The Way Back Home by Freya North #bookreview (@freya_north) @HarperCollinsUK

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“One summer, something happened that changed everything forever…

Born and brought up in an artists’ commune in Derbyshire, Oriana Taylor had freedom at her fingertips in a home full of extraordinary people. The Bedwell brothers, Malachy and Jed, shared their childhood and adolescence with Oriana. In the rambling old house and tangled grounds, their dreams and desires could run free.

But too much freedom comes at a price. Something happened the summer they were fifteen. And now, having been gone eighteen years, Oriana is back.

This is their story.”

 

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get round to reading this book by Freya North. It was published in 2015 and, being a huge fan of Freya since I first read Sally and always buying her books on publication, it has been sitting on my TBR since then. I have read The Turning Point, which was published last year. I am wondering if I have been subconsciously pushing this down my TBR because of some unfavourable reviews it has been given on Goodreads. If so, it was a mistake – this is Freya North at her best. My apologies, Freya: after all the years we’ve spent together, I should have had more faith in you.

This is the story of Oriana, her childhood growing up in an artists’ colony in Derbyshire, her childhood friendship with two brothers, and the tragic event which drove them apart. Anyone expecting a light, sugar-sweet romance, or a psychological thriller with a twist in the tail would undoubtedly be disappointed in this book. It is neither of those things because that is not, and never has been, what Freya’s writing is about.

What this book is, is typical of Freya’s novels. It is a beautiful and honest portrayal of human emotion, human relationships and human failings. It is bittersweet, moving, genuine–and totally engrossing if you let yourself connect with these characters, who are damaged and far from perfect, but totally real and believable. One of the comments I have read was that people could not relate to the characters because they weren’t totally likeable, particularly Oriana. I think that is part of the genius of Freya’s work – making us care about characters who maybe aren’t immediately warm and cuddly and someone that you would want as a best friend, but are totally plausible and, if you give them time and try and see what Freya is showing you about why they are as they are, you will find that connection with their humanity.

This book is a slow burn, and it is an insight into the minds, thoughts and feelings of the three main protagonists. I guess some people may not appreciate this style of story-telling but it is what gives you that insight into, and connection with, their emotional story. I have seen complaints that the ‘twist’ is too obvious and there is no ‘big reveal’. I think that misses the point. I don’t believe Freya ever meant for the novel to be some big build up to a shocking conclusion, that isn’t her stock in trade. In fact, it is refreshing to read something currently that isn’t hingeing on that particular device to sell itself. This book requires a bit more effort, a bit more emotional involvement on the part of the reader to get the most from it.

I recently read a comment by the author Jane Green, in answer to a question she was asked about the best bit of writing advice she had ever been given. Her reply was that the best advice had been given to her by Freya North and it was to get to know her characters and let them tell the story. Freya obviously practices what she preaches as she writes people as well as, if not better, than almost any writer out there. Her characters are always totally three-dimensional and fully developed and, likeable or not, they are completely authentic in everything they do. And I have never known anyone write such honest sex scenes (although my friends took me to task for a long while after I made this comment and they then read the one involving clowns in Pip, but I stand by my assertion. And no, I won’t go into any more detail, you will have to go and buy it and read it yourselves!). You know these people. If you let yourself invest in their story, you will be rewarded with an intense emotional journey that will leave you wanting to know what happens to them but also not wanting the story to end.

I loved this book. It made me cry twice. It made me stay up until 1 am on a weeknight when I had to be up at 6.30 am the next day because I had to know the end. And it made me wish I had not left it so long before I read it. I can’t give a book higher praise than that. Go and read it immediately. Then read The Turning Point, because it’s even better.

Having read Freya’s work from the very beginning, I can see how it has matured as the years have passed, much as she and I have done (we are a similar age) and I cannot wait to see what is coming next.

The Way Back Home is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

Freya North gave up a PhD to write her first novel, Sally, in 1991. For four years she turned deaf ears to parents and friends who pleaded with her to ‘get a proper job’. She went on the dole and did a succession of freelance and temping jobs to support her writing days. In 1995, throwing caution to the wind, she sent three chapters and a page of completely fabricated reviews to Jonathan Lloyd, and met with success: five publishers entered a bidding war for her book.

In 1996 Sally was published to great acclaim and Freya was heralded as a fresh voice in fiction. Her following books have all been bestsellers. Her novel Pillow Talk won the 2008 Romantic Novel of the Year Award. Freya’s most recent novel, The Turning Point, was published in June 2015 (HarperCollins).

Freya was born in London but lives in rural Hertfordshire with her family and other animals where she writes from a stable in her back garden.

A passionate reader since childhood, she was originally inspired by Mary Wesley, Rose Tremain and Barbara Trapido to write fiction with strong female leads and original, sometimes eccentric characters. In 2012 she set up and now runs the Hertford Children’s Book Festival. She is also judge for the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England’s ‘Rural Living Awards’ and Ambassador for Beating Bowel Cancer.

On The Horns Of A Dilemma

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I was going to start this post by apologising, yet again, for the lack of regular updates. However, I read a post earlier this week by another book blogger on the topic of pointless blogging guilt, so I won’t. This is my blog, which I am writing purely for fun, and I am doing the best I can given all the other current demands on my time and energy, so we will all have to be content with that for now!

Doubtless you will want an update on my progress and I am pleased to report that I have not yet succumbed to temptation and I have not purchased any books so far this year, which is good going. Cora, who blogs over at Tea Party Princess asked me how I am doing it. Sheer force of will and a good dollop of stubbornness (which my family and friends will know I have in abundance), plus giving any place that harbours books a very wide berth. I even sent my step-children into Waterstones the other week to collect my copy of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project , which has been sat there since December waiting to be picked up, because I daren’t go in myself for fear of falling off the wagon.

However, I now find myself on the horns of a dilemma, and would seek guidance from you as to how to reconcile the problem with my current challenge.

Wednesday was my elder daughter’s 12th birthday (Happy Birthday, Mini-Me – please stop growing or I will have to stop calling you that) and she was given a copy of Caraval by Stephanie Garber. My sister, who has read the book, mentioned that it had some adult themes and suggestive passages in it that I may be uncomfortable allowing Mini-Me to read and suggested that I might want to read it first.

So here is my quandry. I have pledged not to buy, beg, borrow or steal any new books in 2017, but only read books that were in my TBR pile on 1 January 2017 and this book does not fall in to that category. I really do not want to fail in this challenge. At the same time, I do not want to allow Mini-Me to read anything unsuitable and I cannot really expect her to wait until next January to read her new book just so I can read it first.

What do I do? Is Caraval suitable for a 12-year-old who is fully conversant with the birds and the bees but not especially worldly for her age? If I read the book now, have I failed in my challenge? If I don’t, and allow Mini-Me to read it, will she be turned off literature, except books about horses, forever? (Although, they can be less than innocent – hello, Jilly Cooper!*) My sister is rather more prudish than I am (sorry, C, but you know it is true, it is one of your most endearing characteristics) so it may be that something she thinks is suggestive, I will think is perfectly acceptable. Maybe I should give it to a third party to read and assess in my stead – any volunteers? Has anyone read this book and can let me know what they think?

Any guidance gratefully accepted. Will I give in and read the book (which I really want to, it sounds great)? Will the challenge be all over? Will Mini-Me read the book and be scarred for life? Will C enter a convent? Tune in next week to find out what happens following this exciting cliffhanger!

*Before anyone calls social services, I have not allowed my daughter to read Riders yet, or any other Jilly Cooper for that matter, although I love her and do have the complete set!

2017 – The Year of Abstinence

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My name is Julie, I’m 44 and I am a book addict.

There, I’ve admitted it. Reading is my passion and I spend a lot of time doing it, and I own far, far too many books. So many in fact, that I am so far behind on my TBR (the number stands at 783 on Goodreads and counting) I fear I will never catch up. Book buying is a compulsion for me, you see. Nothing makes me happier than an hour spent browsing a good bookstore and buying a book. Problem is, I can never stop at just the one….

At the current time, I have 50 books stacked in two piles next to my bed. This pile never gets any smaller and has become such a permanent feature in our house that my 9-year-old daughter has christened it Mount Bookarus. Very apt, since the erosion of this edifice is every bit as slow as the erosion of the Himalayas themselves. In fact, towards the end of last year, it appeared that the pile had in fact been pushed up, due to some kind of literary tectonic event, and the top books of the stack are now in danger of taking my eye out if I turn over in my sleep too close to the edge of the bed.

(A small off-shoot of ‘seasonal reads’ appeared in November as the start of pile three, but these were pushed back during a concerted assault over the festive period.)

Mount Bookarus is the mere tip of the iceberg, however, if you will excuse the mixed geological metaphors. There are many, many, many more unread gems stuffed into every spare bit of space in my library. (I know, I am lucky enough to have a dedicated, proper library in my house. It was the one room I insisted on including when we built our house 11 years ago and it is my favourite. If you stick with me and behave, I will share some photos of it with you here soon and make you all green with envy!)

It is for this reason that I have started this blog. I have vowed that 2017 is the year I will make a proper dent in my TBR and, in order to achieve this goal, I have vowed to buy NO NEW BOOKS in 2017.

That’s right. No new books for a whole year. Nada. Zero. Not one single one.

As a self-professed compulsive book purchaser, this is going to a be a huge challenge. So, to keep me on the straight and narrow, I am making my intention public and am going to report honestly on here as to how I am getting on and I am hoping that my readers, should I be fortunate enough to get any, will hold me accountable.

The rules of the challenge are quite strict. No buying books, no borrowing books, no being given books for free. No downloading e-books, either free or paid for. I am going to allow my friends and family to buy me books as presents for my birthday in May (otherwise, what an earth are they going to get me?) and Christmas. After all, there has to be some relief on the horizon, doesn’t there? But there will be limit of one book per person. And that’s it.

So, 2017 will be a year of reading from the books I already own. I have set my Goodreads reading challenge for 2017 at 100 books, which is achievable, as I tend to read a couple of books a week anyway, depending on length of book and what else is going on in my life. I will be reviewing all the books I read on this blog. There may be other posts that creep in too, about the other minutiae of my life, family, travels and whatever else pops into my head, but it will mainly be book reviews.

I guess it will be a little different from other book blogs, because I will not be reviewing any of the new, hot titles – for this year at least – but maybe this is no bad thing. Different is good, and you may still find some gems in things that are not new. Vintage is in, right? Hopefully my blog will be on trend in that way. Let’s call it literary up-cycling. Dusting the cobwebs off those old but precious novels that are laying unloved and forgotten in the dingy recesses of my TBR, ready to be given new life.

We are 3 weeks in to the year and, so far, I have held firm but it will only get tougher from here. So I am hoping you will help me. Get behind me, support me, and don’t taunt me with all the fabulous new books I am missing out on. (I have already started a list – January 2018 could be an expensive month). Most of all, I hope you will enjoy my reviews, and maybe find something you might want to read, even though it is not shiny and new in the publishing world. First review to come on Monday.

Apologies in advance to my local branch of Waterstones – I fear your profits will take a severe dip this year.