Posted in Random Things Tours

Space Hopper by Helen Fisher.

I first read this book last year, but then the release date changed. When I was asked onto the blog tour, I was excited to read it again. I remember being so intrigued by the premise – I always get strangely giddy when an author does something unexpected or genre bending! On the second read I still had me the same sense of delight and wonder as Faye gets into her space hopper box and careers back into the 1970s.

This is a story about taking a leap of faith

And believing the unbelievable

They say those we love never truly leave us, and I’ve found that to be true. But not in the way you might expect. In fact, none of this is what you’d expect.

I’ve been visiting my mother who died when I was eight.

And I’m talking about flesh and blood, tea-and-biscuits-on-the-table visiting here.

Right now, you probably think I’m going mad.

Let me explain…

Although Faye is happy with her life, the loss of her mother as a child weighs on her mind even more now that she is a mother herself. So she is amazed when, in an extraordinary turn of events, she finds herself back in her childhood home in the 1970s. Faced with the chance to finally seek answers to her questions – but away from her own family – how much is she willing to give up for another moment with her mother?

This truly is a unique and original debut novel that mixes a heartfelt story about mothers and daughters, time travel, and the 1970s. I’m a child of the 1970s and though I never owned a space-hopper they were an instantly recognisable symbol of my childhood. The author takes these elements and brings us moments of intense delight – I was smiling to myself as Faye climbs into the ratty and tattered space-hopper box in the attic – but also a poignant and heart rending sense of loss. Faye has a photo of herself in the box, it was taken when she was six and it must have been taken by her mother, Jeanie. Although her Mum isn’t in this photo, everything about it tells her how much she was loved and how much was taken away from her. It’s Christmas and Faye remembers the decorations, the presents and can see the sense of wonder in her little face. She can also see the love, the trust and the sense that her Mum is her absolute world. Her presence in the photograph is so strong, even though we can’t see her. This photo is like a talisman for Faye, and the reader feels the strong emotional pull too.

Yet she doesn’t know her mum. There’s a moment, when adult Faye has hidden herself in the garden shed, and watches her mum open the back door and look down the garden.

‘hands on hips looking straight down the short, narrow garden, straight at me in fact, and took in a long deep breath of cold air. She closed her eyes and smiled. She looked so content and I realised I knew nothing about this woman.’

It questions whether we can ever truly know our mother, even though the emotional bond is so incredibly strong. Faye wonders if, through time travel, she can get to know her mother on an adult-adult level, especially if her mother doesn’t know who she is. Although in a philosophical chat with her friends, they point out that Faye would always know she was Jeanie’s daughter and can only relate to her in that role. The question is, can she tell them what has happened to her? There are pros and cons to having this portal to her past. When she’s with her mother, she worries whether she’ll be able to get back to her husband Eddie and her own daughters Esther and Evie. She wants to be there for her daughters, so they don’t have the very same experience of loss that she had. Eddie is training to be a vicar, so he has a belief in God and the afterlife. Faye has no belief, and worries about where she’ll fit as a vicar’s wife without faith. Now can she ask Eddie to belief she’s found a portal back to her childhood in a ratty, space-hopper box that’s hiding in the attic? Every character is so loving and supportive of Faye, but I have to mention her friend Louis who happens to be blind. I liked the sense in which he takes a leap every single day into a world he can’t see and doesn’t always understand in the same way we do. He makes the point that his inner world is very different from the sighted person’s world, although sighted people always think he sees like they do. If you’ve never seen a cat, you can only go on the way it feels. There’s a brilliant example where he’s asked to draw a bus and he draws one vertical line, followed by three smaller horizontal lines.

His experience of the bus is the vertical handle he holds to get on and three horizontal steps he climbs. Maybe Louis would understand the sense of different worlds?

When working in my day job, I sometimes counsel people who are bereaved. We talk about grief in many different ways, but one of the most popular metaphors is the sea. It tends to come in and out in waves. On anniversaries it sweeps in and then recedes again. There are times when it stays far out of sight and others when it comes in so fast and strong it’s like a grief tsunami! If Faye returns, having got to know her Mum as Jeanie, will she grieve for her all over again? If she’s stuck back there, she will grieve for her family and friends in the present. I was deeply touched by a section where she talks about her childhood grief and needing to ask questions about her mother.

‘ I searched my memory like it was a messy drawer, trying to find an image, some mental recording of a conversation, something to explain exactly why I’d felt so alone in dealing with losing my mum, when Em and Henry had been so supportive, so caring, in every other way. I could see Henry’s face in a memory so coated with dust I could barely picture it. It was his face with a worried look, glancing over at Em as I asked her a question or said something about my mother. What would it have been? ‘I miss my mother. I want to see my mother again. Do you think my mother was happy?’ I had seen those looks of his, and I’d filed them away. I hadn’t thought about it, but I realised what they were: he didn’t want me to upset his wife Em.’

So, in order to avoid upsetting Em she’d kept her questions and her grief to herself. My heart broke for this little girl so alone in her loss. However, despite being deep and poignant, the author has found a way of making the novel fantastical, quirky and even humorous. It’s suffused with love and joy. I’m so impressed with this magical debut, it absolutely charmed me from beginning to end.

Meet The Author

Helen Fisher spent her early life in America, but grew up mainly in Suffolk where she now lives with her two children. She studied Psychology at Westminster University and Ergonomics at UCL and worked as a senior evaluator in research at the RNIB. She is now a full-time author.Space Hopper is her first novel. She is currently working on her second novel.

Posted in Netgalley, Random Things Tours

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry.

Today, I’m happy to be on the closing day of this blog tour for The Art of Dying. This interesting mix of murder mystery, historical/ medical drama and romance, creeps up on you slowly, until you’re determined to keep reading and see whether a killer is stalking the sick of Edinburgh. In fact at what point I couldn’t decide what I wanted to know more: would the killer face justice, would Raven reconcile with the woman he loved, who was stealing money from the surgery, would Sarah live and what the hell was Quinton up to? It’s hard to sleep with all that going round in your brain! I hadn’t read the first novel featuring Dr. Wilberforce Raven, but it was easy to catch up with this instalment set in Edinburgh in 1849. We really do hit the ground running as Raven is attacked in an alley way in Prague. In the dark and confusion one of the attackers draws a gun, Raven draws his knife and a shot rings out ricocheting off the narrow brick walls. Raven slashes his knife in the air from left to right. He thinks he made contact with an attackers throat, but he doesn’t know if he struck a fatal blow and doesn’t know who is shot.

This chaotic existence seems to be the way Raven lives, but will it follow him back to the streets of Edinburgh. He’s been offered a place under the prestigious obstetrician Dr. Simpson, who he trained under at medical school. He’s looking forward to being back in Edinburgh and in the hospitable, but slightly chaotic, family household. He’s also looking forward to getting away from the guilt that he may well have killed a man in Prague. The only downside involves women. He will be leaving Gabrielle behind – the woman he’s been seeing in Prague – but they’ve both known it was a short term relationship. More pressing than that, he’s wondering whether Sarah is still part of Dr. Simpson’s household. Sarah was originally the Simpson’s housemaid, but did assist the doctor in clinic at times. Raven was attracted to her intelligence and determination. They seemed drawn together by an invisible bond and the closer he gets to his old city, he can feel that bond tugging again. They way they’d been in the past, Sarah might have confidently expected a proposal and had it just been about love, Raven would have had no qualms. However, as a young doctor starting out in a profession where reputation is everything, could he risk marrying a house maid? What would Edinburgh society think and would he be risking his career?

I can’t say I warmed to Raven as a character. I found him arrogant and apt to jump to conclusions, especially where it would benefit him. More importantly, I found him cowardly. Especially in his dealings with Sarah. I had such a moment of satisfaction when he enquired after Sarah when arriving, using her maiden name. When the new house maid explains she is now Mrs Sarah Banks, I actually smiled. To find out that her new husband, Archie Banks, is also a doctor and has a comfortable lifestyle, is a huge life lesson for Raven. Here was a man with strength of his convictions. He had loved Sarah and married her, with no regard to his position or social standing. Of course, we find out later on, that Archie has a reason for not caring about such things but he’s still a man of honour. Sarah is an intelligent, but also perceptive woman, and this is her advantage as she and Raven come together to restore Dr Simpson’s reputation. During a difficult delivery, Simpson is rumoured to have missed a haemorrhage and the dead woman’s mattress was said to be so soaked with blood it had to be disposed of. Simpson expressly asks Raven not to look into the matter and certainly not to bother the grieving widower in his defence. Raven even has the odd worry about Simpson himself, especially his potential overuse of chloroform – Raven is served a drink laced with it on his first evening. Sarah, however, feels that Simpson is a good doctor and that there is something else underlying this need to discredit him.

This is not the only investigation going on in the household. A new employee, Mr. Quinton, is there to look after the admin and keep the books for the practice. Unofficially, he is trying to find the culprit for money going missing in the house. He wants to book drugs in and out too, and research patterns in the practice’s spending. There’s something about his persnickety nature and constant presence that’s very off putting. He doesn’t work in harmony with the house, but rather against it. He isn’t at the Uriah Heap level of obsequiousness, but that’s who I kept thinking of when he came into the story. I liked how the author brought in all these levels of surveillance. Quinton watches the household and practice, but he’s been under the steely eye of the butler since he arrived. Sarah is watching both Dr. Simpson, but also stumbles into another investigation while trying to clear his name. Raven is being watched, but is also watching others with Sarah. Their focus is split though: Sarah thinks Simpson’s name can be cleared and as the deaths pile up, the same name keeps cropping up, a nurse called Mary who has cared for people who seem to have lost their lives in suspicious circumstances. A sudden illness that involves seizures, unconsciousness, fatigue and weakness appears out of the blue, killing people in a matter of hours. Could this Angel of Mercy be an Angel of Death? Or could there be a rare new disease for Raven to discover? He daydreams about the acclaim it could bring if he has uncovered an unidentified disease. With the title Raven’s Malady running through his head, the two are on the look out for different things, but who will be proved right? More importantly will the investigators themselves be safe, as they trail all over Edinburgh to find answers?

If we add to this: a moneylender with a giant as his right hand man and some unexpected debtors on his books; a pregnancy; a bereavement; and a breakneck race to save someone’s life. The book is definitely jam packed with incident and tension, whether that be the tension of the race to find our culprit or the more ‘slow burn’ tension between Raven and Sarah. Our writers leave us with enough answers to feel satisfied and enough cliffhangers to look forward to the next book. This isn’t an easy balance to strike and I felt it was well – judged here. I was intrigued by the period detail when it came to surgery and obstetrics. I found myself won over by most of the characters. Sarah leapt off the page and when I read Mary’s chapters I was drawn into her upbringing and the terrible effect this had on her psychologically. This is a series I will look forward to revisiting and maybe even Raven might win me over next time.

Meet The Authors

This book is the second in the series featuring Dr Raven. This one is published by Canongate (Blackthorn) and will be available on March 2nd 2021. Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. The couple are married and live in Glasgow.

Chris Brookmyre is the international bestselling and multi-award-winning author of over twenty novels, including Black Widow, winner of both the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year.

Dr Marisa Haetzman is a consultant anaesthetist of twenty years’ experience, whose research for her Master’s Degree in the History of Medicine uncovered the material upon which The Way of All Flesh was based.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Forgive Me by Susan Lewis.

I’ve been reading this book for two days straight. Firstly because I had a fall a few nights ago so I’ve been recuperating from being very sore and bruised. Secondly, once the story started to unfold I found it hard to move away from. The concept of forgiveness is one that has always fascinated me and confused me in equal measure. As a child brought up in a religious household it was a requirement of Christianity, rather than a choice I could think about and there was no discussion about the understandable negative feelings surrounding it – anger, bitterness, hurt – because those were wrong too. As an adult I’ve had to talk myself out of this blanket approach to forgiveness and give myself permission not to forgive. I’ve also had to think about when holding onto that anger and bitterness might be more harmful to me than the other person – ‘holding onto anger is like holding a fiery coal’. I also had to learn that just because I forgive an action, doesn’t mean I have to keep that person in my life. Forgiveness does not always mean everything neatly slots back to the way it did before. This is something the characters in this book come to learn and it is Marcy who ends up with the most to forgive.

After her abusive husband is arrested and held on remand for dodgy business dealings, Rebecca decides to take her daughter, and her mother Marcy, and relocate somewhere totally new, leaving no trace. She goes as far as to change her name to Claudia and her daughter’s to Jasmine, dropping their Huxley-Browne surname. Marcus Huxley-Browne was a controlling bully, who had slowly sucked all of the confidence and joy out of Claudia over several years. He met her when she was a vulnerable widow and his kindness led her to trust him. Then once they were married all that sensitivity and care seemed to melt away. Then slowly he took a chisel to every part of her personality and chipped away until she started to doubt who she was. With a lot of help from Marcy, they take the opportunity of Marcus being remanded in prison to flee to the coast. There, in a flat by the sea, the three of them feel able to breathe again. Away from the constant criticism, Claudia finds she can make friends easily and even starts working again as an interior designer. She sees an incredible coach house for sale that would make a wonderful forever home for the family and she sets to work. The world seems to finally be opening up for Claudia and her family. However, will Marcus ever truly let go of them?

A terrible event does occur in the book that no one could have foreseen. It’s here where the theme of forgiveness, as a possible part of the restorative justice process, comes into the story and I found this part really interesting. Restorative justice is about victims and offenders communicating within a safe and mediated environment to talk about the harm that has been caused and finding a way to repair that harm. It gives the victim the chance to talk about the impact the crime has had on them directly to the offender. It gives the offender the chance to relate the crime they committed to an actual person and see how the victim has been affected. It also holds them accountable for their actions in a way that doesn’t always happen in the normal court process. Government research demonstrates that restorative justice provides an 85% victim satisfaction rate, and a 14% reduction in the frequency of reoffending. Here the author gives us both sides of the process by showing us in stark detail the effect of the crime on the victim, but also the background of the offender. Here and there through the narrative we read letters from the offender – how the restorative process begins- that detail his home life, the brutal hold of a family member on him and his mother, and a life of crime forced upon him from a young age. We know that this person is really the bottom of a long chain, a criminal subcontractor hired by someone powerful to do his dirty work. Essentially he is expendable, simply there to carry the can. Although in this case, the crime is much worse than was planned or expected.

This was a really engaging read. I quickly became invested in the family’s story and found myself very worried that their past would catch up with them, especially since a couple of their new friends started to work out who they really were. When there is a confrontation I found myself holding my breath, wondering what retribution would follow. I loved Marcy’s new romance with Henry and the fearless way she throws herself into the relationship. She was by far my favourite character and her story the most moving. I was imagining this funky, ballsy grandmother as Helen Mirren. It was a bit of a shock to hear one character to describe her as like Emma Thompson – I can’t imagine a world where Emma Thompson is old enough to have a 17 year old granddaughter! However, in terms of Marcy’s intelligence, beauty and grace it really made sense. Next to her, Claudia seems a lot quieter, cautious and sometimes invisible – something that’s not surprising given the experience she’s gone through with Marcus. It’s wonderful to see her come to life which tends to happen when she’s working on a project, especially The Coach House which is an incredible labour of love. I always feel on safe ground with Lewis. I know I’ll get a good read and I love that a lot of her heroines are women in middle life, dealing with their own problems, while supporting teenagers and parents who often need help. Far from being uninteresting and invisible, it’s women in mid-life who are often holding everything together while trying to hold down a job as well. But we’re also resilient, brave and ran out of damns to give a long time ago. I like that Lewis writes this mid-life characters and gives them strong, complex storylines like this one to get our teeth into.

Meet The Author

Susan Lewis has over thirty books to her name. She grew up in a council house on the edge of Bristol and was sent to boarding school after her mother died when she was 9. She has lived all over the world and started writing when she was advised by a boss at Thames Television to ‘go away and write something’. After time in the South of France and Hollywood she now lives in a barn in the Cotswolds with her husband and two dogs Coco and Lulabelle. Her website can be found at:

Home

If you’d like to know more about restorative justice, follow this link:

https://restorativejustice.org.uk/what-restorative-justice

Look out for these other fantastic bloggers on the tour.

Posted in Random Things Tours

A Song of Isolation by Michael Malone.

#RandomThingsTours #OrendaBooks #ASongOfIsolation #blogtour

I’m now at a point with Orenda books where I feel I could pick up any of their titles and be assured of a complex and intelligent read. Michael Malone is a completely new author to me, and this was controversial subject matter, but from the first few pages I felt assured that I was in excellent hands. This latest novel concerns a man called Dave, who seems to have it all. He has a job within his father’s business, a beautiful home and a long-term relationship with the well-known actress Amelie Hart. His whole world falls apart when out of the blue he is arrested, accused of molesting the little girl who lives next door. Damaris lives with both parents and seems like a lonely little girl, often desperate for someone to play with when Dave is working in the garden. They’ve played football and frisbee together several times, but on this occasion, the police allege that Damaris has gone home on her bike claiming Dave has touched her inappropriately. A medical examination reveals bruising consistent with sexual assault. From this point on Dave is living in a nightmare, continually asserting his innocence while every sign seems to point to his guilt. Within days he is charged and remanded into a sexual offender’s unit, because being in the general prison population would be unsafe. Amelie is devastated, although she was having doubts about their relationship she believes Dave is incapable of such a crime and now has to run the press gauntlet. Dave’s parents also believe he’s innocent, but as his mother points out ‘people will say there’s no smoke without fire’. This brings them unwanted press intrusion and has the potential to ruin his fathers business. They all wait on tenterhooks for the trial, needing to hear Damaris’s account and praying that it will clear Dave’s name.

There was such an easy flow to the writing I became drawn into these people’s lives very quickly. I believed in them. It is gritty in parts, but it needs to be. I think the author was very aware of treating the subject matter with patience, care and dignity. Whether Dave is found guilty or not, abuse of some sort has happened to Damaris. If it’s not sexual assault, and if they’ve planted this story knowing it’s a lie, her parents. have psychologically abused their daughter. It’s a violation, not of her body, but of her mind. I read the first few chapters keeping an open mind on the question of whether the events of that day happened according to Dave’s account or the account Damaris gives via video link to the court. The author manages to tread a fine line here, allowing the reader to make up their own mind and conveying both narratives with empathy. He never lets us forget that if even if Damaris gives a false account, it’s an account she believes and both of them are victims here.

I appreciated how the author shows us that in these cases the damage spreads far and wide like circles on a pond. For Amelie, the fame she had already turned her back on after a traumatic experience of her own, comes back to haunt her. She had shunned Hollywood for a quieter life, but now she has paparazzi at the door, speculation on her role in the abuse, and well known panel shows discussing her relationship. People who have known the couple give their accounts of how they could see ‘something off’ about David. I found myself moved by the accounts of verbal abuse from the general public and Amelie coming home with hair covered in spit. David’s parents receive similar treatment and find the trial a huge strain on their health with terrible consequences. Not that everything is well in Damaris’s home. Her parents are arguing and she is bombarded with professionals wanting to hear her account over and over. It’s worth pointing out for readers that we don’t hear a graphic account, but I think it is a more powerful a book because the author uses suggestion. The scenes where her parents are going over (or planting) her testimony are disturbing. Her Uncle Cammy comes round a lot more to see his niece, but finds his sister is often at the bottom of a bottle. He brings gifts, even when it’s not her birthday, setting off arguments about Damaris feeling different to the others at school and becoming spoilt. Damaris already knows she is different. My heart went out to this lonely, manipulated, little girl whose innocence has gone, if not on that day, then in the process required by court and her parents. Her confusion at her mum and dad using grown-up words and talking about body parts with her really stayed with me.

There is a sense of powerlessness running through this novel that is almost claustrophobic. Dave is swept up by a tsunami and dumped into a totally different world. It’s shattering to his sense of self – inside he is still the Dave he knows, but now everyone he meets views him differently, creating a chasm between his inner and outer selves. Even worse, as his time on remand continues, he finds himself acting very differently. Despised in the prison population and treated with suspicion by the prison officers, he feels constantly on his guard. He is forced into threatening behaviour and even acts of violence to keep others at bay. Paranoia sets in as he starts to realise that even inside and supposedly watched at all times, people from the outside could be influencing events. A begrudging friendship is forged with one cell mate, but even he can be turned into an assailant when his loved ones are threatened. Dave has always thought that Damaris’s family were simply broke and making false accusations for money. Now he starts to suspect that justice isn’t enough and someone very sinister wants him dead.

However, there are chinks of light in this nightmare that signal a sense of hope. I loved how Amelie and Dave’s parents form such a strong bond. For someone unsure about their relationship, Amelie is steadfast in her support. There is a lovely moment where Dave’s mum and Amelie hold hands in the courtroom. His mum has always wondered whether Amelie was truly serious about their relationship, but as they connect she can feel that this woman loves her son. Dave’s dad, Peter, treats her like family. He makes sure she is ok emotionally and promises to support her whatever she needs. With Dave refusing to see her, and outright hostility from the press and the public she will need to disappear into hiding again. Luckily, she has a French passport and can disappear into another country. The loneliness these characters feel forges a bond that wasn’t there before. They are being punished and serving time for something they haven’t done, found guilty in the court of the media and public opinion. I think their mutual support is a sign that healing can be found eventually. I found myself longing for the truth and a process of healing for Dave and Damaris equally.

Michael Malone is a very gifted writer. He has taken a difficult subject and created a compelling and powerful novel. For me, it was the profound sense of loss that hangs over this story that was most heartbreaking, emphasising the book’s title. Damaris loses the one person who has noticed her loneliness and vulnerability. When cross examining Damaris’s mum, the defence barrister asks when she last played football or frisbee with her daughter and she can’t remember. Even when talking to the police Damaris calls Dave her friend and this could be the confusion of a groomed child, but it feels genuine. On one hand I was desperate to believe Dave’s innocence. Yet, if they are found to be making false allegations, Damaris’s parents would be charged and she could possibly end up in care. Even if Dave is eventually found to be innocent he has lost so much: his job, his reputation, his relationship with Amelie and even his mother. Whatever the outcome, nobody wins here. Despite that, there is a sense that this is a phase of life that will pass, that maybe there will be healing and the chance to connect again. To take that song of isolation and turn it to one of hope for the future.