Friday, 12 December 2014

Book Review: A Week in Paris - Rachel Hore

A Week In Paris
By Rachel Hore
Published by Simon & Schuster
Available in Paperback and ebook

Rachel Hore's latest book, A Week in Paris, is a compelling novel about freedom and family. I don't think that the cover does justice to this fantastic book which tells an intriguing story through a dual narrative. 

A Week in Paris is set during two time periods in the life of a mother, Kitty and her daughter, Fay Knox. Both fall in love in Paris and both are musical but this is where the similarities end - Kitty must form a web of lies to protect her family while Fay must untangle these lies to find out the truth.

The first time period is set in 1930s Paris, where Kitty has gone to improve her piano skills. She falls in love with a man and with the city but this all comes crashing down around her - World War II has just begun, on the day that Fay is born. At first their life doesn't change but then the German army march into Paris. She finds herself stuck in paris during the occupation of Paris by the Nazis with her young daughter and a husband who seems to be hiding away secrets as well as British service men from the enemy.

While Fay's timeline, set in the 1960s, sees Fay in Paris performing the violin in a touring orchestra. Around her, there is unrest created by the tensions in Algeria. The only time she has 'supposedly' been in Paris was on a school trip but everything seems familiar and her memories of her childhood seem to match up with the landscape of Paris rather than London. The streets of Paris hide a past that is unknown to Fay. She must piece together the clues from her past. 

The way we use secrets and lie to protect the ones we love runs through both time lines. Kitty must survive protect herself and her family from the Nazi occupation as well as try to discover the reason why her husband is secretive as soon as the war starts. While Fay must find out the truth to her childhood because the story told by her mother of living in London in Paris doesn't seem to match up with the clues she finds herself gathering during her week in Paris. Hore has created characters that are likable in one chapter but their actions makes the reader reconsider their alliance. 

Hore's writing style sweeps up the reader into a journey through Paris. The realist details do no sugar coat the occupation of Paris - we don't have romantic scenes at the biggest tourist destinations in Paris but rather Hore explores the impact of rationing on the normal citizens and the treatment of foreign residents by the Nazis. There are people on the streets who are hungry, people lingering in the shadows, living in fear of the enemy. Even in the 1960s time frame, Hore doesn't shy away from the riots caused by the tensions of Algeria and France. Normally Paris is painted as a romantic, jazz-age city but Hore has done a lot of research to show a different side of Paris. The research, however, doesn't overshadow the plot. 

This is a enjoyable read about what it takes to survive and the lies we must tell to protect the ones close to us. You can buy A Week in Paris from your favourite bookshop.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Book Review: The Guest Cat

The Guest Cat
By Takashi Hiraide
Translated by Eric Selland
Published by Picador
Available in paperback and ebook

The Guest Cat, Takashi Hiraide's first novel to be published in the UK, is a book that will not only charm cat lovers but might also tickle at the heart's of non-cat lovers too. This has been a bestseller across Japan, America and France and now it's starting to make a splash over here.

The front cover is gorgeous. The publisher has done a good job in creating a cover that is not only eye catching but also simmers under the light to lure over the reader.

One day a cat invites itself into the small home of a nameless couple, who are in their thirties and both work from home. Their relationship is stale, full of silence. They are trapped in a routine of getting out of bed and straight to their desks.

The couple are not cat people but they start to thaw their feelings when the cat starts to return day after day. They name the cat Chibi which means 'little one,' as well as leaving out food and creating a bed in their rented little cottage. Not only does the cat mend the marriage but also gets the couple to engage in the world. Before the arrival of the cat, they were both intensely involved with their work and growing apart from each other even though they live in a tiny cottage. They are disconnected from the real world except for occasionally seeing their friends or helping their landlady who has moved out of the main house.

Sometimes we need external forces to push us into seeing the world in a different way. Chibi does this to the couple. The cat pushes its way into a private relationship and forces them to see that they need more in their lives. Hiraide explores the way the cat impacts both the lives of the wife and the narrator.

For the wife, Chibi is the child that the couple does not have - she is affectionate with the cat, makes a bed and sorts out fresh food for the cat. The narrator/husband tells the reader that the couple have decided not to have children but from the way that the wife behaves with the cat makes the reader wonder if the wife has only gone along with the husband's viewpoint.

The husband/narrator starts to behave more like the cat - coming and going out of the landlady's empty house, pottering around the garden, stepping back away from his work and taking time to stop and observe the world around him, letting Chibi take him away from the confinements of his home and into the garden.

The last third of the book changes in tone and I found that I enjoyed this part more than the first half of the book. The reader is left wondering how much of this book is 'fiction' and how much of this is 'memoir' as the reader finds out that the narrator has written several articles on Chibi for the original owner - this explains the episodic feel of the earlier chapters. Hiraide leaves the reader wondering at the end of The Guest Cat if the narrator has written down the life of Chibi as a way of stating his ownership of Chibi.

The Guest Cat is a book that is heart warming but also disappointing in some places. I would have liked more of the story from the wife's perspective and for there to be more of a plot. I enjoyed the sections where the couple interacted with the cat's owners and I would have liked more of this. At times the prose is repetitive and the narrator does go off on tangents from the main plot. For me, this book could have been shorter.

This is a short read and ideal for sitting back in a cosy armchair and finishing off in one afternoon.

You can buy The Guest Cat from your favourite book shop.

I was kindly sent a copy by the Publisher.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Hello!

Don’t worry I haven’t got all ‘bah humbug’ about the blog – I am still here.

Things have been a bit hectic as of late. Back in August we finally moved out of our house (having had it on the market since November and had three buyers) but our new house was delayed as the road wasn't finished so we had to move into a hotel for two months.

I thought leaving in a hotel was going to be very jolly and Jazz-age but it wasn’t. We had to move rooms three times because the lock broke the first time, and then the electrics kept blowing every time we had a shower and the third room smelled like stale smoke… maybe our time in the hotel may make it into a story one day.

We’re finally in our new house and most of the unpacking has been done. I was thought I was a minimalist but it seems I'm not… we've had lots of boxes to unpack but I can’t be blamed for everything - I think it’s 50% books and 50% car parts!

The best part of my desk is the view – I can see over the local school farm at the chubby pigs. I have named them Mr and Mrs Jumper (as they have a pattern across their back which looks like they’re wearing a jumper which has shrunk in the wash) and Spotty Doom (because he was covered in spots). I was on the verge of setting them up on Tumblr and blogging about their adventures but it looks like they’re no longer living in the field. I’m guessing that they have either been taken inside for the winter or they have become Christmas Bacon…I’m hoping for the first option. Oh well, no blog for them so you’ll never know about the love triangle and Spotty Doom’s attempts to win the heart of Mrs Jumper by weeing in her face.


Things are starting to get back to normal – I’ll have some book reviews up soon and I’m getting back into redrafting my novel.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Book Review: Dear Committee Members

Dear Committee Members
Julie Schumacher
Published by The Friday Project
Available in Hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Dear Reader

This letter recommends Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members a very funny and insightful look into the world of academia told in letters.

But first things first – lets talk about the front cover. I know you’re not meant to judge a book by its cover (or you might have your teacher breathing down your neck) but I’m afraid you will with Dear Committee Members. As you can see from the enclosed picture this one is very striking.

Jason Fitger is an English academic, who we learn through the numerous letters of recommendations he writes for past and present students, is disgruntled by the politics of the education system and with the whole process of writing recommendation letters. However, this doesn’t stop him from writing a recommendation for anyone that knocks on his office door. The frustrations he has with his teaching, writing and love life come out in his letters and at times his opinions get him in trouble.

Schumacher explores the intimacy of letter writing and the way we share and let down our guard more than we would if it was a face to face. Fitger’s letters are full of frustrations on the limited funding for the English department, and at times his words verge on the passive aggressive but his letters also full of passion for his department plus the odd bit of gossip about his colleagues. Fitger is a man who can’t help but write down and broadcast his true feelings on the page. Dear Committee Members reminded me of lecturers when I was at university and the way they used to moan about the facilities and other members of staff.

Through the passive aggressive letters, a narrative starts to form with Fitger advocating a student, Darren Bowles, a brilliant writer who has become a victim of the writing program’s funding being cut. He needs money and time to finish off his novel which Fitger thinks will be a game changer.

Dear Committee Members reminded me of The Wonder Boys, which is also a book about a disillusioned lecturer who thinks the ‘system’ is against him. Dear Committee Members is just as funny, cringe-worthy and insightful as The Wonder Boys.

Fitger doesn’t know when to keep his mouth, which is good for the reader. This book will have you laughing out loud and also rolling your eyes within a couple of pages.

This book is available from your favourite online or offline bookshops.

I hope to hear from you soon,
Jessica

x


P.P.S Thank you to the Friday Project for sending me a copy

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Book Review: Six Stories & An Essay - Andrea Levy

Six Stories & An Essay

By Andrea Levy
Published by Tinder Press
Available in hardback and ebook
Forthcoming in paperback

As the title suggests this collection includes six shorts from Andrea Levy, the author of Small Island plus an essay on how her heritage has influenced her writing. Let me point out that the only downside to this collection is the rather drab title because inside there are some fantastic stories on the immigrant experience, soldiers fighting in WW1, and life in London council estates.

This absorbing and compelling collection is just over one hundred pages long so it will only take a matter of hours to read. I loved this collection so much that I have already gone back to read several of the stories in particular The Empty Pram which tells of a woman who has recently moved from Jamaica to England and is mistakenly accused of stealing a baby. Levy explores the ignorance of the other women and the way communication breaks down if a situation falls out of your comfort zone. I really wanted to grab the shoulders of the mothers who were accusing the Jamaican woman and shake them as I shouted 'listen to her!'

I really enjoyed the small introductions and also the full essay at the beginning of the collection. I found these interesting as Levy tells the reader the inspiration for each story as well as her decision to become a writer. These stories and Levy's writing journey shows the reader the need to embrace the culture we come from even though it may not be the norm (but then what is the norm nowadays). These are the things that make us interesting. We may try to rid ourselves of history but it will find a way of finding us again.

Six Stories & An Essay is about people and history. Levy's characters give voices to people who may not normally be represented in literature - we have the soldiers from Jamaica who serve the British Army in WW1 but then are dismissed for their heroic actions and are treated like second class citizens. There are the young children from working class backgrounds living on council estates where there is nothing to do other than punish and play with each other. The Immigration experience is explored on both sides - from the people who move to England and in Loose Change, Levy explores the behaviour of  the offspring of immigrants and way they see immigrants. Levy writes with lots of honesty and humour.

Levy says in one of her introductions, "Short stories can be as consuming as any novel," which as a writer I can agree and I can also agree with this statement from the readers point of view especially with Levy's short stories. She packs so much detail into these stories that it makes them feel like mini novels. The characters are so vivid that each one could easily have a novel told about them and in fact one of the stories eventually turned into Small Island.

It was interesting to read That Polite Way That English People Have which was written in the early stages of Levy's fantastic novel Small Island and includes the same characters. Levy explores the immigration experience in the eyes of a young woman as she moves from a hot country to a cold country, full of optimism while the people around her are jaded. The themes of the novel are being formed in this short story and I can see why Levy decided to expand this into a novel as the short story is rich with details.

You should go and buy this book today, find your favourite reading chair and settle down to some great stories.

You can buy a copy of Six Stories & an Essay from your favourite bookshop from today.

Thank you to Bookbridgr.com for the review copy.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Book Review: Stay Up With Me - Tom Barbash

Stay Up With Me
By Tom Barbash
Published by Simon & Schuster
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback forthcoming



Tom Barbash’s compelling stories within Stay Up With Me explore the struggles of characters in everyday situations and they way we tell lies to cope with the world and its expectations.

Stay Up With Me is a short story collection that will refuse to allow you to put the book down after one story. I found myself promising to read just one more but I kept going and I was able to finish this book in no time at all. Barbash has a way of capturing the reader and refusing to let them take a break.

Many stories reminded of Richard Yates and Raymond Carver with seemingly ordinary characters, who have resentments building underneath their public fa├žade. Jealousy and dysfunction lurk under the surface of these normal characters. There is a mother who is jealous of her son’s sexual conquest in The Break while in How to Fall a woman goes on a singles skiing trip to help get over her ex-boyfriend but finds herself more isolated than she would have been if she had stayed in the city.

Barbash creates characters that the reader only sees only after a major event has happened to them, usual off the page before the story begins. There are deaths of family members and friends, break ups, isolation of living in a new area like the narrator in Somebody’s Son. These characters are trying to forge a new identity, deal with the grief and move forwards with their lives. These characters are on the brink of change and their resistance to change makes an engaging and fascinating story.

My particular favourite story was Balloon Night where Timkin’s wife, Amy has left him but he continues with the party they were planning. Through out the night he pretends to his guests that his wife is away on business to save face not only for himself but also her friends. This allows him another day where he would not have to face the reality of his wife leaving him. I liked the way Barbash created a character that has had a change in fortune but is refusing to accept this and move on with his life. He is trapped in a bubble and this does not bother him.

Stay Up With Me is a short story collection that I would seriously recommend to any one who loves short stories either reading them or writing them. Even novel lovers will enjoy this collection as the characters linger just as much as a novel does after the last page.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Book Review: All The Days And Nights - Niven Govinden

All The Days And Nights
By Niven Govinden
Published by The Friday Project
Available in Hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming


All the Days and Nights, Niven Govinden's fourth novel, and second novel reviewed on Writer's Little Helper is a magnificent novel which explores the way creativity shapes and controls the life we lead.

The narrator of All the Days and Nights, Anna Brown, is a dying acclaimed artist. She is currently working on her final portrait of her muse and husband, John Brown but she can not bring herself to finish the details on John's face. The portrait must be perfect and be her final statement to the world, however, John has walked out of their home and has decided to trek across America, hunting down Anna's previous portraits that she painted of him. He has the need to move away from being the observed and become the observer - maybe some emotion captured in his younger face will help him face up the future.

Govinden's lyrical novel paints a picture of an intense relationship between muse and artist, husband and wife, agent and artist. Anna narrators the novel as if she's talking to John in a letter and maybe this is her final portrait, not of John but of both of them and their relationship over the years. Anna's narration is very personal and revealing about their relationship - tension simmers as they push and pull against the creativity that rules both of their lives. Anna is a claustrophobic, remote and recluse character while John is a character who opens up when he is around other people and is willing to be part of the community. They are both opposites and yet, their love keeps them together.

Both Anna and John are stuck in a circle and are unable to break the bonds - the art controls Anna, Anna controls John, John controls the art. There are subtle shifts of power with Anna making John sit for a portrait soon after losing the battle to save his friend's son from drowning. John's disappearance, as he tries to escape the fact that Anna is dying and therefore his role as muse is over. His journey pushes Anna further into the clutches of her creativity and away from reality. John has the power to bring her back from being consumed.

Govinden beautifully captures the sense of knowing that death is coming and the way people react, knowing that they must face the loss that is about to descend on them. John sets off to find previous portraits to find meaning in his younger face while Anna becomes more recluse and locks herself away in her studio with her final portrait sitting on the sidelines taunting her

All the Days and Nights has recently been long-listed for the Green Carnation Prize and I really hope it wins. You can buy All the Days and Nights from your favourite bookshop.

I was kindly sent a copy by the publisher.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Bad Writing Tips


  • Only write when the moon is full.
  • Keep a napkin handy as they better than notebooks. Rough drafts can be wiped away with snot.
  • Lounging across the sofa with the laptop balanced on your stomach, with The Real Housewives of New York playing on the television while you eat peanut M&Ms is the ideal writing position.
  • All first drafts must be sent to magazines and agents. They love reading raw, rough writing.
  • There’s no need for editing.
  • You must get yourself a logo before you can be a real writer.
  • Make sure you have an entourage: You will need at least one person to do the typing, another person to have the idea, another person to do the editing (if needed), another person to run your Facebook fan page and another person to dab your forehead when its’ getting too much or to change the television channel when the adverts are drowning out your inner voice.
  • WRITE IN CAPITALS. ALL OF THE TIME.
  • Comic Sans is the best font for sending out writing to agents and magazines.
  • Make sure that your short stories include emoticons J
  • Only a two-week all-inclusive holiday to a tropical island will help cure you of writer’s block. OR, if your budget is tight then lounging across the sofa with The Real Housewives of New York playing on the television while you eat peanut M&Ms and have a cold flannel across your forehead will be a lesser cure.
  • Daily doses of champagne will make the ideas bubble onto the page.
  • Write in a vacuum.
  • Don’t tell people that ‘there’s a book inside everybody’ because you don’t want them to get a book deal before you.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Book Review: The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop


By Victoria Hislop
Published by Headline Review
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming


Nowadays, Famagusta in Cyprus is abandoned, derelict with barbed wire wrapping around the perimeter of the city. Once it was a desirable holiday destination but now it is deserted. Hislop goes back to the 1970s where Famagusta is on the cusp of change…

Famagusta in 1972 is a city full of glam, wealth, good fortune and expensive shopping. Hislop paints an intriguing picture of glamour and peacefulness. An ambitious couple, Aphroditi and Savvas Papacosta are about to open the most spectacular and luxurious hotel on the island. They are a very liberal couple and plan to have a mixture of Greek and Turkish Cypriots working in their hotel. They are determined to make their hotel the most desirable even with years of unrest still rumbling around in the memory of many of their staff members. Two neighbouring families – Georgious and Ozkans find work in the hotel.

You would think this is a book about love triangles, golden beaches and expensive lifestyles but this book is full of tragedy and conflict. Unrest between Greek and Turkish Cypriots is building up outside the walls of the hotel. Hislop slowly unravels the lives of the characters and pushes them to the brink. This is a book with tension simmering under the surface, ready to ruin the ensemble cast of characters.

The second half of the novel is marked by the Greek coup and its aftermath on the Papacosta, Georgious and Ozkans families. The shift of power swaps between the characters - the Papacosta's find themselves in a refugee camp, after fleeing the attacks on Famagusta, struggling to survive - having to sell their jewelry, abandon their car and wear dirty clothes. Even though when they reach Aphroditi's parents flat their downfall continues.

Hislop shows the reader that not even the higher classes of society were safe from the invasion. Every body has become equal in their standing in society. The Papacostas are still eager to go back to their old life - Aphroditi wants to find her lover while Savvas wants to start rebuilding his hotel empire. Hislop pushes these characters right to the edge especially Aphroditi. She must endure a brutal attack, a miscarriage, the loss of her status and her family. Aphroditi is probably one of the strongest and interesting characters out of the Papacosta family - she is a determined character and will not be stopped by barbed wire or soldiers. It's a shame that by the end of the novel, even though she is living in London, she has no hope left and is just a shell of her former self.

Hislop does a great job of exploring the human side of conflict and its lasting affects on people. The Georgious and Ozkans stay in the city after the attack, hiding away from the soldiers who patrol the streets. They end up camping inside the Papacosta's hotel, The Sunrise and their confinement is in luxury. Even though Georgious and the Ozkans families are on opposing sides they work together to stay alive by building trust, friendship and teamwork. There were points where I wondered if this would have a happy ending and I think the satisfaction from reading this novel comes from knowing that this strand of the story shows people from opposing sides rising above their prejudices to survive.

At times some of the secondary characters are not as developed as I would have liked. In particular the sons from both the Georgious and Ozans families who go out to fight the invasion for opposing sides. I would have liked to have known more about their journeys and their battles to survive.

I'm glad I was sent a copy of The Sunrise as I don't think I would have picked up the book from the bookshelf of a bookshop because I think the front cover is a bit bland. This book has a very strong plot and it derserves to have a strong cover to represent this. 


I was kindly sent a copy by the publisher

Friday, 3 October 2014

Book Review: Meatspace

My review of Nikesh Shukla's second novel, Meatspace, published by The Friday Project, is now up at Everybody's Reviewing.

You can read my review here > Meatspace

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Book Review: Brick Mother by S.J. Bradley

Brick Mother
By S.J. Bradley
Published by Dead Ink Books
Available as a paperback and also as an ebook

'Brick Mother' is a term first used by psychotherapist Henri Rey to describe Victorian hospitals. The walls were like the arms of a mother, keeping the patients within safe. Bradley explores the way that this tenderness can be caring and nurturing but also the way it can suffocate in her debut novel, Brick Mother.

Brick Mother tells the story of two women, Neriste, an art therapist and Donna, a support worker, who both work at a secure psychiatric unit, on the edge of a big fictional town in Yorkshire. The unit is understaffed, missing direction and battling with funding and budgets. Employees and patients are trapped - doors are kept locked, visitors are rare and every day objects like pens are considered weapons. Paranoia seeps in through the cracks.

Both women are disillusioned by their jobs - Neriste is trapped in her port-a-cabin, doing her art therapy with limited resources, and going home exhausted. While Donna is struggling to make enough money to keep the roof over herself and her son. Bradley creates two very different characters who on the surface are poles apart - Neriste has a more middle class upbringing having gone to university, while Donna lives in a council estate, the father of her child is absent from their lives, her money from working at the hospital barely feeds them. However, under the surface they are both struggling to find a place in society - both are powerless in their jobs to influence any management decisions with regards to patients, both are trapped by the needs of the hospital pulling them away from their family life. Both are looking to improve their lives, looking to escape the claustrophobic grip and stagnation of the hospital but are both drawn back to its imposing presence as they need their jobs to enable them to survive.

The way Bradley builds up suspense to run along side the mundane lives of these women and the hospital creates a fantastic build-up of tension. Bradley can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and almost into the sinister - pens, an innocent piece of stationery is now a weapon. Both Characters will be manipulated either by the system or by the guilt that bothers both of them.

Bradley successfully explores the complexity of themes, considering the issues that surround mental health care in the UK from both a patient and carer perspective with regards to funding, staffing and the boundaries between the appearance of getting better and actually being fit enough to leave the hospital. These themes, full of insight and detail, feed nicely into the plot of Brick Mother - the lives of Neriste and Donna both start to unravel as they both drawn to Nathan, a patient with a dark past. They must make tough decisions - are they the vulnerable ones or is it the patient?

Brick Mother is a thought-provoking social-realism novel and it will stay with you many weeks after finishing the last chapter. Bradley has written a seriously good novel and it deserves to be read by as many people as possible.


Brick Mother is available now from your favourite book retailer.


I was kindly sent a copy by the author.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Bye Bye View From Here

My review of Elizabeth Forbes's novel, Who Are You? is now up at the View From Here Magazine.

This is my last review for the View From Here as the magazine will be shutting down in November. I have really enjoyed reviewing for them over the past three years and I will definitely miss the View From Here. I have read books ranging from teenage werewolves to families in Mexico, and Japanese girls heading to America for a new life. I have short story collections, novels, non fiction and bloody brilliant fiction.

One of my biggest joys of reviewing has been finding new favourite books like The Buddha in the Attic, Entertaining Strangers by Jonathan Taylor and Dead Man's Embers.

I also discovered And Other Stories Publishing, who produce fantastic books, ranging from translation from Mexican to Russian authors. Some of my favourites have been Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos and All Dogs Are Blue by Rodrigo De Souza Leao. They are a fantastic publisher and I am looking forward to reading more from them.

I have also ready tiny stories like Nik Perring's Beautiful Words.


Plus I read and reviewed Monkeys with Typewriters - this was the book that got me back into writing fiction again after a tough few years.

So bye bye The View From Here!

But don't worry, I haven't given up reviewing that easily! I am going to carry to reviewing on my blog and I have a fantastic to-read pile at the moment. Top of my pile is Victoria Hislop's The Sunshine, followed by Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash, Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher and All the Days and Nights by Niven Govinden.



Sunday, 31 August 2014

Book Review: Of Things Gone Astray

Of Things Gone Astray
By Janina Matthewson
Published by The Friday Project
Published in hardback and ebook.
Paperback will be available in 2015.

There are only a handful of authors who I like so much that I become impatient to read their next book. Janina Matthewson is one of those authors. A couple of years ago I read in one sitting Matthewson's short story, The Understanding of Women and absolutely loved it so much that I read it from the beginning straight away. Last week saw the publication of Matthewson's debut novel, Of Things Gone Astray, published by the fantastic The Friday Project. I loved it.

On a normal morning in London, a group people, not yet connected to each other, awake to find something is lost, something precious. Mrs Featherby, an almost recluse, is missing the front wall of her house - she is exposed to the world. Cassie has lost her girlfriend who has not arrived back in the country. Robert, a life long famous musician, has lost the piano keys to the piano he built with his father. Marcus has lost his place of work, while Delia has lost her sense of direction. But there is one character, Jake, who has lost his mother in an earthquake, and is now living with his father, who is collecting the things people are losing.

Of Things Gone Astray follows the characters as they try to find the things they have lost. This means facing up the the unhappiness in their lives, having to deal with a life that has been put on hold, being pushed into the unknown. All the characters have one thing in common - the need to move on with their lives but they are unwilling to take that leap of faith. These events of losing things is the catalyst that these characters need.

Matthewson has created a fantastic bunch of characters who must face up to grief, the relationships in their lives, the inability to make life changing decisions. For me, the stand out character was Cassie, who gradually turns into a tree as she stands waiting for her girlfriend to arrive at Heathrow. Matthewson blends together the fantastic with reality to create Cassie's story line that is both full of imagery and emotion.

This is a book full of sadness and loss but it is also a book full of hope and determination. The way Matthewson is able to create a book that makes the reader want to cry with sadness and with happiness reminded me of Andrew Kaufman's The Tiny Wife and Aimee Bender's short stories.

I could have easily read this book in one sitting but I didn't want to let go of these characters so I stretched out my time with them. This is a fantastic, magical book that makes you want to hug the characters and makes you appreciate the life you have.

You MUST go and buy this book. NOW.


The Friday Project kindly sent me a copy.