In February of this year I wrote my first ever blog book review. The book was The Diary of Isabella M Smugge, Ruth Leigh’s debut novel, and it had me gripped from page one. At first it seemed Ruth had created a monster; Isabella M Smugge was not an entirely likeable character, with her self absorption, and seemingly shallow, artificial Instagram- ready life. But the book was funny, easy to read, and so well written. And Isabella was actually a much more complex character than first thought. The book had some real poignant moments amongst the funny one-liners and ludicrous scenarios, and not to give anything away, as Isabella’s perfect life began to disintegrate around her, I found myself truly sympathising with her.
The Trials of Isabella M Smugge picks up from where The Diary left off, with it’s frustratingly clever cliff-hanger ending. Isabella is now faced with the reality of a very different life to the cosy one she was used to. Yes she still has the sprawling Georgian house with extensive gardens, the indoor swimming pool, the paid help, designer wardrobe, writing success and an increasing Instagram following. But personally her life is not so rosy. And as her year progresses it doesn’t get any easier. Isabella learns the hard way, that the people you really need around you are the ones who genuinely care about you, not necessarily the people who you thought added value to your life.
This book is funny on almost every page. There are laugh out loud lines, clever hashtags, and cringe- making observations. For me the subtle funny lines were the best…
‘Would the world stop spinning if I didn’t write the long awaited piece on spontaneity?’
And the new mum observations…
‘…he (the baby) responds well to hoary British rockers Deep Purple, likes a bit of early Led Zeppelin, and has even nodded off to AC/DC. I made the mistake of trying a bit of Coldplay last week, which led to frenzied howling. You can’t win them all.’
Amongst all the humour this book is also authentic. Isabella’s thoughts and emotions, her heart-breaking real-life challenges, her sheer exhaustion at juggling the needs of family, friends and work demands – are all well written and relatable. The author takes us with Isabella on her journey of rediscovering her true self. She shows us her growing emotional vulnerability, and describes her increasing awareness of a God she can believe in. I loved this aspect of The Trials, and I think for me this makes it even more of a triumph than the first book; which was certainly a hard act to follow. Well done to Ruth Leigh for weaving matters of faith, real love and forgiveness so seamlessly into a compelling contemporary work of fiction.
‘It’s been two years since we upped sticks and left everything we knew to come up here. Two years of ups, downs, joys, sorrows, gain and loss. Sitting in church on Sunday morning, I closed my weary eyes and drank in the peace all around me. I find restoration and healing in the kindness and compassion that waits for me here.’
If you enjoyed reading The Diary of Isabella m Smugge I encourage you to get your own copy of The Trials as it does not disappoint. If you haven’t yet met Isabella M Smugge then do yourself a favour and get hold of both books! You can order direct from the author at www.ruthleighwrites.co.uk or find the book for sale in all the usual places. Keep writing Ruth; we need Isabella #3!
The Trials of Isabella M Smugge is published by Instant Apostle, 22 Oct 2021. RRP £9.99.