I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.
THE WIFE: For Alice, life has never been better. With her second husband, she has a successful business, two children, and a beautiful house.
HER HUSBAND: Alice knows that life could have been different if her first husband had lived, but Nathan’s arrival into her life gave her back the happiness she craved.
HER BEST FRIEND: Through the ups and downs of life, from celebratory nights out to comforting each other through loss, Alice knows that with her best friend Beth by her side, they can survive anything together. So when Nathan starts acting strangely, Alice turns to Beth for help. But soon, Alice begins to wonder whether her trust has been misplaced . . .
The first mistake could be her last.
I used to be a huge fan of thrillers and suspense novels for the longest time. But I read so much that I reached a point where it became easy for me to predict the ending, at least for most books. I still love the genre a lot but I usually go in with a lot of trepidation because I honestly don’t want to read yet another thriller just to see if I’m still good at sussing out the culprit.
I requested The First Mistake by chance on NetGalley. When I eventually started reading the book, I did make my usual guess. But you know what? I only got a little bit of it right. There are two major twists in the book and I only got one of them partially right. And this twist happens halfway through the book, which meant the suspense was still intact for the ending.
The First Mistake is the story of Alice, owner and designer of AT Designs, a company she started with her late first husband. She’s now living a happy life with her second husband and two children, has a kind and supportive best friend, and owns a company that’s fast growing. Things start going awry once she notices her husband behaving oddly. Alice figuring out if she’s trusted the right people in her life forms the rest of the story.
Sandie Jones has done a great job with sketching out the characters in this novel, especially Alice. This novel is the perfect mix of character-driven and plot-driven, making it a page turner, especially if you don’t read a lot of suspense novels.
I did have a problem with this book, but I can’t reveal it for fear of spoiling the ending. Let’s just leave it at the fact that I was a little unconvinced by the reason for the antagonist’s deceit.
In all, The First Mistake is an entertaining suspense novel I’d recommend to anyone looking for an easy page turner to read tonight.
I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.
I’ve always been strict with my acceptance of review copies. I have a set limit and try not to accept more than I can read within a month of acceptance of the books. When Katie reached out to me about reviewing her books, I broke my own rule because the blurbs impressed me so.
Read on to find out if the books measured up to my expectations.
Synopsis (as sent by Katie):
Relegated to a life without hope for anything more than a squalid existence at the bottom of the pecking order, Petunia, a backyard chicken, lives out her days in a flock where gossip flows as currency, with malice at its heart and boredom by its side. Petunia’s plight seems insurmountable until a strange woman’s tears hurl her through a labyrinth that she never anticipated and into a friendship she might not survive.
As The Two Tails opens, the flock confronts a spiral of death and disappearance. Ensnared by a rapacious raccoon and desperate for a way out, Petunia must throw herself at the mercy of the dark, open road with little more than gumption, a pair of useless wings, and a dubious companion as her guide.
Let me say this right off the bat–I did not expect to fall this in love with a backyard chicken.
There, I said it.
Petunia, a backyard chicken at the bottom of the pecking order, sets off on an adventure the day the woman whose backyard she lives in notices her. What follows is Petunia’s journey into dealing with problems in her own flock and also setting off into the real world to rescue a friend from Animal Control.
Right from the first page, the author hooks you in with her dynamite writing voice. Despite being a book geared for children, I’m sure anyone would enjoy reading the stellar tale Katie has weaved. The books are also accompanied by Jonathan Edward’s incredible illustrations.
If you, like yours truly, are a sucker for unlikely animal friendships, you will love this duology. Every single animal in this book has been portrayed really well, be it the leader of the backyard chickens, the usurper, or the big dog in Animal Control who we only see in two chapters. In addition to being an excellent storyteller, Katie is also a master at character development, making every animal unique and well-portrayed in these books.
Impeccable Petunia works because despite being a book on animals, it includes several powerful themes such as bullying, a strained mother-daughter relationship, power hungry characters, loyalty, and going against the grain after overcoming being discriminated against. These are animals with human problems and is the perfect kind of children’s story.
Need more convincing? This story has:
A pecking order of chickens who get up to a LOT of drama.
A friendly dog who’s the goodest boy.
A scheming racoon who’s up to no good.
A friendship to root for between a chicken and a cat.
Animals going on an adventure.
A charmingly evil opossum.
Impeccable Petunia is the kind of story that would make an excellent animated movie. I can’t wait for my niece to become a little older so I can make her read these books!
Today, I have an awesome guest here on This is Lit–the founder of Beeja Meditation, Will Williams!
Will is a former music industry executive who then became a meditation teacher. He’s also the author of The Effortless Mind, released in May 2019.
Did you know that writers are eight times more likely to suffer from mental illness than those who don’t pursue writing as a career? Scary, I know.
I’ve always wondered how we as writers can nurture our own mental health. Will was kind enough to write an entire post about it for me.
Over to Will.
Being a writer is often a solitary business. The pressure to create is high, and this pressure may be a good way of getting us at our desk, ready to tap away. However, pressure also causes an inhibition of the pre-frontal cortex, which plays a critical role in creativity. And so there we are prepped and primed to let the words flow, and it feels a struggle. So we stimulate ourselves, with caffeine, sugar or whatever our fix of the day is, hoping that we can stimulate our way to literary genius. But still the flow feels constricted. But a stimulated nervous system is rarely conducive to creative flow. Perhaps now the bohemian imagery of yore comes to mind, necking whiskey or absinth until the wee hours of the morning, hoping our nocturnal subconscious will deliver. And perhaps we will get a few nuggets here and there. But yet again, this is rarely an unsustainable path, because our pre-frontal cortex tends to recharge itself when we sleep between the hours of 10pm and 6am. It’s almost as if the romanticised view of what’s good for our creativity is the exact opposite of what our neurology and neurochemistry are asking for!
We may also find ourselves gravitating towards sugary and processed foods. This may be for convenience while we try and maintain the flow, or it may be because we’re feeling blocked and a little bit self destructive. As understandable as this is, our ‘second brain’ resides in our stomach, via something called our enteric nervous system, and when we cloud our second brain with junk items, it also clouds our main brain, and we are left feeling sluggish and under a cloud psychologically. We also have a 100 trillion bacterial network of microbes headquartered in our gut, and if we feed these microbes processed, sugary foods, then the bad bacteria will begin to dominate and it will effect the neuroplasticity of our brain, our neurochemical makeup, and the expression of our epigenetic switches, all of which will create a barrier between you and your creativity. Your gut is also where over 90% of your serotonin gets created, and this little endorphine always seems to correspond with a sense of joie de vie and inspiration, so it’s good to feed your belly the foods that will help get your juices flowing.
In terms of other tips, you cannot beat good, regular sleep – as the age old expression goes, an hour before midnight is worth two after. This is because our circadian rhythms are wired from 2.5 million years of human evolution to go to bed early so we can take advantage of melatonin secretion between 9pm and 1am, and liver detox processes between 10pm and 2am. These two processes are absolutely key to sustained good health – both physically and mentally. I would suggest it’s worth trying this out for a week, and maybe do a yoga nidra exercise before bed to help you nod off. If you’re anything like many of our students who tried this, you’ll find you’ll soon feel amazing.
Being surrounded by nature is another huge boon for your mental health, as well as your creativity – we evolved for millions of years in nature, and recent neuroscience shows that being in contact with nature puts our brain more in the alpha state range, from where anxiety decreases and creativity flows.
Meditation styles that have their emphasis on flow are also really good for mental health and creative output. Focuses based practises are quite hard when your mind is a bit zany, whereas flow based meditation such as Beeja, is SO much easier to do, and vastly more enjoyable. You can fit it in anytime, anywhere, and immediately get yourself in a positive mindset, from where it’s easy to be productive and creative. There are times when I find myself feeling a bit stuck, so I do a cheeky little meditation and then the words begin to endlessly flow and crucially, the quality tends to be super high. And even more crucially, I get to spend my days feeling good, and can go to bed smiling.
Another really good tip if you’re feeling stuck, is to write with your non-dominant hand for ten minutes to activate your right hemisphere so you can benefit from more globalised thinking, which is good for both mental health and creativity.
Some gentle exercise is also super useful when we are sat in our chair all day. It helps our lymphatic system begin to drain, and helps to get our blood flowing. However, as tempting as it is do high intensity workouts, the most sustainably enriching approach is to do low intensity workouts such as gentle forms of yoga, pilates, or swimming.
In conclusion, there are many ways we can amp up our wellbeing and simultaneously aid our creative process, and of them all, I would begin with meditation, as it acts as a cornerstone of wellbeing that gives you the energy and motivation to then make positive choices such as exercise and good diet, without even having to try!
About Will Williams
A former music industry executive and insomnia sufferer, Will discovered meditation after he used it to cure his own chronic insomnia. Will William’s meditation expertise is based on over 11 years’ experience training with renowned meditation masters across the globe. Will teaches classes and courses from his Beeja HQ in London and runs regular weekend retreats across the UK. Will leads a team of Beeja meditation teachers worldwide, and will be opening new centres in Berlin, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles this year. Will founded World Meditation Day which takes place on the 15th of May, and this year will be launching the new BEEJA meditation app. Will is also working with the OECD to introduce meditation to all primary and secondary schools globally by 2030, with a trial initiative rolling out in 2020, with 20 schools in the UK expected to take part.
Isn’t this great advice? I found it very helpful and I hope you do too!
I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.
When Jeanne first reached out to me about reviewing this book, I immediately jumped at the opportunity despite having a giant backlog of review copies to get to. This book, with the “same [length] as Tom Sawyer”, could be squeezed in somewhere, I thought.
And I actually managed to read it! Read on to find out what I thought of it.
“In Japan…everywhere…red strings tie all people we meet together. Some strings are weak. Some have tangles. Some strong.”
Meryl—Vietnam War widow—misses her grown son, feels left out after her father’s recent marriage. A WWII Japanese flag falls into her hands. The gentle push of a love-struck professor starts her adventure—take the flag home. From the neon of Osaka, to the ancient capital Nara, to the forests of Akita, the trail follows a newspaper reporter, factory manager, ikebana teacher, a Matagi hunter and winds through Japanese culture, past and present. A story of shared humanity and love “in the simplest things.”
KA-E-RO-U Time to Go Home is the story of Meryl, a Vietnam War widow, who sets off on a journey to return a WWII Japanese flag to surviving relatives of the fallen soldier it belonged to. Along the way, she meets a string of interesting characters and cultures, learning and developing along the way.
KA-E-RO-U is the kind of book I’d usually complain about. It has insta love (I HATE that trope, okay?), a main character I really didn’t want to root for in any way, and a list of American and British supporting characters who seemed unreal, like they were written for the sake of moving the plot along.
The first 50 pages were difficult to get into because there wasn’t a single character so far who didn’t seem like a “book character”, a character who only exists in books and doesn’t sound real. And then, with the introduction of one Mr. Ono, things picked up. That was when I realised that the author’s–and the book’s by extension–strongest suit was Japanese characters.
Being an Own Voice novel, it’s no wonder that the best characters and storylines were Japanese. It was these characters I eagerly waited for and the short chapters and paragraphs dedicated to them showed how strong Jeanne really is as an author.
One of the best characters in this book was one Ms. Kawanishi. If the entire book had been about her WWII story, it would have been a 5 star read. In one small chapter, this tiny lady managed to capture my heart as she will every reader’s.
KA-E-RO-U is a powerful story about the effects of war and how a beautiful country like Japan dealt with it. It’s also a story about love and loss in the time of war. Despite the lacklustre main characters, this book is totally worth a read for its Japanese cast.
I received an advanced copy of this book from its publicists in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.
Explosive love story? A relationship that bends the rules of time as we know it? Mysticism? I heard these about the book and my first thought was “where can I sign up”. I went in with quite a lot of expectations. Read on to find out if any of those were met.
Can true love ever die?
Julian lives a charmed life in Los Angeles. Surrounded by friends, he is young, handsome, and runs a successful business. Everything changes after he has a fateful encounter with a mysterious young woman named Josephine. Julian’s world is turned upside down by a love affair that takes him—and everyone else in his life—by storm. For the two new lovers, the City of Angels is transformed into a magical playground.
But Josephine is not what she seems and carries secrets that threaten to tear them apart—seemingly forever.
A broken man, his faith in tatters, Julian meets a mysterious stranger who tells him how to find Josephine again if he is willing to give up everything and take a death-defying trip from which no one has ever returned.
So begins Julian and Josephine’s extraordinary adventure of love, loss, and the mystical forces that bind people across time and space. It is a journey that propels Julian toward an impossible choice which will lead him to love fulfilled…or to oblivion.
The Tiger Catcher is the story of Julian Cruz loving and losing Josephine Collins. Throw into the mix some meddling friends, mystical happenings, mysterious strangers, and the Prime Meridian, and you have quite an interesting story in your hands.
Time-defying romance takes everyone by storm is one sub-genre that’s right up my alley, but boy, The Tiger Catcher fizzled and died in vain while trying to enter it.
Two words: Insta love.
Why, why do authors insist on forcing insta love down our throats? It’s the one trope I hate with all my passion and it’s the one trope this book has. Julian and Josephine have a whirlwind romance ending in betrayal and tragedy. With any other couple, the reaction that followed the tragedy would have made me sad, but with this one, my only reaction was “JFC you knew each other for two months, sit the fuck down. And get some therapy, maybe.”
25% into the book, the tragedy strikes. After this, you need to be able to root for the main couple to agree with all the actions that follow. But when your reaction to the couple is lukewarm at best and pull-your-hair-out-in-frustration at worst, you just won’t find any love for Julian’s actions.
Many a times, I was screaming out loud in frustration. I physically wanted to drag Julian by the arm and take him to therapy. Despite all the screaming and hatred, this book is a 3.5 star read for me. And that’s totally because of Simons’ enchantingly poetic writing.
She’s excellent at writing heartbreak and even better at writing about the mystical elements in this book. If I did like the couple, her writing would surely have drawn a tear or two from me. It’s the kind of writing that moves even the stoniest of readers.
Simons has done a stellar job writing about the mystic forces at play in this world and time travelling. She has also written well fleshed out characters who are each unique and interesting. I may detest the main couple, but I love them as individual characters.
If, like me, you hate insta love, you will scream as much as I did about this book. But it’s totally worth reading for Simons’ poetic writing, characters, and the pace of the story.
I’m definitely picking up the sequel when it comes out.
I recently got the chance to interview author and TED speaker Ann Morgan (Beside Myself; Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer) whose new novel Crossing Over released in March, exclusively in audio on Audible.
As a bookworm, you definitely would have heard of Ann’s incredible project, A Year Of Reading The World–she also spoke at TED about it! If you haven’t watched it, I would highly recommend watching it right away.
My year reading a book from every country in the world | Ann Morgan - YouTube
A voracious reader herself, Ann has a dynamite writing voice and it’s apparent in Crossing Over. I’m only 20% into the book at the moment but I’m already rooting for the main characters. Adjoa Andoh has also done a stellar job with the narration.
Q & A
1. Tell us a little about Crossing Over.
Crossing Over is the story of an unlikely friendship between an elderly woman with dementia living alone in a cliff-top farmhouse on the south coast of England and a traumatized Malawian migrant hiding in her barn. On the surface, the two characters have little in common and in some ways they can never fully understand one another, but through their interaction they gain new perspectives on their own experiences and uncover more similarities between their lives than initially meet the eye.
2.Crossing Over deals with a lot of painful issues like dementia and PTSD. What motivated you to write about them?
I’m fascinated by representing altered mental states in narrative and how mental illness affects storytelling (something I explored with bipolar disorder in my first novel, Beside Myself). Many therapies are built on the theory that telling a story can help a person move past a traumatic event – so what are the implications for people who are unable to articulate what has happened to them coherently? It struck me that bringing together two characters whose storytelling is compromised – one through having to operate in his second language and having PTSD, and the other through dementia – might provide an interesting way to explore this.
“Many therapies are built on the theory that telling a story can help a person move past a traumatic event – so what are the implications for people who are unable to articulate what has happened to them coherently?”
3. Both Edie and Jonah show how tough it is to be afraid of your very own surroundings. How were you able to portray this so realistically?
Thanks. I hope it’s realistic. I spent a lot of time imagining my way into their situations. Other books helped me to do this – John Bayley’s brilliant and moving account of his wife Iris Murdoch’s decline, Iris, for example, helped me to get inside the skin of living with dementia. In addition, I drew on news footage, real-life encounters and TV programmes, such as the ground-breaking BBC documentary Exodus(put together from footage recorded by numerous people trying to cross illegally into Europe), which helped me to appreciate some of what Jonah might have gone through to reach the UK. There was also a lot of factual, historical research to make sure that the events in the book were conceivable. After that, the challenge was to filter all this material through my own feelings and insight to try and make sure that it was true to what a person in these situations might experience.
4. Are the characters you write based on people you know in real life or completely fictional?
I never base characters on real people, at least not consciously.
5. How has reading books from different cultures as part of your A Year of Reading the World project influenced your own writing?
It’s made me much bolder and more willing to take risks. I have a greater awareness of the complexity of situations around the world and am more conscious of some of the assumptions that underpin my own thinking and the stories that surround us here in the UK. I am much braver and more imaginative in my writing because I have experienced a much wider range of storytelling techniques and seen far more ways of imagining and looking at the world.
6. A Year of Reading The World put you in touch with avid readers from different parts of the world. What are your thoughts about the role of social media in bringing together the international literary community?
It has amazing potential. However, I worry that the extraordinary freedom that existed in the early days of the internet is shrinking. While it is necessary to find ways to protect vulnerable people from the potentially harmful effects of unlimited access to material and communication, the drive towards government control and monetisation of recent years is curbing some aspects of what made my project possible. The internet is becoming a splinternet, where we are all shut in our own little versions of the web, which are algorithmically adjusted to reflect our views (and the views powerful organisations want us to hold) back at us. If I set out to read the world in a year now, I’m not sure it would be possible to reach such a broad spectrum of people and stories as I did in 2012.
“The internet is becoming a splinternet, where we are all shut in our own little versions of the web, which are algorithmically adjusted to reflect our views (and the views powerful organisations want us to hold) back at us.”
7. Quite a lot of South Asian readers (including yours truly) go through this literary rite of passage where they realize their bookshelves are filled to the brim with English and North American authors, with very little books from their own countries. This could be a matter of personal taste, but in the cases it isn’t, how do you think publishing houses (global and domestic) can help with introducing people to their own cultures?
More sensitive commissioning is part of the answer. In India, for example, I’m heartened to see greater focus on literature in languages other than English. I’ve read a number of great translations of Indian literature in recent years, the most recent example being Arunava Sinha’s translation of former Kolkata rickshaw-puller Manoranjan Byapari’s There’s Gunpowder in the Air. Increasing the plurality of perspectives and stories available in the English language, which was traditionally used to broadcast the viewpoints of the external colonialists, is very important. But we shouldn’t forget that readers also have a part to play. Publishing is a business, after all. Publishers need to make money and they need to be confident that their books will sell. If we want to see more books reflecting underrepresented cultures, we need to put our money where our mouths are and support projects that do this.
8. With your own project and Corrine Duyvis’ #OwnVoices project, the international book community is reading more diverse books from different cultures by the day. How do you think publishing can help us cover the long way we still have left to go?
It’s a challenge but I think part of the answer lies in ensuring that a broader range of people are involved in the publishing industry. Most human beings are innately conservative – we are drawn to what we recognise and what we know. If you have people from a narrow range of cultures and backgrounds making all the decisions about what is published, you will inevitably find the same sorts of stories coming out over and over again.
9. Is there a specific culture or place you’d like to write about in a future book?
Not particularly. The story tends to come first for me and the place second. Most of the places I write about are fictional and never clearly pinpointed – although we know Jonah is from Malawi, we never learn the precise name of his region or village. The same is true of Edie’s home on the south coast of England and the hometown of the twins in Beside Myself. Being a rather impractical person, I find that specific details about real-life tie me up in knots. Generally, I prefer to make up what I need as I go along, creating a post office or a bank where I need them to be, rather than worrying that the story can’t work because in real life the nearest doctor’s surgery is actually five minutes up the road.
10. As an author who’s also a voracious reader, what advice would you like to give avid readers out there who’d someday like to write their own book?
Use your own reading taste as a guide to the sort of book you might write. If you love nothing more than curling up with a crime thriller, recognise that a strong plot is likely to be important to you. Similarly, if your favourite kind of reading involves immersing yourself in a slow-paced literary novel, don’t set out to be the next Dan Brown. You are your first reader and your first task is to write something that that reader will enjoy.
About Crossing Over
Edie is struggling. She’s increasingly confused, but she can’t let the women in the village find that out – they’d only talk. But she’s forgetting so much – forgetting to wear matching clothes, forgetting to bake one of her walnut cakes for the WI sale…and forgetting to lock the door…until one day she wakes to find Jonah in her house and herself in her past.
Jonah is struggling. The journey to England was illegal and dangerous, and he’s the only one who survived – and he still hasn’t made it to London. Everything will be fine if he can just get to London. But can he leave Edie to look after herself? And can he hide from the authorities? And from his past?
Ann Morgan’s writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Independent, the Financial Times and the New Internationalist. Her first book, Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer(Harvill Secker/WW Norton), was published following the success of her project to read a book from every country throughout 2012. Her best-selling debut novel, Beside Myself (Bloomsbury), was released to great acclaim in 2016.
I’m so glad I got to pick Ann’s brains! Isn’t she an incredible person?
Do check out Crossing Over on Audible if you want to listen to a dynamite book.
I received a copy of this book from Midas PR in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.
Amelia, the publicist I worked with for this book, suggested Growing Pains when I told her I liked memoirs and books about dysfunctional families among other things. Obviously, this book was right up my alley. Read on to find out what I thought of it.
Child psychiatrist Dr Mike Shooter sheds light on the painful issues and universal experience of growing up, through the stories of his patients and their families.
Growing up isn’t easy. We can be at our most vulnerable and confused. And the right help isn’t always there when we need it most. For over forty years psychiatrist Mike Shooter has listened to children and adolescents in crisis, helping them to find their stories and begin to make sense of their lives.
Mike Shooter’s own life has been shaped by his battle with depression. It makes him question received wisdom. He knows labels won’t always fit and one diagnosis will not work for all.
His patients’ stories are at the heart of this book. Mike Shooter shares their journey as, through therapy, they confront everything from loss and family breakdown to bullying, grief and illness. We see how children begin to make breakthroughs with depression or anxiety, destructive, even sometimes violent behaviour.
Growing Pains is a collection of case studies about the patients Dr. Shooter has seen in his career, right from adolescents with anorexia nervosa to victims of parental neglect. I’ve always been fascinated by the effects of childhood trauma on adults, so reading this book answered so many questions I’ve had before.
Dr. Shooter presents each case study in layman’s terms. Some cases can be a little heartbreaking, especially if you can relate to any of them, but the way they’re written and the resolution at the end of the chapter definitely make them worth the read.
There were some chapters where I’d have liked a little more details, but Growing Pains is an enjoyable read, nonetheless. Read it if you like memoirs, stories about childhood trauma, and would like a look behind the scenes of healthcare.
I received a copy of this book from Transworld Publishers in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.
Transworld has a habit of publishing all my favourite reads and I’m so glad I received a review copy of this one! Ellie and the Harpmaker was one of my anticipated 2019 reads. Read on the find out what I thought of the book.
In the rolling hills of beautiful Exmoor, there’s a barn. And in that barn, you’ll find Dan. He’s a maker of exquisite harps – but not a great maker of conversation. He’s content in his own company, quietly working and away from social situations that he doesn’t always get right.
But one day, a cherry-socked woman stumbles across his barn and the conversation flows a little more easily than usual. She says her name’s Ellie, a housewife, alone, out on her daily walk and, though she doesn’t say this, she looks sad. He wants to make her feel better, so he gives her one of his harps, made of cherry wood.
And before they know it, this simple act of kindness puts them on the path to friendship, big secrets, pet pheasants and, most importantly, true love.
That’s the one word that keep going through my head as I read this incredible book. I thought I was the only one, but you can find this one word in every single Goodreads review so far. Hazel Prior’s writing flows like music throughout the novel.
In really good stories such as this one, I hardly ever notice the writing voice, but in this book, Prior’s writing voice is its own character. A character you can’t help but fall in love with.
Ellie and the Harpmaker is the story of Ellie, the Exmoor Housewife, and Dan the Exmoor Harpmaker. Ellie leads a boring life cooking and washing up after her indifferent husband. Dan, easily the best character of this book, is on the spectrum and he believes he’s “made of the wrong ingredients”. How these two completely different individuals change each others’ lives forms the rest of the story.
There are so many phrases I could use to describe this book, but the one that comes to mind first is “a warm hug”. I love heartwarming books and this one is as heartwarming as one can get.
This book even led me to tweet this!
This book is making me (MOI, the kid who was kicked out of music lessons), want to learn the harp. Let that sink in.
Perhaps my only complaint about this book is Ellie. I detest people who meddle and yikes, does Ellie meddle! I was getting secondhand embarrassment about everything she did in the book. But as Dan beautifully sums it up towards the end, if some sour things need to happen for the sweet moments to saunter in, the sour would have been totally worth it.
Read Ellie and the Harpmaker if you like lyrical prose, books about music that feel like a hug to the heart, and contemporary romance.
“Doctors and dentists minister to our physical needs. Prime ministers minister to our political needs. Plumbers minister unto taps. But harp-players (and indeed all musicians) minister unto something else. The something else is much deeper than the bits we can see, but far more important. In my opinion music ministers to the real person that hides inside the person-shell. In my opinion the real person inside the person-shell craves and needs music every day, otherwise the real person shrivels up into nothingness.”
I’ve always been overweight. Growing up fat in India is traumatic and any fat Indian person can vouch for this. I’ve been shamed for being fat by family, friends, neighbours, kids at school, and random strangers.
It took me ages to accept my body for the way it looked. It certainly didn’t help that I never saw people of my body type onscreen growing up. In Indian cinema, fat people are always the punchline. Because God forbid a woman be fat!
My native tongue is Tamil. And here’s the thing about Tamil movies. We worship 68 year old men putting on full makeup and a wig to pass themselves off as twenty-somethings in movies, but the minute a fat woman walks onscreen, we laugh. Sometimes being fat itself IS the punchline in our movies.
Reading has always been my favourite form of entertainment, but the pasture wasn’t any greener there. Every single children’s book I read had white main characters with skinny bodies.
The only fat character from childhood I can think of is Sancho Panza from Don Quixote. We had excerpts from Don Quixote in our English textbooks in 5th grade and this guy made me so happy! This squire with his signature humor and wit is the only fat character in books I read as a child whose weight did not make him the butt of all jokes.
Every other book, however, treated fat people either as the punchline or portrayed them as lazy slobs who did not deserve love. Or maybe they did deserve love but only after they’ve dropped a few pounds.
As a teenager, I started actively searching online for plus size fiction. She Comes Undone by Wally Lamb was a popular result, but I never deigned to read it because the main character, Dolores, was sexually abused and that’s apparently why she was fat.
That’s another trope fat main characters seem to fall into. Their fatness is the result of some trauma from their early years. So many books can be lumped under this category and frankly, it boils my blood. We’re not all fat because something traumatic happened to us.
Each time someone says being fat is the result of trauma, they really are implying that being fat is unnatural. Does society really hate fat people that much?
I myself internalised this hatred for fat people and told myself shrinking myself was the only way to be loved. I knew zilch about body positivity and when people said I would look pretty AFTER I lost weight, I believed them.
And then came Heather Wells.
The Heather Wells series by Meg Cabot is by no means about body positivity. But Size 12 Is Not Fat, the first book in the series, was my gateway into not hating my body so much. The titular character, Heather Wells, used to be a famous teen pop star until she gained a few pounds and was dropped by her music label. Now, as the assistant dorm director at a popular New York college, she investigates a mysterious death in her dorm.
The remaining books in the series (Size 14 Is Not Fat Either, Big Boned, Size 12 And Ready to Rock, and The Bride Wore Size 12) also lived up to the expectations the first book set.
In these books, Heather is fat. She does struggle to lose weight. She does plan on avoiding junk food altogether and keep failing. As a teenager, I was able to relate to this. And I was ready to take any fat main character I got, so I latched on to Heather faster than Spanx sticks to your skin.
I reread the series multiple times as a teenager and even as I write this, I want to read the books again. But I won’t, because I’m sure I wouldn’t like it now. Even the title seems to imply “ooh I am plus size, but I’m not fat”.
Is fat really that bad a thing to be?
As a teenager, Heather gave me the hope that being a size 12 didn’t mean you were repulsive, and for that I’m thankful. But as a 24 year old, I want so much more from the books I read.
Every fat person book always focuses on the character’s fatness. Even seemingly body positive books imply that characters “fell in love DESPITE being fat”.
Size is just a number. Why do we give it so much attention?
I stopped seeking out books with plus-sized leads long back. They make me more mad than not. But looking at some hyped YA literature, I do see hope. More people are writing bigger characters and not making their size a plot point.
However, we still have a long way to go. A really long way.
J.K. Rowling is a brilliant author. And because she wasn’t able to convey all that brilliance in just 7 books, 8 movies, a 2-part play, 3 textbooks from The Hogwarts Library, 2 screenplays, and an entire fucking website dedicated to new and unreleased writings of hers, Shreya and I have compiled this easy list for you.
Did you see any of these new revelations coming?
1. The Potions classroom was not the only dungeon Professor Snape frequented. He, ahem, also had a sex dungeon.
2. Professor McGonagall was a spinster only in her human form. As a tabby cat, however, Minerva loved her dalliances with Mrs. Norris.
3. Fang and the Giant Squid were into butt play.
4. The wizard who put in the tracks to Hogwarts at King’s Cross chose platform nine and three quarters as it was the same number as the size of a certain appendage of his.
5. Oliver Wood is in a loving relationship with a bludger.
6. All the characters in Harry Potter were actually black and if you never noticed, you’re racist.
7. The Whomping Willow had a scandalous love affair with the giant squid. Fangs was heartbroken when he found out.
8. The Whomping Willow also had a, ahem, whomping kink.
9. The Shrieking Shack got its name for a completely different reason.
10. The Black Lake is actually trans.
11. Fluffy the three-headed dog and a blast-ended skrewt had an intense sexual relationship.
12. Colin Creevey wrote self-insert fanfiction about Harry Potter.
There you go! These were totally real and you should completely believe them.
This post was a collaboration with the lovely Shreya from Bookwormtopia. Shreya is a teenager with a soul that’s so old, it complains about the economy, today’s youth, and its arthritis. She’s a riot to talk to and her reviews are always on-point, succinct, and wonderful to read.
Both Shreya and I are Potterheads. But our love for J.K. Rowling died ages back. We will not stand for her transphobic behaviour and detest the fact that she forces diversity more as an afterthought than for inclusivity. You can read more about our thoughts on JKR in these posts: