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#TuesdayBookBlog THE FREQUENCY OF US: A BBC2 Between the Covers book club pick by Keith Stuart (@keefstuart) (@LittleBrownUK) A story with magic, imagination, a hopeful ending and a big heart

Dear all:

I bring you the review of a new book by an author I’ve become a fan of in recent years.

The Frequency of Us by Keith Stuart

The Frequency of Us: A BBC2 Between the Covers book club pick by Keith Stuart 


‘A fascinating, beautiful, heartwarming novel. It kept me gripped from the very first chapter’ — BETH O’LEARY

In Second World War Bath, young, naïve wireless engineer Will meets Austrian refugee Elsa Klein: she is sophisticated, witty and worldly, and at last his life seems to make sense . . . until, soon after, the newly married couple’s home is bombed, and Will awakes from the wreckage to find himself alone.

No one has heard of Elsa Klein. They say he was never married.

Seventy years later, social worker Laura is battling her way out of depression and off medication. Her new case is a strange, isolated old man whose house hasn’t changed since the war. A man who insists his wife vanished many, many years before. Everyone thinks he’s suffering dementia. But Laura begins to suspect otherwise . . .

From Keith Stuart, author of the much-loved Richard & Judy bestseller A Boy Made of Blocks, comes a stunning, emotional novel about an impossible mystery and a true love that refuses to die.

‘Enthralling, a real thing of beauty. Dazzling’ — JOSIE SILVER

‘The Frequency of Us is a novel with a bit of everything: a sweeping love story, wonderfully complex characters, and a sprinkling of the supernatural. I loved it, and know it’ll stay with me for some time’ — CLARE POOLEY

‘A complete joy! An intelligent, intricate and emotive mystery’ — LOUISE JENSON

Author Keith Stuart

About the author:

KEITH STUART, author of A Boy Made of Blocks, is games editor at the Guardian. He started out as writer and features editor on the highly influential magazine Edge, before going freelance in 2000 to cover games culture for publications such as The Official PlayStation MagazinePC Gamer, and T3, as well as investigating digital and interactive art for Frieze. He also writes about music, film and media for the Guardian, and is a regular on the Tech Weekly podcast. He is married with two sons.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Little, Brown, and Company UK (Clara Díaz in particular) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have read and reviewed Keith Stuart’s previous two novels, both wonderful: A Boy Made of Blocks (check here) and Days of Wonder (you can find the review here), and I was pleased to be offered the opportunity to read this one as well. Although in some ways this is a pretty different reading experience, less reassuring and more puzzling at times, I’ve enjoyed it as well.

It is difficult to talk about the plot of this novel without revealing too much of what happens, and although this is not a conventional mystery, a lot of the story hinges on what is real and what is not, on different versions of events and of people’s lives, on how the past makes us what we are, and on how a small decision can change many things and send our lives in totally different directions. The story is set in the historical city of Bath, in two different eras, in 2008 (the present, as far as the novel is concerned) and during WWII (mostly 1942). There are many themes explored in this novel: the nature of memory, depression and anxiety, PTSD, the changes in the city of Bath over the years, old-age care, wartime (WWII) in the UK, and the experience of German/Austrian refugees there, the development of radio technology, family relationships, psychological abuse, love in wartime… There are strange happenings in the book that at times can make us think of a paranormal element, although they can also be explained away in totally rational ways (almost), and there is also a science-fiction background (very light on the science part) that might feel almost an afterthought (but it probably is anything but).

When trying to come up with a category or definition that truly fitted my reading experience I only came up with movies and plays that popped into my mind as I read, but I wouldn’t say that is because they are closely related. In any case, here they go, in case they might give you a clue: Frequency (a movie from 2000, where radios played an important part and different generations managed to communicate), Sliding Doors, Match Point (those two about the effect a small decision can have), and J.B. Priestley’s time plays, particularly two I’ve watched: An Inspector Calls, and Time and the Conways.

Ultimately, this is a book about two people, Will (an old man when we meet him first, living alone and holding on to a love story nobody else seems to think was ever real), and Laura (a woman in her late twenties), who seemingly have nothing in common but quickly connect. Laura, who suffers from anxiety and depression as a result of years of psychological abuse from her father (we come to learn some of the reasons for his behaviour later, but that is no justification), has to visit Will for work, and trying to confirm his life story, one that doesn’t seem to match facts, gives her a reason to live. In the process of trying to learn about him, she gains confidence, confronts some truths about her life and her family, and learns to trust in herself. The connection between these two people, who never felt they quite belonged in their current lives, becomes clearer as the novel progresses.

Apart from the two main characters, who narrate the story in the first person each one in a different time frame (and Stuart is as good as ever at getting inside of the characters’ minds and making us experience both, Laura’s anxiety symptoms, her insecurity, and her dread, and Wills’ sense of wonder and excitement on meeting Elsa and falling in love with her), we also have Elsa Klein, a wonderful character, colourful, vibrant, magical, who haunts much of the novel, and whose voice we also hear, if only occasionally, and many other secondary characters (Laura’s boss, her mother, her father, Will’s neighbours and his friends from youth…) who play smaller parts but are also convincingly and realistically portrayed.

The novel flows well. The descriptions of Bath in the past and in the present don’t disrupt the narrative, giving it, instead, an anchor and a privileged setting that help carry the story along. The action takes place along different historical times, but these are clearly indicated in the novel and aren’t confusing to readers, and although some of the events are not easy to explain, this is not due to the way the story is told. The love story between Will and Elsa is very moving, and I was touched by the story and on the verge of tears more than once. I highlighted so much of the novel that I’d find it difficult to choose only one or two quotes. I recommend future readers check a sample of the book to see if it would be a good fit for their taste.

I’ve talked about mysterious goings-on when referring to the plot, and there are some false endings, when you think that is it and feel disappointed (at least I did), but don’t worry, it is not. I know some readers weren’t totally convinced by the ending, and well, I’m still thinking about it (and will probably be thinking about it for a long time), but I liked it. I won’t go into suspension of disbelief, etc., etc. Yes, depending on how you look at it, it might not make sense from a conventional point of view, but that is not what this novel is about.

In sum, this is another great novel by Keith Stuart, perhaps his most ambitious to date, where he goes exploring not only historical fiction, but also speculative Physics, the nature of time and memory, multiverses, enduring love, and a world full of wonderful characters. If you need a story with a little bit of magic, imagination, a hopeful ending, and a lot of heart, I recommend it.

Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog WILL RISE FROM ASHES by Jean M. Grant (@JeanGrant05). An ambitious road-novel about a woman who finds herself among the chaos #RBRT

Hi all:

Today I bring you one of my reviews for Rosie’s Book Review Team. I think many of you will enjoy this book.

Cover of Will Rise from Ashes by Jean M. Grant
Will Rise from Ashes by Jean M. Grant

Will Rise from Ashes by Jean M. Grant

Living is more than mere survival.

Young widow AJ Sinclair has persevered through much heartache. Has she met her match when the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, leaving her separated from her youngest son and her brother? Tens of thousands are dead or missing in a swath of massive destruction. She and her nine-year-old autistic son, Will, embark on a risky road trip from Maine to the epicenter to find her family. She can’t lose another loved one.

Along the way, they meet Reid Gregory, who travels his own road to perdition looking for his sister. Drawn together by AJ’s fear of driving and Reid’s military and local expertise, their journey to Colorado is fraught with the chaotic aftermath of the eruption. AJ’s anxiety and faith in humanity are put to the test as she heals her past, accepts her family’s present, and embraces uncertainty as Will and Reid show her a world she had almost forgotten.

Author Jean M. Grant
Author Jean M. Grant

About the author:

Jean is a scientist by training with a background in Marine Biology, Microbiology, and Immunology. She currently resides in New England and draws from her interests in history, science, the outdoors, and her family for writing inspiration.

She read some big names early on in the historical romance genre, and was awestruck by Scotland, history, and a bit of the mystical. These stories swept her away and inspired her to pursue a career as an author. Fast-forward a few decades, and now out: two books in her historical romance trilogy with a twist of the paranormal (A Hundred Breaths, A Hundred Kisses), a contemporary women’s fiction (Will Rise from Ashes), and a contemporary romance in the Deerbourne Inn series (Soul of the Storm).

Jean also writes non-fiction articles for family-oriented and travel magazines.
When not writing, she enjoys tending to her flower gardens, tackling the biggest mountains in New England with her husband, and playing with her children, while taking snapshots of the world around her and daydreaming about the next story.

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

This is an ambitious novel. The author has tried to combine a complex set of characters with a gripping plot. AJ, the protagonist of the novel, is a woman in crisis, dealing with grief, having to bring-up two young boys on her own (neither of them the ideal well-behaved easy-child that everybody dreams of, but I suspect doesn’t exist in real life. The oldest, Will, in the autistic spectrum, and Finn, whom we hear plenty about but don’t get to know as well first-hand, sounds pretty overactive and his behaviour can be also challenging at times), suffering from anxiety (and perhaps other mental health difficulties), and experiencing an almost totally crippling fear of driving. We hear her side of the story, narrated in the first person. Being a professional writer, she makes for a compelling narrator, and, although not being a mother and not sharing in her extreme circumstances I do not have much in common with her, I felt the author managed to convey well the doubts, anxieties, hesitations, guilt, and the difficulties the character experienced accepting her situation, moving through the stages of grief, and eventually giving herself (and others) a chance. Her son, Will, loves all things volcano, weather, and geology, and the author offers us his perspective of the situation (this time in the third person) that serves two purposes: on the one hand, we get a more objective outsider’s perspective of how things are (because being inside of AJ’s head all the time means her suspiciousness and paranoia are not always easy to separate from how bad things really are), and we also get an understanding of how things look like and feel for a child with high-functioning autism (although there is less emphasis on that aspect than in other books I’ve read, unsurprising if we take into consideration the many other things going on).

We are later introduced to Reid, who is a combination of knight in shining armour, love interest, and also a man haunted by issues from the past (ex-military, talks about PTSD as if he was very knowledgeable about it, and his behaviour is at times mysterious, to say the least). Although AJ is suspicious about him and it takes her a long time to give him a chance, do not worry, the novel also contains romance and an opportunity for redemption. (I don’t want to give any spoilers away, but the description is quite clear in some aspects, and this is not a mystery novel, even if there are some details about the characters that are only revealed late in the story, and eventually help us understand people and events much better).

The plot keeps the story ticking, ensuring that people who might find the self-questioning and doubts AJ has to confront a bit uncomfortable (or worry that they might slow the story) have plenty to keep them turning the pages. A major disaster is the background of the story, which once AJ decides to go searching for her son, becomes the novel equivalent of a road movie. This is not a post-apocalyptic novel, but there is evidence of research and credible details of the likely scenario and consequences of such an event are interspersed through the narrative. Thanks to Will’s interest in volcanos we get first-hand information about that side of things, and as they approach the affected area, we get an almost physical sense of what it would be like to live the aftermath of a super volcano eruption. Apart from nature, the characters have to confront many other problems: technical difficulties, robberies, attempted assaults, road blocks, lack of supplies, poor telephone lines and a break-up in communication, no running water, no access to prescription medication… A woman with a driving-phobia having to drive across half the country is enough of a challenge, but her resolution keeps getting tested, and despite her reluctance to ask for or accept help, no matter how cautious and well-prepared she thought she was, she discovers that she needs a helping hand. Although the situation is harrowing and there is almost no rest or break from it (other than some dreams of the past AJ experiences, that provide us more background information and a better understanding of where she is coming from, her moments writing the diary, and the odd detour), this is not a book that gets into the gore of the destruction in detail, and, if anything, we are so focused on the here-and-now of the story that the global picture (and the many lives lost) is somewhat diluted.

The ending is satisfying and hopeful, in marked contrast to the difficulties and hindrances experienced during the trip, and in many ways the book can be seen as a metaphor for the process the main character must go through. AJ’s whole world has shattered around her, and she has been put to the test. She realises that she is stronger than she needs, that she can ask for help, and that she is ready to —slowly— move on.

As I mentioned, I did not identify with AJ, and I am not a big fan of romance (there is also a mild and not-too-graphic sex scene, but I thought I’d warn people just in case), but the book captures well the mental processes of the main character, who is a credible and complex woman trying to do her best in very difficult circumstances. The challenges of motherhood are also compellingly told (although I have no personal knowledge of the subject), and I am sure many readers will enjoy that aspect as well. If people are looking for other books focusing on the autism side-of-things, I’d recommend a couple of books as well: the well-known The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, from an older boy’s perspective (and if you can catch the play, it’s well-worth watching), and Keith Stuart’s A Boy Made of Blocks where the father of a child with autism is the main character.

A tour-de-force that combines a gripping plot with strong and complex characters, and a hopeful message. Recommended for readers of women’s fiction.

Thanks to Rosie and the member of her team, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and to always keep smiling!



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