The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

When Harold Fry leaves home one morning to post a letter, with his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. all he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else’s life.”

81PGCpN+t7L._SL1500_Harold Fry is an unassuming man is his seventies who lives a quiet life with his wife Maureen in their home in the South Hams of Devon. But when a letter arrives for Harold one morning from an old acquaintance, everything changes. Harold sets out to the local postbox to post his reply, but carries on walking to the next one and the next one and the one after that.  He embarks on a pilgrimage to save Queenie Hennessy, who he feels he has a lot to thank for, but his pilgrimage becomes more of an enlightenment to him than it ever can to Queenie.

Rachel Joyce tackles dementia, depression and addiction within this heartwarming tale of perseverance against all odds. More and more events from Harold’s past begin to surface and his relationship with his wife and son are completely stripped bare.  Why does Maureen now sleep in the spare room? Why do his wife and son seem to gang up on him?  What has he done or indeed not done that has resulted in his life becoming so devoid of love and affection?  These are all questions which are gradually answered throughout the book and we realise that Harold needs to walk not just for Queenie but to also escape some of his demons and to rediscover who he is.  It is essentially a purging of his past which will let him come to terms with what has happened and give him the chance to rebuild past relationships.

Harold’s journey takes him 600 miles from Kingsbridge in Devon up to Berwick on Tweed where Queenie is staying in a hospice. After talking to a girl in a petrol station, he begins to believe that if he can just keep walking, without any help from other transport, he will be able save Queenie from her cancer. Buying souvenirs and posting postcards and letters on his way he shares the Great British countryside with the reader whilst cementing our faith that if he just keeps walking then surely the outcome must be positive – right?  Well I’m not going to spoil the ending for you, but this truly is one of those life changing books that will have you laughing and crying in equal measure.  Beautifully written, offering us a modern twist on John Bunyan’s ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress‘. It deserves a spot on anyone’s book shelf and I know I for one will be returning time and time again to this amazing book.

Next months book: ‘The Fault in Our Stars

before we met

“Hannah Reilly has seized her chance at happiness. Until the day her husband doesn’t come home… Can you ever really know what happened before you met?”

17978144This third novel by Lucie Whitehouse, explores the relationship between Hannah Reilly and her husband Mark, who she married in a whirlwind romance, and encapsulates the new genre of ‘marriage thriller’ made popular by Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’ and SJ Watson’s ‘Before I go to Sleep’. In a similar vein to last months read, ‘The Husband’s Secret’, Whitehouse raises the question of how well do you really know your husband?

Hannah is the stereotypical career girl in her thirties, more intent on having a good time and enjoying life rather than settling down and certainly not contemplating marriage. Living in New York she has a successful job in advertising, however when she is swept off her feet by Mark Reilly and they settle down in the UK, she is left without a job and somewhat dispirited.

Her cause for concern comes when waiting for Mark at Heathrow to return from a business trip, only his flight doesn’t come in, he doesn’t call her and his secretary lets something slip that perhaps she shouldn’t. With Hannah’s trust in her husband starting to break down, she takes matters into her own hands and does some digging around of her own. Is he having an affair? Why doesn’t he ever talk about his family? Why has her bank account been cleared? As it becomes clear that this marriage has been based on a bed of lies how will Hannah confront her husband and with what consequence. A sensationally gripping book that had me on the edge of my sun longer.

Included in the Richard and Judy Summer Book club 2014 list, I chose this as my summer holiday beach read and I was not disappointed. Having not yet given into buying a Kindle, choosing the right books to take on holiday with me is important. There is no way I’m going to use my baggage allowance on heavy books, shoes will always win, so I restrict myself to two or three books. I am happy to say that I definitely chose the right books, ‘before we met’ being one of them. Unfortunately, I enjoyed the book so much I managed to finish reading it in two days and was left having to rummage through the hotel’s rather poor ‘library’ selection of left behind Jilly Coopers and Jackie Collins’. Maybe I will put that Kindle on my birthday list after all!

Next month’s book: ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Husband’s Secret

“Mother of three and wife of John-Paul, Cecilia discovers an old envelope in the attic. Written in in her husband’s hand it says: to be opened only in the event of my death. Curious, she opens it – and time stops. John-Paul’s letter confesses to a terrible mistake which, if revealed, would wreck their family as well as the lives of others. Cecilia wants to do the right thing, but right for who? If she protects her family by staying silent, the truth will worm through her heart. But if she reveals her husband’s secret, she will hurt those she loves the most…”

51OsGdjSD6LThe question everyone should answer when reading this book is would you open the letter? Of course you would! I certainly would. We would all like to think we wouldn’t but let’s face it curiosity would get the best of most of us. But, as Cecilia finds out, this decision has consequences which will change her life forever and begs the question are you sometimes better off just not knowing.

With a complexity of relationships that are inextricably entwined in ways that only become clear the more we read, Lynne Moriarty has written an intriguing, at times beautiful, at times sad, dark and compelling story that has us questioning our own morals.

Set in a family environment and running alongside the monotony of day to day life, Cecilia must deal with the betrayal of her husband whilst keeping up the facade of normality in order to protect both her children and her reputation. The book is filled with multiple secret, secrets that have the potential to eat away and destroy a person.

I enjoyed reading this book whilst enjoying a rare bit of British sunshine sat at a pavement cafe in Covent Garden in London.  I spent my time flitting between reading and the occasional glance over the page to indulge in my love of people watching and I found myself wondering what other secrets people are hiding out there. Do we really know people as much as we think we do?

Next month’s book: ‘before we met

Are we nearly there yet?

“They were bored, broke, burned out and turning 40. So when Ben and his wife Dinah were approached to write a guidebook about family travel, they embraced the open road, ignoring friends’ warnings: ‘One of you will come back chopped up in a bin bag in the roof box.’ Featuring deadly puff adders, Billie Piper’s pyjamas and a friend of Hitler’s, it’s a story about love, death, falling out, moving on and growing up, and 8,000 misguided miles in a Vauxhall Astra.”

Can you think of anything worse than being cooped up in a small car with two young children for five months with no pre-booked accommodation  to head to and no home to return to if it all went wrong? Well that is exactly what Ben Hatch did with his family when they left their home in Hove to embark on a voyage of discovery with the intention of writing a family friendly guidebook of the UK. The wittily titled book had me nodding my head in a ‘yep I’ve been there’, crying tears of laughter at the author’s expense whilst sympathetically cringing at the inevitability of certain outcomes.  It is the perfect lighthearted read to make you feel better about any nightmare trips you may have already taken or are about to embark on.

11880787Hatch’s comic writing style is very similar to that of Bill Bryson, but is perhaps more accessible and easier to read.  Maybe it’s because I have a family of my own and can picture myself in very similar situations, either way it offers a warts and all experience of traveling in the UK with a young family. The book is clever in that it offers both a guide to family attractions, giving us informative advice and recommendations etc whilst also opening up and creating a true picture of family life.  It is their real life that we are experiencing  yet at the same time we are drawn into a story-like existence where the characters seem both real and fictional.  Toilet stops, bad customer service and the funny things that Hatch’s children come out with are all laugh out loud moments but this is also intertwined with the highly emotional and frank openness of how Hatch deals with his father’s ill-health, leading to the final few months of his life.

With my own family holiday in the pipeline I can only hope to be that much more prepared having read this travelogue. Perhaps every new family about to embark on their first road trip should read this book before loading the car up and starting the engine. Let’s face it, no car journey with kids is going to be stress free but reading this book will remind us we’re not alone when we hear our kids scream out for the millionth time ‘Are we nearly there yet?’.

 

Next month’s book: ‘The Husband’s Secret

The Ice Cream Girls

“As teenagers, Poppy Carlisle and Serena Gorringe were the only witnesses to a tragic event. Amid heated public debate, the two seemingly glamorous teens were dubbed ‘the Ice Cream Girls’ by the press and were dealt with by the courts. Years later, having led very different lives, Poppy is keen to set the record straight about what really happened, while Serena wants no one in her present to find out about her past. But some secrets will not stay buried – and if theirs is revealed everything will become a living hell all over again…”

‘The Ice Cream Girls’ is Dorothy Koomson’s sixth novel and to fully immerse myself in the story I chose a beautiful sunny morning to wander down to Brighton pier, the setting of the book, set up a deck chair and indulge in some literary escapism. With seagulls cawing and swooping round my head, the smell of candy floss flooding my nostrils the hubbub of families hitting the arcades it was hard to imagine how such a lively and innocent setting could harbor a story filled with betrayal, punishment and manipulation.

6744241The story flits between the viewpoints of Serena and Poppy both in the past and present tense.  This runs the risk of being incredibly confusing to the reader but actually it is a very clever literary technique used by Koomson to help create suspense. Slowly but surely more and more information is drip fed to the reader allowing us to take on the role of private detective and make up our own mind and assumptions about what may have happened.

Koomson takes on the issue of domestic violence and controversially inserts it into the realm of childhood offering a thought provoking and gritty read. In an interview in the Independent Koomson says,”When I wrote The Ice Cream Girls I wanted to tell the story of two ordinary girls and how anyone can become embroiled in an abusive relationship. I wanted people to understand the nature of abuse and that it wasn’t all about violence, a lot involves emotional manipulation.”

Although at times the subject matter left me cringing and not wanting to know more it was strangely addictive and ‘unputdownable’. It became imperative that I found out the truth.  I also found it strange how my allegiance to the two key characters, Poppy and Serena, changed so much throughout the story as I learnt more about their personalities.

I finished the book the same day that I started, it was that good. With stall holders closing shutters, a cool breeze blowing across the sea and the the whistle from a cleaner clearing up the remnants of a dropped ice cream cone, the pier began to look different to me than it had that morning. Slightly more chilling, slightly more dark and with a haunting reminder that things are not always what they seem.

The book was made into a TV series in early 2013 and attracted viewing figures of almost 5 million.

Next months book: ‘Are we nearly there yet?

The Universe Versus Alex Woods

“Alex Woods knows that he hasn’t had the most conventional start in life. He knows that growing up with a clairvoyant single mother won’t endear him to the local bullies. He also knows that even the most improbable events can happen – he’s got the scars to prove it. What he doesn’t know yet is that when he meets ill-tempered, reclusive widower Mr Peterson, he’ll make an unlikely friend. Someone who tells him that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make the best possible choices. So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at Dover customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the passenger seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing”.

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Carrying on from last month’s book theme of a strong senior character, Gavin Extence explores the unlikely relationship between a young teenage boy and his neighbour Mr Peterson. Alex is someone who keeps himself to himself, keeps his head down and stays out of trouble. However, this makes him more of a target and earmarks him out as different to the teenage idea of normal. Mr Peterson, with his years of wisdom and experience recognizes a boy in need of help, who is in need of remaining true to himself. He encourages him to set up a book club in the hope that he can find like minded people to befriend.  In the end it is Mr Peterson who comes to need Alex’s help and it is at this point in the story that Extence explores the controversial theme of euthanasia. Alex and Mr Petersen travel by car to Switzerland to a Centre for assisted death leaving Alex to deal with the aftermath of Mr Petersen’s decision. Extence handles this with compassion and makes us question whether we truly should have a say in whether we live or die.

This story is both funny and heartbreaking but will leave you feeling that there is a simple beauty in laughter, unlikely friendships and reason that you will now no longer take for granted.

Next month’s book: ‘The Ice Cream Girls

The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared

“Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, Allan Karlsson is waiting for a party he doesn’t want to begin. His one-hundredth birthday party to be precise. The Mayor will be there. The press will be there. But, as it turns out, Allan will not…”

the-hundred-year-old-man-who-climbed-out-of-the-window-and-disappearedI bought this book whilst killing time waiting for a train to Bath and rather aptly a train station is where Allan starts his journey upon his escape from an old people’s home. This international best seller from Jonas Jonasson, a journalist from Sweden, is a charming, comic story of one man’s travels across Sweden with no real sense of where he is going or for what purpose. Allan Karlsson is the Forest Gump of the senior citizen world. As he meets weird and wonderful characters on his travels including a circus elephant, some unfriendly criminals and a friendly hot dog stall owner he regales them with fantastical stories of his past meetings with dominant historical leaders such as Franco, Truman and Reagan.

The historical stories can get a little too in depth and wordy at times, which I personally struggled with although it did help increase my rather poor knowledge of some key political events in history.  Although it is quite frankly completely far fetched and unbelievable at times, it is written in such a charming, witty way that we forgive Jonnason this. I love the fact that the main protagonist is an old man, rarely do we see this in such a positive light and as the back of the book states “You’re never too old for an adventure”.

As my train journey took me through the beautiful Somerset countryside, I found it difficult to take my eyes off of the book.  The images that Jonnason creates and the beautiful way in which he lays out Allan’s journey are captivating and I was sad when my train pulled into Bath station.

One of the best books I’ve read so far this year and with the film set to be released in the Summer this is one story I will be talking about for some time.

Next month’s book: ‘The Universe versus Alex Woods

Secrets of the Tides

“Dora, youngest daughter of the Tide family, is doing a good job of skating across the surface of her life – but the discovery that she is pregnant leaves her staring back at the darkness of a long-held guilt. Returning to Clifftops, the rambling family house perched high on the Dorset coastline, Dora must confront her past and unlock the secrets her troubled sister Cassie swore she would take to her grave.”

11633124‘The Secret of the Tides’ is a compelling debut novel from Hannah Richell, which explores themes of infidelity, betrayal and tragedy. The Tides family are a family with a dark past which contains many dark secrets. Each family member is haunted by a tragic event that happened on one day ten years ago and the book explores how they struggle to cope with the memory and move their lives forward.

This bleak family saga covers three generations of women and deals with the complex relationships these women have with one another. There is a battle between trying to protect the ones you love whilst also doing what is right and just.

Set on the Dorset coastline, Clifftops is a rambling family home surrounded by the open ocean and exposed to all elements. Just as the house stands perilously close to the edge of the eroding, crumbling cliffs, the main character, Dora risks her own foundations crumbling away from her, as her life seems to spin out of her control.

I read this book whilst on holiday in Dorset, which perhaps helped draw me into the story, making the landscape have more poignancy and gave the story a more lifelike quality to it.

The characters are believable, if not always likeable but ultimately you will be rooting for Dora to find justice for herself and to find peace in her life at last.

A sad story of grief and forgiveness which will leave you eager to find out more.

Next month’s book: ‘The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared

The Moaning of Life

“Left to his own devices, Karl Pilkington would be happy with his life just as it is. But now he’s hit forty, everyone keeps asking him why he won’t marry his girlfriend and why he doesn’t want to have kids. It’s time for Karl to face up to the big question – what does it all mean?’

Karl Pilkington is the author of 5 other bestselling books: ‘The World According to Karl Pilkington’, ‘Happyslapped by a Jellyfish’, ‘Karlology’, ‘An Idiot Abroad’ and ‘The Further Adventures of an Abroad’. He is probably best known as Ricky Gervais’s mate who will do anything and was part of the Guiness World Record-breaking podcast ‘the Ricky Gervais Show’, which was downloaded over 300 million times and went on to become an animation program for HBO in the USA.

I first came across Karl Pilkington on a family holiday in Dorset for my mum’s 60th birthday.  We had hired a huge farmhouse cottage, with our own indoor swimming pool and a rustic kitchen complete with an aga, for 6 adults and 6 children. Once the younger kids were in bed we’d play card games and chat, but on one night my dad switched on the TV and there was Karl Pilkington on his show, of his book of the same name, ‘An Idiot Abroad’. Turns out my parents are huge fans of his and they spent the next 40 minutes in absolute stitches as Pilkington moaned about having to fit in with different cultures and was forced by his production team to eat the local market foods.

Pilkington is like a mixture between Victor Meldrew and Mike Wozowski from Monsters Inc. He’s a faithful companion that will do anything to get a laugh from his friends, but he’ll have a right old moan about it whilst he’s doing it.

51dgB4aMxgL‘The Moaning of Life’ see’s Karl travel the world to explore how different cultures deal with such themes as marriage, kids, vocation and money, happiness and death. Filled with ‘Karlisms’ such as “Getting a wedding invite is like being summoned to Jury service. You don’t want to go, but it’s very difficult to get out of”, facts, pictures and hilarious anecdotes it is a book to laugh out loud at, so if you are slightly self-conscious make sure you don’t read it on the train.

In much the same way as a child, he asks all of the questions you’re thinking but know you shouldn’t ask. Travelling to America to experience a typical Las Vegas wedding and comparing it with the week long marital celebrations of India he questions his own stance on marriage.  Rather poignantly he ends the book with a chapter on death, my favourite part being where he visits a coffin makers workshop in Ghana and has a custom built coffin made for him and his girlfriend as an exact replica of a Twix bar.

Reading this book will perhaps make you change your own opinions about some of these themes, it will certainly make you take them a lot less seriously.

A fun, lighthearted read.

Next month’s book: ‘The Secrets of the Tides

 

The Shock of the Fall

“I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.”

51NYJEIzKULNathan Filer’s debut novel, ‘The Shock of the Fall, is a dark and deeply moving story which sees the main character, Matthew, struggle to come to terms with the event that causes the death of his brother Simon.  Through a series of flashbacks we gradually piece together what happened on that fateful night and in much the same way that it is a revelation to the reader, it becomes an epiphany to Matt. Filer states that, ‘it is central to the novel that Matthew is physically writing his story, that this process takes times, happens in different locations, and that his life is continuing to move forwards as he writes about it”.

Simon’s death occurs very early on in the novel, whilst on holiday in Ocean Cove holiday village and is set amongst a backdrop of the dramatic and rather ominous landscape of Chesil beach and Portland.  Having visited both these place myself it is clear why Filer chose this as the location for his novel as it’s starkness echo’s the struggle Matthew battles against in his head and the empty, bitterness that his Mother inflicts upon him after the tragic event.

Themes of mental health, family breakdowns, guilt and blame are all explored in this clever and compelling story.  I became eager to find out what had happened to Simon and what part Matthew had to play in it. The chapters which have been written from the viewpoint of Matthew as a child are beautifully written capturing the wonderful relationship between the brothers. This childhood innocence continues as Matthew reaches adulthood where he seems incapable of leaving his childhood behind as he is haunted by his mother’s blame.

A great read which will leave you captivated and begging for more.  I for one can’t wait to see what Filer writes next.

To find out more about Nathan Filer follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nathanfiler

Next month’s book: ‘The Moaning of Life’ by Karl Pilkington.


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