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Book Review: High Tide, Low Tide by Martin Baker and Fran Houston

Hi guys! I know it’s a rare occurrence to get a blog post from me nowadays, but the truth is I’m trying hard to get more of a work/life balance, which means less time in front of screens outside of work, so recently I’ve really been trying to just enjoy my reading for the sake of enjoying it, rather than blogging. (Also, my time management still seems to be lacking … )

Having said that, Martin was kind enough to notice me as a publisher in the mental health publishing industry and wanted to know my thoughts on his book High Tide, Low Tide, and so here they are!

 

 

How Can You Be a Good Friend, When Your Friend Lives with Mental Illness?

We all want to be there for our friends, but when your friend lives with mental illness it can be hard to know what to do, especially if you live far apart. Transatlantic best friends Martin Baker and Fran Houston share what they’ve learned about growing a supportive, mutually rewarding friendship between a “well one” and an “ill one.”

“High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder” offers no-nonsense advice from the caring friend’s point of view, original approaches and practical tips, illustrated with real-life conversations and examples.

 

Perceptive, informative, interesting, educational, touching, and valuable, this book stresses the importance of a support system for those who struggle with mental health difficulties. I can’t stress enough, having my own lived experience with mental ill health in the family, how important and effective it can be to have a strong support system around you. What’s interesting is that Martin was able to provide this for his friend, despite the fact that he lives a long way away from her.

I was genuinely impressed – and I admit, a little bit surprised – by this book. I’m always really wary of self-help type books that aren’t written by industry experts in case the author accidentally gets something wrong. But everything I read was right on the mark. The book is insightful and very emotionally intelligent, without patronising the reader or the people the reader is looking to support. It gives brilliant advice, and not just tangible step-by-step goals, but emotional, mental and friendship advice too.

High Tide, Low Tide is so unique in that it caters towards friends, rather than just partners or family. It also comes from a unique angle in that Marty provides support for Fran despite living in the UK, whereas she’s in the US. It’s a nice proof that anyone has the capacity to be as helpful a friend as their own life allows or has space for. In that way I think it fills a gap in the market.

The book is very insightful. It makes you come to realisations about the human psyche and the dynamics of friendship that you never knew you always knew – until you read it in Marty’s words. For example, he talks about how setting certain boundaries is vital, how not to fall into co-dependency, and that just because a friend really wants your help or asks for your help, doesn’t mean you have any obligation to do it. I was relieved to read this, because Marty admits himself that he and Fran talk twice daily, that he has a very, very big part in her life despite their living oceans apart. He knows her friends, medical professionals, and knows about her daily routine and wellness plan. I like the fact that Marty doesn’t expect you to have such an intense involvement in your own friends’ lives, because I know I certainly found it to be quite full-on.

I will say that if you read this book, don’t be put off if you can’t do as much as Marty is able to do for Fran. Even at one point he is able to put her thought and behaviour patterns into quite elaborate analogies. He refers to the variables in Fran’s life as ‘sine waves’ and is able to help her understand herself and her life using this analogy. While it’s so useful for readers to be given this analogy so that they can use it in their own lives, I would advise readers not to feel out of their depth if they can’t give this level of insight to their own friends. It’s quite in-depth and I think this is where Marty goes above and beyond, probably above and beyond what some people can manage.

I did wonder from time to time about Marty’s role in Fran’s life. At one point he puts it upon himself to remind her, during a manic phase, that she shouldn’t be driving recklessly or smoking in a wooden house. I found this to be such a fascinating dynamic because, in my own therapy sessions with my sisters, I’ve been told over and over again not to ‘parent’ my sisters. Our relationship should be adult > adult not parent > child. And I gave it some thought and wondered whether mental illness changes this concept at all. Is it okay for Marty to sometimes become the ‘parent’ figure (in my own perception – he doesn’t use this terminology himself. He might not even see it the same way I do.) I think in this case, yes, and here’s why: because Fran tells him to ‘care, not to worry’. And I think that’s what stops him being the ‘parent’ figure. He just cares about her safety, as her friend. Is he not worrying about her or bossing her about, he’s just looking out for her as a friend.

I was also pleasantly surprised that the book didn’t leave any stone unturned and yet it’s not unbearably long or dense. It’s easy to read, accessible, and very well written and edited. It covers some important points that I knew I wanted to see going into it – especially the concept of self-care for the person providing the support. It’s absolutely vital for people who support others with mental health difficulties to look after themselves too. I speak from experience: unless you look after yourself too, you burn out and actually risk your own mental wellbeing.

The book is into easy-to-read sections, giving an insight into Fran’s life, Marty’s life, and their relationship. It also talks more broadly about bipolar disorder (the different types, with explanations of depression and mania) and other, more universal topics that relate to everyone in terms of mental health.

The book is not prescriptive, which is so valuable. It advises, rather than instructs. Marty often uses the words ‘I recommend’ rather than ‘you should’, and always reminds you that it’s up to you and your friend how you navigate your relationship in unsteady waters and uncharted territory. He’s just giving you some advice that might help for you.

The only thing I think I would change about the book – and it was very hard to think of anything, to be honest – is that I would take out the list of the names of bipolar disorder medications and the long descriptions of what they are. I think there’s always a risk of people reading this sort of thing from anyone other than a medical professional and deciding for themselves what medications they should or shouldn’t have. I’ve even heard of people reading up on medications and then going to the doctor and demanding medicines that really wouldn’t actually work for them personally. I think discussions of medications should be confined to conversations between a psychiatrist and the patient, and if they’re given certain medications, the psychiatrist should be providing them with all this info anyway. I don’t really see any benefit to that section, but that’s genuinely just my opinion.

I was honestly very impressed by this book – and I know what I’m talking about, as a mental health publisher. If you’re supporting someone in your life with bipolar disorder, this book would be invaluable for you. Don’t hesitate to give it a try. It’s a gem of a book.

 

You can hear more from Martin on Twitter at GumOnMyShoeBook 

You can buy a copy of the book here.

This info on the authors is from their publishers’ website:

About the Authors

A successful electrical engineer until illness struck, author and photographer Fran Houston has lived with bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia for over twenty years. Fran lives in Portland, Maine, and is passionate about making invisible illness visible. Three thousand miles away in the north-east of England, Martin Baker is an ASIST trained Mental Health First Aider and Time to Change Champion. A member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mind, and Bipolar UK, Martin is also Fran’s primary support and lifeline.

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FLORIS BOOKS – THE AWKWARD AUTUMN OF LILY MCLEAN BY LINDSAY LITTLESON

This is book review number 10 in my #52booksby52publishers 2017 reading challenge!

This time the publisher is:

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About Floris

Floris Books is an independent publishing company based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Saltire Society Scottish Publisher of the Year 2016

What do we publish?

Floris publish books in two main areas: non-fiction for adults, and books for children. Within our non-fiction list, we focus on quality books which look at the world a little differently. Our books cover all aspects of holistic and alternative living, including Steiner-Waldorf education, biodynamics and organics, holistic health, philosophy of the natural world, mind body spirit, parenting and child health, philosophy of human life and religion & spirituality.

We’re also the largest children’s book publisher in Scotland. We publish board and picture books for 0-7 year olds, including international stories in translation and nostalgic classics from illustrators such as Elsa Beskow, as well as the Picture Kelpies range of Scottish picture books; story books and anthologies for 6-10 year olds; and the Kelpies, a much-loved range of Scottish children’s fiction for 1-15 year olds. We also publish a wide range of craft and activity books suitable for children and adults of all ages.

 

The book I will be reviewing is:

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Telling people you hear voices doesn’t win you many friends. Especially when you’re starting high school. Especially when everyone thinks you’re just like your troublemaking big sister.

Lily’s hoping to put all the madness of the previous summer behind her but with serious friend dramas, nasty rumours and a big sister who might end up in jail, the last thing Lily wants is to start up that weird psychic stuff again. But it might be her only hope…

Spend the autumn with Lily in this beautifully written, laugh-out-loud sequel to Waterstones Children’s Book Prize longlister The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean by Kelpies Prize winner Lindsay Littleson.

 

I loved reading this book. It made me wish I was a young teenager all over again.

The story has a good balance of light-heartedness, which is good for a children’s/young adult book, and seriousness and light peril which helps drive the story along. Lily’s insecurities will be very relatable to young people and I think that’s important.

Lily has a fierce love for her family and you can tell that she feels a certain responsibility for them, even her older sister who seems to be falling into the wrong crowd. Add that to the fact that she doesn’t completely understand herself, and you can see why Lily’s life is confusing at best.

Lily’s mother is an interesting person. She’s hard working and in survival mode, and I get the sense that she’s struggling quite a lot emotionally, inside, and that Lily understands it to a certain degree. I don’t think she understands, though, how neglectful her mother’s problems are making her become, unintentionally. It would be interesting to see how Lily’s mother’s story develops over the series.

The little injection of magic/paranormal brings the story to life – Lily is convinced she’s psychic, although she sometimes doubts herself, and these books are about trying to understand herself while also trying to save the people around her.

The book is also about trying to understand other people and why bad people might do what they do, including mean children and evil adults. That’s very clever in a children’s book and that’s why I think the book is so educational. All of this stuff is very well balanced with everyday, normal concerns of a teenager and school life, so kids will be able to see a bit of themselves in her.

The story is very entertaining, very accessible and well written. A great book for kids and actually adults alike.

It’s worth noting that this is the second book in the Lily McLean series, so if you want to read it or buy it for your son or daughter, I’d recommend buying them both so that they can learn about Lily’s story from the beginning.

four-stars

 

LAKE UNION PUBLISHING – WHO WE WERE BEFORE BY LEAH MERCER

Number 9 on my 52 Books by 52 Publishers book reading challenge is by this publisher, which is an Amazon imprint:

 

 

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About Lake Union

Lake Union was created two and a half years ago as the home for book club fiction, or rather, great books for readers who love compelling fiction and who love talking about books with their friends. The editors for Lake Union are those readers! We adore the books we publish, the authors who write them, and the readers who devour them.

Lake Union is an Amazon publishing imprint.

The book I am reviewing is:

 

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Zoe knows that it wasn’t really her fault. Of course it wasn’t. But if she’d just grasped harder, run faster, lunged quicker, she might have saved him. And Edward doesn’t really blame her, though his bitter words at the time still haunt her, and he can no more take them back than she can halt the car that killed their son.

Two years on, every day is a tragedy. Edward knows they should take healing steps together, but he’s tired of being shut out. For Zoe, it just seems easier to let grief lead the way.

A weekend in Paris might be their last hope for reconciliation, but mischance sees them separated before they’ve even left Gare du Nord. Lost and alone, Edward and Zoe must try to find their way back to each other—and find their way back to the people they were before. But is that even possible?

 

This really was a lovely read. It was easy, enjoyable, and good at invoking emotions within me. It was such a fascinating and heartbreaking tale, and tackled grief in a fresh and raw kind of way. You would think that judging by the subject matter, the misery of the book would be suffocating. But actually Mercer manages to completely avoid that, and I found it both refreshing and a big relief.

I can’t say I was a big fan of either of the main characters personally, but that might well be because Zoe and Edward don’t really like themselves. After the death of their son, they completely switch off on one another, and at different times throughout the story, they both want to find their way back into each others’ arms and run away from each other forever. Which outcome will it be? I won’t give it away here.

The way the story is told, as the narrative switches from protagonist to protagonist, is done really well. It gives a well-needed balance and shows how grief It also doesn’t shy away from controversy: you will find that both characters will do things that you really hate throughout the story. And yet somehow it didn’t make me turn away. It was strangely appealing to read about the darker side of human behaviour when bad things happen to good, innocent people.

What made the book fascinating is that it approached love and romance from a much bleaker, more challenging place than usual romance novels, but actually this enhances it and makes their love more believable. It also highlights the fact that romance is never plain sailing – even after the couple seemingly have found their ‘happy ending’ in the past.

The two voices are distinct and convincing, and Leah writes two very different people very well. I really enjoyed the story and none of it felt stiff or contrived. A lot of the narrative concentrates on happy times from the past, too, so that helps lessen the pressure of grief as you read through it.

It’s a job well done. I personally think it’s a great book.

The only thing I will say about this book that’s less than positive is the quality of the paper. As you can see from the picture, the front cover and the back cover curled over pretty quickly after I started reading. I’ve not treated this book any differently to how I treat any of the others I read, so I would recommend to Lake Union (Amazon) that they would do well to invest just a bit more in the paper quality.

Other than that it’s a four star review from me. A really enjoyable read.

four-stars

Thank you to book publicist Katrina Power for my review copy in exchange for an honest review.

ACCENT PRESS – THE DEEPEST CUT BY NATALIE FLYNN

Time for book review number 6 for my 52 Books by 52 Publishers reading challenge. Today’s publisher is…

 

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Accent Press!

Accent Press is a feisty, independent publishing company.

 Founded by Hazel Cushion in 2003, Accent Press is an award-winning independent publisher which has become a major name for dynamic trade publishing. The company publishes a range of fiction and non-fiction titles across four imprints.  Accent Press was named Specialist Publisher of the Year and was shortlisted for Independent Publisher of the Year at the IPG Awards.  

The company is divided into four imprints:

  • Accent Press – The mainstream publishing imprint provides a wide range of fiction and non-fiction titles.
  • Xcite Books – This erotic imprint was started in 2007, becoming the UK’s largest erotic publisher and winning multiple ETO Awards.
  • Cariad – mainstream romance publishing sexy, contemporary women’s fiction.
  • Accent YA – There’s a new YA publisher in town. This exciting new list aimed at young adults launches in Spring 2016.

Find out more about accent press here.

 

And the book I’m reviewing is…

 

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‘You haven’t said a single word since you’ve been here. Is it on purpose?’ I tried to answer David but I couldn’t … my brain wanted to speak but my throat wouldn’t cooperate…

Adam blames himself for his best friend’s death. After attempting suicide, he is put in the care of a local mental health facility. There, too traumatized to speak, he begins to write notebooks detailing the events leading up to Jake’s murder, trying to understand who is really responsible and cope with how needless it was as a petty argument spiralled out of control and peer pressure took hold.

Sad but unsentimental, this is a moving story of friendship and the aftermath of its destruction.

I’ve been so lucky so far in that I’ve really loved every book I’ve read so far this year for my reading challenge. All but two of them have been independent publishers. What does that tell you? Yep, that indies pack a punch and are producing some of the best literature we have out there today.

The Deepest Cut is a young adult novel. No matter how old you are, I really think it’s enriching to read young adult novels. They really are something special, and with the huge popularity it has enjoyed over the last few years, it’s only getting better.

This book is sad, yes, and it made me bawl my eyes out on more than one occasion. It’s about a boy who lost his best friend to knife crime, after all. But it’s not just about the sadness. It’s about deep, undying male platonic love. It’s about the strength of friendship and about how no human being is infallible. It’s about grief and support and mental illness, specifically Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s about peer pressure and the fragility of teenager friendships. It’s about confusion and not really knowing who you are as a kid. It’s about craving acceptance and yearning for what once was. It’s about the difficulties of dealing with change.

What I especially love is that Natalie Flynn has managed to capture the voice of a teenage boy, a troubled teenage boy, so accurately and convincingly. I was a teenager only ten years ago, and I remember having some of the same worries and thoughts and feelings that the kids do in this book, and so it felt really authentic. Equally, his mental anguish felt very authentic too. It was particularly effective because for much of the narrative the focus is on simple teenager issues, and is then contrasted with very unusual ones, which deals an emotional blow.

The sheer contrast between the Adam before Jake’s murder and the Adam after his murder makes for quite heartbreaking reading. He just suddenly cares about nothing, except Jake. Life doesn’t matter to him anymore. He’s angry and resentful at his father for not caring about him and betraying him. He’s upset and terrified of people finding out how and why he’s complicit in Jake’s murder. He’s angry at people for not understanding him. And he’s angry at everyone who won’t just let him end his own life.

The story of Jake’s murder is told over a series of diary entries which Adam is writing for his psychotherapist to read in the mental hospital. These are interspersed with current-day narratives about Adam’s life in the present, post-murder and post- Adam’s mental breakdown. This kept me absolutely hooked as a reader, desperate to know who murdered Jake and why.

The most effective aspect of Flynn’s writing, for me, was how she brought Adam and Jake’s friendship to life. Their love for each other just radiates off the page. It makes the whole tragedy even more powerful to read about. It’s very good writing.

I think it would be especially important for teenagers to read this book as it highlights, very dramatically and colourfully, how important seemingly unimportant things are, at that age. It demonstrates the danger that can befall absolutely anyone. And it emphasises the seriousness of fighting and knife crime, which is often underestimated by young teens who sometimes feel invincible.

This book is a fantastic read for people of any age. Definitely one for your shelf. Well done Natalie Flynn and Accent press. I’ll be returning for more!

 

five stars

 

 

HEADLINE PUBLISHING – Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

Time for book review number 5 for my 52 Books by 52 Publishers reading challenge. Today’s publisher is not an indie, but a biggie. It’s…

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About Headline Publishing Group:

PASSION, VISION, AMBITION

We have the virtues of an independent with the clout of a publishing giant: physically, digitally, globally.

Relationships are our business: we are passionate in our drive to deliver bestseller success and the whole team believes they can make a difference to an author’s career.

Our unique focus allows us to see the maverick potential that delivers the bestseller success others miss.

Headline’s non-fiction team has a highly commercial focus across a range of genres, including: biography, and autobiography, cookery, lifestyle, diet and fitness, popular science, sport, history and military, gift and humour, media tie-in and business. Our 2015 bestsellers include THE WRONG KNICKERS by Bryony Gordon, THE ROAD BENEATH MY FEET by Frank Turner, THE END OF AN EARRING by Pam St Clement, THE GLAM GUIDE by Fleur De Force and KEW ON A PLATE WITH RAYMOND BLANC by Kew Gardens.

Learn more about Headline here.

 

The book I’m reviewing today, from Headline, is…

 

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Bryony Gordon has OCD.

It’s the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn’t repeat a phrase 5 times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It’s caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty.

A hugely successful columnist for the Telegraph, a bestselling author, and a happily married mother of an adorable daughter, Bryony has managed to laugh and live well while simultaneously grappling with her illness. Now it’s time for her to speak out. Writing with her characteristic warmth and dark humour, Bryony explores her relationship with her OCD and depression as only she can.

Mad Girl is a shocking, funny, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, raw and jaw-droppingly truthful celebration of life with mental illness.

I actually picked up and read this book back in January while on holiday in Tenerife. I knew that when I came back to England I was going to start a brand new job as a copy editor for a mental health non-fiction publishing company, aiming to publish easy-to-read self-help books and inspirational stories from mental illness survivors. So, it was a no-brainer! (No pun intended.)

I can’t emphasise how much books like these are needed in today’s society. In this book Bryony is brutally honest about her OCD. She opens up about her fear of being a danger to young children, her drug dependency, and the other mental illnesses that her OCD has caused over the years. She debunks myths along the way and points a bright shining spotlight on the stigma still surrounding the subject today. She gives quite harrowing and stark accounts of some of the most grim times in her life, including fighting with bulimia and going through horrific mental breakdowns.

Most importantly, this book shows you the real, true reality of OCD. Not the theories, and general conceptions or misconceptions of OCD, but the real-life impact of it. So many people today think they know what OCD is, and what it involves. Bryony shows you that there is so much more to it than what we know.

What’s refreshing is that she manages to do all this while still being hilariously funny. Even the most distressing times are depicted in a way that both captures her distress perfectly and provides comic relief at the same time. She is warm and compassionate to the reader. She knows she’s talking about a sensitive subject. She knows she’s going to come up against people who don’t understand, and is helping to educate them anyway. She’s offering support to those readers who feel lost by telling them they’re not alone, and they don’t have to suffer in silence.

Bryony was incredibly brave in telling this story. In her first book, The Wrong Knickers, she admits to taking cocaine, being a party girl, and all manner of other things. But she didn’t mention her OCD at all. In this book, she decides to bare all to show the world that being mentally ill is nothing to be afraid of. Just by writing this book, she has made a huge step forward but also made a huge statement to society: do not be ashamed.

Most importantly, this book gives the reader inspiration and motivation. If Bryony Gordon can go through all of this horrific stuff, why can’t you? You can, and will, get through it.

This book is so illuminating, so funny, so enjoyable and so eye-opening. As a mental health advocate, I implore you to give it a read. You won’t regret it.

This is a definite 5 out of 5 for me.

five stars

DODO INK – Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen

Hi guys. Slowly trying to catch up with reviewing for my 52 books by 52 publishers reading challenge. Here’s number 4, and the publisher is:

 

 

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Dodo Ink is an independent publishing company based in the UK. Founded by author Sam Mills (The Quiddity of Will Self, Corsair, 2012), digital publishing and marketing specialist Alex Spears, and reviewer Thom Cuell, Dodo Ink will publish original fiction, with a focus on risk-taking, imaginative novels. We are looking for books which don’t fall into easy marketing categories and don’t compromise their intelligence or style to fit in with trends. We are passionate readers, and we believe that there are many more who share our appetite for bold, original and ‘difficult’ fiction. We want to provide a home for great writing which isn’t being picked up by the mainstream.

Find out more about them here.

 

The book I’m reviewing is…

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We were told that our mother’s life was terminated by killer bees while vacationing in San Marcos, Mexico with Dr Vargas at his family home.

 After her mother dies in bizarre circumstances, heiress Eugenie Lund is abducted by Dr Vargas, a charismatic Svengali-like figure who educates her according to his own philosophy, an esoteric blend of anthropology and psychiatry. Isolated from outside influences, Eugenie’s life is spent on the run across North America and Europe, existing on the fringes of society, always trying to keep one step ahead of her past. 
Taking in Mexico, Las Vegas, and the underground rave scene, Dodge and Burn is a psychedelic road trip recounted in beautifully crafted prose that pulses with frenetic energy.

Inspired by the likes of Carlos Castaneda and Hunter S Thompson, this is an exciting, iconoclastic debut novel from a remarkable new voice. 

Well. Where do I start with this one? It is quite frankly nothing like I’ve ever, ever read before!

When it says ‘psychedelic’ in the blurb, they’re really not kidding. This story is all about one girl’s mission to find her missing sister and to make sense of the universe around her, and is written as a series of notebook/diary entries interspersed with the narrative and point of view of an outside character who is trying to track her down. Eugenie’s universe is quite different to many other people’s: she relies on heavy psychedelic drug use, Wiccan rituals, tribal practices, meditation and all manner of other things to make sense of her own world and access modes and forms of perception and existence that are completely alien to most of us. It leaves you wondering, quite often, what is real and what Eugenie is imagining or hallucinating. Often you’re left to decide that for yourself. For this reason the writing is lyrical, poetic, surreal, and quite ground-breaking. It is truly a reading ‘experience’ and quite unique.

This doesn’t mean it’s hard to read. On the contrary, I read in Seraphina’s essay on the writing of Dodge and Burn and she stated that she wanted Eugenie’s voice to sound “scholarly, yet popular in a generally even tone” and she’s achieved that perfectly. I did have to read a few passages a couple of times over, but that’s not because of the writing style, it’s because the concepts that were being described were so new to me that I had to try to understand them as much as I could in order to understand Eugenie. You get a real sense of who Eugenie is under the surface and you yearn for her missing sister along with her; you are endlessly curious about the world and alternative ways of living, just like she is. She pulls you into her bizarre reality along with her, and it’s a lot of fun.

I loved Ben, Eugenie’s husband. He is calm and collected most of the time, and only really aggressive if he perceives a threat towards Eugenie. You can feel the love between the couple radiate off the page. The way he doesn’t altogether understand Eugenie and what she talks about, but humours her and supports her and goes along with her rituals and things anyway, is truly adorable and lovely. He isn’t perfect and he has a fairly dark, criminal past, but Ben’s sole purpose before meeting Eugenie is to travel the world and take part in dance raves, and afterwards it seems to be protecting Eugenie to the best of his ability. And I like him for that. He is not averse to violence but doesn’t indulge in it for the sake of things.

Dr Vargas, Eugenie and her sister’s captor, reminded me a little bit of Count Olaf from a Series of Unfortunate Events. I guess this is probably an annoying comment for the author to read as obviously Count Olaf has never had any bearing or influence on this character, and in fact Seraphina’s own stepfather was the influence there. But just to give you an idea of what it’s like if you haven’t read the book, the circumstances are similar in that he makes the children’s lives miserable by kidnapping them and exercising his sheer dominance and power over them in an almost magical way to keep them under his thumb for years and years. He is dangerous and evil and conniving and greedy and, quite unlike Count Olaf, he should be taken very seriously indeed. He really is quite an unpleasant character.

The mystery of Eugenie’s sister Camille and where she’s disappeared to is truly fascinating. The ending of the book just utterly took my breath away; I did not for one second expect it to happen and yet it makes so much sense. Then, of course, you have to decide if you believe the twist to be real. I personally do believe it, but that’s up for you to figure out for yourself. I’d love to hear your interpretations of this book.

Books like these are the reason I love indie publishing companies: Penguin Random House or Hachette probably wouldn’t have looked at this twice and that is a massive, massive loss for them. Read it! Four big shiny stars from me.

four stars

 

 

 

FREIGHT BOOKS – Head for the Edge, Keep Walking by Kate Tough

Here is a third book review for my 52 Books by 52 Publishers reading challenge!

Today’s publisher is…

 

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About Freight Books:

Freight Books is an award-winning UK-based independent publisher founded in September 2011 in the city of Glasgow, Scotland. With a focus on publishing high quality literary fiction, we also publish humour, general illustrated and narrative non-fiction and poetry. At the heart of all our projects is a commitment to compelling narratives, scrupulous editing, high quality production and imaginative marketing, supported by a strong and identifiable brand. Most importantly we want to bring our talented authors to as wide an audience as possible.

Freight Books was voted Scottish Publisher of the Year in December 2015 and recently won three Scottish Design Awards, including the coveted Grand Prix, for one of its titles.

Freight Books is a sister company of Freight Design, founded in 2001, one of Scotland’s leading design and marketing agencies. It grew out of Freight Design’s pleasure in creating award-winning publications and its commitment to literature. In 2009 Freight founded Gutter, which quickly established itself as the leading literary magazine of new writing in Scotland. Gutter has won multiple design awards and founded one of the best literary networks in the country.

Learn more about them here.

 

head for the edge

Jill Beech’s nine year relationship is over. She covers the sadness with madness, going dancing with her off-beat friends and attempting a series of hilariously bad internet dates. Then life is flipped on its head again by some shocking news. Adrift in her mid-thirties, no-one does lost quite like Jill.

Wry, witty, resilient but bewildered, she is left asking, what does it take to stay sane in this life? and why does it look easier for everyone else? While her friends are preoccupied with pregnancy, Jill looks elsewhere for meaning. Will she find happiness with a kitten called Cyril? A job she can finally believe in? Or a charming ex-snowboard champion who wants to settle down? Events force Jill to head for the edge – will she fall headlong or turn things around and keep walking?

I really, really, liked this book. It’s my favourite in this reading challenge so far. I think this is because it reflects so much for me: the anxiety caused by people expecting certain things from you as a woman coming up to a particular age; the mortality of the human race and how fragile life is; the difficulty of understanding what you want from life, and the ever-prominent subject of mental illness.

The writing is so very funny. It also has a really distinctive narrative voice. You get to know Jill almost right away. She isn’t perfect and neither is her life falling apart around her. She’s just trying to make sense of what it means to be her. Faced with a scary illness, romantic conquests, the challenges of a new job, a strained friendship and a ticking biological clock, Jill ticks all the boxes of your typical chick lit heroine.

But she is so much more than that. Because she makes decisions you don’t expect her to. She makes decisions she didn’t expect to make. The whole book takes you in what you think is one direction, and then soon you realise you’re actually going in a completely different one. It doesn’t make itself conform to the expected standard of following a particular narrative arc or structure. It doesn’t end how you expect it to end, but this makes it feel SO much more authentic. It’s not a bad ending; far from it. But when I finished it I thought, “You see now, that’s a lot more convincing in terms of true life.”

The book features some of the most unique and strongly developed characters I’ve seen in a while, which is great. Jill’s best friends are both hilarious and tragic. Each one is a mix of these things, so there are no one-dimensional characters, only interesting people that you love to get to know.

The story is matter-of-fact and true to life, but throughout the story is a series of really beautiful, poetic pieces of prose, peppered into the everyday-life narrative, that really gets to the heart of Jill as a vulnerable character. I also love that the book is told through a number of different formats, including postcards, letters, dream sequences, email and normal chronological prose.

Read this book: you REALLY won’t regret it.

five stars

 

 

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