Narrative theme: Death, grief, loss

What Remains? Life, Death and the Human Art of Undertaking

What Remains? Life, Death and the Human Art of Undertaking

Author: Rupert Callender Format: Hardback Release Date: 15/09/2022

Stirringly honest, and engaging as a result, Rupert Callender’s What Remains? is an intimate autobiographical account of his experiences as a “punk undertaker”. Harnessing his own grief for his parents, and drawing on lessons learned from rave culture and ritual magic, the author and his partner set up the Green Funeral Company in Devon with the noble aim of better serving the grieving. There’s tremendous rawness to the experiences recounted, with an ethos of compassion and responsibility always shining through: “A funeral dictates how our grief is lived. Done badly and a hangnail of pain is torn that will catch on the everyday emotional matter of our lives and never heals. Done well, it allows you to move through the lifelong consequences of loss in a normal and healthy way.” Poignantly accurate on how most of us experience the lead up to funerals (“the day of the funeral of someone you love is a deeply hallucinatory experience, utterly unreal”), this fascinating book challenges views on how funerals should be conducted, shaking off the idea that we have to follow Victorian ceremonies that often alienate the living from the crucial ritual of saying goodbye to their loved ones.

Never

Never

Author: Ken Follett Format: Paperback Release Date: 07/07/2022

Expertly researched, visionary in scale and the first contemporary novel in over a decade from international number one bestseller Ken Follett, NEVER is more than a thriller. It imagines a scenario we all hope never comes true, one which will keep you transfixed until the final page . . . A stolen US army drone. A shrinking oasis in the Sahara Desert. A secret stash of deadly chemicals. Each is a threat to the stability of the world but individually are problems that can be overcome. In the diplomatic arena though, everyone will have a different way of dealing with such a threat. And when those in charge disagree and refuse to back down, it will kick off an international chain reaction with potentially catastrophic consequences: a world edging closer to war... Now three people must work tirelessly and with the utmost skill to stop that from happening: A spy working undercover with jihadists. A brilliant Chinese spymaster. A US president beleaguered by a populist rival for the next election. The only question is, in a game of brinksmanship can the inevitable ever be stopped? 

Audiobooks of the Month
Katastrophe

Katastrophe

Author: Graham Hurley Format: Hardback Release Date: 07/07/2022

Fascinating yet thrilling, stimulating yet shattering, this riveting read opens a path into the very nature of humankind. As the Second World War nears its end the defeated, vultures, and peace brokers continue using intelligence gathered by three very different men. The Spoils of War series is one of my favourites, its epic scale from the intimacy of the chosen few highlights the searing and hidden tragedy of conflict. If you’ve not yet met these books, do introduce yourself as this is a series not to be missed. The design and writing is such that you can step in at any point. I welcomed the main characters from Katastrophe back into my reading life, sitting opened mouthed at times as I witnessed the dark hidden depths of Russia and her people, the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany, and the scrabble for position by the leaders of the UK, US, and Russia. Using the murky world of intelligence Graham Hurley successfully took me into the final months of the war. The mix of fact and fiction here is beautifully balanced, the focus and blend of real and fictional characters seamlessly fills the page and I felt as though I was watching behind the scenes footage. From the huge scale and the people in power, through to the most ordinary of lives, each page holds an intense weight. My thoughts and feelings were knocked off balance and sent scrabbling for understanding. If anything is going demonstrate the utterly senseless and vicious nature of war it’s this and yet it’s also a hugely exciting read. Chosen as a LoveReading Star Book, Katastrophe hits with immense impact, it is a true powerhouse of a novel and comes as highly recommended by me.

Star Books
The Halfways

The Halfways

Author: Nilopar Uddin Format: Hardback Release Date: 07/07/2022

Tingling with the tangled complexities of a family whose members are scattered wide around the globe, Nilopar Uddin’s debut novel, The Halfways, will grip and charm readers who like stories driven by relatable real-life characters and problems, with a generous sprinkling of compassion, honesty and observational detail. To the outside world, sisters Nasrin and Sabrina are winning at life. Sabrina works in finance in New York, while Nasrin lives in London with her husband and child, with a stack of engineering accolades behind her. But, as their outwardly perfect lives are beginning to unravel in the cities the sisters have made home, back at the family home and restaurant in the Welsh Beacons everything changes when their father dies and his will-reading reveals a devastating family secret. While their mother gets on with things, the sisters struggle, for the revelation leads them to question everything they founded their identities on, testing family bonds, forcing them to reconsider what sisterhood means, what it means to belong, and what it means to forgive.

Nothing Else

Nothing Else

Author: Louise Beech Format: Paperback Release Date: 23/06/2022

Beautifully emotional writing expanded to fill my heart and soul as I sank into and explored this meaningful family drama. Heather steps outside of her comfort zone and begins to search for clues about the sister she hasn’t seen since their parents died when they were children. Before I talk about Nothing Else, can I just say that I absolute adore the way that Louise Beech writes. If you’ve not yet read her books, then step inside and discover a fabulous writer who understands what it is to be human. Louise Beech has the talent of being able to reach inside my mind and make me feel as though she’s writing especially for me. Nothing Else is just so wonderfully easy to read, and by that I refer to the reach of the words, I had the luxury of just letting the story loose, allowing it to slip past any defences to affect my emotions. A tension is created as a mystery is probed, loss and grief are considered as the past opens up. I have zero musical ability, yet found myself understanding the language of music. I don’t have siblings, yet ached with the heartbreak of loss that Heather was feeling. The words connect, haunt, influence. As I finished I felt a wash of feelings sing through my body, and that is the wonder of reading isn’t it! Perceptive, penetrating, and gorgeously emotional, Nothing Else declares just how powerful love, perseverance, and music can be.

Books of the Month
Tasting Sunlight

Tasting Sunlight

Author: Ewald Arenz Format: Paperback Release Date: 23/06/2022

Available in English for the first time, Ewald Arenz’s debut Tasting Sunlight has been on the bestseller list in his native country Germany for three years. Translated by Rachel Ward, the story is set on a rural farm, where two quite different women invertedly become friends. Sally, young and troubled, comes across Liss, an older farmer who takes in the runaway without judgment or demand – and yet neither can know they will form a bond that spans their generational divide. Little by little, their personal stories begin to unfold, and we start to understand the trauma that’s brought them both to this point. This sensitive element is handled so well by Arenz, who brings a sense of hope to their lives, a promise that the sun will rise on the horizon – their taste of sunlight. And for lovers of nature, the writing is a homage to the land, from the seasonal harvest to ripening of the late summer fruit – mirroring the women’s blooming friendship.

eBooks of the Month
The Cherry Robbers

The Cherry Robbers

Author: Sarai Walker Format: Hardback Release Date: 02/06/2022

Exploring male power, female subjugation, sisterhood, and the romanticisation and demonisation of female mental illness, Sarai Walker’s The Cherry Robbers is an incredible novel. It’s a gothic ghost story, of sorts, in which six sisters are trapped by a curse that means their only way of escaping a miserable life - marriage - condemns them to die. In 2017, the wealthy, reclusive American artist Sylvia Wren has lived with a new identity for several decades. She was born into the Chapel munitions dynasty as Iris Chapel in 1937. “Our house was paid for by death… That’s how our family made money, after all: war, murder, suicide, animal slaughter. As macabre as it was, the Chapel rifle was nevertheless a treasured American icon”. As Sylvia/Iris relates in her diary, not only was their Victorian “Wedding Cake” house paid for by death, but the Chapel sisters were cursed to suffer a succession of tragic losses. Living with a distant father and a mentally ill mother who’s haunted by the fact that her mother died in childbirth, the only clear way for the sisters to escape is to marry. But for the Chapel sisters, as predicted by their mother, marriage is a death sentence; the nail in the coffin of their already restricted, subjugated female existence. In the words of one of the sisters, “The embrace of a man doesn’t wake us up, it sends us to sleep, an eternal slumber from which we will never wake”. Though Iris and her sisters and mother are centre stage through this rich, incendiary novel, it’s the lesser-seen men who pull the strings. As Iris comments, she knew from a young age that “it was often women who suffered the consequences of men’s actions”. With all but one of her sisters dead, Iris makes it her mission to protect them both. Suffused in poetry and art, and tingling with atmosphere, coming-of-age fever, and potent feminism, this remarkable novel poses a crucial question that sees Iris take action to break the curse: “What’s a life without love?”

Star Books
Reasons To Go Outside

Reasons To Go Outside

Author: Esme King Format: Hardback Release Date: 26/05/2022

If you are in need of a comforting slice of feel-good then I can recommend this absolutely charming debut with my heart and soul. Pearl has crippling agoraphobia and hasn’t stepped outside her Dartmoor home in 43 years, Connor has been trapped within his father’s expectations since his mother died, while in London Nate is just as lonely as can be. The prologue creates intrigue by offering the suggestion of a traumatic event, one that will sit in the background throughout the book. While the unknown incident hovers, soothing humour, true empathy, and heartwarming affection surrounded me as I sank into the story. Author Esme King allows time to weave gently to and fro, gradually revealing information, encouraging understanding to grow. The featuring of two locations, Dartmoor and London, creates an initial distance and separation between the two threads of the story, yet the flowering of friendships sits as a central linking theme. One of the highlights for me in this novel is the successful and rewarding friendships that begin to develop between characters from different generations. The characters became known, loved, even cherished as I read, oh, and the crows, I adored the crows! After I reached the satisfying end I just had to include this lovely novel as a Liz Pick of the Month. So gentle and compassionate as it welcomes courage and love, Reasons to Go Outside is an engaging and wonderfully rewarding read.

Star Books
The Man Who Died Twice

The Man Who Died Twice

Author: Richard Osman Format: Paperback Release Date: 12/05/2022

It's the following Thursday. Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He's made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life. As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn't that be a bonus? But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn't bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?

Audiobooks of the Month
Assembly

Assembly

Author: Natasha Brown Format: Paperback Release Date: 05/05/2022

Come of age in the credit crunch. Be civil in a hostile environment. Step out into a world of Go Home vans. Go to Oxbridge, get an education, start a career. Do all the right things. Buy a flat. Buy art. Buy a sort of happiness. But above all, keep your head down. Keep quiet. And keep going. The narrator of Assembly is a Black British woman. She is preparing to attend a lavish garden party at her boyfriend's family estate, set deep in the English countryside. At the same time, she is considering the carefully assembled pieces of herself. As the minutes tick down and the future beckons, she can't escape the question: is it time to take it all apart? Assembly is a story about the stories we live within - those of race and class, safety and freedom, winners and losers. And it is about one woman daring to take control of her own story, even at the cost of her life.

Sorrow and Bliss

Sorrow and Bliss

Author: Meg Mason Format: Paperback Release Date: 28/04/2022

It’s hard to believe it’s a debut as the challenging subject matter of depression is handled with such a deft touch. So dark, it’s pitch, pitch black. Yet so so sensitive. It’s a masterclass in ascerbic narration and perfectly pitches the dark and the light. When we first meet Martha, she talks about her husband Patrick with such disdain, such boredom and he comments that Martha can supply anyone with an inventory of his flaws. But then everyone thinks he’s perfection, so sweet, so kind, living his life in the middle setting with Martha swinging between the extremes. So where does it all go wrong? Narrated in the aftermath of their separation, Martha is forced to return to her childhood home to live with her dysfunctional, eccentric, bohemian parents this book is filled with laughs and tears. At the heart of the novel is long term mental illness, the crushing depression with which Martha has battled since childhood, a depression which comes in waves for weeks or months at a time. However, it’s never named in the book; what is more important is Martha’s quest to know herself, to work out who is she is and why she never seems able to find contentment. It’s hilarious. It’s brilliant. It’s a sharp observational and witty book of huge talent and I can’t wait to read more of what Meg Mason has to offer.

Books of the Month
The Shot

The Shot

Author: Sarah Sultoon Format: Paperback Release Date: 28/04/2022

For readers with an interest in what happens behind the scenes in the newsrooms – of which there are many – The Shot is sure to satisfy their thirst for the next big scoop. Given her first chance in the spotlight, young TV journalist Samira is out to prove her worth. Alongside seasoned photographer Kris, they take a photograph – a shot that has thrown their whole mission and lives in peril. As a former CNN news executive, author Sarah Sultoon packs her novel with the kind of details that only someone who’s been on the frontline of war reporting can – from what life is like in conflict zones, to the petty squabbles in the newsroom. What many readers may be left with is the full effect and exposure of the realities of war reporting. Sultoon’s style never veers into gratuitous violence, but her book is made only more visceral by the current conflict in Ukraine.  

eBooks of the Month