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After a few months of starting books then putting them down in boredom, I have finally had a good run where I have finished every book I have picked up these last three weeks and, for the most part, enjoyed reading them! I have been looking forward to writing my next Book Bag post as they are always easier when I have actually had a good reading session!

The Travelling Tea Shop by Belinda Jones

A delectable tale of love, friendship and cake…

Laurie loves a challenge. Especially if it involves tea-time and travel. So when British baking treasure Pamela Lambert-Leigh needs a guide on a research trip for her new cookbook, she jumps at the chance.

Laurie and Pamela – along with Pamela’s sassy mother and stroppy daughter – will board a vintage London bus for a deliciously unusual tour of the USA’s East Coast, cruising from New York to Vermont.

Their mission:

To trade recipes for home-grown classics like Victoria Sponge and Battenburg for American favourites like Red Velvet Cake and Whoopie Pie.

All the women have their secrets and heartaches to heal. As well cupcakes galore, there’s also the chance for romance…

I wholeheartedly enjoyed this story, it is as sweet as the cover would suggests and describes in exquisite detail cakes I want to eat and places that I knew nothing about but would now love to visit.

I really liked that the book was more focussed on the complicated relationship between three generations of women than it was on romantic ones. Love and romance do make a feature but the drama of the story is centred on family and forgiveness. Quite weighty subjects for a book that looks as light as a fairy cake! The three women in the bickering family are each entertaining: Grandma is hilarious, Mother steals your sympathy and Granddaughter is infuriating.

Main story aside, there were lots of interesting trivia and titbits about the places they visited and the food they ate such as rumoured origins of the doughnut hole and the bohemian history of a quirky restaurant favoured by Harvard students.

This is the kind of frivolous information that I love so I for that alone the book kept me entertained. For me, this is chick lit at it’s best: interesting, moving, funny and most of all uplifting. I would recommend this to anyone who fancies something cheering to read.

Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss

The scene: a cottage on the coast on a windy evening. Inside, a room with curtains drawn. Tea has just been made. A kettle still steams.

Under a pool of yellow light, two figures face each other across a kitchen table. A man and a cat.

The story about to be related is so unusual yet so terrifyingly plausible that it demands to be told in a single sitting.

The man clears his throat, and leans forward, expectant.

Cat out of Hell was my themed reading for Halloween. I don’t want to say too much about the plot because the joy of this book is piecing together different narratives and unraveling the mystery of what is happening; but to simplify it is about a librarian discovering the story of a rather foolish actor who in turn has been drawn into the mysterious life of a talking and possibly murderous cat.

The story swaps from being a straight narrative to the actor’s poorly written screenplay to email exchanges between characters. I really enjoyed this change of pace and it made the book a quick and very funny read.

There is a lot of laughs to be had in this tale especially if you have a bit of a wry understated sense of humour. There were times when I laughed out loud and then re-read segments to Rob so he could share the joke.

I really enjoyed reading this, although some of exposition feels like it needed filling in a bit, but I will forgive it its faults because there simply are not enough stories out there of witty evil cats!

 The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

A high-school sex scandal jolts a group of teenage girls into a new awareness of their own potency and power. The sudden and total publicity seems to turn every act into a performance and every platform into a stage. But when the local drama school decides to turn the scandal into a show, the real world and the world of the theatre are forced to meet, and soon the boundaries between private and public begin to dissolve. “The Rehearsal” is an exhilarating and provocative novel about the unsimple mess of human desire, at once a tender evocation of its young protagonists and a shrewd expose of emotional compromise.

The premise here is what pulled me to this book, but out of my current batch this was the hardest one to read through. There isn’t so much of a plot, rather there is scene after scene where our characters/actors deliver soliloquies on various subjects such as: sex, relationships, power, authenticity, the power of gossip, manipulation…

At times it feels like a collection of essays rather than a story which after a few chapters gets a little bit boring. The characters talk a lot more than they do, and none of the characters are particularly pleasant or nice, all of them are either bitter, sad, angry, frustrated or mean.

Also as so many characters change their stories and the time frame jumps about so much that it is quite difficult to distinguish what is ‘real’ and what is part of the play, which I think is the main point of the novel; we are never certain of what is real, we are all acting….

The problem is at first I thought the book was being very clever with half of the story being scenes from the play devised by the drama school, acting out the scandal from the high school. They say explicitly that all the mothers in the high school scenes are ‘played’ by the same actress. I thought that was cool, but later on when we learn more about the play the students are putting on in the ‘real life’ chapters; the costumes and characters don’t match up at all to the ‘High School Chapters’ so I guess I completely read that wrong.

I think some deep thinkers out there will really enjoy this book but for me it left a sour taste in my mouth and when it was over I was ready to read something that was a bit more optimistic about human nature.

10 Things I’ve Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler

Alice has just returned to London from months of travelling abroad. She is late to hear the news that her father is dying, and arrives at the family home only just in time to say goodbye. Daniel hasn’t had a roof over his head for years, but to him the city of London feels like home in a way that no bricks and mortar ever did. He spends every day searching for his daughter; the daughter he has never met. Until now . . . Heart-wrenching and life-affirming, this is a unique story of love lost and found, of rootlessness and homecoming and the power of the ties that bind. It is a story for fathers and daughters everywhere.

This read started sadly and ended sweetly, if abruptly. Each chapter begins with either Alice or Daniel listing ten things like ‘ten places I have slept in London’, ‘ten things people say when your Father dies’. These lists are a pretty effective way of painting a picture of how Alice and Daniel are feeling and are interesting openings for the chapters that alternate between Alice and Daniel’s perspective.

There are plenty of moving moments here and you feel you sympathies flying off in a few different directions. One Polish homeless man really stands out as he frets about losing touch with his toddler daughter still in Poland and feels unable to return to them without achieving anything here.

This book tackles the feeling of loneliness and how you can be surrounded by a settled family and still feel as cut off as if you were on the other side of the world, and how that feeling can melt away when you find the connection you were always looking for.

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