Hope is the thing with feathers …

Emily Dickinson quote.jpg

Well this is a post I never thought I’d write for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that I tend not to share my personal ‘stuff’. However, sometimes it’s good to talk as the old BT ads used to tell us. In this case, even if no-one is listening, I get to offload my thoughts and put things in perspective.

It’s been a strange few weeks or so, that started with the discovery of a small lump in my breast. If I’m honest I didn’t do something straight away as a) I was going to Harrogate and b) I have a history of cysts. So I let it drift a week or so and when it didn’t do the decent thing and disappear I went to the doctor. By mid afternoon that same day I had an appointment at the hospital for the normal routine tests.

The day of the appointment arrived and OH and I trooped off to the hospital and the usual procedures were followed. Another examination to confirm said lump, the dreaded mammogram and then the ultrasound. After two previously abnormal mammograms which result in the discovery of nothing more sinister than cysts once the ultrasound has done its thing I was feeling quite calm. But then the ultrasound was taking a lot longer than usual and nobody was mentioning cysts. It was the mention of performing a core needle biopsy that suddenly turned a routine visit into something I hadn’t expected and wasn’t prepared for. I should say at this point I HATE needles and was fast becoming a quivering wreck at the prospect.

I survived, with many thanks to the lovely nurse who held my hand, I say held, hers was crushed by the end of the procedure. Once dressed and a bit less shocked I was dispatched with a sheet outlining the numerous horrors I might be faced with, swelling, bruising, pain, etc. etc. I’m delighted to say I felt a fraud, barely a bruise, no pain and no swelling – result! What I did have though was the longest 10 days of my life until I got the results back.

Yesterday was results day, so OH and I trooped back to the same hospital, though got a bit concerned when they checked me in and this time directed me to the Macmillan Cancer Clinic. Midway through trying to get wi-fi access to download a book to my Kindle for the OH who’d forgotten his  I got called through.

OK let’s cut to the chase, as I’ve already discovered,  there is no easy way of saying this, I have breast cancer. My little lump that accompanied me to Harrogate, met Lee Child, Ian Rankin and befriended lots of lovely people is 15mm of Grade 2 cancer – the bugger.

So I am now the proud? owner of a lovely Macmillan nurse called Jane and it appears my life for the foreseeable future is a merry round of appointments and treatments. Only this afternoon I was invited for a lovely pre-op next week. This pales into insignificance in the face of the delightful injection of a radioactive substance on the 4th Sept prior to my wide local excision (lumpectomy to you and me) and sentinal lymph node biopsy on the 5th. This latter procedure is also accompanied by a blue dye to locate the position of the sentinel lymph node.  We have been warned I’ll look like a pale imitation of a smurf for up to 24 hours and the added joy I’ll be capable of crying blue tears and producing blue urine.

Needless to say, within the space of 24 hours my OH and I have learnt words we never knew before and have uttered quite a few we knew already, though not that are suitable for polite company. The one good thing about yesterday, is that my oncologist was lovely and accommodating about a holiday we have booked for mid Sept. As it doesn’t involve flights or exotic places, she shuffled her diary around to fit me in on 5th rather than 12th so we can still go away.  If I’m being honest here, I was initially more concerned about missing my holiday than the not insignificant diagnosis that she hit us with (albeit very gently). So there, it’s now all in the open and it feels quite cathartic.

I’m not the sort of person to shy away from reality, and the reality is, I like many women and men before me, have breast cancer. Sadly I also know there’ll be just as many that follow a similar journey as well. However, I shall be carrying on as normally as possible (with no doubt a few more expletives) and if anyone wants to join me, I daresay I’ll keep you all updated with proceedings or just carry on talking to myself.

 

 

Book Haul – week ending 19 August 2017

Review Copies

I know I’m cutting down on review copies so that I can concentrate on all the wonderful books and authors that are all patiently sitting on my Kindle or bookshelves. However after reading The Comfort of Others (review here) I couldn’t turn down the chance to read this when the author offered me her latest book.

Way Back to UsThe Way Back to Us by Kay Langdale

Since their youngest son, Teddy, was diagnosed with a life-defining illness, Anna has been fighting: against the friends who don’t know how to help; against the team assigned to Teddy’s care who constantly watch over Anna’s parenting; and against the impulse to put Teddy above all else – including his older brother, the watchful, sensitive Isaac.

And now Anna can’t seem to stop fighting against her husband, the one person who should be able to understand, but who somehow manages to carry on when Anna feels like she is suffocating under the weight of all the things that Teddy will never be able to do.

As Anna helplessly pushes Tom away, he can’t help but feel the absence of the simple familiarity that should come so easily, and must face the question: is it worse to stay in an unhappy marriage, or leave?

 

Kindle Purchases

 

Vanished BeneathVanished Beneath by Robin Roughley (£1.99 was Free)

How deep would you dive to catch a killer?
Johnny Hammond loves fishing and when he feels the pull on the line he is ecstatic. Though, what surfaces leaves the boy screaming as the pale face of the dark-haired woman slowly sinks back into the deep.
The next morning, Lasser and Bannister wait for the body to be brought to the surface. Only it isn’t a female but a male that the underwater search unit retrieve from the cold water. By the end of the day three bodies will have been pulled from the murky depths, but what links them and why were they dumped there?
As Lasser digs deep, he suspects that someone is trying to refine a new drug before it hits the streets, a drug that leaves people dead. Someone is using people as lab rats, and they don’t care who they kill as they try to perfect the product. At least that is what Lasser thinks as he tries to track the killer down. But all is not as it seems as Lasser discovers the real truth is much darker, much deeper than the lake the bodies were dumped in.

 

Buried SecretsBuried Secrets by Lisa Cutts (99p)

To most people, Detective Inspector Milton Bowman appears to have an ideal life. But some secrets aren’t buried deep enough.

After a tragic car accident, and a shocking murder, DI Milton’s colleagues have to start digging into every aspect of his life. 

Suspicion and disbelief creep into their lives as a web of deceit unfolds – the Bowman family, friends and even colleagues come under suspicion. No one is to be trusted.

Nothing is as it appears.

 

Taken at the FloodTaken at the Flood by K J Rabane (Free)

Taken at the Flood is a story of love, lust, mistrust and murder.

The founder of Softcell Computer Softwear systems has everything a man could desire, a beautiful wife who is pregnant with their first child, and an expensive lifestyle.

But seeing the girl in Venice, whilst on honeymoon with Evelyn will alter the course of his life.

 

 

To Have and To HoldTo Have and To Hold by M L Roberts – pre-order (Free)

For fans of TV shows Doctor Foster and The Affair. A chilling new four-part series.

Michael and Ellie are that couple.

The ones who have it all.

Success, charm, trust…but no relationship is perfect and the events of the past cast a shadow over their charmed life together.

When lecturer Michael starts to mentor a new student, Ellie fears that history is repeating itself. As paranoia takes its ugly hold, it’s clear some things just can’t be forgotten…or forgiven.

 

Traveler's Guide to BelongingA Traveler’s Guide to Belonging by Rachel Devenish Ford (Free)

Timothy keeps getting rice in his baby’s hair.

India is overwhelming even if you aren’t 24 years old and a newly widowed father, and Timothy isn’t sure that he or his son will survive without a mother in the picture. He begins a journey through India with his baby, searching for a home in the new landscape of fatherhood, and a way back into life.

A Traveler’s Guide to Belonging is a literary novel rich with emotion and description. If you like Anne Lamott, Barbara Kingsolver, or Ann Patchett, you’ll love the book that one reader called, “Part travelogue, part spiritual journey, and part gentle romance.”

 

Change of HeartA Change of Heart by Adrienne Vaughan (Free)

When Ryan’s career recalls him, Marianne remains on the island to support the close-knit community who are becoming like a family to the world-weary journalist and her beloved Highland terrier. It’s not long before Ryan realises he cannot live without her and returns to woo her back.Tricky enough without his problematic ex-wife or the contract he cannot break, but when a mysterious death lands his agent in a heap of trouble and Marianne’s mother find herself literally up to no good in New York, the couple, struggling to establish their own relationship are very nearly driven apart. Then when a dangerous but essentially good deed puts all they treasure in jeopardy, it’s time to take stock and fight for what matters most …or is time running out for this charismatic couple and everything they hold most dear?

 

Unquiet SoulsUnquiet Souls by Liz Mistry (Free)

What is the link between the abduction of a little girl and a dead prostitute?

When the body of a prostitute is found, followed by the discovery of children locked in an attic, DI Gus McGuire is handed the case. But what at first appears to be a simple murder soon turns into an international manhunt for the members of a twisted child trafficking ring.

McGuire who is suffering with his own emotional problems, must pick his way through the web of deceit and uncover the truth in time before the body count rises.

Can McGuire identify The Matchmaker before it’s too late? And can he trust those he is working with?

Unquiet Souls is the first book in a dark and compelling new police series.

 

Burning MoonBurning Moon by Jo Watson (Free)

Chase your dreams. Dance under the stars. Fall in love at the festival of Burning Moon.

WARNING: Being jilted at the altar in front of 500 wedding guests can lead to irrational behaviour, such as going on your honeymoon to Thailand alone.

On the way to paradise, symptoms may include getting arrested, setting yourself on fire, turning up on a ‘Missing Poster’ and going viral.

Side-effects may include desert island stranding, star gazing and jungle trekking.

Recovery will lead to partying the night away at Burning Moon festival – and falling in love with the person you least expect…

 

Somme LegacyThe Somme Legacy by M J Lee (Free)

July 1, 1916. The Somme, France.

A British Officer prepares to go over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

March 28, 2016. Manchester. England.

Genealogical investigator Jayne Sinclair, a former police detective, is commissioned by a young teacher to look into the history of his family. The only clues are a medallion with purple, white and green ribbons, and an old drawing of a young woman.

Her quest leads to a secret buried in the trenches of World War One for over 100 years.

Who was the real heir to the Lappiter millions?

 

White Queen of MiddlehamThe White Queen of Middleham by Lesley J Nickell (Free)

For Anne Neville, a timid and delicate child, ignored by her mother, patronised by her elder sister and bullied by her formidable father Warwick the Kingmaker, her childhood friend Richard Plantagenet becomes a source of strength throughout her life.

As she moves abruptly from castle to castle, from England to France, with Warwick’s changing fortunes in the turbulent Wars of the Roses, Anne is a pawn in the dangerous games of political intrigue that she struggles to understand.

The third son of the ambitious Duke of York, later King Richard III, is a hero in the eyes of the shy and bewildered Anne, and the key to her understanding of the great events happening around her. Their love, almost wrecked by the
feud of York and Lancaster, culminates in great happiness and the last Plantagenet reign in England.

 

That’s all folks, quite a restrained week for me. Let me know if you spot anything you fancy.

 

 

 

Coming Soon to Jill’s Book Cafe … Five on Friday

 

Five on Friday 2

Having had a few days off work I finally found the time to do something about an idea I’ve had for a while. It grew out of a conversation I had with an author about putting together a Q&A for them. I was looking to do something a little different. I didn’t want to re-visit the traditional questions about writing processes, favourite authors, favourite books etc. What I wanted was something that told me more about the author as a person. I wanted something that was personal (without being intrusive) and was also fun (without being trivial) and that also gave the option of being deeper or more serious depending on how the author wanted to approach the questions.

Having thought long and hard about questions, I realised that if I was clever (always a stumbling block!) I could come up with a format that could be rolled out as a series. So I settled on what I thought were suitable questions, but then had to send them out and gauge the responses. I’m pleased to say the responses have all been positive and as a result, my idea is now in the process of being put together into what at this stage is looking like a series of fortnightly posts.

Each author is asked the same series of 5 questions, but as I’ve already seen from the answers, they all produce different responses (thankfully) and really do let you know more about the person behind the name.

I initially sent out my questions to a small selection of authors to gauge both the response to the general idea and the questions. Also I wasn’t sure how regular the post would be (as it partly depended on how well received the idea was) and didn’t want to bombard people who might then be waiting months before the post appeared. So, to my initial group of authors who have kindly responded, thank you very much.

To the many authors who haven’t heard from me, don’t think you’re safe. I have a list of candidates that I will be working my way through in due course.

I am planning my first post to go live on 25th August – next Friday, and I hope you’ll drop by and find out a little bit more about the wonderful authors who at this stage include Patricia Dixon, Helen Pollard, Stephanie Butland, Gina Kirkham, David Evans, Juliet Greenwood, Eva Jordan and Kay Langdale.

See you on Friday!

 

 

#ThrowbackThursday – The Curvy Girls Club by Michele Gorman – 4*s @MicheleGormanUK #Review

Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk. Throwback Thursday was designed as an opportunity to share old favorites as well as older books in our TBR. As I started reviewing on Goodreads long before I started my blog, it seemed a great way of sharing my earlier reviews (which I hope have improved since the early days).

So this week I’m revisiting  The Curvy Girls Club by Michele Gorman– first reviewed in January 2015.

Curvy Girls Club

 

My Review

Michele Gorman is a new author to me, so I chose this book based on the synopsis and the cover – thankfully I was not disappointed. As the cover would suggest this is chic lit territory but with a message we can all relate to namely size isn’t everything.

The Curvy Girls Club is started by best friends Katie, Ellie, Pixie and Jane when they get fed up of their Slimming Club. They decide to do something more interesting/creative with their free time other than comparing diets and lack of weight loss.

As the Club takes off, it brings about changes and challenges in their lives that they did not envisage when they started the club for fun. It also puts their long held friendships to the test.

It is a fun and easy read but it also touches on many issues that affect both men and women, namely body image and confidence, domestic abuse, careers vs relationships, and the nature of friendship. These themes are cleverly introduced into the plot without feeling contrived. It’s only when you’ve finished reading that you realise that for a fun read, it was also quite deep. Just for good measure there is also a great will they won’t they romance to keep you guessing until the end.

I received an ARC copy via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

The Comfort of Others by Kay Langdale – 5*s #Review @kaylangdale @bookbridgr @HodderBooks

 

Minnie and her sister Clara, spinsters both, live in a dilapidated country house in the middle of a housing estate, built when their father sold off the family’s land. Now in their seventies, their days follow a well-established routine: long gone are the garden parties, the tennis lessons and their suffocatingly strict mother. Gone, too, is any mention of what happened when Minnie was sixteen, and the secret the family buried in the grounds of their estate.

Directly opposite them lives Max, an 11-year-old whose life with his mum has changed beyond recognition since her new boyfriend arrived. Cast aside, he takes solace in Minnie’s careful routine, observed through his bedroom window.

Over the course of the summer, both begin to tell their stories: Max through a Dictaphone, Minnie through a diary. As their tales intertwine, ghosts are put to rest and challenges faced, in a story that is as dark as it is uplifting.

 

My Review

This should be one of the easiest reviews I ever write as all I need to say is ‘read it NOW’. However I guess I won’t get away with that, despite that being all you need to know. This really is a beautiful book which will have you running through the whole gamut of emotions  before you reach the end.

It tells the story of Max and Minnie’s friendship over the course of one summer. It is the summer that Max’s mum finds herself a boyfriend and Max finds himself at best sidelined so that he seeks the companionship of his elderly neighbour Minnie. Minnie isn’t a new neighbour, but this is the first time they’ve had recourse to really notice each other. As Max relates his inner thoughts to his Mum’s old dictaphone it encourages Minnie to put her thoughts to paper and face the demons she’s been hiding from.

It’s an unlikely friendship, but it works because they meet as equals enjoying the solace of each others company and quietly gaining confidence from it. All the characters are well written, but it is Max and Minnie that take centre stage, and Max is an absolute delight. Despite only  being 11, he is an old soul,  and it is impossible not to love him, this makes the injustices he suffer hurt all the more. I suspect it’s his inner wisdom in part that Minnie recognises and nurtures. Their blossoming friendship is a joy to behold and will have you yearning for a happy ending for both.

While Max’s troubles are all in his present, Minnie’s are all in the past, though they have never, quite literally, been laid to rest. Hers is a heartbreaking story which you cannot fail to be moved by. Between them they generate joy, humour, sadness, heartbreak and for me at one point horror. But that said, it is a book that is ultimately uplifting, representing for both, a coming of age, despite their disparate ages.

This has become my book of the year (so far) because it is so beautifully written, characterful, thoughtful, provocative  and emotive. Minnie’s final entry in her diary is a quote from George Eliot which sums up her experience and is one we can all learn from,

  ‘it is never too late to become what you might have been’

I received a review copy via Bookbridgr for the purpose of writing this honest review

Book Haul – week ended 12 August 2017

Less of a haul than usual but as ever some great bargains were to be had this week so it was rude not too!

Kindle Purchases

 

Meet me at the LighthouseMeet me at the Lighthouse by Mary Jane Baker (99p)

’The day I turned 28, I bought a lighthouse and met the love of my life’

Bobbie Hannigan’s life in a cottage by the sea with her dog and her twin sister is perfectly fine … until she decides the logical thing is to buy a lighthouse and open a music venue with Ross Mason, the first boy she ever kissed.

Bobbie tries to be professional with Ross, but the happily-ever-after they’re working toward is too good to resist. That is until someone from his past crawls back to cause trouble. Can Bobbie look past the secrets Ross has been keeping from her? Or will the boy, the lighthouse, and the dream all slip away?

Escape to the Yorkshire coast this summer with this laugh out loud romantic comedy from Mary Jayne Baker!

 

Among the Lemon TreesAmong the Lemon Trees by Nadia Marks (£1.19)

Anna thought her marriage to Max would last forever. Having raised two happy children together, she looked forward to growing old with the man she loved. But when a revelation from her husband just before their wedding anniversary shakes her entire world, she’s left uncertain of what the future holds.

Needing time to herself, Anna takes up an offer from her widowed father to spend the summer on the small Aegean island of his birth, unaware that a chance discovery of letters in her aunt’s house will unleash a host of family secrets. Kept hidden for sixty years, they reveal a tumultuous family history, beginning in Greece at the beginning of the twentieth century and ending in Naples at the close of the Second World War.

Confronted by their family’s long-buried truths, both father and daughter are shaken by the discovery and Anna begins to realize that if she is to ever heal the present, she must first understand the past . . .

 

Game you PlayedThe Game you Played by Annie Taylor (£1.34 was Free)

Two-year-old Tommy Basko goes missing from a popular inner-city playground. Six months later, his parents begin receiving cryptic messages in rhyme about Tommy. 

The police don’t believe the messages are from the abductor, but Tommy’s mother Phoebe is certain they are. And she believes they’re a game meant for her. 

Against the advice of the police, Phoebe decides to play the game. 

She begins a frantic search for the writer of the rhymes, at the cost of causing her marriage to shatter. 

When the shocking identity of the message-writer is discovered, Phoebe’s desperate race for the truth has only just begun. 

  
Who took Tommy? And why?
 
 
Little Boy Blue, where did you go? Who led you away? Only I know . . . .  
HarmHarm by Hugh Fraser (£1.99 was Free)
‘What makes an innocent girl become a contract killer?’
Acapulco 1974: Rina Walker is on assignment. Just another another quick, clean kill.

She wakes to discover her employer’s severed head on her bedside table, and a man with an AK 47 coming through the door of her hotel room. She needs all her skills to neutralise her attacker and escape. After a car chase, she is captured by a Mexican drug boss who needs her radiant beauty and ruthless expertise to eliminate an inconvenient member of the government.

Notting Hill 1956: Fifteen-year-old Rina is scavenging and stealing to support her siblings and her alcoholic mother. When a local gangster attacks her younger sister, Rina wreaks revenge and kills him. Innocence betrayed, Rina faces the brutality of the post-war London underworld – a world that teaches her the skill to kill…

 

Sweet Little LiesSweet Little Lies by Caz Frear (98p)

WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW

In 1998, Maryanne Doyle disappeared and Dad knew something about it?
Maryanne Doyle was never seen again.

WHAT I ACTUALLY KNOW

In 1998, Dad lied about knowing Maryanne Doyle.
Alice Lapaine has been found strangled near Dad’s pub.
Dad was in the local area for both Maryanne Doyle’s disappearance and Alice Lapaine’s murder – FACT
Connection?

Trust cuts both ways . . . what do you do when it’s gone?

 

Legacy of Elizabeth PringleThe Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirsty Wark (99p)

Elizabeth Pringle lived all her long life on the Scottish island of Arran. But did anyone really know her? In her will she leaves her beloved house, Holmlea, to a stranger – a young mother she’d seen pushing a pram down the road over thirty years ago. It now falls to Martha, once the baby in that pram, to answer the question: why? Martha is coping with her mother’s dementia and the possibility of a new life on Arran could be a new start.

A captivating story for fans of Rosamund Pilcher, Maeve Binchy and Rachel Joyce of the richness behind the so-called ordinary lives of women and the secrets and threads that hold them together.

 

Brothers & SistersBrothers and Sisters by Adele O’Neill (Free)

When human remains are found on Fitzpatrick Estate, Detective Kelly is drawn deep into the complex web of Fitzpatrick family secrets as Timothy and his sister Rose, now in their sixties, are catapulted into the centre of the investigation.

When the pathology report identifies the remains as that of their uncle, Patrick Fitzpatrick, missing from Fitzpatrick Estate since 1970, they scramble to protect their past.

What would you do to protect the ones you love?

 

A Clean SweepA Clean Sweep by Audrey Davis (Free)

Love comes around when you least expect it. Fifty-something widow Emily isn’t expecting romance. Nor is she expecting a hunky twenty-something chimney sweep on her doorstep.
Daughter Tabitha knows something isn’t quite right with her relationship, while her boss – Abba-loving Meryl – thinks she’s found the real deal. Are they both right, or pursuing Mr Wrong?
Emily’s sister, Celeste, has the perfect marriage … or does she? Can a fitness tracker lead her down the path to happiness or heartbreak?
Susan is single, overweight and resigned to a life of loneliness. There was the one who got away but you don’t get another try, do you?
Prepare for a rollercoaster ride of emotions in a book that will grab your heart, make you smile and wish you had a chimney to sweep.

 

Year at the Star and SixpenseA Year at the Star and Sixpence by Holly Hepburn (Free)

When sisters Nessie and Sam inherit a little pub in a beautiful country village they jump at the chance to escape their messy lives and start afresh. But when they arrive at the Star and Sixpence, it’s not quite what they imagined – it’s pretty much derelict, ruined by debts, and it’s going to be a huge job to get it up and running again. But they are determined to make the best of this new life and they set about making the pub the heart of the village once again. Their first year at the Star and Sixpence won’t be easy, though nothing worth doing ever is.
But when the sisters’ past comes back to haunt them, they start to think that the fresh start they needed is very far away indeed…

 

American's CousinThe American’s Cousin by Julie Highmore (Free)

The American’s cousin is missing … or is she?

Edie Fox is a Private Investigator. Or at least that’s what she aspires to be. From her cramped office above a shop on the wrong side of town, she just about manages to stay afloat with the odd job spying on cheating spouses.

This all changes when a wealthy young American, desperate to find his missing cousin, hires Edie to track her down.

But things are not as they seem. People are telling lies, lots of them.

Edie needs to work out why, but time is running short. As she gets swept up in the hunt for the American’s cousin, she realises that she’s out of her depth. And as personal and professional boundaries blur, she fears she could lose everything: her business, her family … her life.

 

Diary of a Has BeenThe Diary of a Has-been by William Humble (Free)

Arnold Appleforth claims getting old is all about attitude. And if that’s the case he needs all the attitude he can get, because his journalistic career is on life support, his sex life non-existent (except for a recent regrettable incident at a well-known chain restaurant), his financial position precarious and his alcohol consumption prodigious. Add to that his abysmal parenting of his three (or is it four?) children and the biohazard status of his flat, and life isn’t a bed of roses.

So Arnold decides to keep a diary, a daily dose of inspiration to keep his blood pumping. It’ll deal with his own life with intimate, eye-watering honesty and also include pungent political comment on the disgraceful state of contemporary Britain. With a view to publication of course – who wouldn’t want to enjoy his wit and wisdom? Join Arnold as he drops pearly bon mots before swine and makes one last grab for literary immortality. And struggles to survive in a sadly unappreciative world…

 

 

 

Swimming Lessons by Clare Fuller – 4*s @ClaireFuller2 #Review

‘Gil Coleman looked down from the window and saw his dead wife standing on the pavement below.’

Gil’s wife, Ingrid has been missing, presumed drowned, for twelve years.

A possible sighting brings their children, Nan and Flora, home. Together they begin to confront the mystery of their mother. Is Ingrid dead? Or did she leave? And do the letters hidden within Gil’s books hold the answer to the truth behind his marriage, a truth hidden from everyone including his own children?

 

My Review

A beautiful and  intriguing cover that heralds an equally intriguing story. Missing presumed drowned, Ingrid left behind a husband and two daughters at a loss as to what really happened. Was it an accident, was it suicide and if the latter, why?

The story starts with Gil, believing he has spotted his ‘dead’ wife, but Gil is ill and unreliable, but could he really have seen her? One daughter believes, or wants to believe he has, while the other has long accepted her mother’s departure. What follows is an unravelling of the relationship between Gil and Ingrid, and indeed Ingrid and her daughters. Told largely by letters written by Ingrid to Gil and hidden within his extensive book collection, they remain unread. Would they shed light on what really happened if the truth they revealed was known? More importantly will anyone discover their existence to find out?

The letters reveal a bittersweet and unconventional relationship that developed between Gil and Ingrid, he as her older University tutor and she as a young somewhat naive student. Against the odds the relationship led to marriage and ultimately children. He produced a best-selling book and to the outside world he was a lauded author and she the supportive wife and mother. But what was the reality? The letters reveal that their country life was not the perfect idyll that many might have believed. It was an unbalanced relationship, fraught with infidelity and mistrust. True we only have one side of the story, but it’s one written with such depth and emotion it’s hard not to believe its validity.

The story revealed by the letters is interspersed with the contemporary reality of Nan and Flora coping with Gil’s illness and coming to terms with their own troubled relationship. I will admit that I couldn’t particularly warm to Flora, and while Nan wasn’t the most endearing character either, it was much easier to understand her and have some sympathy for her situation, having always had to take responsibility and be the adult, almost from childhood.

Ingrid is certainly the person we feel we know most by the end of the book and yet she is the character we never meet in the flesh. She is the most sympathetic, assuming she is reliable, and the most rounded and three-dimensional. Yet for all that, she is still by the end an enigma as we are still left doubting what happened. But perhaps that is intentional. As Gil says to his students early in the book ‘all books are created by the reader’ so maybe it is for us to decide what we feel is the reality.

Swimming Lessons is a beautifully written book, that shines a light on the realities and truths of a troubled marriage, at times, joyous, at others claustrophobic. It highlights the frustrations of having unfulfilled hopes and dreams and how getting what you want isn’t always enough. It’s certainly thought-provoking and evocative and would make an ideal book club read because of the different responses it’s likely to invoke.

I received an ecopy via NetGalley to enable this review.