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BOOK REVIEW: The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks

Monday, April 30, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks' isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. Their way of life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand, and has been for hundreds of years. A Viking would understand the work they do: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter when the sheep must be kept alive, and the light-headedness that comes with spring, as the lambs are born and the sheep get ready to return to the fells.

My Thoughts:

James Rebanks’s family have been shepherds in the Lake District for many generations. Growing up on the land, learning his craft at his grandfather’s knee, James has never wanted any other life. His long-ago ancestors would recognise the pattern of his days and seasons, even if they would not understand his Land-Rover or his Twitter feed, for the work of the shepherds on the fells and lake valleys has not changed in centuries. Lambs are born, crows circle, the hay must be harvested, the long snows endured.

A memoir of place as much as of a life, James Rebanks writes with great simplicity and warmth. He is a reader and lover of words as well as a shepherd, and that familiarity with the English language gives his prose a wonderful lilt and rhythm.

Like many people I have always been enchanted by the Lake District because of the great poets and writers that were inspired there – William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, Beatrix Potter and Arthur Ransome. I made a pilgrimage there a few years ago, and wandered the green hills and tramped through the trees, imagining daffodils dancing and bunny rabbits frisking. I wish I had read this book before I went, as I now have a much deeper and more profound understanding of the landscape – its history, its way of life, and the people who life and work there.

You might also be interested to read my review of A Gift From Brittany: A Memoir of Love and Loss in the French Countryside by Marjorie Price, which I loved.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Friday, April 27, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

My Thoughts:

I’ve had an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of this book on my shelf for literally years, but had never found the time to read it (although I wanted to). Then the movie came out and I always like to read the book before I watch someone else’s creative response to it. So the book jumped the queue and I finally got around to reading it.

It’s a simple enough story.

August Pullman was born with a genetic disorder that resulted in a childhood of hospitals and operations. Despite this, he has been left with facial deformities that make many people who see him for the first time uncomfortable. He’s been home-schooled, but his mother thinks it is time for him to go to a mainstream school. Auggie is reluctant. He is afraid of the other kids’ horror and unkindness. But finally he agrees, even though he knows it will be an ordeal.

The first part of the book is told from his point-of-view, with succeeding sections told by his older sister, her boyfriend, and some of the other kids at school. This device allows us to see how Auggie’s struggle to be accepted impacts on those around him. R.J. Palacio does a good job of creating different voices for her characters, though it is Auggie’s point-of-view which is most memorable. Auggie is funny, brave, and caring. He just wants to be an ordinary kid, and yet those around him can’t help but treat him differently.

R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness”, and this is the book’s great strength. Wonder has been criticised for being over-sentimental and over-simplified, but you know what? I had a big lump in my throat when I finished it. It’s true that this is a big, difficult and complex topic, and that – for people who suffer differences and disabilities - there is rarely any such happy ending. However, this is a book written for children, with a very important message about learning to live with empathy, compassion and thoughtfulness, and I believe that many child readers will find themselves fundamentally changed by reading it.

You might also be interested in reading my review of The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear what you think.

INTERVIEW: Frances Hardinge

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


Today I welcome Frances Hardinge, author of A Skinful of Shadows, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Yes, I've always been a daydreamer. When I was very young and extremely shy, I always had secret stories alive in my head, which I told to myself over time.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I certainly can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer. As a child I always had a shortlist of things I wanted to be, and this would change a bit over time, but "writer" was always on the list, as were "artist" and "international spy".

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Brighton, on the 13th floor of the hospital. I now live in a rather green part West London, near to the Thames path and lots of parks. My hobbies include scuba diving, hiking, role-playing games and traveling.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?

It wasn't exactly a flash. A number of partial ideas had been floating around in the back of my head for some time, and started to make more sense once they finally came together. I think the first of these to come to me was the idea of the ghost bear. I'd heard about the historical mistreatment of dancing bears, and it had made me angry, so I liked the idea of one of these bears coming back in ghost form to wreak revenge, unshackled at last.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
This varies from book to book, but I'm definitely a planner. I create brainstorming documents, outlines, maps, character lists and sometimes chronological spreadsheets. I also do a lot of research, even if I'm using a fantastical setting. I like to know the main things that happen in the book, and how the story is going to end, before I start writing in good earnest.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Yes, occasionally! A childhood nightmare of mine was the indirect inspiration for a dream sequence in The Lie Tree. Another nightmare gave me ideas for a short story.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Historical research always unearths lots of fascinating details. I learnt a lot about seventeenth century spycraft, including how to make invisible ink from artichoke juice, and a way to hide a message inside an apparently unbroken egg. I also learnt about fascinating superstitions still lingering at that time, such as the belief that bear cubs were born as shapeless blobs that had to be licked into shape by their mothers. Some remedies were a bit bizarre too - 'snail water' was a treatment for gout, and newly killed pigeons were sometimes laid on a patient's feet if they were in imminent danger of death!

Where do you write, and when?
I usually write in my little study, which doubles as a storeroom and is very cluttered. Most days I try to work nine to five, but often this schedule breaks down. When I have a deadline looming, it's not unusual for me to work until 2, 3, 4 or even 5 in the morning.

What is your favourite part of writing?
Coming up with the initial ideas, in the first flush of excitement and enthusiasm, is fun. Also, there are times when the writing just flows. Of course, you never know when these times are going to be.

What do you do when you get blocked?
I create more brainstorming documents to help myself think things through. Sometimes I take a break and go for a really long walk, which also seems to help me untangle things.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I'm curious about everything, I always want to try new things, I love talking to people who know things I don't, and I'm a great fan of travel.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
Not unless you count making industrial quantities of tea.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
I would have trouble whittling my list of favourites down to fifty, so this list of ten is a bit arbitrary: Lewis Carroll, Susan Cooper, Douglas Adams, Richard Adams, EM Forster, Terry Pratchett, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins, Tennyson, Charlotte Bronte.

What do you consider to be good writing?

I think that there are hundreds of different kinds of good writing. Elaborate, lyrical writing takes skill, but so does clear, concise use of language. Multi-faceted novels and ingeniously brief picture books require different kinds of craftsmanship. Books that succeed in being funny, entertaining, scary or suspenseful are examples of good writing, even if they're not the sort of book that gets shortlisted for literary prizes.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Here are the tips I usually give young aspiring writers.

What are you working on now?
I'm writing another rather weird YA novel, this time set in an alternative world. I'd rather not say too much at this stage, but some of the action will take place underwater...

BOOK REVIEW: A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

This is the story of a bear-hearted girl . . .

Sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide.
Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding.

Twelve-year-old Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts which try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard.

And now there's a spirit inside her.

The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father's rich and powerful ancestors. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.

But as she plans her escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.

My Thoughts:

Frances Hardinge is now officially my favourite writer for young adults. Her novel The Lie Tree was one of my best reads of 2016, and now she has enchanted me anew with A Skinful of Shadows which is just as dark, magical, intelligent and surprising.

Set during the English Civil War, one of my favourite historical periods, A Skinful of Shadows tells the story of Makepeace, a twelve-year old girl growing up in a Puritan community. Her mother locks her in a crypt on moonless nights, so that she can learn to fight ghosts. Makepeace begs her not to, but her mother is relentless. So Makepeace tries to break free. Her impetuous action leads to tragedy, and Makepeace finds herself a prisoner of the very people her mother had been trying to protect her from.

And Makepeace carries a dark and terrible secret inside her. She is possessed by the ghost of a bear.

A spellbinding and compelling tale of necromancers and cavaliers, hungry spirits and treasonous spies, A Skinful of Shadows thrums with magic, danger and intrigue. Makepeace is a wonderful heroine – clever, resourceful, compassionate and brave. And Bear, the wild fierce and unpredictable force within her, will just about break your heart. I am now eagerly hunting down Frances Hardinge’s other books!

I was lucky enough to interview Frances Hardinge, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: Saga Land by Richard Fidler & Kári Gíslason

Monday, April 23, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

A gripping blend of family mystery, contemporary stories and the beautiful and bloody Viking tales, set against the starkly stunning landscape of Iceland. Broadcaster Richard Fidler and author Kari Gíslason are good friends. They share a deep attachment to the sagas of Iceland - the true stories of the first Viking families who settled on that remote island in the Middle Ages.These are tales of blood feuds, of dangerous women, and people who are compelled to kill the ones they love the most. The sagas are among the greatest stories ever written, but the identity of their authors is largely unknown. Together, Richard and Kari travel across Iceland, to the places where the sagas unfolded a thousand years ago. They cross fields, streams and fjords to immerse themselves in the folklore of this fiercely beautiful island. And there is another mission: to resolve a longstanding family mystery: a gift from Kari's Icelandic father that might connect him to the greatest of the saga authors.

My Thoughts:

I loved Richard Fidler’s earlier book, Ghost Empire, about his journey to Constantinople with his son, which entwined travel writing with history and legend in a very personable and beguiling way. And I’ve been interested in Iceland and its astonishing sagas for quite some time. So, I was keen to read Saga Land from the second I heard about it.

Subtitled ‘The Island Of Stories at the Edge of the World’, Saga Land is the story of how ABC broadcaster Richard Fidler became friends with one of his guests, the author and academic Kári Gíslason. After his interview on Richard’s show ‘Conversations’, the two stood chatting by the lift for more than an hour. They shared a deep interest in the sagas of Iceland – ‘true tales … of blood feuds … dangerous women, and people who are compelled to kill the ones they love the most,’ as the blurb describes these ancient and eerie stories.

Eventually Richard and Kári travelled together to Iceland, to explore the landscape and history and folklore of this bare fierce country. Kári was born in Iceland, but did not know his father or his father’s other family until he was an adult. So, for him, the journey is a homecoming and a chance to explore his ancestral roots. For Richard, it’s an adventure and a discovery.

Like Ghost Empire, the book weaves together memoir, travelogue, history and mythology, which is one of my favourite types of books to read. The memoir and travelogue sections of the book feel real and warm and intimate. The recountings of the ancient sagas are fresh and clear and simple, bringing them back to powerful and immediate life. And the history of Iceland is bloody and fascinating. I also really loved the photographs included in the book.

Usually I read non-fiction in small bites, squeezed in between my reading of novels. I read Saga Land in one big gulp. It was utterly mesmerising.

You can read my review of Ghost Empire here.
And you can listen to Richard Fidler's most recent intereview with me here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

INTERVIEW: Louise Allan, author of THE SISTERS' SONG

Friday, April 20, 2018


Today I welcome Louise Allan, author of The Sisters' Song, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
My mind is never on what I’m doing but always gallivanting about in the clouds. If I’m washing up or doing the laundry, it’s usually preoccupied by what I’ve been writing, wondering what type of person that character really is, or what I’m really trying to say in a scene.

For me to write well, I have to immerse myself in my story, so even when I’m cooking dinner or walking dogs, I’m still in the world of my story. My family usually call me a couple of times before I hear them!

I’ve always been like it and I used to think there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t stop my mind wandering. But it’s come in useful for novel writing! It does make me hard to live with, because people must tell me things at least three times before they register!

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

No, I didn’t start writing until I was 43 years old. I enjoyed writing stories in primary school, but when I reached high school and our creative writing was assessed, I believed I wasn’t good at it because my marks in English were average. In fact, I didn’t think I was artistic or creative at all, so I pursued a scientific pathway and went into medicine and became a doctor.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realised books took many drafts and much editing. Before that, as ridiculous as it sounds, I viewed authors as magical people, for whom writing beautiful prose and books came naturally. Because I found it hard to express my thoughts in words, and anything I wrote needed countless revisions before I got it right, I didn’t view myself as someone who could write. Those marks in English really coloured my vision of myself.

My children showed me what might be possible when they started writing books and winning young writers awards. In 2010, I quit medicine, because life as a working mother of four was too hectic and, knowing I’d need something to keep my mind active, I enrolled in a writing course. I had no idea if I’d like it or not, but by the second assignment I was hooked and knew I wanted to write a novel.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?

I was born in Launceston, Tasmania, and grew up there. When I was 18, I moved to Hobart to study medicine at the University of Tasmania. I worked as a GP for a number of years before moving into the field of breast cancer. In 2000, my family and I moved across the country to Perth, Western Australia, which is where we still live.

I love anything to do with nature—bushwalking, camping, swimming in the ocean. I also have an interest in photography, and that’s one of the ways I renew the creativity well when I’m feeling depleted. Of course, I also love to read!

Fishing at St Patrick’s River, Tasmania, with my sister.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
The beginnings of my novel came from a short story I wrote in 2010. That piece was set in the ‘60s, and was about a good girl who’d been abused by her mother. 

Throughout 2010 and 2011, I worked on the story from time to time, taking it forwards in time and trying a couple of different characters’ points of view. The story didn’t seem to be going anywhere, though, until the day one of the characters knocked on her Great Aunt Ida’s door. Ida invited that character in for morning tea, and began telling the family’s story. She went back in time, from the ‘60s to the ‘50s, then the ‘40’s, and the ‘30s, and I was worried she’d never stop. But she did stop, in 1926, and I knew straight away that I’d found my narrator and this was the story I wanted to tell.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
Not at all! I have no idea where my story is going when I start. I truly fly by the seat of my pants, and would win the ‘Biggest Pantser’ award. To give you an idea of how much of a pantser I am, I added 12,000 new words during the final edits of my novel.

I have a belief that our subconscious is better at determining the course of a story than our conscious ‘planning’ brain. Having said that, I recently sent my publishers a synopsis of my second novel before I’d written it. It took a lot of self-discipline to write and was completely against my natural tendencies. The only way I managed it was by telling myself that I could still write anything I wanted later!

So far, though, I’ve kept to plan and haven’t changed much. But who knows what will happen in the future?

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

I’ve written a couple of my dreams down if I’ve remembered them the next morning, but I haven’t used one as a source for a story … yet.

Sometimes as I’m writing, I get a feeling of déjà vu, like I’ve been in the story before, although I have no memory of it, and I wonder if it was in a dream.

I think that our dreams and our imagination come from the same place, which is why I believe that anyone who has dreams can also imagine a story. We have creativity as children, but as we grow up, we’re taught to ignore that side of ourselves, ridiculed for it even—I certainly was. So, we protect it by hiding it away because it’s so personal and fragile, and tell ourselves we’re not creative. What rubbish! We’re all creative, some of us have just learnt to shield it for our own protection.

We can get in touch with it again. It’s scary at first, but it’s an important part of ourselves and we should be proud of it.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

All. The. Time! The main theme of my novel—that women aren’t allowed to have dreams—was one of them. I set out to write about child abuse, but as I kept digging between the layers, I found what I was really trying to say.

They say all art is autobiography, and I’m a firm believer in that. It’s not necessarily in the storyline or in the characters, but in other ways, like the themes that arise as you write. I learnt much more about myself from those unplanned things than from anything I based on real life events or people. This theme is probably the most autobiographical part of the story.

Where do you write, and when?

My favourite place to write is in my lovely attic, but I can write anywhere and anytime—I learnt to while ferrying children about. Carparks are a specialty.

I can also write anytime of the day or night, but my favourite time is in the early hours of the morning, when it’s still dark and quiet because no one’s awake.

I have a favourite writing weather, too: rainy days, especially when no one’s home and I have the house to myself.

My attic on a tidy day.

What is your favourite part of writing?
My favourite part of writing is editing. I love being able to refine my sentences and ideas, and turn them into something closer to the ideal I have in my head.

This is because I’m an obsessional perfectionist. I hate first drafts because I have to ignore all the mistakes and just keep moving forwards. I usually give in, and go back to edit. Of course, then I lose the forward momentum and have to refresh my memory of where the story was going. I know I should just keep writing ...

What do you do when you get blocked?

Writing by hand is always the first thing I try. If that doesn’t work, I’ll take the dogs for a walk, or read a book. Sometimes, I pull out my camera and take photos.

A photo I took one day when I was feeling a bit blocked.

There have been times I’ve been unable to write because something is bothering me. Sometimes, I can work through it by writing about it, but other times, I have to let the writing go for a while.

Whenever I’m blocked, I worry it’s permanent, that I’ve written all the words and ideas I have inside me and I’ll never write again. But it’s never permanent; it always returns. Well, it has so far!

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I fill up by binge-reading and getting outside with the dogs, in amongst nature and the ocean. I also listen to music, go to the opera or a concert, or visit an art gallery. Even going to a movie helps me refuel. I find it inspiring to spend time with other writers and artists, too.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Only ten! Okay, I admire: Hannah Kent, Charlotte Wood, Tim Winton, Ann Patchett, Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kent Haruf, Thomas Hardy, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Bronte Sisters.

(I think that’s more than ten but I can’t count!)

What do you consider to be good writing?

Beautiful imagery moves me. I also love original ways of using language, but I don’t like it for the sake of it. It has to flow and sound natural, not forced. After all, the purpose of writing is to impart meaning to a reader, and no matter how beautiful your prose, if the meaning is tangled, you’re not doing your job.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

Get rid of that internal censor! Give yourself permission to write whatever comes up and get back in touch with your creative self.

Also, just get your bum into the chair and do it. Don’t put it off any longer.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my second novel, but I’m finding it hard at this ugly first draft stage. However, I’m ploughing on, because if I ever want to publish a book again, I need words, no matter how unsightly they are!

BOOK REVIEW: The Sisters’ Song by Louise Allan

Friday, April 20, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

As children, Ida loves looking after her younger sister, Nora, but when their beloved father dies in 1927, everything changes. The two girls move in with their grandmother who is particularly encouraging of Nora's musical talent. Nora eventually follows her dream of a brilliant musical career, while Ida takes a job as a nanny and their lives become quite separate.

The two sisters are reunited as Nora's life takes an unwelcome direction and she finds herself, embittered and resentful, isolated in the Tasmanian bush with a husband and children.

Ida's longs for a family and when she marries Len, a reliable and good man, she hopes to soon become a mother. Over time, it becomes clear that this is never likely to happen. In Ida's eyes, Nora possesses everything in life that could possibly matter yet she values none of it.

Set in rural Tasmania over a span of seventy years, the strengths and flaws of motherhood are revealed through the mercurial relationship of these two very different sisters, Ida and Nora. The Sisters' Song speaks of dreams, children and family, all entwined with a musical thread that binds them together.

My Thoughts:

A deeply moving examination of two sisters’ entwined lives in Tasmania during the 1930s & ‘40s, The Sisters’ Song is an assured debut from Western Australian writer Louise Allan.

The story begins in 1927, with two little girls shocked and grieving the death of their father. Ida is the elder of the sisters, and thought of as the ‘bad’ one, being outspoken and unruly. Nora, golden-haired and musical, is the ‘good’ one, always doing as she is told. The death of their father and the deep paralysing grief of their mother changes everything. The girls are sent to stay with their grandmother, who encourages Nora to sing. She is soon starring in the school musicals, while Ida feels left out and envious. Her jealousy causes a rift to widen between the sisters, and eventually Nora runs away to pursue her dream of being an opera singer.

Ida, meanwhile, falls in love and marries, but her longing for a child is cruelly denied as miscarriage follows miscarriage.

Then Nora returns, a child in her belly and her career in tatters. Married to a man she does not love, mother to children she does not want, she bitterly resents the mistake which destroyed her dreams. Ida, meanwhile, cannot help but feel that her golden sister has everything she ever wanted, and fails to appreciate it.

The story unwinds over the span of the two sisters’ lives, as they struggle with the consequences of their choices. Love, grief, loss, betrayal, and the enduring love of the two sisters weave a heart-breaking story that lingers long in the memory.

I was lucky enough to interview the wonderful Louise Allan this week, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.

BOOK REVIEW: Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The 2:00 a.m. call is the first time Lexie Vidler has heard her sister’s voice in years. Annie is a drug addict, a thief, a liar—and in trouble, again. Lexie has always bailed Annie out, given her money, a place to sleep, sent her to every kind of rehab. But this time, she’s not just strung out—she’s pregnant and in premature labor. If she goes to the hospital, she’ll lose custody of her baby—maybe even go to prison. But the alternative is unthinkable.

As weeks unfold, Lexie finds herself caring for her fragile newborn niece while her carefully ordered life is collapsing around her. She’s in danger of losing her job, and her fiancé only has so much patience for Annie’s drama. In court-ordered rehab, Annie attempts to halt her downward spiral by confronting long-buried secrets from the sisters’ childhood, ghosts that Lexie doesn’t want to face. But will the journey heal Annie, or lead her down a darker path?

Both candid and compassionate, Before I Let You Go explores a hotly divisive topic and asks how far the ties of family love can be stretched before they finally break.

My Thoughts:

A contemporary family drama set in Alabama, Before I Let You Go is a powerful and heart-wrenching examination of the lives of two sisters and their shared love for a tiny baby. The story begins when Lexie Vidler – a doctor with a carefully built perfect life – hears her younger sister’s voice for the first time in years. Annie is a heroin addict who has caused a great deal of harm to Lexie’s life before. Lexie had sworn to have no more to do with her, but this time Annie is really in trouble. She’s pregnant, and going into premature labour. But that’s not the worst of it. Under Alabama’s draconian ‘chemical endangerment’ laws, Annie could have her baby taken away from her and be sent to prison.

In her struggle to help Annie and her tiny, fragile baby, Lexie finds her own world spinning out-of-control. She may lose her job, her fiancé, her future. Annie has been ordered into rehab, and Lexis must look after her newborn child, who is undergoing her own terrible withdrawal from her mother’s heroin use. Meanwhile, Annie struggles with her demons, born out of long-hidden secrets from their childhood living within a fundamentalist religious sect.

This is a fast-paced page-turner of a novel, written in spare straightforward prose that moves between Lexie’s point-of-view and the journal that Annie writes while in therapy. The choices the sisters must make are agonising and heartbreaking, and so very relevant in the world in which we live. A humdinger of a novel.

For another wonderful story about the relationship between sisters, check out my review of The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: Two Steps Forward by Anne Bruist and Graeme Simsion

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Zoe, a sometime artist, is from California. Martin, an engineer, is from Yorkshire. Both have ended up in picturesque Cluny, in central France. Both are struggling to come to terms with their recent past—for Zoe, the death of her husband; for Martin, a messy divorce.

Looking to make a new start, each sets out alone to walk two thousand kilometres from Cluny to Santiago, in northwestern Spain, in the footsteps of pilgrims who have walked the Camino—the Way—for centuries. The Camino changes you, it’s said. It’s a chance to find a new version of yourself.

But can these two very different people find each other?

In this smart, funny and romantic journey, Martin’s and Zoe’s stories are told in alternating chapters by husband-and-wife team Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist.

Two Steps Forward is a novel about renewal—physical, psychological and spiritual. It’s about the challenge of walking a long distance and of working out where you are going. And it’s about what you decide to keep, what you choose to leave behind and what you rediscover.

My Thoughts:

A charming romantic comedy set on the Camino Trail, Two Steps Forward is told in alternating chapters between the voices of Martin, an engineer from Yorkshire, and Zoe, an artist from California. Both are struggling with hurt and bereavement in their lives. Martin is in the midst of a messy divorce, and trying to rebuild his relationship with his teenage daughter. Zoe’s husband has recently died, leaving her exhausted in mind and body, and not sure how to go on in her life alone.

The couple first meet in Cluny, France, and each decide independently to walk the ancient pilgrims’ way to Santiago in north-western Spain. Their paths cross and part and cross again, along with those of various eccentric and sometimes exasperating minor characters. The tone is light and amusing, with running jokes about Zoe’s difficulty in eating vegan food in a country that adores its food, and Martin’s struggle to learn to take advice. Along the way, however, deeper issues emerge. Each must learn a few lessons about life and their own inner demons before they are ready to embrace a relationship together. Their story is told in alternating chapters by this husband-and-wife writing team, with Graeme Simsion writing in the voice of mechanically-minded Martin, and Anne Bruist writing from the point-of-view of zany Zoe. This is the sort of book that you can easily imagine being filmed, with strong set pieces, gorgeous scenery, and lots of heart and humour.

You might be interested to read my post about books I read during 2013, the year that Graeme Simsion's book The Rosie Project was released.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Friday, April 06, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

My Thoughts:

I am a big fan of Liane Moriarty’s books, and was eager to read her latest exploration of the dark side of suburbia. She always has razor-sharp insights into contemporary life, cleverly wrought and suspenseful plots, and enough warmth to balance out the dark undertones. Truly Madly Guilty has a BBQ at its heart, with three couples torn apart by what happened that sunny afternoon. There is Clementine and Adam, a cellist and a marketing executive who have two gorgeous little girls. Erika went to school with Clementine and has to deal with a difficult mother who refuses to ever throw anything out. She and her husband Oliver cannot have children but lavish love on Clementine’s daughters. Their neighbours, Tiffany and Vid, are rich, flamboyant and colourful, and their ten-year-old daughter Dakota has her nose in a book all the time. Something happens that day that shakes all their worlds … but Liane Moriarty skirts around the cataclysmic event, keeping the reader guessing. Love, sex, hurt, betrayal, unkindness, and misunderstandings abound. A great holiday read.

You might also enjoy my 2015 interview with Liane Moriarty.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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