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Chick-lit for beginners: Pip by Freya North

Pip by Freya NorthShe always lands on her feet, but can she fall in love?

Phil: Spoiler – Yes she can.

Pip is the third in the trilogy that revolves around the McCabe sister. Previously, I dipped my toe in the chick-lit waters with Cat and Fen. At the end of Fen, I said I’d try to get hold of a copy of Pip then promptly forgot about it.

A chance find in a second-hand bookshop before a train journey delivered the chance to satisfy the completionist in me. An added bonus was that Pip is short for Phillipa (Phil – see) and her job is being a clown, and I love to juggle. It’s like we were meant to be together. In a literary sense of course.

The novel thing about this tale is that you know what is going to happen pretty much by the end of the first chapter. We’ve met both Pip and Zac. We like them a lot, or at least I did, and we know they will make a great couple. So far so good. 362 pages to go then.

This book is all about the journey. The course of true love never runs smoothly, or at least it doesn’t if you have a book to fill. Along the way Pip has a good and then bad time with a doctor. Zac seems to just have a girlfriend. Neither of them are able to talk to each other honestly. Both, for perfectly good reasons don’t see what the other is thinking.

Pip has an interesting job, part children’s entertainer, part clown doctor (Yes, they really do exist, I linked to them didn’t I?). There’s a lot of research gone on into this and it shows. The rounding of Pips character with this is very effective.

Zac is an accountant. This is less convincing. He works in London and earns loads of money. Fair enough. He is also described as “ripped” which I understand to mean the same as “buff”. Not out of the question except that at no point there is no mention of him going to the gym. The way the text is written, there doesn’t seem to be any time for him to be working out. Accountantcy isn’t a proffesion known for turning men into beefcakes. I’ve met accountants, it was only my complete incompetence that stopped me becoming one years ago. None were “ripped” or “buff”. “Pudgy” maybe. Perhaps “Skinny”, but not one of them had what could be described as an athletic physique. Freya is obviously confusing accountants with lumberjacks.

The biggest problem I had with the book was Freya herself.

There is a narrator who talks to both the reader and the characters. A lot. It’s not a good idea to sit on a train shouting at a book to “Shut up and let them get on with it!” People look at you like you are odd although at least you don’t have to put up with anyone sitting next to you.

Narrator interruption is a feature of both Cat and Fen as well. By this book in the series, I have a feeling she is so interested in the journey that she left out some of the plot that made Cat so enjoyable and replaced it with talking by someone who’s not supposed to be there.

The story takes place in the same time frame as Cat and Fen which is clever and well done. If they weren’t all planned together then it doesn’t show, the integration of the stories is seamless and taken as a set, the concept fascinating. In a way I wish I’d read them one after the other to enjoy the overlaps more.

Anyway, it’s chick-lit. It’s fluffy. It’s light, a bit raunchy in places (You don’t want to give a copy to your granny) and perfectly enjoyable to read.

Just try not to shout at it.

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Chick-lit for beginners: Fen by Freya North

FenPhil: Back in July last year, I lost my chick-lit virginity to Cat by Freya North. A gentle introduction to the genre and one I surprised myself by enjoying.

Cat is one third of a trilogy based on the three McCabe sisters, the other being Pip and Fen. Guess which one is the subject of this book?

The idea is that this book and Cat’s take place at around the same time and events in one appear in the other. So, when Fen and Pip head of to France to visit their sister, you could say, “Oh, I know what happens when they get there.” even though it’s not in these pages. I found the idea novel, so spotting a tatty copy on sale in a charity bookshop while I was buying something else, I spent an extra 50p out of curiosity.

Anyway, the plot. Fen McCabe is the middle sister and something in the art world. She bags a new job sorting out the archive for an organisation that tries to stop important works heading out of the UK. This bit is based on the authors own experience as an archivist at the National Arts Collection Fund. She (Fen) is obsessed with the (fictitious) artist Julius Featherstone, a dead painter and sculptor, producer of the sort of mucky statues and canvases that rich people used to “admire” while chastising the lower orders for their lack of morals.

The new job brings her into contact with magazine editor Matt Holden and also the owner of a couple of Featherstone pieces, broke gardner James Caulfield.

To reduce the story to its basics, Matt lives in London, where Fen now resides. James lives in Derbyshire, where Fen was brought up. She falls into both love and bed with both of them. Much of the story revolves around here trying to sort out her feelings for both. There’s a lot of fourth wall breaking and quite a bit of narration talking to Fen, unusual but as a style it works well. A monologue of her thoughts would be really difficult to pull off whereas this comes over as though you were sat on a sofa with a glass of white, trying to sort out a friends love life.

I suspect this is pretty classic chick-lit. Whereas Cat had a strong background story in the Tour de France, Fen has to generate its own momentum and without a deadline to fixate on, it doesn’t manage to do this as well. There are no real surprises at the end apart from a hasty appearance of some photos and a sort of joined up family tree affair that lost me. I think the idea is that both lovers and Julius are in some way related but I can’t be bothered to go back and work it out. We had the same issue with The Book but recognised the problem and dropped a few clues into previously written passages. Here it looks like a bit of an afterthought.

There’s also the little issue of the sisters ages. Fen is the middle sister but apparently the same age (28) as her younger sibling, Cat. Not that it matters. Matt is a couple of  years older, James 20 years so you can guess what happens in the end. Interestingly, reading her website, Freya was surprised who the character ended up with, something that amazed me as I couldn’t see the story playing out any other way. Incidentaly, she also tells us what happened to the characters after the books ended, a fascinating idea. Apparently this was the first book where North’s editor told her to tone down the sex, which might explain why it’s less raunchy than Cat but not to the detriment of the story.

Enjoyable? Yes, in a light and fluffy sort of way. I’ll keep an eye out for Pip so I can read the set.

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Rumours by Freya North

Rumours by Freya NorthCandice: After a spell of not reading anything other than the Sunday Times Style magazine, I found an interesting book in the charity book shop in Stratford.

Phil and I had both liked a book called Cat by Freya North, you’ll remember.  So when I saw another by her I thought, I’ll give this a go.

If you remember Cat was a strong female character and her book was as much about the Tour de France, as it was about her finding a man.  Well, Rumours is on similar lines but without the bikes.

The premise of the story is a woman, Stella, who has had a bad break up and is now working in a job she doesn’t want to do to pay for her and her son.  Her job is as an Estate Agent and she gets the biggest sale possible, the local country seat Longbridge Hall.  In the mean time, the Lady of the Hall is trying to assist the help’s son (Xander), as he has also had a bad break up… can you see where this is going?

Well I won’t give the whole game away but with abit of tooing and frooing Stella and Xander end up happily ever after, but certainly without any serious farce type ‘will they won’t they’ stuff.  Thinking about how Cat is written, I can tell the way that Freya’s life must have changed in the last x number of years.  Cat’s character was young, free and single, Stella is nearly 40 and has a child.  I know we all write from our own experience but I expect this is what has been going on for the author.

Like Cat, and Freya’s own description on her website of her writing style, the female character is strong and independent but able to let someone in.  I have to admit if I had read this before meeting my Husband I would have poopooed it a bit but now I am all married up, I can see both sides.

I wouldn’t say this book is as good as Cat, the premise of the tour kept me more hooked than the idea of selling a house, and there are some situations where characters seem to appear and then disappear for no real reason, the Lady’s daughter for one.  But I enjoyed bouncing along with it for a few hours.

Ironically, I have since discovered it is her most recent book, came out in June, so thanks to the bookshop for being so up to date!

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Chick-lit for beginners: Cat by Freya North

Phil: CatMy gentle introduction to chick-lit was “Cat” by Freya North. Of the two books I’d been supplied with, it was bound in the cover least likely to attract adverse attention during the train journey I planned to read it.

Catriona McCabe (28) is a sports journalist who gets a gig covering the Tour de France for the Guardian. The race forms the background and provides the structure for everything. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a book about cycling though. Despite the (apparently) well researched detail and extensive coverage of the imaginary version for the worlds most famous two-wheeled race, this is a story about one woman trying to get over the failure of a long relationship by escaping into another world, that of the salle de presse that follow the riders around.

Along the way she meets (and shags in surprisingly graphic detail) hunky Dr Ben,  teams up with fellow British journalists Josh and Alex and befriends Rachael, the soigneur for one of the teams. Somewhere in the mix are her sisters Fen (who has her own book from the same author) and Pip as well as uncle Django. There are also too many muscley cycle racers to mention, most with names that my brain refused to remember properly (I had the same problem with War and Peace) but this didn’t seem to affect my enjoyment of the plot.

The first question has to be, did I enjoy it ? Yes I did. The story bounces along at a decent pace. The idea of using each stage of the race as a segment worked very well. Because of the time pressure – the race is three weeks long – a conclusion was always on the horizon. By the final page, all the loose ends had been tied and you could close the cover with a warm glow of satisfaction.

I liked the idea that our protagonist wasn’t just moping about looking for a man, something I was dreading, but actually knew her stuff. It’s woman in a man’s world time but she is written as a true enthusiast armed with a grasp of facts and figures that would probably be more appropriate for one of the statistic-obssessed blokes that sporting endeavors seem to attract. The journalists are often described as being the luckiest fans in the world being paid to write about the sport they would happily pay to watch. The athletes aren’t treated as objects of desire but in a pleasantly objective way. Cat appreciates them as athletes rather than fancying any of them. She wants her favourites to succeed but in a well written manner that will resonate with real-life fans.

One oddity is that you never get the chance to build a mental picture of Cat. The book cover is adorned with a photo of a pretty lady who, in my mind, fits the bill perfectly. I guess that’s the idea but I wonder how that works with the companion volume Fen, the reader might have the wrong image in their head !

While much of the writing is conventional, there is an awful lot of internal dialogue in Cat’s head. I guess this is pure chick-lit. Women want to read about emotions and feelings as much as a straight description of whatever (especially the sex) is going on. Those feelings are in fact the main thrust of the story with the Tour simply taking its place as the stage upon which emotional tale is played out. At some points, the dialogue read almost as though the reader was a character asking Cat how she was feeling. I think this worked for me but it took a little getting used to.

What have I learned ?

Well, comparing Cat and Kate and the dirtboffins I am relieved that it is possible to handle lots of characters without the reader’s mind exploding. We’ve wondered about this in the pub a few times. The two stories adopt a very similar approach with the protagonists internal dilemmas being played out against a background of external events she is involved in. Perhaps we need more of a view into our characters heads and now I have of the female psyche (I’m a bloke and I’ve now read one instruction manual – is there more to learn ?), this is going to be a doddle.

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