House of Joy by Sarah-Kate Lynch

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House of Joy by Sarah-Kate Lynch

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A pacy story with some unusual characters set in the Champagne region of France. There's a good plot and a lot of interesting information about the production of champagne which lifts it above the average. Recommended as a holiday read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: June 2007
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0385608848

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When Clementine Peine's father died she was relieved. At least she would now have the House of Peine and be in charge of the vineyards and winery which had been her father's domain for so long. Clementine loved the vines, certainly more than she had loved her father. What she hadn't expected was that her father's will would leave her just a quarter of the House of Peine. It was bad enough that another quarter was to go to her sister Mathilde, a Manhattan business woman and the cause of a lot of Clementine's unhappiness. She then discovered that her father had an illegitimate child, the waif-like Sophie who was entitled to another quarter. And what of the remaining share? Well, that's to go to the sisters' children.

As if all this isn't enough, The House of Peine, producer of legendary champagne beloved of royalty the world over is on its last legs and survival is not just unlikely - it would need a miracle.

As I started reading this book I was convinced that I would hate it. Well, who could warm to the dour and uncommunicative Clementine, with her faded and crinkly hair, loved only by a miniature horse the size of a dog but called Cochon, the French for pig? Then there's Mathilde, brittle and predatory with a love of fashion and the good things in life. She's about as far removed from Clementine as it's possible to be. Well, that's what Clementine would like. Mathilde stole the only man that Clementine ever loved. As if these two women were not sufficiently chalk-and-cheese, Sophie is as different again. She's kindly and loveable despite not having many of life's advantages come her way. This didn't look as though it was going to be at all subtle.

But, it was. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the women changed and began to accommodate each other, to work for the good of The House of Peine rather than themselves. They each had their own strengths and weaknesses. There's a splendid cast of supporting characters too, from the dying grape picker to the bank manager with inappropriate thoughts about his customer. The plot is fast-paced, fizzy and with plenty of highs and lows to keep the pages turning and the corks popping. There's a satisfying ending which I really hadn't expected, but left me with a smile on my face.

What really lifts this book above the average is the bubbles in the champagne. No, I'm not being metaphorical there. Sarah-Kate Lynch has done exhaustive research into the production of champagne, its history and taste. This is obviously a dirty job which not many would be willing to undertake, but Lynch has done it in style. I found myself rereading parts, not for the story, but for the details of how the vines are protected from the frost, the blending, the bottling and so forth. The research was tireless and I only wish she'd asked me to help.

If you're looking for an entertaining holiday read which is a bit out of the ordinary then this book might well be to your taste and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag. You might also enjoy Nicky Pellegrino's The Gypsy Tearoom, which provides the food to go with the champagne.

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Buy House of Joy by Sarah-Kate Lynch at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy House of Joy by Sarah-Kate Lynch at


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