#BookReview: How We Remember by J. M. Monaco @RedDoorBooks

IMG_2209

About the Book

Upon Jo’s return home after her mother’s death, she is shocked to learn of an unexpected inheritance and her mother’s diary. Jo thought she could put to rest her darker past until an entry implies the messy aftermath of an uncle’s sexual advances towards her when she was fifteen. Like the diary, Jo’s memory of events is full of gaps, but one thing is certain – she will never regain what was lost. What is the full story of what happened between Jo and her uncle? And what is the diary not telling us about Jo’s mother’s troubles with him? How We Remember traces the effects of alcoholism, mental illness and abuse on one Irish-Italian-American, working-class family. As Jo’s first-person narrative weaves together past and present stories, she creates a portrait of her family’s life and her own as she faces new decisions amidst the tragic consequences of mismanaged grief. Full of moments of light and dark, Monaco’s debut novel – set during a week that anyone would dread – provides a mesmeric narrative portraying the pain of grief, the tenuous nature of memory and the earth shattering effect that the death of the `glue’ of a family can cause.

 

My Thoughts

I have to start this review by admitting that I was initially drawn to How We Remember by the gorgeous cover! I’m happy to say that when I read the blurb it equally drew me to the novel and I was very keen to read it.

How We Remember is a novel about an Irish American family and how they deal with secrets, mental health and grief. It centres around Jo who was assaulted by her Aunty’s husband when she was fifteen and has been carrying the damage from that around with her ever since. She’s now in her 50s and her mum has died, and this has brought up a lot of memories and also discoveries about how her mum felt about the assault all those years ago.

Jo is a very successful university lecturer – she got her degree at an Ivy League college defying the odds of her working class background. I found that there were times in this book were she felt distant from me, like she wasn’t being entirely open in how she was feeling but mostly I really felt for her. I could identify with a lot of what made her who she is and was willing her on to deal with her issues and find a place of peace. Her mother’s death brings back all the pain of how her family dealt with the assault by her uncle (by marriage). No one ever knew the full story of what happened, or chose to not grasp the full story so as a result they don’t understand why it still hurts Jo so many years later.

I could really empathise with Jo over her grief for her mother. It’s so hard to be the one that has to deal with everything after a death, while everyone else does nothing under the veil of claiming not knowing how to do anything. I’ve been there and it’s hard. The family dynamics in these parts of the novel were so real for me and I really appreciated how well J. M. Monaco captured how a family can be, and how grief heightens everyone’s true personalities and feelings.  I could feel Jo’s exhaustion and despair and hoped she would come through.

I was rooting for Jo and her brother to find a way to be friends. It’s incredibly painful when you lose your parents and then the family just disintegrates. Her brother has his problems and they manifest in a different way to Jo but ultimately they’re both coming to terms with the way their lives have turned out.

How We Remember is ultimately a novel about grief for not just who we lose but for what we lose when others don’t hear and support in the appropriate way. It’s a raw and visceral novel that really gets under your skin. I highly recommend it if you love books about family dynamics.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. All thoughts are my own.

How We Remember is out now and available here.

 

About the Author

My writing identity is JM Monaco. Friends here in the UK tell me the surname sounds unique and somewhat exotic. Outside this little island I know this isn’t the case.

I am a fiction writer with a particular soft spot for North American fiction, probably because my formative and university years took place in the USA. While England has been my home for well over twenty years now, there’s something about the birthplace where my extended family and some friends still reside that has a strong pull. If I could, I’d spend solitary blocks of time there in a quiet lake cottage in the northeast pondering my ambiguous relationship with that landscape. I’d write up a tumultuous storm that may eventually take the shape of a draft for a novel or multiple stories, then come back to the UK where I could clean it all up in edits with my husband and children surrounding me with love and endless offers  of tea and healthy meals. As this can only happen in fantasy, here in the southwest of England, UK, is where I stay, holed up in a drafty north-facing study/writing room, often gazing out at the rain and rolling my eyes when I hear my daughter shout, ‘What’s for supper tonight?’  Reading, thinking, writing, are all interrupted with the demands of others, the good and bad, life’s routines, a bit of excitement here and there mixed with the mundane. This is where stories are born. Oh, but wouldn’t it be heaven to have that nice little place by the lake.

(Bio taken from J.M. Monaco’s blog)

 

You can find the rest of the stops on this tour at the following blogs:

Advertisements

#BookReview: Tubing by K. A. McKeagney @RedDoorBooks @kamckeagney

image

About the Book

Polly, 28, lives in London with her ‘perfect-on-paper’ boyfriend. She works a dead end job on a free London paper… life as she knows it is dull. But her banal existence is turned upside down late one drunken night on her way home, after a chance encounter with a man on a packed tube train. The chemistry between them is electric and on impulse, they kiss, giving in to their carnal desires. But it’s over in an instant, and Polly is left shell-shocked as he walks away without even telling her his name.

Now obsessed with this beautiful stranger, Polly begins a frantic online search, and finally discovers more about tubing , an underground phenomenon in which total strangers set up illicit, silent, sexual meetings on busy commuter tube trains. In the process, she manages to track him down and he slowly lures her into his murky world, setting up encounters with different men via Twitter.

At first she thinks she can keep it separate from the rest of her life, but things soon spiral out of control.

By chance she spots him on a packed tube train with a young, pretty blonde. Seething with jealousy, she watches them together. But something isn’t right and a horrific turn of events make Polly realise not only how foolish she has been, but how much danger she is in…

Can she get out before it’s too late?

 

My Thoughts

Tubing is about Polly, who one night has a random and unplanned sexual encounter with a stranger on a tube and this leads her into an initially thrilling but ultimately dark world. This is a thriller but it’s different to anything else I’ve read.

Polly is already a damaged soul and the world she gets into initially forms an escape for her. She is in a settled relationship but feels stifled by her partner and his close relationship with his sister, and she can’t seem to find the thing that would make her feel whole. She has a decent job but begins to let things slide as she becomes quite obsessed with finding the man she encountered on the tube. Polly does make some silly decisions and she was hard to like a lot of the time but there was something intriguing about her, and about why she becomes so fascinated by the world of tubing that made it impossible to not read on.

As Polly’s fixation with the man from the tube grows she finds herself in an increasingly scary situation. One day she witnesses something that is terrifying and soon finds herself spiralling into paranoia and anxiety. The book really ramps up the tension from this point on as you feel really unsure how much of her how she feels is just paranoia, or whether she really is in danger or if it’s even a mix of the two.

For the first half of this book I felt it was more focused on the erotic aspects and I was wondering if this is a book that I would classify as a thriller but the second half of the book was so fast-paced, intense and disturbing that it most definitely is a thriller. It got to a point where I just couldn’t put this book down as I just had to know how it was all going to end. The denouement of this novel was not what I was expecting, which I really appreciated. I do love it when a thriller surprises me!

Tubing is a book I’d recommend to anyone who is looking to read a dark, disturbing thriller with a sexy side to it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. All thoughts are my own.

Tubing is out now and available here!

 

About the Author

K.A. McKeagney studied psychology in Bristol before completing a Masters degree in creative writing at Brunel. She won the Curtis Brown prize for her dissertation, which formed the basis of her first novel Tubing. She has worked in London as a health editor writing consumer information as well as for medical journals. Her writing has been commended by the British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards.

She is currently working on her second novel.

 


 

You can follow the rest of the blog tour at the following stops:

image

 

#BookReview: The Man on the Middle Floor by Elizabeth S. Moore @LizzyMoore19 #RedDoorBooks #TMOTMF

image.png

About the Book

Despite living in the same three-flat house in the suburbs of London, the residents are strangers to one another. The bottom floor is home to Tam, a recent ex-cop who spends his days drowning his sorrows in whisky. On the middle floor is Nick, a young man with Asperger’s who likes to stick to his schedules and routines. The top floor belongs to Karen, a doctor and researcher who has spent her life trying to understand the rising rates of autism. They have lived their lives separately, until now, when an unsolved murder and the man on the middle floor connect them all together. Told from three points of view, The Man on the Middle Floor is about disconnection in all its forms; sexual, physical, parental and emotional. It questions whether society is meeting the needs of the fast growing autistic section of society, or exacerbating it.

 

My Thoughts

Well, I went into reading this book expecting it to be a fairly straightforward novel about a murder in a block of flats but I was wrong. The Man on the Middle Floor is so much more than that; it’s very hard to categorise the book but it is definitely a page turner!

Nick lives alone on the middle floor. He has Asperger’s Syndrome and is trying to maintain an independent life, he’s always looking for ways to add things to his routine without it becoming overwhelming. Tam lives on the ground floor and has recently lost his job in the police force so is struggling to find his place in the world. Karen lives on the top floor. She is a woman who is so engrossed in her research work on autism that she filters out everything else around her, including her own children. The lives of of the three people become intertwined as the novel goes on and it took a much more macabre turn than I was expecting!

Whilst this book is about a murder, it is also just as much about people and how we all have our ways of dealing with what life has thrown at us. There is a real feeling that Elizabeth Moore feels passionately about autism and that this was the catalyst for the novel. She deftly explores what makes us ‘normal’ and how easily people can become derailed from the acceptable norms of behaviour in society. We get to see the murder and what led to it happening but we also see how people turn to each other for comfort when it’s not how they’ve previously behaved. The focus seemed to centre on Nick as I was reading but it’s actually Karen that has stayed in my head more since I finished reading. She seemed to be so cold to her own children and in the way she sacrificed everything and everyone for her career but then couldn’t see the wood for the trees. I can’t condone her behaviour but at the same time part of me wonders how she is now (even though I know she’s not real).

Nick is the character that stands out the most whilst reading this novel though and the plot centres around him, the man on the middle floor. I don’t know a huge amount about autism, although I have read books about it in the past, but it seemed clear to me that Nick had a lot of problems in his life and that these contributed a lot to his obsessive behaviour rather than it seeming that all of his actions were just down to his autism. I could see where his need for order and calm came from, and had an understanding of that as someone who has had mental health issues in the past.

I really liked the way the book isn’t just about a character with autism and that is focused on three very different people who just happened to live in the same building but perhaps had more in common than they would realise. Karen has all but abandoned her children for her career, something which society still frowns upon and finds hard to accept. Tam is a man who is a bit lost and who seems to be looking for companionship and perhaps a family, which can often be portrayed as something that stereotypically more woman want than men. And Nick just wants order and calm, and to be allowed to just be without outside intrusion which is again something that others can find hard to understand. This novel really shows how we all have our problems and that whatever it is that makes one person’s life difficult may not actually be that dissimilar to what someone else experiences, albeit perhaps in a different way.

From the opening chapter of this novel I really wasn’t sure what I was reading but The Man on the Middle Floor certainly had me hooked from start to finish and I read it in just two sittings!  The novel really does hold a mirror up to the reader’s perceptions and leaves you really thinking about how we determine what normal is. If you like novels that are a bit different, that make you think and defy genre then this is the book for you; I certainly recommend it!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. All thoughts are my own.

The Man on the Middle Floor is out now and available in ebook and paperback from here!

 

About the Author

image

Elizabeth S. Moore has worked as a journalist since she won the Decanter Young Wine Writer of the Year at seventeen. She has written columns and articles on restaurants, politics, South Africa and all things foodie. She comes from a family that has given her a lot of writing material and is currently finishing her second book, having written the first after completing the Faber Write a Novel course and being approached by fourteen agents after reading an excerpt of her novel to industry professionals. Elizabeth lives in London with her South African husband and has three daughters and a son as well as two lazy Labradors.

(Bio taken from: ElizabethMoore.com)

 

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

image

 

#BookReview: Loving the Life Less Lived by @GailMitchell42 #blogtour @RedDoorBooks

9781910453261

About the Book

An essential companion for anyone dealing with mental illness.
Like many people, Gail Marie Mitchell battled with anxiety and depression for many years, finding it exhausting, stressful and demoralising at times.

Realising that this approach to her condition was futile, Gail chose a different approach: acceptance.

Taking control in this way removed some of the pressure and enabled Gail to focus on developing coping strategies, creating the tips and tools that are included in this empathetic and practical book.

Gail focuses on the positive aspects of her condition, showing how a person living with mental illness is so much more than the label that society puts on them. She found acceptance empowering, enabling her to live her life to the full. Perhaps not the life she had planned, but one that is happy and fulfilling and that she loves. She is Loving the Life Less Lived.

By sharing her experiences and describing what she learnt from them as well as the resulting coping strategies, Gail has created an essential companion for anyone dealing with mental illness and their family and friends.

My Thoughts

When I was offered the chance to read and review this book for the blog tour I agreed for two reasons. The first being that I want to read more non-fiction this year and it was nice to be offered a non-fiction book for review. The second and main reason though was because I have suffered with PTSD in the fairly recent past, and I had clinical depression many years ago so always feel like I can offer an insight into books about this illness.

Loving the Life Less Lived has two elements to it weaved together throughout the book.  The parts of the book that I enjoyed the most were the Toolbox ideas. Gail has compiled, in bitesize chunks, all the things that have helped her through her depression and anxiety over the years. Some are rooted in CBT and structured to help in recovering, others are hints and tips that will help sufferers who just need help to get through that day, or moment. I would recommend the toolbox sections to anyone who is suffering at the moment, and also to anyone who has a loved one who is going through depression and anxiety for ideas on how you can help support them.

The other part of the book is more of a memoir detailing Gail’s journey through her depression. This was harder to read, possibly because I’ve been through it and it reminded me of those dark days, but it does show the reality of what living with depression is like. Gail is incredibly honest throughout this book and I applaud that. She doesn’t sugarcoat how she felt in the situations life has thrown at her and I think it’s important to be open when writing a book like this.

Gail talks about the seemingly insurmountable goal her mum set her in giving her a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. Her mum told her that she would one day get herself better and to see the bridge in person, and this was at a time when Gail could barely leave her own house, but whilst that goal was too big to even contemplate Gail was able to work on much smaller steps that were on the way to potentially reaching the big goal. She talks about the gradual recovery from depression and then the relapses that followed but ultimately Gail does regain a level of mental health. So whilst this book doesn’t shy away from the dark depths of depression it does give a sense of hope. It’s important that books of this nature do paint a realistic picture but also that there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

As I wrote earlier, I would recommend this book to anyone who is going through depression and/or anxiety, or to anyone living with someone who has depression and/or anxiety, in particular for all of the Toolbox ideas.

Thank you to Red Door Publishing for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Loving the Life Less Lived is due to be published on 26 January and can be pre-order here

 

About the Author

gail-marie-mitchell

I’m a writer and I live with mental illness. Those two facts are the main motivation behind this website but they are only a small part of who I am and what my life is about.

I say I live with mental illness, I don’t suffer from it, I don’t battle with it (although for many years I did until I learnt the futility of the fight). I was first diagnosed with depression twenty five years ago and have been variously diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and depression ever since.  At times I manage my condition well using a toolboxof resources that I have discovered and developed over my lifetime. At other times I crash and burn, I have left upwards of ten jobs due to my mental health issues and spent many months and years on and off of benefits, hiding in my house unable to face the world or complete even the most simple tasks.

I have always been a writer, maybe not published, maybe not successful, but since the earliest age I have written poems, stories and articles in an attempt to make sense of this confused and broken world we live in. This led me to write Loving the Life Less Lived.

That’s not all about me – I qualified as a Chartered Accountant, I have worked as a Secondary School Teacher, I am a member of Mensa I have travelled around Europe, the Middle East and North America. I have taught in the favelas of Brazil, I am married, I am a fairy Godmother I am so much more than a medical label given by psychiatrists and GPs. I am not cured – but I am at present relatively stable. I work as a bookkeeper/accountant, write in my spare time and enjoy life to the full. It isn’t the life I planned, it is The Life Less Lived and it is immeasurably more than I could ever have asked for or imagined. 

(Bio taken from the author’s website: lovingthelifelesslived.com

You can follow the rest of the blog tour here:

ltlll-blog-tour-poster