Joanne Harris

If you think you’re familiar with Joanne Harris, our author-of-the-month for July, you might want to think again.

While she’s best known for her multimillion-seller Chocolat, Harris’ books don’t tend to neatly fit within one genre. Perhaps uniquely among best-selling authors, her books dip into a multiplicity of topics such as food, romance, France, psychological thrillers, vampires, Norse mythology, fairy tales, author self-help – and Dr Who.

In a recent interview with the Hampshire Libraries’ podcast Love Your Library (available later this month), Harris explained: ‘Much as a I understand the convenience and the financial interest of being a brand who does the same thing predictably every year, I just couldn’t do that. What drives me is an element of discovery and of risk.’

It’s the above-mentioned Chocolat (made into an Oscar-nominated film featuring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp), which first gave her a taste of success. It’s now sold more than 33 million copies worldwide and in 2012 she became only the fifth British female novelist to join the book industry’s “Millionaires Club”: an exclusive list of authors who have seen at least one of their books pass the million sales barrier in the UK since the 1990s.

Joanne Harris (MBE) grew up with her English father and French mother in Barnsley, South Yorkshire and started her career as a teacher, pursuing writing as a hobby. Her first novel, The Evil Seed, is a dark gothic romance which had limited commercial success. She spent more than 12 years teaching French at Leeds Grammar School, the inspiration behind her St Oswald’s series of books, the latest of which, A Narrow Door, is to be published next month. This darkly comic novel continues the story of eccentric Latin Master Roy Straitley, and follows Gentlemen and Players, and Different Class.

She said: ‘In a sense I’ve been writing about teaching since the start. I tend to write about small communities and the pressures they undergo, and the changes new arrivals make – and how the volatile chemistry of the small community can be utterly disrupted by what seems to be a relatively trivial change.’

Harris writes intelligently with a dry humour, and while her work is sometimes described as captivating or enchanting, her novels can frequently be darkly funny. Settings play an important role in her books and she often writes in a first-person, dual-narrator structure with complex characters who may be psychologically damaged or morally ambivalent.

She’s already published two other books in 2021: The Strawberry Thief (the fourth in the Chocolat series, including Chocolat, The Lollipop Shoes and Peaches for Monsieur le Curé), a bittersweet story of motherhood and learning to be yourself; and Honeycomb, a novel built from stories in which every chapter tells a standalone tale, which sits within her folklore/fairytale collection (A Pocketful of Crows, Orfeia and The Blue Salt Road).

This achievement is all the more admirable since, alongside the normal difficulties of living through lockdowns and Coronavirus, Harris was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of last year. With typical generosity, she has decided to share her experience to ‘make it more mundane’ and talks about her diagnosis as ‘Mr C’, a fictional character who has outstayed his welcome: her Twitter updates include the hashtag #GoodbyeMrC.

Harris still lives in Yorkshire, she plays bass and flute in a band first formed with her husband when she was sixteen, and works in a shed in her garden.

If you like Joanne Harris, you might also like Tracy Chevalier, Louis De Bernieres, Helen Fielding, Sebastian Faulks, Kate Atkinson, Salley Vickers, William Boyd, Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver and Edward St Aubyn.

Written by Kate.

The Still Point by Amy Sackville

About the book

At the turn of the twentieth century, Arctic explorer Edward Mackley sets out to reach the North Pole and vanishes into the icy landscape without a trace. He leaves behind a young wife, Emily, who awaits his return for decades, her dreams and devotion gradually freezing into rigid widowhood. A hundred years later, on a sweltering mid-summer’s day, Edward’s great-grand-niece Julia moves through the old family house, attempting to impose some order on the clutter of inherited belongings and memories from that ill-fated expedition, and taking care to ignore the deepening cracks within her own marriage. But as afternoon turns into evening, Julia makes a discovery that splinters her long-held image of Edward and Emily’s romance, and her husband Simon faces a precipitous choice that will decide the future of their relationship. Sharply observed and deeply engaging, The Still Point is a powerful literary debut, and a moving meditation on the distances – geographical and emotional – that can exist between two people.

 

Reviewed by Everton

Well written. The descriptive passages of the ice and scenery were almost poetic. The use of present tense didn’t make it an easy read, nor the chops and changes from Julia’s thoughts to bits of Emily’s life but it was worth persevering. Half the group really enjoyed it. We all felt that it could have been a little shorter. There was a point where it became very repetitive but overall we were impressed by the language used and the obvious research,”

star rating ***

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The Conspiracy Club by Jonathan Kellerman

About the book

When psychologist Dr Jeremy Carrier’s romance with nurse Jocelyn Banks is cut short by her kidnapping and brutal murder, he is left emotionally devastated and being watched by police seeking a prime suspect in the unsolved killing. When more women turn up murdered in the same gruesome fashion, the only way for Jeremy to prove his innocence is to follow the trail of a cunning psychopath.

Spurring on Jeremy’s investigation is Dr Arthur Chess, an enigmatic pathologist who draws Jeremy into the confidence of a cryptic society. But when Arthur suddenly slips away, Jeremy is left to contend with an onslaught of anonymous clues – and the growing realization that a harrowing game of cat and mouse has been started.

Reviewed by Alton Library – Thursday Group

“After the last few books this was a slightly better thriller; however views were very mixed. Some read it and enjoyed it, others only continued with it as it was a group book. Some intriguing twists and revelations but a few members of the group found it unbelievable. Okay but not highly rated – wouldn’t have picked it up ourselves ”

star rating **

 

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The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

About the book

Charles Smithson, a respectable engaged man, meets Sarah Woodruff as she stands on the Cobb at Lyme Regis, staring out to sea. Charles falls in love, but Sarah is a disgraced woman, and their romance will defy all the stifling conventions of the Victorian age. Widely acclaimed since publication, this is the best-love of John Fowles’ novels.

Reviewed by Bridewell Beauties

“Mixed reviews – an unusual approach. Half the group were unable to read the book but this was because the size of the print was too small”

star rating ***

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The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison

About the book

31st August 1939: the world is on the brink of war. As Hitler prepares to invade Poland, thousands of children are evacuated from London to escape the impending Blitz. Torn from her mother, eight-year-old Anna Sands is relocated with other children to a large Yorkshire estate which has been opened up to evacuees by Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, an enigmatic childless couple. Soon Anna gets drawn into their unravelling relationship, seeing things that are not meant for her eyes and finding herself part-witness and part-accomplice to a love affair, with unforeseen consequences.

 

Reviewed by Bridgemary Bookworms

“One found it depressing and is looking forward to a cheerier tale. Another enjoyed it but thought that her obsession with her teacher took over her life which was a shame. Well written with lots of psychological insights made for complex characters”

star rating ***

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The Time of My Life by Cecelia Ahern

About the book

Are you taking your life for granted?

Lucy Silchester is. She’s busied herself with other stuff: friends’ lives, work issues, her deteriorating car, that kind of thing. But she’s stuck in a rut – and deluding everyone. Only Lucy knows the real truth.

Time for a wake-up call – a meeting with life. And life turns out to be a kindly, rather run-down man in an old suit, who is determined to bring about change – and won’t let Lucy off the hook.

Sometimes we all need to make time for our life…

Reviewed by Goodworth Clatford WI

“An unusual read – it was brought alive once we discussed the synopsis written by one of our group. Cleverly written – it took some time to read. Could do with a second read!”

star rating ***

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The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

book cover

About the book

‘Obsessed with sex!’ said Jassy, ‘there’s nobody so obsessed as you, Linda. Why if I so much as look at a picture you say I’m a pygmalionist.’
In the end we got more information out of a book called Ducks and Duck Breeding.
‘Ducks can only copulate,’ said Linda, after studying this for a while, ‘in running water. Good luck to them.’
Oh, the tedium of waiting to grow up! Longing for love, obsessed with weddings and sex, Linda and her sisters and cousin Fanny are on the lookout for the perfect lover. But finding Mr Right is much harder than any of the sisters had thought. Linda must suffer marriage first to a stuffy Tory MP and then to a handsome and humourless communist, before finding real love in war-torn Paris. . .
Nancy Mitford was the eldest of the infamous Mitford sisters, known for her membership in ‘The Bright Young Things’ clique of the 1920s and an intimate of Evelyn Waugh; she produced witty, satirical novels with a cast of characters taken directly from the aristocratic social scene of which she was a part

Reviewed by CC Readers:

Was great fun to read and enjoyed by the whole group. The description of characters in a domestic humorous stetting brought the story to life. In discussion the autobiographical and the fictional past became apparent. The war years were well noted and saw the family adapt to new situations. Ending rather abrupt.
Star rating: ****

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The Host by Stephenie Meyer

About the book

Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that takes over the minds of their human hosts while leaving their bodies intact, and most of humanity has succumbed. Wanderer, the invading ‘soul’ who has been given Melanie’s body, knew about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the too-vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn’t expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind. Melanie fills Wanderer’s thoughts with visions of the man Melanie loves – Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body’s desires, Wanderer yearns for a man she’s never met. As outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off to search for the man they both love.

Reviewed by CC Readers:

Several members were dubious about reading a book on a theme of “aliens”. However, everyone found it a real page-tuner. The writing was spare but powerful with authentic and atmospheric descriptions of the desert, the rocky cave dwellings and lives of the resisting human population. Although we had to suspend dis-belief, the underlying theme rang true and raised interesting questions about human nature and the mysteries of the universe. A highly imaginative work with engaging and complex characters and challenging situations.

Star rating: ***

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Love in a time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

About the book

In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs–yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.

Reviewed by Goodworth Clatford WI Reading Group:

Excellent. Well researched. Succinct use of language. Some thought too dense. Perceptive description of a long marriage and other relationship.

Star rating: *** to ****

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The Only Boy For Me by Gil McNeil

About the book

Single motherhood has never been so much fun.
Annie Baker’s got it made-an idyllic life in the country, a part-time job in town as a freelance film producer, and a boy who’s crazy about her. The only problem is, he’s six years old. Featuring Annie as its frazzled but tireless heroine, Gil McNeil’s endearing first novel turns chaos to poetry.
Annie doesn’t remember what it feels like to be pulled in any less than seven directions at once, but that’s the beauty of her life. It seems like everywhere she turns there’s a crisis in the making and a man who needs fussing over–whether it’s her son, Charlie, who will only eat sausages for breakfast; her high-maintenance director-boss Barney, who’s constantly being attacked by his own espresso maker; the crew on her ad shoots, whose work ethics are controlled exclusively by their stomachs; or her work nemesis, Lawrence, who’s simply out to get her fired. And then she meets Mack…
Funny, heartbreaking, truthful, and romantic, The Only Boy for Me is a stunning debut.

Reviewed by Cowdray Reading Group:

Brilliant laugh, a light-hearted easy read. Some found it slightly contrived, one person found it boring and didn’t rate it. Most thought it an enjoyable read between more challenging books with ephemeral content, a moment in the mind.

Star rating: ***+

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