Swimming Home by Mary-Rose MacColl

Swimming Home

Mary-Rose MacColl

Swimming Home by Mary-Rose MacColl dives into the role of women in the 1920s, the involvement of women in sports and medicine, and the long-lasting effects of the choices we make.

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From the author of the international bestseller In Falling Snow. In 1925, a young woman swimmer will defy the odds to swim the English Channel—a chance to make history. 

London 1925: Fifteen-year-old Catherine Quick longs to feel once more the warm waters of her home, to strike out into the ocean off the Torres Strait Islands in Australia and swim, as she’s done since she was a child. But now, orphaned and living with her aunt Louisa in London, Catherine feels that everything she values has been stripped away from her.
Louisa, a London surgeon who fought boldly for equality for women, holds strict views on the behavior of her young niece. She wants Catherine to pursue an education, just as she herself did.  Catherine is rebellious, and Louisa finds it difficult to block painful memories from her past. It takes the enigmatic American banker Manfred Lear Black to convince Louisa to bring Catherine to New York where Catherine can train to become the first woman to swim the English Channel. And finally, Louisa begins to listen to what her own heart tells her.

Advance Galley Reviews

This was not one of my favorite historical fiction. The story is based on the race to be the first woman to swim across the English Channel. The book did stimulate me to dig into the interesting facts of the actual historic event, but I was frustrated by the characters. Louisa fights gender prejudice to become a surgeon and run a women's clinic for the poor but she can't support her niece & ward's dream to swim (a most unfeminine activity)? She finally agrees to allow her niece to travel to the US to train with a team of women who planning to swim across the English Channel, but her motivation is more selfish than supportive.

Thank you to First to Read and the Publisher for a chance to read this book. Although it was thoughtful, with good themes and well rounded characters , I struggled with this book. The plot of this book developed to slowly for me and really had trouble finding interest enough to pick up the book and read it. Personally it just wasn't my taste but will say that it was well written. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27251813-swimming-home

This book has all of my favorite things: it's historical fiction; it takes place in the Twenties; and it features strong female characters. What's not to like? Well, I will say it took me a bit of time to get into, but I read that observation in several other reviews. The turning point for me, I think, was when they finally stopped going back and forth in time and just stayed in the present. Sometimes I can appreciate flashbacks for the handy narrative tool they are, but these just seemed to jar me, and so then I'd have a difficult time settling back into the present just when the past had started to grab me. It was super interesting learning the history of female swimmers, an activity that is so natural to me and that I know I (and many others) take for granted. I didn't know it wasn't until the twentieth century that women could partake in Olympic swimming, or the lengths one had to go to even be part of a "swim team." When Catherine went to New York to train...that's when I really became engaged in the story. As I've said in my last couple of reviews, though, the characters didn't quite feel multi-faceted, and that's where I tend to struggle. The story was a bit predictable, too...I was not surprised to discover that ____ was Catherine's mother all along. Who knows, maybe we weren't supposed to be surprised. MacColl left enough breadcrumbs for me to figure it out well before the big reveal. All in all, I would say this book is worth reading, but with so many great books and authors out there now, I can't say I'll be rushing to read her others.

Mary-Rose MacColl's novel Swimming Home is an interesting read. Moving between 1925 London, America, and the Torres Strait Islands of Australia, London surgeon Louisa and her orphaned Australian niece Catherine must adjust to the major challenges each faces when Catherine moves to London due to the death of her father (Louisa's brother). The developing relationship between Catherine and Louisa is effectively portrayed, and the historical portrayal of women's rights and opportunities, including those for female distance swimmers, is well-researched and effectively incorporated into the plot and settings. Minor characters play an important role in this novel and are nicely developed. However, I found the ending contrived--predictable and trite--and for me, this diminished the quality of the book as a whole.

I enjoyed this book though I found Louisa the Aunt turned Guardian of Catherine to be quite trying throughout the whole book. Catherine grew up on an island off the coast of Australia and as such does not understand why she must leave the comfort of the only home and mother she knew in Florence, her father's housekeeper and Florence's son Michael. Catherine makes her mark by taking a dare from a classmate to swim the Thames and catches the eye of the "Mad American" Lear Black who wants to be the sponsor for the first woman swimmer to cross the Channel. Catherine breaks down barriers similar to those of her Aunt Louisa and grandmother Elizabeth did in medicine, but in sport instead. This was an interesting look at the world of women in sport during the 1920s with a sprinkling of British colonialism. Not the most exciting book I've read this year but a simple, easy read. Definitely could be a pick for the beach this summer.

This book is a sequel to another book, which I didn't know. It was hard for me to get into it, felt that there were too many characters at first. I wish I had more time, I would have read the first one and then started on this one.

This book couldn't capture my interest enough to want to read it regularly. For me, it's a story that I would rather take a couple months to read while reading other books. I wish I had more time to finish it and then I could give a better review.

Great heartfelt historical novel. This is my first novel by Mary-Rose MacColl, but will not be my last. Her mastery of allowing you to see, hear, smell and feel the words on the page is a rare gift. Her characters spring off the page and are those who you wish were your neighbors. This novel is about two very strong determined independent female characters. They are brought together by the death of a father/brother. Aunt and niece have lived very different lives - one prim and proper, sans children - the other unkempt, active and carefree. One from Australia, forced out of her element, the other from London, who goes back to her normal routine. Once this match is made it is obvious that things must change - niece Cathrine loves to swim - has always swam. Aunt Louisa resumes her duties as a doctor and insists Catherine's etiquette and education come first. Enters Manfred Lear Black, a rich American banker, and all status quo is shattered.

A great summer read. Rich characters, plot twist, and interesting view of early '20s history.

An interesting piece of history about swimming and women's independence and a not-uncommon premise about family secrets make Swimming Home by Mary-Rose MacColl an interesting read. The globe-hopping story creates a seemingly quick pace, but the plot itself moves slowly. Although the focus is on fifteen year old Catherine's swimming, this book is very much her aunt Louisa's story. For this reason, this belongs in adult fiction even though Catherine's story has a young adult flair. Either way, the book is a quick, light summer read. Read my complete review at http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2017/06/swimming-home.html. Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program.

I am sorry to say this was a disappointing story for me. I found Louisa frustrating in both her hypocrisy and in her inability to communicate with her niece, Catherine. While I felt for Catherine and could relate to some of her struggles, the constraints of the time period frustrated me to no end. Normally I enjoy historical fiction but this novel just didn't appeal to me.

4 stars This book was a surprisingly good read and a quick one too despite its length (400+ pages). I will admit though that when I first saw the title and read the summary, I wasn’t sure if it would be my kind of book. The main reason is because the story seemed to revolve around swimming, both for recreation and as a sport – nothing wrong with that of course, but I tend to shy away from books about athletics and sports because, well, I’m not “outdoorsy” and because I’m not into sports of any kind, I’m afraid I might get bored if a book gets too technical about the sport. Well, it turned out that with Mary-Rose MacColl’s Swimming Home, I had nothing to worry about. Yes, the book was about swimming and yes, the sport played an important role in the story, with the author even blending real life swimming history into the story (for example -- names of real swimmers with real achievements, real swim organizations, historical facts about swimming and the women’s movement, etc.). However, there was much much more to the story than just swimming. MacColl actually explores a variety of different subjects in the book, including family relationships, friendship, society convention and prejudices, gender equality and women’s rights, coming-of-age, class system (rich versus poor), etc. What I liked best though was the good dose of history that the author was able to incorporate into the story, both via the setting (1920s Europe and U.S. when aviation hadn’t really taken off yet so people took the train or boat when travelling between countries and also no telephone either so people wired one another via telegrams) as well as actual historical events that had taken place (i.e.: the WSA’s fight for women’s rights in swimming, the changes in society that were part of the aftermath of World War I, famous achievements such as swimmer Gertrude Ederle being the first woman to swim the English Channel in 1926, etc.). There were even some undercurrents of a subtle mystery that ran throughout the story, which resulted in a bit of a twist in the end that I totally did not expect. The beauty of the way the story was written though (yes, this book was definitely well-written), was that none of the subjects this book dealt with were overpowering in any way -- each subject/theme was given adequate treatment without going overboard, which I definitely appreciated. This book also had good character development, especially with the 2 main characters : Louisa Quick, a doctor in London who was instrumental in helping to lead the female empowerment through education movement in her youth, and her niece Catherine Quick, a teenager born and raised on a remote island in Australia whose affinity with the sea and swimming was as natural as eating and breathing. To be honest, I really didn’t like Louisa much in the beginning and some of her actions were truly appalling, but then I realized that the way her character was written was actually very realistic. Basically, she was a good person who made mistakes – lots of them….in other words, she was flawed just like the rest of us. Catherine, on the other hand, was a character I liked from the start – her carefree manner was infectious and I enjoyed getting to accompany her as she comes-of-age after her father dies unexpectedly and she is relocated to London to live with her aunt. I loved that Catherine grew and matured after her various experiences in London and New York, but yet the core of who she was never changed and her passion for swimming stayed strong throughout. I read a few reviews of this book that said the plot was too slow, which made it hard to get into the story. I partially agree in that the plot was indeed slow at first and it did take a few dozen pages for the story to really take off, but after that, I didn’t have any problems getting into the story. In fact, I found the story quite engaging at this point and I was so invested in the characters that I just wanted to keep reading so I could find out what happens to them in the end. I also appreciated the good use of descriptions and imagery throughout the story – again, adequate and not overpowering while staying true to the historical context of the time period. This is a book I would definitely recommend, especially to those who enjoy well-written historical fiction that is also well-researched, with a story that has depth, but is also easy to read. One observation I would like to mention though – I noticed this book was originally published in October 2015, but I received an ARC of this last month with an expected publication date in June 2017. I didn’t really look into it but I noticed the 2017 release is for the paperback version – so I guess this is technically an “older” book from 2 years ago that is being re-released in paperback now. Just a random observation in case there is confusion on the release dates for this book. Received ARC from Penguin Books via Penguin First-to-Read program.

Although I struggled with Louisa a bit and the story was slow in parts, I still enjoyed Swimming Home overall. It is wonderful to read a book with strong female characters.

I had high hopes going into this book. Some of my expectations were met, others were not. This is a generally good story overall, though not without its flaws (nothing that couldn't be fixed with a firmer editing hand). Louisa Quick is certainly a complex character. She's caught between her modern feminist ideals and her traditional upbringing, walking an unsteady line between the two. Sometimes she slips to one side at the expense of the other but not without a forming some sort of rationalization to sooth any misgivings. We readers can spot the contradictions (dare I say hypocrisy), but Louisa seems mostly oblivious. This inner conflict makes her the more interesting of the two female leads.

This began as a promising book. An English doctor, Louisa Quick, becomes the guardian of her niece, Catherine, a talented young swimmer raised by her father in Australia. Louisa brings her niece back to London to live but Catherine is miserable; she misses her island and particularly swimming. After her expulsion from school for swimming the Thames, considered a very unladylike thing to do, she attracts the attention of a wealthy entrepreneur who wants to sponsor her to swim the English Channel. Unfortunately, the middle of the book becomes tedious and bogs down with the constant obsession with the Channel swim, Louisa's battle with her role as guardian and her act of deceit that ensues, and Catherine's doubts and conflicts about the Swim and the publicity. Since Catherine is not a real person who attempted the Channel swim, the ending is predictable though there is an unexpected twist. The best thing about this book is it encouraged me to read about the actual female swimmers who did attempt the Channel swim and who play a part in the story

This was a delightful little book. It was thoughtful, with good themes and deep characters. The multiple POVs worked well here, and the interactions between Louisa and Catherine were realistic and engaging. One aspect I really enjoyed was the feminism—but not in the usual way of feminism. Louisa was a true feminist, fighting for the rights of women, but Catherine provided a nice contrast because she didn't care all that much about feminism—she just cared about the joy of the activity of swimming. I appreciate that balance because while I (as a woman) obviously care about the rights of women, I don't consider myself a hard-core feminist, and I don't usually like books where feminism is the only major theme. Despite all its good points, I struggled to read this book. Part of this might have been the other things I have going on in life right now, and part of it was that the plot developed a little slowly for me. I would have enjoyed the book more if there had been more plot to it in the middle of the book. But overall, I definitely enjoyed it and would recommend it to friends.

I liked this book more than I thought I would. An amazing story of resilience and growth, and it was interesting to read about this time in history. Very well written and the first few chapters hook you into the book so you want to continue reading!

Light, easy read about a teenage swimmer and her doctor-aunt. The two women are path-breakers, each in their own ways, and struggle to see each other in the same light. The tale is a bit of a trope but goes down well.

An enjoyable story set in the 1920s as women are cracking the glass ceiling. Louisa is an intelligent and accomplished woman physician as her mother before her. However she is totally unprepared for the changes in her life when she becomes the guardian for her niece Catherine. The relationship between Louisa and Catherine is very engaging as they both struggle to settle in their new roles. Catherine, an innocent free spirit wants to swim and has the opportunity to swim competively through the encouragement and financial support of a wealthy American banker. I really enjoyed this book with strong, caring, and bright women meeting challenges head on!

Wonderfully written. I really enjoyed how there are different levels of woman empowerment and just the focus on how women's roles changed and were challenged by men. The main characters really highlight this. Great read.

Beautifully written. A tale of women in the 20's and the challenges of new worlds & expectations. Bittersweet balance of sad events and glorious accomplishments.

I truly loved this book. Louisa ends up raising her niece Catherine and struggles to learn the maternal role that she must grasp. Catherine is drawn to swimming and as Louisa supports her endeavors, they grow together and learn that they are really mother and daughter. Louisa attempts to keep the past from Catherine by keeping her letters from her, but is able to be restored as Catherine is reunites with her past.

I enjoyed this story very much. This book tells the story of Dr. Louisa Quick and her orphaned niece in 1920s London and New York. The story details Catherine's struggles moving from an island in Australia to England and her Aunt's struggles to become a parent to a teenager and would-be champion swimmer. This was written well and entertaining. I recommend this book.

Books about strong, independent women and how they overcome obstacles is very inspiring to me. This book has all that and more! I am looking forward to reading more of Ms. MacColl's works in the near future.

Set in the 1920's and on three continents, this was a stunning read about women's rights, love, and who becomes family of the heart. Catherine's pure love of swimming was beautifully portrayed. She feels most at home in the water no matter where she is living. This novel is full of strong and capable women who are able to overcome obstacles in a convincing way. These are the kinds of characters I love. I need to read MacColl's first novel, In Falling Snow, as well since she is a new author for me. Thanks Penguin for bringing us together!


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