Historical fiction

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Mini Pin It Reviews #9 – Four Books From Book Bridgr/other publishers

Published May 21, 2017 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post! I have a massive backlog of reviews and this is my way of trying to get on top of things a bit. This isn’t to say I didn’t like some of these books – my star rating is a more accurate reflection of this, but this is a great, snappy way of getting my thoughts across and decreasing my backlog a bit. This time I’ve got four books from Book Bridgr for you – please see my pin it thoughts below!

1 – Glow by Ned Beauman

What’s it all about?:

With GLOW, Ned Beauman has reinvented the international conspiracy thriller for a new generation.

A hostage exchange outside a police station in Pakistan.
A botched defection in an airport hotel in New Jersey.
A test of loyalty at an abandoned resort in the Burmese jungle.
A boy and a girl locking eyes at a rave in a South London laundrette . . .

For the first time, Britain’s most exciting young novelist turns his attention to the present day, as a conspiracy with global repercussions converges on one small flat above a dentist’s office in Camberwell.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

2.) The Ladies Of The House by Molly McGrann

What’s it all about?:

On a sweltering July day, three people are found dead in a dilapidated house in London’s elegant Primrose Hill. Reading the story in a newspaper as she prepares to leave the country, Marie Gillies has an unshakeable feeling that she is somehow to blame.

How did these three people come to live together, and how did they all die at once? The truth lies in a very different England, in the double life of Marie’s father Arthur, and in the secret world of the ladies of the house . . .

Stylish, enchanting and deliciously atmospheric, this is a tragicomic novel about hidden love, second chances and unlikely companionships, told with wit, verve and lingering power.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

3.) The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

What’s it all about?:

One messy murder affects the lives of five misfits who exist on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society. Ryan is a fifteen-year-old drug dealer desperate not to turn out like his alcoholic father Tony, whose obsession with his unhinged next-door neighbour threatens to ruin him and his family. Georgie is a prostitute whose willingness to feign a religious conversion has dangerous repercussions, while Maureen, the accidental murderer, has returned to Cork after forty years in exile to discover that Jimmy, the son she was forced to give up years before, has grown into the most fearsome gangster in the city. In seeking atonement for the murder and a multitude of other perceived sins, Maureen threatens to destroy everything her son has worked so hard for, while her actions risk bringing the intertwined lives of the Irish underworld into the spotlight . . .

Biting, moving and darkly funny, The Glorious Heresies explores salvation, shame and the legacy of Ireland’s twentieth-century attitudes to sex and family.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

4.) The Secret Place by Tana French

What’s it all about?:

The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says, I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. The Secret Place, a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

COMING UP SOON ON MINI PIN IT REVIEWS: Four Thriller Novels.

See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt

Published May 5, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Haunting, gripping and gorgeously written, SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE by Sarah Schmidt is a re-imagining of the unsolved American true crime case of the Lizzie Borden murders, for fans of BURIAL RITES and MAKING A MURDERER.

‘Eerie and compelling, Sarah Schmidt breathes such life into the terrible, twisted tale of Lizzie Borden and her family, she makes it impossible to look away’ Paula Hawkins

When her father and step-mother are found brutally murdered on a summer morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden – thirty two years old and still living at home – immediately becomes a suspect. But after a notorious trial, she is found innocent, and no one is ever convicted of the crime.

Meanwhile, others in the claustrophobic Borden household have their own motives and their own stories to tell: Lizzie’s unmarried older sister, a put-upon Irish housemaid, and a boy hired by Lizzie’s uncle to take care of a problem.

This unforgettable debut makes you question the truth behind one of the great unsolved mysteries, as well as exploring power, violence and the harsh realities of being a woman in late nineteenth century America.

What did I think?:

First of all, the biggest thank you to the lovely Georgina Moore from Headline and Tinder Press who were kind enough to send me a copy of this astounding debut novel in return for an honest review. To be honest, I’m not sure where to start with this book – I have so much to say and it invoked so many different feelings in me that I’m wary of this review turning into an incoherent gush fest! See What I Have Done is unlike any novel I’ve read before and will probably ever read. The characters, the structure of the plot and especially the stunning writing style all completely blew me away and I still find myself thinking about it days after finishing.

Sarah Schmidt has chosen to focus on a real and rather shocking event that played out in the late nineteenth century involving a young girl called Lizzie Borden who was the main suspect in a double murder of her father and his wife, her stepmother Abby Borden. You may be familiar with the old schoolyard rhyme:

“Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.”

Now in reality, Lizzie was actually acquitted of their murders. Apparently it was thought that the killings were so brutal that no well brought up, middle-class young lady would have been capable of such an act. Sarah Schmidt has chosen to fictionalise Lizzie’s story from a number of perspectives that is, from the point of view of her sister Emma who was not present in the house at the time of the killings, the Irish maid Bridget who at the time had an uneasy relationship with Mrs Borden, a mysterious young man called Benjamin and from Lizzie herself. Each perspective is startlingly honest and intimate and we get a fantastic insight into the strained relationships between different family members, the sadness and frustration of living in a house with difficult and occasionally spiteful parents and the innermost thoughts of a troubled mind.

See What I Have Done is a raw and disturbing read that instantly draws you in with its delicious (yet at the same time disgusting) imagery forged by beautifully descriptive writing and fascinating character studies that have you questioning everybody and everything. It seems like everyone has motive for killing the Borden’s but which one of these individuals had the strength and audacity to wield the axe at the end? As a reader, we’ve got an idea of whom as we draw towards the conclusion but the author will still have you thinking of alternative things that could have happened if others were in the vicinity at the right time. What did I love most about this novel? Apart from the writing style which I could wax on about for days, I enjoyed how she explored the relationship between Lizzie and her older sister Emma which was terribly co-dependent on Lizzie’s part, despite the fact she was supposed to be in her thirties. Her child-like voice, the decisions she made, and the actions she chose added the creep factor to the proceedings and made her an utterly mind-blowing character to read about.

Even the simple act of several characters eating a pear sent shivers down my spine, it was written in such a crystal clear way that played on each one of your senses to the extreme where you could smell the sickness in the house, taste the mutton soup and swallow the pear. If I could sum up my feelings on See What I Have Done (which would be tricky!) I would say: I was nauseated and amazed, disgusted but filled with awe, taken aback but hugely delighted and urge everyone with every fibre of my being to READ THIS BOOK. Sarah Schmidt has a new, ardent fan right here that has “seen what she has done,” loved every minute of it and simply cannot wait to see what she does next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

Katherine Of Aragon, The True Queen (Six Tudor Queens #1) – Alison Weir

Published April 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The lives of Henry VIII’s queens make for dramatic stories and Alison Weir will write a series of novels that offer insights into the real lives of the six wives based on extensive research and new theories.

In all the romancing, has anyone regarded the evidence that Anne Boleyn did not love Henry VIII? Or that Prince Arthur, Katherine of Aragon’s first husband, who is said to have loved her in fact cared so little for her that he willed his personal effects to his sister? Or that Henry VIII, an over-protected child and teenager, was prudish when it came to sex? That Jane Seymour, usually portrayed as Henry’s one true love, had the makings of a matriarch? There is much to reveal …

Alison will write about the wives in the context of their own age and of the court intrigues that surrounded these women and – without exception – wrecked their lives. She will transport readers into a lost and vivid world of splendour and brutality: a world in which love, or the game of it, dominates all.

What did I think?:

When I was at school I didn’t pay much attention to history lessons and felt it didn’t really interest me that much. Then as an adult, I found how much I was missing out on and I credit authors like Alison Weir for introducing me to important individuals from our past in both her fiction and non-fiction in such a wonderful way that without reading her I would have remained woefully ignorant. I first came across Alison Weir’s work in her non-fiction, namely the excellent book Henry VIII, The King And His Court which I highly recommend. This led to me being fascinated with the Tudor period of British history and devouring any book by the author that was relevant. When Alison starting writing historical fiction, I was delighted and her meticulous research and passion for her subject clearly comes across in her novels.

The Six Tudor Queens is a new series of historical fiction novels, each one focusing on a wife of Henry VIII:

“that provide insight into the real lives of these women, based on extensive research and new theories, novels that will put the six wives into the context of their own age”.

Thank you so much to Headline publishers via Book Bridgr who sent me an absolutely gorgeous hardback edition of the first novel, Katherine Of Aragon: The True Queen in exchange for an honest review. Well, I have to admit I’m already slightly biased as I’m a huge fan of Alison Weir but believe me, I’m not going to gush about this book insincerely. It’s an absolutely stunning piece of work and gave much deeper insights into Katherine of Aragon as a person than I ever could have dreamed of.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with Katherine’s story, I’ll give a very quick synopsis. She was the first wife of Henry VIII and originally came over as a princess of Spain to be the wife of his brother, Arthur who was the heir to the throne of England. However, Arthur dies quite suddenly and Katherine is left in limbo for the longest time while Henry’s father, Henry VII, decides what is to be done with her. She finally gets her happy ending when she marries Henry and becomes Queen but their marriage whilst initially a happy one is fraught with difficulties and tragedies over the years. Throughout all her personal losses, disappointments and outright betrayals however, Katherine remains dignified and regal, certainly making her mark on history as a true Queen of England.

I don’t want to say too much about Katherine’s struggles, particularly in her relationships with her husband, Henry but it’s an utterly compelling and gripping tale that reveals just how much effort and love Alison Weir has put into this novel to make Katherine’s story come alive. Out of all of Henry’s wives, she remains firmly in my top two, even more so now after the beauty of Alison’s writing. The next book in the series, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession is due to be published on the 18th of May and I was ecstatic to be approved for it on NetGalley (thank you again Headline!). Expect a review for that around about the publication date but if it’s anything as powerful as this first novel, I’m going to be one happy Tudor fan girl.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

Blog Tour – Bamboo Road by Ann Bennett

Published March 30, 2017 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to my spot on the Bamboo Road Blog Tour. Bamboo Road is the third in a trilogy of historical fiction books about Southeast Asia during the Second World War that can be read in any order. To see my review of the first book Bamboo Heart, please click HERE and for the second book, Bamboo Island, please click HERE.

What’s it all about?:

Thailand 1942: Sirinya and her family are members of the Thai underground, who risk their lives to resist the World War Two Japanese occupation and to and help British prisoners of war building the Thai-Burma railway. The events of those years have repercussions for decades to come. The book tells Sirinya s wartime story and how in the 1970s she returns to Kanchanaburi after a long absence abroad, to settle old scores from the war years. Bamboo Road is volume three in a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy that includes Bamboo Heart and Bamboo Island (the books may be read in any order).”

What did I think?:

After the beautiful second novel in the trilogy that was Bamboo Island, I was eager to get to Bamboo Road, make friends with a host of new characters and find out even more about the horrific things that Japanese prisoners of war went through during the Second World War. I’m very pleased to report back that Bamboo Road did not disappoint. Brutal in points, that’s a given considering the subject matter but hugely interesting involving a lot of other themes including friendship, the importance of family and love.

Our protagonist for this story is Sirinya, a young woman living in Thailand with her uncle, aunt and cousin and whom, when the Japanese invade and take over, goes to extreme lengths with her family to help the prisoners of war when she is horrified to discover how they are being treated. As with the other novels in the trilogy, there are a couple of different time periods, that of 1942 when Sirinya was a huge part of the underground movement fighting against the cruel methods used by the Japanese to torture prisoners and the 1970’s where Sirinya as a grown woman returns to her family home to settle an old score from years ago that has shadowed and deeply affected her life ever since.

Once again, similar to Bamboo Island, it was wonderful to read about such a brave and independent female lead character who I instantly sympathised and felt connected to. Sirinya takes many risks, is subjected to the worst kind of torture and experiences many losses of her own yet remains strong and determined that the prisoners of war should categorically not be suffering. Once she catches a glimpse of their starving, emaciated bodies in the jungle she is willing to put her own life on the line to ensure that they got enough food and that medicines that they desperately needed were smuggled into the camp. She had so much heart and compassion, not only in this but in the way she reacted to the people around her, especially her close family and I loved rooting for her throughout the novel. Throughout the trilogy, the author has struck an excellent balance between the horror, challenges and moments of romance that her characters experience and I feel like I’ve learned not only about the terrible conditions of prisoner of war camps but about Southeast Asia as a region, something I was hoping for when beginning the series and Ann Bennett delivered on every level.

If you like the sound of Bamboo Road, you can buy it here:

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bamboo-Road-BAMBOO-HEART-Bennett-ebook/dp/B06XFJSD7S

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

AUTHOR INFORMATION

 Ann Bennett was born and raised in a small village in Northamptonshire, UK. She read Law at Cambridge and qualified and practised as a solicitor. During a career break, to have children, she started to write. Her father had been a prisoner of war on the Thailand– Burma Railway and the idea for a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy came from researching his wartime experiences. The research took her back to Asia, a place she loves and has returned to many times. She lives in Surrey with her husband and three sons and works in London as a lawyer.

Website: https://www.bambooheart.co.uk/
Blog: https://annbennettbambooheart.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/annbennett71
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Ann-Bennett-242663029444033/

Thank you once again to Monsoon Books and Faye Rogers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a great time doing it. Bamboo Road, the third in the Bamboo trilogy was published on 1st March 2017 and is available from all good book retailers now! If you’re hungry for more, why not check out some of the other stops on the tour from my fellow bloggers?

 

Bamboo Island – Ann Bennett

Published March 29, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Juliet Crosby has lived a reclusive life on her Malayan rubber plantation since the Second World War robbed her of everyone she loved. However, the sudden appearance of a young woman from Indonesia disrupts her lonely existence and stirs up unsettling memories. Juliet is forced to recollect her prewar marriage, her wartime ordeals in Japanese-occupied Singapore and the loss of those she once held dear. Bamboo Island is part of a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy of historical fiction that can be read in any order and includes Bamboo Heart and Bamboo Road.

What did I think?:

Hello everyone and welcome to the second of three very special days on my blog to celebrate the Bamboo Trilogy by Ann Bennett. To see my review of the first book in the series, Bamboo Heart, please click HERE. This post today will focus on the second novel, Bamboo Island which involves different characters than the first book but is set in the same time frame, in Southeast Asia during the Second World War. It means each book can be read as a stand alone but we do get certain events being referred to in the second and third book.

I really enjoyed the first book in the series but I was especially delighted to discover that I enjoyed Bamboo Island even more! It follows a British woman called Juliet Crosby who has lived with her husband, Gavin on a rubber plantation but their marriage is fraught with difficulties. Her only confidant is her sister Rose who is married herself and lives in Singapore so visiting and speaking with each other is a rare occurrence. There are a number of different time frames to this story (which was part of why I loved it most) and we switch between them seamlessly.

There is pre-war, naive Juliet and her struggles with her distant husband and distant sister (both distant for VERY different reasons, mind you!). Then there is Juliet during the war with full and heart-breaking description of her struggles and her internment at a horrific prison camp but also the friendships and bonds she makes along the way. Finally, there is post war Juliet living back on the rubber plantation and waiting for someone. The person who turns up is definitely not whom she is expecting, a young girl called Mary, claiming to have crucial information about Juliet’s family and the loss of those that she had been close to. Juliet is uncertain about whether to believe her but the two women journey to try and find evidence to back up Mary’s claims leading Juliet to go on an emotional journey back in time herself as she remembers her difficult life and comes to terms with what happened to her in the past.

I raced through this book in just over twenty-four hours, I kid you not. I literally could not put it down. I connected and sympathised with Juliet as a character so much, perhaps more than I did with the female lead in Bamboo Heart and I was constantly on edge whilst reading it, desperate to find out more about her past. I also can’t remember the last time I was willing a character to have a happy ending so bad! Again, the author does not avoid full and frank details about the conditions a prisoner of war under the Japanese would experience and once again, she had me disgusted, despairing but completely devoted to the story. I felt that the secondary characters in this novel were also people I wanted to get to know and felt like fully, fleshed out people who you could instantly love (or hate, in some cases!). After the strength of this second part of the trilogy, I now can’t wait to get to Bamboo Road where I hope to find further fascinating characters that will give me the intense feelings that Bamboo Island did.

If you like the sound of Bamboo Island, you can buy it here:

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/9814625175

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Come back tomorrow for my stop on the blog tour for Bamboo Road, the final book in the Bamboo trilogy.

Bamboo Heart – Ann Bennett

Published March 28, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Shortlisted for Best Fiction Title, Singapore Book Awards 2016

Thailand, 1943: Thomas Ellis, captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore, is a prisoner-of-war on the Death Railway. In stifling heat he endures endless days of clearing jungle, breaking stone and lugging wood. He must stay alive, although he is struck down by disease and tortured by Japanese guards, and he must stay strong, although he is starving and exhausted. For Tom has made himself a promise: to return home. Not to the grey streets of London, where he once lived, but to Penang, where he found paradise and love. London, 1986: Laura Ellis, a successful City lawyer, turns her back on her yuppie existence and travels to Southeast Asia. In Thailand and Malaysia she retraces her father’s past and discovers the truths he has refused to tell her. And in the place where her father once suffered and survived, she will finally find out how he got his Bamboo Heart. In a blend of stirring fiction and heart-wrenching history, Ann Bennett narrates the story of a soldier’s strength and survival in the bleakest of times and a daughter’s journey of discovery about her father and herself. Bamboo Heart is volume one in a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy that includes Bamboo Island and Bamboo Road.

What did I think?:

Hello everyone and welcome to a very special three days on my blog. For the next three days, including today, I will be talking about a wonderful new trilogy that I’ve just completed – The Bamboo Trilogy by Ann Bennett. I shall be reviewing the first book today, Bamboo Heart then the second, Bamboo Island tomorrow and finally the third, Bamboo Road as part of a blog tour celebrating the final book in the series and the trilogy as a whole. The books can be read in any order as they are all stand-alone stories although they do make references to things that have already happened in the previous books (in the case of the second and third novels).

Faye Rogers, who works as a freelance PR contacted me and asked me to be a part of this blog tour and when I read the synopsis of the books, I immediately accepted. A huge thank you to her and also to Monsoon Books for sending me a copy of the trilogy in exchange for an honest review. I’m a great lover of historical fiction and one of the periods of interest for me is the Second World War. As it is also set mainly in Southeast Asia, a region I find fascinating, that was the icing on the cake for me. What I wasn’t expecting is how emotionally invested I became in the stories. Bamboo Heart is the story of Laura Ellis in London, 1986 whom after the tragic death of her father, becomes desperate to find out more about his life during the Second World War. What happened to her father in the forties in Thailand and Malaysia is difficult for her father to talk about, the horrific experiences that he went through are nothing short of devastating and he deliberately shielded his daughter from the heart-break of his story.

After undergoing a break up of her own and still grieving for the loss of her father, Laura decides to journey to Thailand and Malaysia so that she can understand some of what her father went through. The story takes us through Laura’s hunt for that terrible knowledge and back in time to the 1940’s when her father, Tom Ellis is a prisoner of war of the Japanese, helping to build a railway from Thailand to Burma. The conditions he works in are brutal and almost indescribable but the author does not shy away from the honesty of how the prisoners were treated. They were beaten on a daily basis, starved, punished for the slightest infraction and before long, were mere skeletons, too weak to undergo the hard labour that was expected of them but terrified of repercussions if they didn’t. Laura goes through an emotional journey of her own as she realises what her father suffered and we learn more about Tom’s life both during this horrific time and when he first came to the East and fell in love with a local woman.

I found this novel to be a fascinating read, especially I have to say Tom’s story and his experiences whilst building the railway as a prisoner of war. I was slightly less invested in Laura’s story but I enjoyed how the author linked the two together. I must also mention that the author began writing this story whilst carrying out research into her own father’s involvement in the very same railway so I believe this makes the story all the more poignant, being based on real life anecdotes/experiences. It made me think a lot, mainly about the brutality of war but there was also a somewhat hopeful message within – how the soldiers banded together building strong friendships and being incredibly brave in the face of such torture was amazing to read about. I’m looking forward to reading another story based around the same time period but involving different characters in the next novel, Bamboo Island which I’m certain will be just as gut-wrenching but informative as this one.

If you like the sound of Bamboo Heart you can buy it here:

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/9814423734

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Come back tomorrow where I’ll be reviewing the second book in the trilogy, Bamboo Island.

 

Etta And Otto and Russell And James – Emma Hooper

Published March 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. I will try to remember to come back.

Etta’s greatest unfulfilled wish, living in the rolling farmland of Saskatchewan, is to see the sea. And so, at the age of eighty-two she gets up very early one morning, takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots, and begins walking the 2,000 miles to water.

Meanwhile her husband Otto waits patiently at home, left only with his memories. Their neighbour Russell remembers too, but differently – and he still loves Etta as much as he did more than fifty years ago, before she married Otto.

What did I think?:

There were quite a few things that immediately drew me to Emma Hooper’s debut novel. First of all, the lovely cover with the cheeky little animal on the front (which I now know to be a coyote). Secondly, the title – I mean, four names in a title, what’s that all about? I simply had to find out! Finally, there had been a lot of comparisons of this book to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce which happens to be one of my all time favourite novels. I normally don’t like it when books are compared to others but I loved Harold Fry so much I needed to give Etta & Co a chance to stand as a story on its own merits.

So where this book is similar to Harold Fry is that it involves an adult in their eighties undergoing a long walk to get to a destination, meeting different people and well-wishers along the way. In this novel, our protagonist is Etta, 83 and slowly losing her memory. She wakes up one day and decides to walk to the ocean as she has never seen it, leaving her husband Otto a note explaining this and that she would “try to remember to come back.” The story follows Etta’s journey but is in no way chronological and dips back into the past and present as memories surface for Etta during her journey. We learn about her life as a teacher when she first met Otto. We also learn about Otto’s early life, part of a family fifteen-strong with the addition of his best friend (and current neighbour) Russell who becomes the honorary sixteenth member.

Most of Etta and Otto’s relationship is told in the form of letters, particularly when Otto has to go away to fight in World War II. Russell is Etta’s main support system when Otto is gone, unable to join up himself because of a childhood accident that left him with a lame leg. Russell is also deeply in love with Etta and when he hears about her pilgrimage later in life, immediately sets out to find her. Otto, her husband, stays at home making paper mache animals for Etta’s return and learning to bake from the recipes Etta has left him, deliberately so he can manage without her. Meanwhile on her journey, Etta meets many well-wishers and makes new friends, particularly a wily talking coyote called James who has quite the gift of the gab but encourages Etta through harder times on the road. The ending is somewhat bitter-sweet and very much left open to the readers own interpretation – it’s something I was slightly surprised by but thoroughly enjoyed at the same time.

I guess if you’ve read Harold Fry before you can see the similarities between them but I think this novel deserves to be talked about as a story all of its own. There are many differences between the stories also, particularly the magical realism part with the talking coyote, James, the dementia that Etta is sliding into and the hardships that Etta and Otto have suffered as a couple. I really fell in love with Etta as a character and the pure whimsical nature of this book (yes a talking coyote was always going to be a bonus for me, even if he was just in Etta’s mind?). It was also nice to hear from the spouse left behind, in this case Otto whose little paper mache animals and determination to learn to cook warmed the cockles of my heart. Initially, I was a bit wary of the ending of this novel and I have to admit, slightly disappointed but on closer reflection, I realise it was a perfect way for the reader to make up their own mind as to what happens. I’ll certainly be reading anything else Emma Hooper releases, this is one debut author with a bucket load of talent and beautiful writing to boot.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0