My Husband’s Lie by Emma Davies

Drew and Thea were inseparable as children when Pevensey was Thea’s family home. As adults, they fell in love, married and now have children of their own. The story begins when Pevensey comes on the market and they decide to buy it in order to give their children the idyllic childhood they both remember so well.

But of course, things do not go quite as well as they hope…  Early on, you realise that there is something the villagers are not saying. There are lots of unfinished sentences and strange looks until eventually, Thea experiences outright hostility from Stacey and Jackie, both of whom remember Thea from childhood.

Thea’s daughter Lauren is drawn to the house and its surroundings just as Thea was as a child, but when Thea discovers an old newspaper clipping detailing a scandal and a letter that she herself wrote 23 years earlier, the tension ratchets up a notch. What really did happen all those years ago and what did it have to do with Thea’s family?

The reader follows Thea’s roller coaster of emotions as she tries to build a relationship with her widowed mother, make peace with the villagers and put the old ghosts to rest, all whilst trying to build a business and support her husband and children. Along the way, Thea and Drew’s marriage comes under strain as she realises that Drew, the one person that she believed was always on her side, has kept secret from her.

A thoroughly enjoyable read which is out on the 9th April. It’s only £1.99 on kindle pre-order which is an absolute bargain!

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Bookouture for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

We Are the Gardeners by Joanna Gaines

This book made me smile on every single page, much like the mother mentioned right at the beginning of the story. Through their creation of a garden, this family teaches important lessons about the rewards of hard work and resilience: “A garden is hard work, but so is most of the good, important stuff in life.” Isn’t that just wonderful?

The simple, bright illustrations add to the experience and Joanna Gaines manages to teach the reader an awful lot about plant maintenance and life cycles without turning it into an instruction manual. I felt all warm and fuzzy inside reading this story; it made me yearn for a return to the simpler pleasures of life.

The children start by planning out their garden and talk about the importance of soil and organisms, water, light and pollinators. Gaines describes the role that aphids play and there is even a picture of an earth worm dressed as a secret agent; honestly what more could you want?

“Dad says that every hard thing we choose to do make us braver for the next time.”

A truly wonderful read and a poignant publication date. I do hope that it inspires families to have a go themselves. Out today! Go on, give your little ones a treat.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story by Christie Watson

Wow, wow, wow. What an incredibly moving, thought-provoking read, especially at a time of global health crisis. Christie Watson was a registered nurse working for the NHS for twenty years and this book charts her experiences on the front line.

I was under no illusions about the physical and emotional nature of nursing, but until I read this, I realise I actually knew nothing at all. The sheer exhaustion and drive to give 110% at all times comes across so very clearly, I challenge anyone to put this book down and not immediately want to shout ‘thank you’ from the rooftops to our NHS heroes.

Christie Watson has written her account beautifully, making it easily accessible to all whilst still including relevant references to nursing research and theory. She recounts experiences as a nurse but also as a relative of a patient, with an emphasis on the importance of kindness throughout. I absolutely loved every minute of it.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Random House UK for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Debut Sunday Times Bestseller and Costa First Novel Book Award winner

Meet shopping-trolley-wielding, gilet-wearing, vodka-drinking Eleanor Oliphant. At first glance, Eleanor seems to be an old lady trapped in the body of a younger woman. She is a creature of routine, socially awkward and undoubtedly on the Autistic spectrum, although this is never said in so many words. She made me smile, tear-up, cringe and laugh out loud in equal measure. As we get to know her better, we begin to understand a little more as to why she is the way she is.

Raymond is Eleanor’s opposite in absolutely every way. Will they ever be able to exist together harmoniously? It seems incredibly unlikely and yet Raymond is a true gentleman. As a reader, you can’t help but root for the two of them. I don’t want to give away anything about the ending, but I will say that it was satisfying. I do hope there is going to be a sequel.

Available on kindle at the moment for only £3.99.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Harper Collins UK for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

The Good Samaritan by John Marrs

I don’t know how he does it, but every single one of John Marrs’ books is completely different and yet completely addictive. The term ’page turner’ is often bandied about to describe books, but here, it is completely justified.

In The Good Samaritan, Laura is one of those characters who you absolutely love to hate. She works for the End of Line – a phone line purporting to be there for people who feel there is no other option left to them but suicide. She is an incredibly complex character and far from offering these people reassurance and hope, she has much darker motives.

Next we meet Ryan and from that point on, the pace increases and a cat and mouse game ensues as Ryan desperately tries to expose Laura for the depraved character she is. This rollercoaster of a novel raises serious questions about the effect of loss and the manifestation of mental health issues whilst keeping you on the very edge of your seat.

The Good Samaritan is available for free at the moment with kindle unlimited and available to buy for only £1.99 – an absolute bargain.

I would like to thank both Net Galley and Thomas and Mercer for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review

Strangers by C.L. Taylor

Blurb:

Ursula, Gareth and Alice have never met before.

Ursula thinks she killed the love of her life.

Gareth’s been receiving strange postcards.

And Alice is being stalked.

None of them are used to relying on others – but when the three strangers’ lives unexpectedly collide, there’s only one thing for it: they have to stick together. Otherwise, one of them will die.

Three strangers, two secrets, one terrifying evening.

The million-copy bestseller returns with a gripping new novel that will keep you guessing until the end.

My thoughts:

Meet Ursula , Gareth and Alice. Ursula has lost the love of her life and her life has spiralled out of control. Gareth’s mum is suffering from dementia and he is desperately trying to keep her safe whilst continuing his job as a Security Officer. Alice has met a new man but not everything is as it seems. The three protagonists have never met before, and yet their lives are going to come together in a way that will keep you guessing right to the end.

This is my 6th Cally Taylor read and I have enjoyed every single one. Whilst not always likeable, her characters are well drawn and her stories suck you in from page one and keep you turning the pages. This book is out on 2nd April and is available for pre-order on kindle for only £4.99 I would like to thank both Net Galley and Avon Books for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Why Do We Cry? by Fran Pintadera, Ana Sender (Illustrations)

Mario asks, “Mother, why do we cry?” His mother thinks for a moment, and then begins to tell him about the many reasons for our tears…

What an absolutely beautiful picture book! Part of me wanted to race through it to hear Mario’s mother’s gentle and reassuring words but another wanted to take my time and explore the gorgeous illustrations – every time I look at the pictures, I see something new. Mario’s mum explains in simple language that we can cry when we are happy as well as when we are sad and that crying is for absolutely everyone. There is no shame and no guilt attached to crying and it is spoken of as something completely natural; something to be embraced even. At the end of the book is a section explaining the science of tears which is fascinating – including what tears look like under a microscope and how much a single tear weighs.

A beautiful, reassuring picture book for children (and adults) everywhere! It is published on 16th April.

The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman

The Girl in the Window

Blurb: Ponden Hall is a centuries-old house on the Yorkshire moors, a magical place full of stories. It’s also where Trudy Heaton grew up. And where she ran away from…

Now, after the devastating loss of her husband, she is returning home with her young son, Will, who refuses to believe his father is dead.

While Trudy tries to do her best for her son, she must also attempt to build bridges with her eccentric mother. And then there is the Hall itself: fallen into disrepair but generations of lives and loves still echo in its shadows, sometimes even reaching out to the present…

My thoughts: Who doesn’t enjoy a spooky read set in a mysterious, old house? I have loved every single one of Rowan Coleman’s books and this is no exception. It is a story of love, loss and grief but also manages to be a page turner and I couldn’t put it down. I’m not sure how she does it but every one of her stories are unique – this one is inspired in part by her love of the Bronte sisters and is set in Haworth where the sisters lived.

Highly recommended and only £1.99 on kindle today!

Shtum by Jem Lester

Shtum

‘He’s not just my autistic son, he’s my son.’

Where to start? I finished this book on Boxing Day 2015 and it’s still with me. I couldn’t possibly have tried to review it before now – I needed a bit of distance.

Most of us *think* we know a bit about autism. Some of us may *think* we know quite a lot. For nearly all of us, this is a ‘leave your pre-conceived ideas at the door’ kind of read. It was without doubt one of my top reads of 2015 and now has a pretty secure spot in my Top Ten of all time.

‘I lived a fairy-tale life in my head before I even met Emma and the fairy-tale became real for two years. Then Jonah was born and it was fluffy clouds and sleepless nights. But as he reached three, the fairy tale revealed itself an imposter – the red hood fell away to show the Big Bad Wolf of autism’.

So what’s it about?

Ben Jewell has hit breaking point.

His ten-year-old son, Jonah, has never spoken. So when Ben and Jonah are forced to move in with Ben’s elderly father, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.

As Ben battles single fatherhood, a string of well-meaning social workers and his own demons, he learns some difficult home truths.

Jonah, blissful in his ignorance, becomes the prism through which all the complicated strands of personal identity, family history and misunderstanding are finally untangled.

Sounds pretty serious, eh? And it is. It’s about as serious as you can get. This is no wishy-washy, ‘barely scratches the surface’ account of Autism. This is a warts and all view of Autism at its most severe. Jonah’s Autism leaves him silent but we soon learn that it also leaves other, far more tangible marks too: ‘One more for the album of cuts and bruises, smashed glasses, plates and picture frames.’ The writing can be hard-hitting and shocking. At times you want to put your hands over your eyes whilst simultaneously not being able to stop reading.

Despite scenes like the one above, as readers we are never in any doubt about the depth of Ben’s love for his son. You can’t help but like Ben. He’s so imperfect and human. This is no two-dimensional, flawless character with the patience of a saint. On the contrary, Jonah’s autism leaves Ben an alcoholic single dad, terrified of the future: ‘What’s going to happen when he’s older? When he’s too big for even me to handle. Will he kill someone? Maim them? What happens when I’m dead?’ What must it be like to live every day with that kind of fear?

He battles to not only get his son the help he needs (even when this goes against his own desires) but also to understand this condition and how it affects Jonah specifically. You soon realise that Autism for one is not the same as Autism for another but equally, Jonah’s Autism today is not his Autism of tomorrow: ‘The only thing predictable about Jonah is his unpredictability.’

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it is almost unbearably sad at times. I certainly got through a respectable amount of tissues whilst reading it but that didn’t stop me wanting to pick it up. In fact I couldn’t wait to. I read it in 24 hours (perhaps not the most Christmas-sy read I could have chosen, granted) but I HAD to know how it ended. The tears came from trying to imagine that absolute helplessness, the terror, the sheer and utter exhaustion but also in trying to imagine what it must be like to NOT be able to connect with your child, even on the most basic level: ‘So few moments feel like true connection with him, I almost grieve when each one ebbs away.’

Ben’s dad provides another lens through which to view the situation and Jonah more specifically. It works, and despite that part of the story also requiring some tissues, it also prevents the story from becoming too dark and introspective.

Perhaps the best way to describe this book is as a book of strong emotions. As well as tears and laughter I also admit to a healthy dose of hate for Jonah’s mum, Emma. I can’t explain why without spoilers so I’ll leave it at that. But if you have read it, it’d be nice to rant about that with you.

An absolutely stunning read, from a (unbelievable though it may sound) debut author. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. Highly, highly recommended.

‘This wonderful, exhausting, terrifying, vulnerable, beautiful son of mine.’

This is Your Life Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison

This is your life Harriet Chance

There was a lot of buzz surrounding this in the ‘book-terverse’ and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Having finished it, I’m not entirely sure why I’ve waited so long to read any Jonathan Evison. His ability to write what appears at first to be a really ‘sweet’ story, but which in reality is anything but, is superbly clever.

So what’s it about?

With Bernard, her husband of fifty-five years now in the grave, seventy-eight-year-old Harriet Chance impulsively sets sail on an ill-conceived Alaskan cruise that her late husband had planned. But what she hoped would be a voyage leading to a new lease of life becomes a surprising and revelatory journey into Harriet’s past.

There, amid the buffets and lounge singers, between the imagined appearances of her late husband and the very real arrival of her estranged daughter mid-way through the cruise, Harriet is forced to take a long look back, confronting the truth about pivotal events that changed the course of her life. And in the process she discovers that she’s been living the better part of that life under entirely false assumptions.

Part-dysfunctional love story, part exploration of the relationship between mothers and daughters, nothing is what it seems in this charming tale of what it truly means to begin again.

Through Harriet’s interactions with her ‘difficult’ daughter Caroline, her son Skip, and Bernard himself (is she going a bit mental? The reader, and her offspring, are never quite sure…), we are given an incredibly vivid look at her life so far. Finally released from the shackles of a marriage in which her daughter describes her as ‘servant, nurse… practically his mother’, we are introduced to a 78 year old woman whose relationship with her children is beginning to show all the signs of suffocating role reversal.

Harriet is no longer a pushover. Bernard’s illness has taken its toll and changed her forever. Just when you think you know where the story is going, another layer is peeled away and the story takes off in an entirely new direction. Similarly, just as you feel you’re getting to know the ‘gentle’, strait-laced Harriet Chance she comes out with something like: ‘Admit it, the real reason you chose cremation was because you yearned to see his mortal shell pulverized’. By the end of the novel, the reader is left in no doubt about the horrifying reality of Bernard’s final 18 months.

Harriet certainly has regrets and, particularly in the case of her daughter, is sad at how their relationship has turned out but she doesn’t over-indulge in vast quantities of misplaced guilt. I found this a great relief – after all, I didn’t particularly like the insufferable Caroline and actually identified more with the mother than the daughter. Harriet is, despite everything, a very practical and (perhaps surprisingly) a very independent woman: ‘Darlings, if you really want to help me, fix that garage door… if you want to comfort me, how about sending an Easter card?’

Evison’s ability to capture the somewhat fraught mother-daughter relationship is just brilliant. Does he have sisters I wonder? ‘Why does it always come to this between her and Caroline? As though they’re out of patience before they’ve even begun… after the briefest of exchanges their relationship devolves into this prickly state of nervous exhaustion’.

Her children may be concerned about Bernard’s continued ‘presence’ in her life. She categorically is not and it undoubtedly serves a very real narrative purpose: ‘Just suppose I took a little comfort in it… I suppose you two would want to deprive me of that, wouldn’t you?’

The various threads of conflict (and there are a lot of them!), as well as the uncovering of some fairly earth-shattering secrets creates a delightfully uncomfortable, unpredictable and gripping read. One of my favourites of the year.

About the author

Jonathan Evison is an American writer best known for his debut novel All About Lulu published in 2008, which won critical acclaim, including the Washington State Book Award. In 2009, Evison was awarded a Richard Buckley Fellowship from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. A second novel, West of Here, will be released in February 2011 from Algonquin. Editor Chuck Adams (Water for Elephants, A Reliable Wife, An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers Homes in New England) has called West of Here the best novel he’s worked on in over four decades of publishing.

In his teens, Evison was the founding member and frontman of the Seattle punk band March of Crimes, which included future members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.

Born in San Jose, California, he now lives on an island in Western Washington.