Book review: The Trials of Isabella M Smugge

Introduction

I was invited to prepare this post as part of the blog tour for Ruth Leigh’s eagerly anticipated sequel to The Diary of Isabella M Smugge, which ended with a cliff-hanger. (My review of the Diary is here.) This post includes my review, the blurb, Ruth Leigh’s author bio and details of the blog tour. More information about these books about Isabella M Smugge, which are published by Instant Apostle, may be found on Ruth Leigh’s website. It is available from Waterstones and all the usual places books are sold. #ChooseBookshops

My review

Cover of The trials of Isabella M Smugge showing the silhouette of an expectant mother,

I received an advance reader copy (ARC) as a .pdf file on the understanding that I would post an honest review of The Trials of Isabella M Smugge. As I read it on my phone it took me longer than it would have taken to read a paperback copy. I finished it on the third day. Unusually I read one passage out loud to hubby – it was such a funny situation following some worrying news on Issy’s birthday.

The Trials of Isabella M Smugge is a continuation of her diary. Influenced by her new friends and having to work harder at home, she is aware that she is becoming a #betterperson. It is not a straightforward journey with a saintly Isabella emerging overnight. The events of a year or so include the arrival of two babies (hers and another in the extended family), school-gate interactions, dealing with difficult family members (and some pleasant ones), and other ongoing themes from the Diary. Do read that first if possible! However there are sufficient unobtrusive reminders about who everyone is and what has happened previously for The Trials to stand alone.

There is a generous scattering of hashtags as Isabella broadcasts her edited life on social media. Some hashtags are very long, #didntcomedownwiththelastshower, for example. I hope that in Book 3 she will have reached the point on her journey of transformation to a #BetterPerson, that she capitalises the words in her hashtags for the benefit of anyone using a screen-reader. (If her main platform is instagram, there may not be many visually impaired people, but some readers of the Kindle edition of the book might benefit from this.)

Ruth Leigh writes extremely well. She finds humour in absurd situations and deals with some serious topics. While the end of this second book does not leave the reader dangling in quite the same way as the first book, I am sure that Issy’s readers will be looking forward to more of her adventures in Book 3. I certainly am!

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Blurb

Blurb for the Trials of Isabella M Smugge

Life in the country isn’t going as Issy Smugge planned it. However, the woman Gorgeous Home magazine once called ‘Britain’s Most Relatable Mum Designer’ is nothing if not resilient!

With an unexpected baby on the way, a good-for-nothing husband and a mother who never seemed to care but now needs caring for, her hands are full. Her venal agent and creative socials guru keep work fizzing, but how will she cope with the mysterious village snitch and poisonous gossip columnist Lavinia Harcourt?

Discovering others’ problems can be far worse than her own, she confronts bizarre church sub-culture and braces herself to use the NHS, rethinking all she thought she wanted. Could true happiness be just a few hashtags away?

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Bio

Ruth Leigh

Author bio

Ruth Leigh is a freelance writer, novelist and book reviewer. Married with three children, she is a recovering over-achiever.

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The blog tour

The blog tour is running from 11th October 2021 to 23rd October. The publication date is 21st October and the official launch is on 22nd October.

Dates and contributors’ names are listed below. Twitter usernames are provided where applicable. Links to the blog posts will be added as the blog tour proceeds.

Monday 11th October Wendy H Jones @WendyHJones
Tuesday 12th October Joy Margetts @JAMarge
Wednesday 13th October SC Skillman @scskillman
Thursday 14th October Susan Sanderson @suesconsideredt
Friday 15th October Maressa Mortimer
Saturday 16th October Julia Wilson
Sunday 17th October Penelope Swithinbank @minstriesbydsgn
Monday 18th October Martin Horton @Hortonious101
Tuesday 19th October Sheila Johnson @journojohnson
Wednesday 20th October Claire Wong @ClaireRWong
Thursday 21st October Ruth Leigh @Ruthleighwrites
Friday 22nd October Liz Manning @lifemadestuff
Saturday 23rd October Claire Musters @CMusters

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2

Book review and author interview: Not Knowing, but Still Going

This post is part of the blog tour for Jocelyn-Anne Harvey’s book Not Knowing, but Still Going (NKBSG) with the strap-line, ‘A buoyant hope for uncertain times’. It includes a book review and author interview. You may also wish to read posts for Day 1 and Day2 of the blog tour. Links to later posts: Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 and Day 7.

Not Knowing, but Still Going was published by Instant Apostle on 21 April 2021. It is available in paperback or Kindle editions.

Neatly packaged review copy


Jocelyn-Anne Harvey has taken the story of Noah and the flood as her starting point for this book, focussing on how life would have been for the four women in the ark. There are three strands to the book. The first is the Bible. The second is how life is for people at present with the uncertainties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The third is aspects of the author’s life, which illustrate the way God works. The three strands are spun into a seamless narrative. I was reminded of part of the verse Ecclesiastes 4:12:

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Cover: Not Knowing…

NKBSG is well-written and asks many questions of the reader. After each chapter there are contemplations and journaling exercises. These are well thought out and refer to other passages of scripture besides Genesis (the book where the story of Noah is told). The Psalms feature strongly, but we are taken on a journey all the way from the creation story in the first book of the Bible, Genesis to the last book, Revelation.

Although NKBSG is written for female readers, men might also learn from it. Noah is a major character after all.

I enjoyed this book and found much to ponder on. Its publication is timely as people try to pick up their lives after the pandemic.

Jocelyn-Anne Harvey has answered some questions I put to her about writing this book.

At the beginning of the book, you described how an event in 2008 near where you live was part of the inspiration for this book, and at the end you mention the encouragement you had to continue writing stories about Noah. Did pursuing a Creative Writing MA course increase your confidence in your ability as a writer?

Firstly, thank you for reading the Acknowledgements; well spotted about the MA encouragement I had for the Flood stories! I think in the sense of increasing confidence whatever we do to develop our writing muscle helps our ability. This could be anything from reading a writing blog, learning online or chatting with fellow writers. However, I think for me the discipline of postgraduate study and regular deadlines helped me to progress.

It was good to have the opportunity to dive deeper, read lots and especially workshopping –we had small groups where we both gave and received feedback for pieces written during each module. There were many times when I didn’t feel ‘good enough’ or made comparisons. But receiving positive feedback from my peers and lecturers did give me a confidence boost.

Through hindsight’s lens I’ve realised how my writing has developed since completing the Masters. I don’t think you’re fully aware when you’re caught up in the learning environment, but when I look back I can see the progress I’ve made. And I’m still balancing that tricky area of confidence and writing. I don’t think we can ever be completely confident as writers and perhaps that’s a good thing. In one way the wobbly area of doubt drives us to continually improve but what we don’t want is that doubt to stop us from picking up the pen or stop us from getting the pleasure that writing brings. I’m so glad that irrespective as to how I feel about my writing I can take confidence in the Lord and who I am in Him.

While you were writing NKBSG were you still travelling to work each day?

No, thankfully I didn’t have a commute while writing NKBSG neither was I working. For me, lockdown gave me opportunity to have the writing time. I commuted throughout my MA but wrote short stories, poems or flash fiction. I’m not sure whether I’d have been able to have had the focus to work on a longer manuscript whilst travelling up to London. Though having said that, maybe if I’d have had the impetus to write NKBSG then I would have done. It’s all about the timings with our writing work, isn’t it? As it says in Ecclesiastes 3:1 there is a season and a time for everything. I trust the Lord knew the time for my book to be written.

All writers are encouraged to read. Apart from the Bible, what are your favourite books?

I’m glad you mentioned the Bible because I always want to say that first when anyone asks me this question. There are so many favourite books I could choose. This is tricky! But the immediate books that come to mind are:

The Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery. I love Anne’s character and how Montgomery throughout the series shows her growing up and becoming a woman. Since childhood I’ve also identified with the main protagonist because ‘I’m an Anne with a e’ too!

The Rose Revived by Katie Fforde. Some books I can only read one time but this is a book I return to at least once a year. The story is so comforting like a bowl of chicken soup. And though I may know what’s coming next, I always find I’m surprised or pick up something new. Perhaps it’s because we change as we grow so our reaction to a book does too.

Cookbooks. Any kind from Mrs Beeton to Mary Berry. I love food and when you read Not Knowing, but Still Going there is even a section about eating. I often read cookbooks at bedtime but don’t have the time to make all the dishes the next day!

It might sound a bit strange to have an author say cookbooks are one of her favourite books but when you read a recipe closely there is quite an art to the way words have been used. You can learn a lot from thinking about how instructions have been described to the figurative language used to bring the cooking process and dish alive – Nigella is a great example of this.

Thank you, Jocelyn-Anne. We share some of the same tastes in literature. It is a long time since I read Anne of Green Gables, but I still remember the scene where she used a swear word and how she felt afterwards. I hope NKBSG has similar lasting impressions on its readers.

Jocelyn-Anne Harvey

Author bio – Jocelyn-Anne loves the Lord, learning and literature. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester, and her flash fiction has been published. Having taken the leap from her senior HR role in the UK Government, Jocelyn-Anne can identify with those walking through uncertain times, and she is passionate about supporting others through theirs and helping them develop. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her in a coffee shop with friends, exploring coastal paths or trying out recipes.

If you’d like to connect with Jocelyn-Anne Harvey search for her on Facebook and Instagram.

Stories from the Streets – Book review

I received a .pdf review copy of Stories from the Streets: An insight into the work of Street Pastors from the publisher, Instant Apostle. I was interested to read this book as at least one of my friends and acquaintances volunteers as a Street Pastor in a local town.

Stories from the Streets by Dr Luke Randall and Sue Shaw is available now in paperback or for Kindle, having been published in November 2020.

Street Pastors are all members of various Christian churches eligible to belong to Churches Together. They put into practice Jesus’ teaching to care for others, especially the poor and people often avoided. The book sets the historical scene of Christian social action at different times and also includes information about other contemporary initiatives such as CAP (Christians against Poverty, an organisation which helps people recover from debt). There are stories of Street Pastors’ experiences from various towns and cities in the UK and farther afield. As it says on the cover, there are ‘inspiring testimonies of hope where it is needed most’.

The book is well-written and has many references to other sources of information, conveniently placed in footnotes. At the end there are pointers to information for anyone wishing to find out more or indeed thinking of becoming a Street Pastor.

Although the circumstances of some of the stories are disturbing, the book is encouraging. While most people are asleep at weekends and other busy times, dedicated volunteers are out helping people who are on the streets at night, whether they are homeless or have been to pubs and clubs, the well-trained Street Pastors are ready to provide non-judgmental assistance. They work with the emergency services, freeing them to attend more serious incidents.

As I read the book I wondered how the Covid-19 pandemic had affected night-life and Street Pastors. It was updated before publication to include a chapter on this topic.

I found Stories from the Streets very readable and recommend it.