An Elegant Solution by Anne Atkins #BookReview #BlogTour (@anne_atkins) @malcolmdown @LoveBooksGroup #AnElegantSolution #LoveBooksTours

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When someone mentions the City of Cambridge you probably think of an iconic building, its four corners stretching out of the once medieval mud and into the arms of everlasting heaven, its white limestone yearning into eternity… and without even knowing exactly what ephemeral joys or permanent wonders the vision brings to mind, it s a safe bet that the one thought which doesn t occur to you is that the Chapel might not be there by Christmas.

Theo (Theophilus Ambrose Fitzwilliam Wedderburn to his friends) is a Junior Research Fellow in Number Theory. Prompted by a supervisee to demonstrate how to trace the provenance of bitcoins, Theo happens across a shocking revelation, with embarrassing ramifications for the whole University. Meanwhile he is being stalked unseen by someone from his childhood. To his annoyance, Theo falls for a cheap con… and discovers a horror set not only to rock the very seat of power itself but to change the face of Cambridge and its beautifully iconic image for ever.

I am thrilled to be one of the blogs opening up the tour for An Elegant Solution by Anne Atkins today. Huge thanks to the author and publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially, and to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group for my place on the tour.

This is one of those very rare and delightful books that come out of nowhere and take you by surprise by being something totally different to what you expected and affecting you in ways you never saw coming. I’ll be honest, the reason I signed up for this blog tour was purely because I have an odd obsession with books set in and around universities, which was sparked in my youth by reading Dorothy L. Sayer’s Gaudy Nightstill one of my favourite book of all time. I had no real idea what to expect from the story,  and what actually appeared between the covers of this book was a beautiful revelation.

This wasn’t immediately apparent when I started the book. In fact, I started it twice because the opening chapter did not grip me the first time around. However, on my second attempt I read a little further and I had never been so glad that I persisted with a book because, once I got into it, I was gripped, charmed and profoundly moved by the characters, the story, the setting and the underlying themes of this book in a way that I never saw coming and that has stayed with me long after I closed the back cover. I have actually never read anything quite like it in the way it blends the plot, which could be something out of a flashy thriller, with a deeply poetic and affecting characterisation of living with autism and a developing relationship, none of which ends how you expect. I can’t repeat enough just how much this book surprised and delighted me, possibly more than anything else I have read this year.

If, like me, you are drawn to pick up this book because of the setting of Cambridge University, you will not be disappointed. The author does a wonderful job of immersing the reader in the feel and life of the city and the hallowed halls of the University. It gives the academic voyeur a tantalising peek into the world of this esteemed institution and its esoteric rituals, a world that most of us will never experience outside the pages of a novel. She makes the city and the university central to the book, so that the delicious descriptions of that world and environs are not awkwardly and unnecessarily tagged on to the plot, dragging it down, but are essential to its workings. It is very cleverly and seamlessly done and allowed me to revel in the setting without being pulled from the story.

I did worry to begin with that the plot itself was not only a little outlandish, but that it was also going to be too complicated for me to follow, as someone who knows very little about cryptocurrency and cares even less. I was very wrong on this front. The author does a great job of making sure that there is not too much technical information in the book and, what is there, is just enough and clearly explained to enable the bitcoin dunce to follow what is going on and understand how it propels the story. The book is very unusual in the way that the thriller aspect of the book felt more like the sub-plot, there to showcase the characters and the personal issues that beset them, rather than the main point of the book. A thriller for people who want a bit more food for the brain. Weirdly, despite the grand finale, it also didn’t feel like an OTT, bang bang thriller, with things whamming at you constantly. As I said earlier, I have never read anything quite like it, which is no mean feat given the volume of books and the wide genres I read in.

All of that being said, the characters are what drive this book and what made me fall irrevocably in love with it. The two main players, Theo and Charlotte, were fully rounded people that I immediately fell for and I was rooting for from the beginning. The exploration of Charlotte’s complex family dynamic and Theo’s autism were done so lovingly and sympathetically that they may me feel deeply involved in their development and I felt genuine joy and pain for both of them as their stories unravelled. The characterisation is done with great understanding, and gave a very different view of autism to me than I have read before. It is obviously an issue very personal and important to the author, and this came across in the pages. At the end of the book, I was yearning for a particular outcome and, whilst it did not end as expected, it left me feeling happy and hopeful … and making up my own ideas for what happens to the characters after the narration ends. The fact I cared enough to spend a deal of time thinking about this is testament to how much the story touched me.

It is not often these days that a book comes out of nowhere and really surprises me and touches my soul. This is one of those books. I cannot tell you how much I loved it, I hope it reached the wide audience it deserves.

An Elegant Solution is out now in ebook and physical formats and you can get a copy here.

To get some alternative reviews of the book from my marvellous blogger colleagues, please visit the blogs listed below:

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About the Author

Anne Atkins

Anne Atkins is a well-known English broadcaster and journalist, and regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day. She took an involuntary, and long, break from writing fiction when her son was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, their daughter repeatedly hospitalized with a severe illness, and finally the family was made homeless.. Thankfully those dark days are now behind her and she and her husband Shaun along with some of her children now live happily in Bedford, England.

Connect with Anne:

Website: http://anneatkins.co.uk

Twitter: @anne_atkins

Love Books Group Tours (1)

Literary Tube Map of London (@inthebookwith) #bookishthings # booklovers #TheTube #London #LiteraryTubeMapOfLondon

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I have a really fun, bookish thing to share with today which immediately caught my eye when I first saw it doing the rounds on Twitter. Those lovely people at In The Book have replaced all of the stations on the iconic Tube map with famous London books, equating to their settings. So now, instead of navigating your way around London by the ordinary stations, you can pop your head above ground at the location of some of your favourite books. Which for literary nerds like me sounds perfect.

There are a huge range of books included, from literary classics to contemporary fiction, Charles Dickens to Sophie Kinsella via Martin Amis and Zadie Smith, there is something for everyone and every taste. I’m particularly taken with the idea of visiting the haunts of Bridget Jones, Mary Poppins and Nigel William’s hilarious suburban poisoner in Wimbledon.

Some authors have a bigger presence than others, as you can imagine. Charles Dickens features most heavily as you’d expect, with the locations of seven of his novels featured. If you’d like to have a look and see if any of your favourite London-based novels have made the cut, you can find a full-size copy of the map with zoom feature here.

In The Book kindly sent me some details about the map and what inspired it, here is what they had to say:

The map was designed to act as a definitive book tour of London for both locals and tourists. Literature has the wonderful ability to colour a certain area like nothing else, and while everyone recognises Baker Street as Sherlock’s home and can picture Scrooge skulking home from work in the City, the lesser known works are what helps make London’s literary history so diverse: wonderfully named titles such as “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows” and “The Wimbledon Poisoner” are prime examples of this.

We also found it fascinating how certain genres and authors “owned” certain parts of the map: Dickens’ London dominates the Central Line, while gothic Victorian works Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray can be found haunting the Piccadilly Line. Zadie Smith takes the Jubilee Line to the northwest while Martin Amis is more prominent around West London.

I think this is a really lovely idea. Anyone who has seen the hordes queuing up at King’s Cross to have their photo taken with the trolley embedded in the wall at Platform 9 3/4 knows the power of visiting the setting of a favourite book, so I am sure there are lots of other people like me who might be bookmarking locations to visit on their next trip to London. Let me know in the comments below where you would go.

About the publishers

The creators of the map, In The Book are a publisher of personalised children’s books, established in Hertfordshire in 2017. Their passion is getting kids to read. They recognise books as not only worlds where one can lose themselves but as a means to develop cultural understandings, social skills and help us affect positive changes in the world around us.

Find them at:

Website: https://www.inthebook.com/en-gb/

Facebook: In The Book With

Twitter: @inthebookwith

 

Calling Authors, Bloggers, Tour Organisers, Publishers, Agents…Uncle Tom Cobley and All! #booklove #FridayNightDrinks #5W1H

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Dear friends of the bookish world, just a quick call out to let you know that I am looking for willing ̶v̶i̶c̶t̶i̶m̶s̶ participants to feature on my blog on either of my guest post items from dates in April onwards. Both of these features give contributors the chance to reveal a little about themselves and their work to my readers, and hopefully allow us to get to know each other a bit better and all learn something fun and/or informative.

Yes, I want YOU! Yes, you at the back, I’m talking to you as well. No point hiding, I can see you!

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The first feature you will be familiar with if you read my blog regularly, as I have been running it for six months now and it has proven very popular. It is called Friday Night Drinks and you can see the previous ones I have done here. As you will see, it is a fun, chatty format that covers a lot of random topics and, as I am quite nosy, it is not for the shy and retiring amongst you, time to let it all hang out! This is open to anyone connected in any way to publishing and I have dates available from the end of May onwards.

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If this sounds a little frivolous and intrusive, I have a new feature starting at the end of March called 5W1H, which is a more serious and focuses on the process and craft of writing.

The new feature is aimed primarily at authors and is based on the What, Where, Why, When, Who and How question format (hence the name). I’ve got lists of questions about the writing process each starting with one of those six words, and the guest will get a random selection of one from each category to answer about their writing. So its six questions about your work and your writing process, plus a chance to showcase your latest project. I’m hoping I, and my readers, will pick up some fascinating and helpful insights and tips from some of the great writers out there. I have slots open on this from mid-April onwards and it is not fixed to any particular day of the week so I am happy to tie it in with publication days or other events you have going on.

So please, step up and let me know if you are interested in taking part. Please. Pretty please.

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In all seriousness, I love getting to know others in the publishing world and gently probing (not in an invasive way) them to discover more about their work, so I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Come over, the door is open and I’ve got the kettle on…

Desert Island Books #bookblogger #bookblogging #amreading #readinggoals

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If you read my update post on Tuesday about my plans for the blog this year, you will recall my mentioning the new feature I am introducing called Desert Island Books.

The premise is fairly simple and not particularly cryptic, the title says it all. I will be revealing and reviewing the twelve books that I would take with me, should I be stranded alone forever on a desert island. One per month throughout the coming year. I’ll tell you what it is I particularly love about them; why they are books that I can read over and over again without getting bored and why they would be my ideal forever companions.

To be honest, the feature is really just an excuse for me to reread some of my favourite books of all time and share them with you, but it is also an interesting exercise. Could you narrow down the twelve books that you could bear to read over and over again in perpetuity without getting sick of them? Would you take books you have been meaning to read for years and never had time to tackle (risky if you end up hating them!) Old favourites to keep you company (but would you ruin them for yourself if you had to read them forever?) A mixture of old and new? What genres? Fiction or non-fiction? Food for the mind or the heart? Uplifting? Challenging? Comforting? Scary?

There is probably a psychological profile in our choices somewhere!

I will be reading one of my twelve picks per month and reviewing it on the last day of the month but, as a precursor, I thought I would reveal the thirteen books which made it on to the shortlist but fell at the final cut. A sneak peek of what is to come maybe.

I hope you will enjoy a little glimpse this year into some of my favourite books of all time and the kind of literature I would choose to read on a daily basis if I never got to pick up a new book again, and I’d love it if you’d like to share your own Desert Island Books with me, either in the comments here or on your own blogs with a link back.

So here are books 13 to 25 on the list of books I’d take to a desert island. The ones that didn’t quite make it on to the life raft with me, but over which I would weep as they sank beneath the waves.

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Jamaica Inn  by Daphne du Maurier

I love du Maurier’s books, and it was a toss up between this and Rebecca, but in the end I think this is my favourite just because it is such a marvellous combination of wild adventure story, mystery and romance, and perfectly captures the isolation and cruel beauty of the north Cornish coast and moors, and it fills me with the same thrill and dread every time I read it as it did the first time. And the heroine, Mary Yelland, really has some gumption!

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Rivals by Jilly Cooper

I would say Jilly Cooper’s books were my guilty pleasure except I don’t feel remotely guilty about loving her. Her novels are great fun, and written so tongue-in-cheek that you can’t be snobby about them. Rivals is my absolute favourite of her books because this is when Rupert Campbell-Black redeems himself  and becomes worthy of the love of the gorgeous Taggie, plus it has a hunky Irishman in it. The ultimate beach read.

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Oh, how it has broken my heart to jettison Wuthering Heights and if I could have squeezed one more book under my life vest, this would have been it. However, when it came down to balancing the twelve books I was going to be reading repeatedly forever alone on a desert island, I decided that this bleak tale of destructive love may just be too depressing to keep my spirits up, and I chose another classic love story that was not doomed to end so badly, as you will see.

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The Russia House by John le Carre

The perfect spy thriller, for me. I fell in love with Barley Blair the first time I read this book, and it is a love that has endured. A reluctant and damaged man finds himself in a situation he is ill-equipped to deal with, and it has another doomed love story at its heart (I’m sensing a pattern developing!)

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Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

I’m going to make a controversial statement now – I have always preferred Through The Looking Glass to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’m not sure I can explain why. Maybe it is because it hasn’t been done to death in movies, but for me it has a more interesting premise (a giant game of chess), better characters (the contrasting Red and White Queens) or the really imaginative writing (the Bread-and-Butterfly and Rocking Horsefly, with attendant illustrations, appealed, and still do appeal, to my childish heart). One of my favourite childhood books that takes me back to the days when my love of reading started and will always have a place in my heart.

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The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman

One of my favourite ever historical novels and the root of my abiding fascination with Richard III. Before Philippa Gregory, Sharon Penman was my go to author for history told through fiction and this book gives a detail glimpse into the life of Britain’s most controversial monarch from a different perspective. This was one of the first books that taught me that people can have different interpretations of historical ‘facts’ and that perspectives can be questioned. Plus the writing is vivid and beguiling.

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A Room With A View by E. M. Forster

I love to read novels that take me to foreign soil and this is the ultimate in travel literature. I defy anyone to read this book and not want to book a flight to Florence immediately. And the writing is sublime. Gorgeous, but as I’ll be having an overseas adventure of my own, I have very reluctantly let it go.

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A Time To Kill by John Grisham

I love a legal thriller and courtroom drama and, regardless of what you think of him personally, Grisham is the king of the genre. A Time To Kill was his first book and he would probably be horrified to know that I don’t believe he has bettered it. This book has everything, tight plotting, action and a moral dilemma to wrestle with. Is killing ever justified? Even though I have read this many times, it still keeps me on the edge of my seat.

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Staying On by Paul Scott

Whilst Paul Scott is more famous for writing the Raj Quartet, including The Jewel in the Crown, it was Staying On that won him the Booker Prize in 1977 and I think it is easy to see why. The story of Tusker and Lucy, trying to hang on to their old life in India after independence as the world around them changes faster than they can keep up, will break your heart. Actually, I’m not sure I can leave this one behind after all.

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The Harry Potter Series

I doubt this needs any explanation. The rich world that J.K. Rowling has built around Harry Potter would be the ideal thing to stave off boredom and loneliness on a desert island. I know taking all 7 may be classed as cheating so, if you twisted my arm, I would choose Goblet of Fire as my favourite.

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The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

There are historical novels, and then there is the Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel. Set at the time where Homo Sapiens first starts to walk the planet, her books give a fascinating glimpse into how our ancestors came to be and became the dominant species against the backdrop of an extreme landscape. This is the first book in the series, and sets modern man in direct comparison to the species that came before. The way the story is told is a fascinating method of illustrating the history of this period and the level of detail in the books is mind-blowing. It is obvious Auel did copious research, but this is fed into the books appropriately and seamlessly. These books are a stupendous achievement.

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Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Another story about a hapless and unwitting stooge who is co-opted into espionage by circumstances outside of his control. However, unlike the le Carre book, Our Man in Havana has a thread of wit and humour running through it that just makes it a joy to read. The thought of James Wormold and his enlarged vacuum cleaner parts never fails to raise a smile. The fact that Greene himself worked for the intelligence services before writing this book adds a frisson of credibility to the plot and the setting of Cuba is another attraction. A perennial favourite.

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The Bafut Beagles by Gerald Durrell

Everyone is familiar with Gerald Durrell’s book, My Family and Other Animals, detailing the years of his childhood spent in Corfu with his eccentric family, but fewer are familiar with the rest of his vast body of writing. However, as a child I was obsessed with the books he wrote detailing his collecting expeditions and his life at his conservation trust and zoo in Jersey and I read them all, over and over. We never travelled abroad when I was young, and these books were my first gateway to a host of impossibly remote and alien countries in Africa and South America, and hundreds of exotic animals that I had never heard of before. These books fuelled my obsession with travelling, as Durrell’s writing is so descriptive and enticing. The Bafut Beagles, detailing his 1949 trip to Cameroon, was my favourite and, although I would like to take his whole collection to the island with me, if I had to choose one it would be this. However, there isn’t any room on the raft, so I’ll have to be my own naturalist on my desert island.

So, these are the thirteen that didn’t quite make it. Join me on 31 January for the unveiling of the first of the books that are in the top twelve.

 

 

Top Ten Books of 2018 (@TaylorHelen_M @Jo_Furniss @patrickkincaid @cmccrudden @OneNightStanzas @rebeccamascull @authorjessb @antti_tuomainen @ItsEmmaCooper)

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So, I’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon and do a list of my Top 10 books of the year. Like every other blogger, I have found this a really difficult task as I have read over 150 books this year and so many of them have been amazing. However, I have been ruthless and narrowed it down to the ten that have stood out for me for a variety of reasons.

These have been the ones that have made me laugh, made me cry, made me think, made me feel, inspired me or have felt very innovative, sometimes all at the same time.

I am sure my choices will be very different to anyone else’s, but that is the joy of reading – there is something for everyone and every mood.

My thanks to all of the authors whose fabulous books I have enjoyed this year, not just those on this list, and I look forward to enjoying more times with you next year.

10. The Backstreets of Purgatory by Helen Taylor

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9. The Music of the Deep by Elizabeth Hall

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8. All The Little Children by Jo Furniss

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7. The Continuity Girl by Patrick Kincaid

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6. Battlestar Suburbia by Chris McCrudden

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5. All The Hidden Truths by Claire Askew

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4. Miss Marley by Vanessa Lafaye with Rebecca Mascull

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3. The Guilt of the Sparrow by Jess B. Moore

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2. Palm Beach Finland by Antti Tuomainen

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1. The Songs of Us by Emma Cooper

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So there we go, my Top 10 books or the year. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my list. Have you read and enjoyed any of my top 10? will you be adding any to your TBR for 2019? Do you have a list of your own? Let me have you thoughts.

Now, a few weeks ago I promised that, if I reached 2,000 followers by the end of the year, I would give away copies of my top 5 books from this list to one of my followers. My stats now stand at 2,038 followers, so my thanks to all of you for helping me reach this goal, I am absolutely overwhelmed. The winner of the books, drawn at random, is Louise Heather. Congratulations, Louise, I have emailed you about your prize.

Thank you all for following my blog this year, may I just wish you all a Happy New Year and I will see you in 2019.

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The Kindness of Strangers by Julie Newman: Urbane Extravaganza #Extract (@julesmnewman) @urbanebooks #LoveBooksGroupTours

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Today I am delighted to be taking my turn on the Urbane Extravaganza where, between 24 November and 31 December, a host of bloggers will be showcasing a different Urbane publication each day. My thanks to Kelly Lacey at Love Books Group tours for asking me to take part in this great celebration.

I have drawn The Kindness of Strangers bu Julie Newman, so let’s take a look at the book and the extract that I have kindly been invited to publish for you.

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Widow Helen is desperate for a perfect family life, and will do everything she can to get what she wants.

A veteran of the Afghanistan conflict Martin is adrift and seemingly without hope – can he ever win back his estranged family?

Pregnant teenager Charley is striking out on her own to create a new life for her unborn child, but her mother Lizzie has other ideas.

When three seemingly disparate lives connect, the past and the present collide to reveal secrets, lies and how far people are willing to go to hide the truth.

Following the gripping and controversial Beware the Cuckoo, Julie Newman’s thrilling new novel lifts the lid on the dark past that haunts a seemingly happy household.

I just love the cover of this book, don’t you? Here is the extract, as promised, to whet your appetite.

“Helen
A SLIVER OF SUNLIGHT forces its way through the tiny gap between the blind and the window frame; it’s enough to tell me that night has given way to day.
I stretch and realise I’m precariously close to the edge of the bed. I roll over and move towards the centre of the bed reaching out with my arm, searching for him, for his touch and his warmth. The coldness stills me. I allow my eyes to focus properly, and the outline of his pillow greets me. It is smooth and free of indentation suggesting no head has lain upon it. I sit up and stare at the space where he should be, wondering where he is and worrying that he is okay. Then it descends, the gloom and the anguish, for now I remember…
One
I DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START. I’ve never felt so daunted by a task, ever. Which is quite ridiculous as it is a relatively simple task, not one that requires any particular skill; and yet it challenges me. I’ve brokered million-pound deals, chaired more meetings than I care to remember and managed teams of people. Yet I can’t seem to do this one simple thing.
As I stand in the doorway of his dressing room I am immobilised; I feel like I’m standing on the high board at a swimming pool, not only afraid to jump but unsure if I can swim when I hit the water. And I feel like a trespasser. This was his space, as my dressing room was mine; is mine, for I’m still here. Not that we weren’t allowed into one another’s rooms, of course we were, but rarely was there a need. Yes, I know, his and her dressing rooms sounds rather grand and over-indulgent, but to be honest it suited our lifestyle. It was a necessary convenience. A convenience that allowed us to have our own space and time, either to get ready for whatever the day held or to unwind at the end of the day. There were many occasions when one of us had a function to attend or a late night at the office. I recall reading somewhere that it’s quite common for couples to argue before going out as they often get in each other’s way while getting ready – and let’s be honest, men can leave bathrooms in a complete state of disarray. Therefore these additional rooms probably prevented many cross words or heated exchanges. Robert’s mother couldn’t understand why we didn’t just use one of the guest rooms if either of us were late home. She thought the dressing rooms an unnecessary extravagance; but then she thought that of most things we had or did, unless it involved her of course. She was happy enough to accompany us on luxury holidays, and she didn’t refuse when we paid for her new kitchen. What she didn’t understand was that despite having these rooms we still liked to spend the night together; we rarely spent a night apart. There was the odd overseas business trip, but whenever possible we would accompany each other on those trips. In fact, I can count on one hand the nights we’ve spent apart. Well I could, before …
We bought this house over twenty-five years ago. It was a house we would often drive past and admire, both saying we’d like to have something similar one day; although at the time that notion was just fanciful daydreaming. Over time the house began to look a little shabby and uncared for, eventually becoming rundown and derelict. Such a shame we thought; we hoped someone would come along with time and money to restore it to its former glory. Never daring to think it might be us who would take on that mantle.
It was 1992 and we were in a taxi on our way home, following a very boozy evening. We’d been out celebrating Robert’s bonus – which was unexpected and an extraordinary amount – when we passed this house. There was a sign outside saying it was for sale at auction. Robert got the taxi driver to stop and we both got out of the car.
What do you reckon?” Robert asked. I looked at him and shrugged, thinking he was asking me how much I thought it was worth. “It might need work, but with my bonus, well I think we could do it.
“Do what?” I asked a little densely, for I was feeling the effects of my alcohol intake in the cold night air.
“Buy it.”
“Really?”
“Yes, really. We’ve always loved this house and as you keep telling me, we have outgrown the flat.”
“That’s true, but I’m not s–”
“Meter’s running pal and I do have another job to get to,” interrupted the taxi driver.
We got back into the car and headed home, but I could tell Robert wanted this. It wasn’t just an alcohol fuelled fantasy, this was a long-held dream that now seemed attainable. For him, it felt like the stars had aligned and it was the right thing to do. He was convinced it was what his bonus was meant for. So we bought it. It was two years before we moved in though, two long years. It needed a lot of attention: wiring, plumbing, structural reinforcement. And none of these things were cheap. We seemed to be writing endless cheques, and to me the house didn’t look any different from the day we first picked up the keys for it.
“That’s because all these improvements are unseen,” said Robert, “but they’re essential. I know you just want to get on with the business of decorating and furnishing and you will, soon. Then you‘ll see the difference.” He was right, as he so often was.
The house is magnificent, it oozes charm and character. It has a large entrance hall with a wonderful sweeping staircase in the centre. The original stairs were removed as they were rotten; I wanted the staircase to be a strong feature, make a statement, which it now does. Up the stairs and to the right are two guest bedrooms and a bathroom, and to the left is our bedroom and the dressing rooms. When we first moved in we didn’t have his and her dressing rooms. There were three bedrooms, one fair sized, one and two smaller ones; we knocked down walls and created a master bedroom with an en-suite bathroom and just one dressing room, a dressing room that in time would become the nursery. Well, that was the plan, but as time went on we realised that it probably wasn’t the best use of the space. I think it was me who first suggested each of us having our own dressing rooms with bathrooms. I love a bath, laying in the water, relaxing, allowing the cares of the day to float free from you. And back then was no different, I liked nothing more than an uninterrupted soak. Increasingly I’d been using the bathroom across the landing. Self- indulgent, uninterrupted me time; time for solitude, during which to reflect and contemplate without Robert’s analytical input. He liked to talk, find a solution or reason for every problem or situation, but sometimes there is no reason. Sometimes things just are. So we had our own dressing rooms and very soon we forgot that the room was ever meant for anything else.
I step across the threshold and into the room, still keeping hold of the door jamb, steadying myself. This feels wrong. I would never come in here without him being here, but I have to do this, it’s time. Tentatively I take another step. I decide to start with the wardrobe. I slide open the door; it’s very ordered, shirts together, trousers together, etc. and all arranged by colour. Many of his clothes are still draped in the plastic covers that the dry-cleaners put on. I begin with the shirts and they are as good as new; all sharply ironed and neatly hanging in regimented rows. It seems a shame to remove them from the hangers, so I don’t. I lay them on the bed as I sort through them. It seems he liked blue, almost all of his shirts are blue: blue stripes, blue checks, plain blue.
I hadn’t noticed this before. If anyone had ever asked me what colour he likes to wear I would have said … actually what would I have said? I don’t know, I don’t know what he liked anymore. Why don’t I know? Did I ever know? Clearly it was blue as that is the over-whelming colour of his wardrobe, but I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think blue was his favourite colour at all. As I struggle to recall this one thing which I feel I should know, my eyes moisten. I didn’t think it would be this hard. I coped just fine with the legalities and financial issues that had to be dealt with, but this is different. It could be because these are his personal things, maybe that’s the difference; clothes he wore, books he read, music he played, the things he touched and that touched him. I have to do this. If I can just sort out his clothes today; that would be something. I dab my eyes with a tissue and continue removing things from his wardrobe. When it’s empty I look at the mountain of clothes on the bed. Nothing has made the throwaway pile, it’s all too good, but as I have no-one to give them to I’ll take it all to the charity shop – tomorrow, I’ll do that tomorrow.”

If you have enjoyed this extract from The Kindness of Strangers and would like to read the rest of the book, you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Julie was born in East London but now lives a rural life in North Essex. She is married with two children. Her working life has seen her have a variety of jobs, including running her own publishing company. She is the author of the children’s book Poppy and the Garden Monster.

Julie writes endlessly and when not writing she is reading. Other interests include theatre, music and running. Besides her family, the only thing she loves more than books is Bruce Springsteen…

Connect with Julie:

Website: https://julienewmanauthor.com

Twitter: @julesmnewman

 

If you would like to check out the other posts in the Urbane Extravaganza, here are the tour stops:

24th Nov Chat About Books @chataboutbooks1
25th Nov Over The Rainbow Book Blog @JoannaLouisePar
26th Nov Being Anne @Williams13Anne
27th Nov On The Shelf Bookblog @OnTheShelfBooks
28th Nov Nicki’s Book Blog @nickijmurphy1
29th Nov My Reading Corner @karendennise
30th Nov Portable Magic @bantambookworm
1st Dec Black books blog @SimonJLeonard
2nd Dec Rae Reads @rae_reads1
3rd Dec So Many Books, So Little Time @smbslt
4th Dec Orchard Book Club @OrchardBookClub
5th Dec Zooloo’s Book Diary Zooloo2008
6th Dec Nemesis Book Blog @NemesisBlogs
7th Dec Katie’s Book Cave @katiejones88
8th Dec Books and Me @bookkaz
9th Dec Tangents and Tissues @tangentsbb
10th Dec Go Buy the Book @karen55555
11th Dec Cheekypee reads and reviews @cheekypee27
12th Dec Nicki`s Life Of Crime @NickiRichards7
13th Dec Emma the Little Bookworm @EmmaMitchellFPR
14th Dec Rather Too Fond of Books @hayleysbookblog
15th Dec Seansbookreviews @Seant1977
16th Dec Lizzums Lives Life @LizzumsBB
17th Dec The Magic Of Wor(l)ds @MagicOfWorldsBE
18th Dec On The Shelf Reviews @ljwrites85
19th Dec Grab This Book @grabthisbook
20th Dec Life Of A Nerdish Mum @NerdishMum
21st Dec The Quiet Geordie @thequietgeordie
22nd Dec eBook Addicts @ebookadditsuk
23rd Dec On The Shelf Reviews @ljwrites85
24th Dec Varietats @Sweeet83
25th Dec eBook Addicts @ebookadditsuk
26th Dec Portable Magic @bantambookworm
27th Dec Love Books Group @LoveBooksGroup
28th Dec A Little Book Problem @book_problem
29th Dec It’s all about the books @DeeCee334
30th Dec The Quiet Geordie @thequietgeordie
31st Dec Zooloo’s Book Diary @Zooloo2008

Staying On by C.M. Taylor #BookReview #BlogTour (@CMTaylorStory) @Duckbooks @annecater #Giveaway #StayingOn

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A geriatric coming-of-age story …

Retired expat, Tony Metcalfe, is going through a three-quarter-life crisis. Viva España, his bar in a mountain village beyond Spain s Costa Blanca, is failing. Tony started the bar for the English post-war babies who retired early on good pensions – the por favors, as the Spanish call them – flocking to the dream of wine, rest and sun around the pool. But now their retirement paradise is shadowed by Brexit: the pound has fallen, pensions are frozen and the property crash happened long ago.

Tony wants to move back to enjoy the remainder of his life in his childhood home, but his tenacious wife Laney wants to stay in the happy valley and forget about England and the dark, unresolved feelings it provokes in their marriage. Sod it – he couldn t go home even if he tried; nobody would buy an ailing bar during a recession.

But Tony s luck is about to change when his son Nick arrives for a surprise visit with his self-possessed wife, Jo, and their son. With the extra help, Tony thinks things are on the up, but Jo has brought along more baggage than just their family s suitcases.

Staying On is a compelling story of little and greater family secrets come to light and what it means to find home, wherever you are.

I am happy to be taking part in the blog tour today for Staying On by C. M. Taylor. I originally reviewed this book at the end of July and enjoyed it very much so my thanks go to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to share it with you again as part of the tour. If you would like to win a copy of the book, please just leave a brief comment on the post and I will pick a winner at random to receive the book.

When I was offered the chance to read this book, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The blurb and some of the other information I was given gave me the impression that it might be more political commentary on the influence of Brexit on the ex-pat community in Spain than anything else, but this was not the case. This book is a beautiful, deeply moving portrayal of a family whose current problems are largely caused by issues in their past that they are afraid to confront and what happens when they are forced to address them by outside influences.

I really loved the book, it affected me very deeply. The issues explored of family relationships and tensions and how people can be pushed apart by a failure to communicate, are ones that we can all relate to to a greater or lesser degree and we can all feel great empathy for these characters. They are all so well written and truthful that it is impossible not to be drawn in to their story and be compelled to find out what becomes of them over the arc of the book.

The main characters are Tony and Laney Metcalfe, living the ex-pat dream in a small hillside village inland from the coast of Costa Blanca, running a small, struggling bar and moving in a circle of other ex-pats in an enclave which has been developed for the incoming immigrants. They have not really integrated into the local Spanish community and, as the effects of the 2008 financial crash and the looming threat of Brexit cause a trickle of their community to sell up and return to Britain, they find their world is shifting and becoming unsettled. The arrival of their son, Nick and his wife Jo, who seems intent on stirring things up, lead to seismic shifts in the status quo that force Tony and Laney to face issues in their marriage that have been buried for years leading to startling revelations and events.

Tony and Laney are recognisable as ordinary working class Brits who have, in their thousands, sold up and retired for their dream life in the Spanish sun, only to find it is not so dreamy after all. But of course, like all of us, they are not ordinary at all, but have extraordinary relationships and dynamics that are unique to each of us and drive us to behave the way we do, in a way that is invisible to the outside world, creating pressures and tensions and motivations that are mysterious to outsiders. The author does an amazing job of revealing these individual foibles in a way that is completely believable and compelling.

The setting was beautifully created and peopled with a fascinating cast of characters, there is some fantastic use of language and imagery that I savoured throughout, but it is the gently drawn and played out family drama which is at the heart of this story and which will draw you through the book to the very last page. It is soft and melancholy and totally true and I just fell in love with this book and the every day, unimportant but totally enthralling drama between its pages. This is a book about my life and your life and the life of everyone who is both unimportant but vital in the world, people who don’t do startling things or things that have newsworthy impact on anyone else, but who are central to the worlds of those around them and I wish there were more books like this in the world.

Staying On is out now and you can buy a copy here.

To see what other bloggers make of the book, make sure you follow the rest of the tour:

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About the Author

C M Taylor

C M Taylor lives in Oxford, lectures at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies and is a freelance editor of fiction. He is the author of Premiership Psycho and Group of Death, two-thirds of a satirical trilogy described as ‘Brilliant’ by The Sun, and ‘Horribly entertaining’ by The Mirror.

Connect with the author:

Twitter: @CMTaylorStory

Instagram: @cmtaylor

Goodreads: C. M. Taylor

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