The Valley of the Vines by Mark Neilson

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The Valley of the Vines by Mark Neilson

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: Recently-separated Sophie Hargreaves finds herself in an impossible situation. She's solely responsible for bringing in her grape harvest in Italy and if she fails - she faces financial ruin.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 224 Date: May 2010
Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd
ISBN: {{{isbn}}}

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The reader discovers that Sophie, the central character is living in rural isolation. She's supposed to be living the dream. She's separated from her husband and her two daughters are at boarding school back in the UK. She's also now a one-woman organization. And she's failing practically and financially for many reasons. Apparently, according to Neilson, there's a very small window in which to carry out the vital work of harvesting the grapes for wine. We are also told at frequent intervals about the enigmatic Old Ones. They are The timeless custodians of the vines. I'm afraid I found their too-frequent references rather annoying.

Almost from the start I found that Neilson used far too many adverbs. For me, they spoil the flow of the story and are rather tiresome. I would even go so far as to say at times it bordered on the Mills and Boon school of writing. Having said all that, there are some nice lines, but few and far between.

I also felt that I was reading a practical 'how to' manual on grape harvesting. Too much technical information, especially at the start, for the average reader. Neilson may be in danger of losing them. This all gave the effect that Neilson is perhaps a bit of a wine buff. Nothing wrong with that but he wants to share all of this knowledge with the reader. Is the reader interested? Had I not been reviewing this book, I doubt I would have bothered to finish it. Life's just too short to dwell on less-than-mediocre writing. I'm afraid.

We are introduced to a handful of characters, most of whom I found as insubstantial and less than convincing. Apart from perhaps the spirited grandmother and the secretive German. The trio who turn up out of the blue to help Sophie appear very contrived. I found the plot rather weak also. The question I kept asking myself was 'why would three people (two of whom are rather doddery geriatrics) choose to work for a complete stranger in dreadful conditions, for no financial reward?' I found the answer, of sorts. Still unconvincing. Some of the language that some of the characters used was clumsy and twee.

I'll now dig around for some more positive comments. There were some natty descriptions including that of the academic. Someone in his family had described him as living ... in a world where dead people and ancient documents were more important than ... own family. But it's hardly original, is it? The dialogue between the husband and wife pensioners was sparky though. But there were simply far too many dull pages in between these little gems.

Neilson had an irritating habit of repeating himself to the reader. Not a good look. We don't like to be told as if we've five-year olds. We get it the first time. And in this book it's not as if there's a complex plot to negotiate. It's very straightforward.

I'm trying to find some more positives but it's proving difficult. The boorish ex-husband is given some nice lines but again, it's nothing that we haven't heard before. It's all too stereotypical. This is not a challenging or particularly engrossing novel but if you want to while away an afternoon, then this book would do the job. Average.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For more from Italy have a look at Last Train From Liguria by Christine Dwyer Hickey.

Buy The Valley of the Vines by Mark Neilson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Valley of the Vines by Mark Neilson at

Buy The Valley of the Vines by Mark Neilson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Valley of the Vines by Mark Neilson at


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