The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

“If you have a sister and she dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone?” ― Jodi Picoult

the-lovely-bones-9781447275206I had wanted to read this book for so long. I would often find myself seeking it out in bookshops just after it was released, picking it up and stroking the cover, reading the blurb on the back for the umpteenth time

My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6th, 1973. My murderer was a man from our neighbourhood. My mother liked his border flowers, and my father talked to him once about fertilizer.

But I never bought it.

I have obsessed over the idea of this book for the best part of a decade – a story told by the spirit of a murdered girl, however macabre it may sound, is right up my street. I am fascinated by anything to do with the paranormal and spirituality. I wanted to get to know Susie Salmon better; I wanted to read her story.

So when my good friend Kate over at The Little Crocodile bought me the book last month for my birthday I was over the moon!

The Lovely Bones is a haunting tale told by the spirit of murdered school girl Susie Salmon. Looking down from her heaven Susie observes her family and friends. She watches the devastation and destruction that her murder causes, rippling through her small town, and shaking the community to its very core. Susie watches her family as they struggle to comprehend life without her, leaving the porch light on well after they know she is no longer coming home. As time goes on, and Susie watches her siblings and friends grow older, she learns that she must let go of her anger to allow those left behind to heal.

This book is not for the faint hearted. I become much more emotionally invested in a book than I ever have in film or TV and this one really got to me. I’ve had unsettlingly emotional episodes with books in the past; I grieved for Sirius black after reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Anybody out there? by Marian Keyes threw me into the depths of despair for a good few weeks. This one was different though. Sebold’s writing gave me nightmares, and at some points I doubted whether I would actually be able to finish it.

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book – I did. It was everything I hoped for, and a little more. The effect that this book had on me speaks of the power of Sebold’s words – I was upset by Susie’s death, horrified by the circumstances and devastated by the effect that this had on the family. But more than this, I was distressed by Susie’s position in all this, as an outsider looking in on the effect that her death had in her community. She was intercepted by her neighbour on the way home from school that cold winter’s day in 1973; she never made it home. Susie’s story is incredibly moving in that it details her spirit’s journey, still attempting to find her way home after so many years; she may be in heaven, but her true place will always be on Earth.


Sebold has taken a story about a murdered school girl and completely turned it around, presenting an intricate analysis into grief and resolution. Fans of crime fiction may be put off to know that there is no secret as to who the killer is, you know him from the start, and if you begin the book hoping for a revelation in which Susie’s killer is brought to justice you will likely feel disappointed. But approach Sebold’s work with an open mind and you will be pleasantly surprised.

The Lovely Bones is beautifully written and hauntingly captivating and will leave you quietly contemplating Susie long after you have finished her story. It is difficult to say who I would recommend the book to – so I will simply say that if you feel intrigued by my review, then give it a go.

Has anyone else read this book? I’d love to hear from you to find out what you thought. Drop me a line or comment below.

“You can love someone so much…But you can never love people as much as you can miss them.” ― John Green

Love and tragedy

Spare change – Bette Lee Crosby


Heralding from the southern United States, Bette Lee Crosby fell in love with fiction at a very early age. For Crosby, the step towards becoming a writer was an obvious one. ‘Storytelling is my blood,’ she says, and describes her mother as a ‘captivating storyteller.’ She recounts using bits and pieces of her southern mother’s voice in almost all of her writing, a trait for which she is well known and much admired. Crosby first entered the international publishing scene in 2006 when she received the National League of American Pen Women Award for one of her unpublished manuscripts. Since her debut novel, Cracks in the Sidewalk, was released in 2009, she has gone on to publish six further novels, including USA Today bestseller Spare Change in 2011.

In Spare Change Crosby exceptionally executes the multi strand narrative, telling the tale of two very distinct characters, whose storylines unexpectedly become one. Olivia Ann Westerly has her life well and truly figured out, stubborn and superstitious to the very core, she hates opals, loathes the number 11 and sees children as a weight that crushes a woman’s soul. That’s why, despite being well into her thirties, she continues to dismiss any proposals of marriage. Her life is simple, until she meets Charlie Doyle, a man with blue eyes and a lopsided smile which finally captures her heart. When Olivia allows herself to become absorbed by her love, ignoring the bad omen brought by the unexpected gifting of an opal necklace, her honeymoon period ends abruptly and with devastating results. Leaving her once more alone, with none of the independence she once so coveted. Meanwhile Ethan Allan Doyle has been born into an underprivileged home, to an abusive father, and a mother with dreams of running away to New York City to pursue a music career. Having grown up in a less than conventional household with a mother and father with their fair share of secrets, Ethan Allen knows better than to go shooting his mouth off. As a result, when he bears witness to a gruesome incident, which leaves both his parents dead, he knows he needs to run before the man responsible catches up to him. Lost and without a hope in the world, Olivia and Ethan Allen’s lives may seem miles apart, but they are about to get to know each other a whole lot better.

This was my first experience of reading Crosby’s work, and I have to say that I was not disappointed. I really appreciated the southern flair in her style. The language is second to none and gives a real twist to the text. I found myself inadvertently reading pretty much the entire book with a southern accent. The use of the southern dialect sets the perfect scene for the book, and it’s not just the speech which has this amazing southern feel, the whole book reads like a passage of speech from the Grapes of Wrath:

‘The year Ethan Allen became eleven was when things between Benjamin and Susanna turned rancid as a week old pork chop.’

I challenge anyone to get through the whole novel without inadvertently donning an internal Scarlet O’Hara-esque persona on at least one occasion. Just try and say the words ‘leastwise’ or ‘elsewise’ with anything other than a southern drawl, I’m sure it can’t be done. This aspect of Crosby’s work is something for which she is well known and liked, and it’s evident from reading the book just why this is.

Crosby’s narrative is interlaced with passages of italicised text which serve as the internal monologues of some of the main characters. These short passages allow the reader an insight into the inner thoughts and workings of the characters. I found these openings to be the place where the most of the language came out, especially with Ethan Allen, whose character was less likely to have lengthy passages of speech within the storyline itself. From his expressions and thoughts I developed a very clear image of the boy in my mind – street wise, small, dirty, and foul mouthed. I can imagine him as being a bit of a Huckleberry Finn type character. Olivia’s monologue also lent me a clear view of her personality, her written word painted such a clear picture that I felt as though I could reach out and touch her. She seems to be quite the quintessential southern belle: much sought after, but never captured.

The individual stories of Ethan Allen and Olivia are sure to tug on the heart strings of all that read them. Both characters have such tragic stories; blessed by love, but plagued by loss. The relationship between Ethan Allen and his mother may be unconventional, but it uniquely charming and adorable in its own way. His evident despair and anger at having lost his mother is truly heart-breaking. Meanwhile, Olivia’s relationship with Charlie is nothing short of perfect from the very start, but is so much shorter than anyone could ever expect. The brutality the situation is overwhelming, and is epitomised in the words that Olivia uses to describe her grief:

‘The bits and pieces of Charlie are like a bouquet of roses. I look at them and see a world of sweetness and beauty, but when I try to hold onto them the thorns rip me to pieces.’

It is the tragedy of each character’s past which makes the unexpected relationship which blossoms between the two of them all the more rewarding.

Another aspect of the book, I would like to go into is the past that Ethan Allen is running from, but I’m wary of unleashing too many spoilers, so I’ll keep this short. Needless to say, Ethan Allen’s troubles are not over when he meets with Olivia; in fact they’re really just beginning. A shadow of the past is following Ethan, threatening to take the only thing he has left – his life. It is the prospect of his past catching up with him which ultimately brings Olivia and Ethan Allen closer together. As it becomes apparent that his troubles are not just going to disappear Ethan realises he has to trust Olivia, which means telling the truth about what he saw the day his parents died.

On the whole I found Spare Change to be a satisfying read, and I would definitely consider reading more of Crosby’s work. The only thing I felt I could have done without is the final chapter; I think that introducing a spiritual aspect to the novel at the last minute was unnecessary. That said, as it is the final chapter wasn’t too perturbed by it. The relationship between Olivia and Ethan Allen is enchanting and really heart-warming, but the storyline itself manages to stand out and is not too flowery. Crosby’s style is easy and fun to read, serving as an eclectic mix of southern flair, tragedy, crime and love which really expresses the best of human nature.

Many thanks to Bette Lee Crosby and Bent Pine Publishing for supplying me with a free review copy of the book.

“You can’t patch a wounded soul with a Band-Aid.” ― Michael Connelly

Invisible illness

Thank You for Your Service ― David Finkel


David Finkel, author of the New York Times bestselling book The Good Soldiers- a journalistic account of the lives of the men from the 2-16 infantry battalion on the front lines of Baghdad, emerges once again with a gripping addition to his work – Thank You for Your Service. This new book takes a look into the lives of soldiers who serve in Iraq, this time with a glimpse into what happens when they return home.

In Thank You for Your Service, Finkel meets with men from 2-16 to look at the way the war has affected their lives outside the battlefield. First person accounts of adjusting to life outside Iraq throw light on a new war fought by many soldiers, this time with themselves.

The wars of the 21st century have been well covered by journalists, reporters and authors from across the world, but none like Finkel. He presents a harrowing account of the psychological state of many of our modern war veterans.

The book begins with an introduction to Adam Schumann – “the great soldier who one day walked in the aid station and went through the door marked COMBAT STRESS and asked for help”. After making the difficult decision to return home, Schumann is plagued by nightmares, flashbacks, memory loss and crippling depression. Other veterans featured include Tausolo Aieti, who forever sees the image of his fallen comrade in his dreams asking the question “why didn’t you save me?”; and widow Amanda Dorster as she struggles to comprehend life without her husband.

The book presents an in-depth analysis of the psychological condition of war veterans from first person accounts and psychological analysis from professionals. The most common conditions suffered by those returning from the battlefield are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). While many people have heard of these conditions, not much is actually known about them. Finkel uses soldiers’ own accounts to put them into perspective.

PTSD is the psychological damage caused by experiencing traumatic events, such as those experienced by Schumann, who carried a wounded comrade down a flight of stairs, with blood from the man’s head wound pouring into his mouth – a taste and smell he cannot shake. Symptoms of PTSD can include depression, flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety. While TBI stems from physical brain trauma, such as that experienced by Aieti, who was in a Humvee travelling down a route lined with palm trees, when the vehicle rolled over three buried 130 mm artillery shells “everything was right and boom it happened so fast”.

TBI can cause memory loss, confusion and impulsivity, and issues with balance, with sufferers struggling to carry out the simplest of tasks.

Many people are unaware of these issues and the extent to which they affect those returning from war. Finkel’s research shows it is a much graver issue than many expect, with PTSD affecting 20-30 per cent of US soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The intimate encounters relayed in the book give a clear and frightening portrayal of the long-term effect of being in a warzone, the terrifying psychological state of veterans and the stigma surrounding psychological illness. The book relays diary entries, conversations, court cases, and tales of abuse and suicide, exploring in detail the far-reaching effects of war as it leaks into the homes of the veterans.

For the soldiers and their families, the journey to recovery is tough. Many soldiers are faced with the realisation that society is far less understanding of psychological illness than they are of physical conditions. Widow Amanda Dorster was given US$100,000 dollars in death gratuity, which she refers to “oops money” or “blood money”, while in the Schumann household money has never been tighter since Adam returned from the Iraq.

Finkel follows Schumann’s return home from Iraq, to the time when, years later, he graduates from the Pathway Institute for war veterans, and continues his healing at home with his family.

The book serves as an almost novelistic account; such is the intimacy of the stories and conversations between families, and the emotions expresses by soldiers and their spouses.

Thank You for Your Service is an incredibly thought-provoking and gripping book – the writing methods and use of first person accounts render the text incredibly accessible. I would echo the thoughts expressed in many other reviews of this volume and in urging anyone interested in PTSD and the events of the Iraq war to read Finkel’s work.

This review was first published in Global: the international briefing. Many thanks to Scribe for providing a free review copy of the book.

‘There are two kinds of idiots – those who don’t take action because they have received a threat, and those who think they are taking action because they have issued a threat.’ – Paulo Coelho

Hello there new visitors and followers. I can’t help but notice that my blog hits have gone up somewhat today, over 900% actually, but who’s counting?

I’m sure most of you can already guess what this post is going to be about.

I started reviewing books because I love to read, and I am always keen to practice my writing. To begin with it was just a hobby, something to fill up an empty evening. I only reviewed books I specifically wanted to read, which was great, but I started to want more.

Recently reviews have become a much bigger part of my life. I have started reviewing books for the publishing house where I work (check out issue 17 of Global magazine). I have also been offering my services to authors, when requested. My experience on the whole has been very positive. Reviewing for people gives me a chance to widen my connections, and most authors are happy to receive some honest feedback.

Note – most authors.

Today I had a very unpleasant experience with one author who had gifted me a book to review. After reading what was, on the whole not a very successful novel, I attempted to relate my honest opinion to the author in question. I was met with verbal abuse, and threats that if I published my review I would be ‘destroyed’.

Any author should be prepared to encounter tough criticism to begin with. First, second, and even third novels are often not met with the reaction that an author desires. George Orwell’s first few novels were very badly received, and it was the process of rejection which eventually led to the successful publishing of Down and Out in Paris and London.

I am an open, honest and fair critic and thus some reviews, particularly of first time authors, can seem a little discouraging. However, all of my reviews are conducted with respect for the time and effort put into any novel and with particular sympathy to first time authors. While I may at times be tough, I am never nasty.

The purpose of this post is to emphasise that no amount of abuse will stop a reviewer from saying what they feel. I will continue to give an honest review of any book I read. Any author who asks for a review should be open to the prospect that not all comments will be positive.

Threatening behaviour helps no-one and achieves nothing.