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Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Sunday Spotlight! Romance, Love and One Day by David Nicholls

I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of romantic novels on the whole, not as a genre anyway. However, I’m also that annoying person who writes outside the boxes on forms, resists the Census and ticks ‘rather not say’ if there’s an option to do so. My objection is to categories and putting things in boxes. I don’t object to a love story, in fact some of my favourite books are love stories. It’s just I don’t like it when love stories are packaged as romantic fiction or women’s fiction, given candy pink or baby blue covers, and characters who have little depth or motivation beyond the ‘meet cute’. I understand that, since Shakespeare, there’s been a set formula to the love story, but this can be taken to extremes. I actively hate simple love stories with manufactured obstacles and I definitely hated Fifty Shades of Grey (which was in no way a love story, but marketed as one). Perhaps my problem isn’t with love, but with romance; a much more contrived hearts, flowers and happy endings sort of place.

I like real obstacles: the terrible coincidence in Rosie Walsh’s The Man Who Didn’t Call; the limits posed by Will’s attitude to his disability in Me Before You; the mad wife in the attic in Jane Eyre; the girlish mistake of refusing a proposal in Persuasion. My favourite romcom is When Harry Met Sally so I do enjoy a ‘friends to lovers’ scenario, but it’s also witty with snappy dialogue and Billy Crystal making a woman miaow in bed. I love stories that are based within a historical or time-slip setting like the Outlander series of novels by Diana Gabaldon. I also like it when characters are so real it’s painful like Sally Rooney’s awkward teenage fumbling in Ordinary People. The characters must have depth, genuine problems or some meaty psychological issues to get my teeth into. I enjoy love stories set in other cultures or those that could be written as forbidden. I loved the viewpoint of a man coming to terms with his homosexuality in A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale and the transgressive love affair of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I enjoyed how love blossomed from a marriage of convenience during the Windrush era in Andrea Levy’s Small Island. I also loved the bittersweet tale of love gone wrong in David Nicholls’s other novel Us where our protagonist’s marriage breakdown comes into focus on a trip through Europe, interspersed beautifully with scenes from when they fall in love.

Several years ago, like thousands of others, I was blindsided by One Day. There was a time when you couldn’t move on public transport without knocking into someone reading this book. It’s a simple premise. Dexter and Emma were at Edinburgh University and as they graduate they spend the day together and forge a friendship, they climb Arthur’s Seat in their cap and gowns and talk about what they want for their futures. Dex would like to work in television and Emma would like to be a writer. The book then follows their story on the same day each year, sometimes together and sometimes apart, we see how life has changed them and the circumstances they find themselves in. Of course we know that Emma and Dex should be together, but will they ever find the right time or the courage to try?

I’ll be honest, at first I didn’t feel ‘grabbed’ by their story. My interest was mainly in their individual lives, especially considering that the book is set so that they’re both a similar age to me. I recognised the era, the reference points and also the struggles of life as they go through them. I thought Dex was a bit of a dick to be honest. He’s a player, egotistical and at times downright unpleasant. I really bonded with Emma though. A northern girl, she has a brand of kindness and an ability to see through bullshit that I liked. I saw some of me in her and I have always wanted to be a writer, but also went into teacher training (and didn’t finish). She clearly loves Dex, but will he ever see her? Mostly he sees her as a consolation prize, a shoulder to cry on, an advice giver and sometimes the great big kick up the arse he deserves. I can honestly say I hoped they never got together at several points in the book, because I didn’t think he deserved her. There’s a point where Emma has gone through a really tough time. She breaks off her engagement and goes through moving out and separating from her fiancé emotionally and financially. She goes out to Paris for a while and starts to write a children’s book. She has her hair cut short. She makes friends. I loved this Emma and I thought she’s built a new life from the ground up with no help from anyone. I wanted her to stay there.

As I know all too well, our love lives never simple. Often, where the decisions to be together seem very easy to make, it’s the right person. It’s reciprocal and committed. When we’re younger we’re learning about who we are in a relationship. We don’t know how much to compromise and how much to stick firmly to who we are or what we want for ourselves. We can get tangled up in relationships that are no good for us, are abusive, are with people who cheat, or people who put up obstacles and change their minds. We love people who aren’t ready, or who are too busy adding notches to the bed post. We can be so unsure of ourselves in our teenage years (and beyond) that we accept relationships that aren’t good for us and allow behaviour that’s demeaning or grinds down our self-worth. It’s also hard to love someone who doesn’t love you or who claims they can’t be with you. That great line from Sex and the City springs to mind – ‘he’s just not that into you’ – because when they are into you, they move mountains to be there. I felt that Dex was scared of real love and preferred empty encounters with beautiful women. Emma doesn’t value herself enough to set boundaries or ask for the love she deserves.

Everybody who knows the book will know the line I’m talking about. That one line I read and spontaneously burst into tears. That rarely happens with a book, but it did here. That’s when I knew this book had got me. My emotions were so invested in these characters that I had such a spontaneous response. I’m not sure how David Nicholls managed it, but I’ve spoken to other people who were similarly emotional. I think it’s the way he writes these two characters, they’re real and flawed. They struggle with life. We go through so many highs and lows with them, because even though we meet up with them on one day, we’re drawn in to how they got where they are. They’re not perfect either, far from it. Nichols weaves in addiction problems, affairs, career disasters and the difficulties of being a parent. There’s also huge loss to, and how the characters deal with these setbacks. One Day is a love story. Love is the primary theme of the novel. However, it’s also about being honest with ourself and others about our feelings and about recognising what love actually is. Perhaps I love One Day because it does go beyond the ‘falling in love’ stage, that even after years of yearning and kidding themselves about their feelings, Emma and Dex can still wake up one morning unnecessarily grumpy and tense with one another. Life is full of obstacles and love doesn’t stop them coming. Love isn’t always excitement, flinging your clothes off and swinging from chandeliers. Real love is always about being with your best friend.

Meet The Author


David Alan Nicholls (born 30 November 1966) is an English novelist and screenwriter. Nicholls is the middle of three siblings. He attended Barton Peveril sixth-form college at Eastleigh, Hampshire, from 1983 to 1985 (taking A-levels in Drama and Theatre Studies along with English, Physics and Biology), and playing a wide range of roles in college drama productions. Colin Firth was at the same College and they later collaborated in And When Did You Last See Your Father?. He went to Bristol University in the 1980s (graduating with a BA in Drama and English in 1988) before training as an actor at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. Throughout his 20s, he worked as a professional actor using the stage name David Holdaway. He played small roles at various theatres, including the West Yorkshire Playhouse and, for a three-year period, at the Royal National Theatre. He struggled as an actor and has said “I’d committed myself to a profession for which I lacked not just talent and charisma, but the most basic of skills. Moving, standing still – things like that.”

Since then, David has turned to writing full-time, and is the author of four novels. ‘One Day’ was an international bestseller and the follow-up, ‘Us’, was long listed for the Man Booker Prize. He’s also a screenwriter and TV dramatist; his credits include adaptations of ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’, ‘Great Expectations’, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and feature film version of his own novels. ‘One Day’ and ‘Starter for Ten

Posted in Back of the Shelf

Back of the Bookshelf! The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

I reached to the back of the shelf for this 2018 paperback copy of The Woman in the Window. There’s a strong Rear Window vibe to this thriller, as our lead character Anna Fox, is trapped within her house, only living through the lives of her neighbours, who she watches through her binoculars. Instead Rear Window’s physical disability, she is restricted by her mental health, which has suffered a response to extreme trauma. Some unknown traumatic incident has resulted in agoraphobia and she has spent ten months inside her large New York house, like a ghost. Before this, Anna was a successful psychologist and the fact that her affliction is a mental health issue really muddies the waters here. How far can we trust what she sees and experiences? Does her training mean we trust her more, or less?

No longer living with her own husband and daughter, she becomes obsessed with the Russell family across the road. A mother, father and teenage son. She is especially interested in the son, and his mother who she meets and names Jane Russell because of her likeness to the beautiful movie star. Her world is filtered through binoculars and her only interest seems to be the black and white movies she watches religiously most evenings. Then one night, as she surveys the neighbourhood, she sees something horrifying at the Russell’s. A scream rips through the evening air and alerts Anna to the Russell’s windows and all she can do is watch in horror. She can’t go out, so rings the police. What follows has everyone questioning Anna’s judgement, including herself. As she starts to suspect someone is getting into her house, her fears increase and she continually talks to her husband and daughter to assuage her anxiety. As she does we start to wonder, where exactly are her family? Why did they leave and will they ever return?

This is one of those thrillers that I can devour in one sitting. It has an elegance and old-fashioned feel that Hitchcock would have optioned on the spot. Incidentally, there is a Netflix series that I’m now dying to watch. Anna is intriguing. I wanted to trust her, but my head was constantly full of questions. I was instantly suspicious of her charming and handsome downstairs lodger too, as well as Mr. Russell. The depiction of Anna’s panic attacks was so realistic and had me holding my breath. The severity of her symptoms, on the few occasions she does try to go beyond the front door, had me fearing the revelations about her past. The pacing was perfect, the tension never let up and I found myself taking it everywhere so I could squeeze in a few more pages whenever I got the chance. I was so impressed when I found out this was a debut, because it feels like a classic. I also made the assumption it was written by a woman, which showed up my reading prejudice about men writing women characters. In all this was an enjoyable and enthralling tale, with a nod to film noir that was very satisfying for this black and white movie lover. I can’t believe that this has been at the back of my shelf until now and I’m glad I decided to give it a go.

Meet The Author

A.J.Finn

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW has been sold in 43 territories around the globe. The film adaptation, starring Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, and Julianne Moore, will be released worldwide in autumn 2019. The movie directed by Joe Wright, written by Tracy Letts, and produced by Scott Rudin.

I spent a decade working in publishing in both New York and London, with a particular emphasis on thrillers and mysteries. Now I write full-time, to the relief of my former colleagues. THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW was inspired by a range of experiences: my lifelong love affair with suspense fiction, from the Sherlock Holmes stories I devoured as a kid to the work of Patricia Highsmith, whom I studied at the graduate level at Oxford; my passion for classic cinema, especially the films of Alfred Hitchcock; and my struggles with depression and mental health. The result, I hope, is a psychological thriller in the vein of Gillian Flynn, Tana French, and Kate Atkinson, among others.

Stuff I love: reading; swimming; cooking; dogs; ice cream; travel. (Note that third semicolon. It’s crucial. I do not love cooking dogs.) I collect first-edition books and enjoy spending time with my French bulldog, Ike.

From A.J. Finn’s Amazon Author Page 21/01/22

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

The Unravelling by Polly Crosby

When Tartelin Brown accepts a job with the reclusive Marianne Stourbridge, she finds herself on a wild island with a mysterious history. Tartelin is tasked with hunting butterflies for Marianne’s research. But she quickly uncovers something far more intriguing than the curious creatures that inhabit the landscape. Because the island and Marianne share a remarkable history, and what happened all those years ago has left its scars, and some terrible secrets. As Tartelin pieces together Marianne’s connection to the island, she must confront her own reasons for being there. Can the two women finally face up to the painful memories that bind them so tightly to the past?

I found the last chapter of this new novel incredibly moving and I was smiling through tears as I closed the book.

Polly Crosby you ruined me for other books, for at least a couple of days!

Marianne’s memories of the island take us back to the years between WW1 and WW2, when she lived in the same family home with her mother and father. The Stourbridges were the guardians of the island, through her mother’s side of the family. However, it was Marianne’s father who had taken control of the island and it’s resources. Her family were rich, relying on herrings and pearls to keep their fortunes buoyant and providing work for the islanders. Under Mr Stourbridge’s control the businesses were losing money so he needed to diversify, and settled on silk-making as a way out of difficulty. Mulberry trees and silkworms arrived on the island and Marianne was researching to find out how to produce the best silk thread, but didn’t know that her father had hired a silk girl to come and start things. Nan came to live in their house and although the girls built a friendship, Marianne missed time with her father which was now being sacrificed for Nan and the silk worms. I had so many thoughts and questions in my head by this point. How had the family’s fortunes changed so drastically? How sad it must be for Marianne’s mother to watch her family businesses taken from her and mismanaged simply because she was a woman. Who was Nan and why was she dominating so much of Mr Stourbridge’s time? The author drip feeds these memories into the present day story, answering some questions but leaving others so I was always waiting for the next memory to know what happened next. There was a growing tension in the house that led me to believe an explosion was coming, something that would change Marianne”s life forever. Each section shed light on something in the present day, but I wanted the whole story of why Marianne was so alone in her old age, when did her family leave the island but most of all why was the island requisitioned?

I loved the sense of the uncanny that the author created; a feeling that life on the island was like real life, but not quite. There are strange, unfinished or half destroyed buildings, eroded cliffs and houses that have been literally swallowed up by the sea. Tartelin’s island has a feel of dilapidated grandeur in it’s buildings. They must have once been extravagant and beautiful, like the pavilion where Tartelin meets the peacock, but slowly being broken down and reclaimed by the sea. This is a strong theme throughout the novel, the idea that nature will always find a way, like a flower growing from a tiny crack in the pavement. I found Marianne a fascinating character with the manner of someone very intelligent and far too busy to be bothered with trifles. Her exterior as this grumpy old woman probably brushes most people off, but Tartelin is more persistent than most. Watching these two women slowly learning to trust and understand one another was a joy. Marianne’s story, as it is revealed, moved me beyond words. Even though there’s a fantastical, dream-like quality to her recollections the emotions ring true and are devastating to witness. However, I also felt an incredible sense of joy over the ending too. This novel is evocative and bittersweet, full of rich detail and interesting women. I have no hesitation in recommending all of Polly Crosby’s writing, but this is extraordinary and will stay with me forever.

Published by HQ on 6th Jan 2022

Meet The Author

Polly Crosby grew up on the Suffolk coast, and now lives with her husband and son in the heart of Norfolk. Her debut novel, The Illustrated Child (The Book of Hidden Wonders in the US and Australia) is out now. Polly’s second novel, The Unravelling will be published in January ‘22.

In 2018, Polly won Curtis Brown Creative’s Yesterday Scholarship, which enabled her to finish her novel. Later the same year, The Illustrated Child was awarded runner-up in the Bridport Prize’s Peggy Chapman Andrews Award for a First Novel. Polly received the Annabel Abbs Creative Writing Scholarship at the University of East Anglia, and is currently working on her third novel.

Twitter: @WriterPolly

Instagram: @polly_crosby

Website: pollycrosby.com

Posted in Random Things Tours

Bitter Flowers by Gunnar Staalesen

PI Varg Veum has returned to duty following a stint in rehab, but his new composure and resolution are soon threatened when a challenging assignment arrives on his desk. He is offered a job by his physical therapist Lisbeth, with whom he has built a friendship during treatment. She has a friend who needs a house sitter and she drives Varg out there to look around, only to find a man dead, floating in the elite swimming pool. As Varg leaps in to check for signs of life, Lisbeth goes missing. Most chillingly, Varg Veum is asked to investigate the ‘Camilla Case’: an eight-year-old cold case involving the disappearance of a little girl, who was never found. As the threads of these apparently unrelated crimes come together, against the backdrop of a series of shocking environmental crimes, Varg Veum faces the most challenging, traumatic investigation of his career.

This is one of those slow burn thrillers and we find Veum at a pivotal moment in his life, just out of rehab and fighting a reliance on Aquavit. Whilst not fully back to his investigative peak, Lisbeth’s idea of a simple house sitting would have suited him perfectly, with no pressure. The circumstances he then finds himself in are really not going to help his recovery, it’s enough to find himself embroiled in a murder investigation, but even worse, could he actually be a suspect? Instinct takes over though and Varg can’t help looking into the victim’s life, once he is identified as Tor Aslaksen. He is also very concerned about the disappearance of Lisbeth, as he battled to save the dead man’s life. Needless to say he faces some very awkward questions from Inspector Hamre about how he ended up there, alone in a strange house with a dead man. His digging reveals a connection to a case from some years before, that of a missing child. As if that wasn’t enough, when he looks into the victim’s employer, his company is under suspicion for environmental crimes, namely the alleged improper disposal of toxic waste. There are noisy protestors demonstrating on site and within the conflict there are two brothers, who were childhood friends of Aslaksen and stand on opposing sides of the demonstration. These strands seem so disparate, but the author cleverly threads them back to the murder victim with so much care, taking his time to unwind the truth. Yet, he also keeps a steady tension and occasionally surprises the reader as Varg’s curiosity takes him into dangerous and threatening places. is enough to heighten Veum’s interest. Nobody’s fool and uncompromisingly persistent, Veum is intrigued enough to take a closer look, thereby uncovering a connection to the unsolved disappearance of a seven-year-old girl nearly a decade earlier in the dead of night. Casting his net wider and following the threads back to their fruition, Veum tries to make sense of the past and it’s significance on current events, specifically the murder of Tor Aslaksen and all that follows.

Gunnar Staalesen

I gradually started to bond with Varg, possibly due to the first person narrative; we’re with him all the way because we make discoveries at exactly the same time he does. His narrative can be abrupt at times, but always questioning and challenging those around him. As we experience his inner voice, unedited and raw, we can feel his struggles and the way his personal demons affect his life and his investigations. Yes, he has weaknesses, but his intelligence and determination are undimmed. I felt that, despite these struggles, I was safe with him as a narrator. I was firmly on his side throughout and didn’t doubt his innocence once. I didn’t work out the reasons for the murder, nor the tragic events which followed, but I did feel a constant sense of foreboding even from the first chapter. The author has a good grasp of human nature and how trauma affects people in very different ways. The psychology of addiction was also well observed and I enjoyed seeing Varg’s progress as he tries to recover while investigating a complex and emotional case. His developing relationship with Karen and friendship with Siv are handled with care and a gentleness I didn’t expect.

The case itself is emotive, allowing the reader to learn about Varg’s fragility, as he faces the horror of a child missing for eight years. By taking us back into Varg’s past, we can really see progression in his character; how did he get from there to his current stint in rehab? His previous career in child welfare has left him cynical, but he isn’t completely jaded yet. Everything he has experienced makes him more humane with an automatic reflex to fight for the underdog. I loved his underlying thirst for social justice too, something that could remain hidden from others, behind that calm and focused exterior. Staalesen provides the reader with a steady drip feed of Varg’s discoveries and this pace helps us understand the key characters better, especially where he becomes a nuisance by popping up to question certain people time and again. Even threats and constant police pressure can’t stop him from interfering and he is dogged in his determination to discover the truth. This is not a high octane thriller, but it’s more thorough and compelling because of that. Varg is not one of those showy, ‘on the edge’ investigators either, but the gradual opening up of his character allows us to trust him and truly know him. This felt like to me like a real PI might have worked back in the 1980’s, investing the time and noting the small details that crack a case. We never get the sense, as with other, flashier, P.I. characters, that he is more important than the case. There’s only a hint of fast action and real danger, but it has more impact and authenticity because of that restraint. This is complex, intelligent and authentic storytelling with a hero I enjoyed getting to know.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Family by Naomi Krupitsky

A captivating debut novel about the tangled fates of two best friends and daughters of the Italian mafia, and a coming-of-age story of twentieth-century Brooklyn itself.

Two daughters. Two families. One inescapable fate.

Sofia Colicchio is a free spirit, loud and untamed. Antonia Russo is thoughtful, ever observing the world around her. Best friends since birth, they live in the shadow of their fathers’ unspoken community: the Family. Sunday dinners gather them each week to feast, discuss business, and renew the intoxicating bond borne of blood and love. But the disappearance of Antonia’s father drives a whisper-thin wedge between the girls as they grow into women, wives, mothers, and leaders. And as they push against the boundaries of society’s expectations and fight to preserve their complex but life-sustaining friendship, one fateful night their loyalty to each other and the Family will be tested.

I loved the way Naomi Krupitsky embedded me emotionally into the heart of Sofia and Antonia’s world, two little girls belonging to two Italian immigrant families. However, the term ‘family’ has two meanings in this community: your immediate family, or that you are a family with connections. Sofia Colicchio and Antonia Russo, live in side by side apartments and are best friends. Of course it was pre-ordained that they’d be best friends, because their fathers work together and their mothers were pregnant together. We join them at an innocent time in their lives and they’re both oblivious about what their fathers do, even if they do notice their mother’s tension and even tears when their fathers work late. Sofia and Antonia are focused on playing together, making each other laugh by making up silly games. By bringing the reader into their lives at this age we feel their innocence, and I found myself thinking about my girls and other young family members. I felt bonded to these girls and immediately felt a strong sense of foreboding. What fate might their parents have wrought on these girls?

They have been enough for each other and haven’t needed a wider group of friends, but when they start school that they notice that they are treated differently. On the first day they make friends with two other little girls from the neighbourhood and run towards their mothers at the school gates holding hands with their new playmates. Next day they’re excited to see their new friends again and are surprised when they don’t reciprocate, pointedly joining different girls at lunchtime. It seems that mothers will warn their sons and daughters to stay away from Antonia and Sofia and gossip about their fathers. However, the girls are mostly innocent to the to the world they live in. They don’t know that in 1920s New York City ‘The Family’ and their influence spreads far and wide. They know that on Sundays they have to join other families for lunch with their father’s boss in his huge Manhattan apartment. These children play with them and they’re told to call the men ‘Uncle’, but these people are not blood family, no matter what they call them. The truth shatters their lives one day when Antonia’s father goes missing and his body is never found. Of course the girls don’t understand what the adults know; the reason for the sudden fracture between the Russos and the Colicchios. Of course the truth does come out over the following years, but will the two girls struggle to keep that friendship?

As she turns into a woman, Antonia becomes reserved and sees a different life for herself. She can’t live with the people she knows were responsible for her father’s death. Her mother doesn’t recover from the trauma and as a result Antonia lives a very lonely life. This absence of parental support allows Antonia to slip away from reality into the worlds of her books. She wants to go to university and be someone other than herself. However, not even the loss of her father and the warnings of her mother can stop her heart being won by a Family man. It is love that takes her back to where she comes from. As for Sofia, she never left. She is in awe of The Family and has grown up bold and ambitious. Sofia seems fated to make dangerous, reckless, decisions. Their friendship is distant at times, eroded by the past, but it never seems to break. Underneath the trauma and complicated history, inside these women are two little girls who swore friendship and loyalty to each other. What they have is like a marriage, a promise to always be there even when life’s at it’s toughest. Perhaps it’s an even stronger bond than that. I love how this is a family drama, with the tensions all families have, but the author concentrates on that very specific tension between mother and daughter. Then there’s that outer layer of family, applying yet more pressure and creating a massive fissure between these girls born into something they never asked for. The Mafia is not open to everyone, but once you’re in that’s it. This is family with extra power and benefits, but with a sense of fear that always keeps you looking over your shoulder. With power comes terrifying risks and the knowledge there’s only one way to leave.

This is unlike any other Mafia story I’ve ever read because it concentrates on what it’s like to be female in this most macho of worlds. Here the gender roles are predetermined due to the time period and the set rules of the organisation. It’s a coming-of-age novel where these two girls are always going to be chafing against the confines of the roles the Family will allow. As the story moves from the 1920’s into 1940’s and WW2, we can see how Antonia and Sofia change from young girls to women, but also how society’s expectations of women change in that time period. Krupitsky also writes a realistic portrait of how the Mafia changed during the war. This historical detail and the character of Saul made me think about people fleeing Europe who bring with them their own strong sense of identity. Can they identity survive in a new place, where the opportunities may not always be the escape they were looking for? This made me think of my late husband’s family who ended up displaced separately, affected by their loss and wanting to grow up honouring their heritage, but finding themselves shaped by the society they’ve joined too. I felt so involved in these girl’s lives and the organisation they’ve grown up in, schooled in the essentials of staying loyal and keeping secrets. It was strange to leave their world and I wonder if there will be more from Antonia and Sofia in the future. This is a great Mafia novel, one that sets the organisation in social and historical context, but also gives us a rare female perspective on growing up as a mob daughter.

Meet The Author

Naomi Krupitsky attended NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study and is an assistant editor at the Vida Review and a bookseller at Black Bird Bookstore. She lives in San Francisco
but calls many places home. The Family is her first novel.

Posted in Rachels Random Resources

Daughter of the Sea by Elizabeth J. Hobbes

On a windswept British coastline the tide bestows an unexpected gift…

It was the cry that she first noticed, the plaintive wail that called to her over the crash of winter waves. Wrapped only in a sealskin, the baby girl looks up at Effie and instantly captures her heart.

Effie has always been an outcast in her village, the only granddaughter of a woman people whisper is a witch, so she’s used to a solitary existence. But when Midsummer arrives so too does a man claiming to be the child’s father. Effie is surprised when he asks her to continue looking after his daughter, mysteriously refusing to explain why. When he returns six months hence she pushes him for answers. And Lachlan tells a story she never anticipated … one of selkies, legend, and the power of the sea…

I’ll be honest up front and say I don’t often read romance novels. I enjoy novels that look at relationships or contain a love story, but I often find novels categorised as ‘romance’ to be far too light or saccharin for my taste. However, this wonderfully romantic story drew me in thanks to the interesting female characters, historical detail and Scottish folklore. For those who do not know their Celtic and Nordic mythology, a Selkie is a seal which when it sheds its skin transforms into a human. For some reason, it’s a piece of folklore that’s always caught my attention, rather like mermaids. I love to imagine the freedom of the endless ocean and having a body that can swim gracefully and effortlessly through the waves. I’ve also thought of the two legs we see as essential for day to day life, being such a restriction to someone used to a powerful, streamlined tail.

I really loved how independent Effie is and the strength she has to stick to her principles, even when they go against those of the rest of her village. She’s very independent and modern in her thinking. She rejects the local church and only goes at Christmas. Her grandmother Alice provides herbal remedies for the people of the village, and this has kept Effie separate from others who think of Alice as a ‘wise woman’. In fact some of the most respectable women in the village rely on Alice for remedies that help with menopause or other hormonal symptoms, but only in private. In public they would deny all knowledge. Effie’s marriage to John, her son Jack’s father, seemed to happen rather quickly and caused gossip in the village too. Her friendship with Walter, who is from a very respectable family, raises the odd eyebrow, but has also helped her in many ways. Without him she might not have gained parish financial support for Morna – the child she finds floating in a wicker basket. It’s possible he expects more than friendship, but would he tolerate Effie’s wilder ways and allow her the freedom she craves? In a world that’s very restrictive for women, Effie’s widowhood and ability to support her children without a man leaves her in quite a lowly place in society, but free to live her own life, at least in the short term.

I was absorbed into this woman’s relationship with her children. Widowed on the same night she finds a baby girl floating in the sea, Effie raises the girl with Jack. She can’t find a name to suit her, but doesn’t worry about that. Jack is not the easiest child, with symptoms that in more modern times might have labelled him with an autistic spectrum disorder. The children get along well and seem to find ways of communicating together, despite Jack’s difficulties with speech. Effie loves both of them fiercely and is haunted by the worry that one day she may have to give up the little girl she rescued as a baby. So, when a mysterious man turns up and claims her, Effie is wary, but finds it hard to deny their likeness especially when they have exactly the same eyes. Lachlan calls his girl Morna and explains something that most women would find hard to accept. He and Morna carry seal skins, but they’re not just to keep them warm. The skin is as much a part of them as their dark, impenetrable eyes. Morna and her father Lachlan are Selkies. They are part human and part seal, from a tribe in Scotland. Effie is relieved to find he isn’t there to take Morna, because he recognises that she and Effie have a bond, but he leaves a perfect pearl to pay for her upkeep and promises to return in six months. However, can this arrangement continue indefinitely?

Even more complicated, is the fascination that Effie starts to feel about this dark eyed, handsome man. As for Lachlan, every time Effie touches seal skin, he feels a corresponding pull in his human body. I must admit I was rather enchanted by this wild, but noble and honourable man. I felt he would accept Effie as she was, rather than try to mould her into a respectability that would leave her so unhappy. To strengthen this romantic tale and give it historical context, there were other strong female characters such as Alice and Effie’s friend Mary. Alice is wise, funny and open to the more magical side of life. Effie is shocked that the very respectable Mary would have her as a friend. In fact she asks if Effie will help her set up a school for some of the poorer girls in the village. She gives Effie solid advice, based on the sensibilities of the time which gives us a contrast to Effie’s life choices – some of which would be seen as scandalous! It’s interesting to think that both Effie’s friends, Walter and Mary, are progressives in their time, whereas now their ideas can seem patronising or even horrifying. I felt that Mary shows us what Effie’s life could be should she decide to choose the life Walter might offer her.

The setting is exceptionally well drawn, capturing a rugged Yorkshire coastline so perfectly that I could imagine standing on a windswept cliff watching Lachlan and Morna slipping through the waves. I found myself browsing for holiday cottages as soon as I’d finished reading, because the author’s description of the sea was so evocative. Her romantic descriptions of eating freshly caught and fried mackerel on the beach, or sailing to a private cove in the sunset enchanted me just as much as any of the relationships. I was hankering after a sunshine stroll through the waves and I would look up from my book and be surprised to find myself in my bedroom looking out at Christmas lights. If you enjoy historical fiction, I highly recommend this book and it’s definitely worth a read if you have an interest in folklore or magic realism. I found myself taking long baths or having a lie-in so I could shut the world out and really relax into the story. I would definitely look at this author’s other work on the basis of this novel and it’s made me have a rethink about the romance genre as a whole. Thank you so much to HarperCollins UK-One More Chapter and Rachel’s Random Resources for giving me the chance to read the book. It’s been a pleasure.

Purchase Link – https://getbook.at/DaughteroftheSea

Meet The Author

Author Bio – Elisabeth’s writing career began when she finished in third place in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest in 2013. She was offered a two-book contract and consequently had to admit secret writing was why the house was such a tip. She is the author of numerous historical romances with Harlequin Mills & Boon covering the Medieval period to Victorian England, and a Second World War romantic historical with One More Chapter. She lives in Cheshire because the car broke down there in 1999 and she never left.

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/elisabeth-hobbes?follow=true

Daughter of the Sea Giveaway

Giveaway – Win a signed copy of Daughter of the Sea (UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/33c69494465/?

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

Cut Out by Michèle Roberts.

This is an interesting book, focused on the later years of Henri Matisse and those who cared for him. This was the period where Matisse was creating his famous ‘cut out’ works, works that are linked inextricably to the body that’s failing the artist and the structure of this novel. I visited Tate Modern for the Matisse exhibition a few years ago, and because I’ve studied disability theory and life writing I could see that these cut out pieces were a metaphor for a body that was failing, piece by piece. By taking a whole piece of paper, cutting out these shapes, and rearranging them to make a piece of art, I felt the artist was trying to communicate what it is like to have all the pieces, but no longer in the order that makes up a whole. When we become sick or disabled our body doesn’t work as a cohesive whole any more. The pieces are different, rearranged and not necessarily working together harmoniously anymore. In my writing therapy groups, often for people with disabilities, I encouraged journal work that experimented with structure. I wanted to encourage writing that was the embodiment of the writer’s illness or disability. The writing produced is often fragmentary, moving between long lyrical sentences and short, snappy statements. In my own work there are gaps where I don’t have the language to express how my multiple sclerosis feels or how my emotions process the change from day to day. Often fragmentary paragraphs don’t seem related at all – representing the nerve damage that occurs in this disease, preventing the signals that keep a body coherent and working in harmony with itself. As a group we talk to our illness, we give it a name and a body of its own, then chat to it and record what comes back.

I believe all of this is what Matisse was representing within a cut out piece and I’m sure that Michèle Roberts is doing something equally clever in the structure of this novel, that can seem a bit bewildering at first. Sentences are very free form, there are fragments from different unnamed characters, there is speech without punctuation and time differences that are not obvious straight away. Might this lack of structure alienate some readers? Quite possibly, but I don’t think Roberts is thinking about clarity, she’s making a work of art. The best thing to do is just go with it and let the writing flow over you, until the meaning becomes clearer. Sometimes, when we visit a gallery, we need time to engage with some pieces. We simply have to stop and look for a while with no expectations. In the same way, I did find myself having to go back and reread sections of this book, so it isn’t a quick read, and it won’t be for everyone.

In his final years, Matisse is living at the Hotel Regina in Nice, where he has a studio and is making his famous cut outs with the assistance of Lydia (Delectorskaya ). Eventually he cannot get out of bed and needs nursing care, for day to day living. One is named Monique and one voice of the novel is Clémence, a friend of another of his nurses. There’s also Clémence’s friend Camille, who is pregnant to another artist. In a later time we meet Denis, a man in his sixties who was adopted when he was a baby by friends of Clémence. Denis is attracted to a man called Maurice who he allows to sublet his flat while he’s away in Paris trying to uncover the secrets of his birth. All of these character’s stories come in ‘cut outs’ and the reader has to make sense of it. What we do get is an incredible sense of place, from Roberts’s long, lyrical and descriptive passages. We move from character’s memories, back in time to the actual events. The past explains the present day in parts, but not in others. While I didn’t feel I was fully engaged with the story, I did love the sensual descriptions of art and food, and my senses were fully engaged with these parts, The ending, when it came, was sudden and rather abrupt. It felt jarring after such a slow, meandering narrative. However it was a book that left me thinking and that’s never a bad thing.

Published by Sandstone Press 12th August 2021.

Meet The Author

Michèle Roberts is the author of fourteen critically acclaimed novels, including Daughters of the House, which won the WHSmith Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and, most recently Ignorance, which was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2013 and the Impac Award. Her memoir Paper Houses was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week.

Posted in Netgalley

The Secret by Debbie Howells.

The village of Abingworth is a rather exclusive area to live, with large houses placed in countryside gardens, surrounded with wooded areas and plenty of privacy. This is a village where the residents don’t have a huge sense of community or honest, real friendships. This is one of those areas where keeping up appearances is everything and for those with a social standing, it’s most important of all. Of course there’s so much more going on than anyone would admit too. Troubled teen Hollie has gone missing. Just beforehand, she briefly visits her friend Niamh and tells her a secret. Niamh swears to keep it safe. However, as detectives arrive and start to ask difficult questions, can Niamh tell this is thuja secret to help find her friend? Or is it something so terrible that only by keeping quiet, can she keep her friend and herself safe?

This was an entertaining domestic thriller with some fairly dark themes too. The story is told through two narrators, Elise who is Niamh’s mum and Jo who is the detective on the missing person’s case. Elise is a flight attendant, working unusual hours on mainly short haul flights. In the first few pages as Elise drives a short distance home from the airport she has a lot on her mind. She is quite matter of fact in about her husband Andrew’s serial infidelity and muses on who it could be this time. Early on, the author takes us on a night out with Elise and Andrew, who is the local GP. This is not so much a relaxed evening out, as it is a show. They must present their most united front in the local, so that everyone they meet must be sure of their relationship and their respectability. The truth is much different.

This book brilliantly portrays coercion and how domestic abuse develops, slow and insidious, until you almost don’t recognise yourself. There are plenty of twists and turns here that keep you guessing, but one revelation jarred a bit and it felt weird that it hadn’t been mentioned sooner. It turns out that this picturesque village has some terrible secrets, all centring on a mansion where Hollie liked to trespass and explore. Elise wants to find out what happened to her, but also protect her daughter Niamh – the last person to talk to Hollie. Does she know more than she’s letting on? I was hooked till the end, as I usually am with this author. I hate false situations where people are putting on a front constantly, the question here is are they doing this to fit in or do they have something to hide? This is another entertaining thriller from this author and will keep you guessing.

Published by Avon 6th Jan 2022

Meet The Author

Having previously worked as cabin crew, a flying instructor and a wedding florist, Debbie turned to writing during her busiest summer of weddings. After self-publishing three women’s commercial fiction novels, she wrote The Bones of You, her first psychological thriller. It was a Sunday Times bestseller and picked for the Richard and Judy book club. Three more have been published by Pan Macmillan: The Beauty of The End, The Death of Her and Her Sister’s Lie. Her fifth, The Vow, was published by Avon in 2020 and was a #1 ebook bestseller. It will be followed by The Secret, out in January 2022. Alongside her thrillers, Debbie has returned to writing women’s fiction novels and The Life You Left Behind will be published in February 2022 by Boldwood. Debbie writes full time, inspired by the peacefulness of the countryside she lives in with her partner Martin and Bean the rescued cat.

You can visit her website at http://www.debbiehowells.co.uk or blog at http://www.howellshenson.com. 

Follow her on Instagram @_debbiehowells, on Facebook @debbiehowellswriter or on Twitter @debbie__howells.

Posted in Domestic Thriller, Publisher Proof

The Second Woman by Louise Mey.

I was truly gripped and unsettled by this domestic thriller, and it’s themes of control and coercion. The author truly understands this type of relationship and the psychological trauma that slowly trickles down to the rest of the family. Sandrine is our main character, a discreet, gentle and loving woman who doesn’t want much. She just wants a loving husband, someone who wants to go to bed with her every night and wake up with her every morning. She wants someone who shows his affection and holds her hand in front of others. She’s so concentrated in looking for this, that when Mr Langois appears on the horizon, he is going to be her ‘one’. Mr Langois does offer her some of what she wants. She now has a beautiful place to live and is close to his son, which does show an element of trust. Yet, she can’t forget that this is a house where a woman went missing. His first wife was there and then she disappeared. In fact, she is presumed dead, and Sandrine, who is discreet, loving and oh so grateful, slips into the void left behind. She has been doing her best to bring back a smile to the grieving husband and little Mathias. However, he will never really be her son, and Mr Langois is not really her man. In the back of her mind, she feels the woman who was there before, the one who made this house a home and belonged here in this family, Then suddenly the woman who’s been haunting Sandrine reappears. Alive. Sandrine’s world crumbles and falls apart.

This book is both compelling to read, but also intelligent and profoundly disturbing. Whereas the first half is largely setting the scene, the second part becomes more and more chilling. We are treated to all the twists and turns related to the disappearance of the first wife while she infiltrates Sandrine’s life; what follows is so insidious and feels evil. It’s very well written, with a brilliant depiction of Sandrine’s personality change, from a woman who only wanted to have her own man to love and feel loved back, to an obsessive. The obsession is borne of her low self-esteem and could lead her from jealousy into being a full-blown monster. The story is written with waves of the worst tension, and this never lets up, especially once Mr Langois’ first wife returns and begins manipulating. The author manages to scare us without a need for physical violence, something which doesn’t surprise me as I am a survivor of coercive control. By the time I’d found the strength to leave, I didn’t really know who I was anymore. It took so long to try and put myself back together. This book has that strange quality of being fascinating yet repulsive at the same tune. I sort of felt the way I do when watching nature documentaries. It’s incredible to watch the ability of the beautiful creature at the top of the food chain, but also dreadful to watch the pain and fear of the animal being hunted. It’s horrible, but you can’t turn away. This is such an immersive read, you’ll look up from the page and wonder where you are.

Published 2nd September 2021 by Pushkin Vertigo

LOUISE MEY is a Paris-based author of contemporary noir novels dealing with themes of domestic and sexual violence, and harassment, often with a feminist slant. The Second Woman is her fourth novel, and the first to be translated into English. LOUISE ROGERS LALAURIE is a writer and translator from French, including Frederic Dard’s The King of Fools and The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths by Olivier Barde-Cabucon, both published by Pushkin Vertigo. Her work has been shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award, the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature and the Crime Writers Association International Dagger.

Posted in Back of the Shelf

Books At The Back Of My Shelf

One of my book shelves.

As I go through other blogger’s fantastic end of year book lists, it strikes me how many brilliant books I haven’t had time to read. That’s not because I’m one of life’s busy people – I don’t work, the girls are only with us part-time, I’m still semi-shielding, and I have a carer/cleaner – I’m hardly plagued with Virginia Woolf’s worries and yes, I do have a room of my own. I could be reading more, but mainly I could be making better choices. The problem is I become distracted. I’m distracted by the same things a lot of other book bloggers are: should I be on Tik-Tok? Should I be chasing this year’s hottest release? Do I have enough Twitter followers? Is a photograph better than a review? How do I stay relevant? Is anyone even reading this? It’s so easy to spend half your day on Twitter or Instagram looking at other people’s beautiful and creative content and thinking ‘should I be doing that too?’

The only answer is to do what you love. I’m never going to be a major book influencer with followers in the millions, merchandise and a whole new income stream. So I have to think, what is it I enjoy about book blogging? Well, I love the Book Twitter community, the bloggers, blog tour organisers, the publishing assistants and other writers. By talking to writers over the last few years I’ve had so much encouragement and advice about my own writing, that I could see myself actually finishing my own book. People have been generous and kind with their time and their tips on how to be a book blogger. I love reading, discovering new authors and broadening my reading choices. I love writing about characters, their stories, their psychology and really championing those books that make my heart sing. I can do all of these things without putting myself under pressure, without chasing every new book, without joining every blog tour or buying every special edition. I can do this without pressuring or challenging myself even more than last year.

My village book exchange

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate those who take stunning Insta photos, or know a flat lay from a stack, because I do. Some people are absolute artists! I also admire those who worked hard to remain up to date and relevant, but it’s not always me. It takes me a long time to understand and adopt new apps and methods of getting the book love across. So in short, I’m going to worry less and read more of the books I already have. Stress less and enjoy this more. I’m going to spend more time writing my own work, putting new books into our village book exchange, and reaching to the back of the shelf for those books I didn’t get to this year. I’m going to write about those back of the shelf books and celebrate what I have as much as the new. I can’t believe I haven’t yet read The Appeal by Janice Hallet or Still Life by Sarah Winman, but they are both tucked away on the shelf. I’m going to look forward to those books I’ve highlighted for 2022, but not worry if I don’t get to them all. I’m also including my NetGalley shelf in this, which I’m afraid to say, is cluttered with forgotten gems and new books due to be published as far away as next summer!

It’s easy to forget why we do this. I need to remember those reasons, to simply enjoy being part of this great book community. To relax and celebrate the journey, rather than stress and strain towards an unknown goal. Here’s wishing you all a deliciously bookish 2022 and I look forward to chatting and sharing with you all this coming year. ❤️📚