Desert Island Books with… Michelle Kidd

Desert Island Books

This week’s Desert Island Books have been chosen by author Michelle Kidd. Let’s see what she has picked to take to keep her company in her isolation, shall we?

Book One – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

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Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The magic starts here!

It’s almost impossible to choose just one Harry Potter book!  I love each and every one, but I guess the sensible thing is to choose the very first, as that is where it all started! When they first came out, I always believed that the Harry Potter books were for children – but how wrong could I be! They may start out as children’s books, but with each and every new book I think they mature and grow into something completely different, something that manages to transcend all ages. JK Rowling’s ability to set a scene and create characters is impeccable. Characters, for me, make or break a book, and she creates such vivid characters that you cannot help but feel as though you transported into each scene and see it first-hand. Every so often I have a Harry Potter binge and read them all from start to finish.

Book Two – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

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Bilbo Baggins enjoys a quiet and contented life, with no desire to travel far from the comforts of home; then one day the wizard Gandalf and a band of dwarves arrive unexpectedly and enlist his services – as a burglar – on a dangerous expedition to raid the treasure-hoard of Smaug the dragon. Bilbo’s life is never to be the same again.

I was probably about twelve when I first read The Hobbit. It remains one of my favourite all-time ‘go to’ books – I have lost count of the number of times I have read it, but each time always feels like the first time. I remember that, as a child, I bought myself a set of limited edition hardbacks of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with my pocket money, and they still take pride of place on my bookshelf today. Although I love the whole set, The Hobbit remains my favourite as this is where I was first introduced to the notion of a Hobbit. And second breakfasts. The descriptions Tolkien manages to convey into The Hobbit, and the magical and mythical creatures he creates, for me mark this book out as a masterpiece.

Book Three – BIKO by Donald Woods

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‘You are either alive and proud or you are dead … and your method of death can be a politicizing thing’ Steve Biko Founder of the Black Consciousness Movement

Steve Biko was a natural target for the South African authorities. On 13 August 1977, Steve Biko was arrested, interrogated and beaten. On 12 September he was dead. Editor of a leading anti-apartheid paper, Donald Woods was a friend of Steve Biko and went into exile in order to write his testimony about the life and work of a remarkable man.

As a teenager I read a lot about the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and became totally obsessed with books and films on the subject. I even bought myself an ANC badge and wore it with pride! I was lucky enough to see Nelson Mandela in the flesh when he attended the concert in his name at Wembley after being released from prison in 1990.  For many reasons, BIKO is a book that has always remained with me from the minute I read it. It formed the basis for the Oscar nominated film ‘Cry Freedom’ starring Denzil Washington (one of my all-time favourite films!) and tells the true story of Steve Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness Movement. It is a highly emotive book; as thought-provoking now as it was when I first read it in the 1980s. The research and detail that went into this book is astounding. The content is, at times, upsetting – and pulls no punches in detailing how cruel human beings can be towards each other.

Book Four – The Shining by Stephen King

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Danny is only five years old, but in the words of old Mr Hallorann he is a ‘shiner’, aglow with psychic voltage. When his father becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, Danny’s visions grow out of control.

As winter closes in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seems to develop a life of its own. It is meant to be empty. So who is the lady in Room 217 and who are the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why do the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive?

Somewhere, somehow, there is an evil force in the hotel – and that, too, is beginning to shine . . .

I was a voracious reader from a very early age, and I basically grew up reading Stephen King’s books. The man is such a phenomenal author and classic storyteller, it is hard to choose just the one book – but I think The Shining has to be one of his very best. The book is chilling to read and still gets my heart pumping even after all this time. I read it as a teenager, long before I watched the film, and I still feel that it is the pinnacle of a classic horror book. You don’t get much more frightening than the goings on at the Overlook Hotel!

Book Five – Murder at the Farm by Paul Foot

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A revised edition of an investigation into the murder of schoolboy Carl Bridgewater in 1978, updated to include coverage of the release in February of the three men accused of his murder (a fourth one also wrongly convicted died in prison). Foot questions why the men remained in prison for so long, and asks who did kill Carl Bridgewater.

Another one of my obsessions is true crime and miscarriage of justice books. As a former defence lawyer, I find them fascinating and upsetting in equal measures. This book tells the story of the wrongful conviction of four men for the killing of Carl Bridgewater. It took seventeen years to clear their names. This book is incredibly detailed, analysing all the facts and evidence, enabling the reader to see where the grave mistakes were made. This book is a favourite of mine because of the way Paul Foot shows how the mistakes and inadequacies in the way crimes were investigated back in the 1970s led to such a devastating miscarriage of justice, and then just how hard it is to turn the scales of justice back in your favour. A thought-provoking read.

My luxury item:

It would have to be my tabby cat, Livi! (Assuming animals are allowed!) Livi came to live with us in November 2015 from our local stray cat rescue centre. She was only seven months old at the time. After a cautious and anxious start, she has now firmly stamped her authority on the house as her territory, and sleeps on my bed nestled up against my legs. I’m not sure I would be able to sleep on the desert island if I couldn’t feel her pressed up against me! She may well decide that the sandy beach is just one large litter tray, but she might make up for it by being an expert hunter!

About Michelle Kidd

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Michelle Kidd is a self-published author known for the Detective Inspector Jack MacIntosh series of novels.

Michelle qualified as a lawyer in the early 1990s and spent the best part of ten years practising civil and criminal litigation.

But the dream to write books was never far from her mind and in 2008 she began writing the manuscript that would become the first DI Jack MacIntosh novel – The Phoenix Project. The book took eighteen months to write, but spent the next eight years gathering dust underneath the bed.

In 2018 Michelle self-published The Phoenix Project and has not looked back since. There are currently three DI Jack MacIntosh novels, with a fourth in progress.

Michelle works full time for the NHS and lives in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. She enjoys reading, wine and cats – not necessarily in that order 

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Michelle’s latest book is The Fifteen, the third book in the DI Jack MacIntosh series and you can buy a copy here.

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When the past finally catches up with you, is it murder? Or justice?

When a bedbound, defenceless man is found dead in his London nursing home, nobody saw his killer. But the killer left their mark.

Detective Inspector Jack Macintosh soon discovers that this was no random killing; this one was personal.

And it was just the beginning.

As the case unfolds, Jack is forced to think the unthinkable as the evidence begins to point disturbingly close to home.

Revenge – how long would you wait?

Connect with Michelle:

Website: https://www.michellekiddauthor.com

Facebook: Michelle Kidd Author

Twitter: @authorkidd

Instagram: @michellekiddauthor

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Desert Island Books… with Clare Marchant

Desert Island Books

This is the feature where I ask a member of the bookish community – be it fellow blogger, author, publisher, blog tour organiser, bookseller or anyone else remotely interested in books – to choose the five books they would like to have with them were they to be stranded alone on a desert island, forced to read them in perpetuity (or until they get rescued at least).

This week the choices belong to author, Clare Marchant.

Book OneLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott

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Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth – four “little women” enduring hardships and enjoying adventures in Civil War New England The charming story of the March sisters, Little Women has been adored by generations. Readers have rooted for Laurie in his pursuit of Jo’s hand, cried over little Beth’s death, and dreamed of traveling through Europe with old Aunt March and Amy. Future writers have found inspiration in Jo’s devotion to her writing. In this simple, enthralling tale, both parts of which are included here, Louisa May Alcott has created four of American literature’s most beloved women.

This book is such a classic, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere and not be able to read it. When I was a teenager, I read it so often I could recite whole tracts of it verbatim (I was probably very annoying!). There is just nothing not to love about it, each of the characters is so finely drawn and the journey that the whole family takes is wonderful as the reader watches their lives unfold. Every time I read it, I find something else to love about it; the cast and their family dynamics, their strengths and flaws which are still as relevant today as it was when it was written.

Book TwoThe Kings General by Daphne du Maurier

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Inspired by a grisly discovery in the nineteenth century, The King’s General was the first of du Maurier’s novels to be written at Menabilly, the model for Manderley in Rebecca.

Set in the seventeenth century, it tells the story of a country and a family riven by civil war, and features one of fiction’s most original heroines. Honor Harris is only eighteen when she first meets Richard Grenvile, proud, reckless – and utterly captivating. But following a riding accident, Honor must reconcile herself to a life alone.

As Richard rises through the ranks of the army, marries and makes enemies, Honor remains true to him, and finally discovers the secret of Menabilly…

I went through a phase in my late teens of reading everything that Du Maurier had written and, although I loved the classics, Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and Frenchman’s Creek, this was the book that I just adored. In my opinion this is Du Maurier at her finest. It’s set against the background of the English civil war (no surprise that it’s a historical romance, this genre has always featured very highly in my reading choices!) and although the love story is unconventional, it is no less captivating and poignant.  

The story opens with eighteen-year-old Honor Harris falling in love with the handsome Richard Grenville, but within the first couple of pages she has a riding accident which results in her being unable to walk. The reader is left wondering how these two people can have any sort of relationship, but the love between them never dies. On the one hand their story is heart-breaking, and yet it is enthralling at the same time. And yes, if anyone is wondering, it is no coincidence that Richard Grenville’s name is very similar to Greville in The Secrets of Saffron Hall!

Book ThreeAll Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

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A world of witches, daemons and vampires.
A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future.
Diana and Matthew – the forbidden love at the heart of it.

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES. SHADOW OF NIGHT. THE BOOK OF LIFE.

As this is a trilogy and possibly a little bit of a cheat, (hmmm, definitely a cheat, but I’ll let you off!) I have double checked that the book can be purchased in one volume (!). I’m not a huge fan of vampire and witch books but I’d heard such great things about this that I decided to give it a go and I’m so pleased that I did. 

At the heart of the book is a forbidden romance (and it’s never a good idea to cross a vampire or a witch as Diana and Matthew soon discover) but it’s so much more as the book travels across Europe, from modern day Oxford and rural France, to Renaissance London and Prague. The litany of real characters from the sixteenth century anchors the story and prevents it from becoming excessively fantastical and even though I know the outcome I always read it holding my breath, completely engrossed. It’s exciting and addictive, if I were stuck on a desert island for any length of time, I would really want this book to be with me to transport me to other places.

Book FourRiders by Jilly Cooper

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Set against the glorious Cotswold countryside, Riders offers an intoxicating blend of swooning romance, adventure and hilarious high jinks.

Brooding hero Jake Lovell, under whose magic hands even the most difficult horse or woman is charmed, is driven by his loathing of the dashing darling of the show ring, Rupert Campbell-Black. Having pinched each other’s horses and drunk their way around the capitals of Europe, the feud between the two men finally erupts with devastating consequences at the Los Angeles Olympics . . .

A classic bestseller, Riders takes the lid off international show jumping, a sport where the brave horses are almost human, but the humans behave like animals.

Who doesn’t love a bit of Jilly Cooper?! In between my love for historical fiction when I was a bookworm teenager, I also became addicted to these brilliant, mad, glorious ‘bonkbuster’ romances. It was really difficult to choose just one to take to a desert island so I decided to go with the one where it all started, the book that introduces the reader to Rutshire where everyone spends their time riding, hunting and jumping – both on horses as well as in and out of bed with each other. The book takes the reader on a chaotic journey from rural Cotswolds to the Los Angeles Olympic games as Rupert Campbell Black feuds with his adversary Jake Lovell, an underdog that refuses to pander to Rupert’s huge ego.  Like almost every other female in the 1980’s I fell in love with Rupert (a rake if ever there was one!) and even though the book has dated  – these days people having to use a landline and send real letters makes me stop for a moment – it is still a delightful read.

Book FiveThe Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

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Can you go a little faster? Can you run?

Long ago, at a time in history that never happened, England was overrun with wolves. But as Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia discover, real danger often lies closer to home. Their new governess, Miss Slighcarp, doesn’t seem at all nice. She shuts Bonnie in a cupboard, fires the faithful servants and sends the cousins far away from Willoughby Chase to a place they will never be found. Can Bonnie and Sylvia outwit the wicked Miss Slighcarp and her network of criminals, forgers and snitches?

Yes, another book from my past. If I was stuck on an island on my own, I would want books that are a comfort to me and for the most part these are books that I have read over many years, time and time again.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase has everything that I could want in a book and although it was written for children, it’s just as good to read as an adult. There are the classic elements of good prevailing over evil, the poor, quiet mousy Sylvia who moves from town to live with her feisty, rich and kind hearted cousin Bonnie, where they battle against a mean governess and her dubious accomplices. The action is all set against a backdrop of danger as their country estate is becoming overrun with wolves and the two girls have to depend on the kindness of a young man, Simon, to help them escape. Pure unadulterated excitement, my original paperback eventually fell apart I read it so often.

My luxury item:

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I do love listening to music, and I don’t think I would fare well being somewhere as quiet as a desert island on my own. So, I would like to have my saxophone with me. I would also need all of my music books, mostly because it has been quite a long time since I’ve found time to play it and I’m now very rusty. But having no one close by to object to the awful sounds I make whilst practising, would be the perfect opportunity to resume my love of playing. And I’m thinking, it could also double up as a distress signal if I were to see a boat on the horizon – although if they hear me, they may just choose to continue their journey rather than get any closer to the racket! 

About Clare Marchant:

My debut novel, The Secrets of Saffron Hall was published on 6 August. I don’t think it will come as a surprise that having spent my life reading a lot of historical fiction, I wanted to write something set in an era that I love, Tudor England. Interweaved with Eleanor’s story is that of Amber’s in present day Norfolk, my home county and somewhere that I love. It wasn’t difficult to set a story amongst the history and ruined monasteries of this flat landscape beneath the wide, open skies. You can purchase The Secrets of Saffron Hall here. (I reviewed the book on the blog last month and you can find my review here.)

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1538
New bride Eleanor impresses her husband by growing saffron, a spice more valuable than gold. His reputation in Henry VIII’s court soars – but fame and fortune come at a price, for the king’s favour will not last forever…

2019
When Amber discovers an ancient book in her grandfather’s home at Saffron Hall, the contents reveal a dark secret from the past. As she investigates, so unravels a forgotten tragic story and a truth that lies much closer to home than she could have imagined…

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Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller.

Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.

Connect with Clare:

Facebook: Clare Marchant Author

Twitter: @ClareMarchant1

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Desert Island Books… with Katie Wells

Desert Island Books

Over the past eight months I have really enjoyed sharing with my readers the shortlist of books that I would want with me if I were to be stranded indefinitely on a desert island, all alone and forced to reread them in perpetuity (and there are still four more books to come on my list.)

Because I’d had such fun with this, and my choices have been getting a great response and inspiring debate, I decided to open the question up to my friends in the bookish community – authors, bloggers and anyone else who fancies having a go.

I’ve been a lot meaner to my guests though, I’ve only allowed them to choose five books to take with them instead of twelve, plus one other non-book item to give them some comfort (which can’t be a person, pet or escape aid!) They also have to tell me why they have chosen the books they’ve picked.

My very first victim is Katie Wells, my good friend, writing buddy and fellow blogger, and she has come up with some really surprising choices, so let’s have a look what she has picked, shall we?

Book One: The Ghosts by Antonia Barber

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When Lucy sat in the attic, she thought she heard the sound of voices calling…

That’s when she started to believe the rumors in the village that the old house was haunted. But no ghosts appeared – until the day Lucy and her brother Jamie stood in the garden and watched two pale figures, a girl and a boy, coming toward them.

That was the beginning of a strange and dangerous friendship between Lucy and Jamie and two children who had died a century before.

The ghost children desperately needed their help. But would Lucy and Jamie have the courage to venture into the past – and change the terrible events that had led to murder?

As a kid I watched The Amazing Mr. Blunden on repeat and was excited to discover they based it on a book when I was eleven. My local library had a copy, but I did not have room on my ticket to take it out. It was the days when there was a three-book limit, cardboard slips in the books and librarians that were not swayed by a child’s pleas for just one more book. When I returned the next day, it was missing. Every week I would search the shelves for it, but it never reappeared. A few years ago on eBay, I tracked down a second-hand copy and it was everything I wanted it to be. The film is great, but the book is better. It is how a ghost story should be – full of mystery, tension, and a drama in a spooky house.

Book Two: The Illustrated Herbiary by Maia Toll

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Rosemary is for remembrance; sage is for wisdom. The symbolism of plants – whether in the ancient Greek doctrine of signatures or the Victorian secret language of flowers – has fascinated us for centuries. Contemporary herbalist Maia Toll adds her distinctive spin to this tradition with profiles of the mysterious personalities of 36 herbs, fruits, and flowers. Combining a passion for plants with imagery reminiscent of tarot, enticing text offers reflections and rituals to tap into each plant’s power for healing, self-reflection, and everyday guidance. Smaller versions of the illustrations are featured on 36 cards to help guide your thoughts and meditations.

I have always had an interest in tarot and oracle cards, so when I saw this book on NetGalley to review I jumped at the chance to read it. I fell in love with the words, the flowers I had never heard of and the beautiful illustrations, so I bought a physical copy which included the cards. I discovered Maia Toll’s blog and listened to a talk on the origins of her book ; this inspired elements of the novel I have written, helped solidify the main characters history and encouraged me to grow some plants. Some are still surviving which is a miracle because I do not have green fingers. The cards are lovely to hold and the book gives ideas for meditation and guidance to see things clearly. Both would be useful on the island and it may also help identify some native plants I may find, which would always be handy.

Book Three: We Other by Sue Bentley

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Family secrets, changelings, and fairies you never want to meet on a dark night.

Jess Morgan’s life has always been chaotic. But when a startling new reality cannot be denied, her single mum’s alcoholism and violent boyfriend become the least of her worries. She is linked to a world where humans – ‘hot-bloods’ – are treated as disposable entertainment. Everything she believed about herself is a lie. Everything is about to change.

This was one of my favourite books in 2018 and remains in my top books 10 ever. The extensive world building is absorbing and disturbing, and the startling imagery brought the depiction of the fairy kingdom alive. It is no Disney inspired fairy tale as the fae are cruel and disturbing. It deals with parental alcoholism and obsession sensitively, but it is gritty and doesn’t shy away from its horrors. At 560 pages it is an epic, making it an ideal book to reread over and over. 

Book Four: The Woman in the Photograph by Stephanie Butland

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1968. Veronica Moon, a junior photographer for a local newspaper, is frustrated by her (male) colleagues’ failure to take her seriously. And then she meets Leonie on the picket line of the Ford factory at Dagenham. So begins a tumultuous, passionate and intoxicating friendship. Leonie is ahead of her time and fighting for women’s equality with everything she has. She offers Veronica an exciting, free life at the dawn of a great change.

Fifty years later, Leonie is gone, and Veronica leads a reclusive life. Her groundbreaking career was cut short by one of the most famous photographs of the twentieth century.

Now, that controversial picture hangs as the centrepiece of a new feminist exhibition curated by Leonie’s niece. Long-repressed memories of Veronica’s extraordinary life begin to stir. It’s time to break her silence, and step back into the light.

Like the series I watched recently, Mrs America, this novel opened my eyes to how little I knew about the history of feminism and the battles it took to get it to where it is today. It changed my outlook on many things. The character Leonie is abrasive and complex so it isn’t a cosy read but she is balanced by Veronica who is finding her way; it shows the power and determination of women and how things that seem set in stone can be changed with co-operation and vision. I also had the pleasure of going to a stunning writing retreat at Garsdale with the lovely author and it was a week of writing, learning the craft and pure culinary heaven. It was a magical experience full of inspiration and gave me a confidence boost in my writing I needed. The book will always remind me of those times. 

Book Five: The Xmas Factor by Annie Sanders

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Meet two women with two totally different approaches to the festive season.

Beth: it’s only September, and already she has performance anxiety. Not surprising when she has agreed to lay on the annual Christmas Eve village bash – the piece de resistance of her husband’s former wife – not to mention having to host Christmas for his difficult offspring. New to this frenzied build-up to the festivities, Beth begins to lose sight of what it all means. To her the Christmas lights are looking more like the headlamps of an oncoming train.

Carol: glamorous magazine editor, who put her aspirational Christmas issue to bed sometime in July and is so involved in finding a scoop to save her ailing magazine that she fails to notice the impending festive rush. Panicked and wracked with guilt, she is determined to make it a picture-perfect time for her little boy and, opting for convenience, books a lovely-sounding cottage in a quaint village.

Even the best-laid plans have a habit of unravelling – and no plan at all is a recipe for disaster. So when these two Christmases collide, it looks like it’s going to be anything but goodwill towards men…

This one was the most difficult books to choose. I knew I wanted a Christmas novel; it is my favourite time of year and I have a tradition to binge read new festive releases and old ones on my shelf. Even on a desert island in the blistering heat, I would not want to let the tradition go. I’d decorate my camp with foraged foliage and fruit stringed up around the trees so I can indulge in some Christmas cheer and celebrate the season. Reluctantly I put my illustrated copy of Christmas Carol to one side and opted for my battered copy of The Xmas Factor by Annie Sanders which I read every Advent even though I know it word for word. It has everything you need in a Christmas romance – drama, family feuds, chemistry between the protagonists leading to will they won’t they moments, the tantalising descriptions of festive food and the reminder of the true meaning of what Christmas really means–friendship, love and warmth. 

My extra item:

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Since I am not allowed to take my dog with me for company, I would take a pack of playing cards. I have happy memories of playing cribbage with my dad when he was practising for his competitions at the working men’s club and as a kid, we would always play cards when camping. My Nan loved cards and she taught me numerous ways to play patience/solitaire and I would spend hours playing them when I stayed with her. There is something meditative about shuffling cards and solving a puzzle. This will be handy when in solitude and if I am ever rescued, playing cards is a good way to break the ice with strangers. 

About Katie Wells:

Kate lives not far from the coast in East Yorkshire with her family, three Jack Russells and a dopey ferret. She is an avid reader, book hoarder, blogger and tea addict. She is on the RNA New Writer’s Scheme and currently searching for a home for her first complete novel, A Blend of Magic. To raise awareness of a neurological condition, dystonia she is taking part in the #DystoniaAroundThe World challenge and sharing the flash fiction she writes on her blog. 

Find out more about Katie:

Website: https://katekenzie.com

Blog: https://fromundertheduvet.co.uk

Twitter: @DuvetDwellers@kakenzie101

Facebook: K A Kenzie Writer / From Under The Duvet

Instagram: @kakenzie101 / @duvetdwellerbooks

Dystonia Around The World Fundraising page: https://www.dystoniaaroundtheworld.org/fundraiser/katekenzie

I’ve got a feeling this feature may prove very bad for my bank balance! If anyone fancying having a go at picking their own Desert Island Books, please get in touch.

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Desert Island Books: A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

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Jean Paget is just twenty years old and working in Malaya when the Japanese invasion begins.

When she is captured she joins a group of other European women and children whom the Japanese force to march for miles through the jungle – an experience that leads to the deaths of many.

Due to her courageous spirit and ability to speak Malay, Jean takes on the role of leader of the sorry gaggle of prisoners and many end up owing their lives to her indomitable spirit. While on the march, the group run into some Australian prisoners, one of whom, Joe Harman, helps them steal some food, and is horrifically punished by the Japanese as a result.

After the war, Jean tracks Joe down in Australia and together they begin to dream of surmounting the past and transforming his one-horse outback town into a thriving community like Alice Springs…

The eighth book on my Desert Island Books list is A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, which is one of my favourite love stories. And I am not just talking about the romance between the young English girl, Jean Paget, and the heroic Australian, Joe Harman, but the underlying, unrequited love that the narrator, Noel, feels for Jean, and which informs the whole way he tells her story.

This is a book of two halves. The story starts with the reader being introduced to a lawyer, Noel Strachan, who is employed by an infirm Scottish gentleman to draw up his will, some time in the early 1930s. The war then intervenes, and after the war, the gentleman dies and Noel has to track down his niece, and inform her that she has come into an inheritance, of which he is the trustee. So Noel’s involvement in Jean’s life begins. 

During the course of administering the trust, Noel hears Jean’s story of being taken prisoner in Malaya during the war and being marched across the country with a party of other women because the Japanese don’t know what to do with them. A terrible incident occurs during this time which deeply affects Jean and stops her fully recovering after the war. She tells the whole horrifying story of her wartime experiences to Noel, so we hear them as he does, firsthand. Before I read this book for the first time as a teenager, I knew very little of what had occurred during the war in the Far East, as my school studies of the period concentrated on the action in Europe, so this story really piqued my interest and encouraged to to expand my reading on the subject to the wider content of the war beyond the repercussions in Europe to the actions of the Japanese and the involvement of our Commonwealth allies. This is what good fiction can do, encourage further reading into the actual events upon which they are based, even if the fiction is written with a little poetic licence.

In the second half of the book, the action moves to Australia and Jean’s attempts to find Joe Harman after the war, and how together they work to expand a community in the Australian outback. I know some people find the second half of the book less exciting, given the horror and high drama of the first half, but they are missing the point. For a young, ambitious girl on the brink of adulthood with big plans for her future, this story of a woman alive in a time of burgeoning opportunity for females, who defies convention and strikes out into the unknown on her own, following her heart but using her head as well, was revelatory. Whilst it is hard to recognise the kind of attitudes that prevailed in that day when reading from a modern day position, I defy anyone not to be inspired by Jean Paget and be cheering her on from the sidelines

If you are coming to A Town Like Alice for the first time in 2020, it is going to make you very uncomfortable in parts. The attitudes to gender, colour and a lot more besides are going to be jarring when you look at them with a twenty-first century eye, and I know people will find this off-putting. This is a book of its time, it reflects society as it was in the early 1950s and needs to be read with that firmly in mind. If nothing else, it gives a clear picture of how far attitudes have moved on since then, even if we have a long way still to go. But setting these acknowledged issues with the novel aside, this is a uplifting and tender love story of triumphs in the face of adversity, powerful love overcoming severe obstacles, and how love can take many forms, and how wonderful it it when reciprocated. For anyone who is a true romantic, this is a beautiful story.

I have read this book many times over the last 30+ years. Inbetween readings, I sometimes wonder whether it will continue to age well, or if one day I will come back to it and find it no longer speaks to me. Although there are aspects of it which are unpalatable in our, hopefully, more enlightened times, the core story of a brave, resourceful and determined young woman setting out to find the man she loves and build a good life for them both is still moving and inspiring and I would definitely like to have it with me on my desert island to remind me what people can achieve if they set their minds to it.

A Town Like Alice is available in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Nevil Shute Norway was born on 17 January 1899 in Ealing, London. After attending the Dragon School and Shrewsbury School, he studied Engineering Science at Balliol College, Oxford. He worked as an aeronautical engineer and published his first novel, Marazan, in 1926. In 1931 he married Frances Mary Heaton and they went on to have two daughters. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve where he worked on developing secret weapons. After the war he continued to write and settled in Australia where he lived until his death on 12 January 1960. His most celebrated novels include Pied Piper (1942), No Highway (1948), A Town Like Alice (1950) and On the Beach (1957).

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Desert Island Books: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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The circus arrives without warning. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Against the grey sky the towering tents are striped black and white. A sign hanging upon iron gates reads:

Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn

As dusk shifts to twilight, tiny lights begin to flicker all over the tents, as though the whole circus is covered in fireflies. When the tents are aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign lights up:

Le Cirque des Rêves
The Circus of Dreams

The gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition.
They swing outward, inviting the crowd inside.

Now the circus is open.
Now you may enter.

Discover this amazing fantasy read with a different kind of magic.

Like a lot of people my age, or any age I guess since my daughters loved them too, my first introduction to independent reading, and the very first books I fell hopelessly in love with, were The Magic Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton. Those magical stories of three children who discover a fantastical tree in a wood near their house, populated with fairy creatures and with a rotating roster of enchanted lands that they could visit at the top, transported me into my wildest dreams.

When I first read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, it is the closest I have felt as an adult to those transformative moments when I first lost myself in the pages of The Enchanted Wood and was taken to Fairyland. This book is a wondrous adult fairytale full of magic and enchantment and this is why it is number seven on my list of books I would take to my desert island, and the most recently-published book on the list.

If you haven’t read this book, it takes place at the turn of the nineteenth century and involves two people locked in a game of skill which takes place in a magical nighttime circus that travels the world. It is also a passionate love story. But none of this truly captures the essence of why I love this book so much, or why it is one I return to again and again.

It is the magic with which Erin Morgenstern has managed to imbue every word of this novel, the intricate detail of her descriptions of every aspect of the story, the way she stimulates every sense of the reader throughout and fully transports you to this wondrous place that can’t possibly exist, but she makes you feel like it does, and the sheer audacity of her imagination, the way she has let it run completely and unashamedly wild in creating the circus and everything in it.

This book is rich and opulent and amazing, in the truest sense of the word. Since I started writing myself, my latest reading of the book in preparation for drafting this post had me stepping back slightly and admiring the breadth of Erin’s imagination in conjuring this magical circus, and also the complex tale of competition she has woven around it. The character development, the way she suggests, rather than overtly explains, many of the plot devices, allowing the reader scope to stretch their own imagination, all of these are writerly skills that I covet greatly and can appreciate the ease with which she wields them, whilst marvelling at the sheer amount of work that must have gone in to creating such a detailed and intricate novel. At the same time, this book makes it impossible for me to remain dispassionate, it pulls me in every time and transports me fully into the illusion she has created, losing myself completely in the Labyrinth of her creation.

I defy anyone to read this book and not wish with their whole heart that the circus were real and you could visit it. Taste the cinnamon pastry twists, watch the Twins and their performing kittens, jump through the Cloud Maze, ride the Stargazer and breathe in the stories in the tent of boxes and bottles (have I dropped enough tantalising hints to make you want to pick up this book yet?) If the Night Circus were real, I would be a reveur for sure.

This book is the closest thing to magic I have come across as an adult, the book that has taken me nearest to recapturing that magic you feel as a child losing yourself in a fairytale. The only other experience I have had that has given me similar tingles, is visiting Disney World. This is childhood magic captured and distilled to perfect in a very grownup story and I absolutely adore it.

If you would like to get your own copy of The Night Circus, you can buy it here.

About the Author

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ERIN MORGENSTERN is the author of The Night Circus, a number-one national best seller that has been sold around the world and translated into thirty-seven languages. She has a degree in theater from Smith College and lives in Massachusetts.

Website: https://erinmorgenstern.com

Facebook: Erin Morgenstern Books

Twitter: @erinmorgenstern

Instagram: @erinmorgenstern

Change is Afoot! Jump on the Bandwagon!

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Good morning, lovely people! I am very excited this morning, because I’m announcing some changes to the blog, and new opportunities for authors and bloggers to take part. There’s nothing I enjoy more that a bit of collaboration, it really freshens up the site and prevents my readers getting exceedingly bored of just listening to me droning on, so I’m really looking forward to it. A change is as good as a rest, as my granny always used to tell me.

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So, the first (and unexciting, let’s get the boring stuff out of the way and build up the suspense for the new developments) announcement, is that the 2021 diary is now open and just begging to be filled. So if there is anyone out there who has a book coming out early next year and would like to book in a guest post, or appear on my Friday Night Drinks feature, or is organising a blog tour for the beginning of the year and would like me to be involved, now is the time to book that place in the diary. I also have a few Friday Night Drinks slots available for December, these are open to anyone in publishing – authors, publishers, bloggers, blog tour organisers, editors, cover designers, proof readers, booksellers…. All welcome.

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Now for the two new features I am introducing.

Firstly, I am introducing a new regular interview feature for RNA members, where I will be asking you to tell me why you write romance, which romance writers and books you love and inspire you, and what you love most about the RNA. The feature will take place every other Tuesday, to tie in with #TuesNews, and will kick off in September with the winner of my #underwatervampireerotica competition (see more below if you are baffled, and why wouldn’t you be?), but slots are open thereafter for any published authors who are members of the RNA. (If this is successful, I may expand to other genres at a later date. To start with, this is my way of giving something back to the RNA, an organisation which is supporting me through my own writing journey.) I’m calling this feature Romancing The Romance Authors, so let me know if you are interested.

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The second new feature has been inspired by the fun I have been having this year choosing and re-reading the twelve books I would want to have with me if I knew I were going to be stranded forever on a desert island. You can find out which I have chosen by following my monthly Desert Island Books posts and, I’ve enjoyed this so much that I’m going to carry on next year with my twelve Desert Island Children’s Books. But now I’d like to know what your Desert Island Books would be, just because I’m nosy. So, again this feature is going to run every other week on a Wednesday (at least to begin with, I’ll expand it if it is really popular), starting on Wednesday, 9th September. I’m going to be mean to you and only let you pick FIVE books to take, and you’ll have to tell me why you’ve chosen these particular ones. This feature is open to anyone who wants to take part.

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Finally, I wanted to announce the winner of the #underwatervampireerotica competition I ran during my seminar at the RNA Conference. The person who got closest to guessing how many blog tour/NetGalley books I had bought after reviewing them was Claire Huston, who guessed 142. The actual number was 118 (I feel like I have let down all the people who thought it was all, or almost all, of them but I’d be bankrupt if I bought them all!). Clare, I know I have already bought and reviewed your book, so you have credit in the bank with me for the next one, and you get to be my first guest on Romancing The Romance Authors on 1st September, and I’ll be in touch about that shortly. Thanks to all who entered.

So, if anyone would like to be featured on the blog in any way, including Friday Night Drinks, Romancing The Romance Authors or Desert Island Books, please get in touch by emailing julie@alittlebookproblem.co.uk, filling in the contact form on the blog or sending me a DM via social media and we will put something in the diary. Requests are dealt with on a strictly first come, first served basis. Look forward to featuring as many of you as I can fit in!

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Desert Island Books: Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy

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Generous-hearted Benny Hogan and the elfin Eve Malone have been best friends for years, growing up in sleepy Knockglen. Their one thought is to get to Dublin, to university and to freedom…

On their first day at University College, the inseparable pair are thrown together with fellow students: beautiful but selfish Nan Mahon and the handsome Jack Foley.

But trouble is brewing for Benny and Eve’s new circle of friends and, before long, they find passion, tragedy – and the independence they yearned for.

The sixth book I am taking to my desert island to be read endlessly until my sad demise is Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy.

Maeve Binchy is one of my all time favourite authors, and a huge inspiration to me, as she writes in the genre that I am attempting myself, emotional women’s fiction. Not only writes in it, is the doyenne of the genre. I have been a huge fan since I first borrowed a copy of Light A Penny Candle from my mother’s book shelf in my late teens. From that very first reading, I fell in love with her writing. Her gimlet eye for human nature. Her empathetic portrayal of emotion and the intimate frailties of the lives of real people. Her vivid portrayals of daily life in rural Ireland from the 1950s until modern times, and particularly the lives of Catholic women. Her books are a masterclass in how to write women’s fiction, and I am a true disciple, as my Maeve Binchy shelf will attest. I once saw someone dismiss her writing as ‘chicklit.’ Leaving aside the hot debate about the use of this intentionally derogatory term for books that are enjoyed by millions of women – and men – the world over, to label her work as chicklit is to fundamentally misunderstand it.

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Of all of her wonderful books, Circle of Friends has always been my favourite. It had a big impact on me when I first read it, and that impact has not lessened over the dozens of re-readings I have made of this book over the years, including the latest. The story still moves me emotionally, draws me in to its world and holds me in its grasp until the very last page, even though I know what is coming and how it ends. The ability to do this, to include layers of complexity and feeling so that the reader is held in thrall every time is a rare and beautiful skill that she possessed in boatloads and is the reason that her books have been bestsellers for decades, and are still popular many years after her death. Even now, new stage adaptations of her books are being written to delight audiences who can’t get enough of her intimate portrayals of women.

This book tells the story of the friendship of Benny Hogan and Eve Malone as they grow up as children in rural Ireland in the 1950s and eventually leave their small town to go to university in Dublin, and how the contrast between the small, safe childhoods they have known and navigating the expanded world of college, new friends and the city, impacts them individually and as friends.

Ireland, a strict Catholic country in the 1950s, held specific difficulties for women, but also the same challenges that we have faced the world over for centuries and, how the two girls navigate these challenges and support each other at the same time is at the core of the book and what will speak to women reading this book everywhere. Many of the issues that Maeve addresses are universal and will inevitably lead to the reader being able to identify with at least one of the characters in the book or one of the situations they have to face. Female friendship is an enduring topic in women’s literature, and one that is at the centre of many of Maeve’s books, and this one in particular.

Benny Hogan is one of my favourite ever characters in a novel, and one I always have, and still do, identify with strongly. The author does such an amazing job of portraying her insecurity and vulnerability through childhood and into her teenage years that I defy anyone not to be firmly on her side from the beginning of this book, not to see some aspect of themselves and any fear they have ever had about their place in the world reflected back at them. This then makes Benny the perfect character to draw us in to this story of a young, gauche girl trying to navigate the new and intimidating world of university, far away from home and all the security she has known. These are emotions that most of us can relate to in one way or another and, as such, it is impossible not to celebrate her successes in this new world and suffer her heartbreak at the same time she does. This book takes me back to my teenage years, the overwhelming emotions that you feel falling in love for the first time, how one person can come to mean everything to you and that relationship, the tornado of feelings that are unleashed and seem uncontrollable, how the end of the relationship feels like the end of the world; I remember it all and relive it again through the pages of this book.

Maeve’s writing is so tender and knowing, she really understands what makes people tick and is able to portray this in a way that makes us understand it too, but effortlessly, so you can’t even see how she is doing it. The lives of these women, their relationships and the settings of the stories come alive on the page, it is like watching a technicolour movie, and you can’t even see the joins. She writes the way I want to write, and I have spent a lot of time looking at how she does it, in the vain hope I can emulate her to some small degree. There was a discussion in my writing circle only yesterday about describing settings in books, how to do it vividly but discretely. Anyone wanting to see how it is done could do a lot worse than reading this book.

Maeve’s work led me on to reading a lot of other Irish writers who quickly became huge favourites of mine, Marian Keyes and Cathy Kelly to name but two, and on to people such as Veronica Henry and Erica James, who also write this genre similarly beautifully and who are all heroes of mine. But Maeve Binchy is the reason I feel in love with this genre in the beginning and she will always hold a special place in my heart. I miss her still and my desert island would not feel like home without my copy of Circle of Friends.

You can buy a copy of Circle of Friends here.

About the Author

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Maeve Binchy was born in County Dublin and educated at the Holy Child convent in Killiney and at University College, Dublin. After a spell as a teacher she joined the IRISH TIMES.

Her first novel, LIGHT A PENNY CANDLE, was published in 1982 and she went on to write over twenty books, all of them bestsellers. Several have been adapted for cinema and television, including TARA ROAD. Maeve Binchy received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Book Awards in 1999 and the Irish PEN/A.T. Cross award in 2007. In 2010 she was presented with the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bord Gáis Irish Book Awards by the President of Ireland.

She was married to the writer and broadcaster Gordon Snell for 35 years, and died in 2012.

Desert Island Books: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham; Narrated by Graeme Malcolm

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David Strorm’s father doesn’t approve of Angus Morton’s unusually large horses, calling them blasphemies against nature. Little does he realise that his own son, and his son’s cousin Rosalind and their friends, have their own secret abberation which would label them as mutants. But as David and Rosalind grow older it becomes more difficult to conceal their differences from the village elders. Soon they face a choice: wait for eventual discovery, or flee to the terrifying and mutable Badlands. . .

The Chrysalids is a post-nuclear apocalypse story of genetic mutation in a devastated world and explores the lengths the intolerant will go to keep themselves pure.

I don’t know whether you are someone who likes to read dystopian fiction, especially in this current time of pandemic, but if you are, then John Wyndham is a writer you should know about and this novel is, in my humble opinion, his best. I have read all of his books and, although he is better know for The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos (which was made into a film called The Village of the Damned which did not in any way do the book justice), none of his other books have the emotional impact of The Chrysalids.

I was first introduced to the works of John Wyndham in my early teens by my excellent high school librarian. Along with Dorothy L. Sayers (one of whose novels will be featured as a Desert Island Book later in the year), John Wyndham was an author I would never have picked up without her encouragement, but who has since become a lifelong favourite. The first of his books I read was Chocky, and it (excuse my language) scared the crap out of me, but it was this book that really made me think and which continues to linger in my mind long after I finish reading it, even after multiple re-reads.

The book is set in a post-apocalyptic corner of Canada. The Earth has been blighted by a tragedy that the reader assumes is nuclear war, but this is never confirmed because the people living at this time don’t actually know what happened to make their world the way it is. Their reality is that vast tracts of the planet are uninhabitable, and the earth is so ravaged by radiation fallout that large proportions of everything are deformed and distorted from what they perceive to be the ‘true’ image. For comfort, the population have grasped on to religion with fervour to control their lives and they ruthlessly pursue what they consider to be gospel as regards how man should look and behave, to the extent that they destroy crops and animals they consider deformed or ‘Offences’ against God and inflict unspeakable horrors on humans that do not conform to their belief of the True Image of God, whom they label as Blasphemies.

The story follows the life of David Strorm, the son of one of the most rigid leaders of their  community, and his group of fellow telepaths, who have managed to say hidden from people as they are physically ‘normal’, but who fear persecution because their telepathic ability is not shared by the majority of people (the Norms).

This is basically a book about bigotry. About fear of people who do not look or act exactly the same as the majority, and who are persecuted for their differences, despite the fact they do not hurt anybody. When I listened to this book a few weeks ago to prepare for this piece, I had no idea just how relevant the story was going to feel when I came to post it.

The Audible version of this book is extremely well narrated and very easy to listen to and, as someone who loves and has read the book many times, I can attest that the story loses none of its impact when consumed as an audiobook.

You can buy a copy of The Chrysalids here.

About the Author

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John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Benyon Harris was born in 1903, the son of a barrister. He tried a number of careers including farming, law, commercial art and advertising, and started writing short stories, intended for sale, in 1925. From 1930 to 1939 he wrote stories of various kinds under different names, almost exclusively for American publications, while also writing detective novels. During the war he was in the Civil Service and then the Army.

In 1946 he went back to writing stories for publication in the USA and decided to try a modified form of science fiction, a form he called ‘logical fantasy’. As John Wyndham he wrote The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes (both widely translated), The Chrysalids, The Midwich Cuckoos (filmed as Village of the Damned), The Seeds of Time, Trouble with Lichen, The Outward Urge (with Lucas Parkes) and Chocky. He died in March 1969.

Desert Island Books: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams; Narrated by Stephen Fry

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It’s an ordinary Thursday lunchtime for Arthur Dent until his house gets demolished. The Earth follows shortly afterwards to make way for a new hyperspace express route, and his best friend has just announced that he’s an alien. At this moment, they’re hurtling through space with nothing but their towels and an innocuous-looking book inscribed, in large friendly letters, with the words: DON’T PANIC.

The weekend has only just begun . . .

Is there anyone who needs me to tell them why I would want to take Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a trilogy in five parts (Yes, I’m having all five books, I’ve got them in a version that is just one volume so it totally isn’t cheating) to my desert island with me? Presumably only someone who has never read it, because noone who has ever picked up these books could fail to fall in love with them.

Look, I know that science fiction isn’t a genre that appeals to everyone; indeed, I myself am not a huge reader of sci-fi, but these books are so, so much more than a simple sci-fi series. They are hilarious and clever and astute and a damning commentary on the ridiculousness of human beings and the futility of existence and a celebration of those very same things. There has never, in my opinion, been anything quite like it before or since and the phenomenal popularity of the series (they’ve been translated into more than 30 languages) bears witness to this. They were a no brainer as an addition to my Desert Island books.

The basic story follows the adventures of Arthur Dent, a rather boring man who is whisked away from Earth by his best friend, Ford Prefect,  moments before our planet is demolished by the Vogon constructor fleet to make way for a hyper-space bypass. It turns out Ford is not an out-of-work actor, as Arthur believed, but an alien from the plant Betelguise who is a field researcher for a kind of inter-planetary Lonely Planet handbook called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Arthur then accompanies Ford around the Universe, discovering all kinds of extraordinary things.

This sounds far from extraordinary, but the summary does not do justice to the wit and sharpness with which Adams imbues the text and the deft comedy and piercing observations that pepper the book. True fans absorb the comedic prose into their very beings and you will often find in-jokes from the books creeping in to all kinds of discussions and debates. A bunch of EU law experts were referencing the book (and in particular, the virtues, or lack thereof, of Vogon poetry) during a Twitter debate about Brexit last autumn and it made my soul sing. In fact, one of the category headings of my blog is a direct nod to the title of the third book in the series; this is how deeply the novel is woven in to my psyche.

I have recently inducted my fourteen-year-old daughter in to the joys of the book and was delighted to hear her laughing out loud during the same audio version I have just listened to. I must have been around the same age when I first discovered it, and I have been in love with the books ever since, and I will never get tired of them. They make me laugh, and their comedy fills me with joy. They are the perfect eternal companion on my desert island.

The audio version (of the reading of the book, not the original radio shows) is very well done. Stephen Fry is always a delight to listen to, although he is forever associated in my mind with Harry Potter now when I listen to him. I have only made it through the first audiobook so far, but I have The Restaurant at the End of the Universe ready to go and plan to get through them all again this year. These books make my heart happy, what more can I say?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Douglas Adams created all the various and contradictory manifestations of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: radio, novels, TV, computer game, stage adaptations, comic book and bath towel. He lectured and broadcast around the world and was a patron of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and Save the Rhino International. Douglas Adams was born in Cambridge, UK and lived with his wife and daughter in Islington, London, before moving to Santa Barbara, California, where he died suddenly in 2001. After Douglas died the movie of Hitchhiker moved out of development hell into the clear uplands of production, using much of Douglas’ original script and ideas. Douglas shares the writing credit for the movie with Karey Kirkpatrick.

Desert Island Books: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

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When Siddalee Walker, oldest daughter of Vivi Abbott Walker, Ya-Ya extraordinaire, is interviewed in the New York Times about a hit play she’s directed, her mother gets described as a “tap-dancing child abuser.” Enraged, Vivi disowns Sidda.

Devastated, Sidda begs forgiveness, and postpones her upcoming wedding. All looks bleak until the Ya-Yas step in and convince Vivi to send Sidda a scrapbook of their girlhood mementos, called “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.”

As Sidda struggles to analyze her mother, she comes face to face with the tangled beauty of imperfect love, and the fact that forgiveness, more than understanding, is often what the heart longs for.

If you want to know if you are going to like this book or not, all you need to do is to read the prologue. It is only a page and a half long, but it perfectly encapsulates the setting, tone and characterisation of the book. It wraps you in the mood, sounds, tastes, smells and feelings of the Louisiana bayou and pulls you in to the book; a literary seductress of a prologue – I defy you to resist its siren call.

This is the third of the books I have chosen to accompany me to my Desert Island, to be read repeatedly in perpetuity and I had absolutely no doubt at all as to whether to include it in the list. I fell hopelessly and irrevocably in love with this book the first time I read it, and that love has remained unaltered – steadfast and true – through repeated readings over the intervening twenty-plus years. It is a book that has grown with me over that time, as I have matured from naive twenty-something to a woman in her mid-forties with now a history of relationships and children to inform my understanding of the book. It is a novel that gives you different things depending on from where in your life you come at it. A novel so rich in insight and understanding of the female condition that it will not age.

This book is, without doubt, the best book about female friendship that I have ever read, and given how much I read that is no minor feat. When I first read it in my early twenties, I was so moved by the depiction of the relationship between the four Ya-Yas, that I immediately bought a copy of the book for each of my three closest female friends, so I could share the experience with them, and I know I am not alone in feeling this. A whole movement of Ya-Ya clubs sprang up around this book as it moved readers to celebrate their own relationships with the women in their lives. Close female friendship is a unique and special thing, and Rebecca Wells portrays this perfectly. Just as in this book, my girlfriends have been there with me through all the important times in my life, good and bad. They have celebrated with me, commiserated, listened, advised, laughed and cried. At times they have literally carried me through periods when I thought I could not go on. They are always on my side, never judging, never criticising. They are the scaffolding that has kept me upright when my very foundations have been shaken by seismic life events, and this book dissects and celebrates the true bones of these relationships and their role in our lives.

As I’ve grown older and had relationships and family of my own, the dynamics of the mother/daughter relationship which is also central to this book have also come into sharper focus for me and meant more. I have come to understand it better from the perspective of Vivi, rather than Siddalee, and it has added an extra layer of richness to the narrative for me. There is always some new perspective to find on every reading, it is a book rich in nuance that takes more than one reading to mine and, as a result, I never get tired of it.

In addition to the above, this book also gives the most magnificent sense of place of any book I have read and was the reason that I fell in love with the Deep South of the USA before I even visited, and Louisiana in particular. I wanted to experience all the richness that this book promised awaited me there, the heavy warmth, the spice of the food, the twanging patois of the vernacular, so unique to this place and its mongrel history and when I finally got there, it exceeded every expectation. This book took part of my heart and planted it in Louisiana and the call to return and find it continues to draw me back to this day. This is an extraordinary feat for any book and reason enough to pick it up, if the preceding praise was not sufficient. If you want a book that transports you to a different time and place, look no further, this novel will carry you away; it is a book you can lose yourself in completely.

This book touches on some difficult subjects, but that is part of what makes it so glorious. This book is real. It deals with real people, real problems, real feelings, real relationships. The characters are flawed but compelling and the reader cannot help but be drawn into their drama. The writing is sublime. It is the kind of book that makes me want to write, to give people this experience, this connection with characters, this sense of empathy. When Rowan Coleman gave a talk at the RNA Conference last year about finding the three words to describe your writing, the top one on my list was affinity. I want people who read my book to feel an affinity with my characters and what they are going through, even if they have not been through the same experience themselves. That is what I feel for the characters in this book, even though they inhabit a different world than mine. And it makes me want to weep, because I know that I will never write anything as good as this.

If you haven’t got the message by now, I adore this book. It is one of those novels that, when you have read it, you feel that it has changed you.

You can get a copy of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood here and I think I might have to insist that you do.

About the Author

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Rebecca Wells was born and raised in Alexandria, Louisiana. “I grew up,” she says, “in the fertile world of story-telling, filled with flamboyance, flirting, futility, and fear.” Surrounded by Louisiana raconteurs, a large extended family, and Our Lady of Prompt Succor’s Parish, Rebecca’s imagination was stimulated at every turn. Early on, she fell in love with thinking up and acting in plays for her siblings—the beginnings of her career as an actress and writer for the stage. She recalls her early influences as being the land around her, harvest times, craw-fishing in the bayou, practicing piano after school, dancing with her mother and brothers and sister, and the close relationship to her black “mother” who cleaned for the Wells household. She counts black music and culture from Louisiana as something that will stay in her body’s memory forever.

In high school, she read Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” which opened her up to the idea that everything in life is a poem, and that, as she says, “We are not born separately from one another.” She also read “Howl,” Allen Ginsberg’s indictment of the strangling consumer-driven American culture he saw around him. Acting in school and summer youth theater productions freed Rebecca to step out of the social hierarchies of high school and into the joys of walking inside another character and living in another world.

The day after she graduated from high school, Rebecca left for Yellowstone National Park, where she worked as a waitress. It was an introduction to the natural glories of the park—mountains, waterfalls, hot springs, and geysers—as well as to the art of hitchhiking.

Rebecca graduated from Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge, where she studied theater, English, and psychology. She performed in many college plays, but also stepped outside the theater department to become awakened to women’s politics. During this time she worked as a cocktail waitress–once accidentally kicking a man in the shins when he slipped a ten-dollar bill down the front of her dress—and began keeping a journal after reading Anais Nin, which she has done ever since.

Connect with Rebecca:

Website: https://www.rebeccawellsbooks.com

Facebook: Rebecca Wells Author

Twitter: @rwellswrites

Instagram: @mizrebeccawells