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Blog Tour Book launch Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog #Blogblast The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith (@JenESmith) (@QuercusBooks) #GretaJames An adult coming-of-age story full of warmth, heart, and music set in beautiful Alaska

Hi all:

I bring you a book that was a very pleasant surprise for me, and I’m happy I was given the opportunity to participate in the blog blast on the day of its publication.

The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith

An indie musician reeling from tragedy reconnects with her father on a week-long cruise in this tale of grief, fame, and love from bestselling author Jennifer E. Smith.

Just after the sudden death of her mother – her most devoted fan – and weeks before the launch of her high-stakes second album, Greta James falls apart on stage. The footage quickly goes viral and she stops playing. Greta’s career is suddenly in jeopardy – the kind of jeopardy her father, Conrad, has always warned her about.

Months later, Greta – still heartbroken and very much adrift – reluctantly agrees to accompany Conrad on the Alaskan cruise her parents had booked to celebrate their fortieth anniversary. It could be their last chance to heal old wounds in the wake of shared loss. But the trip will also prove to be a voyage of discovery for them both, and for Ben Wilder, a charming historian who is struggling with a major upheaval in his own life.

In this unlikeliest of places – at sea and far from the packed venues where she usually plays – Greta must finally confront the heartbreak she’s suffered, the family hurts that run deep, and how to find her voice again.

https://www.amazon.com/Unsinkable-Greta-James-Novel-ebook/dp/B096D6BCTF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unsinkable-Greta-James-Jennifer-Smith/dp/1529416434/ (The Kindle version was not available when I checked, but I am sure it is only a matter of time)

https://www.amazon.es/Unsinkable-Greta-James-English-ebook/dp/B097G36DJQ/

Author Jennifer E. Smith

About the author:

Jennifer E. Smith is the author of nine books for young adults, including The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, both of which have recently been adapted for film. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and her work has been translated into thirty-three languages. She currently lives in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter at @JenEsmith or visit her at

https://www.jenniferesmith.com/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jennifer-E.-Smith/e/B001JS1GEQ

 NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

‘This book is a very special one for me. It’s my tenth novel, but my first one for adults, so it feels like a debut in many ways, and I’ve never been prouder of anything I’ve written. I may not be a rock star, and we may not be in a packed music venue with all its energy and immediacy, but I think what happens between writers and readers is something even more profound, something quieter and more personal. So whether this is the first you’ve heard of me, or you’ve grown up along with my books, I’m endlessly grateful to you for choosing to spend time with Greta. It means the world’ – Jennifer Smith

My review:

My thanks to Quercus and NetGalley for the ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review, and for the opportunity to participate in the blog blast on the day of its release.

Jennifer E. Smith is an author well-known for her YA novels, but this is the first book I read by her, and although I can’t comment on how it compares to her previous work, I loved this one.

The book’s description is very accurate and gives a good idea of what to expect, at least in general terms. It is an adult coming-of-age story, a category that keeps popping up on my reading list recently, and that, so far, has been full of pleasant surprises. Here we have several adult coming-of-age stories, in fact. Apart from the story of Greta, the unsinkable musician of the title (as she proves to be by the end), who has to learn to see things from other people’s perspective, to accept her loss and heartbreak, and to discover that even our dreams are not perfect; we also discover the story of her father, Conrad, who has to face the same loss and make peace with a daughter who challenges his way of life and his dreams; and Ben, a man who is living a dream he never truly believed in and has to pay a hefty price for it. The novel explores family relationships (the stories families tell about themselves, the roles the different members adopt, and how those change), loss (of a close relative, of a relationship, of a dream, of the capacity to create…) and the guilty feelings that often accompany it, different choices and lifestyles (family versus career, dreams versus security), fame and the lack of privacy that comes with it, the role of parents in encouraging their children’s dreams and giving them wings (or not), different concepts of love, the beauty of nature and music and the healing powers of both…

Greta, the central character, is a strong woman, even if we meet her at a low point, a moment when she is going through a deep crisis. She has not only lost her mother and had a public meltdown during a concert, but she is also trying to recover from the breakup from her relationship with her boyfriend and producer, the most stable romantic relationship she’d ever had. Although the story is told in the third person and in the present tense (it felt a bit odd, to begin with, but I quickly forgot about it, and considering most of it takes place in a week and in almost real-time, it feels quite apt) from Greta’s point of view, through her memories and her conversations we get to learn a lot of what happened to get her where she is now, no matter how hard she tries not to think about it. It is very strange, considering that I have hardly anything in common with the character but I really liked her and connected with her from the start, and I often found myself nodding at her comments and reflections, and feeling that many of her words could very well apply to me. The protagonist is far from perfect; she can be obstinate and often refuses to consider things from anybody else’s perspective, but she is hurting so badly and is trying so hard to keep going and to make amends, that it is impossible not to feel for her and cheer her on. The same is true for the rest of the characters. The two couples who have been her parents’ friends forever and travel with them are very different but also very likeable. Pritee, a young girl Greta meets at the beginning of the cruise, is wonderful (and we can easily imagine young Greta when we see this girl’s enthusiasm and zest for life); Ben, the love interest, is a genuinely nice guy, with his own problems but always happy to try and be there for Greta as well; her brother, Asher, is the complete opposite of her and nonetheless a thoroughly decent man, who deeply cares for his family; even her ex-boyfriend sounds quite caring (if far from perfect). And Conrad, her Dad… Well, this man and his interactions with his daughter are the heart of the novel and are both, heartbreaking and heart-warming. There are so many things unsaid between them, and so much hurt, but… 

Let me not forget Alaska. Most reviewers comment on the beautiful depiction of Alaska and say they felt like dropping everything to go there. I have wanted to visit it for quite a while, and now I am more determined than ever. Both Alaska and the ship (it’s not a boat, and those who read the book will know why I say that) play important parts in the novel, providing the perfect setting, full of awe-inducing and unforgettable experiences; a sanctuary where the protagonists can have the necessary breathing space and break free from their everyday lives for long enough to confront some hard truths and start anew.

Smith’s writing flows easily, and she excels at describing experiences, feelings, sensations, in a lyrical and compelling manner. There are very sad and moving moments (tissues are recommended), funny interludes, and tender and joyful scenes that will make readers smile. The book is full of eminently quotable gems, but as I have only read an ARC copy, I am aware there might be some changes in the final edition. I decided that I would only share a few of the fragments I had highlighted, as a taster. 

Here, Greta is talking about her mother to one of her mother’s friends:

“Also, she made the worst coffee. Like, seriously bad. And she had no street smarts. She’d come to New York and act like she was in a musical, like the whole world is singing along with her. And… she left me. She left all of us, but it feels like she left me most of all, and I know that’s completely self-centered, but it’s how I feel. I hate that she’s gone. I really, really hate it.”

That moment, that phone call, that missed opportunity: all of it is as elemental to their lives as this glacier is to the beach, huge and imposing and receding so slowly, so gradually, that you might be forgiven for assuming it would be here forever.

 Greta and her Dad are talking about Ben and his family responsibilities:

“Everyone has baggage,” he says. “Even you. Just because yours is a different shape and size doesn’t mean it’s not heavy too.” 

“Maybe the point isn’t always to make things last,” he says. “Maybe it’s just to make them count.” (Another one of Conrad’s wise comments). 

I felt the ending was perfect. It has a touch of whimsy and openness that appealed to me because rather than leaving things unresolved (some readers would have preferred more clarity, but I didn’t mind at all), it ends on a hopeful note, full of possibilities. You know that whatever might come next, Greta will be OK and will remain unsinkable.

In summary, this is a novel I would recommend to anybody who enjoys stories with a strong female protagonist, especially one going through a difficult and challenging period in her life, full of interesting characters and real-life emotions. This is a novel about relationships and growing up, and it will not suit those looking for a complex plot full of adventures or intrigue. Although there is a love story of sorts, this is not the most important part of the novel, and people looking for a big romance might be disappointed, but anybody who appreciates stories about family relationships and about how they change, anybody who has experienced the loss of a parent, and particularly those who are fans of indie music and love an Alaskan setting, will enjoy this novel. Book clubs will find plenty to talk and think about in this novel as well (and the fact that one of the characters is a writer and a fan of a classic American author will add to the attraction), and although it is not squeaky-clean, there is no violence or graphic sex, and readers are left with a warm feeling. I don’t know if Smith will carry on writing for adults (although I think older YA and NA would probably enjoy this book as well), but I hope she does, although I wouldn’t mind reading her YA novels either. And I am sure those who try this one will keep on reading her as well.

Thanks to Quercus (Milly Reid in particular), to NetGalley, and of course the author, for such a lovely book, thanks to all of you for following me and reading my reviews, and remember to like, share, comment (if you feel it is worth it), but especially, keep smiling and stay safe. And keep reading!

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog In This Small Spot by Caren J. Werlinger A beautifully written and inspiring look at convent life and a woman’s spiritual journey #RBRT #lesbianfiction

Hi all:

I bring you a book with a pretty uncommon plot and setting, by an author I’ve grown a fan of, thanks to Rosie’s group.

In This Small Spot by Caren J. Werlinger

In This Small Spot by  Caren J. Werlinger 

WINNER – 2014 Golden Crown Literary Society Best Dramatic Fiction
“Here, the true you is most often magnified, for better or for worse.”
Abbess Theodora
In a world increasingly connected to computers and machines but disconnected to self and others, Dr. Michele Stewart finds herself drowning in a life that no longer holds meaning. Searching for a deeper connection after losing her partner, Alice, she enters a contemplative monastery, living a life dedicated to prayer, to faith in things unseen. Though most of her family and friends are convinced that she has become a nun to run away from her life, she finds herself more attuned to life than she has been in years. Stripped of the things that define most people in the outside world – career, clothing, possessions – she rediscovers a long forgotten part of herself. But sooner than she expects, the outside world intrudes, forcing her to confront doubts and demons she thought she had left behind. The ultimate test of her vocation comes from the unlikeliest source when she finds herself falling in love again. As she struggles to discern where she belongs, she discovers the terrifying truth of Abbess Theodora’s warning. For better or for worse.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CLG16CW/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00CLG16CW/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B00CLG16CW/

Author Caren J. Werlinger
Author Caren J. Werlinger

 

About the author:

Bestselling author Caren Werlinger published her first award-winning novel, Looking Through Windows, in 2008. Since then, she has published sixteen more novels, winning several more awards, including the 2021 Alice B medal. Influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkein, Ursula LeGuin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather and the Brontë sisters, Caren writes literary fiction that features the struggles and joys of characters readers can identify with. Her stories cover a wide range of genres: historical fiction, contemporary drama, and fantasy, including the award-winning Dragonmage Saga, a fantasy trilogy set in ancient Ireland. She has lived in Virginia for thirty years where she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy, and lives with her wife and their canine fur-children.

https://www.amazon.com/Caren-J.-Werlinger/e/B002BOI2ZI/

Check out her blog: http://cjwerlinger.wordpress.com

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

This is the fourth of Werlinger’s novels I read, and although the setting and the central theme of the story is quite different from that of the others, I also enjoyed it immensely, and I’m sure it won’t be the last (if I can help it).

This is not a new novel, but the author is due to publish a companion novel (I don’t know much about it, so I’m not sure if it’s a sequel, a prequel, or something else) in the next couple of months and wanted to remind her readers of it, and also, hopefully, get new readers to discover it.

The description provides enough information for readers to get a good sense of what is to come, but I’ll add a few of my thoughts. Michelle (Mickey), the main character, is a successful surgeon, who also teaches at an important medical school, and who often worked with cancer sufferers. She had lived for many years with her partner, Alice, who had died from cancer a few years back by the time we meet her in the novel. She doesn’t suddenly decide to leave everything and go to the convent, as some of her friends and people who knew her might think, as we learn that she had thought about it when she was much younger, just out of high school, but decided to go to university, study, and then met her partner. The book is narrated in the third person, mostly from Mickey’s point of view, although there are some chapters where the third person becomes that of an outside observer with some moments of insight into one of the characters’ minds (I’m being a bit cryptic, but I don’t want to reveal any spoilers). The novel initially alternates chapters from the now of the action (from the time when Mickey is setting off to go enter the convent), with others from her life before that, offering us an insight into her relationship with Alice, her interaction with others, and also Alice’s illness and its aftermath. There is no confusion between the different chapters and timelines, and the format works well to offer us a good understanding of what Mickey’s life had been like before and how she got to the convent, while also learning about convent life and about the process of her integration into the religious community.

Faith, vocation, and spirituality play an important part in the novel, as you can easily imagine, but you don’t need to practise Roman Catholicism or be particularly religious to enjoy the book. Anybody who has wondered about the meaning of life or spiritual matters would find much to identify with in the pages of this book. This novel is about the journey of a particular woman struggling with grief, trying to recover her zest for life, and to discover what is really important for her. Her life outside was full of stress and pressures, but although life in a convent is completely different, it is not without its challenges, and she discovers that you cannot hide from yourself, and you cannot put off dealing with things and people forever, however difficult and painful they might be. And, a convent is not a place where everybody is perfect, tolerant, and patient either, as she soon finds out. There is prejudice, pettiness, likes and dislikes, and the enclosed atmosphere and the fact that you are forced to live together with people you might not have chosen makes it all the harder, amplifying annoyances that you might, otherwise, have easily dismissed. But, there are some wonderful moments, and the novel is also full of joy, beauty, inspiration, and a few laughs.

We get to know Mickey quite well, and although I’ve read that some reviewers disliked her, that was not my case. Having worked as a doctor and left Medicine as well, I felt particularly drawn to her, perhaps because I was aware of some of the challenges of the profession, and although she is far from perfect and can be annoying at times, she does try to do what she thinks is right, even when it is not what might come naturally or make her happy. She is far from humble and doesn’t always ask for help when she should, but she tries her best, and she has a sense of humour, and is always ready to help others, even those she doesn’t particularly like. She discovers that there are plenty of things she has to deal with before she can truly move on, and she struggles with her feelings and emotions. I did find her a believable character, and I got to feel for her, as I did for the rest of the convent. We don’t get to know all the other characters as well, but I grew fond of the convent and its inhabitants, as I did of Mickey’s brother, of Alice’s sister, and of some of the other characters who make brief appearances. I particularly enjoyed the way the author creates a powerful picture of the abbey and its inhabitants, and I loved the sense of community, the different roles and personalities, and the way they all find a place and become a part of something bigger.

The writing is beautiful, as I have come to expect from this writer, and although this is not a page-turner in the traditional sense (much of what happens is every day and not the stuff of adventure books or thrillers), it flows well, and it has a sense of rhythm to go with the seasons and with the character’s experiences. There are melodramatic moments as well, when life puts not only Mickey but others also, to the test. And don’t expect everything to go smoothly and a traditional happy ending. This is not a fairy tale, and I have seen that some readers felt disappointed when they got to the ending. No, this is not the typical lesbian romance novel, H.E.A and all. Tears also make an appearance. To be fair to Werlinger, though, even if we might have missed the clues, what happens is not surprising or totally unexpected. And, personally, I thought the ending was more than appropriate and quite optimistic, in a bitter-sweet way.

I always advise possible readers to check a sample of the book, if they can, to decide if the writing style suits them, and that applies here as well. I highlighted a lot of sentences and paragraphs that seemed particularly beautiful to me and/or gave me pause, and I have chosen a few to give you an idea of what to expect.

But remember that an abbey is not a place where you can run from yourself. Quite the contrary. Having stripped away the disguises and distractions of the outside world: clothes, career, material possessions, the true you is most often magnified, for better or for worse.

Prayer wasn’t dependent upon the skill of the person offering the prayer; it wasn’t limited geographically or physically; it wasn’t even limited by reality or any of the laws of science.

The two people in our lives who could never be married gave us the best example of how to build a life together as completely equal partners.

Sometimes God knocks us off our feet with something dramatic, but, in my experience, more often, he simply whispers and waits for us to be quiet enough to hear.

Any warnings? Well, this is not a “clean” novel, and although there is no violence, there are some hard scenes to do with injuries and sickness and the odd swear word. There are also some mild lesbian sex scenes (nothing full-blown or explicit), and there is much talk about grief, illness, and death of loved ones, so those who could be badly affected by these topics might want to skip it or wait until they feel they are in a better place. As I have said, I found it quite hopeful and inspiring, so I wouldn’t discount it just because of the storyline, either.

I recommend this novel to people who enjoy beautiful writing, reading about enclosed communities (particularly of women), those who might feel curious about monastic life (I’ve always been), and anybody interested in characters going through major changes and crises in their lives. The author explains in her acknowledgments that she had thought about becoming a nun when she was younger, had researched the topic at the time, and also had family connections in the church, so this is a book born of her personal search as well as a work of fiction. It works wonderfully on both counts, and I can’t wait for her next book.

Thanks to the author, to Rosie and her whole team for their support, and to all of you for reading, liking, sharing… Stay safe, and keep smiling!

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog WHEN ALL IS SAID by Anne Griffin (@AnneGriffin_) A gorgeous and deeply touching book #WhenAllIsSaid

Dear all:

I love this book, and I hope you will too.

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin
When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

When All is Said by Anne Griffin.

Five toasts. Five people. One lifetime.

‘A hugely enjoyable, engrossing novel, a genuine page-turner.’ Donal Ryan

‘An extraordinary novel, a poetic writer, and a story that moved me to tears.’ John Boyne

‘I’m here to remember – all that I have been and all that I will never be again.’

At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He’s alone, as usual -though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story.

Over the course of this evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him. Through these stories – of unspoken joy and regret, a secret tragedy kept hidden, a fierce love that never found its voice – the life of one man will be powerfully and poignantly laid bare.

Heart-breaking and heart-warming all at once, the voice of Maurice Hannigan will stay with you long after all is said.

‘This is how you tell a story’ Cecelia Ahern

‘Beautifully written, unhurried and thoughtful, and a character you love from the off’ Kit de Waal

When All Is Said catches a world in a moment. Maurice Hannigan is a wonderful invention, whose bitter-sweet meditations will stay long in the reader’s mind. Anne Griffin has fashioned a rare jewel’ John Banville

‘Masterful storytelling’ Graham Norton

https://www.amazon.com/When-All-Said-Anne-Griffin-ebook/dp/B07C72YBSX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-All-Said-Anne-Griffin-ebook/dp/B07C72YBSX/

Editorial Reviews

Review

“There’s something special here.” ―John Boyne, New York Times bestselling author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

“This is how you tell a story.” –Cecelia Ahern, New York Times bestselling author of PS, I Love You

“When All Is Said catches a world in a moment. Maurice Hannigan is a wonderful invention, whose bitter-sweet meditations will stay long in the reader’s mind. Anne Griffin has fashioned a rare jewel.” ―John Banville, New York Times bestselling author of Time Pieces and Man Booker Prize award-winning author of The Sea 

“In the twilight of his long and eventful life, Irishman Maurice Hannigan still possesses the deep and mellow voice that his grandmother once told him ‘could melt icebergsa voice that debut author Anne Griffin renders with wit, verve, and endearing irascibility. When All Is Said captures the texture of a night catching up with an old friendthe pleasures and comforts, the stories and surprisesone that you never want to end, and all the more bittersweet because you know, of course, that it must.” ―Kathleen Rooney, bestselling author of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

“Anne Griffin’s debut novel is a must read. Beautifully observed, masterful story telling – stunning!” ―Graham Norton, award-winning author

When All Is Said is lovely. I’m a sucker for structure and the conception of this novel, told around five toasts is just wonderful, it gives you that sense of a whole life, of someone accounting for themselves and their decisions, it takes a firm grip and draws us in. It is beautifully written, unhurried and thoughtful, a lonely man truthfully wrought and a character you love from the off, in spite of his flaws or maybe because of them.” ―Kit de Waal, bestselling author of My Name is Leon

“Maurice Hannigan is one of those rare and unforgettable characters whose lives we enter, inhabit for a time all too brief, and emerge from deeply changed. Anne Griffin is a writer with a bright, bright future.” ―National Book Award finalist Janet Peery

“A deceptively powerful tale. Beneath the surface of seemingly simple lives lie stunning stories of love, heartbreak, humor, hope, tragedy, regret, and―most of all―humanity.” ―Viola Shipman, international bestselling author of The Summer Cottage and The Charm Bracelet

“When All Is Said is a hugely enjoyable, engrossing novel, a genuine page-turner. Maurice is a fabulous character, wonderfully flawed and completely engaging; his voice is familiar and real, full of sadness and regret and defiance, and unexpected tenderness.” ―Donal Ryan, award-winning author of The Spinning Heart

“It is difficult to believe that When All Is Said is a first novel, as Anne Griffin displays such an assured hand at locating and maintaining the voice of our lead character, Maurice Hannigan. An old widower, Hannigan picks a night at the local pub and toasts the five people who influenced his life in the most important ways, and, in the process, gives an oral first person history of his own life―both the truthful and the delusional. With an impeccable eye, Anne Griffin picks out details from seemingly-unimportant moments in a life that become so much more in her capable hands. Each toast brings a new facet of Hannigan’s life into focus, sometimes shining a light on things he would rather keep buried deep within himself, and the result is quite lovely. I truly felt as if I were in a country pub, sitting with the county raconteur, and I enjoyed his company immensely!” ―Bill Carl, Wellesley Books

“The Irish prequel of A Man Called Ove” ―Susan Taylor, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza

“Griffin’s portrait of an Irish octogenarian provides a stage for…the course of one memorable night.”Kirkus

Author Anne Griffin
Author Anne Griffin

About the author:

Anne Griffin is an Irish novelist living in Ireland. Anne was awarded the John McGahern Award for Literature, recognising previous and current works. Amongst others, she has been shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and the Sunday Business Post Short Story Award.

Anne’s debut novel ‘When All Is Said’ will be published by Sceptre in the UK and Ireland on 24th January, 2019 and by Thomas Dunne Books in the US and Canada on the 5th March, 2019. It will also be published by Rowohlt Verlag in Germany, Delcourt in France, by Harper Collins Holland in the Netherlands, by Wydawnictwo Czarna in Poland, and by Tyto Alba in Lithuania.

https://www.amazon.com/Anne-Griffin/e/B07FWTQQQV

annegriffinwriter.com

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Sceptre for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is a beautiful novel. Its structure is simple and so is the plot. Written in the first person, this is the story of a man, Maurice Hannigan, a widower, who has come to a decision about what to do with the rest of his life. Having made that decision, it has come the time to explain why he has decided what he has. The novel is structured around his conversation with his son, Kevin, who lives in the USA and is not there in person; therefore it becomes a monologue, with an intended audience of one. We, the readers, act as his son’s stand-ins. Maurice, as we soon learn, has never been the talking kind, so this is a bit of a departure for him, probably because of the time of his life and because he is not eye-to-eye with the person he is addressing.

Maurice has booked the best room in the hotel and is drinking five toasts to the people who have had the most impact in his life. In the process of talking about them and their influence, we get to hear about his life and what made him who he is. He chooses carefully his drinks, measures his words, and also the mementos he has kept. He drinks ale and also his preferred drink, whisky, and shares photographs, a pipe, a coin, and plenty of memories. He toasts to his brother, who died of TB when he was very young, always protected him and was his role model; to the daughter who never was and has always remained present for him; to his wife’s sister, who spent most of her life in psychiatric hospitals, took to him from the first and played an important role in solving an interesting mystery; to his son, who always had different dreams but tried hard to keep in touch; and to his wife, the one and only, the person he cannot live without.

Through his toasts we learn a lot about Maurice, his world, and the changes in Ireland through the years: when he was young life was harsh for farmers, the owners of the big house could behave as if they owned the people around them, school was hard for those who could not learn at the normal rhythm, and a family feud could last for years. Ireland moves with the times, and we hear about his change of circumstances, but he finds it difficult to let go of his wish for revenge and his resentments, of his low self-confidence because he never did well with books (later on in life he realises he suffers from dyslexia), and especially, of his grief and bereavement. He has suffered many losses through life, and he has many regrets, although he has also done some good things, intentionally or not.

Maurice feels real and very familiar, and I think most readers will be reminded of somebody they know. He is not the most sympathetic character at first sight, although he has gone through a lot, and some of his decisions are harsh and mean-spirited. During the book we get to understand what has made him as he is and it is difficult not to feel touched by his narrative, even if we don’t have much in common with him. There are plenty of family secrets revealed, and he learns to let go of the hatred he held for most of his life. The author writes beautifully, and without using complex language manages to convey true feeling and emotions. She gives her character a recognisable and true voice, dry and sharp, with touches of black humour and always understated, even when talking about those dearest to him. There is a beautiful love story at the heart of this novel, and it is very difficult not to feel moved by it. As for the ending… I won’t discuss it in detail, but I don’t think it will come as a surprise to most readers, although what might be surprising is how we feel about it by then.

Although the author is well-known, this is her first novel, and it is a thing of beauty, poetic and sincere. Here I share some examples of her writing:

It’s an awful thing, to witness your mother cry. You cannot cure nor mend nor stick a plaster on.

Forty-nine years ago, I met Molly, and only for fifteen minutes. But she has lived in this dilapidated heart of mine ever since.

I watched her skin survive the years, softly, folding upon itself. I touched it often, still hopelessly loving every bit of her, every line that claimed her, every new mark that stamped its permanency.

Loneliness, that fecker again, wreaking havoc on us mortals. It’s worse than any disease, gnawing away at our bones as we sleep, plaguing our minds when awake.

These past two years have been rotten. I’ve felt the ache of her going in my very bones. Every morning, every hour of every day I’ve dragged her loss around with me. The worst thing has been the fear that I’ll wake one morning and she’ll be gone from my memory forever, and that, son, that, I just can’t do.

This is a gorgeous book that touches on important subjects and deep feelings without going over the top and being sugary sweet. It is not a page turner plot-wise, and there isn’t much action (other than in some of the memories), so it will not suit readers who are looking for a fast plot. But anybody who loves a character-driven novel, enjoys savouring the quality and poetry of good writing and is looking for new authors will have a field day. I am going to follow Anne Griffin’s career with interest, and I expect to hear great things from her.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the publisher and to the author for this fabulous book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and keep smiling!

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