Meet Tom. Or Dr O’Grady, as he used to be called. When you pass him on the street, most people don’t even give him a second glance. You see, Tom isn’t living his best life. Burdened by grief, he’s only got his loyal dog, Bette Davis, for company and a rucksack containing his whole world.
Then there’s Ruth and her son, DJ, who no longer have a place to call home. But Ruth believes that you can change the world by helping one person at a time – and Tom needs her help.
There are a thousand ways to find your home – you just need to be brave enough to look for them. Amazon UK
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins – Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
I didn’t read what this story is about before reading it because it is written by a favourite, trusted author. I knew I would be taken on an emotional journey, by relatable characters, with sometimes tragic stories, Despite the tears and poignancy, ultimately they would find hope and peace. I wasn’t disappointed,
Ruth is autistic. People find her different from them, and as often happens in such circumstances, they ridicule her. Even her parents constantly find fault, and when her mother feels she behaves unacceptably she is abusive to her.
A serendipitous meeting changes the course of Ruth’s life and brings her into contact with Tom. He helps her, when she needs it most but then they lose touch. Ten years on Ruth and Tom are not where they want to be, but a chance meeting once again changes everything.
The characters are believable, not stereotypical, and you want them to find the happiness they deserve. This story explores autism and what it means for the individual and those closest to them. How it is so easy to be isolated when you appear different. Homelessness is also a prevalent theme. It could happen to anyone, and this is what makes this story disturbingly real.
The story has a powerful, uplifting ending, one you would like everyone in Ruth and Tom’s situation to benefit from. Reality sometimes is less kind, so if this story does nothing else, let it help you to look a little deeper into people who seem different or have fallen on hard times. They deserve compassion and respect, isn’t that what you would want if it were you?
Ophelia Street, 1970. A street like any other, a community that lives and breathes together as people struggle with their commitments and pursue their dreams. It is a world we recognise, a world where class and gender divide, where set roles are acknowledged. But what happens when individuals step outside those roles, when they secretly covet, express desire, pursue ambitions even harm and destroy? An observer in the midst of Ophelia Street watches writes, imagines, remembers, charting the lives and loves of his neighbours over the course of four seasons. And we see the flimsily disguised underbelly of urban life revealed in all its challenging glory. As the leaves turn from vibrant green to vivid gold, so lives turn and change too, laying bare the truth of the community. Perhaps, ultimately, we all exist on Ophelia Street.
I received a copy of this book from Urbane Books in return for an honest review.
Set mainly in 1970, in London, on a typical cul-de-sac, of the time. The story’s narrator is a young reporter, who is new to Ophelia Street, and the story, divided into the four seasons of 1970 are his impressions of the people and households he shares the street with.The narrator is a shadowy character, you don’t think about him, as the story draws you into its urban tale.
The book is beautifully written, lyrical, but what it depicts and explores is often poignant, and sometimes horrifically violent. The tragedy and violence creep up. You are not prepared for something so terrible, in amongst live’s relentless ordinariness. The impact of these events resonates.
Many of the characters are not easy to like, but you do empathise with their situation. Some of the relationships are strange, and sometimes sinister, and gut-wrenchingly sad.
The time period is faithfully represented. The sexual discrimination, misogyny and social class divide are evident. The depth of despair this period represents, with its collapse of Britain’s industrialisation, strikes and mass unemployment, add to the sense of hopelessness and inevitability this London street represents.
The literary fiction lovers will appreciate the purity of this book, the characters are complex and real, the exploration of community and humanity under pressure is engaging. If you enjoy reading, to experience how others feel and live, this book will meet your needs.
John Simmons is an independent writer and consultant. He runs Writing for design workshops for D&AD and the School of Life as well as Dark Angels workshops. He has written a number of books on the relationship between language and identity, including The Writer’s Trilogy We, me, them & it, The invisible grail and Dark angels. He’s a founder director of 26, the not-for-profit group that champions the cause of better language in business, and has been writer-in-residence for Unilever and Kings Cross tube station. In 2011 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the University of Falmouth in recognition of outstanding contribution to the creative sector. He initiated and participated in the writing of a Dark Angels collective novel Keeping Mum with fifteen writers. It was published by Unbound in 2014. He is on the Campaign Council for Writers Centre Norwich as Norwich becomes the first English City of Literature. John also wrote the compelling novel Leaves, which was published by Urbane in 2015
Spanish Crossings was published in March 2018 and The Good Messenger in September 2018.
A witty and acerbic novel for our times about corporate greed, the hubris of bankers, contradictions of the clean energy economy and their unintended consequences on everyday people. Finance, environmentalism, rare-earth mining and human frailties collide in a complex of flawed motives. We follow Peter Mount, the self-made Chief Executive of a London-based rare-earth mining company as he and his business are buffeted by crisis-torn Royal Bank of Scotland and by his own actions, real and imagined. Meanwhile, in Oregon, Amy Tate and her group of local environmental activists do their contradictory part to undermine a component of the green economy, unwittingly super-charged by the Chinese state. The repercussions of events in pristine Oregon are felt in the corporate and financial corridors of New York and London with drastic consequences. This is a deeply involving novel about the current workings of capitalism, miscommunication, causes and unexpected effects, love and survival.
Another book, I would love to have read and reviewed, but sadly I did not have time, so sharing an amusing guest post from the author here instead:
Guest Post- Keith Carter-The Umbrella Men
How I came to publish my first novel – aged 60
I’m terrible at parties; I can’t ‘circulate’. It just seems so rude to change conversational groups: you must either slope off hoping no-one will notice, which is unlikely, or make an excuse – and mine always come out sounding like ‘I’ve just seen someone more interesting than you, so am off to talk with them instead’. So I normally end up stuck, talking to the dullest person at the party, the socially abler people (which is everyone else) having successfully ‘circulated’ away.
Oh, hang on – maybe that means I am the dullest person at the party…
So I’m going to let you in on a secret of mine. Call it Carter’s First Law of Social Awkwardness. It’s got me through many potentially disastrous situations of this sort, and states that: Everyone, including the dullest person in the room, knows something that you don’t. Make it your task is to find out what it is, and you won’t be bored. This works because
You might learn something, always a good thing and
You will end up talking with someone about the one topic on which they are an expert: themselves.
Carter’s First Law of Social Awkwardness is based on the commonly-held belief that ‘everyone has a book in them’. Fortunately, perhaps, most of these books will never be written. People have neither the skills nor the time. The Umbrella Men, my first novel, was written because suddenly I did have the time.
I made myself redundant. No, that sounds like I had more say in the matter than was the case; I was forced to make myself redundant. And the circumstances of it made me angry, which – with an associated need for catharsis – gave me the motivation as well as the opportunity to write the book.
My enforced self-redundancy was the consequence of a corporate loan taken out with a major bank in 2007, just before all the Lehman Brothers stuff kicked off. The long story is fictionalised The Umbrella Men; to cut it short, the bank was going rapidly and spectacularly bust and turned on its small business clients in a vain attempt at repairing its balance sheet. In the resulting chaos, companies went bust, people lost their livelihoods, marriages failed, suicides were contemplated. As CEO of one of these small bullied borrowers the buck stopped with me, so the solution involved my asking myself to leave the company.
That I, as a taxpayer, was then forced to play my part in saving that same bank, and that not a single senior banker faced criminal charges anywhere for this trillion-dollar global banker bail-out – only heightened my need to get this story out of me and onto the page.
Maybe I have your sympathy now; if so, here’s how to lose it: I was a banker myself once. It was a long time ago and I was a lot younger… The reason I am ’fessing up in this way is that this part of my history gives me an unusual (for an author) perspective on the banking scandal and the motivations – business and otherwise – that caused it. In other words, The Umbrella Men is informative as well as entertaining.
The job I was forced out of was a full-on 12-hours-a-day affair, so it left quite a hole. Like many people, I spent most of my working time in front of a computer screen. Diverting a good few of those newly-available 12 screen hours to writing was a good way of getting out from under my wife’s feet, and splendidly cathartic. I wrote in the basement at home, in cafés and bars, on a boat, on trains – wherever I was and could take my laptop. All the things I would dearly have loved to do to various bankers were suddenly in my power – albeit via a keyboard, not a baseball bat.
I’d like to say that I quickly hammered The Umbrella Men out in a few weeks, then, as a man with a burden lifted from his shoulders, skipped off to another project with a song on my lips. Far from it. It took years. There were loads of ‘excellent’ drafting and style ideas along the way, few of which survived the scrutiny of the morning-after reread. The fact that I am a slow and inaccurate typist doesn’t help; it does, however, fit perfectly with my inability to form a coherent sentence or find, for want of a better word, le mot juste first time around.
So, to those of you convinced that you have a book in you I say this: Carter’s First Law of Social Awkwardness says that you almost certainly have. Write it! All you need is the time and a whole load of pent-up emotion.
Keith Carter was born in Scotland to a Dutch mother and British father. He read Economics at Cambridge, taking a First in 1981 when he was elected a Scholar – too late to enjoy the privilege of walking on the grass. He worked as an investment banker before going straight and running a small pharmaceutical company. He is now a writer and business consultant and lives in East London with his daughters. He enjoys travel, politics and economics, reading and writing, languages, music, the English Lake District, sailing of all kinds and meals with family and friends. Keith suffered a spinal cord injury in March 2018 and since rides a wheelchair.
When the boy was four, he asked his father why people needed sleep. His father said, ‘So God could unfuck all the things people fuck up.’
As America recovers from the Second World War, two families’ journeys begin. James Vincent, born in 1942 to an Irish-American family, escapes his parents’ turbulent marriage and attends law school in New York, where he moves up the social ladder as a prosperous and bright attorney. Meanwhile, Agnes Miller, a beautiful black woman on a date with a handsome suitor, is pulled over by the police on a rural road in Georgia. The terrible moments that follow make her question her future and pivot her into a hasty marriage and new life in the Bronx.
Illuminating more than six decades of sweeping change – from the struggle for civil rights and the chaos of Vietnam to Obama’s first year as President – James and Agnes’s families will come together in unexpected, intimate and profoundly human ways.
Romantic and defiant, humorous and intellectually daring, Regina Porter brilliantly explores how race, gender and class collide in modern-day America – and charts the mishaps and adventures we often take to get closer to ourselves and to home.
I received a copy of this book from Random House UK- Vintage Publishing -Jonathan Cape via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This book has sat on my virtual to be read pile all Summer, maybe I subconsciously knew that it would be a challenging read, and this weekend I found out I was right, it was. Though, not the way I thought.
It is an epic story, a family saga spanning an iconic period in USA history. It focuses on family, racism, sexuality, sex discrimination, as well as a myriad of other politically and socially significant themes, but it explores them through two families. One black, one white, and the ways they interconnect, sometimes intimately, other times just for a moment in time. This is an intensely personal way of exploring the modern-day history of the USA. It brings it to life, recalling memories for some, and making it real for the younger generation, who didn’t live through it.
Six decades are covered and the cast of character is plentiful, but it is the way the story is written that I find challenging. It is best described as a series of short stories, each featuring members, of the two families, often at a notable historical time point. Many of the scenes are retold more than once, being seen from another point of view. Whilst, this reinforces the effect of the historic event, it does make the reader feel they are experiencing a groundhog day.
If you can accept the unusual structure, which would work seamlessly in visual media, not surprisingly, the author is a playwright. The story is enlightening, humourous, poignant and romantic, illuminated with rich historical detail. Full of vivid imagery, the reader can visualise what is happening, how it affects the participants, and the story as a whole, very easily.
So, if you enjoy historical literary fiction, and are prepared to let it absorb you without worrying about who did what, and why do you have to see it, from so many perspectives. This is a story that will sweep you away, in time and place, whilst also illuminating the political and social struggles of the USA’s citizens in an influential sixty-year period.
Born in 1973 to a Greenlandic mother and an English-Explorer father, Malik has always been something of a misfit. He has one black eye and one blue. As a child, his mother’s people refused to touch him and now his own baby daughter’s family feel the same way.
On his own now, Malik’s only companion is a guiding spirit no-one else can see, but one day a white man with a nose like a beak and a shadow like a seagull appears on his doorstep and invites him to England.
Martha has had enough of living with domestic abuse. She compares bruises with her friend Neil, who regularly suffers homophobic attacks. With Martha’s baby, they go on the run to Shetland, where Martha has happy childhood memories of summers spent with her aunt.
On their way up north in a camper van, they come across a dejected Malik, alone again after a brief reconciliation with his father’s family.
They arrive safely together in the Shetland Isles, but Malik still needs answers to the identity of the beak-nosed man who casts a shadow over his life, and must now embark on a further journey of his own.
The Seagull’s Laughter is an immersive read, intertwined with nature and the magic of Greenlandic folk tales.
I received a copy of this book from Wildpressed Books in return for an honest review.
I love the colourful cover of this book. It makes you want to pick it up and read it, but what lies within, is even more enticing.
An original tale of differing cultures, family, friendship, magic, myths, prejudice and self-realisation. Set in the 1970s, with flashbacks to the late 1940s, it has so many layers. Each one has a purpose, and all it demands from the reader is time to absorb and enjoy it.
To begin with, this is Malik’s story, he lives in Greenland in the early 1970s. His life isn’t easy, but he accepts it, even though his people, don’t embrace him. You realise early on that he has a differing set of beliefs to an urbanised man. He has a spirit guide, and it is his importance that leads Malik on a journey that covers many miles geographically, culturally and spiritually.
Mythical quests are never easy, and neither is Malik’s journey of self-discovery, he encounters misunderstanding and prejudice. Emotionally raw, he meets two similarly, damaged people Martha and Neil, who share part of his journey and make him appreciate true friendship. He realises that family is sometimes not only those you share blood with.
The appearance of a strange man who resembles a seagull plagues Malik. The last part of his journey is solitary and demands the most courage. The descriptions of the cultures, settings and time periods are vivid and illuminate Malik’s story. The ending is powerful and uplifting.
Holly grew up in Derbyshire but has always been drawn to the sea. She has written from a young age. Her love affair with island landscapes was kick-started on a brief visit to the Faroe Islands at the age of eighteen, en route to Iceland. She was immediately captivated by the landscape, weather, and way of life and it was here that she conceived the idea for her first novel, The Eagle and The Oystercatcher.
Holly studied Icelandic, Norwegian and Old Norse at University College London. She also studied as an exchange student at The University of Iceland (Háskóli Íslands) and spent a memorable summer working in a museum in South Greenland.
She decided to start a family young and now has three small children. Holly helps run Life & Loom, a social and therapeutic weaving studio in Hull. She likes to escape from the busyness of her life by working on her novels and knitting Icelandic wool jumpers.
Maya Galen’s oldest son, Jamie, left home eight years ago after a massive row with his parents and now Joe, her youngest child and apple of her eye, has cut off all contact with them too.
Called to Australia to identify the body of a young man, Maya is given her son’s journal. After a sleepless night, she decides that the only thing she can do is follow in Joe’s footsteps and try to discover her most basic human self. Eschewing a monetary lifestyle, from now on she must rely on her physical and emotional strength to survive.
Following Joe’s hand-drawn maps and journal entries, she travels from Australia to Denmark and beyond, meeting many other travellers along the way and learning valuable lessons.
Eventually, a crisis forces her to return home and confront the end of her marriage, but also a new understanding of what family, in the widest sense, really means.
Exploring the big questions at the heart of human existence, The Vagabond Mother shares territory with books and films such as Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, The Way, starring Martin Sheen, Wild:A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.
I love a book that defies genre labelling, and ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’, is a perfect example. Told in the first person from Nick’s perspective. He is an ‘Englishman in New York’ and totally captivated by everything he experiences and sees, at least in the beginning. His descriptions and emotions, as he lives in the city, evoke rich visual imagery in the reader’s mind, whether they have experienced New York , or not.
It is almost memoir like in quality, as he tells his story to his eager audience. An artist, he is drawn to one of his landladies works of art from Ancient Egypt. Given the mystic and legend that surrounds ancient Egyptian relics, it is not surprising that he covets it obsessionally, and here the story takes on a more sinister theme.
Romance with another beautiful artist , also dominates his thinking, what starts off as attraction, darkens and deepens .Here the story explores the power of attraction, and how it too can be an obsession.
Mystery and criminal intent fuse with hope and passion to provide a gripping and surprising tale set in a city everyone wants to love.
Excerpt From The Weighing OF the Heart – Chapter one – Paul Tudor Owen
Paul Tudor Owen was born in Manchester in 1978, and was educated at the University of Sheffield, the University of Pittsburgh, and the London School of Economics.
He began his career as a local newspaper reporter in north-west London, and currently works at the Guardian, where he spent three years as deputy head of US news at the paper’s New York office.