The Emperor of Shoes Blog Tour

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Alex Cohen, a twenty-six-year-old Jewish Bostonian, is living in southern China, where his father runs their family-owned shoe factory. Alex reluctantly assumes the helm of the company, but as he explores the plant’s vast floors and assembly lines, he comes to a grim realization: employees are exploited, regulatory systems are corrupt and Alex’s own father is engaging in bribes to protect the bottom line.

When Alex meets a seamstress named Ivy, his sympathies begin to shift. She is an embedded organizer of a pro-democratic Chinese party, secretly sowing dissonance among her fellow labourers. Will Alex remain loyal to his father and his heritage? Or will the sparks of revolution ignite?

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I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of Alex Cohen, a young American living in China, where his father runs a shoe factory which Alex finds himself running for him.  Alex is young enough to question the status quo when he arives and realises that the ethics of this factory are somewhat questionable and the ethical problems go much deeper than he might initially have suspected. This is definitely a novel to make you think and I frequently had to put it down To mull over some of the ideas in it. Alex is put into several challenging scenarios and it made me think hard about what I myself might have done in the circumstances.

In this factory, the workers are clearly being exploited, any laws that actually do exist are corrupt and only intermittently applied and Alex uncovers the fact that his dad has been using bribery to make sure that his interests are protected. The next time you buy a pair of summer sandals for a fiver, I challenge you not to think about the workers in this book, after reading it for yourself. It’s not that it makes for unpalatable reading, just that it rattles you out of the state of convenient amnesia that we can all suffer from at times. I found myself really thinking hard about the ways that we can all turn a blind eye to things that might not suit our narrative and Alex isn’t alone in finding out that it’s more complicated to stand up for what you believe in than you might think.

When Alex starts to find a mysterious and compelling attraction for a  seamstress called Ivy, his complicated feelings start to grow even more discomfiting. She is linked to a pro-democratic Chinese party, and is working undercover to spread news about the way that their rights re being exploited to the other workers. Alex is torn between his own feelings of discomfort and moral unease and his loyalty to his father’s legacy as this compelling novel unfolds.

 

IMG_3886.JPGI was reading this beautifully crafted novel in a gorgeous valley in the Cotswolds, but I could definitely feel myself being transported to a hot and dusty factory through the power of Spencer Wise’s prose. I found Alex an interesting character and whilst I was fascinted by the situation that he found hinself in,  I found myself looking at him almost at arms length and I wondered if this was part of the novel’s cleverness: Alex definitely finds it hard to connect with people and this sense of distance was something I felt as I read about his experiences and doubts in this novel.

The Emperor Of Shoes is a well crafted and thought provoking read which definintely held my interest as we see Alex being tested in almost every sense – professional ties, ethical ties, family ties and emotional ties are all pulling him in different directions and its hard at times to watch the way that Alex’s situation unfolds. If you want to know how he resolves this unenviable situation, you’ll have to read it for yourself...

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Writer On The Shelf

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Spencer Wise was born in Boston in 1977. He holds a BA from Tufts University, an MA in fiction from The University of Texas, where he was a James Michener Fellow, and a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University. Wise is currently a Visiting Lecturer at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where he is at work on his second novel, Holderness.

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How Far We Fall Blog Tour

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I am delighted to be the final blogger on this fantastic Blog Tour for How Far We Fall, the latest novel from author of Daughter –  Jane Shemilt. Many thanks to Jenny Platt at Michael Joseph for inviting me to join the tour and to the publisher for providing an advance copy for review. I’m an English teacher ‘by day’ and once I knew that this was a reimagining of Macbeth, I couldn’t wait to read it…

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The perfect couple

Meeting Albie gave Beth a fresh start – a chance to leave her past behind. Now she has her new husband; an ambitious, talented young neurosurgeon.

The perfect marriage

Their marriage gives Beth the safe haven she’s always wanted – with just one catch. Albie has no idea of the secrets she’s keeping. He doesn’t know that years ago, Beth had an affair with Ted, the boss helping Albie’s star ascend. Nor that the affair’s devastating ending will have consequences for their own future.

The perfect storm

So when Ted’s generous patronage begins to sour, Beth senses everything she’s built could crumble. And she sees an opportunity. To satisfy Albie’s ambitions, and her own obsessive desire for revenge . . .

She’ll keep her marriage and her secret safe.

But how far will the fall take them?

 

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes” 

Macbeth, or The Scottish Play, is my very favourite of all Shakespeare’s creations and so I was totally intrigued to see how Jane Shemilt would transform Dunsinane and bring these bloody deeds into the present day.

I think it’s a bold move to take such a well loved tale and let loose your imagination  on it, but rest assured, I loved the way that I could inhabit both storylines at the same time – like a Magic Eye picture so that I could enjoy the new story whilst seeing all the way that it intersected with the original

The novel replaces the Macbeths with Beth, Albie and Ted. Beth is a theatre nurse who used to work with neurosurgeon Ted. The two of them had an affair which ended badly. Ted Is a great character, like many top doctors, he has somewhat of a god complex and is fascinating to second guess. Our third member of the “cast” is Albie. Albie is Being groomed as Ted’s successor and this is true in more ways than one as he also falls, like his predecessor, in love with Beth. Are you following so far? Good.

Just like the original, Jane Shemilt weaves a tale full of darkest revenge, soaring ambition and searing betrayal. Ted succeeds in making us detest his Machiavellian manoeuvres, but every plot has to have a “baddie” and Ted might not be the only one to watch in this gripping read…If you haven’t seen the Modern day Macbeth with James McAvoy as the chef, then you definitely should. I enjoyed comparing the characters in my head and looking for the parallels.

As things develop in this ménage a trois, your loyalties and certainties might very well shift, just as they do in Macbeth and you might also think about what you yourself might be prepared to do in the name of ambition. This is well depicted in the novel and hard to discuss without spoilers – all I can say is you’ll be engrossed and if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to put it down unless your husband says something like “Is this a gin I see before thee?” And pours you a long cool drink so you can continue to read it in the sunshine.

Jane Shemilt’s “Daughter” was a great read that I’ve tweeted about previously- but I loved How Far We Fall far more.  I really got absorbed in their world whilst loving the Scottish connections and the parallels with Shakespeare’s best tragedy. It’s interesting to read it with that mindset: that a tragedy has to contain a fall from grace through a vulnerability and I feel that this idea is woven into  the plot seamlessly. If we were pushed hard enough, How Far would we be prepared to go to protect our own position. This would be a good book group read as it would definitely provoke lots of discussion.

I was lucky enough to be reading this in a gorgeous converted Shepherds hut in the Cotswolds where I could give it my undivided attention and I think that this added to my enjoyment. In a Shakespeare play, you feel this rising action as you move inevitably to the denouement and this is how I got to experience How Far We Fall, by reading it from cover to cover in one day. This would make a fabulous holiday read as long as you’re not shy about reading descriptions of operations and you’ll love the way that the characters come to life before your eyes and seem so real as you immerse yourself in their world. This is a well crafted and clever novel that takes a classic and adds an original touch. I loved the way that it twisted itself around you and held you in its grip until you found out its conclusion. I’m left wondering what’s next for Jane Shemilt? I’d love to see her take on another favourite, Othello, but I’ll just have to be patient and keep my fingers crossed. Maybe I can get three witches to predict it?

I Have added a photo of my gorgeous  reading retreat below. I Can absolutely recommend it for a cool and relaxing reading afternoon. A good soak in the hot tub afterwards with a pink  gin was the perfect finale after this fab summer read. You should definitely buy yourself a copy to enjoy this summer.

 

Writer On The Shelf

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While working as a GP, Jane Shemilt completed a postgraduate diploma in Creative Writing at Bristol University and went on to study for the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa, gaining both with distinction. Her first novel, Daughter, was selected for the Richard & Judy Book Club, shortlisted for the Edgar Award and the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, and went on to become the bestselling debut novel of 2014.

She and her husband, a professor of neurosurgery, have five children and live in Bristol.

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The Death of Mrs Westaway

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When Harriet Westaway receives an unexpected letter telling her she’s inherited a substantial bequest from her Cornish grandmother, it seems like the answer to her prayers. She owes money to a loan shark and the threats are getting increasingly aggressive: she needs to get her hands on some cash fast.

There’s just one problem – Hal’s real grandparents died more than twenty years ago. The letter has been sent to the wrong person. But Hal knows that the cold-reading techniques she’s honed as a seaside fortune teller could help her con her way to getting the money. If anyone has the skills to turn up at a stranger’s funeral and claim a bequest they’re not entitled to, it’s her.

Hal makes a choice that will change her life forever. But once she embarks on her deception, there is no going back. She must keep going or risk losing everything, even her life…

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The brand new psychological thriller from the Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in Cabin 10.

I bloody loved this book – it had everything I look for in a page-turner with a great main character and a wonderfully gothic setting too. If you’ve just broken up from school for the summer like me then this is definitely deserving of a spot in your hand luggage as it is sure to keep you glued to your sunlounger desperate to find out how Hal’s fortunes actually turn out…

I’m going to do this review a little differently because I enjoyed the book so much. I’m going to do a wee ‘reading’ myself, explaining how much I loved Ruth Ware’s latest fictional feast.

The World

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The setting of this book is fantastic. You’ll definitely be drawn right into Hal’s world and feel like you’re right there with her as she navigates this pretty intriguing set of circumstances. Hal’s world will remind you of the very best of Du Maurier with a dash of Agatha Christie in the idea that we have to find out who the person is within a closed group who ‘dunnit’ I absolutely love this ‘locked room’ setting and was drawn right into its gothic world where you just don’t know who you can trust. The house definitely comes alive as you’re reading as – just like Manderley – it takes on a life of its own and starts to intrigue the reader just as much as Hal herself. I was definitely under its spell and just could not stop turning the pages to see if I was right.

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The plot is just as pleasing as the setting and I’ve chosen this card to represent the idea that you definitely feel like fate is playing its part in Hal’s predicament. There are quite a few misdirections and false clues and this made me like it all the more. Like all the very best mysteries you definitely feel caught up in something bigger than yourself and you’ll be impressed by Hal’s audacity as she attempts to pull this one off! You’ll definitely be tensely hoping that your suspicions are right as you get caught in this book’s spell. No spoilers, but there were times when I really wanted to shout through the pages to her and tell her what I thought was just about to happen!

The Empress

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As well as setting and plot – this book definitely hinges on character and I’ve chosen The Empress to depict Hal herself as she navigates the mysterious world she finds herself in and attempts to find out the secrets at the heart of the intriguing Westaways. Anyone who has ever read a set of cards knows that it’s the people you’re reading, rather than the cards themselves and this family are not the easiest to second -guess. You will be captivated by Hal and her situation and hoping that this dark, Cornish house – that she herself compares to Manderley – is worth the not inconsiderable risk she is putting herself into.

The Magician

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My final card is reserved for Ruth Ware herself. She is a bloody magician and I loved this book even more than her previous books. The fact that two of them will be appearing on our screens in due course made me enormously happy and optimistic that Mrs Westaway will be making it a hat-trick and that I’ll get to see Trepassen House for myself in the not-to-distant future. Hopefully, it’s even better than the one that I’ve imagined. I feel like I was whisked away from Scotland to beautiful Cornwall as I turned the pages and I can’t recommend it enough. Treat yourself to a copy and immerse yourself in Hal’s story without delay. This might be the perfect Summer read and I can’t wait to see where Ruth Ware takes us next…

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Writer on the Shelf

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Ruth Ware’s first two thrillers, In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10, were international smash-hits, and appeared on bestseller list around the world, including the Sunday Times and New York Times. The film rights to her debut were snapped up by New Line Cinema, and her books are published in more than 40 languages.

Ruth lives near Brighton with her family. Visit her website at http://www.ruthware.com to find out more.

The Woolgrower’s Companion: Virtual Blog Tour

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Kate Dowd’s mother raised her to be a lady but she must put away her white gloves and pearls to help save her family’s sheep farm in New South Wales.
It is 1945, the war drags bitterly on and it feels like the rains will never come again. All the local, able-bodied young men, including the husband Kate barely knows, have enlisted and Kate’s father is struggling with his debts and his wounds from the Great War. He borrows recklessly from the bank and enlists two Italian prisoners of war to live and work on the station.
With their own scars and their defiance, the POWs Luca and Vittorio offer an apparent threat to Kate and Daisy, the family’s young Aboriginal maid. But danger comes from surprising corners and Kate finds herself more drawn to Luca than afraid of him.
Scorned bank managers, snobbish neighbours and distant husbands expect Kate to fail and give up her home but over the course of a dry, desperate year she finds within herself reserves of strength and rebellion that she could never have expected.
The Woolgrower’s Companion is the gripping story of one woman’s fight to save her home and a passionate tribute to Australia’s landscape and its people.

I read this fantastic read lying in the hot sun in my garden last week and the soaring temperature almost made me feel like I was ‘down under’ in the Australian outback for the day… All I needed was a few ‘tinnies’ and I definitely feel like I was reading it on location.

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The Woolgrower’s Companion is a fascinating and immersive read, describing the harsh and brutal reality of running a farm, beset by financial hardship and the complexities of the gender, cultural and racial divide and how it impinges upon the lives of the people whose lives are thrown together on the Dowd farm and how their trajectories criss-cross as circumstances conspire against Kate and her companions . It is a time period that I didn’t really know that much about and I love this kind of novel, where I finish it and end up on Google for hours, researching all of the events in the book and looking at maps and photos of the real settings and events that have been portrayed in its pages.

Rhoades’ novel begins as the war is ending and Kate is beginning to realise that her struggles are far from over. The battles that she’ll have to fight are as gruelling as many of the men on the front and little does she know what fate will throw at her as her whole world changes beyond all recognition. I loved the character of Kate and I found it easy to connect with her grit and determination as she battles to overcome the many obstacles that she has to endure.

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If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I really love a novel where you get involved with the experiences and feelings of more than one character. I think that Rhoades is equally skilled at portraying the characters of Kate, the Italian Prisoners of War Lucca and Vittorio and her young aboriginal maid, Daisy – the vivid writing means that all of these characters engage the reader and they spring to life off the page. Rhoades paints a vivid portrait of their struggles to survive in a dangerous and unpredictable time in history. I hate including spoilers so all I’ll say is that Kate’s determination makes her stand out, in a historical period where women trying to assert themselves is definitely a risky proposition and there are several tense moments when your heart will definitely be in your mouth.

Kate’s life of ease and privilege before the war has ill-prepared her for the privations that she has to endure once every penny has to count – however, she refuses to let the difficulties that she has to endure to harden or coarsen her and she remains a sensitive and compassionate character throughout this novel. I loved the way that there was an excerpt from the real Woolgrowers Companion right the way through this novel and the way that connected with Kate’s experiences provided me with much food for thought as I was turning the pages.

The way that Joy Rhoades brings Kate’s situation so vividly to life on the page made me totally lose myself in this fantastic read. I couldn’t tear myself away from the suffering that she had to endure and even though Rhoades pulls no punches in her description of the way that Daisy is treated is both moving and disturbing as she opens your eyes to an aspect of Australian history that you might not know very much about. This lends The Woolgrower’s Companion an added poignancy and made me remember that even though this is a novel, the stories it tells were very much a reality for thousands of Aboriginal women who found themselves trapped in a situation that they were powerless to do anything about.

If you love a historical read that brings moral dilemmas vividly to life and enjoy being totally immersed in a powerful and vivid narrative then you’ll love The Woolgrower’s Companion. It’s a powerful story and I found myself quite emotional as it drew to a close, knowing as I did that even though Kate,

Lucca and Daisy were fictional characters, they really lived for me whilst I was lost in the book. I will definitely look out for more from Joy Rhoades as the balance of historical detail, wonderful characterisation and emotional punch was a winning combination for me.

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I would like to thank Sian Devine for inviting me to participate in the blog tour – I am a huge Thorn Birds fanatic and have already bought this for several friends as an essential holiday read. – I’ll definitely be looking out for the other blog posts to see what my fellow bloggers thought of this emotional and memorable tale.

 

Writer on the Shelf

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Joy Rhoades was born in a small town in the bush in Queensland, Australia, with an early memory of flat country and a broad sky. Growing up, she loved two things best: reading and the bush, often climbing a tree to sit with a book. Her family would visit her grandmother, a fifth-generation grazier and a gentle teller of stories of her life on her family’s sheep farm.

At 13, Joy left for Brisbane, first for school and then to study law at university. After graduating, she worked all over the world as a lawyer. It was in New York that she completed a master’s degree in Creative Writing at the New School University, and the people, the history, and the landscape of her childhood led her to start writing The Woolgrower’s Companion.

She now lives in London with her French husband and their two young children, but she misses the Australian sky.

You can find Joy on Twitter @JoyRhoades1, or follow her on Facebook and make sure that you visit her website to find out more about the story behind the book.

Love & Death in Shanghai – Blog Tour

Shanghai 1924. Sam Shuttleworth joins the Municipal Police to escape his working-class roots in Lancashire. He is looking for good pay, adventure and beautiful women.

Shanghai is torn by gang warfare, political instability and violence. After erotic affairs, and seeking stability, he marries his glamorous Russian lover. The relationship is tumultuous, with infidelities on both sides.
In the 1930s, Japan invades China and moves into Shanghai with consequent pillage, rape and cruelty. Sam has to negotiate between warring sides, and wonders if he will ever find peace amidst the chaos of his relationships and the bloody events of his career.

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I was so excited to receive a copy of Love and Death in Shanghai after reading lots of books set in a contemporary setting, that I literally read it in a single sitting…

The fact that Love and Death in Shanghai has its roots in real life events and weaves a narrative around them is something which I especially loved about this book. I read it straight after the fabulous ‘I’ll be Gone in the Dark’ and I really enjoyed the post-reading research that I did to find out the ‘story behind the story’ in both cases.

All of you who’ve yearned to time travel to exotic climes and a very different world – Elizabeth’s book transports us to bustling and dramatic pre-war Shanghai and let me tell you, readers – I really feel like I got the chance to experience it for myself as if I was a time traveller magically transported there.

Love and Death in Shanghai is the kind of novel that I absolutely love. Sam and his Russian lover,  Lulu are connected despite their very different backgrounds and experiences. Elizabeth writes both their characters so convincingly that you really feel that you’ve spent time in their world, making it very hard to pull yourself away. It’s a novel made for immersing yourself in on a hot summer afternoon and I got lost in it in this weekend in this stunning summer weather

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Sam is a character with lots going on beneath the surface. His life is very different from the industrial British world he left behind and his new life in Shanghai is certainly far from dull. His varied connections and relationships draw us into the many worlds of Shanghai and we get to peek behind many doors that might have remained locked to us.  The way we duck and weave with Sam from nightclubs to police business to high society is truly fascinating and such a fantastic technique to draw us closer to Sam and his world; I loved the idea that we were dropped into his world without all the answers and had to figure things out from the snippets we could gather – much as he would have had to.

Sam’s time in Shanghai spells the beginning of some very mysterious goings-on. This part too is convincingly conveyed – without being over the top or stretching our belief in Sam’s story.  The part of the novel which details the Japanese invasion is a fascinating and unputdownable one which really brings the setting to life and allowed me to lose myself in its twists and turns whilst remaining wholly connected to Sam and this exotic world that he’s found himself in.

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Lulu’s story – is a successful counterpoint to Sam’s narrative that didn’t jar with or distract from his tale. There was a pleasing balance of her past and his present and both characters were so well-drawn that I felt like I  wanted to dedicate my attention to the way their stories interconnected, rather than feeling that one overwhelmed the other. The wartime setting was stunningly brought to life and I soon lost myself in the way that the glittering streets, glamorous hostesses and vibrant ex-pat life were decimated by the trauma of war and you will definitely get caught up in the drama alongside this novel’s characters

The atmosphere of turmoil and drama is perfectly maintained throughout this wonderful novel; the setting of pre-war Shanghai was something that I wanted to read more about as soon as I’d finished reading Love and Death in Shanghai. Elizabeth J. Hall manages to make the setting as compelling and ‘present’ as her characters. Even though I was reading it in Scotland, I felt Shanghai come to life as I walked in the footsteps of these characters and experienced their poignant and dramatic stories

Elizabeth J. Hall is a talented new voice. She draws the reader into her characters’ worlds and makes them live for us as we read. These characters’ tales are all the more powerful due to their connections with real-life events. I was happily engrossed in my Shanghai research and got lost in a post-reading, research haze for a whole afternoon after reading it. You’ll definitely love this novel if you like historical fiction that’s well researched and balances its characterisation with a real sense of being transported to a different time and place. I agree with Jill Dawson that it’s totally ‘riveting’

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Writer On The Shelf

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Elizabeth J.Hall works in politics in the UK. Love and Death in Shanghai, her debut novel was inspired by the life and death of her uncle who worked in the Shanghai Municipal Police in the 1920s and 30s. Elizabeth’s first memory is of her mother crying when she received a telegram reporting his assassination.

Elizabeth lives in East Sussex with her husband. After a degree in French, she trained as a teacher with a particular interest in social and health education. She worked in the USA, West Africa and London before becoming a consultant, developing programmes of health education abroad, including Central Asia and Russia.

Huge thanks as ever to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation to participate in this Blog Tour – I loved being transported to exotic climes and immersing myself  in Sam’s world whilst I read this book.

Love and Death in Shanghai can be bought from here.

Elizabeth J. Hall website: http://www.elizabethjhall.com/

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I Found My Tribe – Blog Tour

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Ruth’s tribe are her lively children and her filmmaker husband, Simon, who has Motor Neurone Disease and can only communicate with his eyes. Ruth’s other ‘tribe’ are the friends who gather at the cove in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, and regularly throw themselves into the freezing cold water, just for kicks.

‘The Tragic Wives’ Swimming Club’, as they jokingly call themselves, meet to cope with the extreme challenges life puts in their way, not to mention the monster waves rolling over the horizon.

An invocation to all of us to love as hard as we can, and live even harder, I Found My Tribe is an urgent and uplifting letter to a husband, family, friends, the natural world and the brightness of life.

I found My Tribe is available just now in ebook and hardback.  It will be available in paperback on the 28th June.  You can purchase a copy here.

 

I was so excited to receive a copy of this book and was really looking forward to reading it as I spent time last summer in beautiful Greystones and was looking forward to reading about how Ruth and her tribe got so much out of this gorgeous place and the strength they find in each other.

I loved eating at the Happy Pear in Greystones and found their philosophy on life so inspiring too. Dave and Steve also swim regularly in the bracing Atlantic in GreystonesCAFE-SIGN-min

and I find their words about their daily sunrise swim matches the mood of Ruth’s book so well.

‘Our swimrise routine is one of the best things to have come out of last year. It is the perfect combination of so many of the things we value in life – people, community, a connection to nature, showing up, overcoming fear, grabbing hold of the day and all with a really special sense of togetherness and joy. Plus, like lots of the best things in life, it’s totally free!’

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I found Ruth’s memoir so inspiring. The full details about caring for someone with MNS is upfront, honest and direct. In it, she encourages us to just ‘dive in’ to the situations life throws at us and even though we might feel scared, we should embrace that feeling. She writes:

I stand on those steps every time with raw fear. Your brain screams no! Steer past your brain. This makes no sense. That’s why it makes perfect sense.”

This is a book that has such a vivid voice, you’ll close the final page feeling like you’ve met Ruth in person. She’s not only astonishingly honest and direct, for a book dealing with such an emotive issue, she’s also incredibly funny. Friendship is one of the main things that keeps her going amidst all the things in her life which are outwith her control – where even her house isn’t her own as there are nurses there 24/7  Her absolute saviours are The Tragic Wives Swimming Club, made up of Ruth’s friend Michelle, a forensic psychologist and mother of four, and her childhood friend Aifric, an architect. Michelle’s husband, journalist Galen English, a keen cyclist, crashed his bike in 2014 leaving him paralysed and in a wheelchair. Ruth and Michelle became even closer as a result of their shared experience.

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Plunging into the sea is not just escapism, but a chance to be fully in a moment with no stress or things to be done, just you and the elements, the perfect essence of living in the now.  I loved the story of her ‘mid life tattoo’ where she describes her son saying that praying to Poseidon made more sense than praying to any of the Catholic saints. The descriptions of her swims are perfectly described, but they are only one of the reasons this book is so good. Her descriptions of family life post-MNS diagnosis – including their decision to expand their family are so humanly drawn that you’ll feel like you are sitting in a cafe, with some of that fantastic coffee that Ruth enjoys so much, hearing it from her across the table – it’s heartwarming in the best possible sense as it’s so human. It’s hands-down the best book I’ve read this year and I think everyone should read it. You can read more about Ruth’s story here

Thanks so much to Anne Cater for inviting me onto the blog tour, she always knows that books that I’ll really love and I doubt I’ll read a better memoir in 2018. Make sure you look out for the other posts on this blog tour to see what these other bloggers thought of it

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Writer On The Shelf

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Ruth Fitzmaurice was born in 1976 and grew up in Co. Louth, Ireland. She was a radio researcher and producer when she married film director and writer, Simon, in 2004 and had three children. In 2008, Simon was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and given three years to live. Simon went into respiratory failure in 2010 and was accidentally placed on a ventilator during an emergency procedure. He decided, against medical advice, to keep the ventilator; Ruth and Simon went on to have twins in 2012. In January 2016, Ruth wrote her first piece for the Irish Times about family life and a new passion, sea swimming. She lives in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, with her five children Jack, Raife, Arden, Sadie, Hunter, a dog and a cat. Simon passed away in October 2017.

Twitter @RuthONeillFitz

The Reading Party – Blog Tour

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It is the 1970s and Oxford’s male institutions are finally opening their doors to women. Sarah Addleshaw – young, spirited and keen to prove her worth – begins the term as the first female academic at her college. She is, in fact, its only female ‘Fellow’.

Impulsive love affairs – with people, places and the ideas in her head – beset Sarah throughout her first exhilarating year as a don, but it is the Reading Party that has the most dramatic impact.

Asked to accompany the first mixed group of students on the annual retreat in Cornwall, Sarah finds herself illicitly drawn to one of them, the suave American Tyler. Torn between professional integrity and personal feelings, she faces her biggest challenge to date.

A fresh view of Oxford, seen through the eyes of a young woman historian appointed to a male college in 1976, who tells her own story with wit and feeling in this original and charming novel.

In 1992 I went on a Reading Retreat to a beautiful house in Glenesk called The Burn a  stunning Mansion House used by the English Dept of St Andrews University where I was an undergraduate student. This was an absolutely unforgettable four days for many reasons – and this was one of the reasons that I was so excited when Anne Cater invited me to participate in this blog tour for Fenella Gentleman’s new novel.

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Visit The Burn Website here

I was totally intrigued by the premise of this novel and keen to immerse myself in this intense world by reading about it after experiencing this situation for myself so many years ago. It was interesting to read about the experiences of a woman being appointed as a  new Tutor in the very male-dominated world of academia in the 1970s; there are so many issues of equality and female experiences of closed worlds that still remain relevant so many years later. It’s tempting to see the 50’s as ancient history for young people today, but it’s quite alarming how little had altered by my experiences in the 90’s – and how much young women today might find resonant.

I enjoy books in ‘closed’ settings and this book is closed in both senses – it’s a single week
and a closed group of people, all thrown together in the week during which this reading party takes place: I also enjoyed the sense that this is a momentous week for so many of them – a week that alters things for nearly all of the people who take part in this academic retreat.

The Reading Party is set in gorgeous Cornwall, rather than rural Aberdeenshire like the retreat I went on – but there were so many things that really struck a chord. Both weeks allocated specific time for study but also time to enjoy the countryside and group tasks to bring people together, so what you get out of the experience is so much more than academic.  This was like my experience as being away from the structured environment of the university changed everything. It was interesting to see this experience from the other side of the table: witnessing the experience from the perspective of an academic rather than a student. Fenella Gentleman is a sensitive and articulate writer who has created a cast of characters that are wholly believable and interact very naturally with one another. I loved the character of Sarah, who has to evolve in front of our eyes as she tries to survive her first year in a job where being a woman is definitely more of a setback than a perk…

I really liked Sarah. She is able to be herself despite being presented with an alien social group that she has to navigate carefully if she wants to ‘survive’ – I loved hearing her internal deliberations and I think that this is one of the ways that Gentleman allows us to connect with Sarah so successfully. Who wouldn’t sympathise with that feeling of hesitation about ‘…how to pass the various decanters’ without looking like you just don’t fit in? It’s not just a question of gender, there are allegiances, social class and group dynamics to carefully navigate – it’s quite the tightrope act and Gentleman’s deft characterisation ensures that we are walking alongside Sarah every step of the way.

Sarah was easy for me to connect with – I liked all of her character traits as she is clever, compassionate and also determined to succeed which made her a much more interesting person, in my opinion. You will be intrigued to see how she copes and adapts to this ‘brave new world’ as the novel progresses and I think you’ll feel that she deserves to succeed as she does not let the setbacks she encounters deter her from feeling like being there is her right as a faculty member and hoping that her quietly dignified approach wins the day.

Even though I really connected with the precise situation that Sarah found herself in, I definitely think that you don’t have to have been on an academic retreat to enjoy this book.  It is still possible for readers to feel a genuine connection with the situation that Sarah found herself in, regardless of your own profession or set of circumstances. Who hasn’t felt like a fish out of water? Who hasn’t understood the right way to fit in – or felt judged for things that are totally outwith their control? For all of these reasons, Sarah’s situation is a very easy one to identify with and I know that many readers will engage with her refreshing take on being an ‘outsider’ in a very close-knit and well-established group. I didn’t want it to end – I wanted to relive my reading retreat experience forever…

I recommend this book to anyone who likes a compelling read with well-drawn characters where the historical period is lovingly recreated and the first-person narration lets you totally immerse yourself in that time and place. I loved reading about Sarah’s experience and it provoked a fabulous trip down memory lane for me as well as a fantastic and thought-provoking read.

 

The Reading Party was published by Muswell Press in  June 2018.

Thanks to the publishers and  Anne Cater for asking me to join the blog tour and for the advance copy.

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Writer On The Shelf

Fenella Gentleman studied PPE at Wadham College, Oxford, when it went mixed. She participated in two reading parties in Cornwall. After graduating she worked in publishing, before moving into marketing and communications in the professions. She lives in London and North Norfolk.

 

You can find Fenella on Twitter here!

She is great company on Twitter and very supportive of her fellow authors too.

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