Catch-Up Quickies 6

First a quick explanation!

Due to some severe health issues over the last few years, and a lingering chronic condition, my planned review schedule went right out of the window and I have been scrabbling ever since to get it back on track.

In my latest attempt to try to regain some lost ground, I plan to scrunch some of my (overdue) NetGalley reviews together into one or two posts each week: shorter reviews, but still covering all of the points I intended to.

That’s the plan anyway; let’s see how it goes…!

Title: The Octopus Man
Author:  Jasper Gibson
Publisher:  Orion Publishing Group, W&N

Blurb:  Once an outstanding law student Tom is now lost in the machinery of the British mental health system, talking to a voice no one else can hear: the voice of Malamock, the Octopus God – sometimes loving, sometimes cruel, but always there to guide him through life.

After a florid psychotic break, the pressure builds for Tom to take part in an experimental drugs trial that promises to silence the voice forever. But no one, least of all Tom, is prepared for what happens when the Octopus God is seriously threatened.

Deeply moving and tragi-comic, THE OCTOPUS MAN takes us into the complex world of voice-hearing in a bravura literary performance that asks the fundamental questions about belief, meaning, and love.

Review: This book gives a terrible, heartbreaking insight into living with schizophrenia, as both the individual with the mental illness, and their family and friends who love and want to help them.

Tom’s personality and individuality is so deeply intertwined with his Octopus God, that he struggles to extricate himself when given the choice between a ‘normal’ life free of its clutches (due to medication) or the life he is familiar with, despite its trials and suffering.

The author also shows aspects of mental illness that the average layperson may never have considered, like the dangers of alcohol and drugs on an already-overwhelmed brain; the dehumanising horrors of mental health treatment; the tendency for everyone – even the well-meaning – to treat you like a child, or less than human, into adulthood, because they assume your decision-making abilities are impaired, even if sometimes they may not be; and, of course, the helplessness and hopelessness of loved ones as they watch you flounder and have no idea what to do for the best.

By the end of the story I was devastated for both Tom and his sister, as I felt that there was no outcome that could please them both, and was left unconvinced by Tom’s rhetoric on the subject, but could also see that he had tried other options and that no other available course was working for him.

Powerful, well-written and painful to read, this is an emotional insight into the everyday challenges faced by those with mental illnesses, even if those illnesses are ‘treatable’ (not curable).

Purchase Link: The Octopus Man on Amazon

Title: The Paris Library
Author:  Janet Skeslien Charles
Publisher:  John Murray Press, Two Roads

Blurb:  PARIS, 1939
Odile Souchet is obsessed with books, and her new job at the American Library in Paris – with its thriving community of students, writers and book lovers – is a dream come true. When war is declared, the Library is determined to remain open. But then the Nazis invade Paris, and everything changes.
In Occupied Paris, choices as black and white as the words on a page become a murky shade of grey – choices that will put many on the wrong side of history, and the consequences of which will echo for decades to come.

Lily is a lonely teenager desperate to escape small-town Montana. She grows close to her neighbour Odile, discovering they share the same love of language, the same longings. But as Lily uncovers more about Odile’s mysterious past, she discovers a dark secret, closely guarded and long hidden.

Based on the true Second World War story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable novel of romance, friendship, family, and of heroism found in the quietest of places.

Review: This historical fiction novel follows two main strands in time and space: Odile in Paris, 1939, and Lily in Montana, 1984. As to be expected from the older setting and the title, the story covers themes of war and death, and love and books, but a central emotion running throughout the story is that of jealousy and the utter destruction it can cause.

Odile’s story is set in the American Library in occupied Paris, during a time when spies were everywhere, individuals were persecuted for their beliefs or heritage, and anything you said could be used against you. For Odile and her friends, the priority was to save the books as best they could, and try to protect their customers if possible. Well, for most of them anyway… not everyone is honest and trustworthy, as Odile finds out.

When Lily meets her elderly neighbour, who readers immediately recognise, she is initially immersed in the emotional troubles of an average teenager, with the added stress of her mother’s illness and her father’s response to it. But as she slowly begins to uncover Odile’s past and the two become friends, she begins to get a different perspective on life and her own future.

I really loved the idiosyncratic characters at the library – staff and regulars – and how Odile and Lily can be facing such very different trials, but be brought together by their shared love of language and literature. The story really highlights how much words can matter – that far more than sticks and stones, words can hurt or even kill, but they can also help, depending on how they are used.

This is a very moving story and is also educationally enlightening, as it is based on the true story of the heroic actions of the staff of the American Library in Paris.

Purchase Link: The Paris Library on Amazon

Title: A Flood of Posies
Author:  Tiffany Meuret
Publisher:  Black Spot Books

Blurb:  It’s 2025. Sisters Doris and Thea are ten years, and seemingly worlds, apart. Doris is trying to cope with her recent physical impairment from a car accident, while Thea roams the streets in search of more heroin. When a storm of biblical proportions strikes, the wayward sisters are begrudgingly forced together. As the rain continues and the waters rise, each attempt to survive both the flood and each other while also resisting the strange pull of the monstrous, Leviathan-like creatures that have appeared to haunt the depths of the water beneath them.

One year later, Thea floats throughout a ravaged, flood-soaked world. Her former life drowned beneath metric tons of water, she and her only companion, a sour man called Robert, battle starvation, heat stroke, and the monstrous, Leviathan-like creatures that appeared beneath the water alongside the flood. When they come across what they assume to be an abandoned tugboat, Thea’s journey takes a new turn, and the truth about the flood and the monsters seems more intricately linked to her past then she may realize.

Review: I thought this book was going to be a post-apocalyptic fantasy story, but it is really either a post-apocalyptic survival story or a post-drug hallucination, or somewhere between the two.

In addition to substance abuse and addiction, the story covers potential triggers areas such as child abuse, emotional damage, estrangement and repression. Throughout, the question hovers: is Thea dealing with horror-style monsters, human monsters or the monsters in her own mind.

The main focus of the story is exploring the complex, damaged and damaging relationship between the two sisters, Thea and Doris, as they perpetually resent and misunderstand each other’s struggles.

The book is unrelentingly dark and hopeless in tone and is very well-written, in its nightmarish bleakness. However, I did feel that the blurb and cover were misleading, as they lead readers to believe they are getting a horror-fantasy story, when it is really a dark family drama.

Purchase Link: A Flood of Posies on Amazon

Title: Daughters of Night
Author:  Laura Shepherd-Robinson
Publisher:  Pan Macmillan, Mantle

Blurb:  London, 1782. Desperate for her politician husband to return home from France, Caroline ‘Caro’ Corsham is already in a state of anxiety when she finds a well-dressed woman mortally wounded in the bowers of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. The Bow Street constables are swift to act, until they discover that the deceased woman was a highly paid prostitute, at which point they cease to care entirely. But Caro has motives of her own for wanting to see justice done, and so sets out to solve the crime herself. Enlisting the help of thieftaker Peregrine Child, their inquiry delves into the hidden corners of Georgian society, a world of artifice, deception and secret lives.

But with many gentlemen refusing to speak about their dealings with the dead woman, and Caro’s own reputation under threat, finding the killer will be harder, and more treacherous, than she can know . . .

Review: This historical mystery is set in an atmospheric Georgian London, as the intrepid – if unlikely – pairing of respectable society wife, Mrs Caroline Corsham with thieftaker, Peregrine Child.

Caro and Child take on equal roles in the investigation of the murder of Lady Lucia, an Italian Countess and friend of Caro’s, as the police lose interest in the case as soon as they discover Lucia may not quite be all she seemed.

Laura Shepherd-Robinson spins a complex web of blackmail, rape and murder, in which motives and suspects abound, and the condemnation of the court of public opinion forces people into secrets and shame. We peek into a world of prostitution in many different forms, and see the roles power and privilege play in exploitation. And alert readers will spot the parallels between Greek mythology in the characters and events.

Daughters of Night is a clever and gripping mystery that makes me want more from Caro Corsham and co.

Purchase Link: Daughters of Night on Amazon

Title: The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman
Author:  Julietta Henderson
Publisher:  Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, Bantam Press

Blurb:  It was a journey they would always remember . . . for a friend they’d never forget.

Norman and Jax are a legendary comedic duo in waiting, with a five-year plan to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe by the time they’re fifteen. But when Jax dies before they turn twelve, Norman decides a tribute act for his best friend just can’t wait, so he rewrites their plan:

1. Look after mum | 2. Find Dad | 3. Get to the Edinburgh Fringe

Sadie knows she won’t win Mother of the Year and she’s not proud she doesn’t know who her son’s father is. But when she finds Norman’s list, all she wants is to see her son smile again… So they set off on a pilgrimage to Edinburgh, making a few stops to find Norman’s dad along the way.

The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman is an inspiring, feel-good novel about a small boy with a big heart – and even bigger dreams.

Review: Whilst it does involve humour, this book is not funny. It is heart-breaking and heart-warming in equal portions, and you will cry and smile, rather than laugh.

The book begins with the utter devastation of a vulnerable 12 year old boy after the tragic death of his best friend leaves him both grieving and trying to hold up the weight of the world in the form of his mum’s happiness and his friend’s (and his own) dreams.

We see the story from Norman’s point of view and also from that of his mum, Sadie, who is struggling with her own mental health and self-esteem issues and feels completely helpless in the face of Norman’s loss when she hasn’t processed her own. The memories they both have of Jax explain why though – his effervescent, ebullient approach to life infuses every page and makes him another main character despite him dying before the first page.

The story takes us on a tour of Penzance, Bournemouth, Barnstaple, Edinburgh and Swansea with Norman and Sadie as they attempt to look after each other, make new friends and follow Norman’s dreams with dogged persistence and trepidation respectively.

I found it sad to see how Sadie’s issues with herself contaminate her view of her son, to the point that she loves him dearly but has no faith in him at all, and was glad that she was able to develop as the story progressed and recognise her own needs. And I was horrified at the little Edinburgh sub-plot that saw a 12 year old roaming the streets alone and being led into the local crime scene by a mysterious and completely irresponsible stranger!

The story ends with a warm, hopeful glow, as the main characters come to terms with themselves and each other, and look forward to a new, brighter future, but I was still left with a lingering sadness for them too, and for the lovely Jax who couldn’t be there with them.

Definitely one to read if you are looking for ‘all the feels’.

Purchase Link: The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman on Amazon

This was a tough selection to review – all very different and read quite a while ago, so not ‘fresh’ in my mind… thank goodness I take notes as I read!

It’s nice to start to see some light at the end of my TBR pile, however, and I am loving revisiting these stories with a fresh perspective.

More to come, so do stay tuned…!


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