Before Everything by Victoria Redel @victoria_redel @Louiseswannell @HodderBooks

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Before Everything by Victoria Redel Hodder and Stoughton July 6th 2017

The cancer is back and Anna decides that enough is enough, its time to let go and die with dignity. Not everyone agrees with the decision and want her to fight on, but Anna is adamant..

As she prepares to die her close friends from sixth grade, Ming, Molly, Caroline and Helena arrive, each with their own memories of their time with Anna. It is Helena that ultimately struggles with Anna’s decision. How will she survive without her best friend, who will she turn to when she needs that no nonsense advice so readily doled out by Anna.

As Anna’s health declines so the friends look back before everything, before the cancer took hold, to the happy times, and the bad times. They examine their individual relationship with Anna and the gap her death will leave

Sounds grim, and yes, the book and its themes are sad but the writing is such that it is not overly sentimental or will leave you drowning in sorrow. It is more a novel of relationships, and friendship and how the process of saying goodbye and remembering is different for each of us.

The narrative itself is wonderfully done, perfectly capturing the tone of the characters. I particularly enjoyed the character of Helen, the famous artist with a past she would rather forget, yet now happy and about to marry thanks to Anna’s timely interventions. The author skilfully highlights her struggle to accept Anna’s refusal of further treatment and her tenacity in trying to get the friends to persuade Anna not to give in.

The author is very clever in her portrayal of Anna in that you never actually feel sorry for her, sad yes, but you know that she has lived her life as she would wish, that she is ready to die. I felt Redel was trying to highlight the positivity of dying rather than dwelling on the negative, perhaps a chance to reflect and to make changes for those left behind.

There is humour dotted throughout providing the perfect counter balance to the sadness and also a sense of hope, a belief that you can survive the death of someone so very close to you.

The only criticism I have is the use of  brief headings interspersed throughout hinting at certain points in their lives, which I found a little confusing at times and sometimes interrupted the flow of the story.

This is a heartrending novel that is beautifully and tenderly written and needs to be put at the top of your TBR pile!

 

I would like to thank Louise Swannell and Hodder Books for providing a proof copy to read and review.

About the author.

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Victoria Redel was born in New York with her two sons. She is the author of three books of poetry and five novels including The Border of Truth and Where The Road Bottoms Out.  Redel is on the graduate  and undergraduate faculty of the Sarah Lawrence College.

 

 

The halftime scores are in……

Its June and exactly 6 months through the year. I’m also just over halfway through this years reading challenge, having read 45 books out of my target of 80.

To commemorate this occasion I decided it would be good to list my top 6 books of the year so far, and to look ahead to some of the books I cannot wait to read in the next 6 months of 2017.

This has not been an easy decision. The standard and quality of books published so far has been outstanding.

So here goes and they are in no particular order, I shall my rank my favourites at the end of the year.

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Sarah Schmidt See What I have Done  Tinder Press May 2nd.

A fictional account of the Lizzie Borden murders. A chilling portrait of a dysfunctional family about to implode. Hyped as one of the novels of the year and it does not disappoint.

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Gin Phillips Fierce Kingdom  Doubleday June 15th

Exploring motherhood and what lengths you would go to to save your child when trapped inside a zoo as gun men run amok killing all they come across. Utterly brilliant and totally immersive, you must read this book.

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Gail Honeyman Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine  Harper Collins May 18th 2017

What is not to like about this novel. Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine or is she? You will laugh, cry and totally fall in love with Eleanor. Already optioned to be made into a film by Reese Witherspoon this novel is going to be huge.

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Megan Hunter The End We Start From May 18th 2017

A woman gives birth in a dystopian London, a city about to be engulfed by floods. A short sparse novel that packs a punch and is utterly brilliant. I read this in one sitting and was totally blown away by Hunter’s writing. It is hard to believe that its a debut novel.

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Laura Barnett Greatest Hits  W&N June 15th 2017

The author Laura Barnett, collaborates with singer songwriter, Kathryn Williams to unravel the life story of retired musician Cassandra Wheeler. Each stage in Cass’s life is highlighted by a song, with lyrics that mirror perfectly the moments of that time. Totally unique and wonderful.

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Fran Cooper These Dividing Walls Hodder and Stoughton May 4th 2017

An apartment building on the backstreets of Paris houses a myriad of characters each with their own story to tell. A novel that perfectly captures a true sense of time and place in the blazing heat of a Parisienne summer.

The Second Half

Now for the second half of the year. What  6 exciting books are looming on the horizon that I am excited to get my hands on and read??

Top of the list has to be Yesterday by Felicia Yap. Published by Wildfire on 10th August, this is the ‘thriller of the summer’. The buzz surrounding this novel is huge. Described as a ‘high concept debut thriller’ it asks how a murder can be solved when all you can remember is yesterday.

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A close second is Tinman by Sarah Winman. Published by Tinder Press on 27th July, this has set the book world alight. The story of two inseparable boys, Ellis and Michael, and a painting of fifteen sunflowers won in a raffle. Feedback suggests it is a hugely emotional and heartrending read and I cannot wait.

Next up is The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce. Published by Tinder Press on 13th July.  What is not to like about Joyce’s novels particularly the truly wonderful The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. The Music Shop tells the story of music shop owner, Frank and his relationship with the mysterious Ilse Brauchman.

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One book that I cannot wait to read is American War by Omar El Akkard, published by Picador on 7th September. A second American civil war breaks out in 2074 and Sarat Chestnut must make decisions which will have far reaching consequences for herself and her family. I don’t usually like novels set in the future but the buzz around this one is such that I have to read it.

Tom Hanks, Oscar winning actor is now also a writer. His short stories, Uncommon Type: Some Stories published October 17th by William Heinemann, sound intriguing. Apparently the stories revolve around the theme of typewriters which Hanks has a liking for! Can such a hugely successful actor transfer his skills and be an awesome writer, I cannot wait to find out.

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I couldn’t decide which would be my sixth novel so I am going to name two further novels which I am very much looking forward to. First up is Kamila Shamsi  Home Fires published by Bloomsbury on September 7th. Billed as a retelling of Sophocles, Antigone it is a story of family, love, loyalty and politics. It sounds compelling! Lastly is Maja Lunde’s  The History of Bees published by Scribner on September 7th.  It tells the story of three generations of beekeepers in the past, present and future and the intense, powerful relationship they each have with bees and their children.

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So, that’s it! My half year wrap up and the promise of exciting reading for the remaining half of the year.

Any publishers out there who want to send me a few proofs to add the list feel free to do so!  Maybe all you lovely bookbloggers have a few recommendations too!

Happy reading!!!

The Marsh Kings Daughter by Karen Dionne. @KarenDionne @LittleBrown

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The Marsh Kings Daughter by Karen Dionne Little Brown June 29th 2017

Its always interesting to read a book tipped to be a stand out thriller of the year, with tons of hype. Will it live up to the glowing reviews and your own personal expectations?  was certainly hoping so when I received a proof copy of The Marsh King’s Daughter.

Meet Helena, a busy mum to two daughters, Iris and Mari, and wife to supportive, loyal husband Stephen.

Helena makes her own jams and jellies, using ingredients from the woods and the marshlands around her, selling to local retail outlets.Helena can also hunt and survive in the environment around her, taught by her father as she was growing up. But her the father/daughter relationship is far from ordinary, in fact it is unique, her upbringing a closely guarded secret until a news article on the radio changes everything.

Helena’s father has escaped from the local maximum security prison and her secret is well and truly in the open. Born to a mother who was kidnapped and held against her will for 15 years, Helena has tried to put the past behind her, but now the past is about to bite back.

Helena must find her father before he finds her family.

The ensuing story will draw you in to a cat and mouse chase as each hunt the other, testing their survival skills and wit against on another. There can only be one winner….who will it be?

The Marsh King’s Daughter will hook and draw you in from the very first page. As Helena races  to deal with the present so she must come to terms with the past, giving us glimpses into her marsh land life. You will question why she loved and adored a father who could be so cruel and controlling, punishing both her and her mother if something didn’t please him and why they stayed so long.

Dionne skillfully reveals the intense relationship between father and daughter, the close bond they form as he teaches her to hunt and the indifference through lack of knowledge and understanding she feels towards her mother.

I particularly liked the way the narrative portrayed the psychology of the captive, Helena’s mother, and the demons that drove the Marsh King to do as he did, without overpowering the reader or distracting from the story.

The same can be said for the hunting and survival parts of the story that are well researched and very real.

As the story unfolded the tension and the drama slowly increased, in fact it is double the tension and drama! Not only do we have to read about Helena’s  past captivity and slow awakening to the evil wrongdoings of her father but we also have to deal with the present day as their cat and mouse game deepens in intensity.

Its a hold onto your seats moment as you frantically turn the last few pages to discover the fate of the characters and I was not disappointed.

Dionne has written a truly wonderful psychological thriller with a difference, one that would make an excellent movie.

It is a novel that I would definitely be packing on my holidays this year.

Thank you to Little Brown for the proof copy to read and review.

About the author.

Karen Dionne

Karen Dionne was born in 1953,  in Akron, Ohio. Also known as K.L Dionne, her 2014 novel The Killing, Uncommon Denominator was nominated for the International Association of Media Tie-In-Writer Scribe Award

Karen is the co-founder of the online writers community Backspace and organises Salt Clay writers retreat held every other year in the Bahamas.

Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett @laura_jbarnett @kathwillamsuk @RebeccaGray @wnbooks

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Weidenfeld and Nicolson June 15th 2017

An author and a musician collaborate to tell a story. Laura Barnett, the author, embarking on that difficult second novel. Kathryn Williams, a singer songwriter, provides the songs that will unravel the life story of Cassandra Wheeler.

Cassandra Wheeler, singer songwriter, now in her sixties is coming out of retirement, after many years living as a recluse.

Cass will launch her greatest hits album with a number of new songs at a launch party, but before that she is going to sit in her studio and listen to the songs that have shaped her life. No matter how painful the memories Cass is going to confront the past,  and relive the events that have led her to this important day.

It is a life that has had many twists and turns, many highs and lows. A childhood marred by an unloving absent mother, a marriage doomed from the start and a career that has led to all the wealth and material possessions that Cass could ever want. But what sacrifices , what has it cost her?

Barnett, is clever and uses the lyrics from Cass’s past songs to begin each chapter as well as to signify a different phase in Cass’s life.

The lyrics tie in beautifully.  I particularly loved the poignant lyrics of ‘Common Ground’ used to describe her mother leaving without saying goodbye.

As I read I tried to imagine the accompanying melody, the sound of Cass’s voice and I cannot wait to hear Kathryn William’s interpretation.

The characters portray both the good and bad side of the music industry.  From Cass’s husband, Ivor Tait, losing himself in drugs, alcohol and abuse as their marriage falls apart to her wonderful personal assistant, Kim, who tries to protect her. Then there is the beautiful fragile daughter, Anna, caught in the middle of her warring parents, struggling to deal with life.

Barnett’s writing has the capacity to stir up a myriad of emotions in her reader and once or twice, I had to wipe away the odd stray tear.

It was hard to turn the last page, to leave Cass and all the wonderful characters behind in what is a truly unique and memorable novel.

Definitely one of the best novels so far this year.

Thank you so much to Rebecca Gray for sending a proof copy for me to read and review.

Laura Barnett

Laura Barnett

Born in South London in 1982, Laura is a writer, journalist and theatre critic. She written for the Daily Telegraph, The Observer and The guardian.Her first novel ‘The Versions of Us’ was published in 2015 and was a huge success.

Kathryn Williams

Kathryn Williams

A Mercury nominated and critically acclaimed singer songwriter whose 2015 album Hypoxia  was inspired by Sylvia’s Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’. The album Greatest Hits written in collaboration with Laura Barnett will be released at the the same time as the novel.

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips @GinPhillips17 @alisonbarrow @TransworldBooks

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Transworld June 15th 2017

It nearing 5.30pm, the zoo is about to close for the day. Joan and her son Lincoln are making their way to the exit when they hear loud cracks in the air. Nothing to worry about Joan thinks but as they draw nearer to the exit she see images she would rather not have seen on the floor. A thick viscous liquid pools around arms, bodies and heads. Terror and fear take hold of Joan and she knows that the cracks in the air were gunshots and  her only priority is to protect her son and to keep him alive.

Unaware of where and how many gunmen there are Joan and Lincoln flee looking for a safe place to hide until help arrives. Over the next 3 hours they face a nerve tingling fight to stay alive.

What a riveting, heartrending start. This novel will grip you from the beginning, leaving you barely time to draw breath until you turn the last page and can finally exhale and relax.

I absolutely loved this novel and would, if life hadn’t go in the way have read in one sitting.

It is not only thrilling and suspenseful but it also goes much deeper. As Joan and Lincoln hide and run from the gunmen, it is Joan who also has to question just how far she would go to protect her son and what it actually means to be a mother. There is one particular scene that I will not mention for fear of spoiling the story, that was upsetting but conveyed in the most stark and brutal way the protective primal instinct lurking just below the surface in every mother or parent.

The novel doesn’t just look at motherhood but uses the other characters to show we all have different coping mechanisms when faced with life threatening danger.There is Kailynn, the young teenager who talks incessantly to hide her terror and Mrs Powell, cool, measured and calm whose past career as a school teacher saves their lives.

We encounter one of the gunmen and are given a glimpse into his past, into why he is now roaming around a zoo shooting indiscriminately at people and animals. It was particularly poignant as I read the novel at the time of of the UK terror attacks. It is not hard to see how the novels plot can so easily spill out into real life masking this an even more terrifying read.

With tension and drama that is relentless right up to the very last page, and  an ending that will not disappoint I urge you to read this quite brilliant novel.

I am already recommending to my customers at Malvern Library and cannot wait to see it on our new books table.

Thank you to Alison Barrow and Transworld for a proof copy to read and review.

 

Gin Phillips

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Born in Montgomery, Alabama, Gin Phillips has written five novels. Her debut novel ‘The Wells and The Mine’ won the Barnes and Noble Discover Award in 2009.

She also written two children’s novels, Hidden Summer and A little Bit of Spectacular.

 

 

 

 

This Family Of Small Things by Alison Jameson

Transworld  June 8th 2017

Tullyvin, a small town in County Wicklow, Ireland is the setting for this novel.

Midge Connor, at the age of 21, is the only child still at home. Her father, an alcoholic, regularly doling out physical abuse to Midge’s mother. The mother washes dishes in the local Italian restaurant, drowning her sorrows in booze. Neither has the time for Midge who drifts aimlessly seeming without any direction or idea of a future.

On the other side of town live sister Margaret and Olive, two spinsters comfortable living side by side.

Up the hill their brother Bird, his whole life consumed by the family farm, totally introvert rarely conversing or interacting with the people of Tullyvin.

Tragedy strikes and Bird finds Midge curled up in tight ball outside his farm changing his life and those around him.

The characters are wonderfully portrayed.

Midge, mentally scarred from years of living in an abusive home, vulnerable and unloved, totally at odds with the world.

Margaret, devastated after a broken engagement many years ago, unwilling to open up and trust anyone. Olive, bubbly and vivacious but somehow tied to Margaret.

My favourite character has to be Bird. Wild unkempt hair and beard, totally serious, a loner, a deep thinker, wrapped up in the farm. I didn’t feel any pity or sorrow for his lonely existence but wanted to nurture him and bring him out of his shell.

Throughout the novel Jameson skilfully unwraps the characters, giving us access to their innermost thoughts and emotions as their actions and those of others impact on their lives.

You cannot help but become totally emotionally immersed and at times I found I had to wipe away the odd tear from my eyes!

Whilst the characters are at the heart of this novel, the imagery Jameson’s writing invokes are nothing but complimentary to their actions and emotions. The use of location, particularly a small town in Ireland where everyone knows everyone’s business and the claustrophobia this can generate added to the drama and tension.

It is a novel that will break your heart but will also fill you with hope.

This novel is simply beautiful and I loved it.

A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall

 

A Thousand Paper Birds by [Udall, Tor]

Bloomsbury Circus 15th June 2017

Origami, grief and the beautiful Kew Gardens are the premise of this mesmerising story.

Audrey,  bereft after 3 miscarriages apparently dead either by suicide or an accident.

Jonah, her husband, is bereft and lost in grief wondering why his wife died.

Chloe,  is haunted by an incident she believes was her fault and obsessed with origami birds

Harry, a Kew gardener is  intent on saving endangered plants.

Milly, a little girl, who roams Kew Gardens apparently homeless and parentless.

Four characters each unknowingly bound together by tragedy.

Sounds like a gloomy story and yes it is but is also a magical story, in fact a love story.

When Jonah meets Chloe he is still in the midst of grieving for his wife, seeking comfort, for all the wrong reasons. Chloe, resolutely single fleeing from one boyfriend to another slowly realises that she loves Jonah but knows that Jonah is incapable of reciprocating, as he fights his demons. Will they or won’t they find each other and have the happy ever after.

Intertwined is the story of Harry, the gardener and Milly the little girl. We assume that Harry is her father, but is she? We also assume that that Audrey and Harry had some form of affair after Chloe discovers Audrey’s diaries.

Based on these assumptions the author takes us on a mesmerising, lyrical roller coaster ride, with beautifully portrayed characters, and an ambitious storyline with Kew Gardens the shining star.

You will instantly fall in love with Milly, grow impatient with Jonah as he struggles to make sense of his life and hope that Chloe finds happiness and peace. You will find yourself as I did desperate to revisit Kew Gardens and see what Milly sees, and bask in the beauty of the plants and landscape so revered by Harry.

I absolutely adored this novel. It is a story that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned and the book closed.

Reminiscent of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones this book will delight all who read it.

Just stunning.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for the opportunity to read and review

 

The Futures Anna Pitoniak

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Michael Joseph 1st June 2017

Julia and Evan, recent Yale graduates, about to embark on adult life together, in a squat New York apartment. Evan has the job of his dreams with hedge fund company,Spire and Julia, well Julia has no job and no idea what she wants to do.
As Evan works long hours and is barely at home, Julia becomes more and more despondent until a chance meeting finds her working for a charitable foundation, a job she will grow to hate.
The cracks slowly begin to appear in Evan and Julia’s relationship. When Julia meets fellow ex Yale student Adam, she embarks on an affair that will have enormous repercussions not only for Julia but for Evan as well.
We might think we are adult and grown up when at University, its perhaps our first time away from parents, the first time we can make our own decisions, but there is always a safety net of pastoral care to fall into. Launching into the job market, moving in with your boyfriend, that’s when real adult life starts and you finally have to grow up. That’s what this novel is primarily about. It conveys what happens when Julia and Evan’s imagined expectations do not match reality, when suddenly faced with grown up problems they fail, fall out of love and have to go back to the drawing board and rebuild.
It is a novel told in alternating chapters, depicting both sides of the story, detailing their individual and conflicting emotions. As a reader I often found that I wanted to bang their heads together, make them realise what the other was feeling and sort it out!
The Futures is a novel of place, of how wonderful a city such as New York can be if all is well and how just as we fall out of love with a person we can also fall out of love with a place. Pitoniak was very good at portraying the vastness of New York and its endless possibilities as Julia and Evan arrive, before its charm slowly diminishes and begins to feel small and claustrophobic as their lives fall about.
It may be a little predictable in places but that does not detract from what is a well wriiten and highly enjoyable novel
Thank you to Netgalley and Michael Joseph for a proof copy to read and review.

Introducing my non bookish side………

When I’m not immersed in books I indulge my other passion, running. I started running about 8 years ago when my marriage broke down. I needed to get out and socialise, make new friends and run off the weight I seemed to have accumulated after two children!

I joined my local running group, the Malvern Joggers, and have never looked back.

I’ve run three marathons, Edinburgh, Worcester and London and will attempt my fourth in October this year in Budapest.

It has not been without its trials and tribulations and I have had a couple of serious injuries which means I have got slower as I’ve got older! I’ve proved that I can run good times achieving a 3 hour 36sec marathon and a 1 hour 39min half marathon, and now I just relax and enjoy the escape it grants me from everyday life.

I use the beautiful Malvern Hills as my training ground, mixing it up with some road running, and attempt to run three times per week. I usually try and get to the gym a couple of times a week too, doing gym bike intervals and some leg weights.

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There are some good races in the surrounding area that we tend to descend upon en masse, the most recent being the Broadway Tower Charity race with a steep up hill, a fast descent and the best blueberry muffin as a reward at the finish!

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Running doesn’t have to cost a lot of money but the one thing I do splash out on is running shoes, Today I dashed off to Up and Running in Cheltenham and tried  a few different models on their treadmill before deciding to stick with my current model, Brooks Ghost 9. I don’t think i will be able to shrink into the background with these shocking pink, shiny new trainers!!

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So, that is the non bookish me. I shall be intermingling the odd running post with my book posts as long as i don’t get injured and then it will be a few cycling posts instead!!

Invincible Summer by Alice Adams

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Picador 1st June 2017

1995 and four friends leave Bristol University to embark on their chosen careers and paths in life, all determined to stay in touch.

Lucien, and Sylvie, brother and sister intend to travel. Sylvie will then pursue her dream of becoming an artist, whilst Lucien has no real notion of what lies ahead.

Eva decides on a career in the high octane world of banking and Bennedict a PHD in physics.

Their lives will be inextricably linked over the ensuing 20 years, as careers reach dizzying heights, and life takes unexpected turns.

Whilst each character has their own story and are very different, Adams uses them to show the various themes of the time, from the greed and financial crash of the banking sector to the rise of the drug fueled club culture.

As in real life, arguments, marriage, and children force them apart for long periods of time, but the friendship remains pulling them back together time and time again.

The characters in the novel are like able, and believable but there is a distinct predictability about them, it doesn’t take the reader much to guess what happens next. There is one exception that took me totally by surprise!

The novel itself is well written, but for me I found it lacked a little depth. The ending was also a little disappointing.

Criticisms aside this is a hugely enjoyable novel and it a definite one to pack on your summer holidays.

 

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