#BookReview: Relativity by Antonia Hayes #BlogTour


About the Book

Ethan is a bright young boy obsessed with physics and astronomy who lives with his mother, Claire. Claire has been a wonderful parent to Ethan, but he’s becoming increasingly curious about his father’s absence in his life, wanting to fill in the gaps.

Claire’s life is centred on Ethan; she is fiercely protective of her talented, vulnerable son, and of her own feelings. When Ethan falls ill, tied to a tragic event from when he was a baby, Claire’s tightly held world is split open.

On the other side of the country, Mark is trying to forget about the events that tore his family apart. Then a sudden and unexpected call home forces him to confront his past, and the hole in his life that was once filled with his wife Claire and his son Ethan.

When Ethan secretly intercepts a letter from Mark to Claire, he unleashes long-suppressed forces that – like gravity – pull the three together again, testing the limits of love and forgiveness.

My Thoughts

Sometimes a book comes into your life at just the right time, and the very minute you start reading you find yourself completely and utterly swept away in it… Relativity is one of those books for me. It’s a beautiful and incredibly moving book about a young boy, Ethan, who is trying to understand the world around him and his family situation. His life is complicated – his dad left when he was four months old and he knows nothing about him. His mum is a wonderful mum but she won’t tell him about his dad, and Ethan is at that age where he wants to know more.

Running through the novel is a lot of astronomy and physics and it’s all so beautifully woven into the story. It’s like the universe is echoing what is happening to Ethan and his mum Claire throughout the novel, and it adds an extra dimension (no pun intended!) to the pain and struggle that they are going through.

Ethan had a brain injury as a young baby and he seems to have been unaffected by it as he’s got older but then one day he has a seizure out of nowhere and this is the catalyst to him finding out more about his past. It also leads to a belief within the medical profession that this injury may have made Ethan special and unique in the world. At the same time as this is going on, we get to know a bit more about Ethan’s father, Mark. Mark is back in the same city as Ethan and Claire as his father is dying, and this leads to Mark wanting to get back in contact with his son.

Relativity at its heart is a very moving novel about the way one split-second act can change the course of many people’s lives, it’s about the way we remember our pasts and about how we have to find to learn to live with the fall out when secrets and lies are revealed. This is a novel will break your heart but it will also mend it.

The characters in this book came to feel like real people to me and I was genuinely bereft to finish the book and leave them behind. I keep finding them swirling around in my mind and wondering how they are. I love when a novel has this power over me.

On a personal note, I’ve never hidden the fact that in the past I suffered from cPTSD and that whilst I consider myself recovered now, I do always have to be mindful of my specific triggers. This novel was one that I probably wouldn’t have read if I’d known that part of the story involved seizures, and when I got to the part of the book where Ethan collapsed I almost stopped reading to protect myself. However, I was already so involved in with these characters that I wanted to know what would happen in the end so I kept reading and I genuinely feel like this novel has mended another little bit of me that I thought would always be broken. There are some really difficult subjects dealt with in this novel and all of it is handled so well, so carefully, and yet never shies away from the realities.

I would recommend this novel to everyone. It has so much depth to it and is so engrossing, and is one of those books that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading. Please go read it!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Relativity is published in paperback today!


About the Author








Antonia Hayes, who grew up in Sydney and spent her twenties in Paris, currently lives in London with her husband and son. Relativity is her first novel.


#BookReview: How To Be Brave by Louise Beech @LouiseWriter @OrendaBooks

How to be brave louise beech

About the Book

All the stories died that morning … until we found the one we’d always known.

When nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Natalie must use her imagination to keep her daughter alive. They begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar, a man who has something for them. Through the magic of storytelling, Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat, where an ancestor survived for fifty days before being rescued. Poignant, beautifully written and tenderly told, How To Be Brave weaves together the contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child’s life with an extraordinary true account of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War. A simply unforgettable debut that celebrates the power of words, the redemptive energy of a mother’s love … and what it really means to be brave.

My Thoughts

This book has been on my TBR for a little while now; it was one of those books that I strongly felt had to be read at the right moment for me. I was so right and I’m really glad that I waited until now to read it. As a lot of you know, I’m going through a lot of medical things and this book brought such a sense of solace to me.

This is such a beautiful novel that explores the relationship between mother and daughter, who are struggling to come to terms with the daughter Rose’s diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. Rose’s father is deployed overseas and isn’t allowed to come home to support them so the two are left on this journey to come to terms with their new normal. An old journal of Natalie’s late Grandfather is found by Rose and this becomes the glue that holds the two together. Natalie promises to share her Grandfather’s story with Rose during the times when Rose is having her injections.

I hadn’t expected this novel to immerse me in the worlds of these characters quite so much. I felt the love and the fear and the angst in Natalie and Rose’s relationship. I felt such sadness at how detached they were becoming from each other whilst both still longing for the old connection before everything changed. I felt the pain Natalie was going through at having to keep her daughter well by putting her through the thumb pricks and injections, that Rose was constantly fighting against. It must be awful to know that you have to do it to keep your child alive but to not have any way to make a 9 year old comprehend that her life depends on this being done. I also felt for Rose – she is such a strong-willed girl, who loves books and learning; I was willing her on to find a way to cope with the diabetes.

Alongside this is the story of Natalie’s Grandfather – the writing is incredible because I really did feel like I was in that lifeboat with those men. I could smell the decay, I could feel the horrible dry skin and the swollen, dehydrated mouths as if it were me going through it. It’s inspired writing how his battle for survival mirrored Rose’s with the thirst and the longing for the things you can’t have, and mostly with the coming to terms with what life has thrown at you. The stories are woven together so beautifully, they occasionally intermingle in a magical, and yet somehow always believable, way.

This novel is stunningly beautiful, it’s devastatingly moving at times but will leave you feeling stronger and braver by the end. I recommend this book to everyone – it’s a must-read; it really is one of the best books I’ve read this year and it’s one that I want to re-read in the future.

How to be Brave is published by Orenda Books and is out now.

About the Author


Louise has always been haunted by the sea, even before she knew the full story of her grandfather, the man who in part inspired novel How to be Brave. She lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – where from her bedroom window she can almost see the waters of the River Humber, an estuary that inspired book, The Mountain in my Shoe.

She loves all forms of writing. Her short stories have won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting twice for the Bridport Prize and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Her first play, Afloat, was performed at Hull Truck Theatre in 2012. She also wrote a ten-year newspaper column for the Hull Daily Mail about being a parent, garnering love/hate criticism, and a one year column called Wholly Matrimony about modern marriage.

Her debut novel, How to be Brave, was released in 2015 and got to No 4 in the Amazon UK Kindle chart, and was a Guardian Readers’ pick for 2015. This novel came from truth – when Louise’s daughter got Type 1 Diabetes she helped her cope by sharing her grandad’s real life sea survival story.

Her second novel, The Mountain in my Shoe, was released in 2016 and was inspired by her time with children in care. It explores what family truly means, and how far we will go for those we love. It longlisted for the Guardian Not The Booker Prize.

Maria in the Moon will be released in 2017.

(Bio taken from Louise Beech’s website)

#BookReview The Easy Way Out by Steven Amsterdam


About the Book

Evan’s job is to help people die. 

Evan is a nurse – a suicide assistant. His job is legal – just. He’s the one at the hospital who hands out the last drink to those who ask for it.

Evan’s friends don’t know what he does during the day. His mother, Viv, doesn’t know what he’s up to at night. And his supervisor suspects there may be trouble ahead.

As he helps one patient after another die, Evan pushes against the limits of the law – and his own morality. And with Viv increasingly unwell, his love life complicated, to say the least, Evan begins to wonder who might be there for him, when the time comes.

From an award-winning author, The Easy Way Out is a brilliantly funny and exquisitely sad novel that gets to the heart of one of the most difficult questions each of us may face: would you help someone die?

My Thoughts

I was drawn to this book by the subject matter, assisted suicide is something that I feel very passionate about so the chance to read a novel about the very subject was one I couldn’t resist.

This novel is brilliant – to take such a serious subject and treat it as such and yet have such a delicious dark humour around it is incredible.

Evan’s private life was a perfect balance to his career too. His mother has a degenerative condition and during the course of the book has an experimental treatment which initially appears to be working. Evan is constantly worried that she will go into a terminal decline but his mother is fiercely independent and won’t even consider the possibility. Plus she knows with the job Evan does that he will be able to make sure she doesn’t suffer or lose her dignity; however this isn’t something that Evan can even begin to face up to.

Evan is also something of a commitment-phobe. He’s in a sort-of relationship with two men but whilst they show him nothing but love and adoration, he keeps something of a distance from him. His two lovers live together and are always happy for him to be there with them, but Evan uses his mother’s illness to keep aloof.

The assisted suicides in this book are so well written. There is the one that Evan messes up due to shaky hands and has to have help from his boss to complete, there is the one where he helps a patient out into the fresh air for his final moments even though it is against the rules. There are the patients who want to keep him at a distance, and the ones who want to know about him. Eventually Evan loses his job and is drawn into a group of people who are helping people die but it’s not legal, it’s not done through the hospital but is instead people who self-refer to the group and don’t have to have proof of terminal illness. Some are ill, some are lonely and just want life to be over but don’t want to die alone. Evan struggles with this and alongside his life ending up here his mother disappears off on her own without appearing to leave a note. This sends Evan into something of a crisis and leads to him re-evaluating his own life.

The dark humour runs throughout this book and it really is the glue that brings the novel together, the same way it holds life together in the most dire of circumstances. It’s quite remarkable the things that we can laugh about, things that really aren’t funny and yet in the moment it’s the darkness that makes us laugh.

I’d highly recommend this novel. It may not be something that everyone feels is to their taste but it’s such an important issue that we need to think more widely about and this novel does such a brilliant job of conveying life and death in a real way, with compassion and a lot of humour.

I received a copy of this novel from Quercus Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author


Steven Amsterdam is a writer living in Melbourne. He was born and raised by lifelong New Yorkers in Manhattan.

He wrote his first story about a hamster whose family was starving. A lilac bush in bloom saved everyone.

Steven Amsterdam has edited travel guides, designed book jackets, is a psychiatric nurse. Is a palliative care nurse.

#BookReview: Autumn by Ali Smith


About the Book

A breathtakingly inventive new novel from the Man Booker-shortlisted and Baileys Prize-winning author of How to be both

Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy and the colour-hit of Pop Art – via a bit of very contemporary skulduggery and skull-diggery – Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture, and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means.

Autumn is the first installment in Ali Smith’s novel quartet Seasonal: four standalone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons are), exploring what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative.

From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories, and a story about ageing and time and love and stories themselves.

My Thoughts

This book is simply stunning! I think it may be my new favourite by Ali Smith and is a real contender to be my book of 2016.

Ali Smith captures the way autumn feels – the drift away from the warm summer and the move towards winter. It’s written in a literal sense but also metaphorically to mimic what is happening politically at the moment. There is a real sense of the aftermath of Brexit in this novel, without it ever feeling like you’re being hit over the head with it all over again. There’s a subtly to it – the graffiti on a neighbour’s wall, the electric fence that appears near where the characters live. It’s beautifully written and leaves you feeling really quite meloncholy at times.

The novel opens with a man washed ashore. He is naked and lost, and becomes aware of people he vaguely knows passing him by. He isn’t sure how old he is but feels as if his body is younger than he was before. It seems he’s in some kind of limbo. At the same time a young woman is waiting in the Post Office to renew her passport, but her turn never seems to come. She is also in limbo. There is a sense that neither of them is sure of who they are, or where they are going. Perhaps a reference to the sense of isolation people are feeling in the current climate, and also the sense of being other in a world that is feeling less inclusive than before. It certainly reflects the limbo we all feel right now as we wait to see what will happen next.

We then learn of the two main characters and how they met. Daniel is around 80 years old and lives next door to the child Elisabeth. She wants to go round to his house and have him answer questions for her school project but her mother is adamant that she mustn’t. It feels like her mother is very distrustful of the man next door but it’s never stated why, it left me feeling like he was perhaps an other, an outsider – or maybe that Elisabeth and her mother are outsiders. There are other references to Elisabeth as a child feeling like people are looking at her in the street. The relationship that builds between Daniel and Elisabeth when they finally do meet is so lovely. He always speaks to her like she is his equal, and not a child, and they connect on so many levels. It was heartwarming to read how the relationship lasted and how Elisabeth is determined to keep the bond between them.

This book becomes very meta at points and I loved that aspect. The way that Daniel describes a painting to Elisabeth, and then says it isn’t real but she really feels like she has seen it. Then later she sees it reproduced and knows it is real. This made me go search online for Pauline Boty so that I could see the paintings after having such a clear image in my mind. I felt how I was sure Elisabeth must have felt when she finally saw them, because they were like a daydream made real. I felt sure that I had seen them before, like I knew them. Yet I was also seeing them at a step removed – paintings through a computer screen, so even then I’ve not seen the reality of the work, just as Elisabeth hadn’t either. I wasn’t there, in the moment when the paintings existed in a studio – a real awakening to the idea of a set moment in time and how when something has passed, it has passed. We can seek it out, we can reflect but once the leaves have fallen from the trees, they are gone.

Autumn jumps back and forth in time throughout, filling in small details and reminding us of what came before and what came after. This is beautifully illustrated in a moment where Daniel throws his watch in the air to demonstrate to Elisabeth how easily and quickly time flies. Ali Smith’s writing is profound and stunningly beautiful throughout. I’m still thinking about this book weeks after finishing it, and I’m sure it will be with me for a long time to come.

I can’t wait to read the next instalment in this series now! I’ve been recommending this novel to everyone and have already bought a few copies to give as Christmas gifts.

I received a copy of this book from Penguin Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Interview with author Clare Morrall & #BookReview of #WhenTheFloodsCame




Today I’m thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for When The Floods Came and was lucky enough to interview Clare Morrall! I also have my review of this wonderful book to share with you so please keep reading to the end of this post.


Please tell my readers a little bit about yourself, and also briefly what When The Floods Came is about.

I was born in Devon, but I’ve been living in Birmingham since I was 18, when I came up to study music at the University.  I teach violin, piano and music theory at a school for children between 5 and 11, and I also have a few older private pupils.  I have two grown up daughters.

When the Floods Came is my seventh published novel.  It is set about 50 years in the future, in an almost empty Britain, but rooted in the world as we know it now.  The majority of the population has died in a virus, and most survivors are infertile.  City centres have been sealed off and the country has been quarantined. The novel is about the Polanski family, who live in a deserted tower block on the edge of Birmingham.  There are Popi and Moth, Roza and Boris in their early twenties, Delphine in her teens and Lucia, who is eight.  They manage well, even though they’re so isolated, scavenging in the empty flats around them for spare parts.  They’re also supplied with essentials by drone drops from the Brighton-based government, the contents of which have become increasingly unpredictable. Then one day a stranger, Aashay, appears, who charms and alarms them in equal measure.  No one can decide whether to trust him or not, but they are all mesmerised by him.  He interrupts their organised life and leads them to a fair, cycling along motorways, through Spaghetti Junction, to an overgrown football stadium.  The book is about the strength of family relationships, their ability to survive once they discover that the most precious commodity in the country is children, and the precariousness of the life that we have created around us.


How did you first come to be a writer?

I have always preferred the world of fiction to the world of reality, so as soon as I was able to read, I was writing.  I was forever embarking on Enid Blyton adventures, Biggles stories, novels about boarding schools, all of them entirely unoriginal and none of them ever finished.  I didn’t start writing seriously until I was in my thirties.  It was hard to find enough time, but once a week, for a couple of hours, I would go to a friend’s house and write.   It took another twenty years before I was published.  I still have four unpublished novels in a cupboard, and several folders full of encouraging letters from publishers and agents, none of which brought me any closer to publication.   My first published novel, Astonishing Splashes of Colour, was actually my fifth completed one and it took five years to complete.  It was published in 2003 by a tiny Birmingham publisher and then unexpectedly went on to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize.  It took me by surprise.  I didn’t even know the book had been entered.


What is your writing routine?

After the good fortune of the Booker Prize, I was able to cut down on some of my teaching hours and allow myself the luxury of time to write.  So now I don’t go into school until midday.  When I was squeezing small amounts of time out of an impossibly busy schedule, I had to be disciplined.  I couldn’t afford to waste the time – although I did occasionally go to sleep. So I’ve learnt how to get going without resorting to delaying tactics.  I now start work early and rarely struggle with lack of motivation.


I love how When The Floods Came is a dystopian novel but it feels so close to the world we’re living in now and is scarily believable. Was there a specific trigger that sparked your inspiration to write this novel? 

I’ve long had the desire to place people on bicycles, cycling along a motorway.  The idea has been at the back of my mind for ages, but I couldn’t decide on a way to make it happen.  Setting a novel in the future seemed to be the only reasonable way to achieve this.  Sadly, if the cars do eventually go, I’ll be far too old to attempt the actual cycling myself.


I think the thing I’m enjoying most about the book is that, whilst the dystopian landscape is terrifying and fascinating, it seems, at heart to be a novel about how people cope with what life throws at them. Do the characters come to you first or is it the general idea of a storyline?

I like unusual settings – I’ve written novels about a man in a lighthouse, a man who lives on a roundabout, a family who grow up in a crumbling country house.  So it’s often the atmosphere that inspires me and I then create characters to inhabit this world.  They grow and develop during the novel, as I never know where they’re going to go, so I usually have to go back to the beginning to check they are the same people I end up with.  I’m interested in strange people, the kind of people who are very isolated, on the outside looking in.  It was inevitable that I would eventually write a novel set in the future – in an empty landscape, a crumbling, decaying world.


I’ve been a fan of your writing ever since reading Astonishing Splashes of Colour when it was first released. What has your journey to publication been like and has it altered as each book has been published? 

It took a long, long time to get published in the first place.  Each time I completed a novel, I would send it off and forget it while I got on with the next one.  There were always so many interesting new ideas.  When the novels were returned, I would just send them out again, working my way down the lists in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.  Life has become much easier since then, as all my other novels have been published by Sceptre, who have always been very supportive.  I send the completed novel to them, my editor goes through it, we discuss any plot uncertainties or character inconsistencies, then I rework it, which usually takes a few months.  Then it gets read by a copy editor, who picks out more details.  It’s a long and satisfying process, and in between the rewriting, I start my next novel.  The entire process takes about two years in total.


What are you reading at the moment?

His Bloody Project  by Graeme Macrae Burnet, shortlisted for this year’s Booker. It’s very skilful, although a bit – er – bloody, I fear.


If you were to be stranded on a desert island and could choose just one author’s books to read, who would you pick and why?

John le Carre, I think.  His books are so much more than spy stories – although I do like the shadowy world of spying.  He is a wonderful writer – very clever, literary, and perceptive about human nature.  He penetrates so deeply, understands the complexity of character and the nature of love,  and still manages to produce plots that take your breath away.


Is there a question that you wish an interviewer would ask that you’ve never been asked? What’s your answer to that question?

I’ve struggled with this one.  I’m afraid nothing springs to mind.  I usually tell people what I want to tell them anyway.  Nobody notices if you don’t answer the question correctly.  Or if they do, they never mention it.


 How can people connect with you on social media?

Another failure.  I don’t use social media.  I don’t have enough spare time – I struggle to keep up with my friends – and when I do have spare time I prefer to read or write rather than communicate.  I like space and silence  – I live on my own now and I love it.  I would be perfectly comfortable in an isolated tower block in an empty world.



My Review

I was thrilled when I received a surprise copy of When the Floods Came in the post as I’m a big fan of Clare Morrall’s novels. Her first novel Astonishing Splashes of Colour is one I still remember reading now and I read that when it was first published. This latest novel is just as brilliant.

When I first started reading this I was immediately drawn by what had happened to Britain. The descriptions of this dystopian future were quite chilling at times because the virus that wiped out the majority of the population in Britain, and the floods that followed seem absolutely believable given all that is happening in the world. I don’t know Birmingham very well but I could easily picture all that Morrall described.

Soon though I was drawn in to the Polanski family that have survived all that has happened and who are living in a high rise apartment block. They are obviously a very close family but they’re very insular and have never explored the possibility of meeting others who have also survived. Then one day an interloper appears and they are immediately fearful but also very drawn to him. Aashay is an enigmatic character, he’s exciting to the children of the family but the parents are wary. It’s impossible to put the genie back in the bottle though and once Aashay tells of the fairs where other survivors gather together it’s something the children simply cannot resist. What happens at the fair and afterwards makes this novel one that was very hard for me to put down!

I felt there was a bit of mystery in the novel too. The Polinski’s eldest daughter Roza’s fiance, Hector, who she met online through work, is a bit of an enigma. He appears to be quite perfect and is planning to visit soon so that they can get married. I was unsure whether he was real for a while, and I was also suspicious of whether he had any connection to Aastay – it added another dimension to the novel that kept me hooked as I wanted to know if there was a link.

This novel is a brilliant mix of a dystopian future and a study of the dynamics within a close-knit family.  I was utterly enthralled throughout and would highly recommend it.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


About the Book


A taut, gripping novel set in the future, when the lives of a family existing on the margins of a dramatically changed society are upset by a mysterious stranger.

In a world prone to violent flooding, Britain, ravaged 20 years earlier by a deadly virus, has been largely cut off from the rest of the world. Survivors are few and far between, most of them infertile. Children, the only hope for the future, are a rare commodity.

For 22-year-old Roza Polanski, life with her family in their isolated tower block is relatively comfortable. She’s safe, happy enough. But when a stranger called Aashay Kent arrives, everything changes. At first he’s a welcome addition, his magnetism drawing the Polanskis out of their shells, promising an alternative to a lonely existence. But Roza can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to Aashay than he’s letting on. Is there more to life beyond their isolated bubble? Is it true that children are being kidnapped? And what will it cost to find out?

Clare Morrall, author of the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted Astonishing Splashes of Colour, creates a startling vision of the future in a world not so very far from our own, and a thrilling story of suspense.


About the Author


c. Howard Walker

Clare Morrall was born in 1952 and grew up in Exeter.

She moved to Birmingham to study music and still lives there, working in the Blue Coat school as a piano and violin teacher. Her first published novel, Astonishing Splashes of Colour (2003), tells the story of a childless woman who kidnaps a baby.  It reflects her interest in synaesthesia – a condition in which emotions are seen as colours.  The Daily Mail describe it as “An extremely good first novel: deceptively simple, subtly observed, with a plot that drags you forward like a strong current.” It was shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

(Bio taken from https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/clare-morrall)



You can follow the rest of this fabulous blog tour at the following blogs:




Blog Tour | Book Review: The Museum of You by Carys Bray #MuseumOfYou

museum of you HB front

Today is my stop on The Museum of You blog tour and I’m thrilled to be sharing my review of this wonderful book along with an excerpt from the the book.

About the Book

Clover Quinn was a surprise. She used to imagine she was the good kind, now she’s not sure. She’d like to ask Dad about it, but growing up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story is difficult. She tries not to skate on the thin ice of his memories.

Darren has done his best. He’s studied his daughter like a seismologist on the lookout for waves and surrounded her with everything she might want – everything he can think of, at least – to be happy.

What Clover wants is answers. This summer, she thinks she can find them in the second bedroom, which is full of her mother’s belongings. Volume isn’t important, what she is looking for is essence; the undiluted bits: a collection of things that will tell the full story of her mother, her father and who she is going to be.

But what you find depends on what you’re searching for.

My Review

I’m a huge fan of Carys Bray – I adored her first novel A Song of Issy Bradley so was beyond excited when Carys offered me the chance to read and review The Museum of You.

The Museum of You is a quiet novel but it is so beautifully moving. It’s told in alternating chapters between Clover and her dad, Darren, and then between the chapter breaks there is a page about an item that Clover is planning to show in her museum. These pages, and her innocence, were some of the most stunning moments in the novel. Things like the way Clover envisages her mum collection holiday brochures because she must have loved holidays broke me because reading this through adult eyes, it seemed that really Clover’s mum probably was just desperate for escape. It’s a cleverly written novel because we don’t know at the beginning what happened to Clover’s mum but as the novel goes on we learn bits and pieces and a picture emerges but Clover, as a child, fits the pieces together in a much more naive way. It’s so beautiful and is a real tear jerker.

I adored Clover throughout this novel. She’s such a big-hearted and intelligent girl. She loves museums and finding out about things and so when she discovers that all of her mum’s things are still stashed in her bedroom Clover forms an idea to make a museum of her mum. It’s such a gorgeous idea and so heartbreaking at the same time. I cried so much as Clover carefully put on gloves and started to carefully, and strategically work through her mum’s belongings – all done when her dad was out so that he wouldn’t know about it and get upset. I know it’s a slightly different thing but I remember having to sort out my mum’s possessions after she died and having the longing to keep everything as it was left but knowing I had to let most of it go, and I was an adult at the time. For a child to not really know about her mum, or really understand what happened to her, to then approach her mum’s things on her own is really sad. I loved how pr0-active Clover was though, she knew that she couldn’t ask anyone about her mum as the best she got was a slow drip feed of information from her neighbour Mrs Mackerel and so she decided to become an archivist and figure it all out herself. I love how matter of fact Clover is – she’s a real thinker but she gets on with things. She doesn’t dwell on how her life has ended up, she just keeps moving forward. I think we all need a Clover in our lives!

I cried quite a few times whilst reading as there are sentences in this novel that just make your heart break for Clover. A line that got me, which is in the excerpt below was ‘When you grow up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story you’re forever skating on the thin ice of their memories.’ – I had to pause for a few minutes after reading that because it is just utterly heartbreaking. For a young child to know that their childhood is so linked in with the saddest part of her mum and dad’s life together is just so hard to think about, but also it made my heart break for her dad who has had to live with the happiest and saddest times in his life overlapping in such a tough way.

Darren is doing the absolute best he can to raise his daughter, it’s so evident that he loves her more than anything and is trying to give her a good life but it feels that as Clover is growing up, he is burying his head in the sand a little. It must be so hard for men to deal with raising a daughter alone, especially as they reach puberty and there is no female role model in their life. He knows there are things Clover will want to know beyond the basic lessons he can teach her and he’s really floundering as to how he will get her through the teenage years and beyond. He knows Clover needs her mum, and needs to know about her mum but you can feel his hesitation and his need to skate around it for his own wellbeing. He seems like such a lovely man who is simply left so lost after his partner died. I felt the longing that he had to not let his partner’s memory go but also his desire to form a stable home life for Clover. It is apparent very early on in the novel that Darren is something of a hoarder – it really felt like he was someone who was just desperately trying to cling on, to keep things right for Clover and to be a good dad. It felt to me like Clover was very much like her dad in wanting to keep things but Clover is much more organised, hence her museum idea. Reading about when Darren was younger and seeing how simple his life was, with two parents who were still together and who obviously loved him very much and did their best by him, it is obvious that he is badly wanting this for his daughter too – ‘life [back then] was ordinary, unremarkable and occasionally boring. It was, looking back, wonderful’.

This novel builds as it goes along – the more you read the more you put the pieces together and the more you get a sense of heartbreak for what this family have been through. I had such sympathy with just about all of the characters in this novel, they had all had tough times in their lives and were all muddling through as best they can. It is apparent that the thing that defined them all and kept them connected was their love for Clover, and as the novel headed towards the end, I was hoping there would be some sort of happy ending for them all. Life isn’t perfect and bad things happen to lovely people but this novel gives us such a great reminder that life goes on and things will get better with time and openness.

It’s such a wonderfully profound novel. I rated it 5 out of 5 and can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s one of those quiet novels that packs such a punch emotionally; it’s so beautiful and is one that will stay with me for a long time to come. Simply wonderful!

Excerpt of the novel

When she got home from the museum Dad was kneeling in the hall. He’d unscrewed the radiator and his thumb was pressed over an unfastened pipe as water gushed around it. The books and clothes and newspapers that used to line the hall had been arranged in small piles on the stairs. Beside him, on the damp carpet, was a metal scraper he’d been using to scuff the paper off the wall.

‘Just in time!’ he said. ‘Fetch a bowl. A small one, so it’ll fit.’

She fetched two and spent the next fifteen minutes running back and forth to the kitchen emptying one bowl as the other filled, Dad calling, ‘Faster! Faster! Keep it up, Speedy Gonzalez!’ His trousers were soaked and his knuckles grazed, but he wasn’t bothered. ‘Occupational hazard,’ he said, as if it wasn’t his day off and plumbing and stripping walls was his actual job.

Once the pipe had emptied he stood up and hopped about for a bit while the feeling came back into his feet. ‘I helped Colin out with something this morning,’ he said. ‘The people whose house we were at had this dado rail thing – it sounds posh, but it’s just a bit of wood, really – right about here.’ He brushed his hand against the wall beside his hip. ‘Underneath it they had stripy wallpaper, but above it they had a different, plain kind. It was dead nice and I thought, we could do that.’

Dad found a scraper for her. The paint came off in flakes, followed by tufts of the thick, textured wallpaper. Underneath, was a layer of soft, brown, backing-paper which Dad sprayed with water from a squirty bottle. When the water had soaked in, they made long scrapes down the wall, top to bottom, leaving the backing paper flopped over the skirting boards like ribbons of skin. It felt like they were undressing the house.

The bare walls weren’t smooth. They were gritty, crumbly in places. As they worked, a dusty smell wafted out of them. It took more than an hour to get from the front door to the wall beside the bottom stair. That’s where Dad uncovered the heart. It was about as big as Clover’s hand, etched on the wall in black, permanent marker, in Dad’s handwriting: Darren + Becky 4ever.

‘I’d forgotten,’ he murmured. And then he pulled his everything face. The face he pulls when Uncle Jim is drunk. The face he pulls when they go shopping in March and the person at the till tries to be helpful by reminding them about Mother’s Day. The face which reminds her that a lot of the time his expression is like a plate of leftovers.

She didn’t say anything, and although she wanted to, she didn’t trace the heart with her fingertips. Instead, she went up to the bathroom and sat on the boxed, pre-lit Christmas tree dad bought in the January sales. When you grow up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story you’re forever skating on the thin ice of their memories. That’s not to say it’s always sad – there are happy things, too. When she was a baby Dad had a tattoo of her name drawn on his arm in curly, blue writing, and underneath he had a green, four-leaf clover. She has such a brilliant name, chosen by her mother because it has the word LOVE in the middle. That’s not the sort of thing you go around telling people, but it is something you can remember if you need a little boost; an instant access, happiness top-up card – it even works when Luke Barton calls her Margey-rine. Clover thought of her name and counted to 300.

When she went downstairs Dad had recovered his empty face and she couldn’t help asking a question, just a small one.

‘Is there any more writing under the paper?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘She didn’t do a heart as well?’

‘Help me with this, will you?’

They pulled the soggy ribbons of paper away from the skirting and put them in a bin bag. The house smelled different afterwards. As if some old sadness had leaked out of the walls.

About the Author

Author Carys Bray, photographed near her home in Southport, Lancashire.

Carys Bray’s debut collection Sweet Home won the Scott prize and selected stories were broadcast on BBC Radio Four Extra. Her first novel A Song for Issy Bradley was serialised on BBC Radio Four’s Book at Bedtime and was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards, the Association of Mormon Letters Awards, the Waverton Good Read Award, the 15 Bytes Book Awards and the Desmond Elliott Prize. It won the Utah Book Award and the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and was selected for the 2015 Richard and Judy Summer Book Club.

Carys has a BA in Literature from The Open University and an MA and PhD in Creative Writing from Edge Hill University. Her second novel The Museum of You will be published in June 2016. She is working on a third novel.


You can follow the rest of The Museum of You blog tour at the dates and blogs below:

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Blog Tour | The #JoyceGirl and Mental Health by Annabel Abbs #GuestPost

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Today I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour for The Joyce Girl. I have a brilliant guest post to share, which Annabel Abbs has written for me about mental health issues. It’s such an important and relevant piece so please read and share it.

Final front cover

The Joyce Girl tells the mostly-true story of Lucia Joyce, a talented dancer and the daughter of James Joyce.  Set in 1920s Paris, the novel explores Lucia’s affairs with a young Samuel Beckett and a young Alexander Calder, and her subsequent descent into what was then termed ‘madness’.

When I decided to write about Lucia, I knew she ended her days in a mental asylum, friendless and forgotten. But what I didn’t know was how many other women in 1920s Paris had followed suit.  As my research deepened, I came across more and more ‘bright young flappers’ who, like Lucia, were certified as insane and put into mental asylums.  In The Joyce Girl alone, three of the six female characters (all based on real people) went into asylums – all certified as schizophrenic. These included Lucia’s sister-in-law, and a fellow dancer -Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of the characters who inhabited earlier versions of the novel (the sister of Lucia’s first love interest and the French translator of Joyce’s Dubliners) also went into an asylum. Sadly she was lost from the novel when I cut the cast to a more manageable size.

In those days, any adult male family member could have a female family member certified. And once you were certified you lost all your legal rights.  Lucia was subjected to a catalogue of often bizarre and sometimes inhuman treatments.  She was regularly straitjacketed and locked up.  In an age when there was no specific medication for mental health disorders, and when mental asylums were full of drunks, drug addicts and syphilitics, her experience must have been terrifying.  And Lucia loathed being restrained.  After being a dancer who expressed herself through her body, being forced into a straitjacket was a particularly cruel and violent act.

This was also an era when ‘madness’ was often viewed as shameful.  Although Lucia’s father stood by her to the very end, her mother and brother were only too ready to cast her off, seeing her not only as a taint on the family’s reputation but as a drain on the family finances.  In my Historical Note, I quote from a letter in which they are united as saying Lucia should be ‘shut in and left to sink or swim there.’

Fortunately huge progress has been made in the area of mental health. But while I was writing The Joyce Girl, I became increasingly aware of a surge in mental health issues at the schools of my three daughters.  This was reflected in newspaper reports and professional surveys showing the surge went far beyond my daughters’ schools.  Take these facts, for instance (source: YoungMinds and Beat):

  • In the last ten years the number of young people admitted to hospital because of self harm has increased by 68% .
  • The number of children and young people who have presented to A&E with a psychiatric condition have more than doubled since 2009.
  • Since 2005-06, there has been a 34% increase in hospital admissions due to anorexia (predominantly female).

The more I researched jazz-age Paris, the more I saw parallels between the 1920s and the 2015s, as new generations (particularly, but not exclusively, female) struggled to adapt to new values, to new ways of behaving, to new ways of being viewed by others and by themselves.

The flappers of that era were ‘victims’ of the rapid change sweeping through the developed world. The 1920s were a time of huge change – cars, cameras, cinemas, telephones and radios were becoming ubiquitous and altering the lives of everyone. In Paris, hems were up and stockings were down as young women embraced change and all it promised. Suddenly cameras were everywhere, the paparazzi was born, and glossy magazines began to feature ‘celebrities’, making icons of the new Hollywood stars.  In Paris Josephine Baker made naked dancing acceptable – no longer something confined to brothels. But beneath the glamour and glitter lay a dark underbelly, as many of these women succumbed to depression and mental illness.  The mostly-male doctors were untrained in mental health. Psychoanalysis (the ‘talking cure’) was in its infancy and there was still a tendency to write off these women as neurotics or hysterics.

Today, technology and social media have revolutionised our world and yet beneath the glossy technicolour of Instagram and Facebook lurks a similarly dark underbelly, with soaring rates of anorexia, bulimia and self-harm among the young, and particularly (but by no means exclusively) young women and girls.

In memory of Lucia, I decided to give my first year profits to a charity called YoungMinds who work with those needing help. We’ve come a long way since the 1920s – but there’s still a long way to go. No one should ever be left to languish in an asylum as Lucia was.


About the Author

Annabel Abbs


Annabel grew up in Bristol, Wales, Herefordshire and East Sussex – the daughter of two writers. She studied English Literature and History at the University of East Anglia and then completed a Masters in Marketing and Statistics at Kingston University. She started her career as a copy writer in an advertising agency then co-founded a marketing agency which she left after fifteen years to spend time with her four young children and to write. She currently blogs at http://www.kaleandcocoa.com and writes short stories and novels.


About the Book

Final front cover


Paris 1928. Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of James Joyce, is making a name for herself as a dancer, training with many famous dancers of her day and moving in social circles which throw her into contact with Samuel Beckett. Convinced she has clairvoyant powers, she believes her destiny is to marry Beckett, but the overbearing shadow of her father threatens this vision. Caught between her own ambitions and desires, and her parents’ demands, Lucia faces both emotional and psychological struggles that attract the attention of pioneer psychoanalyst Dr Jung.


The Joyce Girl is due to be published tomorrow in the UK and can be pre-ordered now. I reviewed The Joyce Girl last week and you can read my review here.


You can follow the rest of the blog tour here:

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Review: The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs



Paris 1928. Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of James Joyce, is making a name for herself as a dancer, training with many famous dancers of her day and moving in social circles which throw her into contact with Samuel Beckett. Convinced she has clairvoyant powers, she believes her destiny is to marry Beckett, but the overbearing shadow of her father threatens this vision. Caught between her own ambitions and desires, and her parents’ demands, Lucia faces both emotional and psychological struggles that attract the attention of pioneer psychoanalyst Dr Jung.

The Joyce Girl is an incredible novel about the daughter of James Joyce: a fictionalised exploration of the life of Lucia Joyce. She is a young woman obsessed with dance – she has an obvious talent and initially seems destined for great success. However, she is also her father’s muse and he likes her to dance for him in a particular way, thus keeping her trapped when she needs to spread her wings.

Lucia becomes quite fixated with the idea of marriage after hearing it said that marriage is how women become free. This leads to her to become easily infatuated with men who show even remote interest in her – Lucia would quickly begin fantasising about their wedding, her future life with her suitor, and it becomes so real to her that she sadly doesn’t really see the reality of what some of these men want from her. Samuel Beckett is a fascinating character in this novel but his attraction to Lucia causes him to lead her on somewhat when he isn’t certain of his intentions towards her.

Lucia is taken advantage of by men throughout her life – some men more so than others – but she never really has a normal, stable man in her life at any point. From the moment she was born she was her father’s muse and had to mould herself into whatever he wanted her to be; her brother is a vile man who does whatever he wants with Lucia to suit his own ends. Even as an adult Lucia identifies herself as the daughter of a genius, she never really sees herself in her own right.

The theme of identity runs throughout this novel; the idea that you’re not only who you feel yourself to be but can become moulded, or even forced, to be what the people around you want you to be, or what they already assume you to be. Lucia is pulled in numerous directions and it’s quite apparent that in the end something would have to give. Heartbreakingly for Lucia as her mental health begins to crack under the strain yet another man in her life is able to take full advantage and get rid of her so that he can then shine. 

It is obvious throughout this book that James Joyce loved his daughter, that he wanted what was best for her and he did stick by her. However, it’s also quite apparent that his obsession with writing and needing Lucia to dance for him in order to inspire him was unhealthy for her. It became a tragic situation.

This novel got under my skin far more than I expected it to. I found that once I started reading I didn’t want to put the book down. Lucia Joyce is such a fascinating person and it was great to learn more about her. It saddened me to see how she was never going to escape her father’s name and her brother’s control – between them they seemed to keep her trapped as a child, never to be allowed to be her own person and inevitably this drove her to a kind of madness. Her obsession with dance and wanting to be perfect led to some of her issues but her home life seemed to have a far greater impact. It’s heartbreaking to read of the way men just discarded her as if she were nothing, even though her more manic moments must have been difficult for a man to cope with at that time, it’s still really tough to read.

It shocked me how many women in this novel end up being locked away in asylums because they went mad, or were diagnosed schizophrenic. A poignant moment that I’ve already referred to when Zelda Fitzgerald tells Lucia about her freedom to dance as a married woman and then soon after we learn that Zelda has been committed. These women didn’t really have freedom at all. Their love of dance led to them being somewhat obsessed with it but the way that their husbands / fathers / brothers wanted to keep them on a tight rein led to the women being torn in two different directions. There is no wonder their mental health began to decline. I would imagine that being locked in an asylum and unable to dance would have been the final thing that broke their spirit in the end.

The Joyce Girl is a breathtakingly beautiful novel; it will linger in your mind long after you’ve finished reading.  I rated this novel 5 out of 5 and highly recommend it.

The Joyce Girl is due to be published on 16th June in the UK and can be pre-ordered now.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher, Impress Books, in exchange for an honest review.


I’m the blog tour for The Joyce Girl and have a brilliant guest post about mental health by Annabel Abbs to share with you on 15th June so please look out for that.

3 Quotes Challenge & a Bookish Memory | After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell

To take part in the 3 Quotes Challenge all you have to do is thank the person who nominated you and link back to their post. Post a quote on your blog every day for three days. Nominate three other bloggers each day.

I was nominated to join in with this a really long time ago by the lovely ahouseofbooks and I just never got around to doing it. I keep seeing the tag around and really want to join in so thought I’d do it now.

I want to link my 3 Quotes Challenge to a series I started called Bookish Memories that I started when I first began my blog but have neglected for ages.

My first quote is from After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell


“What are you supposed to do with all the love you have for somebody if that person is no longer there? What happens to all that leftover love? Do you suppress it? Do you ignore it? Are you supposed to give it to someone else?” 

I lost my best friend in 2000 and I was heartbroken. I had gone through bereavement before but it was nothing like how this felt. We were only a few months apart in age and the idea of someone my own age and so full of life dying at the age of 20 was beyond my comprehension. I couldn’t focus on anything, I couldn’t read and I was in a really bad place.

One day I was flicking through a magazine my mum had given me and I saw a tiny review for a book called After You’d Gone. I’d never heard of the novel or the author but in the review was the above quote and it just made me want this book like I’d never wanted to get hold of a book before! I just felt that this book would help me, the quote just got to me so much because those were the questions I needed answers to.

I immediately rang my local book shop to ask if they had it in stock but they told me it wasn’t released for another few days. So, I pre-ordered a copy and on release day I waited outside the shop for it to open. The very second I got the book I started reading – I literally walked to the bus stop while reading, I carried on reading on the bus journey home (even though reading on moving vehicles makes me feel very sick). I finished the book in three hours and in that time I cried and cried but by the end I felt soothed. Even though the loss in After You’d Gone is a different loss to the one I was going through, the emotions and reactions were so similar and I connected with this book so strongly.

I started reading After You’d Gone again that night but this time around I read it slowly, I savoured it and I had a pack of post-it notes next to me so I could mark all my favourite paragraphs (there were a lot!). It’s honestly not overstating to say that After You’d Gone saved me.

I’ve treasured my copy of this book for all these years since and it’s one of very few books that I re-read every couple of years. It’s my go-to book when I need to be consoled and comforted.

I’ve pre-ordered every single Maggie O’Farrell book since then, I never need to read the synopsis because I trust her – I know that her writing will never let me down and it never, ever has. Just last week I read her latest book, and it’s a masterpiece (my review is here if you’d like to read it. I love all of her books – particularly The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and her new one, This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell started off her career as a novellist with an incredible book and then somehow has got better with every book that follows but I will always say that After You’d Gone is my favourite book by her because of my strong emotional attachment to it.

About the Book

The groundbreaking debut novel from Maggie O’Farrell, After You’d Goneis a stunning, best-selling story of wrenching love and grief.

A distraught young woman boards a train at King’s Cross to return to her family in Scotland. Six hours later, she catches sight of something so terrible in a mirror at Waverley Station that she gets on the next train back to London.

After You’d Gone follows Alice’s mental journey through her own past, after a traffic accident has left her in a coma. A love story that is also a story of absence, and of how our choices can reverberate through the generations, it slowly draws us closer to a dark secret at a family’s heart.


Do you have a strong emotional attachment to a book? Please tell me your story in the comments, I’d love to hear.


I nominate any who’d like to take part in this challenge. Please note that the challenge it just to share a favourite quote every day for three days, everything else in this post was just what I chose to add.



Review: The Midnight Watch by David Dyer


As the Titanic and her passengers sank slowly into the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg late in the evening of April 14, 1912, a nearby ship looked on. Second Officer Herbert Stone, in charge of the midnight watch on the SS Californian sitting idly a few miles north, saw the distress rockets that the Titanic fired. He alerted the captain, Stanley Lord, who was sleeping in the chartroom below, but Lord did not come to the bridge. Eight rockets were fired during the dark hours of the midnight watch, and eight rockets were ignored. The next morning, the Titanic was at the bottom of the sea and more than 1,500 people were dead. When they learned of the extent of the tragedy, Lord and Stone did everything they could to hide their role in the disaster, but pursued by newspapermen, lawyers, and political leaders in America and England, their terrible secret was eventually revealed. The Midnight Watch is a fictional telling of what may have occurred that night on the SS Californian, and the resulting desperation of Officer Stone and Captain Lord in the aftermath of their inaction.

Told not only from the perspective of the SS Californian crew, but also through the eyes of a family of third-class passengers who perished in the disaster, the narrative is drawn together by Steadman, a tenacious Boston journalist who does not rest until the truth is found. The Midnight Watch is a powerful and dramatic debut novel–the result of many years of research in Liverpool, London, New York, and Boston, and informed by the author’s own experiences as a ship’s officer and a lawyer.

I’ve been interested by stories of the Titanic ever since I was a young child. I think my fascination grew from an afternoon spent with my Great-Grandad, who was a young boy when the Titanic sank and he remembered it happening. Not only that but he had kept a couple of newspaper cuttings from the time and he showed them to me. My interest in the Titanic has never gone away – I’ve read a lot of books about it, both fiction and non-fiction, and have seen the movies and quite a few documentaries over the years.

I first read about David Dyer’s new novel on Carrie’s Book Reviews blog a few weeks ago and immediately pre-ordered it. Dyer has taken a look at the Titanic story from a different angle; the focus of this novel is on the actions of the nearest ship to Titanic when she hit the iceberg, the Californian. I’d heard about this before reading the novel but Dyer’s meticulous research mixed with his educated interpretations of what might have taken place that nice, add an extra dimension for me. It put a much more human face on the men who were working the midnight watch that fateful night. I was surprised to find I had some sympathy for the Second Officer, as he panicked and was scared to disturb the Captain but then when he eventually did, he was sent away.

A fictional journalist, Steadman, who has made a name for himself chasing bodies at disaster sites, misses out on the first bodies being brought back from the sight of the Titanic but he realises there is a much bigger story to be uncovered. He then refuses to let go in his quest to discover what happened on the Californian. He shows such tenacity and drive to get to the truth.

The journalist also gets to hear about some of the third class passengers who perished on the Titanic and is determined to not let these victims be forgotten. The novel covers the events on the Californian, the resulting investigation and inquest, and finally we get to read the story Steadman wrote. It is focused on a large family, who really did perish on the Titanic and he writes the story of what he thought may have happened to them that night, based on stories their neighbours had told him about them all. It’s an incredibly moving story, and one that made me shed a few tears on finishing the book.

There is so much detail in this book but it never becomes too much; Dyer has struck a perfect balance of fact and fiction. It felt like a really fresh look at the Titanic narrative  too, the way it was done from another angle that hasn’t been covered in any of the fiction I’ve read to date. The way Dyer fictionalised real people and a real event but blended it so seamlessly meant it really gave the book such an authentic voice, which made it all the more powerful and all the more devastating. The idea that a human being could ignore the distress signals of a ship at sea leaves me speechless, it’s such a shocking dereliction of duty. Dyer doesn’t make a quick judgement in his novel though, it is left for the reader to interpret Lord’s behaviour as Steadman tries to put the strands of the story together from the accounts he’s heard. I was astounded at the arrogance of Captain Lord and there is no excusing what he did; the bit that I found hardest to grasp was how blasé he appeared to be about what happened that night. The Midnight Watch deftly explores the fallibility of witness testimony and memory, particularly memories of a traumatic night – a night that led to the death of 1500 people. It certainly felt that some people may genuinely have mis-remembered but others were complicit in keeping to the story they knew they should tell, even though it was at the expense of the truth.

It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel, it’s such an accomplished book.  It had me utterly enthralled from the first page until long after I read the final page; I know it’ll be a novel that stays with me for a long time to come. I rated it 5 out of 5 and highly recommend it.

The Midnight Watch is out now and available from all good bookshops.

Blog Tour | Review: The Wacky Man by Lyn G. Farrell

The Wacky Man by Lynn G. Farrell

My new shrink asks me, ‘What things do you remember about being very young?’
It’s like looking into a murky river, I say. Memories flash near the surface like fish coming up for flies. The past peeps out, startles me, and then is gone…
Amanda secludes herself in her bedroom, no longer willing to face the outside world. Gradually, she pieces together the story of her life: her brothers have had to abandon her, her mother scarcely talks to her, and the Wacky Man could return any day to burn the house down. Just like he promised.

As her family disintegrates, Amanda hopes for a better future, a way out from the violence and fear that has consumed her childhood. But can she cling to her sanity, before insanity itself is her only means of escape?

I’ve seen The Wacky Man reviewed on a couple of my favourite blogs and I immediately added it to my wishlist. I was therefore thrilled when the publisher got in touch to offer me the chance to review this book for the blog tour.

The Wacky Man is a very powerful and moving novel. It’s an unflinching look at how childhood abuse, and abuse within a marriage, causes such damage – not just physical damage but the emotional impact. It shows how even once the bruises have healed and the perpetrator of the violence is no longer in the home, that the devastation remains for such a long time. It causes breakdowns between the victims because although each person lived through it, they all got broken in a different way and it can become impossible to put things back together.

I found some aspects of this book very difficult to read, some parts because there are small echoes of experiences in my own life and some parts because it was just so harrowing to read. At no point did I want to stop reading though as the novel just pulls you right in and doesn’t let you go. I wanted to know if Amanda was going to be ok, and was desperately hoping she would be. I have such a vivid image of her in my mind, she feels like a real person to me as she was so well written and this makes the novel feel all the more devastating.

Lyn G. Farrell’s writing style is incredible – to write about such harrowing things and yet make it so compelling, and at times, really quite beautiful is a rare talent.  I can absolutely say that this is a book that will stay with me for a very long time to come, and I feel sure it will be in my top books of this year.

I rated this book 5 out of 5 and highly recommend it.

I received a copy of this book from Legend Press in exchange for an honest review.

The Wacky Man is out now and available Amazon.

About the Author


Lyn G. Farrell is the winner of the 2015 Luke Bitmead Bursary and The Wacky Man is her debut novel.
Lyn grew up in Lancashire where she would have gone to school if life had been different. She spent most of her teenage years reading anything she could get her hands on.
She studied Psychology at the University of Leeds and now works in the School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.

Follow Lyn Farrell on Twitter @FarrellWrites


Review: This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell


The dazzling new novel from Sunday Times bestselling, Costa Novel Award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell, THIS MUST BE THE PLACE crosses time zones and continents to reveal an extraordinary portrait of a marriage.

Meet Daniel Sullivan, a man with a complicated life.

A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive ex-film star given to shooting at anyone who ventures up their driveway.

He is also about to find out something about a woman he lost touch with twenty years ago, and this discovery will send him off-course, far away from wife and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE crosses continents and time zones, giving voice to a diverse and complex cast of characters. At its heart, it is an extraordinary portrait of a marriage, the forces that hold it together and the pressures that drive it apart. 

It’s no secret that I’m a massive Maggie O’Farrell fan so I was beside myself with excitement a few weeks ago when a proof copy arrived in the post!

This Must Be The Place is a novel set across different time frames and continents featuring many different characters but it’s predominantly about the marriage of Claudette and Daniel – two people who have both been trying to run away from their respective pasts but the problem with running away is that things usually catch up with you eventually. Claudette settles in to a new life to a degree but is never able to be herself when outside of her home, and Daniel is just a damaged soul who wants to do the right thing but finds himself compelled to fix previous wrongs, leading to cracks in his current life. It is also a novel about how seemingly tiny decisions can alter the course of someone’s life in such a dramatic way; how a miscommunication or a seemingly small misunderstanding can set people on a course that there is no way back from. It’s about how history can almost repeat itself through the generations but if small things are done differently the outcome can be different.

Daniel has made a lot of mistakes in his life. He has an ex-wife who has prevented him seeing his two children grow up. He’s remarried and has two children with his new wife but one day he discovers something from his past and it sets him off on a tangent that can potentially destroy his marriage and ruin his life. He seems doomed to end up on his own and unhappy. Daniel is a good man at heart, but he’s also a man who made one mistake many years ago and this seems destined to be his undoing in his present. It’s quite apparent that he really should just leave well alone but, it proved impossible for him to resist the lure of what could have been.

Maggie O’Farrell has used speech, words and sounds to great effect in this novel. There are repeated references throughout the novel to the use of language and the way words sound. At times it’s done in a playful way, like when Rosalind ‘trumpety trumped’ off on her adventure just like Nelly the elephant, and at other times it’s done to draw attention to people’s inability to say what they mean and to show the heartache it can then cause throughout the years. It was a great irony in this novel that Daniel, who has failed so often to say the right thing at the right time; or has said the right thing but too late; or he’s just said completely the wrong thing, is a linguistic professor. Daniel spends his days working with language and thinking about words, and yet he seems incapable of communicating openly with the people closest to him. He cuts all contact with his best friend, he takes too long to write a letter to a girlfriend and the consequences are devastating, he tries to communicate with his first two children but his ex- wife seemingly has prevented it.

It is mentioned a couple of times that Daniel’s mother had taught him about the importance of a genuine apology to resolve any situation. Daniel uses this to almost manipulate his best friend in order to get information that he feels entitled to about the past. It was uncomfortable to see Daniel being so callous, but he was on the beginning of his path to self-destruction at this point and can’t make his way back from it. Daniel does grow as a person as the novel progresses. He learns from his children that he has to grow up, his eldest son Niall, in particular, becomes a parent figure to him and gets him through the darkest moments and Daniel does actually learn from this. There is an apology near the end of the novel that is completely spontaneous where Daniel says what he feels from his heart in the moment, with no aim to gain anything or to manipulate, it is just him stating what he sees as a fact and it is a beautiful thing to read.

There are numerous voices that are heard in this novel, and each new perspective adds depth to what has gone before, even when initially you are wondering how this can possibly be connected. The back and forth of the timeframe adds new layers to Daniel’s story and we get to understand him more and more. There are moments that foretell what is yet to come for the characters and it leaves you with such a sense of dread wondering when the rug will be pulled from under the character concerned. The little cliffhangers that occur at the end of some chapters are soon returned to and you get the answer you were wondering about but nothing is ever straightforward. It is how real life is, and Maggie O’Farrell is the master of capturing this – no one does it better than her.

Maggie O’Farrell’s writing is sublime; she writes in such a way that all of her characters feel like real people and there were many times when the conversation between characters was so realistic that I felt like I was listening in behind a door. This Must Be The Place is an incredible novel. There are multiple characters and multiple timelines and it’s all pulled together in a way that is just sheer perfection. There is so much heart in this book: it has humour and wit, heartache and healing, and it’s all just so real and believable. There is such beauty in the way Maggie O’Farrell writes – the way she uses language, the way she constructs each sentence. It’s stunningly beautiful.

I always feel bereft when I get to the end of one of Maggie O’Farrell’s novels and I always feel like I want to immediately go back to the beginning and read it all again and I was no different with this book. It’s an absolute joy to read, I read it in just two sittings as once I started it I just couldn’t bear to put it down. There are not enough superlatives to describe this book; it is quite simply a masterpiece!

I rate this novel five out of five, but I would score it much higher if it was actually possible to do so. I know right now that This Must Be The Place will be in my top 10 books of this year, it was quite simply outstanding.

This Must Be The Place is due to be published on 17 May and is available for preorder now.

I received a copy of this novel from Tinder Press via BookBridgr in exchange for an honest review.



Blog Tour | #Ghostbird by Carol Lovekin ~ Q&A and Review

Today I am thrilled to be on the blog tour for Ghostbird by Carol Lovekin and I’m happy to be able to share my review of this fabulous novel and I also have a lovely Q&A to share with you. 

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Hi Carol, please tell my blog readers a little bit about yourself.

My home is in the beautiful countryside of West Wales. I share a small flat with a small cat. She and I look out over the hills where, some mornings, when the mist overlays the view, I could imagine the Avalon barge emerging through the mist. When I’m not writing, I’m generally reading; I swim twice a week and love walking. I’m a committed feminist and like most writers, a nosy-parker and always carry a notebook! One of my dear friends is my co-conspirator: we are the only members of the smallest writing group in Wales. We meet once a week to brainstorm and share our writing progress.

How did you first come to be a writer?

I don’t necessarily subscribe to the myth of the ‘tortured artist’ who is incomplete without her writing; I do know it’s an activity I’d find hard to set aside. As a child I was an early free-reader as opposed to one able to handle her numbers. (I still have to take my shoes off to count to eleven!) Words made far more sense to me than figures and making things up, the way the writers of the books I read did, seemed like a lot more fun. Writing is one of the ways children learn to express themselves and how we all start out. 

There are dim drawers in my study inhabited by dusty spiders who guard the remnants of my previous efforts and who are tasked with never letting them see the light of day. They’re part of my process but in the early days I adopted a somewhat laissez-faire approach to my writing; maybe because I thought there was plenty of time. It wasn’t until I was considerably older and a lot wiser that I decided to treat my writing with more respect and aim for publication. 

What is your book Ghostbird about?

It concerns, Cadi Hopkins, a young girl in the dark about her past. No one will tell her the truth about her father or her baby sister, both of whom died just before she was born. Her mother deals with her grief in a state of isolated silence; her aunt is caught in the middle. The myth of Blodeuwedd – a character from the ancient Welsh legend, The Mabinogion – runs through the story. When Cadi begins her search for the truth, the ghost of her little sister wakes up and old secrets surface.

Where do you get your inspiration from? 

Via the word birds? Inside my head, aided and abetted by the landscape I live in? From my dreams? All of the above and who knows where else. Inspiration comes from all manner of sources and if you conflate inspiration and ideas it becomes an impossible question to answer albeit a fascinating one to ponder! Inspiration and an idea never comes from nowhere. It can be as simple as a name or an image, a line from a song, an old memory or a half-forgotten dream. I sometimes forget to be honest, and it doesn’t matter. Once the idea is there, the inspiration is irrelevant. What matters is, something is working and the story follows.

What is your writing routine?

I’m an Aquarian, Hayley, and I like a good plan! I aim to be at my computer by ten o’clock and to work for four hours minimum. I don’t beat myself up if I can’t manage this. Not writing is a thing I never refer to as writer’s block. If the writing stalls, I edit; or I walk and think, lie in the bath and think (a good place for light bulb moments!) Or I read a book and pretty soon, I’m writing again.

What’s your favourite book that you’ve read this year?
It’s been a brilliant year for new books thus far. I can’t, in all honesty confine my answer to one. I began the year reading The Night Watch by Sarah Waters which for personal reasons was very special. Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary blew my mind and Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull impressed me more than I can say. I was fortunate to be sent a proof copy of This Must Be The Place by the astonishingly talented Maggie O’Farrell who is one of my favourite authors. If you push me, I’ll say that one. 

What are you reading at the moment?

A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman. I read her first book, When God Was a Rabbit and loved it; my expectation for this second one was high. I am not being disappointed.

Is there a question that you wish an interviewer would ask that you’ve never been asked? What’s your answer to that question?

That in itself is a great question! People always ask writers what they write and rarely why they do. The clichéd answer is a variation on, ‘It’s who I am’ but it’s the easy one and a given, surely? The flippant answer is I write because I can’t juggle or play the tuba. The more serious one is, I’m not done yet and I’d like to leave something attached to whatever exists after I’m gone. And also, because when I tested myself and discovered I could write, it felt like a precious gift. 

How can people connect with you on social media?

Blog: carollovekinauthor.com

Twitter: @carollovekin


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions.



Someone needs to be forgiven. Someone needs to forgive.

Nothing hurts like not knowing who you are.

Nobody will tell Cadi anything about her father and her sister. Her mother Violet believes she can only cope with the past by never talking about it. Lili, Cadi’s aunt, is stuck in the middle, bound by a promise she shouldn’t have made. But this summer, Cadi is determined to find out the truth.

In a world of hauntings and magic, in a village where it rains throughout August, as Cadi starts on her search, the secrets and the ghosts begin to wake up. None of the Hopkins women will be able to escape them.


My Review

Ghostbird is one of the most exquisitely beautiful books that I’ve read in a really long time. It is written in such a way that I wanted to read it as slowly as I could savour every aspect of the story and to make it last as long as possible, I never wanted it to end. 

This novel has an almost dream-like quality to it and the writing is so evocative, I could feel the dampness in the air and I could smell the rain as it was falling in the novel. I feel like I’ve been to the Hopkins’ family home and to the lake, I can picture them so vividly in my head. I can’t remember another novel that I’ve read in recent times where I felt like I was actually inside it, feeling everything. It is as if the magical nature of the novel has cast its own spell over me.

The complex relationship between the three females in this novel is fascinating. The idea of secrecy between two out of three and whether it’s ever okay to keep the secrets, and whether it’s ever okay to share someone else’s secret. 

‘It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. We’re all in it now: dancing the same old dance, tripping over each other’s bloody red shoes’

The dynamic between Lily, Violet and Cadi was so believable; it was at times very tense to the point it radiated off the page and at other times, particularly between Lily and Cadi, the strong bond between them was clear. Relationships between women are often very taut, and especially so in this instance when Violet and Lily are sisters-in-law, not blood relatives, but still stuck living next door to each other, and Cadi who is Violet’s daughter but the relationship between them is strained and Cadi feels closer to her Aunt Lily. The past is haunting the three of them – two are haunted by what they know and one by what no one will tell her. 

I adore Lovekin’s turns of phrase throughout this novel. She is very creative with how her sentences are put together and with the words she uses. The writing has such a poetic and lyrical quality.

‘She smelled of roses and secrets…’ 

I love the idea that a person can smell of secrets, that they are holding a feeling inside them that you sense so strongly it’s as if you can smell it. Wonderful!

‘She possessed a look of otherness, as if her eyes saw too far.’

This line resonated so strongly with me. It’s incredibly moving the idea that someone sees too far, that they are so trapped by how haunting the future feels that they can’t fully embrace living in the now.

I had to pause many times whilst reading this book to re-read a sentence or two because I really wanted to make sure I absorbed the wonderful language used. There are so many sentences and passages in this novel that I highlighted because they were simply beautiful and I never want to forget them. The following line genuinely made me feel very emotional and it’s one of my favourite sentences in the novel:

‘…in August, when it rained so hard the drains overflowed, good dreams were washed away and no one could tell if you were crying’.

I rated this novel 5 out of 5 and I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. As I said at the start of my review it is exquisitely beautiful – there aren’t enough superlatives to describe it; it’s simply a book not to be missed!

Ghostbird will now have pride of my place on my all-time favourites bookcase, both on my blog and in my home. My words cannot express how wonderful this novel is, but I can honestly say that it is a book I will treasure and one I all absolutely re-vist time and time again!

Book Links

Amazon UK




About the Author

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©Janey Stevens

Carol Lovekin was born in Warwickshire. She has Irish blood and a Welsh heart, and has lived in mid Wales for 36 years. She has worked as a cleaner, a freelance journalist, a counsellor, a legal secretary and a shop assistant. She began writing with a view to publication in her late fifties has published short stories, reviews and is a prolific letter writer. She has been blogging for over nine years. Ghostbird is her first traditionally published novel.



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Blog tour | Review: Quicksand by Steve Toltz



Today I’m thrilled to be on the blog tour for Quicksand by Steve Toltz!

Quicksand PB


Wildly funny and unceasingly surprising, Quicksand is both a satirical masterpiece and an unforgettable story of fate, family and friendship.

Aldo Benjamin may be the unluckiest soul in human history, but that isn’t going to stop his friend Liam writing about him. For what more could an aspiring novelist want from his muse than a thousand get-rich-quick schemes, a life-long love affair, an eloquently named brothel, the most sexually confusing evening imaginable and a brief conversation with God?

Quicksand is quite the meta-novel. It’s about Liam, a failed writer turned police officer who decides to write a book about his best friend, Aldo. The novel flits from being from Liam’s point of view, to being from Aldo’s viewpoint as written by Liam, to what appears to be Aldo from his own point of view but the reader can never be sure if it is genuinely Aldo or whether it’s more of Aldo seen through Liam’s eyes. It’s never clear what is real and what is imagined, and it becomes increasingly blurred for the reader. The fact that we don’t know the real Aldo, only the one Liam tells us about, makes it all the more interesting because although the book is about Aldo, we learn so much about Liam and the cracks in their friendship. The first chapter of this novel is entitled ‘Two Friends, Two Agendas (one hidden)’ and that sums up the novel. It pays to remember this title as you progress through the book to the end as it gives much to ponder over regarding what Liam’s purpose was in writing this book about his friend, but also why Aldo wanted the book written – assuming he really knew about it, and also assuming that Liam hadn’t just made Aldo up to deflect his own anxieties and failures in life.

The opening chapter contains a whole section of Aldo spewing out one-liners that Liam is frantically trying to write down. I found it quite amusing and wondered whether Steve Toltz himself was making a point about great novels and how a one-liner can often be at the expense of plot and structure. I actually loved that it felt like an aside to camera, as if Toltz had briefly placed himself inside his own novel.

Some of the observations and ideas that Aldo has are truly hilarious, I honestly found myself laughing at times whilst reading about his ideas for businesses and reflections on life. His self-diagnosis of ‘clinical frustration’ is so brilliant as is his pondering over why clinical depression gets to be a disease but clinical frustration doesn’t. It’s amusing to read given what we know about Aldo but I couldn’t help thinking at the same time that there is a serious point in there about how people become so tied up in their frustrations about their life that it affects their ability to function.

I love the parts of the book that became self-referential particularly Aldo’s obsession with Mimi’s book The Fussy Corpse and how it has echoes of how Aldo’s own life would become. Some of the situations he got himself into were really quite mortifying but then his having to be carried whilst often shouting or demanding he be put down somewhere became quite cringe-worthy and led him to almost become the fussy corpse himself. Aldo’s increasingly frequent ideas about death and his requests for help mirror the little boy in the book too. 

I didn’t know too much about this book before I started reading but I was expecting a darkly comedic novel, which this is, but what I didn’t expect was how much of an impact this book would have on me. There are aspects to this novel that are similar to my own life (I would imagine everyone who reads this book will recognise something of their own life in some of the observations Liam and Aldo make) and I have to admit that I found some of it quite difficult to read for this reason but I still couldn’t stop reading. It’s so utterly refreshing to read a book that is at times absurd, bordering on the ridiculous; it’s laugh out loud funny, and yet so utterly true to life at the same time!

On a personal note for me, having recently been told that my paralysis is permanent a couple of paragraphs really stood out to me and actually gave me a wry smile about my situation. It’s remarkable writing when you can feel the depths a character’s despair at his situation and recognise something of yourself in it, but still see the humour and laugh!

Aldo ‘caught phrases from the doctors such as ‘incomplete paraplegia’ and ‘crushed T5 and 6’ and ‘the absence of motor and sensory function’… while my own thoughts were actual… The blind get great hearing, the deaf a super sense of smell. What do the paralysed get again? And, does paraplegia every just, you know, blow over?’


‘Everybody weighed in. Everyone looks on the bright side for you. They’re really positive about your situation. Nobody feels under qualified to offer medical advice. The preposterous suggestions they’re not ashamed to make! Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, to torture someone with an incurable illness or a permanent disability is easy. Name the most ludicrous, disreputable remedy imaginable – eg. bamboo under the fingernail therapy – and swear it fixed a friend of yours. The dying or disabled patient, sick in heart and soul with desperate feeling that he hasn’t tried everything to restore himself, will quick smart reach for the bamboo. They will also tell you about exceptional individuals who did exceptional things even with exceptional limitations. This is in no way relevant to my case’.

There is so much sadness and loss throughout this novel, but so much humour too. I’d expected this book would be very surreal, and it is at times, but actually it’s a very honest exploration of friendship, and of life in general. This is such a unique novel; it was one of those reading experiences where I didn’t want to put the book down for a second because it was so good, but then I didn’t want to get to the end too soon for the same reason! It’s an incredible book.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Steve Toltz but I loved it so much that I’m definitely going to buy his previous novel, A Fraction of the Whole, and I can’t wait to read it.

I rated this book 4.5 out of 5 and highly recommend it!

Quicksand is out now.

I received a copy of this book from Sceptre in exchange for an honest review.

My review is part of the Quicksand blog tour, please visit the other stops on the tour.





Review: Look At Me by Sarah Duguid

Look At Me by Sarah Duguid


Lizzy lives with her father, Julian, and her brother, Ig, in North London. Two years ago her mother died, leaving a family bereft by her absence and a house still filled with her things: for Margaret was lively, beautiful, fun, loving; she kept the family together. So Lizzy thinks. Then, one day, Lizzy finds a letter from a stranger to her father, and discovers he has another child. Lizzy invites her into their world in an act of outraged defiance. Almost immediately, she realises her mistake.

Look at Me is a deft exploration of family, grief, and the delicate balance between moving forward and not quite being able to leave someone behind. It is an acute portrayal of how familial upheaval can cause misunderstanding and madness, damaging those you love most.

My Review

I loved this book and once I started reading it I honestly couldn’t put it down. I’ve been in a major reading slump for weeks but this book just caught my imagination and I devoured it. I’ve stuck sticky notes all over the book, not just to remind me of things I wanted to make sure I referred to in this review but also for me to look back on myself. The passages about grief in this book were so poignant and really captured what grieving for a parent is like.

Lizzy and Ig are both adults but still live within the family home they grew up in, and in many respects they have remained child-like. The day Lizzy finds out she has a sister that she’d known nothing of she immediately reacts and sends a letter off to the mystery woman without ever stopping for a moment to consider the possible consequences; it’s an immature reaction but an understandable one. 

Eunice then arrives in their lives; she is very girly and inquisitive, immediately wanting to see all of the family home and speculating about where she would have fit in if things were different. She is very perceptive and this isn’t particularly noticed by Julian, Lizzy or Ig and it allows Eunice to get under their skin and to find a way to really insert herself into their lives. Lizzy becomes increasingly discomfited by Eunice’s presence and often wonders how she can be rid of her yet, even though they are all adults, she never actually just has the conversation with Eunice about when she is likely to leave; ultimately she’s partly intimidated by her and partly still so mired in grief that it all takes too much energy and thought to deal with.

I couldn’t help but empathise with Lizzy over the pain she felt at the loss of her mother, at times it was visceral and it brought back the pain, and the strange sense of bewilderment – those moments of being somewhere but not really being fully present – that I felt at losing my own mum. Duguid demonstrates Lizzy’s grief so poignantly and I felt so sad for her, yet at the same time I was never sure how much I could trust Lizzy, she seemed to be telling the truth and yet she felt like an unreliable narrator. We mainly see Eunice through Lizzy’s eyes, which meant the reader’s view is tainted by what Lizzy sees, or wants to see, in her. It makes for a brilliant dynamic in the novel and although I knew from the prologue that something terrible was going to happen, I never predicted exactly what, or who, that incident would involve. 

I found Eunice exhausting to read about, she is ever present and always trying to be right in the centre of everything that happens. She wants to make her newly discovered family revolve around her. I could feel the increasingly stifling atmosphere closing in around the three original members of the family; it made me feel quite claustrophobic at times. I did ponder over the way that it felt like Eunice as a character was a metaphor for the way grief enters your life so suddenly and with no guidebook, it turns everything on its head, it makes you view your whole life in a different way and from a  completely different angle. And eventually the raw, disturbing nature of it goes away and what is left is a sense of peace but everything is still forever changed.

This is a short novel but it packs one hell of a punch. I actually finished reading it a couple of weeks ago and I’m still thinking about it now. I was very lucky to receive an advanced reading copy of this novel but I loved it so much that I treated myself to a finished copy to put on my favourites bookcase. Not many books make it onto there but this one absolutely deserves its place, I know it will be one that I read again and again over the years. 

Look At Me is disturbing and beautiful, and is so honest and raw; a stunning debut that you absolutely won’t want to miss!

I rated this novel 5 out of 5 and can’t recommend it highly enough!

Look At Me is out now and available from all good bookshops. 

I received a review copy from Tinder Press in return for an honest review.

Blog Tour | Review: The Chimes by Anna Smaill

The Chimes PB cover


My Review

The Chimes is set in a dystopian future where the written word is banned, and the people are unable to form new memories or retain old ones. The population are controlled by The Order who are using the Carillon to play Chimes to make people forget: ‘In the time of dischord, sound is corrupt. Each one wants the melody; No one knows their part’. The people have learnt to communicate through memorised music and some try to remember by linking their memories with objects that they carry with them. Simon arrives in London with a bag of objectmemories but he soon loses his memory for why he is there and what he was searching for. He meets a group of people called Five Rover and begins to discover that he has a secret gift that could change everything.

It’s a fascinating concept in this novel that music is being used to control the people but at the same time people are finding ways to use music to communicate and to memorise where places are and who their group is so that they can function in their lives. As soon as I first read the synopsis of this book I knew I was going to adore it, and I was absolutely right.

From the very first chapter of this novel I was utterly captivated; the descriptions are so lyrical and poetic and very beautiful, I would have kept reading just on this basis alone but the story is completely wonderful too. I could feel Simon’s longing to know about his past, and his wanting to understand what was happening to him, emanating off the page.

The use of language is incredible. Smaill uses words that sounds like our language – prentiss for apprentice etc but also other words that I initially thought were made up but when I looked them up in the dictionary a lot of them are actual musical terms. I loved that it all made sense and yet left me feeling a little discombobulated at times when I wasn’t sure what these words meant, it gave me a sense of how the characters in this world must feel. I would highly recommend looking up some of the words you might not have heard of before, I learnt new things from this novel that heightened my understanding and love of the book.

I loved the word play throughout this book too. The characters are always searching for mettle for the Pale Lady (palladium); obviously the Palladium is a famous London building, and also a metal resembling platinum. I also enjoyed the references to childhood nursery rhymes like London Bridge is Falling Down; this was used so cleverly through the novel.

The world-building in this novel is excellent. We are thrown into the world Simon inhabits immediately on the first page but because it references famous places in London, albeit in a new context, it helps the reader orientate themselves very quickly. I could envision the Carillon so clearly and when Simon and Lucien set off together to find out more I felt like I was with them on their journey.

The idea of The Order burning books and some of the people trying to preserve texts (or code as it is in this novel) really appealed to me and it reminded me a little of one of my favourite books, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which is also set in a dystopian future where books are banned but a disparate group of people eventually find each other and find a way to keep their stories alive despite the fact that the powers that be are trying to suppress them. ‘Burnt books, burnt words. Memories that move in flames through the night sky’. There is something so moving in this line (and so many others in the novel), and it left me feeling uplifted knowing that people will always find a way to hold on to their stories, and those of others and society as a whole.

This novel really explores the idea of memory, of how and why we want to hold on to what has happened to us, and to wider society. Even though this is a dystopian future, I could really identify with the characters who were trying to hold on to their memories. I think we all carry an equivalent of a memory bag with us through life – there are certain belongings that we’d never be persuaded to part with because they are linked to times of our lives that were important. I felt such a connection with Simon for this reason and could feel his heart break when he had to hand them over in order to more forwards. I think the vast majority of us have treasured possessions that are kept because they bring memories of times past to the forefront of  our minds in a way that just thinking alone doesn’t always do. So much that happens in this dystopian novel is grounded in a reality that we all know; these characters feel how we do and that is why it’s so easy to fall in love with this novel.

I can’t recommend this novel highly enough, it’s just so incredible. It’s going to be getting a place on my favourite books of all-time shelf (on my blog and in reality) and I don’t put books on there very often, they have to be very special to merit their place. I know the story in this novel will stay with me for a long time to come and that this will be a book that I will re-read again and again.

I rate it 5 out of 5.

Many thanks to Ruby at Sceptre for sending me a copy of this book to review.

The Chimes is out now in paperback and available from all good book shops.



Anna Smaill has created a world where music has replaced the written word and memories are carried as physical objects.  Memory itself is forbidden by the Order, whose vast musical instrument, the Carillon, renders the population amnesiac.  The Chimes opens in a reimagined London and introduces Simon, an orphaned young man who discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever. Slowly, inexplicably, Simon is beginning to remember – to wake up.  He and his friend Lucien will eventually travel to the Order’s stronghold in Oxford, where they learn that nothing they ever believed about their world is true.

The Chimes is a mind-expanding, startlingly original work that combines beautiful, inventive prose with incredible imagination.  A stunning debut composed of memory, music, love and freedom, The Chimes pulls you into a world that will captivate, enthral and inspire.  It was published in hardback in 2015 to critical acclaim and much rapture.


About the Author

Anna Smaill

Anna Smaill, 34, left formal musical training to pursue poetry and in 2001 began an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) at Victoria University of Wellington. Her first book of poetry, The Violinist in Spring, was published by Victoria University Press in 2005. She lived in London for seven years where she completed a PhD at UCL with Mark Ford and lectured in Creative Writing at the University of Hertfordshire. She lives in New Zealand with her husband and daughter, and supervises MA students in Creative Writing for the IIML.




Look out for the rest of the blog tour:


Book Beginnings (23 October)


Book beginnings is a meme set up by Rose City Reader. Every Friday post the first line, or few lines, of the book you’re reading along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Then add a link to your post on Rose City Reader’s blog.

My Book Beginning

How to be brave louise beech

How to be Brave by Louise Beech

‘Still two of us left but we are getting very weak. Can’t stand up now. We will stick it the end.’

(K. C.’s Log)

There were two of us left that night.

Outside, the autumn dark whispered to me. Halloween’s here already, it said. The pumpkins are glowing, the smell the whiff of old leaves, of bonfires coming, of changes, of winter, of endings.

The opening of this book contains so much. Firstly, I noticed the connection between the quote that opens the chapter and the first line – it leaves a tangible sense of something awful lingering around the two people.

Secondly, the descriptions of the very time of year we are now in are so wonderfully evocative. I swear I can smell the bonfires and the old leaves. I love the almost staccato writing-style that describes the coming of winter and the sense of things ending.

I can’t wait to read further!

Review: Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter


Grief is the Thing with Feathers is the story of a grief-stricken father and his two young sons following the death of their mother. It is a deeply profound exploration of grief and one of the most beautiful and moving books I’ve read in a very long time.

The Crow enters the family’s home soon after their loss, he is drawn to the pain and despair of their grief. The crow describes himself as sentimental but actually he encompasses many personalities – he is babysitter, healer, trickster. The crow is a brilliant character because he is there to help the family through their grief but he also represents what grief is, how insidious it is and how it affects everything; how you want it to go away so you can feel better and at the same time cling to it because you don’t know what it will mean when it’s gone or how you will be without it.

This is a short novel written in part poetry, part prose; narrated by the Dad, the Boys and the Crow. They are a wonderful mix of characters and make for a novel whereby you are crying reading one page and then jolted by the humour on the next.

Compassion and beauty just radiate from this book. It is a novel to be read slowly, to be properly savoured. It is a novel to read and re-read. It is at times a challenging read but ultimately it’s a healing read, it’s completely worthwhile and I recommend it to everyone.

This book is absolutely a 10/10 star read, I’ve already pre-ordered a copy to keep in my own collection and it will be going straight on to my favourites shelf!

This book was sent to me by Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers is published by Faber and Faber on 15th September.

Pre-order from Amazon here: http://amzn.to/1O5S22X