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Book Nook - 06-03-2017

Monday, March 06, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to [email protected]

It’s All In The Stars
The Shadow Sister is the third in Lucinda Riley’s series of novels based on the D’Aplièse sisters, seven of them named after, and loosely inspired by the mythology of the star cluster known as the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. It’s a thick tome, and for fans of romance and history, an absorbing read.

The sisters were adopted from different parts of the world, by an elusive billionaire they called Pa Salt, and grew up in a fabulous mansion called Atlantis in Geneva. When he died, he left all of them a clue to their past as a legacy. Then it was up to them to hunt for their origins or leave it at that.  An earlier novel, The Storm Sister went from Brazil to Norway. This one travels the distance from Edwardian England to the present in London and the beautiful countryside of Kent, following two very different love stories.

Asterope or Star D’Aplièse is the quiet, bookish one,  manipulated into an uncomfortable togetherness by her fickle sister CeCe, who takes her for granted. Still mourning the death of their father, Star is forced to relocate to a lovely but soulless city apartment by CeCe. She is rescued from boredom by taking a few steps towards finding out about her past, which, according to the clue has something to do with an antiquarian bookshop in London, run by the whimsical Orlando Forbes, who talks her into taking up a job as his assistant. On one occasion, he drags her to his country house, a once grand but now dilapidated High Weald, run by his sullen brother called ‘Mouse’, their cousin Marguerite Vaughan and seven-year-old Rory, who is hearing impaired.

She is somehow connected to them through a woman called Flora MacNichol, whose diaries lead Star to the Lake District in the late 19th century, where the bright and independent girl grew up, with her rather distant parents and sister Aurelia. Her home is close to the cottage of writer Beatrix Potter, who goes on to become an important catalyst in her life.

Star’s Mills & Boon-ish story is interspersed with that of Flora, and the latter is far more interesting. Star finds herself cooking, keeping house and minding Rory, which she likes—preferring to be a domestic creature rather than a career woman. It is no spoiler that the rude guy whom she does not like, will end up the love of her life.

Flora knows that she is not the favoured daughter, when Aurelia is taken to London for her society debut, where, it is hoped she will snare the handsome Archie, or Lord Vaughan.  Archie, however, falls in love with Flora. The families want the Aurelia-Archie match, and so the house is sold to raise a dowry for Aurelia, while Flora is sent to the lavish home of the enigmatic Alice Keppel --famously the mistress of King Edward VII—as a kind of governess to her two daughters.  (Another real-life character making a guest appearance is the headstrong Vita Sackville-West.)

Keppel transform the shy Flora into an elegant society lady, but her life remains unstable and she is soon evicted from this haven too; her love for her sister makes her sacrifice Archie for her sake. It is clear to the reader that Flora is treated shabbily by her parents for a reason, but what it turns out to be is scandalously gossipy.

Both Star and Flora’s lives and loves have crazy ups and downs, with quite a few twists to be found along the way.  For some reason, Lucinda Riley paints Star as a very old-fashioned young woman, who actually enjoys slaving in the kitchen. Flora, who has fewer choices in a patriarchal society (this was the time when men inherited titles and estates, and could evict their mothers and unmarried sisters on the death of their father), still manages her life with a fearless dignity.

This can be read as a standalone novel, and the books about the other sisters’ quests for their roots will undoubtedly be a mix of historical and modern romance combined with adventure.
The Shadow Sister
By Lucinda Riley
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 704

Excerpt of The Shadow Sister (With the publisher’s permission)
I will always remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard that my father had died . . .

With my pen still suspended above the sheet of paper, I looked up at the July sun – or, at least, the small ray of it that had managed to trickle between the window and the redbrick wall a few yards in front of me. All of the windows in our tiny apartment looked onto its blandness and, despite today’s beautiful weather, it was dark inside. So very different from my childhood home, Atlantis, on the shores of Lake Geneva. I realised I had been seated exactly where I was now when CeCe had come into our miserable little sitting room to tell me that Pa Salt was dead.

I put down the pen and went to pour myself a glass of water from the tap. It was clammy and airless in the sticky heat and I drank thirstily as I contemplated the fact that I didn’t need to do this – to put myself through the pain of remembering. It was Tiggy, my younger sister, who, when I’d seen her at Atlantis just after Pa died, had suggested the idea.

‘Darling Star,’ she’d said, when some of us sisters had gone out onto the lake to sail, simply trying to distract ourselves from our grief, ‘I know you find it hard to speak about how you feel. I also know you’re full of pain. Why don’t you write your thoughts down?’ On the plane home from Atlantis two weeks ago, I’d thought about what Tiggy had said. And this morning, that’s what I had endeavoured to do.

I stared at the brick wall, thinking wryly that it was a perfect metaphor for my life just now, which at least made me smile. And the smile carried me back to the scarred wooden table that our shady landlord must have picked up for nothing in a junk shop. I sat back down and again picked up the elegant ink pen Pa Salt had given me for my twenty-fi rst birthday.

‘I will not start with Pa’s death,’ I said out loud. ‘I will start when we arrived here in London—’

The crash of the front door closing startled me and I knew it was my sister, CeCe. Everything she did was loud. It seemed beyond her to put a cup of coffee down without banging it onto the surface and slopping its contents everywhere. She had also never grasped the concept of an ‘indoor voice’ and shouted her words to the point where, when we were small,

Ma was once worried enough to get her hearing tested. Of course, there was nothing wrong with it. In fact, it was the opposite – CeCe’s hearing was overdeveloped. There was nothing wrong with me when a year later Ma took me to a speech therapist, concerned at my lack of chatter.

‘She has words there, she just prefers not to use them,’ the therapist had explained. ‘She will when she’s ready.’ At home, in an attempt to communicate with me, Ma had taught me the basics of French sign language.

‘So whenever you want or need something,’ she’d said to me, ‘you can use it to tell me how you feel. And this is how I feel about you right now.’ She’d pointed at herself, crossed her palms over her heart, then pointed at me. ‘I – love – you.’

CeCe had learnt it quickly too, and the two of us had adopted and expanded what had begun as a means of communication with Ma to form our own private language – a mixture of signs and made-up words – using it when people were around and we needed to talk. We’d both enjoyed the baffled looks on our sisters’ faces as I’d sign a sly comment across the breakfast table and we’d both dissolve into helpless giggles.

These days, when cancer can strike anybody at any time, Sophie Sabbage’s book teaches how not to be a victim. According to the synopsis, “This book does not offer a cure for cancer. It offers a cure for your fear of cancer. Sophie Sabbage's breakthrough book combines practical advice with a new approach that turns traditional attitudes to cancer on their head.

Sophie Sabbage was diagnosed with late stage 'incurable' lung cancer in October 2014. She was 48 years old, happily married with a 4-year-old daughter. Since that day - when doctors told Sophie that her prognosis was poor - she has been on a remarkable journey of healing and transformation that has reshaped her vocation as well as changed her life for the better.

The Cancer Whisperer chronicles Sophie's extraordinary relationship with cancer and the methods that she has used for dealing with fear, anger, denial and grief. The essence of 'cancer whispering' was born of Sophie's determination to take cancer off the battlefield and into the classroom. Instead of going to war with it, Sophie has chosen to listen to it, learn from it and choose her own response to it.

Sophie offers a radically different way of relating to this disease both mentally and practically: she shares the research she has done, the treatments she has chosen, the diet she follows and the resources that she feels have made the biggest differences in the hope that they will help others cut through the mass of information out there.

Sophie says: 'This book is for the cancer patient who wants to remain a dignified, empowered human being even when your doctors and diagnosis are scaring the hell out of you. It is also for the cancer patient who has a hunch that there is something for them to learn, gain or even be transformed by - if they just knew how to relate to this disease differently to the way most of society does. It is for the cancer patient, perhaps any patient.'”

The Cancer Whisperer
By Sophie Sabbage
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 217

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