Posted in Personal Purchase

Throwback Thursday! A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray.

Meet the Bradleys.

In lots of ways, they’re a normal family:
Zippy is sixteen and in love for the first time; Al is thirteen and dreams of playing for Liverpool. And in some ways, they’re a bit different:
Seven-year-old Jacob believes in miracles. So does his dad. But these days their mum doesn’t believe in anything, not even getting out of bed.

How does life go on, now that Issy is gone?

This book is truly beautiful, moving and insightful novel about a family dealing with grief. The Bradley family have lost four year old Issy, and Carys Bray tells their story through each family member in turn. Bray has personal insight into the Mormon church, although she’s no longer a member. That doesn’t mean that this is a grand criticism of the religion, what she does is use her insight to craft a family of faith coping with the worst thing that could happen to them. She takes us on the weekly Merry-go-round of family night, youth club, Saturdays writing sermons and church on Sunday. I was brought up in a similarly restrictive evangelical Christian background till I rebelled at 16. I have spent my whole life watching adults try to reconcile their faith in an interventional God, with tragic events in their lives. When people believed that God granted them the good weather for their BBQ, it was hard for them to understand why my Multiple Sclerosis hadn’t responded to their healing. This could go one of two ways: God had a reason for giving me MS or I didn’t have enough faith for their healing to work. This family experience similar feelings and treatment, as their comfortable and cosy religious world implodes.

What the author shows us, is that nobody is immune from grief. Dad is a bishop in the church, and since marriage outside the faith is discouraged, Mum is a Mormon convert. His standpoint, although written with great empathy, is the one I found it hardest to relate to. Possibly this is because of my religious bias, but it felt like he was trying to make sense of it too early in the grieving process. It can take years to be able to put such an enormous loss into context and be able to identify its effect on your emotions and choices. This is the immediate aftermath and Ian is trying to make sense of it in terms of God’s purpose. As a bishop he has the pressure of the ‘public’ face he has to maintain. He’s a leader so he can’t appear weak, doubtful or as if he’s questioning God. It’s quite a normal reaction to feel very angry with God. If you have given your life over to his work you could be forgiven for having questions: Why has this happened when I serve you? Why should I believe in you? If followers see that doubt or uncertainty, it could undermine their faith. The only way to rationalise this, in the context of his position, is to assume God is testing him – testing his faith like Job or teaching him something. While this might keep Ian’s public face intact, he could be experiencing a crisis of faith behind the mask. Even worse it could put him on a collision course with the rest of his family.

Wife Claire is simply overwhelmed, unable to maintain a private face never mind a public one. She retires to her bed, completely paralysed by grief. She finds herself asking all the questions Ian is avoiding and as a convert she has a different context through which she can view her grief in many different ways, instead of just one. However, as she stays in bed, the rest of the children are dealing with their grief alone. The faith they’ve been brought up in has failed them, they have been faced with mortality so close to home it raises fears of further trauma. Eldest girl Zippy is trying to hold everything together at a turbulent point in her own development. She tries to be Mum to her youngest brother, the beautifully drawn Jacob. Her brother Alma is disappearing into his football and dreams of playing for Liverpool. All the children find their father’s responses strange and unsympathetic, but feel abandoned by Mum. There’s also an anger developing. Their father is a powerful man in church terms, so how have their parents let this happen? Could it happen to them? Bray has written in these children’s voices with skill and empathy. She has thoroughly imagined what their inner language would sound like. Jacob’s concept of his faith as at least the size of a toffee bonbon. They were so real I wanted to gather them and care for them.

For me, this was a stunning first novel and catapulted Carys Bray onto my list of authors whose work I would buy without hesitation. Her understanding of family dynamics and construction of each character’s inner world is exquisite. She just ‘gets’ the psychology of grief and I wasn’t surprised to discover she has experienced personal loss. Her care for each of these people, and even the religion she has left behind, is so evident and I was left feeling an affinity for her as well as the characters. The death of someone in such a young family is like throwing a grenade into the room. I felt like this book was capturing that immediate aftermath where adrenaline is still running, your ears are ringing, you don’t know where anyone else is or even how injured you are. I remember that feeling – of being so lost, you don’t know how lost you are. Bray is a novelist of exceptional depth and skill. I have just bought her third novel and I’m so looking forward to immersing myself into another of her worlds.

Meet The Author


Carys Bray was brought up in a devout Mormon family. In her early thirties she left the church and replaced religion with writing. She was awarded the Scott prize for her début short story collection Sweet Home. A Song for Issy Bradley is her first novel. She lives in Southport with her husband and four children.

Her first novel A SONG FOR ISSY BRADLEY was serialised on BBC Radio Four’s Book at Bedtime and was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards and the Desmond Elliott Prize. It won the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award. Her second novel, THE MUSEUM OF YOU, was published in June 2016. WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT, her third novel, was published in May 2020. Carys has a BA in Literature from The Open University and an MA and PhD in Creative Writing from Edge Hill University.

Posted in Personal Purchase

Eudora Honeysett is, Quite Well, Thank You by Annie Lyons.

#EudoraHoneysett #OneMoreChapter #OMCReadalong

Published: One More Chapter

Date: 17th September 2020

ISBN: 0008405387

Synopsis | Eudora Honeysett is getting tired of life. If She can choose how to live her own life, why can’t she choose how to die her own death?

Eudora Honeysett is done – with all of it. Having seen first-hand what a prolonged illness can create, the eighty-five-year-old has no intention of leaving things to chance. With one call to a clinic in Switzerland she takes her life into her own hands.

But then ten-year-old Rose arrives in a riot of colour on her doorstep. Now, as precocious Rose takes Eudora on adventures she’d never imagined she reflects on the trying times of her past and soon finds herself wondering – is she ready for death when she’s only just experienced what it’s like to truly live?

Being offered this book was a real gift, because now I’ve discovered a new author I love. I can go back and read her other work and wonder why I’ve never come across Annie Lyons before. Thanks to Harper Collins and One More Chapter for bringing this writer and a beautiful character like Eudora to my attention. Eudora is 85 and lives alone in Cornwall with her cat Montgomery. She has sent what a lengthy illness and old age can do and doesn’t want a prolonged end to her life. Very decisively, she makes a call to Switzerland so she can organise an end to life on her terms, quickly, painlessly and without fuss. She’s quite sure no one will miss her. Her family are gone and the only people she knows are passing acquaintances, not friends.

Then a new family move in next door, with a little girl called Rosa. When the family introduce themselves to Eudora, she is mesmerised by this bright, bubbly little girl. She is like a whirlwind of love and fairy dust. Eudora has never had children so this is her first experience of spending time with one. Every experience they have together is brand new and Rosa has all the wonder and enthusiasm that has been .”missing from Eudora’s life. When she looks at life through Rosa’s eyes it becomes new, shiny and filled with hope. As they embark on adventures together, Rosa’s attitude to life starts to rub off on Eudora. She is enjoying life for the first time, trying new things and meeting new people. One of these new friends is Stanley and Eudora experiences making a new friend, with all the excitement and joy that brings. When the call comes from Switzerland will she be ready?

I think this book is an important lesson – to keep trying new experiences in life, no matter what your age and ability. Never assume you’ve done all the learning you’re going to do. When we throw ourselves into life, we get so much back. Eudora had backed away from life, possibly due to her past experiences, and as a consequence every day was the same isolated and limited existence. Together Rosa and Eudora throw the doors wide open and welcome life in. As a reader we bring our own experiences to books and I seem to be reading a lot of books lately that touch on my own life. I have a life limiting condition called multiple sclerosis, and when well enough, I work as a counsellor with people who have this condition and other disabilities. The ‘Switzerland option’ comes up a lot and many years ago someone I knew in my personal life did this. He threw a huge party for his final birthday, then flew to Dignitas and ended his life; MND was limiting him more each day and he was at the point where he was unable to swallow. When your life is limited, small pleasures can be so important. For him, the ability to enjoy and experience food was too much to lose. My own husband sometimes wished he’d taken this option towards the end of his life, but when we talked about those moments we had experienced together right up to the end, he agreed that he was glad not to have missed them.

It’s vital to continue to live, try new things and meet new people because all of those things enrich our lives. For me, I’m living something similar to Eudora’s experience. I found out many years ago that I would find it difficult to have children. After a third miscarriage, I made the decision that I couldn’t keep putting myself through this for the sake of my mental health. I have always felt that children are a gift, not a right, so I accepted that my life would follow a different path. When I met my partner after six years of living alone, I was aware he had two girls but got to know them very slowly. I didn’t want them to feel their relationship to their Dad had changed, or that I was trying to be their Mum, because they have a perfectly good one already. I was around but made sure they had plenty of alone time with Dad too. I was so worried about my effect on them that I underestimated the change they’d bring to my life. One afternoon when we’d all been living together a while, our fourteen year old came rushing in from a day out shouting for me and panicking; she’d spilled chocolate ice-cream down her white crop top and would I be able to get the stain out. I realised I was the ‘fixer’ of things, that she trusted me to be able to fix this for her. My partner found me in the downstairs bathroom crying into the Vanish stain remover! It was the moment I knew I was accepted and I was part of this family. They both bring such joy and fun into my life, and the experience of parenting I never expected to have and I love it, even though it’s not always easy.

I guess what I’m trying to say, is the book’s message really resonated with me. That we never really know when our life is over or when something new is going to come along and change everything. To make us see the mundane everyday in a totally different way. That’s what this novel does, and what makes it so uplifting. In a year that’s increasingly beginning to feel like Groundhog Day, this novel manages to lift the spirits and bring hope – quite an amazing feat when the central subject is death! This is the right time for a novel like this, if ever we needed an uplifting, joyous tale like this, it is now. This shows what an incredible writer Annie Lyons is, because she has taken a deep, difficult subject and yet left the reader feeling hopeful for the future. Eudora is such a great character, developing from a curmudgeonly old lady to someone full of life and love. I enjoyed the flashbacks to her past where we see how she came to be a lonely, isolated woman who doesn’t want to live. She goes on a huge journey emotionally, and the dual timeline shows us this – one journey leading to hopelessness and the current journey towards joy and re-engaging with all that life has to offer.

The portrayal of Rosa was brilliant, because of her innocence, especially where it is highlighted against Eudora’s character. Rosa doesn’t see age or grumpiness. Eudora, and Stanley from down the road, are simply two friends she can play with and create and create adventures for. She doesn’t see their potential limitations and I think that says something about the way we treat older people – is it society’s tendency to avoid ageing? Do we see their lives as over and assume they have nothing to contribute? Is it when society stops seeing them as worthwhile, that they become isolated and dissatisfied with life? We need to stop seeing ages, and other potential differences, and instead see people with so much to offer us. This is one of those books that has arrived without hype or fanfare, but has bloggers shouting from the rooftops. This book is emotionally intelligent, has multi-layered and well written characters, with a storyline that will draw you in and enrich your life. If you need a lockdown lift or the impetus to start living again then this wonderful book is for you.

Meet The Author | After a career in bookselling and publishing, Annie Lyons published five books including the best-selling, Not Quite Perfect. When not working on her novels, she teaches creative writing. She lives in south-east London with her husband and two children.

Posted in Netgalley

If I Could Say Goodbye by Emma Cooper.

#NetGalley #HeadlineReview #IfICouldSayGoodbye

Published: 17th September 2020

Publisher: Headline Review

ISBN: 1472265041

What an incredibly emotional read this was for me. I found myself having a good old cry at 4am over Jen and her family’s story. It begins when Jennifer is adopted by a childless couple and four years later gets an unexpected little sister. Kerry is a determined, mischievous and curious little girl and the pair are incredibly close. In adulthood, the two are still inseparable. Jen now has husband Ed and two children while Kerry has a long term partner in Nessa, who she is hoping to propose to. When a terrible accident happens while the sisters are on a shopping trip for an engagement ring, Kerry is killed. Now Jen needs to find a way to carry on living, but the survivor’s guilt and grief are very strong. As Jen starts to lose herself in her memories of her sister, it becomes clear that Jen can’t let Kerry go. Yet, by keeping hold of her sister, will she end up losing her own family?

This is my second book by Emma Cooper and after reading this she has been bumped up to my list of favourites – those authors where I know I’m guaranteed a great story, emotional impact and believable characters. She has the talent to combine a big emotional punch, with a sprinkling of humour which isn’t easy to do. I honestly fell in love with these characters and their relationships with each other. Jen is a very organised and capable woman, who loves spending time with her family and creating a beautiful home. I loved her with Ed and the way the author has created a balance of the romantic and the mundane into their relationship. There’s enough of a love story to draw us in, but we see the normality too as they get the children ready for school, do the grocery shop and get involved with school activities. Underneath the daily grind though is a strong love and passion for each other. Yet it is becoming tested by changes in Jen. Ed has noticed that Jen doesn’t seem as organised as usual and is often staring off into space. Then at other times she is almost over-excited and far be it from him to complain about more sex, but well, he wasn’t complaining exactly… it just isn’t like his wife. He worries, but labels these changes as part of the grieving process. He doesn’t know what we know. Jen can still see Kerry and talk to her. Kerry has been fuelling the recklessness he’s seen such as daring Jen to leap off a cliff into the sea. There’s a point when Ed realises that this isn’t just getting lost in memories. For Jen, Kerry is as real as he is or even the children and what will he do when this starts to affect them?

This was a tough, but loving and humorous portrayal of the journey relationships take when one partner is struggling mentally. I found the alternate chapters between Jen and Ed so effective because we can see the same events through both sets of eyes, sometimes with very conflicting results. I was so torn because I loved both of them, I wanted them to be together but I could understand each viewpoint too. Ed wants his wife back, the person he fell in love with and his best friend. He wants to be a family, but wants to protect their children too. Jen has a heartbreaking dilemma. Does she follow medical advice and take the pills that might make Kerry disappear forever? The psychiatrist who sees Jen and diagnoses complicated grief understands what she’s feeling. This is survivor’s guilt; Jen wonders why she survived and Kerry didn’t. Kerry saved her life by pushing her away from the oncoming vehicle. In Jen’s mind she’s already killed her once. Now she feels like she’s killing her all over again.

This was a tough read because I struggle with complicated grief. In 2007, as regular readers will know, my husband died from pneumonia as a complication of Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. It had been coming for some time, but for the final year of his life I was his carer for 24 hours almost every day, unless I had a Marie Curie nurse. He was dependent on me for food, drink, medication and all bodily functions, even breathing. Three months before he died I agreed that he needed to be admitted to a nursing home from hospital. One of our carers was injured and I couldn’t have managed alone. I knew when I made that choice it was very likely he would die. For a few weeks after his death, I would see him out of the corner of my eye, sitting in his wheelchair looking out into the garden. I could also hear the mechanism of his wheelchair and a little beep it used to make. I realised that this wasn’t really Jerzy, this was me being unable to let go. In therapy I talked about survivor’s guilt and how I felt I had killed him by sanctioning the nursing home. I knew rationally I couldn’t have done anything else, but emotionally it’s been very hard to accept my own choice. I also have multiple sclerosis but in a milder form and I discuss choices and possibilities at length with my new partner, because I would hate him to go through the same thing. Reading this was emotional, I did cry, but I also felt less alone with my experience.

The author has taken a really tough subject, but made it warm and humorous. I love the way Kerry is often doing things she did as a little girl like standing on her head or blowing bubblegum. She also sits in the oddest places and actively tries to make Jen laugh. The wider family were lovely too, willing to support and help out with the children or Jen. Her mum is always full of good sensible advice and their acceptance of this peculiar phenomenon is brilliant. The final scenes choked me up. They made me sad for what I lost back then as well as for Jen. I was desperate for her and Ed to make it and come back together as a family. The night I finished the book I was an angling widow! My partner and my brother went night fishing, so I was alone for the final chapters. I had a good cry on the dog – he’s very absorbent. I found myself very thankful for the new chance of love that I’ve had with my partner over the last couple of years. All I wanted to do was hold him close and tell him how much I loved him. This is an honest story about how complicated grief can be, but never lets us forget that where there is grief there is always great love.

Biography

Emma Cooper is a former teaching assistant, who lives in Shropshire, with her partner and four children. Her spare time consists of writing novels, drinking wine and watching box-sets with her partner of twenty-four years, who still makes her smile every day.

Her debut, The Songs of Us was snapped up in multiple pre-empts and auctions and is now being translated into seven different languages. Her last novel The First Time I Saw You was also a bestseller.