I’m calling it… Best book so far of 2016… Now that’s always a good start to a book review! I’ll admit when I picked this book up, I wasn’t too sure, I’d naively judged the book by its cover; which is a little old fashioned in style, and usually puts me off but I was blown away by this beautifully written story.
I usually finish a book and; if I’m near my bookshelf, start the next, filling my head full of a new world of characters and stories but this story stayed with me. Over the last few weeks, even my new book (which is good!!!) couldn’t stop my mind floating back to Ally and Anna…
The ‘present’ day character in this story is Ally. Ally is an adventure loving person and enjoys sailing across the world, competing in many of the professional sailing competitions. Her profession leads her to bump into Theo, a fellow ‘water baby’. A relationship blossoms from their shared love and within a few days; their love is so excruciatingly passionate, it becomes cheesy to read. Unfortunately, the bliss is cut short by the news that Ally’s father has died and Ally rushes to Geneva to be with her family.
At this point, I’ll pause and give you a little background on the book series, this is the second book of supposedly seven. Ally is one of six adopted daughters, with her name officially being Alcyone, if you bring together the other five sisters’ names, you’ll notice they’re all named after the stars that make up the Pleiades more commonly known as the Seven Sisters… now the seventh sister is a mystery which I’m sure will be addressed in later books. Upon returning to their family home, the family lawyer provides each daughter with a letter and a set of coordinates, that will lead her on the most incredible journey to finding out the history of her biological family.
Ally is heartbroken but intrigued by this final puzzle her father has left for her. Following Theo’s dramatic exit, Ally feels the only way to heal her heart is to distract herself by the mystery of her past.
Ally is left a story that links her to the first performance of Peer Gynt; composed by Edvard Grieg, which leads her to picturesque Norway to discover her family roots.
One of my favourite techniques to tell a story is the to-and-fro between the past and the present; something I touched upon in the Luckiest Girl Alive review, and Riley has got this technique down to a fine art! The story flicks between Ally in the present and works it’s way through her ancestors; focusing mainly on Anna and Pip.
In the past, we find out that Anna has been cast as the young, innocent voice of Solvieg in Peer Gynt, starting first as the singing voice to the actress on stage, before becoming the centre act herself. During her rise to fame, Jens (a flutist in the orchestra) becomes besotted by her and does everything in his power to make Anna fall in love with him. Eventually Anna does and foolishly follows Jens to Leipzig in Germany, where Jens has been accepted into a famous musical academy.
At this point, Ally has arrived in Norway and begins exploring museums that can help shed a light on the mystery of her connection to Anna. Lucinda perfectly captures Ally’s personality during this time; the balance between grief, excitement and loneliness falls and rises perfectly with the events.
Back to the past and we meet a very miserable Anna, who’s regret at giving up her career and following the man she loves can be sympathised by many. During one of her darkest moments, Anna is rescued by a familiar character, who helps restore her back to fame. During this time, Jens is in Paris, giving Anna time to build relationships and her reputation, however it’s not long before Jens arrives on the doorstep begging for Anna’s forgiveness and following this, Anna gives birth to Edvard.
At this point the book flicks forward to the story of ‘Pip’, christened Jens. Pip also finds himself at the musical academy that his grandfather Jens had attended. But unlike Jens, Pip is passionately and faithfully in love to Karine. We’re now in the year 1936, and the story touches briefly on the historical relevance of this time period and the nervousness that was felt by the students in the academy; many of whom were Jews. Riley delicately entwines the destruction the Nazis brought across Europe to some of the background characters and shows crucially, the neutrality that many of the people in these villages felt they had to give up.
In present times, Ally is fascinated by the story and has begun to piece together the puzzle of her past and begins to talk to the people she knows will give her the answers.
I couldn’t put this book down, I was completely spell bound by the need to find the truth of Ally’s past. I was captured by Anna’s story: I was in love with her innocence, her rise to fame and her further rise out of mystery. Anna’s story was empowering, it made me believe that even back then, a woman could get what they wanted…. albeit having to play by some of the more ‘traditional’ rules.
There are a lot of similarities between Anna and Ally’s personalities but the important one to observe was their ability to be strong in difficult situations. Both of them were able to rise out of misery and find their purpose in life. It was a powerful message that any reader can reflect on and relate to their life.
So what made it the best book of 2016 (so far)?
1) The story had multiple branching stories – making it complex and difficult to determine what the ending would be
2) It connected to real historical events; Norwegian classical music and World War 2, and not only did Riley highlight them….she placed them in her book so naturally that you couldn’t tell when we were reading fiction or non fiction
3) The numerous dynamics of a relationship were touched upon in this book and wrote so naturally that you can only nod and agree with the reactions that each partner feels…
Wow, this has been a long review, but if you’ve ever glimpsed the book in a store you’ll also know it’s a huge book! Needless to say, I’ve already been on Amazon to source the first book; The Seven Sisters, and will be waiting very impatiently for the future books to be released!