Posted in Publisher Proof

The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell

Ever since reading Lisa Jewell’s novel The Family Upstairs I’ve been hoping she’d write a sequel. The book was certainly satisfying as a standalone, but the characters were so complex and their situation so traumatic I was certain it would bubble up to the surface sooner or later. Detective Samuel Owusu thinks the same, when human remains are found washed up on the banks of the Thames by a mud lark. When he sends the bones for forensic examination it’s clear that she was murdered; there’s an injury to the skull that could only have come from blunt force trauma. The other clue from the bag is a mulch of leaves, unusual ones for London, taking him to a mansion house in Chelsea. There, thirty years ago, three people were found dead in a kitchen and upstairs was an unharmed baby girl with a rabbit’s foot tucked into her cot. The clues are pointing to two missing teenagers, Henry and Lucy Lamb, belonging to two of the deceased. Yet, neighbours had said they hadn’t seen the children for years. We follow DCI Owusu’s investigation, but also this missing brother and sister who are doing some investigating of their own. They’re looking for a third teenager, Phinneas Thomsen, son of the third deceased adult and also a resident of the Chelsea mansion, hoping he can make sense of their childhood. Why was the Thames body separate from the other three and what was her link to the adults living there? The house has just sold for over seven million pounds and it’s owner is a young woman called Libby, so she must be their first port of call. This is just the first step in untangling a very dark web of trauma, murder and a family who have tried to bury secrets that just won’t stay dead.

Lisa Jewell really is the master of this domestic noir genre. She could have plodded along, unravelling secrets from long ago and it would still have been a very good book. However, she doesn’t take the easy option, she chooses to introduce new characters and storylines that are equally compelling and link into to the Cheyenne Walk mystery. As well as Samuel, Henry and Lucy narrating the story, we have a woman called Rachel narrating a present day storyline too. Rachel is a jeweller, just waiting for a big store to pick up her designs and thrust her work into the limelight. After years of dating and not finding the one, she meets a man called Michael who seems almost perfect for her. He is attractive, attentive, wealthy and seems available emotionally, which makes a change from other men she’s dated. He’s been married before, to a woman he met while she was busking in France and he was staying at his home in Antibes. Rachel doesn’t really pry into his past and all Michael volunteers is that she was musical and ‘a nightmare.’ Her name was Lucy. In a whirlwind, Rachel and Michael get married and she’s of an age where people don’t tend to take you aside and ask if its all moving a bit fast. Perhaps friends are just glad that this has finally happened for her and her father seems happy for her too, believing Michael to be that rare thing – an older, unmarried, great bloke. On honeymoon, amongst the rose petal strewn sheets and days spent reading by the ocean, Rachel thinks she might suggest a bit of fun in the bedroom. She’s happy with vanilla sex, but wonders if some light BDSM games might bring variety. She unpacks some special underwear, some ties and a leather whip and is looking forward to a fun night, but Michael looks embarrassed, then furious. He flies into a rage, accusing her of having no class, sleeping around and ruining their honeymoon. Rachel is bewildered as he storms off to sleep separately and refuses to talk about it. All she can hope is that he calms down, but she is starting to feel like she must apologise, although she doesn’t really know why. How can she return from her honeymoon and tell anyone her husband is disgusted by her?

I loved how these four narratives were interwoven, because they cleverly show us how abuse in all it’s forms leaves it’s legacy. Whether it’s self-hatred and body dysmorphia, a deep seated rage thats ready to boil over, or a desperate need for love and a tendency to repeat the patterns of childhood. I thought Rachel’s story was particularly compelling, because I’ve experienced that pattern of abuse – the love bombing, rejection, gaslighting and fits of rage. I hated Michael and really understood her need to find Lucy and talk to her. It felt like she’d lost the ability to trust her own judgement, so if there was someone else he was abusive to, she could start to accept and own her own truth. Her confidence had sunk so low she was struggling to fight for herself, but as soon as Michael’s behaviour affected someone else she loved she was able to stand up to him. Henry is also struggling with what happened in childhood, his twisted and confused emotions surrounding Phinn were complex. Phinn was held up as an example of what a boy should be, with Henry receiving punishments and neglect for not being more like him. We might expect Henry to feel hatred and even harbour harmful thoughts about Phinn, and to an extent he does feel these things. There’s a part of him that never wants to see Phinn again. However, there is a part of him that is still the little boy who wants to please, so he has changed the way he looks and now looks at Phinn in the mirror every morning. There’s definitely an element of hero worship and sexual desire too. I was actually scared of what Henry might do if he ever found Phinn, who is thought to be working on a game reserve in Africa. Lucy is living with her brother at the start of the book, along with her two children. Henry’s upmarket flat with it’s high thread count sheets and all the right TV packages is the height of luxury to her two children. They have slept in some terrible places while homeless and they don’t want to be on the run again. Lucy is scared and not just about the events in her childhood, because she’s been replicating the pattern of abuse she learned to endure at Cheyne Walk, into her adult relationships. She’s also used to running from people she owes money to. She hopes that now the house is sold, she can find a secure and happy home for her children close enough to keep in touch with her brother. She knows that Henry is more fragile than he seems, but also that there’s a darkness at his centre and she doesn’t know what might happen if he ever lets it come to the surface.

The pace of the novel is pretty fast and I almost read it in one sitting. Short chapters mean it’s very easy to get caught by that little voice that goes ‘just one more chapter won’t hurt’ when it’s gone midnight and you have to be up in the morning. The tension is builds, then decreases, then builds again by using clever tactics like finding something out at the end of a chapter, then the next chapter going back in time or dismissing what you’ve just found out. Although the storyline seems clear she throws in little curveballs like a spot of blackmail here or an unexpected murder there, to take us off the main track. I found some dark humour in two people turning up to murder the same person. I thought that the author also managed to inject some hope for the future too, in what has been a very dark and painful story. If you’ve been through childhood abuse, domestic violence and sexual violence there are some tough paragraphs here and there. I must admit I found some of the coercive control and verbal abuse difficult, and I found myself holding my breath in parts, but that’s how I knew the author had got it absolutely right. This was a fantastic sequel, that I would say needs to be read after the first novel and not as a stand-alone. It really stands up to the power of the first novel with it’s tension, darkness and psychological game playing but also offers some measure of healing too. A fantastic sequel from an author at the top of her game.

Meet The Author

Lisa Jewell has written and published another sixteen books, since her debut Ralph’s Party, from the ‘curry and flatmates’ novels of the nineties and noughties like Thirtynothing, One Hit Wonder, A Friend of the Family and Vince & Joy, to more family-themed novels like After The Party, The Making of Us and The House We Grew Up In and more recently, psychological thrillers such as I Found You, Then She Was Gone, Watching You and The Family Upstairs, which charted in the summer of 2019 at number one in the hardback charts.

Lisa lives in London with her husband, two daughters, two hairy cats, two nervous guinea pigs and a lovely auburn dog. She writes every day, a minimum of one thousand words, in a cafe, with no access to the internet, in two to three hour sessions

Posted in Random Things Tours

Nothing Else by Louise Beech.

Louise Beech’s new novel, pulls us into the emotional and traumatic life of Heather, a pianist who lives in Hull. She teaches and plays in local bars, then relaxes in her harbour front flat looking out to the Humber Estuary and the North Sea. Heather has a quiet life and quite a solitary one too. She has no family and relies more on her strong connections with friends. In fact it is one of them that encourages her to try out for a job on a cruise ship, something she would never have imagined doing. She would be scheduled to play in different bars on the ship through the day, but as her friend says, she can enjoy the facilities and gets to travel. This particular cruise is stopping in New York then on to the Caribbean before doing it all again in reverse. There’s something lonely and a bit melancholy about her and we learn that Heather and her sister have grown up in the care system, after their parents were killed. Music was the girl’s escape, once their mother had convinced their father it wouldn’t hurt for them to learn on the piano they were given. They both had an aptitude for music, but it was Heather’s salvation, the only place she could fully express her emotions. With their father unwilling to pay for lessons, their mother secretly sent them to piano teacher Mr Hibbard who lived a few doors away. When their parents died, both girls were taken into a children’s home together, but one morning her sister Harriet was taken to see the staff in the office and Heather never saw her again. She could only hope that a kind family had adopted Harriet, but for some reason hadn’t been able to take her too. When the girls had most needed to express themselves they would play a duet they had composed called Nothing Else. It was this piece of music that stayed with Heather all her life, instantly taking her back to the piano and her little sister.

Heather’s chapters follow her current life and the piano job she applies for on a cruise ship. Here and there the author takes us back in time to her childhood, where their father was a controlling and violent man and Heather felt responsible for keeping her little sister Harriet safe. Like all children who have traumatic home lives, Heather had become attuned to the slightest hint of tension. She knew when her father was going to explode and on those nights where the sounds downstairs were terrifying, Heather would keep Harriet out of earshot and they felt safe when they were tucked up in just one bed. She was also aware that their father preferred cute and cheeky Harriet, so knew to stay quiet and keep her head down. These sections from the past are traumatic and very moving. The author maintains the tension in these flashbacks, until we too are on edge, always waiting for something to happen. The author moves deftly between the experiences of Heather as a child in the middle of this situation, and a grown up Heather commenting on what happened with the clarity and insight of an adult. There were brilliant present day sections onboard the cruise ship where Heather befriends a writer who is also working aboard, teaching sessions in creative writing. Heather joins her morning sessions and finds them much deeper than she expected. I could recognise this from the writing therapy sessions I’ve facilitated – the prompt is always just a starting point and eventually you start writing what you need to write about. This definitely happens to Heather and is one way of processing the care records she applied for before the trip, dipping into them little by little, like a reluctant bather dipping her toe into the cold, deep water. She doesn’t want to be overwhelmed.

Harriet has her own section of the book, again split into her current life and the past she doesn’t fully understand. Now living in America, Harriet has a daughter whose left home and case of empty nest syndrome. Her flashbacks into the past remind us that Heather’s story is only part of this family’s history and Harriet may have a very different tale to tell. We learn most when their narratives overlap and we see a subtly different side of the events Heather describes, like two sides of the same coin. Again, it’s psychologically very clever and gives the perspective of the younger sibling, the one who is cared for and shown love by her big sister. I was longing to know what had happened at the children’s home. Where did Harriet go and how was she persuaded to go without her sister? Thanks to all of these questions and my curiosity over whether the sisters would ever meet again, I was totally gripped by the story and immersed into the worlds of these sisters. I enjoyed their different characters, developed by their separate upbringings, as well as their different experiences with their parents due to their ages. There are secrets that neither child was aware of, so there are some rewarding revelations to be found. I was eager to know if the sisters were somehow able to find each other. Mainly though, I was moved to read their tales of childhood trauma and wanted to understand the adults they became in light of that experience. Which of their characteristics could be explained by the past? There’s a cautiousness in Heather, because her ability to trust others is affected, leading to a quiet and lonely life. It was lovely to watch the cruise atmosphere, and proximity to others, forcing her into being sociable and to make friends. There’s a sense that she’s coming alive in these moments, which felt hopeful and uplifting. This was an addictive read that beautifully captured how childhood trauma and it’s effects can follow us into adulthood. The author showed, so beautifully, that it’s only by sharing and in this case, playing out that experience that we begin to heal.

Published by Orenda Books 23rd June 2022

Meet The Author

All six of Louise Beech’s books have been digital bestsellers. Her novels have been a Guardian Readers’ Choice, shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize, and shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull. Follow her on Twitter @louisewriter

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Mayfair Bookshop by Eliza Knight

1938: She was one of the six sparkling Mitford sisters, known for her stinging quips, stylish dress, and bright green eyes. But Nancy Mitford’s seemingly dazzling life was really one of turmoil: with a perpetually unfaithful and broke husband, two Nazi sympathizer sisters, and her hopes of motherhood dashed forever. With war imminent, Nancy finds respite by taking a job at the Heywood Hill Bookshop in Mayfair, hoping to make ends meet, and discovers a new life.

Present Day: When book curator Lucy St. Clair lands a gig working at Heywood Hill she can’t get on the plane fast enough. Not only can she start the healing process from the loss of her mother, it’s a dream come true to set foot in the legendary store. Doubly exciting: she brings with her a first edition of Nancy’s work, one with a somewhat mysterious inscription from the author. Soon, she discovers her life and Nancy’s are intertwined, and it all comes back to the little London bookshop—a place that changes the lives of two women from different eras in the most surprising ways.

I have always held a fascination for the Mitford sisters, sparked mainly by childhood visits to Chatsworth when Deborah Mitford was the Duchess of Devonshire. Over the years I read more about these fascinating sisters, and I saw Debo (as she was known) as a formidable woman with great ideas for diversifying the estate. I acquired several books about Chatsworth and it’s resident women over the years, then several years ago I purchased a copy of the Mitford sister’s letters and met the then Dowager Duchess at a book signing. She was gracious, but there was a fierce intelligence there and a barely disguised lack of patience for fools. I had never been sure what the phrase ‘gimlet eyed’ actually meant until I observed her that day. More recently, the appearance of the glamorous, but dangerous Diana Mitford in the final series of Peaky Blinders seemed to open a few people’s eyes to the rise of fascism in Britain and turned the spotlight once again on this extraordinary family. While it probably wasn’t a realistic portrayal of her, it was certainly compelling. So I jumped at the chance to delve into the Mitford’s world once more in this book, perfect for a bibliophile as we spend time with both book curators, sellers and writers.

Nancy is a witty companion and rather poignant too, which is a very endearing combination. We meet her as one of the Bright Young Things, careering round London drinking cocktails and following treasure hunts, all the while looking absolutely fabulous. She is in love with a young man called Hamish who she fully expects to marry. However, when the story returns to her, she’s been disappointed in love and is married to someone else altogether, who she nicknames Prod. She and her husband have a rather sad marriage and underneath the sparkle I felt we were seeing something of Nancy’s more vulnerable side. The author skilfully weaves fact and fiction, thoroughly researching Nancy’s writings and letters, then creating a full inner world for her character. Of course we can’t know for sure how Nancy was truly feeling and to me she seemed one of those people who didn’t let them show easily. However, it rang true for her to be disappointed in her marriage, to resent Prod’s quite visible affairs and to be sad at her lack of a baby, especially as her younger sisters became mums before her. The journey she took as a woman was moving, especially the acceptance of things she would never be – a happily married woman and a mother. She also struggles with a bad case of imposter syndrome, common in writers, calling herself a bad novelist when all her work needs is experience, maturity and honesty of feeling.

Her WWII friend, the Iris that our modern heroine Lucy is searching for, helps her a great deal. With this friend she doesn’t have to be entertaining, witty Nancy, always ready to solve a problem and keep a brave face on things. She allows herself to be vulnerable in someone else’s presence and it feels like a huge psychological breakthrough. She can just be herself. On a bookish note, Lucy was fascinating because I had no idea there was such a profession as a book curator – where do I train and when I can start? I found her research really interesting, because I’ve always wanted to go into the library in Chatsworth and finding out they have a secret staircase was rather thrilling. Her research is inspired by the book her family acquired, inscribed to a friend called Iris from Nancy. Left for Iris at the Heywood Hill Bookshop, it was clearly never collected. Though there is no other mention of Iris that Lucy can find, it’s clear she had a huge effect on Nancy from the inscription alone. While working from this very bookshop, the same place Nancy worked during WWII, she hopes to find more references to Iris and her role in Nancy’s life. I wanted to Lucy to have an adventure of her own while in London and perhaps be inspired by some of Nancy’s spirit. As the book moves along we can see the women are on a similar journey, in terms of making the life they want to have, instead of waiting for it to happen.

Through their letters, it’s clear that the Mitford sisters had a rather awkward and contrary relationship. Despite often being completely at odds with each other, they continue to write, use terms of endearment and their family’s own language and share their news. Despite the scandalous relationship between Diana and Mosley, for whom she left a husband and two children, and Unity’s transformation into a Hitler fan girl, the other sisters continue to write to them. It has to be said that many in the aristocracy had fascist views, but Nancy didn’t share her sister’s politics. As WWII really took hold, Nancy’s huge social circle and fluent French meant she was useful to the government, but would this stretch to discussing her own family? I was fascinated to see this dynamic play out and wondered whether the women could repair their connections afterwards, remembering they are sisters first and foremost. The period detail was brilliant and the complete change between the London of the partying 1920’s and the more somber run up to WWII was done so well. I loved the nostalgic feel of the novel and those lovely little bits only bibliophiles like me can appreciate, such as a part library part menagerie with bird cages and tree branches. If you love bookish chat and the idea of working in a bookshop or have a similar fascination with the Mitfords you’ll love this one. Even if you’ve not come across the family before, there’s so much to love here and it won’t take many pages for Nancy’s wit and engaging narrative will draw you in. However, underneath the charm of the novel is a gripping story of a woman growing into herself, learning what makes her content and realising that she can, as a woman, make choices to pursue her own happiness.

Meet The Author

Eliza Knight is an award-winning and USA Today bestselling author. Her love of history began as a young girl when she traipsed the halls of Versailles. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and Novelists, Inc., and the creator of the popular historical blog, History Undressed. Knight lives in Maryland with her husband, three daughters, two dogs and a turtle

Posted in Publisher Proof, Sunday Spotlight

Sunday Spotlight: All About Evie by Matson Taylor

So I’m having a book blogger’s dilemma. The arrival of this book through the door made me do a little Snoopy dance! There are a few books I’ve earmarked as my most anticipated summer reads, but this is right up there as my mostest anticipated novel. I know, we bloggers do love to throw out superlatives here and there, but I’ve honestly been waiting for this book ever since I finished The Misadventures of Evie Epworth two summers ago. Now I’m in an awful quandary. I want to devour it in one go, but once I do, the moment will have passed and Evie is gone again. I don’t know whether Evie’s story ends this time, or whether there’s more to come, so I’m trying to hang on for a little while, at least until my fellow Squadettes are reading so we can talk about it.

If you haven’t read Matson Taylor’s first novel then where have you been? I think this is one book where reading the previous instalment of Evie’s adventures is really helpful. You have a whole new literary heroine to meet and I think knowing where Evie comes from is vital in understanding her. I’m not going to use spoilers so it’s safe to read on. In book one we met Evie in the 1960’s, the summer after O’Levels and before A Levels. Her only plans for the summer are reading, helping their elderly neighbour with her baking and, most importantly, getting rid of her dad’s girlfriend who would like to see Evie working through her summer at the local salon. Christine has moved in and is slowly trying to erase everything Evie loves about the farmhouse, including her Adam Faith wall clock and that won’t do. Evie and her dad would like things to stay as they were when her Mum was alive. They love their Aga and old country kitchen, but Christine wants Formica and a new cooker that’s easier to clean. Her wardrobes are wall to wall pink, synthetic fabrics and she colonises the kitchen with her Mum and lumpen friend, who’re usually in tow. Her dad can’t seem to see that his girlfriend and daughter don’t get along, there’s quite a lot of avoidance practised here, he’s often got his head in the newspaper or listening to the cricket scores, or just popping out for a pint. Whatever the tactic, it means he hasn’t heard anything. This problem needs another woman to solve it. So, when her neighbour has an accident and her daughter Caroline arrives to look after her, the three women put their heads together to deal with the problem, just in time for the village fete and baking competition.

All About Evie starts ten years on from the previous novel with Evie settled in London and working at the BBC. She has all the things a 70’s girl could wish for – including an Ozzie Clark poncho. Then disaster hits. An incident with Princess Anne and a Hornsea Pottery mug means she must have a rethink about her future. So what can she do next? Will she be too old to do it? Most importantly, will it involve cork soled sandals? I have no qualms in saying this is my most anticipated book of the summer. I think I’ll have to compromise and as soon as I have a two week gap from blog tours I’ll be delving in to find out what happens next….

I’ll keep you informed.

Published by Scribner U.K. 21st July 2022.

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

The Daughter by Liz Webb

One of the first things my therapy supervisor said to me was ‘no two kids have the same childhood, even those who grow up together’. This kept going through my mind as I started to read Liz Webb’s book and grew ever more apt as the story unfolded. As regular readers know I do like to indulge in a good thriller and despite knowing nothing about the book or the author, something drew me in when I read the blurb. I’m so glad I took the chance to read it because it is a dark, psychological, and unsettling domestic noir based around the violent death of the charismatic mum in the Davidson family. Hannah doesn’t always have her life on track and she lives away from her physicist father Phillip, but is called when he ends up in hospital. Now suffering with Alzheimer’s and at the end of his life, Hannah has to make a tough choice; does she leave him in the hands of strangers or should she be the one to nurse him in his final months? It’s not long before Hannah finds herself back home and falling into a time warp. Not only has her father left the decorating and furnishings back in the 1990’s, there are piles of magazines and other detritus still littering the same place. It’s as if he stopped when his wife Jennifer was found in the woods at the back of the house, with a kitchen knife plunged into her chest. Hannah finds her surroundings bringing memories and inevitable questions to the forefront of her mind; no one was ever charged for her mum’s murder. This house is haunted. Her mum’s most successful photographs are still hung on the walls and her dark room is untouched, the wardrobe is full of her colourful clothes with the ghost of Chanel No 5. Just the faintest trace touches the air when Hannah runs a hand over her mother’s clothes. Hannah’s very presence completes the picture, she’s a waif compared to the overweight woman she’s been for most of her life. Now she’s the image of her mum, so much so that an unexpected glimpse in a mirror makes her jump. Her brother Ryan, now a famous actor, has commented on her ‘stuckness’, her inability to move beyond that day in the 1990’s. Hannah doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to move forward and pursue a life for herself, until she can resolve what truly happened that day and who killed her mother.

I did find myself rooting for Hannah, despite her flaws and her past behaviour – with more revelations popping up when I didn’t expect them. She feels more vulnerable and is honest about how broken she is by the past. The author carefully keeps her on that edge so I was mostly on board with her version of events, but every now and again I would question whether she was truly a reliable narrator. There was her drinking and the impression she has of her family life and her mother. She sees her mother as a beautiful free spirit, with her gorgeous rainbow clothes, her glamorous and creative career as a photographer with it’s world of gallery openings and meeting other artists. She sees her parents as very different, her father being much older and in a more steady career as a physics professor. When her parents couldn’t be there, Mrs Roberts and her husband from next door would step in with her more old-fashioned parenting style and her good looking son Marcus. This return home and her father’s deterioration seem to trigger something in Hannah and her brother is convinced she’s in a downward spiral where her mental health is concerned. He now stars in a BBC murder mystery series based in Spain, where his wise-cracking detective solves murders within the ex-Pat community and has famous co-stars happy to swap a guest starring role for a week in the sun. He’s also written a book titled Solving Me which Hannah thinks is pompous at best, but probably arrogant and a potential challenge. His childhood is peppered with incidents of their parents arguing, usually about their mother’s behaviour and he’s completely convinced that their father murdered her after years of being pushed too far.

I loved how the author balanced the story with the darkness and tension, broken by the realties of being a carer and the humorous little allusions to her father’s research subject. Their pets are named after Feynmann (the dog) and Schrödinger (the cat of course) á la Sheldon’s cats in The Big Bang Theory. The Schrödinger reference is very apt with Hannah alluding to their mother as potentially living and dead at the same time. For years her head has been full of simultaneous movie reels, each one with a different ending to the story, she would love to be able to shut down all those other screens and see what really happened. The caring details, everything she’ll need to bring Dad home from the hospital, are spot on. One detail I loved because it showed experience, or at least talking to those with it, and it was the ‘shit-stained’ sole of her father’s foot visible to to a person standing at the bottom of the bed but often missed by the busy healthcare assistant doing this morning’s strip wash. The investigation she conducts gives her a lot more questions about her mother, as she remembers her. She’s warned by the original detective on the case that she might not like what she finds. Even her mum’s art seems to hold clues: the close-ups of tiny domestic objects till it’s hard to know what they are; the fascination with motorcycle stuntman Evil Knieval and the moment of being in free fall; an entire series called Falling showing objects in that moment before they land. What she seemed to forget is that Evil Knieval’s stunts finally went too far with disastrous consequences. As the revelations about Jennifer Davidson begin the story becomes even more fascinating, because Hannah gets to see the person her mum was before becoming a parent and whether motherhood changed her at all. I enjoyed the interplay between the siblings and was engrossed in finding out whose version of events was closer to the truth. This was incredibly well-written, tense and psychologically very clever. It left me thinking about how others see our parents and who they truly are when they’re not being mum and dad.

Meet the Author

Liz Webb originally trained as a classical dancer, then worked as a secretary, stationery shop manager, art class model, cocktail waitress, stand-up comic, voice-over artist, script editor and radio drama producer, before becoming a novelist. She lives in North London with her husband, son and serial killer cat Freddie.

Posted in Publisher Proof

The Midnight House by Amanda Geard

I enjoyed this book much more than I’d expected to. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the blurb or the cover, but I thought it might be just another ‘stately home + mystery’ novel with no huge surprises. However, the depth of characterisation and complexity of the story drew me in and kept me reading for two straight days. Ellie is our present day narrator and she’s having to take leave from work as an investigative journalist after trying to expose an important businessman ended badly. So she returns to her family home in County Kerry, Ireland to spend time with her mother. Trying to keep a low profile and prevent all and sundry from knowing about her return, is a lost cause in a small Irish village. It’s only because she’s desperate for reading material that she braves the charity shop and her mother’s chatty friend Tabby Ryan. Tabby has set aside a box of books that have come from the large stately home nearby, Blackwater Hall. Ellie is grateful to see a few Agatha Christie novels on the top and takes the whole box. Inside is a mysterious letter, addressed only to ‘T’ but clearly belonging to the Rathmore family. It ignites a spark in Ellie, but she tries to do the right thing and return it. At the hall she meets Albert, the lone member of the Rathmore family left behind, but he seems confused about who Ellie is and keeps asking for his mother. Her concern for Albert leads her to his son Milo, but also the mystery surrounding the family. Charlotte Rathmore disappeared during the early part of WWII leaving a broken string of pearls by the lake. The official version is that Charlotte killed herself, but Ellie senses a story and starts to seek out other remaining members of the family. Can she solve the mystery of Charlotte’s disappearance and what changes will the truth bring to Blackwater Hall and the Rathmore family?

The author tells the story across three timelines. We travel back to Blackwater Hall and Nancy’s first visit to meet her boyfriend Teddy Rathmore’s family. This timelines really establishes the characters within the Rathmore family and the beginning of a friendship between Nancy and Teddy’s sister Charlotte. This is before WWII and the aristocratic family are thriving, but there are little hints of a change on the horizon. Charlotte has rebellion and adventure in her soul, while Teddy is ready and somewhat relieved to strike out into a new life with Nancy, since elder brother Hugo carries the pressure of being the heir apparent. The present day timeline with Ellie shows she is an interesting character in her own right. There’s some resistance to becoming comfortable back home, even though she’s finding it suits her in some respects. She may be uprooting other people’s secrets, but theres a sense she has some of her own lurking under the surface; a possible broken relationship and a reluctance to talk about it that intrigued me and made me want to know more. In these split timeline narratives there’s often a lack of character or strong storyline in the present day, leaving the reader more intrigued with the past and creating an imbalance to the story. The reader can find themselves racing through the present bits to get to the ‘real’ story. The author doesn’t fall into that trap here, Ellie is interesting in her own right and her journey feels important too. The third timeline is something of a surprise as we follow a little girl called Hattie at Blackwater House and her emerging friendship with gardener and handyman Tomas. She is interested in how he makes things grow and starts to help him planting the potato crop in the garden. There’s a connection between these two that’s immediate and I was touched by them, possibly remembering days in the garden shed with my Grandad, tying onions up and hanging them from the ceiling and chitting potatoes. Tomas isn’t always the calm and shy man he is with Hattie and if he hears a bang, particularly a gunshot, he is back at war in an instant. His solitary and quiet work is clearly important in managing his PTSD. I was immediately drawn to this character and intrigued by his possible importance to the Rathmore’s story.

There are other flashbacks too, a section from the Blitz in London is particularly tense and heartbreaking. The author describes the air raids from the Lufwaffe so clearly I felt I was there with the characters. I thought the sense of foreboding was incredible and the slow realisation of the danger the characters were in was beautifully written. She captures the terrifying sense that the help needed, the help that’s usually there, is out of reach and something terrible might happen. The damage wrought in these streets and the fortitude of the people caught up there was powerfully portrayed and really gripped my emotions. I felt the author balanced those moments of terrible tension and drama beautifully with the lightness of rural Ireland and the people Ellie meets in her old neighbourhood. This is a place where only those in the big house were able to keep their secrets and everyone knows everyone. The people are strong, community minded and often Ellie’s interactions with them have a light humour about them, while avoiding caricature. I enjoyed her growing friendship with Milo Rathmore – another returnee to the village, now the village GP and carer for his father Albert. He is from Ellie’s world and the pair can look at the place with a critical eye, but also a good humoured and fond heart. I was interested in whether Ellie’s more recent personal issues would come to light. Could she finally confide in her mother and accept someone’s comfort and care, despite that solid streak of independence? I also wondered whether her career would ever be restored and if she could return, would she want to? Mostly though I was interested in what had happened to Charlotte, this beautiful, rebellious girl with so much spirit. I couldn’t believe she would kill herself, but feared that her true end was even more heartbreaking. That extra timeline post WWII also held surprises I really didn’t expect. Despite wanting all the answers I was sorry when this novel ended and there’s no better compliment than that.

Meet the Author

The inspiration for The Midnight House appeared in the rafters of our home, a two-hundred-year-old stone building perched on the edge of the Atlantic. Hidden there was a message, scratched into wood: ‘When this comes down, pray for me. Tim O’Shea 1911’. As I held that piece of timber in my hands, dust clinging to my paint-stained clothes, I was humbled that a person’s fingerprint could, in a thousand ways, transcend time, and I wanted nothing more than to capture that feeling of discovery on the page. I have always loved dual-timeline novels, where stories from the past weave with those of the present day. I want to write books that transport you to another time and place, where secrets lie just beneath the surface if only the characters know where to look.

Before all this, I was a geologist exploring the world’s remote places. Luckily for me, writing novels provides a similar sense of wonder and discovery; but the warm office, fresh food and a shower in the evening make the conditions rather more comfortable! The wild weather of County Kerry, where I live with my husband and two red setters, gives me the perfect excuse to regularly curl up by a fire with a great novel. I treasure my reading time, and I know you do too, so thank you for taking a chance on my books.

Come over to Instagram and Twitter (@amandageard) where I share plenty of photos of the wild settings in The Midnight House. You can also find me on Facebook (@amandageardauthor).

Taken from Amanda’s Amazon Author Page.

Posted in Netgalley

The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn

This book feels like an epic. A familial version of The lliad, the very first play that Cristabel puts on in the family’s theatre by the beach, formed from the jawbones of a whale. It washed up on the beach and was claimed for the Seagraves by Cristabel who is the orphan cousin of the family. Cristabel doesn’t really fit anywhere. She loves adventure, activity, and endeavours, climbing, running and conquering the Seagrave estate rather than being the lady her stepmother would expect, if she could be bothered. The Seagrave children are an odd bunch, brought up by staff and each other, while their parents stay in bed late, are never without houseguests and like to drink as early as it is socially acceptable to do so. This is the story of the heir and the spare. Jasper Seagrave brings his new wife home to the Chilcombe Estate and Rosalind is thrown into being mistress of the house and stepmother to his daughter Cristabel. There are definite vibes of Rebecca in this beginning, with a much younger wife slightly overawed by her new home and struggling to find her place. The ghostly presence in this case being Cristabel, creeping round corridors and the attic, having ‘boy’s own’ adventures with imaginary friends. Rosalind is happy to have bagged an aristocratic husband, considering they’re in very short supply since the war. That is until the ‘spare’ arrives. Willoughby is everything his elder brother isn’t, a dashing war hero fascinated by speed whether it’s a new car or learning to fly. There’s an immediate attraction, deepening when Rosalind is on bed rest in the last stages of pregnancy and Willoughby keeps her company. Is the Chilcombe estate about to lapse into scandal and what will become of Cristabel?

Joanne Quinn’s incredible debut begins at the end of WW1 and takes us all the way through WW2. The attention to detail is incredible and I felt completely immersed in this family’s history and the times they’re living in. This period saw huge changes for the aristocracy, often forced by the loss of two generations and bankruptcy due to death duties. Estates were sold off or had their use changed in order for the family to survive. The class boundaries became blurred as servants and masters fought together and unexpected bonds were created. Women had grown used to different roles, possibly nursing or working in factories or shops, and not all wanted to go back to a domestic role. There were also less men, so the marriage market changed and many society women, like Rosalind, had to be open to marrying men they might have previously overlooked. The author reinforces this sense of change by echoing it in the setting. When Rosalind first arrives at Chilcombe she is disappointed in the old fashioned country decor, all wood panelling and animal heads. She gradually brings the house into the 1920s with glamorous furniture and wallpaper, perhaps more suited to a London house than the country estate. The animals are banished to the attic, including a stuffed baby elephant on wheels intended as a gift to Cristabel from her mother. In fact Cristabel herself is treated rather like an unwanted piece of decor, stuffed into the attic with only the maid Maudie for company, her tomboyish ways out of step with her elegant and ethereal stepmother. As war looms again, the estate changes accordingly, with its garden turned over to vegetables and the people left behind pulling together as a team whether they are a Seagrave or the servants. They find themselves communing together in the kitchen, with all the elegant furniture sitting around like a piece of jewellery that’s too dressy for everyday wear.

The Seagrave children are the main focus of the novel, Cristabel, Flossie and Digby, each one a cousin or half-sibling they cleave together tightly due to parental neglect. Flossie is the child of Jasper Seagrave and Rosalind and I did find my heart warming to her. Nicknamed ‘The Veg’ thanks to an unfortunate resemblance to a vegetable when she was a baby, I sensed Flossie’s vulnerability. Her mother is beautiful and willowy, a perfect shape for her time, rather like an Art Deco statuette, but Flossie hasn’t inherited that elegance or poise. She’s rather like her father Jasper, a little bit awkward and not very good at asserting herself. WW2 tests Flossie’s metal and she responds with duty, grit and determination. It’s as if by pulling on her old clothes, mucking in with the servants and creating her garden at the whalebones she finds herself and becomes okay with who she is. Her friendship she cultivates with the German prisoner of war is so touchingly beautiful and fleeting. She’s a good person who can see the best traits in someone and bring them out. With both siblings away on special operations, it’s Flossie who has to find a way of keeping Chilcombe and run the estate. Digby, the son of Rosalind and Willoughby Seagrave, has the advantages of being the son and heir, but also seems like the one Seagrave who was wanted. Cristabel, belonging to Jasper and his first wife, is almost invisible. The chapter where her parents meet is unbelievably touching and I found myself bereft for Cristabel, because she would never know how much she was loved and wanted. Flossie is perhaps a reminder of those months when Rosalind was Jasper’s wife, something she seems to view with distaste. Digby could have been resented by his siblings, but both girls adore him. His love for acting shines through from being a little boy, when the theatre has a profound effect on him. So much so, that he’s still on the stage years later. To some extent, Cristabel is his parent and he looks up to her, happy to follow on in whatever escapade she has planned next.

It is Cristabel who is the hero of this book, from the child who has to crawl in bed with one of the maids for comfort and affection, to a special operative in occupied France, she is a survivor. Full of ideas, her determination to claim the beached whale is almost comical, couched in the very male language of expedition and discovery. Once only the bones are left, it takes someone equally creative and energetic to help establish the Whalebone Theatre. A visiting artist, scandalously living in the cottage with his wife and identical twin lovers, imagines walking through the creatures jawbone to reach the theatre (a space repurposed for Flossie’s vegetable garden during WW2). They create a script from Homer’s work and utilising Rosalind’s skills and interest in design, make a seating area and light the way to a stage that has the sea as a backdrop. Their plays succeed in bringing everyone together in the endeavour, each with a part to play whether it’s on stage, setting up, or making flyers for the village. These happy parts of her childhood take on such a nostalgic element, especially years later when she’s crouched in a ditch in occupied France trying to survive. There’s a sense in which the whole ensemble and even the villagers bring up this little girl and I loved the knowing way people would assume some daring escapade was the work of Miss Cristabel. I felt most sorry for her when we learn that her story could have been so different. Jasper is knocked off his feet by this woman who wants to talk to him at the hunt and appears immune to the charms of his notorious brother. The paragraph where Jasper recalls how in tune they both were and how brilliant and capable she was of running the estate with him. I can see a great deal of her mother in Cristabel and I was moved by the joy they felt in finding out they were going to be parents. The stuffed baby elephant they install with wheels for their baby shows that they imagine her like a little Maharaja, riding her elephant around the house.

Cristabel’s war years are incredibly intrepid and there are scenes where I was scared for her. The languid inter-war years seem decadent by comparison with these more sparse and disjointed episodes showing all three Seagraves in different parts of the world. I thought the pace really picked up as we followed Cristabel on her missions, parachuting into occupied France as a messenger, often with German soldiers a hair’s breadth away from discovering her. One scene with a German officer is so real I felt sick for her! She proves that her ‘adventures’ were not just an affectation. She is willing to put herself on the line, proving her aptitude for work as a operative, but also such incredible bravery. The final days of Nazi rule in Paris are tense, nail-bitingly so, but I didn’t fear for her. I had a sense Cristabel would survive no matter what. I thought this was an incredible depiction of life through the war, whether from Flossie’s more domestic side including service as a land girl to Cristabel and Digby’s seemingly more dashing exploits. His sister’s determination to find Digby showed that these children loved and cared for each other so deeply, probably because they had been left to their own devices. For Cristabel, it is servant Maudie who shows her what a mother’s love should look like and she in turn, mothers her little brother and sister. The author shows what a toll both wars took on people and the rapid changes they forced on society. I won’t reveal whether any of our characters survive, but Cristabel remembers a saying, that war can bring out the best in people. There are those who shine through difficult days and in their own ways I think the Seagrave children all stepped up to the mark. Most importantly the loving bond they had as children, stood firm and could not be broken.

Published 9th June 2022 by Fig Tree (Penguin)

Meet The Author

Joanna Quinn was born in London and grew up in Dorset, in the South West of England, where her “brilliant, beguiling” debut novel The Whalebone Theatre is set. 

Joanna has worked in journalism and the charity sector. She is also a short story writer, published by The White Review and Comma Press among others. She teaches creative writing and lives in a village near the sea in Dorset.

Posted in Netgalley

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

Joan can’t change her family’s past.
But she can create her future.

Joan was only a child the last time she visited Memphis. She doesn’t remember the bustle of Beale Street on a summer’s night. She doesn’t know she’s as likely to hear a gunshot ring out as the sound of children playing. How the smell of honeysuckle is almost overwhelming as she climbs the porch steps to the house where her mother grew up. But when the front door opens, she does remember Derek.

This house full of history is home to the women of the North family. They are no strangers to adversity; resilience runs in their blood. Fifty years ago, Hazel’s husband was lynched by his all-white police squad, yet she made a life for herself and her daughters in the majestic house he built for them. August lives there still, running a salon where the neighbourhood women gather. And now this house is the only place Joan has left. It is in sketching portraits of the women in her life, her aunt and her mother, the women who come to have their hair done, the women who come to chat and gossip, that Joan begins laughing again, begins living.

Memphis is a celebration of the enduring strength of female bonds, of what we pass down, from mother to daughter. Epic in scope yet intimate in detail, it is a vivid portrait of three generations of a Southern black family, as well as an ode to the city they call home.

There’s a point in this book where Miriam remembers her mother Hazel waking her up, leaving her little sister August asleep in bed, then she fixed her a breakfast fit for a king. There were green tomatoes and grits, spicy pork and scrambled eggs, and they were chatting like a normal day. Miriam was distracted by the delicious meal and didn’t notice her mother running the tap. Then suddenly she threw a whole jug of cold water over her daughter. Miriam thought her mother had lost her mind. All she said was ‘you ready’ and that afternoon took her to her first activist’s sit in. Miriam’s experience is similar to the one I had reading this incredible book. I’d just settled into the story when suddenly something was revealed that was so momentous I would have to take a moment, blind-sided by what had just happened. Memphis is the home of three generations of African-American women from grandmother Hazel, her two daughters Miriam and August, and Miriam’s daughters Myra and Joan. Their personal lives are set against a backdrop of American history from the early 1950s through to the 2000s, taking in world-changing events like the Kennedy assassinations and 9/11. Told in sections from each woman’s viewpoint, Stringfellow takes us back and forth across the 20th Century. Each step back in time informs the present, showing us where Joan has come from and each day forward moves Joan into her future.

I loved the earliest years where grandmother Hazel meets Myron and they fall in love. Their courtship is so sweet and has an innocence about it and I think that’s what makes later events such a shock. The fact that Myron has come so far and become part of law enforcement in those times feels like such an incredible achievement. Your fellow officers are supposed to be your brothers, but despite working alongside him, this all white squad don’t count him as one of them. We don’t see the lynching, but we don’t need to. Our place is with the women of this story. Hazel is nine months pregnant, filled with grief, anger and a frustration borne from knowing that whatever you achieve, however loud you scream, your achievement and voice mean nothing. The author managed to deeply touch me with that sense of powerlessness. There’s such a maelstrom of emotions when she gives birth: knowing this little girl will never know her daddy; wishing Myron was there to support her; the fear of knowing she’s alone as a parent and her girls depend on her; the joy of this new life coming into the world. These women feel so real because Stringfellow cleverly evokes the complexity of human emotions, it’s rare that we only feel one at a time. In grief we can still feel moments of joy and even if we are happy, there can be moments of doubt or fear. Such moments of inner conflict follow us into the second generation of women, sisters Miriam and August. When Miriam escapes domestic violence, returning to the house Myron built in Memphis, she’s torn in two directions. She really has nowhere else to go and she longs for home and the consolation and support of her sister, but Joan has a moment of recognition. Have they been here before? The truth is they have.

The women in this family are strong and they need to be. Some of what happens to them over their three generations is terrible and you will probably have a good cry like I did. I was touched by what Hazel, Miriam and Joan go through, but there were also quieter struggles that touched me such as August’s decision to care for her mother, the loneliness she must feel with both her mum and sister gone, the fear she feels for her son Derek, growing up as a black man in a place where shootings and gangs are commonplace. Her mixed feelings of guilt, anger and love that come with being a mother of a son who does things that are unforgivable. I also loved the camaraderie of her salon and the strength she gets from the women who are her customers and her community. I was touched by her ability to take pleasure and solace when it’s offered, despite it not being the love and companionship she craves – from the women in her life. The pain these women go through makes the good times even more enjoyable and I really felt the joy and relief when they came out of a tough time. The author manages to capture that sense of peace I have seen in my counselling room, when the long held fear, anger and shame that comes from trauma is finally let go. That need for revenge finally silenced. The chance for joy and celebration to fill the void left behind and communing with others who know your journey.

“𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘳𝘢𝘮𝘦𝘥 𝘳𝘦𝘤𝘰𝘳𝘥 𝘤𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘴 𝘰𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘴 𝘴𝘩𝘰𝘰𝘬 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘭𝘢𝘶𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘦𝘳. 𝘓𝘢𝘶𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴, 𝘪𝘯 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘰𝘧 𝘪𝘵𝘴𝘦𝘭𝘧, 𝘉𝘭𝘢𝘤𝘬. 𝘓𝘢𝘶𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘤𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘣𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘬 𝘨𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘴. 𝘓𝘢𝘶𝘨𝘩𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘤𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘶𝘱𝘭𝘪𝘧𝘵 𝘢 𝘧𝘢𝘮𝘪𝘭𝘺. 𝘈 𝘤𝘢𝘤𝘰𝘱𝘩𝘰𝘯𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘉𝘭𝘢𝘤𝘬 𝘧𝘦𝘮𝘢𝘭𝘦 𝘫𝘰𝘺 𝘪𝘯 𝘢 𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘶𝘢𝘨𝘦 𝘱𝘳𝘪𝘷𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘮.”⁣

Meet the Author

Former attorney, Northwestern University MFA graduate, and Pushcart Prize nominee Tara M. Stringfellow’s debut novel Memphis (Dial Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House) is a multi-generational bildungsroman based on the author’s rich Civil Rights history. A recent winner of the Book Pipeline Fiction Contest, Memphis was recognized for its clear path to film or TV series adaptation and is due out in 2022. Third World Press published her first collection of poetry entitled More than Dancing in 2008. A cross-genre artist, the author was Northwestern University’s first MFA graduate in both poetry and prose and has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, as well as Best of the Net. Her poems have appeared in Collective Unrest, Jet Fuel Review, Minerva Rising, Women’s Arts Quarterly, Transitions and Apogee Journal, among others.

If she isn’t writing, she’s gardening. If she’s isn’t in Memphis, she’s in Italy.

Posted in Netgalley

The Birdcage by Eve Chase

Eve Chase’s new novel had all the ingredients of a perfect read for me – quirky bohemian family, unconventional artistic father, large Cornish house and family secrets that have haunted his daughters for years. It’s the psychological impact of these family secrets that really make the novel. The story is told in a dual timeline, in the present Lauren, Kat and Flora are returning to Rock Point, her father’s mansion house on the Cornish Coast. He has invited them after many years away from the house, following a terrible incident that occurred on the day of the eclipse in August 1999. The events of this day are told in our second timeline. Lauren is the youngest by a few years, and on that day she was an adolescent , while her half-sisters Flora and Kat are older teenagers. Each girl has a different mother and their overlapping ages show the sexual profligacy of their father Charlie, a well-known artist. As he sits down with his three adult daughters, Charlie has a big announcement for them. The girls are expecting an illness or plans concerning his artwork, but they have a shock in store.

The complexity of this family’s relationships is at the core of this novel and I really enjoyed going back in time to work out why and how each woman’s personality was formed. On the surface Flora is the most conventional sister, with a husband and young son Raff, but is everything at home as happy as it seems on the surface? Kat is the most career minded sister having developed a well-being app. She is constantly checking her phone and looking for a reliable signal so she can work, but is she just busy or is the world of well-being more stressful than it should be? Lauren has had the most recent difficulties in life, nursing her mother Dixie who was terminally ill. After moving into a local hospice Dixie died, and although Flora invited her for Christmas Lauren didn’t come. These women are anxious to be together again. Flora and Kat used to tease Lauren, even bully her a little bit. The reasons for this become clearer, but Lauren has always thought it was about Dixie. Dixie was different to me 6 hCharles’s usual choice in women, she was unadorned apart from piercings, kept her hair shorter and was artistic in her own right. Indeed Charlie is touchingly affected by her death and seems to regard this separation as something he most regrets in life. Each sister’s personality fits perfectly with their back story: Flora’s hesitancy and submissive nature; Kat’s avoidance and distraction, creating workaholic tendencies; Lauren’s phobias, which are usually under control, but thanks to Bertha the parrot and the wealth of seabirds surrounding their home it can be a problem. The parrot has other tricks as well, mimicking the house’s occupants with phrases that only one person knows are true or false.

I thought the pace was clever, becoming more urgent in the past and present day at once propelling the reader towards the eclipse event and the effect of it’s revelations in the present. What was particularly clever was the way some people are only revealed in all their complexity, in the present. Angie, who worked as their au pair, was disliked by Lauren when she was a child. Lauren sensed her duplicitous nature and knew she wasn’t really there for them, describing her as hungry to get to Charlie like an art groupie. However, as an adult Lauren can see that this was more complicated and how she didn’t understand adult relationships. There’s a shift in years and awareness, where Lauren and her sisters can now see that Charlie wasn’t just a man beleaguered by women throwing themselves at him. He is an active participant in these complicated affairs and in bringing these girls into the world. He’s even passive at their visits, always pleased to see them but never negotiating with exes, or organising the logistics. Their gran does all the work, leaving Charlie free to paint in his studio, a place where only his models and Lauren are welcome. He’s never taken responsibility for his actions and as events unfold it’s possible that those actions have created a perfect storm of sibling jealousy and conflict.

That eclipse summer, Charlie has asked his three daughters to sit for a painting with the large ornamental birdcage. It’s the painting that will become his most well known and most valuable, in fact the girls are sorry it’s gone to art collector because as far as they know it’s his most personal. There’s a wealth of imagery in this painting, starting with the three sister’s pose, sitting together but not touching, like three separate islands. There’s the solemnity behind it too, the girls are not talking or cracking a joke and all three are staring out towards the viewer. Or is it towards the painter? In feminist readings of visual arts the bird within a cage represents the imprisonment of women, but also the gilded frame through which we view femininity. We can’t know the painter’s intention, but by painting it next to his daughters is he acknowledging their freedom? Or could he be pointing out a sexual double standard? He has been free to create these overlapping lives without censure, whereas their mothers and the girls have borne the gossip, shaming, poverty and hardship that comes with being a single parent. They’ve had to hear the whispers and insults about their morals, while he has been free to carry on with only the reputation of being bohemian to his name. Or could the birdcage contain his secret? The consequences of this secret we see on eclipse day, although it isn’t fully revealed until the present when it puts Lauren and her nephew Raff in danger. Only then will Charlie have to deal with how his behaviour has affected others, like ripples on a pond. This was an engaging tale of complex family ties and the psychological effect of a parent’s action. It has all the bohemian glamour of a country house occupied by an artist and a gorgeous atmospheric setting in beautiful Cornwall. I was gripped to the final page, having felt an affinity with Lauren and Flora I wanted to know how their stories turned out and the epilogue brings a satisfying ending to this family saga.

Published by Penguin on 28th April 2022

Eve Chase is an author who writes rich suspenseful novels about families – dysfunctional, passionate – and the sort of explosive secrets that can rip them apart. She write stories that she’d love to read. Mysteries. Page-turners. Worlds you can lose yourself in. Reading time is so precious: I try to make my books worthy of that sweet spot – she says on her Amazon.com author page.

Her office is a garden studio/shed with roses outside. She lives in Oxford with her three children, husband, and a ridiculously hairy golden retriever, Harry. She invites readers to say hello. ‘Wave! Tweet me! I love hearing from readers’.

Eve is on Twitter and Instagram @EvePollyChase and on Facebook, eve.chase.author.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Remember Me by Charity Norman

Emily is a children’s illustrator, who spent her childhood in Hawke’s Bay but now lives in London. One evening she receives a call from her father’s neighbour, Raewynn, letting her know that his Alzheimer’s has progressed and he needs a little help. Despite both her brother and sister still living in New Zealand, Raewynn thinks Emily is the one best disposed to make the right decision. Emily’s father is well known in the area and is still known as Dr. Fitzgerald despite his retirement. He still lives on the family’s homestead with his two dogs and next door Raewynn and her son Ira who rents and farms the Arapito land. Until now they’ve managed to look after Dr. Fitzgerald, but trusting Raewynn’s opinion Emily decides to travel to New Zealand and check on her father.

When she arrives she knows all is not well. She realises her father has become very adept at seeming okay. He’s worked out which stock questions to ask when someone’s on the phone, using listening skills to let the caller think they’ve had a deep conversation. She thinks he’s rather like a magician, creating a Dr Fitzgerald who everyone knows and recognises, while underneath feeling confused, bewildered and frightened. As Emily spends time in her childhood home, memories rise to the surface: the unhappiness of her mother; her father’s distraction and avoidance of his family; the terrible state of Manu, Raewynn’s husband, who deteriorated and died from Huntington’s; the disappearance of Raewynn’s daughter Leah, who was lost on their range of mountains and has never been found. Emily was the last one to see Leah alive and the loss of this vibrant and beautiful girl still haunts the whole valley, including Emily’s father.

Norman writes about Alzheimer’s with knowledge and compassion. I spent some time working in nursing homes and Dr Fitzgerald is in the cruellest stage of his disease; he knows it is happening and he’s embarrassed, scared and exhausted from trying to appear like his old self. As Raewynn observes, it will be a blessing when he’s gone past this stage and reaches the place where he doesn’t remember his old self any more. It’s like watching the tide recede and as Emily settles in she can see this happening, layers and layers of what she recognises as her dad slowly drifting away towards the evening and then rolling back in the next morning when he’s at his most lucid. She can see the symptom of ‘sun downing’ as her dad becomes more anxious and confused in the evening. Then there are terrifying nights where he wakes screaming, doesn’t recognise her and can become violent. Then there are the family conflicts over care, as her brother and sister feel he would be better off in the ominous sounding St. Patrick’s where he’d be safe. Of course the other benefit to St.Patrick’s is that the house and land could be sold, meaning they would receive their inheritance. Emily doesn’t want to think her siblings are mercenary, but they have always stuck together and don’t have any interest in the land or the family’s long relationship with Raewynn and Ira who farm their land.

I had a huge soft spot for Raewynn, she feels like a real ‘earth mother’ type of woman and is a pillar of quiet strength. It takes a strong woman to come through the slow deterioration of her husband’s health, until he wasn’t the man she loved any more. She doesn’t complain and they all loved him fiercely, but those who know the family closely, know how much Manu’s illness took out of them all. For them to go through the loss of Leah only two years later seems unspeakably cruel. For Emily there is survivor’s guilt and her sadness for Ira, who was her best friend. Now there may be change coming, on the twenty year anniversary of her disappearance. Raewynn and Emily are interviewed, in the hope of jogging someone’s memory, that a change of allegiance might urge someone to talk, or that someone’s conscience finally forces someone to speak. In the meantime Emily is battling her siblings over her father’s wishes. Firstly, he gives her a living Will drawn up by his solicitor and much to her surprise, the person he wants to speak for him at the end, is Emily. It’s a revelation that her rather remote and unavailable father trusts her to do the right thing. It’s also a revelation that he’s been keeping a file of her memories in the box next to his bed, all the way back to her hospital baby bracelet. However, this isn’t the only revelation in the box and what Emily finds here will blow so many lives wide open.

This is what Charity Norman does best. She shows how relationship dynamics change and even break when something unexpected happens. Her characters are real, because they are so well constructed psychologically. Her sense of place is also incredible from the forbidding mountain range that backdrops the farm, to the bitter cold and the incredible micro-climate of a lush gully and waterfall hidden away. Oh how unbelievably emotional I felt at the end of this book, not just a lump in my throat, but actual tears. Yet I also felt such a feeling of ‘rightness’ that it ended the way it should. I was also deeply touched by the unique combination of Haka and bagpipes at Leah’s memorial. The New Zealanders I know seem to celebrate people for their unique traits and this memorial took me back to my brother in law’s funeral in Gisborne where a chainsaw and work boots adorned the coffin and the guttural roar of a stag heralded his departure. This writer is one of my favourites, because she understands the uniqueness of human beings, their incredible strengths and their hidden weaknesses. There is such emotional intelligence in this latest novel and it was my absolute pleasure to read it.

Meet The Author

Charity Norman was born in Uganda and brought up in successive draughty vicarages in Yorkshire and Birmingham. After several years’ travel she became a barrister, specialising in crime and family law. In 2002, realising that her three children had barely met her, she took a break from the law and moved with her family to New Zealand. REMEMBER ME is her seventh novel.