Telling Tales Out of School by Chris Lowe

I cannot begin to tell you what an important blog post this is for me. You see, the author of Telling Tales Out of School, Chris Lowe, was my head teacher at Prince William School (PWS) in Oundle where I attended until 1979. And as Chris reminded me recently in an email, I was the first PWS student to go off to university to read English so both Chris and the school have a very special place in my heart. (Chris also said he remembered me as a ‘rather engaging teenager’ but I don’t know how true that is!) Those who know me well will be aware that I still see my English teacher of the time, John Rhodes, very regularly too as he had such an influence on my life.

That makes Telling Tales Out of School special enough, and this weekend sees me attending the fiftieth anniversary of my old school’s incarnation after the comprehensive system was brought in to education in England.

However, the most important aspect of Telling Tales Out of School is that all proceeds from the book go to charities enhancing the lives of young people. In particular, Telling Tales Out of School supports the James Rutterford Trust. The James Rutterford Trust was set up in memory of a former PWS student tragically killed in a car accident. It was one of the trustees, Jenny Blount (tour de force behind this weekend’s reunion and my former French A’Level teacher with whom I still keep in touch) who invited me to review Telling Tales Out of School. I could not have been happier to do so.

It’s not just me reviewing Telling Tales Out of School. Here are a couple of folk Chris also taught, whom you might just recognise, sharing their thoughts:

Former PWS student Nev Fountain, writer for the BBC Dead Ringers and Have I got News for You and News Quiz, and also staff writer on Private Eye:

The ultimate survival guide for Teachers.  Funny and Informative.  A titter on every page! 

And a comment from Colin Sell, the pianist on the BBC long-running panel game spoof I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue:

Telling Tales Out Of School is full of splendid anecdotes of pupils and teachers told by a Man Who Has Been There. Chris Lowe’s Telling Tales Out of School is an enduring, chucklesome treat for anybody who’s ever been to school – in any capacity. A bedside, witty, dip-into-it must!

Telling Tales Out of School is available for purchase here.

Telling Tales Out of School

Chronicling the tales he had collected throughout his career in education started as a lockdown pastime for Chris Lowe. The end result is Telling Tales Out of School: fifty tales to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Prince William School, Oundle. The Tales are all based on true events or stories told to Chris by fellow teachers: stories about growing up, about learning, teaching and coping together.

All proceeds from sales of the book will be donated to the James Rutterford Trust, which is targeted at families who need financial support to enable their children at PWS to take part in school activities, school trips, to provide equipment to aid their study or to support out-of-hours school activities.

Please visit tellingtales.bigcartel.com for more information about the project and to buy Telling Tales Out of School.

My Review of Telling Tales Out of School

A collection of fifty school based stories.

What fun Telling Tales Out of School is. I read the stories in the order they are presented and although they have a unifying Chaucerian style pub chat between Marcus Brampton and his friends in the telling, they would equally well reward dipping into at random because they stand alone and create memories in the reader of their own school experience. Indeed, much of my own teaching past was brought back to life vividly through these tales, as were some of the youngsters I’ve taught, giving a universality to the book. Telling Tales Out of School is a book that will appeal to anyone who has had any contact with education in any form!

I loved the style employed by Chris Lowe in Telling Tales Out of School. There are literary references that I enjoyed spotting but this is by no means an ‘exclusive’ book only for those with a literary background or who attended the author’s school. Rather, the style is flowing and engaging and the more memorable and appealing characters are the rogues and miscreants (not just the students either) between its pages. The authorial voice is very reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse, especially in the direct speech which has the effect of bring characters to life incredibly vividly. There’s so much humour here that I found myself snorting aloud at some of the incidents and comments and again having memories of my own school life and teaching career brought flooding back. This has the effect of making Telling Tales Out of School both entertaining and incidentally quite poignant because it reminds the reader of who they were, their past life and of people and moments they had forgotten.

There’s a visual quality to Telling Tales Out of School that I hadn’t expected. When I picked it up I wasn’t aware that there would be cartoon style drawings by Chris Ellard and Steve Lancaster that are as witty and appealing as the text and complement it perfectly. However, it is the writing that creates images in the reader’s mind so evocatively and I’m not sure I’ll be able to look at a pantomime style donkey in quite the same way again! Indeed, I think Telling Tales Out of School would make a fantastic set of short television plays because there’s humour, action and fabulous dialogue just begging to be used.

Wit and humour aside, Telling Tales Out of School has a more profound impact too. Not only does it support a charity, the James Rutterford Trust, but Chris Lowe’s tales illustrate our need for human connection, showing how false assumptions and preconceptions can be wide of the mark. Here, through the persona of Marcus, the reader is gently taught that compassion, understanding and not a little wiliness and cunning can go an awful long way in improving the lives of others. I finished Telling Tales Out of School most royally entertained, but also somewhat humbled and moved. In a curious way reading Telling Tales Out of School has restored my faith in human nature.

Telling Tales Out of School is a smashing meander down each reader’s individual memory lane and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really recommend it.

About Chris Lowe

When Chris Lowe retired in 1999 after 29 years as principal of Prince William School, a profile in the Times Educational Supplement said he was the longest serving secondary head of a single school in the country, and “might also be the most famous head in the world”.

During his career, Mr Lowe sat on the board of the Royal Opera House, was president of the UK Secondary Heads Association, and visited 43 countries as one of the founders of the International Confederation of Principals. He was awarded a doctorate, a fellowship, a professorship in Australia, and a CBE by the Queen.

You’ll find Telling Tales Out of School on Twitter @TalesPws and Instagram.

Staying in with Alan Jones

All kinds of books are brought to my attention and it grieves me that I simply cannot read them all. This is exactly what has happened with Alan Jones’s latest novel as I’ve been hearing fantastic things about it from my fellow bloggers. As a result I simply had to ask Alan to stay in with me to chat about the book and I’m thrilled to have it on my TBR. Let’s hope it’s not too long until I can read it. Here’s what happened when Alan dropped by:

Staying in with Alan Jones

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Alan and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Thanks a million for having me over, Linda.

Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve chosen to bring along The Gathering Storm, the first book in The Sturmtaucher Trilogy published on the 19th of August 2021 as an eBook, with a paperback to follow early in 2022. It is a Holocaust story based in the naval city of Kiel in Northern Germany.

Why have I chosen it? It’s a completely new genre for me and is the first part of a story that has been five years in the making, and by far the most heavily researched of the books I have written so far.

I’ve been fascinated and horrified in equal measure by the Holocaust since reading ‘Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank as a ten or eleven year old and, although I’ve read extensively about this most terrible period in history, the deeper I researched, the more I realised I didn’t know.

Oh I understand that completely Alan. The era fascinated and horrifies me in equal measure. It was Anne Frank’s writing and visiting her hiding place in Amsterdam that hooked me too.

I’d also wanted to write a book that involved sailing, and the sea, and the germ of an idea came to me when I searched for locations for the story and found that, not only was Kiel the biggest German Naval base, but it was also the centre for German sailing, and would host the Olympic sailing events in 1936.

Five years later, and a lot of things have happened during that time; I retired after 38 years as a mixed-practice vet, I acquired four beautiful grandchildren, I became an RNLI lifeboat coxswain, and I have written a trilogy that I am very proud of, no matter how successful it is.

Goodness me. You don’t hang about do you? How fabulous to include sailing in your writing when it’s part of your new life.

What can we expect from an evening in with The Gathering Storm?

It will be a sombre evening; the slow erosion of the rights of Germany’s Jews and the cruel indifference of their fellow citizens can make for uncomfortable reading, but you will get to know two German families intimately, affected by the National Socialists’ abhorrent policies in very different ways – The Kästners, a successful military family who prosper under Nazi military expansion and economic prosperity, and the Nussbaums, a Jewish family who work for them as domestic servants, who find life increasingly strained.

Actually, Alan. I think The Gathering Storm illustrates just how little we have learnt from history. Events in recent history seem to me to bear an uncanny and uncomfortable similarity.

You can expect a bit of sailing – it is what the Kästner family do in their free time, and also a smattering of German well-to-do society, of ladies who lunch and host charitable events to help the poor, of lakeside houses and grasping, self-serving politicians. There’s fascism, and hate, and a nation consumed by its place in the world but also Jewish communities, who try and stick together and help each other.

This sounds utterly fascinating. I love social history and I know I’ll be totally engaged by The Gathering Storm when I finally get round to reading it.

And there are one or two individuals who see the wrong in what is happening, and stand up for the dispossessed, no matter the danger to them or their families.

I always wonder what I might do in a similar situation. I fear I might not be as brave…

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought some Bratwurst, Bratkartoffeln and Sauerkraut, a hearty German dish of sausages and fried potatoes with pickled cabbage, some Rugelach for dessert, and a few bottles of German beer and a bottle of Schnapps to wash it down, and a large black folio containing just some of the maps, charts, and documents that I used so extensively during the writing of the book.

Hmm. I think I might need that beer as I’m not very keen on Sauerkraut…

Once we’ve eaten, I’ll apologise for being a map nerd, obsessed with documents and old newspapers, then I’ll open the folio and I’d lay out in front of you the beautiful wartime maps and 1930’s charts, and some of the key documents that starkly illustrate the descent into horror that brought Europe to its knees in the decade the National Socialists were in power.

Oh, no need to apologise (except for the sauerkraut) as I love all this kind of history.

I’ll show you the telegram sent to police forces around Germany about Kristallnacht, the minutes of the Wannsee conference where Himmler, Heydrich and Eichmann revealed their ‘Final Solution’, and a wall chart showing the various permutations of Jewishness as prescribed by the Nuremberg Race Laws.

Isn’t it sobering to see ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ so vividly?

The maps will be equally sobering, despite the Schnapps. The street plan of Kiel, showing Gestapo headquarters, the town hall and square, bedecked by Nazi flags, and the shipyards that produced warships and U-boats in incredible number for the Third Reich. There’s the war maps, the maps of the Greater Germany showing the German Reich rapidly taking grip of most of Europe.

In contrast, the sea charts reveal the Kästner’s yachting playgrounds, of trips to Danish ports and the Frisian islands in the North Sea, where the happenings at home can almost be forgotten.

I’ll show you the newspapers, German and British, a narrative of newsprint that documents the war years, and those leading up to it.

And when we’ve finished, we’ll pray that nothing like it ever happens again.

We will indeed Alan although sadly I don’t think those prayers are being answered. Thank you SO much for staying in with me to chat all about The Gathering Storm. I think it sounds fabulous and cannot wait to read it. Now, you pour the Schnapps, open your folder, and I’ll give blog visitors a few more details about The Gathering Storm:

The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm: Book 1 in the Sturmtaucher Trilogy, a powerful and compelling story of two families torn apart by evil.

Kiel, Northern Germany, 1933. A naval city, the base for the German Baltic fleet, and the centre for German sailing, the venue for the upcoming Olympic regatta in 1936.

The Kästners, a prominent Military family, are part of the fabric of the city, and its social, naval and yachting circles. The Nussbaums are the second generation of their family to be in service with the Kästners as domestic staff, but the two households have a closer bond than most.

As Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party claw their way to power in 1933, life has never looked better for families like the Kästners. There is only one problem.

The Nussbaums are Jews.

The Sturmtaucher Trilogy documents the devastating effect on both families of the Nazis’ hateful ideology and the insidious erosion of the rights of Germany’s Jews.

When Germany descends ever deeper into dictatorship, General Erich Kästner tries desperately to protect his employees, and to spirit them to safety.

As the country tears itself apart, the darkness which envelops a nation threatens not only to destroy two families, but to plunge an entire continent into war.’

Published on 19th August 2021, The Gathering Storm is available for purchase here.

About Alan Jones

Alan Jones is a Scottish author with three gritty crime stories to his name, the first two set in Glasgow, the third one based in London. He has now switched genres, and his WW2 trilogy will be published from August to December 2021. It is a Holocaust story set in Northern Germany.

He is married with four grown up children and four wonderful grandchildren.

He has recently retired as a mixed-practice vet in a small Scottish coastal town in Ayrshire and is one of the coxswains on the local RNLI lifeboat. He makes furniture in his spare time, and maintains and sails a 45-year-old yacht, cruising in the Irish Sea and on the beautiful west coast of Scotland. He loves reading, watching films and cooking. He still plays football despite being just the wrong side of sixty.

His crime novels are not for the faint-hearted, with some strong language, violence, and various degrees of sexual content. The first two books also contain a fair smattering of Glasgow slang.

He is one of the few self-published authors to be given a panel at the Bloody Scotland crime fiction festival in Stirling and has done two pop-up book launches at previous festivals.

He has spent the last five years researching and writing the Sturmtaucher Trilogy.

To find out more, visit Alan’s website, follow him on Instagram and Twitter @alanjonesbooks, or find him on Facebook.

All The Names Given by Raymond Antrobus

My enormous thanks to Alice Dewing at Picador for sending me a copy of All The Names Given by Raymond Antrobus in return for an honest review.

I was delighted to receive All The Names Given as I previously reviewed (here) Raymond Antrobus’ Perseverance when I was a shadow judge for The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award in 2019. You can read about that experience here. Perseverance won the award in 2019.

All The Names Given is published by Pan Macmillan imprint Picador today, 2nd September 2021, and is available for purchase through these links.

All The Names Given

Raymond Antrobus’s astonishing debut collection, The Perseverance, won both Rathbone Folio Prize and the Ted Hughes Award, amongst many other accolades; the poet’s much anticipated second collection, All The Names Given, continues his essential investigation into language, miscommunication, place, and memory. Beginning with poems meditating on the author’s surname – one which shouldn’t have survived into the modern era – Antrobus then examines the rich and fraught history carried within it. As he describes a childhood caught between intimacy and brutality, sound and silence, and conflicting racial and cultural identities, the poem becomes a space in which the poet can reckon with his own ancestry, and bear witness to the indelible violence of the legacy wrought by colonialism. The poems travel through space, shifting between England, South Africa, Jamaica, and the American South, and move fluently from family history, through the lust of adolescence, and finally into a vivid and complex array of marriage poems — with the poet older, wiser, and more accepting of love’s fragility.

Throughout, All The Names Given is punctuated with [Caption Poems] partially inspired by Deaf sound artist Christine Sun Kim, which attempt to fill in the silences and transitions between the poems, as well as moments inside and outside of them. Direct, open, formally sophisticated, All The Names Given breaks new ground both in form and content: the result is a timely, humane and tender book from one of the most important young poets of his generation.

My Review of All The Names Given

A volume of forty poems.

My word. All the Names Given may be a slim volume but it packs the kind of punch that leaves the reader reeling. Both personal and political, intimate and global, these poems by Raymond Antrobus illustrate perfectly how history and the present impact the individual so that I felt all manner of emotions in reading them. The poet has made me understand my privileged life and to appreciate it much more clearly.

As well as being emotionally moved, I was educated by All the Names Given. Reference to a painting in Plantation Paint, for example, had me scurrying off to research the image so that the resonance of these poems reaches far beyond their reading. I’m sure too, that the more time the reader spends with Raymond Antrobus’s words, the more there is to be gleaned and appreciated. I loved the quotations from other writers that gave the poems an added interest. Again, I discovered writers like poet Christopher Gilbert whom I hadn’t encountered before. Indeed, after I’d read the collection, I found the ‘NOTES ON THE POEMS’ included at the end afforded me all kinds of new pleasures to explore further.

I thoroughly appreciated too, the poetic techniques used by the Raymond Antrobus. Enjambement illustrates how the links with history run through the present. Rhetorical questions show the reader that answers still need to be found to the questions of identity and race, as well as the attitudes to them.  The asides or Caption Poems in square brackets added auditory depth that I found especially effective coming from this hearing impaired writer. White space is used so judiciously that it provides pause to allow the reader to absorb meaning, and its contrast with the written word intensifies the poetry until what is left unwritten becomes just as affecting as what is written. I thought these techniques worked so effectively because they seem natural and unforced; organic rather than self-consciously crafted.

However, although the references to different locations also add depth and colour to the writing, the poetic techniques are skilful and the historical, geographical and literary references are fascinating, what is most affecting about All The Names Given is the sense of Raymond Antrobus the man. He takes the reader through a kind of potted history of his life, from the cursing of his mother under his breath as a boy to marriage, so that All The Names Given feels as if the reader has been given privileged access into the mind of the poet, watching him change and evolve as the poems are read.

I thought All The Given Names was both brutal and tender, personal and universal so that Raymond Antrobus has included something for every reader in this collection. Indeed. I thought it was excellent.

About Raymond Antrobus

raymondantrobus_creditcalebfemi_preferred

Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney to an English mother and Jamaican father. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Complete Works III and Jerwood Compton Poetry. He is one of the world’s first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word Education from Goldsmiths, University of London. Raymond is a founding member of Chill Pill and Keats House Poets Forum. He has had multiple residencies in deaf and hearing schools around London, as well as Pupil Referral Units. In 2018 he was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Award by the Poetry Society (judged by Ocean Vuong).

The Perseverance (Penned in the Margins, 2018), was a Poetry Book Society Choice, the winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize and the Ted Hughes Award, and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

For more information visit Raymond’s website. You’ll also find him on Twitter @RaymondAntrobus, Facebook and Instagram.

The Dark by Emma Haughton

Although I’m trying hard not to take on new blog tours because my TBR is threatening to bury me, I simply couldn’t resist taking part in this one for The Dark by Emma Haughton as I’ve visited Antarctica where the book is set. My enormous thanks to Jenny Platt at Hodder for inviting me to participate. I’m delighted to share my review of The Dark today.

Published by Hodder on 19th August 2021, The Dark is available for purchase through the links here.

The Dark

In the most inhospitable environment – cut off from the rest of the world – there’s a killer on the loose.

A&E doctor Kate North has been knocked out of her orbit by a personal tragedy. So when she’s offered the opportunity to be an emergency replacement at the UN research station in Antarctica, she jumps at the chance. The previous doctor, Jean-Luc, died in a tragic accident while out on the ice.

The move seems an ideal solution for Kate: no one knows about her past; no one is checking up on her. But as total darkness descends for the winter, she begins to suspect that Jean-Luc’s death wasn’t accidental at all.

And the more questions she asks, the more dangerous it becomes . . .

My Review of The Dark

Kate’s the new doctor at the research station in Antarctica.

I thoroughly, thoroughly, enjoyed The Dark. Emma Haughton has created an atmospheric, claustrophobic thriller that twists and turns in a chilling locked room style narrative. Despite the modern setting of an Antarctic research station that gives it a fresh appeal, The Dark has all the best hallmarks of traditional crime fiction so that it belongs very firmly within that body of work.

The sense of place is magnificent. The darkness, the relentless nothingness of the continent and the literal and metaphorical cold add a sense of danger and fear from the first page to the last that intensifies the reader’s own anxieties as they read. The Dark becomes chilling on many levels!

With the small number of characters that contracts as deaths occur, there’s a further sense of claustrophobia and Kate’s first person account heightens the intimacy of the narrative so that, despite the remoteness of the setting, The Dark feels very personal and immediate. I didn’t always agree with Kate’s attitudes and behaviour but because of Emma Haughton’s skilled characterisation,  I still wanted her to triumph, be accepted and, above all else, escape being murdered! What I enjoyed so much was that I guessed the killer’s identity several times – until, of course, they became a victim, thereby wrong-footing me and adding to my engagement with the writing.

I found the plot fast paced and exciting, but as well as a completely engaging and entertaining story in The Dark, Emma Haughton makes the reader wonder just how they might cope in a similar setting. She weaves in themes of human interaction and relationship that could quite easily be studied in the very setting of the book, giving it an extra authenticity too. Add in addiction, truth and lies, guilt and forgiveness, authority and abnegation amongst other themes and The Dark becomes even more interesting and multi-layered. The narrative works brilliantly on so many levels.

I found The Dark deliciously menacing from the first line. It is a cracking thriller and I recommend it completely.

About Emma Haughton

Emma Haughton grew up in Sussex, studied English at Oxford and worked as a journalist for several national newspapers, including The Times Travel section. Emma has written several non-fiction books for schools as well as YA thrillers. This is her first crime novel.

For further information, follow Emma on Twitter @Emma_Haughton and visit her website. You’ll also find Emma on Instagram.

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The House Beneath the Cliffs by Sharon Gosling

I’m delighted that it’s finally my turn on the blog tour for Sharon Gosling’s The House Beneath the Cliffs. My grateful thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part and to TeamBATC for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review. It gives me enormous pleasure to share that review today.

Published by Simon and Schuster on 19th August 2021, The House Beneath the Cliffs is available for purchase through these links.

The House Beneath the Cliffs

A remote yet beautiful village. A tiny kitchen lunch club. The perfect place to start again.

Anna moves to Crovie, a tiny fishing village on the Moray Firth, for a fresh start. But when she arrives, she realises her new home is really no more than a shed, and the village itself sits beneath a cliff right on the edge of the sea, in constant danger of storms and landslides. Has she made a terrible mistake?

Yet as she begins to learn about the Scottish coast and its people, something she thought she’d lost reawakens in her. She rediscovers her love of cooking, and turns her kitchen into a pop-up lunch club. But not all the locals are delighted about her arrival, and some are keen to see her plans fail.

Will Anna really be able to put down roots in this remote and wild village? Or will her fragile new beginning start to crumble with the cliffs . . . ?

Beautiful, moving and utterly absorbing, The House Beneath the Cliffs is a novel of friendship and food, storms and secrets, and the beauty of second chances.

My Review of The House Beneath the Cliffs

Anna is starting a new phase in her life.

Oh yes! The House Beneath the Cliffs is exactly my kind of read and I couldn’t have loved it more because Sharon Gosling imbues her writing with genuine heart-felt emotion that draws in the reader and makes them care about her characters.

I adored meeting the cast of The House Beneath the Cliffs. The tiny close-knit community of Crovie means that each character is a distinct personality with every type represented, from the curmudgeonly Douglas McKean to the unselfish Frank, with Anna taking centre stage. Anna felt so real to me it was as if I knew her personally. Her previous life, her potential future and her present activities in Crovie held me spell bound. I wanted her to be happy, to succeed and leave the foul Geoff behind with every fibre of my being. Similarly, Auld Robbie was perfectly depicted. What I found so engaging was the way in which the whole community was presented. Sharon Gosling understands implicitly how small communities operate, with their mutual support and long held petty jealousies, their friendships and relationships, so that I felt I had been plunged into the heart of the place alongside Anna. The House Beneath the Cliffs also felt an authentic portrait of how such small communities have to live; with economic and environmental challenges that can threaten their very lives so that Crovie is every bit as much a character as any of the people. Indeed, there are some heart stopping moments in reading The House Beneath the Cliffs that are not just to do with romance!

The setting is glorious. I loved the seascapes painted by Sharon Gosling’s evocative writing and the references to food, to ecology and landscape all combine into a wonderful sense of place. The author knows exactly how much detail to provide to give the reader a vivid experience without ever slowing the pace of the plot, so that reading The House Beneath the Cliffs is an immersive and completely satisfying experience.

And it’s an equally fantastic plot. The story races along, encapsulating everything from the most prosaic to the most dramatic in a perfect balance of storytelling. I genuinely think The House Beneath the Cliffs is exactly the kind of book to appeal to any situation – from beach read to cosy winter’s afternoon by the fire because it sweeps the reader away from their real life so completely.

The themes in The House Beneath the Cliffs are sensitively handled, intelligently woven into the narrative and deeply affecting. The human need for connection and a sense of belonging underpins other concepts such as grief, parenthood, ambition, friendship, and opportunity so that there is resonance and appeal for all readers.

I thought The House Beneath the Cliffs was enchanting. It’s beautifully written and captivated me completely. I loved every second spent reading about Anna and Crovie. It’s a wonderful book, not to be missed.

About Sharon Gosling

Sharon Gosling lives with her husband in a very remote village in northern Cumbia, where they moved to run a second-hand bookshop, Withnail Books in Penrith. She began her career in entertainment journalism, writing for magazines in the science fiction and fantasy genre, before moving on to write tie-in books for TV shows such as Stargate and the ‘re-imagined’ Battlestar Galactica. She has also written, produced and directed audio dramas based in the same genre.

When she’s not writing, she creates beautiful linocut artwork and is the author of multiple children’s books. The House Beneath the Cliffs is her first adult novel.

You can follow Sharon on Twitter @sharongosling and Instagram or visit her blog.

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The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing by Hannah Storm

My extremely grateful thanks to David Borrowdale at Reflex Press for sending me a copy of The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing by Hannah Storm in return for an honest review. I don’t read nearly enough short fiction and it gives me great pleasure to share my review today.

Published by Reflex Press on 20th July, The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing is available for purchase here, where you can also find a sample story.

The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing

The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing is a flash fiction collection that explores the fragility of human relationships and those unexpected meetings and moments that upend our familiar worlds.

In her debut collection, Hannah Storm takes us to far-off countries and cultures, offering the reader a glimpse of the stories behind easily forgotten headlines, blending them with myth and magic. It is here that we meet characters often pushed to the extreme, who remind us that we are all still animals – driven by instinct and a need for protection.

Woven throughout are the frequently difficult dynamics that disempower and define women and which transcend distance and cultures.

From this emerges an exploration of place and safety: how those environments we may fear as most hostile can bring us the greatest peace, while those that should promise comfort engender precisely the opposite.

My Review of The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing

A selection of forty-nine short works of fiction.

If I’m honest, I picked up The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing in between finishing one book and starting another because I thought it would be a quick read. What I hadn’t expected from Hannah Storm’s writing was the immediate emotional hit to the solar plexus that these stories provide. They are so impactful that I was completely taken aback, totally immersed in the worlds Hannah Storm presents and finished reading The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing feeling personally changed as a result. The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing was anything but a quick read because the stories deserved full attention and time to think about them and contemplate their obvious and implied meanings properly. I can imagine rereading this collection time and again and finding new concepts and significance.

The themes of The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing are often quite uncomfortable as Hannah Storm does not shy away from images of repression, violation, submission and subjugation so that this collection lays bare the less salubrious side of life. Frequently, the women in these pieces suffer at the hands of men, with war crimes, domestic violence and betrayal as major motifs. However, this isn’t to say that The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing is filled with misandry or is entirely negative. Instead, Hannah Storm’s words feel feminist and strong as women survive the most adverse conditions, often with a fierce, protective maternal instinct.

Peopled with vivid characters and featuring exotic as well as more prosaic locations, The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing leads the reader into unfamiliar experiences, as well as those they can relate to, making this book an intense and affecting read. An iterative image of red in many of the pieces reverberates with desire and danger so that there’s a tension to be felt physically in reading them. At times I found the writing almost painfully beautiful.

I’m not sure I can say I enjoyed every aspect of The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing because the writing is so powerful that I could feel the emotions of many of the characters and picture the scenes and situations they find themselves in so clearly that is wasn’t always a comfortable read. It was, however, exquisite, affecting, powerful and impactful. Hannah Storm crafts her words sublimely. I loved this collection.

About Hannah Storm

Hannah Storm is an award-winning writer of flash fiction. Her work won the ‘I Must Be Off!’ travel writing competition, placed second in the Bath Flash Fiction Award in 2020 and was highly commended in the TSS Flash Fiction Prize. She has been shortlisted for several other competitions and her stories have been published widely online and in print anthologies. Hannah began writing flash fiction after 20 years as a journalist travelling the world and her writing is tribute to the people she met in her work. She also writes creative non-fiction to process her own experiences and is working on a memoir. She has recently completed her first novel. Hannah lives in the UK with her family and by day runs a journalism charity and works as a media consultant specialising in gender, mental health and safety. The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing is her first flash fiction collection.

You can follow Hannah on Twitter @HANNAHSTORM6.

The Affair by Hilary Boyd

My grateful thanks to Jen at Penguin for sending me a copy of The Affair by Hilary Boyd in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today. It’s far too long since I reviewed one of Hilary’s books. Then it was The Lavender House in a post you can read here.

Published by Penguin on 19th August 2021, The Affair is available for purchase through the links here.

The Affair

Connie McCabe longs for the summer where she spends the days leading tours across the continent.

But it’s on the glamorous shores of Lake Como where she is truly swept away, when Jared, a much younger man, falls for her.

Despite resisting his advances, Connie finds that he’s got under her skin.

And so begins a long, hot, intoxicating summer where Connie succumbs to temptation – breaking her marriage vows.

At the end of the season, Connie returns home to her husband, ready to put this affair behind her.

But Jared has other ideas . . .

My Review of The Affair

Connie is working away from home.

The Affair is exactly the kind of book to pick up for a holiday and escape into, not least because the first half in particular has such glorious descriptions of places and food, as Connie fulfils her tour guide role, that it frequently felt as if I were on holiday too. I love a book that can make me feel hungry!

That said, however, The Affair isn’t simply a light weight holiday read, because it deals with a serious and uncomfortable theme in Jared’s obsessive behaviour so that I finished The Affair feeling as if I had been given insight into a world I know little about. It’s difficult to explain too much for fear of spoiling the plot, but where I had willingly to suspend my disbelief as Jared’s behaviour seemed unreasonable, I rather think that says more about my personal experiences and less about the authenticity of the writing. I fear Hilary Boyd has created a world very convincingly that might be all too knowable for some. The story builds slowly, increasing in intensity with a dramatic ending that is so well crafted that The Affair draws in the reader by stealth, echoing Jared’s relationship with Connie so cleverly.

I found it interesting that I enjoyed The Affair whist really not liking any of the characters because I found the authentic way their behaviours were portrayed ensured I was convinced by them and frequently I didn’t like what they did! That said, I thought it was wonderful to have slightly older characters struggling with marriage and relationships, rather than the 30 somethings looking for their ideal partner of so many books. The Affair is a book of maturity. In particular, Devan’s struggle with retirement felt very genuine. Hilary Boyd gave me fascinating insight into Connie but I could not warm to her because I found her behaviour reprehensible. It intrigues me to find, however, that Hilary Boyd has the authorial power to manipulate me as a a reader into caring about what happened to Connie and Devon even when I found them dislikeable. I thought Jared was scarily plausible. Through him The Affair made me wonder just what happens in other people’s lives. I love it too when a book both entertains and makes me think.

Themes in The Affair also add to the sense of a mature read. Aside from the central premise, marriage and loyalty, love and desire, friendship and responsibility, passion and familiarity all combine into a very satisfying narrative.

Indeed, I found The Affair both entertaining and thought provoking. I very much enjoyed it.

About Hilary Boyd

Hilary Boyd was a nurse, marriage counsellor and ran a small cancer charity before becoming an author. She has written eight books, including Thursdays in the Park, her debut novel which sold over half a million copies and was an international bestseller.

For more information, follow Hilary on Twitter @HilaryBoyd , visit her website or find her on Facebook.

The Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans

My enormous thanks to Louise Swannell at Headline for sending me a surprise copy of The Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. With several of Harriet Evans’ books sitting on my shelf awaiting reading I’m thrilled to be able to share my review of The Beloved Girls today.  I also spoke about The Beloved Girls in a recent online event that you can view here.

Published on 19th August 2021, by Headline Review, The Beloved Girls is available for purchase through these links.

The Beloved Girls

‘It’s a funny old house. They have this ceremony every summer . . . There’s an old chapel, in the grounds of the house. Half-derelict. The Hunters keep bees in there. Every year, on the same day, the family processes to the chapel. They open the combs, taste the honey. Take it back to the house. Half for them -‘ my father winced, as though he had bitten down on a sore tooth. ‘And half for us.’

Catherine, a successful barrister, vanishes from a train station on the eve of her anniversary. Is it because she saw a figure – someone she believed long dead? Or was it a shadow cast by her troubled, fractured mind?

The answer lies buried in the past. It lies in the events of the hot, seismic summer of 1989, at Vanes – a mysterious West Country manor house – where a young girl, Jane Lestrange, arrives to stay with the gilded, grand Hunter family, and where a devastating tragedy will unfold. Over the summer, as an ancient family ritual looms closer, Janey falls for each member of the family in turn. She and Kitty, the eldest daughter of the house, will forge a bond that decades later, is still shaping the present . . .

‘We need the bees to survive, and they need us to survive. Once you understand that, you understand the history of Vanes, you understand our family.’

My Review of The Beloved Girls

Vanes is a place of secrets and bees.

I’m not quite sure how Harriet Evans achieved the effect but I was mesmerised by The Beloved Girls, Initially I didn’t warm to Catherine and I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy the book and then suddenly realised that I was totally entranced, drawn in to the story almost against my will until I found it stunning.

Harriet Evans’ writing is incredibly atmospheric. Beautifully crafted sentences are imbued with the senses so that the reader feels truly immersed in the story. I loved the structure of the book because the way the past has impacted on the present is uncovered gradually, affording the reader insight into characters and almost making those readers part of the story too. The references to music in particular brought so many memories back to me as I read that The Beloved Girls felt part of the fabric of who I am. I found this effect both compelling and unnerving. The hot summer of 1989 adds menace and passion so that the entire narrative is overlaid with mystery and suspense.

It’s always difficult to review plot without spoilers but bees, and the Vanes tradition of sharing honeycomb with them, are at the heart of the story. With the sweetness of honey and the potential sting of the bee The Beloved Girls reverberates with threat and potential whilst illustrating the importance of bees in today’s society both on a literal and metaphorical level. The Beloved Girls somehow manages to be a book belonging to now, but also it feels as if it is steeped in tradition and literary heritage too, making it a joy to read.

The themes make The Beloved Girls incredibly impactful because Harriet Evans weaves so much into her narrative that life, death and everything in between is represented here. This gives sumptuous depth but never gets in the way of fabulous storytelling. Family, friendship, relationships of many kinds, identity, trust, tradition, society, crime, education, social class, ambition and so on form their own interlinked honeycomb of meaning in The Beloved Girls making for a very satisfying read.

All the characters are completely authentic to the extent that I felt a strong emotional response to even the most minor of them. I loathed Charles and Giles with a white hot intensity and felt overwhelming concern for Janey, Kitty and Sylvia. In fact, I found that even though men have dominance in the Vanes world, The Beloved Girls is actually quite a feminist book. Harriet Evans does not shy away from difficult topics in her story but she still gives power to her females in a persuasive manner.

From being uncertain at the start, I ended up loving The Beloved Girls. It’s beautifully written, perfectly crafted storytelling at its very best. Don’t miss it.

****

There’s a Spotify playlist for The Beloved Girls here.

About Harriet Evans

Harriet Evans has sold over a million copies of her books. She is the author of twelve bestselling novels, most recently the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller The Garden of Lost and Found, which won Good Housekeeping’s Book of the Year, and The Wildflowers, which was a Richard & Judy Book Club selection. She used to work in publishing and now writes full time, when she is not being distracted by her children, other books, crafting projects, puzzles, gardening, and her much-loved collection of jumpsuits. She lives in Bath, Somerset.

For further information, follow Harriet on Twitter @HarrietEvans, or find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Dear Grace by Clare Swatman

Having loved Before You Go by Clare Swatman, I broke my self-imposed blog tour ban to participate in the launch celebrations for Clare’s latest book Dear Grace. My enormous thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours  for inviting me to take part.

You’ll find my review of Before You Go here. I was also privileged to interview Clare about her novel, The Mother’s Secret and to review it in a post you’ll find here.

Published in paperback on 12th August, Dear Grace is available for purchase here.

Dear Grace

The most unlikely friendship. The most unexpected consequences.

When Anna’s husband cheats on her, she’s sure she’ll never be happy again. But then she meets 94-year-old Grace. Despite an age gap of more than fifty years, the pair set out together on a life-changing journey halfway across the country in search of some answers.

Sometimes the only way to move on is to revisit the past. But will Anna and Grace be prepared for what they find?

A story about love, female friendship, heartbreak and learning to forgive.

My Review of Dear Grace

Anna is divorcing her husband.

Dear Grace was a total treat of a read, being charming, uplifting and engaging. I felt as if I’d been given time out from a stressful world to discover three wonderful people whom I thoroughly enjoyed meeting.

The plot in Dear Grace is relatively gentle with few great dramas and this is its absolute success. Clare Swatman lays out exactly the kind of life and experience anyone can relate to so that Dear Grace feels authentic, realistic and all the more engaging as a result. I felt very much as if I’d been given a snapshot of real lives that began before I met the characters and would continue after I closed the pages.

The fact that Dear Grace revolves (with a couple of more minor characters like Julia) mostly around Anna, Grace and Tom gives it a beautiful intimacy. I loved all three characters and, rather like Grace, wanted more to develop between Anna and Tom because Clare Swatman made me care about them as real people. Their suspicions about one another, their misunderstandings and their developing acceptance of each other gave Anna and Tom a vivacity I loved. But for me, it was Grace who stole the show. At 95 her resilience and feistiness illustrate that old age does not have to mean life is over. Through her friendship with Anna and the outings they go on Clare Swatman shows us just how much there is to enjoy at so many levels in life. Grace also exemplifies how our past might shape us but that it doesn’t have to control us so that I felt Dear Grace was a positive and enlightening narrative.

The themes are gorgeous. There’s love, including romantic love, but also enduring, unrequited, familial, and platonic, making for a really satisfying read. Add in the concepts of memory, identity, mental health, care for the elderly and personal response to adversity and the challenges we are presented with in life, and Dear Grace has depth and interest that I wasn’t initially expecting. The exploration of friendship across generations is so important and I feel Dear Grace could be the panacea the world needs.

With Clare Swatman’s smooth authorial style and naturalistic dialogue I was captivated throughout, but I especially enjoyed the Lowestoft setting as it is brilliantly depicted. I could picture it perfectly in my mind’s eye so that reading Dear Grace was akin to taking a small holiday too – with sun, rain and wind so common in the UK!

Readers wanting high drama, visceral crime and psychological twists should look elsewhere than Dear Grace, but those looking for a book that feels right; warm, caring and able to ameliorate the woes of the world, will love it. Although there is sadness and regret as well as happiness and joy in Dear Grace, I loved it because it made me feel happy and as if the world is a better place. I really recommend it.

About Clare Swatman

Clare Swatman is an author and journalist. She has had two previous novels published, with her debut, Before You Go, selling in 22 territories around the world. She has also spent 20 years writing for women’s magazines in the UK.

Her latest novel, Dear Grace, is inspired by her love of Lowestoft, the town where she spent many happy holidays with her late grandparents.

Clare lives in Hertfordshire in the UK with her husband and two boys. Even the cat is male, which means she’s destined to be outnumbered forever.

For more information, visit Clare’s website, follow her on Twitter @clareswatman, or find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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In Youth is Pleasure by Denton Welch

I confess that, had Matt Hutchinson at Penguin Random House not sent me a copy of In Youth Is Pleasure by Denton Welch in return for an honest review, I would never have heard of it! That said, I’m delighted to share my review today.

Originally published in 1945, this edition of In Youth Is Pleasure was published by Penguin Classics on 1st July 2021 and is available for purchase through the links here.

In Youth Is Pleasure

Orvil Pym does not fit in. A waifish, eccentric, sensitive fifteen-year-old, he hates school and longs to be alone. Spending his Summer holidays in a genteel Surrey hotel with his mysterious father and two brothers who don’t understand him, he explores ancient churches, spies on a man rowing in the river and collects antiques, escaping into his own singular aesthetic world. First published in 1945, this is an unforgettable portrayal of a young man’s sensuous coming-of-age.

My Review of In Youth Is Pleasure

The summer of 15 year old Orvil Pym’s life.

In Youth Is Pleasure is an astonishing read. Very much grounded in its era, with genteel hotels and societal manners, it also resonates in today’s society with absolute relevance. I found it intense, insightful and unique.

Orvil Pym is an incredibly vibrant character. His burgeoning homosexuality, his sensitive reactions to the world around him and his desperate loneliness and separation from those who know him, make him utterly fascinating and deserving of pity in the true sense of the word, whilst simultaneously generating admiration from the reader. I felt I had come to know him intimately. However, equally as effective as the depiction of this young boy was my increased awareness of the world around me seen through Orvil’s eyes and perceptions. I felt I had been given privileged access to a vivid world I would otherwise have missed in reading In Youth Is Pleasure.

Denton Welch presents the world with thrumming sensuousness and sensuality because of the magnificent use of the sense in his writing. Whilst much of the description comes through Orvil’s vivid and frequently disturbing imagination, there’s such richness in the text that In Youth Is Pleasure gives the reader a heightened awareness too. Alongside the descriptions is great violence and tenderness so that In Youth Is Pleasure feels balanced, nuanced and affecting. The writing is mesmerising.

The plot, however, is simple; Orvil spends a few weeks in an hotel and staying with a boy from his school. Much of what we read is prosaic as he visits a church, or rides a borrowed bicycle, but that belies the intensity of the narrative and the beauty of the language Denton Welch employs. In Youth Is Pleasure is a masterclass in emotion, in coming of age and in identity.

With themes of sexuality, family, friendship, abuse, education, violence and tenderness In Youth Is Pleasure left me reeling and actually feeling rather inadequate because I so admired the quality of Denton Welch’s prose.

I finished In Youth Is Pleasure thinking I have been given exclusive access to a gay icon, to a world I know little about and to a brilliance of writing I can only envy. It’s a remarkable book.

About Denton Welch

Denton Welch was born in 1915 in Shanghai, the youngest of three brothers. After attending boarding school in England, he enrolled at Goldsmiths’ School of Art in April 1933 to study painting. In June 1935, while still a student, he was involved in a cycling accident that left him bedridden for the rest of his life, and he turned to writing instead of painting. He died in December 1948, at the age of 33.