Posted in Random Things Tours

The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn

Published: 7th Jan 2021

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

ISBN: 978-1471193408

Maybe it’s because I have a disability or because I worked on a PhD in Disability Theory, but I love books like this that cover a familiar part of history but from a disability perspective. The author has given herself freedom to create by using an interesting and unusual character, through which she can tell the story of a very tumultuous period of history. The book is set in the 17th Century, prior to the Civil War, in the royal court of King Charles I. Nat Davy is based on Sir Jeffrey Hudson, immortalised with the Queen in a painting by Van Dyck. Nat wants to be ‘normal’, but even when he reached adulthood he was only eighteen inches tall. He was born in Oakham and when the circus visited the town he was almost sold to them by his own father. However, his eventual fate is even more bizarre! He is sold by his father to the Duke of Buckingham and taken to the court of King Charles 1st. The Duke had him put into a pie to surprise Queen Henrietta Maria, who is only 15 and desperately unhappy and homesick. Nat becomes her ‘pet’ and he joins an existing menagerie of dogs and monkeys. However, the Queen and Nat are are both outsiders and they are both lonely, so the two form a bond, becoming close friends. I loved that he is seen as a harmless pet in the court, when actually he’s in a very powerful position; he has the ear of the woman who could trigger a Civil War. He will never be accepted by other boys his age at court, he can’t participate in masculine pursuits like hunting, but he is about embark on an epic adventure – much greater than his size might suggest.

Queen Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson (1633)

Nat becomes the Queen’s closest protector and I found it fascinating that she trusts him in this role. They go on the run and he is looking after her all the way, determined to keep the Queen safe. There is something very satisfying in the fact he is underestimated at every turn, but always manages to surprise people. He has two friends, Henry and a girl named Arabella who is the most beautiful young woman at court. Nat loves her, but would she see past his disability and return his love? Nat wonders if the best plan would be to see her marry Henry, then he could still keep her close. Even now, the subject ołth disabilities as sexual beings, capable of being desired. The fact that this is the 17th Century shows us these types of relationships did possibly happened, just quietly and in the background. However, this wasn’t the most successful part of the novel. The success is in the way Nat copes in this world, considering how hard it can still be to be different in the 21st Century. Even though he is physically small, he stands head and shoulders above anyone else in the book.

The first part had the most pace and set the scene beautifully. The rest of the novel is slower and didn’t fully hold my attention in the same way. The depth of research is undeniable here and I learned a lot about this period of history, beyond the basic Royalist/Roundhead split. I loved that the author drew a parallel between Nat’s servitude and the situation the Queen is in. Even though she has riches and might seem lucky to some, she too is living in a form of slavery and this is why they connect. She was sent away from her home and loved ones, to marry a man she’d never met and didn’t love. I have seen reviews criticising the latter half for focussing too much on Nat’s love story, whilst glossing over huge historical events like the beheading of Charles 1st, but I think that misses the point. This isn’t the history of the royal court or the Civil War, that history has been written by the victors, who are primarily male, able-bodied and Parliamentarian. This novel is Nat’s story, not theirs and the biggest thing in his life is that he’s in love. That’s the whole point of ‘writing back’ – it takes a minority narrative and makes it centre of attention. It gives us a different window to view events through and imagines someone who would normally be without agency, having power over their own story.

Meet The Author

Frances Quinn read English at King’s College, Cambridge and is a journalist and copywriter. She has written for magazines like Prima and Good Housekeeping. She lives in Brighton with her husband and Tonkinese cats. The Smallest Man is her first novel.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Coral Bride by Roxanne Bouchard.

Publisher: Orenda

Published:

ISBN:

The Coral Bride is the second novel in Roxanne Bouchard’s D.S Morales series, the first being We Are The Salt Of The Sea. I think this easily read as a stand alone novel, but I enjoyed it so much that I’m going to read the first one. I’m not surprised, because I’ve never met an Orenda book I didn’t like!

The opening to the novel is haunting as a woman lies on the deck of a fishing boat. Somehow she has been rigged up so that she will eventually be dragged from the trawler and under the freezing cold water. She knows these are her final moments. As an opening it is very effective and sets up the main character in the novel: the sea. The sea is the life’s blood of people in this region – a small fishing village in Quebec. Angel Roberts is a very rare thing in this community, a woman with her own trawler who fishes for lobster. She’s named her boat Close Call II showing a good sense of humour too. The sea is her livelihood and there’s definitely an affinity with it. She is treated with suspicion by the rest of the trawlermen, because fishing here has always been a male dominated industry. However, the sea doesn’t just separate, it also brings people together, even Detective Morales and his son Sebastien.

Another recurring character is the moon, depicted as a silvery path reflecting off the water. Angel has always been told the moon is a liar and not to be trusted. However, it seems there may be another character in Angel’s life who isn’t what they seem. Morales finds out that every year Angel and her husband would dress up in their wedding finery and have a celebration on their anniversary. If her husband is to be believed he drove his wife home when she was tired and then returned to the bar. Then after 1am, it seems that Angel drove herself down to the harbour and took the boat out, still in her wedding dress? Detective Morales is a quiet and thoughtful man, who doesn’t jump to conclusions and I loved the way the author let the mystery breathe in the same way. You have chance to really think about peope’s stories alongside Morales, and I liked that the pace seemed to fit with the landscape and community. This is much more than a ‘whodunnit’. It explores the spirit of this community, and I especially enjoyed the loyalty and bravery of the fisherman. They really respect the sea and I respect them because it is such a tough way to earn a living. We get to explore the tribal aspects of this community, how relationships between people develop and change over the years. But as always, where there are old relationships there are old resentments.

Familial relationships are explored too as Morales’ son Sebastien has turned up unexpectedly with his car full of pots and pans. He’s a chef and he’s had a fall out with his girlfriend. I got a sense that Morales doesn’t really know his son, or Sebastien is acting out of character. Sebastien flirts with a female constable on his team; Morales has only seen her buttoned up, but ten minutes in Sebastien’s company and her hair is down and she’s doing salsa. There was sense that Sebastian will bring chaos to his life. Yet they have a shared experience, Morales is currently living alone and away from his wife. Maybe this is where father and son could understand each other better. These relationships gave the book depth and elevated it above the average thriller. I enjoyed the police team, the conflicts and allegiances. I loved the section where Morales was shown to his temporary office and it’s packed to the rafters with files stacked everywhere. It’s like this quiet, thoughtful, man has escaped to an out of the way place and people are challenging him on all sides. The space he has enjoyed is being encroached upon – Sebastien inviting him to salsa and let his hair down, the chaos of police files surrounding him, his son sleeping on his couch. It’s not long before, in his life and the investigation, he feels blocked in on all sides. I found this novel had a great sense of place and a thoughtful, intelligent hero. It was atmospheric, lyrical in parts and emotionally literate. The image of a woman being slowly pulled into the water, with her wedding dress glowing in the moonlight until she is swallowed up by the dark will stay with me for some time.

Meet the Author

Ten years or so ago, Roxanne Bouchard decided it was time she found her sea legs. So she learned to sail, first on the St Lawrence River, before taking to the open waters off the Gaspé Peninsula. The local fishermen soon invited her aboard to reel in their lobster nets, and Roxanne saw for herself that the sunrise over Bonaventure never lies. We Were the Salt of the Sea is her fifth novel, and her first to be translated into English. She lives in Quebec.
Follow Roxanne on Twitter @RBouchard72 and on her website: roxannebouchard.com

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Chalet by Catherine Cooper

Published: 12th November 2020

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 0008400229

I have always felt that skiing was for a very different breed of people to me – people with money, balance and the ability to look stylish while dressed like the Michelin man. This book has confirmed my suspicions as well as leaving me addicted to the twists and turns of a dark thriller set in motion when two brothers go on a ski break in the 1990s. Adam and brother Will visit La Madiere in France with their girlfriends Nell and Louisa. Louisa and Will met at university, and she’s delighted to be asked to go on holiday but skiing isn’t something she’s done before. Will and Andy’s parents are middle class and the boys were on skis as soon as they could walk. They also have the sort of money that allows for quick ski breaks while at university whereas Louisa doesn’t. When Will says he will pay for it as her Christmas gift she starts to look forward to lazy mornings in fur covered beds, hot chocolate, plenty of sex and beautiful, romantic snowy views. What she gets is a more like a wooden dormitory with stodgy food and the boys bouncing out of bed at 7am in order to ski. Yet something terrible will happen on this holiday, that reverberates through the next twenty years.

The narrative zips back and forth between the 90s and the present day when a different group are on holiday in La Madiere. We meet Hugo, the slightly awkward owner of a travel company who has brought his wife Ria and friends to try out a luxury ski lodge, before adding them to his portfolio. In this narrative I was suspicious of everyone. Hugo’s wife Ria is more attractive than he is and knows it. She’s targeted him and accepted his marriage proposal on the basis that it’s better than living in poverty. She can think of worse men to be with and the lifestyle is exactly what she wants. We know that they’ve agreed to have children, but does she really want a family and what was she running from when they met? Their friends Simon and his wife have a small baby, but this first time Mum seems to be struggling and even disappears one morning. Hanging around are the staff from Powder Puff: Cameron the boss; Matt the lusty ski instructor and Millie the chalet girl with great cooking skills who caters to their every whim. There are simmering tensions between each couple, and possible diversions from both the skiing and their partners. I found myself unable to resist these chapters when I went back to them because I kept waiting for things to implode.

Finally, there is the interspersed narrative of a lonely little girl. She has been left alone by her Mum and is getting her own breakfast and holding tightly to her teddy for comfort. It’s clear that her mother isn’t coping, but this little girl’s distress is hard to read. I found myself wondering about what might have brought her mother so low. Even more addictive was trying to work out which character this little girl might be in the future. I jumped from one character to another and only fixed on one towards the end when a particularly big clue was dropped. I can honestly say I didn’t see every twist coming and I didn’t make every link from past to present. The author really did keep me guessing. The catalyst that brings past and future together is a huge storm, which closes the ski lifts and keeps everyone in their lodge, ratcheting up the tension. When the weather clears, a body is found. Disturbed by a fall of snow from a ledge, the body appears to be a man and has been buried under the snow for many years. This could possibly be the body of one of two brothers, missing since they were lost in a storm back in the 1990s. Past now meets up with the present as his brother is jetted in to identify the body. Who is going to recognise who? Finally, what of the ski guides employed to look after these brothers when they decided to ski off piste? Were they fired and if not, where are they now?

Cooper really does keep the tension throughout this complex narrative; handling several time frames and various narrative voices with ease. The luxury setting is lush, full of delicious descriptions of food, and lashings of alcohol that loosens tongues and possibly morals. The men are largely rich, arrogant and stupid. The woman more quietly manipulative, such as using a seemingly subservient position to assert power. There’s a lot of passive aggression here. I felt most for Louisa in the past narrative, she’s unsure, feels inferior in terms of money, status and looks. I also felt for Hugo who is a quiet man, ruled by his personal assistant Olivia and terribly awkward with customers. He has no idea that his wife engineered their meeting, or that she’s still taking her pill while he thinks they’re trying for a baby. He’s thoroughly decent and this book is about what happens when decent people come up against the unscrupulous and immoral, but in a thoroughly glamorous setting. Great, escapist reading.

Meet The Author

I am a freelance journalist living in the South of France with my husband and two teenage children. We moved from London in 2009 so that the children could grow up bilingual and we could all ski more, and to enjoy a more relaxed pace of life. I learned to ski on a school trip when I was 14 and have loved it ever since. I’m an avid thriller reader and have been since I discovered Agatha Christie as a child.

The Chalet is my first published full-length novel, though I have also written several (unpublished) thrillers for teens and a (what used to be called) chick lit novel set in TV production. Other than skiing and reading I love travel, rollercoaster, and I spend far too much time on social media. Some of my other favourite things include Alan Partridge, sparkly flip flops and salt and vinegar crisps.

You can follow me on Twitter @catherinecooper, Instagram @catherinecooperjournalist or Facebook @catherinecooperauthor

Posted in Random Things Tours

Forgive Me by Susan Lewis.

I’ve been reading this book for two days straight. Firstly because I had a fall a few nights ago so I’ve been recuperating from being very sore and bruised. Secondly, once the story started to unfold I found it hard to move away from. The concept of forgiveness is one that has always fascinated me and confused me in equal measure. As a child brought up in a religious household it was a requirement of Christianity, rather than a choice I could think about and there was no discussion about the understandable negative feelings surrounding it – anger, bitterness, hurt – because those were wrong too. As an adult I’ve had to talk myself out of this blanket approach to forgiveness and give myself permission not to forgive. I’ve also had to think about when holding onto that anger and bitterness might be more harmful to me than the other person – ‘holding onto anger is like holding a fiery coal’. I also had to learn that just because I forgive an action, doesn’t mean I have to keep that person in my life. Forgiveness does not always mean everything neatly slots back to the way it did before. This is something the characters in this book come to learn and it is Marcy who ends up with the most to forgive.

After her abusive husband is arrested and held on remand for dodgy business dealings, Rebecca decides to take her daughter, and her mother Marcy, and relocate somewhere totally new, leaving no trace. She goes as far as to change her name to Claudia and her daughter’s to Jasmine, dropping their Huxley-Browne surname. Marcus Huxley-Browne was a controlling bully, who had slowly sucked all of the confidence and joy out of Claudia over several years. He met her when she was a vulnerable widow and his kindness led her to trust him. Then once they were married all that sensitivity and care seemed to melt away. Then slowly he took a chisel to every part of her personality and chipped away until she started to doubt who she was. With a lot of help from Marcy, they take the opportunity of Marcus being remanded in prison to flee to the coast. There, in a flat by the sea, the three of them feel able to breathe again. Away from the constant criticism, Claudia finds she can make friends easily and even starts working again as an interior designer. She sees an incredible coach house for sale that would make a wonderful forever home for the family and she sets to work. The world seems to finally be opening up for Claudia and her family. However, will Marcus ever truly let go of them?

A terrible event does occur in the book that no one could have foreseen. It’s here where the theme of forgiveness, as a possible part of the restorative justice process, comes into the story and I found this part really interesting. Restorative justice is about victims and offenders communicating within a safe and mediated environment to talk about the harm that has been caused and finding a way to repair that harm. It gives the victim the chance to talk about the impact the crime has had on them directly to the offender. It gives the offender the chance to relate the crime they committed to an actual person and see how the victim has been affected. It also holds them accountable for their actions in a way that doesn’t always happen in the normal court process. Government research demonstrates that restorative justice provides an 85% victim satisfaction rate, and a 14% reduction in the frequency of reoffending. Here the author gives us both sides of the process by showing us in stark detail the effect of the crime on the victim, but also the background of the offender. Here and there through the narrative we read letters from the offender – how the restorative process begins- that detail his home life, the brutal hold of a family member on him and his mother, and a life of crime forced upon him from a young age. We know that this person is really the bottom of a long chain, a criminal subcontractor hired by someone powerful to do his dirty work. Essentially he is expendable, simply there to carry the can. Although in this case, the crime is much worse than was planned or expected.

This was a really engaging read. I quickly became invested in the family’s story and found myself very worried that their past would catch up with them, especially since a couple of their new friends started to work out who they really were. When there is a confrontation I found myself holding my breath, wondering what retribution would follow. I loved Marcy’s new romance with Henry and the fearless way she throws herself into the relationship. She was by far my favourite character and her story the most moving. I was imagining this funky, ballsy grandmother as Helen Mirren. It was a bit of a shock to hear one character to describe her as like Emma Thompson – I can’t imagine a world where Emma Thompson is old enough to have a 17 year old granddaughter! However, in terms of Marcy’s intelligence, beauty and grace it really made sense. Next to her, Claudia seems a lot quieter, cautious and sometimes invisible – something that’s not surprising given the experience she’s gone through with Marcus. It’s wonderful to see her come to life which tends to happen when she’s working on a project, especially The Coach House which is an incredible labour of love. I always feel on safe ground with Lewis. I know I’ll get a good read and I love that a lot of her heroines are women in middle life, dealing with their own problems, while supporting teenagers and parents who often need help. Far from being uninteresting and invisible, it’s women in mid-life who are often holding everything together while trying to hold down a job as well. But we’re also resilient, brave and ran out of damns to give a long time ago. I like that Lewis writes this mid-life characters and gives them strong, complex storylines like this one to get our teeth into.

Meet The Author

Susan Lewis has over thirty books to her name. She grew up in a council house on the edge of Bristol and was sent to boarding school after her mother died when she was 9. She has lived all over the world and started writing when she was advised by a boss at Thames Television to ‘go away and write something’. After time in the South of France and Hollywood she now lives in a barn in the Cotswolds with her husband and two dogs Coco and Lulabelle. Her website can be found at:

Home

If you’d like to know more about restorative justice, follow this link:

https://restorativejustice.org.uk/what-restorative-justice

Look out for these other fantastic bloggers on the tour.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Things That Bounded by Fiona Graph

Published: 30th October 2020

Publisher: Silverwood Books

ISBN: 1800420072

‘Over these things I could not see;
These were the things that bounded me;
And I could touch them with my hand,
Almost, I thought, from where I stand
’.

Renascence by Edna St Vincent Millay

Fiona Graph’s novel is an interesting and well- researched piece of historical fiction, set in a period of history that I’m particularly interested in. Graph’s story writes back, both to a different time but also to a different element of society, one that hasn’t been well represented in fiction of the time. In the same way that Sarah Waters has written lesbian experience back into the Victorian period, here we visit a brother and sister post WWI who both describe themselves as ‘queer’. Freddie fought in the war, but now runs a women’s fashion boutique in London with his sister Ellen. Freddie is a designer, whereas Ellen tends to work with the passing customers selling off the peg clothes and accessories. Ellen is a woman who was somewhat emancipated through the war, due to working in jobs previously the preserve of men and from her activism in the suffragette movement. Brother and sister live together above the shop and are at a point where they’re both single. Freddie was in love with a fellow soldier who was lost in the war, and his most recent relationship with a young solicitor called Alec broke down. Ellen is seeing a woman called Myra, one of a string of married women that have allowed her to keep real love at a distance. Fate is now going to bring people into their lives that may challenge the lives they’ve built, that’s if all concerned can shrug off the ties that bind them to the past.

I fell in love with Freddie. He’s a lovely brother and incredibly talented, very keen to create clothes that are beautiful but that real women can wear. He needs to live quietly since his experiences in the war and has bravely been ‘out’ for years. It’s amazing that in such recent history he finds that people spit at his feet in the street. While he’s made a brave choice to live openly, his relationships are not easy. We learn that he pushed Alec away by behaving badly, in much the same way that Ellen has pushed real relationships away with secret liaisons with women who will never be free. It’s the reappearance of Ellen’s friend Kate that is the catalyst bringing these four people together. At a suffragette funeral, Ellen spies Kate who has been living in Paris. They had an easy going friendship before she left, even though their activism took different paths. Ellen supported peaceful protest, leafleting and was even known to throw the odd brick through a shop window. However, Kate had favoured more direct action such as Emily Davison’s jump in front of the King’s horse at the Grand National. Kate has been in self-imposed exile, after burning down a church. To her horror, in the aftermath a body was found in the wreckage. Kate had scrupulously checked all of the pews and the vestry, but it appeared in a newspaper that police had found the body of a man, possibly a rough sleeper. In fear, Kate fled the country and has lived the last few years in Paris. Will the women be able to pick up the friendship that was in its infancy back then? Even more importantly, will Kate ever be able to forgive herself for what happened. Ellen has always thought this newspaper account of Kate’s direct action, was a little bit fishy. There’s never been any other account that mentions this man, so Ellen suggests they investigate, enlisting the help of Freddie’s ex-boyfriend Alec. The investigation, and what they discover, could change the course of all their lives and break the ties that bind them to the past.

I remember reading Sarah Waters’ book The Paying Guests, set at a similar point in history to this novel and also depicting women trying to break free of social constraints and live their authentic lives. I remember being astonished by the bravery of characters trying to live as openly gay women in the early 20th Century. I felt the same when reading this, but what it confirms is how far certain lifestyles have been erased from history. As a disabled woman, I feel the same way about experiences of disability and I get so excited when a character has a disability. It shows me how much we need books that write these histories, it gives us context, broadens our understanding and represents the true diversity of a society and time. This novel did that for me, but also showed the struggle of people trying to live in the aftermath of such a turbulent time. Post WWI everything changed and the ordered Edwardian society of the turn of the century had been turned on its head. Instead of being largely in the home, women had experienced the freedoms that men had been enjoying for decades. More women had to take up jobs to make up the labour shortfall, bringing them out of the home for the first time. Many didn’t want to go back to the domestic sphere. The aristocracy were crumbling, many had lost the heads of their family, and their heirs too. With estates crippled by multiple death duties many sold up, or sent their sons to America to find a rich heiress to change their fortunes. Different loyalties had been formed across class boundaries, between men who had fought side by side. After the horror of war, the collective grief and upheaval, I can understand people wanting to live their truth and stop hiding. That’s what our characters are doing here, simply trying to live as who they are – something a lot of people take for granted. That was why I found both love stories very moving. I was rooting for both relationships. All they wanted was the ordinary things heterosexual couples would take for granted – to walk down the street together, to hold hands or hug in public, to eat dinner together and come home to each other.

I’ve read a lot about the suffragettes, and some of the treatment they were subjected to. I still found myself shocked by how Ellen responded to sexual assault. When she walks home at night from Kate’s flat, two men accost her and one gropes her breasts. Thanks to her activism she is trained in martial arts, so is able to overcome both of them and run back to Piccadilly where there are lights and people. When she relates the story back to her brother she doesn’t mention the sexual aspect of the assault at all. However, when we flash back to her suffragette days we remember that this was a daily occurrence, an actual police tactic. We see the police hatred of the movement when the group track down the police officer who found the body in the church after Kate’s arson. He’s now older, more frail, but his hatred of suffragettes and women in general is strong. I found this whole scene horrifying, but hilarious too. The fact that this man who considers himself so strong and dominant over women, is in fact defied and controlled by his own wife, really did make me laugh. However, it’s also a pivotal scene because here Kate may find the truth of what happened years ago and Ellen is hoping that this truth will set them both free and allow them to move forward. I think this shows us that often the ties that bind us, and hold us in place are of our own making. We are as free as we perceive ourselves to be. Here I’d like to return to the poem that inspires the title of the novel – Edna St Vincent Millay’s Renascence.

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,—
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by
.

I love the final stanza of this poem, because it says exactly what I have taken away from the book. The world can be as wide as our heart is willing to accept. The sky is as endless as our soul allows it to be, in fact we can see beyond the physicality of our world to imagine a God and have a strong faith in some thing we can’t even see. All of this is achievable through the power of the mind. Yet if our heart is not open to experience our world becomes narrow and pinched, and if our soul cannot dream or believe then our opportunities and achievements come to nothing. We have the strength to break those ties that bind us, no matter how strong they may be, we can break beyond them and move into a better future.

Meet The Author

Fiona Graph was born in Sydney. Once she had obtained a degree in Psychology and Ancient History, she travelled before settling in north London. She worked variously as a psychologist, for an LGBT organisation and as a librarian, before ending up at the Foreign Office. Her youthful interest in writing came back strongly about five years ago. ‘Things That Bounded’ is her first novel to be published. A second novel will come out in 2021. You can find Fiona on Twitter at: @fiona_graph

Posted in Random Things Tours

When The Music Stops by Joe Heap.

Published: 29th October 2020

Publisher: Harper Collins

This was one of those novels that came as a complete surprise. I had no idea what to expect as I’d never read Joe Heap’s work before, but what started out adagio builds to an absolute crescendo of emotion and I shed tears over Ella’s story. In the present, we meet Ella as an old lady shipwrecked on a yacht called Mnemosyne with a small baby. She’s struggling physically and seems forgetful, whether through injury or age we don’t know at first. Then we are taken back to different points in her life, significant moments with specific people. Whether with her for a short or long time, these are people she has lost and their presence had a massive impact on her life. Our first flashback takes us to meet Ella when she’s a little girl, living in a Glasgow tenement and spending time after school between her home and that of her friend Rene. Rene has a beautiful guitar, made for her by her father and Ella is quite jealous of it, wishing she had a father who could make such things. One evening, after school Ella wants to avoid going home because she’s been in trouble and keeps Rene out in the cold on a local playground. Rene has severe asthma. The next morning, when Ella wakes she senses something wrong and when she goes into the main room where her parents are up and making breakfast she sees Rene’s guitar and knows immediately. Her friend is gone.

This loss when she is so young, sets in motion events that will resonate throughout her life. First, it brings her into contact with Rene’s brother Robert who is a few years older. He brings her a parcel and she expects something terrible, some retribution or punishment for what she sees as her culpability in his sister’s death. What she opens is a block of ‘tablet’ a Scottish fudge-like sweet made by their mother with sugar and condensed milk. This gift cements their friendship, one which will last their entire lives. Secondly, after vowing never to look at Rene’s guitar and stuffing it under the bed, she decides to learn and her father takes her to a music shop for a beginner’s guitar book. Yet Ella is drawn to something different. She picks up a book of seven guitar exercises featuring songs that encompass stages of life, from the child to the crone. Called The Songs of the Dead, the shop owner is unsure whether it’s suitable for a child but Ella is sure. It is each of these exercises that separates the sections of the book. The structure is incredibly effective, it feels natural and organic rather than a forced device. Each section comprises the song, the memory and then Ella’s present situation with an unusual element – each person she has lost returns from the past with her.

It is never explained whether these visitations are supernatural in nature, whether Ella is hallucinating these characters or whether they’re a way of expressing how she remembers these people’s contribution to her life. Each one brings something to the present, whether it is the mechanical expertise needed to pump out the water in the hold, or a philosophical context to Ella’s experience. I loved how her friend Sandy describes life, death and time using the vinyl record as inspiration. He believes that we all still exist in time, even after death. In the same way other music tracks exist on a record, while we’re playing just one. The other tracks are always there, we have the memory of playing them, or anticipate hearing them again. They’re not wiped the moment a needle leaves the groove. There’s also the concept of two types of time; the time measured by clocks, work hours and timetables and a different kind of internal time. It’s something I discovered through meditation, but we all experience it, from time flying when we’re having fun or the perception that summer holidays used to last forever when we were children. Time seems to speed up as we get older, it barely seems like we’ve got one Christmas over before another is round the corner. Ella’s means of discovering slow time is destructive, but there are positive ways to slow down our internal time such as mindfulness. For Ella, time is coming full circle, and she’s slowly revisiting each life that touched hers either for a moment or for a lifetime. Each character is so fully realised. I loved Lester, a one time lover of Ella’s who helps her cope with the baby when he’s ill. Mai was so touching. She’s a young woman who meets Ella briefly in the labour ward as they both give birth to their children. In finding each other again Ella can fill in the gaps in Mai’s knowledge and reacquaint her with a son she never knew. In return Mai can help Ella face a loss she hadn’t fully apprehended. Each person’s story is so emotional and so real. I love that the author doesn’t judge any of the characters we meet, even where their influence on Ella isn’t always a positive one. We see them as fully rounded people and with such fondness, possibly because we’re seeing them through Ella’s lens and her love for them shines through.

The settings are also vivid. I throughly enjoyed Ella’s period in London, playing as a session guitarist and sharing a flat with Robert. Musicians come and go, and the flat is a whirlwind of jam sessions and parties. The 1960s were equally exciting as Ella becomes very sought after and chance finds her playing on tracks with some famous names. Of course the party can’t last and not all Ella’s experiences are happy ones, but she learns from each one. Her time as a nurse in a burns unit was also well drawn and as anyone who cares for others knows, there are patients who will remember what you did for them and others who get under your skin and stay with you forever. Like every life there are moments of bliss, excitement and love. Similarly there are moments of grief, dislocation and despair. All the time Robert is there, repeating like a musical refrain, rippling quietly under the surface of the music or occasionally becoming the main melody. We all have those people who come and go, who don’t always figure in our everyday lives, but who are constantly there. There were so many points where I thought of my own life. I thought of my friend Elliot who I was close with through school, and after university, and who I see intermittently but think of constantly. My friend Nigel who died only a couple of years ago, we were only friends for a few years but he taught me so much, made me laugh and simply let me sit in his house and relax when I was a full time carer and desperately needed an escape. I am one of those people who fall in love with people I meet regardless of age, gender or situation in life. So, when I’ve worked in care there have been patients who have stayed with me forever, especially a little 90 year old lady called Mary who could sit on her own hair. I would go in on my days off and wash and dry it for her and she often used to sneak up and put her little hand in mine and follow me about while I made beds and doled out biscuits. I’ve often wondered when my time comes who would come to meet me. Finally, a word on that gorgeous cover: where the plants grow from spring freshness to an autumnal hue towards the neck of the guitar signifying the seasons of life. For anyone who has lost someone this story is especially poignant, but somehow it manages to stop short of sentimentality. Instead it feels profound, honest and raw and left me with such a beautiful bittersweet afterglow.

About The Author

Joe Heap was born in 1986 and grew up in Bradford, the son of two teachers. His debut novel The Rules of Seeing won Best Debut at the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards in 2019 and was shortlisted for the Books Are My Bag Reader Awards. Joe lives in London with his girlfriend, their two sons and a cat who wishes they would get out of the house more often. This book is inspired by his mum and dad’s story.

A Note From Joe

At a summer season in Ramsgate, 1959, two ice skaters held a party. My grandfather, a Glaswegian saxophonist who would rather have gone to the pub, was convinced by a comedian on the same bill to come along. My grandmother, another one of the ice skaters, sat down next to him and spilt her drink in his lap. Though she has since denied it, her first words of note to him were ‘Oh no, not another Scot.’
Nobody could have guessed how much would spin off that moment, myself and this book included.

Posted in Random Things Tours

When I Come Home Again by Caroline Scott

Published: 29th October 2020

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

ISBN: 978-1471192173

This was an exquisite, slow-paced, historical novel that moved me so much. It was a window on both individual, and collective, grief. It also explores the psychological rehabilitation process which is my day job, as a counsellor. Regular visitors to my blog will know that I am fascinated with this period of history depicted in novels as varied as Emma Donoghue’s recent novel The Pull of The Stars and in the last few years Sarah Water’s The Paying Guests, Adele Park’s Spare Brides and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. All deal with a different aspect of this period of huge social change. The nation is grieving, for lost sons, husbands and brothers but also for a time of innocence now lost to them. Young women struggle to find husbands as the policy of neighbours fighting together meant villages losing whole generations of men. Distinctions between the classes come tumbling down as men from all backgrounds fought together for a common purpose. Many estates were crippled by death duties, often for two generations at once, and men who never expected to shoulder the burden of a family estate were suddenly dukes, but without any means. Institutions like the debs ball seemed trivial and outdated, with many new heirs marrying money from abroad bringing Americans and their new money into the ranks. Others lost their estates altogether and had to consider working for the first time ever. Women who had held the fort, while the men went to Europe to fight, did not want to return to the home and wifely duties. Even men who had jobs held for them, faced a fight to get them back. Women were not the same, they’d been stretched and depended upon in wartime and wanted more equality at home, work and in the political system. The upheaval in our class system, in gender roles and working life is unimaginable. When set against the backdrop of national mourning and a worldwide flu pandemic we can perhaps imagine a little the seismic psychological shifts happening. On the plus side it’s a dynamic time, where the old order is overturned, people born in poverty or the wrong gender could change their lives because of the social mobility created.

We see these issues through the characters in Caroline Scott’s book and understand how some want to recover a lost past however unlikely it is, whereas others want to blank out their experiences and start again without memories or baggage. Scott starts her book with an epigraph from the tomb of the unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey. Also used as a focal point for Anna Hope’s wonderful post WWI novel Wake, the burial of this young man is full of symbolism. One man chosen from the many lost in France, to symbolise both those who died and those who would never be recovered or identified. His burial in the abbey would be broadcasted in cinemas and over 100,000 visited his grave to pay their respects in the next few weeks. In Durham, another anonymous young man is found using chalk to write on the flagstones in the cathedral. He is arrested and taken for treatment with Dr James Haworth who aims to slowly help his patient recall who he is and what has brought him to Durham. Named Adam Galilee by the police who found him, he is subject to many different methods, including covering the walls of his room with mirrors. They spend so much time talking and questioning, gently in case they force him into distressing memories. As Haworth observes ‘something strong within him is resisting recalling the pertinent parts’.

As a counsellor and writer I think a lot about the concept of ‘self’ and how it’s constructed, and I loved how Scott explores this in the chapters marked as belonging to Adam. He talks about how they ask him for a first memory and he knows they’re avoiding more recent times, despite there being a complete void where his time as a soldier is concerned. He knows they’re looking for a beginning to who he is and all he does know is that it doesn’t work like that.

‘It isn’t linear. That’s not the way it works. It doesn’t have momentum, or a narrative arc, and he doesn’t know where it starts. It surprises him, if they are doctors of minds, that they can’t understand that’.

I thought this was so clever, because it questions the very nature of the self. Are we ever one fixed set of characteristics or are we fluid and ever changing? If any of us are asked to describe who we are we tend to come up with a list of things we love to eat, listen to, wear and watch. As if the self can somehow be captured and solidified by these objects. When asked who we are, we refer back. So what happens when we cast our minds back and there is nothing there to hang on to. All Adam can do is ‘be’. To exist, try things and see what sticks. Rebuild from now. Maybe this is preferable to remembering before, the trauma and the hell of the battlefield? It was beautiful to see Adam gain a love of nature, whether rediscovered or a new appreciation it has a healing quality. He also has a talent for sketching and he captures the nature around Fellside, as well as the repeating a young woman’s face, which may be a clue to who he is. Supporting him through this self-discovery is James, himself a lost man due to his war experience and very much a wounded healer in these circumstances. His marriage to Caitlin is struggling under the weight of grief, I wanted him to share his war with his wife, but also understood his need to forget.

Just like the unknown soldier, Adam is a cipher for every young man lost in the war. When James puts his picture in a national newspaper, he hopes that someone will recognise him – what he didn’t expect was that three people claim that Adam is theirs; Mark, Robert or Ellis. Caroline weaves the women’s narratives into this tale so we see what war has done to the women left behind. My heart ached for them all and I wanted Adam to belong to each of them in turn; to be Celia’s son, to smooth away the rough edges of Lucy’s tough existence, to absolve Anna and bring resolution to her life. Of course he can’t be all things to all people. This is an intricate balance of viewpoints and Scott weaves a beautiful tapestry from them. Through these people we see a snapshot of post-WWI Britain that is truthful. Art is able to move beyond the patriotism and glory, to see the real cost of war. This is an incredible piece of work. Haunting and complex, a society laid bare emotionally through the tale of a warrior, unknown by name and rank.

Meet The Author


Caroline completed a PhD in History at the University of Durham. She has a particular interest in the experience of women during the First World War, in the challenges faced by the returning soldier, and in the development of tourism and pilgrimage in the former conflict zones. Caroline is originally from Lancashire, but now lives in south-west France.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Halloween Reads : Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Published: Paperback Edition 30 Jun. 2020

ISBN: 1529402670

Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, those were Catalina’s sort of books. Moors and spiderwebs. Castles too, and wicked stepmothers who force princesses to eat poisoned apples, dark fairies cursing maidens and wizards who turn handsome lords into beasts.

I read this earlier in the year for a blog tour, so it is probably the most recent horror that has given me goosebumps and kept me up at night. The only saving grace is that our bedroom doesn’t have wallpaper or I’d have been up all night expecting it to move. When I first started this novel I was a little bit unsure, but I read the above paragraph and trusted it was the book for me. I have a smidgen of Catalina’s gothic, romantic sensibility about me and this book had all the elements I usually enjoy: a plucky heroine, a suitably wealthy but eccentric family, the possibly hysteric friend/family member who needs rescuing, a crumbling gothic mansion. So far, so usual. Then the first dream sequence happened and I sat straight up in bed, wondering what sort of dark, twisted fairytale I’d let myself in for. From that point on I found it curiously addictive – the sort of ‘still reading at 2am addictive’. By the end, I was awake because I was too scared to sleep!

Noemi Tabouda is dispatched by her uncle to High Place, the estate of the wealthy Doyle family. Virgil Doyle is the new husband of Noemi’s cousin and it is Catalina who has written an alarming letter begging to be rescued from a strange supernatural fate. The letter mentions fantastical happenings, such as people in the walls and a spectral voice speaking to her. Noemi wonders if her cousin needs to see a psychiatrist, because even though Catalina has a flair for the dramatic, she has never sounded so scared. The family know very little about the Doyle’s because Catalina and Virgil’s romance was a bit of a whirlwind. In Noemi’s limited time with him, he seemed very charming and had the dark brooding looks of a Byronic hero. This is a good chance to help Catalina get well, but also get to know the Doyle family a little better.

The author has created a brilliant setting in the Doyle family mansion High Place. It has a strange dual effect on Noemi of being luxurious and comfortable, but almost suffocating and overpowering. The past wealth of the family can be seen in every piece of silver, swish of velvet curtain and the eyes of past Doyle’s following her around the room. Noemi’s room is luxurious but shabby, as if the wealth has started to run out. The wallpaper has a curious pattern, but is also decorated with patches of damp. The bath is deep enough for a good soak but the fixtures and fittings are a little rusty. There are servants, but they are strangely silent and don’t even catch Noemi’s eye. The whole regime of the house seems very regimented to Noemi who is an informal, modern woman. Virgil’s father is definitely head of the house, but his sister Florence is the gatekeeper who makes sure his wishes are carried out. Noemi expected to breeze in and immediately pop in on her cousin, but finds she is barred. Apparently, the family doctor has decided she needs rest and a very quiet atmosphere. Noemi is told her cousin has TB, which has never been mentioned before, and doesn’t really account for the strange things Catalina mentioned in her letter.

Noemi is a great central character to follow through the story. She is sassy, intelligent and very determined to bring a little 20th Century thinking into High Place. I love that she isn’t afraid to ask questions, especially of the men who aren’t used to being held to account by women. This is how the author starts to subvert the gothic /fairytale genre – Catalina is the more ‘traditional’ heroine. Noemi brings in the local doctor to give her a second opinion, befriends the younger cousin Francis and enlists his help in understanding the family. She recognises that’s a lot of women have struggled to live with the Doyle’s regime. Howard had two wives, who were sisters and both died at High Place. A cousin, Ruth, took a shotgun to the family leaving Uncle Howard alive but horribly disfigured. From the village Noemi unearths stories of hundreds of silver miners going missing in the Doyle mines. It seems the family consume people, encapsulated by their horrible emblem of a snake eating its own tail.

The incredible nightmare sequences are vivid and visceral. At first I wasn’t sure which was real: was the regimented, almost Puritan, daily order of High Place the reality, or was it a thin veil of decency obscuring something more deadly and decadent. Just as mould was starting to be visible on the wallpaper, Noemi’s nightmares signal something breaking through, threatening to take over. This underlying force seems to understand the very soul of the person it tries to corrupt. In Noemi’s case her modern attitude to dating and female sexuality is used to draw her in against her will. She is a serial dater, choosing short dalliances where no one can get too close. So her nightmares have a strong sexual element, where Virgil Doyle lulls and seduces her, in her bath or in the middle of the night. She questions herself. Virgil repulses her, but does she desire him? Are these dreams conjured from her own subconscious or is something able to infiltrate her sleep and lure her down the corridors in her nightdress?

The truth of High Place and what happens there, when it is revealed, is truly horrific. There was a scene that literally made me gag! This may be one of those occasions when I truly hope they don’t make the book into a film – I wouldn’t be able to watch it! I felt that the author was playing with the reader and our own push and pull between fascination and revulsion. I found this very reminiscent of Dracula. There was an equally interesting tension around social change. The local miners exploited by the Doyle’s are part of the past, along with the family’s rules and position in society and their adherence to the ‘family doctor’. The new is represented by characters like Noemi and the mentions of her wardrobe full of the new styles and the young local doctor who tries to help Catalina. In the town the Doyle family are seen as weird eccentrics, possibly sinister, but no longer able to command respect as they would have a generation before. Their time is waning and these horrific acts are a fight, both for the family and the entity that lives alongside them. The author subverts the fairy tales Catalina loved in her youth and the original Gothic trope of a damsel in distress, rescued by a man. I truly enjoyed this novel, despite the fact it kept me awake at night worried that mushrooms were coming out of the wallpaper. Now, finally, I’d like to go and get some dreamless sleep.

Meet The Author

Silvia Moreno-Garcia (born 25 April 1981) is a Mexican – Canadian author, short story writer, editor, and publisher.

Moreno-Garcia was born April 25, 1981, and raised in Mexico. She moved to Canada in 2004, where she presently lives with her family in Vancouver. She began her career publishing in various fiction magazines and books, and was a finalist for the 2011 Manchester Fiction Prize. Her first short story collection This Strange Way of Dying was published in September 2013 by Exile Editions. Her second collection, Love and Other Potions came out in 2014 from Innsmouth Free Press.Her debut novel Signal To Noise was published in 2015. She serves as publisher of Innsmouth Free Press, an imprint devoted to weird fiction. In 2016, she won a World Fantasy Award for the anthology She Walks in Shadows and a Copper Cylinder Award for her novel Signal to Noise. In February 2020 she was announced as a finalist for the Nebula Award 2019 in the Best Novel category for her book Gods of Jade and Shadow.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Cows Can’t Jump by Phillip Bowne

Synopsis | 17-year-old Billy has just left school with no A levels and he’s desperate to escape middle England. As a grave-digger, he’s working the ultimate dead-end job. Billy’s home life isn’t any better. In the evenings, he observes his dysfunctional family: his Grandad’s engaged to a woman half his age, his xenophobic Dad’s become obsessed with boxing, and he suspects his deeply religious Mum is having an affair.

All the while, celebrities are dropping like flies and Britain is waiting for the EU referendum. Everything is changing, and Billy hates it.

Meeting Eva, though, changes everything. She’s Swiss, passionate about Russian literature, Gary Numan, windfarms and chai tea, and Billy gambles everything for a chance to be with her.

When things start to go wrong, Billy’s journey across Europe involves hitch-hiking with truckers, walking with refugees, and an encounter with suicidal cows. But the further he goes, the harder it is to be sure what he’s chasing – and what he’s running from.

My Thoughts | I cant imagine that when he wrote his debut novel, Phillip Bowne imagined it being published during a global pandemic. There was already a sense of foreboding in the book, considering it’s set in the heated atmosphere leading up to the Brexit referendum where celebrities seem to dying at an alarming rate. Yet the reader knows that things are only going to get worse. So, for me, this book felt like a lifeline in very trying times. I was ready for some light relief, to really laugh with a character, and I certainly did that with Billy. At turns hilarious, then poignant, then darkly humorous, this is just the book I needed to lift me right now.

Billy is a fascinating character with a brilliant story arc; he does some serious growing up throughout the novel. At first he seems a little lost. He leaves school with no plans and his mum gets him a job as a gravedigger – the very embodiment of a dead end job. His family are dysfunctional at best. Dad has a bit of a temper and Grandad (GG) is adding to family strife by planning to marry a woman nobody likes. Bowne creates comedy out of the way this family rub along together, but they’re not one note characters. Bowne knows when to floor the reader with some seriously black humour and when to let us inside these characters and situations with real depth and poignancy. GG has some interesting ways of making money. Billy manages to get an unfortunate nickname at work. However, when we’re party to Billy’s inner world, there’s bewilderment and even sadness at times. The contrast between these feelings, and the hilarious situations Billy can get himself into, are what kept me engaged with his story.

The same can be said about the world Billy finds himself in. Once he finds himself another job, Billy’s world starts to open up. Beyond the realms of his family and village Billy starts to understand that people have very different life experiences than his, often tragic and difficult. He meets Swiss student Eva and experiences the shifts in society due to the referendum from her perspective. She’s unsettled and scared. They form a friendship, one which could turn into something more. This relationship feels very real, it develops slowly and although there are obstacles, I did find myself rooting for them both. When Eva leaves, Billy decides to follow in an attempt to be reunited with her. This incredible trip through Europe adds to Billy’s growth. He encounters Syrian refugees whose terrible misfortune are beyond anything he has experienced. Whether he reunited with Eva or not, this incredible trip will change him forever. I truly enjoyed his journey and found myself laughing out loud at some points, whilst feeling terribly awkward at others – the fish and chip supper made me squirm a bit. This debut shows a deft writing style from Bowne and was uplifting and touching in equal measure.

About the Author

Philip Bowne lives in London and works as a writer for The Wombles, a children’s entertainment brand. 

Like his protagonist, Billy, Phil attended a failing and severely under-resourced school in Bicester, Oxfordshire.However, unlike Billy, Phil ended up studying English Literature and Creative Writing at university.

While studying, Phil published short stories in literary magazines and anthologies in the UK, US, Canada and Germany. After graduating, Phil spent time in Europe and the US, working and volunteering in various roles and settings: repairing boats at Lake Como, housekeeping at a mountain lodge in California and working with charity Care4Calais in the former Calais ‘jungle’ refugee camp.

Cows Can’t Jump is Phil’s debut novel, which he worked on while managing a bar in London. As well as a writer for The Wombles, Phil also works on a number of independent writing projects, including a musical set in 1970’s Soho and a sitcom set in a failing leisure centre.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Gravity Well by Marc Rahe

#RandomThingsTours #GravityWell #Poetry #BlogTour

My Thoughts | I haven’t read any new poetry for a long time so I jumped at the chance to read this new collection. For me, poetry is very emotional. It’s about whether a poem connects with my feelings in some way; is the poet describing something I recognise, something I’ve felt or seen? There tend to be certain images that make me stop and think and Marc Rahe’s new collection Gravity Well did all of these things and resurrected my interest in poetry.

Some images made me smile because of how clever they were or because of the beautiful combination of words. In Writer Friend the narrator describes an unsettled afternoon as a ‘forecast-come-true afternoon of cloudy and scattered’. I also loved the Schroedinger reference in Our Shared Life of ‘The bee trapped with you inside/ your helmet in traffic, will or will not’. It made me think of that moment before something happens. In that moment, playing simultaneously in the biker’s mind, are the bee that stings and the bee he successfully releases back into the world unharmed. We get another sense of the in-between reading his poem Stellar, as if moments in time are simply Russian dolls with each possibility stacked within each other – touching but separate:

‘This tree was my favorite the day it rained during my walk. Uncanny when it’s raining and it’s sunny at the same time. As if being in someone’s presence and feeling the presence of their ghost’.

Another line I loved was ‘the air was as wet as dog’s breath’ because it made me feel the humidity of a wet day in August, that moisture hangs like warm misted breath in the air.

There were also themes running through the work that interest me greatly, because of my own writing work which is focused on how the body, particularly a faulty or malfunctioning body, interacts with the world. Rahe has a way of describing age and the changes of the body that are surprising and moving. In his poem Appetite I loved the following section:

‘I’ve been reopened along the same incision

and though metal plates and wires, metal screws,

can only be said to ache, I say

it is the metal in this leg that tells me

the sky is so full of mountains and trenches

as the ocean, metal that warns me

of my own weight held past a certain angle from the center.’

I love how he describes the constant ache of the structure that holds the speaker’s leg together, but it isn’t a negative statement, it’s just something that’s there. Also it’s a way of gauging the world, like I know if my joints ache it’s going to be wet or if my muscles seize it’s going to be cold. The unnatural pins and wires he needs for his limb to work naturally, actually link him to the natural world too – to the heights and lows of the lands, and even how the force of gravity can be sensed as he finds the balance of walking with these metal supports.

In Fable of the Cephalopod he uses humour to describe a sense of coughing up a foreign body, something that feels like ‘an octopus that was trying to wear a sweater’ giving the reader a sense of how stuck it feels, trying to force eight woollen legs from the ‘wrong bronchial tree’. Later he describes the moment of having a blood test, very routine for me and others who are ill, but tense all the same. He perfectly describes that moment when you almost hate yourself for trying to make the medics life easier. When you feel guilty for being difficult, as if you could control the way your veins and body work:

‘at a blood draw my vein resisted the needle. The needle

slipped aside inside my arm, despite repeated attempts. I made,

for the phlebotomist, a joke I hoped would defuse her growing anxiety.’

I felt a connection with parts of the work, and as always with poetry, I know that re-reading will bring further meaning and interpretation, depending on my mood. Poetry’s meaning lies with the readers once it has left the author’s pen. It may well have had an original meaning, but really the beauty of poetry comes out when the reader brings their ‘stuff’ to the poem. I’m sure there are other bloggers who have had totally different experiences with the images and themes but that’s the beauty of it, it can touch a multitude of people very differently. I thought this was an imaginative and thoughtful collection from a poet I’d never read before. It sparked my interest in poetry again and I am looking forward to reading more for the blog and for my own enjoyment.

Other Reviews | Marc Rahe’s luminous poems find grace in acts of intentional remembrance, in turning back to sing ‘what can be seen / looking behind.’ The speaker’s world resembles our own fraught moment–fallen, divided–but never numb. These poems hum with moments of transcendence, between body and weather, air and breath, between today’s pain and the deep wounds of the past. In precise, lucid lyrics, this voice insists that our capacity to feel is what binds us, ecstatically, to our planet and to one another.–Kiki Petrosino

Ever since his first book, THE SMALLER HALF, was published, I’ve kept my eyes open for new work by Marc Rahe, and whenever new work has come, I’ve celebrated, actually celebrated. No poet writing in English today is better at making poems stuffed full of being and of things seen, things heard, things touched, things tasted, and things thought hard about nonetheless quiet. And yet, though they approach silence, these poems resonate, and, like Rahe’s previous work, they will resonate for years.–Shane McCrae

Biography | Marc Rahe is the author of THE SMALLER HALF (Rescue Press, 2010), ON HOURS (Rescue Press, 2015), and GRAVITY WELL (Rescue Press, 2020). His poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, jubilat, MAKE Literary Magazine, PEN Poetry Series, Sixth Finch, and other literary journals. He lives in Iowa City.