. On the face of it, Sarah and Little Bee’s live’s are about as different as you can imagine, but underneath the surface, they are not too dissimilar. 

In my experienced, over-hyped books tend to be disappointing. However, in The Other Hand, Chris Cleave has written the kind of story that is bound to make everyone that reads it stop and think about the absurdity and the cruelty of the world we live in. Both of the women here make sacrifices that will cost them dearly, but they do so without hesitation. 

I found it to be very moving, told in two distinctly different voices that Cleave maintains throughout. Whilst I wouldn’t say the book has changed my life or perspective, it was as enlightening as it was entertaining. 

The Other Hand is not an easy read, but it is worth the effort.

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Fire and Ice #4)

A Feast for Crowsby George R R Martin

I found A Feast for Crows to be a rather strange offering. The books 770 pages are as gripping and full of the imaginative storytelling we have all come to expect of this wonderful series. The whole of Westeros continues to be torn apart by the warring factions each aiming to gain the Iron Throne and rule over the seven kingdoms. 

Whilst there are no big battle scenes, there is plenty of the political intrigue that has become the hallmark of this series. But for me, this was the inevitable weak point of the tale. It doesn’t really feel like the various threads of the tale have moved a great deal. I suppose that with so much happening in the previous books, a moment of consolidation and consideration was required. 

Don’t get me wrong, this is in no way a bad book, it just doesn’t have the pace and impact of the previous books of the series. It also misses out completely three of the story’s central characters, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen. We will have to wait until book five to find out what has been happening at the Wall and across the sea. 

In A Song of Fire and Ice, George R R Martin has created a world that is alive with wonderful characters, great beauty and unimaginable cruelty – much like our own, but with the added bonus of dragons. A Feast For Crows has them all (except the dragons) in abundance. As the Stark girls continue their separate odysseys, each unaware that her sister has survived the hell that descending on Kings Landing, Cersie Lannister’s attempts to tighten her grip on the Iron Throne are under threat from an unexpected quarter. In fact, the whole of Westeros is going to pot and there seems to be little anyone can do about it. 

As part of the series that has gripped readers and TV viewers alike, this book provides another piece of the elaborate jigsaw that has been created by the wonderful storyteller, George R R Martin.

84 Charing Cross Road

by Helene Hanff

This particular edition also includes the sequel “The Duchess of Bloomsbury”, and together they make the most amusing, touching and simply wonderful read.

84 Charing Cross Road itself is a collection of letters between Helene Hanff and London bookshop Marks & Co. Most of Helene’s correspondence is with the firm’s buyer Frank Doe, but other members of the Charing Cross Road store also get involved over her twenty years as a customer. 

Helene, a Philadelphian trying to make a living as a writer in New York, had a taste for antiquarian books she was unable to find in New York. This led to her writing to Marks & Co in 1949 beginning a relationship that would prove beneficial in more ways than one. Not only was she able to satisfy her taste for out of print books, but also gave her the material for her best selling work. 

The letters between Helene and Frank are extremely touching. Helene’s dry wit and Frank’s relaxed and friendly style make the whole collection a sheer delight to read. I was immediately fascinated by the relationship and found it difficult to put the book down once I had started. I have read several books based on collections of letters (most of them fiction) but none as touching, funny and totally captivating as this. 

In “The Duchess of Bloomsbury”, Helene recounts her eventual visit to London in 1971, ironically to promote her collection of letters in which she often expressed her desire to visit the city. And like it’s predecessor, it has an honesty and warmth that are captivating make it extremely difficult to put down. 

In this volume, she finally gets to meet the family of the man she corresponded with for so long. She spends over five weeks meeting the most eclectic and eccentric collection of individuals, including the British actress Joyce Grenfell. 

Even more than the letters, this journal displays Helene’s natural charm and wit. Her observations on the city and it’s inhabitants are often laugh-out-loud funny but honest and very true. 

On their own, the two works are delightful, but together they paint a complete picture and open a window on the personality and life of the writer. An excellent book well worth the read.

The House of Sleep

by Jonathan Coe

Coe is a favourite of my wife’s, but I have never actually read any of his work myself before. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but the cover promised me something “hilarious and devastating”; what I got some was something mildly interesting and eventually amusing. 

That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book because I did. But not because of the plot, which I found contrived and lacking in focus. I found some of the characters to be extremely engaging and the twist in the tale unexpected but welcome. Describing this book as hilarious is really stretching it. In fact, it barely raised an amused smile until over halfway through when started to get into his stride.

The plot revolves around a group of students, each with their own issue around sleep and dreams. Misunderstandings and madness give the tale an interesting and unusual twist, but for me, the real meat of the story came too late to fully rescue the book. 

The House of Sleep is not one of the better books I have read recently. It was not a bad book, but it simply wasn’t as good as it could have been. In the hands of someone like Tom Sharpe, this story could have been a real gem. 


The Fate of Mercy Alban

by Wendy Webb

The Fate of Mercy AlbanEvery now and again there comes a book that takes me very much by surprise and this is definitely one of them. The Fate of Mercy Alban is written in the fine old tradition of Gothic Horror. There are dark secrets, unexplained happenings and more than a hint of the supernatural. Combine these elements with a smooth and easy writing style and clever plot twists and you have the makings of an exceptional book.

The story itself centres around the Alban family, [articuarly Grace Alban who has returned to the family home after twenty years and is almost immediately drawn into a mystery spanning back to the 1950s. Following the sudden death of her mother, Grace returns to the family home on the banks of Lake Superior to arrange the funeral and settle the estate. But what she discovers very quickly leads Grace to face not only events from her own past that have kept her away but also the darker secrets that surround events of the summer of 1956.

Alban Househas stod on the banks of Lake Superior for over 100 years and in that time there have been enough tragedy to have led to talk of the Alban Curse. Whilst Grace may not believe in such things, events at the house soon begin to make her wonder.

Uncovering a bundle of old letters sets Grace on a course that brings her face-to-face with a secret that has been kept by her family for over 50 years. but she is not the only one trying to uncover the truth about that fateful summer night.

There is an underlying sense of terror that runs throughout this book that makes it one of the most compelling books I have read for some time. The interplay between the characters and the truth is painstakingly revealed make it almost impossible to put the book down. Whilst it does not have the same pace as the likes of King or Herbert, there is no let up in the drive to find the answers. A really good read from an author I am very pleased to have been introduced to. 

Aimez-vouse Brahms…

Aimez-vouse Brahmsby Francoise Sagan

This is not a book I would normally have chosen to read; it came as part of  “coffee and book” package. I could have just passed it on but decided to give it a try instead. And I am glad I did.

Set in 1950s Paris the book follows a brief period in the life of Paule, a 34-year-old Parisian career woman. She is in a long-term relationship with Roger, but from the reader’s perspective, it is a very one-sided affair. While she waits for Roger to call, he lives the life of a single man. It is the kind of relationship that seems to be going nowhere and from which Paule seems to derive little comfort of affection. Surely Paule deserves much better than this?

She then meets Simon, the son of a business client who immediately besotted by Paule and embarks on a campaign to woo her away from Roger. At first, Paule is reluctant to be drawn into a relationship with Simon who is 14 years younger than her, but he is persistent and attraction of being with someone willing to devote time and energy on her is irresistible. The ensuring love triangle leaves Paule confused about what she really wants, The ending was a little surprising, but on reflection, inevitable. 

Although very short, Aimez-Vous Brahms is a captivating story. There is plenty of content in its 120 pages and the characters are engaging and believable. I enjoyed the book a lot more than I thought I would. The story itself is still relevant today as it was in the 1950s when it was first published and it could be set almost anywhere. I found it to be a great little book with good characters and plot. 


The Lie

The Lieby C L Taylor

Captivating and engaging with a plot that moves at just the right pace: slow enough to give the reader a chance to reflect and the events, but quick enough to keep the reader’s interest. Like a number of books I have read recently, The Lie relies on a dual narrative, weaving the story’s twin timelines with precision. Nothing from the present gives you too much insight into the events of five years previous. If anything, they are a teaser.

Jane Hughes has, on the face of it, a very settled and happy life. She loves her job and her new boyfriend, but there is a secret behind the mask she wears. Then an anonymous letter threatens to shatter her happiness and the life she has built for herself in rural Wales. Five years earlier she had set out on what was to be the trip of a lifetime with three of her closest friends, but it very soon turned into a nightmare that would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Jane’ past and present are all based on lies some bigger and more dangerous than others. There are certainly times when hiding the truth is a necessary evil, but some lies can only lead to disaster. For the four friends, the web of lies and deceptions that have held them together begin to bubble to the surface and threaten their very lives.

As the story weaves seamlessly between the parallel timelines, Jane proves to herself and those around her just how strong and resilient she can be. The character is well defined and provides a very believable vehicle for the plot.

I really enjoyed the story, the style and the characters. A great modern thriller. 


Last Night in Montreal

by Emily St John Mandel

last night in montrealIn One Night In Montreal, Mandel takes the reader on a rather disturbing but also very intriguing journey. It’s a road trip like no other, as for Lilia, the book’s central character, life on the road, drifting from motel to motel, is simply a way of life. But Lilia is not the only one whose life is changed by the events of that cold winters night. 

Although this is very much Lilia’s story, she is not the only focus of the narrative. In fact, the book follows two different timelines, only one of which features Lilia.

In the present, Lilia has done what she always does – she has moved on. But this time she has left behind someone who is determined to find her if only get an answer to his questions. In this thread of the story, Lilia is something of an intangible being, always just beyond reach, as we follow Eli and Michaela. Both have been profoundly affected by the strange friend and both are seeking answers they believe on Lilia can provide.

Alongside this, we have Lilia’s story, from her abduction by her father to her own wanderings across America. She also needs answers to the mysterious part of her past she cannot remember, but is she ready to hear it?

All the characters in the book are searching for answers to questions that continue to haunt them. Last Night In Montreal is a gripping and compelling tale, well written and with a narrative that never fails to deliver. I think we can all relate to one or another of the elements if this excellent book. Whether its the need to find resolution or simply answers to unresolved questions. 

An excellent read by a really good author. 


Before We Say Goodbye

by Gabriella Ambrosio

Before We Say GoodbyeOne day, two cultures, many lives.

Before We Say Goodbye is the story of a single day in Jerusalem in 2002. Although it primarily follows two different 18-year-old girls, one Palestinian the other Israeli, there is a very large cast of characters. If anything, there are so many characters making the interweaving plots difficult to follow. 

The direction of the plot becomes obvious quite early on. The two girls, Dima and Myriam each find themselves facing a day of change. Myrian is trying to come to terms with the loss of her closest friend to a Palestinian bomb. For her, this particular morning brings her some hope for the future. On the other hand, Dima’s mind is set on revenge for the treatment her friends and family have received at the hands of the Israelis. 

The two girls lives are separated by more than culture. Their life experiences give them very different prospects and outlooks. And although Dima and Myriam are the central characters in the short but poignant story, the others involved each plays their part in the story’s tragic journey.

It is not an easy read. Keeping track of the multitude of characters and events presents a challenge in itself, but add to that the intensity of the story itself and I would struggle to call it entertaining. But it is well worth the read.

Gabriela takes about as neutral a stance as possible, looking at both sides of the conflict. And in that, I thank she has achieved what she set out to do. Conflicts such as that between Israelis and Palestinians are never quite as straightforward as they seem.