Desert Island Books: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells @rwellswrites #BookReview #friendship #family #bookbloggers #bookblog #desertislandbooks #readinggoals

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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

 

 

Desert Island Books: The Edge by Dick Francis @felix_francis #BookReview #racingcrime #thriller #crime #bookbloggers #bookblog #desertislandbooks #readinggoals

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Tor Kelsey, an undercover agent for the Jockey Club’s security service is involved in the attempt to rid racing of one of its most notorious villains, Julius Apollo Filmer. The court however, does not go along with their beliefs, but Tor knows that to let Julius even suspect the service are still on his tail would mean certain death for a number of witnesses.

Meanwhile, several racehorse owners have planned a luxurious train trip across Canada, with race meetings fixed for every major city. Julius Apollo Filmer and Tor are on the passenger list. The beautiful journey through the Rockies gets uglier by the minute and Tor finds himself pushed to dangerous limits to defeat Filmer’s wily scheming.

I can’t remember exactly when I read my very first Dick Francis novel, but I know it was some time early in my horse-mad, teenage years. I know that it was lent to me by my friend, Mary, and that the first one I read was one of his books featuring racing detective, Sid Halley. I also know I was hooked from that very first book and quickly raced through his back catalogue. I then waited eagerly each September for his latest book to come out and bought every new one in hardback. He wrote 44 thrillers before his death in 2010, the later ones with his son, Felix, as co-author. Since his death, Felix has continued to write racing thrillers under the Francis name, and I have continued to buy them.

I have huge nostalgic affection for these books, as Dick Francis was one of the first authors I discovered for myself, without the books being parentally approved, and he was an author that was just my own. No one else in my family was particularly a fan, I didn’t have to share the books with my sisters (who never took care of my books properly- remember the Freya North book you left in Australia, Catherine? Remember the book you dropped in the bath, Rebecca?), these were just mine.

Do you want to see my Dick Francis shelf? Of course you do, here it is:-

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Anyway, of all of these excellent books, The Edge is my standout favourite. I must have read it at least a dozen times over the years. In fact I could probably recite it off by heart by now, but I never get bored of it and it was a no brainer as one of my Desert Island Books.

The blurb of this book singularly fails to do the plot justice, so I will try and explain to you what exactly is so marvellous about it, even to people who are not remotely interested in horses or racing.

Although Dick Francis is dubbed the king of the racing thriller, his books are about so much more than horse racing. His plots have involved stories centring around reporters, photography, gold mines, movie-making, wine experts, air taxis, art fraud, diamond dealers, authors, medical experiments, hurricane-chasing and toy making, amongst many other subjects, all of them meticulously researched. To say that he writes racing thrillers does not do his imagination justice, and The Edge is one of the best examples of this diversity in his writing.

The book follows Jockey Club investigator, Tor Kelsey, a man who works undercover investigating racing crimes. When the Jockey Club believes the biggest villain in racing might be plotting a major sting, Tor is sent on the trip of a lifetime across Canada to try and discover and foil his plans.

So far, so ordinary. However, there are things about the book that make it a cut above the average thriller. Firstly, it has the topsy-turvy plot device of the reader knowing who the villain is from the off, but both the investigator, and the reader, not knowing what crime he is planning and having to find this out together. Secondly, the action is set mostly on a glamorous train travelling coast-to-coast across Canada with the elite of the racing world, plus their horses, aboard. There is also a murder mystery being acted out on board for the entertainment of the passengers, so there is fun in trying to work out which parts are the real mystery and which are part of the entertainment. There is also a love interest sub-plot for added spice. A huge cast of great characters, descriptions of a great train journey visiting some of the amazing sights of Canada, and a gripping mystery plot which delivers continual twists and turns and highs and lows – what’s not to love?

This book has a special place in my heart. It has also inspired one of my top Bucket List destinations which I will be blogging about later in the week (picture below might give you a clue!). Having read it again, I am also struck by how well the book has stood the test of time, despite it being 30 years old and not featuring cell phones, the internet or other modern equipment. There are not many crime books that I can read over and over and still enjoy, despite knowing whodunnit, but all of Dick Francis’s books fall into this category and this is the best of the crop IMHO. Definitely a keeper.

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The Edge might be difficult to get your mitts on new now, but try your local library or you should be able to track down a copy in some format here. Sorry, there is no way I am lending out my copy, no matter how much you beg!

About the Author

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Richard Stanley Francis (31 October 1920 – 14 February 2010) was a British crime writer, and former steeplechase jockey, whose novels centre on horse racing.

After wartime service in the RAF, Francis became a full-time jump-jockey, winning over 350 races and becoming champion jockey of the British National Hunt. He came to further prominence in 1956 as jockey to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother riding her horse Devon Loch, which fell when close to winning the Grand National. Francis retired from the turf and became a journalist and novelist.

Dick Francis was widely acclaimed as one of the world’s finest thriller writers. His awards include the Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger for his outstanding contribution to the crime genre, and an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Tufts University of Boston. In 1996, Dick Francis was made a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master for a lifetime’s achievement and in 2000 he received a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton #BookReview @AuthorSJBolton @TheFictionCafe @TrapezeBooks #FictionCafeBookClub #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019 #amreading #bookbloggers #challenges

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Devoted father or merciless killer?

His secrets are buried with him.

Florence Lovelady’s career was made when she convicted coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook of a series of child murders 30 years ago. Like something from our worst nightmares the victims were buried…ALIVE.

Larry confessed to the crimes; it was an open and shut case. But now he’s dead, and events from the past start to repeat themselves.

Did she get it wrong all those years ago?
Or is there something much darker at play?

The third category for the annual reading challenge in my online book group, The Fiction Cafe Book Club is ‘A book you received as a gift.’ You can see details of the challenge in this post.

For this challenge I have chosen The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton, which my mum bought me for Christmas (admittedly after much heavy hinting on my part!) This book has received rave reviews from my fellow bloggers, being included in a fair few of their ‘top books of 2018’ lists, so I was excited to get to it.

I finished this a few days ago but I have only just been able to sit down and consider writing my review, as I am still processing my thoughts about this book. It is so much more than a crime novel; there is so much going on that has left me with so many thoughts and feelings. I can understand why this book has received so many rave reviews, I haven’t read such a multi-layered, complex, thought-provoking and gripping thriller for quite a while.

Where to start, where to start. Okay, let’s go with the basics. This is a dual timeline crime novel that follows the investigation into the disappearance and murder of three children in the 1960’s. On this very basic level, the book works brilliantly. The crime is deeply disturbing, the horrors being revealed slowly, the clues to the investigation snuck in to the prose subtly for the reader to pick up, with plenty of dead ends and red herrings. I truly had half a dozen suspects for the crime throughout the course of the book and was equally convinced each of them was right until a new piece of information sent me spinning off on a different course. Exactly the kind of plotting that crime novel aficionados love. But there is so much more going on.

Next, there is the setting of the book, in the small, isolated town of Sabden in Lancashire, at the foot of Pendle Hill. Sharon presents a community that is insular, wary of outsiders and full of secrets and closely woven relationships that anyone not local will find hard to penetrate. And so it proves for the protagonist of the book, WPC Florence Lovelady – young, female and Southern, she doesn’t fit, isn’t trusted and has to work hard to understand the town and its inhabitants. In addition, the first mention of Pendle Hill brings to mind the witch trials and the suggestion of the supernatural immediately permeates the story, creating an extra layer of mystery and suspicion and fear throughout. Sharon also makes reference early on to the crimes of Hindley and Brady which happened close by just prior to the original crimes in the novel, which brings its own sense of menace, and a certain oppressive atmosphere to the book. It is all very deftly done.

As mentioned, this is a dual timeline novel. We begin in 1999, when Florence returns to Sabden for the funeral of the man who was convicted of the murders back in 1969. However, certain events take place that lead her to begin to review the original investigation, so we are taken back to 1969 and relive that investigation through Florence’s memory of it, when she was a young WPC newly working in an area where she is an outsider. This was also a time when women were rare in the police, and she faces overt sexism and huge obstacles to being involved in the investigation and being taken seriously. Florence is a strong, intelligent, determined woman with instinct and flair for police work, but she has to fight every step of the way, against all the disadvantages of her age, sex and background, to be heard. Given these obstacles, she sometimes has to take unorthodox steps to explore her suspicions and none of this endears her to her colleagues. One also wonders whether she is being sidelined because she is getting too close to the truth. Florence is a brilliant character to lead the story, and I had total empathy for her from the beginning.

The most unusual element in this book, is the supernatural one, and I am guessing that some people may have an issue with this as a device in a crime novel. However, here there is a specific, underlying reason the author has used this and it is because Sharon is, to a degree, using the witchcraft as a metaphor for the oppression of women throughout history. This whole book has a strong message of feminism and the empowerment of women running through it, at least for me. I don’t want this to put anyone off, it is not a book that is anti-men, but it is definitely a book about the strength, resourcefulness and intelligence of women and how men have been afraid of this and tried to suppress it through the ages, the persecution of women as witches being one of the most overt ways. The treatment of Florence in her role as police officer in the 1960’s is another example of this, and as a piece of social commentary, this book is also a riveting read. I don’t know if it was just me, but by the end, I was shaking my girl power pom-poms in the air and shouting, ‘Yay!’

There are so many things to unpack in this book, I really don’t think I have done it justice. This is a book about love, and the things people will do for it; how it can be used to control others and how it can bring out the best, and worst, in all of us. It is a book about family, and the strength of the bond between parent and child. It is a book about community, and how people will band together to support and protect one another. It is a book about ambition, and how far people will push boundaries to achieve their goals, and it is a book about finding the strength within ourselves to do what needs to be done in the most adverse of circumstances. The more I think about it, the more things I find going on, and this book works on every level.

This book is terrifying, gripping, entertaining, intelligent, informative and complicated. I am sure it is also one that will reveal additional secrets on subsequent readings. I am in awe of how much the author has managed to layer into this novel and everyone should definitely read it.

The Craftsman is now available in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Sharon (formerly SJ) Bolton grew up in a cotton-mill town in Lancashire and had an eclectic early career which she is now rather embarrassed about. She gave it all up to become a mother and a writer.

Her first novel, Sacrifice, was voted Best New Read by Amazon.uk, whilst her second, Awakening, won the 2010 Mary Higgins Clark award. In 2014, Lost, (UK title, Like This, For Ever) was named RT Magazine’s Best Contemporary Thriller in the US, and in France, Now You See Me won the Plume de Bronze. That same year, Sharon was awarded the CWA Dagger in the Library, for her entire body of work.

Connect with Sharon:

Website: https://www.sharonbolton.com

Facebook: S J Bolton Crime

Twitter: @AuthorSJBolton

Instagram: @sharonjbolton

Bones In The Nest by Helen Cadbury #BookReview @TheFictionCafe #FictionCafeBookClub #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019 #amreading #bookbloggers #challenges

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The Chasebridge Killer is out; racial tension is rising and the mutilated body of a young Muslim man is found in the stairwell of a tower block in Doncaster. As he gets drawn into the case, Sean Denton’s family life and his police job become dangerously entwined. Meanwhile a young woman is trying to piece her life back together, but someone is out there; someone who will never let her forget what she’s done.

This is the second book I have chosen in the 2019 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club.  You can find details of what the challenge entails in this post. The second category is ‘A book set in the town in which you were born,‘ which in my case is Doncaster in South Yorkshire.

This is the second of the Sean Denton books I have read. I read the first, To Catch A Rabbit, which won a couple of awards, last year and enjoyed it and, in my opinion, this one is even better.

Sean Denton has now graduated from Police Community Support Officer to full police constable now, which gives him, and consequently the reader, a more central role in the investigation this time around. This investigation also centres around racial tensions, whether a person deserves a second chance after committing a horrendous crime, and a possible honour killing, so the topics are very current and relevant, even though this book is now a couple of years old. The author has also continued the aspects I really enjoyed from the first book, namely Sean’s family, work and romantic relationships, and the inclusion of these give him a real humanity which allows the reader to get close to him and become invested in his journey.

It is novel and interesting to have a very rooky investigator at the centre of a book of this nature, and there are certain aspects of his junior position that provide interesting plot points in the story, as he has to assert himself and find his place when manipulated by the hierarchy. He is a very warm, honest and likeable character that you can’t help but want to succeed. He also has certain disadvantages and divided loyalties to overcome – there is a lot going on in the book.

Although not a Doncaster native, the author did live in York and obviously knows and likes the Yorkshire folk and has a great grasp of the region. Although the main setting of the book, the Chasebridge estate, is fictional, there are a lot of allusions to real life areas of Doncaster and the town is depicted fairly and accurately but warmly and kindly in the book. I felt well disposed towards the author and her depiction of my birthplace having read it, despite it being rife with crime!

This book was a great read, pacy and entertaining with an enjoyable, gripping plot and interesting characters. I am looking forward to reading the third book in the series and think it is a great shame that we have lost an author who was clearly talented.

You can get a copy of Bones in the Nest by Helen Cadbury, here, along with the first book in the Sean Denton series, To Catch A Rabbit and book three, published posthumously, Race To The Kill.

About the Author

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Helen Cadbury was a British crime fiction author, poet and playwright, whose debut novel, To Catch a Rabbit, won the Northern Crime Award, was an Amazon Rising Star, and was chosen as one of the Yorkshire Post’s top novels, since the millennium, to reflect the region. It introduces Sean Denton, a young Police Community Support Officer, uncovering the murky truth behind the death of a trafficked young woman and the disappearance of a local man.

Her second novel, Bones in the Nest, follows Sean Denton back to the Chasebridge Estate, where racial tensions are rising and the notorious Chasebridge Killer has just been released from prison.

Before writing fiction Helen was an actor and teacher, including spending five years teaching in prisons. Sadly, Helen died in 2017 aged 52 after a battle with breast cancer.

Desert Island Books: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson #BookReview #travel #travelwriting #bookbloggers #bookblog #desertislandbooks #readinggoals

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In the company of his friend Stephen Katz, Bill Bryson set off to hike the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world. Ahead lay almost 2,200 miles of remote mountain wilderness filled with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing tics, the occasional chuckling murderer and – perhaps most alarming of all – people whose favourite pastime is discussing the relative merits of the external-frame backpack.

Facing savage weather, merciless insects, unreliable maps and a fickle companion whose profoundest wish was to go to a motel and watch The X-Files, Bryson gamely struggled through the wilderness to achieve a lifetime’s ambition – not to die outdoors.

So, the first of the twelve books that I will be taking with me to my desert island for my Desert Island Books feature is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

I love Bill Bryson’s writing, his travel books in particular, but out of all of them this one is my favourite. I must have read it half a dozen times now and it still fascinates me, makes me thoughtful and makes me laugh, all at the same time. I don’t think I will ever get bored of it.

I had a quick look at the reviews on Goodreads of this book just prior to writing this review. The book has an average of 4 stars, but the most prominent review on the first page was a one star by someone who took exception to pretty much everything about the book’s content and the way it was written, which quite surprised me. The review is so prominent, despite being 13 years old, because it has an exceptionally high number of comments on it, as other Goodreads members debated the merits of the review, and the book, back and forth. It is quite clear that this is a book that divides people.

Oddly, the majority of the things people listed as reasons for disliking the book, were the things that make it one of my favourite reads, so I guess you need to decide if these are things that appeal to you.

This is a book about Bill Bryson’s mid-life trek along the Appalachian Trail, a 2,200 mile wilderness footpath that traverses a mountainous route through the forests of the eastern USA from Georgia to northern Maine. Now, I love to read about other people’s travel adventures, and I find this one particularly appealing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I love the USA and this book covers a couple of the areas of the US that I am particularly fond of – the south eastern states and New England. I  personally have been to the mountains of North Carolina, parts of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampsire and Maine. I’ve stayed at the Mount Washington Hotel and travelled to the top of Mount Washington via the famous cog railway mentioned in the book. I’ve been to Franconia Notch State Park in Vermont. I’ve visited the town Bryson lived in when he wrote this book, Hanover in New Hampshire, so some of the places he talks about are familiar and I can clearly visualise them and it is always interesting in a book to get someone else’s view of something you yourself have experienced. Equally, there are many places in the book I have never been but sound enticing, and I know for a fact that, whilst I might dream about hiking the Appalachian Trail, it is something I will never do, so I can live it vicariously through Bryson’s experience.

This book is extremely varied as it covers, not only his actual experience of physically hiking the trail, but a lot about the people he meets, the climate and weather of the region, geology and history of this part of the USA, information about the flora and fauna and how that is changing, the development and management of the trail, socio-political history of some of the areas he passes through, and much more. Some people find this annoying and accuse him of ‘hopping about’. I find it all fascinating and, for me, it gives the whole experience a context and a richness that really brings it to life and gives it relevance in the mind of the reader. The author obviously shares my insatiable thirst to know everything about everything he sees on his travels and really understand it. I do huge amounts of reading about a destination and its history before I travel, which deepens my interest and enjoyment of a place, and this is the perfect approach for those fact hounds amongst us.

Another thing some people seem to find a negative about this book is Bryson himself and his authorial voice. I do wonder if this is a matter of national perspective. Whilst Bryson is American by birth, he has spent the better part of his life living in the UK and his humour is very British in nature. He relies heavily on self-deprecation, sarcasm and irony and this is not a type of humour that appeals to everyone. I recall from his book, Notes From A Big Country, (a book about how he and his British family adjust to life in the US after living in the UK for many years) an anecdote about how his wife had to ask him to stop making jokes with his American neighbour, because his neighbour didn’t understand them and their exchanges were giving his neighbour migraines. Some people seem to think Bryson comes across as mean and a bit superior, but I actually find that the biggest butt of his jokes is always himself and he is actually very amusing and gives the book a very light-hearted and entertaining tone, rather than it being a heavy and torpid read, despite the fact in contains huge amounts of factual information. He has a real way with words; his prose is vivid and lyrical. He writes the way I would love to write and I could read it endlessly.

I read a lot of travel writing, because travel is a passion of mine, and for me this represents the absolute best of the genre, mixing anecdotes with a lot of interesting factual information and history, and conveying it all in a clear, fun and pacy package. If you have enjoyed Bryson’s other writing, you will love this book. If you don’t like him, you will hate it because his voice is strong and clear throughout. Maybe the Marmite of travel books, but I, for one, will never tire of Marmite on my desert island.

If you have been tempted by this review to want to read A Walk in the Woods for yourself, you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. Settled in England for many years, he moved to America with his wife and four children for a few years, but has since returned to live in the UK. His bestselling travel books include The Lost Continent, Notes From a Small Island, A Walk in the Woods and Down Under. His acclaimed work of popular science, A Short History of Nearly Everything, won the Aventis Prize and the Descartes Prize, and was the biggest selling non-fiction book of the decade in the UK.

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green #BookReview (@johngreen) @PenguinUKBooks @PenguinRHUK @penguinrandom @TheFictionCafe #FictionCafeBookClub #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019

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‘It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.’

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred thousand dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

This is the first book I have chosen this year as part of the 2019 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. (If you love books, you must check it out, it is the friendliest part of the internet for bibliophiles). The challenge is to read a new book every fortnight that fits the prescribed category for that two-week period.

The first category is ‘A book about mental health.‘ I have vowed to try and pick unread books from my TBR to fit the challenge categories, rather than buy new ones, which is where this comes in. It has been sat on my shelf since publication. Well, its time has finally come!

Is it safe to admit that I have never read a John Green book before? I know I’m probably the only person left on the planet who hasn’t read ‘The Fault In Our Stars,’ but I’ve avoided it as I thought it would really upset me. I decided it was about time I did read one, since he is one of the biggest selling authors on the planet, and I had this book waiting that seemed to fit the category. I bought it last year mainly because of the title, which piqued my curiosity and, I have to say, I was very happy when I got to the part when the title finally became clear!

So, what did I make of my first John Green novel? Well, the man can certainly write. His characters were fully developed and very intricate. I enjoyed his prose style and he obviously has a good grasp of how people, especially teenagers, tick. The book, whilst seeming to cover a very small life, explores in detail a terrifying and truly problematic mental health issue for the main character, Aza, and how this impacts every part of her life, severely, to the point that she can barely function in any ordinary way. The mystery part of the story is incidental and heavily side-lined, and the main focus is most definitely on the mental health topic and, in this, I think the blurb is a little misleading. Anyone buying this book looking mainly for a detective story is going to end up a little disappointed.

It’s quite clear that I am not the target audience for this book. It is definitely aimed at the YA market and, to be honest, those of a maturer persuasion looking back with years of like experience may find the adolescent navel-gazing a little self-indulgent. But this is how life is when you are a teenager. You do believe you are the centre of the world and your problems take on a magnified importance that can be over-whelming. Perspective comes with age and experience (hopefully, not always). Kids are monumentally self-absorbed and Green captures this very well and reflects it in his writing. And there is no doubt that any deviation in your personality from the norm at this age is terrifying. That’s not to say that mental health issues in adolescents should be trivialised or discounted. They are a real issue, and actually a lack of experience and perspective can magnify them and make them much harder to manage successfully. Aza’a issues are extreme and would be horrifying for anyone to deal with and, for me, the thoughts that she is experiencing are grotesque and would be impossible to live with, for child or adult. The author does an amazing job of displaying Aza’s thought spirals and the perpetual horror she is trapped in as she fights, and fails, to control them.

This book is an illuminating portrayal of the effects mental health issues can have on every part of a person’s life, and how surmounting these things can seem impossible. I think it will be more appealing to younger readers, just because of the focus on teenage lives, but the writing is without doubt compelling and it was a rewarding read. A little too harrowing emotionally to be classed as enjoyable, but definitely illuminating.

If you like the sound of the book, you can get a copy here.

About the Author

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John Green is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Looking For Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars, and Turtles All the Way Down. He is also the co-author, with David Levithan, of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. He was the 2006 recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award, a 2009 Edgar Award winner, and has twice been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Green’s books have been published in more than 55 languages and over 24 million copies are in print. John is also an active Twitter user with more than 5.4 million followers.

Connect with John:

Website: http://www.johngreenbooks.com

Facebook: John Green

Twitter: @johngreen

Instagram: @johngreenwritesbooks

Desert Island Books #bookblogger #bookblogging #amreading #readinggoals

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If you read my update post on Tuesday about my plans for the blog this year, you will recall my mentioning the new feature I am introducing called Desert Island Books.

The premise is fairly simple and not particularly cryptic, the title says it all. I will be revealing and reviewing the twelve books that I would take with me, should I be stranded alone forever on a desert island. One per month throughout the coming year. I’ll tell you what it is I particularly love about them; why they are books that I can read over and over again without getting bored and why they would be my ideal forever companions.

To be honest, the feature is really just an excuse for me to reread some of my favourite books of all time and share them with you, but it is also an interesting exercise. Could you narrow down the twelve books that you could bear to read over and over again in perpetuity without getting sick of them? Would you take books you have been meaning to read for years and never had time to tackle (risky if you end up hating them!) Old favourites to keep you company (but would you ruin them for yourself if you had to read them forever?) A mixture of old and new? What genres? Fiction or non-fiction? Food for the mind or the heart? Uplifting? Challenging? Comforting? Scary?

There is probably a psychological profile in our choices somewhere!

I will be reading one of my twelve picks per month and reviewing it on the last day of the month but, as a precursor, I thought I would reveal the thirteen books which made it on to the shortlist but fell at the final cut. A sneak peek of what is to come maybe.

I hope you will enjoy a little glimpse this year into some of my favourite books of all time and the kind of literature I would choose to read on a daily basis if I never got to pick up a new book again, and I’d love it if you’d like to share your own Desert Island Books with me, either in the comments here or on your own blogs with a link back.

So here are books 13 to 25 on the list of books I’d take to a desert island. The ones that didn’t quite make it on to the life raft with me, but over which I would weep as they sank beneath the waves.

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Jamaica Inn  by Daphne du Maurier

I love du Maurier’s books, and it was a toss up between this and Rebecca, but in the end I think this is my favourite just because it is such a marvellous combination of wild adventure story, mystery and romance, and perfectly captures the isolation and cruel beauty of the north Cornish coast and moors, and it fills me with the same thrill and dread every time I read it as it did the first time. And the heroine, Mary Yelland, really has some gumption!

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Rivals by Jilly Cooper

I would say Jilly Cooper’s books were my guilty pleasure except I don’t feel remotely guilty about loving her. Her novels are great fun, and written so tongue-in-cheek that you can’t be snobby about them. Rivals is my absolute favourite of her books because this is when Rupert Campbell-Black redeems himself  and becomes worthy of the love of the gorgeous Taggie, plus it has a hunky Irishman in it. The ultimate beach read.

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Oh, how it has broken my heart to jettison Wuthering Heights and if I could have squeezed one more book under my life vest, this would have been it. However, when it came down to balancing the twelve books I was going to be reading repeatedly forever alone on a desert island, I decided that this bleak tale of destructive love may just be too depressing to keep my spirits up, and I chose another classic love story that was not doomed to end so badly, as you will see.

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The Russia House by John le Carre

The perfect spy thriller, for me. I fell in love with Barley Blair the first time I read this book, and it is a love that has endured. A reluctant and damaged man finds himself in a situation he is ill-equipped to deal with, and it has another doomed love story at its heart (I’m sensing a pattern developing!)

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Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

I’m going to make a controversial statement now – I have always preferred Through The Looking Glass to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’m not sure I can explain why. Maybe it is because it hasn’t been done to death in movies, but for me it has a more interesting premise (a giant game of chess), better characters (the contrasting Red and White Queens) or the really imaginative writing (the Bread-and-Butterfly and Rocking Horsefly, with attendant illustrations, appealed, and still do appeal, to my childish heart). One of my favourite childhood books that takes me back to the days when my love of reading started and will always have a place in my heart.

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The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman

One of my favourite ever historical novels and the root of my abiding fascination with Richard III. Before Philippa Gregory, Sharon Penman was my go to author for history told through fiction and this book gives a detail glimpse into the life of Britain’s most controversial monarch from a different perspective. This was one of the first books that taught me that people can have different interpretations of historical ‘facts’ and that perspectives can be questioned. Plus the writing is vivid and beguiling.

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A Room With A View by E. M. Forster

I love to read novels that take me to foreign soil and this is the ultimate in travel literature. I defy anyone to read this book and not want to book a flight to Florence immediately. And the writing is sublime. Gorgeous, but as I’ll be having an overseas adventure of my own, I have very reluctantly let it go.

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A Time To Kill by John Grisham

I love a legal thriller and courtroom drama and, regardless of what you think of him personally, Grisham is the king of the genre. A Time To Kill was his first book and he would probably be horrified to know that I don’t believe he has bettered it. This book has everything, tight plotting, action and a moral dilemma to wrestle with. Is killing ever justified? Even though I have read this many times, it still keeps me on the edge of my seat.

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Staying On by Paul Scott

Whilst Paul Scott is more famous for writing the Raj Quartet, including The Jewel in the Crown, it was Staying On that won him the Booker Prize in 1977 and I think it is easy to see why. The story of Tusker and Lucy, trying to hang on to their old life in India after independence as the world around them changes faster than they can keep up, will break your heart. Actually, I’m not sure I can leave this one behind after all.

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The Harry Potter Series

I doubt this needs any explanation. The rich world that J.K. Rowling has built around Harry Potter would be the ideal thing to stave off boredom and loneliness on a desert island. I know taking all 7 may be classed as cheating so, if you twisted my arm, I would choose Goblet of Fire as my favourite.

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The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

There are historical novels, and then there is the Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel. Set at the time where Homo Sapiens first starts to walk the planet, her books give a fascinating glimpse into how our ancestors came to be and became the dominant species against the backdrop of an extreme landscape. This is the first book in the series, and sets modern man in direct comparison to the species that came before. The way the story is told is a fascinating method of illustrating the history of this period and the level of detail in the books is mind-blowing. It is obvious Auel did copious research, but this is fed into the books appropriately and seamlessly. These books are a stupendous achievement.

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Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Another story about a hapless and unwitting stooge who is co-opted into espionage by circumstances outside of his control. However, unlike the le Carre book, Our Man in Havana has a thread of wit and humour running through it that just makes it a joy to read. The thought of James Wormold and his enlarged vacuum cleaner parts never fails to raise a smile. The fact that Greene himself worked for the intelligence services before writing this book adds a frisson of credibility to the plot and the setting of Cuba is another attraction. A perennial favourite.

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The Bafut Beagles by Gerald Durrell

Everyone is familiar with Gerald Durrell’s book, My Family and Other Animals, detailing the years of his childhood spent in Corfu with his eccentric family, but fewer are familiar with the rest of his vast body of writing. However, as a child I was obsessed with the books he wrote detailing his collecting expeditions and his life at his conservation trust and zoo in Jersey and I read them all, over and over. We never travelled abroad when I was young, and these books were my first gateway to a host of impossibly remote and alien countries in Africa and South America, and hundreds of exotic animals that I had never heard of before. These books fuelled my obsession with travelling, as Durrell’s writing is so descriptive and enticing. The Bafut Beagles, detailing his 1949 trip to Cameroon, was my favourite and, although I would like to take his whole collection to the island with me, if I had to choose one it would be this. However, there isn’t any room on the raft, so I’ll have to be my own naturalist on my desert island.

So, these are the thirteen that didn’t quite make it. Join me on 31 January for the unveiling of the first of the books that are in the top twelve.