A very special book about a bond of sisterhood and survival

One by Sarah Crossan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I sit and think about how to put into words my feelings about this book I am still somewhat stunned by it, having just read the final pages. I am trying to think about the last time a book left me feeling quite so emotional and quite so bereft now I have finished it. It’s hard to imagine that I only picked it up 24 hours ago and yet it has left such an indelible mark upon me that it may be one of the best books I’ve ever read.

The winner of The Carnegie Medal One by Sarah Crossan was somewhat of a revelation to me when I picked it up last night. I had picked it up in my local library having heard nothing about it and glancing at the blurb on the back had established it was a story of conjoined twins and their lives together. Finding it in the teen section I had expected a contemporary light-hearted read so you can imagine my initial surprise when I opened the pages to find that the book is written entirely in free verse. I have never read a book written in this style before and I initially wasn’t sure whether it would detract from my enjoyment of the story or if I’d struggle to immerse myself.

I found very quickly that this was not the case, yes the pages are generally very short, although it came in at 434 pages I literally flew through it, I read it in a day but I wasn’t sitting consistently reading so I reckon you could do it in just a few hours. The style of writing is engaging and draws you in, it isn’t rhyming prose but the way it is written is carefully structured to draw out the important parts of the story and to allow you to focus in on certain phrases and emotions making it a powerful and impactful read.

The story is that of Grace and Tippi, conjoined twins who are about to start high school for the first time. Told from Grace’s perspective we learn about their life together, the way that the world views them, the challenges they face and the most important thing of all – how they are two people with two different personalities and beliefs, not just one. Their story of beginning school for the first time and the way this makes them feel is heartfelt and this along with the story of the struggles their family face just to keep them cared for medically and the impact this has had upon each member is heartbreaking. It is the ongoing struggle the girls face to lead normal teenage lives that build the foundation of the book and their strength together that hits home.

The girls are clearly beginning to struggle medically and are scared to think about what this might mean for their future and this book takes us on that journey with them. All the time you root for these girls, you want them to be happy because as they say in the book being conjoined twins isn’t the worst thing in the world. Surely there are many worse things that could happen to a person than being joined to the person they love most in the whole world?

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, I know I’m going to bore everyone for the next year or so recommending this one as one of those very special books that will remain with me forever. I am so very glad I didn’t allow it’s format to sway me not to read it. I am so pleased that I took the time to delve into the world of Grace and that her story has been recognised by so many as worthy of recognition. Sarah Crossan has delivered a very clever, touching and inspiring book. I’d give it more stars than 5 if I could.

A great fun contemporary read about falling in love unexpectedly

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Dimple Met Rishi was one of the breakout Young Adult contemporary books of this summer. Everyone who is anyone has been reading and raving about this novel over the past few months. I felt it only proper to read it before the summer drew to a close.

This is a novel about family values and culture versus the need to break out and find yourself and your own voice. Dimple is about to go off to college to study her love of coding but her family are keen for her to make an arranged marriage and become a good wife who will be there to support her husband and family. Dimple is independent and strong-willed and while she loves her family she loves coding more and she is not ready to give up her dreams just yet. She is surprised when her parents agree to her attending a summer coding programme at San Francisco University and she heads off determined to give it her all and win the coveted prize at the end of the programme, hence showing everyone that she is as good as she thinks she is and has a bright future.

On her first day Dimple is thrown when a young man comes up to her and tells her he is her future husband. You see Rishi has already been told all about Dimple, he’s going to the summer programme at SFU for the sole purpose of meeting the girl his parents have told him he is going to marry at the agreement of all their parents. The only problem is that no one told Dimple!!

This story was really funny, from the time when Dimple meets Rishi we fall in love with Rishi immediately. He is in a really difficult position as he likes Dimple, a lot, and he has been told that she is aware of their marriage and so when he finds she has no idea he has to backtrack and pretend that it doesn’t matter to him and he enters that dreaded ‘friend zone’. He’s such an endearing character, he’s instantly likeable and you feel for him as he is trying to be the devoted Indian son, making a marriage and going off to study a subject he doesn’t necessarily love in order to provide for his family in the future.

The way in which Dimple and Rishi impact each other’s lives is lovely, from a misunderstanding they grow into friends and from friends into a relationship which will change their lives for the better. They are each other’s biggest cheer squad, they learn about what it means to see life through the other’s eyes. Dimple to learn that complying with her cultural values needn’t mean giving up her dreams and Rishi in living his own dreams doesn’t mean he cannot be a good son and make his family proud.

This was such a quick book to read, the chapters are all quite short and snappy and we flick from Dimple to Rishi’s perspective every page or so to ensure we are aware of both points of view throughout. It’s nice to see how they each view their blossoming relationship and how they help each other to grow throughout the narrative.

It’s a great contemporary summer read, funny and emotional and with great characters leading the story.

A marvellous summer read from my favourite author

The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I always get really excited when there is a new Jane Green book released, I have become used to having a shiny new story from one of my favourite authors on my book stand ready just in time for summer reading and this year didn’t disappoint with the release of The Sunshine Sisters in June.

This book is, like all Green’s books, a tale of family. It begins with an actress Ronni Sunshine preparing to end her own life due to illness. She is frail and in pain and has been storing painkillers and despite the reservations of her three daughters she has made her decision and she wants to choose how she leaves her life.

From this point the book goes back in time and follows the lives of Ronni’s 3 daughters Nell, Meredith and Lizzy. We follow the girls from their childhood with their famous B-list actress mother and learn quickly that their relationship with her is strained. Their mother is narcissistic and focused so much on her own career she fails often to pay attention to her children. She criticises them and her personality overshadows them and over the years she drives them away and sows seeds of disharmony between them. Nell, a single mother, chooses to run a farm near to her mother but is lonely and finds it difficult to form relationships. Meredith has moved to London and struggles with her self-image and is planning to marry a man she doesn’t love. Meanwhile, Lizzy, the youngest, is a celebrity chef who is cheating on her husband and is a risk taker who spends little time considering other people.

This book is about the journey the girls go through as they are called home by their mother for her to share news of her illness and about how they each have to face the demons of their relationship with Ronni. Ronni wants nothing more than to reunite her girls before she passes away and that is the fundamental story of this book, the desire of a mother to bring her girls together to support each other in a way she never did.

I read this book so quickly, I literally did it in under 2 days and I loved every single second of it. I though each of the characters brought something different to the story and the way their points of view were told was really engaging. Nell was strong and capable on the outside but scared of carrying the huge burden of her farm alone and lacking anyone to share her troubles with who would be there for just her. Meredith was the gentlest of the 3, second guessing herself all the time, scarred by a mother who always told her she wasn’t good enough and settling for a man who showed her the slightest bit of attention she was my favourite of the sisters and I longed for her to be happy and find acceptance.

Lizzy was the most complex of the 3, she was ballsy and most like her mother with a confidence in herself the other two sisters lacked. She had a different relationship with her mother and has forged a similar career where she is in the public eye and as a result she is repeating many of her mother’s mistakes. She was the one it was hardest to like but the one who Ronni had to all appearances the most loving relationship with but she was inherently a good person.

The emotion in this book was outstanding, Ronni is a character we want to hate. She’s portrayed as a pretty awful mother and yet in this book we learn that there are things about our parents we will never know until it’s too late. I also loved the quote from this book that I think bears relevance to all of our lives…..

“It doesn’t matter how many years go by, how grown up we think we are, how much we presume we have changed or evolved, when we are back in our childhood homes, we become exactly who we have always been”

That is the crux of this story that although we may move away and grow we will at some point come home and when we do family will be the only people who shared that experience with you of growing up in your home and only there and with those people can you make your peace with yourself and with those you love.

Another incredible and touching novel this is Jane Green at her absolute best, it’s just an incredible book and absolutely one of my favourite reads this year, it deserves every one of it’s five stars.

A wonderful time spent with one of my longest term favourite authors

I Found You by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lisa Jewell is one of the 5 authors whom I’ve read for the most number of years now, along with Jane Green and Mike Gayle and a few select others. I’ve been reading her novels from those very early ones like Ralph’s Party and I love it when a new one is released and yet somehow I Found You, which was released in 2016, slipped through my To Be Read pile last year.

Jolted into realisation by the recent release of her 2017 novel ‘Then She Was Gone’ I immediately decided to rectify the situation and delved into I Found You immediately. Since the 2015 release of The Girls, Jewell’s books have taken a slightly different turn. They have become more steeped in mystery and the stories unravel themselves still with the same emotion and wonderful characters as she has always written but they are darker and more mysterious than her earlier novels which were more frothy and lighthearted. Perhaps this change in tone had made me miss this one on my kindle but either way, I knew that the quality of the author should be recommendation enough.

This is a story that begins with 40-something single mum, Alice, finding a man sitting on the beach across from her home, he is lost and has no memory of who he is or where he has come from, he cannot remember anything. Alice takes him into her home and takes care of him and helps him to feel safe whilst he waits for his memories to return. She is kind and warm and her children name the stranger Frank and slowly over the days he stays he becomes part of their home.

Elsewhere a young Ukranian woman waits for her husband to come home from work. Married just a few weeks they are still madly in love and deliriously happy. She is new to the country having moved after their honeymoon and she relies upon her husband Carl to do everything. When he fails to come home she finds it difficult to get the police to take his disappearance seriously and when eventually they do she is shocked to find that her husband’s passport is fake and her husband doesn’t exist.

All these people are tied up in a mystery that took place in Alice’s home town in 1993 and the story keeps flitting back to the story of the holiday town in the summer of that year, a mystery that was never solved and the people who left that town scarred for life. It’s how this story links to the mysterious man with no memory and the missing husband that forms the basis for this story.

This book grips you from the outset, it’s short snappy chapters mean you fly through it so quickly as it’s ever so easy when you think of stopping to say, “Just one more chapter, I can manage just one more”. Suddenly you’ve read another 5 and those dishes you swore you’d wash are still sitting by the sink. The characters are really well written and actually the mystery of who Frank is and where he has come from and is he the mysterious Carl who never came home keeps you hanging on through most of the book.

Your mind will spin through all the possibilities of how Frank has come to be in Alice’s home, some you will want to believe to be true, others you will pray are not. You will flit between feeling compassion for him and understanding Alice’s need to care for him and wanting to slap her for being so stupid and bringing someone she doesn’t know into a home with 3 children when really he could be anyone and has said himself he feels he has done bad things. The chapters move between different perspectives and from present day to the fateful year of 1993 and just when you think you’ve go it all figured out you realise you have it all wrong and need to keep going because this book has more secrets yet to reveal. There is that conflict as a reader because you like ‘Frank’ and he is clearly in distress and being wonderful to Alice but there is always that doubt that he could be something sinister and it’s a really difficult thing to not let yourself go and be on his side from the outset.

The setting for the book as also wonderfully atmospheric, the little seaside town which draws tourists in the summer and has beachside cafe’s and little pubs it seems the perfect place but as we learn it was home to a terrible tragedy and this book takes us slowly up to the point where we have it all unfold and it’s touching and devastating and is tackled beautifully by Lisa Jewell.

This was a book I completed in just a little over a day, I couldn’t put it down, I loved it. I really felt like I rediscovered an old friend in Lisa Jewell, one who you haven’t seen for years but whom the minute you see you feel like you’ve never been apart. A solid 4 star read.