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review 2019-10-18 11:27
A coming of age story with a big heart
The Curious Heart Of Ailsa Rae - Stephanie Butland

Thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Griffin for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is the first book I’ve read by the author and can’t compare it to her previous work, although I’ve noticed reviewers show plenty of love for The Lost for Words Bookshop, and I’m keen to check it out.

The plot of this book is easy to summarise, and the description is quite detailed. Ailsa was born with a congenital heart condition (Hypoplastic left heart syndrome) and has been ill (to a greater or lesser degree) all her life.  Now, when there isn’t much time left, she gets a new heart. The novel follows her journey to learn how to live her new life, which in her case is also akin to a coming of age story. Although she is 28, due to her circumstances she has lived a very sheltered life, always protected by her mother, her aunt, and her friends, and now she has to face lots of challenges.

The author chooses an interesting way of telling the story. The bulk of the story is narrated in the third-person, although exclusively from Ailsa’s point of view, and alternates between the “now” of the story, and what was going on in Ailsa’s life a year ago. Some readers complained about the jumps in timeline. I did not find them too confusing (the timeframe was clearly stated, and it was easy to tell from the content as well), and those chapters did add some perspective on Ailsa’s situation. Because we meet her just before her operation, this device works as a way of letting us know what her life was like before, and also helps us understand some of the difficulties she faces now. I wasn’t sure all of the chapters set in the past added new information or were particularly significant, but they didn’t slow down the pace of the story either.

Apart from the third person narrative, we can also “hear” Ailsa’s narrative in the first-person thanks to her blog. She has a blog where she had been writing about her illness and the difficulties of being on a transplant waiting list, and we get access to some of her posts.  The book also includes her e-mails and text exchanges with some of the other characters. These provide us with a different perspective on the events, even with the caveat that blogposts are written to be published and are not spontaneous pouring of one’s heart (well, most of the time), and we get to hear from other characters as well. This is the third book I’ve read recently featuring a blogger as one of the main characters, so there seems to be a trend. The most curious part of it, in this case, is that Ailsa seems to be otherwise pretty disconnected from some aspects of everyday life (she does not know Seb, the young actor she meets, although he is well-known, and seems oblivious to much of what is shown on UK television, for example). One of the particular characteristics of her blog, though, is that she asks her readers to participate in polls that inform her decisions and the way she lives her life. Although in some cases the decisions are pretty neutral (choosing a name for her new heart, for example), others are more fundamental, and there’s much discussion about that throughout the book.

As for the characters… I liked Ailsa, although I agree with some comments that say she seems much younger than she is. I have mentioned above that the book, at least for me, reads like a coming-of-age-story, and although she’s gone to university and had a boyfriend (and there’s a story of loss and grief there as well), there’s much of normal life that she has not experienced and that explains why there is much growing up she still needs to do. She is childlike at time, stubborn, selfish, she lacks self-confidence, and struggles between her wish to grow up (she insists on sticking to the plan of living independently) and her reluctance to take responsibility for her own life (she is so used to living day to day and not making long-term plans that she uses her blog and the polls as a way to avoid ultimate responsibility). I loved her mother, Hailey, who can be overbearing and overprotective, but she is strong and determined, cares deeply for her daughter and has sacrificed much for her (even if she finds it difficult to let go now),  and I felt their relationship was the strongest point of the novel. I was not so convinced by Seb, her love interest, and their on-off relationship, although it adds another dimension to Ailsa’s experience, seemed too unrealistic. Don’t get me wrong, he is handsome, a successful TV actor, and he is interested in her from the beginning, and yes… it reads like a very young and idealised romantic fantasy, so it might work in that sense, but as a character… What I liked about his part of the story was the acting background and the references to the Edinburgh Fringe. We only know Lennox through Ailsa’s memories and some of the chapters set in the past, and he is the other side of the coin, the one for whom luck run out too soon. This highlights the randomness of events and it makes more poignant the plight of so many people waiting for transplants. The efforts to keep his memory alive and make it count ring true.

The book is set in Edinburgh and I enjoyed the setting (although I’m only a casual visitor) and the references to the weather and the location. There are some local words and expressions used through the novel; although I cannot judge how accurate they are (the author is not Scottish although has done her research). I particularly enjoyed the Tango lessons and the setting of those above a pub.

The writing flows well and although in some ways the book is a light and gentle read (the romance is behind closed doors, and despite the talk of illness and hospitals, the descriptions of symptoms and procedures are not explicit or gore), it deals in serious subjects, like chronic illness, transplants (and it debates the matter of how to increase organ donations by changing it to an opt-out policy and removing the right of relatives to overrule the desires of a loved one), parental abandonment, grief, mother-daughter relationships, side effects of medication, popularity and media coverage of famous people, fat shaming… Although some of these topics are treated in more depth than others, I felt the novel dealt very well with the illness side of things, and it opened up an important debate on organ donations. As I said, I also enjoyed the mother-daughter relationship, and the fact that Ailsa becomes her own woman and grows up. I do love the ending as well.

This is a novel with a likeable main character who has had to live with the knowledge that she might not grow to be an adult, waiting for a miracle (unfortunately the miracle requires somebody else’s death, which deals sensitively in some very important topics, and is set in wonderful Edinburgh. I loved Ailsa’s mother and although some aspects of the novel work better than others, in my opinion, the quality of the writing and the strength of the story makes it well-worth reading. And yes, it is a heart-warming story (forgive the pun)! I’ll definitely be checking out more of the author’s books.

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review 2014-07-13 08:23
Harlequin's More Than Words Series
Light This Candle - Cindy Dees

Another one read and done. Hated this one, so it makes it two in a row. However, if you like military romances/characters, please take my rantings in stride.  No star rating due to the nature of the story being based on a charity, but would not give any to this novella anyway. Once again, great kid character, but damn awful MCs.


The Charity: Patches of Light, Inc.

Mindy Atwood started the charity after the struggles her husband and her faced with two critically sick kids. They had a hard time meeting expenses and being their for their kids' doctor appointments, hospital stays, etc. Certain expenses are paid by donors.


Our mission at Patches of Light is to assist families with critically and terminally ill children so that they can remain together during their hospitalizations and treatments. Our funding is used to pay for past due mortgages, rent, and utilities. We provide phone cards, gas cards, grocery cards and parking tokens.  Patches of Light assists with emergencies such as: auto repairs, housing for long distance care, airline tickets, Ronald McDonald House fees, extermination and/or purification items for bone-marrow patients homes and much more.   

- For more information, click http://www.patchesoflight.org/.


Now the ranting can begin.


I hate military romances - and avoid them like the plague. Unfortunately, the blurb for this novella was about the charity and the More Than Words line of books, so I did not know about the military theme. So many authors get it so wrong -- little to no research! The author of this novella is a fellow USAF veteran, so I though I could deal with the military romance coming from a veteran.


Lesson Learned: nope, I can't deal.


The author was an officer, and the hero, Mitch, was major. The rank is important, because as the story starts, Mitch is on the tarmac getting off a cargo ship that brought him home from his deployment. As a major and newly returned from deployment, Mitch is making a shit ton of money and has no real outlet to spend it on. Until he meets the heroine, Cassidy.

Just pull the trigger now and get me out of my misery. Cassidy is everything I hate about civilian military spouses (who were not in the service at one time themselves). Cassidy is a young mother who is trying to save her sick 5 year old son from dying due to a heart defect. He needs a new one asap. In the meantime, she is spending loads of money she doesn't have on experimental treatments to give the kid more time on earth. She is also dealing with the death of her husband, a soldier in Mitch's unit, who died on the first day of the deployment.

Mitch goes to visit her, as the commander of the unit it is his job to visit the widows and assist as much as he can. He finds Cassidy in the hospital and meets Cody, the sick kid. They form a bond, etc, etc; kid gets sicker and sicker. Mitch spends lots of deployment money getting Cassidy's life back in order - he pays her bills (through the charity), fixes up her apartment, fixes her car, gets her a new cell phone so that the hospital can reach her anytime and anywhere.


Oy vey, this is one of the reasons I hate military romances. Military heroes tend to fix everything and are pushy about it (Mitch was no freaking exception); Cassidy did need to be rescued, but the problems stemmed from her piss poor decisions. Mitch is used to getting his way, people following his orders, and he basically takes control of Cassidy's life.


Cassidy is the epitome of the young military spouse (civilians, not veterans), and ones I avoid in real life as well as in my reading.

Here is everything you need to know about most military wives:


She and Jimmy had dated all the way through high school and married as soon as she'd turn eighteen. She'd moved from her parents' care to his care. He'd enlisted in the military and they'd immediately moved into base housing. He'd taken care of everything. Of her. The house. The car. The bills. Any crises that came along. (p. 48-49)


Never held a job, never lived on her own, always taken care of -- that is what a lot of young wives want from the military so that they don't have to learn the hard stuff about life and how to deal. Not even a college education or technical training, because they want to sit at home and have babies. Spare me.


The kid pulls through, because it is a Harlequin and anything less isn't a possibility. Cody is great and his scenes with Mitch made me tear up -- if this novella was about the budding father/son relationship between Cody and Mitch, I would have given it a good three stars. Cody receives a new heart from a child that was critically injured in a car accident and ultimately was taken off life support. Cassidy feels one second of pain for the family that would lose their child, then she is like "whatever, my kid is way more important." 

And even the last scene is so unbelievably callous that it makes sense that Cassidy and Mitch end up together because they are both prime assholes. In the last scene, Cody is in the recovery room after heart transplant surgery and Cassidy and Mitch go to see him. Mitch had proposed marriage (complete with mentioning lots of siblings for Cody!) to Cassidy in the waiting room, as Cody laid on the table with his chest open -- what timing there hero! Cassidy asks him for a little time to decide....but she doesn't wait long. As Cody is coming out of the anesthesia and opens his eyes to see his two favorite people; Cassidy asks Cody if it is alright with Cody if she marries Mitch.



Dumb bitch puts that on a 5 year old coming out of anesthesia...what? Cassidy can't make one fucking decision by herself - she needs every man, including her young son, to make the decisions for her! He gives them a thumbs up and everyone is happy - except me.  


One good thing came out of reading this -- I learned that children waiting on transplant lists need organs from children their own age ranges. Many parents can't/won't fathom a situation where their children is not going to live and sign their children up to be a donor. This gave me pause, because while I had no problem adding the organ donor badge to my license at sixteen, I never imagined signing my kids up. My husband and I have to seriously give the idea some thought, but I would feel like a hypocrite for advocating (among family and friends) others to be organ donors but not my kids.

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