Blog Tour: In The Sweep Of The Bay by Cath Barton #BookReview

ITSOTB 9781999630577

This warm-hearted tale explores marriage, love, and longing, set against the majestic backdrop of Morecambe Bay, the Lakeland Fells, and the faded splendour of the Midland Hotel.

Ted Marshall meets Rene in the dance halls of Morecambe and they marry during the frail optimism of the 1950s. They adopt the roles expected of man and wife at the time: he the breadwinner at the family ceramics firm, and she the loyal housewife. But as the years go by, they find themselves wishing for more…

After Ted survives a heart attack, both see it as a new beginning… but can a faded love like theirs ever be rekindled?

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for In The Sweep Of The Bay by Cath Barton. My thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is only a short novella, that took me a scant eighty minutes to read, but what a lot the author managed to pack in to the pages. Pretty much all of human life is here, as we explore the life of Ted and Rene over the course of half a century. From the dance halls of post-war Morecambe to the modern day, the book explores the nuts and bolts of the marriage of two ordinary people living in the confines of an isolated, seaside town.

The book does not run in a linear format, but dodges about through the relationship, between the perspectives of Ted and Rene and other important figures in their lives and the life of the town of Morecambe. Despite this, the book is not at all confusing, but works perfectly to illustrate the changing relationship and feelings that Ted and Rene have for one another over the course of fifty years.

This book is all about relationships, their complexities and mercurial nature, ever-changing over the course of a lifetime, as both internal and external factors but different pressures on them at different times. The feelings of the couple ebb and flow like the tides in Morecambe Bay, which provides the constant backdrop to their evolving lives, and the changing seasons and moods and fortunes of the town echoing the shifts in the moods of their marriage, the sadness coming from the fact that the times the two of them seem to be in synch are rare and fleeting.

The book felt so honest to me, so truly reflective of so many people’s lives, full of disappointment and compromise, with small moments of joy and shared triumph, but all the same looked back on through rose-tinted spectacles when it is over and viewed very differently by outsiders than those living within it. Right from the beginning, we see through the individual thoughts of Ted and Rene that they have not entered this marriage on the back of a grand passion, and this somewhat sets the tone. Their life is not filled with terrible disasters, but small sorrows, the like of which we all suffer, made sadder by their inability to address them from the same page. Overall, the feeling for me is one of melancholy, and I wonder how many people go through their lives in this way – probably many more than we realise.

This was a really beautiful story, told with understanding, tenderness and a deep empathy. I found the writing really moving, and I came away from the book feeling like I had read something profoundly truthful and illuminating. Triumphal.

The Sweep Of The Bay is out now and I can recommend highly enough that you buy it here.

Please do follow the rest of the tour as detailed below:

In the Sweep of the Bay banner

About the Author

Cath Barton. Author pic. Feb 2020

Cath Barton lives in Abergavenny. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella in 2017 for The Plankton Collector, which was published in September 2018 by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. She also writes short stories and flash fiction and, with her critical writing, is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review. In the Sweep of the Bay is her second novella. 

Website: https://cathbarton.com/

Facebook: Cath Barton

Twitter: @CathBarton1

Publisher Website: https://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/cath-barton

damppebbles blog tours

Book Review: 337 by M. Jonathan Lee

41PRo3jwrnL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens.

It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note. While their father pays the price of his mother s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth. Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes. But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.

I’m delighted to be one of the bloggers chosen to review the new book by M. Jonathan Lee in advance of its publication on 30 November. 337 is a tightly wound family drama, and I want to thank the publisher, Hideaway Falls, for providing me with an advance copy of the hardback for review.

Curiously, this book has a unique, double-ended, upside down format, so you can choose to begin reading from the front or the back. How and why this works, well, you’ll have to buy the book to find out. But, be warned, the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only!

337 follows the story of, and is narrated by, Samuel Darte. Samuel is a lonely man who lives by himself in his old family home, works a job from home with minimal interaction with the outside world and doesn’t seem to have any friends. Why he ended up in this place is revealed as the book goes on, but it all stems back to the day his mother disappeared when he was a teenager. This is a story of how a single event can cause the lives of a family to completely unravel, and what can bring them back together again.

In some ways this is a small book. The action takes place in only two locations, inside Samuel’s childhood home, and the nursing home half a mile away where his estranged grandmother is dying. However, despite its limited location, this book ranges far and wide in its exploration of human emotion and the finite setting only serves to throw into relief the vast scope of feeling that Samuel experiences over the course of the novel, accentuating how he has chosen to limit his external environment in an effort to control his unbounded inner turmoil.

In addition to having a limited setting, the book also features very little actual action, as you would expect in a book that moves between only two locations and has a very small number of characters. However, rather than restricting the scope of the novel, this again serves to allow the reader to become deeply involved in the lives and psychological development of the characters, Samuel in particular. The author delves deep into the effect that the loss of his mother, and the events that followed on from her disappearance have had on Samuel, so that the reader feels that they are living this experience with him. I went through every emotion whilst reading this book, there is sorrow, humour, anger, love, pain, it is quite the rollercoaster. The author has really poured his heart onto the page, and you can feel every beat through his flowing, easy prose.

This is a book where perception is all, and it changes throughout the book. Perception of Samuel and his brother as to what is happening in their family, of their father and grandmother and their reactions to their mother’s disappearance, and of their grandmother as she lays dying. The perception of outsiders of their family in the aftermath of their mother’s vanishing, including friends, neighbours, police and society at large. The perception of the reader as we travel through the book and more and more facts are revealed – a perception that continues to change until the very last line of the novel. It is a lesson in how things are not always what they seem, how judgements based on limited facts are unwise and often wrong, and how we can never really know what goes on inside the hearts and minds of other people, even those who are closest to us. It is a book that will make the reader think about how we jump to conclusions about people, and how hard it is to change those once we have settled on them, unfair as that may be. But there are circumstances in which our minds can be changed, as Samuel finds out when confronted with his grandmother on her deathbed.

This is a very clever and unique book. It will not fit easily into any genre or niche you may be looking for, but it is a book that is definitely worth picking up and giving some time to. It really explores what it means to be a human, and the complex feelings and emotions we are confronted by day to day, simply by virtue of living in this world amongst other people, and how impossible it is to cut ourselves off from those emotions and connections, however hard we might try. And why, regardless of how hard it is, we shouldn’t want to.

I thought this book was really beautiful and surprising, although perhaps not in the way I expected. Vey different to anything else I have read this year. An intelligent novel.

337 is out on Monday and you can pre-order your copy here.

About the Author

FQ-BHcRG_400x400

Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author who was born Yorkshire where he still lives today with his two children.

His debut novel, The Radio was shortlisted for The Novel Prize 2012. He has spoken in schools, colleges, prisons and universities about creative writing and storytelling and appeared at various literary festivals including Sheffield’s Off the Shelf and Doncaster’s Turn the Page festival.

His second novel, The Page was released in February 2015.

His much anticipated third novel, A Tiny Feeling of Fear was released in September 2015 and tells the story of a character struggling with mental illness. All profits from this novel are donated to charity to raise awareness of mental health issues. This was accompanied by the short film, Hidden which was directed by Simon Gamble and can be seen here.

In 2016, he signed for boutique publishers, Hideaway Fall and his fourth novel Broken Branches was released in July 2017, winning book of the month in Candis magazine for September.

He is a tireless campaigner for mental health awareness and writes his own column regularly for the Huffington Post. He has recently written for the Big Issue and spoken at length about his own personal struggle on the BBC and Radio Talk Europe. His fifth book, the critically acclaimed Drift Stumble Fall was released in Spring 2018.

Connect with Jonathan:

Website: https://www.mjonathanlee.com/

Facebook: M Jonathan Lee Author

Twitter: @MJonathanLee

A Little Book Problem banner

Desert Island Books: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

Desert Island Books

For my tenth, personal Desert Island Books, I have chosen Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Gaudy Night is the twelfth book in Sayers’ detective series featuring her aristocratic sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, and is, in my opinion, her best novel. I first discovered the book via a recommendation from my school librarian as a teenager. It was the first novel by this author that I encountered and, despite the fact that I have subsequently read all the Wimsey books and enjoyed them, this remains my runaway favourite. I have reread it numerous times during the past 34 years and have taken something different from it on each occasion. Because this is no normal detective novel, and I will explain why.

51xzGTbnDXL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

Harriet Vane has never dared to return to her old Oxford college. Now, despite her scandalous life, she has been summoned back . . .

At first she thinks her worst fears have been fulfilled, as she encounters obscene graffiti, poison pen letters and a disgusting effigy when she arrives at sedate Shrewsbury College for the ‘Gaudy’ celebrations.

But soon, Harriet realises that she is not the only target of this murderous malice – and asks Lord Peter Wimsey to help.

There is so much going on in this novel, so many different layers and attractions to the story, that it rewards the reader with a new experience every time you pick it up, regardless of the number of times you have read it before. The first time I read it as a teenager, there was no possible way that I could have understood and appreciated all the themes and nuances of this novel, but that did not stop me falling in love with it immediately, and my affection and appreciation for the book has only deepened over the intervening decades.

This is no straightforward detective novel, although it works extremely well purely on that level. The mystery involves a vicious campaign of terror in a women’s college at Oxford University. The ‘terror’ is rather genteel by the standards of today’s crime novels, but the setting for this book is the Oxford of a bygone era. It is set in the inter-war years, where women were just finding emancipation and being admitted to such hallowed institutions as universities, where certain levels of behaviour were expected from women still, and the divisions between the sexes were more firmly delineated. Against this polite backdrop, the acts of the person with a grudge against the college seem almost deranged and dangerous and there is a high level of tension and fear running through the novel. The fact the author manages to make the plot so menacing without having resort to murder is the first evidence of her skill.

Aside from the detective aspect of the novel, this is also a passionate love story. Fans of Wimsey, particularly those who read the novels in order, will be aware that Harriet Vane was first introduced into the world of Wimsey in the novel Strong Poisonwhere she finds herself on trial for murder. She becomes the subject of Wimsey’s romantic affections, but resists his advances for five years. Gaudy Night is the book in which Harriet finally begins to realise that her feelings for Wimsey may not be as platonic as she has always believed, and she begins to explore them more deeply and honestly, and to see him in a new light. It becomes clear that her fears about entering into marriage, particularly to a wealthy, intelligent, successful and powerful man, will require her to give up her own independence and career may be unfounded, and that maybe Wimsey, despite his family’s ancient heritage and traditional background, maybe be a new breed of man who wants a wife who is an equal. Again, the romance and passion in the book are, due to the time at which this was written, are written coyly and through suggestion and innuendo, but this has the effect of somehow making them more intense, not less so. Another nod to the skill and genius of Sayers’ writing.

This leads neatly on to the main subject matter of the book, which is the exploration of female emancipation and what this means for the balance of power and responsibilities between the sexes. This is a world which is having to build relationships and expectations between the genders anew, where women are making choices between old gender stereotypes and fresh opportunities and men are having to adjust their attitudes to match, and there is resistance in some quarters, and from both sides. It is a fascinating window for those of us born into the modern era when these things are taken for granted onto what the struggle was like for those women who paved the way for our modern freedoms, and it is clear that this is something the author is passionate about herself. It has been suggested that Harriet Vane is an autobiographical character, through whom Sayers explored some of her own feelings about her place in the world. Sayers was one of the first women ever to receive a degree from Oxford, when females were admitted to these honours, and also admitted to a level of sexual freedom that was unusual amongst women at the time. Reading Gaudy Night, it is impossible not to conclude that the book is largely a treatise on Sayers’ view of women’s roles in the society in which she lived, how they were changing and the struggles they faced, both external and internal, and it is absolutely fascinating when read as such.

This is a hefty book, and densely written. The language is rich and descriptive and peppered with poetry, Latin and Greek quotations and musical and literary references. This is a scholarly work, written clearly by an academic mind and exceeds any expectations one might have of works of detective fiction. This is no pulpy crime novel, this is a book that is worthy of sitting alongside any classic novel on then bookshelves of the well-read, and I truly wish that it had a wider modern audience. Whilst the works of Agatha Christie are still widely read and celebrated, the works of Sayers seem more likely to slip into obscurity, and I think this is a crying shame because they are just as good in every way, and her skill may exceed Christie in some areas. Gaudy Night is the pinnacle of her work, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who enjoys detective novels set in this period, and enjoys some mental stimulation.

If you have never read any Sayers, I would advise either starting at the beginning with Whose Body?, the first book in the Wimsey series, or Strong Poison, the book which introduces Harriet Vane, and save Gaudy Night until you have eased your way into the world of Wimsey and fallen in love with him, then watch Harriet do the same in this truly astonishing achievement in detective fiction. I promise you will love it. Come back and call me out if you don’t.

Gaudy Night is available now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

41EYbh7kfbL._US230_

Dorothy L. Sayers was born in 1893. She was one of the first women to be awarded a degree by Oxford University, and later she became a copywriter at an ad agency.

In 1923 she published her first novel featuring the aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey, who became one of the world’s most popular fictional heroes. She died in 1957.

A Little Book Problem banner

Tempted By… Rea Book Reviews: If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman

IMG_0072

Audrey’s family has fallen apart. Her two grown-up daughters, Jess and Lily, are estranged, and her two teenage granddaughters have never been allowed to meet. A secret that echoes back thirty years has splintered the family in two, but is also the one thing keeping them connected.

As tensions reach breaking point, the irrevocable choice that one of them made all those years ago is about to surface. After years of secrets and silence, how can one broken family find their way back to each other?

I’ve had to sneak in an extra Tempted By this week, because I missed one while I was in Wales last week and, I am such a sucker for buying brilliant books recommended by my blogger friends that I don’t have any spare weeks to slot in missed posts!

So, my surprise Tempted By feature this week is for If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman, as recommended by Rea in her review here on her marvellous blog, Rea Book Reviews. This is another one that has been a good while in getting to the top of the pile for this feature but, as I said, I am absolute sucker for buying books on blogger recommendation and the waiting list is substantial!

When you visit the review that inspired me to buy this book, you will soon see why it drew me in. Rea’s review is so detailed, giving you a lot of information on which to base your buying decision, but at the same time not giving away any spoilers which, as a blogger, I know is a very valuable skill. She has obviously fallen in love with the story and is trying to convey exactly what it is that she found so appealing about it, identifying all its strongest attributes, and it is extremely effective. I came away from this review knowing exactly what this book was going to deliver and, being sure that I was not going to be disappointed if I did buy it.

This is the great strength of Rea’s blogging style and the reason I always read her reviews with interest and excitement. You can see she puts a huge amount of thought and effort into her reviews, they are obviously not dashed off without any thought, and they are always balanced and honest. I always know that I am going to get exactly what I am expecting when I’ve based a purchased on Rea’s reviews, she is 100% reliable and always seems to hit the heart of the book in her review. Make sure you head over to her blog and take a look for yourself, you can find it at https://reabookreview.blogspot.com.

And if you now need to get hold of a copy of If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman, you can find it here.

A Little Book Problem banner

Desert Island Books: A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

41p0c56w1GL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

Jean Paget is just twenty years old and working in Malaya when the Japanese invasion begins.

When she is captured she joins a group of other European women and children whom the Japanese force to march for miles through the jungle – an experience that leads to the deaths of many.

Due to her courageous spirit and ability to speak Malay, Jean takes on the role of leader of the sorry gaggle of prisoners and many end up owing their lives to her indomitable spirit. While on the march, the group run into some Australian prisoners, one of whom, Joe Harman, helps them steal some food, and is horrifically punished by the Japanese as a result.

After the war, Jean tracks Joe down in Australia and together they begin to dream of surmounting the past and transforming his one-horse outback town into a thriving community like Alice Springs…

The eighth book on my Desert Island Books list is A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, which is one of my favourite love stories. And I am not just talking about the romance between the young English girl, Jean Paget, and the heroic Australian, Joe Harman, but the underlying, unrequited love that the narrator, Noel, feels for Jean, and which informs the whole way he tells her story.

This is a book of two halves. The story starts with the reader being introduced to a lawyer, Noel Strachan, who is employed by an infirm Scottish gentleman to draw up his will, some time in the early 1930s. The war then intervenes, and after the war, the gentleman dies and Noel has to track down his niece, and inform her that she has come into an inheritance, of which he is the trustee. So Noel’s involvement in Jean’s life begins. 

During the course of administering the trust, Noel hears Jean’s story of being taken prisoner in Malaya during the war and being marched across the country with a party of other women because the Japanese don’t know what to do with them. A terrible incident occurs during this time which deeply affects Jean and stops her fully recovering after the war. She tells the whole horrifying story of her wartime experiences to Noel, so we hear them as he does, firsthand. Before I read this book for the first time as a teenager, I knew very little of what had occurred during the war in the Far East, as my school studies of the period concentrated on the action in Europe, so this story really piqued my interest and encouraged to to expand my reading on the subject to the wider content of the war beyond the repercussions in Europe to the actions of the Japanese and the involvement of our Commonwealth allies. This is what good fiction can do, encourage further reading into the actual events upon which they are based, even if the fiction is written with a little poetic licence.

In the second half of the book, the action moves to Australia and Jean’s attempts to find Joe Harman after the war, and how together they work to expand a community in the Australian outback. I know some people find the second half of the book less exciting, given the horror and high drama of the first half, but they are missing the point. For a young, ambitious girl on the brink of adulthood with big plans for her future, this story of a woman alive in a time of burgeoning opportunity for females, who defies convention and strikes out into the unknown on her own, following her heart but using her head as well, was revelatory. Whilst it is hard to recognise the kind of attitudes that prevailed in that day when reading from a modern day position, I defy anyone not to be inspired by Jean Paget and be cheering her on from the sidelines

If you are coming to A Town Like Alice for the first time in 2020, it is going to make you very uncomfortable in parts. The attitudes to gender, colour and a lot more besides are going to be jarring when you look at them with a twenty-first century eye, and I know people will find this off-putting. This is a book of its time, it reflects society as it was in the early 1950s and needs to be read with that firmly in mind. If nothing else, it gives a clear picture of how far attitudes have moved on since then, even if we have a long way still to go. But setting these acknowledged issues with the novel aside, this is a uplifting and tender love story of triumphs in the face of adversity, powerful love overcoming severe obstacles, and how love can take many forms, and how wonderful it it when reciprocated. For anyone who is a true romantic, this is a beautiful story.

I have read this book many times over the last 30+ years. Inbetween readings, I sometimes wonder whether it will continue to age well, or if one day I will come back to it and find it no longer speaks to me. Although there are aspects of it which are unpalatable in our, hopefully, more enlightened times, the core story of a brave, resourceful and determined young woman setting out to find the man she loves and build a good life for them both is still moving and inspiring and I would definitely like to have it with me on my desert island to remind me what people can achieve if they set their minds to it.

A Town Like Alice is available in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

31hiI+B6k-L._US230_

Nevil Shute Norway was born on 17 January 1899 in Ealing, London. After attending the Dragon School and Shrewsbury School, he studied Engineering Science at Balliol College, Oxford. He worked as an aeronautical engineer and published his first novel, Marazan, in 1926. In 1931 he married Frances Mary Heaton and they went on to have two daughters. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve where he worked on developing secret weapons. After the war he continued to write and settled in Australia where he lived until his death on 12 January 1960. His most celebrated novels include Pied Piper (1942), No Highway (1948), A Town Like Alice (1950) and On the Beach (1957).

A Little Book Problem banner

Book Review: Summerwater by Sarah Moss

51kFwxqkFzL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_

On the longest day of the summer, twelve people sit cooped up with their families in a faded Scottish cabin park. The endless rain leaves them with little to do but watch the other residents.

A woman goes running up the Ben as if fleeing; a retired couple reminisce about neighbours long since moved on; a teenage boy braves the dark waters of the loch in his red kayak. Each person is wrapped in their own cares but increasingly alert to the makeshift community around them. One particular family, a mother and daughter without the right clothes or the right manners, starts to draw the attention of the others. Tensions rise and all watch on, unaware of the tragedy that lies ahead as night finally falls.

My thanks to the publishers for my digital copy of this book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I spent many of my childhood holidays in the damp environs of the Scottish Borders, including in a log cabin, so the premise of Sarah Moss’s latest book immediately appealed to my nostalgic sensibilities. I had no idea what a rich, densely-packed, insightful read it was going to be in so many other ways.

The story, such as it is, follows twelve people relaxing in a Scottish holiday park, where the main, visible feature is the endlessly falling rain. There is no real meaty plot to form the book, instead we are given a series of internal monologues by different residents of the park, who range in age from children to retirees. The author makes the most remarkable job of giving us the authentic voices of each of the different characters which, although they are doing anything particularly memorable, bring the people vividly to life.

It may sound like not much occurs in the story, and this is a valid observation, but it matters not one jot to the appeal and rewards of the book. The internal observations we gain from the different narrators in their stream-of-consciousness internal pronouncements are more than enough to intrigue, engross and entertain. Moss has captured each of the characters perfectly, their thoughts so searing and authentic that you will find yourself laughing, crying, cringeing, grimacing and nodding along with them as you recognise the reflections and concerns that flit ethereal through their minds, and the way their thoughts skip and jump, making connections that make no sense and perfect sense at the same time. The writing is captivating and I could not get enough of it.

The thread tying all of the strands together is the reaction of the park residents to the inconsiderate behaviour of the occupants of one of the cabins, and the way this eventually played out left me shaken, disturbed and moved all at the same time. It was a shocking and perfect ending to the story, and captured and not-quite-tied up the mood of the novel in a lingering, melancholy and thought-provoking bow. This is a book that hangs around in your subconscious long after you’ve finished it, like a dream you haven’t fully deciphered and can’t quite shake.

The chapter featuring the young couple on their first holiday away together, particularly the thoughts running through the girl’s head during an intimate encounter, and the young mother given the blissful hour to herself that she has long been craving were my favourites. The first because it was so humorous and painful to read, the latter because I could relate to it so closely, but the whole book, which is so short it is really a novella, is packed full and dense with marvel and I know I will go back to it again and again to find fresh nuance to enjoy.

This book packs a massive and powerful bang for its size and was joyful to read. When I look back over the 2020’s reading at the end of the year, I know that this is one book I will remember and treasure as one of the stand out novels of the year. Given how unusual this year has been, and how I have lost myself in a larger than average number of great books, this is no mean epithet.

Summerwater by Sarah Moss is out now in all formate and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

A1XHKmUVpXL._US230_

Sarah Moss is the author of seven novels and a memoir of her year living in Iceland, Names for the Sea, shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize. Her novels are Cold Earth, Night Waking (Fiction Uncovered Award), Bodies of Light (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize), Signs for Lost Children (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize), The Tidal Zone (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize) and Ghost Wall (long listed for the Women’s Prize, shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize). Her new novel, Summerwater, appears with Picador in August 2020

Sarah was born in Glasgow and grew up in the north of England. After moving between Oxford, Canterbury, Reykjavik, West Cornwall and the English Midlands, she now lives by the sea near Dublin.

Connect with Sarah:

Website: https://www.sarahmoss.org

Guest Post: Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz

Legend-of-the-Lost-Ass-1877x3000-Amazon-300dpi

I think we should take it through Guatemala.

A random text from a stranger inspires agoraphobic Colin to leave New York. His first stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender, half-Mayan Luci Bolon, her ancient but feisty great-uncle Ernesto, and Miss Mango, a bright-orange Kubota tractor. Ernesto’s dream is that Miss Mango be driven to Belize and given to the family he left behind nearly seventy years ago. Colin agrees to join Luci on the long journey through Central America.

In 1949, seventeen-year-old Belizean Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he “borrows” a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to America.

The past and present unfold through two journeys that traverse beautiful landscapes. Painful histories are soothed by new friendships and payments of old debts.

I am delighted today to be featuring on the blog this fascinating sounding book, Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to read the book yet, although I will have a review of it coming for you a little later in the year. In the meantime, Karen has kindly written a guest post for me to share with you about her love for Belize, the setting of a large part of the novel.

Something About Belize by Karen Winters Schwartz

In all my travels there was something about Belize, Central America that touched me like no other county. The place, its people, its history, and culture went on to inspire much of my writing including my just released, newest novel Legend of the Lost Ass. From my first breath of Belizean air, I was in love with the place. My husband and I bought property and built a house on the shores of the Caribbean Sea in Hopkins, Belize nearly 15 years ago.

There are so many reasons to love Belize. It’s not just the beauty of the land or the sea, but the magic of the culturally diverse people who call this place home. Belize is a melting pot consisting of mainly Mestizos, Mayans, Garinagu, Chinese, Mennonites, Kriols, and expats from Europe, US, and Canada. The pot is small, but it’s rich and deep with welcoming people.

Years ago, my then teenaged daughter, Sarah, and I were walking along the beautiful, debris-covered beach of the village of Hopkins. The day was awesome—the air still, with no humidity—the sea, a shimmering blue. Small terns strutted ahead anxiously, never taking flight, as they were not quite sure of our intentions. The gentle waters lapped at our feet as we studied the fresh array of unmatched shoes, coconuts, plastic bottles, brown clusters of seaweed, copious amounts of green sea grass, shattered unidentifiable pieces of plastic, neatly sliced halves of oranges with their gut sucked clean, the severed head of a pineapple… All of which had found their way onto the shoreline of Belize.

Sarah declared, “I want a coconut!” 

“Take one. They’re everywhere.”

She found a beautiful large green monster of a coconut which she lugged along before coming to a rare, but hard, rock thrusting out from the edge of the surf. Nearby five small Garifuna children played and splashed in the shimmering blue water. Sarah began throwing the coconut against the rock in an attempt to break its thick green covering. I began to help her. We took turns thrusting it against the rock. It wasn’t long before the children waded out of the water and grabbed this massive nut.

We stepped back in surprise (had we taken a coconut that we had no right to?) and then in amusement, as they took their own turns throwing the coconut against the rock. They got down on their knees in the surf, the Caribbean waters glistening and slipping off their dark bodies, and took turns banging it repeatedly. They stood up and threw only to sit back down and continue the assault. Sarah and I smiled and watched. I threw in a “Wow” here and there, but the children weren’t talking; they were strictly concentrating on the task at hand. Finally, after a good ten minutes, the green nut began to give up and split apart. The children dropped to the wet sand and used hands, feet, and fingers. Banging and tugging at the white pulpy fibers that covered the inner stone, they threw the strands of fibers above their heads and flung it into the sea. Another ten minutes later and a perfect light tan globe about the size of a small cantaloupe was revealed.

The oldest, and most hard-working of the boys, stood up, dripping from the sea, and proudly handed the coconut to Sarah. She bowed slightly, smiled, and said, “Thank you! Let me shake your hand.” She shook all the children’s hands. Then they splashed, without a word, back into the sea. 

I don’t remember how that particular coconut tasted or even if we ever ate it. What I remember was the magic of the moment when that little boy offered up the nut as if he were welcoming us to his world. It’s this magic and the character of Central America that I strive to capture in my novels. 

In Legend of the Lost Ass, my characters are part of the beauty of Central America. The missent text I think we should take it through Guatemala inspires agoraphobic adventure novelist, Colin, to leave the safety of his NY apartment. First stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender of the text, a half-Mayan woman named Luci, who, at thirty, has yet to confront her role in the death of her father when she was six. They instantly find each other annoying. He also meets a bright orange Kubota tractor named Miss Mango and Luci’s ancient but feisty Great Uncle Ernesto. It’s Ernesto’s dream that Miss Mango be driven to Belize as an atonement to his family, which he abandoned nearly seventy years prior. 

In 1949, British Honduras (now Belize), seventeen-year-old Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he “borrows” a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to the States.

What I enjoyed most about writing Legend of the Lost Ass was merging my personal Belizean experiences with massive amounts of research, creating a story where past and present unfold in two parallel journeys with slightly crazy characters put in even crazier circumstances. Through their eyes, I’m pretty darn sure, I succeeded in capturing the place, its people, its history, and its culture.

 

***********************

Karen, thank you so much for sharing that experience with us, it is a beautiful story and Belize sounds like a place I need to be adding to my bucket list.

Legend of the Lost Ass is out now and, if you have been enticed to buy a copy by the glimpse into the country which inspired the book, you can buy a copy here. Watch out for my own review of the book coming in the autumn.

About the Author

karen-home-240x300

Karen Winters Schwartz wrote her first truly good story at age seven. Her second-grade teacher publicly and falsely accused her of plagiarism. She did not write again for forty years.

Her widely praised novels include WHERE ARE THE COCOA PUFFS?; REIS’S PIECES; and THE CHOCOLATE DEBACLE (Goodman Beck Publishing). Her new novel, LEGEND OF THE LOST ASS, was released by Red Adept Publishing on July 21, 2020. 

Educated at The Ohio State University, Karen and her husband moved to the Central New York Finger Lakes region where they raised two daughters and shared a career in optometry. She now splits her time between Arizona, a small village in Belize, and traveling the earth in search of the many creatures with whom she has the honor of sharing this world. This is her second year as a Rising Star judge. 

Connect with Karen:

Website: http://www.karenwintersschwartz.com

Facebook: Author Karen Winters Schwartz

Twitter: @authorKWS

Instagram: @_kaws_

 

Tempted By…. Audio Killed The Bookmark: Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore

IMG_7466

Mercy is hard in a place like this. I wished him dead before I ever saw his face….

Mary Rose Whitehead isn’t looking for trouble – but when it shows up at her front door, she finds she can’t turn away. 

Corinne Shepherd, newly widowed, wants nothing more than to mind her own business and for everyone else to mind theirs. But when the town she has spent years rebelling against closes ranks she realises she is going to have to take a side. 

Debra Ann is motherless and lonely and in need of a friend. But in a place like Odessa, Texas, choosing who to trust can be a dangerous game. 

Gloria Ramírez, 14 years old and out of her depth, survives the brutality of one man only to face the indifference and prejudices of many. 

When justice is as slippery as oil and kindness becomes a hazardous act, sometimes courage is all we have to keep us alive.

This is the first time I have featured an audiobook on Tempted By…, but Berit of Audio Killed The Bookmark was so enthusiastic about the narrators of this book in her review of it that audio seemed the only way to go.

The blurb for this book doesn’t give much away, but it sounds intriguing, doesn’t it, and the book has had a lot of buzz about it. I mean, you only have to read Berit’s review, where she describes it as “authentic, profound, and beautiful” to know that it is a special debut, because whatever Berit says, I trust I am going to feel the same. I agree with her reviews about 99% of the time, so I knew this book was going to be worth the cost of an Audible credit.

Berit makes it sound like the book is totally immersive and evocative, which are things I am always drawn to in a novel. I love books set in the USA, but I read more set in the South Eastern states, so a book set in Texas will make for an invigorating change. It also sounds like it is extremely female-centric, something I also love, so I am really looking forward to listening to it soon. I am sure it will make the hours of housework and mucking out a little less tedious!

I love this blog, it is one I have been following for a long time. As I said previously, Berit’s thoughts seem to align to mine on most books that we have in common, and her reviews are always informative but succinct (something we do not have in common, as I tend to be quite long-winded, she has the advantage over me on this score!) I really love the way she sums up a book in emojis too, a quirky touch that I have fun figuring out. If you haven’t visited this blog before, please do pop over there and have a look around, I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do. You can find it here.

And, if Berit’s review has tempted you to try Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore for yourself, you can get it in all formats here.

 

Buddy Read: The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris #BookReview

41-Aapjf9sL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_

Between the simple melody of running her violin shop and the full-blown orchestra of her romantic interludes in Paris with David, her devoted partner of eight years, Grace Atherton has always set her life to music.

Her world revolves entirely around David, for Grace’s own secrets have kept everyone else at bay. Until, suddenly and shockingly, one act tips Grace’s life upside down, and the music seems to stop.

It takes a vivacious old man and a straight-talking teenager to kickstart a new chapter for Grace. In the process, she learns that she is not as alone in the world as she had once thought, that no mistake is insurmountable, and that the quiet moments in life can be something to shout about …

I’ve had a copy of this book for ages, in fact it appeared on my Tempted By… feature back in January, but it has taken until now, and the lure of a buddy read by my friend, Kate, to finally bump it to the top of the TBR and now I am wondering why I waited so long!

Kate had just finished reading the author’s new book, Where We Belong, and was waxing so lyrical about how much she loved it that I said I was going to dig out that copy of her first novel that was languishing on my TBR, and Kate said we should do a buddy read, which was great fun. Needless to say, we both loved it. In fact, I’ve not seen a negative comment about this book.

It is an absolutely beautiful story about love, betrayal, loss and the redeeming power of music and friendship. I knew from the very beginning that the book was going to be something special. Anstey took the bold step of introducing two characters and immediately making them morally ambiguous, so to begin with you are wondering if they are people you should be rooting for or not. Grace then quickly becomes someone that you fall in love with and your sympathies are entirely with her from then on. Anstey draws her so clearly and believably, that you can feel her every emotion exactly as she does and, even when she makes bad decisions, you understand and forgive them because you know the place of pain they are coming from. There are very few characters that I have become so emotionally invested in over the course of my reading life and it is a real skill to achieve.

The pacing of this book is perfect, and there are several points where the author introduces truly shocking events that took me entirely by surprise. I found myself sending Kate WhatsApp messages riddled with excited/shocked/horrified emojis when I got to a part of the book that I knew was going to blow her away when she reached them. It is the kind of book that makes you sigh, and scream and cheer out loud, even though this makes you look like a lunatic if you are reading in public, because you are so invested in the story and the characters’ emotions.

I am not a connoisseur of classical music and did wonder if the exploration of instrument making and classical music would be beyond me, but it wasn’t at all. I found it fascinating and enthralling, and I was swept away by the passion that the characters obviously feel for it, even though I don’t share it. It made me want to go and listen to the music the book refers to, and then read the book again with a better understanding of how these particular pieces complement the story. There is a part towards the end of the book involving a musical interlude that almost made me cry, and then another part of the book towards the end which actually did make me cry. I felt sympathy for a character I had recently despised, and genuinely did not know how things were going to end until I had read the conclusion. I felt despair and pain and hope and joy throughout the course of the book, and marvelled at the skill it takes to truly arouse all these feelings in a reader.

The writer excels at using language and phrasing to evoke emotions and paint a very clear picture. I made note of some of my favourite parts so that I could study them, as a student of writing, later. I can’t write down my favourite quote, as it gives away a major plot point, but it is in the second paragraph of Chapter Eighteen! The imagery is so clear and deft, I am in awe of her. The beauty of the descriptions of Paris and the love she espouses for the city will take you straight there. The power of the emotional descriptions will break your heart. The beauty of the friendships will put it back together again. It is just marvellous.

In fact, it is the odd friendships that form the backbone of this book and really make it sing. It teaches you that, however alone you feel, there are always people out there who will reach out to comfort you in times of need, and they are not who you might expect. However much you try and shut the world out, it will creep in at the edges and hold you up when you feel all is lost. And the people who you think matter most may not truly be the ones you can rely on, so you need to keep our eyes and your heart open and trust yourself. It is, ultimately, life-affirming.

I absolutely adored this book and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a powerful read.

The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

41067kQ19nL._US230_

Anstey Harris is based by the seaside in south-east England where she lives with her violinmaker husband and two dogs. She teaches creative writing in the community, local schools, and as an associate lecturer for Christchurch University in Canterbury.

Anstey writes about the things that make people tick, the things that bind us and the things that can rip us apart. In 2015, she won the H G Wells Short Story Prize for her story, Ruby. In novels, Anstey tries to celebrate uplifting ideas and prove that life is good and that happiness is available to everyone once we work out where to look (usually inside ourselves). Her short stories tend not to end quite so well…

Things that interest Anstey include her children and granddaughter, green issues and conservation, adoption and adoption reunion (she is an adopted child, born in an unmarried mothers’ home in Liverpool in 1965), stepfamilies, dogs, and food. Always food. She would love to be on Masterchef but would never recover from the humiliation if she got sent home in the first round.

Connect with Anstey:

Website: https://www.ansteyharris.com

Twitter: @Anstey_Harris

Instagram: @ansteyharris

Book Review: Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens #BookReview

51jXWPV1PoL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_

For years, rumors of the ‘Marsh Girl’ have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl.

But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved.

When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

Unless you have been living under a literary rock for the past few months, I’m sure you have heard of this book. You’ve probably already read it, as I seem to be a little late to the party but, if not, I suggest you pick up a copy as soon as possible because this is one of the best things I have read for a long while and will definitely be one of my top books of 2020.

This is the story of Kya, a young girl abandoned at a young age in the marshes of North Carolina who learns how to survive on her own by studying the wildlife that surrounds her on all sides. Her life is touched by a few souls from the nearby town, but largely she is an outcast, misunderstood and feared by local residents so, when a local man is murdered in the marsh, she is the prime suspect.

This book is a masterpiece in so many ways. It begins as a mystery story with the body of the man discovered in the marsh, so we are immediately engrossed in trying to discover, along with the local police, who is responsible. In this way we are introduced to Kya, the ‘Marsh Girl,’ an outsider who has lived alone in the marsh since she was a child and who is deeply misunderstood by the local townsfolk. The book then runs along two timelines, the current investigation of the murder, and Kya’s past as she grows up in the marsh. The  mystery is compelling and involves many twists and turns and false paths, so the reader can’t really know who did it until the very end. However, despite the fact the mystery is well-developed, this is probably the aspect of the novel that drew me the least.

The things that make this book so special are the exploration of Kya as a character and how she survives alone in the marsh from childhood and how this life affects her emotionally, and the vivid and immersive descriptions of the landscape and nature of the marsh where the book is set. The author writes so captivatingly and movingly about both that the reader cannot help but be swept away in the story.

The development of Kya’s story from her abandonment by her entire family as a young child and how she has to learn to survive alone in a hostile environment with very little contact with or help from her nearest neighbours is tender, believable and completely heart-breaking. It is a damning commentary on the way society frowns upon anyone who chooses to live a lifestyle outside the mainstream and how such choices invite disdain and a cold-shoulder. How people are largely concerned only with themselves and quick to ignore problems they don’t want to address. The only people who have the good heart to help Kya are others who are similarly shunned for their differences, or who want to use her for their own ends.

Kya is a fascinating and wholly endearing character. Her stalwart determination to survive alone, learning from the creatures that surround her, adapting their habits and survival skills to help her and, in doing so, falling in love with the life and creatures of the marsh and studying them in a way few people ever do. The way the author draws parallels between humans and the wildlife of the marsh and uses those parallels to inform the reader about both is deft and clever. We fall in love with both Kya and her delicate and unique environment and come to care deeply about the survival and protection of both by the end of the book.

The marsh, then, is an integral part of the book, as essential to the story as any of the characters. In fact, it becomes a character in its own right, as intricately described and developed as any of the human participants, a living, breathing organism that is vital to Kya’s happiness and well-being in a way no human has ever been. It is the one thing she loves, trusts and knows will never let her down. Their lives are so intertwined that, when she is forcibly separated from it, it feels like a form of death to her. Like removing a fish from the ocean, she feels like she cannot breathe. If you ever wanted to read a book that really transports you to an environment you have probably never experienced but into which you will completely disappear, this is the novel for you.

The writer’s prose is lyrical and flowing. I know some people have found the book a little slow, and it is true that is is very descriptive and languid, but this is a huge part of the beauty of the novel and, if you stick with it, I am sure you will find the whole story as beautiful, heart-rending but, ultimately, uplifting as I did. The languorous nature of the prose is entirely fitting to the plot and the setting, mirroring the slow, warm, unchanging days in the Carolinas and will envelope you in the mindset if you let it. Just kick back and go with the flow and let this exceptional novel float you on a magical journey that will leave you fundamentally affected by it.

Where The Crawdads Sing is out now in all formats here.

About the Author

DSC_0435_redone-2000-60

Delia Owens is the co-author of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa including Cry of the Kalahari.

She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in Nature, The African Journal of Ecology, and many others.

She currently lives in Idaho. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel.

Connect with Delia:

Website: https://www.deliaowens.com

Facebook: Author Delia Owens

Instagram: @authordeliaowens