The Lauras by Sara Taylor

32969152I didn’t realise my mother was a person until I was thirteen years old and she pulled me out of bed, put me in the back of her car, and we left home and my dad with no explanations. I thought that Ma was all that she was and all that she had ever wanted to be. I was wrong. As we made our way from Virginia to California, returning to the places where she’d lived as a child in foster care and as a teenager on the run, repaying debts and keeping promises, I learned who she was in her life-before-me and the secrets she had kept even from herself. But when life on the road began to feel normal I couldn’t forget the home we’d left behind, couldn’t deny that, just like my mother, I too had unfinished business.

When Alex is bundled into the car in the middle of the night, it’s without warning – or so she feels.  Maybe, though, it had been coming a while.  Her parent argued – loud and often – and her mother had a tendency to disappear for days on end, only to the return without explanation.  So, when they set off together this time, Alex is confused but also a little excited, figuring out that – at last – she will get to understand where her mother goes and what she does when she’s gone.

I’m not sure I ever go the answer to that but, if what the two did over the course of two-ish years on the road, hiding from their father, it was basically live out of a car or cheap motels and look up people they once new.  If I sound a bit dismissive, I’m sorry but – after 300 or so pages it is how I felt.

I know in between there were some pretty interesting episodes (bit of a spoiler here but helping a young girl escape her religious family, staring an abusive ex-boyfriend down in the street and fulfilling long-ago made promises to now dead friends).  I really enjoyed these, found the people I met here interesting and different and myself fully involved.  But in between there was a lot of time on the road, a lot of eating gas station snacks and a lot of Ma smoking and not telling Alex much.

Somewhere in here was a story about Alex’s sexuality – or lack of it – and they didn’t want to be known by a gender and I wish this has been more front and centre and really explored.  This book is about journey’s – Ma’s journey to fulfil promises and Alex’s to understand Ma but it’s also his/her journey to understand themselves…I just didn’t think this was done as well as it could have been.  At the risk of sounding cynical it felt like a plotting device rather than a real part of the character and ths story.

All put together, for me, it felt messy.  I wanted so much more and I feel like Sara Taylor can write well enough to deliver that, she was maybe just trying to cover too much ground and say too many things.

It wasn’t all bad (though I realise reading back that my frustration is coming through) – like I said the things that happened when they arrived at each destination were absorbing and Taylor’s writing and characterisation at these points drew me in.  And the idea was one I loved, one I wanted to like more than I eventually did.  It’s a shame as I started with such high hopes but in the end, this was a book I liked a little not a lot.

Sorry!

Emma

liked-it-a-little

Source: Netgalley
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication Date: 6th April, 2017 (paperback)
Pages: 292
Format: ebook
Genre: contemporary fictionAmazon US
Buy now: Amazon UK / Amazon US

Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fell by Jenn Ashworth

imageWhen Annette Clifford returns to her childhood home on the edge of Morecambe Bay, she despairs: the long empty house is crumbling, undermined by two voracious sycamores. What she doesn’t realise is that she’s not alone: her arrival has woken the spirits of her parents, who anxiously watch over her, longing to make amends. Because as the past comes back to Jack and Netty, they begin to see the summer of 1963 clearly, when Netty was desperately ill and a stranger moved in. Charismatic, mercurial Timothy Richardson, with his seemingly miraculous powers of healing, who drew all their attention away from Annette… Now, they must try to draw another stranger towards her, one who can rescue her.

I think the first thing I want to say about Fell is that it is beautifully written.  A week after finishing the book, I am still haunted by some of the language and the images it created.  It is an otherworldly book and the words perfectly match the subject matter.  I felt carried along by them from the first page through to the last.

The story was a bit harder for me to fall into if I’m honest, though by a third of the way through I was there and living it along with the characters.  The beginning, though, just jumped too much for me.  The past, the present, and the who was telling the story.  This was Jack and Netty, or the spirits of Jack and Netty and they spoke as a we.  Sometimes the time would change mid-chapter and it took me a while to get used to this and understand what was happening.

I have to say too that, by the end, I’m still not quite sure what had happened.  I don’t want to give anything away because of spoilers but , whilst I got where everyone ended up, I still don’t quite know how they got there and how much Jack and Netty had to do with it and how much their telling the story was just a good way to, well, tell the story.

I feel like there are things I should have picked up on, especially around the lodger Tim, that I just didn’t – which was a bit frustrating – and I am not quite sure why Annette was where she was in her life.  Yes, her mother had been ill when she was a child but were the repercussions such that she was so lost?

I think in part, this is down to the fact it’s Jack and Netty telling the story.  You get to know them, really well, with all there good and bad points.  You see all their mistakes and shake your head as they continue to make more.  But Netty is ill.  I get it.  But because of that you only really see Tim and Annette on the surface.

Jenn Ashworth tries to resolve this by having Jack and Netty able to see Tim and Annette’s thoughts but I never felt like I really got to know them.  And I wanted to because I cared about what was happening.  The fact that I didn’t has left me in two minds about the book.

I loved the writing, as I said, and the concept.  I loved Netty and Jack.  But Tim and Annette didn’t work for me as characters because I couldn’t get to know them and so, as a result, I feel like I’ve missed out on something in the story.  So, where does this leave me? Liking, but not loving the book I think.  If I still did star ratings I’d go for 3.75, almost but not quite a 4.

Have you read this? What did you think – or am I alone in being conflicted?

Emma

Source: Publisher
Publisher: Sceptre
Publication Date: 6th April, 2017 (paperback)
Pages: 292
Format: paperback
Genre: fiction, mystery
Buy now: Amazon UK / Amazon US

Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday intro: The Lauras by Sara Taylor

Once again I’m linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. In really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

This week I’m reading The Lauras by Sara Taylor, which I’ve heard great things about and have had on my kindle for weeks so am excited to read.  Here’s what it’s about…

32969152I didn’t realise my mother was a person until I was thirteen years old and she pulled me out of bed, put me in the back of her car, and we left home and my dad with no explanations. I thought that Ma was all that she was and all that she had ever wanted to be. I was wrong.As we made our way from Virginia to California, returning to the places where she d lived as a child in foster care and as a teenager on the run, repaying debts and keeping promises, I learned who she was in her life-before-me and the secrets she had kept even from herself. But when life on the road began to feel normal I couldn’t forget the home we d left behind, couldn’t deny that, just like my mother, I too had unfinished business.

This enigmatic pilgrimage takes them back to various stages of Alex s mother s life, each new state prompting stories and secrets. Together they trace back through a life of struggle and adventure to put to rest unfinished business, to heal old wounds and to search out lost friends. This is an extraordinary story of a life; a stunning exploration of identity and an authentic study of the relationship between a mother and her child.

And here’s how it starts…

I could here them arguing, the way they argued nearly every night now, their voices pitched low and rasping in that way that meant they thought they were being too quiet to wake me up.  They were right in that their fights never did wake me up – but that was because I always stayed awake until they started.  I could feel one coming like the promise of a storm thickening the air.  When the rain’s on the way I can’t sleep either. Even though I always heard them, when morning rolled around I pretended that I’d slept through it all, because I didn’t know what else to do.

What do you think…would you keep reading?

Emma

The Food of Love by Amanda Prowse

30333119A loving mother. A perfect family. A shock wave that could shatter everything.

Freya Braithwaite knows she is lucky. Nineteen years of marriage to a man who still warms her soul and two beautiful teenage daughters to show for it: confident Charlotte and thoughtful Lexi. Her home is filled with love and laughter.

But when Lexi’s struggles with weight take control of her life, everything Freya once took for granted falls apart, leaving the whole family with a sense of helplessness that can only be confronted with understanding, unity and, above all, love.

The Food of Love has been a hard book for me to review.  On the one hand, I found it very powerful, dealing as it does with the subjects of anorexia, bulimia, and mental illness in young women.  On the other, I didn’t like Freya, the central character and – as I’ve said before – I find it hard to like a book where I don’t like the people I am reading about.

Because of this, then, I have waited almost a week since finishing it to put fingers to keyboard and try and put down my feelings on this book.  With time to reflect, to step away from Freya a little, I have to say my thoughts are generally positive.  It is a good book, one that deals with a difficult subject and one that – having also done some reading up on the subject in the past week – shines a light on what I think is a not-so-hidden epidemic amongst young women (and increasingly young men) in our society.

Given the subject, it probably isn’t a surprise if I say this is also a book that is not filled with a lot of uplifting moments.  It is hard to read because of this.  Lexi is really struggling with her illness and, as a result, so are her family – all of whom have a different take on just how bit the problem is and how they should resolve it.  For Freya, who as I said is front and centre in this book, it is with love.  She believes that with kindness and patience and understanding she can help Lexi.  She is after all her mother. So she cooks, cajoles, cuddles and, sometimes, suffocates her daughter with affection.

Unfortunately, she is also Charlotte’s mother and her elder daughter ends up neglected because all Freya’s time and attention are on Lexi.  Seeing how it impacts Charlotte as a family member was almost as hard as seeing what Lexi was doing to herself.  Over the course of the year the story takes place, Charlotte is ignored – a lot – and misses out – a lot – during a pivotal part of her teenage life.  It shows the wider impact of Lexi’s illness, as does the way Freya and her husband Lockie’s relationship falters too.

Part of the reason is the stress of having to be constantly vigilant – imagine having to watch everything someone puts into their mouth and then having to watch to make sure they don’t immediately go throw it up or do a million sit-ups to burn off the calories they’ve consumed.  But there is also their disagreement on how to handle the situation.  Lockie believes in medical intervention.  He wants to let the professionals deal with things.  Freya doesn’t.

Given this, they try both approaches and, eventually, one works but watching them try to find a solution, knowing that if they chose the wrong one their daughter might die, is hard.   And in this I think the book did a really good job, highlighting how difficult a place families find themselves.  No one wants their child institutionalised – but what if that is the only way to save them.  And what if they are begging you, and hating you, for making that choice?  It makes the story and emotional rollercoaster I did wish I could get off at times.

The book also raised some questions for me as I raise my own daughter, about the emphasis we put on food – about clearing plates (or not), about focusing on healthy foods, and seemingly throw away comments on how we and/or others look.  It also revisits the ongoing debate about the images our children see of perfectly air brushed models and ideals they cannot live up to because they aren’t real.  I have to say I did stop and think more than once.

It is important to remember, I think, that – as Freya says to Lexi “beauty…is nothing to do with a number or a dress size or shape” and I don’t think I, or probably most of us do that enough.  It is this that I took from the book more than anything and why, on reflection, I have to say that – even though I didn’t always enjoy reading it because of the subject matter – it is a good book because it has left a mark on me.  It is well written and seems to be well researched.  I think it would have potentially been more powerful – and Freya possibly less frustrating – if it had been written in the first person but that is a personal preference.  Will it be everyone’s cup of tea – no (and I can see that by some of the reviews on Goodreads) but is it worth reading?  For me, it was and I would recommend it.

Emma

Note: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Pages:
350 (kindle)
Published on:
1st December, 2016 (yes today!)
Source: Netgalley

Other reviews of books by Amanda Prowse:

A Mother’s Story

 

 

 

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

30426898Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

One of the things I love about Jodi Picoult is that she doesn’t shy away from potentially controversial or difficult subjects and Small Great Things is no exception, looking at race – and race relations – in modern day America.  Not only is it potentially controversial but, with what has happened recently with the rise of populism and anti-immigrant stances in America and Europe and movements like black lives matter, it seems very timely.

It is a book I was looking forward to reading and expected to be challenging, which it was, holding up a mirror that it wasn’t always comfortable to look in.  To do this, tough, I did feel that Picoult moved away slightly from one of the other reasons I enjoy reading her books, her lack of judgement of her characters.  Here, I felt they were definitely being judged.  I think I would have preferred it if I was left to make some of the leaps in thinking myself; instead I did feel a little beaten over the head with them.  I didn’t feel this straight away but, as the book went on, I felt that I was being led down on particular path.

The story that led me there, though, was a good one and kept me reading (especially because I am always fascinated by US court room drama).  It is told in three parts and by three people, all of whom see things very differently almost right till the end.  First, there is the time just after the birth of the little boy when Ruth is told she cannot care for him because she is African American through to and immediately after his death.  Then the time leading up to the trial, with Ruth in shock over what is happening and her life quickly falls apart.  Then there is the trial itself, where secrets are revealed and things are turned on their heads.

The storytellers are Ruth, Turk (the father) and Kennedy (the lawyer).  Both Turk and Kennedy are white, though they have very different views on race – or do they?  Picoult attempts to show that everyone is biased through the relationship with Kennedy and Ruth, it just isn’t always so obvious.  There is a point in the book Picoult makes about equality and equity and how the latter is just as, if not more, important and she does a good job of showing this in the burgeoning relationship, which is a minefield of misunderstandings that are sometimes painful to read.

I did feel for all the characters as they wrestled with their thoughts and feelings, even Turk, who is not as straightforward as he first appeared.  They were detailed and complex and willing to change, no matter how hard that was.  It is the characters that saved this book for me and stopped me feeling too lectured at.  That said, I am not sure how you approach this subject without some  level of lecturing in order to get the message across and in less skilled hands than Picoult I think it would have been even harder still.  I just think for me, it meant the difference between loving the book and liking it a lot.

Enjoy!

Emma

Note: I received a copy of this book from netgalley in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

23482832Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge, presiding over cases in the family court. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now, her marriage of thirty years is in crisis.

At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: for religious reasons, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, Adam, is refusing the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents share his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely held faith? In the course of reaching a decision Fiona visits Adam in hospital – an encounter which stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.

Whilst I know Ian McEwan isn’t everyone cup of tea, I have to say he is mine.  I haven’t read as many of his novels as I would have liked but I’ve enjoyed each one and always found them to be not what I expected when I started reading.  The same is the case with The Children’s Act, which left me feeling bereft when I was done because I hadn’t realised how connected to Fiona and Adam I had become and how much I had bought into their stories and lives.

On the surface, Fiona is not that likeable.  She is completely focused on her career, to the detriment of her marriage and her life.  She isn’t unhappy but she is living in a bubble that no one can seem to burst.  Part of her knows this but she doesn’t seem willing or able to make a change till her husband forces one on her, and into making decisions she might not normally have made…which in turn leads her to becoming more involved with Adam, a teenager at the centre of a potentially controversial case.

You can see the dominos falling and the tragedy unfolding yet no one seems able to step far enough outside themselves to stop it – and it is this that meant I ended up having a lot of sympathy for Fiona.   Because the dominos were falling long before her husband drops his bombshell; they started when she put her job before becoming a mother – something she has come to regret and is underlying in all her behaviours.  McEwan introduces the theme subtly and weaves it through Fiona’s story really well – never beating you over the head with it.

Adam has his own regrets, even though he is young.  He has been sheltered and protected by his parents and his church and Fiona’s entry into his life opens his eyes to the wider world, but one he’s not prepared for.  He looks for answers in her that he no longer finds in his God – answers it seems impossible she will be able to provide, no matter how much she might want to.  They are both so lost and I felt for them because of this.

That McEwan can do this, completely draw me in, when I didn’t know if I liked the characters is a testament to his writing, which I always find seems simple on the surface but somehow leaves me feeling quite exhausted by the end, realising I have been putting all my energies into reading.  He manages to create completely believable worlds (at least for me) and put me in the middle of them – which is why I should read more of his books and means that I loved this one.  Highly recommended.

Emma

 

 

 

The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson

27245980A passionate film buff, our hero’s life revolves around his part-time job at a video store, the company of a few precious friends, and a daily routine that more often than not concludes with pizza and movie in his treasured small space in Stockholm. When he receives an astronomical invoice from a random national bureaucratic agency, everything will tumble into madness as he calls the hotline night and day to find out why he is the recipient of the largest bill in the entire country. What is the price of a cherished memory? How much would you pay for a beautiful summer day? How will our carefree idealist, who is content with so little and has no chance of paying it back, find a way out of this mess?

After reading The Room by Jonas Karlsson last year, I was really excited to get a chance to review his latest book, The Invoice. I wasn’t disappointed. It isn’t as dark as The Room, not necessarily a bad thing, but it is just as different. It is odd-ball and funny and really clever and I loved it.

It starts with “our hero” receiving a huge bill from a government agency, WRD, whose he’s never heard of. He has no idea what he owes the money for but he knows he can’t pay. A phone call that sees him on hold for most of the day and all of the night answers his questions and leaves him more confused. He’s being billed for being happy…

It’s calculated according to a formula that takes account of age, place of residence, particular experiences, success, proximity to the sea. That sort of thing. Quality of home and relationships, et cetera. Taken as a whole, that constitutes your personal quantity of Experienced Happiness. Your levels will be constantly updated, provided that all information can be verified. It’s all officially administered, of course, but I’m afraid I can’t make an estimate as things stand … Have you had any notable setbacks?”

It’s all above board. He just finds it hard to believe they believe he is so happy. He lives in a small, rented, apartment, works part time in a video rental store and barely makes enough to pay his bills. He has few friends and no girlfriend, not for a long time. How can he owe so much when (as he discovers) others owe so little. With the help of Maud, who answers his first phone call, he goes on a personal journey of discovery and realises that maybe life isn’t quite as bad after all…

Besides the welfare premium, whiteness premium, male premium, there’s also … let’s see … No problems sleeping. Workplace compatibility one hundred per cent. One old friend—Roger—who visits regularly, but no social obligations. In other words, nothing but positive attributes …”

By the time I had finished The Invoice I was feeling pretty positive myself. I was a little in love with our hero and Maud and their relationship, who were really well written and I found myself turning the pages quickly. Despite the quirky story, it still felt real. I could kind of imagine it happening.

That doesn’t mean this book is lightweight. It isn’t. WRD has shades of big brother and the book asks questions about whether you need things to be happy (our hero’s initial assumption) and why people don’t think a day in the sunshine eating ice-cream is enough. It’s gently done though, not beating you over the head but taking you along with it. Or at least taking me along because, whilst this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is definitely mine and I loved it.

Emma

Note: I received this from blogging for books in return for a fair and honest review. All thought, feelings and opinions are my own.

Tuesday Intro: The Girls by Emma Cline

imageThis week, I’m linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. I really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

Right now I’m reading The Girls by Emma Cline which is due out next month and caught my eye on Net Galley.  Apparently there is a “buzz” about it which always worries me as I end up with high expectations but so far, it is living up to it’s positive reputation I must say.

Here’s what it’s about…

26210512Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat.

Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls.

And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways.

Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?

Here’s how it starts…

I LOOKED UP because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls. I noticed their hair first, long and uncombed.

Then their jewellery catching the sun. The three of them were far enough away that I saw only the periphery of their features, but it didn’t matter—I knew they were different from everyone else in the park. Families milling in a vague line, waiting for sausages and burgers from the open grill. Women in checked blouses scooting into their boyfriends’ sides, kids tossing eucalyptus buttons at the feral-looking chickens that overran the strip. These long-haired girls seemed to glide above all that was happening around them, tragic and separate. Like royalty in exile.

What do you think – would you keep reading?

Emma

Note: this is from a proof copy

Smoke by Catherine McKenzie

25317381When Elizabeth is woken by the smell of smoke, she is filled with panic.  It isn’t coming from inside the house but from outside – and, as a former forest fire fighter, she knows it’s big.  She also knows she and her husband (Ben) have to move – quickly.  The question is to where – and do they go together because the night before they had decided to divorce.

For Ben and Elizabeth life, which once seemed so simple, is complicated.  And the fire makes it more so. Elizabeth gave up her job (and her passion) for fire fighting to be home with Ben, a high school teacher, and start a family – a family which didn’t emerge as quickly as they had both expected, leading to resentment.

Now, there is a fire on the doorstep and Elizabeth is drawn to it and the life she used to lead.  As it gets closer to town, it is like she can’t turn away from the flames.  Elizabeth is also drawn into the investigation of what started it.  What, or possibly who.

The who could be the owner of the house near the fire’s origin.  Or it cold be the kids who have been hanging around his property, drinking beer and taunting him.  As the fire worsens and the town feels increasingly under threat, tensions rise and fingers are pointed.  Especially feeling the tension is Mindy, who knows her son Angus snuck out of the house the night of the fire and who she isn’t convinced didn’t have anything to do with it.

Angus isn’t the only thing on Mindy’s mind though, especially as Elizabeth’s investigation leads to their path’s crossing – something that hasn’t happened since the once best friends (yes, it gets more complicated than just Elizabeth and Ben’s relationship) had a major falling out.  The question is whether Elizabeth’s investigation will end up with them rebuilding their friendship or blowing Mindy’s world apart, destroying her and her family.

Whether Elizabeth can deal with the many feelings (good and bad) she has about Ben, her life and her friendships is the main thread through Smoke and it is very well done – especially when it could have been overly emotional.  It is why, I think, her story is told in the first person (with alternating chapters telling Mindy’s story and in the third person).

I found myself completely engrossed as the mistakes both women made are gradually revealed and the different perspectives helped show the different sides of their stories.  They also had different levels of intensity, which helped make it feel much more real. The fire added intensity too, and – again – a different perspective to what was happening.  It was so big and so life threatening that the issues Elizabeth and Ben and Elizabeth and Mindy were having seemed much smaller – something which is true of life I think.

Catherine McKenzie does a great job of bringing it all together.  She has a way of drawing her characters so they felt very real to me and didn’t tug on the heartstrings too much (just a bit!).  I could feel how conflicted they felt and how difficult the choices they were making were for them.  And I could feel the claustrophobia as the fire got closer and smoke was everywhere, the rising panic people felt as the almost inevitability of something it must seem impossible to fight.  It added to the tension and was a great catalyst for moving the story and characters forward – making this a great book, one I liked a lot!

Emma

Find on: Amazon UK / Amazon US / Goodreads

The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson

Never-Open-Desert Diner3Ben spends his days driving route 117, delivering packages to people time and the rest of the world seem to have forgotten.  He is their lifeline to the “real” world and they help him eke out a living in a town that is on the edge of nowhere and the desert.

There is a reason that people live off 117 – they want to be left alone or are leaving something behind.  For Ben, it’s being without family and with few friends; he was abandoned as a baby and is a loner by nature.  For Walt, it’s the diner he never opens – or hasn’t for a long time, ever since his wife died.  And for Claire, well – at least at first – Claire is a mystery, one Ben can’t help being drawn to.

He thinks he knows every nook, cranny and turn-off on route 117 until a random stop one day leads him to a house in the middle of the desert and Claire.  She is newly arrived and definitely not wanting to be found.  An ex-husband is in the wings – and might be the one following Ben as he makes his deliveries. It’s all very complicated but also very simple and his and Claire’s lives begin to intersect and then seek each other out as they fall in love.

As they do, life goes on in the desert.  People live, they die, they help each other when they need to.  Anderson’s characterisation of these secondary characters is wonderful.  I felt I knew every single one of them and liked every one of them.  I liked Ben, Claire and Walt too, the central characters.  All are completely dysfunctional but not in a bad way.

Ben, especially, is the type of character I like and, whilst this isn’t a piece of crime fiction, I was reminded in a way of James Sallis’ characters.  He is a man of few words who has made mistakes.  He tries to live his life the best way he can and accepts people for who and what they are.  He doesn’t conform – and doesn’t intend too.    I wanted to be Ben’s friend, or at the very least, have him on my side in a fight.

I also liked the way the novel was written in general, the descriptions of the desert.  I felt how lonely and isolating and harsh it could be but also it’s beauty.  There are moments when I felt I was there and there are moments when I was glad I wasn’t because I’m not sure I would survive.  I was completely drawn in from the beginning.

If I had any criticism it would be that I, personally, didn’t need the ex-husband story line.  I wanted more of Ben and Claire falling in love, more of their relationship developing.  It was the heart of the story and could, for me, have been the story.  That said, it wouldn’t stop me recommending the book at all – I liked it a lot.

Emma

Note: I received this book from blogging for books in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.