Sophie Honeywell wonders whether she should have accepted Thomas’ proposal instead of breaking his heart. Even though she longs for husband and family, she will not settle until the right one comes along. Unexpectedly, Sophie inherits a house on Scribbly Gum Island from Thomas’ aunt. The island is steeped in mystery and the family is suspicious about why Aunt Connie would leave her grandson’s ex-girlfriend such a gift. The Baby Munro mystery on Scribbly Gum Island, surrounds a young couple, Alice and Jack, who one morning disappeared from their own home, leaving the kettle on, a freshly baked cake cooling on the rack, and a baby fast asleep in her crib. Aside from an overturned chair and few spots of blood, there is no sign of what happened that fateful day. Sophie is swept into the mystery and wonder of the Scribbly Gum island community where everyone seems to have a secret. A step above chick lit, the story has a sort of ‘Bridget Jones Diary’ vibe and felt a bit dated. It is one of her earlier novels.
Scribbly Gum island is fictitious, but is based on Dangar Island which is located in the middle of the Hawkesbury River near Sydney, Australia. Moriarty has a fresh writing style that makes for such a fun and absorbing read, characterized by a ‘light’ touch even when tackling darker topics, and always full of twists and turns. I’ve almost managed to read all of her novels now, but The Husband’s Secret is still my favourite. Just put Moriarty in the Search bar to browse the other titles I’ve read and posted on.
“Once there was a Fox who lived in a deep, dense forest. For as long as Fox could remember, his only friend had been Star, who lit the forest paths for Fox each night. But then one night, Star was not there, and Fox had to face the darkness all alone…” This is an illustrated fable about friendship, loss, and courage–a children’s picture book for all ages. I was a little disappointed with the storyline but this is still a lovely book.
Some books are simply beautiful as objects of art. This is one of them. Coralie Bickford-Smith is an award winning Hardcover book designer at Penguin. She is known for the elegant pattern illustrations that grace countless new editions of Penguin classics. I saw a whole shelf of them in the bookstore the other day and I was thrilled to know who the cover artist was! Now she has written her own story. The pages are thick and the illustrations mostly blue/grey but with smatterings of vibrant colour. There are whimsical rabbits and beetles hiding in places and sometimes you have to hunt for the words on the page. Though I’m a Kindle reading fan in many ways, I have not lost my love for the feel and heft of a book in my hand, and this book feels like something special.
Reading and enjoying the illustrations in The Fox and the Star made me realize how I appreciate simplicity in patterns, doodling, and colouring. My sister was into Doodle Art for awhile; she made gorgeous cards and prints from nothing more than hard paper and a felt tip pen. Adult colouring books are all the rage now. Just google it. Many are marketed as stress relievers. I bought this one a few months ago and have it in the living room with a package of felt tip markers. I found it in a bookstore alongside the bestseller novels! I do admit to having done some colouring from time to time and I like knowing that it is there for guests or anyone looking for something to do that isn’t electronic. Simply the feeling of pen on paper can still be a pleasure.
When a friend and fellow avid reader (thanks Cheryl!) told me she had loved this collection by one of my favourite authors, I bought it immediately, but it has taken me some time to finish because I read selections over time. I enjoy using short stories and essays as a palate cleanser between novels.
Patchett started her career writing articles for magazines which eventually saved her from waitressing. She had to really hone her craft because frankly, if you can’t write well when it is your bread and butter, you won’t have food on your table. She stored these early pieces in a tupperware bin, and never wanted to see them again. But that bin was discovered by a friend who suggested it had potential as a book. The result is a brilliant memoir of deeply personal yet unsentimental essays sparkling with Patchett’s warm and incisive storytelling.
This is not just about marriage, there are many topics in it ranging from taking a gruelling admissions test for the LAPD to why she hates Christmas but loves dogs and children (but has never had any kids of her own). I appreciate her candor about the rocky road of divorce that she had to navigate and an interesting journey that eventually led to a happy marriage. Her early essays contain a lot of good and practical advice for prospective writers. There is a story that many will resonate with about caring for her aging grandmother, and a heartfelt tribute to a little white dog who was with her for 16 years. This tribute rivalled my own tribute to a little white dog, however mine never appeared in Vogue magazine! She is passionate about independent bookstores and started her own in Nashville, against all odds. If you are ever in Nashville, make Parnassus Books a stop on the tour. You might just run into the author and meet her dachshund!
If you are new to Patchett, her novels are well worth reading. Award winning Bel Canto is an exquisite novel about a hostage taking in an opera house. Also riveting is State of Wonder which has the best snake story ever.
Refuge is a small children’s picture book featuring the Christmas story but told with emphasis on the fact that Mary, Joseph and their tiny babe were refugees who depended on the kindness of others as they fled. The story is simply told, narrated by the donkey who provided them transport, and beautifully illustrated. It was published this month by Nosy Crow publishers, who do not want to make any profit on it. From the sale of every book, 5£ is donated directly to War Child.
From Nosy Crow: “Like you, I suppose, all of us at Nosy Crow have watched the ongoing refugee crisis on the news – the terrible stories, the appalling pictures, the daily suffering and tragedies – and have wanted desperately to do something. Not just to raise money, but to help parents with young children asking difficult questions about the pictures they see of boys and girls their own age in unimaginable circumstances.”
Canadian Kathleen Winter knows the North. Born in the UK, she has lived in Newfoundland and Labrador. Her amazing award winning novel Annabel is set in the remote north. Coming from an immigrant family she understands feelings of rootlessness and the tension between freedom and belonging. Even in Annabel, which is about gender, she sensitively explores the difficulty in finding home, the place where you belong. For Wayne/Annabel that struggle takes place in his/her own body. She often uses descriptions of cold natural landscapes to depict isolation and loneliness within. Her writing is thoughtful and insightful and graced with self-deprecating humour in this narrative non-fiction called Boundless.
Robert J. Wiersema, himself an accomplished novelist, wrote a beautiful review in the Globe and Mail which I will include here, because he simply says it all better than I can: Globe and Mail Review
Boundless, part biography part travelogue, is the result of an impromptu opportunity Kathleen Winter had to travel on a ship through the Northwest Passage. The gravity of following fatal Franklin’s “one warm line” through barren land and icebergs was not lost on Winter. But neither was the beauty. With great reverence and awe, she uses her reflective story telling so that we can travel with her and experience a part of the world that few will ever have a chance to see for themselves.
Being a Stan Rogers fan, I was thrilled to hear that Nathan Rogers, his son, was also on the boat with Winter. How poignant it must have been to hear him sing his father’s iconic and haunting “Northwest Passage” while actually being on the voyage! Stan Rogers tragically died when Nathan was only a small child, but the son has gone on to become just as fine a musician and human being as his Dad was.
(Cormoran Strike #3) Robert Galbraith (pen name for J.K. Rowling’s crime series) sets off at a lightning pace right at the beginning of this third instalment Career of Evil. In the first chapter we already learn that a serial killer has his sights set on Robin Ellacott as his next victim. Then in the next chapter a woman’s severed leg (crammed into a postal box) is delivered to Robin’s office where she works for Cormoran Strike, who is a private eye and Afghanistan war veteran. This tale does take a darker turn then the previous two. But there’s plenty of character development and humour as well.
Like the preceding two novels called The Cuckoo’s Calling (#1) and The Silkworm, (#2) Career of Evil is suspenseful and engaging. Cormoran and Robin continue to take matters into their own hands and at their own peril. I feel that the author is getting into her stride now in this series, and is feeling more comfortable and enjoying herself more. In fact she admitted as much in a recent interview, calling the Cormoran Strike series like “her own private playground.” I did like this one better than the first two, but that could simply be because of familiarity. It is quite widely agreed by reviewers that it is best not to skip to the latest instalment, but start from the beginning if you are new to the series.
In this one, we learn a bit more about Cormoran, Robin, and Matthew’s past and the tensions amongst these main characters deliciously continue. You know, we just want Cormoran and Robin to be able to confront their true feelings for each other, but there are all sorts of complicated reasons why they can’t, and so the tension. Like any (or dare I say all) literary series and/or TV series, tensions are the very thing that keep us coming back for more, so those tensions can’t possible be resolved yet, as much as we would like them to be. I found the ending, in this regard, to be quite cheeky and I wonder what the author meant by it and what she is going to do next! Can’t wait!
When my sister-in-law Margo was browsing in a bookstore with me in London once, she delighted in discovering a new hard cover Collection by Shirley Hughes. Though I had not ever seen any of her children’s picture books then, I was to learn that she is one of the most well known, highly respected, and much loved authors and illustrators for young children in the UK and and also worldwide. Her classic picture book series Dogger, Alfie, and Lucy and Tom are probably the best known, but she has illustrated many more collections of poems and stories written by herself and by others.
Though this unique anthology clearly celebrates a lifetime achievement and does include some of her classic favourites, the only reservation I have with it is that it is a large heavy book which may not be the best for young children’s hands. The individual soft cover stories are perhaps a better choice, also if you wish to collect more of a certain series.
In researching Hughes, I discovered this interesting tidbit in a Telegraph article. “Hughes is the first recipient of the Book Trust Lifetime Award. Allan Ahlberg, author of Peepo and Each Peach Pear Plum, turned down the inaugural award last year, because it is sponsored by the online retailer Amazon.” Apparently Hughes had no problem with that, and was delighted to accept it, as well as an OBE in 1999 for her contribution to children’s literature and countless other awards. Even though she is still spry at 88, she is sending some of her original artwork to the Bodelian Library in Oxford for safe keeping because of “infernal dust.”
I love what she said in this Telegraph Article about children’s picture books: “It’s my job with a picture book to slow children down, make them pore over the drawings and recognise their world,” says Hughes. “Even before they read, they are learning to be readers, to notice things and make connections.” Click on the link if you want to see the whole article.
Like the books by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (‘Each Peach Pear Plum’ and ‘Peepo’) Hughes’ books focus on the everyday life and the concerns of small children. Her illustrations are warm and earthy, with people and homes portrayed in a very real manner that draws the reader in.