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Posted in Random Things Tours

This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech.

I absolutely loved this incredible book about love, disability, sex and the secrets we keep from each other. Veronica and her son Sebastian live together in Hull. Veronica wants the best for her son and just like all parents, she wants him to grow up and have a full life. However, Veronica isn’t like other parents, because despite Sebastian being twenty years, six months and two days old, he’s struggling with the love and relationships part of his life. Seb is autistic and he is lonely. Seb loves swimming, his fish, fried eggs and Billy Ocean, he’d also love to have sex but no one will have sex with him. He’s already been in trouble after the girl next door convinced him to write an explicit letter to her underage sister. When their lives collide with Violetta, Veronica thinks she can see a way forward. She’s thought of paying someone before, but has stopped herself. Here though, is someone they’ve met before and who was natural with Seb. Veronica couldn’t have known she was leading a double life as a high class escort, in order to earn enough money to keep her seriously ill father at home. These three lives come together and change each other in unexpected ways.

There were scenes in this that made me laugh and some that made me cry. His need for sexual release is having a huge impact on his carefully ordered life. His swimming sessions have continued at the same time and day of the week, all the way from childhood, but his inability to see why his nakedness is different to the children’s has meant they must stop. When Veronica takes Seb to the sexual health clinic, because she’s desperate for advice, their lack of help and understanding infuriated me. The nurse seemed more concerned about whether Seb might hurt someone, or how Veronica’s thoughts about paying for it would be harming him. She even threatens to report her to social services. There’s no compassion or admission that they really don’t know what to do. It’s an issue I’ve thought about for a long time, having supported people with learning difficulties or autistic spectrum disorders in an advocacy role. Sadly, the figures for sexual violence against women with learning disabilities are terrifyingly high. While young people are often infantilised by parents who don’t want to accept their child is an adult. I read many years ago about an initiative in Holland very like our Direct Payments/Personal Budget system for care if you have a disability. However, social workers could add a component that would pay for the disabled person (physical disabilities) to hire a sex worker if they needed that for an sexual outlet. As Seb himself says:

‘People seem to get dead upset about it. But it’s just like paying for swimming lessons. You want to learn to do it and someone who knows how to will show you for an agreed fee’.

He sees it as a simple business transaction. Offsetting the worry, sadness and anger I felt in their behalf it’s Seb’s frankness that brings the humour. His mother greets him in the morning with a cheery ‘what do you want to do today?’ and his reply is ‘I want to have sex’. He goes on to explain that he might pay for sex:

‘If I was rich. But I’m not. I’ll just have to find someone who appreciates me before I die. I hope it’s this week. I’m feeling very sexual today.’

Seb is such a loveable and interesting character. He’s also handsome, so does draw attention from women when out and about, but Veronica knows that as soon as he speaks they will start to lose interest. She meets with Violetta and proposes her plan. However, there are real ethical concerns here and everyone is keeping secrets. Veronica isn’t planning on telling Seb the truth about his ‘sessions’ with Violetta, but she isn’t planning on telling Seb she’s been hired or why she needs the money. Seb has his own secrets and there is an ending to this that neither woman envisaged, showing a prejudice they didn’t know they had. They’ve discussed concerns that Seb may become attached to his tutor, but they didn’t imagine that she might become compromised in some way or that Seb might transfer his affections to someone new.

This is brave new ground in fiction. I have a physical disability, and I can count on one hand books that have a disabled character who openly discusses or explores their sexuality. This is almost society’s last taboo – the sexual disabled body is not to be looked at or mentioned. This is partly about the infantilisation of people with disabilities, they need care and are therefore vulnerable and untouchable. It’s partly to do with an innate reflex to reject what is different – often the fear of urine bags, colostomy bags, and other paraphernalia is so great, that the person becomes neutral to other people and they close their minds to the fact that this person is a sexual being. We saw this prejudice in action with the controversy around Marc Quinn’s statue of Alison Lapper. Not only was this a disabled woman who was naked, she was also pregnant. People rejected her body strongly, calling it ugly and disgusting. However, I think a large part of the furore was down to people being uncomfortable that Lapper’s pregnancy was a visual clue of a healthy sex life. Most of the same people would probably be uncomfortable with this book, but I was so excited to see the issue out in the open. We need to talk about it more. People with disabilities are having sex, often more adventurous and inventive sex, because they have to communicate more and find a way round their disability. It’s only by talking about it that we start to break down these prejudices and accept that a healthy sex life is a normal part of life for all adults able to consent. This was a difficult subject, handled with frankness, but also the greatest care and sensitivity. I’m so grateful that this talented writer turned her hand to this subject, writing characters that felt utterly real and incredibly relatable. It was funny, moving, and full of love, of every kind.

Meet The Author

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her 2019 novel Call Me Star Girl won Best magazine Book of the Year, and was followed by I Am Dust.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The Hours by Michael Cunningham.

I came across The Hours in my university bookshop, as a companion piece to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. We were studying it for our Twentieth Century Literature module. I had read Woolf’s book very quickly, surprised by how modern it was in the way it was told. I did a disappointing essay based around the whether there were recognisable differences between Modernism and Postmodernism or whether it was simply a continuation of the same ideas. In hindsight I was arguing the wrong side, but the books stayed with me and I did enjoy the film adaptation of The Hours where Nicole Kidman won her Oscar playing Woolf. Arguably, it was Julianne Moore who really deserved an award, playing the second of Cunningham’s women who was sinking under the weight of motherhood and expectations in 1940’s Los Angeles. In the book I felt the same narrative was very strong, but I also enjoyed the Woolf sections – perhaps because she seemed to exist more strongly in the written word than in the flesh. The third narrative was a modern day meditation on Mrs Dalloway, as our character does the same things in one day that Woolf’s character does, but brought to a post- millennium New York City.

Our three women are Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown and Clarissa Vaughan – who is affectionately nicknamed Mrs Dalloway, by her terminally ill friend. The three timelines give us a glimpse into societal changes for women across the Twentieth Century. Yet it also shows us that there are experiences and struggles that are universal and echo down the centuries. For such a slim volume, the depth the author writes into his characters is extraordinary. I feel like I know these women, deep down to their soul. They’re going through some tough things here, with themes of illness, suicide and depression somehow explored sensitively despite the books brevity. Those who’ve read Mrs Dalloway know that it explores similar themes, despite feeling light and almost insubstantial. This is similar, as Clarissa goes out to buy flowers and Virginia takes tea with her sister Vita. These things are slight, but behind them is a turmoil of finding identity, moving beyond the tiny restricted role society expects, finding a way through tragedy and deep troughs of sadness. All three are searching for those elusive things we all want – love, happiness and a sense of who we truly are. Can we ever find these things or keep them? Are we doomed to live out our lives and others expect, rather than being our authentic selves. Most of us have to make do with one of these, or maybe all three for brief, elusive moments. How do we get through life without them? Or are we doomed to lurch desperately from one moment of happiness to another? When we are in those depths of depression or grief, how do we keep going and what would force us to take that final drastic action?

The answer is in those hours of the title. These are those happy, golden hours that we remember always. The memories we wish we could bottle and keep forever. These precious hours are the beauty of life and they illuminate all those dark moments. They are what keep us going, they hold within them the hope that things can change. That we will feel that way again and that they will warm our heart enough to get us through.

‘There’s just this consolation; an hour here or there where our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything for more.’

Posted in Random Things Tours

Heatstroke by Hazel Barkworth.

Do I really see what’s in her mind, Each time i think I’m close to knowing She keeps on growing, Slipping through my fingers all the time. ABBA

Years ago, when Mamma Mia first came out at the cinema, I went to see it with my Mum. When it came to the wedding day and Meryl Streep helping her daughter get ready for the ceremony, I saw so much emotion flow through my Mum’s face. I didn’t want to make a fuss, because I knew that if I touched her or asked if she was ok it would make things worse. It threw me a little bit because I couldn’t remember my mum ever being sentimental about me. I’d always been someone, she thought, could took care of herself. On our drive home I asked her what about the scene made her emotional, and she said it wasn’t the scene it was the song ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’. It talks about a mother who never seems able to fully capture a moment with her daughter, because she moves just out of reach all the time. Away to school, on to grammar school, to new friends, boyfriends, university and into a fully grown woman. I’m not sure I fully understood what she felt, I don’t have children, but more recently I became a stepmum to two teenage girls. I can see now, with my eldest, how girls grow so quick and out of your influence. How friends become the people who understand them, how they’re constantly making plans to get away, to visit other places, to move on, to study in another city. It’s as if the woman they’re becoming wipes away the trace of that little girl you once did everything for. This book is about that point between mother and daughter; Rachel sees her daughter Mia slipping through her fingers.

The backdrop to this mother -daughter story is a heatwave and a scandal. The nightmare begins when Mia’s school friend Lily disappears one night when she’s supposed to be at a sleep over with her friends. Mia socialises in a group of five girls, and in parallel Rachel keeps a What’s App group of their mothers aimed at keeping in touch with their daughter’s plans and keeping them safe. Lily disappears in the midst of the heatwave and the author very cleverly uses it to ratchet up the tension. At home and at Mia’s school, where Rachel works as a teacher, the heat is relentless. Rachel notices the girls in class lifting their long curtains of hair, and twisting it into a top knot just to feel some air on the back of their neck. Everyone is somehow more aware of each other’s bodies: the smells, the damp as you stand up from a sitting position, or on your back as you stop driving and get out of the car. Rachel’s also aware of so much young flesh on show. The girls and their golden legs, without a trace of hair. They’re perfection and by comparison Rachel is aware of her own flesh as less taut, just a millimetre too saggy at the jawline.

At night it’s impossible to sleep. In between the oppressive heat and worry about Lilly, there are short chapters detailing an illicit relationship. It feels obsessive and dangerous. There are no names used. Could it be Lily or is someone else keeping a secret? Then police find that Lily took something with her. A piece of lingerie belonging to her mother. That means she chose to go and for a moment everyone breathes, until they realise that means she didn’t go alone, but with a person is possibly older and might still mean her harm. Rachel asks Lily’s parents if she can look over her bedroom, just in case there is something the police have overlooked. Something that might only have meaning to those who know the girls well. She finds, on Lily’s notice board, some song lyrics and straight away she knows, she knows who Lily is with. The shock reverberates through her. She should tell the police straight away, but she can’t, she needs to process it first. To think it through before the police do find out, because that could bring even worse trouble. Yet, if it’s ever found out that she knew and kept it to herself, she could be in trouble with the police or even lose her job.

I enjoyed the author’s depiction of how Rachel copes with growing older, made especially difficult by her past and Mia’s growing beauty, Rachel has placed a photo outside the downstairs loo. It shows her at her peak of youth and beauty as the singer in a band. In skimpy clothes and torn tights I imagined her look like Courtney Love, the lead singer in Hole back in the 1990s. Rachel seems to be embarrassed when people recognise her, but it seems likely that people will see it, because of where it’s placed. It’s as if she wants to show she was once cool and beautiful. It’s an ego boost for her. There’s a disturbing scene later, when she takes Mia’s prom dress and tries it on. She’s pleased to be able to fit into it, but what seemed harmless turns into something else when Mia comes home. In another scene she has thoughts about Lily, and her first time sharing a living space with a man. Rachel imagines her worrying about how to do all the things that make her beautiful: the shaving, plucking and preening are no longer private and mysterious I l if these concerns were really for Lily or whether they were about her own beauty rituals. Would she ever be able to accept her ageing process and know she can be attractive at any age?

The mysterious man at the centre of Lily’s disappearance exerts a strange hold over the women involved with him. The author doesn’t ever give us his thoughts or feelings. We just get snippets of musical taste, but it’s clear he is either beguiling or emotionally/psychologically abusive. One disturbing scene shows him and his unnamed lover enter a freezing cold river in their underwear. He goes in first as if to give her the motivation and even though he says very little, it’s clear the female feels compelled to move in deeper and deeper until she feels the current trying to carry her away. I sensed that he wants her to feel powerless without him. I wasn’t surprised to learn who the anonymous lovers are in these sections, but the ending did surprise me. As everything comes to a head towards the Prom, Rachel gets a chance to see her daughter anew. Rachel learns so much about herself and how wrong she has been about any things. As she rushes to support her daughter it’s as if that stifling heat has been affecting her ability to think straight. As the rain starts to come down outside, leaving it’s own unique smell rising from the boiling pavements, Rachel’s eyes clear to see that within the beautiful woman in front of her, there is still a glimmer of the little girl inside again.

Meet The Author

HAZEL BARKWORTH grew up in Stirlingshire and North Yorkshire before studying English at Oxford. She then moved to London where she spent her days working as a cultural consultant, and her nights dancing in a pop band at glam rock clubs. Hazel is a graduate of both the Oxford University MSt in Creative Writing and the Curtis Brown Creative Novel-Writing course. She now works in Oxford, where she lives with her partner. HEATSTROKE is her first novel.

Why not check out these other book bloggers on the tour?

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month! May 2021

May has been a very busy blog month and had me almost at the edge of my reading limit. I found myself having to take breaks from reading because my eyes were so sore. However, I’ve still managed to read some fantastic novels. All the novelists above are new to me, except for one.

I had read Elizabeth’s MacNeal’s first novel The Doll Factory, so I knew I would love this one. The story of a young girl with birthmarks on her face and body, catches the eye of a passing showman. Jasper Jupiter has seen her dancing round the camp fire with her brother. She has the sort of wild abandon that’s rare in one so shy and reserved. He can see her now, in his circus, perhaps even performing before the Queen if she could be tempted away from mourning Prince Albert. The book flits between the circus and back to Jasper and his brother Toby’s time in the Crimea. We follow Nell as she leaves her village behind to become Queen of the Moon and Stars. However, could Jasper’s eagerness to expand and show in London be their undoing? There are some very interesting disability issues here, including a look at the ethical concerns around freak shows.

This novel was a great surprise. I read this for a blog tour and I really couldn’t stop reading, so had to cope with a couple of regrettable late nights! For the first chapter I expected a bit of an ‘aga saga’. Cass lives a very comfortable life in the country with her husband and daughter. She is a gardener and is very involved in her local community, including a friendship group of very close women friends. Ellie turns up at a Sunday barbecue and makes quite an entrance. Where the other women are in shirts and jeans, Ellie is fully made up, wearing a stunning 1950’s style dress and a pair of towering red high heels. She’s an author and has moved close to Cass, hoping for some quiet to write her novel. Cass wonders whether she’s met a new friend, and Ellie does seem to slot into the group very easily. However, over the coming weeks Cass finds little things going wrong, she’s confused and feels alienated from her friends, but has no idea why. This is a great thriller that will keep you guessing.

This was an incredible debut from this author and a feminist rewrite of the Greek myth Theseus and the Minotaur. Ariadne is the eldest daughter of King Minos of Crete and his wife Pasiphae. She has a sister called Phaedra, but has very mixed feelings about her younger brother Asterion. Asterion was the result of a prank played by Poseidon on King Minos. To embarrass the King, Poseidon placed an enchantment on Pasiphae so she fell in love with a bull. Asterion was the result of their union and at first Ariadne has very positive memories of her baby brother and his little horn buds above huge eyelashes. Yet before long Minos has renamed him the Minotaur, and instructs Daedalus to build a labyrinth to keep him in. Once a year, Minos demands the sacrifice of young men and women from Athens, who are placed in the labyrinth and chased down by the Minotaur. Then, one year, Theseus arrives with the sacrificial group. Ariadne is dazzled by this young man and agrees to help him by placing his weapons inside the labyrinth, enabling him to kill her brother. He promises to take Ariadne with him, when he returns to Athens. So how come she wakes up a day later, on a different island, alone. The author retells this well known story from the point of view of the women and I really enjoyed reviewing it from a disability perspective too.

This was my first Faith Hogan novel and I’ll definitely be buying more. Again, women are front and centre in this story based in a small village in Ireland. Elizabeth is the doctor’s wife and lives in the big house, but her marriage has been far from happy and after the death of her husband she finds they were drowning in debt. Luckily she has a good friend to turn to. Jo lives in a little cottage at the bottom of the village and she has a brainwave to help her friend. Jo’s daughter Lucy is a doctor, taking a break from working in a hospital after her marriage broke down. She brings her teenage and stays at her mother’s, agreeing to keep the GP surgery ticking over until Elizabeth knows what she wants to do. Then Jo receives shocking news that will change life for them all. The women dispel their worries by meeting at night and going wild swimming in the Irish Sea. When they’re laid back in the waves looking up at the stars, life looks different and their worries seem smaller. It also gives them the idea for a fundraiser for their local hospice. I loved this story of female friendship and the support we can give each other.

Finally, there’s this disturbing read, which was an uncomfortable experience since we’re still living in a pandemic. This is another clever debut, set in 2025, where a Glasgow doctor reports a worrying pattern of illness she’s detected. Dr Andrea McLean is horrified when a young man presents with a fever and dies within three hours. It spreads through the hospital with frightening speed, but the powers that be don’t want to acknowledge the problem at first. By the time they do, it will be too late. A pandemic is underway, and strangely this virus seems to only affect men. This book made me think really deeply about what such a pandemic would mean to society. There are all the roles that men usually fill, but also some terrible choices for individual women to make. If your partner was ill, would you leave to protect your male children? Could you leave your elderly father to die, to keep your husband safe? Although this was an uncomfortable read, it was thought-provoking and incredibly clever too.

Looking Forward To in June

Posted in Netgalley

The Stranding by Kate Sawyer.

I know that a book is extraordinary when I finish it and feel changed in some way. I’m never sure what has happened, but there’s a tiny, imperceptible change, to the air around me, how I feel and even the way I perceive the world. The Stranding left me feeling calm, thoughtful and as if a lot of the small things worrying me didn’t really matter in the big scheme of things. I cared deeply for the characters and their grief, and strangely proud of them for what they managed to achieve. The author created an incredible sense of New Zealand and the whale that becomes Ruth’s saviour, and mother – birthing her and Nik into their new world and sustaining them. Her detailed descriptions left me fully immersed in this world, so much so that when I finished reading, it took a while to adjust back to being in Ruth’s ‘before’ and my 21st Century world.

Ruth is an endearing character and someone I could relate to enormously, especially when thinking back to my younger self. She makes mistakes and doesn’t fully know herself yet. She’s a primary school teacher and serial monogamist living in London. She has a best friend called Fran and really supportive parents who live a train journey away. However, her love life is complicated with even Fran saying that she needs to spend some time alone between relationships. So, Ruth has kept her current relationship under wraps. She loves Alex, and she’s sure the way she feels is different from her previous relationships, but he comes with complications. He’s married, with two small children. There’s a restlessness about Ruth, something she thinks will disappear if Alex makes a commitment. Then he does and he’s there in her small flat all the time, she’s a ready made step mum and as time goes on, she wonders whether she really wants this version of her life? She struggles to cope with someone so physically close to her, sharing her space.

‘Ruth had noticed a new loo brush beside the toilet. She reddened to realise that Alex had felt the necessity to purchase such an item, and her cheeks burnt even more when she wondered whether it was her or him who had made that requirement apparent. It wasn’t the only scatological matter that raised the colour in Ruth’s cheeks. Alex was opposed to the use of any chemical or aerosol-propelled household products. Over the past week, on several occasions, Ruth had found herself wafting pungent air out of the window and running the tap to foam soap in the hope of masking the smell of her natural functions. Though it was worse when she had walked in and been greeted with air almost warm with the memory of Alex’s recent visit’.

The book is split into before and after – it’s not explicit exactly what has created this apocalyptic world Ruth eventually finds herself in, but it is catastrophic, wiping out Europe before it reaches where she has travelled in New Zealand. The placement of these sections is incredibly clever. Before takes us back to the world as we know it and follows Ruth to the beach and the stranded whale. After starts at the stranded whale and tells the story into the future. So we are brought full circle and can marvel at the change in Ruth and discover whether she has finally found satisfaction in a life stripped of everything. Nik is, quite literally, the last man on earth. The difference in their characters is shown in the way they cope with the stranded whale. Ruth is immediately desperate to do something. To do anything. She rips through her rucksack for a container to hold water, then pours it over the huge creature. She must know rationally that this tiny amount of water will make no difference. She has been interested in whales since being a small girl so she must know this is a losing battle, but the activity is not for the whale. Ruth chooses activity because she can’t accept the inevitable. Nik is straightforward. He reminds her that her efforts are futile. They can’t save the whale, all they can do is be there in it’s final moments. They are forced into an intimacy that Ruth would normally avoid. Every day they choose to be a team, to use their individual skills to support each other and stay alive. Her father once advised her that love, real lasting love, is quiet and surprising. It’s not Anna Karenina or Wuthering Heights. It’s not drama and heartbreak and flowery exclamations. He tells her that it’s just going about your day and having a realisation that you can’t live without the other person. There’s telling someone you love them, and there’s showing them.

I loved how the author emphasised the importance of stories in the afterward sections. She realises that children in this new world will never know what it was truly like to live in the before. This wild world of survival is their normal. She tells them stories of how she survived the end of the world. She knows they will never know her joy of reading and she thinks of all the children’s classics she could be reading to them:

‘She watches Frankie exploring every stone and shell she comes across and feels a physical ache in her heart that she will never read a book: the words that constructed the worlds Ruth’s imagination inhabited as a child. Instead Ruth tells her those stories herself. She tells her of the Lion and the Witch that lived through the Wardrobe, and great adventures of princesses and princes. Without the books to restrict her, she often switches the genders of the protagonists, waking sleeping princes from their slumbers and sending young women on adventures in mythical lands. Nik watches as Ruth talks softly to the child on her lap in the light of the fire, retelling the stories they know so well; he raises an eyebrow and forms his crooked smile as he hears her adaptations.’

This is a return to oral storytelling, where the story can change according to the storyteller. I also loved Ruth’s changing of the narratives, creating a more feminist type of fairy tale and shaping girls to be powerful, confident and be the ones doing the rescuing.

I was blown away by the author’s own storytelling, from the beautiful and detailed, such as her incredible description of the skin of the whale.

‘The hide of the animal looks like cracked, varnished wood. Like an old piano. A giant grand piano from the ballroom of a wrecked ocean-liner, washed up on the shore. The long white underside of its belly is ridged, like bricks of pale plasticine. The shell-like white, beige, cream skin is flecked with grey, black, coral-orange markings. Around its mouth and eyes the same orange spreads like rust: clumsy make-up that has smudged in the water.’

Yet, it can also be brutal, such as when she’s describing Ruth’s skin in the first few days afterwards. It made me think about the extremes of the world she’s living in, from the quietness and the gradual return of nature to the brutality of the wild dogs and the animalistic aspects of birth. What I was left with though, was something I’ve been thinking about during the pandemic where I’ve been shielding – only seeing my partner and step-daughters. With the pause button pressed on my life, I was able to think about it more clearly. I realised we needed to move house and we are now out in the country, with a garden I can sit in easily and chat to the neighbours over the fence. It made me realise who was important in my life and who wasn’t. I re-evaluated what I wanted to do with my time and decided that now is my time to write. It also made me realise who I am, without people to bounce off, or rushing to different places, or having endless mental stimulation through social media. I was able to apply something I have previously taught in art and writing therapy workshops – the art of being myself. This is Ruth’s journey. With everything removed from her, who exactly is she? There is a time in her life where she would avoid self-examination by jumping to the next thing, the next entertainment, scrolling social media, the next outing, the next man. Afterwards, she is forced to contemplate and to be with the only other person who survived. It is fascinating to watch whether she copes in this situation and whether she can find a way to be happy that eluded her before. This book was incredible, moving, disturbing and deeply philosophical. This is an extraordinary debut and I loved it.

The Stranding is published by Coronet on 24th June 2021

Posted in Uncategorized

Quick Reads 15 Year Anniversary.

Today on the blog I’m supporting the Quick Reads initiative which is celebrating it’s 15 year anniversary. I have personal reasons for supporting this brilliant idea and the short reads published each year. As regulars know I have MS and I’m lucky enough to still manage to read as well as I do. However, when I am in relapse, my eyes are painful and I can find it very difficult to follow a long novel because of fatigue and the loss of concentration. I know there are other MS patients who struggle to hold a full length book or have the concentration to keep up with its many narrative strands. These short books by some great writers are perfect for this – small and easy to manage, shorter stories and less likely to overwhelm those who are struggling. It’s brilliant to have them written by such great writers too. Just because people with disabilities might struggle to read, doesn’t mean they should have to compromise on the quality of the writing. These are brilliant for people in regular treatment, smaller to carry and something to get lost in while waiting for and having treatment. Check out the books in more detail below and keep watching this space for a review of Wish You Were Dead, a short Roy Grace story by Peter James.

One in six adults in the UK – approximately 9 million people – find reading difficult, and one in three people do not regularly read for pleasure. Quick Reads, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, plays a vital role in addressing these shocking statistics by inspiring emergent readers, as well as those with little time or who have fallen out of the reading habit, with entertaining and accessible writing from the very best contemporary authors. 

This year’s short books include:

  • a dark domestic thriller from British Book Award winner Louise Candlish (The Skylight), who thanks reading for setting her on the right path when she was ‘young and adrift’
  • an uplifting romance by the much-loved Katie Fforde (Saving the Day), who never thought she would be able to be an author because of her struggle with dyslexia
  • the holiday from hell for Detective Roy Grace courtesy of long-time literacy campaigner and crime fiction maestro Peter James (Wish You Were Dead)
  • a specially abridged version of the feminist manifesto (How to Be a Woman) by Caitlin Moran: ‘everyone deserves to have the concept of female equality in a book they can turn to as a chatty friend.’
  • an introduction to Khurrum Rahman’s dope dealer Javid Qasim (The Motive), who previously found the idea of reading a book overwhelming and so started reading late in life, to find ‘joy, comfort and an escape’
  • Oyinkan Braithwaite’s follow-up to her Booker nominated debut sensationMy Sister, the Serial Killer – a family drama set in lockdown Lagos (The Baby is Mine)

Over 5 million Quick Reads have been distributed since the life-changing programme launched in 2006. From 2020 – 2022, the initiative is supported by a philanthropic gift from bestselling author Jojo Moyes. This year, for every book bought until 31 July 2021, another copy will be gifted to help someone discover the joy of reading. ‘Buy one, gift one’ will see thousands of free books given to organisations across the UK to reach less confident readers and those with limited access to books – bring the joy and transformative benefits of reading to new audiences.

 

Oyinkan Braithwaite, The Baby is Mine (Atlantic)

When his girlfriend throws him out during the pandemic, Bambi has to go to his Uncle’s house in lock-down Lagos. He arrives during a blackout and is surprised to find his Aunty Bidemi sitting in a candlelit room with another woman. They are fighting because both claim to be the mother of the baby boy, fast asleep in his crib. At night Bambi is kept awake by the baby’s cries, and during the days he is disturbed by a cockerel that stalks the garden. There is sand in the rice. A blood stain appears on the wall. Someone scores tribal markings into the baby’s cheeks. Who is lying and who is telling the truth?

Oyinkan Braithwaite gained a degree in Creative Writing and Law at Kingston University. Her first book, My Sister, the Serial Killer, was a number one bestseller. It was shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize and was on the long list for the 2019 Booker Prize.

Oyinkan Braithwaite, author of The Baby is Mine (Atlantic) said: “When I am writing, I don’t know what my readers will look like or what challenges they may be facing. So it was an interesting experience creating work with the understanding that the reader might need a story that was easy to digest, and who might not have more than a few hours in a week to commit to reading. It was daunting – simpler does not necessarily mean easier – I may have pulled out a couple of my hairs; but I would do it again in a heartbeat. Quick Reads tapped into my desire to create fiction that would be an avenue for relief and escape for all who came across it.”

Louise Candlish, The Skylight (Simon & Schuster)

They can’t see her, but she can see them… Simone has a secret. She likes to stand at her bathroom window and spy on the couple downstairs through their kitchen skylight. She knows what they eat for breakfast and who they’ve got over for dinner. She knows what mood they’re in before they even step out the door. There’s nothing wrong with looking, is there? Until one day Simone sees something through the skylight she is not expecting. Something that upsets her so much she begins to plot a terrible crime…

Louise Candlish is the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Other Passenger and thirteen other novels. Our House won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards. It is now in development for a major TV series. Louise lives in London with her husband and daughter.

Louise Candlish, author of The Skylight (Simon & Schuster) said: It’s an honour to be involved in this [next] year’s Quick Reads. Reading set me on the right path when I was young and adrift and it means such a lot to me to be a part of literacy campaign that really does change lives.”

Katie Fforde, Saving the Day (Arrow, Penguin Random House)

Allie is bored with her job and starting to wonder whether she even likes her boyfriend, Ryan. The high point in her day is passing a café on her walk home from work. It is the sort of place where she’d really like to work. Then one day she sees as advert on the door: assistant wanted. But before she can land her dream job, Allie knows she must achieve two things: 1. Learn to cook; 2. End her relationship with Ryan, especially as through the window of the café, she spies a waiter who looks much more like her type of man. And when she learns that the café is in danger of closing, Allie knows she must do her very best to save the day …

Katie Fforde lives in the beautiful Cotswold countryside with her family and is a true country girl at heart. Each of her books explores a different job and her research has helped her bring these to life. To find out more about Katie Fforde step into her world at www.katiefforde.com, visit her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @KatieFforde.

Katie Fforde, author of Saving the Day (Arrow, Penguin Random House) said: “As a dyslexic person who even now can remember the struggle to read, I was delighted to be asked to take part in the scheme. Anything that might help someone who doesn’t find reading easy is such a worthwhile thing to do.”

 

Peter James, Wish You Were Dead (Macmillan)

Roy Grace and his family have left Sussex behind for a week’s holiday in France. The website promised a grand house, but when they arrive the place is very different from the pictures. And it soon becomes clear that their holiday nightmare is only just beginning. An old enemy of Roy, a lowlife criminal he had put behind bars, is now out of jail – and out for revenge. He knows where Roy and his family have gone on holiday. Of course he does. He’s been hacking their emails – and they are in the perfect spot for him to pay Roy back…

Peter James is a UK number one bestselling author, best known for his crime and thriller novels. He is the creator of the much-loved detective Roy Grace. His books have been translated into thirty-seven languages. He has won over forty awards for his work, including the WHSmith Best Crime Author of All Time Award. Many of his books have been adapted for film, TV and stage.

Peter James, author of Wish You Were Dead (Macmillan) said: “The most treasured moments of my career have been when someone tells me they hadn’t read anything for years, often since their school days, but are back into reading via my books. What more could an author hope for? Reading helps us tackle big challenges, transports us into new worlds, takes us on adventures, allows us to experience many different lives and open us up to aspects of our world we never knew existed. So I’m delighted to be supporting Quick Reads again – I hope it will help more people get started on their reading journeys and be the beginning of a life-long love of books.”

Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman (abridged) (Ebury)

It’s a good time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727.  But a few nagging questions remain… Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should we use Botox? Do men secretly hate us? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby? Part memoir, part protest, Caitlin answers the questions that every modern woman is asking.

Caitlin Moran became a columnist at The Times at eighteen and has gone on to be named Columnist of the Year six times. She is the author of many award-winning books and her bestseller How to Be a Woman has been published in 28 countries and won the British Book Awards’ Book of the Year 2011. Her first novel, How to Build a Girl, is now a major feature film. Find out more at her website www.caitlinmoran.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @caitlinmoran

Caitlin Moran, author of How to Be a Woman (abridged) (Ebury) said: “I wrote How To Be A Woman because I felt that feminism is such a beautiful, brilliant, urgent and necessary invention that it should not be hidden away in academic debates, or in books which most women and men found dull, and unreadable. Having a Quick Reads edition of it, therefore, makes me happier than I can begin to describe – everyone deserves to have the concept of female equality in a book they can turn to as a chatty friend, on hand to help them through the often bewildering ass-hattery of Being A Woman. There’s no such thing as a book being too quick, too easy, or too fun. A book is a treat – a delicious pudding for your brain. I’m so happy Quick Reads have allowed me to pour extra cream and cherries on How To Be A Woman.”

Khurrum Rahman, The Motive (HQ)

 

Business has been slow for Hounslow’s small time dope-dealer, Jay Qasim. A student house party means quick easy cash, but it also means breaking his own rules. But desperate times lead him there – and Jay finds himself in the middle of a crime scene. Idris Zaidi, a police constable and Jay’s best friend, is having a quiet night when he gets a call out following a noise complaint at a house party. Fed up with the lack of excitement in his job, he visits the scene and quickly realises that people are in danger after a stabbing. Someone will stop at nothing to get revenge…

Born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1975, Khurrum moved to England when he was one. He is a west London boy and now lives in Berkshire with his wife and two sons. Khurrum is currently working as a Senior IT Officer but his real love is writing. His first two books in the Jay Qasim series, East of Hounslow and Homegrown Hero, have been shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and CWA John Creasey Debut Dagger.

Khurrum Rahman, author of The Motive (HQ) said: “I started reading late in life, as the idea of reading a book always seemed overwhelming. I hesitantly began a book a friend had recommended and quickly became totally immersed in the story. I found joy and comfort and most importantly, an escape. It’s for this very reason that I am so proud to be involved with Quick Reads. This initiative is so important for people, like I once was, to engage in stories that may mirror their own lives or to read experiences far beyond their imagination. Just like a friend once did for me, I hope I am able to play a small part in encouraging somebody to pick up a book.”

About The Reading Agency & Quick Reads

The Reading Agency is a national charity that tackles life’s big challenges through the proven power of reading. We work closely with partners to develop and deliver programmes for people of all ages and backgrounds. The Reading Agency is funded by Arts Council England.  www.readingagency.org.uk

 

Quick Reads, a programme by The Reading Agency, aims to bring the pleasures and benefits of reading to everyone, including the one in three adults in the UK who do not regularly read for pleasure, and the one in six adults in the UK who find reading difficult. The scheme changes lives and plays a vital role in addressing the national crisis around adult literacy in the UK. Each year, Quick Reads commissioning editor Fanny Blake works with UK publishers to commission high profile authors to write short, engaging books that are specifically designed to be easy to read. Since 2006, over 5 million books have been distributed through the initiative, 5 million library loans (PLR) have been registered and through outreach work hundreds of thousands of new readers each year have been introduced to the joys and benefits of reading. From 2020 – 2022, the initiative is supported by a philanthropic gift from bestselling author Jojo Moyes.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Songs in Ursa Major by Emma Brodie.

Today I’m spotlighting a wonderful book from author Emma Brodie, the perfect antidote to the Glastonbury blues. This is one of a few proofs I’ve received recently that are based in the world of music. It had me thinking about the best gigs I’ve gone to and how much I’ve missed seeing live music. My last gig before lockdown was Manic Street Preachers in Manchester. I hadn’t seen them since the nineties so it was like revisiting my teenage years and they were just as incredible. However, the gig I remember most as one of those ‘where were you when…’ moments was in 1994 at Alexandra Palace. The main act was my favourite nineties band, Blur and just around the same time as the big Blur V Oasis battle. Just as exciting, the support act was Pulp, only months before they released Common People and became huge. This really was a zeitgeist moment in Britpop and I was there.

The Blurb

THE SUMMER OF 1969

From the moment Jane Quinn steps barefoot onto the main stage at Island Folk festival, her golden hair glinting, her voice soaring into the summer dusk, a star is born – and so is a passionate love story.

Jane’s band hits the road with none other than Jesse Reid, the musician whose bright blue eyes are setting hearts alight everywhere. And as the summer streaks by in a haze of crowds, wild nights and magenta sunsets, Jane is pulled into the orbit of Jesse’s star.
 
But Jesse’s rise could mean Jane’s fall. And when she discovers a dark secret beneath his music, she picks up her guitar and writes her heartache into the album that could make or break her: Songs in Ursa Major.

Set against the heady haze of the 70s and alive with music, sex and sun-soaked hedonism, SONGS IN URSA MAJOR is an unforgettable debut and the soundtrack to a love story like no other.

I would like to thank Zaffre and Bonnier Books for my proof copy and I look forward to telling you all about it.

Posted in Uncategorized

Nearest Thing to Crazy by Elizabeth Forbes.

By the time I reached the final pages of this book I realised my face ached and I’d had my teeth clenched! I was so invested in the truth coming out that I was scared to read the end in case it wasn’t what I wanted! I had the book lover’s nightmare of devouring the story like a crazy person to find out, but then holding back because I didn’t want the book to finish. Our heroine is Cass and she has a very comfortable life in her country cottage, with husband Dan. She is very much the home making type, with a comfortable and cozy house and a talent for gardening. She is part of a large circle of friends, active on local committees and very well known. Her friends see her and her and her husband Dan as the couple most likely to stay together. Their daughter Laura is away at university in Birmingham and only comes back home occasionally. Into this situation comes Ellie and what an arrival! At a friend’s informal barbecue, where most are in jeans, Ellie arrives like a femme fatale – red heels, fifties dress and red lipstick. Despite this, she spends a long time chatting with Cass who seems like her polar opposite. Their difference is highlighted when Cass sees Ellie has been reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Cass seems to be more aligned with the second Mrs de Winter, but Ellie is very clear that she would prefer to be Rebecca – the adulteress, the seductress:

‘I adored Rebecca, not giving a damn what anyone thought of her, attacking life, taking what she wanted, all that sexual power…’

I was drawn in by a couple of the author’s references, because they’re very familiar to me. As mentioned above the first was Rebecca, which has fascinated me since I was a little girl and my mum first showed me the Hitchcock film with Laurence Olivier as the mercurial Maxim de Winter, on holiday in the South of France trying to get over the death of his wife Rebecca. Of course it wasn’t till I was older that I fully understood the film, especially the relationship between Max and his new, young wife. As an adult, his treatment of the new Mrs de Winter started to bother me, especially after my own marriage to a man fifteen years my senior. Scenes like the one in Monte Carlo where she says she wishes she was a woman of 36 with a black evening dress and pearls. Max’s response is that if she was, she certainly wouldn’t be there with him. If she says something to displease him he becomes silent, driving faster or recklessly while she apologises, even begs for his forgiveness. She can’t imagine that her gauche, unsophisticated ways would be attractive to him after the dazzling Rebecca. In reality, another Rebecca is the last thing he would want. However, even though Max wants this shy, young girl, he calls her a ‘silly little fool’ as he’s proposing. He is no romantic hero, he’s a classic mental abuser and one of his weapons is gaslighting – the very sort of behaviour that Elizabeth Forbes is highlighting in this book. However, here we’re caught between several characters. We’re never quite sure who is manipulating who?

Gaslight is another excellent black and white film from 1940, where a young heiress is targeted by her new husband. In order to gain control of her money, he subjects her to a campaign of psychological abuse. I remember a gift of jewellery that he surprises her with, he then hides it and asks her to wear it when they’re going out. When she can’t find it he starts a row over her carelessness, but then puts it back where she left it. One of his other tricks is to have the gaslights in the house flicker, but then deny seeing it. Slowly, this poor woman is convinced she’s losing her mind. This is where the term comes from and Forbes writes in her afterword about how common this form of abuse is. Every time you’ve been told you must have imagined it, you’re being hysterical, he didn’t say that, or you’re asked where your sense of humour is? This is gaslighting and as a victim of domestic abuse I’ve been where Cass is in this book – bewildered, frustrated and confused. I think this is why I had such a bodily and visceral reaction to the book. The fact that Forbes has written about this issue with such knowledge and depth contributed to my gritted teeth and mounting frustration.

There are more than a few surprises before readers get to the end of the book and in a sense we are being gaslighted too. At least in the films mentioned, the audience is in on the abuse and know who’s in the wrong. Here we’re never sure if it is even happening, or who’s truth to believe. While Cass is our main narrator, there are anonymous snippets from another character that cast doubt on her version of events. I won’t be revealing any more here, because I want you to experience it as I did. This is one of those books where the reader’s bias and life experience will lead to them seeing it differently. It will be a great book club choice because there is so much to discuss and opinions will change at different points in the novel. For me, this was a fascinating and intelligent read that will keep you up at night, not from fear, but from wanting to know what happens next. Be prepared to lose sleep, and experience a run of emotions from slight concern to suspicion, paranoia and rage. This is dark, twisted and beautifully written. An absolutely brilliant read that comes highly recommended.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman.

From the bestselling author of The Dovekeepers comes a spectacularly imaginative and moving new novel in the vein of The Night Circus that has been acclaimed by Jodi Picoult as ‘truly stunning: part love story, part mystery, part history, and all beauy’.

New York City, 1911. Meet Coralie Sardie, circus girl, web-fingered mermaid, shy only daughter of Professor Sardie and raised in the bizarre surroundings of his Museum of Extraordinary Things. 

And meet Eddie Cohen, a handsome young immigrant who has run away from his painful past and his Orthodox family to become a photographer, documenting life on the teeming city streets. One night by the freezing waters of the Hudson River, Coralie stumbles across Eddie, who has become enmeshed in the case of a missing girl, and the fates of these two hopeful outcasts collide as they search for truth, beauty, love and freedom in tumultuous times.

I was inspired to revisit this novel after reading and reviewing Elizabeth MacNeal’s Circus of Wonders at the weekend. Regular readers will know how much I love Alice Hoffman and that The Night Circus is one of my favourite books of all time. What you might not know is that I love the age of La Belle Époque, Art Nouveau, New York City, and anything to do with the circus and freak shows. So, it stands to reason that I would fall madly in love with this incredible novel. Tucked within this wealth of aesthetic and historical details is the story of what it really means to be ‘other’ and how that difference affects us politically, culturally and psychologically. However, it also shows that, when people labelled as different come together, a powerful subculture can emerge. A subculture that rejects everyday societal norms, turning them upside down and creating different rules and markers of status? There’s also the interesting and complex issues around freak shows. Now, they horrify us. They are associated with thoughts of the Elephant Man and years of disability awareness training has left people viewing them as exploitative and cruel. However it could be that the issue is more complex and there are other ways to look at them?

The novel takes us to turn of the century NYC and we really meet the city in its formative years. While there are residential buildings, factories and the beginnings of what will be Manhattan, there are areas where it is still wilderness and it is here that Hoffman takes us to meet Eddie. He is a photographer, living in a friend’s shack in what will eventually become Queens. While out with his camera, early one morning, he sees what he thinks is a mermaid slipping through the grey and choppy dawn waters of the Hudson. She’s a strong swimmer too. Cutting through the swell with ease. However, when he sees her properly, he can see she’s a girl. What he doesn’t know is that Coralie Sardie does have a physical impairment – she has webs between her fingers and toes. This slight difference inspires her father to exploit her, keeping her separate from other children so she never questions him. She grows up uncomfortable with others, shy and ashamed of her physical difference. Her father, self-proclaimed man of science and keeper of curiosities, has an idea for Coralie. He aims to be the only showman with a real live mermaid.

Eddie is a Jewish immigrant, also brought to NYC by his father. The trauma of this journey and of losing his mother, leaves Eddie struggling to adjust. His father however, completely falls apart, making Eddie feel responsible for his parent rather than being a child. They are estranged from each other and as a result Eddie has become dislocated from his religion and culture too. The novel follows these two characters, Eddie and Coralie, as they make their way towards each other and pursue the feelings that seemed to hit them both at first sight. He’s also pursuing his own path as a photographer, rather than studying towards a profession like medicine as his father would have wanted. The work he does, particularly his photos of a fire in a sweat shop and the attractions of Coney Island, is fascinating and compelling.

Eddie’s work contributes to the historical setting and the sense of place Hoffman creates here. New York City in its infancy, already has the pull that still sends countless tourists there every year. It becomes a character in its own right, achieved by Hoffman’s historical research and the richly layered descriptions she constructs. The sights and smells of Coney Island and its fairgrounds are intoxicating and the account of a fire in a clothing sweat shop is particularly memorable. This was based on the real Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, where girls living above the workshops were trapped and jumped from the windows to their death rather than burn. This sets Eddie down the road of investigative journalism and photography, rather than art photography. What will he make of Coney Island? More importantly, what will he make of Sardie’s museum and it’s main attraction?

Coralie knows she has been groomed for her father’s museum her whole life. The webbing she has on her hands is usually hidden by gloves, but at the age of 10 she is given a birthday gift that seals her future.

It stood in place of honour; a large tank of water. On the bottom of the tank were shells from all over the world. From the Indian Oceans to the China Sea. Beneath that title was carved one word alone, my name, Coralie. I did not need further instructions. I understood that all of my life was mere practice for this very moment. Without being asked, I slipped off my shoes, I knew how to swim.’

Her cruel father, only seemed to see Coralie in terms of ownership and monetary value. He has been making her take freezing cold baths, and practice staying under he water as long as she could. He gives her a breathing tube for the tank, but she barely needs it since her swims in the Hudson in winter. She will now be exhibited as a mermaid, alongside other ‘freaks‘ such as a woman without arms who has been given silk butterfly wings by Sardie. There’s a ‘beast’, completely covered in hair and a woman so pale she seems translucent. After looking at freak shows as part of my undergraduate degree, my feelings about them became more complicated. Yes, of course there is an element of exploitation in a figure like Sardie and his real life counterpart, Barnum. Yet, for a lot of the exhibits, this is the first sense of freedom they’ve had and their only chance to live independently. Often locked away in their towns and villages, by parents who either didn’t want others to see them, or felt like they were protecting their child. Parents might sell their child to a man like Sardie, feeling like they would be looked after or just to make money for the rest of the family. This might be the first time they encountered a community of people with differences like them. While we might think it barbaric to ‘show’ people with disabilities, it might be the only job open to them and give them a more comfortable living than they ever imagined. Real life ‘exhibit’ Prince Randian was brought to the USA by Barnum, and was known as The Human Torso amongst other names. He was born without arms and legs, and was usually dressed in a one piece, tight fitting garment. He appeared in the controversial Tod Browning film Freaks and had a party piece of rolling and smoking a cigar. His take was that he was being paid handsomely for simply doing normal everyday activities. We have to ask the question – who is exploiting who? There is also kudos in being the most transgressive as the disability subculture turns expectations upside down.

Prince Randian

I love this book. I enjoyed the character of Maureen – the Sardie’s housekeeper – and her love story with the wolf man. She has so much loyalty, and love for Coralie, that she stays despite Sardie’s insults and unreasonable behaviour. Being at the centre of these unusual people, we realise they have the same hopes and dreams as anyone else. Being in a group seems to give confidence to the individual characters and I loved seeing them grow into their authentic selves. There’s an acceptance of their differences, which maybe wasn’t present in their small villages and towns, where they stood out or even became a target. The performers have a complex relationship with what they do. It elevates them, thousands of people flock to see them, they are well paid and the thing that’s always been a negative part of their life, has become their meal ticket. Coralie and Eddie have had the same yearning in their childhoodthey want to be free, not held to account by their fathers, their religion or their obligations. Most of all though, this is a love story and they want to be together just like any other couple.

Further Reading:

Fiction:

Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth MacNeal.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

Non-Fiction:

The Body and Physical Difference by David T. Mitchell and Darren L. Snyder.

Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body by Rosemary Garland Thomson.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Other Times of Caroline Tangent by Ivan D. Wainewright.

This book had a premise that was so attractive for someone like me who loves going to gigs and has missed it so much over the last eighteen months. My gig-going best friend and me often talk about which were our favourites, those breakthrough gigs that made your favourite band or those gigs that just captured the zeitgeist. The gig I went to that was a real cultural moment was at Alexandra Palace in 1994; Blur with Pulp as supporting artists. It was a real Britpop landmark and during Song 2, being pummelled and pushed about in the pit at the front I fainted and had to be carried out of the crowd. I’ve been lucky enough to see most of my favourites – Muse, Manic Street Preachers, The Killers, Depeche Mode, U2, Florence and the Machine- but if I did invent a time machine and could go back in time to any gig, it would be The Stone Roses 1989/90. They’re my band that got away. Everyone has one and sometimes we only see their importance in hindsight and simply wish we could have been there.

This is what happens to Caroline Tangent. Her music loving husband Jon, builds a time machine in his basement workshop. One surprising day he whisks her away to a controversial music performance – Kanye West at Glastonbury, 2015. She has on her gardening clothes, so luckily she’s pretty much dressed for a muddy field in Somerset. He didn’t choose the gig because they were huge fans of Kanye, but because it’s an important moment in music history, when there was an outcry over the direction Glastonbury was taking, considering it had always been dominated by more rock or indie groups than anything else. Their second trip is more complicated. Greenwich Village NYC, 1966. The preparation almost heightens their anticipation for the gig. Jon keeps the artist a secret, but they have to scour eBay for vintage clothing and work out how to get round the need for 1960s currency. Although, as Jon jokes, the exchange rate is pretty good. As they settle in a café, Caroline doesn’t recognise the musician playing, but they soon finish their set and on walks a young man with a guitar. It takes a moment because his name is different, but as soon as she realises who it is her excitement bubbles over. That’s Jimi Hendrix!

I found the way the writer created Jon and Caroline’s world really different for such a sci-fi concept. He didn’t treat it like sci-fi, but more like an exploration of long term relationships, friendship and all human life. We get to know their long term friends who they meet for dinner once a month. These people are relatable, and not perfect by any means. He creates tension between Jon and Andrew, who were producing copies of old concert tickets and posters to sell online as the real thing. They’re three dimensional and we see all their good and bad points. Caroline and Jon have managed to keep their time travel a secret so far. She wanted to tell their friends and share his incredible invention, but Jon is adamant it has to be just the two of them. He explains that the secret is just too big, look at how much trouble Caroline is having keeping it to herself? He knows their friends and one of them would be bound to tell someone outside their circle. However adamant he is, there are moments when they’re all together that he sails close to the wind.

I felt unsure about Jon early on, the fact that he’s in this seemingly fractious relationship with Andrew and has produced false memorabilia before made me question his character. I thought their reasons for continuing to visit the past might be different and I didn’t always like the way he treated Caroline. At first I just thought he was very controlled – I know my other half and if he’d developed the capability to build a time machine in his workshop he wouldn’t have been able to keep it to himself. Jon seemed to like having the secret, being superior and even where there were clashes he’d caused, holding himself above the argument. As time went on I noted he was gaslighting Caroline too, letting things go wrong and insinuating she was to blame, or that something she knew had happened, hadn’t happened at all. I was so glad she had such a strong friendship with Bree for support. I felt sad for her, because although she is an emotionally intelligent woman, her love for her husband has made her blind to who he really is.

Of course we all know that the cardinal rule of time travel is not to change anything. Jon goes into great detail about the about chaos theory – the idea that events are interlinked so intricately that it might only take a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world to cause a tsunami somewhere else. No matter how small the change in the past, it could have a seismic effect on their future. As much as they want it to be fun and all about the music, past traumas do start to haunt them. Their world could be about to turn upside down because one of them makes a terrible decision. I don’t want to reveal any more, just that this is a time travel novel that is more about the emotional journey of the people involved, than it is about the destinations. I did love the destinations though, and how the author made me feel I was there in 1960s NYC, or 1930s Paris. I think it would be great to create a Spotify playlist alongside the book so readers can fully immerse themselves in the music. The best way I can describe the novel is to say it’s sci-fi with a very big heart. Sometimes the most important and life changing places we travel are within ourselves.

Meet The Author

Ivan D Wainewright lives in Kent (England) with his partner, Sarah and their slightly neurotic rescue Staffie, Remi. Before moving to Kent, he lived in North London, Leeds and Singapore. When not writing, he can be found watching (and occasionally) playing football, running, listening to music from Chumbawamba to Led Zeppelin, arguing over politics and trying to cook. He has been an independent IT consultant for many years, working solely with charities and not-for-profit organisations.

For more on this novel check out these other bloggers on the tour.