Sugar and Snails by Anne Goodwin

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At fifteen, Diana Dodworth took the opportunity to radically alter the trajectory of her life, and escape the constraints of her small-town existence. Thirty years on, she can’t help scratching at her teenage decision like a scabbed wound.

To safeguard her secret, she’s kept other people at a distance… until Simon Jenkins sweeps in on a cloud of promise and possibility. But his work is taking him to Cairo, and he expects Di to fly out for a visit. She daren’t return to the city that changed her life; nor can she tell Simon the reason why.

Sugar and Snails takes the reader on a poignant journey from Diana’s misfit childhood, through tortured adolescence to a triumphant mid-life coming-of-age that challenges preconceptions about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be.

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I want to start by thanking Anne Goodwin for asking me to review Sugar and Snails. It’s the first book I’ve read in a long time that provoked the words ‘I can’t actually believe that just happened’; ‘I did NOT see that coming’; ‘Orange is the New Black can WAIT! I HAVE to read the next chapter’ exit my mouth. For these reasons and some others, it’s one of the books that I have been most excited about reviewing since starting out on my little reviewing sideline. Its one of those books that I want to talk and talk about but because of my religious beliefs (Thou Shalt Not Provide Spoilers) its the one book that I can’t talk about at all! Because much like the classic Bruce Willis thriller The Sixth Sense, once you know the twist, you’ll never see it the same again. But I’ll give it a go…

Sugar and Snails follows Diana, a middle aged, moderately successful psychology lecturer. Despite her good education and a position at one of the top universities in the country, her head is firmly stuck in the sand, but is at serious risk of being dislodged through the efforts of an ever helpful friend and a prospective love interest.  The story is told through Diana’s voice. I’m not often a fan of books with a single voice, but I can’t imagine Diana’s story being told any other way. She narrates her life in the first person, with a graceful poise that transcends the upheaval that she has encountered on her journey. Goodwin delicately navigates through Diana’s memories and emotions with a nimble dexterity, gently guiding the reader as we plunge into Diana’s psyche with a tenderness that was never afforded our heroine. That is until we discover Diana’s secret around half way through when it feels as though we’ve sidestepped into a raging torrent of ice; not because of what the secret is, but because of Goodwin’s sudden shift from softly subtle to pointedly direct.

It is around this point that I realised how perfectly this book is written. With one sentence, Goodwin forced me to simultaneously question all preceding events while doubting my expectations for the remainder of the book. It felt like being frozen in a tangled crossroads of possibilities; a deer caught in the headlights moment, if you will, which is how I imagine Diana must have felt more than once throughout her life.

Anne Goodwin

The Author, Anne Goodwin

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Sugar and Snails is the  classic example of why one should absolutely never begin writing a book review before the reading of said book is finished. When reviewing, I always make a few mental notes as I read, thinking about what I’ll say about the book, themes I’ve picked up on etc. Inevitably, very few of my Sugar and Snails notes have proved useful due to the surprising turn of events circa 56% in (thank you Kindle with your ever precise page counting techniques), but there is one such note that I think is still valid. It is this: The book’s main focus is a decision made by a 15 year old, and the consequential lifestyle and doctorate research led by Diana about the ability of adolescents to make meaningful decisions. In real life, adolescents are made to make some of the most important decisions of their lives, especially with regards to their education and future careers. They also think that they are the only ones having to make these decisions and that nothing will ever be simple again and the world will probably end next Wednesday. I’m sure we can all agree that for the most part, these are all very correct and reasonable observations for teenagers to make. I therefore think it would be very useful to have this book available in all high schools. Either in the library or as part of a lesson taught by an open minded teacher who is not easily embarrassed. Because despite some controversial topics, or maybe because of said controversy, and while not everyone faces Diana’s dilemma, we could all be better rounded people for learning about said dilemma in order to support those who do have such a decision to make.

Sugar and Snails deserves to be pushed to the front of the queue in all book club reading lists. The depth of the characters and the intricate problems that they face will provide so many discussion points. Now that I know the twist, I am excited to reread Sugar and Snails and to pick up on the many muted clues sprinkled throughout the text.  So please, for me, read this book. If you can’t do it for me (rude) do it for you. Just go now. Buy it. Read it. Then come talk to me about it. Because it is absurdly brilliant.

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To Kindle or not to Kindle …

… that is the question.

So, its that time of year again.  A time to ponder exceedingly critical questions. A time to explore the potential possibilities.  A time to sit myself down in front of the mirror and ask myself, hey! What do I want for my birthday?

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And I have to say, ladies and gents, I think the time may possibly have come for me to modernise my bookshelf and hop onto the digital bandwagon.  But should I? and if so, which digital enhancer of my beloved dusty page tomes should I go for?!??!

I’ve actually been pondering this question for a while, since one evening circa 2012 circa early spring.  I was at a SYP (Society of Young Publishers) event at the Adelphi in Leeds.  I am not a young publisher or any type of publisher, but had trotted off to Leeds anyway to support my very clever friend, Megan, who had organised the event.  Also, there was promise of books and book people and people talking about books.  Oh yeah and the free wine.  I am a nice and supportive friend. (Wine).

It was a most intriguing evening, headlined by a debate on the merits of old fangled, paper tomes verses the shiny new e-readers now available for one and all to purchase and delight in.  I won’t re-iterate what was said that evening, largely because I can’t remember it, but it did get me thinking.

I have always loved books.  I fell asleep whilst cradling books as a baby and I have lived in books ever since.  There’s something very comforting and reliable about all those pages, beautifully bound and wrapped in a soft, inviting cover.  I would most definitely be one of those “book pervs”, as we were affectionately referred to by an e-reader enthusiast that evening, who like to smell and stroke and feel a book.  And yes. Yes I do judge books by their covers.  Anyone who says that they do not are the very worst kind of liar.  But I digress.

Though it pains me to say it, there are some drawbacks to the book.  Over the years, my book collection has reached mountainous proportions, with the occasional dip and fluctuation procured by the odd cull and consequential trip to the Oxfam bookshop in town, where the collection is inevitably re-filled. (LOVE the Oxfam bookshop).  Books take up lots of room.  Books are also a cause of stress when it comes to packing for a holiday.  If you are a quick reader, you will need at least two medium sized novels, or a great stonking big one to see you through your week abroad.  There’s so much time to fill – the waiting around in the airport, the flight, the hours of baking in the sun, the depressing flight home, prefaced with a lengthy delay surrounded by unhealthily chirpy people who want to engage you in conversation.  Of course, this time can also be spent talking to whoever you’re on holiday with or seeing the sights, but y’know, just in case those things turn out to be boring…

In both these cases, surely an e-reader that can hold thousands of books in its diminutive frame is the answer?  It removes any storage worries and probably makes the airport check-in desk much less stressful.  (We’ve all been there. The last minute, blood pressure raising panic, “I knew I shouldn’t have brought 5 bikinis, maybe I can throw my towel away and dry myself by rolling around in the sand like a dog, damn I should have worn a bigger hat and hidden stuff under there. But I will NOT throw my book away!”)

While the e-reader is most definitely the more practical choice, the thought of a world without books is just too sad.  But then again, arm ache while reading on the beach/ on the sofa/ in the garden would probably reduce ten fold without having to hold a heavy book overhead.  But then again, e-readers can be many pennies, which means they are more likely to be immediately broken. (I realise that this doesn’t necessarily follow for normal humans, but expensive things in my hands tend to perish rather hastily.  Scientists are working on why this is as we speak).  But then again, books are made of trees, and I really like trees.  But then again, there are so many new novels and short stories etc. that are published electronically without ever making it to book form, so am I missing out on some really amazing writing because I don’t have an e-reader?

Well, as we can clearly see from that very well thought out debate (you’re welcome), there is just no answer to this conundrum.  I am still no wiser as to whether I actually want a kindle or other generic tablet style reader thing for my birthday.  This has been a colossal waste of all our time.  My most sincere apologies.

Ciao.