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.

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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.

“I get up and pace the room, as if I can leave my guilt behind me. But it tracks me as I walk, an ugly shadow made by myself.” ― Rosamund Lupton

Now the Day is Over ― Marion Husband 

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‘In my more lucid moments I know I’m dead…’ So begins Edwina’s story, a woman whose spirit remains, long after her body has decayed, trapped in the house she once inhabited. In Now the Day is Over, Edwina serves as the narrator of two stories, set in two time periods, before and after her death.

Edwina grew up in early 20th century Britain, and lived a life which spanned across the First World War. In her narration Edwina reveals her childhood, through her adolescence to her time spent serving as a wartime nurse, and later when she becomes the wife of a soldier. Through her words we learn of an unusual gift that Edwina possessed; a deep rooted empathy, the ability to sense a person’s deepest desires, which earned her a somewhat sinister reputation.

Later, in modern day Britain, Edwina takes the form of super-omniscient narrator, haunting the house which was once hers, commenting on the lives of the couple who now reside within her domain. Gaye and David Henderson are an unhappy, adulterous couple whose lives are plagued by guilt over the death of their young daughter, Emily. Through her narration, Edwina tells the story not only of Gaye and David, but also of herself, gradually revealing the horrors which tie her to the earth, as Gaye and David are tied to the past.

This was my first experience with Husband’s work, and I was completely blown away by the effect it had on me. The story itself combines two of the things I love the most; historical fiction set between the past and present, and ghost stories. I love ghosts. There is almost nothing I love more than to curl up on a dark night and indulge in ‘real’ ghost stories submitted to the likes of castleofspirits.com and reddit.com/nosleep.

we need youWhile Now the Day is Over is not a ghost story in the traditional sense Husband is still able to give the house the domineering, omniscient, icy coldness expressed by those living is ‘haunted’ houses. Gaye and David often shiver, the cat hisses and the house seems devoid of life, cold, sterile. Even the garden is tainted; Edwina’s memories of the old plum trees planted by her brother and her the year before the war carry an ominous undertone, as though the plum trees embody some kind of darkness, a living representation of the guilt which holds Edwina’s soul. And when Edwina discovers that the trees remain only in her memory, the ‘smudge’ which they carry remains in the back corner of the garden, silently watching, spoiling the scene.

Edwina’s presence in the house is significant, not only in the grief which she represents but also in the power she possesses as a narrator. David and Gaye cannot see Edwina, and this allows her to accompany them on their most personal journeys; she is able to sit with David while he bathes – ‘I touch his knee that breaks through the water, wanting to calm him.’ – and accompany Gaye to a hotel to meet her lover. But Edwina is able to do something more than just see the characters at their most vulnerable – she has carried through to her death her insight into the minds of others. As a narrator she has the ability to tell exactly how someone is feeling and what they are thinking. This gives the reader an eye into the very soul of the characters.


‘I go upstairs, to the empty attic to rattle around in the cold and dim dusk like a good ghost. I need to be alone sometimes, without the distraction of the living and the belongings they surround themselves with.’


Through Edwina’s soothing narration Husband draws the reader deep into the pages of Now the Day is Over. I was completely drawn into the storyline, desperate to discover the circumstances which prohibit Edwina from moving on, as well as to uncover the circumstances of Emily’s death. The climax does not come until very late in the book. Gaye and David keep their cards close to their hearts, slowly releasing allusions to their daughter’s death; they think of Emily often, but do not talk about her.

Eventually each character is absorbed into the tension which has so slowly built up and, completely overwhelmed by grief, makes their confession. When they begin to tell their stories their grief rushes forward in an unstoppable stream, until their words are mixed and their stories combined, with Edwina frantically flitting between the two scenes, retelling the tragic tale of Emily’s death.

Edwina’s life was steeped in death. It seems only natural that her death should be the same – a house haunted not only by Edwina herself, but the ghost of grief which follows Gaye and David. Edwina takes the form of the personification of Gaye and David’s guilt, a black cloud hanging over the family, the memory which taints their futile attempt at a fresh start. Ignoring her presence will not make her leave; it takes Gaye and David’s attempt at positive steps to move on to make the shadow of Edwina begin to fade away. It seems fitting that the book finishes with the planting of new plum trees. Fresh saplings, to commemorate a life lost, and to represent the start of a new beginning, one in which the guilt has gradually begun to fade.Plum-trees_from_South-Hungary

I enjoyed every single moment of Now the Day is Over, and do not feel I can fault it in the slightest. The intricate storyline, complex characters and stunning language combine to create a truly remarkable novel. Before beginning my review I sat down to flick back through the pages of the book to get my creative juices flowing and was instantly drawn back in. I really had to fight to stop myself reading it all over again. As much as I’d like to, there isn’t the time right now.

Special thanks go to Sacristy Press for supplying me with a free copy of Now the Day is Over in return for an honest review.

“Knowing that you’re crazy doesn’t make the crazy things stop happening.” ― Mark Vonnegut

My illness and I

The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

I picked up this book while stranded at Liverpool street train station after yet another one of my trains was cancelled, I’d been at a stag do for the weekend and I was hungover, grumpy, and needed something to take my mind off things. I haven’t had much time to read just because I wanted to recently. Reviewing books for people has taken over my life a little bit. I hadn’t heard of the book by name but when I turned it over and looked at the blurb I read this:

‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’

Now this I had read before. I’m not sure where, but I had definitely read this and had my interest piqued once before. So I took the plunge, shelled out the £7.99 WHSmiths were asking for and decided to read it. I’d pretty much finished by the time I finally got home to Cambridge. It really is as un-put-down-able as they come. And my afternoon spent reading it made me realise the importance of taking the time to read for pleasure, which I really have been neglecting a little too much recently.

Anyway I digress, on with the review.

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Nathan Filer, grew up near Bristol in the UK, and initially trained as a mental health nurse at the University of West England. Following this he worked a researcher in department of psychiatry at the University of Bristol and as a psychiatric nurse in several inpatient mental health facilities. Filer is currently employed as a lecturer in creative writing at Bath Spa University, as well as performing and writing for TV and Radio. In 2013, Filer published his first novel, The Shock of the Fall, which went on to win the 2013 Costa Book Awards for Best First Novel and Book of the Year.


In his debut novel Filer introduces the reader to Matthew Holmes, a 19-year-old mental health patient. In a bid to understand his own problems, Matthew turns to writing, writing his own story – this story forms the pages of The Shock of the Fall. Matthew’s memoirs start with what he sees as the beginning of his mental health issues – the ‘shock of the fall’ which led to the untimely death of his older sibling, Simon. Wracked by guilt over his death, even much later on his life, Matthew writes, sometimes on a computer at the community centre, other times on an old typewriter donated to him by his beloved grandmother ‘Nanny Noo’. The book is a fantastic amalgamation of drawings, letters, diagrams and passages of thought written with varying typefaces, presenting a fascinating yet harrowing image of one man’s descent into madness.

When I was a teenager I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which initiated my interest in novels written from unusual perspectives. Those of you who know me will no doubt be aware of this, I often recommend the book to people, and you will find the booked proudly positioned on my ‘Favourites’ page. Now, often when I am choosing a book to read I will be most drawn towards those which offer something a little different, be it a strange perspective, writing style or genre. So when flicked through the pages of The Shock of the Fall at Liverpool Street, I knew it was a book for me as soon as I saw the different typefaces, the scratchy drawings and randomly placed text. Needless to say it’s been a while since I have been touched by a novel in this way.

Firstly I would like to talk about Filer’s introduction; we meet Matthew [Matt], and are introduced to Simon through the first section of the book – The girl and her doll. This first chapter instantly captivated me. It is this point, the moment when Matthew first saw the young girl and her doll that all of Matt’s problems started, or at least, this is the beginning he has given us. There is something so mysterious and fascinating about this scene, a young boy, hiding around behind some bins, watching a mysterious girl hold a funeral for a small rag doll. I didn’t necessarily expect to find out the meaning behind this scene [even though I desperately wanted to] I was more expecting it to be a pitch to get the reader interested, and it worked. Eventually, I forget about the girl and her doll, or at least forget to remember to be interested in her, because as a reader you are given so much more to be interested in.

The main thing we are given to be interested in is of course Simon. I’ve already revealed that Simon died, and I don’t feel bad about unleashing that ‘spoiler’, because it’s not really a spoiler at all. The passage is written on the back of the book, and Matt lets us known about Simon’s death very early on. The reader is kept waiting to find out the circumstances of Simon’s death, however. Matt’s method of writing leaves a lot to the imagination, allowing the reader to form their own conclusions for an almost frustratingly long time. One thing that is made very clear is that Matt feels he is responsible for Simon’s death.  Even though he really only lives through Matt’s thoughts and memories, Simon is central to the book. At its core, everything is about Simon, and the effect of Simon’s death on those around him, predominantly, but not only, Matt.

For Matthew’s mother, grief was most easily dealt with by keeping Matt at home, close to her. She mothered him, or tried to.  In reality this made things even more difficult for Matt, a young boy struggling to cope after the death of his older brother. Matt resents his mother for keeping him home from school and for stopping him from socialising with his friends, effectively making him into the ‘weird’ kid.

For Matt, grief is far more complicated; it is on-going, all-encompassing and further intensified not only by his guilt but something much, much darker – an illness which ‘slithers through the branches’ of his family tree. In Matt’s story, his grief, and indeed his illness are epitomised in his ‘special project’ a combination ant-farm/science-project:

‘Nanny looked around my living room; her face was pale. I think she needed to sit down, but there wasn’t any space. The whole floor, the chairs, the table, every surface was taken over. I had filled hundreds of bottles and jars with earth, connecting groups of them together with plastic tubing. The Hydrogens were already up and running – they’re the easiest to build – a single proton and a single electron. I had made ten of these because we are made of ten per cent hydrogen. The Oxygens took more work, two electrons in the first shell, and six in the outer shell. Then I would pair them up, colliding a pair of electrons from each to make the covalent bonds. This often smashed the glass, so most of the ants had escaped. The carpet was crawling with them.’

This ‘special project’, is Matt’s way of attempting to recreate his brother. He has combined the memory of Simon wanting an ant farm, with some knowledge he picked up in a school science class – everyone is made of the same atoms. In Matt’s mind he must therefore contain a part of Simon, and so Simon must still exist.  It is this point in the book that the extent of Matthew’s illness, the terrifying realisation comes out in full. When his grandmother sees his ‘special project’, and realises that Matthew has been singled out by the same illness which claimed her brother: ‘Nanny pressed a tissue to her lips, “we need to get you some help.”’

By writing his story this is exactly what Matt is trying to do, to help himself.

Matt’s writing perfectly traces his journey through the mental health system. The changing typefaces and scratchy drawings seem to mirror the times he is writing about. When Matt writes about his time locked away inside a mental institution he does it while locked up inside his flat, ignoring the persistent knocks of his community support workers:

‘KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

Knock knock KNOCK KNOCK. They are outside, standing at my door, they are peering through the letter box, they are listening to me type. They know I’m here.’

It is while locked within his apartment that Matt revisits the time when Simon completely monopolised his life. While inside the institution, thoughts of Simon regularly invaded his mind, and Simon himself often came to visit:

‘I didn’t even get out of bed. I just leant over the side and slowly lifted the overhanging sheets. The giggle turned into a squeal of delight. “I knew it was you.” His face was painted orange with black stripes, and the tip of his nose was a smudge of black with lines drawn for whiskers. “I’m a tiger,” he grinned. “Do I look like a tiger?”’

Even as Matt writes his story, Simon is still with him. Towards the end of the book, when Matt, meets once again with Annabelle, the girl he witnessed having a funeral for her doll all those years ago, Simon is there:

‘Simon was in the movement of her hair. He was in the little yellow coat as it billowed in the wind.’

Matt meeting with Annabelle once again was a perfect beginning for the end of his story. In talking to Annabelle, he begins to tie up his loose endings and realises what he needs to do in order to let go of Simon once and for all.

Throughout Matt’s story when he writes about his illness he repeats the same words and phrases. The illness is a part of him, and so he often refers to ‘My illness and I’, as though through everything he does, his illness is there with him, and there is no escaping it. With an illness such as Matt’s there really is no way of escaping it, but it seems as though, once you have reached the end of the book Matt is writing from a place where he has finally come to accept his illness.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of The Shock of the Fall. I really don’t feel as though I can recommend this book highly enough. I have already suggested it to a number of my friends, and will continue to do so until I have several people with whom to discuss it. A huge would recommend. Whoever you are, you will not regret it.

‘Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.’ — Robert Frost

Found prose poetry.

I actually stumbled across this idea on a teaching forum as a suggested homework for English literature students, still I liked the idea and gave it a go. As with all my obscure poetry so far, it’s fairly simple, but I think gives you a little more opportunity for being yourself than some of my past ideas.

The model is as follows: choose a piece of prose fiction; select a passage from the text; identify important words, phrases and sentences; arrange these excerpts into a poem. I think you can be fairly unrestrained with this sort of method, you could try choosing a specific structure and molding the text, or using free verse.  It’s also fine to rearrange order, wording and phrases, do whatever sounds most appealing to you.

I opted to use free verse and selected the final paragraphs from both books.

Here are the results:

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1984 — George Orwell

He gazed up. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.


He gazed up.
What kind of
Cruel, stubborn smile
as hidden beneath the dark moustache?
He had learned.
Tears trickled down his nose.
Everything was all right,
He had won the struggle,
He loved Big Brother.

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Frankenstein — Mary Shelley

“But soon,” he cried, with sad and solemn enthusiasm, “I shall die, and what I now feel be no longer felt. Soon these burning miseries will be extinct. I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly, and exult in the agony of the torturing flames. The light of that conflagration will fade away; my ashes will be swept into the sea by the winds. My spirit will sleep in peace; or if it thinks, it will not surely think thus. Farewell.”

He sprung from the cabin-window, as he said this, upon the ice-raft which lay close to the vessel. He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.


Soon I shall die.
I will no longer feel
these burning miseries,
the torturing flames.
My light will fade,
My ashes swept into the wind.
I will sleep.
Borne away by the waves,
Lost in the darkness.
Farewell.

My latest find is possibly my favourite so far, I really liked the freedom of constructing a poem in this way permitted me. If you find yourself at a loose end one afternoon give it a go, I’d love to see other people’s results.

As always, any suggestions for future methods would be greatly appreciated 🙂

“So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them.” ― Sylvia Plath

Beautifully captivating.

Disappearing in Plain Sight ― Francis Guenette

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Francis Guenette lives with her husband on the West coast of British Columbia. She has an MA in counselling psychology and is on the way to completing a PhD in education psychology. Throughout the course of her life she has worked as an educator, trauma counsellor and researcher. Guenette now spends most of her time writing novels that draw on her own life experiences. The first book in her debut venture, The Crater Lake Series, is entitled Disappearing in Plain Sight and was released in 2013.


The book introduces the reader to sixteen-year-old Lisa-Marie, sent to spend the summer with her aunt Bethany in a remote town on the edge of the fictional Crater Lake. Her aunt resides in a simple A-frame within the confines of Camp Micah, a counsellor’s camp for young ways and strays. Like any sixteen-year-old, Lisa-Marie is instantly taken by the camp’s resident hunk, nineteen-year-old Justin, and as time progresses she develops confusing feelings towards Izzy Montgomery, the camp’s exceptionally beautiful and gifted trauma counsellor, and begins an unlikely friendship with Liam Collins, a thoughtful and secretive camp worker. While on the outset the close-knit community which keeps Camp Micah operating day by day may seem watertight the reader learns of hidden tensions and unspoken words just waiting to destroy the carefully constructed routines. The presence of Lisa-Marie and a new guest unleash tensions which have been simmering under the surface of the camp for some time. The reader is set to discover that all those at Camp Micah have their own secrets and guilt locked away inside them.

Over the last few days I have been looking over Guenette’s blog and something she said in a recent post really caught my eye: “Have you ever read a novel where the setting was so breathtakingly described that you almost felt as though you had seen the movie version?”. This is the effect which Disappearing in Plain Sight had on me. I not only felt as though I was watching the movie, but increasingly, as the novel progressed, as though I was at the camp ― I could smell the pencil-y scent of the cedar wood cabins, and almost feel the breeze from the lake on my face. I couldn’t have gotten a better image of the setting if the book had been illustrated. It is obvious that real-world experience has gone into Guenette’s writing ― which is exactly what Guenette was writing about in her aforementioned blog post, the inspiration behind writing. Guenette herself lives in a small, secluded cabin right by a lake [and you should see the lake! Check it out here]. Every day when she writes, she does so with a view of the lake ― it sounds absolutely perfect. Of course, Guenette draws on her own life experiences as inspiration for her work; living in a place like that, how could she not?

Guenette has a penchant for similes within her descriptions, which I find really charming. The book opens with a very memorable quote: “Lisa-Marie woke to the sound of voices and the reflection of the lake rippling and running like melted butter along the sloped, cedar-planked ceiling above her bed.” Comparing flowing water to ripples of butter conjures up the most wonderful images; nothing could make the lake seem more appealing.

All the characters in the book are incredibly well rounded, with each chapter divided into several mini chapters each following a different character. In this way the reader is able to submerge themselves within the community and grow to know the characters on an almost personal level. The first few chapters of the book are centred almost entirely on introducing each character, some of which appear very appealing and likable, and some not so much. I’m sure I am not alone when I say that I found it difficult to warm to Beulah at first. Lisa-Marie is perhaps the most central character, and the one the reader gets to know on the most personal level through her writings in her journal, Emma, named for the Jane Austen character. The central theme which links all the characters together is past trauma, as though they have been brought together at the camp for this very reason.

Disappearing in Plain Sight is undoubtedly a very well-written and enjoyable novel, but the aspect of the novel which particularly appealed to me was Guenette’s focus on the inner mind of the characters. Guenette confronts issues which are still somewhat taboo in many circles of modern society, and she does so in such a way as to make it relatable. Depression, anxiety and stress are all problems that a large percentage of the population will come into contact with in one way or another at some point in their lives. Guenette brings this to the forefront of her work, expressing character’s actions in an incredibly understanding way take, for example, Liam: looking up at the sky when he cannot sleep because he is so plagued by his thoughts. I’m sure there are many people who can relate to the feeling of comfort and security which comes from taking a duvet and lying under a skylight or in front of a large window and just being alone with the stars.

I was also very pleased by Guenette’s decision to look at bullying in her novel, and particularly her choice to highlight the issue of online bullying and the stresses of social media, issues I feel very strongly about. The online world is full of resources, but it can also be a very dark and sinister place. The way Guenette expresses Lisa-Marie’s feelings is so perfect that I am sure a lot of people who have experienced bullying to some extent can relate to her words. Lisa-Marie describes just wanting the voices to stop, to just get away from what is happening to her, without necessarily thinking about the result. Her only desire is for peace and quiet, to be left alone. Guenette conveys an incredibly complex feeling with remarkable simplicity.

This brings me to perhaps the strongest theme which runs throughout the novel: growth and progression. Throughout the course of the text, we learn the sad past of each character and over time witness them learning to deal with their problems. This in itself reflects a quotation from the beginning of the book:

“Izzy believed that people had their own answers to what they needed in order to heal and that these answers were embedded in the stories they told.”

The answers, for many of the characters, come out in the pages of Guenette’s novel. The ever-present lone wolf howling in the distance echoes the loneliness and worry felt throughout the camp. I don’t want to ruin the ending of the book for anyone, so I will just say that the final paragraph serves to emphasise the natural progression of the characters.

I really enjoyed my first experience with Guenette’s work. At first, I found it was the setting of the novel which most appealed to me. I developed a strong desire to visit camp Micah and dangle my feet into the cool water of the lake. Guenette’s writing style is natural and fluid, allowing you to escape into the incredible scene she has created. As the book progressed each character began to speak to me, telling me their stories in turn. The intricate and multifaceted storyline is rewarding and well executed, with a carefully planned ending, which is satisfying without being fairy-tale-like. Overall, I would rate Disappearing in Plain Sight very highly and would strongly recommend anyone thinking of reading the book to give it a go.

Disappearing in Plain Sight and the newly released sequel The Light Never Lies are available for kindle and in paperback from Amazon.

Many thanks to Francis Guenette for sending me a free review copy of the book.

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.” ― Leo Tolstoy

Love heals all wounds.

A Similar Devotion ― Susan Bell

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Susan Bell originally trained as a teacher at St Hild’s College, Durham, before completing a Master’s degree in education at the University of Cardiff. After taking some time out of teaching to raise a family, she invested in a diploma in teaching English as a foreign language and worked in Botswana, Zimbabwe and China. Later, Bell returned home to Durham to concentrate of her writing. Her first novel, A Similar Devotion, was published in 2013.


Set in Northern England at the turn of the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries, A Similar Devotion traces the compelling stories of two women separated by time, but brought together through commitment and devotion. The reader is introduced firstly to Dorothy Forster, a high-born lady living in constant fear for the safety of her brother during the Jacobite revolution of 1715. Fast forward three hundred years and we meet Cathy, a travel agent struggling to recover mentally from a tragedy. Bell’s romantic tale takes the reader on a dual journey through the frustrations and complications of the two time periods, introducing two strong heroines, helped through their journeys by unlikely friendships and, ultimately, love.

The first thing that struck me about Bell’s writing style was her ability to convey surroundings so simply. Effective description is crucial: nothing is more powerful than being able to transport the reader to a different place, where they can feel, smell and see the surrounding as the author envisaged them

Upon opening A Similar Devotion, I immediately knew I was going to get along with the writing style. The prologue sets the scene perfectly for the rest of the book:

“I am young again, remembering the pleasures of bare feet on dewy grass, the salty scent of the sea, thundering waves dissolving into lacy foam that fans across the wide sands, the plaintive cries of gulls and the moan of the wind in my ears.”

This demonstrates completely that descriptions needn’t be overly detailed. Bell appeals to the senses: initially, the feel of dewy grass and the smell of the sea, before unleashing taste, sight, and sounds to completely encapsulate the view. The transformative aspect of Bell’s writing transcends far beyond this opening paragraph and into the entire North of England; Bell’s familiarity with the region is evident and flows freely through the text.

The book itself is split into two separate sections, interlaced with one another so that the reader is simultaneously following both the story of Cathy and Dorothy Forster. I liked the effect that this had, offering the reader a break from each story for just long enough to make them wonder what is happening back in the present day, or vice versa. Bell succeeds in keeping the setting of each story separate without making the text awkward. The present day is expressed through a contemporary style, while the Jacobite revolution necessitates the use of more archaic language. The effect of this is not as jarring as one might imagine and allows the reader to move seamlessly between the two worlds rather than being dragged from one century to the other.

The two stories initially link to one another when Cathy, befriended by a kindly doctor, Jack, begins researching Dorothy Forster and the Jacobite revolution as a therapeutic means of dealing with her feelings. Research becomes a method of escapism, giving her something new to focus on, and her sensitive mind clings to Dorothy’s story, beginning to imagine a happy ending for the eighteenth-century heroine.

After doing a little bit of research into the Jacobite revolution myself, I was delighted to find that Dorothy Forster was a real person. I find something very rewarding in historical fiction. My research didn’t go as deep as Cathy’s, of course, but I can relate somewhat to her frustrations as much of what is immediately available on the Forsters is shrouded in suppositions. I found that Dorothy was described as the ‘darling’ of the Jacobite uprising of 1715, and is today rumoured to haunt the hotel in which Jack and Cathy stayed, the Lord Crewe Arms, apparently waiting for the return of her brother.

The lovely thing about really successful historical fiction such as this is being able to take away a newfound knowledge of a snippet of history. Before reading A Similar Devotion I was completely unfamiliar with the Jacobite revolution; reading about it in this way was enjoyable and interesting. Bell also slips the odd interesting fact into the story – I was particularly pleased to take away the knowledge that people from Newcastle are often referred to as Geordies due to their allegiance with King George during the Jacobite revolution.

As the book progresses the reader learns that it is in fact Cathy who is writing Dorothy’s story. Which, looking back on the text, seems almost obvious. The beginning of Dorothy’s tale is morose and filled with anxiety. As the story progresses you begin to learn more of Dorothy’s feelings, particularly with regards to her friend, John Armstrong. These feelings are themselves an indication of the feelings Cathy is having, reflecting her confused emotional attachment towards Jack:

“I climbed into bed and thought about John in the room below me, a great relief slowing over me that he had seen fit to join me in my quest. Despite feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension, I slept better than I had done for some time.”

Towards the end of the novel, Cathy discovers the extent of the relationship between Dorothy and John and realises within herself that love is the most important thing, and that if two people love each other they will make it work. The parallels drawn between the two couples in the final sections of the novel are incredibly striking, with the words spoken by Cathy and Jack, about compromise and going against the wishes of their families, more or less repeated in the exchange between Dorothy and John:

“John Armstrong, if you think I’m going to wait that long, you are sadly mistaken. Whether my family disowns me or not, I mean to spend my life with you and I’m not one to be dissuaded from something once my mind is made up.”

Cathy wishes for a happy ending for Dorothy, because she wants it for herself, and, in the same way, she finds her own happy ending by discovering Dorothy’s.

Overall, I found A Similar Devotion to be a very satisfying read. Its slightly niche style and blend of modern romance and historical fiction is really fantastic. The story itself, while idealistic in some respects, feels believable. In both stories, loyalty to one man leads to the love of another, and both love stories require compromise on the part of both partners. Despite all that separates Dorothy and Cathy from one another, they share a similar devotion to a loved one and learn a similar lesson: that love has a power to heal wounds and draw happiness from the most devastating situations.

Many thanks to Sacristy Press for sending me out a free review copy of the book.