As The Women Lay Dreaming By Donald S. Murray

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As The Women Lay Dreaming by Donald S. Murray

Published By: Saraband

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

In the small hours of January 1st, 1919, the cruellest twist of fate changed at a stroke the lives of an entire community.

Tormod Morrison was there that terrible night. He was on board HMY Iolaire when it smashed into rocks and sank, killing some 200 servicemen on the very last leg of their long journey home from war. For Tormod a man unlike others, with artistry in his fingertips the disaster would mark him indelibly.

Two decades later, Alasdair and Rachel are sent to the windswept Isle of Lewis to live with Tormod in his traditional blackhouse home, a world away from the Glasgow of their earliest years. Their grandfather is kind, compassionate, but still deeply affected by the remarkable true story of the Iolaire shipwreck by the selfless heroism and desperate tragedy he witnessed.

A deeply moving novel about passion constrained, coping with loss and a changing world, As the Women Lay Dreaming explores how a single event can so dramatically impact communities, individuals and, indeed, our very souls.

What I Say:

“War is hearing other men scream and knowing you can do nothing to help them.”

Thank you to Saraband Books for my copy of As The Women Lay Dreaming in exchange for an honest review of the book.

As The Women Lay Dreaming tells the story of the Iolaire disaster that happened on January 1st 1919.  Tomrod Morrison, a talented artist and thoughtful young man, was on the ship as it went down.  On that night, more than 200 servicemen lost their lives. They were on their way home to their families, after having endured the horrors of war and were full of excitement and hope as to their future.

Tomrod was one of the lucky ones, he got to return to his family, but not to the life he wanted.  The impact of the First World War on his community was massive, lives were lost, families were destroyed, and those who had survived the conflict returned to the Isle of Lewis changed men.

When two decades later, his son in law is unable to cope with looking after his children after the death of their mother, Alasdair and Rachel are sent to live with Tormod and his wife Catriona.  From the moment they step off the ferry onto the island, they are forced to confront the fact that they are not only geographically miles away from what they know, but are isolated by the fact they don’t speak Gaelic, and are outsiders in a world that they didn’t want to come to in the first place.  They struggle to fit in at school, and Rachel not only starts to run away, but also chooses not to speak. It is only the love and consistency of their Grandfather and Catriona that helps the children understand settle and appreciate what being part of a family means.

Our narrator is Alasdair himself, and the novel’s timeline moves between 1992, 1936, and 1918. Alasdair reads through Tomrod’s diaries from 1918 and starts to understand the true hopes and desires of his Grandad, which brings him closer to him. He also learns about what his Grandad and family was going through, and why he and his sister were sent to lived there in 1936.

What is so clever about this novel is that Tomrod’s experience of the Iolaire disaster comes right at the end of the book.  This helps us understand Tomrod, that he had to sacrifice his dreams of becoming an artist in order to look after his family who had been devastated by the First World War.  He had no choice but to be the dutiful son, to ensure that his family could survive.

However, this is not just a novel about one family.  As The Women Lay Dreaming is an emotional exploration of the impact of war, and the aftermath of a massive disaster on a small, isolated island and its community.

The shifting of the timelines, the uncertainty of the future and the grief of the past, unsettle us as readers. We know that the Iolaire will smash into rocks and men will lose their lives, but we just don’t know when.  This sense of unease is apparent for Tomrod and his family.  He has been sent his Grandchildren, who not only have lost their mother but have had to deal with a drunk father incapable of looking after them.  In turn, Tomrod has lost his first wife, and his artistic ability has had to be suppressed in order for him to maintain his own family and be what everyone expects as oppose to what he really wants.

When we finally reach the chapters which graphically details the Iolaire disaster, it is a beautifully written and heart rending depiction of the awful reality of being a part of and a helpless bystander to a horrific tragedy.  Every line of these chapters is filled with the emotional impact of utter helplessness as Iolaire crashes on the rocks, and I felt that I had a moral duty to read and understand the choices the men had to make to survive. From the very first page, the entire time we are reading about life in Lewis, the visit of Alasdair and Rachel, the spectre of Iolaire is always in the background. The reality of what happened when it is revealed, is what makes us understand the enormity of the Iolaire tragedy.

The poetic and descriptive way in which Donald depicts Tomrod’s world and the Island itself, draws the reader in and serves to envelop them completely.  The sense of geographical isolation, coupled with the fact that all the men are determined to return to the island, gave the novel a mystical quality.  The fact the Iolaire disaster happened at night, and the scope of the disaster as many men managed to scramble out of the water and found themselves stranded along the coastline, was a brilliantly cinematic almost dream like scene . They are ordinary men trying to cope with the enormity of what has happened, what they have seen, and put that all aside to help rescue everyone else.

As The Women Lay Dreaming is a novel which at first may simply seem to the story of an island community dealing with a naval disaster.  It would be extremely naive to think that this is all it is.  In this novel, Donald S Murray has written a love story to the Isle of Lewis, an exploration of the impact of war, loss and grief on a family and their entire community.  To be witness to this disaster changed Tomrod’s life for ever, and in retelling the story of Iolaire and the Isle of Lewis, Donald Murray has ensured that this tragedy is given the attention it truly deserves.

Donald S MurrayPhoto by Sandie McIver

A son of the Hebrides, Donald S. Murray is a writer and poet whose work has been shortlisted for both the Saltire Literary Awards and the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award. His critically acclaimed books bring to life the culture and nature of the Scottish islands, and he appears regularly on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland.

Thank you to Saraband for my copy of As The Women Lay Dreaming.

Please follow the blog tour and the amazing bloggers below to find out what they are saying about As the Women Lay Dreaming too….

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Normal People by Sally Rooney

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Normal People By Sally Rooney

Published By Faber and Faber

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years.

This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.

What I Say:

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, says Marianne.  I don’t know why I can’t be like normal people.”

It’s about Marianne and Connell.

It’s about what it means to be part of the in-crowd and what it means to be on the outside looking in.

It’s about finding a best friend and a lover when you least expect it. 

It’s about holding them close and pushing them away because you don’t believe you deserve to be happy or that you can make them happy.

It’s about worrying what everyone else thinks and being so absorbed in each other that you don’t care what anyone else thinks as long as you are together.

It’s about believing that together you are invincible and that apart you are rootless.

It’s about doubting everything you say and think and believing you have no worth. 

It’s about realising that you mean something to someone and that their belief in you is enough but still not enough.

It’s about thinking they are everything and without them you are nothing, and finding out that you can survive without them but feeling guilty for doing so.

It’s about believing you are worth nothing and that you always deserve to be treated that way.

It’s about feeling so overwhelmed that you can’t move and finding that the person who knows you best will lie with you until you can.

It’s about understanding that you can never completely be together and that you will never be apart.

It’s about being too scared to say what you truly want and having the confidence to say enough.

It’s about understanding there may be others, but knowing they will always find their way back to you.

It’s about facing the truth about the families we come from and the families we wish we had.

It’s about realising that you can just survive when you are apart and that you only truly exist when you are together.

It’s about loving someone so much that you put the rest of their life first, even though it means you are not part of it.

It’s about every imperfect perfect all consuming wonderful heartbreaking relationship you have ever had.

It’s about Marianne and Connell.

“You should go she says. I’ll always be here. You know that.”

Little by Edward Carey

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Edward Carey: Little

Published By: Gallic Books

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

There is a space between life and death: it’s called waxworks

Born in Alsace in 1761, the unsightly, diminutive Marie Grosholtz is quickly nicknamed ‘Little’. Orphaned at the age of six, she finds employmet in Bern, Switzerland, under the charge of reclusive anatomist, Dr Curtius. In time the unlikely pair form an unlikely bond, and together they pursue an unusual passion: the fine art of wax-modelling.

Forced to flee their city, the doctor and his protégée head for the seamy streets of Paris where they open an exhibition hall for their uncanny creations. Though revolution approaches, the curious-minded flock to see the wax heads, eager to scrutinise the faces of royalty and reprobates alike. At ‘The Cabinet of Doctor Curtius’, heads are made, heads are displayed, and a future is built from wax.

From the gutters of pre-revolutionary France to the luxury of the Palace of Versailles, from casting the still-warm heads of The Terror to finding something very like love, Little is the unforgettable story of how a ‘bloodstained crumb of a girl’ went on to shape the world…

What I Say:

“Wax, also, is privacy.  Wax seals letters.  Wax keeps all the world’s words where they should be, until the right hands come to let them out.”

Sometimes you see a book, and you know that it is going to be special.   I was very lucky to receive this copy from Gallic Books.  I am writing this, because when you find a novel that keeps sneaking back in to your mind weeks after reading it, you want the world to know about it.

Little, of the title, is Marie Grosholtz.  Her father dies, she and her mother, in desperate need of money and a place to live, start to work for the mysterious Doctor Curtius.  Unable to cope without her husband, and feeling she has let her daughter down, Little’s mother commits suicide.  This leaves Little and Doctor Curtius alone and unsure of what to do about each other.  Some unseen bond seems to draw them together from the start, and Doctor Curtius assumes the role of Little’s guardian.

What makes this relationship different to a traditional parent child one, is that Doctor Curtius is famed for his work with wax.  From the very start, Marie is fascinated by the medical equipment and the body parts that he has all around his house.  She is not in the least phased by the seemingly macabre pursuits he has, but instead is fascinated by them and is desperate to learn.

Curtius realises that a city like Paris would have far more potential for models for his wax works, so he takes Marie (who is known as Little due to her diminutive stature) to live with Widow Picot and her son Edmond.  Widow Picot views Curtius and especially Little as inconveniences who inhabit her space. You sense that Little is slowly fading into the background.

What is one of the most interesting and timely ideas in the novel, is the notion of celebrity.  Curtius becomes more in demand as he makes wax heads of the famous and notorious of Paris. To be immortalised in wax and to be famous enough to be displayed becomes increasingly important to the great and good (and not so good).  If your wax head is chosen to be exhibited, you matter, and your place in society is secured.  However, once you are no longer relevant, the wax head is melted, ready to be moulded into the shape of the next newsworthy person.  Your success is measured by how long your wax head is on display.

Curtius’ reputation and success grows, and along with Little, Widow Picot and Edmond, they move into a larger house.  Curtius realises he is falling in love with the Widow, and Edmond and Little are getting closer.  Widow Picot is proving herself to be an astute businesswoman.  Business is booming and Little is permitted to start working with Curtius again.  When they are able to meet and make a wax head of Voltaire, their display becomes the must see exhibition and makes Edmond a very eligible bachelor.  When Edmond is forced to marry the daughter of a print factory owner, Little is bereft.

It is at this point that Little meets Princess Elisabeth, and she is called to the palace to become Princess Elisabeth’s sculptor tutor.  What no one could foresee is that for the next eleven years, Little’s home is a cupboard in Versailles Palace.

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Little seems to be nothing more that a possession, a plaything for the Princess.  She brought out of her cupboard, played with and then sent back again. For many, this would seem to be a life of misery.  Little understands that this is now her chance to make herself indispensible to Princess Elisabeth, and sets about working to ensure she is a vital part of the Princess’ life. They start to fall in love and one cannot function without the other.

When Elisabeth is no longer a viable marriage asset for the family, she is sent to a far wing of the castle and Little goes with her. When the Widow and her family arrive at the Palace with wax heads of the royal family that Little has smuggled to them, Little is dismissed from the Palace in disgrace.

France is now in a complete state of turmoil, the Revolution is in full swing, and the family is destitute as their bookkeeper has disappeared with their money.  What Edward Carey does with such mastery is to weave in French history seamlessly throughout the novel.  Monarchs are overthrown, the French Revolution moves apace and the celebrated wax figures are of those who lost their lives to the cause- Revolutionaries bring dismembered heads demanding that these martyrs are captured for eternity.

Edmond is back home, a changed man after having a breakdown, and Little is the only one who can reach him.  When the occupants of the house are rounded up and arrested, Edmond is left in the attic and to his death.  The Widow is executed and finally Little and Curtius find their way back to each other.  He allows her to call him Uncle – the family that has eluded her for so long is now right in front of her.  Little knows that to be accepted into society she has to marry, so chooses Francois Joseph Tussaud.  Little is no more, and instead, Madame Tussaud is the name that will be remembered throughout history.

Little is an astounding novel.  It is breathtaking in its historical scope and detail, and you will be completely absorbed by every twist and turn of Little’s life and those around her.  Edward Carey’s amazing illustrations make you feel as if you are reading Little’s diaries and serve only to bring the reader even closer to her.

Love, motherhood, what it means to be a parent and the power of celebrity are all part of this stunning novel.  However, at the very heart of it, and in every single page you read, is Little and her determination to finally be heard.

I hope that Little finds a space on your bookshelf and a place in your heart.

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Many call me Madame Two-Swords.  I am rather a public building.  I used to tell my visitors the story of my life.  Is it all true? they wondered.  Wax, I told them, does not know how to lie”.

The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond

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Gary Raymond: The Golden Orphans

Published By: Parthian

What The Blurb Says:

Within the dark heart of an abandoned city, on an island once torn by betrayal and war, lies a terrible secret…

Francis Benthem is a successful artist; he’s created a new life on an island in the sun. He works all night, painting the dreams of his mysterious Russian benefactor, Illy Prostakov. He writes letters to old friends and students back in cold, far away London. But now Francis Benthem is found dead. The funeral is planned and his old friend from art school arrives to finish what Benthem had started. The painting of dreams on a faraway island. But you can also paint nightmares and Illy has secrets of his own that are not ready for the light. Of promises made and broken, betrayal and murder…

The Golden Orphans offers a new twist on the literary thriller.

What I Say:

“As I say, this is a crazy island. What you see is more than you can possibly understand, and you don’t see the half of it”.

I have to say from the outset, that The Golden Orphans is not a novel I would ever have chosen to read. It is something that is completely out of my reading comfort zone, and to be honest, before starting my blog, I would not even have considered picking it up.

This is what reading for me is all about. Challenging yourself, having the confidence to try reading something different. Honestly, try it – then you might find a novel like The Golden Orphans.

Francis Benthem seemingly had an idyllic life. Living on the beautiful island of Cyprus, painting the dreams of his benefactor Illy Prostakov, it would seem that he had everything he could need. However, when Francis is found dead, our Narrator comes to the island to attend the funeral and without warning is gradually drawn into the mysterious world that Francis inhabited.

We never learn the name of the Narrator, but for me, that added a sense of mystery and timelessness to the novel. It could be something that happens at any time to any of us. We know that he is in a relationship with a woman called Clare, and that their communication is limited to a series of terse and distant phone calls, which serves only to show the cracks that are already appearing in their relationship.

When the Narrator decides to see for himself how Francis worked, he goes to Prostakov’s house to understand what his friend was doing so far away from home. As Francis has left all his possessions to the Narrator, he needs to visit Prostakov. When he finally meets Prostakov, the Narrator is the link between the two men, and he is offered Francis’ job. He is also introduced to two young girls, Dina and Darya, who the Narrator assumes to be his children.

All he has to do apparently, is paint Prostakov’s dreams. The thing is, that is all he is told. Prostakov will describe them, the Narrator has to paint them until he gets it right, but you sense that if he does not do it properly, there may be dire consequences.

This is the start of The Narrator’s intiation into the mysterious world of Prostakov. Little by little he is leaving the safe world he has known for so long, and is now entering a time and place that will mean he is slowly retreating from reality and is being cocooned from the world outside..

The Narrator is aware that he is walking into something that might be dangerous, and attempts to find out from the locals exactly who Prostakov is – and they are not telling.

I felt that this was a clever way of disorienting the reader. We, like the Narrator have no idea where this is leading us, no one is talking and we are as much in the dark as he is as to who Prostakov is. He is in a foreign country and his friend has died working for the very man he is trying to appease. Stelly, a man who works for Prostakov tells the Narrator that he was painting maps for his boss, and that he wanted him to keep painting until he got the details right. You immediately sense that Prostakov’s desire to keep the men painting is something far more than a narcissistic desire to have himself immortalised.

The Golden Orphans is set in Cyprus, and for me, I was completely naive about the history and the culture of this island. The Orphans of the title refer to the 30 children who had no parents when the Turks invaded. As the novel moves along, slowly we start to understand exactly why they are so important to Prostakov..

This is where the novel switches up a notch – up to this point, it had been a slow burning, eloquent exploration of Cyprus and the mystery as to why the painting was so important to Prostakov. What happens next, (and no, I am not going to tell you, buy The Golden Orphans!), suddenly hurtles this novel firmly into the thriller and action genre. The plot moves along at a breakneck speed, moving us one way and pulling us back another. It is intelligent, thought provoking and more importantly, had me turning the pages faster and faster as I wanted to find out what happened! It has all the hallmarks of a fascinating novel that would be a perfect television series.

The Golden Orphans is much more than a thriller novel. It is a compassionate study of a world I knew nothing about, a love letter to Cyprus and a way of understanding the history of an island that has seen so much in its history. If you are looking for a fast paced, elegantly written and poignant novel about love, life and the strength of the human spirit, The Golden Orphans should be added to your reading list immediately.

About Gary Raymond:

Gary Raymond is a novelist, critic, editor and broadcaster. He is the presenter of BBC Radio Wales’, The Review Show, and is one of the founding editors of Wales Arts Review. He is the author of two novels, The Golden Orphans (Parthian, 2018) and For Those Who Come After (Parthian, 2015). He is a widely published critic and cultural commentator.

Social Media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GaryRaymond_

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/forthosewhocomeafter1/

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gary-Raymond/e/B07FTSDY12/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Purchase Links

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Golden-Orphans-Gary-Raymond-ebook/dp/B07BSP5QNM/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Orphans-Gary-Raymond-ebook/dp/B07BSP5QNM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1538303201&sr=8-1&keywords=the+golden+orphans&dpID=4198UgMGu5L&preST=_SY445_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-golden-orphans/gary-raymond/9781912109135

Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Golden-Orphans-Gary-Raymond/9781912109135?ref=grid-view&qid=1538303257382&sr=1-1

NOOK: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-golden-orphans-gary-raymond/1128322874?ean=9781912109272

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/the-golden-orphans

Publishing Information:

Published by Parthian Books on 30th June 2018.

The Golden Orphans Blog Tour continues with and has featured all these amazing bloggers. Have a look to see what they have been saying about #TheGoldenOrphans …

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The Necessary Marriage By Elisa Lodato

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Elisa Lodato: The Necessary Marriage

Published By: W&N

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

Jane is sixteen when she falls in love with her teacher. Leonard Campbell is everything she has ever wanted: handsome, intelligent and attentive. He singles Jane out, giving her novels to read and discuss over long walks and cosy dinners. It is only once married, tied down and tied down with two children in 1980s suburbia that Jane realises she might have settled too early, losing much of herself in the process.

Then Marion and Andrew, a couple whose passion frequently tips into violence, move in next door, forcing Jane to confront feelings she didn’t know she could have. And when Marion abandons her family, Jane steps in to help with the couple’s two boys, setting in motion a series of events, all of which expose the push and pull within every relationship. As desire and loyalty are blurred, it becomes clear that nobody can escape the devastating impact of a family falling apart.

The Necessary Marriage is an intense, intimate portrait of how couples come together and grow apart, and the passions that drive us to do crazy things.

What I Say:

“The need to connect with another human being. To have part of you awakened by the attentions of another. To have and to hold. To touch and to take. But her own decisions to take Leonard at his first offering had weighed her down. To this armchair. To this child.”

As soon as I started reading Elisa’s first novel, An Unremarkable Body, I knew I had found an author with an incredible voice and a unique perspective, and loved every single page.

When I heard that Elisa had a new novel coming out, obviously it had to go to the top of my reading pile, and was very flattered that Jennifer at Orion kindly sent me a copy of The Necessary Marriage.

There is always that fear when you get an author’s second novel that it won’t be the same, that the connection to the characters and the drive of the narrative will be somehow different. For me, The Necessary Marriage cements Elisa as one of the best new authors I have been fortunate to discover.

Jane and Leonard meet, fall in love and have a family. So far, so straightforward. The one fact that makes this a moral maze is that Leonard is Jane’s teacher and she is just seventeen when they meet. Leonard is in his thirties and devoted to his job and his mother.

The surprising thing from the start is that this is not a case of an older man setting out to seduce one of his pupils. Jane wants Leonard, and her attraction and desire means she sets out to make him hers. From the outset, you understand that Jane wants to be his wife, her love for him and her intelligent arguments about her feelings for him mean that although her parents are initially vehemently against it, they can see how determined their daughter is.

Leonard understands the complexity of the situation too, but cannot deny the attraction he feels towards Jane. He rebuffs her, ignores her and tries to make her aware of all the obstacles they face, but starts to realise he is enthralled by her and wants Jane too.

However, after his reservations become too much, he ends their relationship which sets Jane off on a course of irrational and uncharacteristic behaviour. Jane tries to console herself by acting as she thinks she should, rather than being true to her feelings. This leads her to Jamie, and a misjudged relationship she only participates in to try to forget Leonard.

Finally, Leonard and Jane reconcile and marry. This should be the start of the marriage that Jane has yearned for, the idyllic notion of a husband and wife together for the rest of their days. Elisa’s skill in writing their unconventional relationship leads us to believe that Jane has finally got her happy ever after. The only problem is that as soon as they share the marital bed, Jane realises this is not what she had imagined. Jane’s idealised notion of marriage and love has not come to fruition, and she is now coming to the shocking conclusion that her needs and desires do not match those of Leonard. Jane is trapped.

As the marriage trundles on, Jane and Leonard have two girls, Becca and Julia. Jane is now a wife and mother, her own hopes and desires subsumed by the needs of others and the daily monotony means that she has to pack away her own dreams as her identity slowly slips away from her.

Perhaps this is why when Marion, Andrew, Robbie and Jonathan move in next door, Jane is at once intrigued and appalled by them. They seem socially poles apart from her reserved middle class family, having inherited their house from Andrew’s father, but as we see, Marion and Andrew face exactly the same hopes and fears as they do. They are brash, loud and unapologetic, and from the start you can see Marion’s unhappiness in her own marriage and her reluctance to do what Andrew feels she should. The difference between Jane and Marion is that Marion has no qualms in putting her own happiness first. After relying heavily on Jane to provide both moral support and most of her childcare, no one is overly concerned when Marion disappears.

Having seen how Jane and Leonard came to be in their situation, we now see the story of Marion and Andrew. Elisa takes us right back to the first time they met, how Marion was forced to come and live in London with her brother Jonny after the death of their parents. Unlike Jane, Marion does not pursue Andrew – she seems to fall into the relationship with this boy who hangs around with her brother, but when she becomes pregnant, a new determination and force drives her to make a place for her family.

All the while she is with Andrew, you sense that there is something far more sinister about him, that his turbulent childhood has made him the man he is today. Someone who is on the edge of something, fuelled by a simmering resentment towards his violent father and the shell of a woman his mother became as a result. Marion realises that Andrew is not a placid man, and when she tries to leave, Andrew puts his hand round her throat. When they move into the house next to Jane and Leonard, the scene has been set for an unhappy marriage and Jane seems to be drawn towards Andrew. Maybe he is the embodiment of the desire and passion she lacks from her relationship with Leonard.

As Jane and Andrew move closer together, Leonard warns her that he senses Andrew is not as innocent as he seems.  Jane is torn between doing what is expected, and what she truly desires.  Not suprisingly, after having to live a life of looking after everyone else, she decides it is time to put her needs first.

This decision starts the disintegration of the two families, as Jane and Andrew grow increasingly close and blur the physical and emotional boundaries of their marriages.  Coupled with Becca’s relationship with Andrew’s son Jonathan, the families are pulled together and forced to confront the fact that they are now and forever inextricably linked. What follows in the novel, will change all of them forever, and make Jane question whether it is better to live a mundane but safe life, or risk everything for the life she craves.

The Necessary Marriage is a beautifully written and thoughtful exploration of marriage, love, motherhood and identity.  Elisa skilfully draws us into two marriages, seemingly completely different, but at the heart of both lies the same question. Is it better to settle for what we have, or to strive for what we believe we deserve, irrespective of the consequences.

As Jane says at the end of a novel, ‘The idea of a person and the reality of a life together.  She saw it all now.’

I loved it, and cannot wait to read Elisa’s next novel.

Pieces of Me by Natalie Hart

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Natalie Hart: Pieces Of Me

Published By: Legend Press

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

Emma did not go to war looking for love, but Adam is unlike any other.

Under the secret shadow of trauma, Emma decides to leave Iraq and joins Adam to settle in Colorado. But isolation and fear find her, once again, when Adam is re-deployed. Torn between a deep fear for Adam’s safety and a desire to be back there herself, Emma copes by throwing herself into a new role mentoring an Iraqi refugee family.

But when Adam comes home, he brings the conflict back with him. Emma had considered the possibility that her husband might not come home from war. She had not considered that he might return a stranger.

What I Say:

Thank you very much to Legend Press for sending me this copy of Natalie’s book. I have to say from the outset, after all the bad press bloggers have had this week, I have been feeling a little weary about it all.  Wondering whether there was any point at all in my writing about this novel.  I haven’t been asked to, I am not taking part in any blog tour to promote it, nor have I received any payment to talk about Pieces Of Me.

Let me tell you why I am taking a couple of hours out of my weekend to write this post.

Quite simply, I want to tell you about this amazing book. Why I loved it, what I got from it, and what it meant to me.

That’s it.

You can read my blog post or not, and decide if you want to read Pieces of Me.  I blog because I love books and reading so much, and if by writing this post or any of my posts, I can inspire you to pick up a book and read, that’s enough.

Book Bloggers do this because we are all motivated by the same thing.  We love books and reading, and want to share that with you all. Nothing makes me happier than when someone tells me that they have bought a book because I recommended it and they loved it.  For me, that’s all I need, and I will keep blogging because reading and books will always be my passion.

 

And now in front of me, with fragments from all the periods and places of my life, it starts to take shape again.  A silent call. An invitation. All the pieces of me.’

Pieces of Me tells the story of Emma and Adam.  They meet, fall in love, marry and are separated when Adam is deployed on a mission in Iraq and Emma stays at home in Colarado.  So far so simple. The difference is that this is the very first layer of the story.  This is a love story unlike any you will have read before, because at the heart of it always is the reality of a couple who have met in a time of war and have experienced things that many of us can never understand.

Emma and Adam meet in a world where they are attempting to maintain a level of normality on a compound in Iraq, while all around them, the world outside is fighting a war.  Friday afternoons where everyone congregates around the pool area, where they can drink and dance and try to forget what they have had to deal with, become the most important and stabilising thing for everyone.  Sealed in this bubble, emotions are heightened and people realise that time is short, and life should be lived to its fullest while they can. It is almost as if that the pent up frustrations and anger at the futility and damage of what is happening outside their walls, gives some of them permission to disregard what is right and instead seize what they want and believe they are entitled to.  Couples stray, women are preyed upon and are forced to defend themselves, and rules are made to be broken.

Emma is an administrator who interviews people who have applied for urgent visas to enter the United States.  She with her friend Anna, make the best of their situation and form a friendship over their shared experiences.  She meets Adam who contacts her after a blind date set up by Anna, to ask for her help in arranging for some contacts of his to leave Baghdad.  When Adam and Emma realise they are falling in love, they feel invincible.  They believe that their love will overcome everything and that they need to grab the moments while they can.  Emma loves her job, but she decides to move to Colorado with Adam to start a new chapter.

Emma tries to make a life for herself in Colorado, but finds it far from easy.  She is used to working, to helping others, and although life in Colorado is calm and peaceful, it does not bring her the fulfillment she needs.  She makes friends with Kate, who is the wife of Adam’s friend Dave, and this gives her at least some contact with other people.  When Emma finds a job in a local art shop, she meets Noor, who encourages her to attend a local art group attended by refugees.  Finally Emma starts to feel she can connect with others again and have a reason to be, which is where she meets Zainab, and Noor suggests that Emma becomes the family’s mentor.

Through the novel, the idea of two worlds co-existing is something that comes through every chapter.  Emma and Adam are living in Colorado, but the reality that he may well be deployed back to Baghdad is a constant and unspoken undercurrent. It is something that both of them know is only a phone call away, but that they are doing their best to avoid.

When the call comes, and Adam is told he is to be deployed, he starts to emotionally remove himself from the marriage, possibly to ensure he can focus on the mission he knows he has to do.  Emma knows that this is happening, and for me, I felt Emma’s anguish and increasing sense of isolation  – she just doesn’t know where she fits in any more. By throwing herself into mentoring Zainab’s family, she at last feels she has a purpose, that her existence in Colorado is finally validated.

When Adam’s best friend Dave is killed on the mission, the reality of the conflict, and the fragility of life makes Emma further question what this is all for.  Then Adam returns home.  Natalie’s pertinent writing makes this part of the novel the most brutal and traumatic.  Adam is not the same man who went away.  He cannot bring himself back to Emma and is instead pushing her further away as he sinks slowly into the life he has in Colorado.  Adam is here, Dave is not, and Emma although sympathetic, cannot possibly understand what he has gone through.

There is a superb part in the plot, where Emma is forced to make a choice, and although she seemingly makes the right one, it starts a chain of events that pushes Emma and Adam to the limits of their marriage.  Emma moves around Adam, worried about doing anything to provoke him as he dominates the space in the house.  Adam’s time away has poured into every facet of their relationship and has pushed them further apart.  Set against this now unhealthy and claustrophobic relationship, Emma finds solace and a sense of understanding by looking through a jar she has filled with fragments of things that have been emotionally important to her.  Each one alone means something, but together, laid in front of her they paint a whole picture of her life.  Emma now has to decide where the next piece comes from  – and does it feature Adam?

Pieces of Me is a beautifully understated and consistently powerful novel. The reality of war and more importantly its effect on those who are part of it, can never be underestimated.  Natalie has written a novel of our overwhelming and unsettled times, of love and loss, and makes us realise that often what is not said is much more important than what is.  If I took one thing away from Pieces of Me, it is that life is short, and everyone has the right to be happy, to find the fragments that together make them whole.

I loved it.

 

The Secrets You Hide by Kate Helm

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The Secrets You Hide by Kate Helm

Published By Bonnier Zaffre

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

Georgia Sage has a gift: she can see evil in people. As a courtroom artist she uses her skills to help condemn those who commit terrible crimes. After all, her own brutal past means she knows innocence is even rarer than justice.

But when she is drawn back into the trial that defined her career, a case of twisted family betrayal, she realises her own reckless pursuit of justice may have helped the guilty go free.

As Georgia gets closer to the truth behind the Slater family, something happens that threatens not only her career – but even her own sanity. At first, she fears her guilt around the events of her terrible childhood is finally coming back to haunt her.

The truth turns out to be even more terrifying . . .

What I Say:

Georgia Sage has a job that many of us don’t even think about. We take for granted the sketches from inside the courtroom that appear on our news programmes and only notice them if something stands out about them. Georgia not only sketches scenes from inside the courtroom, but she understands the power that she has in interpreting the character of the people inside the courtroom. By deciding whether or not she feels that someone is guilty or not guilty, Georgia produces sketches that show the personality of the person and influences the judging decisions that are made. Georgia wants justice to be done, and for those who are guilty to be punished.

Georgia is not doing this as a malicious endeavour, she herself has been the victim of a senseless and unspeakably terrible crime. As a young girl, then called Suzanne, she was locked in her bedroom as her father killed her mother and her younger brother Pip. Her life shattered and incomprehensible, she is sent to live with foster parents and given a new identity as Georgia Sage to start to rebuild her life.

Little by little, Georgia starts to see a young boy around her. The only thing is, no one else does. Georgia knows that something is not right, but she feels she has no one to turn to. As well as trying to maintain her career, she is battling with the realisation that she may be like her father, and is suffering with mental health issues.

When Georgia is approached to draw a picture for a book featuring the most memorable cases of courtroom artists, she finds herself forced to revisit a disturbing case she had to document earlier in her career. Daniel Fielding, apparently jealous of his new step mother, set fire to the house while she was inside, unaware she was pregnant and that there were two children being babysat inside. His father Jim, had rushed into the fire and managed to save the two young children. However, he lost his wife and unborn baby in a seemingly senseless crime perpetrated by a member of his family.

When Jim and Georgia meet, he seems initally to be the reluctant and humble hero, but as Georgia starts to paint him, to see the man behind the headlines. you sense that there is much more to him than first appears. For me, I thought that it was particularly poignant that the more Georgia adds layers to her painting, that more layers are peeled away from Jim and the world around him. There is always an unease that permeates every visit she makes, a sense of mistrusting Georgia because she is not local, and that Jim is such a powerful part of his local community. As she gets more involved in his world, she starts to realise that Jim may be far more complex and not the folk hero he first seems..

All the while, Georgia is seeing not only a little boy called Charlie, who it transpires was one of the children caught in the Fielding’s fire, but also her murdered brother Pip, and a teenage girl Georgia nicknames Pink. This is a brilliant plot device – it serves to disorentiate and confuse us and wonder what on earth this means.  We see Georgia battling with her demons on a daily basis, and how it makes her worry about her own mental state and ability to function, to appear ‘normal’ so she can keep her job.

When the reason for Georgia seeing these children is revealed (as always, am not going to tell you – buy the book!), as a reader you understand that this not only explains what Georgia has been seeing and why, but also makes us understand how she has to become focussed on what is ultimately important to resolve these issues while she still can.

In Georgia, Kate has created a sensitive and relatable character. We feel her sense of loss, her ongoing struggle to try and build an identity and a new life. I felt that we were as much a part of Georgia’s journey as she is, she is trying to not only make sense of her past life, but also to ultimately be comfortable with her new one.

What differentiates The Secrets You Hide, and for me, makes it a must read novel is that it is so different to anything I have read before. The whole plot unravels little by little and packs punch after punch and twist after twist. I am certainly not going to tell you any more about what happens, because it would absolutely spoilt it, but let me tell you this. I have read lots of books, and I did not guess at all what was going to happen. The joy of The Secrets You Hide is its complexity and intelligence.  It takes the tried and tested thriller genre, shakes it up, and adds a brilliantly flawed heroine who we desperately want to succeed, and ensures we are there every breathtaking step of the way.

Kate Helm’s first novel of this genre is brilliant in its orginality and razor sharp in its execution.  Believe me, if you love books, and are looking for your next must read novel, you won’t want to miss this chance to meet Georgia Sage for the first, and hopefully not the last time.

I loved it.

What Kate Says:

I am very proud to have a guest post from Kate Helm, the Author of The Secrets You Hide – here’s Kate to tell you about which podcasts you should be listening to and why.

Am off to download them all now…

Top 5 podcasts for thriller fans – and thriller writers – by author Kate Helm

If you’re a crime or thriller fan who hasn’t discovered podcasts yet, this could change your life.

I love podcasts: they’re free, easy to download and they transform household chores, dog walks and any other routine task into a fascinating experience. And, in my case, they’ve even inspired an entire novel: the idea for The Secrets You Hide came when I was listening to one on a cross-trainer.

So here are my top 5 for fans of crime and thriller writing:

Criminal – the unexpected podcast

It was an episode of Criminal, a beautifully made American podcast, that triggered the idea for my novel about a courtroom artist. In Pen and Paper, They interviewed court sketch artists about their work and how it felt to stare into the eyes of the accused and the seed of the story began to grow in my mind. I love Criminal because the show features quirky, unexpected cases and fascinating people who operate across the law, from dog theft to the impact of gunshot wounds.

They walk among us – the British crime podcast

Many crime-themed podcasts are US-based, but this one focuses on UK cases – it can be gritty but I love the range of topics covered, from the Krays right up to contemporary trials.

File on 4 – the investigative podcast

This is a UK BBC current affairs show so each week there’s a well-made investigative documentary covering crime and legal issues, as well as other controversial subjects. It’s not just the stories themselves that grip, it’s also how the reporters uncover them, as it gives you a glimpse of what it takes to get to the truth.

The bingeworthy one-off podcasts – Serial, Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel, The Ratline

Serial put investigative podcasts on the map, as it unpicked a cold case step-by-step across multiple episodes: it’s now on its third season. I am a sucker for a story that unravels slowly, playing tricks with you as you change your mind about guilt or innocence. The two ‘intrigue’ documentaries from the BBC offer the same depth and doubts, with Murder at the Lucky Holiday Hotel focusing on shady Chinese-British business dealings, and The Ratline dealing with the Nazi’s secret escape route from Europe.

Hidden Brain – the podcast about what makes us tick

Too much true crime can be exhausting or depressing – and like many readers, and writers, the whydunnit matters as much to me as the whodunnit. Hidden Brain is a great listen, covering the psychology of groups and individuals, from #metoo to procrastination or going without sleep. The examples are always fascinating and the presenter Shankar Vedantam really gets the most of out each topic.

The Secrets You Hide is published as an e-book on October 4 and paperback on February 7. Join Kate’s free book club for exclusive previews and competitions to win signed books by your favourite thriller authors, via Kate’s website www.kate-harrison.com or follow her on Twitter @katewritesbooks

If you have missed any more posts from Kate’s Blog Tour, here are my fellow brilliant bloggers who have been taking part. Find out what they have been saying about The Secrets You Hide..

Thanks to Francesca Russell and Sahina Bibi at Bonnier Zaffre and Netgalley for my e-copy in exchange for an honest review.