Monday, 17 January 2011

Review: Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella and The Love Verb by Jane Green

I am reviewing these books together, as my local library has them filed together, under the heading 'Chick Lit'. There's been so much debate about the worth and value of this genre within the world of books, and so many people, myself included, see reading the books that fall into this category, as a guilty pleasure, rather than serious reading. I'll hold my hands up and admit that I've even been known to refer to them as 'girly rubbish books', and have an entire defensive argument ready to go along with the admission that I'm reading something that can be classed as 'chick lit'. One of my new years resolutions is to stop doing this. Some of my; absolutely favourite authors (Jane Green, Dorothy Koomson, Katie Fforde, Claudia Carroll, Jennifer Weiner, Candace Bushnell,etc, etc, etc) fall into this category, and I can therefore attest to the completely un-rubbishy nature of their work. It is however, girly, and therefore fair game for attack from the feminists, chauvanists, modernists, and pretty much anyone else who happens by.
Chick lit has been defined in lots of ways, but primarily as fiction written by women, for women, about issues which affect women; in the case of the two books I'm talking about here, these issues are, respectively, shopping, and cancer.

Mini Shopaholic, I would say, falls into the public conception of the genre as 'fluff fiction'. It is the latest in the 'Shopaholic' series, written by Sophie Kinsella, featuring shopaholic Becky Bloomwood. Kinsella, along with 'Bridget Jones' author Helen Fielding, and the ever popular (although not one of my favourites) Marian Keyes, was one of the first writers to popularise the chick lit genre, and the first book of the series, The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic, was turned into the film 'Confessions of a Shopaholic', in 2009. Briefly outlined, for those who haven't read the previous five shopaholic books, Becky is addicted to shopping, and in this most recent addition, her daughter is headed the same way. She spends frankly ridiculous amounts on things she will not ever need. Throughout the series, this has got her into vast numbers of problems. However, somehow it seems only to endear her more to the long-suffering Luke, who eventually married, in the third novel, and had a baby, in the fifth, with her. Baby, now two, is the 'Mini' (also called Minnie...) of the title. The story focuses on Becky's inability to control her child, resulting in getting banned from four Santa's grottoes, having to accept a delivery of sixteen coats that she does not want, and paying for the repair of a car stereo after aforementioned toddler has stuffed a honey sandwich into the CD player. However, as a sideline, Becky is also attempting to organise a super surprise birthday party for husband Luke (a big-shot businessman, at the time the British economy got all buggered up), and has to contend with the media, business meetings in Paris, and all kinds of hilarity in order to keep her secret.

If chick lit is about the issues faced by women, then Mini Shopaholic definately raises issues about motherhood and relationships. The humour which is so integral to the genre, is portrayed pretty much solely through the characters of Becky's parents, and their reactions (especially her mother's increasing hysteria) to the economic crisis.

I continue to read the Shopaholic books, because they are light hearted and generally fairly entertaining, as long as you're not expecting too much from them. I enjoyed this a lot less than I have the others. During this novel, I realised that the central character was selfish, compeltely spoiled, in denial, and, in the words of on eof the characters in the novel, 'insane'. This shouldn't have come as a revelation, as Kinsella has been very consistent with her characters throughout the series, and actually, Becky isn't half as bad in her latest outing as she has been on previous occassions. Having a child does seem to have impacted her in a positive way, despite her disciplinary skills being non-existent, and Kinsella has thrown in a fair few obstacles for her to overcome during the course of the novel; her addiction to shopping, organising a party, and the desire of Luke's estranged mother to have a relationship with her granddaughter, making up the crux of them.

Basically, the book was fine. It didn't challenge me, excite me, or even make me particularly happy, which is usually what I'm looking for when I visit the 'chick lit' section. However, it fulfilled the fourth criteria of the catergory, which is that it was fairly mindless. I did not need to concentrate on it at all. Overall, my opinion would be that the Shopaholic series has had its' day, and that Kinsella, (who, despite this review, is a talented, and usually fairly amusing writer) should turn her hand to something new.

Rating: ***

I always get excited about reading a Jane Green novel. I find that her writing is often very similar to that of Jodi Picoult, whose books I also enjoy a lot, although Green's are usually on the much lighter side, hence their classification as 'Chick lit'. My expectations when I pick up one of her novels, is that it will have characters who are interesting, and feel real, that it will completely absorb me, and make me feel something for the characters and storyline. The first Green novel I read was 'Bookends', unsurprisingly about books, and I fell in love with it, as it is about two women who start up an independent bookshop, with a cafea attached, and therefore combines two of my major passions of reading and food. 'The Love Verb' does the same, and got me all fired up by interspersing the story with recipes, every chapter, relating to the events of the chapter. I really love it when writers use other things to provoke the reactions of their readers, and I really find that recipes do it for me, as food tells you so much about people!

The main characters of the novel are Steffi Tollemache, a chef, and her sister, Callie. However, and this is one of the major things that I love about Jane Green's novels, the sisters are surrounded by a host of well thought - out and very three dimensional supporting characters, including Callie's husband, Reece, children Eliza and Jack, parents Honor and Walter, best friend Lila, her boyfriend, Ed, and Steffi's landlord, Mason.

Essentially, the story is about family, friendship, and how people come together to support one another during times of crisis. Callie is in remission from breast cancer, and about to celebrate four years since being given the all -clear, when tragedy strikes. Through a horrific time, Green portrays with real depth of emotion the feelings of all her characters, and far from the uplifting joy I felt on finishing 'Bookends', 'The Love Verb' had me curled up in my armchair, sobbing uncontrollably. I know, I'm a wuss, but the questions Green asks, and the depth of emotion she presents, are so real that I defy anyone to get through it without shedding a tear!

I thought that 'The Love Verb' was engrossing, very well written, and an emotional and accurate portrayal of what family means, and would (and probably will!) recommend it to anyone. In my opinion, Jane Green continues to improve with every book she publishes.

Rating: *****

I realise this has been a veeeeerrrry long post, but really limited access to the internet means I have to take advantage of posting as much as I can, whenever I can!!


  1. I read all of the Shopaholic books until Shopaholic and Baby. I enjoyed the early books in the series but felt it just got a bit too repetitive.

  2. Yep thats pretty much exactly how I felt about it!:-)