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.

Line by Niall Bourke

Publisher: Tramp Press

Length: 246 pages

Synopsis:

Willard, his mother and his girlfriend Nyla have spent their entire lives in an endless journey where daily survival is dictated by the ultimate imperative: obey the rules, or you will lose your place in the Line. Everything changes the day Willards mother dies and he finds an incomprehensible book hidden among her few belongings… In its Beckettian sparseness, Line pushes the boundaries of speculative, high concept fiction. Deeply moving, it also touches on many of the pressing issues of our turbulent world: migration and the refugee crisis, big data and the erosion of democracy, climate change, colonialism, economic exploitation, social conformity and religious fanaticism. A stunning debut from a major new voice in Irish literature.

My thoughts:

There are a couple of phrases used when describing books that automatically pique my interest, and ‘published by Tramp Press,’ is one of them. If a book has the Tramp seal of approval, I know it will be smart and well-written, and this book is no exception. So when the author, Niall Bourke, contacted me and asked me if I’d review Line (described as ‘speculative fiction,’) I said yes without too much thought, even though I’ll be honest and admit I wasn’t altogether sure what the term ‘speculative fiction’ meant!

If you are already a speculative fiction fan, skip this paragraph. But if like me, you are new to the term, here’s a short explanation: speculative fiction often seeks to imagine a worse future by reinventing our present. Popular titles in this genre include The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games.

Line is about Willard, his mother and his girlfriend, Nyla. They live in a line, and like everyone else in the line, they live like refugees, hoping that one day they will reach the front. Everyone in the line has a place, and they stay in that place. Generations have lived and died in the line. People’s homes are makeshift tents which can be dismantled and easily moved when the line advances. Provisions are scarce, and life is simple. Nobody seems to know when the line will move, or what is at the end, so everyone is always on alert. A Council of Elders governs the line, and failure to comply with the rules results in death by torture.

Everyday is similar. Willard toes the line and does as he is expected to do. However, everything changes the day that Willard’s mother dies. When he is going through her meagre possessions, he comes across a book which is sewn into the lining of her dress: the contents of this book cause him to question everything he has accepted and believed to be true. This book will send Willard and Nyla on a journey, away from the line and the life they have always known, to a place where capitalism and data are king: Nodol (read backwards).

Will this escape provide the refuge and future that Willard and Nyla crave?

Line is a sobering and thought-provoking read, exploring recognisable themes present in our society. The prose is beautiful in it’s sparseness and evokes a bleak and desolate dystopian landscape. It’s a book which took me out of my comfort zone, and challenged me at times, but I’m glad that I read it, and will be looking out for Niall’s work from now on.

Rónán Hession describes it perfectly on the book jacket when he says that the book is, “A Grapes of Wrath for the age of digital capitalism.”

Line is available now through all the usual channels.

Thank you so much to Niall Bourke for sending me a copy.

About the author:

Niall Bourke is a writer and a teacher. His work has been published widely in magazines and journals in Ireland and the UK, and his poems have been short-listed for numerous awards, including the Costa Short Story Award and The Hennessy New Irish Writing Award. He lives in South London with his partner, his daughter and his cat. Line is his first novel.

Panenka by Rónán Hession

If you’ve read Leonard and Hungry Paul, the debut novel by Rónán Hession, you’ll have an idea of what to expect from this author: he does not follow the conventional tropes we are conditioned to expect in fiction. When I first read L&HP, I did so with a sense of trepidation for much of the book: I later reaslied that I was terrified something awful would happen to the characters I had fallen in love with. I was delighted when I got to the end and no-one’s life had been ripped apart only to be rebuilt.

Book two has been hugely anticipated by fans, and gives readers a very different but equally wonderful story. For me, it has confirmed Rónán Hession as the champion of the quiet people. His novels are gentle, heart-warming and very kind.

Synopsis:

His name was Joseph, but for years they had called him Panenka, a name that was his sadness and his story. Panenka has spent 25 years living with the disastrous mistakes of his past, which have made him an exile in his home town and cost him his dearest relationships.

Now aged 50, Panenka begins to rebuild an improvised family life with his estranged daughter and her seven year old son. But at night, Panenka suffers crippling headaches that he calls his Iron Mask. Faced with losing everything, he meets Esther, a woman who has come to live in the town to escape her own disappointments. Together, they find resonance in each other’s experiences and learn new ways to let love into their broken lives.

My thoughts:

This story is set in an unnamed fictional city which has a European feel. It centres around the character, Joseph, aka Panenka, who lives with his daughter, Marie-Therese and grandson, Arthur.

His name was Joseph, but for years they had called him Panenka, a name that was his sadness and his story.

Panenka leads at sad and lonely life. Following a missed penalty during an important football match when he played professionally, he has retreated into himself, sealing himself away from others. His relationships have suffered as a result of his withdrawal, and he is all too aware of the hurt he has caused.

He had thought his days of hurting those he lived with were behind him, but when had he ever been able to promise that?

As the book opens, we discover that Panenka is silently suffering from crippling headaches, but does not know the cause of them.

Marie-Therese, his daughter, has moved back in with her father after her marriage crumbled. Her life is at a crossroads and she feels it’s time she made some changes.

Esther works in a barbers and has recently moved to the city. One day, Panenka comes to her for a haircut and they strike up a wonderful friendship.

Panenka has a melancholic thread running through it. It is filled with characters who have taken wrong turns, made incorrect choices, and have sealed themselves off from the love that was on offer. Hession’s observations on human behaviour are tender and whimsical: the friendships that exist or develop during the story are warm and caring. After spending a lifetime not communicating properly with each other, Panenka is an exploration in what can happen when characters begin to be open and are honest with themselves and others.

As I read this book, I found myself frequently reaching for my notebook to copy down the beautiful sentences and observations on life – I probably could have copied every line from the book! Here is one of my favourites.

When you first came into my life, he said, I couldn’t figure out what you were to me, or what I was supposed to be to you. But I like myself when I’m with you. You make me quiet inside.

Panenka is a celebration of quiet people: the ordinary and everyday are made magical by Hession’s gorgeous descriptions. I cannot recommend this book enough – it’s an absolute gem. I know I will return to it for a reread in the not too distant future, and I don’t doubt that when I do, I will end loving this book even more!

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Panenka from Kevin at Bluemoose Books – thank you so much. Panenka is out now, and you can buy direct from the publisher, or it’s available through all the usual outlets.

When They Find Her by Lia Middleton

Publisher: Penguin Michael Joseph

Publication date: 13th May 2021

Firstly, I would like to thank Chrissie Antoniou at Michael Joseph for asking if I’d be interested in reading and reviewing When They Find Her by Lia Middleton. I do enjoy a thriller, and after reading the synopsis and other author endorsements, I was sure this book would appeal to me.

‘I’ll be recommending it to everyone I know’ SARAH PEARSE, author of The Sanatorium
‘Flawlessly written, twisty and nerve-wracking’ 5***** READER REVIEW
‘A stand-out psychological thriller with heart’ ASHLEY AUDRAIN, author of The Push
‘Absolutely phenomenal’ 5***** READER REVIEW
_______

NAOMI ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A MOTHER.

But three years ago, her husband left, taking their child with him.

Now, her daughter has come to stay, and Naomi knows it’s her one chance to re-build her family.

But the night ends in a terrible accident.

And Naomi has no memory of what happened.

Panicking, desperate, Naomi finds herself telling a lie:

‘My daughter is missing.’

NOW SHE CAN NEVER TAKE IT BACK . . .
_______

My thoughts:

Naomi is living on her own in the house she grew up in. Her husband, Adrien took their daughter, Freya after their marriage fell apart and they moved away, leaving her alone with her demons. When the novel opens, we find Naomi preparing to have Freya for a sleepover – Aiden is reluctantly trusting her with overnight responsibilities for the first time. The visit starts off well, but the next morning Naomi wakes up to find that a dreadful accident has befallen Freya, and because of the sleeping tablet that she’d taken the night before, Naomi cannot remember anything. She calls the police and her ex-husband, and in a panic, tells a lie – a huge and heavy lie that she will struggle to get out from under.

A huge police search is launched, and journalists descend of Naomi’s home. What ensues is Naomi’s desperate attempt to limit the damage she has caused with her lie, as she grapples to understand what can have happened to Freya.

The timeline moves back and forth between the aftermath of Freya’s disappearance, to the time when Naomi and Aiden’s marriage was new, fresh and their lives together were full of promise. With Naomi as an unreliable narrator, the reader is kept on their toes throughout. We slowly build up a picture of what went on, and begin to understand why Naomi is so vague and guarded about her past.

Twisty and filled with suspense, this is a book that I consumed in just over a day. If you love thrillers, this one is definitely for you.

Thanks for reading,

Emma x

About the author:

Lia Middleton is a barrister who specialises in crime and prison law, and lives with her husband and two young children in Buckinghamshire. When They Find Her is her debut novel.

The Rules of Revelation

Synopsis:

REUNIONS. RECRIMINATIONS. RECKONINGS. Ireland. Great nationalists, bad mothers and a whole lot of secrets. Ryan Cusack is ready to deliver its soundtrack. Former sex-worker Georgie wants the truth about Ryan’s past out there but the journalist has her own agenda. Mel returns from Brexit Britain, ill-equipped to deal with the resurgence of a family scandal. Karine has always been sure of herself, till a terrible secret tugs the rug from under her. Maureen has got wind that things are changing, and if anyone’s telling the story she wants to make sure it’s her. The Rules of Revelation is a riotous blast of sex, scandal, obsession, love, feminism, gender, music, class and transgression from an author with tremendous, singular talent.

My thoughts:

I feel I must be honest about something: when the first book in this trilogy came out, and even when it won the Women’s Prize back in 2016, I did not think I would like it: I wasn’t sure a book about Cork gangsters would appeal to me – how wrong I was! It’s thanks to reviews by other bloggers that I trust, that I tentatively decided to ‘give it a go.’ Here’s the best bit – I fell madly in love with everything about The Glorious Heresies: the cast of characters, the themes, the storyline and the ingredient which made the whole thing sing – Lisa McInerney’s language! Now, I consider myself to be a huge fangirl. As soon as I finished The Glorious Heresies, I bought The Blood Miracles and loved that just as much. Then, there was a long wait for The Rules of Revelation, released this week by John Murray Press who were kind enough to send me a review copy – thank you so much to Jahan. The Rules of Revelation is my most anticipated book of 2021, so there was lots of pressure, and my god, did it deliver everything and more for me!

The Rules of Revelation is a homecoming for many exiled characters. Ryan Cusack has been laying low in various cities across the world: Berlin, Liverpool and finally Seoul. He is clean, and trying to develop the creative and musical side to him which he has long neglected. Aware that his son with Karine is now two years old and growing up without him, he is keen to return to Cork to start again. But is Cork ready to welcome its prodigal son back?

Karine and Ryan must negotiate how their lives will move forward if Ryan does return – no easy feat with Natalie hanging around on the edges of everything.

Georgie is in London, but she wants to go home. Jimmy Phelan believes her to be dead, and it’s only down to Ryan’s soft nature that she remains alive. She feels a resentment at Ryan for sending her away: justice is called for.

Mel (formerly Linda) is back in Cork. She grew up next door to the Cusacks, but went to Glasgow to live with her dad when her mother Tara disappeared many years ago. Will she find her place back in the City?

And Maureen Phelan is simmering with resentment at the injustices she faced in her life. She’s on a mission to carve out her own part of the city.

McInerney explores class, sexuality, abuse and the desire to create in this book. For me, it absolutely depicts Cork city in all its glorious complexities. The language, humour and dialogue are perfectly captured, and absolutely transported me back home.

In interviews, Lisa explains how her vision for the trilogy was Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll, with each book taking on one aspect.

No doubt some people will be curious as to whether its possible to read this as a stand-alone. I’m sure you could. The author does a great job at refreshing the events from the previous two books, and this would help those unfamiliar with the characters and the storyline to be brought up to speed. But it’s a bit like going for a lovely meal and only having dessert…My advice would be to go all out – it’s an absolute riot! I adored it.

About the author:

Lisa McInerney is an Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, editor and screenwriter. She is best known for her novel, The Glorious Heresies, which was the 2016 winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

First published in 2020 by 4th Estate, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell is short-listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize 2021. The winner will be announced on Thursday 13th May. I was delighted when asked to review one of the short-listed entries in the run up to the announcement, and was further thrilled when I was assigned this particular book. Below, you’ll find the synopsis, followed by my thoughts. Thanks to Bei Guo at Midas PR for a copy of the book and for inviting me to be a part of the blog celebration for this award.

Synopsis:

‘A package of dynamite’ Stephen King

‘Powerful, compulsive, brilliant’ Marian Keyes

An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher

ALL HE DID WAS FALL IN LOVE WITH ME AND THE WORLD TURNED HIM INTO A MONSTER

Vanessa Wye was fifteen-years-old when she first had sex with her English teacher.

She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student.

Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn’t abuse. It was love. She’s sure of that.

Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many.

Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues of our age.

My thoughts:

The excuses we make for them are outrageous, but they’re nothing compared with the ones we make for ourselves.

My Dark Vanessa is a story about power, sex and abuse; a story about a relationship between a male teacher and a female student. This story, however, does not fit the typical narrative we all think we know so well.

The book opens in 2017 in the USA, where the Me Too movement is gathering momentum and powerful men are being outed all over the country for their abusive behaviour towards women and girls. Thirty-two year old Vanessa Wye is getting ready for work while constantly refreshing her web browser for updates as one of the recent stories shared on Facebook. The victim, Taylor, is praised for her bravery in speaking out about a teacher who assaulted her when she was fourteen. Back when the abuse happened, this teacher was cleared of any wrong doing, but the momentum of Me Too gives Taylor the hope and strength to speak out. Vanessa is obsessed with this story, because it is one she has been asked to be a part of: the teacher in question is Mr. Strane, a man who is twenty seven years her senior, a man who used to her teacher, and also the man she sees as her soul mate. She is still in touch with him.

Vanessa refuses to believe that her relationship with Strane has any part in the narrative that is being played out in the papers and on social media. She was complicit, she tells herself. She wanted it too. He loved me. He was careful with me, she insists.

When Vanessa is fourteen years old, she begs her parents to send her to Browick, a boarding school in Norumbega, Western Maine. They eventually cave in, and we first meet teenage Vanessa a year later as she begins her second year at the school. She is bruised from a fall out with her former room-mate, Jenny, her ex-best-friend who last year side-lined Vanessa in favour of her new boyfriend, Tom. Vanessa has always found it hard to make and keep friends: she is naturally a loner, an only child from a remote part of Maine who enjoys writing poetry. She also has a dark and obsessive side to her personality.

Jacob Strane is a forty-two year old English teacher at the school. Vanessa stands out in his class as talented, but he also recognises something else in Vanessa which draws him to her.

What follows is a history of Vanessa and Strane’s relationship played out across a dual timeline beginning in 2000 and ending in 2017. Vanessa is eventually forced re-examine her experiences with Strane, and has to accept that what she considered to be an exceptional love story was something far more unsettling and sordid.

Because if this isn’t a love story, what is it?

My Dark Vanessa is multi-layered and potent book, made all the more powerful as the author does not give us the stereotypical relationship of an attractive teacher and a likeable victim to explore this issue through. Instead, we have Jacob Strane and Vanessa Wye, who are unforgettable and fascinating.

Jacob Strane is not a well-liked teacher: Vanessa never finds him physically attractive, but he has a power over her, and this power lies in his words – to Vanessa, they are like a drug. He feeds her literature and poems, introduces her to Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, a book which Vanessa becomes obsessed with, seeing herself and Strane as Lolita and Humbert. Once Strane is satisfied that he has Vanessa where he wants her, he makes his move.

Unlike most victims, Vanessa believes that this physical relationship with Strane is what she wants – he has groomed her so well she believes that she holds the power over him. This knowledge thrills her, and sets her further apart from her peers, as does the shared knowledge of their dark secret. A spikey and often unlikeable character, Vanessa is not easy to sympathise or empathise with, but none-the-less, she is a victim.

Narrated entirely in first person by Vanessa, we are given full access to the the complex layers of her personality, the confusion she feels, the conflicting emotions Strane stirs in her, the attraction and repulsion as his words lead to physical actions he makes her believe she wants. We see Vanessa alternately behaving as a child and then as someone who is aware of the power she can exert over older men, especially him.

This is a dark and unsettling story, expertly told, with characters that fascinate right up to then end. As a reader, I felt uncomfortable and infuriated at times, but for me there was enough glimmers of light to have me racing to the end. Undoubtedly, My Dark Vanessa is one of the most consuming and intense reads I have experienced – I could discuss it for hours.

I haven’t read any of the other short-listed titles for The Dylan Thomas Prize, but if they are as brilliant and compelling as My Dark Vanessa, the judges will have a very tough decision to make before announcing the winner on Thursday!

The Metal Heart by Caroline Lea

The story of true innocents caught up in the machinery of war. Exquisitely researched, beautifully told, this tiny corner of Scotland came alive for me in all of my senses.”

Mary Beth Keane, author of Ask, Again, Yes

Hello Book Lover!

The Metal Heart by Caroline Lea is out now and is published by Penguin Michael Joseph. After reading about this book earlier in the Spring, I knew there was a very good chance it would be a book for me – and thankfully my instincts were right! It’s an absolute corker!

Thank you so much to Chrissie at Michael Joseph for sending me a copy to read and review for my blog.

Synopsis:

In the dark days of World War II, an unlikely romance blossoms between a Scottish woman and an Italian prisoner of war in this haunting novel with the emotional complexity of The Boat Runner and All the Light We Cannot See–a powerful and atmospheric story of love, jealousy, and conscience that illuminates the beauty of the human spirit from the author of The Glass Woman.

In the wake of the Allies’ victory in North Africa, 1,000 Italian soldiers have been sent to a remote island off the Scottish coast to wait out the war. Their arrival has divided the island’s community. Nerves frayed from three years of war and the constant threat of invasion, many locals fear the enemy prisoners and do not want them there.

Where their neighbors see bloodthirsty enemies, however, orphaned sisters Dorothy and Constance see sick and wounded men unused to the freezing cold of an Orkney winter, and volunteer to nurse them. While doing so Dorothy finds herself immediately drawn to Cesare, a young man broken by the horrors of battle.

But as the war drags on, tensions between the islanders and the outsiders deepen, and Dorothy’s connection to Cesare threatens the bond she shares with Constance. Since the loss of their parents, the sisters have relied on each other. Now, their loyalty will be tested, each forced to weigh duty against desire . . . until, one fateful evening, a choice must be made, one that that will have devastating consequences.

My thoughts:

Set in Orkney during World War Two, The Metal Heart is a story of love and hope in the face of adversity.

Dot and Con are identical twin sisters in their twenties. Alone in the world, they recently left Kirkwall and moved to an uninhabited neighbouring island called Selkie Holm. Events from the past spurred this desire for the sisters to live outside of the community and to be left in peace.

An attack by a German submarine a on local naval ship prompts concerns about the islands’ defences. Those in power decide that a 1,000 strong group of Italian Prisoners of War should be brought to the Orkneys to build sea defences to protect from further attacks. It is decided that the prisoners will be accommodated on Selkie Holm. Dot and Con’s short-lived peace is disturbed by the arrival of the Italians, along with the British who will supervise the prisoners.

When the POW ship arrives on Selkie Holm, the islanders turn out to watch – anxious and suspicious of the new comers. One prisoner, Cesare, falls into the sea, and Dot dives in to save him. A bond is forged between the two in this instant, and as the novel progresses, we see Dot and Cesare negotiating the difficulties in their paths, and they become close despite everything. Dot’s relationship with Cesare causes raised eyebrows, and stirs uncomfortable and mistrustful feelings in her sister. Con does not think that any good can come out of a close relationship with a man.

All of this is set against the backdrop of World War Two, a tragic time of loss and heart ache for so many. Caroline Lea’s writing is beautifully atmospheric, and captures the suspicions and mistrust which abounded at the time, along with the low cloud of sadness that hung over everyone.

All across Europe, bodies are falling from the sky or into the sea, or are being blown high into the air. Every explosion is a name. Every lost life is carved on someone else’s heart. Every death takes more than a single life. It takes memories and hope. But not the love. The love remains.

This is a beautifully told and heart-warming story of the love between two sisters and the love between a man and a woman who war rendered enemies. It shows the best and worst of the human spirit, and demonstrates how hope and belief can empower us to achieve the unimaginable.

The Metal Heart is a work of fiction, but it was inspired by events that took place on the Orkneys during the war. There’s a fascinating section at the end which explains more about the inspiration for the novel and the process Caroline Lea followed. She has created a very beautiful story of love, and it’s one I will cherish.

I loved it.

Thanks for reading,

Emma x

About the author

Caroline Lea grew up on the island of Jersey and gained a First from Warwick University. Her fiction and poetry have been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. Her debut novel, The Glass Woman, a gothic thriller set during the Icelandic witch trials, was shortlisted for the HWA Debut Crown Award.

On Hampstead Heath by Marika Cobbald

A mystery and an elegy for the death of old-fashioned journalism, it’s a book that will warm your heart.
The Observer Fiction To Look Out For in 2021

I jumped at the chance to join the Midas PR blog tour for On Hampstead Heath by Marika Cobbald. It is published by Arcadia Books, and is available now through all the usual outlets. Thank you to Amber at Midas and the publisher for the review copy. The tour poster is at the bottom of this post for you to check out other reviews if you’d like to.

Synopsis:

Thorn Marsh was raised in a house of whispers, of meaningful glances and half-finished sentences. Now she’s a journalist with a passion for truth, more devoted to her work at the London Journal than she ever was to her ex-husband.

When the newspaper is bought by media giant The Goring Group, who value sales figures over fact-checking, Thorn openly questions their methods, and promptly finds herself moved from the news desk to the midweek supplement, reporting heart-warming stories for their new segment, The Bright Side, a job to which she is spectacularly unsuited.

On a final warning and with no heart-warming news in sight, a desperate Thorn fabricates a good-news story of her own. The story, centred on an angelic apparition on Hampstead Heath, goes viral. Caught between her principles and her ambitions, Thorn goes in search of the truth behind her creation, only to find the answers locked away in the unconscious mind of a stranger.

Marika Cobbold returns with her eighth novel, On Hampstead Heath. Sharp, poignant, and infused with dark humour, On Hampstead Heath is an homage to storytelling and to truth; to the tales we tell ourselves, and the stories that save us.

My thoughts:

Where lies go unopposed, democracy dies.

When Thorn Marsh became a journalist, she embroidered those words (badly) on a cross-stitch and hung the piece above her bed. The words were her professional code, and served her well for many years. However, everything she believes in professionally is thrown into question when her paper, the London Journal, is taken over by The Goring Group. Those now in charge have a different vision and journalistic approach to Thorn. They demand less news and more photos, and are all about appearances and the amount of ‘clicks’ pieces generate.

Thorn does not feel she can be a part of this new approach. Her inability to comply sees her moved from her job on the news desk and reposted to a midweek supplement called London Living where she is required to write feel good stories. Thorn’s caustic and witty personality renders her naturally unsuitable to this is a position

In the past, Thorn has neglected her personal life in favour of her career, so when she is put on a bout of ‘gardening leave’ before beginning on London Living, she leans mainly on her wonderfully supportive elderly neighbour and gin drinking companion, Lottie. Thorn’s other main support is her ex-husband Nick. Now remarried, he is is seemingly still at Thorn’s beck and call in times of crisis.

An alcohol fuelled catch up with Nick, and a gross error in judgement by Thorn means that she wakes up the next morning with the worst hangover ever. As the minutes drag painfully by, the horror sinks in and she realises she has filed a story which breaks journalistic standards, along with her own cross-stitched code. Her story details an angelic apparition on Viaduct Bridge on Hampstead Heath. There are elements of truth to Thorn’s story, but large parts of it are gin-fuelled fiction. What follows is Thorn’s attempts to stem the damage this story could cause her, in both her professional and personal life. She cannot afford for the real truth to come out.

This is a wonderful book, and I absolutely loved the style of writing. From the first page, I just fell into Thorn’s world and devoured the story in a short space of time. Marika Cobbold has created a witty, warm and compelling tale all about truth and lies, and the dangers when lines are blurred between the two.

I loved it!

Thanks for reading,

Emma xx

About the author:

Marika is the author of eight novels, including Guppies For Teapicked for the first W.H. Smith’s Fresh Talent promotion, shortlisted for the Sunday Express Novel of the Year, serialised on radio 4 Woman’s Hour and made into a film starring Inge Meysel; Frozen Music, a best-seller in the UK and abroad, and Drowning Rose, A Guardian Reader’s Book of the Year.

Marika’s short-stories and journalism have appeared in a variety of magazines and newspapers in the UK and in Sweden.

Listening Still by Anne Griffin

To say that I loved When All Is Said, Anne Griffin’s debut novel, would be an understatement. It’s probably one of my favourite reads in recent years, so when I heard that Anne’s second novel was being published this year, I was very excited – and even more excited when the lovely folk at Sceptre agreed to send me a proof copy (there may have been squealing when it landed on the doormat!)

Synopsis:

Jeanie Masterson has a gift: she can hear the recently dead and give voice to their final wishes and revelations. Inherited from her father, this gift has enabled the family undertakers to flourish in their small Irish town. Yet she has always been uneasy about censoring some of the dead’s last messages to the living. Unsure, too, about the choice she made when she left school seventeen years ago: to stay or leave for a new life in London with her charismatic teenage sweetheart.

So when Jeanie’s parents unexpectedly announce their plan to retire, she is jolted out of her limbo. In this captivating successor to her bestselling debut, Anne Griffin portrays a young woman who is torn between duty, a comfortable marriage and a role she both loves and hates and her last chance to break free, unaware she has not been alone in softening the truth for a long while.

(The finished copies look this this below)

My thoughts:

Listening Still is a story which explores themes of truth, obligation, love and acceptance.

Jeanie Masterson is 32 and has a strange gift – she can hear the dead. Jeanie works with her family of undertakers in a small town in the middle of Ireland – a town she grew up in and never left. Like her father, she has the ability to listen to the dead for a short period of time before they depart the mortal world. A gift, but also a burden, and it makes her feel incredibly lonely. Jeannie’s stable and routine world is thrown into a spin when her parents announce their retirement plans which involve them leaving Jeanie and her husband Niall to run the business while they relocate to Baltimore in County Cork, along with Jeanie’s autistic brother, Mikey.

Niall thinks this is the chance they have been waiting for – an opportunity to have the space they need for themselves. But Jeannie is unconvinced. She felt duty bound to remain at home while all her friends left and went to university. Jeanie somewhat reluctantly accepted the role she was expected to play in the family business, so it’s somewhat galling for her when her father decides to retire and leave her at the first opportunity he gets.

Jeannie begins to question the decisions which brought her to this point in her life. Should she have stayed in the first place? Should she have moved to London with her ex-boyfriend, Fionn, when she had the chance? While she ponders the road not taken, life events overtake, and Jeannie finds herself having to make the tough decisions that will inevitably hurt those she loves – but she realises she needs to be true to herself for once.

Anne Griffin writes beautiful characters whose lives she carefully and slowly constructs for the reader. From the present, we journey into Jeannie’s past, exploring her motivations and fears. This is a gentle story of rediscovery, facing your truth and working out what life you want to live.

I don’t often cry when reading books, but found myself reaching for the tissues (as I did with When All Is Said!) on a number of occasions while reading this. Anne Griffin has a very special gift in evoking powerful emotions in her reader! I loved it!

Thanks for reading.

Emma x

About the author

Anne Griffin is the winner of the John McGahern Award for Literature. Shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and The Sunday Business Post Short Story Competition, Anne’s work has been featured in, amongst others, The Irish Times and The Stinging Fly. She’s worked in Waterstones branches in both Dublin and London, and for various charities. Born in Dublin, Anne now lives in Mullingar, Ireland, with her husband and son. When All is Said is her debut novel.  

The Vanishing Triangle by Claire McGowan

As a far of true crime podcasts and books, I was delighted when Amber at Midas PR invited me to listen and review The Vanishing Triangle by writer Claire McGowan. This book is an Audible original, and currently only available as an audiobook.

Synopsis:

Ireland, the 1990s. Eight missing women. Did a serial killer prowl the vanishing triangle? And if so, were they ever caught? 

Between 1993 and 1998, eight women went missing from an area around Dublin that became known as the ‘Vanishing Triangle’. Was there a link? Speculation abounded. There were whispers of a serial killer, responsible for some, if not all, of these cases. But nobody was ever brought to justice.

Twenty years later, the brutal murder of Jastine Valdez disturbs crime Novelist Claire McGowan into action. Reminded, like many in Ireland, of those previous missing women, McGowan brings her skills as a novelist to the real world, setting out to uncover the truth of the vanishing triangle. As she digs deeper, she finds something terrible lurking behind the idyllic image of rural Ireland and the 21st century success story of the ‘Celtic Tiger’. An incompetent police force, a traumatised nation and, a rank, murderous misogyny. 

But are the disappearances linked? Are they linked with other murders? Was there, is there, a serial killer on the loose.

Length: 5 hrs and 39 mins

My thoughts:

The Vanishing Triangle is an examination of the disappearances of eight women from a similar geographical location around the Dublin area in the nineties. These cases are unsolved, and unlike crime novels, this book will not neatly tie everything together by the time we reach the end. What Claire McGowan does do, is ask questions and hypothesise as to how eight women could have vanished, seemingly without a trace, from Irish soil during this time.

Ireland is small, and the population of the whole island is approximately 6.6 million people. Many people wrongly assume that it’s a safe, idyllic country. Clare McGowan dispels this perception, and instead paints a picture of a country where a myriad of factors may have allowed the possible perpetrators responsible for the disappearances to escape justice, and for these disappearances to remain unsolved: the existence of a political border; political organisations active at the time; the church and conservative societal views on women’s behaviours and people’s fear of speaking out.

Claire McGowan examines the case of each of the women, detailing their last known steps, and explores possible scenarios which lead to their disappearances.

The Vanishing Triangle is a fascinating but tragic listen. It is a timely contribution to the discussions in the media surrounding violence against women. This book will probably make you very angry and terribly sad – but like the author (before she stumbled across The Vanishing Triangle phenomenon while researching her books), I was unaware of many of these cases. Even though it’s a sobering listen, it’s important that we are aware of these cases. It would be a further crime if we allowed the stories of the eight women to be forgotten.

The disappeared were: Annie McCarrick (26), Eva Brennan (39), Imelda Keenan (22), Jojo Dullard (21), Ciara Breen (17) and Fiona Pender (25) – young women with their lives ahead of them.

You can read other blogger’s takes on this audio book, and also access a Q&A with Claire by following the Midas PR and Audible Original blog tour.

Thanks for reading,

Emma x

About the writer:

Claire McGowan is the author of the bestselling crime thriller What You Did and the popular Paula McGuire series. She has written several radio plays and TV scripts, and also writes women’s fiction under the pseudonym Eva Woods.