Something To Live For by Richard Roper

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Richard Roper: Something To Live For

Published By: Orion Books

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says: 

All Andrew wants is to be normal.

He has the perfect wife and 2.4 children waiting at home for him after a long day. At least, that’s what he’s told people. The truth is, his life isn’t exactly as people think and his little white lie is about to catch up with him. Because in all Andrew’s efforts to fit in, he’s forgotten one important thing: how to really live.

And maybe, it’s about time for him to start…

 

What I Say:

You can see from the photo that is at the top of the blog post, that this is a proof that was carried everywhere with me.  I first started reading it at 9.32 on Saturday 25 May in the quiet carriage on the train (spookily very apt as you will discover!) to London Marylebone.  I am telling you this seemingly irrelevant fact as a way to apologise to anyone in that Quiet Carriage, because it made me laugh – loudly, and I didn’t even care I got tutted at – twice!

The thing is, Something To Live For is one of those books.  You know when you have read something so perfect, that when you meet someone else who has read it too, all you need to do is look at each other and say ‘I know’, with an acknowledgement that you are both now part of that club.  It is the book I needed to read at this point in my year, because it is a fabulous, life affirming novel that made me stop and think about how I interact with everyone and the world around me.

The hero of this story is Andrew.  He works for the Local Council and is tasked with finding if people who pass away alone have any relatives or friends who can be informed.  This means that Andrew has to go into houses that are left in the state when the person passed away.  Some are pristine, and some are not, but all of them contain the life and story of the person, and Andrew has to try and find any connections to others that they may have.

In cases where they don’t, Andrew takes it upon himself to attend their Council provided funerals to make sure that someone is there for them.  As far as his colleagues are concerned, every night Andrew goes home to his wife Diane, and his two children, and falls into the usual mundane domestic routines we all know and recognise. 

The thing is, there is no Diane and no children.

Andrew has invented them, using a complex set of spreadsheets and fabricated memories and anecdotes to make sure that he blends in seamlessly with everyone else around him.

Andrew’s actual home life is that of a man without a Mum and Dad, an estranged and erratic sister called Sally, a dismal flat where his only solace is his model trains (told you it was spooky!), and the online friends he has made in his model train forum.

One day, a new employee called Peggy starts working with Andrew, and a whole new world that Andrew could never have envisaged, opens out before him.  Peggy bursts into his world and Andrew starts to realise he is drawn to her and that maybe he is entitled to be happy. Except Peggy who is unhappily married, believes that Andrew is a happily married father of two. 

In an excruciating turn of events, Andrew’s boss Cameron decides the team building exercise should be a Come Dine With Me experience, with each employee hosting a dinner party at their house. How can Andrew possibly take part and risk his carefully constructed reality come crashing down around him. Should he risk telling his colleagues and more importantly Peggy the truth, and lose everything including her friendship, or say nothing?

This dilemma is intertwined with Peggy and Andrew on their own mission to find a lady simply known as ‘B’ who is in a picture found at the house of one of their clients called Alan Carter. They head off to Northumberland to attempt to trace her, and it is there that away from other people that their relationship changes for ever.

Richard’s writing is pitch perfect the whole way through. His innate skill in making Andrew a character you root for from the very first time you meet him, and the fact you feel every pain, disappointment and glimmer of joy that Andrew does, is testament to his talent as a novelist. It is also witty, clever and filled with passages of such poignant writing on love and loss that it made me stop and re-read them.

I am not ashamed to say that this novel made me cry several times, as Andrew relived his estrangement from his sister and mother, and the awful heartbreaking incident that stopped him living his life. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is simply a light hearted, fluffy novel, because it isn’t. It is a beautifully written story of one man slowly finding his way back to the world he has shut out, and a novel of love, hope and connection.

Something To Live For is a very special novel, that I will insist everyone makes time to read., It has a wonderful, likeable protagonist at the centre, and in a world where we are so reliant on connecting with people via screens, we learn that Andrew and people like him, simply need us to put down our phones and take a minute to look up and speak with the people we might otherwise never see.

I loved it.

Thank you so much to Gigi from Orion for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Rapture by Claire McGlasson

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Claire McGlasson: The Rapture

Published By: Faber Books

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

Dilys is a devoted member of The Panacea Society, populated almost entirely by virtuous single ladies.

When she strikes up a friendship with Grace, a new recruit, God finally seems to be smiling upon her. The friends become closer as they wait for the Lord to return to their very own Garden of Eden, and Dilys feels she has found the right path at last.

But Dilys is wary of their leader’s zealotry and suspicious of those who would seem to influence her for their own ends. As her feelings for Grace bud and bloom, the Society around her begins to crumble. Faith is supplanted by doubt as both women come to question what is true and fear what is real.

 

What I Say:

When I think of the word ‘cult’, I immediately think of an American organisation, loud, proud and overt in their operation and recruiting.  Not for one minute would I have imagined that there would be a society nestled in Bedford, hidden behind pristine walls with a beautiful garden that would strive in its mission to convince the world that the Daughter of God was residing behind them, ready to eventually take her rightful place.

That is the belief behind the Panacea Society, a group of predominantly women, who are seemingly quiet and unassuming, and are united behind Mabel Barltrop, wife of a Vicar and mother of four. Mabel has decided that she has been chosen by God to be his Daughter, and that she and the Society need to persuade the Bishops to visit their home so they can open together the infamous box which was sealed by the Prophetess Joanna Southcott who has placed items of great religious importance inside. Then they can prepare for the Second Coming where Mabel can finally fulfill her prophecy.

Mabel has now been reborn as Octavia, and with her devoted disciples, she now rules the Panacea Society, dispensing advice and stringent religious fervour as she sees fit. 

Dilys is the eyes and ears for the reader, we see the Panacea Society through her experiences and day to day existence.  It is not a life punctuated by fervour and passion, instead, the members of the Society seem to live an almost genteel life, united in their unquestioning following of Octavia, and their desire to be present when Joanna Southcott’s mysterious box is finally opened.

Dilys is a young and seemingly unquestioning recruit to the Society, but she starts to wonder what they are doing and why.  As well as the members within the walls of the house, they receive communication from believers who live all around the world, all looking for help and cures for ills from Octavia. She has a productive sideline of sending out pieces of linen that have been blessed by her, as well as a newsletter and healing water, all of which Octavia uses to occupy the increasingly questioning Dilys.

When Dilys meets a young woman called Grace, she is immediately drawn to her, and as they start to form a friendship, Grace decides to devote herself to the Panacea Society too. Due to her social position, Grace is unable to afford to contribute any money, so instead she works as a maid for them.

This is the catalyst for a chain of events which slowly pulls at the very seams of the Panacea Society.  We may believe that this group of individuals are leading a religious and innocent life, but Claire has skilfully and gently pulled us in to their world, whilst at the same time showing us that the very concerns and worries they believe they are immune from, are seeping into the cracks that are now starting to form.

As Dilys and Grace become closer, Dilys cannot hide from the fact she is attracted to Grace, and The Rapture of the title for Dilys is not a religious awakening, but a sexual one.  As she falls in love with Grace, she starts to look at her closeted world with new eyes, and realises that this claustrophobic world may not be all there is.

While Dilys is starting to unfurl from her shell, the rest of the Panacea Society is starting to shift and question the teachings and leader that they follow.  Emily, one of Octavia’s trusted followers, now claims she is possessed by a spirit which tells Octavia and the society what she must do next.  However, Dilys knows that Emily’s sudden channelling of spirits may have more to do with her desire to take over the Panacea Society as oppose to any religious fervour.

Little by little, the foundations of the Panacea Society are slowly crumbling, and they are unable to stop the outside world from creeping in. The seemingly omnipotent Octavia and her closest allies are not only hiding from the outside world, but are also keeping secrets from the rest of the Society.  Behind closed doors and in hushed whispers, allegiances are formed, secrets are shared, and a Mother and Daughter are aware of the fact that the origins of the society are borne out of a spell in a psychiatric institution that devastated their childhood and subsequent lives. When Grace becomes all too aware of what is really happening, she is ‘let go’. Dilys’ love for Grace leads her to finally find the strength to try and live her own life – outside of the Panacea Society at a cost she could not possibly have predicted.

Claire’s pitch and pace of the novel are perfect, as it starts seemingly so innocently and in fact, delighting in its mundanity.  However, as the novel progresses, there are little hints, verbal clues and Dilys’ deadpan observations about the Society that starts to add to the tension and sense that something is shifting and starting to unravel.  The Panacea Society is no longer their safe haven, ready for the Bishops to come and see the Daughter of God. It is a place where lies are told, secrets are shared, lives are destroyed, and vulnerable people are the playthings of the leaders.

The characters are all worthy of a novel in their own right, and Claire writes with such clarity and compassion about them all. However awful Emily might be, or when Octavia tries to implement new commandments as Dilys yearns to be her own woman, you understand that all these people want is to be part of something, to belong to a group which will define them and reveal to them their ordained purpose.

Claire McGlasson has written a novel which examines so many ideas and themes.  Obviously the overreaching one is one of religious devotion, of giving oneself without question to someone else whatever the cost, but it would be naive to only see that.  The Rapture is a story of love and power, of what happens when a daughter like Dilys devotes herself completely to assuaging her mother, until someone like Grace comes into her life to show Dilys what real love is.  It is a story of how Dilys strives so desperately to finally be free and live her life as she chooses, but that for a young unmarried woman after the First World War, freedom of life, love and choice is never ever their own.

The Rapture is not simply a novel about the disintegration of a Society, which is forced to confront its limitations and didactic nature of its leaders.  It is a finely tuned and thought provoking contemplation of how a group of people who unite to seek solace in a belief system, find themselves lost when the idyllic religious Paradise they were promised, slips uncontrollably from their grasp.

I loved it.

Thank you very much to Lauren Nicoll and Faber for asking me to be part of this Blog Tour in exchange for an honest review.

You can see what these other brilliant bloggers are saying about The Rapture by following them here.

Author Picture Of Claire McGlasson.

 

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

 

Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott: Swan Song

Published By: Hutchinson Books

 Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

They told him everything.

He told everyone else.

Over countless martini-soaked Manhattan lunches, they shared their deepest secrets and greatest fears. On exclusive yachts sailing the Mediterranean, on private jets streaming towards Jamaica, on Yucatán beaches in secluded bays, they gossiped about sex, power, money, love and fame. They never imagined he would betray them so absolutely.

In the autumn of 1975, after two decades of intimate friendships, Truman Capote detonated a literary grenade, forever rupturing the elite circle he’d worked so hard to infiltrate. Why did he do it, knowing what he stood to lose? Was it to punish them? To make them pay for their manners, money and celebrated names? Or did he simply refuse to believe that they could ever stop loving him? Whatever the motive, one thing remains indisputable: nine years after achieving wild success with In Cold Blood, Capote committed an act of professional and social suicide with his most lethal of weapons . . . Words.

A dazzling debut about the line between gossip and slander, self-creation and self-preservation, SWAN SONG is the tragic story of the literary icon of his age and the beautiful, wealthy, vulnerable women he called his Swans.

‘Writers write. And one can’t be surprised if they write what they know.’

 

What I Say:

‘And perhaps it was then that he had his great idea to seek us out.  To befriend us.  To punish us for a crime we hadn’t the faintest idea we’d committed.’

I had a copy of Swan Song on my shelf which I had bought as soon as it was published.  I had also treated myself to the audio book of Swan Song, narrated by Deborah Weston, and it is divine.  Truman Capote and his Swans burst out of the stereo and into my head, but it wasn’t enough.

I pulled my copy off the shelf and started to read, and lost myself completely in the sumptuous world of Truman Capote and his Swans.

Swan Song is the story of the American writer Truman Capote, and the six women in his life, who provide his social calendar, masses of gossip and scandal, and give him the social acceptance he needs to secure his place in the ever changing, vicious and glittering world he longs to be part of.

There are six women he considers closest to him, who earn the title of Swan.  They are Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Lee Radziwill, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness and Marella Agnelli. He is their confessor, their friend and the one person that gives them unequivocal love and support. Each of them give him something different, and he has no qualms about using them to gain what he wants too. He is adept at flattering and cajoling each of them, to make them feel that they are the most important women in the world to him, and to make sure that they grant him access to the most exclusive social circles and help him become a darling of the social scene.

Swan Song takes us all the way back to Truman’s childhood, and his complicated relationship with his Mother.  From an early age, Truman is determined and driven when it comes to his career, and we also see how his physical limitations and childlike voice are the very things he uses to create his larger than life and eccentric persona.

As Truman becomes more and more involved with his Swans, you understand that behind the seemingly glamourous facades of their lives, they face the same issues and insecurities as we all do.  The real lives of the Swans are laid bare to Truman, and he makes sure he becomes indispensible.  He is always there to accompany them to lunches at places like The Plaza and Le Cote Basque, and to be their plus one at parties and on holiday too.  The women need Truman as much as he needs them.

When he decides to hold The Black and White Party, very quickly it becomes THE social event of the decade. People are desperate to be invited, and will do anything to secure one of the crisp hand written invitations.  Truman’s place as a doyen of society, with his jubiliant Swans at his side, finally seems to be within his reach.

Truman has been riding high on a wave of notoriety since the publication of his non-fiction novel In Cold Blood, and is desperate to ensure he stays in the limelight.  His desire to be loved and adored, coupled with his intimate knowledge of the lives and loves of his Swans, culminates in him publishing the most incendiary writing of his career, but for all the wrong reasons.

His work called Answered Prayers is serialised in Esquire Magazine, and is essentially very thinly veiled attacks on the very women who have helped him get where he is today.  The New York Social Scene has no difficulty in identifying the ‘stars’ of this particular story, which pushes the Swans into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Truman’s decision to effectively commit social suicide leaves him isolated, bereft, and spiralling downwards in an ever increasing haze of drugs and alcohol.  From being a celebrated and admired novelist, he is reduced to making appearances at the notorious Studio 54, where he is more a figure of ridicule than an esteemed writer. For Truman now, the very women who could rescue him, are the ones he can never talk to again.

There were so many things I loved about Swan Song. Truman’s perfectly calculated detonation of his articles, were so vividly brought to life by Kelleigh.  It is impossible not to feel the devastation of the Swans about what has happened.  You feel their betrayal, their disbelief that the man who had been taken so easily into their confidence could hurt them all so knowingly and deeply.

Kelleigh’s own non-fiction fiction novel is one you simply sink into, and lose yourself in completely. It is a world of privilege, of decadence and beautiful people and clothes, where you were judged by what you wore, who you lunched with and who dressed you.

I think this is one of the interesting and relevant issues throughout Swan Song, that although it is very much of its time, many of the themes around the notion of celebrity, the role of women in society, and how important it is to be liked, and have followers who dote on your every word, is still as relevant if not more so today.

Swan Song may have been published last year, but it will be in my Book of The Year list for 2019.  It is a stunning and revelatory exploration of celebrity and how Truman was desperate to stay relevant within a world which is ever changing and looking for the next big thing.  Once you pick up this novel, it is impossible to put down. The way in which Kelleigh weaves not only the main narrative, but also the stories of the Swans too, is a feat of storytelling that will leave you wondering where the time has gone!

It is so difficult to put into words how much I loved this novel.  I sat with a copy of The Party of The Century by Deborah Davis next to me, because this book is such an immersive experience, you don’t just want to read about the women, you want to see them, to determine what attracted them to Truman.

Kelleigh’s exquisite writing and pitch perfect social commentary, helps us to understand why they unquestioningly accepted Truman into their lives, only to be voiceless bystanders as he set alight the very world he was so desperate to be part of.

I loved it.

The Doll Factory By Elizabeth Macneal

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Elizabeth Macneal: The Doll Factory

Published By: Picador Books

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal is the intoxicating story of a young woman who aspires to be an artist, and the man whose obsession may destroy her world for ever.

London. 1850. The greatest spectacle the city has ever seen is being built in Hyde Park, and among the crowd watching two people meet. For Iris, an aspiring artist, it is the encounter of a moment – forgotten seconds later, but for Silas, a collector entranced by the strange and beautiful, that meeting marks a new beginning.

When Iris is asked to model for pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly her world begins to expand, to become a place of art and love.

But Silas has only thought of one thing since their meeting, and his obsession is darkening . . .

 

What I Say:

This year, for me, I have been determined to read more fiction which comes from those voices which may not previously have been heard.  I knew as soon as I read about The Doll Factory, and its story of a young woman who aspires to be an artist in Victorian London, that I had to read it.

From the first turn of the page, and our introduction to Silas, you are drawn into a darker world where collection and possession is the very lifeblood of the characters who weave their way through this thoroughly engrossing and immersive novel.

Silas spends his days in his curiosity shop perfecting his latest acquistions to be displayed and sold.  A young man at odds with his world and angry for people not understanding his talent, Silas is an unsavoury and menacing man who is desperate for recognition and for a connection with a woman. He is often visited by Albie, a young street urchin, who brings him the corpses of animals he needs, and is a street smart child on the look out for himself and his sister. Albie’s finds prove to be a useful way for Silas to enter the exclusive world of the notorious Pre-Raphaelite Painters, as he is able to procure a variety of props for them to use in their paintings.

The Doll Factory of the title refers to the Emporium where Iris and her sister Rose work for the awful Mrs Salter.  Iris paints the doll’s faces, while Rose sews the dolls clothing.  Both are struggling with their sense of worth and self – Iris has a clavicle which is twisted and Rose has been left with facial deformities after an illness.  Rose silently resents Iris, believing that she is in some way responsible for their current predicament. Trapped together and desperately unhappy, reliant on Mrs Salter for work, Iris yearns to be free to pursue her dreams of becoming a painter.

The ever magnificient, ever imposing London is readying itself for the spectacle of the Great Exhibition, which finally provides a chance for Silas to get the recognition he craves as he is desperate to get his latest taxidermy into the Exhibition – a double headed puppy.

It is there that Silas, thanks to Albie, finally meets Iris.  He believes that this striking woman with the bewitching red hair is is the one with whom he can ultimately connect. It is only a fleeting moment for Iris, but for Silas, it is life changing, and from that point on, Iris seeps into his consciousness and becomes the very thing Silas is desperate to possess.

When Louis, a Pre-Raphaelite Artist is looking for a model for his painting, Silas suggests Iris.  This being Victorian London, the very idea of modelling for an artist for an unmarried young woman has all sorts of ramifications and social implications.  It is simply not the done thing, and the shame that Iris would bring on her family for doing so is overwhelming.  However, Iris also knows that being given the opportunity to escape from the Doll’s Emporium for a chance to be near an artist would be life changing. She agrees to model for Louis on the condition that he teaches her to paint.

As she and Louis become closer, and cross the line from model and artist to lovers, Iris finds happiness in her new life until a revelation from Louis’ past threatens to unravel everything for them. Headstrong and passionate, Iris is unaware of Silas’ increasing obsession.  He finds alarmingly more outlandish and frightening ways of getting closer to her, with the aim of making Iris his ultimate experiment and complete possession. Albie is aware that Silas’ obsession is growing, but is powerless to do anything as Silas seeks to control him too.

The sublime skill of Elizabeth’s writing is that with every character, every plot twist, you become more and more deeply involved with this story.  Her detailed and unflinching descriptions of London and the worlds the characters inhabit, only serves to add to the tension and growing sense of unease that permeates this novel.

It is a story of outsiders, those who do not fit in with the world around them, and are searching for a way to belong.  Silas, Iris, Rose, Louis and Albie are all at odds with the society they live in, and each struggles with knowing that they are on the outside looking in. For Silas, it is finding a companion and feeling seen. For Iris, it is going against what is expected and being true to what she really wants from life.  Rose’s facial deformities and lack of husband leave her facing a life alone, on the perimeters of her world. Louis’ style of painting, as well as his views on marriage means that he is at odds with the society that he inhabits. Albie is surviving on his wits and street knowledge, and is desperate to belong, to feel part of a family.

Although it might seem that Silas is the man who wishes to possess Iris, I thought it went far deeper than that in The Doll Factory.  Iris is Louis’ model, and he in my mind also owned her in a way too. She was totally reliant on him for her new life, and without his favour and dotage, Iris always runs the risk of being the latest in a line of women who are useful until they are no longer needed, and a new muse arrives.

The Doll Factory is a novel which raises many questions about love, obsession, the perception and treatment of women, and the notion of what possession truly means. It is a novel in which you can only lose yourself and be in awe at the evocative descriptions and incredible characters who move in and out of the novel, drawing you in and keeping you there until the very last page.

Elizabeth Macneal has written an absolutely astounding debut novel. I could not turn the pages fast enough, but at the same time wanted to savour every last chapter. The Doll Factory is a novel I will telling everyone they need to read, and I am not going to forget Iris, Louis and even Silas for a very long time.

I loved it.

Thank you so much to Camilla Elworthy for my review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Star Crossed by Minnie Darke

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Minnie Darke: Star Crossed

Published by: Bantam Press

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

Destiny doesn’t happen by accident . . .

When Justine Carmichael (Sagittarius, aspiring journalist and sceptic) bumps into her teenage crush Nick Jordan (Aquarius, struggling actor and true believer) it could be by chance. Or it could be written in the stars.

Justine works at the Alexandria Park Star – and Nick, she now learns, relies on the magazine’s astrology column to guide him in life.

Looking for a way to get Nick’s attention, Justine has the idea of making a few small alterations to the horoscope for Aquarius before it goes to print.

After all, it’s only the stars. What could possibly go wrong?

What I Say:

If I read my horoscopes, and it says wonderful things – of course I am in awe of the wisdom of the Astrologer. If it makes no sense at all, then of course it’s a load of rubbish and a waste of paper too.  How many of us sneak a peek at what the stars have in store for us, and tell others that we behave in a certain way because of the Star Sign personality we have.  By the way, I am a Scorpio, so that’s fiercely loyal and very protective thank you, and of course I read my stars regularly.

Minnie Darke’s exqusitely different novel asks us, what would happen, if someone altered the horoscopes to make a person fall in love with them.  Justine works at the Alexandria Park Star magazine and does not believe in horoscopes at all. Nick, her childhood boyfriend and aspiring actor believes in them passionately. When they meet by chance (or is it?) one day, Justine realises that she still has feelings for Nick, but is too scared to say anything – and after all, he now has an impossibly beautiful and picture perfect girlfriend.

As Justine watches Nick move further away from her, and with access to the magazine’s horoscopes, she decides just to alter Nick’s horoscope, Aquarius, so that when he reads it, he realises that Justine is the woman for him.  The thing is, and as we all know, life is never that easy…

What follows is a brilliantly imaginative story, that looks at how we may think we are able to determine our fate, but that maybe letting the stars determine them is far more fun.  Each chapter of Star Crossed is a different star sign, where we learn a little about astrology, but also, it gives us a glimpse into the lives of other people who have read the same horoscope as Nick, and how that impacts the choices they make too.  What we also see is that the same statement can be read in a thousand different ways according to who is reading it and what they are going through at the time.

What is also a clever plot device, and you probably guessed it from the title, that Nick is starring in a production of Romeo and Juliet – the original Star Crossed lovers, and it is a theme that runs throughout the whole novel too. Justine helps Nick to learn his lines and interviews the young actress who plays Juliet, and Nick inadvertently crashes another production where he has to stand in as Romeo.

This is one of the many things I loved about Star Crossed. It is just so different to anything I have picked up recently, and it is a joyous celebration of the power of love and that you may try and fight it, but apparently our fate is determined by a higher power whether we like it or not.  The story moves along quickly and at a cracking pace, and Minnie’s plot is a thing of beauty as it starts stories, ends them, you wonder why this character has been introduced, but as the novel gains momentum towards the end, it all finally makes sense. I loved how each story also brings new characters into the novel, but it never felt forced or superfluous to the main plot.

At the heart of Star Crossed is the story of Nick and Justine, and how really, they were always meant to be together, but they just didn’t know it. They are two really likeable characters, flawed, unsure and relatable, and I defy you not to read Star Crossed and shout at them to just get together and start the rest of their lives (I may have done this once or twice!). That is why this novel is so unique – as fate conspires to keep them apart, we understand that they need to go through all this heartache and missed opportunities to truly acknowledge what has been right in front of them from the first time they met

Star Crossed is just the novel I needed to read at the moment.  Sometimes I just want to read a novel that brings me joy, doesn’t upset me, and that in the end, shows that love conquers all (the fabulous dog Brown Houdini-Malarky was a brilliant addition to the plot too!).  Minnie Darke has written a truly wonderful novel, which is filled with characters I loved, a belief in the power of love, and is just simply heart warming to read. It would also be absolutely perfect for a film adaptation- just in case by any strange luck there are any film-makers reading this blog…

I really loved this novel, and I hope you do too.

Thank you so much to Hannah Bright at Transworld for my gifted copy of Star Crossed, and for asking me to be part of the Blog Tour.

You’ve read what I thought, now follow the rest of the other Bloggers to find out what they thought…

 

 

A Perfect Explanation by Eleanor Anstruther

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Eleanor Anstruther: A Perfect Explanation

Published By: Salt Publishing

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

Exploring themes of ownership and abandonment, Eleanor Anstruther’s debut is a fictionalised account of the true story of Enid Campbell (1892–1964), granddaughter of the 8th Duke of Argyll.

Interweaving one significant day in 1964 with a decade during the interwar period, A Perfect Explanation gets to the heart of what it is to be bound by gender, heritage and tradition, to fight, to lose, to fight again. In a world of privilege, truth remains the same; there are no heroes and villains, only people misunderstood. Here, in the pages of this extraordinary book where the unspoken is conveyed with vivid simplicity, lies a story that will leave you reeling.

 

What I Say:

“There was too much life, it was too fragile, it hung on a finger-point of God.  It was before her, in all its endless maybes – a thousand ways to travel, a trip on the stair, an heir ruined, another child she couldn’t love for fear of loving,”

Often you read a novel and are in awe of the creativity and depth of characterisation that a novelist has revealed during their novel. In A Perfect Explanation, Eleanor Anstruther has brought to life a story that comes from her own family history and this novel is even richer for it.  Eleanor’s Grandmother, Enid, sold her youngest son Ian to her sister Joan for £500.  Having been given permission to write this novel before her father died, Eleanor brings to life her family’s incredible and unforgettable history.

It is told from three viewpoints – that of Enid, Joan and Enid’s daughter Finetta.  The story moves between two timelines, from 1921-1931 and 1964. At the start of the novel, we meet Enid, who is living in a Christian Science nursing home and is waiting for Finetta to make her weekly visit. The other chapters help us to understand what brought Enid to this place, and why she is so estranged from her family.

We learn that after the First World War, Enid has lost her brother and father, and in order for the family to hold onto their title, it is up to Enid to ensure that the family line continues.  Her mother Sybil is unrelenting in her desire to ensure that the family holds on to their title and social standing.  Enid’s desires and dreams are buried in order to ensure Sybil gets what she wants, and she marries the teenage Douglas as a means to satisfy everyone.

Enid’s sister Joan is not married and is really not interested in doing so either, as we later learn she is contented in her relationship with a woman called Pat.  As time moves on for Enid, we see her overwhelmed and emotionally disconnected, a mother of three children, living in Southern England and absolutely bewildered as to how she has ended up there.   

To the modern reader, I think we are able to see that Enid is suffering from post-natal depression and is in a marriage that is purely one of convenience. Her husband tries to reach her, but as Enid disengages from him, he instead starts an affair and spends as much time as possible away from the marital home. When her eldest son Fagus has a life changing accident, Enid is consumed by self doubt and anxiety. You really get a sense from the powerful and beautifully understated language that Eleanor uses, that it seems Enid is half inhabiting an ever changing world where everything is going on around her and she is not really present. There is an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia and hopelessness for Enid, and as a reader, at that point, I felt desperately sad for her.

Then one day, unable to live this life any longer, Enid simply gets up, and walks away from it all.

She finds solace initally in Christian Science at Didlington Hall, and falls gratefully into being part of the church community and doing repetitive and mundane tasks which mean that she can block out the enormity of what she has done.  Meanwhile, back at the family home, Donald, Sybil and Joan are left with the damage that Enid has created, and the children are shattered and bewildered by what their mother has done.

As the narrative moves on, the cracks in the Anstruther family come to the fore.  Enid and Joan have no relationship and simply do not have anything in common apart from the children.  After having been away for a long time, Enid decides to return and take back her remaining two children, as Fagus is now in a boarding school that can give him the attention he deserves.

Enid is horrified to realise that Joan provides the stability and routine for Ian and Finetta that she simply is unable to provide, and she attempts to try to take them back.  This for me was one of the most upsetting parts of the novel, as the children are forced to stay with a Mother who really doesn’t understand how to be the Mother they want.  Enid is purely focused on Ian, as the surviving heir. Her desperation to have Ian back and her desire to make sure he absolutely loves her, means that Finetta seems to be the forgotten child, a footnote to the custody case who moves back and forth with Ian but is never really listened to or heard.

I have to say that my sympathy shifted from Enid during the story.  Initially I was shocked by how alone and misunderstood she was, but as the novel moves on, I felt that her desire to have Ian back in her life was more to hold her family to ransom as it emerges she is running out of money, as oppose to a genuine desire to love him.

As the novel brings us back to 1964, and a devastating reunion between the remaining members of the Anstruther family, it seems that things will never be the same again, and Enid will finally be forced to confront the brutal realities of her heartbreaking decisions.

A Perfect Explanation is a novel that looks at a world we have left behind, a world where lineage, familial pride and privilege meant so much more that someone’s happiness.  It is also a brilliant examination of women’s place in society, and how any who did not fit into the prescribed roles laid out for them are seen as being misfits and unstable, as oppose to individuals who were simply trying to live the life they wanted to.

Eleanor Anstruther has written an astounding debut novel that bravely and completely brings to life a difficult family history. It also deftly holds up a mirror to our own world and asks us who are we to judge, when behind closed doors our family may not be as perfect as we like to show to the outside world either.

 I loved it.

Thank you very much to Agnes Rowe and Salt Publishing for my copy of A Perfect Explanation in exchange for an honest review.

Find out what my fellow bloggers are saying about A Perfect Explanation by following the Blog Tour.

 

Eleanor Anstruther was born in London, educated in Westminster and read History of Art at Manchester University before travelling the world. 

Website : www.eleanoranstruther.com

Twitter: @ellieanstruther

Instagram: @eleanoranstruther

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

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Alex Michaelides: The Silent Patient

Published By: Orion Books

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

ALICIA
Alicia Berenson writes a diary as a release, an outlet – and to prove to her beloved husband that everything is fine. She can’t bear the thought of worrying Gabriel, or causing him pain.

Until, late one evening, Alicia shoots Gabriel five times and then never speaks another word.

THEO
Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber is convinced he can successfully treat Alicia, where all others have failed. Obsessed with investigating her crime, his discoveries suggest Alicia’s silence goes far deeper than he first thought.

And if she speaks, would he want to hear the truth?

 

What I Say:

As regular readers (Thank you Mum and Dad), of my blog will know, I am not one for posting pictures or videos of myself on the interweb to publicise books.  Sometimes, when you read something that is so brilliant, that gives you that ‘WHAT THE ??’ reaction, sitting down, firing up your laptop and being witty and erudite at the time is not what it needs.

The picture you see on this blog post, is me, just after I had read #ThatPage of The Silent Patient.  I can honestly say, this is the first novel in a long time that has made me stop and re-read the previous pages to see if I missed any clue, any sign of what was to come (spoiler alert  – not one thing!).

The Silent Patient is the story of Alicia and Gabriel. A happy Instaperfect couple who seemingly have it all.  In love, successful and full of life, they inhabit a world we can only dream of – until Alicia shoots and kills Gabriel, and from that day on she does not speak.

Baffled by her mutism, unable to understand why Alicia killed Gabriel, she is sent to The Grove, a secure unit where she is sedated, silenced and unable to communicate with anyone.

Theo Faber decides that he is the therapist who can finally reach Alicia.  He is determined to be the one person who can make her talk and explain why she killed her husband.  The thing is, Theo is not doing this out of the kindness of his heart, he has an agenda.  He is fully aware of the kudos and celebrity cracking a case like this will bring, and his self-assured manner and downright arrogance means that from the start, you sense that he doesn’t truly have her best interests at heart.  Theo is mesmerised by Alicia, and will do whatever it takes to ensure he is the man she will owe her recovery to.

Alicia’s silence is due in part to the heavy doses of medication she has to take, and when Theo convinces Diomedes, the head of the unit to decrease the dosage so he can start to try and communicate with her, you know that this is finally the start of the process of Alicia’s recovery.

As Theo starts to work with Alicia, his personal life is also brought into focus, we understand that things are not going well for him with his wife Kathy, and he is forced to confront the fact that is own marriage may not be as happy as he believed. As a result, the ethical lines start to become blurred, and Theo researches Alicia’s life before Gabriel was killed.  He becomes increasingly obsessed with Alicia, and wants to be her saviour, which means that he will do whatever he needs to to ensure he is the one person she relies on.

I think that the notion of power is a very interesting one that runs throughout this book. Theo believes he is the powerful one as he has the academic knowledge to make that vital breakthrough with Alicia, but increasingly it becomes clear that she has all the power in the relationship.  As she comes off her medication, Alicia does not suddenly start to talk in a bid to prove her innocence.  She delights and frustrates Theo in equal measure, communicating with non verbal gestures, then retreating completely.  It is only when Theo sets up a room for Alicia with all her painting materials that he starts to see she is communicating to him through her art.  It is also worth noting that Alicia at the time of the murder, was working on a self portrait she had called Alcestis – the story of a woman who gave her life for her husband, and when she was returned to life, she was mute, filled with rage that her husband would allow her to sacrifice herself so he could live.

When Alicia gives Theo her diary to read, he feels that he has finally made the breakthrough he had been desperate for, and that his success will only be matched by Alicia’s gratitude. Even more amazingly, when Alicia finally starts to speak, she is able to finally start to fill in the events surrounding Gabriel’s death and make sense of what had happened to her.

From that point on, The Silent Patient twists and turns and pulls and pushes you, hurtling towards that exquisite moment when the penny finally drops, and you will finally understand why I posted that picture!  In The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides has written a triumphant first novel.  It is perfectly plotted and filled with characters who delight and revolt you with equal measure, as you turn the pages desperate to understand why Alicia does not speak.  The Silent Patient is a debut novel that achieves that rare phenomenon of being an absolute jaw dropping page turner,  but is a clever dissection of the power of speech and mental health too. You will be hearing a lot about this novel, and quite rightly so – it might only be February, but it is one of my novels of the year.

Buy it, read it, and when you get to ‘that moment’, you will understand exactly why I absolutely loved it.

Thank you to Poppy Stimpson and Ben Willis at Orion for gifting me a copy, and to Alex Michaelides for helping me well and truly get my reading mojo back!

 

 

 

 

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

 

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Anne Griffin: When All Is Said

Published by: Sceptre Books

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He’s alone, as usual -though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story.

Over the course of this evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him. Through these stories – of unspoken joy and regret, a secret tragedy kept hidden, a fierce love that never found its voice – the life of one man will be powerfully and poignantly laid bare.

Heart-breaking and heart-warming all at once, the voice of Maurice Hannigan will stay with you long after all is said.

What I Say:

I’m here to remember – all that I have been and all that I will never be again.”

When All Is Said is a rare novel. Why? Well, it is the first time since I started blogging that I was so moved by a book that I was compelled to not only tweet from the rooftops about it, but also to have the confidence to actually film myself talking about it.  I am so far from confident in those types of situations, that until about three years ago, I refused to be photographed.

Why is this at all relevant to this review? Quite simply, When All Is Said is such a pitch perfect exquisite novel, that any self doubt I had (or worries about how I looked to everyone) was replaced by the very real need to tell as many people as possible about it’s brilliance.

Maurice Hannigan goes to the bar at the Rainsford House Hotel bar to raise five toasts to the five most important people in his life.  As he raises a glass to each one; Tony, Milly, Noreen, Kevin and Sadie, he not only tells us why he has chosen to toast these people, but we start to understand who Maurice really is and why he has made the choices he has.

From the start of the novel, as Maurice tells his story to his son Kevin who is now living in the United States, you are immediately drawn in.  You feel as if you are eavesdropping on the conversations of a stranger in a bar, but also there is a sense of unease. Why is Maurice choosing to unburden himself now, at this time?  Is this all part of something else, and if so what?  You cannot help but feel a sense of protectiveness towards him as he reveals the truth behind the man sitting nursing the different glasses.

Maurice starts with a toast to Tony, his elder brother who he completely adored.  It is plain to see that although they grew up in a family filled with love, that they were not rich, and times were tough for them all. Tony’s stability and his presence in Maurice’s life has obviously impacted on him, and we see how Tony helped him overcome the troubles he faced. Tony helped Maurice become the man he is today, and that is something he is grateful for.

What is refreshing about Maurice is that he is never held up in this novel as a perfect man.  He has his faults, and his actions cause huge upsets for those around him.  Life has made him determined to succeed, and his single mindedness and drive means that although we may not always understand why he does what he does, at the heart of Maurice is the desire to ensure everyone is treated as they should be.

When All Is Said is undoubtedly Maurice’s story, but we never forget that he is who he is because of the people in his life who have shaped him.  Molly, his little girl, only lives for fifteen minutes, but her existence enveloped him and his wife Sadie entirely.  As they come to terms with their unspeakable loss, you can imagine every sound, sight and emotion brings them back to the realisation that Molly is not there.

What is so clever and heart rending for me about this novel, is that as the evening wears on, you feel that Maurice is almost in a race to try and confess everything about his life so that he can leave this hotel bar free of the things that have been weighing him down.  Anne Griffin understands perfectly that we all have our secrets, the things we should have said and the things we shouldn’t.  Her skill is that in writing about Maurice, she asks us to look within ourselves and realise that we are all like him.  We have different sides that we show to different people, and that the only person who truly knows everything about us is ourselves.

Maurice’s toast to his sister-in-law Noreen is a beautiful, understated part of the novel.  It is clear to us, that Noreen has special needs, but Maurice’s unwavering acceptance of her made my heart sing.  He and Sadie love her for who she is, and when she unwittingly gets herself involved in a certain situation, Maurice does not think twice about doing what he has to in order to protect her – and I adored him for that.

One of the (many) things I loved about the novel is that not one chapter or line is wasted, you always sense that the novel will end when Maurice has decided his story is told, and not a moment before. He is always the enigmatic storyteller, who weaves his way in and out of his story and into your heart.  I felt that I wanted to protect him, to let him know that the people he loved, loved him right back, and that is testament to Anne Griffin’s extraordinary writing.

As the evening draws to its close, Maurice makes a final two toasts to his son Kevin and his beloved wife Sadie. These are the toasts that for me were the most difficult to read, as you understand that these two people are absolutely his world.  For him, toasting these people brings into focus the fact that no man is an island, and that Maurice needs to be with them to finally feel complete.  As he walks out of the hotel bar, to his room, you truly hope that he finds the peace he deserves.

When All is Said is an astounding novel.  It is about life and death, of love and unspeakable loss.  Of the ordinariness and extraordinariness of our lives.  In Maurice, Anne Griffin has created a character who talks to us all, that makes us adore him on one page, and pull our hair out over him in another.  He is Everyman, and that is why we love him – because we recognise facets of ourself, and what beats at the heart of all of us is the need to love and be loved.

Thank you very much to Louise Court for gifting me a copy of When All Is Said.

 

 

 

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.

 

How We Remember by J.M. Monaco

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How We Remember by J.M. Monaco

Published By: Red Door

Buy It Here: here

What The Blurb Says:

Family Secrets. Sibling Rivalries

The blood ties that have kept Jo and her brother Dave together are challenged when an unexpected inheritance fans the flames of underlying tensions. Upon discovering her mother’s diary, the details of their family’s troubled past are brought into sharp relief and painful memories are reawakened.

Narrated with moments of light and dark, J. M. Monaco weaves together past and present, creating a complex family portrait of pain and denial in this remarkable debut novel.

Perfect for fans of Anne Tyler and Sylvia Brownrigg, this is a novel that will stay with you long after you stop turning the pages.

What I Say:

How We Remember by J.M. Monaco is a powerful and often very uncomfortable story about families.  To be a member of a family is something that we all want, and for many, being part of one is everything.  An inbuilt support system, a place where we can be ourselves and a sense of contentment and belonging.

Jo and Dave live with their Mother and Father, and seemingly have a fairly normal family life.  However, when their Mum dies, Jo, Dave and their Father are brought together in grief and also the realisation that their Mum was very organised and had planned everything so that when she did die, they would be provided for.

However, How We Remember is not a saccharine, sickly sweet description of American Family life.  It is at times, dark, brutal and very shocking as it tackles familial sexual assault, addiction, mental health issues, dealing with the reality of living with Multiple Sclerosis on a daily basis and the suicide of a family member.

Jo, now living in London with her husband Jon, returns to America to help her father sort through and organise her mother’s effects and memorial service. Having left the States for a career in academia, and trying to start a family of her own, Jo now has to face the past and the awful events that happened in her childhood and split her family.

The story is told in a dual narrative- past and present, and we see how Jo and Dave became the people they are today.  At the heart of the family split, is the fact that Jo was sexually assaulted by her Uncle, who would give her rides back from baby sitting.  He gave Jo alcohol and drugs without her knowing, and in her hazy unclear minded state, is not completely sure what happened to her, but Jo knows she has been assaulted.  To protect her Mother, she tells her only that Uncle Ron kissed her, but this revelation is enough to break the bond between the sisters.  It is shocking that her Aunt Peggy will only speak to her mother if Jo agrees to say that it didn’t happen, wanting to hide her husband’s assault rather than standing up for her niece.

This is one of the strongest themes of How We Remember.  That the characters do some awful things, but that the idea of family, and the shame that they would face should these incidents come to light, outweigh the concept of morally corrupt issues.

As Jo attempts to navigate her teenage years, we see her fractured relationship with her brother.  I found this relationship uncomfortable to read about. They start as close brother and sister, but as Jo gets older, Dave becomes increasingly hostile towards Jo, they have to share a room with only a sheet between them. Jo is subject to Dave’s sexual attention on a couple of occasions, and for me, this was difficult to read.  His personality changed as he did this – he seemed not to be fully in control of himself, which made it for me even more challenging.  The awful fact of the matter is that in spite of this, Jo does not remove herself from his life.

For me, this was the crux of the novel. That when something so brutal happens, you are in a dilemma. Your head tells you that you should remove yourself from this situation, but your heart tells you that this is your family, and can you really be the one to shatter that bond?

When Jo meets Jon, she finally has some semblance of reality, and a chance for a stable life with a man who requires nothing more of her than her love.  Their story is one of the most powerful for me in this novel.  This routine and some may say mundane relationship is exactly what Jo has never experienced, but the heartbreaking issue is that Jo is unable to carry a baby to full term, and she measures her success as a wife and partner by her ability to show her love to Jon by giving him a baby.  I feel that this sense of frustration and perhaps grief is what leads her to have a one night stand with Nina, an intense and manipulative student she tutors, as almost a way for Jo to find her way back to Jon.

The interesting thing is that all the time Jo is trying to navigate her way through her marriage, her life in America is always like a distant echo in the background.  She is always aware of her brother’s neediness and her father’s inability to function without his wife.  As long as they are alive, she can never really be free and able to fully be herself.

As the novel draws to its close, we see Jo contemplating her imperfect family in an idealised way.  I think this is a really clever plot device by J M Monaco as it made me contemplate my own life and my memories of my childhood.  In today’s world, where at a click of a button, we can edit our reality to show the world how fabulous our filtered life is, How We Remember is an intense and often emotional novel which makes us confront (not always comfortably) what our lives were really like.  Ultimately in spite of the truth, and how hard that may be, we are bound to our families and our love for them makes us put aside any frailities or flaws they may have.

Thank you very much to Red Door Books for asking me to take part in the official Blog Tour, and if you want to see what my fantastic fellow bloggers are saying about How We Remember, you can follow the Tour here..

How We Remember is available:

At Amazon: here

Via Netgalley: here

Or you can purchase it at Red Door Publishing: here

If you would like to read more about J. M. Monaco, please visit her blog: here

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