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BOOK LOVE: Sister by Rosamund Lupton

Nothing can break the bond between sisters …When Beatrice gets a frantic call in the middle of Sunday lunch to say that her younger sister, Tess, is missing, she boards the first flight home to London. But as she learns about the circumstances surrounding her sister’s disappearance, she is stunned to discover how little she actually knows of her sister’s life – and unprepared for the terrifying truths she must now face. The police, Beatrice’s fiance and even their mother accept they have lost Tess but Beatrice refuses to give up on her. So she embarks on a dangerous journey to discover the truth, no matter the cost.

I was on my sickbed when I read this book, and it completely distracted me from the fact that the rest of the family had gone whale watching without me! This Not only does this book have an absorbing mystery, with fascinating character dynamics, but it’s also got one of those rare finishes – a brilliant twist.

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BOOK LOVE: The Hunger Games trilogy

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

This mega-selling trilogy is down as YA fiction (as is Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, another of my Book Loves), but I definitely want to read more if this is where YA is at these days. I refrained from this series for a while as I thought the premise sounded pretty macabre. And it is, but after a few recommendations from trusted reader friends, I shook off my reservations and I’m glad I did. From the first chapter, I was completely absorbed in Katniss Everdeen’s journey. I’ve obviously got a thing for dystopian fiction – I love their vivid re-imagined worlds, the fast-paced action, and the exploration of control and subversion. I’m obviously not alone. Why do these stories appeal to so many people, and teenagers in particular? Perhaps it is because there is obvious and terrible injustice in the real world as to how powerful people control and manipulate others, and in these books there is an opportunity of redress by an everyday, ordinary person. The story of Katniss Everdeen might belong to a fantastical world, but I found one of its strongest themes was that there is hope to be found even in the most powerless, grotesque and overwhelming situations.

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Hello US and Canada – today’s the day! Beneath the Shadows is available to buy!

I’m absolutely thrilled that Beneath the Shadows is released in the US and Canada today! Its journey began over ten years ago now, when I sketched out the first chapter in a small room in our little rented flat in Kent, south England. My central character Grace was with me for a long time, and after many years (and another novel!), the final chapter was written in our house on the west coast of Australia. Since then it has been a privilege to share the story with readers, and I’m delighted that from today it has spread its wings even further and reached such distant shores. Storytelling is the best job in the world for exactly this reason: it knows no boundaries, a story can be shared between people who are half a world apart as though they were sitting in the same room. So hello to everybody in North America who picks up Beneath the Shadows – I really hope you enjoy getting to know Grace and the colourful cast of characters in the little village of Roseby.

My final word of thanks must go to the fabulous team at St Martin’s Press and Minotaur, who have done such a fabulous job putting Beneath the Shadows together, and getting the word out. In particular, thank you to Anne Bensson, for showing such faith in a new writer, who lives so far away in the most isolated city on earth!

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BOOK LOVE: The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony

  “They [the elephants] taught me that all life forms are important to each other in our common quest for happiness and survival. That there is more to life than just yourself, your own family, or your own kind.”

 

This is one of the most remarkable stories I’ve read in my life, and has been inspirational to me over the past year. Lawrence Anthony’s retelling of the rescue of a herd of traumatised elephants moved me from the first page to the last. I’ve spent some of the last year writing about elephants for my new novel, and I’d planned to contact Lawrence and tell him how much his book had inspired me. When I came out of my writing haze, handed my book in, and looked up his details on the internet, I found he had died a few weeks earlier, in March 2012, aged 61.

His death was terribly saddening and shocking, and appears to have been unexpected, as he had forthcoming plans to promote his new book The Last Rhinos. He is a great loss to the conservation world, but the most touching tribute does not seem to have come from his fellow man, but from the elephants he saved and loved, who apparently, inexplicably, made the long journey from the bush to his house, and stood for two days in mourning (http://delightmakers.com/news/wild-elephants-gather-inexplicably-mourn-death-of-elephant-whisperer/).

Vale Lawrence Anthony. The world will miss you.

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GUEST BLOG: LISA HEIDKE, author of Claudia’s Big Break

I’m delighted to welcome the lovely Lisa Heidke to my blog. Claudia’s Big Break, her most recent bestselling book, is a hilarious and heartwarming read that I couldn’t put down. I asked Lisa what she thought were the linking themes running through her work so far. Over to Lisa:

I have written before how my characters are formed first before I consider plot but I have been forgetting a crucial element, theme.

The theme in Claudia’s Big Break — women, generally in their thirties, who are at a cross roads in their lives —is a theme that runs through my other two books, Lucy Springer Gets Even and What Kate did Next as well.

When starting a new manuscript, I’ll think about the general theme and develop it more specifically, for example infidelity and its’ repercussions, and then create a character to embody that crisis. Whilst the characters in every book are very different, they are all struggling with real issues women face such as aging, betrayal, divorce, teenage sexual awakening, career frustration, loss of independence, friendship, etc.

In each of the novels, the characters start in a difficult place but by the end of the 85,000 words they are on their way to resolving those issues. They are not going to lead perfect lives but the characters have developed the strength and determination to keep going and moving forward in a positive direction.

I always write in the first person so while developing Claudia, Kate and Lucy’s stories, I imagined living inside their heads to make their personalities, motivation and dialogue as emotionally authentic as I could.

While Claudia is the main character in Claudia’s Big Break, the story revolves around the relationship between three long-time best friends: Claudia, Tara and Sophie. All are in their thirties and are struggling with personal issues: Claudia has a less than stellar career and love-life, Tara is trying to overcome personal demons so she can finish writing her novel, and Sophie is dealing with the transition from corporate lawyer to stay-at-home mother.

What excited me about writing this novel was creating the intricate and often tricky relationship these women have, and playing that out against the idyllic Santorini back drop.

With What Kate did Next, the focus is very much on Kate and her coming to terms with the fact that the dreams she had at twenty are no closer to becoming a reality as she approaches her thirty-sixth birthday.

Lucy’s husband in Lucy Springer Gets Even walks out on her in the first sentence, so her journey starts in a very bad place, that of being totally blindsided and having to rebuild her life.

I can’t see the general theme of my books changing. I like writing about women, what drives them to succeed (or fail), how they react to adverse situations and how, even though they may start from a dark place, their strength of character pulls them through in the end. My characters generally aren’t going to get ‘the happily ever after’ of fairytales, but I hope that they are interesting and inspirational regardless of how flawed they appear.

You can find out more about Lisa at www.lisaheidke.com. Thanks for visiting, Lisa!

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Come Back to Me

Book Group Questions for Come Back to Me

1. Explore the different ways that the title theme of ‘Come Back to Me’ resonates throughout the book.

2. What do you think of Alex’s dilemma and choices? Can a person be truly in love with two people at the same time?

3. The changing nature of relationships between parents and children features prominently in the book. Discuss the nature and complexities of adult children’s relationships with their parents.

4. Each character goes on some kind of figurative journey within the novel. By the end, what do you think they each have learned, and how might it change them?

5. Different types of loss feature heavily in the novel. Which types of loss stand out most for you? How have these losses shaped the characters’ lives?

6. Each character in the book has personality traits that appear to be holding them back in life. Can you identify them? Do they change during the course of the story? If so, how?

7. Explore Alex’s motivations and experiences in the story. How much is he a victim of circumstance, and how much does he bring on himself through his decisions?

8. Where did your sympathies lie during the course of the novel, and why?

9. **NEW** At one point, Chloe asks: ‘What had she done to cause everything that was happening to her?’ This may be a harsh question to direct at herself, but it is an understandable one. Discuss how the notion of responsibility plays out in the novel, and the extent to which the characters are responsible for themselves or each others’ actions or reactions.

10. **NEW** Chloe, Alex and Julia/Amy have all pushed memories away or suppressed them in order to get on with their lives. Explore why they have done this, and what it means for them.

11. **NEW** Towards the end of the book, Margaret suggests to Chloe, ‘…maybe Alex is trying to protect you…’ Do you agree with this statement? Is that what Alex was trying to do?

12. **NEW** Throughout the book, there are lots of references to opportunities for connection between the characters, opportunities that might not come round again, or moments when they have to choose whether to speak or to withhold information. Can you identify these, and what do you think of the choices each character makes?