21/06/2018

Falling Upward (by Richard Rohr)

It’s fourteen years since I first came across Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who has written several thought-provoking and encouraging books. The first one I read was ‘The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective’, which he co-wrote, and which I found immensely useful in seeing this personality system from a faith perspective. I’ve read a couple of his other books more recently, and earlier this year saw a recommendation for ‘Falling Upward’, a book about different stages of life. I put it on my wishlist, and was given it for a recent birthday.

The subtitle for this book is, ‘A spirituality for the two halves of life’. The author’s premise is that we all have the potential for two significant phases in our lives. He talks about ‘halves’, but this isn’t a rigid or clearly defined difference: it’s more a maturing, becoming more flexible and open, and also more relaxed as we grow older. He acknowledges that it can begin at a wide range of chronological ages, and that not everyone - no matter how old they grow - necessarily reach the second stage.

Rohr’s writing is always quite theoretical, and I found this book a bit heavy-going in places. I like to have a few examples alongside theories, in order to extrapolate, and there weren’t any. I got the general idea, and could resonate with it: in our youth and young adulthood (broadly speaking) we learn the rules and boundaries of life; in our later years we learn when to break the boundaries and ignore the rules. In our younger days we need places to belong; in our latter years we deal better with solitude. Many organisations, including churches, remain in the ‘earlier years’ stage, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But as we mature, we see beyond them.

That’s just an overview of rather a complex book. Rohr suggests that it often takes a major problem, perhaps a bereavement or job loss, to trigger our ‘falling’ out of the initial stages of life, and rediscovering ourselves facing ‘upwards’. I could see that, around mid-life, a lot of people have crises of some kind, whether tragic loss, a major life changes, serious illness, or perhaps issues such as children leaving home, or the loss or illness of elderly parents. This kind of thing is inevitable, and change is bound to happen as a result, but I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the author’s insistence that there must be some kind of significant suffering to propel us forward.

I can see that I am more relaxed than I used to be, with far less need to conform, or belong. I don’t need the approval of others, particularly, and am not too bothered by criticism. I’m much happier to go with the flow rather than needing rules or boundaries, and as the author suggests, there are times when I know what I must do and there’s little choice about it. Does this mean I’m more mature than others around me? I doubt it. I think it’s mostly due to my personality, and my particular circumstances. I am fortunate in that I have experienced very little in the way of suffering.

While I quite enjoyed reading the book, despite the lack of any real examples or actual suggestions, I’m not entirely sure, now I’ve finished it, what its purpose is. I don’t suppose it would be at all helpful to people still in the first ‘stage’, whatever their age, and of little comfort to anyone going through a serious problem or terrible situation.

However, for those who have retired, or who have become more relaxed, it’s quite encouraging - maybe I’m not meant to do anything in particular, other than listen for God and, when relevant, do whatever is right. But I had pretty much figured that out already.

There’s a strong Christian influence; this book is primarily written for followers of Jesus, although some fundamentalists or others driven by rules and guidelines might consider it heretical. There are references to other religions too, and a great deal about ancient Greek heroes. The Enneagram is mentioned in passing as an important system that helps us grow and move into the second stage of life, and I could see that this is the case; but for anyone unfamiliar with the topic, this wouldn’t be helpful at all.

Overall I’m glad I read it. I would recommend it in a low-key way if you like theoretical, thoughtful books and have observed that many older people are more relaxed than younger ones; but don’t expect it to answer any questions, or give any advice.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

20/06/2018

Jo's Boys (by Louisa M Alcott)

One of the authors whose works I’m re-reading, every couple of months, is Louisa M Alcott. She is probably best known for the classic ‘Little Women’, which introduces us to the March family. I have read that book many times, and its sequel ‘Good Wives’. I’m not quite so keen on the two later books in the series, but I re-read ‘Little Men’ a couple of months ago, so decided it was time to read the final book of the four, ‘Jo’s Boys’.

My copy is a hardback children’s edition published by Bancroft, which states on the front page that it is abridged. Since I also have a Kindle version of all the author’s works, I spent some time comparing the two. I quickly realised that two entire chapters are missing from the abridged edition. So although I mainly read the hardback, I went to my Kindle for the two missing chapters. There are a few odd paragraphs missing as well.

The story takes place about ten years after the events of ‘Little Men’. Jo Bhaer must be in her late thirties, and Meg Brooke perhaps forty. They both seem to consider themselves quite elderly, although Jo is still full of energy. Meg now lives in a cottage built in the grounds of Jo’s home Plumfield, and there is also a university, built by a legacy from Laurie’s uncle. Laurie and Amy also live in the grounds, in a large and elegant house called Parnassus.

There’s much coming and going between all the families, and the book mostly follows the lives of the boys who were featured in ‘Little Men’, now mostly grown up. A couple have died, some are off at another university, and some have stayed around. Demi has become a journalist, Nat sets off to be a musician, Dan has been travelling in the West, and Tom nurses an unrequited passion for the doctor Nan. Emil has been at sea, and Franz is succeeding in business.

The book is really a series of anecdotes, each chapter following either life in the Plumfield environment, or seeing what one of the ‘boys’ has been doing. There’s a poignant chapter about Emil at sea, for instance; a dramatic one about Dan getting into trouble; one observing Nat, learning to deal with his pride as he studies in Germany.

Inevitably the style is dated, and the values of the era come through (it was first published in 1886). The writing is good, the conversations believable, if a bit over pious and moralising in places. The affection between the characters - particularly Jo and her ‘boys’ - comes through in a way that is timeless, and I was surprised at how poignant some of the scenes were.

Anyone with feminist tendencies might be horrified at some of the attitudes shown. It’s taken for granted, for instance, that girls are to be protected, and that they have smaller brains than boys. Yet Alcott was ahead of her time; the Plumfield university takes young women as well as men, and all the girls are encouraged to follow careers. Mention is made of some of the early women pioneers, and one of the strong young women in the book gives a rousing speech described in a couple of paragraphs which are also cut from the abridged version.

The two chapters removed from the abridged version don’t really add anything much to the book. One is a series of conversations next to a tennis court, involving two of the young men who went to study at a different university and see themselves as men of the world. It’s perhaps more preachy than other parts of the book, but also shows the author’s positive attitudes to early feminism. The second missing chapter is about the girls rather than the boys and acknowledges itself as a sideline to the main focus of the book.

I don’t know why I like these books so much, or why some parts are so moving, but I enjoyed this very much. I had remembered one or two passages, and the general themes, but had forgotten a lot of detail since I last read it almost seventeen years ago. The final chapter draws everything together, giving a brief description of all the main characters and what happens to them, and - as its title makes clear - draws the curtain for the last time on the March family.

I would definitely recommend this to adults or teenagers (or older children who like this style) if if you have read the earlier books in the series, particularly ‘Little Men’. It wouldn’t work as an introduction to this author, however: it would be very confusing to anyone who had not met most of the characters in the previous volume.

As with the other books in this series, there are many printed editions available; it's worth making sure you have a full version if possible. You can also find it inexpensively or free in electronic form.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

18/06/2018

After You (by Jojo Moyes)

Nearly three years ago I read the novel ‘Me Before You’ by Jojo Moyes. It was powerful, moving and thought-provoking, and I could hardly put it down. When it ended, I felt as if I wanted to know more about Louisa, the narrator. So I was delighted to learn that there was a sequel. I waited until it was available in paperback, and put it on my wishlist. I was given it for a recent birthday, and have just finished reading it.

Wow.

‘After You’ is a wonderful book. It has 400 pages, but I finished it in just a couple of days. It picks up Louisa’s story two years after the somewhat traumatic ending of ‘Me Before You’. She has been travelling in Europe, but at last decided that she needs to return to the UK.

A generous legacy means that she owns a flat near London, even if she hasn’t bothered to furnish it, or even unpack her clothes. She is estranged from her family, and doesn’t have any close friends. She’s taken a job serving in a bar at an airport, and she doesn’t much enjoy that either, but it earns her some money and she doesn’t have to think too much….

Then she has a very unpleasant accident, which has the positive result of getting back in touch with her parents and sister. Then, just as she’s starting to feel like herself again, at least physically, a stranger knocks at her door. 16-year-old Lily is the catalyst to an entire new way of looking at the world from just about every perspective….

The plot is tightly woven, covering a wide range of issues. Dealing with grief is at the forefront; Lou is still grieving the man she lost, as are his parents in their different ways. She joins a care group intended to help people express their feelings and find support, and in that discovers many other ways of gradually coming to terms with and - possibly - starting to move on from bereavement. There are some caricatures, inevitably; it’s the only way to keep track of the somewhat wide cast of caricatures. But Louisa is believable, as is a teenage boy she meets at the group, struggling after losing his mother.

There’s a romantic interest, but it’s taken quite slowly and the inevitable - eventual - bedroom scenes are thankfully devoid of too much detail. There are some other sordid, sometimes shocking accounts - in particular one near the end, where the viewpoint temporarily switches to that of another character in a side chapter, and another during the climax of the book - but in the context of the story, they are necessary. The author is skilful in writing hints and generalities, painting a broad picture, rather than gory or otherwise unnecessary specifics.

Other themes are covered too; feminism and patriarchy are given a somewhat light-hearted caricatured place, but with a serious message. The importance of standing up for oneself is covered too, and the way that being honest about one’s mistakes can release people from immense stress and anxiety. The complexities of life for modern teenagers, and the dangers of hasty reactions are also touched upon.

But the author isn’t preaching; the main characters seem real, and the story is gripping. It was only after finishing that I realised just how many difficult issues were examined in the context of the plot.

There’s more bad language than I like, but it’s not inappropriate in the context of the book. I think this book could be of value to older teenagers as well as being an excellent read for adults; indeed, with today’s earlier maturing teens, perhaps some streetwise girls as young as thirteen or fourteen might find this book thought-provoking, although most of the characters are adults.

It’s not essential to have read ‘Me Before You’ before starting this novel, but I would recommend doing so. Despite the fact that it's nearly three years since I read it, I had no problem recalling the main plot and Lou herself. And having just checked for links... I'm thrilled to see that there is another sequel, which I will be putting on my wishlist next year when it's out in paperback.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

14/06/2018

The Young Unicorns (by Madeleine L'Engle)

In my mixture of reading and re-reading authors whose books I’ve enjoyed, I’m working my way through the young adult fiction by Madeleine L’Engle, most of which is new to me. We collected several of her books when my sons were teenagers, and I’ve bought others at charity shops, but until recently had not read most of them. As far as I gather, there are three main series, with some overlapping characters. I’m not sure I’m reading in the best order, but since I intersperse with books by other authors, it’s not really a problem.

‘The Young Unicorns’ is third in the Austin series about a family with four children. John, the oldest, is away at university in this book so he doesn’t appear. Vicky is the oldest girl, in her teens, and her sister Suzy is about eleven. They have a younger brother, Rob. They live in a flat in New York, and have temporarily adopted Emily, who lives in the flat below, and whose father is travelling. Emily is a gifted pianist… to say more would be a spoiler.

The story is about gangs, and the potential problems that can accompany medical advances. It’s also about freedom, and asks some quite deep questions about what is meant by the word - whether anyone can truly be free. It also shows how apparent altruism can be a sign of a controlling personality… perhaps even mania. There’s a low-key religious element; much of the action takes place in or under a cathedral, and some of the clergy are important characters, as well as the visiting Canon Tallis. But there’s no preaching, or anything too overtly Christian.

It doesn’t have the fantasy/time travel elements that are present in ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ and its sequels. There are no unicorns at all, other than in a metaphorical/literary sense. But there’s a distinct element of medical science fiction. Having finished it, I’d class this book as a thriller, which isn’t my preferred genre. Yet, because it’s intended for older children/teens rather than adults, I found the tension gripping but not unpleasant. Nor is there any goriness, or serious violence.

Although, in retrospect, I realise that much of the book is a tad caricatured, I was so caught up in the story that it felt real. It did not make good bedtime reading, so I picked it up in the daytime instead, and could hardly put it down after the first few chapters.

L’Engle had quite a gift of characterisation, and I had no problem at all remembering who was whom despite a fairly large cast. The secretive Dave, who also spends a lot of time with the Austins and Emily, is a complex and fascinating character. Mr Theo, Emily’s music teacher, is elderly and insightful. Canon Tallis, who I met in one of the author’s books in a different series, is altogether delightful.

Some of the concepts are complicated, and some of the situations could be frightening to a younger child, so I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone under the age of about ten or eleven. Ideal for a fluent and keen reader who wants something with depth. I liked this book more than I expected to, once I had realised what genre it was in, and it’s left me with much to think about.

Recommended to anyone who wants a fairly quick read and doesn’t mind a bit of suspense.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

13/06/2018

A Girl's Guide to Kissing Frogs (by Victoria Clayton)

Although I have read and very much enjoyed most of Victoria Clayton’s novels in the past couple of years, I hadn’t realised at first that ‘A Girl’s Guide to Kissing Frogs’ was another novel. Her books are no longer in print, but I was able to find this reasonably inexpensively in the Amazon Marketplace, although it’s stayed on my to-be- read shelf for some time. I picked it up a few days, ago, thinking it would last me a while - it’s almost 600 pages - but once I’d got into the story, I could barely put it down.

Marigold is the main protagonist, and the story is told from her perspective, in the first person. She’s a ballet dancer - the principal dancer in a small company. She’s very talented, and also ambitious; so much so that she’s having a loveless affair with the director of the company. This is shown rather casually in the first few pages, and feels quite sordid; had I not been sure the book would improve, I might have given up at that point.

However we also learn in the first paragraph that Marigold has broken her foot, almost leading to the end of her career. We’re told this at the start, and then watch her, after falling awkwardly, dancing a demanding role in front of an important audience, in increasing agony as she does. The picture is clearly painted of someone whose entire life is ballet - she will suffer anything for her art. But then she faints, and ends up in hospital.

Most of the book then takes place in her home town of Northumberland. Her parents have a difficult marriage; her father is a doctor, but also a womaniser, and her mother, whom Margold adores, gets very depressed and sometimes drinks too much. We also meet Evelyn, an upper-crust friend who has always been fond of Marigold; her two adult children, Rafe and Isabel, are also at home. Marigold always had something of a crush on Rafe, although he was older and mostly ignored her. But now she’s an adult, and quite attractive, and he seems to be taking notice of her…

It’s a complex plot, with quite a large cast. However Victoria Clayton is talented at creating memorable characters. Some of them - such as Marigold’s mother - are rather caricatured but it doesn’t matter; the most significant members of the cast are mostly believable, and, on the whole, likeable. Even Marigold, driven to immoral extremes and deceit by ambition and talent, is a nice person on the inside. Rafe is almost too nice.

As with other books by this author, a main character from a previous book makes a cameo appearance in this one. In this case, it’s Bobbie, who starred in Moonshine. It was nice to see her, settled and happy, but it would be fine to read this book without having read any of the author’s others.

There are plenty of surprises in the book, some of which I could see coming, while others were totally unexpected. There are several storylines too; subplots involve a teenage mother, a Traveller craftsman, insights into the world of ballet, class snobbery, and several other themes, some of them a tad shocking although so well written that they worked remarkably well.

I appreciated several literary, musical and ballet references in this book, and found some parts of it quite moving. There’s some humour too, and I almost laughed aloud at the final line in the book, which occurs after a somewhat abrupt, somewhat predictable and yet altogether satisfactory conclusion.

Clayton’s books are touted as social comedy, but there are sufficient serious issues covered or touched upon in this novel that I would rate it much more highly than that. Definitely recommended, if you like light women’s fiction with some depth.

'A Girl's Guide to Kissing Frogs' is no longer in print, but is available inexpensively in Kindle form.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

09/06/2018

Sister of the Angels (by Elizabeth Goudge)

I’ve liked Elizabeth Goudge’s thoughtful novels since I was a teenager. A friend introduced me to her children’s classic, ‘The Little White Horse’ when I was about twelve or thirteen, and a few years later I fell in love with ‘The Herb of Grace’. I was delighted to discover that it was the middle novel of a trilogy, and even more pleased when I managed to acquire the other two books in the series at charity shops.

I’ve gradually bought other Goudge novels over the decades - they’re often found in second-hand shops, inexpensively. But I had drawn a blank with ‘Sister of the Angels’. I only learned of its existence within the last few years. It’s apparently related to ‘Henrietta’s House’, a children’s book which I liked very much but have not read in about twenty years.

Girls Gone By is a publisher who reprints a variety of hard-to-find children’s books from last century, using the original text as far as possible. A few years ago they published ‘Sister of the Angels’, but I was dubious about paying full price for it. I knew it was quite a slim volume, and felt that £13 was a bit of a high price. But eventually I found a better value edition in Amazon Marketplace, and bought it about eighteen months ago. It’s sat on my to-be-read shelf for all this time, and I finally read it over the past few days.

Henrietta is eleven in this book, and lives with her grandparents. Her grandfather is a minister, and mostly understands her well. Her grandmother is excellent at providing good meals and comfort, but expects punctuality and cleanliness. Henrietta is an artist - quite a talented one, already - and finds the spartan existence of the parsonage rather hard to take in the winter.

We meet her on the morning when her father - a very dreamy writer - is due to arrive in Torminister. It’s early December, and he’s coming back for Christmas. On her way to meet his train she takes a detour with Grandfather into the cathedral, and spends some time in her favourite chapel. It has some beautifully restored frescoes, and one wall that hasn’t yet been restored.

There’s some back story about the original artist who painted the frescoes, in the Middle Ages, and his namesake - a wandering artist - who was able to restore some of them, before running away and getting in trouble with the law. Henrietta knows exactly what pictures should appear on the last wall… she’s an intuitive, thoughtful child who sees visions and perhaps ghosts, but takes them as part of ordinary living.

The characters are classic Elizabeth Goudge style, rather caricatured as certain personality types, but no less lovable for all that. Henrietta is a caring, gentle person, old for her years, but made human by her frustrations, and her dislike of washing in cold weather.

It quickly became clear to me where the story was going; everyone has secrets, some of which are shared with the reader, others just hinted at. I don’t know if I was supposed to have guessed the biggest secret - but it didn’t spoil the story in any way. If anything, it added to the anticipation. It’s a short novel, even for a children’s book; it has 126 pages but the first thirty or so are various introductions. However the story is complete, moving in places despite its predictability, and I’m glad I’ve finally managed to read it.

The GGB publishers always give interesting introductions to their books and this is no exception. It begins with a detailed guide to the cathedral on which the Torminster one was based, and is followed by a brief biography of Elizabeth Goudge, and a few other notes.

Recommended if you like this style of novel, set I suppose in Victorian times. There’s quite a Christian emphasis, but that’s not really surprising when the entire story is based around a cathedral. The original readership would have been girls of around ten to twelve; today's children are less likely to enjoy this. But for those who enjoy historical fiction with plenty of description and complex language, it's definitely worth borrowing.

This seems to be the only edition of the book that seems to be available at all, and it's not currently in print. However it can sometimes be found in second-hand bookshops online. Due to its rarity, some of the prices asked seem extortionate to me, making the new price seem quite reasonable by comparison.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

06/06/2018

Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality (by Tim Stead)

I don’t remember where I saw the book ‘Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality’ recommended. I had never before heard of the author, Tim Stead, who was an engineer and is now an Anglican minister. Possibly I saw the recommendation in another book I read in the past few months. In any case, it looked like an interesting book on a topic I knew little about, so I put it on my wishlist. I was given it for a recent birthday, and have just finished reading it.

The subtitle of the book is ‘Making space for God’, which sounds a bit vague, but the book is full of practical and helpful suggestions. The author enthuses about his own experiences with ‘mindfulness’ courses, some of them specifically Christian, and others more secular, open to anyone.

He makes it clear from the start that mindfulness is simply a way of being. Some people might think it ‘new age’ or Buddhist, because followers of these beliefs often use mindfulness practises. But it can also be used as part of the long tradition of Christian meditation - or simply as a way of calming one’s mind and heart, slowing down a little, seeing the present moment rather than worrying about the future or the past.

The first chapters give a little history and background to the idea of mindfulness, with some sample exercises which encourage the reader to use observation skills to focus on small objects, or on one’s own breath, or some part of the body.

The author acknowledges that it’s remarkably difficult to do this for any length of time, that the mind will wander, and the concerns of the day will become distractions. So the next main part of this process is to be non-judgemental - to see the thoughts, ideas and worries in a neutral way, and then gently guide the mind back to the intended focus.

The Christian aspect is quite low key, but there’s an ongoing awareness that God is here, with us, in each present moment. By pausing in our busyness, and taking a moment - if only half a minute - to slow down, we give God some space to speak. I very much liked the idea that intercessory prayer, very often, doesn’t need words - but a sense of holding a situation or person up to God, and asking him to act in whatever way is right.

I read about a chapter each day, over a period of a couple of weeks, and found a lot to ponder on. The explanations are clear, and I could see even from brief attempts at the few exercises, that it can indeed be possible to develop more of an attitude of mindfulness.

The writing is mostly good - clear, sometimes self-deprecating, and easy to read, with plenty to think about. I felt in places that it could have done with a good proofreader, when some words are repeated too many times, or there are an abundance of exclamation marks, but these are minor and didn’t really detract from the overall value of the book.

I would recommend it highly to anyone who is interested in becoming more mindful, thoughtful or non-judgemental. It’s written from a Christian perspective, and would be particularly interesting to anyone suspicious about the idea of mindfulness. But so long as you don’t mind discussion of God and prayer, it could be of value to anyone as a thorough introduction to the topic.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

04/06/2018

I Won't be Home for Christmas (by Amanda Prowse)

I first read one of Amanda Prowse’s books early in 2016, and liked it very much. So I put another of her books on my wishlist, and was given it for a recent birthday. ‘I won’t be home for Christmas’ is, as the blurb told me, about a mother whose daughter is the other side of the world. As that resonates with my own experience of having sons living in other countries, and the reviews were mostly positive, I thought it could be a good read.

Viv is the main character; she was abandoned by her husband when her children were quite young, and brought them up by herself. Her son is married and lives nearby but Viv finds her daughter-in-law quite difficult. Her daughter Emma has been backpacking around the world for the past few years. When a letter arrives for Viv, in Emma’s handwriting, she hopes it might be to say that her daughter is coming home for Christmas. Instead it contains a surprise invitation to Emma’s wedding… to a man Viv had never even heard of.

Viv shares everything with her closest friend Ellen, so she rushes to their local cafe and they discuss the invitation over coffee. I didn’t really take to Ellen who is loud and sometimes crude… and as the book progressed, I liked her less and less. I could mostly empathise with Viv, and indeed with the fact that she and Ellen became friends at primary school when they happened to be seated next to each other. But I could never believe in her as a close adult friend, of the kind where there are no secrets. Ellen is clearly generous and kind-hearted underneath her rough exterior, but somehow the close friendship with Viv never feels real to me.

The two set off on the lengthy trip to New Zealand, with a day’s stopover in Hong Kong. At that point I started getting rather bored. They visit many places of interest in Hong Kong, and do some shopping, but the lengthy chapter describing everything they see adds nothing to the story. I found myself skimming more and more until the last sentence of the chapter which looked as if it might lead to high drama….then the start of the next chapter sees the problem resolved, and only ever mentioned in passing as a joke.

I felt there was too much description once they reached New Zealand, too. We’re told every detail about Emma’s fiancĂ© Michael’s father’s home, and the lovely views they can see. However, we finally meet Michael, who seems rather a cold, workaholic person, and his father Gil who clearly finds Viv rather attractive…

It’s not a bad story, and I liked Gil very much. I appreciate, in general, novels that have middle-aged characters as the main protagonists. Of the younger generation, Emma is a loving, friendly person although I never quite swallowed her evident naivety, or indeed why she fell in love with such a different kind of person. Despite her having travelled so much, and met so many people, she seems to have very little sense of what other people might like, and gets things wrong rather more often than was credible.

There’s a lot of dialogue, most of it believable and well written. But it quickly occurred to me that the author seems to have tried to avoid the word ‘said’ in this novel. When using actions to designate who said what, that’s mostly fine, although there is rather a lot of shrugging, lip-curling, nodding and other gestures that made most conversations seem quite tiring. Even more disturbing was that so many people kept yelling, whispering, conceding, protesting, sighing, cutting in… words and phrases that didn’t quite ring true, and jolted me almost every time.

My other problem with the book is that there’s a crude and (as far as I could tell) irrelevant prologue which set the scene in a negative way. It introduces Viv and Ellen as eight-year-olds. They are very different in background, and even then it was hard for me to understand what they see in each other. If I had been Viv, after the conversation at the end of the prologue, I would have cooled the friendship rapidly.

On the plus side, there’s very little bad language, no intimate bedroom scenes or descriptions of anything I didn’t want to know about, and no violence. Moreover, some of the characters got under my skin, Viv and Emma in particular. I kept reading, sometimes for an hour or more at a time.

I was intrigued to know whether the wedding would happen. I was curious whether Gil and Viv would get together, and whether any of them would ever return to the UK. In the second half of the book the story progresses at a good pace with less description, and the ending is, on the whole, satisfactory. It’s perhaps a tad too neat and tidy for reality, but I don’t have a problem with that.

I’m glad I read the book, on balance; it’s certainly one to borrow from the library, perhaps for a holiday period as it’s light reading that can easily be put down. If you enjoy light women’s fiction, and don’t object to detailed description and convoluted speech tags, then you may well like this book more than I did.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews