Coming Up For Air by Sarah Leipciger

A remarkable true story richly re-imagined

On the banks of the River Seine in 1899, a young woman takes her final breath before plunging into the icy water. Although she does not know it, her decision will set in motion an astonishing chain of events. It will lead to 1950s Norway, where a grieving toy-maker is on the cusp of a transformative invention, all the way to present-day Canada where a journalist, battling a terrible disease, risks everything for one last chance to live.

Taking inspiration from a remarkable true story, Coming Up for Air is a bold, richly imagined novel about the transcendent power of storytelling and the immeasurable impact of every human life.

Coming Up For Air is Sarah Leipciger’s second novel. It is a beautiful novel, a story of three people living in different countries and in different times. How their stories connect is gradually revealed as the novel progresses. As the author explains at the end of the novel is is a mix of fact and fiction and has its basis in truth. There is grief and loss and despair in each story, but above all, it is about love, and the desire to live.

Each story was compelling and, for once in a book that alternates between the characters, I thought the changes were just at the right moment in each one.

It begins with the unknown young woman in Paris, L’Inconnue, telling the story of her life that led to her suicide. Her death in the Seine is vividly described. As she fell in the cold water, initially she discovered the desire to live, as her body thrashed about not wanting to drown, her lungs fighting for air, for oxygen. It’s poignant and moving, set at the end of the 19th century bringing the city to life, where she lives as a lady’s companion to an old friend of her grandmother’s.

The second story is that of Norwegian, Pieter Akkrehamn, beginning in 1921, when he used to spend his summers with his grandparents on Karmoy Island. He went swimming in the North Sea, diving down several metres, holding his breath for over a minute in the freezing cold water, as the cold reached his chest, squeezing his lungs. His story is revealed, as he grieves for his little son. He is a toymaker, bored with making wooden toys, who turned to soft plastics and began making dolls with soft faces and bendable knees. What he eventually developed was truly remarkable.

The vital importance of being able to breathe comes to the fore in the third story – that of Anouk, a journalist in Canada. Anouk has cystic fibrosis and is on the list for a lung transplant. Her story is one of how she and her parents dealt with her illness, enabling her to combine her love for water and swimming with managing her cystic fibrosis, all the time struggling to breathe.

I think Sarah Leipciger is a great storyteller. It is an inspiring book, beautifully written, which emphasises the importance of the air we breathe and the desire to live. I loved it so much that I hope to read her first novel, The Mountain Can Wait.

With my thanks to NetGalley and to Random House for my review copy.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Random House UK Transworld Digital (19 Mar. 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 320 pages

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Summer 2021 To Read List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog. The topic this week is Books On My Summer 2021 To Read List.

Some of these books are ones that have been on my shelves for ages and some are more recent additions from NetGalley.

The Mouse Trap and Selected Plays by Agatha Christie – the world’s longest running play, plus three other thrillers adapted from the novels (which I have read) – And Then There Were None, The Hollow and Appointment with Death. I haven’t seen The Mouse Trap, and doubt I ever will, so the next best thing is to read it.

Set in an manor house a number of people are isolated from the outside world by a blizzard and faced with the reality that one of them is a killer.

The Enchanter’s Forest by Alys Clare – historical fiction set in Midsummer 1195. A ruthlessly ambitious man has fallen deeply into debt, his desperate situation made even more difficult by the contribution he has had to pay towards King Richard’s ransom. To make matters worse the beautiful wife he tricked into marriage has tired of him and her mother hates his guts.

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles set in Paris in 1939. Odile Souchet is obsessed with books, and her new job at the American Library in Paris is a dream come true. When war is declared, the Library is determined to remain open. But then the Nazis invade Paris, and everything changes.

Just Like the Other Girls by Claire Douglas – standalone psychological thriller. Una Richardson’s heart is broken after the death of her mother. Seeking a place to heal, she responds to an advertisement and steps into the rich, comforting world of Elspeth McKenzie. But Elspeth’s home is not as safe as it seems.

The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald – In 1912, rational Fred Fairly, one of Cambridge’s best and brightest, crashes his bike and wakes up in bed with a stranger – fellow casualty Daisy Saunders, a charming, pretty, generous working-class nurse. So begins a series of complications – not only of the heart but also of the head – as Fred and Daisy take up each other’s education and turn each other’s philosophies upside down. 

The House on Bellevue Gardens by Rachel Hore – Bellevue Gardens is a tranquil London square, tucked away behind a busy street. You might pass it without knowing it’s there. Here, through the imposing front door of Number 11, is a place of peace, of sanctuary and of secrets. It is home to Leonie; once a model in the sixties, she came to the house to escape a destructive marriage and now, out of gratitude, she opens her house to others in need.

The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jónasson –

After her father’s tragic suicide, Una is desperate to get away from Reykjavik. So when an advert appears for a teaching position in a remote, northern Icelandic village, she seizes her chance. But with unfriendly residents, bleak weather and a population of just ten, it is far from what Una knows. And then, just before midwinter, a young girl from the village is found dead. Now there are only nine villagers left. And Una fears that one of them has blood on their hands . . .

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce – 1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need. Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann. Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind …

True Crime Story by Joseph Knox – a standalone murder mystery told as a true crime story. In the early hours of Saturday 17 December 2011, Zoe Nolan, a nineteen-year-old Manchester University student, walked out of a party taking place in the shared accommodation where she had been living for three months.

She was never seen again. Seven years after her disappearance, struggling writer Evelyn Mitchell finds herself drawn into the mystery. Through interviews with Zoe’s closest friends and family, she begins piecing together what really happened in 2011. .

The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe passengers boarding the 10.35 train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston are bound for work, reunions, holidays and new starts, with no idea that the journey is about to change their lives for ever, as one of the passengers, sitting in the middle of the carriage is Saheel, carrying a deadly rucksack . . .

In the aftermath, amidst the destruction and desolation, new bonds are formed, new friendships made… and we find hope in the most unlikely of places and among the most unlikely people.

The Killing Kind by Jane Casey

Harper Collins| 27 May 2021|474 pages|Review copy| 5*

I love Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series, police procedurals, fast-paced novels, with intriguing and complex plots and developing the relationships between the main characters. So, when I saw that she has written a standalone novel, The Killing Kind I was keen to read it. It is a psychological thriller – and it is so, so very good. I was totally engrossed in it right from its opening page all the way through to the end. It’s a mix of courtroom scenes, police interviews and terrifying action-packed scenes.

The main character is Ingrid Lewis, a barrister, who successfully defended John Webster, who was on trial for stalking. But he then went on to stalk her, ruining her peace of mind and her life. He not only harassed her, but sent her multiple emails and texts, and uploaded YouTube videos destroying her reputation. Her relationship with her fiance, Mark Orpen, was ruined and her home was burnt down – all of which she was sure was down to him.

She took out a restraining order against him and thought she was free of him. But when the order expired she became convinced he was back in her life when one of colleagues, Belinda Grey, was killed in a road accident. Belinda had borrowed Ingrid’s red umbrella and Ingrid is sure she was the intended victim, when she sees the umbrella at the scene. Later a friend staying in her flat is brutally stabbed to death – again she is convinced Webster is behind her murder. But Webster insists he is innocent and that he is the only one who can protect her.

Ingrid doesn’t know who to believe and who she can trust – her life becomes a nightmare. Webster is clever, cold and an expert manipulator and Ingrid becomes putty in his hands. In despair she turns to DC Adam Nash for help and protection. It moves from past to present and in between the chapters there are sections in which three unnamed people exchange emails about Ingrid’s situation and I was intrigued trying to work out their identities- I was nearly right. I loved it.

With my thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins for my review copy.

A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released.

This week I’m featuring A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry, release 19 August 2021. It’s the third in the Will Raven & Sarah Fisher series, following from the McIlvanney prize-shortlisted The Way of All Flesh and The Art of Dying, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. So, I’m keen to read this one.


Edinburgh. This city will bleed you dry.

Dr Will Raven is a man seldom shocked by human remains, but even he is disturbed by the contents of a package washed up at the Port of Leith. Stranger still, a man Raven has long detested is pleading for his help to escape the hangman.

Back at 52 Queen Street, Sarah Fisher has set her sights on learning to practise medicine. Almost everyone seems intent on dissuading her from this ambition, but when word reaches her that a woman has recently obtained a medical degree despite her gender, Sarah decides to seek her out.

Raven’s efforts to prove his erstwhile adversary’s innocence are failing and he desperately needs Sarah’s help. Putting their feelings for one another aside, their investigations will take them to both extremes of Edinburgh’s social divide, where they discover that wealth and status cannot alter a fate written in the blood.

What upcoming release are you eagerly anticipating?

Six Degrees of Separation: from The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld to Harbour Street

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the Six Degrees chain begins with The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld, set on an island in the Firth of Forth. I haven’t read it, but it does appeal to me, so I think I’d like to read it. It’s a novel that weaves together the lives of three women across four centuries.

My first link is to a book about another rockPicnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay, an Australian thriller, set in 1900 about a group of girls who went missing after an outing to the Hanging Rock, a spectacular volcanic mass.

The beginning of Picnic at Hanging Rock when it was agreed that the warm summer’s day was just right for the expedition to the Rock, reminded me of the beginning of To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf in which Mrs Ramsay announces that if the next day is fine they could go to the lighthouse, an expedition that her son had looked forward to for years.

As I wondered which book to link to next it struck me that Virginia Woolf’s name begins with two consecutive letters of the alphabet. Another author’s name also begins with consecutive letters – Charles Dickens. So my next link is to A Tale of Two Cities, a novel set in Paris and London about the French Revolution.

Paris is my fourth link with The Shadow Puppet by Georges Simenon. A man is shot dead in his office in the Place des Vosges in Paris and Maigret uncovers a tragedy involving desperate lives, unhappy people, addiction and an all-consuming greed. Maigret notices shadowy figures in the lighted windows of the building opposite.

Staying with Shadows my next link is The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill, one of her Serrailler novels. Whilst being crime fiction, it also concerns moral and social issues.There are two major themes in this book. One concerns the murders of local prostitutes, found strangled. The other is mental illness, with Ruth Webber, who suffers from manic depression. She goes missing there are fears she may become one of the murder victims.

Murder and the word street in the title are my links to the final book in the chain – Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves – one of the best Vera Stanhope murder mysteries. It’s about the murder of an old lady, Margaret Krukowski, who was stabbed to death on the Newcastle Metro ten days before Christmas.

My chain begins with a novel about the Bass Rock and ends with one of my favourite murder mysteries.

Next month (3 July 2021), we’ll start with Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.

My Friday Post: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

My book this week is Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay, one of the books I’m reading for this year’s 20 Books of Summer event. This book has been on my wishlist for years ever since I read about it on someone’s blog – sorry, I can’t remember which blog.

On St Valentine’s Day in 1900, a party of nineteen girls accompanied by two schoolmistresses sets off from the elite Appleyard College for Young Ladies, for a day’s outing at the spectacular volcanic mass called Hanging Rock. Some were never to return. The picnic, which begins innocently and happily ends in explicable terror …

It begins:

Everyone agreed that the day was just right for the picnic to Hanging Rock – a shimmering summer morning warm and still, with cicadas shrilling all through breakfast from the loquat trees outside the dining room windows and bees murmuring above the pansies bordering the drive.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

The police, said Bumpher, were doing their utmost to clear up the mystery and in his opinion and that of Detective Lugg, it was essential that Edith as a key witness should be confronted with the actual scene as a spur to memory.

There’s an intriguing note at the beginning of the book:

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction the readers must decide for themselves. As the fateful picnic took place in the year nineteen hundred, and all the characters who appear in this book are long since dead, it hardly seems important.

Throwback Thursday: 3 June 2021

I’m linking up today with Davida @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog for Throwback Thursday. It takes place on the Thursday before the first Saturday of every month (i.e., the Thursday before the monthly #6Degrees post). The idea is to highlight one of your previously published book reviews and then link back to Davida’s blog.

This month I’m looking back at my review of The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths which I first posted on 8 June 2010. It’s the first book in the Ruth Galloway Mystery series.

Here’s the first paragraph::

When I started reading The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths I nearly didn’t bother carrying on because it’s written in the present tense, but I’m glad I did because I did enjoy it and at times didn’t even notice the tense. This is a debut crime fiction novel, even though it’s not the author’s first book.

Click here to read my full review

Elly Griffiths was born in London in 1963. Her real name is Domenica de Rosa and she’s written four books under that name. Her first crime novel The Crossing Places is set on the Norfolk coast where she spent holidays as a child and where her aunt still lives. Her interest in archaeology comes from her husband, Andrew, who gave up his city job to retrain as an archaeologist. She lives in Brighton, on the south coast of England, with her husband and two children.

She has written 13 books in the Ruth Galloway Mystery series. The 14th book, The Locked Room is due to be published in February 2022.

The next Throwback Thursday post is scheduled for 3 July 2021.

Top Ten Tuesday: A Freebie -Spy Thrillers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog. The topic this week is a Freebie so my ten this week are Spy Thrillers. I’ve read all of these, except for An Officer and a Spy, which is one of my to-be-read books:

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré set in the 1960s. Alex Leamas, an aging British intelligence agent, who has beenout in the cold’ for years, spying in the shadow of the Berlin Wall for his British masters, is ordered to discredit an East German official. 

They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie – set in 1950 this is a story about international espionage and conspiracy. No Miss Marple of Poirot, just Victoria Jones, a short-hand typist, a courageous girl with a tendency to tell lies. She gets involved in a plot to sabotage a secret summit of superpowers is to be held in Baghdad.

The Spy by Paul Coelho, a fictionalised biography of Mata Hari, who was an exotic dancer, executed as a spy during the First World War in October 1917.

Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh, set in May 1593, this a tense, dramatic story of the last days of Christopher Marlowe, playwright, poet and spy. 

The English Spy by Donald Smith tells the story of how Daniel Defoe was sent to Scotland in 1707 under secret instructions from the English government to persuade the Scots to give up their independence. 

The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan, a spy thriller, set in 1914 just before the outbreak of the First World War, in which Richard Hannay finds Scudder, a spy, murdered in his London flat. Fearing for his own life he goes on the run, chased by villains in a series of exciting episodes, culminating in the discovery of the location of the ‘thirty-nine steps’.

Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom -an action packed thrilling war/spy story and also a moving love story and historical drama all rolled into this tense and gripping novel. Harry Brett, traumatised by his injuries at Dunkirk is sent to Spain to spy for the British Secret Service. 

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris, a fictionalised account of the Dreyfus affair. Dreyfus was a French military officer convicted of spying for the Germans in 1895. He is sentenced to a lifetime of solitary confinement on Devil’s Island.

Corpus by Rory Clements a spy thriller set in the 1936. I was immersed in the mysteries, with spies, communists and Nazis, Spanish Gold, Soviet conspirators, politicians and academics all intricately woven into the plot.

Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World War II by Ben Macintyre about the Allies’ deception plan codenamed Operation Mincemeat in 1943, which underpinned the invasion of Sicily. It was framed around a man who never was.

20 Books of Summer Starts Today

Today is the start of Cathy at 746 Books20 Books of Summer. I previously listed the books I thought I’d read, but I’m already making a change and substituting Blue Moon by Lee Childs for An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris.

So, these are the 20 books that I’m hoping to read this summer:

  1. The Railway Children by E Nesbit
  2. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.
  3. Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K Jerome
  4. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.
  5. Sing, Jess, Sing by Tricia Coxon
  6. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
  7. The Dressmaker by Beryl Bainbridge
  8. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
  9. The Killing Kind by Jane Casey
  10. The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jónasson
  11. True Crime Story by Joseph Knox
  12. Just Like the Other Girls by Claire Douglas
  13. The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
  14. Coming Up for Air by Sarah Leipciger
  15. The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles ** – as Rosemarykay pointed out in the comments I’ve duplicated this one, so I’m changing it to Heresy by S J Parris
  16. Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erskine
  17. A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry
  18. The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
  19. Katheryn Howard, The Tainted Queen by Alison Weir
  20. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

My Friday Post: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

My book this week is Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, a a Kindle Daily Deal e-book I bought for 99p this week, the first James Bond novel.

It begins:

The scent and smoke and sweat of casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling – a compost of greed and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

‘My name’s Felix Leiter,’ said the American. ‘Glad to meet you.’

‘Mine’s Bond – James Bond.’


Le Chiffre is a businessman with expensive tastes, and SMERSH’s chief operative in France. But as his dissolute lifestyle threatens to ruin him, his only hope is to risk his paymasters’ money at the card table.

James Bond, the finest gambler in the service, has a deadly new mission: to outplay Le Chiffre and shatter his Soviet cell.

Amidst the opulence of Casino Royale, the two men face each other for a game with the highest stakes of all.