This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech

Sebastian James Murphy is twenty years, six months and two days old. He loves swimming, fried eggs and Billy Ocean. Sebastian is autistic. And lonely.

Veronica wants her son Sebastian to be happy, and she wants the world to accept him for who he is. She is also thinking about paying a professional to give him what he desperately wants.

Violetta is a high-class escort, who steps out into the night thinking only of money. Of her nursing degree. Paying for her dad’s care. Getting through the dark.

When these three lives collide, and intertwine in unexpected ways, everything changes. For everyone.

#ThisIsHowWeAreHuman @LouiseWriter @OrendaBooks @annecater @RandomTTours

Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, This Is How We Are Human is a powerful, moving and thoughtful drama about a mother’s love for her son, about getting it wrong when we think we know what’s best, about the lengths we go to care for family and to survive.

My Review

When I read the blurb – at least the part about Sebastian’s mum offering to pay an escort to have sex with her autistic son – I felt just a tiny bit uncomfortable. I know you would do anything for your children, but this is a bit extreme – isn’t it? But in reality she sees the person she loves most in the world growing up in pain because his physical needs are not being met. Paying for sex would be like paying for his swimming lessons or buying his food wouldn’t it?

The problem with Veronica’s solution is that she is not being honest and she’s lying to protect him. She’s buying sex and pretending to Sebastian that it’s love. That the girl she finds for him wants a relationship with him. In an attempt to quash other people’s prejudices, she is perpetuating her own. Is it the only way he gets to have sex, by buying it for him? Does she not trust that eventually he will find his own way.

I worked with someone whose son was autistic and she worried about his inappropriate behaviour – walking into his sisters’ rooms naked for instance – what would happen when he was in his teens and he did the same thing with strangers? Sebastian is obsessed with sex – if he finds a girlfriend will he do something inappropriate? Much safer then to buy him a ‘girlfriend’ so he can relieve his urges.

After a few paragraphs, I no longer felt uncomfortable (maybe a little on occasion) and I fell in love with the characters. Maybe not so much Veronica (though I may well have done the same thing under the circumstances) but with Sebastian and Isabelle. Sebastian is obsessed with routine and order. It’s what grounds him.

Isabelle’s father has had an accident and is in an induced coma. His last words to her before they put him under were to keep him at home. But how can she pay for his treatment and round-the-clock nursing while she completes her nursing degree? His business is failing and there is no money. Too shy to be a lap dancer (and she can’t dance anyway), Isabelle becomes a high class escort calling herself Violetta after the heroine of the Opera La Traviata, and offering her services online through an agency. But it soon turns ugly and at times dangerous, so when Veronica approaches her and offers her a fortune to have sex with her beautiful boy Sebastian, it’s an offer too good to refuse. Or is it?

This Is How We Are Human is written with so much love and compassion. It challenges everything we think we know about autism and even the prejudices we don’t realise we are carrying. I read it in two days. I woke up at 6am and read for an hour before work. I read it in my lunch break. I took it upstairs and finished it after tea.

By the end of the book, I was crying so much I couldn’t see the page. To say I was crying for Sebastian would make me just another person feeling sorry for him. In many ways it would be patronising and judgemental. Like Veronica I wouldn’t be letting him find his own way in his own time. But I cried freely for Isabelle, who was trying so hard to help everyone and eventually heal her shame. But this is not a sad story. It’s a celebration of life and it’s full of joy. I defy you not to fall a little bit in love with Sebastian. This is a book that everyone should read.

Incidentally, a couple of months ago we built a pond in the garden. We bought six fish. Only two survived. I have called them Flip and Scorpion in honour of Sebastian.

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours.

About the Author

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her 2019 novel Call Me Star Girl won Best magazine Book of the Year, and was followed by I Am Dust.

Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.

“Though This is How We Are Human is fiction, the premise was inspired by my friends, 20-year-old
Sean, who is autistic, and his mum Fiona. Fiona had spoken to me about how much Sean longed to
meet a girl and have sex. No one talks about this, she said – the difficulties navigating romance often faced by those on the spectrum. It ’s an issue that I wanted to explore. Fiona and Sean encouraged me and guided me through the book; Sean regularly consulted on dialogue, rightly insisting that his voice was heard, was strong, and was accurate. I cannot thank my extraordinary friends enough for their help and support.” Louise Beech

The Last Minute Play by Cat on a Piano Productions / Theatrephonic

When you are really busy it’s time for the actors to improvise. And they really do. Absolutely hilarious The Last Minute Play has some of my favourite lines.

“Is that a new car…”
“….lime green….really brings out your eyes Pitrum.”
“Shame I’ve only got the one really.”
“Beautiful eye though.”

“It’s always easier to recover from grief when it makes you filthy, stinking rich.”

And of course The Last Minute Play is set in a country house so there has to be a murder. Detective Polar Bear is onto it. Everyone was somewhere else polishing the candlesticks or whatever or ‘someone was clearly lying’ and what’s the motive?

“I have given everything for this family…the least they could do is give me a good retirement fund.”

Well there you go.

“When do we get paid?” Brilliant!

Written and Directed by Emmeline Braefield

Starring:
Chloe Wade as Charlie as Detective Polar Bear
Jackson Pentland as Robert as Marsha Mollymaddock and Jeffrey Butler
Rob Keeves as Paul as Pitrum Mollymaddock
Pippa Meekings as Patricia as Eleanor Duke
Emmeline Braefield as Sarah as Laura

Produced by Cat on a Piano Productions

Music:
King Porter Stomp by Joel Cummins
Retrograde by Spence
Never You Mind by Dan Lebowitz
London Fog by Quincas Moreira

The Theatrephonic Theme tune was composed by Jackson Pentland
Performed by
Jackson Pentland
Mollie Fyfe Taylor
Emmeline Braefield

Cat on a Piano Productions produce and edit feature films, sketches and radio plays.

Their latest project is called @Theatrephonic, a podcast of standalone radio plays and short stories performed by professional actors. You can catch Theatrephonic on Spotify and other platforms.

For more information about the Theatrephonic Podcast, go to catonapiano.uk/theatrephonic, Tweet or Instagram us @theatrephonic, or visit our Facebook page.

And if you really enjoyed The Last Minute Play listen to Theatrephonic’s other plays and short stories and consider becoming a patron by clicking here…

She Never Told Me About The Ocean by Elisabeth Sharp McKetta

Told by four women whose stories nest together, She Never Told Me About the Ocean is an epic about a rite of passage that all humans undergo and none remember: birth.

Eighteen-year-old Sage has been mothering her mother for as long as she can remember, and as she arrives on the shores of adulthood, she learns a secret: before she was born, she had an older brother who drowned.

#SheNeverToldMe @ESMcKetta @annecater @RandomTTours

In her search to discover who he was and why nobody told her, Sage moves to tiny Dragon Island where her mother grew up. There she embarks on a quest to learn the superstitions of the island, especially its myths involving her mother. Gathering stories from Ilya, a legendary midwife who hires Sage as her apprentice; Marella, Sage’s grieving mother who was named for the ocean yet has always been afraid of it; and Charon, the Underworld ferrywoman who delivers souls to the land of the dead, Sage learns to stop rescuing her mother and simply let go. But when her skill as Ilya’s apprentice enables her to rescue her mother one final time, in a way that means life or death, Sage must shed her
inherited fears and become her own woman.

My Review

Firstly let me say that I loved this book. Every word, every phrase, every brilliant moment. It has gone to the top of my favourite books of the year.

It is also a book very close to my heart. Like Sage I mothered my own mother from a teenager until her death which was three days before my fortieth birthday. Like Marella, my mother lost a child at a year and a half (though due to tuberculosis). She was soon pregnant with my brother and then me. Her anxiety surrounding our welfare amongst other things became all consuming, leaving her living in fear, and leaving me, like Sage, with her inherited fears.

She Never Told Me About the Ocean is a work of magical realism – I didn’t realise to what extent when I started it. There were touches of the mystical beauty I have only ever found in the books of Alice Hoffman (not so much Practical Magic which is the best known as it was made into a Hollywood film) but in others such as The World That We Knew, Faithful, Blackbird House and she is my favourite writer ever. This is the biggest compliment I could pay any author.

When Sage’s beloved Nana is dying she decides to go to the strange Dragon Island to say goodbye, virtually dragging Marella with her. Sage is overwhelmingly distraught. Together with her father George, they stay at Nana’s huge, rambling house where they sort out her things and prepare for the funeral. Though Nana always stayed to look after Sage when George was away at sea (my grandmother had to look after me and my brother when my mother became unable to do so), none of them have been to Dragon Island since Sage was born.

The days turn to weeks, George is once more away at sea, the two women are still living at the house and Sage meets Ilya the midwife, who takes her on as her apprentice. We also hear from Charon the ferry-woman, who takes souls across the river to the Underworld. But in this story, the Underworld is accessible to living humans, who can make a bargain to bring back a departed loved one in exchange for years of work when their time comes.

But what happens in this book is almost secondary to the thoughts and philosophy behind it. This is a book about mothers and motherhood, about unbreakable bonds and the love we have for our children and our parents regardless of time, distance or conflict. I cannot praise it enough. It made me revisit my life and my childhood and the meaning of everything I believe in. I know that sounds pretentiously profound, but if you read She Never Told Me About the Ocean – please do – you will hopefully understand what I mean.

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours.

About the Author

Elisabeth Sharp McKetta grew up in Austin, Texas. She holds literature degrees from Harvard, Georgetown, and the University of Texas at Austin and teaches writing for the Harvard Extension School and the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education. She is the author of eight books: We Live in Boise, Energy: The Life of John J. McKetta Jr., Fear of the Deep, Fear of the Beast, Poetry for Strangers Vols. I and II, The Creative Year: 52 Workshops for Writers, and The Fairy Tales Mammals Tell. She Never Told Me About the Ocean is her first novel.

Website

https://elisabethsharpmcketta.com/

A Little Chicken by Cat on a Piano Productions / Theatrephonic

Mary had a little chicken.

Mary is eight years old and she doesn’t eat meat or so she claims. And anyway she has a pet chicken who is not a little lamb. Chicken soup isn’t meat is it and it’s her favourite.

The Pot Chicken likes people soup. It’s his favourite. And The Pot Chicken is quite big and not like other chickens.

Written by Tilly Lunken
Directed by Emmeline Braefield

Starring
Fran Burgoyne as Mary
and
Pippa Meekings as Chicken and The Pot Chicken

Produced by Cat on a Piano Productions

Music: Mary Had A Little Lamb (instrumental) by The Green Orbs

The Theatrephonic Theme tune was composed by Jackson Pentland
Performed by
Jackson Pentland
Mollie Fyfe Taylor
Emmeline Braefield

Cat on a Piano Productions produce and edit feature films, sketches and radio plays.

Their latest project is called @Theatrephonic, a podcast of standalone radio plays and short stories performed by professional actors. You can catch Theatrephonic on Spotify and other platforms.

For more information about the Theatrephonic Podcast, go to catonapiano.uk/theatrephonic, Tweet or Instagram us @theatrephonic, or visit our Facebook page.

And if you really enjoyed A Little Chicken listen to Theatrephonic’s other plays and short stories and consider becoming a patron by clicking here…

Still Life by Sarah Winman

By the bestselling, prize-winning author of When God was a Rabbit and Tin Man, Still Life is a beautiful, big-hearted, richly tapestried story of people brought together by love, war, art, flood… and the ghost of E.M. Forster.

We just need to know what the heart’s capable of, Evelyn.
And do you know what it’s capable of?
I do. Grace and fury.

It’s 1944 and in the ruined wine cellar of a Tuscan villa, as the Allied troops advance and bombs fall around them, two strangers meet and share an extraordinary evening together.

Ulysses Temper is a young British solider and one-time globe-maker, Evelyn Skinner is a sexagenarian art historian and possible spy. She has come to Italy to salvage paintings from the ruins and relive her memories of the time she encountered EM Forster and had her heart stolen by an Italian maid in a particular Florentine room with a view.

These two unlikely people find kindred spirits in each other and Evelyn’s talk of truth and beauty plants a seed in Ulysses mind that will shape the trajectory of his life – and of those who love him – for the next four decades.

Moving from the Tuscan Hills, to the smog of the East End and the piazzas of Florence, Still Life is a sweeping, mischievous, richly-peopled novel about beauty, love, family and fate.

My Review

Just when you think you’ve found your favourite books of the year so far, another one comes along. That book is Still Life. What a band of lovable, eccentric characters in this marvellous story that sweeps across more than forty years from the second world war to the late 1970s. It looks at love, friendship, class, sexuality, art and culture in a manner that is both hilarious and sad in equal measures. It takes place in London and Florence, Italy and we also have a glimpse into the life of Evelyn much earlier in the twentieth century. She may have been a spy, but now she lectures in Art History.

When God Was a Rabbit is one of my favourite all-time books so it goes without saying that I was going to love Still Life. The book opens with sexagenarian Evelyn Skinner (who looks ten years younger), sitting with Margaret somebody in Florence during the second world war. Evelyn decides to take a walk outside and stands by the side of the road where she is picked up by Private Ulysses Temper and his superior office Captain Darnley. They end up in a wine cellar full of paintings, drinking wine until they have to vacate when bombs start falling around them. Neither Evelyn nor ‘Temps’ will ever forget that night.

The war is over and Ulysses returns to his wife Peg in London, only to discover that while he was away (to be fair it was years) she has had a child Alys with an American soldier name Eddie. And it is here that the story takes an unusual and unexpected turn. Peg struggles to care for Alys, so when Ulysses inherits a house in Florence, he takes the kid as they call her, with him. They are accompanied by the philosophical, sixty-something Cressy, who talks to a tree back home, and a blue Amazonian parrot named Claude, who quotes Shakespeare and seems to understand almost everything. They travel overland in a vehicle called Betsy.

In London, they leave the heavy-drinking, foul-mouthed landlord Col who runs the Stoat and Parrot (now just the Stoat) where piano Pete plays for the punters, while Peg sings. Col’s wife ran off to Scotland, but daughter Ginny still lives with him, mostly.

We follow these main characters from London to Florence, where they meet even more eccentric people like the adorable Massimo and the elderly contessa, but will Ulysses ever be reunited with Evelyn?

Still Life is a sweeping novel of epic proportions but it cannot be described as an epic or even historical fiction. It’s a tale that evolves slowly, totally character driven and I say that because Florence is one of the characters, as much so as Ulysses, Evelyn, Cressy and Peg and of course the wonderful Claude.

Many thanks to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

Sarah Winman (born 1964) is a British actress and author. In 2011 her debut novel When God Was a Rabbit became an international bestseller and won Winman several awards including New Writer of the Year in the Galaxy National Book Awards.

Put to Sea by Cat on a Piano Productions / Theatrephonic

There once was a boat.

Hilarious short audio drama as Mils and Shan are out at sea in a boat that they ‘commandeered’ in order to make a TikTok film. But will they survive the ordeal with no snacks and only themed beverages and nowhere to pee? The GPS is being weird, it’s a bit foggy and they don’t know where they are. And even worse – they don’t have the internet. And it’s kind of lonely without it.

So they sing a sea shanty. I love this. It’s brilliantly performed by our intrepid ‘TikTok wa*&k*&s who nicked a boat and got lost’. Shame they didn’t record the shanty #tryharder.

Written by Tilly Lunken
Directed by Jackson Pentland and Emmeline Braefield

With
Emmeline Braefield as Mils
and
Jackson Pentland as Shan

Music:
The Wellerman – lyrics by Anonymous, arranged by Jackson Pentland. Performed by Jackson Pentland and Emmeline Braefield

Produced by Cat on a Piano Productions

The Theatrephonic Theme tune was composed by Jackson Pentland
Performed by
Jackson Pentland
Mollie Fyfe Taylor
Emmeline Braefield

Cat on a Piano Productions produce and edit feature films, sketches and radio plays.

Their latest project is called @Theatrephonic, a podcast of standalone radio plays and short stories performed by professional actors. You can catch Theatrephonic on Spotify and other platforms.

And if you really enjoyed Put to Sea listen to Theatrephonic’s other plays and short stories and consider becoming a patron by clicking here…

Matilda Windsor is Coming Home by Anne Goodwin

In the dying days of the old asylums, three paths intersect.

Henry was only a boy when he waved goodbye to his glamorous grown-up sister; approaching sixty, his life is still on hold as he awaits her return.

As a high-society hostess renowned for her recitals, Matty’s burden weighs heavily upon her, but she bears it with fortitude and grace.

Janice, a young social worker, wants to set the world to rights, but she needs to tackle challenges closer to home.

#MatildaWindsorisComingHome @Annecdotist @InspiredQuill #RandomThingsTours @annecater @RandomTTours

A brother and sister separated by decades of deceit. Will truth prevail over bigotry, or will the buried secret keep family apart?

In this, her third novel, Anne Goodwin has drawn on the language and landscapes of her native Cumbria and on the culture of long-stay psychiatric hospitals where she began her clinical psychology career.

My Review

My own experience of mental illness is what attracted me to reading Matilda Windsor is Coming Home. In 1938 my Jewish mother and grandmother escaped from the Nazis in Vienna. Unable to return to their hometown of Bucharest, they made their way to England and settled here in Cheltenham, where I still live. Over her adult life, my mother spent three spells in psychiatric hospitals – the first in the 1950s following the death of my older sister at 17 months and then the birth of my brother and myself. This resulted in a lobotomy. The second in 1973 after her mother died and the third in 1989/90, the same time as when we meet Matty.

I mention this because I can relate to Matty’s treatment. For my mother, I was told that her ‘quality of life’ could be improved by her learning to make a cup of tea and a ham sandwich, thus allowing her to live more successfully in her own flat. This is similar to Matty’s rehabilitation from being institutionalised. What I couldn’t explain, as they would think us both frightful snobs, was that she had had servants in Romania and had no intention of making her own sandwiches. In fact she didn’t even know how to boil the kettle or wished to. When Matty talks about the butler, maids and her mother marrying a prince I can almost hear my mother’s voice (though not the prince part).

None of this has anything to do with my review, I just wanted to explain why this book means so much to me. We love Matty because she is such a lovable character. As the story unfolds we discover more and more about her childhood, the death of her father, her mother’s death in childbirth and her relationship with her stepfather, George. The more we learn, the more shocking it becomes.

But let’s look at the story in 1990. Janice with her pink hair and harlequin trousers who Matty dubs ‘circus girl’ has split from her boyfriend and takes her first proper job as a social worker in Cumbria. The residents of the ‘asylum’ are being assessed as to who can be released back into society and given their own flat in a new development on the site of the old baby clinic. Janice is drawn to Matty, who has been locked up for 50 years. Her ‘crime’ it appears, was getting pregnant while unwed at the age of 20. Following a diagnosis of schizophrenia, she is put away for the rest of her life. Janice wants to make a difference by showing everyone that Matty should finally be released, but will she cope?

Henry, who works for the council but has been downgraded because he refuses to learn how to use a computer (try this in 2021 Henry), lives next door to the proposed flats where the released patients will reside. Henry has spent his life waiting for his sister Tilly to return. Following the death of his mother in childbirth, Tilly, aged thirteen, single-handedly raised him from a baby, until she mysteriously went away. Henry’s married ‘lover’ Irene is fed up of waiting for Henry to give up his obsession with his sister.

In the meantime, the Residents Association is opposing the psychiatric patients being moved into sheltered housing in the community. They don’t want ‘lunatics’ living next door. Henry is on the committee. I love this conversation.
‘How about Sheepwash Residents against Psychiatric Invasion?’ Susanna offered.
Zoe nodded. ‘SRAPI for short.’
Oh, yes,’ said Ursula, ‘what’s it called when the initials form a word? Like NATO?’
‘An anachronism,’ said Susanna.
‘An acronym,’ said Henry, but nobody heard.
Oh Henry! What an anachronism you are! Oh the irony!

The story unfolds slowly and at times is so frustrating as the reader is always one step ahead. I loved reading about Matty, Janice and Henry and I can’t wait for the sequel.

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours.

About the Author

Anne Goodwin grew up in the non-touristy part of Cumbria, where this novel is set. When she went to university ninety miles away, no-one could understand her accent. After nine years of studying, her first post on qualifying as a clinical psychologist was in a long-stay psychiatric hospital in the process of closing.

Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity, was published in November 2018. Subscribers to her newsletter can download a free e-book of prize-winning short stories.

Author links

Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com

Twitter @Annecdotist

Link tree https://linktr.ee/annecdotist

YouTube: Anne Goodwin’s YouTube channel

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Annecdotist

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anne-Goodwin/e/B0156O8PMO/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Anne-Goodwin/e/B0156O8PMO/

Inspired Quill: https://www.inspired-quill.com/blog/anne-goodwin/

Newsletter signup https://bit.ly/daughtershorts

Book links

Matilda Windsor webpage https://annegoodwin.weebly.com/matilda-windsor.html

Matilda Windsor link tree https://linktr.ee/matildawindsor

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57764021-matilda-windsor-is-coming-home

Matilda Windsor’s Twitter @MWiscominghome

Matilda Windsor at Inspired Quill: https://www.inspired-quill.com/product/matilda-windsor-is-coming-home/

Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1913117057/

Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/dp/1913117057/

Binding Lies (Finley Series#3) by Mariëtte Whitcomb

There is nothing a mother wouldn’t do to protect her children.

They think they’ve won. Good. While I try my best not to kill Gabriel, Aidan is hunting down the person responsible for destroying our lives; the one we call the Puppet Master. Separate but, united, Aidan and I continue to fight our enemies, desperate to reclaim what they stole from us.

#BindingLiesTheNovel #FinleySeries #MarietteWhitcomb @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours

By chance Eli and I stumble on a small, off the grid town – Pepper Gorge. It soon becomes clear this is not a place where people choose to live. Their lives controlled by a centuries-old evil, passed down through generations. If not for a woman running into the restaurant screaming about a body that has been found in the woods, we might never have realised what this place is. A cult.

Unable to turn my back on the innocent people of Pepper Gorge, Eli and I start investigating, despite it putting pregnant me in danger. No more dangerous than living in the same house as Gabriel.

With each passing day, more questions arise, and not enough answers. Not only questions about Pepper Gorge, but also the link between my father’s best friend and the Puppet Master. The most important question – what really happened the night my parents died?

Their car crash wasn’t an accident…

My Review

Who will survive and who will incur the wrath of Finley to the point where they must die? Who is friend and who is foe? As with Deception, there will be some surprises, some shocks and some disappointments (or maybe that’s just me).

I still can’t help loving Ari/Gabriel as he was in Orca, I am still hoping for his redemption – what will it take for me to change my mind and finally be convinced? I think I may be this time. He’s an assassin – probably not someone I would choose as a lover or even a friend, but then so are Finlay and Aidan, though their motives are quite different.

In Binding Lies we have a new group of villains and a new plot. Uncle Tom – godfather turned traitor, the aforementioned Ari/Gabriel, the so-called Puppet Master, who runs the whole shebang and how does it involve the possible murder of Finley’s parents. As usual there is another thread, but this time it’s not a serial killer on the loose, it’s the story of Pepper Gorge, a strange place where no-one is old and time appears to have stood still. Finley and co come across it by accident, stopping at what looks like a cafe for breakfast, to be told that they only serve boiled eggs and sausages today. I was waiting for the sound of duelling banjos (those of us old enough to remember the film Deliverance).

Finley overhears the ‘waitress’ Nicol talking about who she would be married to at sixteen and how she wants to be his only wife. Our heroes send in secret drones and do their research on the dark web, when the name Sevens Hunter appears on a blog, telling tales of strange goings on in a place that is totally off the radar, where there are hunters who hunt young women and it is all run by a group of five men who call themselves The Originals. He is, of course, talking about Pepper Gorge.

It can only mean one thing – it’s a cult. I love a good cult story – ever since the Moonies in the seventies, Waco and The Children of God to name but a few, I’ve been fascinated by cults. I can never understand how sensible, intelligent people can get wrapped up in this nonsense, even handing over large sums of money, often to sustain the lavish lifestyle of the leaders.

But Pepper Gorge is far more sinister (though probably not more so than the Children of God who advocated sex with children). We will gradually discover what’s going on and the link to the main plot. It’s disturbing stuff – even more disturbing than the thoughts that take place in Finely’s head.

Book Four Fortius will be published later this year.

Many thanks to @damppebbles for inviting me to be part of #damppebblesblogtours

About the Author

Mariëtte Whitcomb studied Criminology and Psychology at the University of Pretoria. An avid reader of psychological thrillers and romantic suspense novels, writing allows her to pursue her childhood dream to hunt criminals, albeit fictional and born in the darkest corners of her imagination. When Mariëtte isn’t writing, she reads or spends time with her family and friends.

Social Media:

Website – https://mariettewhitcomb.com/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/mariettewhitcombauthor

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/mariettewhitcomb/

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20847620.Mari_tte_Whitcomb

Bookbub – https://www.bookbub.com/authors/mariette-whitcomb

Purchase Links:

Deception

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/32T9LqO

Amazon US (ebook): https://amzn.to/3gEFvYz

Amazon US: (paperback): https://amzn.to/32XV7OJ

Binding Lies

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2NmbLTZAmazon UK: https://amzn.to/2NmbLTZ

Amazon US (ebook): https://amzn.to/2S5Mwrk

Amazon US (paperback): https://amzn.to/3dRSqET

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain

It’s never too late to start your life’s big adventure . . .

Albert Entwistle was a postman. It was one of the few things everyone knew about him. And it was one of the few things he was comfortable with people knowing.

64-year-old Albert Entwistle has been a postie in a quiet town in Northern England for all his life, living alone since the death of his mam 18 years ago. He keeps himself to himself. He always has. But he’s just learned he’ll be forced to retire at his next birthday. With no friends and nothing to look forward to, the lonely future he faces terrifies him. He realises it’s finally time to be honest about who he is. He must learn to ask for what he wants. And he must find the courage to look for George, the man that, many years ago, he lost – but has never forgotten . . .

Join Albert as he sets out to find the long-lost love of his life, and has an unforgettable and completely life-affirming adventure on the way . . . This is a love story the like of which you have never read before!

My Review

I defy anyone to read this book and not love Albert, even just a tiny bit. Poor Albert only ever had one love in his life – a love that was forbidden. He left school and became a postman, but he never forgot George and the guilt he feels for being a coward when push came to shove.

I worked in a Post Office for eight years and in my time I met a lot of postmen (who worked for Royal Mail incidentally not the Post Office). There was our regular Paul, just waiting to retire, The lovely Gosia, who had arrived from Poland ten years earlier, Stuart who literally never stopped talking, big Chris, Harvey who collected vintage cars, Tom who was really an artist – the list goes on. Every one with a story to tell, but I never met one with a story as sad as Albert’s. As far as I know.

Oh Albert – what a waste of your life! Hiding from everyone, too afraid to chat in case they got too close and he was caught out. Bullied by his father who believed any relationship that wasn’t the norm was disgusting and a mother who, following his father’s death, became his ‘patient’. As her carer, he was criticised day in day out – nothing he did was good enough.

Albert, a man living a lie. No confidence, crushed by his experiences or lack of them.

Then one day he tells someone how he feels and who he really is and they don’t bat an eyelid. So he tells someone else (who had already guessed) and they don’t judge him either. Times have changed in all those years. From being illegal, to being legal only if you were over 21, to being accepted and finally to being the ‘norm’ – oh how your father would have hated that!

Slowly, slowly Albert begins to investigate the gay community. And that leads him to start looking for George, but finds him on the greatest journey of his life. This is such a beautiful, heart-warming story and I loved it.

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole, the author and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

About the Author

Matt Cain was born in Bury and brought up in Bolton. He is an author, a leading commentator on LGBT+ issues, and a former journalist. He was Channel 4’s first Culture Editor, Editor-In-Chief of Attitude magazine, and has judged the Costa Prize, the Polari Prize and the South Bank Sky Arts Awards. He won Diversity In Media’s Journalist Of the Year award in 2017 and is an ambassador for Manchester Pride and the Albert Kennedy Trust, plus a patron of LGBT+ History Month.

Matt’s first two novels, Shot Through the Heart and Nothing But Trouble, were published by Pan Macmillan in 2014 and 2015, and his third, The Madonna Of Bolton, became Unbound’s fastest crowdfunded novel ever before its publication in 2018. His latest, The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle, will be published by Headline Review in May 2021.

He lives in London.

Emmet and Me by by Sara Gethin

Summer 1966: When her father comes home with lipstick on his collar, ten-year-old Claire’s life is turned upside down. Her furious mother leaves the family and heads to London, and Claire and her brothers are packed off to Ireland, to their reclusive grandmother at her tiny cottage on the beautifully bleak coast of Connemara.

#EmmetAndMe @SGethinWriter @honno @annecater @RandomTTours

A misfit among her new classmates, Claire finds it hard to make friends until she happens across a boy her own age from the school next door. He lives at the local orphanage, a notoriously harsh place. Amidst half-truths, lies and haunting family secrets, Claire forms a forbidden friendship with Emmet ‒ a bond that will change both their lives forever.

My Review

One of my favourite books of the year so far, I love Claire, our ten-year-old narrator. She is sharp and funny but often very naive.

It is 1966 and Claire’s mother has discovered lipstick on her husband Conor’s collar – the very same lipstick she gave her best friend. She starts yelling and smashing plates and eventually walks out, leaving him to cope with Claire, older brother Will and baby brother Louis. The first night they stay with Uncle Jack, but it is then decided that Jack will take them from their home in Wales to live temporarily with his and Conor’s mum in Connemara, while mother sorts herself out.

Living with Granny is a shock to the system. There’s little electricity – just one socket in the whole house – no indoor bath or toilet, and to use the outdoor privy you need a torch and a broom to sweep away the spiders. That’s me out then. Bath time is a tub in the kitchen.

Granny’s only ‘friend’ is Michael the farmer next door, who pops over regularly since his wife died. Granny is widowed too but don’t expect a blossoming romance!

They spend the summer at Granny’s tiny cottage, but still mother doesn’t ask for them to come home – they are told she is not well and their dad can’t cope as he has to go to work. Summer is over and Claire and Will must go to school. Will is told to call himself by his first name Patrick (Will is a ‘Proddy’ name he is told) and Claire should spell her name Clare as it’s more Irish.

It’s at Claire’s school that we learn about the House girls who sit together at the back of the class, don’t wear the same uniform, smell funny and have terrible teeth. It is also when she sees Emmet for the first time, and starts meeting him every day in her lunch breaks, hiding round the back of the toilet block. He tells her about his horse Buddy, who loves crusts (especially from the fish paste sandwiches Claire brings for lunch) and apple cores. They soon become firm friends, but she doesn’t understand how hard life is for the orphaned girls who live with the nuns, and for the boys who live with the Brothers at the Industrial school.

This is such a moving story. There is so much sadness, tragedy, hardship and cruelty – the way the Brothers treat the boys in their ‘care’ is shameful. Someone mentioned in their review that they had to take a breather three-quarters of the way through as they found it so upsetting. I get that but I just couldn’t stop reading until the very last page. A wonderful book by a wonderful new voice in literature.

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours.

About the Author

Sara Gethin grew up in Llanelli. She has a degree in Religion and Ethics in Western Thought and worked as a primary school teacher in Carmarthenshire and Berkshire. Writing as Wendy White, she has had four children’s books published, and the first of these won the Tir nan-Og Award in 2014. Her debut novel, Not Thomas, was shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize and The Waverton Good Read Award. While West Wales is still home, Sara spends much of her time in Ireland. Emmet and Me is her second novel for adults.

Deception (Finley Series#2) by Mariëtte Witcomb

We should’ve stayed in Vietnam.

Five men have vanished from their homes, and not a single piece of evidence has been left behind. The police are stumped – until the most recent victim is found, alive, and he asks to speak to me…
Ari is back.

#DeceptionTheNovel #FinleySeries #MarietteWhitcomb @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours

At Captain Taylor’s request, I join the investigation but this time I need to stay within the boring restraints of the law. Finley Williams, former vigilante turned consultant criminal profiler. How times have changed. How I have changed.

As the case unfolds, and the victims’ bodies are discovered, it becomes clear that this serial killer is unlike any I’ve ever encountered before. The murders will continue until I put a stop to them.

Tom remains relentless in his pursuit to prove that Aidan is the Marcel Sniper, even going so far as to have him dragged to the police station when somebody takes a shot at Ari. As the months go by and two men are killed by a sniper, I realise the people closest to me are out to destroy the life Aidan and I have created. Either that or Aidan is breaking his promise to never kill again.

If only victim number five hadn’t survived…

My Review

In my review of Orca I said: “Along the way, Finley meets two men, both of whom she has a relationship with (I know who I prefer)…”

I’m afraid I have a confession to make. The one I preferred was Ari. When I started reading Deception, I secretly hoped that Aidan was a) the Marcel Sniper and b) that he would get his comeuppance and Finley would be reunited with Ari. I can’t warm to Aidan – any man who called me ‘woman’ or ‘wife’ would get a smack in the chops. Or a man who booked a holiday without my input, chose my dress for me and finally bought OUR house without consulting me would get short shrift (just ask my husband).

However, now I have got that off my chest, I loved Deception. I read it in two sittings. The pace is relentless. Firstly we have a serial killer who chose Ari as their fifth victim and he is the only one to survive. In her new career as a profiler, Finley must try and decipher who the killer is and what is their motive. Why keep the victims for months and then dispatch them brutally and without giving it a second thought? Why were three kept for six months and the other two for three months? Finley is baffled – initially – but we know she’ll work it out.

In the meantime, sister Lizzie is still with Eli (who we met in Orca). And Finley has fallen out big time with godfather Tom who believes Aidan is the Marcel Sniper and intends to prove it (so do I but that’s another story).

So here we have mystery upon mystery all revolving around the baddest badass in female crime novels. I can’t wait to get stuck into Binding Lies, especially as apparently there is a cult involved and I love nothing more than a crime novel that involves a cult. Go Finley!

Many thanks to @damppebbles for inviting me to be part of #damppebblesblogtours

About the Author

Mariëtte Whitcomb studied Criminology and Psychology at the University of Pretoria. An avid reader of psychological thrillers and romantic suspense novels, writing allows her to pursue her childhood dream to hunt criminals, albeit fictional and born in the darkest corners of her imagination. When Mariëtte isn’t writing, she reads or spends time with her family and friends.

Social Media:

Website – https://mariettewhitcomb.com/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/mariettewhitcombauthor

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/mariettewhitcomb/

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20847620.Mari_tte_Whitcomb

Bookbub – https://www.bookbub.com/authors/mariette-whitcomb

Purchase Links:

Deception

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/32T9LqO

Amazon US (ebook): https://amzn.to/3gEFvYz

Amazon US: (paperback): https://amzn.to/32XV7OJ

Binding Lies

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2NmbLTZAmazon UK: https://amzn.to/2NmbLTZ

Amazon US (ebook): https://amzn.to/2S5Mwrk

Amazon US (paperback): https://amzn.to/3dRSqET


Three Weddings and a Proposal by Sheila O’Flanagan

Delphine is at a wedding when the shocking news comes. Suddenly her life changes for ever.

Delphine has worked hard for her success and she knows she’s got everything she wants. But not everyone agrees. Her opinionated family aren’t convinced that living alone with no plans to ‘settle down’ could possibly make her truly happy, and no one appreciates it when she drops everything, day or night, whenever her boss Conrad calls. Yet Delphine wouldn’t change a thing. And when Conrad makes her a surprise offer, it’s clear that her hard work is going to pay off.

#ThreeWeddingsandaProposal @sheilaoflanagan @headlinepg #RandomThingsTours @annecater @RandomTTours

A few short days later, Delphine’s life is unrecognisable. The man who once broke her heart has suddenly reappeared, and a shocking tragedy turns her world on its head. Delphine must rethink everything that matters to her, and to those around her, and decide, once and for all, if love, family and a little compromise should come before career, security and independence… and if she’s prepared to make that choice.

My Review

Delphine is a great protagonist and her wit and wisdom is only outshone by that of the author. She likes to think she is a feminist and a tough independent woman, but at times she wonders if she is really a doormat. In spite of being a qualified lawyer she works for Conrad Morgan, the CEO of a highly successful financial company. She is his executive assistant and earns a huge salary, travelling all over the world with him and attending glamorous parties, but she still has to book his flights and hotel rooms like a glorified secretary – I wonder if she collects his dry cleaning and picks out the flowers for his ex-wife Martha. In the opening chapter she is bidding at auction for an emerald bracelet for his new love, Bianca, his personal stylist who happens to be 20 years his junior.

To me this is a nightmare job – being at the beck and call of a rich financier – she even gets drawn into the problems of his love life. But then when tragedy strikes, her life changes overnight. She will need to rethink everything she has worked so hard for and begins to wonder if she has made the right choices. Her family think she has spent so much time on her career that she is going to end up a lonely old spinster with only a cat for company and she doesn’t even have a cat. She is happy with that until she meets her ex-boyfriend Ed – the only man who ever dumped her – and they rekindle their relationship.

Three Weddings and a Proposal is set in and around Dublin, over the course of one summer. The title comes from the three weddings that Delphine attends, once with a plus-one and twice as one. The proposal I won’t reveal!

This book focuses on relationships, work and female friendship and asks the question, as a woman, can you have it all? Delphine thinks she can, but in the end, does she really want it?

I loved this story. I loved all the characters, though I had my favourites and one or two I really didn’t like. It’s a fairly slow burn and no-one gets murdered (as in the books I usually read), but I became really invested in Delphine’s happiness. I wish her well for the future!!

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours.

About the Author

Sheila O’Flanagan is the author of nearly 30 bestselling chart-toppers, including The Women Who Ran Away, Her Husband’s Mistake, The Hideaway, What Happened That Night, The Missing Wife and All For You (winner of the Irish Independent Popular Fiction Book of the Year Award). After working in banking and finance for a number of years, Sheila’s love for writing blossomed into curating stories about relationships in all their many forms.

www.sheilaoflanagan.com | @sheilaoflanagan | Facebook.com/sheilabooks