Today I’m delighted to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of the latest book by Madeleine Reiss: Live a Little is published tomorrow (5th September) by Zaffre, available for kindle and in paperback. My thanks to Tracy at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to join the tour, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy, provided via netgalley.
I always very much look forward to a new book from Madeleine Reiss, having first discovered her writing back in 2013 following her success in a novel writing competition with the Alan Titchmarsh TV show. Someone To Watch Over Me was an immensely accomplished first novel (you’ll find my review here): then I thoroughly enjoyed her second, This Last Kiss (review here). Before We Say Goodbye was released in February 2018 – one of my books of the year (you’ll find my review here), and confirming her place in my list of favourite authors.
So, let’s take a closer look at her latest…
Two Sisters. One road trip. What could possibly go wrong?
Lottie has always followed the rules, her life is comfortable and she is – finally, finally – marrying her long-term, sensible, boyfriend Dean.
Tina is carefree, wild and, maybe, just a little bit careless. She doesn’t understand Lottie’s obsession with settling down with ‘dull Dean’. There’s so much to explore in the world.
The two sisters have drifted apart since the death of their older sister. Without her, Lottie and Tina realise how little they know each other. Desperate to remedy this, Tina convinces Lottie to set out on a road trip across the US, just the two of them.
But Tina has one more surprise in mind to shake up Lottie’s life – she must say yes to everything Tina suggests, no matter what…
Madeleine Reiss has a remarkable capacity for reinvention – this book was very different from anything I’ve read from her before, and I must say I really enjoyed it. On the surface this is the story of a road trip, two sisters getting to know each other in adulthood while exploring the East Coast of the US, perhaps finding themselves (and the truth about each other) as they do so. Their characters are quickly established – Tina the party girl, irresponsible and irreverent, living in the moment, while Lottie is measured, deliberate, risk averse, a little grey against her sister’s flashy brightness. And in the background is their missing third sister, Mia, her story and its impact slowly revealed as the story progresses.
It’s the complexity of those sibling relationships, the uncovering of secrets and layers of guilt, the “journey” the women take, that made the book so very engaging. I will concede that it might be a tad overlong, but I found every exchange, every new development quite fascinating, even when the pace flagged a little. Sometimes the book’s characters conform to your expectations, but there are other times when they both surprise and shock – and those key moments are extremely well handled.
The road trip itself fascinated me too – if the relationships don’t hook you, the changing landscape certainly will, and the descriptions are quite wonderful (just wait for the drama of the Grand Canyon – and the ride across the Arizona desert is unforgettable too). And there’s also a gentle humour running through the whole, driven by the sisters’ very different lives and choices, and a rather lovely quirkiness in their exchanges.
I suspect this might well not be a book for everyone, but I was totally engaged throughout – I thought it was highly original, so well written and really rather stunning.
About the author
Madeleine Reiss was born in Athens. She worked for some years in an agency for street performers and comedians and then as a journalist and publicist. She currently works part-time at a brain injury charity and writes novels for the rest of the week. She has two sons and one grandson and lives in Cambridge with her husband and an extremely paranoid cat called Ruby.
She wrote her first novel at the age of fifty after her mother badgered her to enter a book writing competition that was being advertised on The Alan Titchmarsh Show. In order to stop her mother phoning her up and asking if she had done anything about it yet, she sent off three chapters of a book she had started and abandoned a few years before. To her amazement she won the competition and a publishing contract with Harper Collins. Joy was quickly followed by anxiety since she knew she then had to actually write the book.
This book was Someone To Watch Over Me. Since then she has written two more – This Last Kiss and Before We Say Goodbye.