Posted in Random Things Tours

Lost Property by Helen Paris

It took me about five pages to be drawn into Dot Watson’s quirky world and her love for the lost property office in which she works for London Transport. If anything is lost, be it on a cab, bus or train this is where honest people bring their found items. Dot is like the backbone of the office and the other workers would be lost without her. A lover of proper procedure and organisation, Dot is the ‘go to’ employee for anyone starting work with the team, or just to answer a question about an item. Dot thinks lost things are very important, almost like an extension of that person. Their lost item can tell her a lot about the person they are and she fills the lost luggage tags with as much detail as possible so that they have the greatest chance of locating it. Dot believes that when a person is lost to us, their possessions can take us right back to the moment they were with us. When Mr Appleby arrives at the office to find his lost piece leather hold-all it is what the case contains that moves Dot. Inside is a tiny lavender coloured purse that belonged to his late wife and he carries it everywhere. Something inside Dot breaks for this lonely man and she is determined she will find his hold-all. Her search becomes both the driving force of Dot’s story and the key to unlocking her own memories.

Dot has been working at the lost property office for years, but it isn’t the life she expected to be living. In her early twenties, travel was her main driving force in life and she was living the dream in Paris. Being multi-lingual Dot had exciting plans to travel the world, but all her dreams come to a halt when her father dies suddenly and traumatically, by throwing himself in front of a train. Dot’s relationship with her father was complicated, as he doted on her and they spent a lot of time together. However, as the youngest child by some years and because she hero worshipped her father, she didn’t always see things clearly. There are secrets at the heart of the family, kept for all the right reasons, but causing misunderstanding and resentment. When her father died Dot rushed home, but the trauma of his death affects the whole family deeply and it seems to put Dot’s life on hold. Now her collection of travel guides are her window on the world she once wanted to explore, but she is firmly stuck in her mum’s flat and still working in a job that was once a stop gap. Her only other activity is her regular visit to her mum in the nursing home. While her sister lives further afield, she constantly rings Dot to remind her of things and get updates on their Mum. She is pressuring Dot to get the flat viewed and sold so their lives can start again, but Dot is avoiding her. To add to her family stress, Neil from work is promoted to be their manager and the changes he wants to bring in are also disturbing Dot. He wants to reduce the amount of time they keep items, but what if something goes to auction and they can’t get it back? Dot seems to freeze, staying in the lost property office at night and looking tirelessly for Mr Appleby’s hold-all.

Dot is such a sympathetic character. She’s funny, resourceful and actually quite formidable when at full strength. We go back and see a naïve young girl, for whom Daddy is the centre of the universe. They spend a huge amount of time together which she has always viewed as the result of having a special relationship. As she goes back its interesting to see how others viewed the same events, with totally different conclusions. Their family story is so sad and brings home to us the benefits of living in such a tolerant and open society today. If Dot has been viewing her life through the wrong lens, how will she cope when she finally sees it all? Dot thinks she’s weak, but she’s actually incredibly strong. Some of the things she goes through, not just in the past, but during her time sleeping at the property office are really traumatic. She will take more time to process it all, but I loved the author’s importance in the human power to change, to take stock and move forward with life. I think the writer has been clever in her debut novel to write a light, uplifting story, but with so many darker layers underneath. It’s a real accomplishment to imbue a character that could have become a caricature, with life and authenticity. I love her optimism too, leaving us with the knowledge that no matter what the trauma, we have the power to change ourselves and our lives for the better. I heartily recommend this book to other readers, but they must prepare to fall in love with it as I did.

Meet The Author


Helen Paris worked in the performing arts for two decades, touring internationally with her London-based theatre company Curious. After several years living in San Francisco and working as a theatre professor at Stanford University, she returned to the UK to focus on writing fiction. As part of her research for a performance called ‘Lost & Found’, Paris shadowed employees in the Baker Street Lost Property office for a week, an experience that sparked her imagination and inspired this novel.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The New Woman by Charity Norman.

I’ve been reading Charity Norman for several years and I never tire of the way she builds her characters, full of depth and complexity. She excels at revealing characters slowly, one layer at a time, and putting them in complicated emotional situations. This is one such example and despite being published in 2017 it seems very timely as debate rages about transgender rights on social media and in the news. This is a family drama, where we are brought into the seemingly idyllic life of Luke Livingstone. As we meet Luke, he’s seen as the perfect family man with a beautiful home in rural Oxfordshire and a solid career as a solicitor. He is respected as a pillar of the local community with a long standing marriage, as well as being a good father and grandfather. However, Luke has spent his whole life hiding a secret about who he is and he’s not sure he can keep it under wraps much longer. He has been hiding a truth about his identity and it’s such a fundamental truth that he knows disclosure will rock his business, his standing in the local community and will shock his family. He might become an outcast. Yet, he might have to destroy his image and the way others see him, if he’s to stop the slow destruction of his inner self. He has to become the person, the woman, he knows he truly is, whatever the cost. Luke is focusing on his eventual rise from the ashes and the rebuilding of his life, but first he must face the flames.

As the novel opens, Luke is so desperately unhappy he is considering suicide. Luckily, someone intervenes and sends him on a different path – the possibility of becoming the woman he is inside. He has always kept this feeling under wraps because of his parents and has now followed a very conventional path with his marriage to Eilish, fatherhood and now a grandparent to Nico. Now his parents are gone, he feels more free to pursue his own happiness, but that’s made harder when you know your own happiness will impact on your family. My heart went out to him, but also to Eilish who has loved and lived with this man for most of her life. Luke is a wonderfully sympathetic character and I can’t agree with some reviewers who have referred to him as ‘selfish’ for pursuing his own happiness. Luke was born in a different time, with more pressure to conform to society’s norms and values, as well as parents who were more traditional. As a young teenager, his feelings about his gender were only just growing and without transgender role models, either locally or on television, there’s no template for where to go and who to confide in. It would seem that he genuinely fell in love with his wife, rather than chose her specifically to conceal his true identity, and he still loves her, despite wanting to change gender.

The central dilemma is that in order to successfully birth his female identity, his male identity – the husband and father his family know and love – has to die. This is a slow bereavement process as they hear the news, then see their family member begin to dress as a woman, to take that identity into the world to be seen by work colleagues, family friends and his children’s friends. Just as this process is hard for Luke, it’s equally hard for the family – I loved the inclusion of a politically aware daughter, full of support for causes like equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community, but finding it a very different prospect when the person involved is her own father. She acknowledges her father’s rights in principle, but that doesn’t stop the feelings of hurt and loss she’s suffering. Similarly, I felt deeply for Eilish who is losing the man she loves, but has to ask herself the question of whether she has to lose the person she loves too. I’m not sure about the conclusion to their relationship, and I’d be interested in knowing how common it is in real life.

I thought this book was a fascinating read and really started me thinking about how it must feel to be in the wrong body, in a society that still expects us to conform to the established norm. It really did show what transgender people go through, just to be who they are. For me, Norman’s book avoided all the controversy and cancel culture we see going on in society today, by focusing in on Luke and his family. This is one character’s experience and doesn’t make assumptions or create a stereotypical experience. It isn’t negative about Luke’s experience either, the viewpoints belong to him or his family members and while they may be upset or shocked by his news as individuals, the overall narrative remains positive and non-judgemental which I loved. I know some will ask whether a fictionalised account is appropriate, because such controversial and complex stories are often best told by ‘own voice’ writers. However, I felt that the author had insight, whether that’s through personal experience or research. It is a book that started many conversations at home about the distinction between gender and sexuality, how it would feel to be Luke and the overwhelming fear that has kept him in his male identity in so long, and how it would feel if it was our Mum or Dad. Luke deserves to be who he truly is and in order to keep his family, he must continue to be a parent and grandparent as Lucia. It’s a book that challenges the reader’s own preconceptions and I love it when a book makes me think like this, plus it makes it a great book club choice. This was informative, absorbing, deeply moving and is a story that has stayed with me over the last four years.

Meet The Author.

Charity is the author of six novels. She was born in Uganda, brought up in draughty vicarages in the North of England and met her husband under a truck in the Sahara desert. She worked for some years as a family and criminal barrister in York Chambers, until, realising that her three children barely knew her, she moved with her family to New Zealand where she began to write.

After the Fall was a Richard & Judy and World Book Night title, The New Woman a BBC Radio 2 Book Club choice. See You in September (2017) was shortlisted for best crime novel in the Ngaio Marsh Awards. Her sixth, The Secrets of Strangers, was released on 7th May 2020 and is also a Radio 2 Book Club choice. 

Charity loves hearing from readers. Please visit her on facebook.com/charitynormanauthor or Twitter: @charitynorman1

Posted in Personal Purchase

Woman of a Certain Rage by Georgie Hall.

Recently life had a started to get on top of me a little bit. I felt overwhelmed; with my partner being unwell, my MS not coping with the heat, and several things in the house going wrong. The dishwasher flooded the kitchen, then two weeks later the washing machine did the same, but lifted the entire floor too. Finally, I emptied my bath water and came downstairs to find it had christened the kitchen island and we had a lovely new hole in the ceiling. I’m immune-compromised so I’m still avoiding crowds and wearing masks. Finally, there’s the effect of the menopause when dealing with all those things. I’m far more likely to burst into tears these days. Masks mean I sweat more – not just a little glow, I can look like I’ve just got out of the shower in ‘tropical moments’. Then my reading glasses steam up, but I can’t take them off because I can’t read anything. I’ve taken a short break from blog tours and deadlines to deal with some of this and spending some time reading exactly what I want. So, I’m on the couch, a cold flannel on my neck, with two fans pointing at me, as few clothes as I dare to wear, and an ice cold can of coke in my hand. I was browsing my NetGalley shelf when this title jumped out at me. It could not have been more apt.

Eliza feels like she’s going crazy. She’s emotional, keeps forgetting things, feels angry and she’s hot, oh so hot.

This is a smart and funny novel about love, life and a second shot at freedom for rebellious women of a certain age. Late for work and dodging traffic, Eliza is still reeling from the latest row with husband Paddy. Twenty-something years ago, their eyes met over the class divide in oh-so-cool Britpop London, but while Paddy now seems content filling his downtime with canal boats and cricket, Eliza craves the freedom and excitement of her youth. Fifty sounds dangerously close to pensionable: her woke children want to cancel her, a male motorist has just called her a ‘mad old bat’ and to cap it all her hormones are on the run. Who knew menopause was puberty’s evil older sister? But then a moment of heroism draws an unexpected admirer, and Eliza sets out to discover whether the second half of life can be a glass half full after all. She might suffer mental fog and night sweats – and have temporarily mislaid her waist – but this is her renaissance.

I bonded with Eliza immediately and not just because of the menopause. We’re a similar age, so I could identify with growing up in the Britpop era – I fell totally in love with Damon Albarn, a love which has lasted a lifetime. All of our references points were the same, and having inherited two beautiful stepdaughters in their tweens and teens I could really appreciate Eliza’s relationship with her daughter. I also have a strong relationship with an elderly dog. Menopause is causing tension in Eliza’s marriage, particularly annoying for her is the loss of libido. That deep connection she and Paddy once had seems to have gone, lost in the logistics of family life and life stresses around their finances. Eliza’s realisation that she’s becoming invisible has extended into her working life too. She has always wanted to be a stage actress, but her career has never really taken off. Now she’s getting less and less work, and aside from one Japanese tourist who thinks she’s Emma Thompson, she feels very under appreciated. She’s doing voice work, reading audiobooks mainly, plus has a side job showing people around properties for a local estate agent. All of the everyday stresses in her life – marriage, family tensions mixed with financial concerns, having ‘woke’ children, her youngest son who is on the spectrum – leave her feeling exhausted. Into this low point steps a handsome Italian restauranteur, who happens to have taken over her family’s favourite bistro from his uncle. Exuding charm from every pore, he flatters Eliza and makes her feel desirable when of late she’s felt men’s eyes pass over her and to her teenage daughter. It’s like one big ‘hormotional’ perfect storm and I wondered whether anyone would come out of it unscathed.

It’s easy to love Eliza; she’s loving, caring, vivacious and witty. However, her husband Paddy grew on me too and I felt a great deal of empathy for his own middle aged struggles. There is growing evidence of male menopause, despite society being largely dismissive and calling it a ‘midlife crisis’. Jokes about middle-aged men trying to recapture their youth with hair transplants, sports cars and unwise affairs with younger women are still commonplace. Yet the NHS recognises a group of symptoms similar to those experienced by women – irritability, insomnia, weight gain, loss of muscle mass, erectile dysfunction, loss of libido and memory problems. Some doctors have questioned whether these are symptoms of a loss of testosterone, but the NHS classify it as a psychological syndrome characterised by increased levels of depression and raised anxiety amongst men in their late forties and fifties. Paddy is definitely going through something like this, but he has had a lot to contend with. His father’s death and the loss of the narrow boat they worked on together hit him hard. Eliza’s family bought the boat so he could still work on it, but that brings its own guilt and shame because Paddy could not afford to do this himself and run it. His wife earns more than he does and she’s starting acting like a crazy person. He thinks her loss of libido is down to him being a failure as a man. This book hinges on the fact that problems occur when couples stop communicating.

The author really pitched this book perfectly, balanced between the serious issues and the comic moments. Her other characters were well rounded, with interesting quirks to their personalities or hidden depths. I thought her sister was an infuriating superwoman who could juggle everything perfectly, but when she cooked Sunday dinner she was in a complaining, sweaty, heap like I am on Sundays! Her mum had depths of hidden wisdom and despite never seeming to ask, had a pretty accurate idea of what was going on. I found Eliza’s daughter infuriating though. She was very preachy and deeply committed to social justice and women’s rights. Despite agreeing with her in some cases I found her speeches annoying and the long Shakespeare quotes pretentious. I think this is how the author intended her though. She was an exaggeration of my stepdaughter’s generation and I could see a lot of our 15 year old in Summer’s causes and the way she spoke. I think the youngest son’s autism was handled well too. When she found out the real reason he wouldn’t use his allocated transport to get to school I was heartbroken for him. All anyone wants is for someone to understand them and listen to how it feels, rather than dismissing them with a lazy stereotype or the ableism on show here. The final adventure was both funny and poignant, and I left the book feeling like I’d been seen and acknowledged. I also had a huge smile on my face, because it had really lifted my spirits, so much so that I would really love another instalment of Eliza and her family in the future.