Thank Goodness I Can Tell You…!

As you may have gathered by now, keeping quiet is perhaps a challenging thing for me at the best of times – especially when it comes to talking about books!

For a while now, I have been keeping a secret that has been so hard not to share with you all because I am really excited about it!

Well, today is finally the day I can reveal all!

I am so thrilled to tell you that I have been asked by the fabulous Comedy Women In Print Prize to be part of their very first Shadow Blogger Panel!

Over the next few months, myself, Susan Corcoran, Janet Emson, Stacey Garrity and Danielle Price will be reading and reviewing all the novels on the Shortlisted Published Comic Novels Authors Shortlist who are:

 

Michelle Gallen for Big Girl, Small Town from John Murray

 

Beth O’Leary for The Flatshare from Quercus Books

 

Angela Makholwa for The Blessed Girl from Bloomsbury Books

 

Nina Stibbe for Reasons to be Cheerful from Penguin

 

Candice Carty-Williams for Queenie from Trapeze Books

 

Abbi Waxman for The Bookish Life of Nina Hill from Headline

Jeanette Winterson for Frankisstein from Vintage

You can read more about all the fabulous authors and their novels here

The winner of our Shadow Panel Winner will be announced in early September, and the Judge’s decision will follow.

It feels SO much better to finally be able to tell you all, and I can’t wait to start reading all these novels and telling you all about them as I go.

Here’s hoping you all follow along with all of us and the hashtag #CWIP and do please tell us what think about the shortlist. As you can guess, I’ll be talking about this a lot, all over Twitter and Instagram- it’s so important to me that you all feel involved with this amazing prize too!

So, what do you think? Any there you can’t wait to read? Any that you have read already and loved? Please do let me know – I love to chat to you all about books, so any feedback or anything else you would like to see from me, just let me know.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have some rather fabulous books to read…

Love

Clare xx

This Lovely City by Louise Hare

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This Lovely City by Louise Hare

Published by HQ Stories

Available from all Good Bookshops and Online

 

What They Say

The drinks are flowing.
The music is playing.
But the party can’t last.

With the Blitz over and London reeling from war, jazz musician Lawrie Matthews has answered England’s call for help. Fresh off the Empire Windrush, he’s taken a tiny room in south London lodgings, and has fallen in love with the girl next door.

Touring Soho’s music halls by night, pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home – and it’s alive with possibility. Until, one morning, he makes a terrible discovery.

As the local community rallies, fingers of blame are pointed at those who had recently been welcomed with open arms. And, before long, the newest arrivals become the prime suspects in a tragedy which threatens to tear the city apart.

What I Say

I need to start this Blog Post with an apology to Louise.  I read This Lovely City in May, and adored it, and started a blog post straight away, but I just couldn’t find the right words to tell you all about it.  We were in the middle of lockdown, adjusting to life with all four of us – five if you include our dog, at home, all the time, and we didn’t know what was going to happen next.  Juggling everyday life, school work, new rules and not being able to go out as and when we wanted hit me hard.  The world beyond our house was also facing an unprecedented time, people were protesting throughout the world about Black Lives Matter, and my words somehow didn’t seem important enough to publish.

The thing is, that Louise’s novel is on the bookshelf in my dining room, and every time I went in there, it was sat there waiting for me in its bold and beautiful cover.  I need to tell you about this novel, about Lawrie and Evie, about why their story is so important for us all, and how we think everything has changed in our society, but in so many ways, there are so many attitudes that have not moved on from the time where Lawrie and Evie’s story is set.

Lawrie is part of the Windrush generation, who has come to our country in search of a better life for himself and his family.  He is in love with Evie, the girl next door, who lives with her mother Agnes, and they are like most young people, trying to find a way to spend some time together in a world where it is not seen as appropriate for unmarried couples to spend time together alone. Lawrie is working as a postman, but at night time, he and his friends form a jazz group and play at venues around London.  It seems that this is when Lawrie and London really come alive – Louise’s descriptions of the sights and sounds of this world which where Lawrie really can be himself are so vibrant and real that you feel you are sat in the corner watching these friends enjoy their lives.

One day, when Lawrie is on his post round, he is approached by an hysterical woman who has found the body of a baby in a nearby pond. When Lawrie is taken to the station to give his side of the story, it is clear from the moment that he enters the room, that the police are certain Lawrie killed the child. What is so unnerving and uncomfortable to read about this incident, is not only the judgements that the police unquestioningly put on Lawrie, but how casually and unconsciously their attitude and manner towards him is dripping with the racism they are so comfortable with.

With seemingly little to go on, Lawrie is released – to find that the tyres on his bike have been slashed.  This is what makes This Lovely City so difficult but so necessary to read. This is London in the 1950s. Lawrie and his friends were actively encouraged to come here by the government as part of the Windrush generation, to help Britain rebuild after the Second World War, but the shiny pamphlets and promises of a better life failed to mention the way in which they would be treated and the racist attitudes that they would encounter at every turn.

Lawrie may have been released, but as the baby who passed away was black, the police are convinced that the person who committed the crime must be too, and they step up their threats and intimidation, seemingly randomly targeting people in an attempt to illicit a confession from someone. The interesting thing in this investigation too is that Mrs Barratt, a white woman who found the child’s body is automatically discharged from the enquiry.

As the investigation continues, what is so strong in this narrative is that all this tension, suspicion and sobering sense of unease is set against the love story of Evie and Lawrie.  Her love binds him to her unquestioningly, and her determination to prove that Lawrie is innocent is the driving force throughout the novel.  Evie also faces casual racism on a daily basis, from people not taking her seriously at work, to those not wanting to sit near her on a bus. For me, these scenes were shameful to read, because they were so casual yet so ingrained in so many people.

All Lawrie and Evie want to do is to have the chance to be married, and to embrace the life that was tantalisingly promised to them by the very country that is so intent on destroying it. As the novel moves forward, it becomes clear that both Lawrie and Evie have hidden secrets from each other, frightened that revealing them could end their relationship.  Ultimately, it is only by realising that their love for each other is the most powerful and immovable force, that they can finally be honest with each other and live the life together that they deserve.

From the very moment you turn the first page, in This Lovely City, Louise Hare immerses you absolutely in London in the late 40’s and early 50’s.  The sights, sounds and world Lawrie and Evie are in are so clear and vibrant that it makes you lose yourself totally.  Both Lawrie and Evie are characters that not only are trying to find their way in this huge and sometimes cruel city, but they are also trying to find a way to be together totally honestly, when both have secrets they are desperately trying to hide from the person they love the most.

This Lovely City is a novel that will educate you, make you see how far we think we have come in terms of our understanding and condemnation of racism, but unflinchingly shows us how much there is still to do and how much further we have to go. At the heart of this unforgettable story and in every single page is the love story of Lawrie and Evie. All they want is to live together in peace, in the city they love, and their innate capacity for love and tolerance is perhaps the most important lesson we need to take from their enduring narrative.

I absolutely loved it.

Thank you very much to Joe Thomas and HQ Stories for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

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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Sea Wife by Amity Gaige

 

 

Sea Wife by Amity Gaige

Published by Fleet

Available online and at All Good Bookshops

 

What They Say

Juliet is failing to juggle motherhood and her anemic dissertation when her husband, Michael, informs her that he wants to leave his job and buy a sailboat. The couple are novice sailors, but Michael persuades Juliet to say yes. With their two kids – Sybil, age seven, and George, age two, Juliet and Michael set off for Panama, where their forty-four-foot sailboat awaits them – a boat that Michael has christened the Juliet.

The initial result is transformative: their marriage is given a gust of energy, and even the children are affected by the beauty and wonderful vertigo of travel. The sea challenges them all – and most of all, Juliet, who suffers from postpartum depression.

Sea Wife is told in gripping dual perspectives: Juliet’s first-person narration, after the journey, as she struggles to come to terms with the dire, life-changing events that unfolded at sea; and Michael’s captain’s log – that provides a riveting, slow-motion account of those same inexorable events.

What I Say

“I had held myself together all my life. Then I became a mother, twice, and I was not fine. I was the opposite of me.”

When I heard about Sea Wife, I was really interested to read it, because for me, a life on the ocean is one that I have never contemplated nor ever experienced.  I also thought it was interesting that the title immediately categorises Juliet, the main character  in such a powerful and definitive way.

At first glance, it might seem like Juliet and Michael have it all  – a home, two children and a life that they have constructed for themselves that satisfies what everyone in their social circle expects. They are the epitome of the American Dream. Michael works for an insurance company, and Juliet, a poet, is attempting to complete her PhD.

Unfortunately, beneath the veneer, Juliet and Michael are struggling. Both with their own emotional state, and their marriage. Juliet suffers from depression and has also suffered sexual abuse as a child and now her ‘ugly angels’ torment her, and and she is plagued by the feeling that she simply is not fit to be a mother. Michael feels trapped in his job, and is increasingly realising that he needs to do something to help Juliet and to try and open communication between them before their marriage disintegrates.

Michael’s decision is to buy a boat which he renames Juliet – something he later discovers is regarded by those in the sailing world as a bad omen.  He has to then persuade Juliet that by taking a year off, and having their children Sybil and George with them, that this is just what they all need to try and find their way back to each other.

The novel is told from a dual narrative perspective – via Juliet’s memories and the Captain’s Log that Michael keeps whilst on board.  Stylistically and linguistically it also creates two distinct stories for the reader as Michael’s writing is in bold and to the right hand side of the page, and Juliet’s is more free flowing and lyrical and it seems more at times to be a flow of consciousness. As the voyage progresses, it is interesting to see how Michael becomes less analytical and logical and instead uses his journal as a way of not only tracing his relationship, but also gaining a deeper understanding of the issues and divides within their marriage.

As they undertake their voyage, it seems like Michael was right, and that in moving away from the constraints they have so strictly adhered to, that Juliet and Michael are slowly able to see the person they fell in love with.  All the time, Amity ensures that the ocean is an ever present and omnipresent force.

At times it is passively part of the backdrop, which makes Michael and Juliet feel that they are in control and have done the right thing in coming away together.  However, they are also reminded of how dispensable and unimportant they are in the world when they have to tackle the storms and ferocious unpredictability of the sea.  It is those times that their marriage is most put to the test as Juliet has no experience of sailing and she is totally reliant on Michael’s knowledge to keep them all safe.

They may be on this voyage as a family, but the limited living space and emerging tensions in their marriage mean that as time passes, Juliet and Michael finally start to see each other at their most open and honest. They realise that politically they are poles apart, that Michael has secured a loan for the boat against their house, and they start to wonder whether they really have a future when the voyage is over.

Then Michael falls seriously ill, and Juliet is forced to make a decision that alters the course of their lives forever, and it ultimately means Juliet has to face the reality of her marriage and confront her own mental health issues too.

Sea Wife is an emotionally challenging and taut novel that will make you think about the relationships with those people closest to you, and how much we take for granted in the way we seamlessly go about our daily lives together. For Michael and Juliet, they chose to embark on this seemingly idyllically journey in an attempt to salvage their fractured marriage. Amity Gaige’s intriguing and realistic portrayals of Michael and Juliet’s world in all its brutal and unfiltered reality, make us understand that we may never truly know the person closest to us until we have no choice. Sea Wife also unapologetically makes us realise, that perhaps we never really knew them at all.

Thank you very much to Grace Vincent at Fleet for my gifted copy of Sea Wife in exchange for an honest review.

Please do see what the other bloggers on the tour are saying too..

The Cat And The City by Nick Bradley

 

The Cat and The City by Nick Bradley

Published by Atlantic Books

Available at all Good Bookshops and Online

 

What They Say:

In Tokyo – one of the world’s largest megacities – a stray cat is wending her way through the back alleys. And, with each detour, she brushes up against the seemingly disparate lives of the city-dwellers, connecting them in unexpected ways.

But the city is changing. As it does, it pushes her to the margins where she chances upon a series of apparent strangers – from a homeless man squatting in an abandoned hotel, to a shut-in hermit afraid to leave his house, to a convenience store worker searching for love. The cat orbits Tokyo’s denizens, drawing them ever closer.

 

What I Say:

As soon as I had seen the cover (shallow I know!) of Nick Bradley’s novel The Cat and The City, I knew I wanted to read it.

The novel is set in Tokyo, and each of the chapters could be read as a short story in its own right. Honestly, when I started the novel, I thought this is what I was reading. We meet a seemingly disparate cast of people, whose only connection to the plot seems to be that they live in Tokyo.

This is the brilliance of Nick’s writing, because as you read on, the same names start to appear, locations and families become common, and throughout it all, weaving its way through the streets of Tokyo is the singular figure of the cat. By the end of the novel, you understand that everything and everyone is connected, and Tokyo is a city where the actions of one person have unforeseen and sometimes life changing consequences for others.

We start with a young enigmatic woman called Naomi asking to have a map of Tokyo tattooed on her back, done in a traditional manner which will take months to complete. As a rebellious gesture, Kentaro the tattooist adds a cat to the design- except the cat moves around the design every time he works on it, and he starts to doubt his own sanity.

The story moves on to a homeless man called Ohashi, who once was a well known storyteller, but now makes his living by selling crushed cans he scavenges around the streets of Tokyo. He lives with the cat in a derelict hotel, after losing everything he had to drink and has been relentlessly haunted by the fact he left his daughter who was dying. He is estranged from his brother Taro who drives a cab and has his own story to tell.

Taro’s passengers include characters we meet further on in the book, including Flo, who works as a translator for a PR firm, and has dedicated her spare time to translate a novel by one of her favourite Japanese authors to give to her friend. Unfortunately, Flo is shattered when her friend presents her with a copy of one that has just been published, and wonders about what she is doing in the world and why. Flo was a really interesting character for me. She is an American living in Tokyo, and although she tries to fully submerge herself into Tokyo and the cultural life, you always get the sense she is slightly on the edge, and is trying to find her way and sense of identity in the world. Flo desperately wants to belong in Tokyo, and it is only by admitting this to her co-worker Kyoto that she can make her first tentative steps to do so.

Nick also constantly plays around with the novel as a stylistic genre. There are chapters which is the translation of the novel Flo has been working on, there are photos that one character posts to his social media on an evening out, and one of my favourite chapters – Hikikomori, Futoko & Neko is illustrated in the style of a manga novel – and it works perfectly!

The story of Hikikomori, Futoko & Neko was simply and cleverly told, as an agoraphobic young man finds his way back to the world through his friendship with Ken and their shared care of the cat who has been injured. When you find out that Ken asks Nao to write to him, and Nao is spotted by the cat going to the postbox;

He was going from lamppost to lamppost, hugging one as he went. A step at a time, cautious as a man in a war zone“.

It is writing like that, that honestly made me take a breath as you absolutely understand what Nao has gone through to reach that point. It is the realisation of how we are all linked by the things we do and the actions we take, which adds another level to this intricate and absorbing novel.

I learned so much about Tokyo and its culture and tradition from reading The Cat and The City, but do not think that this is an Instagram filtered perfect version of the world. You are taken to the heart and soul of Tokyo, and it is at times brutal, unpalatable and difficult to read about. Sex is often regarded as a soulless transaction and a means to an end, and some of the situations the characters face were very challenging for me to read, but I appreciate it is integral to the cohesion of the novel and the plot.

For me, at the very heart of The Cat and The City, is the notion of a human need to connect with others and to belong – be it to society or to another person. The central figure of the cat winds its way through the story, paving the way for people to find themselves and their families again. The cat is the impetus to help them understand that even in a huge city like Tokyo, sometimes you need to look around you to understand that life is waiting for you if you just have the courage to take the first step.

The Cat and The City is a brave, different and at times very unsettling novel, but one that will stay with me for a long time, and I am so glad I read it.

Negative Capability by Michèle Roberts

Negative Capability by Michèle Roberts

Published By Sandstone Press

Available from all Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say:

Yesterday ended in disaster. Very late at night, I decided to write down everything that had happened; the only way I could think of coping.
So here goes.
 

So begins Michele Roberts’s intimate and honest account of the year after her latest novel has been rejected by her then publisher. Written with warmth and sensitivity, she navigates the difficult road from depression and anxiety to acceptance and understanding of the value of the friendships which nurture her and make life worth living – whatever happens.

 

What I Say:

“I’d rediscovered, recording them, the pleasures of doing ordinary things,

the pleasures of living day to day.”

I think like many people, I had always assumed that once an author has had a book published, every book they write is edited and it is a done deal that we will see it in the Bookshops.

Negative Capability is Michèle’s Diary – a book about what happens when her latest novel is rejected by her publishers. It is obviously a painful and awful experience for her, and I can imagine that everything you had planned about that book being published suddenly slips out of your hands slowly and absolutely out of your control.

As a response to this, she writes about what it is like to be an author with no book being published on the horizon. This is where it becomes a really absorbing and revealing read, as Michèle opens her heart and life totally to the reality of having to accept that you have no plans. The Negative Capability of the title refers to the idea that instead of reacting to a negative situation, you instead allow yourself to resign to the fact that yes, this is not a good place to be, but that it will get better.

What I really loved about Michèle’s writing is the fact that it is not linear, and it slides beautifully from one moment to the next. One minute she may be talking about her gardens, the next the passing of one of her friends, but it works so well because it is and authentic and visceral experience, and I felt as if I was sat having a drink with Michèle as she talked about her life.

Memories slide from one to the next, we learn about the families she comes into contact with, the lovers she has had, her visits to France and all the social niceties there and the etiquette one is expected to follow. I also felt that it was almost Michèle’s love letter to France, a way for us to understand the deep emotional connections she has to the country and to the people she loves there.  It is also a complete treat for our senses – her pitch perfect and evocative descriptions of the places she visits and the countryside she is in, only serves to draw us closer to her.

I felt that reading Negative Capability was like sitting with a friend who is chatting with you about what they have been going through. It is conversational, clever, witty and so refreshing to read a book by someone who is absolutely candid about every aspect of their life, be it positive or negative.

It is also absolutely impossible to talk about this book without making reference to the many and glorious references to all things food related!  There are descriptions of wonderful informal and simple breakfasts and lunches, of dinner parties and get togethers, and I defy anyone not to read this book and not immediately feel hungry.  The act of eating and being with other people and enjoying the preparation and eating of meals is also a major part of this book, and it made me think about how often for me, the act of eating and being with my family is a rushed and thoughtless one.  We need to understand the importance of being with each other and the joy that sharing food and conversation can bring, as oppose to wolfing down a meal and disconnecting from each other by going to different rooms, or staying in the same one and just looking at our screens.

As we follow Michèle through her year, she offers us insights into the world of writing and her processes.  I am not a writer, just a reader, but I found it really interesting to see how Michele explains the process of writing and the way in which a book goes from a creative impulse to a finished novel on a Bookshop Shelf.  Michele is always honest about every part of it, and I think that it made me understand and appreciate the art of writing so much more.  I realised how much I took for granted about the act of writing something, that I believed it was much more of a formulaic process and that the author went from A to B, but Michèle absolutely dispels that theory.

It is difficult to review Negative Capability, because although it is a relatively short book, it encompasses so much.  Within these pages, all life and death is here.  You are absolutely and totally in Michèle’s life constantly, and feel every emotion with her.  For me, one of the most affecting parts of the book, is when she is talking about grief, after losing people close to her.  Her pain and incredulity at the fact these people are no longer here are translated to the page so sensitively, that for anyone who has lost someone, the words absolutely resonate with you.

Negative Capability is a book that defies categorisation, but it is all the more richer for it. It is a book to be savoured and lost in, and one that will absolutely make you think about many of the things you take for granted on a daily basis, and stop and appreciate everything and everyone around you even more.

Thank you so much to Kealey Rigden at FMcM Associates for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

It’s Not You, It’s Me..

The subject of this Blog Post is possibly highly controversial, and no doubt I am going to lose a few (lots) of followers after posting it, but right from the start, I have always promised to be honest with you all.

Deep breath, here goes.

I can’t do electronic books. I just can’t.

I know that especially in these challenging times when the amazing and hardworking publicists I talk to have been kind enough to offer electronic versions of their novels without hesitation to help me blog, when it is environmentally a better option, that it seems the sensible and correct choice, but honestly, it’s not for me.

My head tells me that using Netgalley opens up a whole world of bookish possibilities, that right at the click of a button I can ask to read advance copies of hundreds of the newest releases. A whole new library of tantalising choices are mine, just there for the clicking. I can buy an e-book and it can be ready to read on my device in seconds, and yet the very thought of doing it turns me cold.

Believe me when I tell you I’ve tried. I fired up my old Kindle Paperwhite (after spending an hour trying to find the charger!), I have downloaded an e-reader app to all my Devices, and I even briefly re-instated my Netgalley account just for this reason.

I can do this, I thought, the book is exactly the same, it’s just the pages have to be swiped instead of turned, and I can’t use an almond magnum wrapper as a bookmark (might have done this once), but I was telling myself it’s just the same thing in a different format.

The thing is, no matter how much I tried to convince myself, and attempted to read the words on screen, for me, it really wasn’t the same.

I love everything about having a physical book in my hands. From the moment in the library or Bookshop you see a cover that pulls you towards it and you can’t help but pick it up and feel the weight of it in your hands. The feeling you get when you have it put in a bag (pre-lockdown) and handed to you or the parcel delivered in an appropriately socially distanced manoeuvre (during lockdown), the delicious sense of anticipation as you take it out and read the blurb, and check that the corners haven’t been bashed and that it looks even better than you remember. All of that is before you have even opened it to read it.

Why do I love reading physical books so much? For me, like lots of other people, the majority of my life is increasingly governed by my need to be in stretching distance of a screen. My husband jokingly refers to my phone and laptop as my office, and he is right. Every piece of my life is stored in these pieces of equipment, and they are undoubtedly a vital part of my day.

Truthfully, I just want to disconnect from the digital world for a while and lose myself completely in the act of reading. Snuggled up in bed, or lying on a sofa, mug of coffee and some biscuits in front of me, just me and my book is my idea of heaven. The only sounds are the pages being turned and the crunching of the biscuits, and that’s enough.

It’s also the fact that seeing all my books on my shelves is not only something visually beautiful, but that each one of them has a memory folded into their pages. I remember where I was when I read this book, or who bought me that one and why. Maybe the person who left me this novel may not be here any more. I can still open the book using the bookmark on page 217 when she had to stop reading because she didn’t have the strength to turn the pages. I can hold it in my arms and remember her for a moment, and how she was the one who helped me fall in love with books.

Do e-books bring the same memories to your reading? Maybe I’m missing something, and I’ve got this all wrong? Without a doubt having all the books on a device means you can access lots of books at any time, and it’s a lot easier to take on holiday. Yet one of the few joys of packing for me is going through my bookshelves and deciding which books I am going to squeeze into my case, and adding a couple (four) into my handbag just to make sure I don’t run out. Don’t even get me started on the joy that is finding a Bookshop in the place you are staying!

One of the many realities that has come to light during this strange time is that as we come out of Lockdown that it’s a real possibility going forward proofs of new releases may be only available to bloggers digitally. With my rational head on, that absolutely makes sense. Much less cost for the publisher, the ease of sending the book, and the fact you can start reading immediately.

It’s just not for me. All it means is doing what I’ve been doing for years – using the brilliant libraries, treating myself at a Bookshop or simply selecting one of my own books from my crowded shelves.

Book Blogging is just that – talking about the books you have read whenever they were published, and sometimes I have forgotten that and have put the Fear Of Missing Out above taking the time to look at the books I already have – and that’s another blog post entirely!

Reading is reading however you choose to do it, be it on an e-reader, on a phone or a physical book and this is only my opinion. What ultimately unites us all especially in these strange times is our love of books and the joy we get from talking about them, however we choose to read.

My name is Clare Reynolds and I don’t like reading e-books – and I feel so much better for telling you!

Love

Clare xx

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.

Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins

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Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins

Published by Quercus on 2 April 2020

What They Say

When the eight-year-old daughter of an Oxford College Master vanishes in the middle of the night, police turn to the Scottish nanny, Dee, for answers.

As Dee looks back over her time in the Master’s Lodging – an eerie and ancient house – a picture of a high achieving but dysfunctional family emerges: Nick, the fiercely intelligent and powerful father; his beautiful Danish wife Mariah, pregnant with their child; and the lost little girl, Felicity, almost mute, seeing ghosts, grieving her dead mother.

But is Dee telling the whole story? Is her growing friendship with the eccentric house historian, Linklater, any cause for concern? And most of all, why is Felicity silent?

Roaming Oxford’s secret passages and hidden graveyards, Magpie Lane explores the true meaning of family – and what it is to be denied one.

What I Say

Make no mistake, reading in these strange times has been a real challenge for me, and I am guessing lots of you at the moment. Having daily, hourly and instant news about the coronavirus is not overly condusive to wanting to pick up a novel is it really?

The thing is, Magpie Lane is one of those novels you can lose yourself in completely, whilst at the same time, feeling a slight (huge) sense of trepidation that something you can’t predict is going to happen. From the moment you turn the first page and meet Dee, Nanny to Mariah and Nick and their daughter Felicity, you realise this is going to be something very different and deliciously unnerving.

The novel starts with Dee being interviewed at a police station by Faraday and Khan, as her charge, Felicity has gone missing and they are desperately searching for clues as to why and where she could have gone. Prompted by Felicity’s parents, she has been asked to come in for questioning as she was close to her, was one of the few people that Felicity would speak to. An added complication to the eight year old’s disappearance is that she has elective mutism, and refuses to speak to anyone except her Dad, Dee and Dee’s friend Linklater – more of Mr Linklater further on in this review..

Right from the start of Magpie Lane, Dee is a very calm, together and perhaps slightly distant character, who seems to be at odds with the extrovert and opinionated Mariah. Like Dee, Mariah feels she is somewhat the outsider in her husband’s world, as he becomes the new Master of an Oxford College. She has no concept of the innate traditions and expectations of the wife of the Master, she decides to renovate the Lodge as she wants, infuriating the other College staff, who cannot abide this confident and vibrant woman who has come into their world.

Nick on the other hand, believes that this position will give him the social standing and recognition he craves. He has taken the role on after a position at the BBC has come to an end, and his drive and ambition has brought his family here to ensure that he is able to fulfill his dreams and his need to be respected and looked up to by other people. With them, they bring eight year old Felicity, who it transpires, is actually the daughter of Nick and his first wife, whose death is referred to in whispers and subtle glances between Nick and Mariah.

Felicity feels like an outsider in her own family, and her mutism and inability to connect with her parents means that she is often overlooked and disregarded. She seems at times to be almost an inconvenience to them, who needs to be looked after in order for them to furt her their own careers. This isn’t to say Nick and Mariah don’t love her – they just seem unsure as to what to do with her.

This sense of disconnection and dislocation is an important theme that runs throughout Magpie Lane. Dee has no family to speak of, and is wary of making a connection with anyone for fear of getting hurt. Mariah is not allowed to be part of her husband’s world unless she adheres to what is socially expected of her, and when she doesn’t, she is disregarded. Linklater, who is hired by Mariah and Nick to uncover the history of the Lodge is living a solitary academic life in Oxford, and seems to be happy in his own world, but at the same time seems to feel a connection to Dee, although she tries to ignore it.

So far so straightforward – why is Magpie Lane so engrossing? Well, what I haven’t told you yet is what happens when Felicity goes to sleep..

In Felicity’s bedroom in the Lodge, is a locked door which is discovered to be a locked priest’s hole. At night, Felicity is disturbed by noises that come from it, and Dee often finds her distressed and telling her about what she has heard and seen coming from it. As Felicity withdraws further into her silent world, her behaviour becomes more and more erratic, and Dee keeps her off school without telling her parents, to keep her safe from the constant bullying and upset she endures from her peers.

As readers, we are drawn into this other world, as we see what Dee and Felicity are witnessing, but Mariah and Nick only see their daughter becoming more distant, and a seemingly indispensible Nanny who is able to form a bond with their daughter that they cannot. The plot moves along at a perfect pace, balanced between Linklater’s investigations into the history of the Lodge, the consequences of it for Felicity, and the slowly disintegrating marriage of Nick and Mariah, as they struggle to cope with what they believe would be the making of them. As they try to present a united and indefeatable face to the College, Mariah discovers she is pregnant.

What worked so well for me about Magpie Lane, was that Lucy Atkins’ writing is always so tightly controlled, and is impossible to determine which way the novel was going to turn next, and I loved that. For me, as a reader, especially at a time like this, I want to lose myself completely in a book, and Magpie Lane draws you in right from the start. Lucy also writes absorbing and relatable characters that serve to bring the reader closer to the novel and become increasingly invested in their lives.

I thought it was also interesting that my allegiances changed towards the characters as the plot developed. Initially, I thought that Dee was a cold and menacing woman, whose relationship with Felicity was going to be the unsettling thread in the novel. However, as the narrative moved forward, instead I felt she was like Felicity, searching for the one thing we all strive for – a sense of belonging and true connection to other people. Similarly, Mariah is someone who initially seemed to be this force of nature, determined to have it all and to ensure she was not forced to stay in her husband’s shadow. Little by little her insecurities and real self was revealed, and we saw a woman who like many of us is just getting by at parenting, and is blindsided by the reality of caring for a child who won’t talk to her and a baby who is not a perfectly behaved insta perfect infant.

Linklater is really the catalyst for the plot to drive forward and also for Dee to start to realise that she may have found someone with whom she can be her authentic self without fear of ridicule. He, like Dee has always been slightly disconnected from the world around him, but together they seem to edge towards some sort of understanding and realisation that in each other they have found what has been missing from their lives. As they work together on the history of the Lodge, Dee sees that Felicity has found her voice, and is being listened to by people who really understand her. From that point on, leading up to Felicity’s disappearance, the novel twists and turns and not only reveals the secrets of the Lodge, but of those who live and have lived there.

Magpie Lane is a novel that is not easy to categorise, and is all the more powerful for it. For me, it was the female characters who were at the heart of the novel, and it was all the more relatable because of it. It is a brilliant and engaging novel, that not only has the traits of an unnerving mystery, but is a heartfelt and emotional novel about our need to belong, to connect with someone else, however difficult and ultimately life changing it might be.

I absolutely loved it, and I think you will too.

Thank you so much to Ella at Quercus Books for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review and a chance to be part of the Magpie Lane Social Media Blast.

Why don’t you check out what my fellow fabulous Bookish Friends are saying too…

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..