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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 BBC2 BETWEEN THE COVERS BOOK CLUB PICK

‘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

https://www.amazon.com/Frequency-Us-Keith-Stuart-ebook/dp/B088WVN28J/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Frequency-Us-Keith-Stuart-ebook/dp/B088WVN28J/

https://www.amazon.es/Frequency-Us-Keith-Stuart-ebook/dp/B088WVN28J/

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.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/441866.Keith_Stuart

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.

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview #TheGlassHouse by Eve Chase (@EvePollyChase) (@PenguinUKBooks) A totally immersing and wonderful reading experience

Hi all:

I bring you a book that I’ve enjoyed by an acclaimed author I hadn’t had a chance to read yet but has now become a favourite.

The Glass House by Eve Chase

The Glass House by Eve Chase

PRE-ORDER THE STUNNING NEW MYSTERY ABOUT OLD FAMILY SECRETS FROM THE AUTHOR OF BLACK RABBIT HALL AND THE VANISHING OF AUDREY WILDE

‘A captivating mystery: beautifully written, with a rich sense of place, a cast of memorable characters, and lots of deep, dark secrets’ Kate Morton, bestselling author of The Clockmaker’s Daughter

Outside a remote manor house in an idyllic wood, a baby girl is found.

The Harrington family takes her in and disbelief quickly turns to joy. They’re grieving a terrible tragedy of their own and the beautiful baby fills them with hope, lighting up the house’s dark, dusty corners.

Desperate not to lose her to the authorities, they keep her secret, suspended in a blissful summer world where normal rules of behaviour – and the law – don’t seem to apply.

But within days a body will lie dead in the grounds.

And their dreams of a perfect family will shatter like glass.

Years later, the truth will need to be put back together again, piece by piece . . .

From the author of Black Rabbit Hall, The Glass House is an emotional, thrilling book about family secrets and belonging – and how we find ourselves when we are most lost.

‘I adored this beautifully-written, riveting mystery’ Rosie Walsh, bestselling author of The Man Who Didn’t Call

‘Absolutely her best yet’ Lisa Jewell, bestselling author of The Family Upstairs

‘So beautifully and insightfully written, with characters I grew to love. A compelling, moving story that kept me turning the pages right to the very last’ Katherine Webb, author of The Legacy

Praise for Eve Chase

‘Enthralling’ Kate Morton

‘Simply stunning’ Dinah Jefferies

‘The most beautiful book you will read this year’ Lisa Jewell

https://www.amazon.com/Glass-House-Eve-Chase-ebook/dp/B07VRY3DBN/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Glass-House-Eve-Chase-ebook/dp/B07VRY3DBN/

https://www.amazon.es/Glass-House-Eve-Chase-ebook/dp/B07VRY3DBN/

Author Eve Chase

About the author:

I’m an author who writes rich suspenseful novels about families – dysfunctional, passionate – and the sort of explosive secrets that can rip them apart. I write stories that I’d love to read. Mysteries. Page-turners. Worlds you can lose yourself in. Reading time is so precious: I try to make my books worthy of that sweet spot.

My office is a garden studio/shed. There are roses outside. I live in Oxford with my three children, husband, and a ridiculously hairy golden retriever, Harry.

Do say hello. Wave! Tweet me! I love hearing from readers. I’m on Twitter and Instagram @EvePollyChase and on Facebook, eve.chase.author.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eve-Chase/e/B01AKOSDWW

My review:

Thanks to Penguin UK – Michael Joseph and NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. This is the first time I’ve read one of Eve Chase’s novels, and I’m sure it won’t be the last one as I found it a totally immersing and wonderful experience.

The plot has something of the fairy tale (or of several fairy tales), as this is a dual-timeline story where we read about some events that took place in the early 1970s —although that part of the action (in fact, the whole book) has something timeless about it— and then others that are taking place in the present. The story is told from three different points of view, those of Rita (told in a deep third person, as readers are privy to her feelings and thoughts), a very tall nanny (they call her ‘Big Rita’) with a tragic past; Hera, one of her charges, an intelligent and troubled child (almost a teen), who is more aware of what is truly going on around her than the adults realise; and Sylvia, a recently separated woman, mother of an eighteen-year-old girl, Annie, and trying to get used to an independent lifestyle again. Both, Hera and Sylvia, tell the story in the first person, and the chapters alternate between the three narrators and the two timelines. Rita and Hera’s narratives start in the 1970s and are intrinsically linked, telling the story of the Harrington family and of a summer holiday in the family home in the Forest of Dean, intended as a therapeutic break for the mother of the family, which turns up to be anything but. Most readers will imagine that Sylvia’s story, set in the present, must be related to that of the other two women, but it is not immediately evident how. There are secrets, mysteries, adultery, murders, lost and found babies, romance, tragedy, accidents, terraria (or terrariums, like the lovely one in the cover of the book), cruelty, fire… The book is classed under Gothic fiction (and in many ways it has many of the elements we’d expect from a Victorian Gothic novel, or a fairy tale, as I said), and also as a domestic thriller, and yes, it also fits in that category, but with a lot more symbolism than is usual in that genre, a house in the forest rather than a suburban or a city home, and some characters that are larger than life.

Loss, grief, identity (how we define ourselves and how we are marked by family tradition and the stories we are told growing up), the relationship between mothers and daughters, and what makes a family a family are among the themes running through the novel, as are memory and the different ways people try to cope with trauma and painful past events.

I’ve mentioned the characters in passing, and although some of them might sound familiar when we start reading about them (Rita, the shy woman, too tall and scarred to be considered attractive, who seeks refuge in other people’s family; Hera, the young girl growing in a wealthy family with a mother who has mental health problems and a largely absent father; and Sylvia, a woman in her forties suddenly confronted with having to truly become an adult when both, her mother and her daughter need her), there is more to them than meets the eye, and they all grow and evolve during the novel, having to confront some painful truths in the process. I liked Rita and Sylvia from the beginning, even though I don’t have much in common with either of them, and felt sorry for Hera. Although the events and the story require a degree of suspension of disbelief greater than in other novels, the characters, their emotions, and their reactions are understandable and feel real within the remit of the story, and it would be difficult to read it and not feel for them.

I loved the style that offers a good mix of descriptive writing (especially vivid when dealing with the setting of the story, the forest, Devon, and the terrarium) and more symbolic and lyrical writing when dealing with the emotions and the state of mind of the characters. At times, we can almost physically share in their experiences, hear the noises in the woods, or smell the sea breeze. This is not a rushed story, and although the action and the plot move along at a reasonable pace, there is enough time to stop to contemplate and marvel at a fern, the feel of a baby’s skin, or the music from a guitar. This is not a frantic thriller but a rather precious story, and it won’t suit people looking for constant action and a fast pace. I’ve read some reviews where readers complained about feeling confused by the dual timelines and the different narrators, although I didn’t find it confusing as each chapter is clearly marked and labelled (both with mention of the time and the character whose point of view we are reading). I recommend anybody thinking about reading the book to check a sample first, to see if it is a good fit for their taste.

The ending… I’m going to avoid spoilers, as usual, but I liked the way everything comes together and fits in. Did I work out what was going on? Some of the revelations happen quite early, but some of the details don’t come to light until much later, and the author is masterful in the way she drops clues that we might miss and obscures/hides information until the right moment. I guessed some of the points, others I only realised quite close to the actual ending, but, in any case, I loved how it all came together, like in a fairy tale, only even better.

This is a novel for readers who don’t mind letting their imagination fly and who are not looking for a totally realistic novel based on fact. With wonderful characters, magnificent settings, many elements that will make readers think of fairy tales, and a Gothic feel, this is a great novel and an author whose work I look forward to reading again in the near future.

Thanks to the publisher, NetGalley, and the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling. And keep safe!

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