My February/March Reads: Drag Queens, Murder, Magic and Vintage Italy

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THE MAGIC STRINGS OF FRANKIE PRESTO BY MITCH ALBOM

Mitch Albom, for me, is genuinely one of the greatest storytellers out there, his brilliant prose drawing you straight into the heart of those stories. He has soul, he makes you cry for a character, root for a character and Frankie Presto epitomises that.

This is a big, sprawling novel. It takes in the lifetime of Frankie, a kid with a unique musical talent. At 9 years old he is sent on a boat from Spain to America with only his old guitar and six precious strings. Frankie is fictional but Albom cleverly weaves him into the rock n roll landscape impacting on very real stars like Hank Williams, Elvis, Carol King and KISS along the way.

He becomes an adored pop star himself but his gift is also a burden as he realises that his music actually affects people’s futures. At the height of fame, he disappears and his legend grows. Decades later, though, he reappears to change one more life.

This is a classic in the making. Or should be. Relentlessly heart-breaking yet moving, every page holds a surprise twist or bombshell. It’s magical yet real. A thing of beauty. The kind of book that takes over your life whilst your reading it. As I finished the last page, I sat stunned with the book on my lap, still mesmerised. 9.5/10

THE ENCHANTED APRIL BY ELIZABETH VON ARNIM

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Desperate for a sunny escape from a cold, rainy February on the south coast, I engrossed myself in The Enchanted April over the half term break. First published in 1922, it was in part responsible for hoards of English tourists suddenly holidaying on the Italian Riviera and I can see why.

A notice is placed in The Times addressed to ‘Those Who Appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine.’ It alludes to a small Italian castle which is to be let for the month of April, an offer quickly snapped up by four very different women who flee unappreciative husbands, love-sick men and the effects of ageing, on the shores of the Med. Beauty, warmth, gardens and leisure cast a spell over them all and their lives are changed forever.

I found this the perfect novel to cheer up a blue Monday. My feelings perfectly summed up by Brenda Bowen’s introduction;

“If you are indeed nicely settled out of doors in a garden, or you’re near that open window, or even if you’re not, turn the page and take a journey up the hill to San Salvatore and into The Enchanted April. You won’t even mind the climb.” 8/10

DEATH ON THE NILE BY AGATHA CHRISTIE

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A tranquil cruise along the Nile shudders to a halt when a young, beautiful, stylish girl who had everything, is found shot in the head. As is usual, good fortune dictates that infamous Hercule Poirot is on board to investigate the gruesome murder. Christie describes this as one of her best foreign travel detective stories but I can’t agree. The culprit(s) seemed blindingly obvious from the minute the boat set sail which made Poirot’s round-the-houses investigative style maddening in its length and conclusion. Ok for a holiday read or for something less taxing. 4/10

OPEN THE CAGE, MURPHY BY PAUL O’GRADY

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The fourth instalment of O’Grady’s autobiography doesn’t disappoint. At the beginning, his brilliant comic creation, Lily Savage stands on the brink of stardom, by the end world domination is all but achieved. Early pages are short on laughs as he recalls the devastating loss of so many close friends to the AIDs virus yet even here his wit and humanity are ever present. The stories then come thick and fast – plane crashes, LA Riots, telling Madonna to have a “fucking good wash,” befriending dangerous birds in the Aussie outback and of course a starring role for beloved dog, Buster. Wise-cracking and star-studded throughout but always warm and humble, his story continues to be a genuine delight to read. 8/10

 

 

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