Posted in Netgalley

The Memory by Judith Barrow.

A common phrase I use in therapy is that ‘no two children have the same parent’ and that phrase kept popping in my head during this novel. This is said because of different circumstances into which each sibling is born. Parents can: be more anxious with a first child, than with younger siblings; or react to a practical change such as a child being ill; or experience post-natal depression; might be going back to work with one child, then stay home with another; be responding to a life event such as a death in the wider family; have different financial circumstances with each child. All of these can change the amount of time, patience, ability to bond that the parent has and affect the relationship between parent and child, as well as the child’s personality going forward.

In this novel we follow dual timelines as Judith Barrow lets the story of a mother/daughter relationship slowly play out. We uncover a singular moment in time that shapes the whole family, especially daughter Irene. We begin in the early 2000s when Irene is caring for her mother who is dying. She is going through all those emotions familiar to the caring role; she’s exhausted and veers between feeling it’s the right thing to do and a deep resentment, that we sense has a root way back in the past. Irene is experiencing a feeling she’s had before, a feeling that her mother has possibly experienced too. The contradictory feeling of hating someone, whilst also loving them fiercely. We go back to 1963 and the birth of Irene’s baby sister Rose. Rose had Down’s Syndrome, and her birth signalled massive changes to Irene’s life, not just in 1963 but for many years to come. As her parent’s fragile marriage truly begins to fall apart, Irene has to turn to her grandmother for support in coping with the dysfunction at home. She feels compelled to protect her little sister from the worst of it and feels an intense love for Rose. Yet, she’s also missing out. Her home life and responsibilities aren’t like other girls of her age and she becomes isolated but for Sam, her friend who eventually becomes her husband. When her father leaves, she is effectively separate from him and despite his weakness, she loves him very much. Her mother is eaten up by resentment and the cares of bringing up two children alone. Then, just as Irene could be making choices about what to do with her life and preparing for her future, her beloved grandmother becomes ill. So, everything that Irene could have dreamed for her life is sacrificed for the care of her family, This made me so angry and I felt deeply for Irene who never gets to fulfil her dreams or shape her own future. Essentially, her own life is sacrificed for the needs of her family.

When our two timelines meet we can see a full picture of what impact Rose’s life and death has had on this family, and particularly her older sister. Rose, Irene and their mother are trapped in a constant whirl of love, care and resentment. Still in the childhood home she can’t leave because she feels her sister’s memory there. At the centre of these feelings is a specific event, but one she doesn’t fully understand because she was a child. The only thing she can do is stay close to the places of her childhood and of her little sister. She’s haunted, but only because she can’t let Rose go. As our narrator, Irene is beautifully constructed – from the sparse and minimal understanding she has of the adult world at eight years old, all the way to a grown woman who doesn’t know who she is without someone to care for. Anyone who has cared for someone long term knows how much it takes from you physically, but also emotionally. You are stripped of your identity until your only reason for being alive is to keep someone else alive. Then, what comes after? How does the carer get themselves back?

It’s not that Irene is without love. No, there has been a lot of love in her life from the love between her and her husband Sam. Her love for her grandmother. Her fiercely protective love for Rose. Will she finally be able to navigate this difficult path and unearth that memory she’s never fully understood? Then, if she does find the truth, will she able to live with its consequences? This is a brilliant study of one woman’s psyche and shows how ordinary lives are often extraordinary.

Meet The Author

Judith Barrow, is originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines, but has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for over forty years.

She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen. BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres.

Her next book, The Heart Stone, is due to be published by in February 2021.

Posted in Netgalley

The Butterfly House by Katrine Engberg

In the coronary care unit at one of Copenhagen’s leading medical centres, a nurse fills a syringe with an overdose of heart medication and stealthily enters the room of an older male patient.

Six days earlier, a paperboy on his route in the centre of the city stumbles upon a macabre find: the body of a dead woman, lying in a fountain, her arms marked with small incisions. Cause of death? Exsanguination – the draining of all the blood in her body. Clearly, this is no ordinary murder.

Jeppe Kørner, recovering from a painful divorce and in the throes of a new relationship, takes on the investigation. His partner, Anette Werner, now on leave after an unexpected pregnancy, is restless at home. While Jeppe leads the official search, Anette can’t stop herself from doing a little detective work as well. But operating on her own exposes her to dangers she can’t even begin to realise.

As the investigation ventures into dark and dangerous corners, it uncovers an ambition and greed festering beneath the surface of caregiving institutions, all leading back to the mysterious Butterfly House . . .

I hadn’t come across the first novel in this series, but was intrigued by this pair of detectives. They seemed to bring something different to the role and life of a detective. The murders in the novel are particularly disturbing given that they take place within a hospital – usually a place of healing. An elderly patient in the coronary unit is killed by a syringe drawn up with an overdose of his heart medication. Six days earlier, a boy on his paper round found a dead woman in a fountain in the town centre. She died due to exsanguination, blood letting from thousands of tiny cuts, and her final moments must have been excruciating. Are the two cases linked and will Detectives Korner and Werner be able to find the killer?

I loved that Werner was home on maternity leave, bored and itching to join in on the investigation. I think, very realistically, she’s struggling with feeling powerless and dealing with the fact her pregnancy was unplanned. She didn’t expect it and can’t stop herself doing some detective work from home. However the problem with snooping alone is that she’s exposed to dangers she wouldn’t normally have to consider. Will she put herself in in harms way? Her partner, Korner, is coping with the aftermath of a painful divorce and now a new relationship. Will his mind be on the job? Together, this investigation will lead them into a dark corner of public institutions – their equivalent in this country would be social services and the NHS. Corruption and exploitation within these institutions seems likely as they continue their investigations.

The characterisation is brilliant. I really connected with Werner. Her husband has adapted well to unexpected fatherhood and can’t really relate to her struggle. Werner is 44 and feels the body she’s been connected to all her life, doesn’t belong to her anymore. The baby cries endlessly and she feels complete indifference. Her head’s still at work and she feels exhausted. Intrigued by what’s happening in her absence, she has a police scanner and makes fake runs for nappies in order to keep up with the case. The strength of her partnership with Jeppe shows in how much he’s missing her presence in the investigation, even for the qualities that really irritated him usually. I warmed to him too as he struggles on with a partner he can’t connect with and who can’t keep up with him. These people felt so real to me and the authors description of their worlds is just as immersive. I could imagine myself in this city, in the autumn air that the author describes. I found the medical histories of the victims fascinating and became really involved with the mental health and psychiatric aspects. The pace of the narrative was just right, fast enough to keep me reading while providing enough detail to pull me into the case. Often with thrillers I can feel short changed or rushed into a conclusion, but here the twists felt real and the conclusion was satisfying. This novel had everything I enjoy about the Nordic Noir genre and I will be following this series with great interest.

Published 14th Jan 2021 by Hodder and Stoughton.

Meet The Author

A former dancer and choreographer with a background in television and theater, Katrine Engberg launched a groundbreaking career as a novelist with the publication of her fiction debut, The Tenant. She is now one of the most widely read and beloved crime authors in Denmark, and her work has been sold in over twenty-five countries. She lives with her family in Copenhagen.

Posted in Netgalley

People Like Us by Louise Fein.

I was deeply affected by this novel about the rise of the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany, told from the perspective of a young girl living in Leipzig. The story opens as a young Herta is rescued from drowning by her brother Karl’s friend, Walter. It’s a powerful opener and a metaphor for the coming years, as Herta is slowly drowned by the tidal wave of nationalism, and fascism that overwhelms her country and changes her life altogether. Fein was inspired to write the novel after researching her family’s Jewish roots and eventual flight to London. During her research, she started to wonder how a country and it’s people could go from being a reasonable and tolerant society, to committing such atrocities against their fellow human beings. So, to explore that idea, she decided to write her novel from the perspective of an ordinary German child, slowly becoming brainwashed by the evil ideology. It’s the childhood innocence of Herta that makes this book work so well and allows us to have empathy, despite her allegiances.

Herta’s father has recently taken control of the city newspaper and his reward is their beautiful new family home, their servants and improved status in Leipzig society. He came from humble beginnings to marry Herta’s elegant French mother, but is now quickly rising through the SS ranks. Her elder brother Karl is in the Hitler-Jugend and she really wants to do her bit to make for Vati and Mutti proud of her too. So she pledges her life to the Fuhrer, to serve him and his purpose, totally unaware of its evil extent. Fein slowly shows us his plans, and along with some of our characters we’re like the proverbial frog in tepid water. Without our luxury of hindsight, we too wouldn’t have recognised how much danger we were in, until it was far too late and we boiled to death. There are those characters who truly embrace Hitler’s philosophy and purpose like Herta’s Vati, and below that are various levels of denial, collaboration and fear. Even Vati, has a jumbled mix of motivations: feelings of inferiority from his background and in his marriage; relishing the status and power; a certain amount of brainwashing.

Hitler’s propaganda machine was in full swing within Germany, aided by the country’s financial struggle since the Great War. The Weimar Republic, the post WWI government, signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The treaty stated that Germany would take responsibility for the war, relinquish parts of its territory and pay reparations to the Allies. These policies caused huge social and economic hardship, a situation that the Nazis blamed on Jewish people and communists. A myth was even started that blamed the Jews for the signing of the treaty. Called the ‘stab-in-the-back’ legend, this story blamed Jewish infiltrators in government for the difficulties the German people were facing, despite the fact that many German Jews had served faithfully in the war. Now, the German people were worn down by hardship and poverty and were looking for someone to blame. Hitler exploited these conditions to devastating effect and ordinary Germans were taken in by it. So, when Jewish neighbours and friends started being restricted or sent to work camps, only very rare, brave individuals stood up for them.

The scene when Herta first realises something is very wrong is at school, and her teachers call on Jewish children to stand up in assembly. The shock is seeing her brother’s childhood friend Walter, singled out for abuse and ridicule. Walter can’t be a Jew. He’s the Aryan ideal, blonde and blue-eyed. Besides which, when she was very small Walter saved her from drowning. He had been a constant presence at the house when they were younger. Now here he was being called terrible names and sneered at by their new teacher. Herta is terribly confused, she has been told that Jews look a certain way, and act in a different way to her, but she feels that she and Walter are both the same. Bravely, she runs after him when he is expelled from school and triggers a friendship of her own. A friendship that as she grows-up, develops into love. What possible future can this relationship have under Nazi rule? Then, as it becomes ever clearer that Hitler will not rest until Germany is cleared of Jews, both Herta and Walter will have to make sacrifices and the legacy of these decisions will last until they are both very old.

I don’t want to say any more for fear of ruining the story, but there were many points where I was moved to tears by the situation these childhood friends and young lovers, found themselves in. The displacement of families during WW2 was extensive and with no way of tracing each other, there would have been people who never saw each other again. I married into a Polish family, my husband died several years ago and my father and brother-in-law more recently. My mother-in-law got out of Warsaw as a little girl, escaping through the sewers. Her mother stayed. Her father ended up in America. The family never reunited fully, with Hana finding out her father had ended up in the Boston area of the USA. He had searched but never found either of them. He assumed they had died and later remarried, never knowing that his wife and child did survive and were now in England together. Luckily when Hana found her other family, she embraced them and they in turn remained close to their English family. I felt that the author had really done her background research, possibly with families like mine. I believed in her world and characters immediately.

The background of Leipzig felt homely and friendly, but then developed into this menacing place where you didn’t speak or even spat at the old couple across the street. The night where Herta looks for Walter, knowing that violent confrontations will be taking place in the Jewish quarter, is so frightening and made me feel physically sick. It’s where the threats and rhetoric become real and deadly. Herta is only ever truly free in nature, walking her dog on a Sunday morning and sometimes seeing Walter. It’s harder for someone to conceal anything themselves in open fields and usually Herta can walk freely, enjoying the air and the birdsong. This place represents normality whereas the city is madness, chaos and murder. The ending broke my heart, as we contemplate with Herta on what the world will be like to a new generation. Will it be peaceful with the effects of war far behind, or will the ripples of this hatred and violence be felt for several generations more? I was so moved by this and the epilogue. Some books stay with you for life and I think this will be one of mine.

Published by Head of Zeus 7th May 2020.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The Missing One by Lucy Atkins

When this book first came out, I raced through it over a couple of days, because I was dying to find out what happened back in the 1970s to Elena and Susannah. A terrifying and traumatic event links these two women until the present day and it can’t stay a secret for ever. In the present is Elena’s daughter Kali, who has just lost her mother to breast cancer – a mother she could never make sense of or bond with as she wanted. In the aftermath of Elena’s death, Kali is trying to make sense of this difficult relationship, when she finds a pile of postcards from a woman called Susannah in her mother’s belongings. Thinking she has found the clue to her mother’s past, Kali pursues this woman to find out about events leading up to her birth and hints of a family history that has resolutely stayed hidden. Driven forward by grief and the worry that her husband is having an affair, Kali takes her son Finn on an odyssey to find the mother she never really knew and herself. She has many theories about what she might find: maybe her father had an affair; maybe Susannah was his lover or her mother’s? Yet, what she finds is something she never suspected.

Set against the backdrop of wild North America and Canada, we learn about a woman’s quest to understand the Orca. Distressed by witnessing the killer whales at Seaworld in California while doing her PhD, a young Elena leaves everything to record killer whale pods in the ocean. The Seaworld orca gave birth to a calf that was so disorientated by his tiny tank he kept banging himself against the glass trying to navigate through echolocation. His desperate mother keeps pushing him away from the sides to protect him from damage, but in her efforts to protect she forgets to nurture and the calf dies because she has forgotten to feed him. Kali was similarly starved of nurturing by her mother. Is it because Elena was so intent instead on protecting her from this awful secret?

The novel is an incredible insight into relations between mothers and daughters. Kali’s sister Alice has a great relationship with her mother that seems easy, whereas Kali and Elena clash over everything. Kali sees that her mother finds her hard to nurture and believes it is her fault. It takes putting herself in danger to find out why and in finding out she also discovers that essential piece of the jigsaw that tells her who she is and grounds her in a history. The novel shows how when you become a mother it becomes more important than ever to know where you are from and how you belong. It also shows how the secrets of one generation have a huge impact on the next, even if the secret is kept with the best of intentions. The book cleverly shows the difference between generations since we have now moved into a world where we put our own lives on show for fun. In a world where counselling and therapy are becoming the norm it is no longer seen as acceptable to keep such huge secrets and we know as post-Freudians what effect those early years of parenting have on the adult we become.

Aside from the complex human relationships are the family ties within the Orca families. We see how there are resident pods and transient pods with different feeding habits and rules to abide by. It is also clear that parallels can be drawn between the whale relationships and the human ones. Elena is so moved by their mothering instincts and the possibilities to map their language and understand their emotions. She gives up everything to spend as much time with them as she possibly can even going to sleep on her floathouse with the sounds of whales drifting up from a microphone in the water. I learned so much about these incredible creatures without losing the majesty of them and the awe a human being feels when a huge tail rises up out of the water next to their boat.

The novel can be read in many different ways: as a dissection of family relationships, a thriller, a study of whales and a study of grief. Grief causes Elena to suffer with depression throughout her life, grief traumatises Susannah to the extent that she is unbalanced by the things she has witnessed and it is grief that compels Kali to jump on a plane to Vancouver with nothing but a few postcards and the internet to go on. I struggled to put the novel down because of the thriller element. Like a good crime novel, you desperately want to know the truth of who- dunnit. Yet it is those final chapters I like best, after everything is resolved and each character is living in the aftermath of exposed secrets and recovery from physical and mental injury. The novel could have ended there and I am glad that it went further, back into Elena’s past so that we can see her happy on her floathouse making coffee and then hearing those whales come to greet her. As a widow of eight years I found those final words of Elena’s deeply moving:

She would go back to that throughout her life, right to the very end. But the last time, when the world had shrunken to the contours of her skin and she leaned over the railings, it wasn’t the whales that she saw in the water. And so she jumped.

It made me very hopeful for whoever might greet me when my time comes.

Meet The Author

Lucy Atkins is an award-winning British author and journalist. Her most recent novel, Magpie Lane, is a literary thriller set in an Oxford college. Her other novels are The Night Visitor (which has been optioned for TV), The Missing One, and The Other Child. 

Lucy is a book critic for The Sunday Times and has written features for UK newspapers including The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Times, and many magazines. She was a Costa Novel Award judge in 2017, and teaches creative writing to Masters students at Oxford University. 

She is mother of three and has also written several non-fiction books including the Amazon #1 parenting guide, First Time Parent (Collins). She has lived in Philadelphia, Boston and Seattle and now lives in Oxford, UK. 

For news, events and offers see

Follow Lucy on Twitter @lucyatkins

Posted in Uncategorized

Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde.

These are people you know, but not as you know them. Peel back the mask and see. 


Today I’m bringing you something a little bit different – a preview of a book of short stories, not my usual genre. However, these stories are a little bit different because each one attempts to get behind the image of a famous face, someone we think we know, or do we?

Dreamers, singers, heroes and killers, they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, yet inside themselves, they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth?  

‘Oh, how I enjoyed these stories. A highly original and beautifully crafted collection that explodes into the reader’s consciousness like fireworks’ – Kate Horsley, award-winning author of The American Girl.

‘Tightly written, technically accomplished, light-footed, wryly ironic and genuinely affecting. Excellent stuff’ – Professor Graham Mort, Director of The Centre for Transcultural Writing and Research and winner of both the Bridport Prize and The Edge Hill Prize.

This book is dedicated to the victims of violent crime, the struggle against discrimination in all its forms and making the world a better place for our children. That is why 30% of all profits will be shared between Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth.

Backstories is published by Smoke & Mirrors Press.


“Whatever happened to, all of the heroes?”  The Stranglers 1977  

I was twelve years old when I first heard this song and although there was something in the feral tone that grabbed me, I didn’t really understand it. I do now. I get the angst and the loss and the emptiness, which is why, in Backstories, I aim to answer the question.

I’m not interested in simplistic tabloid truths. They clung on too long, drank too much, lost their looks and their charm and generally reminded us that we’re all getting older. That’s not what I want from my heroes.  

What I want is to find the spark, to dig down into their pain, their passions and their imperfections, and show you our heroes as they truly are.  

So join me on my quest. Let’s bypass the obvious, the tedious,and the dull. Brave the deeper, darker paths where the treasures can be found, and together we’ll uncover the fears and doubts that made our heroes what they were and perhaps catch a glimpse of ourselves along the way.

Whatever happened to all of the heroes?

They turned out to be human beings, in all their diverse glory

Look out for my review coming soon…



Posted in Random Things Tours

Bound by Vanda Symon.

When the official investigation into the murder of a respectable local businessman fails to add up, and personal problems start to play havoc with her state of mind, New Zealand’s favourite young detective Sam Shephard turns vigilante..

The New Zealand city of Dunedin is rocked when a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman is murdered in his luxurious home while his wife is bound and gagged, and forced to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard and her team start investigating the case, they discover that the victim had links with some dubious characters.

The case seems cut and dried, but Sam has other ideas. Weighed down by her dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and by complications in her relationship with Paul, she needs a distraction, and launches her own investigation.

And when another murder throws the official case into chaos, it’s up to Sam to prove that the killer is someone no one could ever suspect.

I really enjoyed this crime novel with an interesting lead character, a case with so many twists and turns, and an array of background issues to get my teeth into. Our detective Sam Shephard is a strong woman, adept at her job and extremely dedicated too. She lives with a friend, but is in a relationship with Paul, another detective in the squad. When they get the job investigating the murder of reputable local businessman John Henderson, they soon find a link to a previous case. Two well-known criminals are implicated in the brutal shooting, both of them suspected in the murder of their fellow officer Reihana, and attempted murder of Smithy, who is still struggling physically despite being back at work. They need to find the link between regular business and the less ethically sound dealings that has brought the business into the criminal underworld. However, they also need to make sure that all of their dealings with the case, including forensics and other evidence collecting, are squeaky clean. Smithy, and to some extent Sam, will have to be seen to take a back seat on this one. Besides, once the link is found, between the gangsters and Henderson, it should be cut and dried, but is it? Why did they leave his wife Jill bound to a chair, alive? It is possible that someone else in Henderson’s life have reason to kill him?

Sam finds herself impressed by their teenage son, who has had the presence of mind to film the crime scene on his phone before freeing his mother. She creates a good rapport with him and manages to get important evidence about their potential suspects and their business dealings with his father. Sam works with a lot of integrity and will not accept the easy answer, until she’s uncovered everything. She would love to find their suspects guilty, but has her own idea about the motive for this crime that goes against what they know so far. This puts her in contention with the DI and he is not happy, they’ve been butting heads a lot and he’s not going to back her theory. Sam may have to go it alone here and do enough to prove her theory, without him.

I really enjoyed Symon’s mix of the professional and personal in Sam’s life, it felt like a good balance between the two. Sam is trying to keep her relationship with Paul on the down low, but circumstances may be taking that decision out of her control. There was also an interesting family dynamic, as Sam’s father is brought to the hospital and will be discharged to a hospice. These are possibly the final weeks of his life, but it’s clear that her unpleasant boss DI Johns will be less than sympathetic. Even sending her out of state on an errand. Her Mum seems less than impressed with her dedication to her job. There’s clearly history between Sam and her Mum, who accuses her of not being there for her Dad. Sam protests that she will, but her Mum rejects her promise. Sam manages not to snap back knowing that her Mum is angry and scared about her husband and the future, it how long will she able to stay silent. The moment when she sits quietly with her father and whispers to him the one secret she hasn’t told anyone, was so moving.

The pace of the novel is great – one of those where the short chapters create that ‘I can fit in one more chapter before bed’ feeling. Developments come at us thick and fast, both in the case and in her personal life. What I loved is Sam’s absolute dedication to her job, and determination to uphold New Zealand’s laws. Often when female characters have struggles in their personal life, things start to fall apart at work. Not so for Sam, she is good at separating her work life from home life, despite her mother’s digs about her loyalties. I felt I was getting a fully rounded character, not the usual stereotype about strong, working, women who have a messy love life, divorces, a drinking habit. Although we get personal with her, I came out of the novel admiring a good detective, with a full professional and personal life. The fact that this stood out to me is worrying and says a lot about how professional women are still portrayed in fiction. The story kept my attention because it was full of small surprises, such as Henderson’s assistant Astrid, whose previous CV was unexpected. This led me to expect bigger twists and I kept on reading. The author left us a few loose ends too, and I’m a sucker for the unresolved bits. Plus now I’m already hooked into the next book!

Meet The Author

Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons. –This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

Posted in Publisher Proof

The Existence of Amy by Lana Grace Riva

This book is a great insight into something a lot of readers will relate to, especially at the current time when we’re in the middle of the third lockdown of this pandemic. Mental health referrals are soaring, particularly for anxiety, OCD and depression, and although I’m not counselling at the moment I know there are clients who would really benefit from reading this book. It definitely helped me too. Some people expect counsellors to have their mental health in tip top condition, but often we’re ‘wounded healers’ who have experienced mental ill health. I’ve had bouts of depression and anxiety in the past, and so do others in my family, which lead me to a career in mental health. I encourage clients to read books like this one. There’s a great sense of solidarity in knowing you are not alone, gaining an insight into what someone else’s inner thoughts are like, and how they affect their day to day lives.

Amy is the narrator of the novel and despite functioning well on the surface, she has all three of the conditions I’ve already mentioned. Amy works full time, has a home to maintain and manages to keep up with friends. On the outside she is coping. Inside though, she is battling against a constant, exhausting, barrage of intrusive and dark thoughts. I thought the author did an incredible job of creating this relatable and loveable character, because it helps the reader empathise with her daily difficulties and journey moving forwards. It’s a very difficult balancing act to show the reader how it feels to be in Amy’s shoes while creating an easy and engaging read that never felt too heavy. The writer shows us how simply daily living, like going on a bus journey. Amy has to somehow negotiate paying, balancing while the bus is moving, and getting the bus to stop while all the time her brain is screaming ‘Don’t touch that handrail’ or ‘don’t press the button’. Then the hardest part of all is keeping a serene, swan-like surface so that nobody around her notices anything different. Followed by the constant worry about whether people noticed or thought she was weird.

I felt Amy was in a position a lot of people with these mental health conditions face; she could identify her anxieties and concerns as ‘wrong thinking’ but she needed coping strategies for day to day. At lot of readers might identify this as a time when they were part way through therapy, or when facing a flare-up of their symptoms and needing to update or refresh their coping skills.

I found Amy very difficult to leave within the pages of the book when finished. She played on my mind for a few days as I thought about her struggle and what insights I’d gained from the novel. Therapists read case studies all the time, but it was impactful to experience Amy in the format of a novel. Clients bring to therapy their frame of reference. The therapist sees events through their eyes and accepts their account as their ‘lived experience’ without judgement. There are times when we might sense another version of events, and this is what the novel gave me. I felt more immersed in her life, could see how she functioned with family and friends, and in her work situation. The author stripped away all the medicalised jargon and the impersonal language of a case study and instead gave me a fully-fledged person to know inside and out. I did find myself running through how I would help and support Amy.

The novel emphasised something I’ve always thought vital for someone experiencing these conditions; the existence of a strong, support network. In fact, Amy hits her lowest point when her closest friend announces she’s moving overseas. When we’re feeling mentally unwell we don’t always recognise or feel able to accept offers of help. Being honest with friends and family about how we feel and allowing them to support and help us as we move on is so important I felt a lot of hope for Amy going forward, and for the clients I will be able to help more fully after reading her journey.

Meet The Author

Lana Grace Riva has written two books, one nonfiction the other fiction, both based on her experiences of mental health. Her first book ‘Happier Thinking’ is a short collection of tips and exercises to maintain a healthy mind. Her second book ‘The Existence Of Amy’ is a fictional story based on a very real depiction of mental illness. 

Instagram: @lanagraceriva
Twitter: @lanagraceriva

If you enjoyed this I would also recommend the memoir Pure by Rose Cartwright for an insight into Pure OCD.

Posted in Uncategorized

Books of the Month! March 2021

Well March has been a very busy reading month, but with so many publication and blog tour dates moving I started to get a bit confused! My favourites split quite easily into two categories: psychological thrillers and historical fiction.

The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward

Published by Viper, 18th March 2021.

What can I say about this unique and compelling piece of fiction? It’s very hard to do it justice and also hard not to reveal anything. Ted lives alone at the end of Needless Street and spends a lot of time thinking about an incident several years before when a little girl disappeared from the lake nearby and was never found. Others might have forgotten, but not Ted and not the girl’s sister who has a huge sense of guilt about her sister’s loss. Ted was a suspect at the time and it’s not hard to see why; he’s a slightly strange loner, living nearby in a ramshackle home with boarded up windows. The girl’s sister hasn’t forgotten that Ted was a suspect and decides to rent the house next door and watch him, in the hope of finally discovering where her sister is. CCTV proved Ted’s alibi at the time, but the sister’s convinced she has found the culprit. Then another narrator tells us her story, she lives with Ted but isn’t what you expect. I guessed some of what is going on, but not the whole and I loved the ambition and audacity. This is a unique, original and deeply creative piece of work that enthralled and stunned in equal measure. Ward is a writer of immense imagination and talent and I feel privileged to have been given the chance to read this through NetGalley before publication.

While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart

Published by Headline Review 4th March 2021

In Paris, Jean-Luc is working on the railways during the German occupation, when he is given a chance to make a difference. As a train passes through on its way to Auschwitz, he is entrusted with something so precious it changes his life. I believed every single character in this moving story from the heart and often with a lump in my throat. It brings up such an important moral and ethical dilemma. How can reparation and restitution be made when an atrocity is so seismic it affects the whole world? No one in this story is untouched by the Nazi’s march across Europe, even down to the ‘collabo’ men and women, who might have only been doing the job they’d always done, but because they now worked for the Bosch, were hated by their neighbours or even killed in some places. To the Jewish camp mates at Auschwitz who had some useful skill the guards could exploit. In truth, everyone was just trying to survive, to keep their family safe and for some people that meant paying a higher price than others.This is so powerful and a difficult read in places, but such a beautifully written account of how war touches everyone. Loss is the all pervasive emotion I felt throughout and for so many different things. If we think about loss as ripples on a pond they stretch outwards on the surface of the water hitting each group of people more gently the further removed from the event they are. This novel shows us that the after effects of a terrible event like the Holocaust keep rippling forward through time touching each generation that comes after.

The Forgotten Life of Arthur Pettinger by Suzanne Fortin

Published by Aria, 4th March 2021

Arthur Pettinger’s memory isn’t what it used to be. He can’t always remember the names of his grandchildren, where he lives or which way round his slippers go. He does remember Maryse though, a woman he hasn’t seen for decades, but whose face he will never forget. When Arthur’s granddaughter, Maddy moves in along with her daughter Esther, it’s her first step towards pulling her life back together. But when Esther makes a video with Arthur, the hunt for the mysterious Maryse goes viral. The sections where we travel back and see the full account of Arthur’s mission into France during WW2 are powerful and moving. It’s not hard to see how feelings were amplified, by the danger they were facing on a daily basis. If you don’t know whether you’ll be alive tomorrow, you want to be sure those you love know you love them. The growing feelings between Maryse and Arthur are plain to see and I was devastated by the scenes where they ended up separated. How dementia felt to the sufferer was depicted in various creative ways, one of which was the collapse of time where Arthur is in the past and then the present seconds later. I hoped that when the end of Arthur’s life came he could be with Maryse in the woods in France forever.

People Like Us by Louise Fein

Published by Head of Zeus 6th August 2021.

I was late to the party with this stunning novel by Louise Fein, published last year. It’s set in the German city of Leipzig as the rise of the Nazi party leads to WW2. A young German girl called Herta is slowly drowned by the tidal wave of nationalism, and fascism that overwhelms her country and changes her life altogether. Fein was inspired to write the novel after researching her family’s Jewish roots and eventual flight to London. During her research, she started to wonder how a country and it’s people could go from being a reasonable and tolerant to committing such atrocities against their fellow human beings. So, to explore that idea, she decided to write her novel from the perspective of an ordinary German child, slowly becoming brainwashed by the evil ideology. It’s the childhood innocence of Herta that makes this book work so well and allows us to have empathy, despite her allegiances. The book focuses on the city’s treatment of its Jewish population, and for Herta this is personalised as her childhood friend Walter is Jewish. What will it mean for both of them, when that friendship turns to love and then comes up against the hate of Hitler’s regime? This is a stunning and moving novel that I would encourage everyone to read, especially those who think this couldn’t happen to people like us.

The Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Published Legend Press, 2nd March 2021

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries to a tourist called Caroline. I thought the author conveyed both 18th and 21st Century London really well. I could imagine myself there with all the sights and smells she conjured up. I loved the description of the apothecary shop, back in its heyday and as it was when Caroline rediscovered it. The ending of Nella and Eliza’s story was unexpected, but showed the strength of female friendship and solidarity. I found myself hoping that Caroline would do the same – to choose an unexpected and unknown future of her own making. This was a brilliant read, historical fiction at its best and an incredible debut from an author I’ll be watching in the future.

The Favour by Laura Vaughan.

Published by Corvus 4th March 2021

This is an interesting thriller combined with a Grand Tour through Italy, with a psychologically complex heroine. When she was thirteen years old, Ada Howell lost not just her father, but the life she felt she was destined to lead. Now, at eighteen, Ada is given a second chance when her wealthy godmother gifts her with an extravagant art history trip to Italy. In the palazzos of Venice, the cathedrals of Florence and the villas of Rome, she finally finds herself among the kind of people she aspires to be: sophisticated, cultured, privileged. Ada does everything in her power to prove she is one of them. And when a member of the group dies in suspicious circumstances, she seizes the opportunity to permanently bind herself to this gilded set. But everything hidden must eventually surface, and when it does, Ada discovers she’s been keeping a far darker secret than she could ever have imagined. In the beautiful backdrops of Venice, Florence and Rome there are constant hints of fakery and disguise: the trompe l’oeil frescos of the country houses; the maze of laurel hedges; the association of Venice with carnival and disguise. All of this imagery and reference to facade, disguise and things not quite being as they seem adds to the atmosphere and intrigue. It’s like seeing a beautiful bowl of fruit, that at its centre, is rotten to the core. This book will make a great book club read, not only to discuss these awful characters, but to ponder on what we might have done in the same circumstances. As the years roll by, what price will Ada pay and how long can she maintain the facade she has built?

This month I also read…

Posted in Netgalley

The Last Goodbye by Fiona Lucas

This romantic comedy had an unusual premise, but first attracted me because of the cover! I have a tattoo exactly the same on my lower back with a quote from Jane Eyre, so I was interested to know why the image represented the book.

Our female protagonist, Anna, is in the throes of grief after the death of her husband. The plot hinges on an interesting device – Anna calls her dead husband’s phone number and weirdly, someone answers. A tentative friendship develops allowing her to explore the anger, numbness, false starts and maelstrom of emotions as she rebuilds her life after such a huge loss. The first call happens on a New Years Eve just over two years since Anna lost Spencer. She has been coerced by her friend Gaby to go to a party and is suffering just one of several attempts over the last few months to set her up with a nice man. Of course whenever Anna meets someone new, it’s like a klaxon goes off in her head screaming ‘not Spencer’ over and over again. On this night Anna flees the party and heads for the comfort of home and for emotional support she rings Spencer’s mobile number, thinking that hearing his voice on the answerphone will reassure her. However, instead of hearing Spencer’s voice, a strange man comes on the line saying ‘ I beg your pardon’.

As more weeks pass and Anna feels so scared of leaving Spencer behind and living in the moment, she continues to call the number and talk to the man at the end of the phone. A friendship starts to emerge between her and the man who has inherited Spencer’s old number. His name is Brody and Anna starts to realise she is not the only one who wants to live in the past. Brody gives Anna the space to grieve. He doesn’t know Spencer so he has no vested interest or conflicting opinion to intrude on Anna’s grief process. In this way he acts rather like a therapist with empathy, zero judgement and a hope Anna will get through this. Other people in her life either want Anna to move forward when she is not ready, or to wallow in grief. Her friends seem to think two years is enough time to start moving forward and although they are well-meaning their interventions annoy Anna and push her too far too soon. Spencer’s mother Gayle wants to envelop Anna in her grief process. She assumes that because they both loved Spencer, their grieving process is the same. Anna keeps up their tradition of Sunday lunch together, just like when Spencer was alive, but also pores over old photo albums and still wants them to mark anniversaries like his birthday together. In her presence Anna becomes suffocated by grief and guilt when she thinks about moving on with her life. Anyone new in Anna’s life would seem like an insult to Gayle. There is nowhere she can do this grieving thing her way, honestly and openly.

My counselling supervisor used to say that if you find yourself giving the same piece of advice to several clients, it may be something you should look at for your own life. This is definitely the case with Brody, as he gives Anna advice he could do with listening to. Brody is living an isolated existence on Dartmoor with his dog. He allows Anna’s emotions to take the lead in their phone calls, but doesn’t seem keen to divulge his own. I started to wonder why he is living the life of a hermit. What is he hiding away from? Between Brody and her best friend Gabi, Anna starts to feel she can gather all these broken fragments of herself together and start to rebuild. The author found a unique structure for the novel, that allowed Anna’s raw grief to find its voice in these late night phone calls. Brody becomes Anna’s closest friend and with Gabi’s help, she now has hope and a way forward that is so uplifting for the reader. Both the main characters have such moving stories they bring a lump to the throat and their journey through grief is brilliantly rendered by the author. She shows us that each person’s grief is individual, it has its own path with unique highs and lows. She also depicts something I often say to – you can’t get round or climb over grief, the only way out is through it. I could see Anna reaching for the other side of her pain and I found myself wishing for Brody to find his way out too.

What a beautifully written account of grief this is. I was moved and uplifted, and the experience of grief felt very authentic. So what about the cover image and that tattoo? My husband died in 2007 and I rushed my grief journey, only to end up in an abusive relationship that took three years to leave. So, on my fortieth birthday I had my birdcage tattoo and underneath the words from Jane Eyre ‘ I am no bird; and no net ensnares me’. It reminds me I can get through anything so it feels like a fitting image for Anna and Brady’s story.

Meet the Author

Fiona Lucas is an award-winning author of contemporary women’s fiction. The Last Goodbye is her first novel written under this name, but she’s been writing heartwarming love stories and feel-good women’s fiction as Fiona Harper for more than a decade. During her career, she’s won numerous awards, including a Romantic Novel Award in 2018, and chalked up a no.1 Kindle bestseller. Fiona lives in London with her husband and two daughters

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Favour by Laura Vaughan.

Fortune favours the fraud…

When she was thirteen years old, Ada Howell lost not just her father, but the life she felt she was destined to lead. Now, at eighteen, Ada is given a second chance when her wealthy godmother gifts her with an extravagant art history trip to Italy.

In the palazzos of Venice, the cathedrals of Florence and the villas of Rome, she finally finds herself among the kind of people she aspires to be: sophisticated, cultured, privileged. Ada does everything in her power to prove she is one of them. And when a member of the group dies in suspicious circumstances, she seizes the opportunity to permanently bind herself to this gilded set.

But everything hidden must eventually surface, and when it does, Ada discovers she’s been keeping a far darker secret than she could ever have imagined…

I’m drawn to any book based in the beautiful cities of Italy, but I was also drawn by the premise of Ada’s inability to accept a change in circumstances after the death of her father means selling off the family’s ramshackle mansion in Wales. I felt that I might understand someone struggling to fit in between social circles having come from a working class family then through my 11+ ending up at a very middle class grammar school. I found it very hard to fit in, but once I did, it was just as difficult to fit back where I’d come from, forever caught between two different tribes. However, Ada was in another league altogether, totally unable to accept the life her mother had created for them. A period terrace in London and the local secondary school are not enough for her, nor is a stepfather with an ordinary, dull name like Brian. Her plan to study at Cambridge, at the same college as her father, falls through when she fluffs her second interview. It looks like she might have to accept her more humble lifestyle, but the along comes her godmother’s offer of a modern grand tour with Dilettanti Discoveries.

Now she has to find a way to fit in with the Lorcans and Annabelle’s of this world and she has a plan for that. Ada knows all the right lingo to seem like one of the group – using the phrase ‘we had to sell up’ is a distinctive one for people of a certain class. It has the scent of ‘distressed gentry’, people who have had to sell off the family pile due to death duties or renovation costs on their large country houses. She even talks about Garreg Las as the family’s smaller home, hinting of a more distinguished estate belonging to her father’s family in Ireland. One by one, as they stalk art galleries and churches, Ada tries to ingratiate herself with the group. Will they accept her story or sniff out the truth of who she is and where she belongs? These are deliciously awful people and there isn’t a single one I’d want to spend time with. They had an air of entitlement and superiority, but it was hard not to enjoy their witty, self-assured conversation. There’s a certain polish and charm that makes them alluring, but it’s all surface. Oliver seems suspicious of Ada, and Mallory has also been picked out as an outsider, being American and Jewish. However, Mallory’s attempts at friendship are shunned by Ada, who desperately wants to belong to the most fashionable set. To ingratiate herself with Lorcan, Ada reveals a secret; she has seen Lorcan’s half-sister Annabelle in a romantic clinch with one of their tutors. She agrees to keep the secret between them, to place herself at the centre of the group. Then, when a suspicious death occurs, Ada is not just at the centre of the group, she’s at the centre of a potential crime. She makes a decision to grant one of the group a favour, something you might barely notice, but it furthers Ada’s quest to belong. If one of the group owe her a favour, surely she becomes accepted forever? I didn’t even think about what it could mean going forward, but that’s how clever the book is. You are captive, watching each consequence of Ada’s decision opening up in front of you, one after another, like a set of Russian Dolls.

Meanwhile, in the background, Vaughan creates a beautiful backdrop of art, architecture and soft Italian light. I could imagine what a beautiful film this would make as these intriguing characters stroll through formal Italian gardens, along the Arno or in the twisty, labyrinthine lanes of Venice. All the reference points Vaughan touches upon – such as Ada glimpsing the same fountain where Lucy Honeychurch witnesses a passionate fight in Room With A View – were my own source of inspiration for visiting Italy. Of course the upper classes prefer the more refined Florence, whereas I’ll admit my lower class allegiance to Venice. This revered circle of friends have so many niche rules and in-jokes it’s impossible to negotiate them all, without tripping yourself up. Just like a valuable renaissance painting, being one of the elite is very difficult to fake. In these beautiful backdrops there are constant hints of fakery and disguise: the trompe l’oeil frescos of the country houses; the maze of laurel hedges; the association of Venice with carnival and disguise. Even the example of Room With A View has it’s plot of a well-to-do young girl on her own Grand Tour, trying to keep secret her love for a distinctly lower class clerk she meets at a pensione in Florence. All of this imagery and reference to facade, disguise and things not quite being as they seem adds to the atmosphere and intrigue. It’s like seeing a beautiful bowl of fruit, that at its centre, is rotten to the core. This book will make a great book club read, not only to discuss these awful characters, but to ponder on what we might have done in the same circumstances. As the years roll by, what price will Ada pay and how long can she maintain the facade she has built? This is a complex and intriguing novel, full of flawed characters, with a central character showing all the signs of a borderline personality – Ada simply doesn’t know who she is. There is a void at her centre that can only be filled by imitating and adopting the lifestyle of those around her, with possible lifelong ramifications.

Meet The Author

Laura Vaughan grew up in rural Wales and studied Art History in Italy and Classics at Bristol and Oxford. She got her first book deal aged twenty-two and went on to write eleven books for children and young adults. The Favour is her first novel for adults. She lives in
South London with her husband and two children.
For more information, please contact
Kirsty Doole
Publicity Director, Atlantic Books
07850 096902 @CorvusBooks | @theotherkirsty

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