Review of Airs and Graces, a novel by Erica James
I am reviewing the paperback version of the novel, ISBN 97781407224435, 405 pages, published by Orion Books Ltd. Jacket price £6.99.
Ellen lives in a picturesque but damp, cramped cottage in the town of Crantsford. She has recently been through a messy divorce from her dentist husband, Roger. Roger ran away to Provence with his dental nurse. Ellen is now struggling for money, she has had to sell her marital home and the little cottage was all she could afford to buy with her divorce settlement. Luckily the cottage has a barn attached, which Ellen uses to run a dried flower arranging business, she is finding the business is slow to become viable and things are looking decidedly gloomy for her financially.
One afternoon, she meets her friend Hermione, an eccentric elderly lady, a former neighbour who has supported Ellen throughout her difficulties. As the two women head for the coffee shop, they spot an unusual sight, a young teen-aged girl begging on the streets of Crantsford. Ellen is a motherly type, her only child, Simon who is at university, is much the same age as the begging girl. Ellen gives the girl a pound coin and then on the spur of the moment, invites the girl to join them. It becomes clear that the girl is pregnant and very hungry, as she faints in the coffee shop.
Ellen and Hermione take it upon themselves to help and the girl, Jo-Jo, is taken to Ellen's cottage to rest. As the two women get to know Jo-Jo, it becomes apparent that all is not well with the girl's background and she remains living in Crantsford for a few weeks. When Ellen's son comes home for the holidays, he talks to Jo-Jo and she decides to return to her mother and step-father's home. She opts for continuing her education and placing her baby up for adoption. Jo-Jo has become very attached to both Ellen and Hermione and keeps in touch with the two women who helped her during her difficult patch.
Ellen has an admirer in local solicitor, Duncan. Duncan acted on her behalf during her divorce and now the professional relationship is at an end, he asks Ellen out.
Hermione advises that having married for love the first time round, Ellen must marry for money, should she decide to tie the knot again.
Duncan is a typical bachelor, middle aged, living at home with his mother. He drives a nice car, eats at the best restaurants and belongs to the 'right' clubs. Ellen is attracted to the security that a relationship with Duncan offers, but is aware that he is not exciting or passionate by nature. An added complication is thrown into the mix with Duncan's widowed mother, a veritable dragon of a woman, who has a strong desire to see Duncan with no one.
Things are progressing well until Hermione's godson, Matthew arrives for a visit. He and Ellen are attracted to one another and when Hermione realises that Matthew would be a far better partner for her friend than the dour Duncan, she tries to match make.
Ellen and Duncan become engaged and begin to plan their future, however Hermione, Matthew and Jo-Jo all seem to have problems and issues which require Ellen's attention, much to Duncan's chagrin. His mother also manages to pour doubts on the relationship and her spite knows no bounds as she endeavours to ruin Ellen's reputation.
The plot meanders through many twists and turns in the telling, the outcome is not as you first expect and more I will not divulge for fear of spoiling the novel for future readers!
~~About the Author~~
Erica James was born in 1960, she grew up in Hayling Island, Hampshire and now lives in Cheshire with her two sons. Erica James is the author of 13 best selling novels, a full bibliography can be found at http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/j/erica-james/
~~Availability and Cost~~
My copy was published by Orion Books Ltd and bears the jacket price of £6.99. I bought it in Asda during their pre Christmas sale for just £1, which I thought was a brilliant bargain!
The novel can be found on www.amazon.co.uk for £5.49 new or 46p used.
~~My Thoughts and Conclusion~~
Whilst I wouldn't describe myself as a fan of Erica James novels, I have read a few and they are lightweight, easy reading books. I was pleased to find this particular novel, Airs and Graces, at a good price and having bought it, put it to one side. As some review readers may know, I am recovering from illness (Swine 'flu) at the moment, so am catching up on my reading, hence the amount of book reviews!
Erica James has a talent for building up a plot with very well rounded characters and her descriptive writing is second to none. Her novels are amusing and fun, yet in my opinion, lack 'something'. The plots can be a little predictable, as can her characterisations, yet I find myself being drawn to her novels. For a novel which has an interesting plot, likeable and believable characters and enough going on to keep your attention, Erica James fits the bill!
I would recommend to others who enjoy a little escapism!
Thank you for reading.
©brittle1906 January 2010
N.B. My reviews may be found on other review sites.
Having been unceremoniously dumped by her cheating husband, Ellen is in the market for a replacement - and wealthy solicitor Duncan fits the bill nicely. This would be especially handy since her ex-husband's exit has left her in a rather precarious financial state. To add to Ellen's problems, she and her friend Hermione meet Jo-Jo, a pregnant homeless girl who has been kicked out by her stepfather and has nowhere to go. Kindhearted Ellen offers to let her stay the night, but will she become too attached to the girl? And what will Duncan and his snotty mother make of her involvement with Jo-Jo? Hermionie's godson, Matthew, arrives in the village to paint a mural for the well-off Buchanan family. He falls for Ellen, but will he be able to break her resolve to marry the steady Duncan?
I liked Ellen from the very first page and was quickly drawn into her world. Hermione is an interesting and at times, amusing character. I was quite fascinated by Jo-Jo as underneath the toughness and bravado was a troubled young girl who just wanted people to love her. I felt sorry for Duncan in the beginning as his mother Nadia was manipulative and spiteful - especially towards Ellen, who she clearly sees as grossly inferior - but my sympathy started to wane as the book progressed as a change in Ellen's characters hints that he may not be as nice as he originally seemed and this suspicion grew throughout. Hermoine's past is quite sad and I felt for her after it was revealed. She is an outwardly positive character who is privately hiding a good deal of heartbreak. At the same time, she was a humourous character and I had a good smile at some of her remarks. Jo-Jo was a bit similar in this respect as she had a few on-the-money comments that made me laugh too. Matthew was a character that I neither particularly liked nor disliked - I was a bit indifferent to him really but I was rooting for him to get together with Ellen.
The book is divided into three parts. The first section takes place in April, but the following section skips on to August and the third section takes place in September. In those few months since the first section ended, it's clear that things have moved on both in terms of plot and characterisation but what happened in the middle isn't necessarily made implicitly clear so we're left to make up our minds as the next section picks things up again.
If you've read any of the authors' previous books, you'll be aware that this isn't a chick lit book and the writing style is more sophisticated than that. This isn't to say that it's difficult to read - as it isn't - but it's a 'meatier' read than most of the books you'll regularly find me reading. It's written in the third person and focuses not just on Ellen, but also on Hermione, Jo-Jo, Duncan and Matthew. I liked this, as it built great characterisation and enabled me to connect more deeply with the various characters as the book progressed.
While I don't want to give too much away about how the plot pans out, I was quite surprised at events just before the very end. In hindsight, there were a few character hints but it still seemed out-of-character and was a pretty good twist.