Posted in Random Things Tours

This Shining Life by Harriet Klein

Wow, this is heartbreakingly sad, but so beautiful too. Rich is dying. Funny, charming, Rich has a love of cheese and throwing parties. He has a son called Ollie who is neuro-diverse and a wife called Ruth who is coping with so much anyway, how will she cope with his death? The book covers Rich’s attempts to live, while dying. There’s also the aftermath of his death where Ruth and Ollie have to learn how to cope without the most important person in their life. Ruth finds it very hard to accept that her time with Rich is now limited and she has no idea when he will die. As time passes, Ollie finds it harder too. He doesn’t understand what it means to die. So, Rich devises a plan and involves his son in choosing gifts for those he loves, as something to remember him by. Ollie loves puzzles and he sees the presents as clues – he thinks each gift has a hidden meaning that his Dad chose to teach him the meaning of life.

The story is told through the important people in Rich’s life and it begins with Ollie. Ollie has realised that the gifts went to the wrong people and he must rectify the mistakes, because otherwise he’ll never understand life or death. He is starting to come apart at the seams but has anyone noticed? Ruth is struggling to cope with his obsessive rituals and her grief is all encompassing. In counselling we refer to ‘complicated grief’ – this can happen when a death is: unexpected with things unresolved or left unsaid, a sudden decline or an accident, the result of a crime, long-term health related with caring roles attached, complicated by circumstances such as being out of touch or at odds with each other, or where a disease is hereditary. Here, Ruth and Ollie haven’t really had time to prepare and their lives have had to adapt very quickly. Ruth can’t fall apart because she has to be there for Ollie, but it is wearing her down and she needs to deal with her own feelings too. I liked the way the author brought in other voices, from Ruth’s family to Rich’s own mother and father, each with their own grief and needs.

The author is a great observer of human behaviour and family dynamics. We can see how grief passes through this family, less like ripples on a pond and more like a shockwave passing through everyone in the vicinity. I talk with clients about the circle of grief – this is a series of concentric circles with the person experiencing the bereavement in the centre, next their spouse or partner, then in layers outwards until we get to the wider community. This is a simple tool that works well in the context of working with an individual because in that space, they are the afflicted person. We show how grief is expressed outward – with people in the outer circles expressing grief outward to family, friends, then they go to workmates or the wider community. Then comfort is expressed inwards, with those in outer circle ‘shoring up’ those further in, giving them the strength to support those in the inner circle. People in the outer circles should not be expecting comfort from those in the centre. Yet, grief is rarely so neatly expressed and the circles are often breached. This could be because of narcissism or lack of boundaries. However, more likely, what happens is shown very clearly in this book. Everyone is at the centre of their own circle. Ruth has to show comfort outward to Ollie and to Rich’s parents who are both struggling with their own grief and the added complication of dementia. Some people simply can’t put another’s needs in front of their own.

When we face a huge upheaval or loss in our lives, we experience it through our own filter. Made up of our own experiences, the emotions we find it easy or difficult to express, our own bias or prejudice. The author has written such an authentic story of loss by exploring each character’s filters, their earlier life experiences and the unique relationship they had with Rich. We each grieve in a unique way because of the unique way we connected with that person. In dying, Rich has given them all the secret, of the meaning of life. It’s in the connections we have with another person and in a way Ollie is right – the gifts do hold the secret. Rich has bought each person something he thinks will remind them of him, in the context of the relationship they had. Knowing each person will miss him in a different way. His life was all about encouraging other’s to enjoy everything life offers and all its variety. I thought the book was emotionally intelligent, full of complex and interesting characters and explored beautifully what happens when such a big personality is taken from a family. A final mention must go to that beautiful cover, with Ollie using his binoculars to focus on the beautiful variety of life in the world. Simply stunning.

Meet The Author

Harriet Kline works part time registering births, deaths and marriages and writes for the rest of the week. Her story Ghost won the Hissac Short Story Competition and Chest of Drawers won The London Magazine Short Story Competition. Other short stories have been published online with Litro, For Books’ Sake, and ShortStorySunday, and on BBC Radio 4. She lives in Bristol with her partner and two teenage sons.

Posted in Cover Reveal

Cover Reveal! The Rebel Suffragette by Beverley Adams.

Today I’m part of the cover reveal for this interesting book about suffragette Edith Rigby. Check out the blurb below.

The Blurb

The suffragette movement swept the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Led by the Pankhursts, the focus of the movement was in London with demonstrations and rallies taking place across the capital. But this was a nationwide movement with a strong northern influence with Edith Rigby being an ardent supporter. Edith was a controversial figure, not only was she was the first woman to own and ride a bicycle in her home town but she was founder of a school for girls and young women. Edith followed the example of Emmeline Pankhurst and her supporters and founded the Preston branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union. She was found guilty of arson and an attempted bomb attack in Liverpool following which she was incarcerated and endured hunger strike forming part of the ‘Cat and Mouse’ system with the government. During a political rally with Winston Churchill Edith threw a black pudding at a MP.

There are many tales to tell in the life of Edith Rigby, she was charismatic, passionate, ruthless and thoroughly unpredictable. She was someone who rejected the accepted notion of what a woman of her class should be the way she dressed and the way she ran her household but she was independent in mind and spirit and always had courage in her own convictions. As a suffragette, she was just as effective and brave as the Pankhurst women. This is the story of a life of a lesser known suffragette. This is Edith’s story.

Look out for the blog tour coming soon.

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month! June 2021.

Wow! June has been quite a month when it comes to fiction releases and I’ve had an absolute blast reading them. I think this is the biggest number of five star reads I’ve had in one month – usually I might include a couple of four star books here and there on the list, but not this month. There was a point when I’d read four, 5 ⭐️ novels in a row and was scared to pick up another in case I was disappointed! This is going to be a bumper year and I may have to do a ‘21 of 2021’ to accommodate everything I want to include in December. I’m hoping that my reading luck continues into July. Happy summer reading everyone!

I must give special mention to Karen at Orenda Books who said to me back in March that I needed to read the Jubilant June books they were publishing, particularly Everything Happens For A Reason. She said I would cry and I cried buckets, but I absolutely loved it too. Rachel is struggling to cope with the grief, after her baby son, Luke, is stillborn. Using the type of platitude many people resort to in the face of such terrible loss, she is told that ‘everything happens for a reason’. Unable to cope with the idea that Luke’s death is senseless, Rachel latches on to the idea. She thinks about saving the man who wanted to throw himself onto the train tracks and wonders if it is a coincidence that this was the very same day she found out she was pregnant? Rachel looks for the man she saved, in order to find the meaning in her experience. This is a stunning story of love, loss and hope.

In One Last Time we meet Anne, long term carer for her husband Gustav after a series of strokes. Not long after Gustav is transferred to a nursing home, Anne is diagnosed with cancer. This novel is an exploration of living, while dying. However, it’s also about motherhood and the relationship Anne has with her daughter, which was complicated by her caring role. Daughter Sigrid believes she was neglected by Anne, who chose Gustav’s needs over those of her children, but we also see Sigrid’s mothering skills and how they are interpreted by her daughter. This is a novel about the things we want to say to those we love, how they are meant and how they are received. Brilliantly perceptive, moving, honest and real.

Finally from Orenda is This Is What It Means To Be Human. Veronica lives in Hull with her adult son Sebastian. Sebastian is on the autistic spectrum and in a lot of ways acts the same way he did when he was small, even continuing to attend his childhood swimming club. However, there is one new interest in his life; Sebastian wants to have sex and although he is quite humorous in the way he expresses this, it is a natural urge. Usually Veronica helps with his hobbies, but she doesn’t know what to do with this one. After fruitless visits to their GP and a sexual health clinics, Veronica considers an escort. Could this be the answer to Sebastian’s prayers? This is a brilliantly ground breaking book that shows disabled people do have sex. You will laugh and cry at Sebastian’s quest to find a partner and Veronica’s realisation that her son is becoming a man. This really is am incredible novel from a writer at the peak of her skills.

This is a truly exceptional novel, one I’m sure I’ll read again and again. Ruth is struggling for direction in life and thinks she has chosen a path with Alex – a married man who left his wife and children to live with her in her tiny flat. Yet it doesn’t feel like the right fit. Can Ruth end the relationship knowing the havoc caused to Alex’s family? Yet she can’t remain, knowing this wasn’t what she expected. She takes a drastic decision, to leave London and work in a whale sanctuary in New Zealand. However, during her flight the unthinkable happens, Europe is wiped out in some sort of nuclear event that is also on its way down under. Ruth tries to find her destination and ends up on a beach, with a dying stranded whale and a man called Nik. Miraculously saved by climbing inside the whale, Ruth knows they are possibly the last people on earth. This book is extraordinary, not just the post-apocalypse survival story but the examination of love. Is it flowery exclamations or simply working together every day, them waking up one day with the realisation you’re a team and you couldn’t live without each other. It’s also about our definition of ‘self’ and who we are when everything we know and love is stripped away. I absolutely love this stunning novel and expect it to feature in my best books of 2021.

After my love of Elizabeth Buchan’s previous novel The Museum of Broken Promises, I was really excited about reading this on NetGalley. It follows two British women, living and working in Rome; one in the 1970’s as Italy is struggling out of fascism and one in the present day. Lottie has moved to Rome to live with her husband and work at the Archivo Espatriati. Her first job is to catalogue the papers of a woman called Nina Lawrence who worked in Rome in the 1970s as a garden designer, redesigning some of the gardens ruined by war. However, it seems that Nina is a woman of secrets and once Lottie starts to unravel her life and murder, she finds she may be in danger herself, attracting the attention of spies and the Catholic Church alike. The descriptions of Italy, and it’s incredible food, are vividly brought to life by the author and it’s a great chance to enjoy the Eternal City, However, the novel also asks serious questions, about where we belong, whether we drift through life or whether we make decisions based on a deep sense of duty to our religion, our family and our country. I think this novel cements Elizabeth Buchan as a ‘go to’ author for her sense of place, interesting and complicated women, and her wonderful historical detail.

I was absolutely enthralled by this great thriller from one of my favourite authors Lisa Jewell. In fact I read it in a weekend as a treat. Sophie and Shaun haven’t been together very long, but when he gets a teaching job at the exclusive private school Maypole House she decides to move out to the country with him. As a crime writer she can work anywhere, but she soon sniffs out a real-life mystery on her new doorstep. One year ago, in the woods behind their new house, Sophie learns that a young couple disappeared after a party. When she finds a buried box in her garden with the invitation to ‘Dig Here’, she can’t resist and unearths an engagement ring. Now she’s determined to find out what happened to young couple Tallulah and Zach, destined for a night in the pub, only to end up at a party at Dark Place – an historic house, situated in the woods. How did they end up with Scarlett Jacques and her friends when neither of them knew her. Mum Kim knows Tallulah would never have voluntarily left her baby, and neither would Noah. Yet neither of them have ever been found. Rumours abound about secret tunnels in the woods and they’re not the only twists and turns in this great thriller, along with a few red herrings and a totally unexpected ending. This book is ‘stay up till 3am’ sort of addictive.

An excellent thriller, filled with childhood trauma, psychological problems and the dynamics between people damaged in this way. Over two timelines we follow Nell in her final year of foster care and in a group home run by foster mum Meagan Flack, then one year later, living on the street in London. There’s a secret, deep down, that Nell can’t share or talk about, but it was the catalyst for her move to London with Joe. However Joe hasn’t weathered a winter on the streets as well as Nell, and when she discovers him entering a house with a blonde woman, she wants to know where he’s been, Nell observes Starling Villas from the coffee shop across the road. She doesn’t see Joe, but notices a young woman leaving the house and heading for a coffee. Thinking on her feet, Nell pretends to be in recruitment and when the girl opens up about the job at the house she concocts a story. Telling the girl her would- be employer is known to sexually harass his staff, she then poses as a potential employee and meets Robin, owner of the house. Now starts a game of cat and mouse, but who is the real predator? This is a great thriller, trying to solve two mysteries – what happened back in Wales a year ago and where are Joe and the blonde woman? Fragile is complex and atmospheric, exploring what happens when psychologically damaged people come together.

This was a book I’d been waiting to read – historical fiction with a focus on the treatment of women and those with mental health issues. Eugénie is the daughter in a middle class Parisian family, who has a very strong affinity with her grandmother. However, Eugénie has been keeping a secret from her whole family; since adolescence she has seen and been able to communicate with the dead. Trusting her grandmother, she confides in her about the presence of her grandfather who wishes to communicate with his wife. Despite seeming calm about Eugénie’s gift, the very next day her father takes her out in the carriage alongside her brother Theo, This is no ordinary outing. As the infamous Saltpétrière Asylum looms into view, she realises her grandmother has betrayed her and that the two men she should be able to trust most in the world are committing her to an asylum. Saltpétrière is run by Dr Charcot who has enthralled Paris society with his use of mesmerism on the women in his care. Coming up is the highlight of Paris’s season – the MadWomen’s Ball – where patients are given costumes to appear in for the amusement and fascination of the Paris elite. This is a book about women and the barbaric ways they could be treated and displayed, at the behest of the men in their family who have found them either mad, too intelligent, too excitable or struck with melancholy. I loved the strong female characters in the asylum, and the complicated relationship between Eugénie and Geneviéve. The novel’s strength is in these fascinating women and the way they defy the rules.

It’s been a very busy reading month with thirteen other books read over the last four weeks! Here are just a few of the books on my TBR in July. I’m hoping to have a quieter August and September so I can catch up on my NetGalley list and some great proof copies sent in the last few weeks. See you in July. Hayley xx

Posted in Netgalley

Violeta Among The Stars by Dulce Maria Cardoso.

I think this beautiful novel was sent to me at the right time. Two things have happened lately. I’ve had a relapse of my long term illness Multiple Sclerosis, and it has affected my sight, balance and vertigo. Secondly, I’ve been reading several books where the central theme is that even small lives can be extraordinary or have a huge effect in the world. I think the two things are linked, because I’m a big believer in finding the right book at the right time. When I don’t have a groaning TBR bookcase, I tend to choose my reading very emotionally. What do I feel like reading? I can’t understand readers who are able to read books in chronological order, whatever the subject or however they’re feeling. I really have to be in the mood. It took me several years to read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, but when I did I absolutely loved it. I think this is the reason many bookworms have buckling shelves – we know we’ll want to read that new book, just not right now. Well, this book was the right one for right now – a look at how the ordinary life of one woman, becomes extraordinary because of the way it is told. A reminder for me that though I may live a quiet and often restricted existence, I can still have an impact on the world.

This particular novel is unique, because it carries a whole lifetime suspended in a single moment. Violeta is drunk and in utter despair when she crashes her car. As she’s thrown around in the car, her seat belt locks and she’s left suspended both physically and metaphorically. As she hangs between life and death, memories of her life flash before her all at once and in no particular order. Memories of her distant mother collide with her everyday life on the road selling waxing products. She remembers moments fumbling on toilet floors with truck drivers she barely knows at motorway service stations. A thousand seemingly ordinary encounters pass through her mind and make up a life. Her past comes up for scrutiny, culminating in how she sacrificed the dreams she had for adolescent relationships that simply let her down. Through this poetic meditation, an ordinary life becomes epic.

This whole book is written as a stream of consciousness so don’t expect tidy chronological memories or carefully constructed sentences. This is one, long paragraph without punctuation, cleverly keeping the reader hanging in the same position as the author. This is a raw examination of the ‘self’, how it is constructed and whether it is ever a constant, unchanging thing. Or is it more like Frankenstein’s creature? Hastily stitched from parts of our parents, our experiences, and those things we like and dislike. An ever changing collage rather than a single, fixed identity. Memories weave in and out of each other, past and present collide and sentences drift away unfinished. We are listening in on Violeta’s inner thoughts so they are never censored or tidy. This is a troubled woman. She’s at war with her family, her own body and her own anonymous sexual conquests. Yet, even though there’s no real structure or plot, we start to understand her. She has an incredible sense of humour and there is a feminist element too, particularly the way we wage war on body hair – Violeta sells waxing products. There’s also the open expression of sexuality, when young she would experiment with local boys and age now visits truck stops for anonymous sexual with strangers. What is transgressive about these encounters, is that the narrator’s active sex life should not be available to a fat woman. I’m a bigger woman, we’re not meant to be attractive in our imperfect bodies. Yet, just like Violeta, I’ve never had a problem finding someone to have sex with. Men are not meant to want sex with fat women, but the truth is, they do.

However, it’s not just other people and our identity under scrutiny. The physical world and concept of time also shifts around us; the reader’s perception of this world expands alongside Violeta. She stands beside us. She experiences the world around her as layers of time, shown in time-slip moments such as when she recalls the previous day’s meal at a restaurant, but simultaneously remembers visiting the shop when it was a hair salon, alongside her mother. Places and people exist simultaneously in the past and future, something I can definitely understand as I get older. Violeta awoke a fire in me. I had a few moments full of emotion and kinship for those bigger women who accept being the butt of a joke, feel inadequate or even hate their bodies so much they accept the abuse meted out by others. There are elements of the book that are painful, especially when we read about her childhood. This goes some way to explaining the detachment we see in the interactions with her own daughter, highlighting the concept of inter-generational pain. I’ve never read a book like this one, especially the structure and the leaps from poetry to philosophy. It reminds me of another book I recently read, where the author attempts to grasp what it is to be a human being. A wonderful, occasionally dark, but unusual look at life from the perspective of someone whose life is, quite literally, hanging in the balance.


suddenly


I should have stayed at home, I should have stayed at home, I should have stayed at home, for some time, seconds, hours, I can do nothing,


suddenly I stop

Posted in Rachels Random Resources

Being Netta Wilde by Hazel Ward.

An uplifting story of love, loss and second chances that celebrates friendship and human connections.

Netta Wilde was all the things Annette Grey isn’t. Netta Wilde was raw, unchecked and just a little bit rebellious. She loved The Clash and she loved being Netta Wilde.

Annette Grey is an empty, broken woman who hardly knows her own children. Of course, it’s her own fault. She’s a bad mother. An unnatural mother. At least, that’s what her ex-husband tells her.

The one thing she is good at …

the one thing that stops her from falling …

is her job.

When the unthinkable happens, Annette makes a decision that sets her on a journey of self-discovery and reinvention. Along the way, her life is filled with friends, family, dogs, and jam. Lots of jam.

Suddenly anything seems possible. Even being Netta Wilde again.

But, is she brave enough to take that final step when the secrets she keeps locked inside are never too far away?

I chose to read this novel, purely because I am a middle-aged woman who looks back to the nineties from time to time and wonders what would that girl think of who I am now? I still wear floral dresses, Doc Marten boots and big slouchy cardigans. I still listen to the same music sometimes, go to gigs and read, constantly. Of course there are times I think I’ve lost myself – that underneath the avalanche of life experience I’ve taken on a different shape. There are times life has been so difficult I haven’t been able to find the girl I was. I’m at my happiest when I’m close to her. When I feel we’re still connected. The times when I can’t find her and I feel completely lost, she’s still there. She never really goes away.

Annette Gray doesn’t know that. She thinks she’s lost her self. She’s become drab, miserable and as Gray as her name suggests. I thought it was clever to create a structure where the actual story feels dull and slow, just as Annette does. It just didn’t come alive at first. Then I realised what the author was doing. As we see flashbacks to her university days they do come alive like the bit in Wizard of Oz where Dorothy wakes from her black and white world to glorious technicolour. It isn’t surprising that she feels so drained. Under the pressure of a terrible marriage where all of her confidence was eroded, it was no surprise to me that she had lost herself. Colin, thankfully now her ex-husband, is unfortunately still playing a huge role in her life. Not only is he a spiteful bully, he has conditioned his children to treat their mother the same way. While working she has footed the bill for their life, while never getting chance to see her children or even put across what life was life was like for her. Even now they’re grown up, their Dad still influences how they feel about her.

When Netta is made redundant I worried that this was another setback for her and when Colin starts complaining about his hand-outs I worried she would crumble. However, this is where the book really does take on some colour and Annette Gray starts to find her inner Netta Wilde again. I loved the joy she found at the foodbank and the new friends she makes there. She also has time for a new hobby that brings her happiness and self-fulfilment – jam making. As a jam maker, I know the satisfaction that comes from a completed batch on the pantry shelf. Like Sophie’s mum in Peep Show, I like to give my batches quirky names that remind me of when I made them – Blair Resignation Plum and Downton Abbey Zingy Damson being two from my shelves! This new lease of life and financial upheaval really opens Netta’s eyes. She can no longer afford to subsidise Colin or her children the way she has, and when she realises she’s been taken for a ride, even more revelations come to light that made me furious. I was dying for the children to realise what a thoroughly unpleasant man Colin is. I also wanted them to see the real person Netta was, someone willing to give up her home to live more simply so she could look after others. Her fellow volunteers at the foodbank really do rally round and become the family she’s been missing for so long.

I think many women lose each themselves, because of the expectation that we’re the caregivers in life. Not just for children, but for elderly parents, disabled siblings and sick spouses. Instead of rebelling, we internalise this and blame ourselves for our rebellious and ‘unnatural’ feelings if we don’t want to do it. Often we don’t even stop and ask ourselves if the men in our family and of our age have the same expectations placed upon them. I think the book captures an experience familiar to many middle aged women. It is peopled with great characters and has a real sense of someone awakening to who they want to be for the next chapters of their life. Someone who’s still a little bit Netta Wilde of yesteryear, but brought bang up to date. The Netta Wilde for now.

Meet The Author

Hazel Ward was born in a back-to-back house in inner city Birmingham. By the time the council knocked the house flat and packed her family off to the suburbs, she was already something of a feral child who loved adventures. Swapping derelict houses and bomb pecks for green fields and gardens was a bit of a culture shock but she rose to the occasion admirably and grew up loving outdoor spaces and animals. Especially dogs, cats and horses. 

Strangely, for someone who couldn’t sit still, she also developed a ferocious reading habit and a love of words. She wrote her first novel at fifteen, along with a lot of angsty poems, and was absolutely sure she wanted to be a writer. Sadly, it all came crashing down when her seventeen-year-old self walked out of school after a spot of bother and was either too stubborn or too embarrassed to go back. It’s too long ago to remember which.  What followed was a series of mind-numbingly dull jobs that paid the bills but did little to quell the restlessness inside. 

Always a bit of a smart-arse, she eventually managed to talk herself into a successful corporate career that lasted over twenty years until, with the bills paid and the children grown up, she was able to wave it all goodbye and do the thing she’dalways wanted to do. While taking a fiction writing course she wrote a short story about a lonely woman who was being made redundant. The story eventually became her debut novel Being Netta Wilde.

Hazel still lives in Birmingham and that’s where she does most of her writing. When she’s not there, she and her partner can be found in their holiday home in Shropshire or gadding about the country in an old motorhome. Not quite feral anymore but still up for adventures. 

Social Media Links – 

https://hazelwardauthor.com

https://www.facebook.com/hazelwardauthor

https://twitter.com/hazelward

https://www.instagram.com/hazel.ward

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrmdeA7DKEXhrj6n


Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Being-Netta-Wilde-Hazel-Ward-ebook/dp/B0947351XQ

US – https://www.amazon.com/Being-Netta-Wilde-Hazel-Ward-ebook/dp/B0947351XQ

Posted in Random Things Tours

Everything Happens For a Reason by Katie Allen.

Mum-to-be Rachel did everything right, but it all went wrong. Her son, Luke, was stillborn and she finds herself on maternity leave without a baby, trying to make sense of her loss.

When a misguided well-wisher tells her that “everything happens for a reason”, she becomes obsessed with finding that reason, driven by grief and convinced that she is somehow to blame. She remembers that on the day she discovered her pregnancy, she’d stopped a man from jumping in front of a train, and she’s now certain that saving his life cost her the life of her son.

Desperate to find him, she enlists an unlikely ally in Lola, an Underground worker, and Lola’s seven-year-old daughter, Josephine, and eventually tracks him down, with completely unexpected results…

Both a heart-wrenchingly poignant portrait of grief and a gloriously uplifting and disarmingly funny story of a young woman’s determination, Everything Happens for a Reason is a bittersweet, life- affirming read and, quite simply, unforgettable.

When I first talked to Karen Sullivan at Orenda about this incredible book – part of the Jubilant June publishing event – she told me I would cry but I would love it. She was right. I did cry. I cried buckets. I did love it too. This novel reminded me so much about my own loss. I cried for Rachel, I cried for the author, and I cried for anyone who has suffered this terrible loss. Mostly, and selfishly, I cried for myself. I do know the profound sense of loss Rachel goes through, because I lost three pregnancies, one with twins, when I was in my twenties. Of course these were miscarriages, not full term pregnancies, and as someone once tactfully told me ‘better to lose them earlier, than to actually have to give birth, or to have your baby die after a few days’ as if we were playing some sort of ‘Grief Top Trumps’. I was told many things in the months after each miscarriage: there was probably something wrong with the baby; we don’t always understand God’s plans; maybe it wasn’t meant to be. People don’t say these things because they’re malicious. They say these things because they don’t know what to say and silence seems unacceptable. The most useful thing anyone said was from the nurse who discharged me the first time. I was so traumatised by the past 24 hours I was staring ahead, not really seeing and not really listening. She touched my hand and said ‘it isn’t your fault, remember that’.

However, as it happened again and again, I did feel guilty and wracked my brain looking for things I might have done wrong. Rationally I knew it was not my fault, but I wasn’t always rational. Was this to do with my MS? Did I take a tablet I shouldn’t? Should I have helped in the charity shop sorting and labelling clothes, moving boxes? I wasn’t trying for a baby so was it the lack of vitamins? No folic acid? My body felt like such an inhospitable place. It was already attacking itself, now it was attacking my babies. Is it because I shouldn’t be a mum? Did I have a right to bring a baby into my already imperfect world, with my imperfect body? My brain switched off. My heart broke. I was told I had incomplete miscarriages, the baby dies but doesn’t ‘come away’. I then had to read and sign a clinical form that referred to my baby as the ‘products of conception’ and was headed ‘Consent for Termination’. My guilt clicked in again. What if they were wrong and I was killing my baby? To really complete the trauma I contracted an infection after my third miscarriage, and the doctor who had to examine and admit me to hospital actually slapped me on my bare leg because I wasn’t moving fast enough. I felt like my body wasn’t mine anymore. It broke my relationship. It took me on a long, painful journey of finding out that becoming a Mum was going to be more difficult for me because I had Hughes Syndrome, a clotting abnormality. It would be so difficult that I had to choose my own mental health over becoming a mother. I couldn’t make sense of what I’d done wrong to deserve this, on top of my other disabilities.

This is all our central character, Rachel, is trying to do. She wants to make sense of why her baby, Luke, died. She latches onto a platitude and weaves a story around it. If everything does happen for a reason, what could that reason be? Then she thinks of that fateful day when she stopped a stranger from jumping in front of a train, the same day she found out she was pregnant. What if he’d been meant to die? Then, because he was saved, someone else had to die in his place. It’s not clear if she truly believes this, or whether she has to think a greater purpose is at play, because if Luke’s death is without a reason she will fall into the abyss. So, we follow her search for the man she saved. Maybe if she sees him making the most of his second chance at life, she can accept her loss. There is, of course, sadness and grief on the journey, but there’s also humour and the hope that Rachel will work through the worst of her loss and find some peace and acceptance in this awful situation.

The writer is incredibly courageous to take her experiences and lend them to Rachel for the purposes of the novel. As we follow her ‘non-maternity leave’ she tells her story with such a frank, raw, and brutal honesty. This could be a difficult read for someone only just going through the same experience, but for me, I felt like someone had finally seen the pain I was carrying. I would no longer have to stand in the Post Office queue, watching people going about their business, with a terrible inner urge to scream ‘my baby died’. Rachel’s story is told through a series of emails addressed to the son she’s lost. In this private correspondence she can express her worst fears and nothing is left unsaid. There is also a sense for her, that she can send them somewhere; that somehow, Luke can see them. The authenticity of this stream of consciousness can only be achieved by letting us delve deeply into Rachel’s feelings and state of mind. It seems so authentic, because it is. Katie has delved into her very soul for this novel and welcomed us in. I can’t thank her enough. I admire her enormously. It inspires me to keep going, to keep writing my own story.

The fact that this is Rachel’s world means that everyone we meet, we can only see through her eyes. I really enjoyed some of these characters and they do bring balance to a tough story by creating some of the lighter, more humorous moments. Josephine, the daughter of a woman who helps Rachel in her search, has an offbeat humour that I really enjoyed. She really doesn’t have the ability to filter her thoughts before they come out of her mouth, and while that’s always funny, it can also be very insightful in a quirky way. The author has a unique ability to affect the reader’s emotions in one way and then switch them round again very quickly. Rachel’s family mean well when they help and hope she can ‘move on’ from her grief. Some don’t fully understand her quest and want the very best for her. I found myself understanding their confusion and agreeing with their wish that she heals emotionally. The next second I’d be furious, because something has been said that’s so glaringly insensitive. I’d want to turn the air blue with a few ‘F’ words.

I know I have rambled about my own experiences here and maybe I haven’t said enough about why you should read the book. However, I can honestly say this is the book about the loss of a baby, and the chance to be a mother, that is the most authentic I have ever read. I felt represented by this story and by this talented debut author. It’s unique structure, it’s rawness and ability to plumb the depths of despair, while still making you laugh and dare to hope, is simply extraordinary. It is beautifully written and captures our human need to make sense of something that is senseless. No one should be told how to grieve. Each person, and each individual loss is different. We humans find it difficult to accept that some life-experiences have no explanations or answers. When we can’t find meaning, we create it. So, we tell each other stories.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Karen at Orenda for putting this book in front of me months ago, then waiting patiently for my response. I’d also like to thank Anne Cater for letting me ramble like this on the blog tour.

Meet The Author

Everything Happens for a Reason is Katie’s first novel. She used to be a journalist and columnist at the Guardian and Observer, and started her career as a Reuters correspondent in Berlin and London. The events in Everything Happens for a Reason are fiction, but the premise is loosely autobiographical. Katie’s son, Finn, was stillborn in 2010, and her character’s experience of grief and being on maternity leave without a baby is based on her own. And yes, someone did say to her ‘Everything happens for a reason’.
Katie grew up in Warwickshire and now lives in South London with her husband, children, dog, cat and stick insects. When she’s not writing or walking children and dogs, Katie loves baking, playing the piano, reading news and wishing she had written other people’s brilliant novels.

Posted in Publisher Proof

The Lock-In by Phoebe Luckhurst.

Ellen and Alexa have survived hangovers, dodgy landlords and most of their twenties together.

But can they survive this?

After waking up with a terrible hangover, Ellen’s day is about to get much worse. It’s Saturday morning and a flooded kitchen leads best friends Ellen and Alexa into their attic looking for a stopcock. Their scream, after finding a mouse, leads their friend and housemate Jack up there too. But when Ben – Alexa’s date from the night before – walks in, the handle breaks, and all are trapped.

While Ellen nurses her hangover, she watches her best friend fall for this gorgeous stranger. Only to come to the horrifying realisation that she knows him from somewhere. Frantically searching her memories, Ellen wonders: is Ben really who she thinks he is?

And more importantly, what on earth is she going to do about it . . . ?

This is a fun rom-com and one of those deceptively light novels, that’s actually very difficult to write. It feels light-hearted and restricts the characters to one space – an attic within their shared home. I need a wee every five minutes, so I’d have ransacked every box in the attic for something to force the door open! I can’t possibly wee in a room with strangers! On a more serious note, the attic is a great dramatic device because it heightens tensions and seeing how that affects characters, is so interesting.

To create a good sense of the shifting perspectives in the room, the author gave each character their own narrative in the novel. It worked brilliantly because we could get a sense of how the existing relationships in the house worked, and how Ben’s presence changed that dynamic. It gave us different perspectives on what was happening too – who is panicking, who is a natural leader in a group, who comes up with creative solutions to the situation they’re in? It also showed how Alex’s presence with a man, a man she seems to be falling for, affects the others. When friends fall in love we’re happy for them, it’s a good thing, but will it change our relationship with them? Is the beginning of their relationship, necessarily the end of an era as single twenty-somethings sharing a home? I felt for Jack, who feels like an outsider in the house. Everything about him told me he was a warm-hearted and kind. Yet he seemed shy and a little bit awkward to. My heart went out to him.

There were some times I felt so old and I’m also completely out of touch with urban Iiving. I’m 47 years old and I’ve lived in a rural county my whole life. There were many references lost on me. Their teenage years may well have been spent on MSN messenger, mine was spent drinking on a riverbank and dancing in a psychedelic hoody to the Happy Mondays. My teenage years are pre-internet, which makes me feel prehistoric. I enjoyed the stories of internet dating, but my dates had to run the gauntlet of my Dad and suffer stifled, anxious, phone calls taking place in our living room with my whole family listening. I’ve heard stories of terrible landlords from friends who have lived in London, but here no one can afford to rent anything till they’re in their thirties. So I had to enjoy this as an amused older generation, learning about the world as it is now or might be for my stepdaughters (although that’s slightly worrying).

This is a great summer read, if you’re looking for something light-hearted with characters you’ll enjoy stuck in a very awkward situation. It’s a very modern room-com, bringing the genre bang up to date with some good laughs along the way.

Meet The Author


Phoebe Luckhurst is a journalist and author, who has written for publications including the Evening Standard, ES Magazine, ELLE, Grazia, Sunday Times Style, Guardian, Telegraph and Grazia. The Lock In is her first novel, and she is currently writing her second.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Sleepless by Romy Hausmann.

Reading this book was a little like trying to get a knot out of a necklace chain, it seems impossible to unravel, until suddenly one move loosens it and the whole thing unknots very quickly. Our central character, Nadja Kulka, was convicted for a terrible crime in her native Poland, many years ago. Now she’s out of prison she’s looking for the simple everyday things that others have: a job, a nice flat to live in and eventually a few friends. She just wants a ‘normal’ life. She does make one friend. Laura Von Hoven is her boss’s wife and a beautiful woman, who’s very free spirited. When she asks for Nadja’s help, of course she wants to give her friend a hand. However, Laura has killed someone and wants Nadja’s help to conceal the body. Nadja doesn’t feel like she can refuse, showing how her earlier trauma, from the original crime and punishment, has affected her emotionally. She’s full of anxiety, awkward with people and easily talked into bad ideas. Nadja isn’t a likeable character at first, there’s a stand-offish, prickly sort of manner she has that keeps people at a distance. Yet, underneath these defences, she’s vulnerable and naive. When they find the perfect place to hide the crime, an abandoned cabin in the woods, the rest seems easy. However, their seemingly simple plan falls apart and Nadja finds herself in a game of cat and mouse. It’s a deadly game and one that’s stacked against Nadja, because she’s the perfect murderer as well as a perfect victim.

I was very disorientated at first by the disparate strands of this complex thriller. We have three separate narratives, two different narrators plus a set of letters that don’t sound like they belong. I thought there were three different people here, because the author of the letters feels different to the others. Unlike her novel Dear Child, these separate threads feel a long way apart and it’s impossible to make them diverge into one clear narrative. I found the chopping and changing too ‘bitty’. I would pick it up after a break and found I couldn’t pick up the thread without going and re-reading previous pages. It was only when I read a good third of the book that I really started to make sense of the story and these narrative voices clicked into place. However, after sitting back and thinking, I wondered if this confusion wasn’t deliberate? Haussmann doesn’t strike me as a writer who makes mistakes, I think her plotting and structure are very deliberate, so what is she trying to telling the reader with this complicated beginning?

In retrospect, I feel that the author likes to manipulate and control her readers. She was giving us the same experience as her characters, like we’re in the centre of a complicated web waiting for a spider to strike. I was exasperated with certain characters here and there, but I found myself willing Nadja to come out of this okay, despite her past and her faults. My advice is to keep reading; things become clearer and after that prepare to set aside a whole evening to finish the story in one go. The pace quickens, increasing the tension and rushing us towards a conclusion. By this point I was intensely invested in the characters and how this would play out. I wasn’t disappointed and Hausmann kept a few final twists in reserve, that I didn’t expect. This isn’t an easy read at first, but it’s clever and psychologically astute. I loved trying to work out who had the upper hand in the web of lies. So in the end, this book firmly places Hausmann as a must read author for me.

Meet The Author

Romy Hausmann was born in the former GDR in 1981. At the age of twenty-four she became chief editor at a film production company in Munich. Since the birth of her son, Romy has been working as a freelancer in TV. Dear Child is her thriller debut. She lives with her family in a remote house in the woods near Stuttgart.

Posted in Netgalley

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

There’s probably a word in another language that properly describes the weird combination of trepidation and excitement a bookworm feels when they see a second book coming. You see they loved the first one. It was different. With an incredible twist that no one saw coming! It was like seeing The Sixth Sense for the first time, being blown away, then wondering what M. Night Shymalan could possibly do to follow it? If this is what it likes for the reader, imagine the writer’s fear in following such a smash hit as Alex Michaelides’s The Silent Patient. It must have been incredible. So I approached The Maidens as if it was a piñata filled with bees!

The premise sounded interesting. Psychologist Mariana Andros is summoned to Cambridge University by her niece Zoe. It’s a place filled with memories for Mariana, because it’s where she met her late husband Sebastian. For Zoe it is now the place where her best friend Tara has been murdered. Zoe is very special to her aunt, because they are each other’s only family. They have been closer since the death of Sebastian, who drowned on a romantic holiday in the Greek Islands only a year ago. Mariana knows how desperate Zoe must feel, so cancels her group therapy clients and sets off to meet her in Cambridge, where she stays in university lodgings. Here she meets the charismatic and Byronic Professor Fosca who teaches Classical Philology. Mariana is disturbed by him and his habit of gathering together ‘special scholars’ who receive group tuition from him. They are called The Maidens – although whether this is Fosca’s invention or the girls we are never sure and, of course, each one of them is incredibly beautiful, including their missing member, Tara.

Zoe is convinced Fosca is behind the murder, but with no evidence except a strange feeling and dislike of his odd circle of academic groupies, nothing can be done. I had the feeling that this tutor was perhaps a genius in his field, but was socially awkward and unaware of societal norms. Did he think his maidens gave him an air of eccentricity perhaps? However, he was too obvious to be the real villain of the piece. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t guess the answer. Thankfully the book had a great pace and once it had it me hooked, I just couldn’t leave it alone. I read it in my car on the way to our holiday cottage, in the bath, and in the park. However, I still couldn’t possibly have guessed at the incredibly tense showdown at the end.

For me there were some negatives. I had difficulty connecting to the characters emotionally, especially Mariana who never fully came to life for me. The Greek tragedy element was clever, as quotes on postcards sent to the victims felt like clues to the killer’s identity. However, I was taught classics at school so these references were familiar to me and I wondered how this whole theme would be received for someone without any knowledge of Greek myths. I also felt that how Mariana inserted herself into the investigation was highly unlikely. However, I did enjoy the academic setting and I felt the author captured that sense of importance academics can have about their subject area. I thought the he represented academia well, like being in a bubble, living and breathing your passion. The murders punctured their way through this protective layer, bringing the real world into a rarefied way of life. The passing connection to The Silent Patient wasn’t needed, but did add an interesting aspect to the ending; I now have my own epilogue running in my head, following certain characters into that other fictional world.

I was disturbed by the visitation of a swan, described as having black eyes that bored right through Mariana. I wondered what this represented and thought of the famous Greek myth of Leda and the swan – where Zeus disguises himself as a swan in order to rape/seduce Leda who has no knowledge of the swan’s true identity. For me this conjured up ideas around love or infatuation being blind, loving and trusting someone who isn’t what they seem. What I loved most of all though, was perhaps linked to the swan. The author has created a therapist with all the skills of perception and understanding in her toolbox, but an inability to apply them in her own life. She loves those closest to her blindly, never seeing their true nature just as Leda only sees a swan. Swans are also our analogy for someone very serene on the surface, but masking anxiety or the great effort it takes to be present. Swans look beautifully calm and composed above the water and this reminded me of Mariana; the calm and stability is only skin deep. I thought the novel was part psychological suspense, part crime fiction, and part gothic novel, but it was definitely all thriller.

Meet The Author.


Alex Michaelides was born and raised in Cyprus. He has a MA in English Literature from Trinity College, Cambridge University, and a MA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. The Silent Patient was his first novel. It spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list and sold in a record-breaking 49 countries. He lives in London.

Posted in Random Things Tours

One Last Time by Helga Flatland.

Translated by Rosie Hedger.

I was utterly bowled over by this beautiful examination of life, death and how ordinary lives can be the most extraordinary of all. Our narrator, Anne, unexpectedly finds herself contemplating the end of her life, and so much sooner than expected, when she faces a diagnosis of colon cancer. Her husband Gustav has been hovering between two states for a number of years after several strokes slowly incapacitated him. His permanent disabilities started with paralysis of one of his arms and ending with all limbs affected and personality changes that are the hardest to cope with. With a heavy heart Anne has allowed their GP and hospital team to make the decision that Gustav should be placed in a nursing home. There’s a sense in which Anne had felt immune from further tragedy, as if Gustav had paid the price for them all. Meanwhile, we also meet Anne’s two grown-up children, Magnus and Sigrid. Sigrid is our second narrator and through her story we can see Anne in a different light, as a mother. However, we also see Sigrid as a mother and it’s on these relationships the book focuses; those complex emotions and connections between mothers and daughters.

Anne’s life has been a difficult and hard-working one. There’s been the farm she kept with Gustav in an isolated region of Norway, her job as teacher, the role of carer for Gustav, and her role as mother. From the outside looking in she’s an amazingly strong woman for whom fate has dealt a very rough hand. From the inside she sees herself as almost subsumed by the needs of other people, particularly Gustav, but has done the best job she could in very difficult circumstances. However, from Sigrid’s perspective, she allowed herself to be subsumed by Gustav’s needs at the expense of her children. Sigrid feels that her father listened to her, they would play records together from his vinyl collection and he took time to understand her. She feels her mother is distant at best and at worst, neglectful and selfish. We also see Sigrid’s own mothering skills, dealing with her teenage daughter Mia and the sudden return of Mia’s biological father Jens. The author takes us back to Sigrid’s rebellious teenage years, her pregnancy at 19 and Jens’s abandonment of her just before the Mia’s birth.

The author cleverly shows us how mother and daughter can see the same incident very differently. In a conversation about teaching in Norwegian in schools, Sigrid suddenly bursts out with:

I was so cold, freezing all through primary school, do you know what it was like, sitting through a whole day in class with wet socks, ice cold, not daring to take them off for fear someone might see?’

Anne is a bit stunned, but relates back to everything that was on her plate at the time. She was looking after Gustav, constantly making sacrifices:

‘You’re hardly the true victim in all this, I told her in as measured a tone as I could muster. She said nothing, waited a few seconds before getting up and leaving. I woke that night and remembered at least one occasion when Sigrid had been at high school and I had urged her to wear her boots, she had flown into a rage with me, stormed out the door and into the icy rain in her trainers and denim jacket’.

This is how mother and daughter speak to each other, in cross words with even more crossed wires, and bogged down with specifics. The overarching truth neither wishes to acknowledge is that Sigrid’s memories of her father are in a nostalgic past before she was seven years old. He will never grow old. He took up so much of her mother’s time that both Magnus and Sigrid fended for themselves on occasion. I felt so sad for Sigrid that her family forgot her birthday once or twice. However I also felt sad for Anne, who was dealt a rough hand in life and now has another in death. The time she’s had for herself is minimal, and the retirement she expected with her loving husband has been stripped away. There’s a deep sense of loss in Anne, from the family life she expected, her marriage, loss of a lover and of a warm, loving relationship with her daughter. She thinks back to those times she had supported Sigrid which don’t get mentioned. After Jens left, Anne collected a 19 year old Sigrid and took her back home for some much needed TLC and to have help after the birth. Sigrid isn’t angry with her Dad, she can’t be because he’s sick, so her anger is saved for Anne who for several years chose Gustav’s needs above those of her children.

Then, in turn, Sigrid is at crossed purposes with her own daughter. Jens has returned after sixteen years and is now the object of Mia’s affections. Sigrid feels for her partner Aslak, who has been there for both of them, since Mia was a small baby. She thinks she’s been a great Mum to Mia, never shirking responsibility or neglecting them. However, there are times Mia has felt stifled and there’s a way in which Sigrid’s need to control everything feels like anxiety to others. The author manages to convey how these parenting choices feel to the daughter. There are times when intention and result just miss each other by a hair’s breadth and I found this incredibly moving. It made me think about how I view my own mother and where I’ve been harsh in my assessment of her, but others might view things with more empathy. I found it interesting in light of her accusations about Anne’s parenting, that Sigrid feels it is Mia at fault in their misunderstandings. Mia’s reply is a real piece of wisdom and could have come from a therapist:

‘Isn’t it interesting how everyone else is always letting you down Mum?’

Helga Flatland writes so beautifully, that I was in the events of the book immediately and then carried into the very heart of this one ordinary family. She is a master at creating tension between people, finding those spaces between a conversation’s intent and how it’s received by the other person. I was desperately hoping for some sort of understanding between mother and daughter, before it was too late. I felt Sigrid needed that reconciliation even more than Anne. I loved the atmospheric feel of the country with its crispness underfoot, constant dusting of snow and all the hearty foods Anne mentions from elk to mutton, slow cooked and filling the house with delicious meaty casserole smells. I also loved the way she conveyed the closeness of a couple who live together, the way you know how their skin smells or what they’re going to say before they say it. I was so moved by Anne’s predicament of a much loved partner leaving you by slow degrees and how she would simply lie on the mattress next to Gustav hoping to regain some of that comfort she would get from his body. Most of all, her depiction of illness and deterioration is the best I’ve ever read and I’ve read a lot. Small losses, like medication changing the way the way someone smells, are actually huge because it takes them from the familiar to a complete stranger. She explores how illness suddenly demotes you from being in control of the smallest things in your life, like what you will eat for dinner or whether people will stay in your house. Who decides whether you need to be looked after and how? The way your body doesn’t belong to you anymore, or even feel and look like yours. People who once saw us as sexual beings, might cease to see us that way. Our bodies become a no-man’s land that people will fight and negotiate over, but rarely ask what we think, feel or need. This made the book incredibly moving, honest and real. This small family story is exquisite and truly special. You simply must read it.

Meet The Author

Helga Flatland is already one of Norway’s most awarded and widely read authors. Born in Telemark, Norway, in 1984, she made her literary debut in 2010 with the novel Stay If You Can, Leave If You Must, for which she was awarded the Tarjei Vesaas’ First Book Prize. She has written four novels and a children’s book and has won several other literary awards.


Her fifth novel, A Modern Family (her first English translation), was published to wide acclaim in Norway in August 2017, and was a number-one bestseller. The rights have subsequently been sold across Europe and the novel has sold more than 100,000 copies. One Last Time was published in Norway in 2020, where it topped the bestseller lists, and was shortlisted for the Norwegian Booksellers Award.