Cover Image: The Best Kind of Beautiful

The Best Kind of Beautiful

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Member Reviews

I’ve been reading, and a fan of, Frances Whiting’s column in the Sunday Mail newspaper for years so I knew her book would be quirky and funny. What I wasn’t expecting was just how poignantly beautiful I’d find this, her second fictional novel. Actually, the best way I’d describe The Best Kind of Beautiful is just that.

Whiting’s descriptive passages enchanted me immediately. She beautifies the plot and characters with flowers and books and songs and costumes. I could picture all the character so clearly, before and after they peeled away their layers. (This is one of the major themes of the book–that most people have secrets and hidden depths beneath their public personae.)

Florence, our heroine, is part of a famous family of jazz musicians who turns her back on their act to become a horticulturist. Her unique upbringing has made her socially awkward and she has very few friends. One person she does consider a friend is her gardening workmate, the wonderfully named Albert Flowers. She would, in fact, like to be more than just friends with Albert but every time she attempts to take the next logical step in their relationship she says something abrupt and rude instead of witty or charming as she imagines in her head beforehand.

Albert, Florence believes, has no such issues when it comes to making friends and socialising. Each week she gets to hear about the various functions he’s attended, leaving her feeling even more isolated and alone. And the reader is left wondering if these two unusual characters will ever ‘meet in the middle’ and become romantically involved.

The characters’ behaviour in the present is shaped by their pasts and Whiting weaves the timelines together with a deft hand. Little by little we learn more and more about each character and the heartbreaking stories that make them act as they do. (Yes, I did shed a tear once or twice.) Gradually Florence too gets to see the full picture and she realises that her judgement of those nearest and dearest to her is not always warranted.

If you don’t like conventional romances and instead are looking for something more subtle within the pages of general fiction, I’d recommend this book. Oh, the romantic plotline is there but so is the story of acceptance, being true to yourself, and a couple of sweet familial love stories.

I will whine about the book’s ambiguous setting and Whiting’s use of fictional suburbs. In my mind I settled on Sydney as the setting, especially given the scope of the jazz/cabaret scene, but Whiting never really specifies this and she often includes descriptions that elicit a more tropical feeling. It was all very Australian, especially the language the characters used, but using a mishmash of fictional locations didn’t work as much as just defining a place would have for me.

It’s a minor gripe though as I really liked this book and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

4 ½ out of 5
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A delightfully engaging read about two people seemingly at cross purposes ... who together might just be the best kind of beautiful. If they can get their acts together, that is.

Themes of music, grief, relationships, gardens, love, laughter and family resonate through Frances Whiting's latest novel. She has a quiet and warm writing style that I really like, and that fits this story perfectly.

For me, Walking on Trampolines was a stand-out, but The Best Kind of Beautiful made me smile in the best bookish kind of way.
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‘The Best Kind of Beautiful’ is a novel about quirky people from quirky families. Mainly Florence Saint Claire, who is an ex child-performer, with a prickly personality, now working as a gardener, and Albert Flowers who works with her.  Each of them is hiding parts of themselves and the story is about finding themselves and, in turn, finding others. There are some secrets…I don’t want to say too much, though, because I enjoyed the way the plot surprised me. 

Whiting has written a sneaky book. Initially, I was iffy about several main protagonists and I wondered if I would end up liking Florence at all. It worsened when I met two of her friends and wished that the book was about one of them instead (Veronica, an American preacher's daughter. I wasn’t wholly invested in the characters until a third of the way through. To be clear, it wasn’t difficult to continue, it just hadn’t grabbed me fully. But grab me it did. I would absolutely have missed out had I stopped reading too soon because it turned into a story I didn’t want to put down.

Florence became a person who I could really get behind and Albert, who I initially liked, I ended up loving. They were made even better by the surprises they gave me. I also enjoyed the sweet relationship between the three Saint Claire children as they came to understand and accept themselves and their family. The novel deals with stories of loss in a beautiful, moving way. I’m not much of a crier — I don’t think I’ve ever cried from reading a book — yet at one point I felt a huge knot in my throat when I found out someone’s backstory. I was impressed.

I sensed shades of Celeste Ng’s ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ and Gail Honeyman’s ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ in ‘The Best Kind of Beautiful’ (and that’s good news because I adored both of those novels!) and despite the minor shaky start this was a delight to read. And yes, I will be looking out for more by Whiting. 

Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia and Netgalley for the copy in exchange for honest review.
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I adored this book, loved it from the first few pages.
Centred around a quirky family who make up a family music group, the Saint Claire Swingers. Their claim to fame was and still is the very popular song ‘Santa Was A Jazz Cat’

But really this is about Florence, the eldest of three children trying to find her place in the world. She hasn’t sung with her family for a number of years since a bout of stage fright.  She now works in the local library with the ‘Green Team’ educating groups regarding local flora and fauna. Florence has a good friendship with colleague Albert Flowers but his outside world seems so far away from hers....or is it? They just can’t  quite seem to meet in the middle.

This book was gentle and amusing but what I really loved was for all the individual family members quirks and faults, they understand and are there for each other.
If your looking for a book to transport you away, I can’t recommend it  highly enough. Now I’m off to find the author’s previous novel that I have missed.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy to read.
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Frances Whiting’s skill is in making her characters real. Despite their quirky natures, they are able to draw us into their lives, with such ease, that you feel that you are part of their immediate family. ‘The Best Kind of Beautiful’ centres around Florence, the eldest of three children, who is struggling to be her own person. In doing so, she seems to those around her as an isolated figure, a loner, and not quite fitting in. Albert Flowers, hides his own issues, yet finds a friendship with Florence, that is endearing. This is such a delightful story, with all the idiosyncrasies of family life. I doubt any reader will close this book, and not reflect afterwards about the characters and its resonance in their own lives.
I received an ARC from NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.
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