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.

The Writing on the Wall: Everyday Phrases from the King James Bible – Richard Noble

“The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this.” ― Markus Zusak


Clichés, expressions, and idioms, they can be the apple of your eye, or a thorn in your flesh – but do you know where these seemingly meaningless phrases originate? If not, this is the perfect book to guide you off to the land of nod.

In The Writing on the Wall: Everyday Phrases from the King James Bible, Richard Noble provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of 65 phrases and expressions, now firmly ingrained in everyday speech, which have their roots in the King James Bible. While it may not be for everyone, this book will whet the appetites of anyone with an interest in language, theology, or Christian history.

For each book of the King James Bible, Noble isolates a single well-known phrase, presenting the reader with a brief explanation of the original context of the words, before tracing their usage throughout history to their relevance in language today. If you are interested in everyday English speech, and intrigued by the origins of phrases such as ‘the blind leading the blind’ or ‘by the skin of one’s teeth’ this book is sure to delight your curiosity.

Those unfamiliar with the King James Bible need not be put off, as Noble’s analysis assumes no familiarity with the scriptures on the part of the reader. This said, the more devote among you are sure to appreciate Noble’s summary of the composition of the Old Testament, the relevance of the  silent Intertestamental Period and the fascinating revelations of the New Testament.

Noble has created an ideal bookshelf addition for Christians, non -Christians, historians, linguists, wordsmiths, and those who are simply fascinated by phrases. The Writing on the Wall is the perfect book to expand your understanding of the English language – a truly inestimable treasure.

The Writing on the Wall is available to buy direct from the publisher, Sacristy PressI was given a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.

I’m having another … Wordless Wednesday

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ― C. S. Lewis

Casting the Runes: An Arts Alive production

“In one aspect, yes, I believe in ghosts, but we create them. We haunt ourselves.” ― Laurie Halse Anderson

25th March 2015 at Whittlesey Library and Learning Centre, 7pm

Robert Lloyd Parry as M R James

IMG_8302By now you will doubtless be familiar with my love of ghosts. So it will come as no surprise to know that I leapt at the opportunity to go to a ghost story reading. I was even more excited by the fact that the stories were those by none other than my favourite ghostly author, M R James. James’s Ghost Stories of an Antiquary is one of my bookshelf essentials. So I was simply quivering with anticipation from the day I was invited by my long-suffering best friend right up until the house lights went down and Robert Lloyd Parry took his place at the front of the audience.

The setting itself was less than spooky, a 20th century community building in the heart of a fenland market town, but the Arts Alive team had done a great job of creating a certain ghostly ambiance. The lights were dimmed, the audience assembled around a single high backed chair, nestled cosily next to a small wooden table topped with a decanter of ‘whisky’, several ageing leather backed books, a handful of old photographs and some other dusty artefacts.

IMG_8300For those of you who are unfamiliar with M R James, there are so many reasons why you absolutely need to get hold of and read some of his short ghostly stories (I recommend to the highest degree possible Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad). James is nothing short of a master of the ghost story. His stories specialise in circumstance and the terrible events which can emerge from ignorant mortals meddling in the unknown. His writing is subtle, focusing on the small details; shadows, the voices of madmen and figures glimpsed out the corner of your eye. Like all great gothic writers, James allows his readers to create their own ghosts, existing only in their minds, and never once flitting across the parchment.

Robert Lloyd Parry did a stunning job donning M R James’s persona. The mind boggles at how he was able to reel off a 90 minute performance with such ease, never stumbling over his words or seeming to pause for thought. He expertly assumed not just James but each of his characters, never flinching or breaking character even for a second.

IMG_8303The first story – Casting The Runes – threw the audience back to 1903, and began by with the reading of a collection of letters. The letters informed an unknown character that a draft paper submitted for publishing in a programme was not to be included. These seemingly innocent notes paved the way for a series of strange and ghostly events including vanishing tram adverts, mysterious roadside leafleters, and unknown furry creatures lurking beneath bedclothes, all linked together by the passing of a cursed script. Parry told the story with remarkable ease, barely glancing even once at the audience, and framing the tale from multiple points of view.

When he came to the end of the first story, Parry rose from his chair for the first time and silently swept from the room, leaving the audience alone and awestruck. The house lights came up and we were able to mull about for a short time, enjoying a reasonably priced drink from the charity bar and discussing the past 45 minutes.

I was delighted to find that my other half – who before the event reported that he was ‘livid’ at my forcing him to come along to a ghost story reading – had thoroughly enjoyed the performance thus far. As, it seemed, had everyone else. I’d spent so long raving about M R James in the days running up to this event that I will confess to having been being slightly nervous that the performance would be met with anything other than pure wonderment.

IMG_8305After a short interval the house lights went down, and we were quickly ushered back to our seats. Parry once more slipped into his seat and immediately transformed once again into the evenings faithful host.

The second tale – The Residence of Whitminster – which was in equal parts mesmerising and chilling, was an 18th century tale of the supernatural destruction of a Whitminster residence, beginning with the arrival of a gaunt young man, the disappearance of a jet black cockerel named Hannibal and the feverish rants of a distressed child. Parry assumed the persona of no less than eight characters, slipping seamlessly from one side of a conversation to another, in a performance which had the eyes of the audience glued to his every move.

I was overwhelmed by Parry’s performance; I went to the event as a lover of all things M R James, and was delighted that one man managed to do his work so much justice. The most remarkable thing about the event is one I am not sure I can adequately put into words. I could compare Parry’s performance to the alcohol induced ramblings of an ancient figure propped against the bar of a public house; a one way conversation with a compulsive storyteller; or the confession of one whose secrets have been kept for too long.

The event, I feel, is something you will have to see for yourself in order to fully appreciate it. One of the ladies in charge of Arts Alive said that the events had been very well received, and I can see why. Lovers of ghost stories, fans of M R James, and those who were even slightly intrigued by the beginning of this review, I urge you look and see if Robert Lloyd Parry is performing in a library near you.

“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.

“Even bad books are books and therefore sacred” – Günter Grass

My journey into the really obscure

The Man Who Was Thursday ― G K Chesterton


One of the best reviews I have read of this book was very short:

‘Boy, this was really good until it wasn’t at all anymore’

That almost sums it up for me I’m afraid. Needless to say I was horribly disappointed by this book. I did not begin reading with any sort of expectations, I had never heard of G K Chesterton before, and was just taken in by the unusual title more than anything. I found this little book on the shelf of a charity shop and decided to give it a go.

I really enjoyed the book at first. I like the style in which it is written, it remind me almost a bit of P.G Wodehouse. It’s a pleasure to read, and full of wonderful, intricate little descriptions. One is simultaneously drawn into the depth of the story, and laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of it.

I feel it necessary to give you a brief overview.

It begins with two poets arguing in a park in London as to whether poetry is more akin to law or anarchy. One Poet, Gregory, claim to be an anarchist, the other, Syme, does not believe Gregory can possibly be so. Later that night Gregory takes Syme to his secret anarchist meeting place, after swearing him to secrecy.

The anarchist lair exists underground, below a public house, and has wall lines with firearms. Gregory confides in Syme that the anarchist council is run by seven men, each taking their name from a day of the week. Gregory feels he is about to take the place of the recently deceased Thursday. At this point, right before the Gregory’s fellow anarchists enter the room, Syme drops a bombshell and tell Gregory that he is in fact an undercover policeman. That was it, Chesterton had my complete attention.

When the other anarchists enter the room, they hold a vote, and as predicted Gregory is selected as the candidate to replace Thursday, and asked to say a few words. Gregory, worried by Syme’s presence, changes his tune and tries to trick Syme into believing that anarchists are not dangerous at all. Upon which time Syme adopts the disguise of a true anarchist, and finds himself -quite hilariously- elected the new Thursday.

What follows is a terrifying journey for Syme, who soon finds himself surrounded by the other six leaders of the anarchist council. Including the terrifying Sunday:

‘They might have called Sunday the super-man. If any such creature be conceivable, he looked, indeed, somewhat like it, with his earth-shaking abstraction, as of a stone statue walking’

Without going into too great detail, in the proceeding chapters Syme discovers little by little that the other leaders -all except Sunday- are all in fact members of the same secret police service as himself. Having all been recruited by the same mysterious man in a dark room. Despite all being terrified of Sunday, the group decide to confront him, and find out exactly who he is, and what his plans are.

The meeting takes place on a balcony, and when confronted Sunday merely says: ‘There’s one thing I’ll tell you though about who I am. I am the man in the dark room, who made you all policemen’ before leaping from the balcony and escaping into London. The ensuing chase is absolutely fantastic, with Sunday absconding first via handsome cab, then on a stolen elephant and finally in a hot air balloon.

The six friends continue their pursuit in vain, exhausted, bedraggled and covered in their own blood, and begin discussing their views on Sunday. It now comes to light that each man’s thoughts, though almost completely different to the next, have one thing in common, they all view Sunday as the universe.

At this point in the story I realised it wasn’t going to be the ridiculous ending I had hoped for – although I’m not entirely sure what exactly I was hoping for.

The group are eventually picked up by an employee of Sunday’s, who packs them each into their own private carriages and takes them off to Sunday’s house (it gets stranger). Once at the house they are each given a bed chamber, and a change of clothes for the fancy dress party (but of course!). Each man has a costume that corresponds to their day of the week  in the creation story, with Thursday suitably decorated in the sun, the moon and the stars. There were seven thrones present at the fancy dress party -which was further attended by an assortment of forest type creatures, all dancing round a giant bonfire- each would-be anarchist has his own throne, with Sunday sitting in the middle throne, dressed as if made out of light itself.

I’m everyone can work out where this is going. Sunday, is God. Of course! Of course Sunday is God! Why on earth wouldn’t Sunday be God? It completely ruins what was otherwise quite an interesting, quirky little book, that’s why. It also turns out that Gregory (remember him?), represents evil. To top everything off, the book ends with the fancy dress party fading out of sight, and Syme finding himself walking along a country lane with Gregory at his side.

I find it quite difficult to describe to you my disappointment, in everything, and especially in the ‘he woke up and it was all a dream’ esque final paragraph.

Upon doing a bit of research of Chesteron after finishing this it turns out he liked to write about Christian theology, in ALL his novels. So needless to say I won’t be picking up one of his books if I pass it in a charity shop again. I don’t think I can claim to have fully understood exactly what Chesterton was getting at when he wrote this, that God is a terrifying joker perhaps?

As I said at the beginning, I think this book is best summed up by ‘Boy, this was really good until it wasn’t at all anymore’. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy it at all, but any enjoyment I felt was completely ruined by the ending.

Overall I think the book would have been a hell of a lot better is Chesterton wasn’t obviously so terribly keen on being Christian.