Review- 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 … 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 – intertwine in unexpected ways – everything changes. For everyone.

A topical and moving 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 … to survive … This Is How We Are Human is a searching, rich and thought-provoking novel with an emotional core that will warm and break your heart.


A new Louise Beech novel is always a reason to be excited about buying a book, because every story she tells comes straight from the heart.

Full of warmth and understanding, This Is How We are Human, shows once again why she is loved by so many readers. It’s a tender, honest and powerfully wrought tale of a mother’s love for her son, a daughter’s love of her father and a son’s search for a place in a world that has rejected him. In bringing their lives together, Louise Beech has crafted a story that will forever haunt my heart and mind.

Until a few years ago, to my knowledge I had never met a autistic child or adult, in the years since, I have more knowledge and understanding because many close to me have been diagnosed. It has been a difficult and often painful journey for them and few understand the way society rejects those that are ‘different’, but Louise Beech does and she gives them and their families a voice in this outstanding novel. The stories of Sebastian, his mother Veronica and Violetta are woven together into tale, of how love brings not just happiness and joy, it can bring also pain. That the decisions we make because we love, can have consequences that ripple across lives in never ending circles.

Sebastian is autistic, yet that is not who he is, not how he defines himself, yet others do. They don’t see the young man who loves music, eggs and books, his mother knows this and want’s to protect him from the cruelty of others and so she approaches Violetta, a high class escort, to show Sebastian that not only is he loved, but that he deserves to love. This has unexpected consequences for them all and we as readers are caught up in their lives in such a way, that it is utterly impossible not to love them and Louise Beech’s beautifully told story. They feel real, tangible and their yearning for the things many of us take for granted, acceptance, love, a place in the world, is why This Is How We Are Human is so special. The desperate need it awoke in me to see them accepted, not judged, for difference not be an excuse to hate, is why this is a story so compelling, you read on and on, your heart yearning for happiness, but knowing that the world is not as simple as that, and so you prepare yourself to have your heart broken.

There is no judgment here of their actions, just understanding! This Is How We Are Human is brutally honest in places, it shines a light on our treatment not just of autistic adults and children, but on people like Violetta is a high-class escort, on mothers like Veronica, whose love of their child, it not always perfect, but it comes from deep and never ending well of love. All three are doing their best to live and survive and dare to want more. The people around them, Veronica’s neighbor’s are cruel, judgmental and yet even they are layered and we are forced to step back and wonder why they judge others, why they tease, taunt and want to exclude those that don’t fit into the box society defines as acceptable. We are all Veronica in some ways, because I found myself wanting to wade into the battle she was fighting against society and the authorities that have abandoned her, Sebastian and Violetta. I know and care about someone who has faced Veronica’s pain and who is only now is seeing the light at the end of a dark tunnel. I promise you with my hand on my heart, that Louise Beech understands and delivers a story of such sweet longing for acceptance, that you will never forget it.

You can purchase this novel directly from the publisher Orenda Books.

Also from Amazon and Waterstones.

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 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.

Louise Beech can be followed on Twitter.

Review – Mary Jane A Novel by Jessica Anya Blau

In 1970s Baltimore, 14-year-old Mary Jane loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and enjoying her family’s subscription to the Broadway Showtunes of the Month record club. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she’s glad when she lands a summer job as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. A respectable job, Mary Jane’s mother says. In a respectable house.

The house may look respectable on the outside, but inside it’s a literal and figurative mess: clutter on every surface, Impeachment: Now More Than Ever bumper stickers on the doors, cereal and takeout for dinner. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane’s mother to know, which she does not): the doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job – helping a famous rock star dry out. A week after Mary Jane starts, the rock star and his movie star wife move in.

Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to crisply ironed clothes and a family dinner schedule, and has a front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll (not to mention group therapy). Caught between the lifestyle she’s always known and the future she’s only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a new idea about what she wants out of life, and what kind of person she’s going to be. 


When you read a fiction book set in the past, whether that is hundreds of years ago, or much more recent, you want it to transport you to that world, in this case to the sights and sounds of 1970s Baltimore.

Mary Jane A Novel by Jessica Anya Blau, does that. It captures a tumultuous period in America history, when women and other marginalized groups, carried on the fight for equality that had started in the 1960s. It was a period marked by the restless spirit of so many and a questioning of authority and traditional family values. Through fashion and music, men and women sought a means to express their continued rejection of the values of their parents, for they were in search of freedom and equality.

All this can be found within the pages of this novel, in a tale of a young girl Mary Jane and how over one long summer, her world, her quiet life is turned on it’s head and she becomes the embodiment of a generation seeking self-expression through music and fashion. She is the very epitome of a generation that sought to break down barriers, to live, sing and dance, to work as equals of men, be more than a housewife, more than a mother! As a character, she walks a perilous path, one foot in the world of her conservative parents and the other in the liberal world of Dr Cone, his family, as well as the rock star he is treating. As she finds her self immersed in their world, she begins to see that life holds many more possibilities than the one her mother envisions for her and it’s up to Mary Jane, which will she will come to belong in.

Taking this journey with her, was fabulous, I found myself wanting her to reject the cold complicity of suburban America, yet not to loose the best of herself. She is intelligent, talented and I wanted her with every once of my being, to be the Mary Jane this new world offers. Not the obedient, quiet, sub servant child her parents have shaped, yet also not a mixed up, drug taking confused young women. Just Mary Jane, glorious, kind and in search of world where she will be loved, free from the norms that have crushed her parents, a world full of the music and literature she loves. She is not a construct of either world, but neither is she able to sit on the fence between them and her yearning for freedom is moving and often very funny. She is the very amazing Mary Jane and Jessica Anya Blau makes her feel real, alive and vibrant. I found myself celebrating her quiet rebellion, the beauty of her nurturing soul and her bravery.

It is a story that has a backdrop of a world in flux, protests against war and inequality and a generation that was questioning everything their parents and politicians had told them was irrefutable. We see it all through the eyes of a young girl, who questions, as her generation were all across America, the world their parents had shaped.

Mary Jane A Novel is the very best of it’s genre, a coming of age tale, that celebrates a restless soul searching for a world where she can flourish. There is sex, there is rock and role, a pleura of wonderful characters, but this book is Mary Jane’s story, and bloody hell, it is one the best celebrations of this era I have ever read. Not once did the writer lose sight of what this novel was about, she guided us and her character on a journey that will gladden your very soul.

I was left wishing that this is not the end of her story, but if it is, it was bloody marvelous!

You can purchase this novel from Amazon and Waterstones.

Alternately you can buy it from your local independent bookshop.

About the author

Jessica Anya Blau is the author of US bestselling novel The Summer of Naked Swim Parties and three other critically acclaimed novels, most recently The Trouble With Lexie. Her novels have been recommended and featured on CNN, NPR, The Today Show and in Vanity Fair, Cosmo, O Magazine, and many other US magazines and newspapers.

Review – Everything Happens for A Reason by Katie Allen.

Mum-to-be Rachel did everything right, but it all went wrong. Her son, Luke, was stillborn and she finds herself on maternity leave without a baby, trying to make sense of her loss.

When a misguided well-wisher tells her that “everything happens for a reason”, she becomes obsessed with finding that reason, driven by grief and convinced that she is somehow to blame. She remembers that on the day she discovered her pregnancy, she’d stopped a man from jumping in front of a train, and she’s now certain that saving his life cost her the life of her son.

Desperate to find him, she enlists an unlikely ally in Lola, an Underground worker, and Lola’s seven-year-old daughter, Josephine, and eventually tracks him down, with completely unexpected results…

Both a heart-wrenchingly poignant portrait of grief and a gloriously uplifting and disarmingly funny story of a young woman’s determination, Everything Happens for a Reason is a bittersweet, life- affirming read and, quite simply, unforgettable.


I’m writing this review fresh from reading this stunning debut from Katie Allen. I usually leave a few days, even a week, allowing the story and my emotions about it to settle, but with Everything Happens For A Reason, the intense, quite visceral reaction, is the most important part of the review and needs to be captured while it is at its most raw.

Rachel’s son Luke was stillborn, the intensity of her grief, the pain of her loss, drives her to seek answers, as to why her beautiful baby died. Told in a series of emails sent to an account set up for her son, she tells of her journey in the days, weeks and months after his death, in which she is driven to seek answers that can in some way explain her terrible loss.

It may seem odd to some to frame the story in this way, but it works on an emotional level, far better I feel than a traditional linear narrative. I’m reminded of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, in which she tells of the story of Celie, who in the opening chapters writes letters to God, because she has no one else to express her pain to and those letters become a release, from the day to day abuse and exploitation she faces.

Here to, in Everything Happens For A Reason, Katie Allen uses a similar narrative tool to express both Rachel’s pain and how it isolates her from those that care for her. Locked away inside herself, these emails become her way of surviving the crushing grief that threatens to overwhelm her, an outlet for thoughts she can’t share with others. It makes the reader the only other witness to her deeply moving search for closure, the moments of both raw emotion and humour. I felt an intense connection to both her story and her loss, because I had this intimate access to her inner most thoughts! It made an emotional read also both beautiful and compelling. What affected me most, was the potential of these emails to be, not just an emotional outlet for Rachel, but as the novel progresses, a possible way for her to reclaim her sanity and her life.

Let me make it clear, I have never had children, never lost a child, so I can’t begin to understand how utterly the loss and the pain would affect me. But Katie Allen’s perfect story, the clarity of the voice she gives Rachel, the way she expresses her desperate need for answers, gave me an insight into the crushing grief that sends her off on a journey, so few of us can contemplate. In Rachel she has created a character that perfectly encapsulates how grief, individual and all consuming, still leaves us with the hope that she can find a way, not to come to terms with what happened, I’ve never been sure that is possible, but to learn how to move on and live, even as that bereavement shapes and changes her forever. I felt I was part of her journey and to provoke this connection between character, story and reader, is surely what reading is all about.

It is a book that is full of pain, but also one that is, as the blurb says, gloriously uplifting. I have never lost a child, but I have experienced grief. The frantic days and months after, that caught up in a form of madness, turned me on a path to find a new life, to grab hope from sudden and crippling loss, changed, but also hopeful. This is for me what Everything Happens For A Reason encapsulates! Within it’s pages the writer tells Rachels story and how grief is not just shaped by the pain of her loss, but each individuals search for the answers that can heal them and the connections with those we love, that can ultimately sustain us.

You can order Everything Happens For A Reason directly from the publisher.

You also buy it from Amazon and Waterstones

You can of course order from your favorite independent bookshop.

About the author

Everything Happens for a Reason is Katie’s first novel. She used to be a journalist and columnist at the Guardian and Observer, and started her career as a Reuters correspondent in Berlin and London.
The events in Everything Happens for a Reason are fiction, but the premise is loosely autobiographical. Katie’s son, Finn, was stillborn in 2010, and her character’s experience of grief and being on maternity leave without a baby is based on her own. And yes, someone did say to her ‘Everything happens for a reason’.

Katie grew up in Warwickshire and now lives in South London with her husband, children, dog, cat and stick insects. When she’s not writing or walking children and dogs, Katie loves baking, playing the piano, reading news and wishing she had written other people’s brilliant novels.

Review- Love And Miss Harris by Peter Maughan

Titus Llewellyn-Gwlynne, actor/manager of the Red Lion Theatre, has lost a backer who was going to fund a theatrical tour – when unexpected salvation appears. Their home theatre in the East End of London having been bombed during the war, The Red Lion Touring Company embarks on a tour of Britain to take a play written by their new benefactress into the provinces. This charming series transports the reader to a lost post-war world of touring rep theatre and once-grand people who have fallen on harder times, smoggy streets, and shared bonhomie over a steaming kettle. The mood is whimsical, wistful, nostalgic, yet with danger and farce along the way.


Love and Miss Harris is a gentle tale of a post war rep theatre, drama and criminals. It is full of moments of farce, excitement and love affairs.

If your looking for the darkness of a modern thriller, you won’t find it in this charming offering, think more Miss Marple, rather than Robert Galbraith and you will be about right. I enjoyed the lightness of touch, the reminder of a bygone era and how the writer caught that within his writing. It seems to me that he wanted to create a story that harked back to form of narrative, much gentler than we are used to, which he does with great skill and obvious love for his subject.

I adored how he created a story, with a multitude of characters and yet made them all feel that they were given room to breath life into the tale he was telling. Each thread from the day to day drama of an actors life, criminals, feuds and attempted murder, all flowed with ease in and out of the narrative, yet it never lost the lightness of touch. No hiding behind your hands, worried about reading on, but still thrilling and exciting never the less.

The best things about Love And Miss Harris is the charm of the writing, the characters who are bold and imbued with a variety of backgrounds and the fine balance between the drama and story telling. Modern feeling thrillers often sacrifice beautifully crafted characters in favor big explosions, gritty drama, gruesome violence, but Peter Maughan doesn’t and its refreshing to find as a reader.

You can buy this novel from Amazon and Waterstones.

About the author

Peter Maughan’s early career covered many trades, working on building sites, in wholesale markets, on fairground rides and in a circus. He studied at the Actor’s Workshop in London, and worked as an actor in the UK and Ireland, subsequently founding a fringe theatre in Barnes, London. He is married and lives currently in Wales.

Review – Summer In The City by Fiona Collins.

Prue is not someone you would notice willingly. She likes to keep herself to herself and fade into the background. If it were not for the birthmark on her left cheek, she might actually succeed at becoming invisible.

She spends all of her time with her blind father, Vince. Together, they sit in silence and ignore the vibrant city just on their doorstep. Life is as good as what’s on TV. That is, until something forces them both to go outside and see what they have been missing. For Vince, that means discovering how to see the world without his sight. For Prue, that means finding the courage to finally love and be loved in return.

A story about family, friendship and facing your fears head on, this is a heart-warming story that will stay with you long after you have finished the last page.


Looking at the title Summer In The City you would be forgiven for thinking this is a tale about parties, days out in the park with friends and a bottle of wine or two. You would be partly right, there are days out, but the story that winds around them, is an emotional tale about discovery, healing and living a life, once lost, to its very best.

Author Fiona Wells gives us characters that take a journey from being virtual hermits, who turn into butterflies, emerging from their chrysalises, hopefully the light. As readers we want the characters we are reading about to change and develop as the narrative winds through a series of events that shape them and our view of their story. In Summer and The City, Fiona Collins not only does this, she manages to make their story not only feel tangible, but she imbues them and their lives with emotions we call all identify with, especially now!

In a year when we have been locked in our homes, our lives often reduced to what was on the TV, each of us can with painful clarity, identify with how a life can be reduced in this way. Our connection with both feeling intimate and personal. Yet she has not made this story about recent events, so for those of us that don’t want to read about our shared experiences, but need a kind of cathartic release of emotion, Summer In the City provides that outlet. Framed in a beautiful story about moving forward, facing your anxieties, your terror of the world outside your home and doing it with characters who are warm and ever so easy to love.

Both Prue and her father Vince have become locked away following a series of events that have seen them withdraw from the outside world. One moment in time, a balloon, seen in the distance, a tragic event, sets them off on a path, that just moments before, seemed both impossible and unwanted. I found myself, not just caught up in this story, but cheering them on, wanting baby steps, to blossom into strides, their faces raised towards the sun and not towards the shadows.

Fiona Wells gave me just what I needed and did so, because she understands human nature, that though we have been locked away, just like Vince and Prue, we need the warmth of the sun on our faces to flourish. As they are scared, so are we and its like we take the steps with them, slowly, carefully, withdrawing, then emerging, one step forwards, two back, then hopefully as we and they heal, out into the world with glad hearts and a yearning for adventure.

This is a feel good book, but don’t mistake it for light relief, it is deeper than that, but it is gentle and healing.

Many thanks to the author and publisher for this ARC in return for an honest review.

You can purchase this novel from Amazon

About The Author

Fiona Collins grew up in an Essex village and after stints in Hong Kong and London returned to the Essex countryside where she lives with her husband and three children. She has a degree in Film and Literature and has had many former careers including TV presenting in Hong Kong, traffic and weather presenter for BBC local radio and film/TV extra. You can find her on Twitter @FionaJaneBooks.

Review- One Last Time by Helga Flatland

Anne’s diagnosis of terminal cancer shines a spotlight onto fractured relationships with her daughter and granddaughter, with surprising, heartwarming results. A moving, warmly funny novel by the Norwegian Anne Tyler.

Anne’s life is rushing to an unexpected and untimely end. But her diagnosis of terminal cancer isn’t just a shock for her – and for her daughter Sigrid and granddaughter Mia – it shines a spotlight onto their fractured and uncomfortable relationships.

On a spur-of-the moment trip to France the three generations of women reveal harboured secrets, long-held frustrations and suppressed desires, and learn humbling and heart-warming lessons about how life should be lived when death is so close.

With all of Helga Flatland’s trademark humour, razor-sharp wit and deep empathy, One Last Time examines the great dramas that can be found in ordinary lives, asks the questions that matter to us all – and ultimately celebrates the resilience of the human spirit, in an exquisite, enchantingly beautiful novel that urges us to treasure and rethink … everything.


One Last Time by Helga Flatland, is that rarest of books, a story that deals with our mortality, yet does so with warmth and humour, as well as characters that are flawed, real, tangible. Her writing imbuing the story with a real sense of understanding, allowing her characters to become at peace with their own death and that of the family member they love.

For me, it’s how she deals with the variety of reactions to Anne’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, not just hers, but her daughters and her granddaughters, that takes it beyond the normal limits of a readers perception, of how we should approach life and death. We all like to believe that we would consider only the feelings and needs of the person whose life is about to reach it’s end, but if we are honest with ourselves that is far from true. It is the honestly of the story that makes One Last Time special. Anne, Sigrid and granddaughter Mia, each carry their secrets within them, yet they are connected by a bond that is greater than their differences. They pull together, they pull apart, they hurt and are hurt. They carry wounds from the past, which taint their present and it is this, their frailties, that make them characters that have found a place in my heart. They are you, me, your loved ones and their interactions are those we can recognize in our own families.

The story flows gently along, peppered with moments of calm, heartache and yet also humour, because from dark times comes a need to laugh sometimes. We follow these three women, as they struggle to find acceptance about Anne’s diagnosis, while having to keep life for those around them on an even keel. Having lost a family member myself years ago, her writing catches that odd sense of even though your world is crumbling, life just carries on around you and in someway you have to engage with it. Sigrid and Anne, caught up in a range of conflicting emotions, all beautifully written in One Last Time, may want to shout and scream, yet they can’t, so on they go, dealing with others needs and occasionally rebelling. The paradox beautifully caught up in a beautifully crafted story.

One Last Time is one of those novels whose writing is delicate and profound. You will forever know once you have read it, that this is a story that will forever touch both your soul and heart.

There is a word in Welsh, Hiraeth, which means a deep longing for something, somewhere and it fits this book beautifully. I will always wish I could read it for the first time again, visit the characters and get to know them, because I know and understand their pain and that’s because the writer created a connection between us. Honest, beautiful and complex, it is a book that should be on everyone’s to be read pile.

You can buy this novel directly from the publisher Orenda Books.

From Amazon and Waterstones

Or from your local independent bookshop!

About the author

Helga Flatland is already one of Norway’s most awarded and widely read authors. Born in Telemark, Norway, in 1984, she made her literary debut in 2010 with the novel Stay If You Can, Leave If You Must, for which she was awarded the Tarjei Vesaas’ First Book Prize. She has written four novels and a children’s book and has won several other literary awards. Her fifth novel, A Modern Family (her first English translation), was published to wide acclaim in Norway in August 2017, and was a number-one bestseller. The rights have subsequently been sold across Europe and the novel has sold more than 100,000 copies. One Last Time was published in 2020 and is currently topping bestseller lists in Norway

About the translator

Rosie Hedger was born in Scotland and completed her MA (Hons) in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She has lived and worked in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and now lives in York where she works as a freelance translator. Rosie was a candidate in the British Center for Literary Translation’s mentoring scheme for Norwegian in 2012, mentored by Don Bartlett.
Visit her website: and follow her on Twitter @rosie_hedger

My Wonderful Reading Year – May 2021. The Journey Continues.

As we move from spring into summer, the number of books I read my slow as our world begins to open up a little more and I slowly leave the safety of my home. But it will remain an integral part of me and I am looking forward to some fantastic reads.

I am continuing to try to balance reading simply for pleasure, with book reviewing and have found some absolute gems that have patiently sat on my bookshelf waiting to be read.

What follows are the books that I read in May 2021.

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson is a powerful and moving account of the authors life growing up as both black and Gay.

Domestic Bliss and Other Disasters by Jane Lons is both laugh out loud funny and full of a wealth of characters that will fill your thoughts long after you have finished it.

Next I read Like A House On Fire by Caroline Hulse. Funny, moving and gentle, I love it.

Following this came The Best Things by Mel Giedroyc. I know there is some controversy around the unfair advantage celebrity writers get, but as far as I am concerned, if they are good writers they deserve the success they get. I loved this book, the writing, the story and I feel Mel Giedroyc deserves the best seller title.

Path Finders by Cecil Lewis is a moving and fascinating tale of a remarkable group of men!

Next came Sew On the Go by Mary Jane Baxter. Part craft book and travel memoir, the writer inspires with both her story and creativity.

Next comes Emma Johns’s Self Contained- Scenes From A Single Life, a touching story about her life as a single women, waited down not just by the expectations of other about her lack of a husband, but also her own.

Equally as moving, though written with a lightness of touch is Summer In The City by Fiona Collins.

Helga Flatland’s stunning tale of a family coming to terms with the impending death of a loved one, while negotiating their often frail relationships, is a deeply touching story.

The final read of the month, squeezed in on the last day, was Love And Miss Harris by Peter Maughan. A gentle tale of actors, criminals and a bygone era.

May turned into a month of wonderful reads and the promise of equally great ones in June. I can’t wait.