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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 17 February 2013
Cecilia Banks, recently retired from her profession as a psychotherapist due to ill health, receives a rather large surprise when her forty-year-old son, Ian, a foreign correspondent, telephones her to inform her that she is a grandmother. Cecilia is shocked; she hadn't even known Ian's girlfriend was pregnant and she is even more shocked when Ian tells her that the baby is the result of a fling he had with a rather beautiful, but unstable woman, who has now disappeared and left his son, Cephas, with him. As Ian expected, Cecilia rises to the occasion and, once she lays eyes on Cephas, she bonds with him immediately and agrees to take him into her home and into her life; but Cecilia's life is rather complicated at the moment. For one thing, Cecilia is recovering from cancer; and then there is her husband and Ian's stepfather, Tim, who seems to be withdrawing from her as he fills his life with his work and his tennis. Added to this, there is her friend Helen, a writer, who shares Cecilia's illness, but isn't coping quite as well as Cecilia appears to be doing; and what's more, Helen has a secret from her past which she reveals to Cecilia, which gives Cecilia even more to think about. And then Ian receives a very unpleasant shock, which could have far reaching consequences - not just for him, but for Cecilia and Cephas, also.

This is a warm, absorbing, intelligent and entertaining novel which looks at morality and at those things that are really important in life: love, loyalty, family, friendship and, importantly, our health. What is really surprising is the way the author confronts a serious and life-threatening illness in such a straightforward and, in some places, humorous fashion and without becoming overly sentimental. I do have to say that there were some sections in the story which I, being very squeamish, found a little too graphic, but because the rest of the story is so warm and cheering, it enabled me to read through the parts that I found a little difficult. Bernadine Bishop has created some interesting and well-realised characters for her novel - even the baby, Cephas is particularly well-drawn, right down to his relationship with Cecilia's wonderful cat, Thor. I could go on, but I don't wish to spoil this story for prospective readers; so if you are looking for a satisfying family drama and one that is remindful of the important things in life, then this novel might well fit the bill for you.

4 Stars.
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on 17 August 2013
Combined with writing a really great and interesting story the book touches on difficult topic in a light and funny way.. I really enjoyed and have now bought for 3 friends one of whom has a stoma and she says it helps to know and understand what others go through and she is not alone.. found it hard to put down
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on 21 February 2013
Bernadine Bishop, a beautiful woman, has written a lovely, warm, moving and funny novel where the characters and their personalities are even more interesting than the entertaining plot. I seem to remember that Bernadine Bishop is a psychotherapist and if she is then she is certainly the one I would like to consult if I needed therapy! I feel the book cover does the book a disservice by making it look like chick-lit which it is not. The main character is a woman in her 60s struggling with living with a colostomy and I am tempted to call it sick-lit but it was such a heartwarming read that would also be unfair.
I would urge anyone looking for a book that's hard to put down and which continually surprises with its understanding of human nature to get this book! Especiaslly in the Kindle version!
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on 9 February 2013
As I had experienced life for 9 months with a stoma, my interest in this tale was high. I identfiied with lots of the feelings experienced by the writer and wished that I had a "buddy" to share thoughts with during that distressing time of my life. The story was fascinating with its twists and turns.

The fear of this dreadful disease is omnipresent but Cecilia's doggedness in trying to live a "normal" life is impressive, so is her husband's unfailing support.
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on 7 December 2014
Women's fiction is often dismissed in literary circles as being concerned with the domestic, implying a narrowness not only of women's lives, but of their outlook. The domestic is often derided as being banal, dull, boring. Not that this kind of criticism has been levelled at Bernadine Bishop's Costa prize shortlisted novel, but I have to admit that kind of criticism is endemic and caused me to stop for a moment before picking it up, thinking this isn't really my kind of thing. Well, more fool me and more fool all the people who decry the domestic as limiting for the novel.

This beautifully-written book is quiet, yes, but thoughtful and wise, and at times blackly comic. It's essentially concerned with the intertwining lives of a family and those around them. But Bishop shows what rich fodder this is, delving deep into the private thoughts, desires and hopes of her main characters and creating something poignant and thought-provoking. Bishop's profession as a psychotherapist shines through in the depth of her understanding of human nature, and she manages to traverse difficult subjects - cancer, death, adoption, paternity testing, even kidnapping - with a lightness of touch and huge wisdom. Her exploration of anal cancer is the kind of area most novelists would avoid like the plague - too graphic, too unpleasant, too, well, real. But Bishop is fearless, and in her choice of subject gives a voice to the many people who have to deal with the often undignified reality of serious illness every day. And what's more, she does it with humour, drawing on her own experiences to give a truth to her characters'.

I finished the book awed, having been taken on a journey into the depths of the human heart and feeling all the wiser for it. It is a tragedy that Bishop is no longer with us to produce such profound and wise fiction, but she has left behind a book that has the potential to enlighten and uplift its readers. I, for one, was grateful for its insights, and turned back to my own 'domestic sphere' with a keener eye for its nuances, its joys and its challenges.

If this is "women's fiction", then I am proud to be a woman.
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on 13 September 2014
Bishop wrote two novels in her early 20s but did not return to her first love fiction until 50 years later, after a career as a teacher and a psychotherapist, during which she married twice and had two chidlren from her first marriage. After her retirement in 2010 because of cancer, she went back to novel writing she day after she was told that her cancer was gone and subsequently penned three works - this being the first. She explained: "I remember the delight at being in control of my own story again". "Unexpected Lessons In Love" was published in January 2013 and Bishop died - the cancer had returned - in July 2013.

Unusually - but obviously shaped by the author's life experiences - two of the main characters in the novel are elderly women, one a former psychotherapist and the other a novelist, who have a colostomy (or stoma) and the work describes frankly the physical and psychological nature of this challenge. Both women find love but in unexpected places - hence the title - but other forms of love are explored as well. There is a telling line in the novel: "... love falls where it falls and, like other rare and precious commodities, it must be appreciated and cherished wherever it is found". As a grandparent of a young child, I especially related to the descriptions of the chief character with her grandchildren: "the most important ansd sustaining joy of her life"

Bishop writes well. Not all the characters are fully delineated, not everything is explained, and the conclusion is open-ended, but this is the nauture of the modern novel.
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on 11 August 2013
It was a fascinating story, elegantly written and attention holidng from the first page to the last.. It left many questions unanswered, but perhaps that was part of it interest. I shall certainly reread it in the near future.
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on 4 May 2013
Bold in its readiness to introduce the issue of cancer and stomas, Bernadine Bishop's novel has charm at several levels in dealing with grandmotherhood and babyhood, madness and a variety of interpersonal relationships. Its upmarket world perhaps limits its appeal, but the dialogue is often very good and some of the set scenes are beautifully achieved. I hope it will go into paperback; it deserves a wide, if discriminating, readership.
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on 15 November 2014
Two stars instead of one because I did finish the book. But I agree with the criticisms voiced by other reviewers: it's not well written, the characters are simply not convincing, and the plot is propped up with improbable coincidences. It would never have got out of the slush pile without the puffing from well-known Hampstead pals.

I do have some sympathy with the writer's experience of bowel cancer, having been there myself. I just don't think it works to try to turn what's essentially an exercise in self-therapy into a novel. Write it down, by all means, and reconstruct the experience however you like. Once you've finished with it, throw it away. It's served its purpose.

Anyone recently diagnosed with bowel cancer, who may be wondering what it's like to live with a colostomy, would do much better to subscribe to "Roar", the magazine published by the St Marks colostomy-owners group. Really useful articles, and very readable.
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on 12 June 2013
Enjoyed this book, well written and deals with love, families, coming to terms with cancer, growing old, mortality. Heavy stuff usually but she writes so well its a good read.
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