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3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars
Gifted and Talented
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VINE VOICEon 9 December 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Wendy Holden's latest novel is set in a city that is an uncomfortable mixture of Oxford and Cambridge, and follows the stories of Isabel, a shy fresher, Olly, an unemployed graduate, Diana, newly divorced and working as a college head gardener, and Richard, the newly-appointed Master of Branston College. Holden seems to be attempting a mix of romcom and social satire, but this novel fell flat for me. Although it's readable and the characters are likeable, it wasn't witty or realistic enough to be truly engaging.

Having spent both my undergraduate and postgraduate years at Cambridge, I'm always keen to read a novel set in an ancient university, and there is certainly plenty to satirise about the Cambridge lifestyle. However, Holden's heavy-handed cliches miss the mark. The Oxbridge she depicts seems to be stuck in an alternate 1950s, where only rich posh boys or poor, deserving comprehensive students attend, and even then the two types of students are segregated into old and new colleges. This is of course rubbish. Although it would be wrong to say there are no issues with social class at Oxbridge, the fuss made about Isobel getting in from a comprehensive is inaccurate and misleading, and there's no reason why somebody from a state school wouldn't attend one of the ancient colleges, much as I enjoyed the depiction of Branston (which I envisaged as Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge). The stereotypes persist throughout the non-Oxbridge sections of the novel, with working-class characters patronisingly sketched as 'salt of the earth', 'heart of gold' types, while posh characters (except of course Diana) are entitled, screeching harpies. Other than Branston College, the city depicted bears little resemblance to actual locations in either Oxford or Cambridge, and the novel lacks a sense of place in consequence.

This hasn't encouraged me to read anything else by Holden, and those seeking a light, entertaining read should go elsewhere - I would recommend Harriet Evans, Miranda Dickinson or Tasmina Perry for better chick lit. As for a romcom set in a university, I'm struggling to find a good example - RSVP by Helen Warner is even worse than this - but Rosy Thornton's Hearts and Minds is at least more accurate, if no better-written.
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VINE VOICEon 4 January 2014
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Spoiler alert! Endings detailed ahead.

This is a nicely written yarn set in a New College of an ancient University. It revolves around 2 students -Isabel, a studious Scot who has left home for the first time and Amber an "It" girl, and a fomer student and would-be journalist, Olly who has designs on Isabel. We also meet the miserable college Master, Richard,who has moved from the States to try to escape the grief resulting from the untimely death of his wife and Diana a new divorcee previously a wealthy wife but now the college gardener and who lives on a sink estate where surprisingly the other inhabitants are kind individuals who are very concerned with the welfare of their community. Their stories are interwoven resulting eventually in happy endings all round including Amber being resuscitated from a near-death experience by Isabel, Diana and Richard finding love together and Olly finally managing to win Isabel round. Entertaining and satisfying.
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VINE VOICEon 21 November 2013
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It is an enjoyable enough read.

At the start Isabel travels from Scotland to an ancient university in England (the direction seems like Oxford but the description of the place is more like Cambridge). This is where my first annoyance happened, when Olly describes her as a "genius" for having got in from a Comprehensive. Sorry but a lot of people get into both Oxford and Cambridge from Comprehensives (and did so even back in the 1980s).
Next, I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be set in the present day or back in the 1980s. If the later I could almost forgive the lack of fund raising skills by the college, and a bit more of Isabel's naivety. If it is supposed to be present day - well I can't forgive either (my old college has been using students to phone alumni for years now). The finances do seem to hint at present student funding, but don't seemed to have been researched enough.
Next there is a supposed "it" girl, Amber. A kind of "Paris Hilton" goes to college. Okay except Porter's I knew wouldn't turn a "blind eye" to rule breaking even if you were the Crown Prince of Japan. I also wonder how she would have got the grades to get in etc. (Plus at Oxford she could have been sent down before matriculating for bringing "the gown into disrepute".)
Next there is Jasper de Borchy, whose older brother has a name that seems almost libellous to someone I know. He is arrogant, powerful and a member of a "Bullingdon Club" type society, but again its depiction is pretty defamatory.
Then there is the other romance, between my two favourite characters; Diana the college gardener and Richard the College head. However this annoyed me, as Wendy doesn't allow herself enough room to develop the characters realistically; its a bit too fairy tale ish. I also hated the stereotypical portrayal of working class life in Isabel's neighbours. Has the writer even spoke to working class people, or spent more than 10 minutes on a council estate?

A good beach read, but not one to bring home with you to re-read. Definitely not a good guide to student life!
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VINE VOICEon 15 January 2014
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Wendy Holden has never been a favourite author of mine, however I had heard good things about this book and was hoping that my mind would have been altered, however I am still unsure.
There were times of humour within the book however I found the story very predictable and found the book to be never ending.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 October 2013
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: I don't want this to sound harsh but I have to be honest. In the early days of Wendy Holden I was a huge fan, but then something happened and her books seemed to lack their usual zest. The last two releases she had made weren't like her older style books and I began to wonder whether Wendy's usual style books would ever return. Her latest release Gifted and Talented has been her first since 2011 and I didn't expect too much. Luckily for me, it seems that Wendy has made her comeback and produced a book far more like her older books which I loved. If I am to be totally truthful, they still aren't quite as good as they used to be but are definitely a vast improvement on the last two!

Isabel is a shy girl who is leaving home to head to university and is going to experience life standing on her own two feet for the first time. I was a little apprehensive as I didn't particularly warm to her. However, next we get introduced to Olly who has recently graduated and is trying to work out what comes next. He was an absolute treasure of a character and I instantly liked him.

Along with these two youngsters we meet infamous Amber who only wants to party and soon latches on to Isabel for all the wrong reasons. Shortly after Amber follows Jasper de Borchy, whose name says is all really! He is the glamorous leader of the Bullinger Club and a heartthrob to boot, which makes Isabel's life difficult to say the least. Diana and her young daughter Rosie are new in town. I instantly liked Diana and Rosie and really felt for them as they started their life over. Diana has fallen from grace and following her divorce has gone from a life of relative luxury to one where she is a single parent struggling to make ends meet. Richard is the new College Head and a man with many issues. He is a recent widower and is determined not to allow happiness of any sort into his life.

Collectively an interesting bunch of characters, and although Diana and Isabel seem to take the lead I was a lot more interested in Diana. Even though I was more drawn to her I loved the setting and the story flowed easily. I felt like Wendy Holden was truly back in the game and read the book over two days. Yes there was a certain predictability about it all, but I still loved the book and would definitely recommend it to people. I still think there is more to come from Wendy, you need only to look at her older books to see she has some serious talent. This book isn't quite back at that level but definitely shows her back on form and producing another easy and enjoyable read.
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I read "Gifted and Talented" under the impression that it was a story about Oxbridge students - as a Cambridge alumnus, I thought it might be a pleasant reminiscence of my student days.

However, it's not really about student life, and given that the author also attended Cambridge, it's disappointing that she presents such a stereotypical view of it; every character is a cliche, from the naive first-time-away-from-home heroine to the boorish upper-class male students. It reflects the view of Oxbridge given by the tabloid press - drunken hoorays behaving outrageously clashing with olde-worlde teaching and architecture. The majority of the book is actually about a divorcee who has come to work at the University and her burgeoning romance with the widowed college Master, not to mention her friendship with the salt-of-the-earth neighbours on the council estate where she lives and the unwelcome intrusion of a privileged gold-digging ex-neighbour. Yet more cliches, unfortunately.

This is one of those books where you know the ending before you start; it's quite clear who is going to end up with whom, so the only question is by what path they will get there. The blurb notes the author as writing comedy and romance, but there's nothing particularly amusing here - Tom Sharpe this is not - and if you're looking for Fifty Shades Of Grey on Campus, you'll be disappointed as well. It's middle-of-the-road fiction with a cast of caricatures and a plot that is as lightweight as it is predictable.

All that said, the writing style is actually pretty good - it's well-written and readable, and I was to some extent drawn in in spite of myself. If you're looking for something easy to read on the beach or on a long flight, you could do a lot worse.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 14 October 2013
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I really enjoyed this book.

It's a sort of feminine Tom Sharpe light (as opposed to dark, not a comment on its worth) with faint echoes of Porterhouse Blue, set in a university town full of beautiful and ancient colleges. The action, however, mostly takes place at Branston College, a 1960s concrete monstrosity. With the exception of Olly, a post-graduate who can't find a job to finance him while he writes his novel, the main characters are all newcomers in various states of angst and or despair: Isabel, a brilliant but poor scholar, ripe for exploitation by the rich and lazy; Diana, divorced, betrayed and impoverished by her fraudster husband, now living with her daughter on a rough council estate while she tries to make a living as the Branston College gardener; Richard, the new Master, a neurologist from America, still grieving for his dead wife. These characters are all very engaging and sensitively drawn. The minor characters are drawn with a broader more comic brush: hearts of gold Debs and Shanna-Mae, rich bitch Amber, evil Jasper, ghastly Sara and the rather sweet ineffectual academics, the Stringers.

The storylines weave around each other until they all pull together and tragedy is averted. (Given the cover, I don't think that is too much of a spoiler.)

A quick, amusing and pleasant read.
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'Gifted and Talented' by Wendy Holden is a romp through academia that I thoroughly enjoyed. Jasper de Borchy is the son of a newspaper magnate - handsome, charming, and utterly unscrupulous. He attends St Alwines and is the leader of the infamous Bullinger club - rich in drug-taking and depravity, along with his 'hooray henry' chums. Amber Piggott is an 'It girl'. She is beautiful, but lazy, intent on enjoying everything that life has to offer, regardless of who she has to step on to do so. Isabel is beautiful, clever,............and ordinary. She is studying at Branston College when Amber shows up, and finds herself totally taken over, and submerged in the chaos that surrounds both Amber and Jasper wherever they go. Olly is handsome, funny - and poor. He has recently graduated from St Alwines (wino's as it is affectionately known) and is in search of employment. Olly is a good guy, and Jasper................well, he isn't. Add into the mix Diana, a recently divorced mother of one child, who takes up the post of college gardener at Branston, and Richard, the new Master, who is abrupt, a loner, and is mourning the death of his much loved wife, and you have all the ingredients for a cracking comedy with some serious undertones! I like Wendy Holdens' work very much, and Gifted and Talented delighted me! I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and happily recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon 30 January 2014
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Nothing much happens in Gifted & Talented. You'd be forgiven for thinking that University life - particularly in Oxford (the university depicted in this book is a quasi-Oxbridge one) - is just a little boring. This story focuses more on its characters' thoughts and feelings than on big events, plot twists and drama. The narrative is a little unusual in that it flicks between several characters, sometimes in the middle of a chapter, all of whom are interlinked in some way. First, we have Isabel, a naive young girl from Scotland; second, Olly a graduate student looking to become a journalist; third, Diana (and her daughter) and Richard, the new master of Branston college.

Regardless of the fact that the book is "uneventful" in the traditional sense (the vast majority of the story takes place during the first semester), I really enjoyed reading it. Most of the characters are fun and well fleshed out, Diana being my personal favourite. The story is sweet and interesting, albeit not particularly compelling and occasionally ridiculous. The only "twist" in the tale is barely a twist at all but that really isn't what Gifted & Talented is about - it's just about a selection of individuals finding themselves and living their lives. If you like the characters (and not all of them are likeable) you'll like the book.
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on 23 September 2016
Set on a university campus - what at times felt like a 1950's campus - and telling the connected stories of several different individuals, students and staff alike. Overall an easy read, dare I say a novel perhaps best suited to a long flight or the pool side? As it was I had several issues with Gifted & Talented ..

1. A readable enough yarn, just not nearly as witty as it seemed to think it was but then what it humorous to one person isn't necessarily so to the next.

2. Some more interesting than others, by the time I'd waded through the chapters featuring characters I failed to engage with (which amounted to most of them) and got back to the chapters relating to characters such as Diana, her nine year old daughter, and her relatively amusing 'salt of the earth' neighbours, I'd sometimes lost the thread of their story.

3. Ah yes, those 'salt of the earth, social housing dwelling neighbours ... to say nothing of the obnoxious, spoilt, little rich girl. Urgh! Full of stereotypes and cliches, all of them horribly patronising.

Hmm! Originally a book I rated as 'it was OK', I'm beginning to think I was probably a little generous.

Copyright: Tracy Terry @ Pen and Paper
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