Bookish Things

August is my favourite month of the year for many reasons, but mainly because I manage to relax completely from teaching and immerse myself in reading and writing. I’ve blogged about books a little bit less than usual, written more flash fiction and short stories than usual, and I’ve interviewed some amazing people for The Northern Connection Podcast as part of Women In Translation month.

On book blogging

Book blogging is a strange old hobby – it’s one that can bring huge highs and depressing lows. When posts are well-received and shared by other readers and bloggers, it can be thrilling and rewarding, and other times you can pour your heart and soul into a review for it to be met with a luke-warm reception, if any at all!

Recently, there has been much discussion on Twitter about the future of book blogging and many bloggers have debated the pros and cons of the blog review. Everything changes, and the world of book reviewing is not exempt from this, with a growing market for Book Tokers and Insta reels and a more visual and audio delivery of reviews and recommendations. It can sometimes seem as though the traditional blog is dying a death. Who knows! Personally, I believe there’s room for all forms of book love and I plan to continue blogging away and sharing my enthusiasm for books.

It’s been lovely to be recognised as having one of the Top 100 Book Blogs of 2021 – thank you so much for Feedspot. Twinkl are running a literary lovers campaign during September. I was delighted to be invited to take part by sharing a review – there are loads of great recommendations on there by book bloggers so check it out if you are wondering what to read next.

On writing

I’ve started to push my head above the parapet with my own writing, and while it’s absolutely terrifying, I’ve received some positive feedback, which is hugely motivating and encouraging, so I’m going to continue to scare myself this way! Thank you so much to Laura Besley for cheering me along, and to also my lovely friend Rachel Canwell, my first pair of eyes and biggest cheerleader – thank you so much. I was delighted that Sundial Magazine accepted and published Infidel Teaching.

On reading during August

Along with Jules, Rebecca, Rachel and Siobhain, we decided that the August episode of The Northern Connection would focus on Women In Translation month, so much of my reading has been fuelled by this theme. Here are my reads with a little summary of each book.

Adele, by Leila Slimani, published by Faber – a fantastic and truly compelling read about a French woman living a double life in Paris. On the surface, she’s respectable and privileged with her job in a newspaper and her husband who is a doctor, but Adele has carnal desires which are not satisfied at home. This book tells of her adventures and misadventures in the French capital.

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami, published by Picador. A DNF for me, but I tried, multiple times! It’s about two teenage misfits in High School in Tokyo who form a friendship. This is a book about the impact of bullying, and there are lots of detailed descriptions of bullying which I found very difficult to read. I got very close to the end, but I abandoned it because I feared the worst!

Girls Who Lie by Eva Bjorg Aegisdotir, published by Orenda. This is Eva’s second book (Creak on the Stairs was the first) and it’s book two in the Frozen Iceland series. Police officer Elma and her colleagues are called to investigate a murder when a body of a young woman is found on the Grabok lava fields near Akranes. It’s dark, twisty and very evocative. We interviewed Eva and Karen Sullivan, founder of Orenda books, as part of our WITmon podcast. Check it out, and you can also hear Eva reading from the book.

Love in Five Acts by Daniela Krien, published by MacLehose. I spotted this in a WIT recommendation article in the Irish Independent and was intrigued by the premise, so I ordered it. The book is structured in five sections, each section reading like a novella and focusing on a different woman, exploring love, desire and sadness. I really enjoyed this book and loved how the lives of the women were in some way connected.

The Country of Others by Leila Slimani, published by Faber. After absolutely loving Adele, I ordered myself this. It’s a very different read, but I was prepared for this from the blurb. Slimani is a Moroccan French author, and this book is loosely based on her own family history in France and Morocco. It is the first in a planned series. The Country of Others explores identity, race and colonisation through characters who are equally flawed and wonderful. This book is set after the end of WW2, and spans about ten years of life in rural Morocco for a Moroccan man, Amine, his French wide, Mathilde and their two children, Aicha and Selim. Beautifully written. I can’t wait for the next instalment.

The next couple of books are not WIT reads.

The Man Who Died Twice, by Richard Osman, published by Viking Penguin. I’m on the instagram tour for this book later in September when I’ll be sharing a more indepth review, but let me tell you, this is a fantastic book. Osman has created the most wonderful and enduring characters in this series. There are still scenes and conversations that continue to make me chuckle now, weeks after having finished. If you read The Thursday Murder Club, you know exactly what to expect! If not, I cannot recommend these books enough.

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, published by W&N – this book has been raved about on Twitter for much of this year by so many readers whose opinions I respect and trust, so I knew it would be a cracker, and it absolutely is! It’s a wry, funny and heart breaking story about mental health and love. Highly recommended!

Summerwater by Sarah Moss, published by Picador. Having recently read The Fell (out in November) I was keen to explore some of Sarah’s books that I’ve missed. Verdict? Oh. My. God!!! The writing is just everything for me – so beautifully observed! Just like with The Fell, I wanted to read it all over again as soon as I finished the book. Sarah Moss captures and writes people so well!

And finally…

I read Quilaq by Rebecca Burns as a PDF. I very rarely read on an e-reader, but I made an exception for this novella and am so pleased I did. Set over the course of one night, seven characters are brought together in their search for Quilaq – a type of Shangri-La where all their woes will be alleviated. The language is so rich, and it contrasts so sharply with the bleak setting of the book. A quick read filled with unforgettable characters.

So, that’s it for my bookish roundup.

Thanks for reading,

Emma xx

Freckles by Cecelia Ahern

Freckles is published today by Harper Collins. Today also marks the beginning of the Random Tours blog tour for this much anticipated book by international best seller Cecelia Ahern. As part of the tour, I’m delighted to be able to share the prologue with you, which I’m sure will whet your appetite.

PROLOGUE 

The crunch of a snail under my shoe, in the darkness. The crack of the shell. The squish. The ooze. 

It hurts me at the back of my teeth, a shooting pain through a nerve in my gums. 

I can’t pull my foot up fast enough, I can’t rewind, the damage can’t be undone. I’ve hit the squishy interior of the snail’s sluggish insides. Flattened and twisted them into the ground. I feel the mush on the sole of my shoe for the next few steps. Carrying a crime scene on a slippery sole. Death on my shoe. Smeared guts. A twist and wipe rids me of it. 

It happens walking at night, on rain-slicked ground, when I can’t see where I’m stepping and the snail can’t see who’s stepping. I’ve always felt bad for the snail, but now I know what it’s like. Retribution. Karma. I now know how it feels for my outer shell to be cracked, for my insides to feel exposed. 

He stepped on me. 

He walked with me for a few steps too, his sole slippy with my mush. I wonder if his soul is slippy with me too. If he felt the crack and ooze of me under his gaze as he spat his hate-filled words and then walked away. My shield taken with him for a few steps before he realised he was still carrying me. A twist of his shoe, like extinguishing a cigarette, and I’m discarded. 

The remainders of me on the pathway. Cracked and exposed, an unprotected soft interior I’ve worked so hard to protect. A leakage of all the parts that were so well-con- tained. Feelings, thoughts, insecurities all oozing out. A silvery slivery track of emotional entrails. 

I didn’t see his foot coming. Wonder if I took him by surprise too. 

Even though it may feel like it, this is not where it all ends. I’m not dead. I’m crushed and oozing. A smithereenedAllegra Bird. You can’t fix the broken outer shell. But you can rebuild. 

The Random Things Tour continues over the next two weeks. Thank you so much to Anne for inviting me on board, and to the publisher for sending me a beautiful copy of the book.

Check out what the other bloggers have to say about Freckles.

About the author

Cecelia Ahern is one of the biggest selling authors to emerge in the past fifteen years, having sold more than 25 million copies worldwide in over 50 countries. Two of her books have been adapted as major films and she has created several TV series in the US and Germany. Her novel PS I Love You was a New York Times bestseller and huge #1 bestseller in Ireland and the UK. In 2007, it was made into a major film starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler and most recently, Cecelia wrote the sequel- Postscript which was an instant bestseller.
Cecelia has written13 bestselling novels including two YA novels and a critically acclaimed collection of short stories, ROAR which is being produced by and starring Nicole Kidman. Her novels have resonated with readers everywhere through their thoughtful, unique and inspiring storytelling and have won numerous awards. Cecelia lives in Dublin with her family. To find out more please visit http://www.cecelia-ahern.com

Quilaq by Rebecca Burns

Synopsis:

Stokeland. It sits at a fork between two roads, one a thick, commercial highway bedeviled by ice for ninety percent of the year; the other a stripped, frozen weave of a road, impassable for ten months out of twelve and huddled beneath wedges of brilliant white snow. It is a wonder that Stokeland has any inhabitants at all; but it does, over a hundred souls.

Angie, barmaid, too fond of the drink she serves. Gerry, the ancient trapper who has spent too long sleeping in the snow. Frank, teller of tales. Jack and Connor, bound to each other and to a shared life they cannot fulfill. Hettie and Ernest, driven by hunger.

Seeking answers in the cold tundra of the Arctic North, the Stokeland folk are drawn together by the power of one strange, unsettling word – Quilaq.

My thoughts:

This is a beautifully written novella where the rich language contrasts sharply against the bleak setting. Stokeland is remote area in northern Canada where life is tough and conditions are challenging.

Over the course of one night, the lives of seven characters cross. They each yearn for something more than the hand they’ve been dealt; they all exist, struggling with their daily lives never really ‘seeing’ each other. They have been toughened by the icy conditions and the lives they have each fled.

They begin to talk of Quilaq – a sort of Shangri-La – a land of plenty where they each believe their problems will be answered. As the hopes and dreams of the characters are shared, a sense of community forms.

I really enjoyed this novella, and particularly loved the descriptions and depictions of the characters. Many thanks to Rebecca for sending me a copy for review purposes.

Quilaq is available in paperback, hardback and on Kindle.

You can find out more about Rebecca Burns and her writing from her website.

PAH! by Orla Owen

A compelling novel full of brilliantly villainous characterisation. Orla Owen is a natural storyteller.

Ronan Hession

PAH! is Orla Owen’s second novel: The Lost Thumb, her 2019 debut, appeared on many book worm’s Favourite Books of the Year lists. It’s been on my mental TBR since then, but so far, I haven’t managed to get to it but I plan to remedy this before long!

Bearing in mind that on Twitter, Orla is warm, friendly, kind and supportive of other bloggers and writers, I was not expecting such a dark read! I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I absolutely love it when books take me completely by surprise, and this is exactly what PAH! did.

So, what’s it all about?

Susan is living in nurses’ accommodation; her past is dominated by a cruel mother and a useless father, but she’s not inclined to dwell on that if she can help it. “Pah!” she says, when confronted with an obstacle. She hates living with the other slovenly nurses: being around them is a kind of hell for her. She decides that marriage will enable her to escape from her current situation.

Jeffrey Jeffreys has a steady job. All he wants from life is enough whiskey or beer to take the edge off things. He becomes her unsuspecting and hapless victim.

Calton Jones’ parents have both died, and he finds himself cast out by his community. He takes to the road and eventually ends up in a small town where he finds work in a morgue. Weed and peace are all he requires.

In PAH! we encounter these three characters leading separate lives in different parts of Australia. Their paths cross with tragic consequences for some. The synopsis ominously tells us, “not all of them can survive….”

In storytelling conventions, we are conditioned to expect likeable protagonists, but protagonists do not need to be likeable; they must, however, be interesting, and PAH’s central character (Susan) is absolutely fascinating. As the narrative progresses, we learn about her tragic childhood and begin to understand how her early years shaped her as an adult.

PAH! is a psychological, character driven novel exploring themes of unwanted motherhood and the legacy of abuse. It’s tense, compelling and darkly comic.

It’s a fantastic read – I loved it!

Thanks to Orla for sending me a copy.

Emma xx

The 32

An Anthology of Irish Working-Class Voices, edited by Paul McVeigh.

The 32 is an anthology of Irish working-class voices, edited by Paul McVeigh, and is the sister project to Kit de Waal’s Common People: a hugely successful collection which was published by Unbound in 2019.

From the moment I heard about this book, I knew I would read it and love it – in fact, I was part of the crowd funding campaign, and my name is listed at the back. I also attended the virtual launch, a wonderful event which was warmly hosted by Paul McVeigh, and where I was treated to many of the writers sharing one minute readings of their entries – I couldn’t wait to get started after that!

Between the covers you will find short stories and essays by 32 different Irish voices from the island of Ireland whose common experience, despite religion or politics, is their working class backgrounds. Half of the entries are by established and respected writers like Roddy Doyle, Lisa McInerney and Danielle McLaughlin, but the other half of the entries are by new voices, or voices which are new to writing. What stands out is that there is not one working class experience: everyone’s is different; every one is important and each entry goes some way to ensuring that a wider range of experiences are depicted in published literature.

In Paul McVeigh’s introduction, he speaks of the important legacy of successful working class writers – the need to leave a trail of break crumbs for those coming in their wake, or as Kerry Hudson said, ‘to send the elevator down.’ This is the commendable and important mission of this project where 16 new voices sit alongside the accounts of writing legends like Roddy Doyle.

These essays and stories are informative and wonderful, depicting myriad experiences: from inner city Dublin to stories from rural farming parts of the country, and not forgetting the tales from the north where both protestant and catholic families fell foul of the politics of the region. It is entertaining, touching, warm and so rich in detail: each entry is beautifully written.

From the reviews of The 32 I’ve read so far – both as part of this Random Things Blog Tour and also in newspapers like The Irish Independent, it appears everyone has different accounts that resonate particularly with them; that’s one of the beauties of an anthology. I’m already a huge fan of Kevin Barry, Lisa McInerney and Danielle McLaughlin so I flew straight to their entries, but I also love Lyra McKee’s entry – now all the more heart-breaking because of her tragic death.

Thanks for Anne Cater for inviting my on board the Random Things Blog Tour. The 32 is published by Unbound and is available now. It’s is a wonderful collection and I absolutely loved it!

Thanks for reading,

Emma x

Find me on Twinkl’s Literary Lovers Campaign, to take part, visit Literary Lovers: Good Books to Read.

About Paul McVeigh

Born in Belfast, Paul McVeigh’s writing has been performed on stage, read on radio and appeared in print in 7 languages. He began his career as a playwright before moving to London where he wrote comedy shows that were performed at the Edinburgh Festival and in London’s West End.

His short stories have been published in literary journals and anthologies, read on BBC Radio 5, commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and 4, and Sky Arts TV.

He is the co-founder of London Short Story Festival, of which, he was the Director and Curator for 2014 & ’15. He is Associate Director at Word Factory, the UK’s premier short story salon.

The Good Son was selected from 160 books by The British Council and The Literary Platform to be one of twelve that will be part of The UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature 2016.

Paul has read his work at festivals around the world and he represented the UK in Mexico 2015 and Turkey 2016 for The British Council.

Everyone is Still ALive by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Published by Phoenix books

I love Cathy Rentzenbrink – she is so warm and down to earth, and is also a fabulously talented writer. This is her first work of fiction, and as a fan of her non-fiction writing, and of her as a person, I was really keen to get my hands on a copy of Everyone Is Still Alive. Thank you so much to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to read and review the book.

So, what’s it all about?

Juliet, her husband Liam and five year old son Charlie have just moved into Magnolia Street to a house which has been left to Juliet by her recently deceased mother. Juliet is grieving, and her mother’s absence echoes through the house and throughout her own life as she negotiates work, running the household and spending time with her son. Liam is a novelist who works from home and shoulders the majority of their childcare while trying to write his elusive second book. At the school gates, Liam becomes friends with some of the other mothers, who welcome him into their social circle and introduce him to a life he has never before been privy to.

Juliet and Liam have lost sight of who they were and have become mired in domestic chores. This can also be said of the other couples living on the street who they befriend. Then, one afternoon at a garden party, a single moment changes everything.

This book is such a delight. I flew through it. Cathy Rentzenbrink has created fascinating characters who are trying to navigate the difficulties of marriage and parenthood. Each issue we encounter is beautifully observed and astutely written about. With multiple perspectives, we clearly see that there are two sides to every relationship, and as readers we are shown how misunderstandings and assumptions can cause so much damage, as can the sleep deprivation and repetitive pattern of each day.

This novel is about taking stock of what you have, of realising that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I loved it, and will be pushing it onto anyone who asks me if I have any book recommendations.

Everyone Is Still Alive is out now, and is published by Phoenix. Thanks again to Anne and to the publisher for my copy of the book.

About the author:

Cathy Rentzenbrink is an acclaimed memoirist whose books include The Last Act of Love and Dear Reader. In 2021 she published her first novel Everyone is Still Alive and she has a book about how to write a memoir coming in January 2022 called Write It All Down. Cathy regularly chairs literary events, interviews authors, reviews books, runs creative writing courses and speaks and writes on life, death, love, and literature. Despite being shortlisted for various prizes, the only thing Cathy has ever won is the Snaith and District Ladies’ Darts Championship when she was 17. She is now sadly out of practice.

MAINSTREAM

An anthology of stories from the edges, edited by Justin David and Nathan Evans

I love short story anthologies; they inevitably introduce me to new authors and lead me down new reading rabbit holes. When Sarah-Louise from Inkandescent contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in reading and reviewing this collection, I was very excited about the premise of Maintstream then further lured by names like Kit de Waal, Paul McVeigh and Kerry Hudson.

So, what can you expect from Mainstream?

“This is an anthology of 30 stories which brings authors in from the margins to occupy the centre-page. Queer storytellers. Working class wordsmiths. Chroniclers of colour. Writers whose life experiences give unique perspectives on universal challenges, whose voices must be heard. And read.”

I am drawn to stories of people who live outside of convention – people the mainstream would rather ignore. Reading this anthology really made me aware of the myriad ways people can be an outsider or feel like an outsider, whether because of class, sexual orientation, identity, economic poverty or by simply going against the ‘norm’. Mainstream is kaleidoscopic collection exploring multiple outsider viewpoints.

Over the course of a month, I dipped in and out of this book, reading the entries in no particular order. As mentioned before, I knew some of the writers whose work is included, and I initially headed straight to their stories. Then, I began to explore the new, and what I discovered were stories that were gritty, real, authentic, funny, heart-breaking, touching, poignant, powerful and thought-provoking, all expertly written and crafted. I adored the alternative viewpoints which were shared with me. The stories have filled my head and my heart for the past few weeks, made me laugh, made me think, and made me share them with others. Isn’t that what great writing should do?

I enjoyed every story in this collection, but have picked out a couple which have stayed with me, where they characters have just jumped off the page and captivated me to the end: Kathy Hoyle‘s fantastic Home Time kicks off the collection with a bang; Golnoosh Noor’s hilarious Happy Ending tells of a sixteen year old Iranian on her first pilgrimage to Mecca while having fantasies about her best girl friend back home; Julia Bell creates the most wonderful characters in Birdwatchers, a story of a couple’s feud with their homophobic bird-loving neighbours; Hedy Hume’s The Beach is a coming of age story is set in Wales – it’s gorgeous; Alex Hopkins’ Last Visit is a moving tale about secrets, sexual prejudices and misunderstandings which contained this beautiful observation: “Sometimes, the way we choose to love perpetuates the damage we seek to diminish.”

Since I first started this book, I’ve been thinking of that wonderful quote by Toni Morrison, who said, “I stood at the border, stood at the edge, and claimed it as central.” That is what Mainstream is seeking to do here: give centre-page and centre stage to marginalised voices.

I am delighted to take part in this blog tour and to play a small role in the amplification of voices which are not always championed by large publishers. Inkandescent’s mission is worthy and I know as a reader who likes to hear voices from the margins, I will definitely be looking through their publishing catalogue to seek out more books. Thank you to Sarah-Louise for inviting me along and for sending me a copy of the book.

The blog tour continues through July. Check out what everyone else has to say about this book – or better still, order yourself a copy!

The links are here: AmazonWaterstonesBlackwells, and the Inkandescent website

Astral Travel by Elizabeth Baines

A while back, I read a short story by Elizabeth Baines called Kiss: it lodged itself in my mind for its heart-breaking beauty. I knew I wanted to read more of Elizabeth’s work, so when Anne Cater asked if I’d like to be on this Random Things blog tour, I jumped at the chance! Thank you so much Anne, and to Elizabeth for sending me a copy of the book which is published by Salt and is out now.

Synopsis:

After Patrick Jackson’s death his estranged daughter Jo begins to try to unravel the mysteries that always surrounded him. Why did he never talk about his past in Ireland? Why was he always so moody and bad-tempered in the home while a talkative charmer in the outside world? Why, at one time, did he forbid Jo to do family history research? And why did he seem to have it in for her especially, affecting her life into adulthood?

Why, too, do Jo’s memories of her own childhood differ so starkly from her mother’s?

The more Jo questions and digs, the more the mysteries deepen. Until at last she uncovers a chain of secretsforged in the religious and sexual prejudices of the past, but with the power to affect the lives of Patrick’s family in the present day.

My thoughts:

Jo Jackson is a writer whose father, Patrick, has recently died. His death leaves many unanswered questions for her, and she is ready to try to make sense of their difficult relationship. She begins by writing a novel about him.

Through Jo’s eyes we are given a picture of her father – a very unlikeable character whose treatment of his family is abhorrent and difficult to understand. As a child, Jo is desperate for a relationship with him, and this desire for connection continues into her adulthood. Yet Patrick does not reciprocate Jo’s feelings. His behaviour towards her is cruel and abusive.

Along with her siblings Claire and Michael, Jo lead an impoverished childhood. Their home was dominated by their father, his whims and moods. His feckless attitude towards money meant that they flitted about the countryside between Wales and England as he tracked down various job opportunities. Their mother, Gwen, never stood up to him, and always advised that her feisty and spirited daughter, Jo, not cause a fuss.

As Jo gets further into the book, she turns to her mother and sister to try to find the answers to the questions she has about her father. Surprisingly for her, she discovers that her memories differ from those of Claire and Gwen, and the more she digs, the more her path towards the truth meanders.

Astral Travel is book within a book, and contains stories within stories. This is a real ‘matrushka’ tale which kept me on my toes with its depths and twists. Every time I thought I had a handle of what had happened in Jo’s family, the story took off in a different direction. Beautifully written, Astral Travel is a fascinating and sobering read about family dynamics, damning secrets and prejudice.

Thanks for reading,

Emma xx

About the author:

Elizabeth is the author of two previous novels published by Salt, The Birth Machine and Too Many Magpies, as well as two short-story collections, Balancing on the Edge of the World and Used to Be. She’s also been a prizewinning playwright for Radio 4, writing both comedy and serious drama, and has produced and acted in her own plays for fringe theatre. She has been a schoolteacher and has taught Writing in universities, but now writes full time. She lives with her husband in Manchester where she brought up her two now grown sons.

this is how we are human by Louise Beech

Many thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me on board this Random Things blog tour for This is How We Are Human by Louise Beech, and to Karen at Orenda for sending me an ARC for review purposes. It’s my first Louise Beech book, and it definitely won’t be my last!

Read on for the publishers synopsis, followed by my thoughts.

Synopsis:

Sebastian James Murphy is twenty years, six months and two days old. He loves swimming, fried eggs and Billy Ocean. Sebastian is autistic. And lonely.

Veronica wants her son Sebastian to be happy … she wants the world to accept him for who he is. She is also thinking about paying a professional to give him what he desperately wants.

Violetta is a high-class escort, who steps out into the night thinking only of money. Of her nursing degree. Paying for her dad’s care. Getting through the dark.

A topical and moving drama about a mother’s love for her son, about getting it wrong when we think we know what’s best, about the lengths we go to care for family … to survive … This Is How We Are Human is a searching, rich and thought-provoking novel with an emotional core that will warm and break your heart.

When these three lives collide – intertwine in unexpected ways – everything changes. For everyone.

My thoughts:

I had already seen some excitement on Twitter about this book before I started reading, so I was very much looking forward to picking it up. From the moment I did, I was captivated by the story, and it wasn’t long before the characters captured my heart – I devoured it in the space of two days.

Sebastian is twenty years old. He is a trainee brick-layer who loves swimming and eggs. He lives at home with his mum, and he happens to be autistic. Like many other twenty year olds, he thinks about sex a lot. In fact, his autism probably causes him to be fixated on sex. But he has never had a girlfriend and struggles to make friends because of past cruel experiences he has had at school and in college.

Veronica is Sebastian’s mum. She has single-handedly raised him since her husband’s untimely death. Her care for Sebastian is central in her life, as is her desire for his happiness. She is desperate for him to experience normality, but is all too aware of how cruel and judgemental the world can be.

Isabelle is a trainee nurse specialising in special needs patients. Her previously comfortable life is thrown into turmoil when her father has an accident. Isabelle finds herself facing some tough decisions about how she will shoulder her financial responsibilities, and sees no option but to become a high-class escort.

This is what it is to be human is the story of what happens when Sebastian, Veronica and Isabelle’s lives collide, where each character is sent down an unforeseen path, and their experiences change them completely.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s one I will be thrusting into the hands of willing readers, and I will also be buying a copy for our staff library! As a teacher, I know lots of primary aged children with autism, but I have never deeply considered what happens when children with autism become adults – with the same bodies and bodily needs as their contemporaries. The characters within this book are just so wonderfully human and flawed. Louise Beech has created such a memorable and special story here with Veronica, Sebastain and Isabelle. I cared so much about the three of them, and sobbed my way through the last few chapters.

I absolutely LOVED it.

Get yourself a copy now! It’s available from 10th June online and through the usual outlets.

Don’t forget to check out what the other bloggers have to say. The tour continues throughout June.

Thanks for reading,

Emma xx

About the author:

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012. Follow Louise on Twitter @LouiseWriter and visit her website: louisebeech.co.uk.

One Last Time by Helga Flatland

Helga Flatland is a Norwegian writer who is hugely successful in her own country. Her writing has been compared to Anne Tyler’s. Orenda have now published two of Flatland’s books. I read and loved A Modern Family, Flatland’s first book to be translated into English, so I was thrilled to get a place on this Random Things blog tour and to receive an ARC of One Last Time for review purposes – thank you Anne and Karen.

Synopsis:

Anne’s diagnosis of terminal cancer shines a spotlight onto fractured relationships with her daughter and granddaughter, with surprising, heartwarming results. A moving, warmly funny novel by the Norwegian Anne Tyler.

_______________

Anne’s life is rushing to an unexpected and untimely end. But her diagnosis of terminal cancer isn’t just a shock for her – and for her daughter Sigrid and granddaughter Mia – it shines a spotlight onto their fractured and uncomfortable relationships.

On a spur-of-the moment trip to France the three generations of women reveal harboured secrets, long-held frustrations and suppressed desires, and learn humbling and heart-warming lessons about how life should be lived when death is so close.

With all of Helga Flatland’s trademark humour, razor-sharp wit and deep empathy, One Last Time examines the great dramas that can be found in ordinary lives, asks the questions that matter to us all – and ultimately celebrates the resilience of the human spirit, in an exquisite, enchantingly beautiful novel that urges us to treasure and rethink … everything.

My thoughts:

I know that Sigrid needs an apology from me, and she needs me to make amends, but I can’t find the words, I don’t know how.

One Last Time is a novel about complex mother and daughter relationships, explored through three generations of women: grandmother Anne, mother Sigrid and daughter Mia.

Anne lives alone on the family farm. She has been winding things down, and the book opens with her decision to slaughter the remaining chickens. This first glimpse we get of Anne reveals so much of her character: she’s very pragmatic and no nonsense; things that need sorting are sorted without drama or fuss. A retired teacher, Anne pays regular visits to her husband in a nearby care home. He suffered a series of strokes from a very young age, rendering him mute and eventually culminating in Anne’s realisation that she could no longer care for him at home.

Now, Anne’s cancer diagnosis means she needs to begin to let go of her fierce independence, and allow her children to do more for her. She struggles with this.

Sigrid, Anne’s daughter, is a doctor living in Oslo with her partner, Aslak, and her two children. Her eldest daughter Mia was the result of a passionate relationship she had with Ben when she was young. Knowing she was pregnant, Ben decided to go and work overseas. His return to Oslo is causing major tensions between Sigrid and Aslak, as Ben appears to have stepped back into Mia’s life after eighteen years to play the perfect father, while it’s Aslak who has done everything for Mia in Ben’s absence.

One Last Time is a character driven novel; a deep exploration of the relationship between Anne and Sigrid. The chapters are alternatively narrated by both women, allowing the reader access to the thoughts and emotions of both Anne and Sigrid.

Anne’s cancer diagnosis acts as a catalyst for her and Sigrid to finally address issues that have existed between them since Sigrid’s childhood. Sigrid has carried these resentments with her into her adulthood, and has been shaped by them. In one of Anne’s chapters, she says of Sigrid:

The fact that she exaggerates things matter, the fact that she anchors everything painful, everything that causes her distress, in her childhood. That is matters that so many of her memories paint a distorted picture of me, that it’s important to correct those, that I can’t offer an apology without the kind of caveats that ultimately mean it will hold very little value for her. She doesn’t remember anything good…

For some people, reconciliation can be easy, but this is not the case for Anne and Sigrid. As we move through the book, more of their back story is revealed, explaining the reasons for their frosty relationship. Sigrid also must accept how others view and care for Anne, like her daughter Mia, who has a good relationship with her grandmother, and enjoys her eccentricities, such as the ritual of her morning swim in the icy lake – a practice Sigrid admonishes her mother for.

One Last Time provides a snapshot of this family as they negotiate Anne’s illness. By the end, not all of the storylines have been tied up in a neat bow, but Sigrid and Anne have made some progress in their own relationship, and the impact of this gave me hope that Sigrid might resolve some of the other issues that cause her to be unhappy.

I really enjoyed this book. Helga Flatland has the power to place the reader at the heart of other families, to make you feel part of the family and the drama. I loved the clarity of the language and the style. Huge respect goes to Rosie Hedger, for interpreting and translating this book from Norweigan to English.

If you’re a fan of character driven novels exploring family issues, I can whole-heartedly recommend this book. It’s published in paperback on 24th June and you can pre-order now via bookshop.org and other sellers.

The blog tour continues throughout June. You can check out the reviews of the other bloggers by following the links on this tour poster.

Thanks for reading,

Emma xx

About the author:

Helga Flatland is already one of Norway’s most awarded and widely read authors. Born in Telemark, Norway, in 1984, she made her literary debut in 2010 with the novel Stay If You Can, Leave If You Must, for which she was awarded the Tarjei Vesaas’ First Book Prize. She has written four novels and a children’s book and has
won several other literary awards. Her fifth novel, A Modern Family (her first English translation), was published to wide acclaim in Norway in August 2017, and was a number-one bestseller. The rights have subsequently been sold across Europe and the novel has sold more than 100,000 copies. One Last Time was published in Norway in 2020, where it topped the bestseller lists, and was shortlisted for the Norwegian Booksellers Award.