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BOOK REVIEW: The Whole Bright Year by Debra Oswald

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

In the summer of 1976 it's picking season on an Australian stone-fruit orchard run by Celia, a hard-working woman in her early forties. Years ago, when her husband was killed as a bystander in an armed robbery, Celia left the city and brought her newborn daughter Zoe to this farm for a secure life. Now sixteen, Zoe is a passionate, intelligent girl, chafing against her mother's protectiveness, yearning to find intensity and a bit of danger.

Barging into this world as itinerant fruit-pickers come a desperate brother and sister from Sydney. The hard-bitten Sheena has kidnapped her wild, ebullient eighteen-year-old brother Kieran and dragged him out west, away from trouble in the city. Kieran and Zoe are drawn to each other the instant they meet, sparking excitement, worry, lust, trouble . . .

How do we protect people we love? How do we bear watching them go out into the perilous world with no guarantee of safety or happiness? What bargains do people make with darkness in order to survive? From the creator of Offspring and author of Useful, The Whole Bright Year is a gripping, wry and tender novel about how holding on too tightly can cost us what we love.


My Thoughts:

The gorgeous title and cover of this novel are instantly enticing … and then I open the book and find a quote from Homer referencing my favourite Greek myth, the story of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, whose daughter Persephone is ravished away by Hades, the god of the underworld. At once I wonder if Debra Oswald plans to allude to the myth in a book that I know (thanks to the blurb) is set in Australia in 1976. I love books that drawn on myth and folklore in bold and unexpected ways, and so I settle in to read with a heightened sense of anticipation and interest.

I was ten in 1976 (hard to believe, I hope!), and so the setting immediately evokes for me the long hot summers of my childhood – paddle-pops, and vinyl seats that burn your bare thighs, and pop music blaring from the radio. Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam is still licking his wounds from the Dismissal, and ABBA was ruling the pop charts with ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Money Money Money’. Such an interesting time to set a novel! The 1970s are not distant enough to be considered historical fiction (the Historical Novel Society defines the genre as books written at least fifty years after the events described) and yet the immense changes to technology and society in the last forty-two years make 1976 seem a very different time. This slippage between historical and contemporary fiction makes for a really interesting dynamic. There are no mobile phones and an answering machine is new and baffling technology, for instance, which makes it so much easier for a teenage girl to disappear without trace.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Celia is a single mother raising her daughter Zoe alone (Celia means ‘heavenly’ and Zoe means ‘life’, a subtle hint to the metafictive role played by these characters). Celia’s husband was murdered in front of her when she was pregnant, and so she has retreated to a peach farm where she works hard and tries not to worry too much about Zoe – curious and radiant – growing up so fast.

In the summer of 1976, Zoe is sixteen. It’s picking season time, which means it’s scorching hot and the peaches are ripe for the plucking (metaphor intended). Trouble with her usual pickers means that Celia needs help, and so she hires two tattooed and pierced runaways from the city to help her bring in the fruit before it spoils. There is Sheena, edgy and foul-mouthed, and her eighteen-year-old brother Kieran, brimming over with life and energy. It is inevitable that Zoe and Kieran are drawn to each other, despite Celia’s worry and warnings. And, given Celia’s tragic past, it is inevitable that she tries to drive a wedge between the two young lovers. What she does not expect is for Zoe to disappear. And so begins the mother’s desperate search for her daughter.

When Persephone vanishes, literally from the face of the earth, Demeter was so overwhelmed with grief and fear that leaves began to shrivel and fall, and frost touched the world for the first time. It is the story of the first winter. And when Persephone is found, imprisoned in Hades’ underworld, her mother’s joy means that life is restored to the frozen world and spring blooms.

Celia’s search for her daughter, in all the dark places of Sydney’s underbelly, is analogous to this search by the goddess of the harvest. It is every mother’s nightmare, and certainly one I share. I could identify with both Zoe – rebellious, intelligent, and wanting to experience as much of life as possible – and her mother Celia, hurt by life, all too aware of its dangers, wanting only to protect her daughter but inadvertently driving her away.

I don’t want to say much more, because the plot of The Whole Bright Year is driven by a sense of ever-tightening suspense. It begins slowly, languorously, with gorgeous descriptions of peaches and summer and young love, but almost imperceptibly the screw of dramatic tension is tightened until I couldn’t bear to put the book down. And, by the end, I was all choked up. A really powerful book, written with warmth, tenderness and humour that will stay in my memory a long time.


You might also be interested in my review of Sixty Seconds by Jesse Blackadder.

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


BOOK REVIEW: Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

Friday, May 18, 2018



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

This enthralling confection of a novel, the first in a new trilogy, follows the transformation of a coddled Austrian archduchess into the reckless, powerful, beautiful queen Marie Antoinette.

Why must it be me? I wondered. When I am so clearly inadequate to my destiny?

Raised alongside her numerous brothers and sisters by the formidable empress of Austria, ten-year-old Maria Antonia knew that her idyllic existence would one day be sacrificed to her mother's political ambitions. What she never anticipated was that the day in question would come so soon.

Before she can journey from sunlit picnics with her sisters in Vienna to the glitter, glamour, and gossip of Versailles, Antonia must change everything about herself in order to be accepted as dauphine of France and the wife of the awkward teenage boy who will one day be Louis XVI. Yet nothing can prepare her for the ingenuity and influence it will take to become queen.

Filled with smart history, treacherous rivalries, lavish clothes, and sparkling jewels, Becoming Marie Antoinette will utterly captivate fiction and history lovers alike.


My Thoughts:


As the title suggests, Becoming Marie Antoinette is biographical fiction inspired by the life of the ill-fated queen of France, who lost her head to the guillotine during the French Revolution.

It is one of my favourite periods of history (I’m actually writing a novel set during the Terror now), and I read many novels inspired by her life by writers like Jean Plaidy and Victoria Holt when I was a teenager. I have also read many biographies by historians such as Antonia Fraser and Evelyne Lever, as well as life histories of her hairdresser, her perfumerer and the like.

Juliet Grey’s novel is the first in a trilogy, and begins when Maria Antonia is still a child in the court of her mother, the formidable Empress of Austria. Impulsive, warm-hearted and mischievous, Maria Antonia knows her destiny is to be married for political gain and hopes that her chosen husband will not be too old or too unkind. Her mother begins negotiations with the French king, Louis the Fifteenth, for a betrothal with his grandson, the young Dauphin. Marie Antonia begins her journey of transformation, having her teeth straightened, her posture corrected and her meagre education rectified. She is only fourteen when she is married by proxy and sent off alone to Versailles, and Juliet Grey brilliantly brings her sweetness, naïveté and natural charm to life.

Versailles is, of course, a gilded trap for the young dauphine, and she makes many mistakes by trusting too easily and not submitting to the strict etiquette of the court. Even worse, poor Marie Antoinette fails to entrance her awkward, immature 14-year old husband and the marriage remains unconsummated.

Light, sparkling and yet psychologically acute, Becoming Marie Antoinette is the best novel I have yet read about the young Austrian arch-duchess’s journey towards becoming the most infamous French queen in history.

You might also be interested in my review of The Wardrobe Mistress: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Meghan Masterson.

I was lucky enough to interview Juliet Grey, you can read it here.

Remember to leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The coachman tried to warn her away from the ruined, forbidding place on the rainswept Cornish coast. But young Mary Yellan chose instead to honor her mother's dying request that she join her frightened Aunt Patience and huge, hulking Uncle Joss Merlyn at Jamaica Inn. From her first glimpse on that raw November eve, she could sense the inn's dark power. But never did Mary dream that she would become hopelessly ensnared in the vile, villainous schemes being hatched within its crumbling walls -- or that a handsome, mysterious stranger would so incite her passions ... tempting her to love a man whom she dares not trust.


My Thoughts:

I have set out to read my way through Daphne du Maurier’s novels again, and am so enjoying the exercise. Jamaica Inn is one I have not read since I was a teenager, and I love the dark brooding windswept atmosphere of the moors, the tightening screw of dread and suspense, and the psychological strain of cruelty, murder and madness.

The story begins with a young woman, Mary Yellan, in a coach, driving away from her home and towards an uncertain future. Her mother has died, and she is honouring a promise to go and live with her maternal aunt, Patience. All is dark and wild and stormy, and the coachman is reluctant to set her down at her uncle’s residence, Jamaica Inn, for it has a bad name and an evil prospect.

The heightened atmosphere, the brooding sense of tension, and the foreshadowing of wickedness to come is all set up in this opening scene – and, once Mary meets her uncle, a sense of impending sexual danger as well. It’s a tour de force in neo-Gothic narrative art, mirroring the opening scenes of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the hero’s approach to the vampire’s castle. It also, of course, has echoes of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre’s journey to Thornfield Hall.

Jamaica Inn
is Daphne du Maurier’s fourth novel, and was published when she was only 29. It has all the suspense, ambivalence and thwarted desire of her more famous novel, Rebecca, published two years later. She is often dismissed as a writer of romance, but I find her inventions dark, haunting and powerful.

You can read my review of Rebecca here.

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.


BOOK REVIEW: The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester

Friday, May 11, 2018


 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

How much will a young Parisian seamstress sacrifice to make her mark in the male-dominated world of 1940s New York fashion? From the bestselling author of A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD and HER MOTHER'S SECRET.

1940. Parisian seamstress Estella Bissette is forced to flee France as the Germans advance. She is bound for Manhattan with a few francs, one suitcase, her sewing machine and a dream: to have her own atelier.

2015. Australian curator Fabienne Bissette journeys to the annual Met Gala for an exhibition of her beloved grandmother's work - one of the world's leading designers of ready-to-wear. But as Fabienne learns more about her grandmother's past, she uncovers a story of tragedy, heartbreak and secrets - and the sacrifices made for love.

Crossing generations, society's boundaries and international turmoil, THE PARIS SEAMSTRESS is the beguiling, transporting story of the special relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter as they attempt to heal the heartache of the past.


My Thoughts:

A dual-timeline novel that moves between the 1940s and contemporary times, The Paris Seamstress is a gorgeously rich and romantic novel about young women finding their way in the world.

The story begins with Estella Bissette, a young apprentice seamstress working with her mother at a fashion designer’s atelier in Paris. Her metier is creating silk flowers, but she dreams of designing her own dresses and takes every opportunity to practise her craft. But the Nazis are closing on France, and no-one knows what the future will hold. One day Estella gets caught up in a mysterious errand that smacks of intrigue and resistance … and meets a handsome stranger. With her life in danger, she must flee France, and with her mother’s help, gets a bunk on the SS Washington - the last American ship to leave French waters – with nothing more than a suitcase and a sewing machine.

The other narrative thread concerns Estelle’s granddaughter Fabienne, who arrives in Manhattan from Sydney for a celebration of her famous ancestor’s fashion designs. Fabienne is puzzled by some mystery in her grandmother’s past which the recent death of her father has revealed to her, and wishes to question her … but Estella is elderly and frail, and talk of the past upsets her. At the gala event, Fabienne meets a handsome stranger … but her own life is full of problems and troubles, and it seems unlikely their paths will ever cross again.

From that point onwards, the two stories cross and part and cross again, full of sensual descriptions of fabulous clothes and evocative descriptions of Paris and New York, then and now. I loved the story of how determined Estella builds her career from nothing, despite obstacle after obstacle, and I empathised with sensitive Fabienne, trying to step out from her grandmother’ shadow.

Much of the pleasure of this book is the wish-fulfillment fantasy it offers many women – the chance to imagine oneself in a swishy satin gown, drinking cocktails with high society in New York, flitting off to Paris on a whim and meeting the man of your dreams, inheriting palatial residences in two of the city’s most glamorous and sophisticated cities, making a name for oneself with your talent and hard work. The secret at the heart of the novel is not one of those surprising, oh-my-god-I-never-saw-that-coming plot twists that leaves you gasping – it’s more of a device to put the two women’s journeys into motion. But both of those journeys are so beguiling, I didn’t mind that at all.

And I just loved Estella’s final words to her granddaughter:

‘Be brave. Love well and fiercely. Be the woman I always knew you would be.’

These are wise and beautiful words indeed.

I was lucky enough to interview Natasha Lester for the blog, you can read it here.

And you can read my review of her earlier work, A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, here.

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

BOOK REVIEW: The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Each lace shawl begins and ends the same way - with a circle. Everything is connected with a thread as fine as gossamer, each life affected by what has come before it and what will come after.

1941, Estonia. As Stalin's brutal Red Army crushes everything in its path, Katarina and her family survive only because their precious farm produce is needed to feed the occupying forces.

Fiercely partisan, Katarina battles to protect her grandmother's precious legacy - the weaving of gossamer lace shawls stitched with intricate patterns that tell the stories passed down through generations.

While Katarina struggles to survive the daily oppression, another young woman is suffocating in her prison of privilege in Moscow. Yearning for freedom and to discover her beloved mother's Baltic heritage, Lydia escapes to Estonia.

Facing the threat of invasion by Hitler's encroaching Third Reich, Katarina and Lydia and two idealistic young soldiers, insurgents in the battle for their homeland, find themselves in a fight for life, liberty and love.


My Thoughts:


A heart-wrenching novel of love, war and resistance set in Estonia in the 1940s, The Lace Weaver tells the story of two very different young women and their struggle to survive in a country caught between two of the greatest evils of the 20th century: Stalin’s Red Army and Hitler’s Third Reich.

The story begins in 1941, when Estonia is under Russian rule and suffering brutality, hunger and mass murders and deportations. Kati and her parents are doing the best they can by keeping their heads down and doing as they are told. Kati quietly rebels by keeping her beloved grandmother’s lace weaving circle alive, with a group of women meeting in secret to make the exquisite lace shawls that Estonia is famous for. The lace patterns become a repeating motif throughout the book, with each section named after one of the designs: Wolf’s Paw, Ring Pattern, Peacock’s Tails, Spider Stitch, Ash Pattern, and so on. I really love this aspect of the book, as the patterns became symbols for what the characters endured.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, another young woman named Lydia is living a life of ease and privilege with the bejewelled cage of the Stalinist elite. She longs to escape, however, as she gradually becomes aware of the cruelty of the Russian dictatorship. Eventually, she and her old nurse Olga escape to Estonia, only to be caught up in that country’s struggle for liberation.

For the oppressed Estonians, the news that Hitler’s forces are marching towards them brings hope and jubilation. It is not long, however, before they realise that they have exchanged one cruel regime for another. And Kati and Lydia are caught in the maelstrom, struggling just to survive.

This is a novel of love and war, heartbreak and hope, and the bonds between women, delicate as lace and yet as unbreakable as steel. Powerful, subtle and beautifully written and composed.

I was lucky enough to interview Lauren Chater recently, you can read it here.

You might also be interested in my review of The Betrayal by Kate Furnivall.

Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Sarah and Hannah are on a cruise from San Diego, California to Sydney Australia. Sarah, Hannah’s grandmother, is returning to the country of her birth, a place she hasn’t seen since boarding the USS Mariposa in 1945. She, along with countless other war brides, sailed across the Pacific to join the American Servicemen they’d married during World War II.

Hannah is the age Sarah was when she made her first journey, and in hearing Sarah tell the story of her life, realises the immensity of what her grandmother gave up.

The Passengers is a luminous novel about the journeys we undertake, the sacrifices we make and the heartache we suffer for love. It is about how we most long for what we have left behind. And it is about the past - how close it can feel - even after long passages of time.


My Thoughts:

A young woman and her grandmother travel on a cruise together from the USA to Australia. For Sarah, it is a journey to the country of her birth, a place she has not seen since she left as a war bride in the 1940s. For Hannah, it is a chance to leave behind old hurts and discover a new land. Each tell their own story, in their own voices, each regretting mistakes they have made and people they have left behind.

Sarah’s story begins as a girl on a diary farm in New South Wales. Times are hard, and her father sells the farm and moves his family to Sydney. Sarah is forced to leave her beloved cattle dog behind. She finds work, and dreams of marriage, putting a white dress on layby. Sydney is full of American soldiers. There are fights and dances and flirtations. She falls in love and marries, and has just one night with her new husband before he is shipped out to Papua New Guinea. When the war ends, Sarah must leave her home and family and travel thousands of kilometres to a place she has never been, to live with a man she hardly knows.

As Sarah tells her story to her granddaughter, Hannah reveals some of her own secret vulnerabilities. Slowly the two stories echo and reflect each other, in clear lucid prose that glows with its own inner light.

You might also be interested in my review of The Pearler’s Wife by Roxane Dhand.

Recently I was lucky enough to interview Eleanor Limprecht, you can read it here.

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.


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.



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