An Archive of Happiness by Elizabeth Reeder

An Archive of Happiness by Elizabeth Reeder

Published by Penned in the Margins on 15th September

Available from all Good Bookshops or Online

What They Say

An Archive of Happiness is set in the Scottish Highlands over the course of one day during the Avens familys annual get-together. Its the summer solstice and theirs is a fractured family, broken by arguments, by things said and not said, by a mother who has left and a father who was left behind. What happens on this day will force them to cleave together to survive and redraw the traditional bonds of family.

What I Say

As soon as I heard about Elizabeth Reeder’s novel, I was immediately intrigued, as a fractured family coming together for one day is something that always draws me to novels. As I have a very small family, geographically distanced, and with our own personal challenges, getting us all together is not a common event.

In this novel, it is clear that the Avens family may be separated too, but that the familial bond, fuelled by childhood disappointments and issues that have dogged them for years, draws them back together more tightly than they could ever have envisioned.

The story seemingly takes place over one day, but in fact the novel is made up of all their life stories, the choices they have made and the lives they have lived until this point. When the plot culminates in them coming together one Summer Solstice Day – it paves the way for a tragic event that will mean they have to come together and face the world as a united family.

The Avens family we meet is made up of very different characters. The father Sonny, the mother Viv who one day simply disappears, and their children Ben, Nic and April. Viv’s sister Grace also lives nearby and has become a surrogate mother to the children, and a shoulder to lean on for Sonny, who has struggled with the challenges of looking after three children on his own. The ramifications of Viv’s disappearance affects each child in very different ways, and is felt intensely by each of them, although they show it differently.

Ben we learn was physically assaulted by Viv and he retaliated. His life after her leaving is peppered with anger and his inability to settle, and his sensitivity and unhappiness and distance from his Dad at one point led him to attempt suicide – when his sister covered for him.

Nic has a determination to lead her own life and is fiercely independent. She decides to buy a Croft on her own, and wants to set herself up in business fixing and designing tools. Even when she meets Charlie, her future husband, she is insistent that she does what she wants, and will not be limited by other people’s expectations.

April and Nic have always been close, and after not being able to find a job April likes, she has started working in a local pub, and has found her own happiness and talent in working there. She has also met someone – Col, who is going through his own challenges and is quietly undergoing his own personal transformation.

As the novel moves through the day to the time when the family are due to meet up, each chapter has a timeline at the top with the current time in bold lettering, and also there are clock symbols depicting the current time through certain chapters. This stylistically gives a sense for the reader as to where we are in the day. Right from the start, you are aware that something momentous is going to happen – you don’t know when and how. Elizabeth Reeder pushes and pulls the reader through different times – the past, the present and the future, and the only way you know this is by looking at the clock and the chapter headings. It serves to bring you closer to the characters as each time shift tells us more about them.

At times, this can be slightly disorientating – you have to concentrate and I found myself trying to focus where I was in terms of the time of the characters stories. However, I think this works, because it also gives the story that sense of how our memories and recollections work. We may start at one place and find ourselves somewhere totally different- but the fact of the matter is that this is what our memories of families are – disjointed, sprawling, true and unique to each of us.

It is impossible to talk about this novel without acknowledging it is firmly rooted in the natural world, and the Avens family’s daily lives and experiences are absolutely intertwined with the environment around them. The language is poetic, the descriptions of the landscape and the weather are evocative and you feel you could lose yourself in this world. There is always the sense of the magnitude of nature, and how insignificant we are, but this is balanced by the fact that the characters also feel hemmed in at times by this place, and the need to forge their own identities.

An Archive of Happiness is a novel that for me defies categorisation. There are so many different themes carried throughout the pages – love, grief, parenting, anger and LGBTQ are just some of them. The thing is, it works well because they are integrated seamlessly into the plot, and I genuinely liked all the main characters too. They felt real, relatable and you understood why they did what they did – and at times your heart aches for them. There is a huge life changing event for all of them – (no, I’m not going to tell you) and this not only was totally unexpected, but was also the very thing that made everyone realise how crucial they really all are to each other’s lives and happiness.

If you love novels that are not usual linear narratives, and really push the reader in terms of emotional connection and an understanding of the inner workings of a real family, this is just the novel you are looking for.

Thank you so much to Kate at Penned In The Margins, for my gifted proof copy in exchange for a review.

Comedy Women In Print Shortlist Shadow Panel – The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Published by Headline

Available from all Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say

Meet Nina Hill: A young woman supremely confident in her own. . . shell.

Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, an excellent trivia team and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book. 

So when the father she never knew existed dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. 

And if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny and interested in getting to know her…

It’s time for Nina to turn her own fresh page, and find out if real life can ever live up to fiction. . .

What I Say

“Biology is not destiny, and love is not proportionate to shared DNA.”

This is the final novel I have to review for the Comedy Women In Print Shadow Panel, and apart from it having been an absolutely brilliant experience, and opening my eyes to lots of different authors, it has also challenged my preconceptions of what a ‘comedy’ novel is.

In judging this shortlist, sometimes it is a scene or a description, a character or an incident, or even the words that are used at a particular time.

Nina Hill sparkles because of her wit and smart one liners – her ability to comment with the perfect line with perfect timing means this novel zings off the page. If I was to tell you that I could absolutely see it being made into a film, and that it would be one of those quirky romantic comedies that I am a complete sucker for (When Harry Met Sally anyone?) does it sound intriguing?

Nina works in Knights Bookshop and manages her day to day life by writing copious to do lists. While this seems an endearing trait, it is also a way for her to control her anxiety, and gives her a focus. She feels that this way she can compartmentalise and cope with the world outside her apartment and at her job. I thought it was really interesting to see how Nina’s anxiety is portrayed, and that in making it a part of the main character it brings it to the forefront of the story, whilst at the same time it is dealt with in such a way that it deepened my understanding of how crippling anxiety can be.

What is evident from the writing in this book is how much love Abbi Waxman has for books, reading and bookshops. She absolutely understand the joy it brings so many people (myself included!)! I found myself nodding along as she describes the joy Nina gets from her job, from finding books for readers, to setting up all the different clubs and events, and the genuine delight she has when she helps children engage with books.

Nina is seemingly contented, living with her cat Phil, and filling her days with work, and her evenings attending book groups and taking part in quizzes with her team. Nina’s mother is a photographer who has assignments all around the world, checking in with Nina as and when she can. We learn that Nina considers her Nanny Louise her real mother, and Abbi deftly shows the reader how sometimes the strongest bonds are not necessarily blood ones.

One day, Nina’s life is changed forever when she is told the father she never knew has passed away, and she now has a rather large and complicated family who live tantalisingly close to her. Nina discovers that her father was married multiple times until his death and she has inherited a whole family. Bursting into her life is a new and opinionated family, a plethora of brothers, sisters, step mothers and cousins. As she starts to meet them, Nina realises that maybe her way of living is not the only way if she could just start to have a little more confidence.

Alongside this, Nina is in denial about her attraction to Tom, a member of a rival quiz team – who she can’t stop bumping in to and absolutely everyone can see they are meant to be together. It’s just that Nina and Tom can’t.

After Nina attends the reading of the will, she starts to learn about who her father really was. Everyone has a different relationship and perception of him, and Nina has to try and fit together these very different snapshots of a man she never knew. As Nina spends more time with her family, she starts to see how some of them have similar traits to her, and Nina starts to understand that this group of strangers might become the very family she has needed for so long.

The different family members are captured perfectly, and I thought the way in which they react to Nina and deal with this stranger coming into their lives was dealt with so well. Some embrace her instantly, some are reserved, and one (Lydia) decides that Nina is out for all she can get- but I liked them all!

When Nina discovers that her beloved Knights Bookshop is threatened with closure as Liz the owner hasn’t been able to pay the rent, Nina has to try and find a way to save it as well as finally admit to herself that she and Tom are destined to be together. It could be that the inheritance from her father could be the very thing that changes her future and finally brings her family together as one.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill is a novel that is like falling into a huge marshmallow filled with books! It is comforting and sweet, with a heroine who is endearing and kind, characters who are unique and interesting, and is impossible to dislike. It is the perfect novel for losing yourself in entirely. If you are looking for a gritty and action packed novel that is emotionally challenging to read, then this is not your next book. If however you want to read a feel good story about love, new opportunities, families and finding the courage to change your life however scary that may be, then you need to meet Nina Hill very soon.

Comedy Women In Print Shortlist Shadow Panel – The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Beth O’Leary:  The Flatshare

Published By: Quercus Books

Buy It: here

 

What They Say: 

Tiffy and Leon share a flat

Tiffy and Leon share a bed

Tiffy and Leon have never met…

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

What I Say

I have a little confession to make here, seeing as I am (hopefully) amongst friends. Unlike the other books on the Comedy Women In Print Novel Shortlist, I read and loved The Flatshare when it originally came out.

Rather than re-invent the wheel, and being completely honest with you, I loved writing this review, and although it is a very different style from what I normally do, I am proud of it. I wrote it as soon as I had read it, and every word came straight from the heart. The Flatshare is the sort of novel that makes you believe in love, joy and happiness and heaven knows we need it at the moment..

Tiffy Moore has just dumped an awful boyfriend called Justin.

Tiffy works at a publishing house and Leon is a Palliative care nurse.

Tiffy has a scatty client called Katherin, who is just about to hit the big time with her book about crocheting, and she needs Tiffy just as much as Tiffy needs her.

Tiffy decides to rent half of Leon Twomey’s bed.

Tiffy is at work when Leon isn’t and vice versa.

Tiffy starts to leave post it notes for Leon, little ones at first, longer ones as they start to communicate.

Leon starts to learn about Tiffy from the notes she leaves him, and Tiffy starts to learn about Leon, and they start to cook and look out for each other.

Leon has a brother called Ritchie who is in prison for an armed robbery he says he didn’t do, and is waiting for his uselesss lawyer to speed up his appeal.

Leon nurses a man called Mr Prior who was in love with a man during World War II and before he passes away, Leon wants him to be reunited with the love of his life.

Leon and Tiffy start to edge closer to each other, realising that they are attracted to each other.

Leon and Tiffy go to Brighton to find Mr Prior’s Mr White, Tiffy hurts her ankle and Leon and Tiffy spend the night together… but nothing happens.

Leon and Tiffy return back to their flat, and suddenly everything has changed between them.

Their Flatshare is no longer as uncomplicated as it should have been, as more things happen and other people get involved.

Leon and Tiffy realise that sometimes, you have to take chances and go beyond what you have accepted for so long, to understand you are worth so much more.

Leon has to try to open his heart and life up to the things he has tried to run away from, to finally find the happiness he deserves.

Tiffy has to realise that the man of her dreams is not the one who controls her every move, and that she has to believe in herself to really find the love she deserves.

Leon and Tiffy are relatable, flawed and fully formed characters who will come into your lives and are impossible to forget.

Leon and Tiffy share the novel with their unique voices and viewpoints, and the story moves along at a perfect pace, filled with normal friends like Mo, Gerty and Rachel.

The Flatshare is the novel we all need to read, especially now when we have been dealing with the strangest and most unfathomable times. It is a gorgeous, joyous, unapologetic, heartfelt book that is impossible to put down, and even harder to forget.

The Flatshare is a novel that restores your faith in people and in love and that sometimes it can come when you least expect it.

The Flatshare shows that you can read a romantic, comedic novel that will turn all the cliches on its head, but at the same time it is whip-smart, genuinely funny, and made me wish I had a Leon of my own in my life.

Beth O’ Leary has written a novel that I absolutely loved, cannot stop recommending, and was just what I needed to read.

Tiffy and Leon share a flat.

Tiffy and Leon share a bed.

Tiffy and Leon finally meet.

Tiffy and Leon’s story is The Flatshare.

I am so glad that I met them, and I think you will be too.

All Adults Here by Emma Straub

 

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All Adults Here by Emma Straub

Published by Penguin Michael Joseph

Available from all Good Bookshops and Online

 

What They Say..

Coming of age isn’t just for kids.

Astrid Strick has always tried to do her best for her three children. Now, they’re finally grown up – but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Elliott doesn’t have any idea who he really is, or how to communicate with his own sons. Porter is, at last, pregnant – but feels incapable of rising to the challenge. Nicky has fled to distant New Mexico, where he’s living the bohemian dream.

And Astrid herself is up to things that would make her children’s hair curl.

Until now, the family have managed to hide their true selves from each other. But when Nicky’s incorrigibly curious daughter Cecelia comes to stay, her arrival threatens to upturn everything . . .

What I Say

Let me start this blog post by making a confession to you all.  I had never read any Emma Straub before All Adults Here. If I tell you that during reading it I had to tell Gaby at Michael Joseph how brilliant it is, and that I have just ordered Emma’s novel Modern Lovers, that should give you some indication as to how much I loved this book. I was also going to do a video review for this blog tour, but after several (five) failed attempts, it seems that the only way I can articulate how much I loved this novel is to write it down.

Why did All Adults Here resonate so much with me so quickly? I just loved the characters in this novel. Emma’s skill in her writing is that she builds up a world where you can vividly see them as they are if they are existing in ours. Every page adds another layer of understanding and connection between Astrid Strick and her children.  They do things that all of us do – the everyday and mundane, they worry about each other, and often try to find the right words to talk to each other too, whilst all the time trying to navigate their way through their own lives the best they can.

Astrid is the matriarch of the family, and having lost her husband Russell a while ago, she is starting to realise that although she loved him, perhaps it is only now that she can really start to be herself as oppose to a wife and a mother.  Her children, Porter, Elliott and Nicky have all made lives for themselves, but perhaps not in the way that Astrid would have expected. Porter, desperate for a child has decided to use a sperm donor to ensure she becomes a mother. Elliott is married to Wendy, and they have twin sons – but Elliott is finding it hard to adapt to fatherhood, and he and Wendy are struggling to communicate.  Nicky and his wife Juliette and their daughter Cecelia haven’t seen Astrid for a while, and after Cecelia is bullied for protecting her classmate from a man they met on the internet, the decision is made to send Cecelia to live with Astrid for a while to give her the distance and stability she needs. It is interesting to see how when Cecelia is away from her parents and free to be who she wants, that she not only finds her voice again, but also makes a friendship with August that will change their lives for ever.

This is what worked so well for me about All Adults Here.  The children may have grown up, but they still need care and reassurance from Astrid.  When Astrid witnesses the death of her friend Barbara, she realises life is too short and decides to make certain decisions about her future that cause different reactions in each of her children – including telling them that she is in a relationship with her female hairdresser called Birdie. Astrid also realises she has not been the best mother to her children, and that she needs to address this with each of her children – but especially Elliott before it is too late.

For me, the novel also unflinchingly addressed many issues in an engaging and emotional way- there is adultery, the notion of parenting and motherhood, gender and sexuality, and ultimately how difficult it can be to stand up and tell people how you really feel, and what you really want – however old you are. It is touching to see Astrid attempt to reach her children by being open, but also to see how each child struggles with the different recollections of their childhood and relationship with their parents and each other too. Little by little, we learn not only about Astrid and her past, but each character is given the chance to absolutely come into their own, and we can start to understand why they behave as they do.

If you are looking for a novel packed with twists and revelations, then All Adults Here is probably not for you. I am a huge fan of novels about families – and for me, the more dysfunctional the better! Astrid, Porter, Elliot, Nicky, but especially for me Cecelia, are beautifully written characters, whose lives may seem far from our own, but just like us they have the same worries and concerns, and that is what makes this novel so special.

Emma Straub’s writing is tender, nuanced and understated, which packs such an emotional punch when you least expect it. I could have quite happily spent far more time with this family – and would love to see a sequel..!

All Adults Here is an intelligent and sensitive novel, that recognises we all may lead seemingly disparate and different lives, but understands absolutely that at the end of the day, our greatest need is to feel that we belong somewhere and with someone.

I absolutely loved it.

Thank you so much to Gaby Young at Michael Joseph for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review and a place on the Blog Tour.

Please do check out what these other fabulous bloggers are saying too..

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Break These Chains by Kirsteen Stewart

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Break These Chains by Kirsteen Stewart

Published By White Fox Publishing

Available from all good Bookshops and online

What They Say.

London.
1965.
It is not all wonder and delight.

Serious, violet-eyed 19-year-old Lydia is scared of love and passion, handicapped by the secrets and trauma of her childhood on the Solway Firth. But she is ready for real life to begin.

In a world before the pill, her defences are tested when she falls in love with a sports car mechanic, part of a smart, shady circle. Weaving her uncertain way through the glittering opportunities and pitfalls of a changing society, the old-fashioned values of her doting grandmother and her serious civil service job, it is when Lydia inherits a brasserie in run-down Notting Hill that her journey really begins.

But can she find her way through love and loss, family secrets and the first stirrings of feminism?

What I Say.

I saw a picture of Break These Chains by Kirsteen Stewart from White Fox Publishing, and read that it was all about a young woman in London in the Sixties trying to find her own identity in a world that was in a great state of change. I have to tell you that I was absolutely drawn to it straight away – not to mention the fabulous cover!

Fortunately, the lovely people at White Fox Publishing very kindly agreed to send me a copy, and I am so very glad that they did.

Lydia is a young girl who has had to deal with an absent father and a disconnected and hostile mother in the Solway Firth. When her mother is unable to cope with Lydia, but seemingly cannot stop looking for relationships with a number of unsuitable men, her Grandmother Eveline steps in and takes over. Lydia is sent to spend her childhood with her Aunt Patience and Uncle Edmund. When she is accepted to University, Lydia is suspended after she bites another student for taunting her about her mother.

Eveline decides that the only thing to be done is for her to take charge of Lydia’s wellbeing, and is determined that she should follow what is expected of her and find a nice young man to marry and settle down with.

The only thing is that no one has actually asked Lydia what she wants. A sympathetic University tutor secures an interview for Lydia at the Department of Education, and she decides that working there temporarily has to be better than simply settling for a life limited by the social aspirations of her family.

What is so refreshing about Kirsteen’s writing is not only do you absolutely feel you are seeing and feeling the whole world around you due to the evocative descriptions of the Sixties, but that Lydia’s frustration at being shaped into a role she doesn’t want is always right at the heart of the narrative.

Lydia meets her former University friend Fred, as he is released from prison for theft. Standing right next to her are Dave and Marcus – two of Fred’s friends. They are part of the London social scene that has eluded Lydia for so long, and along with their friend Auriol, she suddenly realises how much the world has to offer beyond the confines of her Grandmother’s world. Marcus and Lydia start a relationship, and his job as a sports car mechanic to the rich and famous means that Lydia gets the chance to travel with him and finally experience life.

At the same time, Eveline has met a young playwright called Arthur Shawcross outside a theatre, and slowly they embark on an unexpected and mutually beneficial friendship. Arthur finds a mother figure who can give him the reassurance and guidance he needs, while Eveline starts to confide in Arthur about the complicated and challenging secrets of her family. As they grow closer, little by little, Eveline starts to understand the way in which the world around her is changing and understands it is not as foreboding as she believed. She also asks Arthur to write a play about her family, and gives him access to all her family documents and correspondence, with Lydia as an integral part to the plot.

When Eveline passes away, her family is shocked to hear that Lydia is left a brasserie in Notting Hill. No one knew that it was part of the family property portfolio and are even more confused as to why she has left it to Lydia. This is a huge decision for Lydia. Although she and Marcus are in love, he has moved home to look after his late father’s farm and wants her there with him.

The thing is, now Lydia finally has the chance to shape her own future and find her own identity free from the constraints of her family.

Break These Chains is a clever and engaging story of a time that doesn’t seem so long ago, but was a very different world for young women. Their identity and self worth is inextricably linked with how much they conform to what is expected of them, and for those, like Lydia who choose to make their own decisions, are regarded with disdain and treated with suspicion.

There is also the idea of women belonging to men and being reliant on them too throughout the novel. Marcus loves Lydia, but he lays down the rules for their relationship, he buys the clothes for the way he wants her to dress, and he becomes resentful when she doesn’t spend enough time with him at the farm – although we learn why later on in the novel. Lydia’s boss at the Department of Education believes she has the potential and intelligence to progress in her career – with a caveat that if she is ‘nice’ to him, he can put in a word for her. This is the underlying notion of Break These Chains – it might be a man’s world, but can Lydia find the self belief and determination to do what she wants as oppose to what society expects.

Break These Chains was a revelation for me, in terms of the fact that not only did the perfect descriptions make me love London even more, but really brought home not only how far we have come in terms of women’s rights, but also how much further we have to go. You cannot help but like and admire Lydia and Eveline, both who may be separated by their generations and outlook, but are in reality far more alike than they could imagine. It is a love letter to both the Sixties and to the women who were determined to ensure future generations are finally able to be in charge of their own destinies.

Thank you very much to White Fox Publishing and Kirsteen Stewart for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent

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Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent

Available from all good Bookshops and Online

Published by Penguin Ireland

What They Say

Three brothers are at the funeral. One lies in the coffin.

Will, Brian and Luke grow up competing for their mother’s unequal love. As men, the competition continues – for status, money, fame, women …

They each betray each other, over and over, until one of them is dead.

But which brother killed him?

What I Say

Let me say straight from the start of this review, as I am all for honesty, that I am a total Liz Nugent fan. Ever since I read Unravelling Oliver, I have waited patiently for her next novel, and Skin Deep is one of my favourite novels which I recommend endlessly.

Why is any of this remotely relevant? In my honest opinion, Our Little Cruelties is even better. That’s a bold statement to make, but trust me, once you have had the pleasure of meeting the Drumm brothers and the world of chaos that they inhabit, you will undoubtedly understand why.

The novel starts with a funeral, and we know from the start that it’s either Will, Luke or Brian inside the coffin. That is a striking and engaging introduction to these brothers, as of course we immediately want to know which one of them doesn’t make it to the end of the book – and why.

It’s also important to tell you just how complex and interesting each of them are, and as the story progresses, my reaction to each of them swapped constantly as more of their lives were revealed. Make no mistake, the Drumm brothers may be by turns charming, engaging and driven, but they are all self-serving and narcissistic too.

The novel is split into three sections- one for each of the brothers – Will, Luke and Brian and their families. As we follow each section, not only does the narrative move forward and backwards in time, we also hear sometimes three different versions of the same event, told from the unique perspective of each brother. In doing this, Liz Nugent cleverly disorientates and unnerves us as readers- who do you trust when the stories you are presented with shift and take your allegiances with it?

All the time, ever present in the fabric of their patchwork lives is their mother. Will is undoubtedly her favourite, Brian is tolerated, but it is Luke who bears the brunt of her anger and frustration. Melissa is an absolute force of nature, a woman who is a celebrity singer and star of TV Soap, and she seems to resent having to look after her children unless they are lavishing her with love and attention. If you thought Cordelia in Skin Deep was a force to be reckoned with, Melissa takes it to a whole new nightmarish level!

As you get further and further into the Drumm brothers history – which goes right from their childhood to the funeral at the start of the novel, you not only learn about the character and their lives, but also how their very distinct personalities mean that they, like their mother, think only of themselves and what they can gain from any situation. Will may be a successful film producer, but he uses those around him -especially the women in his life to make sure he is always at the top of his game. Luke discovers a talent for music and becomes a pop star, and he seems to be totally overwhelmed by all the attention and trappings that it brings – and slides into a life of drugs and drinks, with little regard for anyone else. Even when Luke seems to be Will’s saviour after Will is diagnosed as HIV positive, Luke is only doing it so Will can repay him by getting him a part in a film.  Meanwhile, after Brian’s life as a teacher is brought to an abrupt end, he decides to appoint himself as Luke’s manager- whilst at the same time siphoning off plenty of money for himself, and moving into Luke’s mansion.

This is the joyous dilemma for us as readers – we should be appalled by the way in which the Drumm brothers treat each other, but the constant narrative shifts mean that just when we start to sympathise with one of them, to see the same events from another perspective means we never really know who is being truthful.

The women in the brother’s lives also form an important part of the story, and they are not relegated to simply being Will’s wife, or Luke’s girlfriend. Susan, Mary and Daisy – (who is Will and Susan’s daughter) are absolutely integral to the plot at all times, and they become part of the brothers lives and are linked to all of them in numerous ways.  Susan is married to Will, but Brian has always been in love with her, and he is sure that he, not Will fathered Daisy after their one night stand. Mary had an affair with Will, and then she and Luke fall in love, and this is always in the background, not to mention a woman called Kate who Luke was due to have a baby with – until Will realised she was one of his conquests too, and he could not risk her telling his wife.

Daisy for me was a really interesting and understated character.  Although she is absolutely central to the plot – most notably as Will and Brian come to blows over who her father is, she grows in significance as she gets older.  As she finds her voice, we also realise that like her Uncle Luke, she has many demons to deal with, and as other people seek to disregard her, they become more and more vocal.

This is the glorious, entertwined, twisted and devilish world of Our Little Cruelties – every page brings a new revelation, a new way the Drumm brothers are closer than they could ever imagine. We as readers can only stand back and watch as their lives crash into each other and implode in a way we could never ever imagine.

You can probably tell how much I loved Our Little Cruelties, and it is absolutely going to be one of my #MostSelfishReads2020. Seeing as we won’t be able to go out anywhere anytime soon, I can’t think of a better book to treat yourself to, and trust me, you won’t be able to put it down..

If you are looking for a cosy story of family bonds and brotherhood, Our Little Cruelties is probably not the novel you are looking for. If however, you are looking for an absolute masterclass in a taut, psychological thriller that explores what people will do to ensure they get what they want, this book should absolutely be on your reading pile. Liz Nugent’s insight and understanding of the depths that people will sink to in order to ensure that they will survive are just perfect, and the fact that you are attracted to and repelled by each brother in turn are testament to her absolute sublime skill as a writer.

Thank you so much to Jane Gentle and Ellie Hudson for my gifted copy and my chance to be part of this Blog Tour in exchange for an honest review.

Please do check out what my fabulous fellow Bloggers are saying too..

The Book of Echoes by Rosanna Amaka

The Book of Echoes by Rosanna Amaka

Published by Doubleday Books on 27th February

Available from All Good Bookshops and Online

 

What They Say

Narrated by the spirit of an enslaved African, this is a searing debut about hope, redemption and the scars of history.

Over two hundred years ago in Africa, a woman tosses her young son to safety as she is hauled off by slavers. After a brutal sea passage, her second child is snatched away. Although the woman doesn’t know it yet, her spirit is destined to roam the earth in search of her lost children.

It will make its way to 1980s Brixton, where she watches teenage Michael attempt to stay out of trouble as riots spit and boil onthe streets; and to a poor village in Nigeria, where Ngozi struggles to better her life..

As the invisible threads that draw these two together are pulled ever tighter, The Book of Echoes asks: how can we overcome the traumas of the past when they are woven so inextricably with the present? Humming with horror and beauty, Rosanna Amaka’s remarkable debut marks her as a vibrant new voice in fiction.

What I Say 

‘Unknowingly being passed down a baton of scars because their job was to survive, to hand on the baton in the hope of a better tomorrow, for the next generation to make it better than it was’.

Hand on heart, I had seen this novel, and I thought it wasn’t for me. I am trying to be more responsible and only request proofs I know I am going to read and review, because I don’t feel it’s right to ask for them if they are just going to sit on my shelf.

When Tabitha from Doubleday asked me if I would be interesting in reading and reviewing My Book of Echoes, I read the blurb again, and thought the dual narrative, and the notion of two seemingly disparate lives tentatively connected was one I would like to explore.

Twenty pages in, I sent Tabitha a DM:

‘Tabitha! The Book of Echoes! Oh My Goodness!!’

That’s quite a statement for a book I wasn’t sure about, but I mean every word – and even more so when I tell you that this book is going on my #MostSelfishReads2020 List.

The novel starts with an unnamed pregnant female narrator arriving at the West India Docks in London in 1803 after having been stowed away in the ship with many other people, suffering inhumane conditions. Wind, a sailor and former slave, pulls the Narrator out of the ship where she is forced to leave and gives birth to a child who is taken from her immediately. She then appears as a spirit that is present throughout the pages, as she weaves her way through the world as an all seeing presence.

The Book of Echoes is also the story of Ngozi and Michael. Ngozi is a young woman in Nigeria, who knows that the only way she will find a better way of life is to leave her family behind, and provide for them from afar.  She is a valuable commodity, an object that can be bought and sold, but her mother does this reluctantly. Ngozi has to leave in order for her family to survive, and to be perceived as a good daughter she has to acquiesce to what they need.

When an horrific tragedy befalls the first family she is sent to, Ngozi is left to fend for herself, and she ends up with the Osindu family where she is targetted by both the mother and father in equally awful and extremely distressing ways.

As Ngozi gets older, she realises that her body and sexuality which has been used by others to get what they want from her, is now the very thing she can use against them to get what she wants.

Michael lives miles away from Ngozi, in Brixton, where he, his mother and his sister Marcia are existing as a family unit. That is until one day, Michael’s mother is murdered at their home, and his whole world is turned upside down.  He and Marcia have to go and live with their aunt and uncle, and suddenly everything they ever knew is turned on its head.  Michael is determined to care for his younger sister, but he needs to earn money and fast. After seeing his school friend Devon, who is doing really well for himself he decides that working as a courier for Devon’s boss Tom, is the way to ensure he can pacify the social services and give him the income he needs in order that he is able to care for his sister.

Set against the backdrop of the Brixton riots, and the racial tension which seeps through the pages of Michael’s story, there is always the sense in Rosanna’s writing that Michael’s journey is about to get a lot more complicated. When Devon is accused of not delivering the packages (which it transpires should have contained drugs), Michael is caught up in the ensuing fight and Devon is killed.  Michael is found guilty of his murder and is sent to prison for three years.  He emerges a changed man, weary of the world and unable to see his place in it, which drives him to his lowest point until his sister Marcia helps him see that life really is worth living.

Ngozi meanwhile is learning exactly how to get what she wants by flirting with the business men who come to the bank where she is an assistant.  They are enchanted by this beautiful woman who is quick witted, beautiful and intelligent, while Ngozi is absolutely aware that by using this, she can escape the world she is desperate to leave behind.  When she meets Ben McDonald, a businessman from Scotland, they embark on a relationship which gives Ngozi a home and a social standing of sorts, but she and Ben are still seen as outsiders and are regarded with suspicion and excluded from the social world around them.

Ben regularly returns to Scotland, and refuses to tell her why. It is only when Ngozi discovers that she is pregnant does Ben reveal the truth about his life to her. Convinced she can get him to stay with her, she decides to go to Ben’s home and confront his wife, which results in Ngozi losing the baby and realising she is totally alone. Ngozi is ostracised again, and finds herself in London, alone and looking for work.

Ngozi and Michael, in spite of the experiences they have both been through are resilient and determined that they will ensure that from now on their lives will be very different. Ngozi finds success in designing successful software, and Michael’s talents lie in renovating and selling houses.

Little by little, in tantalising steps, Rosanna brings Ngozi and Michael closer, until they meet, and their life together pulls the novel even futher through history as we see what happens to them. What was also interesting for me, was the character of Marcia, Michael’s sister, who has had to deal with witnessing her Mum’s murder, the imprisonment of her brother, and the estrangement from her other brother too.

However, her intelligence and drive means that from a very early age Marcia is determined to make sure she is the force for change in her family, and she has to learn to suppress the enormity of what she has seen in order to function. Until one day, when it all becomes too much, and she now has to rely on the family to help her – and they realise exactly what Marcia has endured. For me, Marcia was a really interesting character, she has so much quiet presence and determination, and was a woman who you felt really had dealt with so much with dignity and perseverance.

As a reader, it is impossible not to be swept along with the scope and ambition of the plot. Having the nameless narrator as the link through the book just works so beautifully, because it brings the reader right into the narrative – I felt that I was there with her, as an observer on Ngozi and Michael’s world. The prose and descriptions are perfect, as you feel totally immersed in the landscape and history, and it also taught me so much about lives I had no experience of.

The Book of Echoes is a raw, brutal and tender story which is uncompromising in its portrayal of the realities of life for Ngozi and Michael. It is unflinching and heartbreaking, told without compromise, but at the heart of it, are the souls of Michael and Ngozi, whose seemingly disparate lives fit together so seamlessly, that there could only ever have been one ending.

I absolutely loved it.

Thank you so much to Tabitha Pelly for my gifted copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

 

I’ll Tell You What I Want What I Really Really Want… To Read in 2020…

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Now that the Christmas decorations have been packed away, the last Quality Street and Roses have been eaten, and life is settling back into a routine again, it’s that time of year.

As always, already on Bookish Twitter and Instagram, people are talking about the books they are most looking forward to in 2020.  I would be lying to you all if I didn’t admit there are a LOT of books I am very excited about reading this year, but would any of you be interested in hearing it?

Then I thought, well why not – we all need something bookish to look forward to this year!

So grab a cuppa, make sure you have a pen and paper handy, and lets talk 2020 books!

JANUARY

Motherwell by Deborah Orr from W & N Books – Published on January 16th.

What They Say:

Just shy of 18, Deborah Orr left Motherwell – the town she both loved and hated – to go to university. It was a decision her mother railed against from the moment the idea was raised. Win had very little agency in the world, every choice was determined by the men in her life. And strangely, she wanted the same for her daughter. Attending university wasn’t for the likes of the Orr family. Worse still, it would mean leaving Win behind – and Win wanted Deborah with her at all times, rather like she wanted her arm with her at all times. But while she managed to escape, Deborah’s severing from her family was only superficial. She continued to travel back to Motherwell, fantasizing about the day that Win might come to accept her as good enough. Though of course it was never meant to be.

MOTHERWELL is a sharp, candid and often humorous memoir about the long shadow that can be cast when the core relationship in your life compromises every effort you make to become an individual. It is about what we inherit – the good and the very bad – and how a deeper understanding of the place and people you have come from can bring you towards redemption.

What I Say:

I heard a lot about this memoir on Bookish Twitter, and followed Deborah Orr before she sadly passed away. In that time, and from other people’s recollections of her, I knew that Motherwell would be a emotional and compelling read. Quite simply, I wanted to read it, and have already pre-ordered it.

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur from Chatto – published 16 January.

What They Say:

Every time I fail to become more like my mother, I become more like me.

On a hot August night on Cape Cod, when Adrienne was 14, her mother Malabar woke her at midnight with five simple words that would set the course of both of their lives for years to come: Ben Souther just kissed me.

Adrienne instantly became her mother’s confidante and helpmate, blossoming in the sudden light of her attention; from then on, Malabar came to rely on her daughter to help orchestrate what would become an epic affair with her husband’s closest friend. The affair would have calamitous consequences for everyone involved, impacting Adrienne’s life in profound ways, driving her into a doomed marriage of her own, and then into a deep depression. Only years later will she find the strength to embrace her life — and her mother — on her own terms.

This is a book about how the people close to us can break our hearts simply because they have access to them. It’s about the lies we tell in order to justify the choices we make. It’s about mothers and daughters and the nature of family. And ultimately, it’s a story of resilience, a reminder that we need not be the parents our parents were to us; that moving forward is possible.

What I Say:

I heard about Wild Game last year, and was immediately intrigued by the notion of a shift in a traditional mother daughter relationship. The fact that Adrienne’s book is based on her life only made me want to read it more.  Definitely one I will be seeking out this year.

Little Bandaged Days by Kyra Wilder from Picador Books – published 23 January.

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What They Say:

A mother moves to Geneva with her husband and their two young children. In their beautiful new rented apartment, surrounded by their rented furniture, and several Swiss instructions to maintain quiet, she finds herself totally isolated. Her husband’s job means he is almost never present, and her entire world is caring for her children – making sure they are happy, and fed and comfortable, and that they can be seen as the happy, well-fed, comfortable family they should be. Everything is perfect.

But, of course, it’s not. The isolation, the sleeplessness, the demands of two people under two, are getting to Erika. She has never been so alone, and once the children are asleep, there are just too many hours to fill until morning…

Kyra Wilder’s Little Bandaged Days is a beautifully written, painfully claustrophobic story about a woman’s descent into madness. Unpredictable, frighteningly compelling and brutally honest, it grapples with the harsh conditions of motherhood and this mother’s own identity, and as the novel continues, we begin to wonder just what exactly Erika might be driven to do.

What I Say:

I was lucky enough to be sent a proof by Alice from Picador last year, and I have to tell you, it is simply mesmerising!  It is a compelling and unsettling study of motherhood, about what happens when a Mother is left in sole charge of her children for a long time, in a country she has just moved to, with a husband who is consumed by his new job.

It is a brilliant novel because Erika slowly and gently starts to blur the boundaries between reality and her madness.  It is a little line here, a phrase there that has you checking and re-reading just to make sure you read it correctly.  I think this is an important novel which raises many questions about the pressures of motherhood, and the fact we are all working so hard to be insta-perfect, that we lose ourselves and our sense of reality along the way.

I absolutely loved it, and recommend it constantly.

Pine by Francine Toon from Doubleday – published 23rd January.

What They Say:

Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Halloween night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pickup. In the morning, she’s gone.

In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren’s mother a decade ago.

Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father’s turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it’s no longer clear who she can trust.

In the shadow of the Highland forest, Francine Toon captures the wildness of rural childhood and the intensity of small-town claustrophobia. In a place that can feel like the edge of the word, she unites the chill of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller. It is the perfect novel for our haunted times.

What I Say:

This is a bit of a sneaky one, because I was lucky to receive a copy of Pine from Antonia at Doubleday. The reason I have added it on this blog post, is that I think it is a book so many of you will love. The writing is so absorbing, and Francine perfectly balances the isolation and wildness of the Highlands, with the claustrophobia and tensions that often run deep in a close knit community.  You absolutely need to read Pine.

FEBRUARY

The Foundling by Stacey Halls from Zaffre Books- published 6th February.

What They Say:

London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst, that Clara has died in care, she is astonished when she is told she has already claimed her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.

Less than a mile from Bess’s lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.

From the bestselling author of The Familiars comes this captivating story of mothers and daughters, class and power, and love against the greatest of odds . . .

What I Say:

I read and loved The Familiars, Stacey’s first novel, and I have to say this one sounds just as fascinating.  My mum was adopted, and I have a familial connection to the Foundling Hospital, in that my nephew was adopted from the Coram charity, which is part of what the Foundling Hospital now is.  I also visited the Foundling Hospital last year, and it is such an emotional and thought provoking place, that I think this novel will resonate with me on so many levels.

Saving Missy by Beth Morrey from Harper Collins – Published on 6th February.

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What They Say:

Missy Carmichael’s life has become small.

Grieving for a family she has lost or lost touch with, she’s haunted by the echoes of her footsteps in her empty home; the sound of the radio in the dark; the tick-tick-tick of the watching clock.

Spiky and defensive, Missy knows that her loneliness is all her own fault. She deserves no more than this; not after what she’s done. But a chance encounter in the park with two very different women opens the door to something new.

Another life beckons for Missy, if only she can be brave enough to grasp the opportunity. But seventy-nine is too late for a second chance. Isn’t it?

What I Say:

Now, I was very lucky that the fabulous LoveReading (if you don’t know about them, you really should!) sent me an early copy of this one.  It is quite simply, the book we are all going to need to read this year.  It is charming, kind, filled with hope, and it is one of those novels you simply can’t forget.  If you don’t love Missy by the end, well you must have a black pebble where your heart should be!

House of Trelawney by Hannah Rothschild from Bloomsbury Books – 6th February.

What They Say:

The seat of the Trelawney family for over 800 years, Trelawney Castle was once the jewel of the Cornish coast. Each successive Earl spent with abandon, turning the house and grounds into a sprawling, extravagant palimpsest of wings, turrets and follies.

But recent generations have been better at spending than making money. Now living in isolated penury, unable to communicate with each other or the rest of the world, the family are running out of options. Three unexpected events will hasten their demise: the sudden appearance of a new relation, an illegitimate, headstrong, beautiful girl; an unscrupulous American hedge fund manager determined to exact revenge; and the crash of 2008.

A love story and social satire set in the parallel and seemingly unconnected worlds of the British aristocracy and high finance, House of Trelawney is also the story of lost and found friendships between three women. One of them will die; another will discover her vocation; and the third will find love.

What I Say:

I absolutely loved Hannah’s first novel, The Improbability of Love, and was so excited to hear she has a new novel coming out in 2020. A novel all about a family, their wealth (or lack of it), and social satire? This is my perfect novel!

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes from Michael Joseph – Published on 6th February.

What They Say:

They’re a glamorous family, the Caseys.

Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, their beautiful, talented wives and all their kids spend a lot of time together – birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weekends away. And they’re a happy family. Johnny’s wife, Jessie – who has the most money – insists on it.

Under the surface, though, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, other people like each other far too much . . .

Everything stays under control until Ed’s wife Cara, gets concussion and can’t keep her thoughts to herself. One careless remark at Johnny’s birthday party, with the entire family present, starts Cara spilling out all their secrets.

In the subsequent unravelling, every one of the adults finds themselves wondering if it’s time – finally – to grow up?

What I Say:

Oh Marian Keyes – how do you put into words what an amazing author and fabulous person she really is!  Water Melon was my first Marian Keyes novel, and with every new book, you just love her more. Marian’s skill is writing the ordinary in a way that makes it extraordinary, and her perception and wit make this novel one I will just want to sink in to for as long as it takes to read it.

Actress by Anne Enright from Jonathan Cape – Published on 20 February.

What They Say:

This is the story of Irish theatre legend Katherine O’Dell, as told by her daughter Norah. It tells of early stardom in Hollywood, of highs and lows on the stages of Dublin and London’s West End. Katherine’s life is a grand performance, with young Norah watching from the wings.

But this romance between mother and daughter cannot survive Katherine’s past, or the world’s damage. As Norah uncovers her mother’s secrets, she acquires a few of her own. Then, fame turns to infamy when Katherine decides to commit a bizarre crime.

Actress is about a daughter’s search for the truth: the dark secret in the bright star, and what drove Katherine finally mad.

Brilliantly capturing the glamour of post-war America and the shabbiness of 1970s Dublin, Actress is an intensely moving, disturbing novel about mothers and daughters and the men in their lives. A scintillating examination of the corrosive nature of celebrity, it is also a sad and triumphant tale of freedom from bad love, and from the avid gaze of the crowd.

What I Say:

I heard about Actress very recently, but again, I knew as soon as I heard about it, it was absolutely going to be on this blog post.  For me, novels about relationships between mothers and daughters are endlessly fascinating, and I am always fascinated by the notion of celebrity and all the issues that surround it.

MARCH

The Weight of Love by Hilary Fannin from Doubleday Ireland – Published 19 March. 

 

What They Say:

London, 1996. Robin and Ruth meet in the staff room of an East London school. Robin, desperate for a real connection, instantly falls in love. Ruth, recently bereaved and fragile, is tentative.

When Robin introduces Ruth to his childhood friend, Joseph, a tortured and talented artist, their attraction is instant. Powerless, Robin watches on as the girl he loves and his best friend begin a passionate and turbulent affair.

Dublin 2017. Robin and Ruth are married and have a son, Sid, who is about to emigrate to Berlin. Theirs is a marriage haunted by the ghost of Joseph and as the distance between them grows, Robin makes a choice that could have potentially devastating consequences.

The Weight of Love is a beautiful exploration of how we manage life when the notes and beats of our existence, so carefully arranged, begin to slip off the stave. An intimate and moving account of the intricacies of marriage and the myriad ways in which we can love and be loved.

What I Say:

I love novels about relationships and marriages, and this novel from Hilary Fannin, which looks at what happens when the past starts to come in between a couple sounds like a story I want to read.  I think it’s one that might not be on your radar, but really should be.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell from Tinder Press – Published on 31 March.

What They Say:

On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

What I Say:

I am sure you have seen Hamnet EVERYWHERE already.  A new Maggie O’Farrell novel is always a huge event in the literary calendar, and for good reason.  Her novels are beyond compare, and the writing is just sublime. Do we even need to talk about the beautiful cover?  I just cannot wait to read this, and am absolutely adding it to my list!

APRIL

The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves from Century – Published on 2 April.

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What They Say:

Frank hasn’t spoken to his wife Maggie for six months.

For weeks they have lived under the same roof, slept in the same bed and eaten at the same table – all without words.

Maggie has plenty of ideas as to why her husband has gone quiet.

But it will take another heartbreaking turn of events before Frank finally starts to unravel the secrets that have silenced him.

Is this where their story ends?
Or is it where it begins?

What I Say:

I love the idea of a novel where you have no clue where it will take you, or what will happen next. The notion that a couple haven’t been talking for six months? How can you possibly not want to know why!  The Silent Treatment has already received lots of praise, and I am really excited about finding out why Frank and Maggie are not talking!

As You Were by Elaine Feeney from Harvill Secker – Published on 16th April.

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What They Say:

Sinéad Hynes is a tough, driven, funny young property developer with a terrifying secret.

No-one knows it: not her fellow patients in a failing hospital, and certainly not her family. She has confided only in Google and a shiny magpie.

But she can’t go on like this, tirelessly trying to outstrip her past and in mortal fear of her future. Across the ward, Margaret Rose is running her chaotic family from her rose-gold Nokia. In the neighboring bed, Jane, rarely but piercingly lucid, is searching for a decent bra and for someone to listen. Sinéad needs them both.

As You Were is about intimate histories, institutional failures, the kindness of strangers, and the darkly present past of modern Ireland. It is about women’s stories and women’s struggles. It is about seizing the moment to be free.

Wildly funny, desperately tragic, inventive and irrepressible, As You Were introduces a brilliant voice in Irish fiction with a book that is absolutely of our times.

What I Say:

As soon as I heard about As You Were, it sounded like a novel that was both timely and necessary.  I think this is a novel which will raise a lot of discussion, but will also be a brilliant read, and I can’t wait to start it.

Death In Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh from Penguin published on 23 April.

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What They Say:

While on her normal daily walk with her dog in the nearby forest woods, our protagonist comes across a note, handwritten and carefully pinned to the ground with a frame of stones. Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body. Our narrator is deeply shaken; she has no idea what to make of this. She is new to this area, having moved here from her longtime home after the death of her husband, and she knows very few people. And she’s a little shaky even on her best days. Her brooding about this note quickly grows into a full-blown obsession, and she begins to devote herself to exploring the possibilities of her conjectures about who this woman was and how she met her fate. Her suppositions begin to find echoes in the real world, and with mounting excitement and dread, the fog of mystery starts to form into a concrete and menacing shape. But as we follow her in her investigation, strange dissonances start to accrue, and our faith in her grip on reality weakens, until finally, just as she seems to be facing some of the darkness in her own past with her late husband, we are forced to face the prospect that there is either a more innocent explanation for all this or a much more sinister one–one that strikes closer to home.

A triumphant blend of horror, suspense, and pitch-black comedy, Death in Her Hands asks us to consider how the stories we tell ourselves both guide us closer to the truth and keep us at bay from it. Once again, we are in the hands of a narrator whose unreliability is well earned, only this time the stakes have never been higher.

What I Say:

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh is one of my favourite novels.  I have nothing more to say except that as soon as I heard this was being released this year, I knew I needed to read it! Her writing is always pitch perfect, and the whole premise for this novel sounds intriguing!

MAY

What Have I Done by Laura Dockrill from Square Peg – Published on 7th May.

What They Say:

Laura Dockrill had an idyllic pregnancy and couldn’t wait to meet her new baby. But as she went into labour things began to go wrong and Laura started to struggle. A traumatic birth, anxiety about the baby, sleep deprivation, a slow recovery – all these things piled up until Laura (like any new mum) felt overwhelmed.

As many as 8 out of 10 new mums struggle in the weeks after birth. In Laura’s case these feelings escalated scarily quickly into post-partum psychosis. She became paranoid and delusional and had to be institutionalised for a fortnight without her baby. Throughout this time she was haunted by a sense of: ‘What have I done?’, at first as she wondered if she could cope with her baby, and later because she was trying to grasp at reality as she slipped into nightmarish delusion.

Laura’s experience was devastating but this is a hopeful book. Not only has Laura slowly recovered she has come out the other side stronger and more assured about parenting on her own terms. Now she is determined to break the silence around post-natal mental health and with her story tell new parents: you are not alone.

What I Say:

I think this is such an important book. Too often we are focussed on the Insta-perfect side of Motherhood, without being honest about the reality of it.  I struggled after having both my sons, and no one ever talked to me about it, or asked me how I was doing. I absolutely think Laura’s book is must read for 2020.

JUNE

The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig from Little Brown UK  -published on 4th June.

What They Say:

When Hannah is invited into the First-Class carriage of the London to Penzance train by Jinni, she walks into a spider’s web. Now a poor young single mother, Hannah once escaped Cornwall to go to university. But once she married Jake and had his child, her dreams were crushed into bitter disillusion. Her husband has left her for Eve, rich and childless, and Hannah has been surviving by becoming a cleaner in London. Jinni is equally angry and bitter, and in the course of their journey the two women agree to murder each other’s husbands. After all, they are strangers on a train – who could possibly connect them?

But when Hannah goes to Jinni’s husband’s home the next night, she finds Stan, a huge, hairy, ugly drunk who has his own problems – not least the care of a half-ruined house and garden. He claims Jinni is a very different person to the one who has persuaded Hannah to commit a terrible crime. Who is telling the truth – and who is the real victim?

What I Say:

Have you read the synopsis?! I just think it sounds like a novel you wouldn’t want to miss, and I am always attracted to novels where your viewpoints change as you turn the pages.  Amanda’s last novel The Lie of the Land was brilliant, unsettling and I think The Golden Rule is going to be just as brilliant.

Olive by Emma Gannon from Harper Collins  – published on 11th June.

What They Say:

OLIVE is many things.

Independent.
Adrift.
Anxious.
Loyal.
Kind.
Knows her own mind.

It’s ok that she’s still figuring it all out, navigating her world without a compass. But life comes with expectations, there are choices to be made, boxes to tick and – sometimes – stereotypes to fulfil. And when her best friends’ lives start to branch away towards marriage and motherhood, leaving the path they’ve always followed together, Olive starts to question her choices – because life according to Olive looks a little bit different.

Moving, memorable and a mirror for every woman at a crossroads, OLIVE has a little bit of all of us. Told with great warmth and nostalgia, this is a modern tale about the obstacle course of adulthood, milestone decisions and the ‘taboo’ about choosing not to have children.

What I Say:

I am always fascinated by stories of women who choose to find their own path – especially in the face of society’s expectations and all the pressures that bring.  I think Olive’s story is going to be an interesting and absorbing one, and I can’t wait to read it.

JULY

Sisters by Daisy Johnson from Jonathan Cape – published on 2nd July.

What They Say:

Something unspeakable has happened to sisters July and September.

Desperate for a fresh start, their mother Sheela moves them across the country to an old family house that has a troubled life of its own. Noises come from behind the walls. Lights flicker of their own accord. The dank basement, where July and September once made a blood promise to each other, is deeply disquieting.

In their new, unsettling surroundings, July finds that the fierce bond she’s always had with September is beginning to change in ways she cannot understand.

Taut, transfixing and profoundly moving, Sisters explodes with the fury and joy of adolescence. It is a story of sibling love and sibling envy to rival Shirley Jackson and Stephen King. With Sisters, Daisy Johnson confirms her standing among the most inventive and exciting young writers at work today.

What I Say:

I loved Everything Under, and now to find out that Daisy Johnson has a new novel coming out this year – well, of course I would want to read it! I love the idea of troubled sisters and a troubled house, and together – I think this is going to be one of the must reads of the Summer.

OCTOBER

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata from Granta – published on 1st October.

What They Say:

Natsuki isn’t like the other girls. She has a wand and a transformation mirror. She might be a witch, or an alien from another planet. Together with her cousin Yuu, Natsuki spends her summers in the wild mountains of Nagano, dreaming of other worlds. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the two children forever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what. Now Natsuki is grown. She lives a quiet life with her asexual husband, surviving as best she can by pretending to be normal. But the demands of Natsuki’s family are increasing, her friends wonder why she’s still not pregnant, and dark shadows from Natsuki’s childhood are pursuing her. Fleeing the suburbs for the mountains of her childhood, Natsuki prepares herself with a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it?

What I Say:

One of my aims this year is to read more translated fiction, and I loved Convenience Store Woman, so am really looking forward to Earthlings.  I like stories that are slightly quirky and unexpected, and I think this will fit the bill perfectly.

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton from Fig Tree – published on 15th October.

What They Say:

32-year-old Nina Dean is a successful food writer with a loyal online following, but a life that is falling apart. When she uses dating apps for the first time, she becomes a victim of ghosting, and by the most beguiling of men. Her beloved dad is vanishing in slow motion into dementia, and she’s starting to think about ageing and the gendered double-standard of the biological clock. On top of this she has to deal with her mother’s desire for a mid-life makeover and the fact that all her friends seem to be slipping away from her . . .

Dolly Alderton’s debut novel is funny, tender and painfully relatable, filled with whip-smart observations about relationships and the way we live today.

What I Say:

If you haven’t read Everything I Know About Love, then that is another book you need to add to your reading pile straight away. Dolly writes so perfectly about love and relationships, and as a 49 year old woman, I am probably far from her target audience, but I know that Ghosts will be another slice of sublime writing, and I cannot wait to dive in.

Summer Water by Sarah Moss from Picador Books – published in October.

What They Say:

The novel, a multi-voice narrative set in a Scottish holiday park over the course of one fateful rainy summer’s day, is being hailed by Picador as its standout literary publication for autumn 2020.

Described as “swift, sharp and dark”, the book follows a group of residents and their growing animosity to a noisy outsider family staying at the park, with tension mounting to a devastating climax.

What I Say:

The reason I can’t tell you more about this, is that this is all I know (thank you The Bookseller website!)!

I can tell you I loved Ghost Wall, and that there has been a lot of brilliant reviews already, and I couldn’t imagine writing a post like this and not including it!

 

I know this is a HUGE post, and this is just a fraction of the books that are being published this year, but these are the ones so far that I want to read and put on your radar in January!

I hope you found a book or two you like the look of, and hopefully ten more you absolutely need to read!

2020 is already shaping up to be a stellar year for new books, and here’s to lots of bookish conversations and sharing lots of booklove too!

Love

Clare xx

 

 

 

The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist – The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus

Raymond Antrobus: The Perseverance

Published By: Penned In The Margins

Available to Buy From All Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say:

An extraordinary debut from a young British-Jamaican poet, The Perseverance is a book of loss, language and praise. One of the most crucial new voices to emerge from Britain, Raymond Antrobus explores the d/Deaf experience, the death of his father and the failure to communicate. Ranging across history, time zones and continents, The Perseverance operates in the in betweens of dual heritages, of form and expression emerging to show us what it means to exist, and to flourish.

What I Say:

I think the idea of reading this collection was something from the start of my experience as a Shadow Judge that I was slightly anxious about. I was aware that Raymond Antrobus had burst onto the British Poetry scene in a blaze of glory, but having to review his collection for the Sunday Times/ University of Warwick Young Writer Award was absolutely out of my comfort zone. The last time I read poetry critically was probably when I was in University over 25 years ago.

Right from the start, and the very first poem, Echo, you are aware as a reader that this is an intensely personal and autobiographical collection from Raymond Antrobus. He is deaf and as if that was not isolating enough, he is also the child of an English mother and a Jamaican father. Raymond Antrobus has always been at the edge of a society that seemingly continues to move all around him, not understanding either his needs or his heritage. How do you attempt to find your place in a world when you are not recognised by it at all?

The Perseverance is an unapologetic debut that not only recounts his own experiences as a deaf British-Jamaican poet, but also makes the reader (as I did) stop and look up the references to other people from history to understand the importance of their inclusion in the work. We learn about his fractured relationship with his father, the life of his family, and there are also poems which feature deaf people who have their own stories to tell. I thought that this was an eclectic mix which worked well – quite simply because it often disrupts the rhythm of the poems, and whereas in one I could understand and appreciate it, others made me stop and read about the subject and then apply that knowledge to my re-reading of them.

What I thought was very clear about the work, is that Raymond Antrobus wants us to listen to him. How can we possibly understand what it means to be deaf, when we are hearing? We cannot possibly know the reality of being deaf – we may be able to make sweeping generalisations, but it is the minutiae, the day to day things that we take for granted that we need someone to articulate for us, to help us truly understand what we need to do to foster inclusion as oppose to exclusion. The addition of sign language symbols, and the redaction of Ted Hughes’ poem ‘Deaf School’ which was filled with misconception and ignorance, immediately addressed by his poem After Reading ‘Deaf School’ by the Mississippi

In the poem Dear Hearing World, I felt it was really Antrobus’ manifesto, a way of detailing exactly what the hearing world need to understand in order for us to make any progress. It is raw, visceral and real, borne of a life lived and ignorances exposed. The writing is sublime, the imagery is authentic, and there is the absolute sense that our inability to fully appreciate what barriers we have created in our society, that there is a whole world of experience which has been denied a history.

He says:

“I mulled over long paragraphs because I didn’t know

what a natural break sounded like, you erased

what could have always been poetry

This for me is a theme that runs all through his collection. That you have standing in front of you a man who wants to be heard – not only for his own story, but for all of those other deaf people who have come before and after him. There is no one better qualified to educate others about the reality of being deaf than those who are.

In the title poem of the collection, The Perseverance is the pub where his father spends a lot of his time, with Raymond stood outside, waiting for him to return. Theirs is a difficult relationship – it seems that this is a pattern of behaviour that is usual in their lives, and interestingly, Antrobus is excluded from that world too. He is neither Jamaican nor British, not allowed inside the pub as he is a child, but cannot hear what is going on anyway. His own perseverance is deeper than simply waiting for his Dad to emerge and take him home. Even knowing that he is beaten by hs father, Antrobus seems to simply want to be acknowledged and loved by him. There is no doubt that Antrobus’ father loves him, and is fiercely defensive of his son, but their relationship is far from a traditional one, with his father open about his sexual conquests and his treatment of him is at times upsetting to read.

We learn that Antrobus’ father has dementia, and I thought it was incredibly poignant that the final poem in the collection Happy Birthday Moon, is about that most intimate and traditional idea, of a Dad reading his son a bedtime story. In that moment, where they are completely alone and just being with one another is the most real and exquisite recollection of what every child wants. To be heard.

“I’d like to be the Moon, the bear, even the rain

Dad makes the Moon say something new every night

and we hear each other, really hear each other,

As Dad reads aloud, I follow his finger across the page.”

Perhaps this is the point of The Perseverance. Antrobus has honestly and unapologetically showed us what his life is like. The passion and determination that permeates the poems in this collection is a way of standing in front of us and asking us to hear each other. Truly hear each other. It is at times, not an easy work to read, and honestly, at times I was frustrated with Antrobus for making me stop to find out what he was talking about. I felt it disrupted my experience as a reader, but it was balanced with moments where I was just blindsided by the most beautiful poetry that just mesemerised me .

The Perseverance is a poetry collection unlike anything I have ever read. In its pages it encompasses so many themes such as love, loss, grief and the unique life that Antrobus has lived. To read it is to be party to his world and his frustations, his realities and his relationships, and his desire to ensure that his history and those of deaf people is no longer sidelined by those who should know better.

Read it and learn from it, let it make you understand the way in which our society has not listened to those who don’t automatically fit in, and then like Antrobus tells us, understand that that we need to really hear each other.

Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney to an English mother and Jamaican father. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Complete Works III and Jerwood Compton Poetry. He is one of the world’s first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word Education from Goldsmiths, University of London. Raymond is a founding member of Chill Pill and Keats House Poets Forum. He has had multiple residencies in deaf and hearing schools around London, as we as Pupil Referral Units. In 2018 he was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Award by the Poetry Society (judged by Ocean Vuong). The Perseverance (Penned In The Margins, 2018), was a Poetry Book Society Choice, the winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize and the Ted Hughes Award, and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

Follow #youngwriterawardshadow and @youngwriteryear on Twitter and Instagram to hear more about The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist, the authors and what the Shadow Panel think too.

The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award – Salt Slow by Julia Armfield

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Julia Armfield: Salt Slow

Published By: Picador

Available from All Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say:
In her brilliantly inventive and haunting debut collection of stories, Julia Armfield explores bodies and the bodily, mapping the skin and bones of her characters through their experiences of isolation, obsession, love and revenge. Teenagers develop ungodly appetites, a city becomes insomniac overnight, and bodies are diligently picked apart to make up better ones. The mundane worlds of schools and sleepy sea-side towns are invaded and transformed, creating a landscape which is constantly shifting to hold on to its inhabitants. Blurring the mythic and the gothic with the everyday, salt slow considers characters in motion – turning away, turning back or simply turning into something new entirely.

What I Say:

“When I was twenty-seven, my Sleep stepped out of me like a passenger from a train carriage, looked around my room for several seconds, then sat down in the chair beside my bed”.

When I first started reading Salt Slow, (which by the way has one of the most beautiful covers that I think I have EVER seen}, I found the collection really easy to read, fast paced and extremely accessible.

Women are at the heart of all of these stories, but they hold the power and strength, while men are secondary, disposable characters that don’t really matter. Each of the stories are all so different, but at the same time, Julia Armfield has woven a sense of unease and other worldliness that permeates all of them. The world the characters inhabit feel close enough to ours to be recognisable, but it also feels slightly futuristic too.

In this book of nine short stories, you are absolutely immersed in the world that exists on the edge of ours. In Mantis, a teenage girl slowly morphs into a preying Mantis and uses her power to seduce a young man with devastating consequences. It works so well because it is written in a calm and understated way. Her Mum deals with it all very pragmatically, understanding that this is her fate, and attempts to help her daughter ease the pain of transformation with different creams and balms. Her teenage friends, obsessed with what they look like, and who does what with who, do what teenage girls do – if she doesn’t bother them, they generally leave her alone. This is why it works so well – if she had been marked out as different, and excluded from her world, the story would have been a much more traditional story in the vein of wronged outsider wreaks her revenge. Mantis is all the more powerful for the fact that her difference is accepted, and when her changing body embraces her different physicality and sensuality, you feel the change is constantly bubbling under the surface, and it has almost an air of inevitability which permeates the whole story.

This idea of young women undergoing transformations is an interesting one, and it is a theme which runs through Salt Slow. I loved the notion that these women were all on the cusp of discovering something about themselves, or those who are close to them, and the transformations make them stronger and define who they truly are.

In Formerly Feral, a young girl gains not only a stepmother, but also a wolf as a step-sister after her mother and biological sister leave. The wolf is called Helen, and although the girl is not named, they become closer and start to share similar traits. Their apparent differences serve to bring them together, and the wolf is more of a sister to her as time goes on. Helen understands the isolation and independence that the girl craves, and warns off those who get too close and scare her step-sister. Little by little, Helen and the girl become more alike and are the daughters that her father and step-mother have no qualms showing off to visitors. Julia Armfield’s skill means that this does not seem preposterous at all – because the world the narrative is set in does not treat them as outsiders. This is what makes the whole of Salt Slow so plausible – that everyone in the stories does not react to the seemingly incongruent relationships or happenings, they just accept them for what they are.

I have to say, that there were two stories which really resonated with me. The first was The Great Awake.

Imagine a world where not only does insomnia become a world wide epidemic, but that for those people who cannot sleep, you see a physical manifestation of your Sleep. This Sleep is not necessarily a peaceful being, but one that will make your life as uncomfortable as possible because they don’t rest either. The world is now full not only of people who cannot sleep, but also these beings who occupy even more space in an already disordered world. Trains are full, with Sleeps occupying all the seats, they all walk the streets and time no longer means anything because what’s the point if you can’t delineate day and night by the act of sleeping?

Janey, the protagonist of the story befriends a woman called Leonie in her block. She is a rare creature in that she is still able to sleep through the night, and even though they become friends, Leonie is desperate for a Sleep of her own so she can fit in with everyone else.

The Great Awake is a brilliant story which made me really stop and think about things. I am suffering with insomnia at the moment, and the notion of my sleeplessness as a human like object, is an intriguing concept. How would I react if I could see the very thing that was stopping me from sleeping? Would I want to rant at it, reason with it, or try to get rid of it? Are we all so wired and atttached to our screens and need to be connected 24 hours to the social media and internet that this notion of a world where we can’t switch off and fall asleep is in danger of becoming a reality?

As a teenager, like many others, I was devoted to following different groups – Wham, Culture Club, Wet Wet Wet and Spandau Ballet to name a few (Nearly 49 and not afraid to admit it!), which is why Stop your women’s ears with wax was such a perfect read for me!

It follows a girl band, who has slavishly devoted fans, so much so that they become more like a pack of out of control animals, determined to ensure that they protect their band at any costs. Mona is a young filmaker responsible for documenting the band on tour. The increasingly unsettling and violent devotion of the fans to the group mean that they almost become cultish in their behaviour, animalistic and sneering to anyone – especially any men who get in the way of the progress of the band as they become more and more successful.

All through the story, the power of the teenage girl is seen as key. They are the all encompassing sense of power for driving the story forward as the band move seamlessly through the story trying to be the most successful group they can. It is chilling to read the shared recollections of the people working with the band as they tell the reader what strange things have been happening as the band tour from city to city. A man from a previous gig is found asphyxiated, the tour bus toilets are clogged with feathers, and the crew are sleeping badly and having the same dream.

For me, the sense of hysteria and claustrophobia was entrenched in every page of this story.  It was unnerving to see how the girls are so utterly devoted to the band which holds them in their thrall.  It is as if they are being subliminally instructed to bind together and deal with any men who obstruct the band in their mission to be successful in which ever way they choose.

Salt Slow is a delicious short story collection that deserves to be savoured and re-read, as I think it is one of those books that will reveal something different to my reading experience every time I open it. Sharp, witty and defiantly different, Julia Armfield unapologetically puts women at the front and centre of all of the stories, and dares you to challenge them as to why they shouldn’t be.

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Julia Armfield lives and works in London. She is a fiction writer and occasional playwright with a Masters in Victorian Art and Literature from Royal Holloway University. Her work has been published in Lighthouse, Analog Magazine, Neon Magazine and The Stockholm Review. She was commended in the Moth Short Story Prize 2017, longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Prize 2018 and is the winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2018.

Follow #youngwriterawardshadow and @youngwriteryear on Twitter and Instagram to hear more about The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist, the authors and what the Shadow Panel think too.