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…

 

 

Dignity by Alys Conran

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Alys Conran: Dignity

Published By: W & N Books

Buy It: here

 

 

What The Blurb Says:

‘An Indian household can no more be governed peacefully without dignity and prestige, than an Indian Empire’ The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook, Flora Annie Steel & Grace Gardiner

Magda is a former scientist with a bad temper and a sharp tongue, living alone in a huge house by the sea. Confined to a wheelchair, her once spotless home crumbling around her, she gets through carers at a rate of knots.

Until Susheela arrives, bursting through the doors of Magda’s house, carrying life with her: grief for her mother’s recent death; worry for her father; longing for a beautiful and troubled young man.

The two women strike up an unlikely friendship: Magda’s old-fashioned, no-nonsense attitude turns out to be an unexpected source of strength for Susheela; and Susheela’s Bengali heritage brings back memories of Magda’s childhood in colonial India and resurrects the tragic figure of her mother, Evelyn, and her struggle to fit within the suffocating structure of the Raj’s ruling class.

But as Magda digs deeper into her past, she unlocks a shocking legacy of blood that threatens to destroy the careful order she has imposed on her life – and that might just be the key to give the three women, Evelyn, Magda and Susheela, a place they can finally call home.

 

What I Say:

So, this is my blog, my space to be honest about what I read and why. I was sent my copy of Dignity by Virginia from W & N  books, I thought it was beautiful, but I put it onto my reading pile to pick up later on this year.

On March 20th, my Mum passed away.  It wasn’t unexpected, it was after a long battle with lung cancer.  One of the many things my Mum and I had in common was our deep love of reading and books.  She is the reason I cannot leave the house without a book in my bag, and there is not a day goes by that I don’t read something.  As I finally took the plunge and started book blogging, she was there every step of the way, loving the fact her daughter was talking about books and often told me how proud she was.  Mum loved seeing the books I was lucky enough to get sent, and I would always show her my bookpost.

When I showed her Dignity, she told me how beautiful she thought it was, and to read it next and let her know whether she would like it too.  I started reading it on Monday 18th March, and the reason I am so specific is because two days later, Mum passed away.  In the days after she had gone, I had to do all the things a grieving daughter has to do. I had to carry on, being the Mum, daughter, wife and sister that I needed to be until I could come back from seeing my Dad and sister and finally process what had happened.

When I was able to sit down, Dignity was there, right next to the pile of stuff I had brought back from my Mum and Dad’s house and I just picked it up and started to read. The thing was, then I couldn’t put it down again.

Dignity is the story of three women, Magda, Susheela and Evelyn.  It is a novel about love, of trying to find that elusive home that we all strive to belong to, and of finding a family.

Magda is a cantankerous old woman, confined to her decaying house and reliant on the care and support from the women who are paid to look after her.  Susheela is one of the young women who takes on this task, in spite of Magda’s constant attempts to belittle her and break her spirit.  Magda was born and raised in India until she was sent away by Evelyn, her Mother, and Benedict her Father, to a cold and desolate boarding school.

We meet Evelyn as she is being sent to India to marry Benedict.  She is perfectly packaged and preened, naive about many things, and reliant on the books she has taken with her on the voyage to try and make sense of the world she is about to enter.  Although slightly wary, you get the sense that Evelyn is going to relish this next stage of her life, and she sees her new life as a time of adventure and promise.  Indeed when she arrives, she is overwhelmed and in awe of the sights, smells and sounds of the world around her. 

Unfortunately, this is short lived, as she realises that being a wife in India comes with certain conditions, ways of behaving, and treating the servants who work for you as if they are there purely to cater to your every whim.  Little by little, Evelyn realises the world she was ready to embrace is slowly closing in around her. Her husband Benedict only sees her as a trophy to show off, to prove his virility and to establish his position in polite Indian society.  Evelyn’s hopes and dreams are ignored and quashed, as she realises her worth is purely measured in her ability to produce an heir and to conduct herself in a manner deemed appropriate by those around her. 

Even when she gives birth to Magda, her longed for child, she is not permitted to be the mother she truly wants to be, as almost immediately an Indian woman called Aashi is hired to be Magda’s wet nurse. Evelyn is slowly removed from Magda’s life and is told that when Magda reaches an appropriate age, she will be sent ‘home’ to the United Kingdom, while Evelyn and Benedict stay in India. Unfortunately, a life changing event happens, and Magda is sent home alone, forever apart from her parents.

Magda is a different kind of prisoner, trapped with her memories and dreams of her former life in the decaying family home at Victoria Road. Initially she seems resentful of the ever changing world around her and mired in outdated attitudes and beliefs especially towards Susheela. We know that Magda is fiercely intelligent and strives for independence, but now she has no one, and is seeing out her days in a cluttered and neglected home, a stoic reminder of her past glories. Magda reluctantly accepts Susheela’s help, but finds herself drawn to this bright young woman who has many issues of her own. Together, they form a unique and tender bond which changes both of their lives in ways they never would have dreamed possible.

Susheela is trying to balance so many things, she is trying to deal with her father who is grieving for his wife, while she grieves for her Mum and they are in danger of losing their home. Her boyfriend Ewan loves her but is fighting his own demons after serving in the Army, and on top of all this, Susheela has to deal with Magda. She may be the youngest of the women in the story, but her fierce determination to find her place in the world is just as engaging.

What elevates Dignity for me is not only the beautiful storytelling, and the sense of depth you get with each character, but that these women are bound together. This is not a novel of hopelessness, it is a novel of hope. Evelyn, Magda and Susheela are all looking for a sense of belonging, of being loved and being able to love too. They are all searching for a place to call home.

The writing is so engaging and smart, and you really feel that you are there with each character. The description of life in India, was a revelation for me- it brought home to me how much things have changed, and how much they haven’t. The novel draws you in from the first page, and as you fall deeper in, the changing narrative and evocative descriptions only serve to keep you willing the women to fulfill their dreams.

In Dignity, Alys Conran has written a novel that will captivate you from the first page, and will not let go of you until you turn the last. It is about love, loss, motherhood and home, and of a time past and a world where everyone is searching for their place in it.

Without a doubt, Dignity will be one of my books of 2019. I absolutely loved it, and I know that my Mum who understood the importance of home and belonging and would have truly loved it too.

What Not by Rose Macaulay

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Rose Macaulay: What Not

Published By: Handheld Press

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

What Not is Rose Macaulay’s speculative novel of post-First World War eugenics and newspaper manipulation that anticipated Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World by 14 years. Published in 1918, it was hastily withdrawn due to a number of potentially libellous pages, and was reissued in 1919. But by then it was quickly overshadowed by Macaulay’s next two novels, and never gained the attention it deserved. What Not is a lost classic of feminist wit and protest at social engineering, now republished with the suppressed pages reinstated. Kitty Grammont and Nicholas Chester are in love, but Kitty is certified as an A for breeding purposes, while politically ambitious Chester has been uncertificated, and may not marry. But why? There’s nothing apparently wrong with him, he is admired in his field, and is charming and decisive. Although Kitty wields power as a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Brains, which makes these classifications, she does not have the freedom to marry who she wants. They ignore the restrictions, and carry on a discreet affair. But it isn’t discreet enough for the media: the popular press, determined to smash the brutal regime of the Ministry of Brains, has found out about Kitty and Chester, and scents an opportunity for a scandalous exposure. The introduction is by Sarah Lonsdale, senior lecturer in journalism at City University London.

What I Say:

“Humanity; the simple things; love, birth, family, life.  They’re the simple things, but, after all, the deep and grand things.  No laws will ever supersede them”.

I had heard a lot about Rose Macaulay’s novel, What Not, as Handheld Press had decided to reprint it, and the notion of a novel that anticipated Brave New World from a female writer was one I definitely wanted to read.

The sobering thing about this novel, that in today’s uncertain and inflammatory times, the premise behind this novel seems to be not as far fetched as we may hope to believe.  The country is returning to normality after the First World War, and that is what struck me about the opening pages of this novel.  Everything is just as it was, people are commuting to work, reading magazines, chatting and lives are carrying on, but it is only as we read on that we realise things are far from usual. From the minute you read of aero buses and street aeroplanes, you know that this is not the Great Britain we know.

The Government has decided the way forward for the country is to use social engineering to ensure that they control the population. People are certificated according to their intelligence, and a new Ministry – The Ministry of Brains has been established.  It has passed an act called the Mental Progress Act, where every citizen is categorized according to intelligence. The idea is that you must have children with someone of an appropriate intelligence level, and you are punished if you do not.  This is further complicated by the fact that if anyone in your family has mental disabilities, you are categorised as Uncertificated, and are forbidden to marry or have children.

This was something that was extremely chilling for me to read, as my eldest son has learning difficulties, and the implication that laws like this could exist are just devastating.  It was a sobering and frightening thought that anyone could deem this an acceptable law to live by, and it added a personal level of involvement in this novel for me.

Our main protagonist, Kitty Grammont, works for the Ministry of Brains, and she lives in a house in the village of Little Chantreys with her brother Anthony, his partner Miss Pansy Ponsoby and their child who is called the Cheeper. Her father is a vicar, and he is seeing the devastating consequences of the Mental Progress Act, as he knows that more and more babies are being abandoned for fear of punishment from the authorities for not fulfilling the relevant criteria.

Throughout What Not, you get the unnerving sense that the world has already survived a horrific war, and although it is over, there is still a sense of unease and foreboding.  The State is desperately trying to ensure their citizens have stability in their world, but they need to limit and control every aspect.  Knowing as we do that the world will see a Second World War, I wondered how the Ministry of Brains would react to another situation that was out of their control and what more extreme measures they would strive to put into place afterwards.

This is not an easy novel to read. The unflinching narrative is set against the seemingly idyllic notion of Britain’s victory and the unchanging English countryside, however the subject matter- that of social engineering, seems to be always present in the background of the story, and the notion of the state controlling everything is the reality for Kitty and the British people.

When she meets and is attracted to Nicholas Chester, the Minister of Brains, Kitty believes she has met the man of her dreams.  The brutal reality is that Nicholas is Uncategorized as he has siblings with a mental disability, so, following the legislation he oversees, he is unable to marry or have children.

This then becomes the crux of the novel.  What happens when the one person you love is the one person the state forbids you to?  Chester and Kitty are undeniably attracted to each other and after attempting to conduct their relationship in private, they are confronted with a hostile press and unsettled population who are starting to fight back against the Ministry of Brains – whatever the consequences for Chester and Kitty.

What Not is a biting satirical novel, that succeeds in its premise by drawing us in.  It is rooted in reality, and that is what for me, made its tone even more sinister.  In today’s political uncertainty, especially in a week where even Parliament seems to have no say over its destiny, a state attempting to control its population by extreme measures while ignoring basic human emotions such as love, suddenly doesn’t seem so far fetched.

Thank you so much to  Kate at Handheld Press for my gifted copy.

What Not was published by Handheld Press on 25 March.

 

 

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 Guilty Party by Mel McGrath

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Mel McGrath: The Guilty Party

Published By: HQ Stories

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

You did nothing. That doesn’t mean you’re innocent.

On a night out, four friends witness a stranger in trouble. They decide to do nothing to help.

Later, a body washes up on the banks of the Thames – and the group realises that ignoring the woman has left blood on their hands.

But why did each of them refuse to step in? Why did none of them want to be noticed that night? Who is really responsible?

And is it possible that the victim was not really a stranger at all?

What I Say:

‘It won’t go away, that memory, that secret. It will sink into the deeper layers of our friendship until returning to the surface someday, it will begin to destroy us from the inside.’

There is a very famous saying which I am sure you all know. ‘Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.’

The Guilty Party by Mel McGrath is perhaps a perfect example of the fact that sometimes they can be one and the same thing.

Cassie, Anna, Bo and Dex seem to be a tightly knit group of friends who have known each other for ever, and are the sort of annoying cliquey group who can finish each other’s sentences and are unrelenting in telling jokes and limitless anecdotes about their friendship.

One night, whilst at a music festival, the group witness a a violent sexual assault on a young woman, and do nothing. They walk away, too fearful of the implications of getting involved, and retreat back to their own worlds.

The thing is, that Cassie cannot forget what she has seen. When a body of a woman is washed up from the Thames, the nameless woman is named as Marika, a real person who, it turns out, was actually a part of all of the group’s lives for very different reasons.

So far so formulaic you may think? This is where you are very wrong.

The Guilty Party is a clever and scathing examination of the true nature of friendship, how what you see is not always what you get. It may seem that the group lead a picture perfect life, but each of them is fractured and very adept at maintaining a facade whilst underneath their reality is far from perfect. Cassie is unhappy and desperately short of money. Anna’s seemingly wonderful marriage is far from it and she has issues around food. Dex is constantly cheating on his older husband who has cancer, and Bo may seem to be the very personification of a successful IT entrepreneur, but he has a very dark secret that would ruin him should it become public. The group also use their online Little Black Book to document the people they have been with, which could be explosive should it get into the wrong hands. Coupled with these secrets that bubble under the surface, Anna and Bo, once an item, seem to be unable to untangle their lives and determine the lines of their friendship, whilst Dex and Cassie were also an item before he came out.

As Cassie becomes more absorbed in trying to understand who the victim was, and unravelling the guilt that is seeping into and through her friends, she starts to realise that maybe each one of them had a part to play in Marika’s death.

When the group stay at an isolated cottage for the weekend, it is there that the four friends are forced to finally confront how each of them played a part in Marika’s fate. The location and distance of the cottage from the outside world means that inside the cottage becomes increasingly claustrophobic as Cassie, Anna, Bo and Dex are forced to not only confront the reality of what they have done, but also the fact that they may really not be as close as they think. It is as if increasingly their friendship is only held together by the reality that each of them has devastating secrets that they can never have exposed.

The plot moves quickly and backwards and forwards in time, which for me helped to add to the idea that you are increasingly disorientated as a reader, and are never quite sure who is telling the truth. I also really felt that each character really inhabited their voice in the book and that the different language and style of talking that Mel uses, really pulls you in to their world and gives a real insight into their characters.

Little by little, the cracks in the group start to get ever larger and it becomes evident that perhaps the greatest danger is from someone inside the group rather than the authorities. As the novel races towards its conclusion, the friends are forced to realise that they are far from innocent in Marika’s fate, and that their behaviour means that their lives will never be the same again once they leave the cottage.

The Guilty Party is the perfect definition of a page turner. I loved the pace of the novel, and the way that Mel makes you move deftly between the narrative and the characters, so you are never really sure what is going to happen next. It is a thoughtful and intelligent examination of privilege and morality, of friendship, and of understanding that sometimes the ties that bind us together are in fact the very things that also pull us apart. The Guilty Party is a brilliantly addictive novel, that deserves all the accolades it is receiving, and I absolutely loved it.

As Cassie says;

‘If you had been in the churchyard that night, what would you have done?’

‘And are you sure?’

Thank you so much to Joe Thomas at HQ Stories for my gifted copy of The Guilty Party and the opportunity to take part in this blog tour, in exchange for an honest review.

You can find out what my fellow Bloggers are saying about The Guilty Party by following the Tour below.

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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.