Friday 19 February 2016

Reviewed: Her Sister's Gift by Isabel Jackson

Her Sister's Gift was published in paperback by Black and White Publishing on February 18, 2016.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Her Sister’s Gift was published in ebook back in November and I saw lots of lovely reviews coming in so I was excited to have the chance to read Isabel Jackson’s debut in celebration of its paperback release. After finishing reading it over the course of one very late night, I believe it really justifies all the good words coming its way. It’s a poignant story, very heart-breaking at times and touching throughout, with its main character Isa being someone I became so emotionally attached to, so I felt every bit of pain as she did.

The story opens tragically and sadness is something that runs right the way through the novel. Poor Isa was forced to grow up virtually overnight and I sympathised with her and rooted for her character at every up and down, the happier moments made all the more rewarding for that connection I had with her right from the beginning. Almost immediately into the book, Isa is left looking after her three sisters whilst her mother is in labour. Heart-wrenchingly, one of her sisters Eliza dies in an accident on the trainline and Isa is left feeling guilty and empty. At home, things aren’t any better for her mother whose son is stillborn. As the book continues, it’s not long before Isa’s mum passes away, her dad begins to drink heavily and then he leaves for the war. Things become increasingly more difficult for Isa to handle and cracks begin to show.

One of the things that stood out to me about this book was how realistically it was written. I’ve since learnt that the author took inspiration from the lives of members of her family and I can see how she must have took in so much from them because every aspect of the story feels so real. If I’m honest, at times I found the book to be so real it became a little bit overwhelmingly downbeat. It’s not grim exactly, simply sad, and I was looking forward to a hopefully more uplifting end though one that was still true to life. I found the book to be sensitively written and the ending followed in the same fashion, completely worthwhile and a very apt ending to a beautifully written novel.

Following Isa through years of her life is really fulfilling – her strength and bravery shines through even though she is completely human, with feelings of guilt and regret and moments through nightmares or tragedy that she struggles to cope with. I found her to be inspiring from only a couple of chapters in and it was riveting seeing how her character would grow and develop over the course of the book. As she lost or became distanced from certain members of her family, I found the remaining bond between sisters really sensitive reading.

As much as I enjoyed reading this story for the most part, there were a couple of little niggles for me. First was trying to get my head around the Scottish dialect. It did make sense, if I read it slowly! But I felt like it slowed the pacing down at times for me as I did keep having to take more time to understand it. I also found the book’s pace generally slowed down a little bit towards the middle where it hit a bit of a lull but I was glad that it soon picked itself up again and I was fascinated to see how things would transpire.

One last thing - Her Sister’s Gift should come with a need-tissues warning! It’s very emotional, especially due to the author’s great descriptive writing which didn’t overawe but simply added depth and something vivid to every scene. Isabel made it so easy for me to picture everything I was reading which in turn helped me become truly involved and invested in the story. It made for an addictive read – one which was both heart-breaking and ultimately, heart-warming. I hope to read lots more from this author in the future!

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