Book Review: Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller #SwimmingLessons

Publisher: Fig Tree (Penguin Books UK)

Publication Date:  26th January 2017

swimming-lessons-my-review

swimming-lessons-by-claire-fullerSwimming Lessons has  a distinctive grace – the enchanting quality of such exquisite writing is nothing short of an emotional ambush. It’s so tragically beautiful, flawless, magnificent even, I’m confident that when the cover is closed all of the words must huddle together in the dark to comfort each other.

Twelve years have passed since Ingrid disappeared from the Beach outside the Coleman’s home. It was 1992 when she stepped out of the house one day to never return from her swim, leaving a husband, two daughters and distorted memories of their family life in her wake.

So much time has elapsed and yet Gil thinks he sees her, his Ingrid, looking up at him through a book shop window where he tries to desperately retrieve the volumes his daughter has hastily donated. Before he can overthink anything, other than clutching a letter from Ingrid and the book he is holding at the time, he chases her down the street. But when he finds she has vanished he takes a nasty tumble and a trip to the hospital to deliriously recover from his ordeal.

Ingrid’s letters consume him. These intimate, soul searching letters that she creatively slipped between the pages of Gil’s precious book collection to join the random jottings already scrawled in the margins by their original owners, and keep them hidden from her children. Gil could probably tell you more about the minds of a thousand anonymous readers defacing his copies of literature than he could about his wife. But so much changed with the strokes of Ingrid’s pen.

Leading up to what would be her final swim on the Dorset Beach outside their home Ingrid tried to keep her head above water and she writes about their passion, the regrets, the betrayal, and the unexpected defeat of her efforts as her life frayed further around the edges. It would be as though her words were carved on her heart rather than paper.

Gil’s children have grown and are oblivious to the twelve year old mystery that is unravelling.  The younger daughter, Flora, continues to reach for the minutest optimism that all will be well, along with the memories of a delightful childhood, the trips to the beach, the misremembered moments they shared and can smile about. The eldest, and by far the more down to earth of the two, Nanette, recalls raising her unruly sister single-handed, taking on her mother’s role at the grand old age of fifteen and unselfishly sacrificing most of her life to the difficult circumstances imposed upon her.

Every raw and touching detail harvested from the Coleman’s turbulent lives is delicately mined with finesse, making Swimming Lessons quite possibly the most perfect book I have had the privilege of holding this year. Sometimes it’s not just about letting go but learning to, which is easier said than done on this occasion as I didn’t want to put this one down.

Rating: Sheer perfection/5

(I received an ARC of this title from the author and publisher with my thanks, and this is my unbiased review.)

swimming-lessons-book-summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

The second novel from the author of Our Endless Numbered Days, which won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize and was a 2016 Richard and Judy Book Club Pick.

‘Gil Coleman looked down from the window and saw his dead wife standing on the pavement below.’

Gil’s wife, Ingrid has been missing, presumed drowned, for twelve years.

A possible sighting brings their children, Nan and Flora, home. Together they begin to confront the mystery of their mother. Is Ingrid dead? Or did she leave? And do the letters hidden within Gil’s books hold the answer to the truth behind his marriage, a truth hidden from everyone including his own children?

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swimming-lessons-author-profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Claire Fuller’s debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, was published by Tin House in 2015 and went on to win the Desmond Elliott prize in the UK and was a finalist in the ABA Indies Choice Award, an IndieNext pick, and chosen as a Goodreads Debut Spotlight.

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P.S. Look out for my publication day post on 26th January 2017 where I will be running a little giveaway to celebrate this wonderful book!

Blog Tour Book Review: Owl Song At Dawn, by Emma Claire Sweeney

Publisher: Legend Press

Publication date:  1st July 2016

Owl Song At Dawn - My Review

Owl Song At Dawn -CoverIt’s been a long while since a book given me physical goose bumps while reading. This was not as a result of horror, or shocks, but because it was so beautifully written from beginning to end. People who know me well we understand that whilst I’m not unsympathetic, it does take quite a major event to bring a tear to my eye. Almost immediately I knew this would be a treasure chest of emotion where I would discover hoard of lump in the throat gem like moments within.

It contains a mountainous abundance of love, its strength more ferocious than many challenging stormy days ahead in this story of Maeve and Edie. Twins born in the 1930’s, both an equally special addition to their parents’ lives, their personalities shining through, and yet the only difference to them apart was Edie’s Down’s Syndrome and the full time care her condition demanded as a result.

What is clear is that the twin’s parents were fiercely protective of both of their daughters, irrespective of people’s blatant disregard of their feelings concerning the methods of care they lavished on both regardless of their differing personalities. They fought disagreeable medical intervention and suffered disapproval as a result, while tolerating narrow minded public opinion of the time as they gave their children every opportunity that was financially possible.

The disruptions Edie caused as the family participated in their daily routines caused ‘scenes’ at inopportune moments. While accepted by the supportive majority, others couldn’t bring themselves to make eye contact, astonishingly embarrassed by just how big her heart was. Maeve and Edie’s parents’ attitude could easily be mistaken as bravery for the complications they had to endure, but they simply had so much love to share. Oh my, I’m welling up again. This book has left me quite choked (in a good way). *composes oneself*

By the time she tells this story Maeve is a well presented, active octogenarian. Although her knees are creaking a little more than usual she works tirelessly to provide a service to her guests at her family home and B & B catering for clients with special needs. Or should I say some truly special individuals, who experience differing needs to the usual holiday makers (not unlike her sister, who would have remarked Maeve was quite ‘exhausticated’ with so much work and little play).

The B & B is a haven for those who return year after year to experience Maeve’s unique brand of hospitality, not the dated décor. All the guests and staff have the most marvellous character; honest, persistent, loyal, with aspirations most of us take for granted. These provide a painful reminder for this bachelor lady who, despite being surrounded by lively guests, experiences excruciating bouts of loneliness and grief.

It was decades ago that life threw Maeve an unexpected curveball yet she never recovered truly recovered from tragic events of the past that affected the family and her own personal life in different ways and her heart never healed completely to allow her the happiness she deserved. What becomes clear is that she could learn a thing or two from her guests, who aren’t restrained by what is thought to be acceptable, or even possible. To be honest, I think we all could.

Owl Song at Dawn a reflective journey of ‘what ifs’ and the emotional torment we reap from situations often outside out control. No matter how late the hour you can still discover what truly matters in life. It’s the most wonderful, soul-reaching read, which embraced me wholeheartedly, and in turn I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Rating: 5/5

(Many, many thanks to Lucy Chamberlain of Legend Press for kindly providing a paperback copy of this beaut in exchange for an unbiased review.)

Legend 100 Club

Owl Song At Dawn - Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

‘Fresh, poignant and unlike anything else’ — Jill Dawson, Whitbread and Orange Prize-shortlisted author

‘Tender and unflinching, a beautifully observed novel.’ — Carys Bray, Costa Prize-shortlisted author

‘It crept under my skin and will stay there for a long time’ — Emma Henderson, Orange Prize-shortlisted author

‘Amazing: fierce, intelligent, compassionate and deeply moving’— Edward Hogan, Desmond Elliot Prize-winning author

‘Funny, heartbreaking and truly remarkable’ — Susan Barker, New York Times bestselling author

Maeve Maloney is a force to be reckoned with. Despite nearing eighty, she keeps Sea View Lodge just as her parents did during Morecambe’s 1950s heyday. But now only her employees and regular guests recognise the tenderness and heartbreak hidden beneath her spikiness.

Until, that is, Vincent shows up. Vincent is the last person Maeve wants to see. He is the only man alive to have known her twin sister, Edie. The nightingale to Maeve’s crow, the dawn to Maeve’s dusk, Edie would have set her sights on the stage all things being equal. But, from birth, things never were.

If only Maeve could confront the secret past she shares with Vincent, she might finally see what it means to love and be loved a lesson that her exuberant yet inexplicable twin may have been trying to teach her all along.

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Owl Song At Dawn - Author Profile

(Profile courtesy of Amazon UK. Photograph courtesy of publisher.)

Emma Claire Sweeney Author Photograph

Emma Claire Sweeney is a multi-award-winning author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, who currently teaches on City University’s Novel Studio and at New York University in London.

Emma was brought up in the North West of England, the elder sibling of twins, and OWL SONG AT DAWN is inspired by her autistic sister.

With her writer friend and colleague, Emily Midorikawa, she runs the website Something Rhymed, which shines a light on the forgotten friendships of the world’s most famous female authors.

Emma writes literary features, reviews, and pieces on disability for broadsheets and magazines.

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Thank you SO much for popping by today, as Owl Song At Dawn is a truly wonderful read. Oh, and please don’t forget to visit the other blog stops on the tour! :

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All the best,

Wendy sig

 

Book Review: Redemption Song, by Laura Wilkinson

Publisher:   Accent Press   |   Publication date:   28th January 2016

Redemption Song My Review

Redemption Song Cover

Life, loss and love harmonize beautifully to play all the right notes in Redemption Song.

Many people suffer in silence, holding in their bereavement until their emotions escalate and in turn this holds them back from actually living. Saffron and her mum are two such people. After the death of people close to them Saffron takes a break from her studies at medical school to return home to live with her mum, unusually called Rain, a minister of the local chapel, which is badly in need of repair.

Despite her strong belief that religion will be there for her through everything, even Rain is having reservations and privately copes with her husband’s death in the only way she knows, by taking anti-depressants when she feels an anxiety attack creeping up on her.

Mother and daughter have been thrown together as a result of a tragic event. Both are suffering in different ways, despite not confiding in each other of their concerns and as a consequence their unhappiness grows deeper everyday. That is, until the mysterious carpenter Joe Jones arrives on the scene when the old car Saffron was driving broke down in deep snow. Joe’s old Landrover is as reliable as he is and at first he’s only too happy to help, despite the young woman’s frosty reception.

There’s a hint from the early beginnings that Saffron and Joe might be destined to develop feelings for each other. They are both concealing secrets and hidden feelings from their respective pasts and they are both learning to trust for different reasons. The failing chapel roof brings Joe and his carpentry skills closer to the family, and little by little Saffron thaws to his charms, even when he’s trying to keep his distance and is being politely aloof and very, very mysterious.

Saffron warms to Joe and confides in him, but he’s still looking over his shoulder and not wanting to get too close. Throughout we hear snippets of conversations he has with a close friend who gives him fair warning when his past is about to catch up with him. The warning gives little detail at the beginning, so you’re left guessing as to why he might have to move on without saying goodbye.

Meanwhile, Rain is headed for a melt-down, as she is coping with her problems by herself while battling the congregation’s attitude toward her as the ‘new’ girl on the block. Competing with her predecessor does not help her situation, and when she embarks on saving the old ballroom by the pier she has yet another fight on her hands.

The enigmatic Joe appears too good to be true as he may have discovered an unexpected solution to the parish’s problems, much to everyone’s relief and surprise. It appears it’s not the only surprise he has up his sleeve, as a shadowy figure from his past comes back to haunt him and Saffron’s newly settled life is in danger of taking flight again.

Redemption Song sees testing bouts of confusion and shining moments of clarity, when people confront events they’re running away from and stop holding others at arms length, no matter how difficult it may seem at first. It’s a wonderful story of learning to trust and forgive others, even yourself – sometimes horrific things may happen in our lives, but if you’re given a chance at finding true happiness, you shouldn’t turn your back on it.

This is a lovely, gentle-paced read with a sense of community spirit at it’s heart, and I’m truly happy to have been given the opportunity to relax and enjoy it. 

Rating: 4/5

(I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the author for generously providing a digital copy in exchange for an honest review – it’s much appreciated.)

Redemption Song Book Summary

(Courtesy of Accent Press release)

Redemption Song is the powerful new novel by Laura Wilkinson, critically acclaimed author of  Public Battles, Private Wars. This engaging and beautifully written book explores themes of loss and loss, set against the atmospheric landscape of a small seaside community.

Saffron is studying for a promising career in medicine until a horrific accident changes her life for ever. Needing to escape London, she moves to a coastal town to live with her mother. Saffron feels trapped until she meets Joe, another outsider – despite initial misgivings, they grow closer to each other as they realise they have a lot in common. Like Saffron, Joe has a complicated past that’s creeping up on his present…

Can Joe escape his demons for long enough to live a normal life – and can Saffron reveal the truth about what really happened on that fateful night? Love is the one thing they need most, but will they – can they – risk it?

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Remdemption Song Author Bio

(Courtesy of Accent Press release)

Laura Wilkinson Author

Laura Wilkinson says: “I’m fascinated by the human capacity to heal and move on from traumatic, damaging events, especially when we feel responsible. Honesty and forgiveness, for ourselves and others, can be hard to find. Guilt and hatred can linger and poison. I wanted to explore the role family, friends and the wider community play in the process of repair; the importance of love and hope in moving towards new beginnings.”

Former journalist Laura Wilkinson grew up in North Wales and lives in Brighton. Alongside writing fiction, she works as a reader and editor for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, and a mentor for The Writing Coach. She has published short stories in magazines and anthologies, and novels. Public Battles, Private Wars was a Welsh Books Council Book of the Month in 2014.

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Book Review: When We Were Alive, by C J Fisher #Legend100

Publisher:  Legend Press   |   Publication date: 1st March 2016

When We Were Alive My Review

When We Were Alive by C J Fisher - coverThe darkly perceptive When We Were Alive is punctuated by an acute, quick-witted observation of three generations, spanning from the 1930’s until the present day.

Through shifting decades, the individual stories of Bobby, William, and Myles set the scenes of history with clarity and originality. The picture conjured from these words is more akin to looking through a personal photo album than holding a book in your hands. As their fate intertwined through the magnificence of time I was utterly spellbound.

In the present, Myles’ reactions to everyday situations is left to run like a tap until his thoughts overflow. His twenty-two year old randomness takes shape in letter form addressed to a mother he never knew. The letters show how he expresses inappropriate emotional responses to those close to him. But his humorous candidness throws light on the shade that marks his life.

William orchestrates personally damaging events in order to experience ‘something’, rather than prolonged nothingness. While he’s intoxicated by alcohol he meets a young woman called Dawn in a corridor of a hotel in Vegas, and subsequently discovers he’s not wearing any trousers. It’s the 1970’s when their story begins. Life may be a struggle, but there’s every possibility it could be bearable.

Bobby is a twelve year old avid magician, practicing illusions, even though he’s crippled with embarrassment when performing for an audience. His lack of confidence leaves him alone, with just the oddity of his parents to keep him company by indulging his pastime. That is until chance meeting with Rose brings him the ‘willing assistant’ he didn’t even know he needed until they met. We follow their uniqueness through the Second World War, and beyond.

Every new chapter sees their personalities grow, as they fail, love, leave, and live. The unpredictable game of life reveals they are shells of people until they can find that elusive something to fulfil them. Even then, it may never be enough.

When We Were Alive is insightful, page-turning perfection. Its incredible vision is one you will want to discover for yourself.

Rating: 5/5

(My eternal gratitude to Legend Press and Tom Chalmers for providing a paperback copy of this book for review, as part of the Legend 100 Club.)

Legend 100

When We Were Alive Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

When we first meet Bobby, he is a shy, 12-year-old magician who falls in love with his best friend. William is consumed with self-hate and drinks to escape the memories of his father’s sadness and his mother’s death. Myles is writing letters to a mother he has never met. Three different people from three different times each explore the dark side of relationships, search for beauty in sadness and try to bear the burden of guilt from living in a world we are powerless to fix.

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When We Were Alive Author Profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

C.J Fisher has a Master’s Degree in Film from Exeter University, since graduating she has worked as a video editor, movie critic, social media manager, and creative content producer, as well as presenting talks on new media to charities and brands. In her free time she is an avid writer, illustrator and online content creator. C.J vlogs as Ophelia Dagger, with over 30,000 subscribers on YouTube. Her first novel, When We Were Alive, was inspired by events in her own life. For all the latest news, thoughts and announcements, visit C.J s website: oldhotradio.com or Twitter: @opheliadagger

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Book Review: Look At Me, by Sarah Duguid #LookAtMe

Publisher:  Tinder Press   |   Publication date:  25th February 2016

Look At Me - My Review

Look At Me - Kindle Cover

Feeling the pressure of domestic bliss is a family that is ‘familiar’ rather than ‘functioning’. Stuck in a limbo of grief, we watch their veneers crack until the very foundation their lives were built upon begins to crumble.

What happens when something, or someone, out of the blue comes along? It can place an enormous strain on existing relationships. In this case it’s adults craving affection in an  emotional attention-seeking manner, especially this family with their established bonds and oddities they each tolerate, with or without their mum. Lizzie and Ig’s grief for her is stored away like their mother’s things, not quite being dealt with. Their father, Julian, appears stone mad, or sometimes just stoned, and there’s a shift occurring in the existence they have grown comfortable with over the years.

Lizzie and Ig perhaps should have moved out years ago. Despite embracing their own independence they never quite made it. Having their own bubble-like studios to retreat to when they feel the world is turning on them encouraged them to stay, contented and safe. But there’s a revelation they knew nothing about. Following a chance discovery in her father’s study, Lizzie finds a letter indicating they have a sister they knew nothing about. Apparently their mother was aware of the child Julian fathered, but took the secret to her grave without sharing it with her own children.

Impulsive Lizzie contacts their mysterious sibling, Eunice, and invites her to visit them without considering the implications. After her mother’s death there’s a big hole left behind in Lizzie’s life. I’m not sure if she believes she’s being a good Samaritan, or if a sister will fill the void, but when a stranger rolls up and longs to be a part of their dysfunctional life should Lizzie offer her a piece of it, or feel the need to protect it from covetous eyes?

It appears there’s much for Lizzie to come to terms with and we find out more about that much later in the book. Until then, the overbearing Eunice is gentling rocking their family until it makes them all sick. For a jobbing actress, Lizzie is surprisingly unable to disguise her emotions. She watches from the wings as her new sister performs in the parental spotlight, while most of the crowd is unappreciative.

Abandonment, realisation, acceptance, and letting go all play their part in this wonderfully written production – as a series of ‘Acts’ in a play, it’s the perfect choice of presentation to allow the continual drama to flow to the last page. The story is lightened by intermissions of humour, particularly from Aunt Valerie whose antics gave her the best lines to rebuff those who deserved it, while being prone to the occasional outburst of rage – I wouldn’t condone her actions, but she was pretty magnificent in places! The rest of the characters were cast perfectly in their roles too.

Look At Me is a simply marvellous invention of fiction. It’s a beaut of a read and a perfect match for that spectacularly delightful cover.  Recommend it?  Absolutely!

Rating: 5/5

(Thank you to the publisher and in particular Georgina Moore for providing the most remarkable looking Advanced Reader’s Copy for review.)

Look At Me - Book Summary

Lizzy lives with her father, Julian, and her brother, Ig, in North London. Two years ago her mother died, leaving a family bereft by her absence and a house still filled with her things: for Margaret was lively, beautiful, fun, loving; she kept the family together. So Lizzy thinks. Then, one day, Lizzy finds a letter from a stranger to her father, and discovers he has another child. Lizzy invites her into their world in an act of outraged defiance. Almost immediately, she realises her mistake.

Look at Me is a deft exploration of family, grief, and the delicate balance between moving forward and not quite being able to leave someone behind. It is an acute portrayal of how familial upheaval can cause misunderstanding and madness, damaging those you love most.

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Look At Me - Author Bio Links

Sarah Duguid grew up on a farm in North Lincolnshire and was educated in Derbyshire and at Durham University where she read English Literature. After university, she lived and worked in New York and South Africa before returning to London where she now lives with her partner and their son. She is currently working on a Masters in English at UCL as well as her second novel.

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Book Review: Learning to Speak American, by Colette Dartford

Publisher: Twenty 7  |  Publication date: Kindle – 5th November 2015 / Paperback – 14th July 2016

Learning to Speak American - My review

This novel eloquently tackles the deeply troubling relationship between two people whose lives have been torn apart by a harrowing event, and works to chip away at the walls they have built to protect themselves from facing the reality of it.

Duncan and Lola have everything, everything, that is, except a child. This story is a powerful portrayal of the fallout a couple experiences following the tragic death of their only daughter. Since the incident, Lola and Duncan have been standing on the edge of the massive ‘Clarissa shaped’ hole in their lives, neither one of them having the strength to tackle it.

Lola is withdrawn from the world, a shell of her former self, while Duncan working all hours and permanently engaging in furtive behaviour throughout the book. The emotion and suffering appears endless. With both of them suffering in their own private hell, he suggests they take a holiday to celebrate their wedding anniversary, and try to rekindle something of their past relationship. Lola robotically agrees.

They visit the beautiful Napa Valley and experience fabulous wine, gorgeous climate and the Californian way of life. It’s there where Lola feels hope in the shape of a dilapidated property in need of renovation. The fact it’s been empty for years makes her believe she could to breathe new life into it, to make it whole again. Something she couldn’t do for her child.

The locals are relaxed and welcoming, addressing each other by their first names, which is alien to ‘stiff upper lip’ Duncan. Yet he reluctantly plays his part in this chilled company, as it’s the first time he’s seen his wife smile in over two years. During the renovation these new neighbours and friends help to open all manner of emotional doors for them. It’s only then that the magnitude of their daughter’s loss becomes clear. While the experience is a positive one for Lola, it would appear Duncan’s been keeping more than just his own grief from her, and the strain is becoming unbearable.

The process of transforming the little house in need of repair offers the couple solace in more ways than they could ever imagine. The lovely, lovely writing throughout captures the changes to their fragile relationship perfectly, and it’s wonderfully done.

(There’s just one curious loose end for me – what became of ‘Polo’? As he was a living memory of their daughter’s life I’d have expected him to have been mentioned in the epilogue, if only in passing. It’s a minute factor, but I can’t help wondering!)

Rating: 4/5

(My thanks for Midas PR and Twenty 7 Books for providing an ARC of this book for review.)

Learning to Speak American - Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Having suffered in silence since the tragic death of their young daughter, Lola and Duncan Drummond’s last chance to rediscover their love for one another lies in an anniversary holiday to the gorgeous Napa Valley.

Unable to talk about what happened, Duncan reaches out to his wife the only way he knows how – he buys her a derelict house, the restoration of which might just restore their relationship.

As Lola works on the house she begins to realise the liberating power of letting go. But just as she begins to open up, Duncan’s life begins to fall apart.

Colette Dartford’s debut novel, Learning to Speak American, explores whether a parent can ever truly move on from the death of a child. And, after all the heartbreak, whether Lola and Duncan can learn to love again.

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Learning to Speak American - Author Links

(Courtesy of press release with ARC)

Colette DartfordLearning to Speak American, is Colette Dartford’s debut novel and is based on her experience of renovating a derelict house in California’s Napa Valley. Having bought and renovated the house, Colette lived there with her husband for many years before moving back to the UK. Colette wrote the book in California where it was a quarterfinalist in Amazon’s first novel award. Before becoming a writer, Colette worked as a Political Research Consultant in public policy for many years and has an MPhil in Political Science. Her second novel, The Sinners, will be published by Bonnier in 2017.

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