The Roald Dahl Short Story Collections

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Roald Dahl Short Story Collections

Published By: Penguin

Buy Them: here

Roald Dahl.  One of the truly great British authors that you know that everyone will have heard of.  His amazing books are timeless, imaginative and are for many children, the start of a long love affair with books and reading.

For me, it was Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.  The very notion that not only could someone own such a magical place, but that this world was one where children could visit and even own it was such an awe inspiring idea!

So, you can imagine how thrilled I was when I was asked to review four of Roald Dahl’s glorious short story collections reissued by Penguin.  Believe me, these are most definitely for the grown ups!

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Innocence

This for me, was a perfect place to start on my Roald Dahl journey.  It starts with an autobiographical chapter, Boy.  I have to admit that I knew little about the man behind the novels.  As we learn about Dahl’s childhood, right from the very start, every chapter in his life is an influence on his writing in later life.  His story is punctuated with photos and drawings, and far from this being a staid fact driven work, it feels very much like you are sitting down with your Granddad, as he tells you about his life.

Some of his anecdotes made me laugh out loud – one where he puts a mouse in the gobstopper jar of a particularly cantankerous sweetshop owner called Mrs Pratchett, could just as easily be a scene in George’s Marvellous Medicine!

This chapter ends with Roald Dahl heading off to East Africa, with the ominous foreboding of a Second World War not too far away.

The rest of the book looks at tales of Innocence, and for me, although all of them are brilliant, there are two in particular which unnerved and shocked me slightly!

In Taste, a repugnant wine snob attends a dinner party, and in exchange for correctly guessing a bottle of wine, he wants to take the daughter of the host home.  Of course, this being a Roald Dahl story, there is a huge sense of tension as it looks like all is lost and that he will win the daughter.  However, Dahl’s skill in effortlessly leading us down one path before revealing the twist is a masterclass in the unexpected!

The most unnerving story  for me was The Landlady.  An ordinary, apparently nice middle aged woman takes in young men as residents in her boarding house.  As she shows around the latest tenant, we as readers can sense that something is very amiss, but it is only when the action moves away to the other people in the house that we see exactly how menacing and shocking her actions are.  I loved this story because it was so understated and apparently innocuous, but it packed a huge disturbing punch at the end!

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War

This volume of stories is influenced by Dahl’s experiences during the Second World War.  A large part of this volume is take up with another of his autobiographical chapters, called Going Solo.  This details his experiences as a fighter pilot in World War II, and provides a no holds barred narrative to the realities and tragedies he faced during his time in the Air Force.

This is a perfect stand alone volume for those who are interested in discovering more about his time during the war, and the beauty of these re-issued editions are that you can pick and choose your volumes to satisfy every readers’ likes and dislikes.

I thought that the story Only This was a beautifully poignant exploration as to the reality of those left behind while their children go off to fight for their country.  We see a mother awaiting the return of her son from war, and feel her fear, isolation and loneliness.  Then we realise she closes her eyes and can clearly see her son in his aircraft, as he battles and is eventually hit.  Unable to free him, she decides to try and save him by throwing herself on top of him.  Back in her cottage, she sits back in her chair and brings the blankets close around her – but that is not the end of the story..

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Trickery

Tales of Deceit and Cunning – for me I loved this volume. What makes Dahl’s storytelling so skilled for me, is the ordinariness of the characters in many of his stories.

One of my favourite stories in all the volumes is Mrs Bixby and The Colonel’s Coat.

Mrs Bixby, frustrated by the mundanity of her life, and the apparent indifference of her Dentist husband, embarks on an affair with a man known as the Colonel.  When he finally decides to end their relationship, he does so with a parting gift of a minx fur coat -something which Mrs Bixby is thrilled about.  However, this now places her in a massive dilemma.  She desperately wants to keep it, but how can she possibly bring it into the house she shares with her husband?  After persuading a pawnbroker to take the coat, she convinces her husband that she has found the ticket and asks him to collect it for her.  Of course, this being a Dahl short story, the parcel is collected, but there is a double twist in the tale.

What I loved about this one was the way in which Mrs Bixby is not bothered about the end of the affair, but is much more concerned that she keeps the coat she believes she deserves! When she gets her comeuppance, you can feel the anger and resentment burn off the pages…!

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Fear

I thought that this was a very clever addition to the Roald Dahl short story collection.  In this volume, Dahl in the opening chapter, tells us how he has personally chosen these stories as ones that inspired him in his writing.  What I loved about this approach, was that this would be perfect as a stand alone volume for anyone wanting to read some extremely spooky stories, and even better to know that Dahl loved them too.

For me, it not only introduced me to superb writers I had never encountered before, but also gave me a real insight into what inspired Dahl to write in the way he did.

There were a number of stories I loved in this volume, which absolutely sent a shiver down my spine!

In Harry, by Rosemary Timperley, a young girl called Christine keeps talking to a boy named Harry.  She is adopted, and believes her imaginary friend is her brother, Harry.  Mrs James, her adoptive mother becomes increasingly concerned for Christine, and the story becomes darker and darker as it appears that Harry is starting to not only encroach on their lives, but may be far more present than they think…

I also loved The Telephone by Mary Treadgold.  A young woman has an affair with a married man called Allen.  Katherine, his wife discovers their relationship, and after the lovers flee to an isolated cottage in the Scottish Highlands, they learn that Katherine has died.  Then, they start to receive phone calls, from the London number where Katherine was living – except that there should be no one there, and Allen seems to be talking to his dead wife….!

Fear, Innocence, Trickery and War are beautiful and thoughtful re-issues of Roald Dahl’s short stories.  Not only do they look wonderful, they are the perfect addition for any Roald Dahl fan, or indeed for any person wanting to start to read his work and are not sure where to start.

As it is #RoaldDahlDay on Thursday 13th September, there has never been a better time to start your collection!

Thank you very much to Katie Ashworth at Michael Joseph, Penguin Random House for these stunning books.  In exchange for an honest review and a chance to participate on the official Blog Tour.

The Roald Dahl Blog Tour has already featured these amazing bloggers, and follow the rest of the tour to see what they thought of these stunning books…

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Transcription by Kate Atkinson

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Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Published By: Doubleday Books

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathisers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past for ever.

Ten years later, now a producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence.

Transcription is a work of rare depth and texture, a bravura modern novel of extraordinary power, wit and empathy. It is a triumphant work of fiction from one of this country’s most exceptional writers.

What I Say:

“She believed that England could be a better country.  She was the apple ripe for plucking and she also had been Eve willing to eat the apple.”

The publication of a Kate Atkinson novel is always a huge event in the Book World.  Transcription was being hailed as extraordinary long before its publication date on September 6th last week.  I knew I wanted to read it having heard so many things about it, and there was a huge publicity buzz on Twitter and Instagram.  I was delighted to finally receive my copy and decided to flick through a few pages just to get a feel for it.

Big Mistake.

The thing that no one is saying openly about Transcription is this.

Once you read the opening page, it is simply impossible to put down.

The action moves between 1940, 1950 and 1981.  We meet Juliet Armstrong as an eighteen year old living in London.  She is selected from her routine governmental role and is recruited by MI5 to work for them.  Her job is transcribe the conversations between a group of people called The Fifth Columnists and an agent called Godfrey Toby, who is pretending to be a Gestapo Agent, and is trying to see what intelligence they have.  This group is completely taken in by Godfrey, and believe that he has direct links to Nazi Germany, and that they will be rewarded for their efforts to thwart Britain’s war effort.

I thought that it was interesting that for a novel set in World War Two, that the most powerful weapons for Juliet and her colleagues are words.  The ones spoken by The Fifth Columnists, the transcripts that Juliet has, and the things that the agents say to each other, which can determine the course of action and their lives by a single sentence.

Juliet understands the importance of what she is being asked to do, but is also completely confused by the behaviour of Perry, her boss.  Juliet is attracted to him, and on the one hand he wants to take her out on dates to get to know her better (by the way if a man asks you to go looking for otters, believe me, stay at home!), but on the other hand acts with a complete detached indifference to her.  She wants to be seduced, loved and adored, so she is absolutely baffled when he proposes and then they lie next to each other in bed with Perry pointedly staying as far away as possible from her!  Juliet’s bewilderment and frustration at Perry’s lack of interest are a joy to read – the reason for which is revealed in a series of poignant moments later in the novel..

Juliet’s obvious skill and intelligence means that she is given a much more testing task by MI5 – she and an older lady called Mrs Ambrose have to infiltrate a far more sinister group of Nazi sympathisers who are led by the mysterious Mrs Scaife.  For the first time, Juliet has to go completely undercover, with a new identity and history, and entrap Mrs Scaife.  Juliet’s resilience and determination mean that she plays a pivotal role in ensuring she and her cohorts are eventually arrested.

For me, throughout Transcription runs an interesting paradox. Juliet is obviously capable and proficient at the tasks she is given from MI5, and pushes herself and puts her life in danger to ensure she does what she is asked.  However, we also see that she is never treated completely as an equal – she is asked to make tea, clean up, or make herself busy in the kitchen when important decisions are being made.  She may be putting her life on the line, but at the end of the day, she is still a woman in a very male dominated world.

After the adrenaline rush and sense of achievement she gets from helping Mrs Scaife get arrested, Juliet goes back to transcribing the ramblings of the Fifth Columnists, and seems to accept that her thrilling days of espionage are over.

That is until one day, a door left slightly ajar in the Dolphin Square flat means that Juliet’s life will never be the same again, and she has to do things to survive that she never would have thought possible.

After her services are no longer required at MI5, Juliet starts work at the BBC and becomes a producer, making programmes for schools and dealing with an array of characters and incidents.  After a strange encounter on the street with Godfrey Toby, who denies ever having met her, Juliet finds herself slowly drawn back into the world of espionage.  She meets faces from her past and actively seeks out the Fifth Columnists to see what happened to them.  At certain points, we see a steely determination and a completely dispassionate side to Juliet as she tracks down the members of the group, and start to understand that there may be more to her than we think.

This is where the shift in the story becomes more and more sinister.  Is Juliet simply an instrument of the state, bound by a sense of duty to her country and her government, or is there another side to her that we have not been aware of all along?

Transcription may at first glance seem to be simply an espionage novel, with a plucky young heroine who does what she has to do for the war effort to ensure that Britain is the victor in the Second World War.  However, that would not come close to doing this astouding novel the justice it deserves.

It is a novel about so many different things.  The power of language and words, of what is said, and what is not, about the grim reality of war and how when we are pushed to our limits, we can do far more than we ever believed possible.

Kate Atkinson’s mastery at drawing us in from the first page and keeping us there until the last, with a beautifully understated ending, means that Transcription is a novel you will want to read, then read again to scour the pages for what you missed the first time.

As Juliet is told about espionage: “If you are going to tell a lie, tell a good one.”

I loved it.

The Rival by Charlotte Duckworth

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Charlotte Duckworth: The Rival

Published By: Quercus on 6th September 2018

Buy It: here

What the Blurb Says:

NOW
Helena is a career woman with no job and a mother without a baby. She blames Ashley for destroying her life. But is what happened really Ashley’s fault?

THEN
When Helena hires Ashley to work for her, she’s startled but impressed by her fierce ambition. They form a dream team and Helena is proud – maybe this is the protégée she’s always wanted to have. But soon Helena realizes that nothing will stand in the way of Ashley’s drive to get to the top. And when Helena becomes pregnant, everything she has worked so hard for is suddenly threatened, with devastating consequences…

What I Say:

I am going to be honest, I was wary of offering to review The Rival. I thought that it was going to be one of those ‘psychological thrillers’ that are all over the bookshops at the moment.  I don’t know about you,  but I am almost at the point where if I see one more novel promising twists and turns that you won’t see coming, I think I might have to scream into a cushion!

So, let me start by telling you that The Rival is so much more and is a brilliant timely and relevant read for all women.

It is a powerful and heartfelt study not only of female ambition and drive, and how women are damned if they work and damned if they don’t, but it also intelligently examines what it means to be a woman in society today.

The narrative in The Rival moves between the past and the present.  We meet Helena, a woman who we learn has lost a baby, and has been the victim of a campaign by her protegee Ashley,  who will stop at nothing to get the life she wants, even at the expense of Helena’s wellbeing.

Helena and her husband live in the countryside, she is currently undergoing therapy and the geographical isolation of her house seems to echo her distance from work and everyday life.  We know that Helena has lost a child and is grieving, unable to connect with her husband. She is haunted by the constant number of cars that crash into the wall of her house, often acting as the medic and counsellor until the ambulance can arrive at the scene.

What is striking about this is that it seems that Helena is slightly in a dream like state, and that as a reader, you immediately sense that this novel is far more layered than it first seems…

When her previous boss David, gets in touch with Helena to offer her a contact to get back into the world of work, she is determined that Ashley is not part of the conversation. It is becoming increasingly clear that we understand something has happened between them which has changed their lives forever.

Ashley is a young, focussed and ambitious young woman, who starts work at Helena’s company (KAMU – Kiss and Make Up).  From the start of the novel, we are in no doubt that Ashley has a career path in mind, and no one, especially not Helena, is going to stop her.

Helena and Ashley start to work together, and from the moment they share office space, Ashley is working on her plan to make sure that Helena becomes dispensable.  She puts all her energies into developing a proposal to move the company forward, and is horrified when Helena seemingly steals her ideas and presents them to David their boss. Furious with Helena, Ashley steamrollers her way onto Helena’s team and every decision she makes is designed to make Helena realise that she is not as powerful as she thinks.

Charlotte’s writing means you feel Ashley’s anger and irritation with Helena seep through every page of this novel and I was both intrigued and appalled by her!  So often, novels just make the ‘bad’ character a stereotyped cartoonish image, with no depth and little understanding of why they act like they do.  What I loved about The Rival is that we see into Ashley’s background, we learn how she has had to deal with so much in her life, and that her ambition is borne of a desire to be the best she can, so that she never ends up like her mum.

With Ashley now pushing forward, and Helena seemingly being excluded from decisions and meetings, Helena discovers she is pregnant.  This, for me, elevates The Rival way above the many novels I have read before.  Charlotte writes frankly and intelligently about women not only in the workplace, but also how they are defined and limited by the expectations of society the minute they become pregnant.

Far from relaxing and enjoying her pregnancy, Helena is constantly on edge as she battles to retain her position in the company.  Ashley now comes into her own, and sees this as the perfect opportunity to usurp Helena – I mean, after all, how can you trust a hormonal pregnant woman who may not come back anyway.  You need a young, driven and focussed woman who will not be leaving early to pick up her child – someone just like Ashley.

This was for me the crux of the novel.  The world would be a far more contented place if women supported each other, but the issue is that we are trying to work within a society that is patriarchal – it does not often support women, and leaves them fighting for their careers.  When you are on maternity leave, you can’t relax, because you know that most of your salary will be spent on childcare when you return to work, and that from the moment you do return, your whole way of working has to change.  You have to work twice as hard, always worried that you will get a call asking you to collect your child. I know when I was working, and my son was poorly, my husband and I would be arguing as to who was the least busy and could afford to take the time off.

Helena starts to realise exactly what Ashley is doing, but of course, she knows that eventually she will have to leave to have her baby, and then everything is out of her control.  Interestingly, Ashley is also irritated that if Helena leaves, she may not have a project to work on and so has to fight for her professional life.  So she cleverly decides to have some meetings in New York, knowing that Helena can’t fly, and Ashley seemingly gets everything she wants…

As Ashley starts to live the life she wants, we finally discover how Helena lost her baby, and The Rival seamlessly comes to its brilliant conclusion (no, am not going to tell you!)!

This is when the jaw dropping, did not see that coming, check back to make sure I read it correctly moments happen, and it was fantastic!

The Rival is a novel that is not easily categorised, and that is part of its fantastic appeal.  It is a clever and satisfying read, that I felt raised so many pertinent issues for all women.  Charlotte Duckworth has written a smart, challenging and timely novel, which is not only a joy to read, but is also compassionate and eloquent.

At the heart of The Rival, lies a simple truth.

If women devoted more time to supporting each other rather than trying to tear each other down, just think of what we could really achieve.

I loved it.

Thank you to Quercus Books and Ella Patel for my copy of The Rival in exchange for an honest review and to participate in this blog tour.

The Blog Tour continues with these amazing bloggers. See what they are saying about The Rival too…

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The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp by Sarra Manning

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The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp By:  Sarra Manning

Published By: Harper Collins UK 6th September 2018

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

A hilarious contemporary retelling of the classic society novel, VANITY FAIR, featuring the irrepressible Becky Sharp

Beautiful, brilliant, ruthless – nothing can stop Becky Sharp.

Becky Sharp has big dreams and no connections. Determined to swap the gutters of Soho for the glamorous, exclusive world behind the velvet rope, Becky will do anything to achieve fame, riches and status.

Whether it’s seducing society’s most eligible bachelors, or befriending silly debutantes and rich old ladies, Becky Sharp is destined for great things. Because it might be tough at the top but it’s worse at the bottom.

From London to Paris and beyond, Becky Sharp is going places – so get the hell out of her way…

What I Say:

Thank you very much to Netgalley and HarperCollins UK for the advanced e-copy of The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp.

First of all, I have a confession to make – I have never read the original Vanity Fair, and after reading The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp, I don’t think it could ever live up to this brilliant book!

This is such a stunning novel, which I loved from the first chapter.  Sarra Manning has brilliantly captured the United Kingdom with all its faults, celebrity obsessions, and it is filled with pitch perfect observations about what it means to be a woman in modern Britain.

Becky Sharp is one of those characters who you know you should be appalled by, but from the very first pages, you know that you won’t be able to resist following her on her adventures through society.  From being runner up on Big Brother, to being a globe trotting philanthropist, Becky does it all with a calmness and dispassionate nature. Every event in her life is an opportunity, every person she encounters is a stepping stone to the future she feels she deserves.

As she befriends Amelia Sedley, the winner of Big Brother – who just happens to have very rich parents and a doting brother who is besotted with Becky, she starts on her path to the top.  Becky knows that a social media following and numerous likes are what makes the world go round, and she knows that to get what she wants, she has to use what God gave her- her brains and beauty to move through and impress those around her.

The story of Becky’s rise and fall (and ultimate revenge) is a glorious, whip-smart and perfectly timed exploration of a woman who knows exactly what she has to do to make her way in the world.  The other main characters – Amelia, Dobbin, Jos, George and Rawdon all have important parts to play, but this is Becky’s story which is as it should be. As she rises through the ranks of society, first as a very reluctant nanny to the Crawley family, then as the wife of Rawdon Crawley, an up and coming actor, Becky understands at every turn what she needs to get out of the people in her world to move onto the next level.  She relishes being in control of her destiny, and it is only when she meets the distinctly gruesome Lord Steyne that it appears Becky has finally met her match.  Lord Steyne is not a man to take no for an answer, and when Becky refuses to comply, he uses the very media she has relied on to bring her world tumbling down..

Sarra Manning is so talented at bringing to the fore the complex and flawed way in which Becky can so easily gain notoriety and fame for just being Becky.  She has no discernible talent, but she is completely aware of how powerful a social media presence is. The more likes and followers she gets, the more companies want a part of her, and the more people start to listen to what she has to say, so the more companies want to be part of Becky’s life.  Having to post a carefully manufactured and curated world is worth it if it means that she can be someone.

For me, one of the most interesting themes of the novel, something that Sarra refers to, is that Becky is regarded with suspicion and distaste for climbing society with a ruthlesss ambition and disregard for those she tramples over to get there.  Would this story be regarded differently if Becky was male and not working class? Our perspective and reaction to Becky’s story is undoubtedly coloured by the fact this is a street smart working class woman who knows exactly how to work the system and the people around her to get exactly what she wants.  The novel is packed full of relevant references which keeps it interesting and resonant – from the Women’s March to appalling phone hacking controversies, as well as the #MeToo movement.

The Rise and Fall Of Becky Sharp is one of my favourite books of the year.  It is a laugh out loud funny, brilliantly written satire, with a heroine who leaps off the page and into your heart.  Rather than remaking Thackeray’s novel for television (again), The Rise and Fall of Becky Sharp is begging to be turned into a series, a modern day tale of how when a smart woman decides she wants the life she deserves, we can only look on in admiration and hope that we all learn to stand up for what we want too!

I loved it (and can’t wait to get a real copy to savour all over again) !

VOX by C V Dalcher

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VOX by C V Dalcher

Published By: HQ

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

Silence can be deafening.

Jean McClellan spends her time in almost complete silence, limited to just one hundred words a day. Any more, and a thousand volts of electricity will course through her veins.

Now the new government is in power, everything has changed. But only if you’re a woman.

Almost overnight, bank accounts are frozen, passports are taken away and seventy million women lose their jobs. Even more terrifyingly, young girls are no longer taught to read or write.

For herself, her daughter, and for every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice. This is only the beginning…

[100 WORD LIMIT REACHED]

What I Say:

Every day we are assaulted by a cacophony of words and sounds from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep.  We chat, laugh, text, post comments and in my case, settle down with a book and talk some more.

Now imagine a world where women are limited to 100 words a day.  If you go over your limit, a bracelet on your arm will administer an electric shock.  If you go further over the 100 word limit, the intensity of the electric shock will increase until you inevitably die.

This law includes all females, so girls from a very young age also have a bracelet fitted which ensures that they too cannot use more than 100 words too.

So, VOX must be set way in the future, in an alien world far removed from ours?

Guess again.

Welcome to modern day America, ruled by a megalomaniacal President and his brother, assisted by a power hungry Reverend who is the head of the Pure Movement.  A Presidential Election has facilitated the infiltration of this Movement throughout America, which believes that not only is a woman’s place is in the home, under the complete control of her husband, but that she should be seen and absolutely not heard, which is why the bracelet has been introduced into American Society.

Single women are given the laughable ‘choice’ of marrying someone, anyone, or are made to work in brothels.  Anyone who is not heterosexual is criminalised and forced to work in camps where they are ‘re-educated’ to become straight again.

Jean McClellan is a doctor of neurolinguistics, who, like millions of other women is a virtual wordless prisoner in her own home. She is not permitted a bank account or a credit card, and has had to give up her career.  She is trying to ensure that she not only does not flout the rules, but that her young daughter Sonia never goes over the 100 word limit too. Sonia and her brothers attend school, but as a girl, Sonia is not allowed to learn to read or write, and chillingly, her greatest achievement is receiving a certificate for speaking the least number of words (just 3) in a day.

Little by little, the government ensure that women are becoming nothing more than silent, passive bodies, ghosts who glide through their lives absolutely controlled by the men who rule the White House and the men who share their homes.  Even more chillingly, Jean’s eldest son Steven, is being indoctrinated into this state controlled misogyny through school, as the curriculum is changed to reflect the teachings of the Pure Movement, so as soon as the boys start their education, they learn about the place of women in their world.

The scene is set as Jean and her family attempt to live within the horrific misogynistic confines of their world, as she is unable to do anything to protest against the President, because quite simply, to vocalise her anger means she will die and her family will be put in danger. Added to this, Steven is now falling under the spell of the Pure Movement, and has started to treat his mother appallingly, quite simply because that is what he is meant to do in this world.

So far, so depressing.  Until one day, the men from the White House arrive at Jean’s house offering her the chance to remove her bracelet and resume her academic career.  Ironically she is asked to give the power of speech back to the person who was responsible for taking hers away, as the President’s brother is unable to speak following a brain injury.  Jean is placed in an awful dilemma  – should she take the offer and be able to speak and use words (even if it is only until the cure is found) while helping the man who has inflicted this situation on America, or should she morally refuse and stay imprisoned in her silent world instead.

After much soul searching, Jean decides to research a cure for the President’s Brother. She also demands that Sonia has her bracelet removed too.  The fact that Sonia is bewildered and scared by her freedom, unsure and unwilling to use her words because she has never had that opportunity makes VOX a difficult read at times. I cannot imagine how heartbreaking it would be, to live your life in fear of your child attempting to express themselves, for them to have to quell every creative thought in them so that they do not risk injury or more appallingly, their own death.

From this moment on, Jean is pulled into a presidential world filled with intrigue and lies, where she and her research team discover that what people say are not always what they mean, and that their intelligence and determination has the potential to change their world – but not always for the best.

For me, Jean is a completely relateable protagonist.  You feel her pain and sense of frustration that she is forced to live in this way. Her drive to succeed is powered by her desire to ensure that her daughter and all women in America no longer has to live under this chilling and barbaric regime.  VOX shows us how when we are faced with impossible and life changing choices, sometimes we have the greatest power within ourselves to do what it takes to succeed.

VOX is a novel that deserves to be read, discussed and shared with everyone.  If you feel nothing while reading it, if it doesn’t make you rage and feel angry, or make you want to ask how this could possibly happen, then I am not sure we can really be bookish friends!

C V Dalcher has written a novel that works so brilliantly because in today’s world, with the recent political events that have happened, women losing their ability to use words is scarily not something that seems so truly far fetched any more.  Setting the action in modern day America means that we can easily visualize the day to day world, which makes it even more chilling.  The awful idea that something like this could happen in our lifetime makes this a timely and absolutely relevant read for all of us.

In creating a world that is so scared of giving women a voice, it seems that the men in charge of VOX’s world are fearful. Maybe they subconsciously realise that when women come together to stand up against something they believe in, nothing, not even a deadly bracelet can stop women being the ultimate force for change for the world we deserve.

I loved it.

The Rules Of Seeing by Joe Heap

Joe Heap: The Rules Of Seeing

Published By: HarperCollins

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

Nova is 32 years old and she is about to see the world for the very first time.

Jillian Safinova, Nova to her friends, can do many things. She can speak five languages. She can always find a silver lining. And she can even tell when someone is lying just from the sound of their voice.

But there’s one thing Nova can’t do. She can’t see.

When her brother convinces her to have an operation that will restore her sight, Nova wakes up to a world she no longer understands. Until she meets Kate.

As Kate comes into focus, her past threatens to throw them into a different kind of darkness. Can they each learn to see the world in a different … and open their eyes to the lives they could have been living all along?

What I Say:

Rules of Seeing is a novel that I really wanted to read – I have to admit that the cover made me want to get hold of a copy!  The beautiful proof that I was sent by Charlotte at Harper gave nothing away about the story, it was white, resonating with calmness and I thought I was going to be reading a simple love story.

What I found instead was a unique and powerful, genre defying book about what it means to be able to see, and how sometimes the things that are right in front of us are what will change our lives the most.

Jillian Safinova (Nova to her friends) is a police interpreter. Fiercely independent, witty and kind, she lives her life to the fullest and is not prepared to take any rubbish from anyone.  She also happens to be blind, and has been from birth.  Nova has learned to live in a world of darkness, negotiating everything we take for granted and living happily enough as she juggles her personal and professional life.

Nova’s brother Alex, who is a doctor, tells her of an operation that would potentially restore her sight, and she is then faced with a massive choice.  Take a huge leap of faith and change everything she has ever known to be able to see, or carry on as she is.  The thing is, when Nova decides to have the operation, this is not one of those trite cinematic moments where Nova’s bandages are removed and she jumps from her bed, runs outside and drives a car away.  Imagine going from a state of no vision to a world where everything hurtles towards you at once – you have to learn the rules to survive.  The Rules of Seeing.  Nova has to work her way through all of these in order to understand the world around her that we take for granted.

As she struggles with recovery and rehabilitation, she meets Kate. An architect married to a policeman, Kate is increasingly realising that her husband is far from the upstanding member of the police force he pretends to be.  As well as having a side line in dealing the drugs he has seized in various drug operations, he is an abusive husband.  Kate’s existence is punctuated by the vicious and unprovoked attacks she suffers at his hands.  She believes that she is not worth anything more, and is resigned to living her days in the restricted world that he allows her to inhabit.

So, when Kate bumps into Nova attempting to destroy a vending machine to get the snack she wants, the two women are set on a course that will change their lives permanently.  Kate and Nova are both faced with learning new rules for their lives, and this brings them even closer together as they realise that they are attracted to each other.

What I loved about this novel, was that you really understand what it means to be blind, and more importantly, how truly challenging and frustrating it is to be invisible because of your disability.

Getting your sight back must seem to be the most incredible thing, but what Joe does is show how it can also be the most frightening and isolating thing too.  Imagine going from darkness to a world where you have to learn the rules that everyone else has known from birth.  The difference between objects, what it’s like to travel on a bus or in a car, to learn what an object you know the word for actually looks like.  How do you know how big a car is or how you distinguish colours and shapes?  Nova has to relearn every little thing, absorb it and put it into practice at the same time as continuing with her personal and professional life.

As Nova battles to accept her sight, Kate is stuck at home in London, living with a man who takes pleasure in finding ways to distress his wife.  One of the most appalling things he does is to slowly and deliberately skin a rabbit in front of her, knowing how upsetting it is, relishing the distress he causes and the power he has over her.

All the time, Kate is trying to stop herself falling for Nova, but she can see a glimpse of how happy she could be, if she could make the decision to move away from her husband.  However, when they finally do kiss, Kate, perhaps scared of what Tony would do to Nova if he found out, sends Nova away.  The journey for Nova into a world of sight is at a critical point.  She could carry on with her therapy, or purposefully forget everything she has learned to this point, and retreat into her blindness again. Rejected by Kate and bewildered by what has happened, Nova decides to return to the world she knows best.

A final awful attack on Kate by Tony, gives her the courage to leave him and stay in the flat she was renovating.  It is only then, when Nova comes to see her, that Kate is able to tell her how she has really seen Tony for who he is, and the truth about her home life comes tumbling out.  Joe’s tender and eloquent writing shows how in loving each other, Kate and Nova have found a way to navigate the life changing events they are facing, and that by being together as a couple, they can start to heal and live the lives they truly deserve.  For me, the fact that they do have ups and downs, doubts and fears about their relationship makes them seem even more real.  Who hasn’t read and re-read a text before, during and after sending it. or worried about how long is too long before getting in touch?  Their tentative steps in the relationship means that we are completely engaged by them and want only for their story to end happily

If only life was that simple, and happy ever afters were found with the turn of a page.. Tony, infuriated by his wife’s abandonment has other ideas, and Kate and Nova fall victim to his sadistic nature as he attempts to finally destroy the relationship they have fought so hard for.  Of course, as always, I am going to say nothing more other than you will need to buy The Rules of Seeing to find out whether Kate and Nova’s love triumphs.

The Rules of Seeing is a novel unlike any I have ever read.  It is a powerful, complex and challenging book that shows us unflinchingly not only what it means to be blind, but also how shocking and upsetting living in a violent relationship is.  Far from being a cosy and straightforward love story, it is a novel about how too often we settle for the way things are, and that by having the courage to be willing to really see ourselves and the world around us, we can truly have the life we deserve.

I loved it.

The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway by Rhys Thomas

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Rhys Thomas: The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway

Published By: Wildfire on 9 August 2018

Buy It Here: here

What The Blurb Says:

This is no ordinary love story and Sam is no typical hero…but he is a hero.

Charming, quirky, and absolutely bursting with heart, this is the perfect book club read for fans ofThe Rosie Project, A Man Called Ove, and Eleanor Oliphant.

Sam Holloway has survived the worst that life can throw at you. But he’s not really living. His meticulous routines keep everything nice and safe – with just one exception…

Three nights a week, Sam dons his superhero costume and patrols the streets. It makes him feel invincible – but his unlikely heroics are getting him into some sticky, and increasingly dangerous, situations.

Then a girl comes into his life, and his ordered world is thrown into chaos … and now Sam needs to decide whether he can be brave enough to finally take off the mask.

Both hilarious and heart-warming, this is a story about love, loneliness, grief, and the life-changing power of kindness.

What I Say:

“…there will be a moment, just a small moment, when her words fall away and he will see her for all that she is, this incredible force of life that puts an excitement in him every day, because he is lucky, in a way, gifted a unique perspective where he is able to perceive how good life is.”

The idea of a twenty six year old man, working in a Japanese screw factory by day, and solving crime by night is not usually a novel that would appeal to me.

However, I defy you not to fall in love with a superhero called the Phantasm whose utility belt includes a selection of chocolate bars and some fizzy drinks?!  Sam Holloway lives an ordered, measured and seemingly ordinary life.  He has gone through a terrible, life changing Event which meant his love of comics and the superheroes who inhabit them are the only thing that gives him the stability he needs.

After working all day in the factory, where he is a model employee, he goes home, has his tea, and then goes onto the mean streets of his neighbourhood to fight small time crime.  No one has any clue that he does this, but for Sam, it is everything.  Just to add, that not one of these capers goes smoothly, and I promise you that every single one of them will have you laughing out loud!  The Phantasm is the most un co-ordinated, clumsy, kind hearted superhero that you will ever meet.

So far, so uncomplicated.  It isn’t a coventional lifestyle by any means, but it gives Sam the security and comfort he needs.  That is until he meets Sarah. He first notices her in a local bakery, and then in the pub he goes to with his mates Tango and Blotchy.  For so long. after the Event, Sam has put a wall around his heart to avoid any more pain, and now that is in danger of falling down.  Little by little, Sam allows himself to open up to Sarah, and realises that she could be the person he needs to bring him back into the real world. He starts to realise that he is falling in love with her.

The only thing is, that he can’t tell her about his secret night time adventures.  How can he explain to the woman he loves, that at night, he puts on a specially commissioned costume and heads out on his bike or in his car to help the local people?  The wonderful thing about Rhys’ novel, is that you really feel every painful decision that Sam has to make.  You see how absolutely heartbreaking the Event (nope, am not telling you!) has been. and that he is now left with crushing anxiety and a sense that he is left behind struggling with his guilt.

For me, some of the most poignant scenes in the novel were where you see Sam’s thought process and how his anxiety manifests itself in an uncensored stream of consciousness. It is heartbreaking to read, but also gives a real insight into what it must feel like to suffer from this crippling anxiety.  It is during those awful times for Sam, that I wanted to reach into the novel and tell him that everything was going to be okay.

As the novel moves on, Sam is seemingly torn between his need to keep being a superhero, and his frustration at not being able to be completely honest with Sarah.  Unfortunately, when one of the Phantasm’s identity is revealed, it sets Sam off on a course that puts him at odds with himself, and you feel the pain and turmoil he has. From this point on, he has a new battle as he realises that he can no longer hide behind the identity of the Phantasm.  It is interesting to see that the one thing it does it bring out his reckless side, that it unleashes in him all the guilt and pain he has felt, and that he doesn’t know how to cope with the outpouring of grief and emotion that he has held inside him for so long.

Sarah and Sam also have to face the fact that neither of them are being completely honest with each other, as Sarah’s past is threatening to come back to haunt her.  She refuses to tell Sam exactly what her ex has on her, what has made her leave her family and home town and why she constantly changes the topic when it gets too personal.

The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway is an engaging and heart rending read.  It is full of hope and promise, it is about the lengths we go to when we cannot face the reality of our lives, and more importantly about the wonderful things that can happen when we give ourselves permission to live and more importantly, love again.

I loved it.