#Blogtour By Her Own Design by Piper Huguley

It’s an absolute pleasure to take part in the BlogTour By Her Own Design: A Novel of Ann Lowe, Fashion Designer to the Social Register written by Piper Huguley. I loved this book!

About the Author

Piper Huguley is the author of the Home to Milford College and the Migrations of the Heart series. She is a multiple-time Golden Heart finalist. Piper blogs about the history behind her novels on her website. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and son. Follow @piperhuguley on Twitter, Visit piperhuguley.com

About the book

The incredible untold story of how Ann Lowe, a Black woman and granddaughter of slaves, rose above personal struggles and racial prejudice to design and create one of America’s most famous wedding dresses of all time for Jackie Kennedy.

1953, New York City – Less than a week before the society wedding of the year where Jacqueline Bouvier will marry John F. Kennedy, a pipe bursts at Ann Lowe’s dress shop and ruins eleven dresses, including the expensive wedding dress, a dress that will be judged by thousands. A Black designer who has fought every step of the way, Ann knows this is only one struggle after a lifetime of them. She and her seamstresses will find the way to re-create the dresses. It may take all day and all night for the next week to accomplish the task, but they will do it.

1918, Tampa – Raised in Jim Crow Alabama, Ann learned the art of sewing from her mother and her grandmother, a former slave, who are the most talented seamstresses in the state. After Ann elopes at twelve with an older man who soon proves himself to be an abusive alcoholic, her dreams of becoming a celebrated designer seem to be put on hold. But then a wealthy Tampa socialite sees Ann’s talent and offers her an amazing opportunity—the chance to sew and design clothing for Florida’s society elite. Taking her young son in the middle of the night, Ann escapes her husband and embarks on the adventure of a lifetime.

Based on the true story of one of the most famous designers of the twenties through the sixties who has since been unjustly forgotten, By Her Own Design is an unforgettable novel of determination despite countless obstacles and a triumph celebrated by the world.

Review

Although the story of Ann begins at the end of her life, it perhaps does her more justice, because the battles she fought and the hills she had to climb to achieve her dreams and goals – the reader thinks they know how her journey will progress or at least they think they do. 

The reality of course is that the hardships endured, the racism faced, and the courageous and dangerous decisions made, are the norm for her because she is a black woman. The white privilege she is surrounded by is a pill to be taken daily with a portion of steadily controlled seething anger. And yet at the core is the child, the girl who is plucked from innocence and thrust into the stark reality of womanhood. The girl, who learns to covet and embrace the bonds of sisterhood, maternal strength and the protection of those who endured and survived the same before her.

This is the story of an artist, a woman with an incredible talent for design and fashion, who wrote history and yet has been forgotten by those who wrote it.

I absolutely loved this book and I really hope someone makes a screen version of it – Oscar material right here. The author has fixed an injustice by bringing the important story of Ann to the forefront of our minds, and in doing so ensures that she receives her rightful place in the history of design and fashion. Kudos to the author for the storytelling, the excellent writing and for sharing this story with us all.

It is a travesty that the voices, the achievements, designs, inventions, and their pivotal input and influence on our developments and history in general, of women – especially women who belong to marginalised and oppressed groups – have been erased from historical narratives. Whitewashed from history. This is a perfect example of every detail being known to the world, except the part where a black woman designed the wedding dress of one of the most well-known historical figures of the 20th century, and yet somehow it has become the one detail that is never mentioned. I highly recommend this book – it’s an excellent read.

Buy By Her Own Design at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher : William Morrow PB, pub date 21 July 2022. Buy at Amazon com.

#BlogTour The Postmistress of Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

 It’s my turn on the BlogTour The Postmistress of Paris by Meg Waite Clayton.

About the Author

Meg Waite Clayton is a New York Times bestselling author of six novels, most recently Beautiful Exiles. Her previous novels include the Langum Prize–honored The Race for Paris; The Language of Light, a finalist for the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction (now the PEN/Bellwether); and The Wednesday Sisters, one of Entertainment Weekly’s 25 Essential Best Friend Novels of all time. 

She has also written for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Forbes, and public radio, often on the subject of the particular challenges women face. Follow @MegWClayton on Twitter, Visit megwaiteclayton.com

About the book

The New York Times bestselling author of The Last Train to London revisits the dark early days of the German occupation in France in this haunting novel—a love story and a tale of high-stakes danger and incomparable courage—about a young American heiress who helps artists hunted by the Nazis escape from war-torn Europe.

Wealthy, beautiful Naneé was born with a spirit of adventure that transcends her Midwestern roots. For her, learning to fly is freedom. When German tanks roll across the border and into Paris, this woman with an adorable dog and a generous heart joins the resistance. Known as the Postmistress because she delivers information to those in hiding, Naneé uses her charms and skill to house the hunted and deliver them to safety.

Inspired by the real life Chicago heiress Mary Jayne Gold, who worked with American journalist Varian Fry to smuggle artists and intellectuals out of France, Meg Waite Clayton has fashioned a sweeping tale of romance and danger, set in a world aflame with personal and political passion. The Postmistress of Paris is the haunting story of an indomitable woman whose strength, bravery, and love is a beacon of hope in a time of terror.

Review

Naneé is woman who loves being one with the air and nature, and yet simultaneously also enjoys the way others embrace and then express the way they perceive life. As the evil ideology of the Nazi regime slowly encroaches upon her life and the lives of those around her, she makes a choice. She becomes part of the solution and part of the resistance.

A story born from an inspirational story leading into and during World War 2. The author takes that inspiration and creates an emotional, caring story around it. It’s not just about love, it’s about endurance and being willing to go that extra mile under extreme circumstances for the people you love or in this case people who are stuck in the eye of a deadly storm. The courage of individuals sometimes leaves the smallest footprint, but makes the most lasting and important impression.

It’s historical fiction with plenty of amusing and endearing moments, whilst giving the historical importance of this period in time due diligence. It also opens the door into less often discussed events during this period, especially in regards to the attitude and position towards the creative arts and their creators. 

Buy The Postmistress of Paris at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher ‏: ‎ Harper pub date 30 Nov. 2021. Buy at Amazon com. At Harper Collins.

#BlogTour A Wild Winter Swan by Gregory Maguire

 It’s my turn on the BlogTour A Wild Winter Swan by Gregory Maguire. A poignant coming-of-age story inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans,’ set amid the magic of Christmas in 1960s New York. (Author photo by Andy Newman)

About the Author

Gregory Maguire received his Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Tufts University, and his B.A. from the State University of New York at Albany. He was a professor and co-director at the Simmons College Center for the Study of Children’s Literature from 1979-1985. In 1987 he co-founded Children’s Literature New England. He still serves as co-director of CLNE, although that organization has announced its intention to close after its 2006 institute.

The bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Lost, Mirror Mirror, and the Wicked Years, a series that includes Wicked, Son of a Witch, and A Lion Among Men. Wicked, now a beloved classic, is the basis for the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name. Maguire has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad.

He has three adopted children and is married to painter Andy Newman. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

About the book

Laura lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in an aging brownstone with her old-world grandparents – but she may well be sent to a boarding school in Montreal in the new year after being expelled from school for behaviour unbecoming of a young lady.

Constantly telling herself stories about the events surrounding her to divorce herself from te tragedies of her life, Laura truly finds herself inside a fairy tale when a handsome boy with a swan wing in place of a left arm lands on her roof. But Laura must forge unlikely allies in her quest to keep this storybook character from overturning her life in all the wrong ways.

Greogory  Maquire conjures a haunting tale of magical realism that illuminates one young woman’s heartbreak and hope as she begins the inevitable journey to adulthood.

Review

Laura has a hard time connecting to her peers and finds her grandparents rules and choices hard to comprehend. She is isolated, and yet lives in a family where her safety and wellbeing is paramount. When her life is disrupted by a young man with one arm and a wing for the other, she recognises him from the many fairy tales she has read. It seems so magical in the stories, however the reality of the swan boy is slightly more disturbing and disruptive.

I haven’t read anything by Maguire before, but I will certainly be changing that going forward. He writes with such eloquence and projects the illusion of shallow, whilst delivering great depth. The fluid interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales as he merges them with a story filled with magical realism.

In a way it feels as if the story is an homage to Andersen, and simultaneously it is a postmodern tale with pinch of noir and a flair of repressed violence, which lends itself to a more speculative read. The balance between old-world and modern is noted in the relationship between the grandparents and Laura. The grandparents try to keep her cocooned in their bubble and views, to protect and nurture. Laura is trying to burst free of the constraints of her own anxieties, her additional needs, and the the grandparents who are reluctant to let her fly.

The swan boy becomes an analogy for the gilded cage, the fear of the unknown, the equally repressed fluttering of sexuality, the longing to escape and desire for love.

I absolutely loved it. It’s a beautifully crafted story.

Buy A Wild Winter Swan at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher ‏: WmMorrowPB; pub date 14 Oct. 2021. Buy at Amazon com.

#BlogTour The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All by Josh Ritter

 It’s my turn on the BlogTour The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All – ‘A lyrical, sweeping novel about the last days of the lumberjacks from nationally bestselling author and acclaimed musician Josh Ritter’ (picture of author by photographer Laura Wilson)

About the Author

Josh Ritter is a songwriter from Moscow, Idaho. His albums include The Animal Years and So Runs the World Away. Bright’s Passage is his first novel. He lives in New York. Follow @joshritter on Twitter, Visit joshritter.com

About the book

In the tiny timber town of Cordelia, Idaho, everyone has heard tales of the Applegates. Local legend says their family line boasts some of the greatest lumberjacks to ever roam the American West, and from the moment young Weldon stepped foot in the deep Cordelia woods as a child, he dreamed of joining the rowdy ranks of his ancestors in their epic, axe-swinging adventures. But at the beginning of the twentieth century, times are changing fast, and the jacks are dying out.

On his deathbed nearly a century later, Weldon Applegate recounts his life in all its glory, filled with tall tales writ large with murder, mayhem, avalanches and bootlegging. It’s the story of dark pine forests brewing with ancient magic, and Weldon’s struggle as a boy to keep his father’s inherited timber claim, the Lost Lot, from the ravenous clutches of Linden Laughlin.

Braided with haunting saloon tunes and just the right dose of magic, The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All is a novel bursting with heart, humor, and an utterly transporting adventure that is sure to sweep you away into the beauty of the tall snowy mountain timber.

Review

Weldon Applegate, nearly a century of age, full of stories and memories. He takes the reader back to his days of his childhood when his father introduced him to the magic of the woods – the brotherhood of the lumberjacks, the men who conquer the mighty timber. Sometimes they win and sometimes they lose.

I’m not sure if people nowadays give themselves enough time to really experience the true magic of a forest and standing in the midst of many trees, especially when they are truly old. It’s like being one with a magical sense of the beauty we are surrounded by. The awe of the strength, the majesty and thought of how many others have stood in the same position admiring the stoic fixture. A visual representation of seasons coming and going. 

It’s this inexplicable feeling that Ritter has drawn upon and infused the story with. Combined with the nostalgia of memories, a coming-of-age story and one of brotherhood the tale takes a step into magical realism.

If you enjoyed the read then I also suggest giving the audiobook a whirl, it makes the magical and then the musical element come to life. 

Buy The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher: Hanover Square Press – HQ Fiction, Harper 360 ; pub date 16 September – £18.99. Buy at Amazon com.

#BlogTour The Shanghai Wife by Emma Harcourt

It’s a pleasure to take part in the Blogtour The Shanghai Wife by Emma Harcourt.

About the Author

Emma Harcourt has worked as a journalist for over 25 years, in Australia, the UK and Hong Kong. In 2011, she completed the Faber Academy Writing a Novel course and The Shanghai Wife was borne. Emma lives in Sydney with her two daughters. She is currently working on her second novel. Follow @emma_harcourt on Twitter,

About the book

Forbidden friendship, political conspiracy and incendiary passion draw Australian woman Annie Brand deep into the glamour and turmoil of 1920s Shanghai.

Leaving behind the loneliness and trauma of her past in country Australia, Annie Brand arrives to the political upheaval and glittering international society of Shanghai in the 1920s. Journeying up the Yangtze with her new husband, the ship’s captain, Annie revels in the sense of adventure but when her husband sends her back to Shanghai, her freedom is quickly curtailed.

Against her will, Annie finds herself living alone in the International Settlement, increasingly suffocated by the judgemental Club ladies and their exclusive social scene: one even more restrictive than that she came from. Sick of salacious gossip and foreign condescension, and desperate to shake off the restrictions of her position in the world, Annie is slowly drawn into the bustling life and otherness of the real Shanghai, and begins to see the world from the perspective of the local people, including the servants who work at her husband’s Club.

But this world is far more complex and dangerous than the curious Annie understands and, unknowingly, she becomes caught in a web of intrigue and conspiracy as well as a passionate forbidden love affair she could not have predicted: one with far–reaching consequences… 

Review

Moving to 1920’s Shanghai is a big stretch for Annie, having to deal with the curious and judgemental creatures called ex-pat – throwbacks of the old world on the cusp of change and a new awakening. Thrust into the gossipy world full of sharp retorts and a visible shallowness, Annie starts to reach out into her new surroundings, but encounters more than she ever thought possible.

I imagine it will appear to many that Annie is impulsive and naïve in her actions. Her desire to learn, to help and discover her surroundings is dangerous to the observer, and yet it is completely in keeping with her societal position and her heritage. It’s called white saviour complex, which although is still prevalent today, was and is very much a product of colonialism. She is fearsome in certain situations and simultaneously convinced her position and her good intent will keep her safe. The invisible bubble of privilege if you will.

Harcourt draws the reader in with the vivid imagery and historical setting, to the point where the more adventurous aspect becomes the obstacle, the dam that keeps the other genre voices slightly tamed. It’s a story driven by the vivid imagery, the accurate settings and the due diligence given to the characters. The author blends and weaves to create a riveting tale of self-discovery and times gone by.

Buy The Shanghai Wife at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher: HQ Fiction, pub date 16. Sep 2021 – £.8.99. Buy at Amazon com.

#BlogTour Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard

It’s a pleasure to take part in the BlogTour Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard.

About the Author

Joyce Maynard is the author of nine previous novels and five books of nonfiction, as well as the syndicated column, “Domestic Affairs.”

Her bestselling memoir, At Home in the World, has been translated into sixteen languages. Her novels To Die For and Labor Day were both adapted for film. Maynard currently makes her home in New Haven, Connecticut. Follow @joycemaynard on Twitter, Visit joycemaynard.com

About the book

In her most ambitious novel to date, New York Times bestselling author Joyce Maynard returns to the themes that are the hallmarks of her most acclaimed work in a mesmerizing story of a family—from the hopeful early days of young marriage to parenthood, divorce, and the costly aftermath that ripples through all their lives Eleanor and Cam meet at a crafts fair in Vermont in the early 1970s. 

She’s an artist and writer, he makes wooden bowls. Within four years they are parents to three children, two daughters and a redheaded son who fills his pockets with rocks, plays the violin and talks to God. To Eleanor, their New Hampshire farm provides everything she always wanted—summer nights watching Cam’s softball games, snow days by the fire and the annual tradition of making paper boats and cork people to launch in the brook every spring. If Eleanor and Cam don’t make love as often as they used to, they have something that matters more. Their family.

Then comes a terrible accident, caused by Cam’s negligence. Unable to forgive him, Eleanor is consumed by bitterness, losing herself in her life as a mother, while Cam finds solace with a new young partner.

Over the decades that follow, the five members of this fractured family make surprising discoveries and decisions that occasionally bring them together, and often tear them apart. Tracing the course of their lives—through the gender transition of one child and another’s choice to completely break with her mother—Joyce Maynard captures a family forced to confront essential, painful truths of its past, and find redemption in its darkest hours.

A story of holding on and learning to let go, Count the Ways is an achingly beautiful, poignant, and deeply compassionate novel of home, parenthood, love, and forgiveness.

Review

I can imagine this story will resonate in a completely different way with readers, some will experience this as a tale of the complexities of love, relationships and family dynamics. To others it will be the autopsy of a marriage and of family life.

For me it didn’t evoke feelings of love, nostalgia or understanding, but rather very much the opposite. When a relationship has borne the fruits of many years of intimacy, friendship, love, laughter and birth, slowly disintegrates into ashes made up of resentment and disillusionment – the result can be a harrowing picture. Often that picture is lopsided and misinformed, as it is here.

By protecting her children from the truth of their father, which is the correct, therapeutic and socially acceptable thing to do, you run the risk of being at the short end of the stick. History is then written to report of the angry, scorned woman. The woman who left without reason, and the woman who abandoned the status quo. the woman who causes all discontent and problems in the children of said divorce. How utterly unforgivable, which is mirrored in the way her friends and children treat her. I was angry for her. I know women like her who have sat on the truth for decades to protect the emotions of their children, only to be treated with contempt, whilst the husband and father is lifted up on a pedestal. She has a right to own her anger.

Perhaps the clearest image to emerge is the fact that once you have suckled, pampered, taught and raised your children into adulthood and they decide to treat you with disdain for whatever imagined or real ailment they might have or problem they encounter, then perhaps you have served your obligation to them. Indeed there seems to be a 21st century wave of parental blame that encompasses everything a person may feel or do. 

I really enjoyed it. I thought Maynard had her finger on the pulse of family, especially when it is redefined involuntarily. She paints an accurate picture of the gender inequality when it comes to being a parent, in situations of divorce and in romantic or sexual relationships as one veers beyond the younger years. It’s an excellent read by an observant and skilled writer.  

Buy Count the Ways at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher ‏: ‎William Morrow pub date 13 July 2021. Buy at Amazon com.

#BlogTour Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins

It’s an absolute pleasure to take part in the BlogTour Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins. After the critical success of her first two books of nonfiction, New York Times bestselling author Morgan Jerkins brings us a captivating fiction debut, Caul Baby, a family saga filled with secrets and magic.

About the Author

Morgan is the author of Wandering in Strange Lands and the New York Times bestseller This Will Be My Undoing and a Senior Editor at ZORA. A visiting professor at Columbia University and a Forbes 30 under 30 Leader in Media, Jerkins’s short form work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, ELLE, Esquire, and The Guardian, among many others. She is based in Harlem. Follow @MorganJerkins on Twitter, Visit morgan-jerkins.com

About the book

Desperate to be a mother after her multiple pregnancies ended in heartbreak, Laila turns to the Melancons, an old and powerful Harlem family known for their caul, a precious layer of skin that is the secret source of their healing power. When the deal for Laila to acquire the piece of caul falls through and her child is stillborn, she is overcome with grief and rage. What she doesn’t know is that her family will be forever intertwined with the Melancons when her niece, Amara, an ambitious college student, delivers a baby girl and gives her to the Melancons to raise as one of their own.

The baby, Hallow, is special. She is born with a caul and the Melancons’ matriarch, Maman, believes she will restore the family’s prosperity. Growing up, Hallow is kept sheltered in the Melancons’ decrepit brownstone while her cousin, Helena, is free to roam the streets. As she grows older, Hallow becomes suspicious of the Melancon women, particularly of whether Josephine, the woman she calls mother, really brought her into the world, and of Maman, who only seems to care about Hallow’s caul and the wealth it can bring to the family. As Hallow grows more distrustful of the family, the home itself begins to fall apart.

As the Melancons’ thirst to maintain their status grows, Amara, now a successful lawyer running for district attorney, looks for a way to avenge her longstanding grudge against the family. When Hallow and Amara cross paths, Hallow must decide where her loyalty lies.

Review

Laila has reached the point of no return when it comes to being so desperate she will do anything to ensure her pregnancy doesn’t end in tragedy again. She turns to the Melancon women, who are known for their potent witchcraft like persuasion, perhaps too potent. Their tactics only serve to create a malignant atmosphere, which opens a door to the real faces behind the doors of the magic they purport to wield.

It’s a cleverly melded story of magical realism, culture and identity. Jerkins has created a family saga that simultaneously is intricate blueprint of the juxtaposition of cultural and historical dynamics with the demands of modern society.

The cultural beliefs surrounding cauls aren’t always positive and in this story their use leans towards negative, manipulative and obsessive. It’s that essence of old culture that the Melancon women use to create their basis of power. Their gift of support in the form of magical realism can become a double-edged sword to wield – retracting the power of the caul drives the pain and emotional power of this story.

I really enjoyed the read and especially the way the author ended it. The two worlds and families collide with such an intensity that the repercussions are felt over decades. The power struggle takes place within the community and both families, the caul baby is the powerful element that will either split them apart or finally draw them together.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Jerkins, the story is emotionally fraught, energetic and yet at the same time incredibly moving.

Buy Caul Baby at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher : Harper pub date 6 April 2021. Buy at Amazon comAt Waterstones.

#BlogTour As Far As the Stars by Virginia Macgregor

It’s an absolute pleasure to take part in the BlogTour As Far As The Stars by Virginia Macgregor. It’s a YA contemporary read, but also one for all ages.About the Author

Virginia Macgregor: ‘I was brought up in Germany, France and England by a mother who never stopped telling stories.  From the moment I was old enough to hold a pen, I set about writing my own, often late into the night – or behind my Maths textbook at school.  My maiden name is Virginia Woods: I was named after two great women, Virginia Wade and Virginia Woolf, in the hope I would be a writer and a tennis star. My early years were those of a scribbling, rain-loving child who prayed for lightning to strike my tennis coach.

After studying at Oxford, I started writing regularly whilst working as an English Teacher and Housemistress.  I taught in three major UK boarding schools for ten years until I met my husband who, as I like to say, ‘loved me into being a writer.’ He persuaded me to take year out to write full time. By the end of that year I had a publishing deal for my first novel, What Milo Saw, with Sphere of Little, Brown and two years later I landed a deal with HarperCollins for my first YA novel, Wishbones. I now write full time.

To date, I have published five novels: What Milo Saw, The Return of Norah Wells, Before I Was Yours, You Found Me and Wishbones. In 2019 I will be publishing my second YA novel, As Far As The Stars and my fifth novel for adults: The Children’s Secret: these last two novels are my first set in the US, which is where I now live with my husband and my children.’

Follow @virginiawrites @HQStories @Harper360 on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook, Visit virginiamacgregor.com

Buy As Far as The Stars

About the book

How do you change what’s already written in the stars?

Christopher is the sort of guy that no one notices, yet when Air catches sight of him making intricate paper birds in the airport, she can’t look away.

But their worlds are about to collide in ways they never expected. Someone they love is on Flight 0217 from London Heathrow. And it’s missing.

Convinced that her brother was on a different flight, Air drives them hundreds of miles across the country, on a trip that will change their lives forever.

But how do you tell the person you’re falling for that you might just be the reason their life has fallen apart?

Q&A

Before we get down to business (i.e. talking about your book) I would like to ask a set of questions I call ‘Breaking the Ice.’

The last book you read? (Inquisitive bookworms would like to know) I’m currently reading All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It was recommended to me by a reader who read What Milo Saw, my first novel, as it has some themes in common: a child narrator in an adult book and the amazing resources of a child who is, or is going blind. It’s one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time: hugely moving, so intricate and a timely reminder of the atrocities that can come from extremism. It rightly won the Pulitzer prize. I’m going to press it into the hands of any friends who haven’t yet read it. 

The last movie you watched, which you felt left a mark (in your heart, soul, wallet…you name it)?  I recently watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. My husband is a big Martin McDonagh fan and I watched it more for him than for me – I thought it would be another one of those clever dark comedies that wouldn’t sit quite right with me. But I was proved wrong. The unrelenting love of a mother for her daughter and her longing to get justice for her, was beautifully and painfully rendered by Frances McDormand.

Writers or books who have inspired you to put pen to paper? So, so many book and writers have inspired me. Writers range from Barbara Kingsolver, Jon McGregor, Anne Tyler, Carol Shields to Shakespeare and Michael Ondaatje and Roald Dahl. From when, as a child, I worked out that there were writers behind the stories I loved and that writing stories was their job, there was no going back: I decided that that was what I wanted to do. 

Which famous person (dead, alive, barely kicking) would you most like to meet? Leondardo Di Vinci: I’m totally in awe of how he managed to fuse art and science and how he understood the world long before his time. A total genius.

A famous declutterer a la Marie Kondo has decided to help you organise your home – you have to get rid of all but three of your books (the ones you have written yourself are exempt) which three would you pick and why? Well, first, I’d never let her do that! She can have my clothes and my kids’ toys and all the funny shaped cake tins I’ve only used once but she’s keeping her hands off my books! But if I had to give you an answer, I’d pick the following (and every day I’d give you a different answer): 

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. This book taught me about how powerful writing from multiple viewpoints can be – the story is told through the voice of five women, a mother and her four children. It’s a novel that has it all. Amazing characterisation. An epic storyline. An extraordinary sense of place. Universal themes that will be as relevant tomorrow as they were when they were written. And a book that makes you really feel deeply. I cried buckets when reading this novel. 

The Selected Poetry of Mary Oliver. Poetry has that magical quality of revealing new truths every time its read and Mary Oliver’s poetry is just so beautiful – she makes us look at the natural world more closely and gives us so much joy and hope through her beautiful language. She also lived and wrote about New England, which is now where I live.

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson – my favourite children’s book of all time: about as perfect a story as a gets. Courage. Love. Adventure. Friendship. Kindness.

All of the above questions are actually a pretty elaborate pysch evaluation disguised as random questions. Have no fear here come the real ones. Let’s talk about As Far As The Stars.

Let me just take this opportunity to tell you how much I enjoyed your book.

Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration for this story? I’ve always wanted to write a story of first love (I’m a hopeless romantic), so it’s been brewing for a while. But I didn’t want it to be a saccharine or clichéd. So, I waited until I had an idea that would make that first love come to life in an original way. I then became fascinated by how strangers are thrown together in the aftermath of a tragedy: how they go from not knowing each other at all to, sometimes, sharing the most intimate experience of their lives. When the Malaysian airliner went missing in 2014, I wondered how the friends and relatives of the crew and passengers would feel, not knowing what had happened to their loved ones or where they were and having to come to terms with the fact that they might never see them again or recover their bodies. There is also something a bit mysterious about how a big lump of metal can just vanish like that without a trace. All these ideas came together and formed the starting point for As Far As The Stars. 

There are quite a few important storylines in As Far As the Stars. The guilt Air feels, the relationships between the siblings, the relationship between Air and Christopher and the grief they both feel. Which one is the most important to you?For me, all the strands work together but if I had to choose one it would, of course, be the relationship between Air and Christopher: meeting each other changes their lives forever. I loved writing about how these two young people fall in love – and grow and change as their relationship deepens.

Leading on from that, what would you like readers to take away from this story? To be open to the strangers whose lives collide with yours – how those people might just become the most important people in your life. And how, even in the darkest moments, when you experience a loss from which you think you will never recover, there is hope.

Air takes Christopher on an odd sort of nostalgic road trip. Is it because she wants to find Blake at these special locations or feel him there, or perhaps both? Air is in denial about what’s happened to Blake. She is forever convincing herself that he’s going to be okay – so much so that the reader keeps hoping too. But deep down, I think she does know and that visiting these places and showing them to Christopher is her way of clinging onto Blake and trying to keep him alive. 

You disentangle the hierarchy and complex relationships between Blake, Jude and Air.  Why is that so important in this story? I love that you picked this up! The novelist, Anne Tyler, once said that the most interesting character question, for her, is birth order. In February I gave birth to my third child: a little brother to my two older girls. I wrote much of As Far As The Stars when I was pregnant with him and, as I sat there writing and growing my baby boy, I gave lots of thought to how children are affected by where they fall in the family and how my three would be affected by each other. I think I was trying to work out the psychology of my kids through my characters!

Grief plays a pivotal role throughout the story. It’s different for each character and their reactions fuel the story.  You weave emotions of attraction, shock, pain and grief to drive the characters and the story. Was this the way you envisaged it or did the story evolve that way? Psychologists often write about the stages of grief that people go through when they experience a great loss. When researching this I realised that people don’t always go through those stages in the same order or at the same time: that grief is messy and complicated and full of contradictions. That there are moments of joy and humour and love even in the darkest times. How we can take one step forward and then spiral back again. And how the most important element to finding some kind of healing is connection to others. 

Thank you answering all of my questions, even the odd ones. Thank you so much, it’s been a pleasure – your questions were so thoughtful.

Review

Sometimes there are books that can create an emotional bridge between the reader and the story. It’s not the same as being completely enamoured by characters, a plot or experiencing empathy and a rush of emotions for certain elements of a story. It’s the kind of bridge that connects words and heart.

The story is about two young people who become connected forever when a plane goes missing with their loved ones on board. Air thinks there has been a mix-up and Christopher isn’t willing to speak about his own truth just yet.

Air takes Christopher on a road trip of sorts. In a way she is revisiting places she has been with her brother in the hope he will either be there waiting or hoping she will be able to feel him while she is there. Air keeps that sliver of hope alive for herself and for the readers. Perhaps it isn’t beyond the realms of all possibilities that Blake could pop up somewhere along the route – he definitely got on a different plane, right?

I’m not sure if I can capture exactly why this story evoked such a visceral reaction in me, perhaps because I can understand the need to hold on to hope, even when the truth is that all hope is lost. It’s a curious part of human nature, the part of us which needs unequivocal proof before accepting certain things. This is especially the case when it comes to death. It’s often not enough to hear or read the words, sometimes we need to see and feel for it to be accepted as real.

Macgregor shows the similarities between two young people dealing with grief and the differences between the two of them. The result is a canvas bag full of emotional turmoil waiting to implode as they navigate the depths of their loss, and also as the reader waits for the external explosion. The finality of acknowledgement as it pours over the characters like a heavy spring rain shower.

This is a contemporary read, and although it comes under the genre of YA it is a read for all ages, because it is something everyone can relate to in some way, eventually. I loved the subtlety and softness of the approach to the topic of grief.

Buy As Far as The Stars at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher: HQ Young Adult; pub date 18 April 2019. Buy at Amazon com.