Sunday 31 March 2013

Sam Sunday #9: The 'I Finally Moved House' Edition

This is my first blog entry in our new home!  We started looking at houses last July, so it's such a relief to finally be home-owners.  We managed to simultaneously exchange and complete contracts last Thursday at five to five, when the deadline was five.  Thursday was an extremely stressful day, as it was touch and go all day as to whether we would be able to move before all of the Easter bank holidays at all.  We were literally sitting in the removal van with all our furniture waiting for a 'yes' or 'no'.  But luckily it all just worked out (no thanks to our solicitors) and we were able to finish moving on Friday, with lots of help from our families.

The new house is great.  We've not fully unpacked yet but the good thing is that it is so much bigger than the house we were renting.  There's three bedrooms, and I've already chosen which one is going to be my library  :)  The living area downstairs is bigger and the kitchen is enormous compared to what we had before.  It's the first time we've had a house where we've been able to put a large dining table comfortably in the kitchen. The other big change is how quiet the house is - we've gone from a terraced house on a main road to a semi-detached one in a peaceful cul-de-sac.  There's a forest to the rear of the property and it's lovely waking up to birds rather than cars and lorries.

Of course, the reason we were able to afford this large (for our budget) house is because it's in need of serious modernisation/decoration.  I'm talking 70s style blue bathrooms and gold fitted wardrobes.  The kitchen is modern but the rest hasn't been touched for at least ten years and it shows.  I'm looking forward to rolling my sleeves up and getting painting.  The plan is to do one room at a time, as our finances allow.  I can't wait to make it into a beautiful house.

I haven't had time to check anyone's blog since Thursday and I'm on a rubbish three network dongle for the internet as our wi-fi isn't getting installed until April 16th.  But as it's Easter Sunday (happy Easter!), I plan to relax this afternoon and have a bit of a catch-up.  Have I missed anything?

Thursday 28 March 2013

On Hiatus

Things will temporarily be quiet on the blog as I move house and get internet etc. set up in the new place.  We picked up the keys this afternoon, so excited to move into the first house that we own :)

Monday 25 March 2013

The Rape of the Nile by Brian Fagan

"During the past two thousand years Ancient Egypt has effectively been destroyed, both by the Egyptians themselves and by a host of foreigners, many of them arriving in the Nile Valley in the name of science and nationalism.  The loss to archaeology is incalculable, that to Egyptian history even more staggering.  As a result of the looting and pillage of generations of irresponsible visitors, the artifacts and artistic achievements of the Ancient Egyptians are scattered all over the globe, some of the most beautiful and spectacular of them stored or displayed thousands of miles from the Nile." 
(From pages 11-12)

Ever since I was a little girl, I've loved learning about Ancient Egypt.  I remember trips to the British Museum with my Mum to gawp at the Rosetta stone and writing my name in hieroglyphs at primary school.  Later, at university, I studied Egyptian language as part of a linguistics unit and I've read countless books on the Ancient Egyptians themselves.  The story of the European rediscovery of the Nile Valley in the eighteenth and nineteenth century is an exciting one, full of Indiana Jones type figures, such as Giovanni Belzoni.  But in The Rape of the Nile, Fagan challenges the actions of Western treasure seekers and archaeologists.  Who gave them the right to remove the artifacts from Egypt and keep them in foreign museums?

It's hard to argue with Fagan's arguments as there is some shocking behaviour on the part of early Egyptologists in the book.  Whilst Fagan does cover tomb robbing and looting through Ancient Egyptian to Islamic times, the real pillage only starts with the arrival of Westerners in the form of Napoleon's expedition.  We read about tombs being blown open with dynamite (and a near miss with one of the great pyramids), reliefs scraped off walls and my personal favourite,  a sarcophagus being chopped in two as the whole thing was harder to transport.  The early treasure seekers had little more than the desire to acquire exotic things, so there was no attempt at scientific recording or archaeology.  So much was lost.

Fagan does balance his argument with stories of the pioneers who tried to make archaeology in Egypt more scientific and less about the treasure seeking, but it all comes too little too late.  Egypt doesn't get a fully functioning national museum until late in the day and the patronising 'we can look after them better than you' attitude continues to this day.  I read an early edition of this book (1977) but I know there is a more up to date one out there - it would be interesting to see what Fagan makes of the modern argument that Western museums should return some of their treasures to Cairo, put forward by people like Hawass.  However, the benefit of reading the 1977 edition (pulled out of the reserve stacks of the library) was that it was a beautiful copy, hard back with illustrations on most pages. 

I loved this book, but I can appreciate that some people might find it a little dry.  Fagan has an engaging writing style but the book is fairly detailed and you would need a keen interest in Egyptology before starting in order to enjoy it properly.  It's one I would recommend though, it's got a good balance of the history of what happened to Egypt in modern time and of the moral issues surrounding Egyptology.

Source: Library
First Published: 1975
Score: 4.5 out of 5

Read Alongside:
Egypt: How A Lost Civilization was Rediscovered by Joyce Tyldesley (link to goodreads): I read this one pre-blogging and it's a great introduction to the big personalities in the European rediscovery of Egypt, Carter (who found Tut), Champollion (who deciphered hieroglyphs) and Belzoni (who collected the treasures of the British Museum).

Sunday 24 March 2013

Sam Sunday #8 - Almost...

It's been a frustrating two weeks.  We're still working towards moving house and it still feels like we are never going to actually move!  Since my last personal update, we have actually paid the solicitors and completed all the legal work but we have still not exchanged contracts, let alone set a completion date.  On Thursday I phoned the solicitors and got a verbal confirmation that everything was done, and that we were definitely going to exchange contracts on Friday.

But no! I spent all Friday in stressful anticipation with nothing actually happening.  Eventually, after many phone calls, I was told something hadn't been done properly (some paperwork to do with the mortgage).  It's apparently easily fixed, but don't tell me everything is done and I can exchange contracts if that isn't true! Naturally, this was all happening at about a quarter to five after we had spent the entire day trying to find out what exactly was going on.  My solicitors are so incompetent that I'm going to name and shame them: if you're in the UK, never go with Countrywide Property Lawyers.

The result of them not doing their job properly is that we are now going to be temporarily homeless.  We have to be out of our rental house on Thursday; even if we exchange contracts tomorrow (we had better!), it's unlikely we'll be able to complete by Thursday.  And then it's the Easter bank holiday weekend, so we're looking at Tuesday week at the earliest.  Which means all our stuff/furniture will have to go into storage and we'll have to try to convince a relative to look after our cat.  Tom and I will be staying with my parents.

It's just so stressful and frustrating.  We kept being told that everything is done, only for some other small thing to pop up and derail the process yet again.  After losing the last house and now this, I'm pretty sure that I won't be moving again for at least ten years!  On the stressful life event scale, this has been much more stressful than planning a wedding.

In other news, this is the last week of school before the two week Easter break.  I'd normally be more excited, but I've been a bit mentally preoccupied.  Hopefully we can get into the new house at some point during the break and all the stress will be forgotten.

How has your week been?

Saturday 23 March 2013

Library Haul #3

Over the past couple of weeks, I have slowly and steadily been acquiring library books.  Most of my own books are packed away and I'm attempting to read most of the Women's Prize longlist; the combination of  these factors has led to me checking out lots of books.  At the moment, I have the following at home:


1. Sexual Chemistry: A History of the Contraceptive Pill by Lara Marks - I've been taking a course on contraceptives on Coursera and it's gotten me interested in the creation of the contraceptive pill and the way it changed women's lives forever.  This looks fascinating, with chapters on religious opposition and controversies.  Can't wait to read it.
2. The Marlowe Papers by Ros Wilson - What if Shakespeare's plays were actually written by Christopher Marlowe?  This is a novel in verse exploring that concept.  It's a beautiful hardback, I picked it up this morning and hope to have time to start it soon.
3. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson - I was a bit 'meh' about this one when I saw the Women's Prize longlist but one of my favourite bloggers recently described it as 'Harry Potter meets Arabian Nights' so I am now officially intrigued.


4. Beauty by Robin McKinley - (Already read) I kept seeing McKinley mentioned on blogs but hadn't picked up any of her fairytale retellings for myself.  Aside from the horrific cover, this retelling of the beauty and the beast fairytale was simply wonderful.  I wasn't sure in the beginning but as soon as Beauty arrived at the enchanted castle, I was captivated.  The best romance I've read in a long, long time.
5. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder - I am on a fantasy kick thanks to George R.R. Martin.  This series is supposed to be good, so I will give it a go.
6. The Rape of the Nile by Brian Fagan (Already read).  Loved this non-fiction account of the tomb robbers, treasure seekers and tourists that have looted and wrecked the Nile Valley.  I've been on a run of good books lately.


All for the Women's Prize.  I'm reading the Stedman now and enjoying it.  I was particularly surprised to receive NW so quickly, last week I was number 11 on the list but a few days later it was waiting for me, must be some weird quirk of the library reservation system.

Have you read any of these books?

Wednesday 20 March 2013

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

Quaker Honor Bright sails to America with her sister Grace in the 1850s to escape the shame of being jilted.  After a tumultuous journey, Grace dies of yellow fever soon after arriving in the US and Honor is left to travel alone to the home of her almost brother in law, Adam Cox.  Everything is different in Ohio, from the sounds of the forest to the quilting techniques used by the women, and Honor struggles to find her place.  Life is harsh and unsentimental and Honor has only tenuous links to the community around her.  When she chances upon the underground railway, a system to help runaway slaves make it north to Canada, Honor has to decide whether she has the courage to stand up for her beliefs.

Reading a Chevalier novel is such a comfortable experience as you know before starting that the writing is going to be good and the story engaging.  And The Last Runaway was no exception; within the first few places I had sunk into the story and it swept me away easily.  Chevalier is very clever at immersing you in the historical setting and characters immediately - I didn't need much reading time or many pages to have a grasp of the main characters and this made the reading experience both easy and enjoyable.

I didn't know much about Quakers before reading The Last Runaway, although I knew they were heavily involved in anti-slavery movements.  Honor wrestles a lot with her conscience as she feels duty bound to fight the injustice of slavery but she is also bound by her promise as a Quaker not to lie.  There's also some interesting moments where Honor realises that it's one thing to have a belief, but quite another to put it into practise.  She believes in equality of the races but still has moments like this;

"She hesitated for a moment when she realised she would be putting her mouth where the Negro's had been.  But that thought was a mere flicker, and she lowered her mouth to the rock.  The water tasted wonderful."

This added honesty to the book and made it believable for the 1850s setting.  The two strands of the story concerning the runaway slaves and Honor running away from her past/future tied together well.  Honor as a main character was likeable with just enough fire in her to keep the story moving well.  Her indecision about what to do with her life was portrayed well and I liked the ambiguity in some of the secondary characters, such as the slave hunter Donovan.  The whole thing felt very believable.

On the whole, a solidly enjoyable book.  I didn't love it in the same way I loved Remarkable Creatures but I thoroughly enjoyed settling down with it each evening.

Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
First Published: 2013
Score: 4 out of 5

Monday 18 March 2013

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

Warning: this post contains spoilers.

A Feast for Crows picks up directly after the dramatic events of A Storm of Swords.  Robb Stark, the King in the North, is dead.  King Joffrey is dead.  Balon Grejoy is dead.  Tyrion has left King's Landing after murdering his father, Tywin.  Sansa is with Littlefinger in the Eyrie, realising just how power hungry he is.  Arya has boarded a ship for Westeros, Daenarys is dealing with the uncomfortable information that Ser Jorah Mormont was a spy and Jon Snow has just become Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.

It's safe to say that A Feast for Crows has a lot of loose ends to pick up and a lot of consequences to deal with.  I was pre-warned before reading that the pace slows considerably in this volume and that only some of the main characters are featured.  It's a good thing I was warned otherwise the lack of Jon, Daenarys and especially Tyrion would have been irritating.  But as I was expecting it, I found the change of pace welcome after the drama of A Storm of Swords and I actually really enjoyed getting to meet some new characters and places.

I think one of the reasons that I loved A Feast for Crows is that it focuses on a lot of the women characters.  In King's Landing, Cersei Lannister has finally got the power she has been craving all along as regent for young King Tommen, but now that she has it, she has no idea how to use it.  It's fun to watch her blundering along from mistake to mistake and to finally see her outplayed by a younger version of herself, Margaery Tyrell.  Cersei is one of the few 'love to hate' characters (her only redeeming feature is her love for her children), so there's a lot of satisfaction in seeing the mighty fall.

A large part of the plot of this volume takes part in Dorne, a kingdom to the far South that seems to be loosely modelled on Arabia.  At the end of book three, Prince Oberyn was murdered by the Mountain and we get to see how Prince Doran and the many women of the royal family react.  I just loved Dorne - if I was to be a member of any of the houses, I would be a Martell.  Similarly, I appreciated the new setting of Braavos, which was a bit like medieval Venice.

One issue I keep finding with this series is that in every volume, there seems to be one character that is doomed to spend the novel wandering aimlessly around Westeros.  For the last few books, it was Arya Stark.  Now Arya has more of a plot in Braavos, the role of 'looking for things unsuccessfully' fell to Brienne, a character I had previously enjoyed.  But in this novel, she just moved around without a clear idea of where she was going and it became a bit tedious.  Hopefully we'll be spared a wandering character in Dance with Dragons.

I think I'm in the minority as I actually enjoyed this as much as Storm of Swords.  Yes, there was less action and shocking events were fewer and far between, but I loved journeying with Martin to new areas of Westeros.  I'm glad I was pre-warned about the book only focusing on some of the main characters and can't wait to start Dance with Dragons to see what Jon, Daenarys and Tyrion have been up to.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2005
Score: 5 out of 5

Saturday 16 March 2013

Women's Prize for Fiction 2013 Long-list

Last year, I challenged myself to reading the entirety of the long-list for the Orange Prize.  Needless to say, I failed miserably (I think I got up to 12 in the end), but I read some fantastic books, including the eventual winner, Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles. So I was excited at the announcement of this year's long-list in the week and whilst I'm not going to challenge myself or put myself under any kind of pressure to read all of them, I hope to get through a decent number.  Here are my thoughts on the titles selected:


1. The Innocents by Francesca Segal - This is a rewrite of Wharton's 'The Age of Innocence' set in an insular Jewish community in London.  This title was already on my wishlist as I love to read about Jewish culture/history, so I went ahead and reserved it at the library.  I'm number 17 on the list, so I could be waiting a while.
2. N-W by Zadie Smith - I don't know how I haven't read this book yet as 1) I love Zadie Smith and 2) I'm from London, although the North East part rather than the North West. I'm number 1 on the reserve list for this title, so expect a review shortly.  I'm expecting this to make the short-list.
3. Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver - I'm a Kingsolver fan but something about the plot of this one (rural Appalachian mountains, young mother trying to find herself) doesn't appeal to me as much as her other stories have.  But I will read it (I'm number 18 in the list) as I'll be mighty shocked if this isn't short-listed, given that Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna were.


4. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson - So excited for this book, lots of bloggers I trust have published early reviews stating that it is wonderful.  Who hasn't thought about getting a second chance at life?  My library has a copy on order but the reserve list is ginormous, so I've treated myself to the kindle edition.  I'll be reading this soon.
5. A Trick I Learned From Dead Men by Kitty Aldridge -  This is supposedly a sad yet funny story centered around a funeral home, but it doesn't really appeal to me.  I'll probably give this one a miss.
6. Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel - This is the one book on the list I've actually read, and I didn't like it. But then, I didn't really like Wolf Hall either.  Mantel has won so many prizes now I would like to see someone else get a look in.


7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - I know this book has had rave reviews State-side, but it doesn't appeal to me as I'm not a thriller reader.
8. The People of Forever are not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu - This is about three friends conscripted into the Israeli army.  I've requested it from Netgalley, fingers crossed I'm approved.
9. The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber - A novel in verse about Marlowe actually being Shakespeare - yes please!  I'm number 2 in the reserve list for this, can't wait!


10. The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan - I'd love to read this story of a Harvard college reunion, but unfortunately it's not in my library system.  
11. May we be Forgiven by A. M. Homes and 12. How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti - I won't be reading these titles.


13. Ignorance by Michele Roberts - I've read too many world war two books to be overly excited by this one set in France.  I will read it if it makes the short-list.
14. The Forrests by Emily Perkins - This appears to be a book people love or hate.  I've reserved it so will get to find out soon for myself.
15. Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam - The subtitle of this one is 'Tommie is eleven, David Lamb is fifty-four. There's nothing wrong with that, is there?'  It's not in my local library system yet.


16. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman - Another book that was already on my wishlist thanks to rave blogger reviews.  I'll be reading this soon.
17. Honour by Elif Shafak - I already have a Netgalley copy of this story of a Turkish family living in London. I'm going to be reading this with Jo.
18. Where'd you go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple - Like Gone Girl, this has had a big impact in the USA.  I will probably read it at some point.


19. Alife the Unseen by G.Willow Wilson - This is unlike any other book on the list as it's about Arabian hackers.  Therefore, I'm looking forward to reading it!
20. Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany - I would be mightily shocked if this made it to the short-list. I'm giving it a miss.

Have you read any of these books?
Do you intend to?

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Bitter Greens is part historical fiction, part fairytale.  The story opens with Charlotte-Rose de la Force, who has just been banished from the Court at Versailles after a series of scandals and rumours.  She arrives at a convent, where she is stripped of her fine clothes and set to work.  After a while, Charlotte-Rose is befriended by an older nun, Souer Seraphina, who tells her the story of a young pregnant girl who once visited a witch.  During her pregnancy she became desperate for the taste of the bitter herb Rapunzel, leading her husband, a Venetian mask-maker, to steal some from the home of Selena Leonelli.  The child, Margherita, grew up only to be stolen away by Selena and imprisoned in a tower.  Told in first person, the story switches between the three women (Charlotte-Rose, Margherita and Selena) and places the Rapunzel fairytale firmly in a time and place.

I loved Bitter Greens! I was expecting to enjoy it (I like both fairytales and historical fiction), but I was so impressed with the way Forsyth knitted the two genres together.  The fairytale/magical elements were seamlessly woven into the historical plot so subtly that they seemed almost ordinary.  Forsyth put a spin on some of the famous elements of the fairy tale so that they fit in with the historical story she wanted to tell.  For example, when Margherita is imprisoned, she has the hair of those who came before her plaited into her own, to make her supernaturally long braid.  The first time Selena climbs up it, Margerita's pain is vividly described and this added just enough to make it seem like a human story, rather than just a fairy tale.  Forsyth isn't constrained by the original story, but instead broadens it to include politics, love, gender issues and the fear of witchcraft.

Another thing I enjoyed was the Venetian setting.  I read a few books set in Venice for the 'Venice in February' challenge last year (The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric being my favourite) and Forsyth managed to portray a charming Venice with a darker side too.  The carnevale is prominent and the dingy romance of the setting suited the magical elements of the story.  All three characters were a product of their time and there were no jarring slips into modern thought or action.

Bitter Greens is a chunky book but well worth reading.  The three perspectives weave in and out of each other and Forsyth goes from making you feel utter sympathy for imprisoned Margherita, to giving you an understand of Selena, in just a few chapters.  I'm still thinking about it a week after finishing it.  Bitter Greens is the first book I've read by Forsyth, but I will definitely be looking out for more.

Source: Review copy via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
First Published: Feb 2013 (in the UK)
Score: 4.5 out of 5

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Top Ten Books on my Spring 2013 TBR List

I'm a somewhat sporadic participator in Top Ten Tuesday, but every now and again I see a topic that I can't let pass by.  Plus, I've been reading some chunksters lately so my blog feels a little neglected and in need of a bookish post!  The topic this week is 'top ten books on my spring 2013 TBR list'.  My picks aren't new necessarily new releases, they're just books I want to get to soon.

1. The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier - I was so excited to receive a copy of this book through Netgalley!  Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures is one of my favourite historical fiction novels, so I'm looking forward to her new story, about the Quakers in 1850s Ohio.
2. The Rape of the Nile by Brian M. Fagan - This is an old book (1975) about a topic that fascinates me - the rush to find and loot Egyptian artefacts in the 18th and 19th centuries.  I'm interested in Egyptology and have spent many a day at the British Museum in front of the Rosetta stone, but should we really have these artefacts?  Did the early archaeologists and treasure hunters/looters do more harm than good?


3. My Promised Land by Ari Shavit - Israel fascinates me, so I'm looking forward to this title, which promises to be part biography, part history and part politics.  Another Netgalley copy, this one is published in May.
4. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin - I am 100 pages from the end of A Feast for Crows at the moment.  I will NEED to read the next book asap.  After Dance with Dragons it's going to be a long wait for the next book in the series to be published.


5. On Gold Mountain by Lisa See - I love Lisa See's fiction books so I'm excited to read this non-fiction account of her family and their emigration to the USA.
6. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne - This is the classic I'm in the mood for at the moment.  This may change before I get to it, I'm very fickle with classics.


7. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson - I've heard so many good things about this book but only recently picked up a copy.  It'll be my first Atkinson.
8. The Lullaby of Polish Girls by Dagmara Dominczyk - This one is a new release, about three friends coming of age after migrating from Poland to America due to political upheaval.  I'm looking forward to it as I've never read anything about Poland really, be it fiction or non-fiction.


9. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan - I am in a fantasy mood lately.  When I lived with my parents, I read up to book 7 in the Wheel of Time series but then just stopped.  I feel the urge to read it again but it's been so many years I will need to go back to the beginning.  This is going to fill the hole that will be left when I finish Dance with Dragons (hopefully!).
10. Conquistadors by Michael Wood - I've been teaching my year 6's about the Aztecs this term and we spent a week on the discovery of Tenochtitlan by Hernan Cortes and his conquistadors.  Now I want to find out more and this book seems perfect for the task.

So at the moment, these are my reading plans.  It'll be interesting to see how many of them I actually read, as I read on whim and change my mind constantly! I'm anticipating that the announcement of the longlist for the Orange Prize/Women's Prize on Wednesday will change my plans somewhat, as it usually brings all sorts of wonderful books to my attention.

What are your reading plans for this Spring?

Sunday 10 March 2013

Sam Sunday 7: Mother's Day Edition

Me and my Mum on my wedding day in 2011 :)

Today is Mother's Day here in the UK (although apparently not in the USA?), so I'm looking forward to visiting my parents for lunch in a few hours.  I've baked a traditional Victoria sandwich cake and I'm planning on taking that round with some berries and clotted cream so we can have a bit of an afternoon tea and laze around not doing much.  My Mum is fantastic, she's always been there for me during my fair share of ups and downs.  I'm also fortunate to have a lovely mother-in-law too, who is nothing like the nasty mother-in-law stereotype!

Aside from that, my week this week has been consumed with work, which I'm not allowed to write about, so there isn't much to say.  Our landlord has found a new tenant for our current house and they're moving in on April 1st, so we are pushing the solicitors to ensure we have moved into our house by then.  It looks OK at the moment, but they really do need a lot of nagging to get things done!

We've started packing and my books have been the first things to go into the boxes.  Of course I saw this as an excuse to go on a reserving spree at the library.  Never mind that I have a kindle full of unread books, I must have physical books around me at all times too!  I've spent the whole week absorbed in A Feast for Crows, book four of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.  I'm about 200 pages from the end and it's so good I don't want it to finish.  After this one, there's only one more book in the series currently published and then I'm in for a long wait.

This week, I've been reading:

Review posted:

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Vow by Wendy Plump

Vow is a memoir of adultery and the destruction of a marriage.  Wendy met Bill in college and they married in their late twenties, only to see their marriage eventually destroyed by a string of affairs on both sides.  Vow is an honest account of these affairs, focusing mainly on Bill's final affair, the one that led to their relationship breaking up for good.  Wendy is the first to commit adultery, conducting three affairs before the birth of their first child.  They manage to move on from these and from two affairs on Bill's side, but the revelation that Bill's final affair is not in fact over and that there is now a child involved is the final straw for their relationship and Wendy must try to move forward with her life.

I was very interested to read this book as I'm still early on in my own marriage.  My husband and I have been together for almost ten years (this September!) but have only been married for just under two.  We're lucky to have a strong, trusting and supportive relationship but I know from those around me how quickly that can be destroyed when trust is gone.  Adultery is very common, but it's one of those taboo subjects that no one seems to talk about. So I was attracted to a book about it, to read an honest portrayal of what it is like from both sides of the fence.

And Vow certainly was honest.  Plump writes with honesty even when she is in the wrong, even when it might turn the reader against her.  Her first affair comes to light by her confession to her husband and Plump writes in detail about this scene.  After describing his total shock and rage, she complains about his anger as that made her feel bad.  It's hard to feel sympathy with her at this point but that's one of the strengths of this memoir; it's not sugar coated. In fact, my feelings towards Plump remained ambiguous throughout.  It was clear to me that their relationship was lacking even before the affairs started and I did feel very sorry for her in the sections dealing with her response to her husband fathering another child and installing the 'other woman' in a house of her own, but at the same time I was frustrated by her inability to think of the consequences, to chase adrenaline but then not want to face up to the aftermath.  But I guess marital breakdown is like that - there are no easy answers.

Another strength of Vow was the surprisingly good writing.  I was expecting honesty from the book, but I wasn't expecting writing this good.  The whole text flows and Plump manages to tell her story non-chronologically in a way that isn't confusing at all.  At times the writing veers on the poetic with some poignant descriptions of emotions.  I particularly liked her husband nailed to the spot by "the blade of truth" and the following;

"driving home from that meeting, I felt as if someone had switched on a set of beaters in my stomach and blended my organs all to hell."

Vow isn't a book to read if you want answers to the question of extra-marital affairs.  The only advice Plump offers is to appreciate the beauty in the everyday comfort rather than allowing your relationship to become stuck and boring.  It's a highly personal case study, but it did make me think about my own marriage and reflect on the way we choose to live our lives.  I'd definitely recommend it, but don't expect any easy answers.

Source: From the publisher, via Netgalley
Published: 2013
Score: 4 out of 5