Posted in Publisher Proof

A Little Hope by Ethan Joelle

Set in an idyllic Connecticut town over the course of a year, A LITTLE HOPE follows the intertwining lives of a dozen neighbours as they confront everyday desires and fears: an illness, a road not taken, a broken heart, a betrayal.

Freddie and Greg Tyler seem to have it all: a comfortable home at the edge of the woods, a beautiful young daughter, a bond that feels unbreakable. But when Greg is diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, the sense of certainty they once knew evaporates overnight. Meanwhile, Darcy Crowley is still coming to terms with the loss of her husband as she worries over her struggling adult son, Luke. Elsewhere, Ginger Lord returns home longing for a lost relationship; Ahmed Ghannam wonders if he’ll ever find true love; and Greg’s boss, Alex Lionel, grapples with a secret of his own.

Ethan Joella’s novel feels perfect for this moment in life. Since 2020 our world has changed irreparably, for some this means that every day life has changed so they no longer work in an office full of other people, or they’ve missed going out over the past two years, or had their exams cancelled. For others it means learning to live with loss, coping mentally with the work they did on the NHS frontline or dealing with the challenges of long COVID. For me it has meant still being super careful when I go out, avoiding large and crowded gatherings and my mobility being reduced because of treatment that’s been postponed indefinitely. Thanks to long periods of isolation, we are all used to living in our own world and can even be overwhelmed by what we’re facing inside our own front doors. To some degree, the plight of the Ukrainian people has brought us out of our own concerns and back into a collective again. We want to help and take action. It has given us perspective. This novel works in the same way. It feels inspired by the realisation we are only a small part of the jigsaw that makes up life. It’s the literary equivalent of that feeling I always get on the train in the dark, when I can see the human theatre of everyday life through the glowing windows of people who don’t shut their curtains. Every passing window is a snapshot of life. Ethan Joelle gives us a different life per chapter, as we meet the residents of the small US town of Wharton, Connecticut. Each chapter is separate, but related, and through the author’s lens we are granted access to the extraordinary lives captured within each unremarkable window.

We start with Freddie, who is coping with the fact that husband Greg has just been diagnosed with a cancer of the white blood cells called multiple myeloma. Not only that, they haven’t yet told their young daughter Addie. Freddie is just trying to process the news, but is worrying about what Greg’s diagnosis will do to their daughter at the same time. The author then takes us into Greg’s world, into his working life, where he has concerns that haven’t even crossed Freddie’s mind yet. His worries are caught up with what kind of man he is if he can’t work and provide for his family. His boss is trying to support him, but there’s a wall of denial and false optimism to get through, and what if that wall is the only structure holding him up? We weave through the lives of other Wharton residents, such as Iris, Darcy, Ginger, Luke and Ahmed. Each life is so preciously unique, their take on their world so different and beautifully human.

We are all familiar with the hashtag #BeKind and memes that remind us we never know what others are going through. Through these stories this really is brought home to the reader, as our characters touch on each other’s lives, sometimes without knowing what they’re coping with just under the surface. Yet, while taking us through every experience from infidelity to loss, the book never feels overwhelming or melancholy. Yes I wanted to shed tears from time to time, but somehow there is always a ray of hope. It reminded me that things like community, friendship, shared experiences and compassion can change everything. The author doesn’t hold back on how difficult and painful life can be, but yet always finds some element of joy that reminds us what a gift it is too. This book is poetic, achingly beautiful and full of empathy for the human condition.

Meet The Author

Ethan Joella teaches English and Psychology at the University of Delaware and specialises in community writing workshops. His work has appeared in River Teeth, The International Fiction review, The MacGuffin, Delaware Beach Life and Third Wednesday. He lives in Delaware with his wife and two daughters and is of Irish heritage.

Posted in Squad Pod Collective

We Are Animals by Tim Ewins.

I’m so happy to be part of the Squad Pod’s first blog tour for this unusual but uplifting book by Tim Ewins. To describe what it’s about is quite difficult, and I loved Tim Ewins’s own words in his interview with Emma from Emma’s Biblio Treasures blog: ‘I can tell you a bit about the book in a very literal sense: It’s about a bloke on a beach that meets a kid on a beach and tells that kid his life story. They both get drunk and watch a cow dance to dance music.’

Of course there’s much more to it than that, it’s philosophical, romantic, humorous and uplifting. A man called Jan and a teenager called Shakey meet on a beach in Goa. Shakey dismisses Jan as a ‘moustache’ – slightly boring, set in his ways and unable to have a good time. Jan dismisses Shakey as a vest. Vests are kids who come out to Goa and pretentiously think they have found themselves by visiting one beach and one club. They go back home, pretending to be enlightened and changed by their visit to Goa, despite having no experiences at all except alcohol and a bar. However, the two do meet and sit having a drink together. Shakey wants to know what has kept this moustache coming back to this beach time and time again. So he is told a love story, how Jan is in love with a woman (also called Jan). ManJan and WomanJan have come in and out of each other’s lives over the years, but this time she hasn’t come back in. So ManJan sits on this beach, that’s special to them both, and hopes for her to appear.

The only other living creature close to them on the beach is a cow and she gets her own short chapter. This may seem totally off the wall and quirky, but go with it. As I was reading I thought there were a lot of similarities between ManJan and the cow. Both have a set daily routine involving the beach and both are evolving alongside the place. When ManJan first came to Goa this place was unspoiled, much quieter and less commercialised. Now it’s full of vests like Shakey, dance music and glow sticks. Yet ManJan finds Shakey a good listening ear, so maybe there’s more to these vests than meets the eye? The cow meanwhile, weaves happily between tourists and even finds herself meditatively nodding along to the thumping dance music.

We hear ManJan’s story and the curious way certain things keep cropping up in his life, like the fishing he thought he’d left behind in England, but crops up again in Scandinavia. WomanJan also turns up for the first time in Sweden and steals his passport, leading to a caper through, Europe, Russia and India. Each destination is beautifully evoked, in very few words we know exactly where we are. In each location an unusual array of characters come into the orbit of this couple and have an influence on their journeys. Then between each section of the story are the animal scenes, throwing light on the human situation or a particular character in some way, which is so clever. Throughout, ManJan and WomanJan keep bumping into each other and eventually love happens. However, this is the longest time they’ve been away from each other, they’ve always found each other in the past. When tragedy ripped them apart, he assumed they’d simply run into each other again, but maybe they won’t this time.

I thought this was one of the more quirky novels I’d ever read and it is unusual in structure and characters. It’s a love story, travelogue, meditation, comedy and tragedy all in one. What Ewins does, rather brilliantly, is keep the balance between these elements, using the animal chapters as literary palate cleansers. In the end though, all these disparate strands come together to create a beautiful story about being human and doing what E.M.Forster suggested was our purpose on earth – to connect.

Meet The Author

Tim Ewins had an eight-year stand-up career alongside his accidental career in finance, before turning to writing fiction. He has previously written for DNA Mumbai, had two short stories highly commended and published in Michael Terence Short Story Anthologies, and had a very brief acting stint (he’s in the film Bronson, somewhere in the background). He lives with his wife, son and dog in Bristol. We Are Animals is his first novel.