RAE’S READING ROUND-UP FOR… SEPTEMBER 2020

Hello reading friends!

Autumn is a beautiful season here in Scotland with mellow misty mornings and golden fields neatly harvested. And though I adore getting out and about enjoying nature in all its glory, as the temperature drops and nights lengthen it is also the perfect time to cuddle up with a great read.

Today I have a fantastic crop of books to share, including heart-tugging family dramas (you know I love this genre) from Caroline Bond and Sadie Pearse, as well as an escapist romance from Elin Hilderbrand (the queen of beach reads) and a twisty psychological thriller from Louise Candlish. This month’s non-fiction read is The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, which was my book group choice and created lots of thought-provoking discussion. Finally, if you are in need of a humorous, feel-good read with a difference then I recommend checking out Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce.

Until next time… happy reading!

THE FORGOTTEN SISTER by CAROLINE BOND

Contemporary family drama is my go-to genre and Caroline’s Bond’s novels have been on my radar for a while, so I was delighted to spend time with The Forgotten Sister. Cassie Haines was adopted as an infant and at seventeen learns that the adoptive parents, she so adores, have lied. She embarks on a journey to reconnect with her birth family, which reveals unsettling truths about both the care system and neglect. A sense of menace builds throughout, as Cassie tries to do the right thing.

Initially, I found the story a little difficult to get into as it was partly told from the viewpoint of a baby, which felt strange and, in truth, pulled me out of the narrative. However, readers should stick with it, as once we hear more from Cassie’s parents the story takes flight. The relationships between Cassie and her sisters felt very realistic, with their characters honestly portrayed.

The Forgotten Sister is an emotional read with interesting insights into the adoption process that made me consider how making the right decision may not always be as clear as we imagine. A sensitively written exploration of a family’s response when young Cassie is torn between those she loves and the blood relations she longs to know better.

DEAR MRS BIRD by A J PEARCE

Set during the London blitz, Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce is full of plucky characters, determined to make the best of things, in a way that reminded me of books I read as a child.

Emmy Lake dreams of becoming a war correspondent but instead, through a series of misunderstandings, gains the post of assistant to the formidable Henrietta Bird, sorting letters destined for the problem page of Woman’s Friend.

During the first half of the novel, both Emmy and her best friend Bunty are relentlessly upbeat, showing great stoicism in the face of danger, offering a lesson in how camaraderie and community help bolster spirits during the very worst of times. (Perhaps an apt reminder that troubles are easier if ‘we all pull together’, something we need more than ever now!) The second section is more poignant and desperately sad in places, as Emmy’s impulsiveness leads to disaster. But on the whole the story races along at a jolly pace, making it impossible to write a review of Dear Mrs Bird without using the term uplifting.

Emmy’s voice reflects the language employed by upper middleclass girls of the day, using phrases like flim-flam, smashing, cut a dash and top drawer. She eats ginger biscuits. I understand this style may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found the themes of friendship, grief and resilience particularly timely. I also appreciated how Emmy and Bunty used humour to boost morale.

THE SALT PATH by RAYNOR WINN

Part of the appeal of The Salt Path, a memoir by Raynor Winn, is the narrative voice, which feels as though the story is being told by a friend. When a business deal goes wrong, Winn and her husband, Moth lose not only their livelihood, but their beloved family home. Just when the couple imagine life can’t get much worse, Moth is diagnosed with a terminal illness. With options so severely limited, when lesser mortals may have opted to throw themselves on the charity of friends, the Winn’s chose to embark on a new challenge, walking the 630 miles of the South West (English) coastal path.

In the beginning, I struggled with The Salt Path because I felt overwhelmed by concern for poor Moth, who, on top of having to cope with severe pain and coming to terms with his terminal diagnosis, was battling the elements, day after day, as they trekked on. I kept wishing he could be at home with his feet up, enjoying a nice glass of red.

But this was a book group read so I continued on too and I’m glad I did because it provided a unique insight into the daily struggle of what it means to be hungry and homeless. Although I didn’t always understand the decisions the couple made, it was an interesting lesson in resolve and inner strength, companionship and love. Also, as someone born and brought up by the sea, Winn’s descriptions of the windswept rugged landscape were a treat for the senses. One for readers of nature writing and/or inspirational hiking adventures.

28 SUMMERS by ELIN HILDERBRAND

Following a recommendation by a good friend, I decided to cling to summer a little longer by reading Elin Hilderbrand’s heart-breaking romance, 28 Summers. Fans of Hilderbrand will know that all her books are set on scenic Nantucket Island, only one of the reasons I love her work so much. She offers us the tang of the harbour, barbeques on the beach, soft sand beneath our toes, as well as interesting, woman-next-door characters – who could resist?

Mallory Blessing’s one-weekend-a-year affair with Jake McCloud is a bittersweet exploration of how an unconventional relationship enriches their lives. I understand that a love story based on forbidden love may not be for everyone, and there are times when the reader is required to suspend disbelief that such a relationship would survive decades, but this grown-up escapist romance, set by the coast, was just what I needed. Perhaps it was the certainty of Mallory and Jake meeting over and over, year after year, that was comforting during such unsteady times. An engaging, feel-good read.

THE OTHER PASSENGER by LOUISE CANDLISH

Every now and then I crave a psychological thriller and Louise Candlish is one of those authors I would willing read without checking the blurb. The Other Passenger is a mix of relationship and psychological fiction, told with a wry dark humour that perfectly suits the protagonist, Jamie. As a forty-something barista living in London with his successful partner, Clare, he is at first uncertain when the couple be-friend Kit and Melia, neighbouring millennials, who live for the day, seemingly spending beyond their means.

Themes of money, entitlement, poverty and home ownership flow back and forth as the story twists and turns between timelines. None of the characters are particularly likeable but the strong narrative voice meant I was hooked. I listened with fascinated dread as Jamie’s comfortable life unravels as he commutes on a riverboat along the Thames. One for lovers of Liane Moriarty.

ONE OF THE FAMILY by SADIE PEARSE

For anyone who enjoys women’s emotional fiction and has yet to discover Sadie Pearse, then you are in for a treat. I loved her debut novel, This Child of Ours, and so couldn’t wait to start her latest release, One of the Family. Sam Jackson went missing as a teenager but eighteen years later gets in touch with her sister, Freya, requesting that Freya care for her young son, Dino. It quickly becomes apparent that Dino has endured a difficult childhood but Freya warms to the lad (as did I) and determines to help him in any way she can.

Filled with hope and family love, with forgiveness and ultimately how it is impossible to control how a heart feels, this is a moving story of a modern family changing shape to include others. I particularly enjoyed that though Freya and her partner were separated they remained loyal and loving, sharing the upbringing of their daughters – rather than the well-worn cliché of a couple at war. A gentle warning, tissues may be needed towards the end! One for lovers of Diane Chamberlain, Kate Hewitt and Amanda Prowse.

Published by Rae Cowie

Check out my bookish chat at raecowie.com

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