#Blogtour : Everyone Is Still Alive by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Having read and been deeply moved by Cathy Rentzenbrink’s memoir The Last Act of Love and devoured her wonderful celebration of a lifelong love of reading Dear Reader, I could not believe my luck when the chance to read and review her first novel came my way. Everyone is still alive was published on 8th July by Phoenix and it really is a truly incredible debut.

This is the story of Juliet, recently bereaved, who decides to move her family into her late mother’s home, on the quiet suburban street of Magnolia Road. Her son Charlie is just about to start school and her husband Liam is a writer working, somewhat sporadically, on his second novel. Juliet herself is the main breadwinner and in addition to being side swiped by grief, finds herself juggling all the demands and guilt associated with the life of a working mother.

Magnolia Road has a close knit community; the heart of which are a hub of middle class parents whom Liam seems quickly to become absorbed by. At first Liam views the group as fodder for his new book and claims his daily meet ups are purely for research purposes. But as the weeks go on and bonds of friendship seem to grow Juliet increasingly feels as if she is on the outside looking in.

The dynamics of the group are further complicated when one seemingly stable marriage suddenly crumbles and Liam is pulled further into the emotional turmoil left in it’s wake. Juliet starts to question the foundations of her own marriage and wonders if moving to Magnolia Road was really the solution it seemed to be. As doubt continues to creep closer, life changing moments are just around the corner.

This novel commands with an air of authenticity from the first page to the last. It is populated by a cast of believable and well rounded characters who act with both spontaneity and comforting predictability . Characters who in short make you believe in them. The population of Magnolia Road feels like a community you could walk into, with lives you can both visualise and care about.

Cathy Rentzenbrink has created a plot that pulls you, that shows how the day to day of our lives is just as complex and engaging as events further afield and how the answers to the questions we ask ourselves are actually often not that far away.

Once I stepped into Juliet and Liam’s lives it was actually surprisingly hard to leave! This one of those novels that compelled you to keep turning the pages, but once you got to the end the characters lingered for a good long while. Complex emotions and solid story telling make this a must read of the summer.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reviews and reactions to Everyone is still alive check out the rest of the blog tour below…

#BlogTourReview : small : Claire Lynch

Before I get started on my response to this incredible book, let me thank Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for bringing it to my attention and inviting me to take part. small: on motherhoods by Claire Lynch was published on 24th June by Octopus Books.

small is the story of motherhood, of a very personal journey to become a mother, to find a space to be a mother and to be recognised as such. For Claire Lynch and her wife Beth becoming parents was a difficult path, one fraught with difficulties. Some familiar to all, some specific to just a few but all equally unique to this small family as it struggles to grow.

This book is an honest reflection on the realities and emotions that made up the journey of queer motherhood. The heart wrenching and physical demands of the IVF process and the difficult decisions and acceptances that they both need to make are just the beginning of the story.

In poetic and rolling prose Claire details the highs and lows of loss and hope, of lives that began too early but grow into big adventures. Of trying to build lives and love in a system that seems to only recognise one mother, whilst coming to terms with the all encompassing love and devastating change that only children can bring.

I am reluctant to call this post a review. There is so much raw honesty and carefully curated, intimate detail within these pages that it feels wrong to do any more than hold the words lightly and feel immensely privileged to have even a the smallest glimpse into a very personal and beautiful experience.

The title of this book may be small but there nothing diminutive about the feelings and experiences that are documented here. Without being intrusive Claire Lynch expresses her experience and depth of feeling in the most authentic and beautiful way. This book is a testament to truth, to hope , life and love.

Thank you for allowing me to share.

Rachel x

About the Author

Claire Lynch works as a university lecturer and is author of two academic books and numerous scholarly articles and chapters. Small is her first book for a general audience.
Claire’s Four Thought talk ‘The Other Mother’ was first broadcast on BBC Radio Four in 2020 and her first piece of narrative non-fiction took second place in the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize in 2017. She was a shortlisted writer for the Penguin Random House WriteNow scheme in 2018 and a longlisted writer for the Hinterland non-fiction Prize in 2019. small is her first book for a general audience.

And there is more…

For more reviews and reactions to small check out the rest of the blog tour below..

#BlogTourReview: Mrs England by Stacey Halls

There are some blog tours I will always jump at the chance of being on, pretty much setting the keyboard on fire with the speed of my response. And when the new Stacey Halls lands in your inbox this exactly one of those times!

Welcome then to my stop on the blog tour for Mrs England, published today, 10th June, by Manilla Press. Huge thanks to Tracey Fenton at Compulsive Readers for my blog tour invite and Francesca Russell and Eleanor Stammeijer for my gifted copy.

It is 1904 and Ruby May is a children’s nurse. Recently graduated from the prestigious Norland Institute Ruby is a poor girl made good. Dedicated, skilled and hard working Ruby loves her job and wants the best for the children in her care. But when an unforeseen circumstance forced her to take a position in a remote Yorkshire village Ruby wonders if she has bitten off more than she can chew. Four children of different ages and the isolated position of Hardcastle House make this situation seem daunting and unfamiliar. Little does Ruby know that these are the easier ingredients of her new life.

The marriage of her new unemployed Mr and Mrs England is immediately unusual. Having married into his wife’s large and wealthy mill owning family, Charles England is undeniably in charge. The household, including the nursery is under his control, while Lilian England is nervous and often absent.

As time passes and Ruby becomes more established in her role the cracks in the household begin to show and she is left wondering just what does form the basis of the upper class family and Edwardian marriage. And when things take a darker turn Ruby’s own past threatens to overwhelm her.

From beginning to end this a story of depth and complexity. Stacey Halls’ writing is a masterclass in perfect plotting and building of tension. Each chapter, indeed each sentence reveals just enough, no more, no less, to keep you reading, to keep you guessing. To keep you wanting more.

This is a gripping tale, immersive and created with intelligent attention to detail. The social standing of the Edwardian up class family is explored and laid bare. The veneer of perfection is carefully dismantled to show the secrets that might just lurk beneath. Add in to the mix Ruby May’s own unique story and the scene is set for a groundbreaking and unexpected tale.

If you are looking for spellbinding historical fiction, then this could be right up your alley. Stacey Halls strikes again!

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reviews and reactions to Mrs England check out the rest of the blog tour below…

#Blogtour Review: 100neHundred by Laura Besley

The qualities I admire in fiction are vast but variety and pin point accuracy are pretty high on my list. Over the past few months I have increasingly been scratching these particular literary itches by devouring flash and micro fiction. In all it’s many forms !

My introduction to flash fiction proper was somewhat delayed, but finally came in the form of Laura Besleys wonderful book, The Almost Mothers. My reading was delayed due to my own tardiness and the fact my teenage daughter pounced on the book the minute it was delivered to our lockdown abode!

But when I finally got my hands on the collection I was just blown away. And so when Saira Aspinall from Arachne Press approached me to ask if I would like to be part of the blog tour for Laura’s latest collection 100neHundred I nearly bit her hand off!

100neHundred is a collection of 100 pieces of the best not just flash, but micro fiction, all exactly 100 words long. The stories are divided equally into ‘seasons’, each season filled with colour, emotion and gloriously diverse subject matter. Each piece of writing is a pearl, unique and unexpected all woven together by a ribbon of ingenuity and skill.

Laura has created beautiful snapshots, each one alive with precision and emotion. Each story excels in it’s originality, each one a complete tale, each carefully crafted without a word to spare. The skill of creating an engaging story, alive with meaning, that both fulfils and leaves the reader wanting more is something to be admired. To be able to produce a series of these stories, is nothing short of mind blowing!

This collection is diverse and genre defying. It is as book filled with every kind of emotion. It will make you laugh, make you smile and sometimes make you cry. Laura is a master of commanding few words for maximum impact. From the thoughts of a grieving mother, to realms of outer space, this volume becomes a beautiful, engaging and colourful journey.

It is one I recommend you take.

Rachel x

And as a special treat

It is my pleasure and absolute privilege to be able share one of Laura’s stories with you here. A special shout out for publication day!

Death in Suburbia

Nice neighbourhood, I think, driving down the quiet morning streets.

My partner opens the door. ‘No blood, no murder weapon. Wife’s in the kitchen. Completely distraught.’

‘Morning to you too.’

The husband is slumped in a chair, dead.

‘Any sign of forced entry.’

‘Nope.’

‘Overdose on alcohol, pills?’

‘Wife said he was clean living.’

I take a closer look and notice a piece of paper in his shirt pocket. I slip on some gloves and carefully prise it out.

Stop contacting me, Dad. It’s too little, too late.

‘Get the pathologist to check his heart,’ I say.

‘It’s probably broken.’

Page 49 – 100neHundred by Laura Besley.

And there is more…

For more reviews and reactions, check out the rest of the Blog Tour below…

#BlogTour Review : Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

It is my absolute pleasure to be part of the blog tour celebrating the publication of Ariadne by Jennifer Saint. I am delighted to be able to add my own small voice to the chorus of those already singing it’s well deserved praises. Many thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the blog tour invite and to Caitlin Raynor for my beautiful gifted copy.

Following in the footsteps of such great titles as Circe and The Silence of the Girls Jennifer Saint takes on the myth of the Minotaur but places the women firmly at it’s heart. In this stunning retelling Ariadne and her sister Phaedra, daughters of the tyrannical King Minos are thrown into the spotlight, and their story casts a long shadow over the acclaimed hero of Theseus and the men who surround him.

In this retelling the sacrifices that Ariadne makes for the love of Theseus are examined and exposed. By giving her would be lover the means to defeat her half brother the Minotaur Ariadne is effectively betraying her family and kingdom. But is the price she pays worth the risk? Will her happiness be guaranteed and is Theseus the hero he seems to be?

With this one event a chain of events are set in motion, one in which the sisters take centre stage. Each brave, brilliant and intelligent in their own right but each betrayed and marginalised not only by the men in their lives but by the way these stories have been traditionally represented and retold.

This is a story of sisterhood, of complex female relationships and the need to look beyond the familiar and find what shines beneath. By focusing on these independent and headstrong women, who overcome all obstacles just to survive, Jennifer Saint brings a fresh perspective and a new, critical eye to these classic tales.

If you think you know this story, think again. For within these pages there is so much more to discover.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reviews and reactions to this epic tale, checkout the rest of the Blog Tour listed below…

#BlogTourReview : The Shadow in the Glass by JJA Harwood

Welcome to my turn on the blog tour for The Shadow in the Glass by JJA Harwood published by Harper Voyager. If you like your novel’s Victorian, gothic, with more than a hint of the unexplained then this novel is for you.

Eleanor lives in a grand London house, slowly sinking into decay and despair as it’s master,Mr Pembroke, drinks away his fortune. And the house is not the only thing brought low by his behaviour.

Eleanor, once the much loved ward of the late Mrs Pembroke, has been put to work as a maid since her death. Iron beds and kitchen suppers have taken the place of silk sheets and fine dining. Even Eleanor’s name has been reduced to Ella. Her days are spent cooking, cleaning and along with the other maids evading the sinister and unwelcome attentions of Mr Pembroke.

Her only comfort is found after dark, in her late night and clandestine trips to the house’s great library. Here, after hours, Eleanor loses herself in works of fiction, is transported to times and places far away. But one night the books open up a world that Eleanor could never have dreamed existed.

When Eleanor’s reading summons a strange dark eyed woman, her world changes and forces she never imagined begin to weave their way through her destiny. The woman offers her the chance to make seven wishes; wishes that could take her away from her life and give her everything she has ever dreamed of.

But there is a price to pay. With the granting of the seventh wish this strange Fairy Godnother will take her fee. She will claim Eleanor’s soul.

And so begins our tale. A tale of poverty and desperation, of the terrible price that must be paid by someone, somewhere when ever a wish is made and granted. Of what it will cost Eleanor to live the life she feels is her due.

This is prose dripping with the gothic, it’s Victorian setting providing the perfect backdrop to this dark version of the Cinderella story.

Through the choices of Eleanor and the consequences these choices bring we see the subtle changes of circumstances and character. How what was unthinkable at the beginning of Eleanor’s story slowly becomes necessary and commonplace.

This is tale of creeping horror, tantalising, drawing you into it’s web of the fantastic and macabre. With Eleanor’s twists and turns of fortunes, there is a sense of time ticking by, in which the race to escape your fate is futile.

This is book is perfect for fans of gothic literature with just a hint of magic and madness!

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reviews and reactions to The Shadow in the Glass check out the rest of the blog tour below…

#BlogTourReview : DangerousWomen by Hope Adams

Today I am taking my turn on the blog tour for Dangerous Women by Hope Adams published earlier this month by Michael Joseph Books. This is historical fiction at it’s finest and all the more compelling for the fact it has it’s roots in fact.

Dangerous Women is the story of The Rajah and the women who sailed on her. The Rajah was a convict ship, leaving Britain for Van Diemen’s Land in April 1941. On board were 180 women, all convicted of crimes deemed serious enough to warrant transportation. In addition to the crew and the ship’s Captain, Charles Ferguson, they were accompanied by a clergyman, Reverend Davies and the ship’s surgeon James Donovan MD. A handful of the women were also accompanied by their children.

Finally travelling with the women was 23 year old Kezia Hayter. This young, well connected and educated woman was employed as matron and was to attend to the care and spiritual improvement of the convicted women. As a member of The Ladies Society Kezia had worked in prisons prior to her voyage,and it was she who designed and engineered the project that kept at least some of the women occupied on the long voyage.

For despite the inhospitable living conditions below deck, with nearly two hundred women living cheek by jowl, many of whom were sea sick and generally unwell, a chosen group of women created a masterpiece. Under Kezia Hayter’s tutelage they created the beautiful Rajah Quilt, presented to Van Diemen’s Ladies Society upon their arrival.

All of the above is documented fact, retold in vivid strokes through the words of Hope Adams. But it is the imaginings of the voyage and the twist that the author adds that really fires this story along.

When young Hattie Matthews, a young mother, is stabbed on deck the routine of life that has quickly established is disrupted. Suspicion and fear stalks the ship and an investigation into the crime is hastily begun. The only women on deck at the time were the 18 needle women working on the quilt. But which one wanted Hattie dead? And was willing to jeopardise their own life and future? And will Hattie be the only victim?

As the story unfolds, so do the stories of the women on the ship; each one tied to her own past, each with her own reasons for being there. Some like the infamous Newgate Nannies are repeat offenders, hardened by a life of crime and poverty, some innocent victims of circumstance. And some, like the mysterious Sarah Goodbourne, shouldn’t be there at all…

This is a story told with empathy and skill. It is rich in period detail, the closed atmosphere of the ship’s community is both alive and claustrophobic. Each of these women are given a voice and through their perspectives we see the effects of poverty, lack of opportunity and crucially lack of power. From the well educated Kezia Haynes to every women living below the decks, we see the fight for survival, the fight to have a women’s voice heard and the fight to be valued in their own right.

Alive with strong women characters and a vibrant, well plotted story this is a story to get lost in. It is also a story that will lead you to others. One for the forever shelf.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reactions and reviews to Dangerous Women check out the rest of the blog tour below…

February wrap up and it feels like Spring is on the way!

Finally, finally it feels like the world is getting a little bit lighter and brighter. Signs of spring are peeping through in greater numbers everyday and it feels like everyone is daring to hope again.

After a long, cold January, February seems to have rushed past me. There have been so many interesting and amazing books published this month and March looks like a pretty bumper month too. As well as reading as much as I can, when home school, online and in school teaching has allowed(!), I have been trying to write; working on my never ending WIP!

As far as new releases go this month I have had the pleasure to read some absolute crackers. I started the month pleasantly lost in both the possibilities of time travel and 70’s childhood nostalgia with the quirky Space Hopper by Helen Fisher. And ended it immersed in the mind blowing book that is The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward . Published next month my review is in the pipeline, but there is so much to assimilate first!

Back to this month’s releases and I was thrilled to be reading Patricia Lockwood’s first novel No one is talking about this. I found her memoir Priestdaddy a truly unforgettable book and as you will see from my review her first novel was equally as impressive and challenging.

Continuing the theme of challenge and rawness and we come to Daisy Buchanan’s Insatiable. An exploration of sexuality, lust and pushing all boundaries this book is not easily forgotten!

While we find ourselves still in lockdown, travelling through my reading has become even more important to me. This month I have found myself ‘back’ in places familiar; the streets of Paris in Jane Smiley’s gorgeous The Strays of Paris and in places totally foreign and waiting to be explored. From 1970’s Uganda in the wonderful debut novel Kololo Hill by Neema Shah to the battlefields of France, and the streets of New Orleans in Michael Farris Smiths Gatsby inspired Nick.

Next month is filled with absolute treats of new releases and I am working my way through some of them. I have just finished the wonderful mystery that is The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex and my review is out this week.

And looking ahead to April I loved my buddy read with four fab book friends, Emma (@corkyorky), Jules (@julesbuddle), Rebecca (@_forewoodbooks) and Siobhain (@thelitaddict_). Tall Bones by Anna Bailey kept us all on the edge of our seats, full review on it’s way very soon!! As is our next buddy read!

And in amongst all these varied novels, I have been dipping in to the oasis of poetry that is Empty Nest: Poems for families edited by Carol Ann Duffy. This is the perfect collection for these times when family can seem both really close and yet so, so far away. Beautifully put together, diverse and insightful. Just lovely in every way.

So there we so. A whistle stop tour of February’s reading. Hold on to your hats for March!!

Rachel x

#BlogTourReview: Nick by Michael Farris Smith

It is my absolute pleasure to be taking my turn on the blog tour for Nick by Michael Farris Smith, published on 25th February by No Exit Press. The book will be launched online, and Michael will be joined to discuss his book by The Guardian’s Alison Flood. A link to this live event can be found here.

It is quite feat to take up a character from any classic novel and weave a story around them. To do so is to take on the expectations of generations of readers, each with their own thoughts, feelings and perceptions. And when that novel is one of the most iconic stories of the Twentieth Century, the task seems a mammoth one.

And yet that is exactly what Michael Farris Smith has set out to do. Plucking Nick Carraway from his role in F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the author takes us back in time, back to the years before the wild hedonistic days of the West Egg mansions, and back to an even bleaker darker time.

When we first meet Nick he is caught up in the First World War, having joined up to serve his country. With a few days leave in Paris he meets a mysterious, evocative young women Ella. Scratching a living selling homemade goods and living illegally in a theatre garret, Ella is unlike any woman Nick has ever met before; he is entranced.

Forced back to the battle field, back an existence of daily horror, Ella both haunts his thoughts and sustains him.

By the end of the war, when it is time to return to the US, Nick like many of those around is scarred by experiences both on and off the battlefield. Finding it impossible to return to his family in the MidWest, he is drawn to the chaotic and semi lawless street of Frenchtown, New Orleans.

Here, with the country on the brink of prohibition, in a society of gangsters and Madams, he tries to both lose and find himself. To make sense of what he has seen and work out how to reconcile his experiences and build some kind of future.

Nick becomes embroiled in the messy, feuding relationship between Colette and Judah, another relationship ravaged by war. In fellow veteran Judah Nick recognises his own hopelessness and is drawn towards it, like a moth to the flame.

This is a story of the time in between. Of that brutal and dark period when the horror of war stops for the wider world but it’s after effects are felt by veterans everywhere. It is an examination of how lives and minds were changed, and how returning to normal life was an impossibility.

Through intense and unsettling prose Farris Smith creates a period in time that brings to life the horror of war. It lays bare it’s lingering effects; the desire to forget, whilst at the same time feeling an overwhelming need to remember, the sense of everything lost and the relentless search to find it all again.

Compelling and dark, this is a clear eyed story of men who have lost everything and are trying to claw it back in whatever way they can.

I thought this book was darkly evocative of a period in time that fascinates me. And it is my pleasure to be able to share with you a clip of Michael himself reading from his work.

This book will linger with you long after the last page. There will be times you want to turn away and times that events will threaten to overwhelm. This is the power of what is written here, and I guarantee you will be with Nick to the very end.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reactions and reviews to Nick, then check out the rest of the blog tour below…

And check out the books trailer too…

#BlogTourReview : The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

It feels like it’s been a long time coming but I am finally able to to share my blog tour review for the wonderful The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot, the debut novel (Yes!!! Debut!!!) by Marianne Cronin. Huge thanks to Alison Barrow for my gifted copy and Anne Cater for my blog tour invite.

Lenni Pettersson is 17 years old. Margot Macrae is 83. Put them together and they have lived for a hundred years. Both are reaching the end of their lives, but neither of them are done with living quite yet.

In the newly built hospital Art Room the two meet, kindred souls, both looking at life in a different and uplifting way, both ready to face what ever remains to them head on. And so begins as beautiful friendship as they set out together to tell the story of their hundred years, a project painted in words and pictures and wrapped up with enduring love.

I read Lenni and Margot’s story many months ago. I read it a time, a time that seems to be persisting still, when the world needed hope, light and understanding. I found all of these rare and elusive qualities in the pages of this book.

The relationship between Margot and Lenni is the best that people can be. An acceptance that age, experience and circumstances don’t need to be the boundaries we all perceive them to be. That true wisdom and kindness can be found at any age and is always best when it is shared around. It is a celebration of both age and youth, a symbiotic relationship of support and love.

Through the stories these characters share with the reader and each other, a bond of understanding and knowledge. This book is a celebration of life long learning and of squeezing every last drop out of what has gone before and what is yet to come.

Most of the story takes place physically with the hospital, and the sense of place the author has created here is spot on. For anyone who has ever spend a few days or longer in a hospital will instantly recognise the vibe! The descriptions of the unique hospital community, the way time moves in it’s own strange and inexplicable way, the rules and hierarchies and all the stories found within it.

Through Lenni and Margot’s creations they escape the confines of the ward. Because when when you can’t step outside, you travel within stories, within pictures and memories. At a time of lockdown this book brings alive the power of imagination and artistic communication.

This is the story of not one but two special lives, sympathetic and beautifully told.A story alive with it’s share of sorrow and joy, where strong emotions are continually welcomed and embraced

Lenni and Margot will make you roar with laughter and make you weep with empathy, but never will they let you feel regret. In the darkest of times this story is a light shining gently on the world.

Simply unforgettable!

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reviews and reactions to this beautiful book, check out the rest of the blog tour below…