It’s a real pleasure today to be sharing my review of The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland, published today by Zaffre, and available in paperback and for kindle. My thanks to the publishers and netgalley for my advance reading e-copy. When I helped with the cover reveal in February, I mentioned that I first discovered Stephanie Butland’s wonderful writing many moons ago – back in April 2014, with Surrounded By Water (you’ll find my review here), which was later published in paperback and for kindle as Letters to my Husband and it blew everyone away. I just couldn’t fit in the reading of her later books – The Other Half Of My Heart and Lost For Words – but I’m so very glad I didn’t miss out on this one.
Ailsa Rae is learning how to live.
She’s only a few months past the heart transplant that – just in time – saved her life. Life should be a joyful adventure. But…
Her relationship with her mother is at breaking point.
She knows she needs to find her father.
She’s missed so much that her friends have left her behind.
She’s felt so helpless for so long that she’s let polls on her blog make her decisions for her. And now she barely knows where to start on her own.
And then there’s Lennox. Her best friend and one time lover. He was sick too. He didn’t make it. And now she’s supposed to face all of this without him.
But her new heart is a bold heart.
She just needs to learn to listen to it . . .
I must confess that this book wasn’t exactly what I was expecting – and that’s largely my fault, because I rarely read the “blurb” before opening a new book. But the fact that it was so very different was entirely a positive – there’s no wallowing here, no tear-soaked tissues (ok – maybe a little gulp from time to time…), instead a very likeable heroine trying to work out how to live and be happy, having been given a future she never expected to have.
The relationships in this book are just wonderful – particular Ailsa’s with mother Hayley, as they adjust from being carer and invalid (or heart and lungs) to a looser and somewhat combative relationship, always coloured with love, as the child becomes an independent young woman who needs to stand on her own feet and make her own decisions. I loved the looks back at her relationship with Lennox – and really enjoyed her developing new one with Seb. The book is heavy on exchanged e-mails – not always a favourite with me, but in this book they’re full of twists and turns and the personality of the correspondents, and I thought they worked really well. The blogging too is very cleverly used – that “wisdom of strangers” helping Ailsa’s decision making until she has the strength to cast it aside and define her own path. I loved the introduction of the tango, its passion and the moments it led to – and the focus on Romeo and Juliet was just wonderful, and rather inspired.
And I really loved the book’s ending – I felt I was watching the characters walk into their future, knew I had to leave them, and wanted to wish them well. A beautiful, uplifting read that I really enjoyed.
About the author
Stephanie Butland is a novelist who fell in love with performance poetry when researching her novel Lost For Words. Her first two books were about her dance with cancer. She then turned to fiction. Her novels are Letters To My Husband, The Other Half Of My Heart, and Lost For Words. Stephanie lives in Northumberland. She writes in a studio at the bottom of her garden, and when she’s not writing, she trains people to think more creatively.