RAE’S READING ROUND-UP FOR… OCTOBER 2020

Hello reading friends!

As the clocks went back here in Scotland, autumn tightened its grip and we battened down for the first couple of storms of the season. And although I love the restorative power of spending time surrounded by nature, the wild weather also gave me an excuse (who needs an excuse?) to snuggle up with some fantastic books.

I’d like to draw particular attention to You, Me, Everything by Catherine Isaac, which I was successful in bagging during last year’s Children in Read auction, which raises much needed funds for the BBC Children in Need campaign. If you are considering donating this year, then I’d encourage everyone to check out the wide selection of signed books up for grabs (remember Christmas is just around the corner) by simply following this link. The auction closes on 13th November, 2020.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you and yours stay safe and well.

Happy reading!

THE GOOD PEOPLE by HANNAH KENT

With nights’ drawing in and the spirit of Halloween upon us, it felt the perfect time to read Hannah Kent’s dark historical, The Good People. Based on a true story, Kent beckons the reader to early 1800s rural Ireland, where Nóra Leahy is not only consumed by grief at the recent loss of her husband, but also distraught that her four-year-old grandson, Micheál is not developing as expected. Folklore and superstition are a part of the fabric of daily life and when the true extent of Micheál’s disabilities become known throughout the valley, mutterings start, accusing him of causing the ills befalling Nóra’s neighbours. Loneliness and ignorance cause her grief to twist quickly into anger and fear. In desperation she turns to the local herbalist, Nance Roche, who uses rituals to appease the faeries (known as the Good People). With talk of changelings and individuals being swept, a sense of foreboding is present from the outset.  

Part of the joy of listening to The Good People was the richness of language employed, as the dialect and turns of phrase rang so true. Kent is exceptionally skilled at portraying the poverty and anguish that led the two women to believe that their course of action was the right one. Caroline Lennon’s narration – her beautiful lilting Irish voice – was pure perfection. If you fancy curling up on a dark evening with a story that whisks you to a time when faeries were feared, then The Good People is a brilliant place to begin.

Today, I’m sharing a beautifully romantic novel, You, Me, Everything by Catherine Isaac, one I was lucky enough to win during last year’s Children in Read auction, raising much needed cash for BBC’s Children in Need. This year’s auction is OPEN and bids are welcomed until 13th November 2020, offering the chance to win signed books by our favourite authors.

Back to the novel, and sometimes a book cries out to be read at a certain time. Our youngest has returned to study in France and given You, Me, Everything is set in the gorgeous French countryside and is essentially about the importance of family and love, it helped me feel closer to him. (Weird but true!)

Student sweethearts, Jess and Adam, imagined growing old together, but an unplanned pregnancy places a strain on their relationship and Jess is devastated when they parted company. Since then, Jess has had sole care of their young son, William, whilst Adam has spent his time restoring a chateau in the Dordogne to its former glory and establishing a successful holiday business. But when life throws Jess a curve ball, it is time for Adam to connect fully with his son.

I loved this novel on so many levels. Isaac’s eye for seeing humour in everyday family life is fantastic. Whilst, without creating a spoiler, it also includes a serious, heart-breaking theme which is handled with warmth and sensitivity. Peppered with descriptions of delicious food, fine wine, family barbeques and sweeping vistas, it is escapist fiction with a huge heart. I cried buckets at the end. Prepare to want to move to France!

AMERICAN DIRT by JEANINE CUMMINS

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is the second book this month that I believe has been enhanced by listening on audiobook. I know there has been much discussion about this novel, in terms of cultural appropriation and who has the right to tell migrant stories, as well as the highly insensitive marketing that was employed when the novel was launched, but for the purpose of this review I plan on concentrating on the novel as a work of fiction.

Lydia Pérez and her family live a comfortable middle-class life in the Mexican coastal city of Acapulco, but when Lydia’s journalist husband investigates a dangerous drug cartel, the results are catastrophic. In fear for their lives, Lydia and her eight-year-old son, Luca begin the journey from Acapulco to el norte (the United States), joining other South American migrants attempting the same.

I found this to be a powerful novel, filled with truly shocking violence and unimaginable fear, but I was even more touched by the huge amount of compassion, generosity and kindness shown by the Mexican people to the migrants (not always Mexican but from other South American countries too), who offered both practical help, in the shape of food and shelter, as well emotional support by lending a listening ear. The descriptions of migrants attempting to board la bestia, the trains that travel north, is writing that will stay with me for a long time. It was also interesting to learn how the culture and landscape of the country changes as Lydia and Luca travelled north.

Some reviews describe American Dirt as being too melodramatic and not a true depiction of the migrant experience, but as a work of fiction that introduces readers to individuals who have families, lives, back stories and dreams that could be ours, it caused me to stop and think, and I hope to pay more attention to the plight and discrimination faced by real migrants, wherever they are journeying in the world.  I encourage everyone to read American Dirt and decide for yourself.

PINE by FRANCINE TOON

As the nights lengthen, I enjoy including a touch of gothic in my reading choices, and when I discovered Francine’s Toon’s best-selling debut, Pine, is set near Dornoch, where I’d recently been glamping, then it had to be my next read. Pine opens with children guising (the Scottish word for trick or treating) at Halloween and the descriptions as they move from home to home were creepily unsettling, but also captured perfectly that nervous excitement felt as a child. I also loved the mention of Moray Firth Radio, the local radio station of my youth.

Lauren is ten and lives with her father, Niall, surrounded by thick forest, where the sense of eerie isolation is palpable.  From the outset we know that her mum is missing and much of the novel revolves around the mystery of what has happened. Gossip and second-guessing are rife in the Highland community, and as Lauren searches for answers it becomes harder and harder for her to distinguish between what is real and what is imagined. Toon began writing as a poet and her ability to infuse dread into the seemingly mundane is excellent. The cover blurb describes Pine as a thriller, however I found it to be more of a gothic slow burn. Read it if you dare!

THE BOOKSHOP by PENELOPE FITZGERALD

Although I was familiar with Penelope Fitzgerald’s name, I had never read her work, so when I came across a movie entitled The Bookshop based on one of her novels of the same name, I decided to give it a go. Set in 1959 in the coastal village of Hardborough, Florence Green, a widow with a small inheritance, decides to open a bookshop. But in so doing, she sets herself against Mrs Gamart, queen of the local arts’ scene, and a quiet battle duly ensues. Described as a classic, there is something comforting in the pettiness of small-town life, whilst the ironic humour reminded me of Muriel Spark – dry and pinpoint sharp. Given it is near Halloween, I should also mention that this is a touch of the supernatural in the story, although I felt that this strand was never fully explored. I’m sorry to say that, for me, the movie didn’t do the novel justice. It lacked the wit and subtle humour and played too much on the sadder themes. If you are feeling nostalgic and are in the mood for a gentle read, I recommend you give the book a try.

GONE GLAMPING…

Hello reading friends!

Those who know me well, know how much I am inspired by travel, but events of 2020 have made foreign jaunts impossible and over the summer I was content to enjoy long walks close to home. But by September, my mojo was flat-lining and I yearned for a change and to try something different. So, Hubs and I decided to go glamping. Two nights on a site near Dornoch, an area of Scotland we had yet to explore.

Our glamping home…

En route, we took a short detour to the Falls of Shin, known as one of the best places in Scotland to view salmon leaping. Over the years, we’ve trekked to several falls across the country, hoping to witness just such an event, but with no success. This time, it had been bucketing down for days meaning the falls were spectacular. But surely no salmon would attempt such a risky manoeuvre as flinging themselves upstream with the river in spate? Imagine my excitement when we spotted the first dark flashes as they battled against the relentless rush of water, trying time and again to scale the sides of the river, avoiding the worst of the torrent. The fish looked small against the might of the falls; their journey perilous. It was a mesmerising sight. But more than that, it was a reminder to never give up, even though the odds may seem stacked against you. A fabulous message from nature.

The Falls of Shin

As the sun was shining, we decided to make the most of the day by climbing the small hill that makes up Balblair woods, which provides stunning views over the Kyle of Sutherland.

Beautiful Kyle of Sutherland
Walking in Balblair Woods…

It is a mix of walking and mountain-biking trails, through Scots Pine and larch, where luck was with us for a second time when we spotted a red squirrel. Not too far in, we came to an intersection and chose the trail not marked, the road less travelled. And I’m so glad we did as we came to a lochan tucked just off the track, dark and still, its surface a mirror for the surrounding trees.

A peaceful Lochan

The silence was broken only by the gentle hum of dragonflies mating, as they flitted and danced around us, and the wooden jetty we stood on. The sunlight glistened on their fairy-like wings. It felt a special place, where the world fell away and it was easy to absorb the peace of nature.   

The dragonflies were too nimble for me to catch them on the wing!

After a full day, it was time to make for our glamping pod. With underfloor heating, a hot shower, microwave and fridge, it would be wrong to give the impression we were roughing it! Far from it. Our accommodation was pretty and cosy, immaculately clean and exactly what we needed to unwind.  

Evening on the deck…

Day two dawned bright, so we donned our hiking boots and headed for the sea, walking the long stretch of sands from Dornoch to Embo, where we enjoyed a coffee al fresco.

Beach life… heading towards Embo

We took a pretty woodland walk, following the disused railway line, back to Dornoch for a spot of lunch, where we checked out its famous cathedral (where Madonna and Guy Ritchie were wed in 2000, before a star-studded congregation of guests).

Dornoch Cathedral

And, of course, no trip would be complete without a browse in a good book shop and the Dornoch Bookshop ticked all the boxes on that score.

Check out the bookshop’s green coffee cart to the right of the photo…

With one afternoon left, we opted to visit Dunrobin Castle, the seat of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland. It’s a dream confection with conical spires, so magnificent that it reminded me of the movie, Shrek. There were no ogres or dragons here though, instead we found the most amazing formal gardens, inspired by the Palace of Versailles.

Dunrobin Castle
Elegant formal gardens of Dunrobin Castle

But the flowers I liked best were tucked away in a corner – a carpet of lilac autumn crocus in full bloom.

Autumn Crocus

The other plant that caught my eye (in honesty it was hard to miss) was the patch of Gunnera manicata, or giant rhubarb. A native of South America, its leaves measure around 8 feet long! Who would have thought a member of the humble rhubarb family could pose such a display?

Gunnera manicata – Giant Rhubarb

But what has all this to do with writing? Well glamping reminded me of how important it is to keep trying new things to help fill that creative well. Although I didn’t come back with any specific story ideas, I felt more focused and energised by spending two days observing nature in all its wonderful glory.

So, how do you keep life fresh and interesting, during these difficult times? And what simple tricks do you use to help banish those same-old, same-old blues?

Until next time, stay safe and be like the hardy salmon, never giving up on your dreams.

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.

SHOW MAGAZINES SOME LOVE…💗

Hello Reading Friends!

I have a confession to make – it’s not only books I love, but magazines too. So it was a fantastic surprise when this month’s copy of Writers’ Forum plopped on my doormat. Why? Not just because it was the first writing magazine I subscribed to, full of practical advice and inspirational articles, it was because several months ago I received a sad email explaining that due to the drop in supermarket sales Writers’ Forum must pause production.

And this wasn’t the only magazine I enjoyed that has been adversely affected by the ongoing pandemic. No1 magazine, Scotland’s glossy – think Hello set in Scotland, shining a spotlight on successful Scottish women, as well as promoting boutique hotels and luxury spa retreats (I love to dream) – announced it must close.

WHY CLOSURES?

Unless you are a subscriber, then magazine purchases tend to be an impulse buy… a little treat for finishing the weekly shop. Or when heading to work, we might grab one to read over lunch.

WHAT HAS CHANGED?

However, over the past months our habits have changed. Wearing a mask and keeping socially distant means we are less likely to dally in the supermarket. Instead, we de-bug our trolley… get what we need… and leave.

Also, many are still working from home. Here in Scotland, at the time of writing, this is still the norm – meaning we cobble together something from the fridge, rather than heading out to buy lunch.

SO WHY ARE MAGAZINE SALES SO IMPORTANT FOR WRITERS?

Well apart from the obvious, providing employment for journalists and columnists, many novelists enjoy their first taste of publication success by submitting short stories to the magazine market – for Prima, People’s Friend, Woman, the Yours Fiction special etc. Some writers simply prefer to create short fiction and continue to make their income from this source.

But it’s not just the direct impact of loss of income that affects writers when a magazine folds. Many women’s magazines contain weekly, monthly and seasonal book reviews. Some, like Goodhousekeeping, Woman and Home, and Yours Fiction run online book groups via Facebook, where readers meet and discuss their favourite reads. Whilst Platinum has introduced a book club with author Adele Parks at the helm.

As broadsheets reduce column space for book reviews, magazines are a vital way in a busy marketplace to help create a buzz around books. No1 Magazine recently introduced a book review section; what a shame that its final issue will be published on 17th September and another space for authors and publishers will disappear.

And it’s not just women’s magazines that support authors. Here is Scotland The Scots Magazine and Scottish Field do great work spotlighting writers too. And let’s not forget the inspiration a writer discovers when reading the personal stories, travel pieces, health columns etcetera. The benefits of magazines to authors and the bookish community go on and on.

So, let’s give a shout out to our favourite magazines in the comments below, showing them some love💗 and doing our little bit to help them survive.

Until next time, happy reading!

RAE’S READING ROUND-UP FOR… AUGUST 2020

Hello reading friends!

One look at my August reads and you may be forgiven for assuming I’m obsessed with Tom Hanks. And perhaps I am – just a bit. I’ve loved his movies for years and found his warm, gravelly voice perfect for the narration of Ann Patchett’s, The Dutch House. Naturally, the next step was to try his debut short story collection, Uncommon Type.

Short stories have featured heavily this month, as I also enjoyed Jojo Moyes’ uplifting feel-good collection, Paris for One and Other Stories. PLUS fans of Moyes’ (and that’s everyone, right?) be sure to click on the link to her new FREE short story, Lou in Lockdown.

Until next time… I hope you enjoy!

THE DUTCH HOUSE by ANN PATCHETT

A novel written by best-selling author Ann Patchett, narrated by my favourite actor, Tom Hanks – who could resist such a stellar combo? From the outset the title sets us firmly within

the Dutch House, a sprawling, stately, slightly ghoulish mansion nestled in the suburbs of Philadelphia. But for young Danny Conroy and his elder sister Maeve, it is the place they grow up and call home. We then follow them through the next five decades, exploring their relationship with the property and why they find it impossible to let go. It’s a slow burn of a novel, examining sibling relationships and family ties, insecurities and resentments that linger long after childhood. It’s a family saga that weaves back and forth in time, until eventually we understand why the players play the parts they do. Hanks is superb as narrator, as he captures Danny’s personality perfectly. Let’s hope the duo of Patchett and Hanks get together again soon. 

UNCOMMON TYPE by TOM HANKS – August 2020

It’s impossible to read Tom Hanks debut collection of short stories, Uncommon Type, without hearing his wonderful, rumbling voice. Before I started reading, I knew Hanks was an enthusiastic collector of typewriters, but what was a surprise was to discover how he weaves a reference to typewriters within each of his tales. In one or two of them, typewriters are central to the story, but most simply include a brief mention.

So, Tom Hanks is one of my favourite actors, but can he write? The short answer is ‘yes’. Perhaps unsurprisingly he is excellent at characterisation, focusing on everyday details that reveal so much. Dinner time with the Family Beuell was a show. Davey was in and out of his chair – the kid never sat through a meal. This is a gentle collection with a nostalgic feel, as Hanks looks back to when life seemed simpler. If I have one criticism – and I must clarify that I enjoy many, many American authors, as well as novels set in the States – however I found these stories peppered with references to particular American products, shops, television shows etc., which may resonate with an American reader, but as a Scot, at times, found they dragged me out of the narrative. That said, I loved the sneak peek into the issues Hanks chose to write about – mostly domestic, mostly warm, always entertaining.

THE HEART’S INVISBLE FURIES by JOHN BOYNE

The first fifty pages of The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne was so compelling that I wondered how he could keep up the pace for the next seven hundred – but he does. A word of caution though, as the coming-of-age tale of a homosexual man growing up in Catholic Ireland, the first half of the novel is dominated by sex. Boyne is particularly astute and empathic in drawing women, his characterisation is superb, but the plot isn’t perfect (there are a couple of rather convenient deaths). However, Boyne’s skill as a writer makes it easy to overlook the improbable and simple enjoy the experience of being swept along.

This may give the impression that this is an insubstantial read and nothing could be further from the truth, as we are confronted with the horrors that faced/face homosexual men, who simply want to love and be loved. The cover blurb describes The Heart’s Invisible Furies as a funny novel, and there are plenty humorous moments to savour, but it’s a dry wit, say in the style of John Irving’s, A Prayer for Owen Meany. This was a book group choice that made lively discussion. A moving, thought-provoking read.

PARIS FOR ONE and OTHER STORIES – by JOJO MOYES

Fans of Jojo Moyes bestselling Me Before You trilogy were recently treated to a follow-up short story entitled, Lou In Lockdown, available here. Not only is it timely, but Lou and her mum made me laugh so much that I was delighted when I remembered I had a copy of Moyes’ Paris for One and Other Stories on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. A warm hug of a collection, these stories were first made available on radio and in magazines, brought together to create an easy-to-read coffee break compendium.

Composed of nine short stories plus two that are bit longer (arguably novella in length) they are feel-good tales with a cast of relatable characters, focusing on the everyday issues that beset women, told with gentle humour. Not all are set in Paris, but those that are – Paris for One, and Honeymoon in Paris – were my favourites. Perhaps because I honeymooned in Paris too – although without the fictional drama! An uplifting read, perfect for dipping into when a pop of positivity is needed.

MY MOTHER’S CHOICE by ALI MERCER

When I heard Ali Mercer discuss My Mother’s Choice during a Bookouture Live Facebook event, I knew this would be my kind of read… Dani was only four years old when her mum, Laura, was lost in a mysterious accident. Now a teen, Dani is confused by the secrecy that surrounds her mum’s death and is determined to unearth the facts. The story begins in the present day, as Dani pieces together the puzzle of what led to her mum’s passing, flipping to a decade earlier, via extracts from Laura’s diary.

Part family drama, part mystery, the story begins slowly before the pace picks up, revealing several great twists.  I found myself firmly on Dani’s side throughout, as she seemed a lonely, vulnerable, awkward teen who is desperate to learn more about her mum. Whilst the caring she shows her friend, Josie, felt both poignant and true.   

The only character I didn’t warm to was Dani’s Aunt Carrie, as her coldness felt a touch overdone at times and I longed for her to change. Dani came across as a bright, well-adjusted young woman, who was perhaps wilful at times (a normal teen), and I wished Aunt Carrie would cut her some slack and show her real love. However, it was also Mercer’s skilled writing that meant I so wanted Dani to not only find peace but lasting happiness too. Described as one for fans of Kate Hewitt and Amanda Prowse, this was my first Ali Mercer novel and I look forward to reading more.

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