Posted in Books of the Year 2021, Uncategorized

My Top 21 of 2021! Part One.

It’s been a fantastic reading year, my second full year as a blogger and lots of milestones met. This year I’ve cracked my goals of 3000 followers, 200 subscribers to The Lotus Readers blog and I’ve smashed my Goodreads reading goal of 120 books. Aside from these rather trivial goals, I’ve read some fabulous books this year. Although being a blogger means I’m all too aware of the ones I’ve missed or not had time for yet. Even more important than this are the wonderful friends I continue to make on BookTwitter and Bookstagram. Becoming part of the #SquadPod, a collective of book bloggers, has been a wonderful experience. Since I’m an ‘at risk’ person thanks to my multiple sclerosis and breathing issues, I’m home a lot but even when I don’t see anyone that day, I still have some wonderful, kind and supportive friends to listen to. I love them all. So this is the start of my favourite reads list for 2021. I had to go with 21 because I would have struggled to reduce them any further. If I did star ratings, all of them would be five stars so it’s not a countdown. It’s just a chance to reminisce and a recommend ahead of the January sales.

Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth MacNeal.

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. The beautifully vivid descriptions of the acts and their costumes are wonderful too.

The Great Silence by Doug Johnstone.

It’s no secret how much I love Doug Johnstone’s Skelf series, since I outed myself as a #Skelfaholic on Twitter. I was lucky enough to be sent an early copy of this book, the third and potentially last one in the series. I had to dive on it immediately and find out what came next. As usual the book began with a strange event. Dorothy takes her dog Einstein for a walk in the park and he fetches a human foot, even more strange is that it appears to be embalmed. This embroils Dorothy in a very unusual case that could be deadly. Jenny is dealing with the aftermath of her ex-husband’s actions in the last book, she’s still healing emotionally and potentially regretting the end of her relationship with painter, Liam. She misses him, and wonders if perhaps they could rekindle something. Then the other daughter of her ex-husband disappears. Jenny wonders if her life will ever be free of this man, as she joins forces with the other woman in Craig’s life to find her daughter. Finally, Hannah is facing massive changes in her academic and personal life. In a sense she’s being pulled between past and future. Her graduation becomes a double celebration when Indy proposes, but then she’s pulled into the past when their flat is broken into and someone makes it clear they still want to be part of her life. Her academic supervisor José asks her if she’ll look into one of the central questions of astrophysics, if there is extraterrestrial life, why haven’t they replied to our messages? He has had a reply, but doesn’t know where it’s come from. Is it really from another life form or is someone playing game with him? Doug Johnstone is a poet, philosopher and incredible observer of human nature and I can only hope for another instalment of this much loved series.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward.

This was one of the first books I read in 2021 and for a while I didn’t know what on earth was going on for a while, I was drawn into this very strange mystery. I finished it in a sort of shell-shocked silence. I felt like I needed to go straight back to the beginning and start again. It is extraordinary and unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s also very difficult to review without spoiling other reader’s experience of it, but I had to give it a go. Multiple narrators were introduced, including a cat, and I was sometimes thoroughly confused, but never contemplated putting the book down. The beauty of the language and cleverness of the structure kept me going, determined to work out what exactly was going on. I was starting to be unsure which sections were real and what was illusion. The author is clearly hugely skilled at creating that sense of the uncanny – when everything seems normal and recognisable, but there is just that sense that something is off-kilter and sinister. The writing is so involving that I was inside a character’s head and at times I had an uneasy feeling I would never be able to get out. I guessed some of what was going on, but not the whole and I love the ambition and audacity. This is a unique, original and deeply creative piece of work that enthralled and stunned in equal measure. Ward is a writer of immense imagination and talent and I felt so privileged to have been given the chance to read this before it hit the shelves and became a phenomenon.

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. This was an incredibly funny book as Seb’s straightforward way of interacting with the world butts up against nuanced and sometimes dishonest way humans deal with each other. This felt so real. So moving. It’s also wonderfully unexpected and such a fresh perspective. I loved it.

The Unheard by Nicci French.

I read this novel on the four hour drive to North Wales and spent most of the first day of my holiday absolutely enthralled with the story. I was hooked immediately, intrigued by the mystery of what exactly Tess’s daughter Poppy had seen or heard. Tess is starting a new life in a garden flat with her daughter, after a divorce from husband Jason. Having a background as a child of divorce, Tess was determined that Poppy should be their number one priority. No matter how much animosity and hurt they feel, their interaction with each other must be civil and they prioritise time with both parents. Jason is already remarried to Emily, a much younger woman who seems very sweet and tries hard to have a relationship with Poppy. One Saturday, Poppy returns from an overnight at her father’s and displays signs of distress. These were classic symptoms, that any counsellor like me, would be concerned by. She’s clingy, she wets the bed and seems to be having nightmares. Over a week these symptoms worsen: she bites a girl at school, uses foul language to her teacher, and her mother is terrified for her. She has her attention drawn to a picture Poppy has drawn, all in black crayon which is a huge contrast from her normal rainbow creations. The picture shows a tower and a woman falling from the top to the ground below. ‘He killed her’ she tells her Mum ‘and killed and killed and killed’. I read a lot of thrillers, but this one had me gripped. Had Poppy seen something? Who should we suspect? Or is Tess manipulating her daughter into such psychological distress? I was greedily hoovering up the chapters till the early hours!

The Metal Heart by Caroline Lea.

This was a simply stunning piece of historical fiction set on Orkney 1940. Five hundred Italian prisoners-of-war arrive to fortify these remote and windswept islands. Resentful islanders are fearful of the enemy in their midst, but not orphaned twin sisters Dorothy and Constance. Already outcasts, they volunteer to nurse all prisoners who are injured or fall sick. Soon Dorothy befriends Cesare, an artist swept up by the machine of war and almost broken by the horrors he has witnessed. She is entranced by his plan to build an Italian chapel from war scrap and sea debris, and something beautiful begins to blossom. But Con, scarred from a betrayal in her past, is afraid for her sister; she knows that people are not always what they seem. This book is stunningly beautiful, so much so that I had to sit and think in the quiet when I’d finished it. It’s so rich in folklore, historical detail, the trauma of war and bereavement that I know I could pick it up to read again and still find something new. I immediately ordered a signed copy for my forever shelf, because it is so special. What did I love about it? The Scottish folklore, the incredible landscape, the community, the dignity of people facing the hardest times of their lives. Then amidst the chaos, violence and confinement, beauty emerges in the shape of a deep, immediate, connection and growing love between two people who can’t even speak the same language. The counterpart to this human story is the Italian Chapel, built out of the scraps of metal huts and concrete the prisoners are allowed. Yet from these humble materials a building of true beauty emerges, that still stands today. It made me emotional to think about the lovers, but also the patience and faith of these incredible men who needed a place to worship, a piece of home.

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex.

I loved this book so much that I went to bed early two nights running so I could finish it uninterrupted. I was so drawn in by the isolation of this lighthouse, that it was just standing directly in the sea and no one could come on or off until the relief boat came. Inspired by true events, the story is set in two time frames. In one we learn that a writer is researching a book on a famous disappearance of three lighthouse keepers. While in 1972, miles off the coast of Cornwall a relief boat arrives at the Maiden, to find the door locked from the inside, the clocks stopped and no sign of the Principle Keeper or his two assistants. The writer contacts the women left behind by these men: Helen, wife of the Principle Keeper, Arthur; Jenny, wife of Bill his deputy; Michelle, girlfriend of the new recruit Vince. They have all received money from Trident, the company who employ the keepers, but with that came a directive, not to talk about the events surrounding the mystery. At the time, Vince came under the most suspicion. New to the area and with a criminal past, he seems the likely candidate to have harmed the others. Yet, why would Arthur write of a huge storm in the log, when seas had been calm all week? What became of the small boat rumoured to have sailed near the Maiden? There were also whispers about a mechanic sent to carry out repairs at the Principle Keeper’s request. It’s hard, years later, to distinguish between rumour and truth. Will any of the women speak to the writer and will they finally solve the mystery of what happened to the men? This was a fascinating mix of mystery, love story and the hint of the supernatural. The atmosphere created by the writer was incredible and I knew straight away this would be a book of 2021.

That’s my first seven books of the year, so watch out for parts 2 and 3 coming up in the next ten days.

Posted in Throwback Thursday, Uncategorized

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell.

As some of you may know, reviews can get very personal for me. Probably because I’m a therapist and used to lots of self-reflection. When a book hits me emotionally I really think about why and this book had me scurrying to my journal. Lisa Jewell is a master of these domestic thrillers and the psychological suspense created when groups of people are in conflict. Here the conflict is controlled within one house 16 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, overlooking the river. That is until it’s secrets explode and the truth of the mystery is scattered across the world.


Three narratives weave in and out of each other to tell the story. We meet twenty five year old Libby with her little garden flat and her job at the kitchen design company where she’s worked for five years. Everything about Libby says organised, professional and quiet. That is until a bombshell is dropped on her life. Woven with this is the story of Lucy – if that is her real name. She is living in France but at the moment we meet her is homeless along with her two children and the dog. The family are reduced to sneaking in to the beach club to get showered but that doesn’t happen everyday. Lucy is at rock bottom. She can’t husk for money but needs money to collect her violin. They have nothing left to sell. Does she go and ask her violent but rich ex-husband for help? Or does she let the children stay with their grandparents? Either way she needs her violin and once she sees the date, she develops an urgent need to make her way back to London and a certain house in Chelsea.

Our third narrator is Henry, relating what happened at the house back in the early 1990s. Henry just about remembers family life when things were normal and it was just the four of them: mum, dad, Henry and his sister. He has vivid memories of going to private school in his brown knickerbockers and sitting drinking lemonade while his Dad read the newspaper at his club. The house was filled with curiosities such as animal heads, ceremonial swords and red thrones. It’s so distinctive in style that when the money starts to run out the house is scouted as a location for a music video. The fiddle player in the band is Birdie and she loves the house. So much so that when she needs a roof over their head, she and her partner, Justin, come to stay in the upstairs room. Henry’s father has had a stroke and doesn’t have the same strength and power he used to have. He seems to sit by and watch as Birdie and Justin take up residence.
Later another couple join the group. David Thomsen is a man Henry dislikes almost instantly because he seems to sense what his Dad and Justin fail to see. David has charisma and seems to have an effect on every woman in the house. His wife Sally and two children, Phin and Clemency, also join them. It starts to feel like they’re living in a commune but the only consolation is Phin. To Henry, Phin is beautiful with floppy hair, cheekbones and a distinctive style. When Phin takes him shopping, Henry develops a crush and trails after him, wanting to be like him. When it is suddenly announced at the dinner table that David and Birdie are now a couple Henry senses this is the start of something evil. They bring out the worst elements of each other and start to assume a power in the house that goes unchallenged by his parents or the other adults. They are told what they will eat, do and even wear. Henry knows this is out of control and this is only the beginning of the damage this man will inflict in the house.
Libby has been set a letter by a group of solicitors telling her she has been left a house. When the solicitor walks her round to the house she realises she is rich. The house is abandoned, but huge and in prime position. It could be worth millions. The solicitor also gives her a newspaper cutting describing the strange events that took place there exactly twenty five years before. Libby has always known she was adopted, but this tells her she was the lone survivor in the house, tucked in her cot with a lucky rabbits foot under the mattress. Downstairs were three people, dressed all in black and dead from poisoning themselves with belladonna. One was David Thomsen. The news story talks of a cult forming within the house and aside from Libby, whose real name is Serenity, all the children living at the house were missing. Libby feels there is more to this story and wants to meet the journalist who wrote the article. What is the answer to how this happened? And who is sneaking in and out of the attic space at the house?


There are so many questions that I won’t answer for fear of ruining the book, but I will tell you about the effect it had on me. When I was 12, the same age as Henry, my parents joined an evangelical church that became all-consuming and took over our lives for a few years. Up until then we’d been part-time Catholic’s and I’d gone to Catholic school for a while through my first confession and communion. These new people felt weird. They were so fervent and all that speaking in tongues was odd. But it got worse. My parents started to have no other social life from church. We were forced into church activities for kids. My dad lit a bonfire and they burned their secular music and all of my mum’s ‘inappropriate ‘ books like the Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins novels. I was scared by this. I started to wonder who my parents were as I was more restricted on what I wore, listened to and read. I couldn’t go to anything where there was a sniff of boys and from what I could see there was a lot of coercive control over women and girls particularly. I felt Henry’s fear when reading this book. I know what it feels to be a kid, looking at your parents and thinking they’ve been taken in by something dangerous. That beliefs are being forced on you and you can’t live like other kids. To feel like all of your security is being taken away.


Of course my solution wasn’t as dramatic as Henry’s but I did have to create coping mechanisms. There are times now when we can laugh about it, because as my brother and I have grown older we have become one of those families that openly discuss everything. However, I still occasionally have dreams where my parents can’t see or hear me and I think it has also bred a lifelong mistrust of authority. So I can understand the seismic effect the arrival of Dave Thomsen had on these children, with repercussions way into adult life. Whether it’s changing who you are to escape, or bouncing from one failed relationship to another or being unable to move on, even geographically, they are all responses to trauma. With a brief nod to the future at the end of the book the author does leave a tiny seed of hope that in future generations a type of healing can be reached. This is a dark, disturbing, look at how sometimes home is the most dangerous place to be.

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 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, Uncategorized

Throwback Thursday! Engleby by Sebastian Faulks.

‘My name is Mike Engleby and I’m in my second year at an ancient university’.

In this book Faulks creates one of the best unreliable narrators in fiction. His voice is mesmerising, intelligent and strangely compelling. I found myself strangely drawn in by him. In fact he’s very funny, in a darkly humorous way. We’re restricted to his first person narrative and his tale of a working class upbringing, affected by poverty and physically abusive treatment from his stepfather. Despite his disadvantages, he wins a place at a Cambridge college. Although he’s intellectually capable of fitting in, socially he’s a misfit, struggling on the edges of college society. Then he sees a girl in the tearoom of the University Library and an obsession starts. He observes Jennifer to a degree that’s detailed and creepy.

‘She was smoking a cigarette and trying not to laugh, but her eyes looked concerned and vulnerable as Robin’s low voice went urgently on. She is alive, Godammit she is alive. She looks so poised, with that womanly concern, beginning to override the girlish humour. I will always remember that balanced woman/girl expression on her face.’

This is the detail of someone who is watching constantly. He seems to have very little empathy for others, apart from Jennifer. So when she disappears, we are left in conflict. Where should our sympathies lie? Has Engleby lost someone he truly cared for or is something more sinister going on? Now I can’t claim that Faulks created the unreliable narrator, but this is the first time I truly had the rug swept from under me by a book. It’s not so much a twist, as a seismic shift that makes me question absolutely everything I’d read up to this point. The next books that surprised me this much was Atonement and We Need To Talk About Kevin so the book is in great company.

The build up is very slow, but the tension soon becomes unbearable. We’re waiting for something to snap! I felt myself weirdly torn between compassion and contempt for this boy who has been subjected to cruelty and possibly developed this faux intellectual and pretentious personality to survive. Or, has simply been lying to us all along? Faulks is questioning the way writers construct identity on the page and the reader’s tendency to believe the person presented to them, often without question. Is identity as fluid as he presents, or are some of our characteristics set in a permanent ‘self’ as most of us would like to believe. It’s an uncomfortable read, not just because we might feel confused with our own fixed and fluid selves, but because we feel complicit with a narrator we’ve enjoyed. Even more uncomfortable, could it be because there might be a little bit of Engleby in all of us.

Meet the Author


Sebastian Faulks was born in April 1953. Before becoming a full-time writer in 1991, he worked as a journalist. Sebastian Faulks’s books include A Possible Life, Human Traces, On Green Dolphin Street, Engleby, Birdsong, A Week in December and Where My Heart Used to Beat.

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Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde.

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

CAN YOU FIND THE FAMOUS PERSON HIDDEN IN EVERY STORY?

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

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

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

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

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

Backstories is published by Smoke & Mirrors Press.

MY BACKSTORIES QUEST 

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever happened to all of the heroes?

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

Look out for my review coming soon…

LINKS

http://bit.ly/Goodreads-Backstories

http://bit.ly/Amazon-Backstories

http://bit.ly/Amazon-Backstories

http://bit.ly/BookBub-Backstories

 AUDIBLE

https://adbl.co/3rw4boT

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Books of the Month! March 2021

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

The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward

Published by Viper, 18th March 2021.

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

While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart

Published by Headline Review 4th March 2021

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

The Forgotten Life of Arthur Pettinger by Suzanne Fortin

Published by Aria, 4th March 2021

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

People Like Us by Louise Fein

Published by Head of Zeus 6th August 2021.

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

The Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Published Legend Press, 2nd March 2021

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

The Favour by Laura Vaughan.

Published by Corvus 4th March 2021

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

This month I also read…

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While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart.

I’ve been lucky to have this incredible debut novel since last year and in that time it hasn’t lost any of its emotional power. A second reading still left me deeply sad for the characters, but also for real people who lost family members due to war. Not just those who died but those who became displaced and scattered across the globe from each other. Regular readers will know my late in-laws war experiences thar I’m currently turning into a novel, because it is so extraordinary. So the human cost of war is a subject close to my heart and I absolutely loved this novel; it is shocking, heart-rending, and deeply moving. Told across two timelines, two countries and in several different character’s perspectives we are shown every angle on this difficult case.

We meet Jean-Luc and Charlotte who live in California, 1953. Santa Cruz is an incredible place to live, and a great place to bring up their young son Sam. The fled France during the war when Sam was only days old. However, despite seeming like the perfect family they have a huge secret. Jean-Luc and Charlotte were both working in public services in France; Charlotte was a nurse and Jean-Luc was a railway worker. So, when the Germans occupied Paris they were forced to work for the German forces. One day Jean-Luc is transferred to a different part of the railway, making repairs and doing maintenance on the track that is carrying French Jews over borders towards Poland, and Auschwitz. There are rumours about what is going on in these so-called work camps. Jean -Luc has heard them, but now he’s seeing mounting evidence that something is badly wrong. Sent to tidy up after a late train, the men find people’s belongings littered across the platform, glasses, crutches and even teddy bears. On one horrific day he sees a doll lying further up the platform, but when a worker picks it up, it isn’t a doll at all. Jean-Luc has to act and decides to sabotage the rails, to do something that perhaps saves one person. All he gets is a blow that opens up his cheek and a shattered leg. There in the hospital, while he recovers, he meets nurse Charlotte and slowly they form a connection. They are open with each other about the mixed feelings they have about their jobs. Are they collaborating or are they just trying to survive the best they can? So, when a chance comes to make a massive difference to one person, will they take it?

Sarah and husband David are rounded up and put in a train carriage to a work camp. Sarah has given birth to Samuel only a few hours before. Squashed into little more than a cattle truck, so cramped they can’t sit down at all, and one bucket in the corner for a toilet. An unplanned stop sees them herded onto a platform and Sarah sees her chance. In a second she weighs up the railway worker in front of her and thinks he looks kind, despite the scar down his face. She thrusts her baby at him and begs him to look after Samuel. Jean-Luc vows to keep him safe. He gathers a few essentials and goes to Charlotte’s home and asks if she’ll go with him. His plan is to use contacts in the resistance to walk over the Pyrenees to the border with Spain and hopefully sail for the USA. Our second timeline is 1953 in Santa Cruz, California. Jean-Luc, Charlotte and Sam have really settled into an American way of life. Sam is now nine and although they miss Paris they know this is the best way to live. However, when a black car turns up outside the house one morning, neighbours curtains start twitching. What could this lovely couple have done? Is it something to do with the war?

I believed every single character in this moving story from the heart and often with a lump in my throat. It brings up such an important moral and ethical dilemma. How can reparation and restitution be made when the atrocity is so seismic it affects the whole world? No one in this story is untouched by the Nazi’s march across Europe, even down to the ‘collabo’ men and women, who might have only been doing the job they’d always done, but because they now worked for the Bosch, were hated by their neighbours or even killed in some places. To the Jewish camp mates at Auschwitz who had some useful skill the guards could exploit, such as David’s medical skills taking him within a whisper of the terrible experiments conducted by Dr Mengele. In truth, everyone was just trying to survive, to keep their family safe and for some people that meant paying a higher price than others. I felt deeply that Jean-Luc was a good man who felt a huge responsibility for the baby Sarah passed him that night. He was willing to kill to keep him safe and I believed his motives were entirely altruistic. Charlotte also takes huge risks to keep him safe and I think both feel this is a task given by God and as they flee across the border into Spain, their only thought is keeping the boy alive for parents who are likely to have been killed days before. As Sarah first steps from the train at their destination she takes in the skeletal prisoners, the large pipe belching out smoke and the all pervading smell, and realises they are in hell. Prisoners plead with them – ‘why didn’t you kill yourself?’ The carriages were packed so tight it was standing room only with others shuffling around so everyone got a chance to sit for a few moments. If you couldn’t stay upright you died and that was probably preferable to this. To go through hell then have to spend nine years looking for your son is heart breaking, but in whose best interest is it for the child to return to parents he never knew?

It was Sam I felt for more than anyone, because there is only one outcome that would have been fair for him and he isn’t asked. I was distressed by his experience just as much as that of his parents. He is wrenched away from the parents and life he knows, scared and alone he is drugged to be transported to France and his birth parents. He goes from an outdoorsy experience of life to a flat in Paris, with two strangers who don’t speak his language. He has no friends and no grasp of his Jewish heritage either. His confidence is affected, his mood grows lower, the skin on his legs breaks out and becomes sore, weepy and infected. All he wants is his father, his mother and his home. I won’t reveal how this is resolved but I wept as I read the last few chapters. This is so powerful and a difficult read in places, but such a beautifully written account of how war touches everyone. Loss is the all pervasive emotion I felt throughout and for so many different things. If we think about loss as ripples on a pond they stretch outwards on the surface of the water hitting each group of people more gently the further removed from the event they are. This novel shows us that the after effects of a terrible event like the Holocaust keep rippling forward through time touching each generation that comes after.

Meet The Author

Ruth Druart grew up on the Isle of Wight, moving away at the age of eighteen to study psychology at Leicester University. She has lived in Paris since 1993, where she has followed a career in teaching. She has recently taken a sabbatical, so that she can follow her dream of writing full-time.

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Throwback Thursday! Any Human Heart by William Boyd.

We keep a journal, to entrap the collection of selves that form us’.


I didn’t want to like this book at first. Logan Mountstuart as a teenager isn’t very likeable. I found him cowardly, and I didn’t like his attitude towards women – despite the fact that it’s very much of it’s time. Yet, the book crept up on me until I found myself empathising deeply with him during the war and towards the end of his life. What Boyd is telling us is that every life is both ordinary and extraordinary, and Logan Mountstuart’s – stretching across the twentieth century – is a rich tapestry of both. As a writer who finds inspiration with Hemingway in Paris and the Bloomsbury set with Virginia Woolf in London, the Spanish Civil War, as a spy recruited by Ian Fleming who was betrayed in the war, and as an art-dealer in ’60s New York, Logan mixes with the men and women who shape his times. But as a son, friend, lover and husband, he makes the same mistakes we all do in our search for happiness. Here, then, is the story of a life lived to the full – and a journey deep into a very human heart.

I loved the structure of the novel, told through a series of journals that begin when Logan is approximately fifteen, until he is 85. So the style of the piece constantly changes, as does the perspective and collected wisdom of the writer. He writes in the ‘now’, experiencing things without the benefit of reflection or hindsight. There is an honesty here that can be blunt, and the structure is further accentuated by footnotes and even corrections, as the older Boyd thinks again or finds out more. Here and there we have gaps where he hasn’t been able to maintain a diary due to physical obstacles, or where he hasn’t been in the right space mentally. These different voices of Boyd’s accentuate the voyage of time and his learning, but also the development into newer selves. For me it’s this change that’s intriguing and kept me reading. He isn’t likeable sometimes, but then he learns and goes in a different direction. Directions that are sometimes more about action for action’s sake, rather than a considered choice made.

It’s a strange experience, when we’ve finished, to reconsider Logan’s angst ridden teenage voice. It’s extra poignant, because we know if he’s been hindered by those aspects he lamented in his character. Similarly, in knowing how his life ends,we can decide whether his triumphs are adequately balanced by loss and failure. The losses he suffers in the war are so deeply moving and the feeling came to me, that what comes after is almost futile. He was always his best self with his son and the woman he loved. I also think the structure made Logan so vividly real that I mourned alongside him and despite disliking his teenage self, I was genuinely emotional at the end.

A bit like the film Forrest Gump, Logan has a talent for bumping into the rich and famous – including a regrettable period with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. He meets authors as mentioned – Hemingway, Woolf, Fleming – and artists – Klee and Picasso, to name a few. This name dropping could get in the way of the narrative but Boyd is clever enough to make it a credible part of the story. We sometimes even detect their influence on his writing.

The characterisation and way Logan develops into his many selves, makes this book an absolute masterpiece. By the end of the book he was someone completely different and yet the same. There’s somehow a constant thread that joins the selves like beads on a string. The book reads like a real diary with no explanation for the changes in character we see, yet somehow we know why. The only part that did jar for me was the art dealer in NYC section, as it didn’t seem to fit anywhere but then maybe that’s the point. Could Logan survive the huge losses he experienced without a massive break from what and who he was before? The man who had loved so much couldn’t continue with the same openness. There’s a break here or knot in the thread.

I loved the sweep and scale of his story, but life isn’t always about that. It’s about the small, daily actions and our reflections on that. The way Boyd relates those mundane daily bits and bobs is genius. In an age before Instagram there are descriptions of meals eaten, conversations had, the weather, what he wore. There’s even a tendency toward new year reflections and hopes for the future. He gives himself a talking to, where needed. Sometimes he repeats himself or misremembers something. Then, when he’s alone in his flat, he cuts such a tragic figure that I forgot what I didn’t like and saw a nothing more or nothing less than a human heart.

And suddenly I wonder: is it more of my bad luck to have been born when I was at the beginning of this century and not be able to be young at its end. […] and then, almost immediately I think what a futile regret that is. You must live the life you have been given.’

Meet The Author

William Boyd was born in 1952 in Accra, Ghana, and grew up there and in Nigeria. He is the author of fifteen highly acclaimed, bestselling novels and five collections of stories. He is married and divides his time between London and south-west France.