Friday, January 11, 2013

A fine kettle of fish

My first read of 2013 was A Kettle of Fish by Ali Bacon. I have a paperback copy, kindly sent by Ali, but it is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.

The first thing to note about the book is its  cover, it has a pleasant, tactile quality and a striking design. Few writers get to choose the cover design for their work but in this case the designer is  Ali's daughter, Ellie.The cover is stylish and it actually represents elements of the story, such a rare occurrence in modern novels, I find.
I knew that the writing would be good: I have been a follower of Ali's blog, Between the Lines for a long time and I have also read some of her short stories. I wasn't sure that I would enjoy the subject matter though: a young Scottish girl with a troubled background embarking on her adult life with more than the usual number of questions and challenges to face. But I was hooked from the start and I found myself abandoning the post-Christmas clearing up in order to escape to a quiet place to finish reading the book.

Ailsa has just left school and should be heading for the Highlands with her friend, Faye, to enjoy working on a summer camp before starting her first term at Edinburgh University. Fate intervenes when Ailsa's mother develops one of her mysterious bouts of illness and Ailsa reluctantly decides not only to miss the summer trip but also to live at home and commute to Edinburgh instead of sharing student accommodation with Faye.

Ailsa's mother asks her to buy some fish for supper and that is the beginning of  the fishy metaphor that is cleverly sustained throughout the novel.  More than one 'kettle of fish' is stirred up when Ailsa meets up with the fishmonger's son and embarks on an impulsive, unsatisfactory romance. Ian introduces her to his friend Andy and a series of coincidences that set her on the search for the truth about her absent father.

There are lots of strands to this story, lots of twists and turns and surprises. I found I was very willing to suspend my disbelief at the number of coincidences that led to the unravelling of the mysteries because it is a good story, told convincingly. The portrayal of Ailsa as an intelligent, strong and yet vulnerable girl, getting into scrapes but managing to avoid disaster is very realistic. Many of the situations she finds herself in stir long-forgotten memories of first encounters with teenage boys, alcohol, unsuitable older men, leaving home and having to make life-changing decisions. Anyone who went straight from school to college will identify with this.

The writing is  lively and energetic, there is lots of action but there is also sensitivity and wisdom in the observation of the characters. I don't want to give any spoilers, you must read the book to discover the surprising truth about Ailsa's parents. It is a good book to start the year.

I have one copy of A Kettle of Fish to give away. Leave a comment here before Friday 18 January if you would like to win it. I will post it anywhere in the world. Good luck!


  1. Hello, I have enjoyed exploring your blog since I pinned one of your pictures on Pinterest a few days ago and followed you here. I hope the rains do ease up there. In the US we have parts of the country, like Kansas, that have needed it badly and other parts have had their fill. Your blog is so interesting and I found that you have also written about Stir Up Sunday, although I used it for fruitcake instead of pudding. I also wrote down your two suggestions for Advent books as it is difficult to find them here.

    I would like to ask permission to use your picture of your blue Bristol glass sometime in a post I'm planning. It is of the glass in your wonderful deep windowsill. I have only been blogging since November and have never "linked" to anyone but have been given some instructions to try and would do my best to link to your picture and to your blog if you allow me to use it. If I can't figure this out I will certainly type the credit leading to you and your blog.

    Whatever you decide, I will still enjoy reading your blog and having this look into England.

    1. Hello Dewena. Welcome to Random distractions and to blogging. Let me have a link to your blog and I'll come and say hello to you there.

      I am really pleased that you like some of my posts and you are most welcome to use my photo of the Bristol Blue glass.

      come back nest week to see if you have won the book.

  2. Now this is an author I haven't heard of but you made the story sound so interesting, with your excellent review, Maureen, that I would love to be added to your draw. Thanks!

  3. Hello Maureen
    I'm so thrilled you enjoyed it especially in view of your reservations which I entirely understand (why oh why did I get caught up in the troubled teenager scenario?!) I've also passed your comments to Ellie who is equally pleased. Hope the next reader enjoys it too!
    Ali B

  4. I haven't heard of this author either and yes the story does sound interesting. Please add my name to the draw as well.


I love to read your comments and promise that I will reply as soon as I can leave my garden, sewing room or kitchen!