First reviews of Beneath the Shadows in the US

I’m seeing some lovely reviews of Beneath the Shadows in the US. This from Carole Barrowman at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

‘Foster’s captivating story is steeped in secrets locked in attics and hidden in cellars, good sisters, bad sisters, a ghost, a couple of brooding handsome men and almost as many characters with mother issues as a Sophocles play.’

And from Kirkus:

‘Foster’s second page-turning tale of suspense set on the snow-covered moors has something for everyone:mystery, romance, paranormal activity and mortal danger.’

It’s very exciting watching my book spread its wings a little further!

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Seven lines from p. 7 of Shallow Breath

I’ve just been challenged by Rebecca James via FaceBook to put up 7 lines from p. 7 of my latest book. So here they are from Shallow Breath

She finishes the drink and sets it aside, then crawls back into bed. She flips over her pillow and takes out the red leather-bound book. She is going to have to return this, but she doesn’t want to yet. Most of it is boring – charts and figures, names and dates, but she loves to read her father’s observations, and study his neat, slanting writing. Why had she never been shown this, when Connor had once held this book in his hands and turned the pages, just as she does now. It is the closest she has ever felt to him, as though she can squeeze the interceding years together, reach through them and touch him. 

More soon!

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BOOK LOVE: The Self-Completing Tree by Dorothy Livesay

I started my week of US and Canadian ‘Book Loves’ with a collection of poetry, so I’ll bookend it with another one: my favourite poetry collection by Dorothy Livesay. This was originally given to me as a University text to study, but I’ve returned to it under my own steam countless times since. It was first published in 1986, over twenty-five years ago, but its themes are timeless, and Livesay’s writing is seamless. There is a definite focus on female concerns, but the poems go much further. There are  commentaries on places and people Livesay knew or observed, and on events that caught her eye. In her Foreword she describes her thinking as being dominated by poverty, racism, and war, but this is not a downbeat collection – perhaps because of what Livesay describes as her overarcing theme: ‘Whether a leap is possible, a miracle of changed feeling, changed thinking’. She also says she hopes that this is the collection she will be remembered by. I can see why, and this is one book I’ll never part with.

Here are the last few lines from ‘Invisible Sun’, which begins with a quote from Thomas Browne, that ‘Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible sun within us‘:

Oh, my hands have sung, have swung from the
sun’s centre
To be the veins of warmth within a room:
To burn with the work done and the night to
come —
Rounded in sleep, to shape an invisible sun.

 

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BOOK LOVE: Beloved by Toni Morrison

An incredible book. Set in 1873, an African-American mother, Sethe, has killed her daughter rather than allow her to be returned to slavery. Now, the house – 124 Bluestone Road, Cincinnati – is haunted, ‘full of a baby’s venom’. Paul D, one of the former slaves who worked with Sethe, comes and tries to help the family move forward, but in doing so he forces out the ghost of Beloved, who returns to the house as a young woman with baby-like features. Beloved ousts Paul D from the house, and Sethe becomes a slave again, this time trying to do the impossible – to achieve forgiveness from the girl she sacrificed, because, in her own words, she was ‘trying to put my babies somewhere they would be safe.’

On reading this book I felt sickened and strange – but moreover that I was reading something extremely important. Toni Morrison put it like this:

There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves . . . There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road. There is not even a tree scored, an initial that I can visit or you can visit in Charleston or Savannah or New York or Providence or better still on the banks of the Mississippi. And because such a place doesn’t exist . . . the book had to.

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BOOK LOVE: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing.

They didn’t understand that once love – the deliria – blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love. (laurenoliverbooks.com)

My second dystopian pick of the week, after The Handmaid’s Tale! Delirium is marketed as Young Adult fiction, but I’m not sure that does it justice – although the cream of ‘YA’ fiction seems pretty mainstream nowadays. Oliver’s writing style is candid, straightforward and engaging. She has put everything into this book: a unique vision, beautiful writing, brilliant characters, and exciting action at a heady pace. I couldn’t put it down, and the ending made me teary. The great news is that Delirium is the first of a trilogy, so I’m going to find Pandemonium, the second instalment, as soon as I can. I’ve also heard recently that Delirium is to be made into a film. Hopefully this will take Lauren Oliver’s book to another level, which it absolutely deserves.

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BOOK LOVE: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

This wonderful piece of fiction won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. It chronicles the life of Daisy Goodwill, which spans most of the twentieth century. Each chapter jumps forward a decade, through her childhood, marriage, motherhood, and later life, combining reflection on these broader themes of her life with insight towards the other banal moments that also make up living. The narrative is interspersed with photos, letters, even shopping lists, and we see Daisy through the eyes of those around her, providing fascinating insight into the notion of identity. If you want to study a master of inventive narrative and character construction, read this book!

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BOOK LOVE: The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

It happens quietly one August morning. As dawn’s shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families awaken to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.

Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by a tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler. Petra Gregory is Calli’s best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra or Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered.

Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets. (www.heathergudenkauf.com)

The Weight of Silence is a brilliant depiction of the complex and entangled lives of a small community, and how the desperate circumstances of missing children brings some people together and makes others turn on each other. Calli is a sweet character, so well drawn, and the secret that has stopped her from talking is heart-rending. I couldn’t stop reading this until I’d finished it. I’ll definitely be watching for more of Heather’s books.

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BOOK LOVE: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.

We lived in the gaps between the stories.

Set some time in the future, the main character, Offred, has been designated a Handmaid, and her function is to endure mating rituals in order to bear a child for the couple she belongs too.  The Gilead society is cruel and swift to exact punishment on those who disobey its rules. But Offred remembers a life before this, where she had a husband and daughter. Unable to forget the freedom she has known, she makes dangerous choices, and is slowly drawn towards disaster.

This book is right at the top of my all-time favourites, and just writing about it makes me want to go and find it again. I haven’t read it for years, but I can still hear those names called out in the darkness at the end of the first chapter, the brave reassertion of identity under a monstrously repressive regime. Atwood’s writing is mesmerising, and the dystopian world that she has built, where women have no rights and have become classified according to their purpose in relation to men, is both terrifying and heartbreaking. I could contemplate many of the sentences in this book for hours. I was so disappointed when I saw the film – but I think it’s just because there’s no way to translate Atwood’s writing, you need to read this story in its purest form.

 

 

 

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BOOK LOVE: Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth by Alice Walker

The forces of nature and the strength of the human spirit inspire the poems in Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth. Alice Walker opens us to feeling and understanding, with poems that cover a broad spectrum of emotions. With profound artistry, Walker searches for, discovers, and declares the fundamental beauty of existence, as she explores what it means to experience life fully, to learn from it, and to grow both as an individual and as part of a greater spiritual community. (www.randomhouse.com)

My love for Alice Walker’s writing began back in 1995 when I wrote about The Colour Purple as part of my dissertation. It remains one of my favourite books of all time. I came across this 2004 publication more recently. I was in the library, supposedly working on my own book, but instead I spent the morning devouring these poems.

I loved the whole book, but would particularly recommend: ‘Coming Back from Seeing Your People’; ‘What Will Save Us’; ‘Thanksgiving’; ‘(Yours and Mine) Is Obsolete’; and ‘You Too Can Look, Smell, Dress, Act This Way’.

I’m in awe of the way Alice Walker can convey panoramic landscapes of emotion within just a few words. She shines an unerring light on the subtle corners of living, revealing that what we consider unimportant might be far more significant than it first appears. Most of all, I love the fact that despite her unflinching consideration of pain and suffering, I always walk away from her writing feeling uplifted.

NB: To read an extract from this book, click here.