My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

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My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

A story of a complex relationship between a mother and daughter. Does a book get better than this?

 

From page one you are pulled into a story line that is just so beautifully written that you do not want to let go until you have finished reading the entire novel and at around 200 pages this is easily done as you lose yourself in an exquisite story.

In My Name is Lucy Barton the story is set in the mid 1980’s we find the Lucy hospitalised and this is her story as she recounts the period of nearly nine weeks in hospital from complications after recent surgery.

It is clear from the very start this is going to be a tender recount of a troubled childhood and then to her present day marital problems, not helped with the fact that her husband has an aversion to hospitals and has secretly arranged for her mother to come and stay with her, as we find through the pages of a childhood bereft of love from her mother, with whom she has not seen for a number of years, we find Lucy waking one morning to find her mother standing at the foot of her bed. Disbelief, shock even at seeing her estranged mother standing there.

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For the coming days and nights as her mother who seems to be in constant state of a form of depression Lucy recounts her younger days and the family, friends and failed relationships even those of her friends and the sheer desperation of the loneliness of her formative years, deprived of such things as books and television this part of her life is nothing short of tragic.

Despite the fact that mother and daughter have not met in many years, her mother starts to recount tales and there is a difference in her tone that Lucy seeks to explore yet the longing for the words ‘I love you’ fail to appear even at a time that her daughter so desperately needs to hear it, her mother just falls into denial of the past. As the reader becomes more sucked into the hospital room, you can almost feel that her mother wants to say all the things that she never said, as in ‘I love you’ but the words seem to chock her and the words never appear. Lucy is something of a writer and tells her mother about the fact she had a few stories published but her mother just ignores and stares out of the window where Chrysler Building glimmers to a world that Lucy cannot escape to but you get the feeling it is calling to Lucy, but she is trapped in that hospital room, it was those years as a child with no books that led Lucy to want to write books to prevent anyone from feeling the sheer loneliness that she endured.

There is something else going on here and Strout is offering glimpses at our own world and our own lives I felt that as an author Strout was offering counselling to everyone reading it. This is writing of a very special quality and of a writer at the height of her game. There are some very special qualities that come of My Name is Lucy Barton. Everyone wants to be loved and you can’t help but feel empathy with Lucy as she just wants to be loved by her mother as much as she loves her. A book that will be revisited time after time.

Strout has written a deeply emotional and powerful story in My Name is Lucy Barton a story of the complex relationship between mother and daughter and also of love. Elizabeth Strout being a previous winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Olive Kitteridge in 2009 and now is longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Prize. Just a word on the cover design. Simple and effective and it works.

My Name is Lucy Barton written by Elizabeth Strout was published 4 February 2016 by Viking. Available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.

 

 

On My Bookshelf – My bookish week

On-My-Book-Shelf.pngMy bookish week

Finally, after what seems to have been a very busy few weeks with work, more research for a book I am planning and then writing books reviews I have finally got round to starting what I hope will be a weekly round-up of my book week. So without further ado welcome to the first in a series of On My Bookshelf – My book week.

Nothing beats that knock on the door then being greeted by your friendly postman as he hands you more book posts, as my postman is a keen book lover he takes a real interest in what books arrive, he also likes to make a note of what future releases are due out. The next best thing is stalking book shops (not sure I should add stalking). You see I just can’t help myself, if I go in to a book store to browse I always tend to come out with a book or two as if I had no idea how that happened. So last Saturday I was in the beautiful city of Exeter and there is not one but two Waterstones branches so I was spoilt.

I came out with a hardback copy of the wonderful Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins Not sure how but I missed it first time it was released.

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As A God in Ruins follows on from Life After Life, and we follow Teddy as this is his story a pilot in WWII if you have not read A God in Ruins as yet then this is a must, it follows Teddy from his youth to his death as a pilot of a Halifax bomber. As I write this A God in Ruins has been longlisted for the Bailey’s prize 2016. A full review will appear at future date.

I also picked up a copy of The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley the 2015 Costa Book Awards Winner.

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So onto this week’s book posts and some really fabulous book arrivals, earlier this week saw arrive in the post the second novel from Katie Marsh called A Life Without You to be published 14 July 2016 by Hodder & Stoughton.

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Katie’s first novel My Everything was beautifully written though sad there is the hope of second chances. I did wonder how she would follow My Everything in her forthcoming novel Katie writes about early-onset of Alzheimer’s and for those like me who have lost loved ones to this terrible disease, it will be a book that you must add your reading list. I was both shocked and surprised to see that I get a little mention in the acknowledgments section in the back of the book. There will of course be a review of A Life Without You in near future.

Arriving in midweek was The French Lesson by Hallie Rubenhold due for release on 21 April by Doubleday. Hallie is an historical consultant for both TV and film.

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Hallie’s new novel The French Lesson is set during the French Revolution and is told from the perspective of the female power players. Full of intrigue and suspense and if you enjoy historical fiction this is a must. I will be reviewing shortly.

Also arrived this week is the forthcoming latest from the best-selling author Louise Candlish called The Swimming Pool due out on 5 May by Penguin books.

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This promises to be a real thriller, set in a heady summer and the Elm Hill Lido has opened and Natalie finds she is spending time by the pool drawn by the glamorous Laura Channing, but something is not as it seems, why is Natalie haunted by another Summer from the distant past? The Swimming Pool promises to be a dark and addictive.

Arriving with the book was a short story by Louise called The Intruder at Number 40.

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At around 30 pages and available for download for Kindle through amazon this is a story of an estate agent in an affluent town called Lime Park, a story of illicit thoughts connected to Amber Fraser, and for Ryan Steer, Amber Fraser is worth the risk.

Being a lover of the natural world, I was delighted with today’s books one from 2015 and one very recent release.

Rain and Common Ground

Rain by Melissa Harrison was released on 3 March by Faber & Faber and looks at our relationship with one of the elements we know so well in this country, and I am talking of rain. Four seasons, four rain showers and four different parts of the country in Wicken Fen, Shropshire, Darent Valley and Dartmoor. In Rain, Mellisa looks at how our countryside changes with each shower as well as our relationship as well as the wildlife that inhabits these areas. Melissa writes a monthly column for The Times called the Nature Notebook which is worth a read if you have not come across it.  I will be reviewing Rain by Melissa Harrison soon.

Common Ground by Rob Cowan has just been released in paperback by Windmill Books and is a pure delight to read for anyone who loves wonderful nature writing.  Rob moved from London to Yorkshire and over the course of one year in one square mile looks at the kaleidoscope of wildlife in that square mile. This is nature writing at it’s very best. Full review to follow.

In the last week I have reviewed the following two books Blood and Roses by Catherine Hokin published by Yolk Publishing.

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You can read my review Here  and then my next came the amazing Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett one of the best debut novels so far in 2016 and is now longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize 2016 and personally speaking I am hoping it makes the shortlist next week.

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You can read my review Here  So on to my current reading this weekend. From the pen of Helen Oyeyemi comes What is Not Yours is Not Yours.

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Due for release on 21 April by Picador What is Not Yours is Not Yours. Is an incredible series of short stories from lost libraries to locked gardens and of marshalnds where the drowned dead live.  A stunning collection of stories. A full review will be published soon. When the hardback hits the shops later this month my advice go and check the book out, the actual cover is something rather special.

Also just re-released and published by Black Swan is the classic The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley.

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First released in 1978 it has become a cult crime novel, having an alcoholic bulldog in the story called Fireball Roberts must surely be a cult crime novel. Look out for my review coming soon.

Book reviews coming in the coming week include My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout and published by Viking and is also longlisted for the Bailey’s prize 2016.

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Then there will be the review of The Midnight Watch by David Dyer published Atlantic Books and tells the infamous story of SS Californian and the Titanic and its role as the Titanic sank with the loss of so many lives. A timely release as the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic approaches.

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That’s it for this week’s round up you can of course follow me on Twitter @thelastword1962 for lots more bookish chat. Until next time.

 

 

 

 

 

Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett

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Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett

The Last Word Review

Brutal but incredibly witty. A quirky and entertaining read. Memorable debut

 

Shirley Barrett’s debut novel Rush Oh! Is the surprise hit so far of 2016 in my opinion, and now longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize 2016.

Without doubt this is a fabulous seaborne tale of a whaling community set in Twofold Bay, Eden, New South Wales in the year 1908. For Shirley Barrett’s novel Mary Davidson is the narrator the daughter of George Davidson the fearless whaler of Eden. It is important to note that Mary is the fictional character that brings the story to life in the form of a memoir now in her 60’s and she recalls the time in what she describes as the ‘brutal days’ in what was the hardest whaling season the scarcity of whales heralding the decline in the industry.

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As the reader can imagine when faced with the decline of whales goes hand in hand with the decline of her father’s business and mounting pressure that brings to the family, but Mary manages to add humour into the narration through the pages of her memoir in what is a pure delight of a book that will engage readers for years to come.

 

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The narrative is brought to life by cuttings from the Eden Observer and line drawings of whales the capture the story brilliantly.

If you ever ever ever ever

If you ever ever ever see a whale

You must never never never never never

You must never never never touch its tail

For if you ever ever ever ever ever

If you ever ever ever touch its tail

You will never never never never never

You will never never see another whale.

Barrett in creating Mary becomes a pure delight of a fictional character, at 19 she was the elder of six children in the family she comes across as feisty as she looks after the children and then has to cook meals for the whalers which makes for interesting reading, as we see the brutal world of a whaling community through Mary’s eyes. Despite this there is even romance added into the storyline.

The cry ‘Rush Oh!’ brings the call for the men to their boats in all weathers and in the pursuit of whale men are lost not just to the elements but in the capture of the Humpbacks and Sperm whales. Leviathans chasing their leviathans in a desperate attempt to keep their lively hoods afloat the men use Orcas to locate the whales and they gave them names identifying them by their dorsal fins, we are introduced to names such as Tom, Hooky,  and Humpy, the orcas get their reward at the end of the slaughter.

Despite the need to keep the whaling business going we read through Mary as she talks about the slaughter of the innocence the cries of the whales that echo around the bay. Then as a desperate attempt to catch a whale she goes out in a boat to try and kill a whale but end up shooting at an orca to save a calf.

As times get desperate and with no whale in sight Mary recalls ‘Please God, bring our father a whale Make it a big one, with plenty of whalebone.’

Rush Oh! is an incredible debut novel that will have many wanting to rush through the book wanting to know what is to become of Mary and the whaling community. My advice race off to your local bookshop and cry ‘Rush Oh!’ and treasure every page of a book that deserves to be a classic alongside the greats such as Moby Dick. Barrett is a wonderful writer and has written a stunning debut.

Thank you to Poppy Stimpson for a review copy.

Rush Oh! written by Shirley Barrett was released on 4 February 2016 by Virago. Available through all Waterstones and good bookshops

 

Who’s That Girl by Mhairi McFarlane

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Who’s That Girl by Mhairi McFarlane

 

The Last Word Review

 

Warm, genuinely funny romantic comedy. A fabulous laugh out loud read

 

It is not too often I get the opportunity to review a romantic comedy but given that I have heard so much about Mhairi McFarlane I could let this pass me by.

Who’s That Girl Mhairi McFarlane is released on 7 April and fans of pure romantic comedy will flock to read this warm and witty story at over 500 pages cancel your weekend stock with wine and chocolate and settle back and let the stress and strain of your week pass you by.

 

When Edie is caught in a compromising position at her colleagues’ wedding, all the blame falls on her – turns out that personal popularity in the office is not that different from your schooldays. Shamed on-line and ostracised by everyone she knows, Edie’s forced to take an extended sabbatical – ghost-writing an autobiography for hot new acting talent, Elliot Owen. Easy, right? Wrong. Banished back to her home town of Nottingham, Edie is not only dealing with a man who probably hasn’t heard the word ‘no’ in a decade, but also suffering an excruciating regression to her teenage years as she moves back in with her widowed father and judgy, layabout sister. When the world is asking who you are, it’s hard not to question yourself. Who’s that girl? Edie is ready to find out.

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The story is a pure joy to read not one you will read quickly being over 500 pages but a funny and engaging story. You are taken by the main characters in Who’s That Girl, Edie Thompson is wonderful despite the stress of her family, with Edie having a somewhat emotional affair with her work colleague Jack, what Edie fails to spot is that Jack is already involved with another colleague Charlotte.

We then see both Jack and Charlotte both getting married and a rather forlorn Edie attends all it takes is a harmless kiss and things go wrong from there. Life starts to conspire against poor Edie and she is too blame for ‘that’ moment and even her boss blames her and sends Edie to Nottingham to ghost-write a biography of a new rising star Elliot Owen, you would think that this would be a moment to take stock and concentrate on the writing, the pair just don’t really hit it off and Edie has issues of her own to look after and this is a seminal moment for Edie as she embarks on a path of self-discovery and trying to find our just who you really are.

Who’s That Girl is a wonderful warm and funny story that you just cannot fail to fall in love with. The story is so wonderfully written, being sharp and observant, it is a love story and also a journey of self-discovery set in a world when it is so easy to lose yourself in the stresses and strains of everyday life.

My thanks to Jaime Frost at Harper Collins for a review copy.

Who’s That Girl by Mhairi McFarlane is published by Harper Collins and released on 7 April 2016 and available through Waterstones and all good book shops.

 

Blood and Roses by Catherine Hokin

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Blood and Roses by Catherine Hokin

 The Last Word Review

 The life of Margaret of Anjou now uncovered in an epic novel from a dark period of history.

 

‘The English have always thought of me as French. They have called me a French Princess not an English Queen and hated me for it no matter how much I felt and protested my loyalty to them. Well then, I shall be what they hate.’

 

In her debut novel Catherine Hokin attempts to uncover in Blood and Roses the life of Margaret of Anjou (Marguerite d’Anjou) in a fictional account of a dark period in history and the sparks that started the War of the Roses.

The story starts with the exiled Margaret of Anjou sent into exile in 1481 and imprisoned she is setting the record straight by writing her own life story. As it turns out history will not forget Margaret of Anjou.

She is to be the wife of Henry VI, and as she enters the court of the king the storm clouds are gathering over the court of Henry VI. The story covers the periods between 1435 to 1480 and the dynasty of the throne the backdrop being the bloody battles that took place that we know as the War of the Roses.

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Portrait of Marguerite d’Anjou

What Catherine Hokin attempts to uncover here is her story the French Queen born to rule but denied to the right and the protagonist to the War of the Roses. A gripping fictional account of a Queen refused the right to rule married to a King regaled as a saint. What they don’t realise is that Margaret is a strong and determined woman.

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The failed attempt at conceiving a child and heir to Henry VI, we learn of Margaret acquiring the services of a husband of one of the women attending her and conceives a son (Edward). Henry is rarely seen because of the severity of his illness she slowly starts to assume control of the throne but the storm is gathering with plots to take the throne by force if required. Behind the plot is Richard, The Duke of York.

The is played out among the bloody battlefields of England and the stakes are high, the throne, the nation. Margaret will do anything to keep this and what of her son?

The research by Hokin is meticulous and she turns Blood and Roses into an epic historical work of fiction on the life of Margaret of Anjou, wife, queen and mother and leader of the Lancastrian forces in the War of the Roses a remarkable read that had me transfixed from the start.

If you think history is tedious you should read Blood and Roses an outstanding debut novel on a remarkable if much wronged woman.

My thanks to Caterine Hokin for a copy of Blood and Roses in return for a review.

Blood and Roses by Catherine Hokin published in paperback on 11 January 2016 by Yolk Publishing.

 

Hold Still by Tim Adler

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Hold Still by Tim Adler

 The Last Word Review

 Gripping edge of the seat thriller that makes for compulsive reading

 

I photographed my husband’s death’ This is the premise of the story that is Hold Still by Tim Adler. The very thought of photographing your loved one’s death is haunting in its self, then begins a nerve jangling twisting thriller that will keep the reader on edge until the very end.

Both Kate and her husband Paul are visiting Albania, for a family funeral but goes tragically wrong. While relaxing I their hotel room together, Paul who is extremely preoccupied with his business and somewhat stressed goes to the balcony with his phone and Kate starts to take what she believes is just a normal photograph that they will look back on, moments later there are screams, Kate runs to the balcony to be confronted with her husband lying dead on the street below. An apparent suicide?

Kate is overcome with grief, and cannot come to terms with the loss of her husband. Something is nagging at Kate and despite the local police closing the case all is not as it seems and so she returns home and later studies the photographs and what was on her husband’s phone?

Our protagonist Kate does not let up and soon she decides that the truth about Paul’s death is out there, she is convinced he did not take his own life. So begins a roller coaster of a tense thriller that continues at a pace.

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While Kate is utterly determined to get to the truth, there are dangers lurking around every corner and she is placed in some serious danger for her own life as she travails Europe to find the real truth and help bring the culprits to justice and at the same time closure. In Hold Still we come face to face with drugs, prostitution and human trafficking, nothing is held back by Adler. You cannot help be being drawn into the story and Kate is no ordinary woman she is solid and determined she makes her own decisions about who she needs to trust and makes an excellent lead character.

The ending is fast and furious and delivers at break-neck pace. With no clues from me as to the result.

Hold Still is a thoroughly gripping tense thriller and intrigue and drama. An entertaining read that keeps the reader wondering what lies ahead.

My thanks to Matthew at Urbane Publications for a review copy.

Hold Still by Tim Adler published by Urbane Publications and was released 17 Match 2016.