Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A Boy Made of Blocks

A Boy Made of Blocks
By Keith Stuart
Published by Sphere
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Inspired by the author's experience with his own son, Keith Stuart's debut novel, A Boy Made of Blocks, tells the moving and funny tale of families, Minecraft and autism. Fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Little Miss Sunshine will love this book.

Here is the book you need to cheer you up during these long, dark winter evenings.

A Boy Made of Blocks tells the difficulties and struggles that a family with an autistic son face at home, with their relationships with each other, the education system and social occasions. Alex, the protagonist and father feels like he is always walking around, fearing the next meltdown of his son, Sam. They must stick to a routine, and not go off plan. Their life is shrinking, and their world becoming smaller. Everyone lives in fear of Sam getting upset. This is a family on the edge of being teared apart. His wife seems to have control of life and knows how to handle Sam, leaving Alex feeling like he is on the sidelines.

The father and son relationship starts to transform with their love of Minecraft, and their shared adventures, building structures from bricks and going on quests. Sam gains enthusiasm, expands his language, becomes more curious and makes new friends. The connection to the virtual world allows him to become more confident in the real world. While Sam builds a world in Minecraft, carefully caring for his constructions; Alex must rebuild his real world - work on his relationship with his wife and family, and finally left go of a past accident with his brother.

This a coming of age story not only for Sam but for Alex too - he can no longer drift around in life, being a spectator to his family's problems. Along with his family, he must overcome the struggle with the education system to get support and understanding for his son, deal with his past, take action and take control of his career and realise that his family need him.

Stuart creates characters, like Alex, who are not always likeable and just need someone to shout at them to buck up their ideas which to me isn't a bad thing. Characters need to be relatable - does anyone know someone who is completely likeable 100% of the time? I know that several times I wanted to shout at him to pull up his socks because his son needed him. Alex buries his head in the sand with his wife, and with Sam, while waiting for other people to clean up his mess. But when he makes the right decisions then I wanted to shake his hand.

This book deals with the uncertainties that we face in life, and tries to establish stability bringing together the family in a sweet ending. Not only is this a feel good book but it also covers serious themes too. Plus, look at the front cover - so bright and cheerful and we all need some colour on these grey days. So pick up a copy and enjoy today! A Boy Made of Blocks is available from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy by the publisher.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

October's Reading AKA Make-Over Month

Right, before we begin... 

As you can see I've had a bit of a make-over on the blog. You can now access my pages on the right hand side, and there's a new header. I'm finding the blogger templates are not as easy to manipulate as they used to be (or maybe my internet skills have improved and now I notice these techie things). I need to either learn some coding skills (from basically zero to expert) or I need to start thinking about my own domain name and finding someone to do the leg work for me (I know, I know, I've been talking about this for years).

Anyway, now you've had a look round, lets get back to why we're here... books and writing.

In October my story, I'll Love You Until the End of Time, was published at Dear Damsels. You read read it by clicking through on this post. PLUS this story will be in their annual which will be published soon - so watch out for more information soon.

I DID take the best picture ever of the books I read in October but I went and deleted it because I thought it was backed up in the cloud (look at me talking all tech here) but it didn't so you're going to have to put up with several pictures.

October was a very good month for reading - I enjoyed all of the books!

Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch
I love lending books to people but I am the worse person in the work to lend books to as it takes me a while to read them and return - I worry about breaking spines or accidently dropping the book in the bath. Rivers of London was a borrowed book and I did my best to return the book in the right condition (go me!). Peter Grant, a Detective Constable and trainee wizard takes on supernatural cases in London. Gods, goddesses, ghosts and witches all live among us, and are all tangled up in the feuds and conflicts. This is a great book, full of energy. This book is better than Neverwhere. Looking forward to reading the rest in the series. At some point. Soon. Maybe. But I will definitely read them.

The Lonely City - Olivia Laing
This book looks at the way loneliness is portrayed within Art especially in New York- both mixed media and on the canvas, in films and also the way the internet can at the same time connect people and also isolate people from reality. This is a very informative and enjoyable book. I've leant this to a friend as I was coming in everyday telling my friend about all of the details I was learning - it got to the point where it was easier to lend the book.

The Other Side of the World - Stephanie Bishop
This novel is a deeply moving and beautifully written novel about search of one family to find utopia in a post-WWII world. You can read my review here.

Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy - Helen Fielding
Seeing the third film (which is good and much better than the second one) inspired me to get this off the shelf. I don't think I'm spoiling anything when I say that Mark Darcy is dead and Bridget is a single mother trying to bring up her two children, juggle a screenplay and finding love. This book is a fun, comfort read - great for those evenings when all you want to do is snuggle under a blanket.

A Boy Made of Blocks - Keith Stuart
A father learns to understand his autistic son using the power of Minecraft. This is a great, funny and informative read on the ways family struggle with autism, and how it can bring together as well as push away families. Fans of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time will definitely enjoy this book. Will be reviewing soon.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Book Review: The Other Side of the World

The Other Side of the World
By Stephanie Bishop
Published by Tinder Press
Available in paperback and ebook

The Other Side of the World, Stephanie Bishop's latest novel is a deeply moving and beautifully written novel about search of one family to find utopia in a post-WWII world.

Charlotte's life is deeply rooted in the fens around Cambridge, taking long walks in the winter, enjoying the fog and the way the landscape changes with the weather. She is newly married to Harry, an English Academic, originally from India, with two young children. Once an artist but now she is a mother and it's a role she's struggling to adjust and cope with within the confirms of her small cottage. Harry becomes whipped up with enthusiasm of searching for a new life, and make his wife happy and buys them all one way tickets to Australia, hoping for a new life. Yet for Charlotte the new life may not be as shiny and perfect as her husband has made out.

The Other Side of the World looks at the alienation and displacement of not only physically moving but also a sickness for a past way of life, and searching to get back to happiness. It is not just the homesickness from moving to England to Australia that affects both Charlotte and Henry who are unable to find a rhythm in their new life or settle into a routine. For Henry, the move brings back a sadness for India, and racism that didn't seem as present when he was in England.

On a trip back to India, Henry feels like the country is no longer his home. The people have changed and the way life operates has left him yearning for a time that no longer exists. He feels the same way that many people feel when returning to their childhood home - the familiar feeling but slightly dislodged. Charlotte feels like this about Cambridge yet both of them can not bring themselves to talk to the other - in the evenings they sit in silence - both wanting to escape.

Bishop also looks at the displacement within Charlotte and the way postnatal depression takes hold. Not even moving across the globe helps Charlotte. She becomes more detached and ambivalent towards her children and family life. The heat upsets the fragile family life that Henry is trying to build in a new country. The only hope in Charlotte's heart is the memory of Cambridge, and the passion to find her way back. Her world has shrunk, and finds motherhood claustrophobic with society's expectations weighing down on her.

The Other Side of the World is an insightful novel, and full of beautiful details about the landscape of Cambridge as well as making the reader feel like the heat of Australia is pressing down on you or that you're standing in the middle of the fens. You can find The Other Side of the World in your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy via BookBridgr.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Book Review: The Crooked Heart of Mercy

The Crooked Heart of Mercy
By Billie Livingston
Published by HarperCollins
Available in paperback and ebook

Billie Livingston's latest novel, The Crooked Heart of Mercy, is one of those books which will pull you into the world of its characters and not let you go until a few days after finishing the book.

This is the story of people who have had their lives torn apart by tragedy and can't seem to break away from the past without learning to forgive each other and themselves.

Ben who is having a mental breakdown after the sudden death of this child; Maggie, Ben's wife, who is trying to cope with the death and with Ben's detachment from the world as well as looking after her brother, Francis, a priest with a drinking problem and unlikely Youtube star after a mishap with a police officer. Life is tough with Maggie finding it hard to cope with real life, trying to bury herself away from the past yet it keeps catching up with her. All three characters are stuck, being held back by their pasts, unable to move forward with their lives.

Livingston creates realistic, flawed characters against the shiny, perfect background of LA - this juxtaposition shows you that people on the surface are like the city - seemingly perfect public persona but underneath there are cracks, and these characters have very deep cracks in their lives.

Loss and grief eat away at these characters with Ben pushing away Maggie, and Maggie making her brother suffer for their childhood. As this gripping story develops, the vulnerability of their relationships starts to strength as they all come to the realisation that they must seek redemption with each other and forgive themselves for the past. Livingston really digs into the depths of these characters, and this pulled me into the story and made me really care about the fate of these characters, and even after reading the book, I was worrying about their future.

I said it in my mini-review but the UK cover isn't the greatest, and I really think this fantastic story of families, redemption and forgiveness deserves a better cover. You can buy The Crooked Heart of Mercy at your favourite bookshop.

This book was sent to me by the publisher.

Monday, 17 October 2016

September's Reading

I still feel like it's September but apparently it's not so I better talk about the books I read last month before this month disappears. September was full of addictive non-fiction and thrillers, great books with boring front covers and boring books with fantastic front covers.


Amy Schumer - the Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
Comedian and actress, Amy Schumer has written a book of personal essays about being an introvert, sexual experiences, her family, about fame and women's rights. I know that some people poo-poo celebrity books (I know because I've been there) but this one is a good one. For two days, I was coming home from work, bypassing the television, putting the radio on as background noise, quickly eating dinner and then diving straight back into this book. I couldn't stop reading this book. Very candid, relatable and funny.

Noah Hawley - Before the Fall
From the creator and writer of the Emmy Award-winning series Fargo, Noah Hawley's latest novel, Before the Fall is a thriller which will pull you into the story, shake you round, dig its claws into you, and make you end up caring about dubious characters and find yourself fully invested in an intriguing plot. This thriller tells the story of Scott, one of only two survivors of a private plane crash. This novel is full of surprises and red-herrings. You can read my review here.

Billie Livingston - The Crooked Heart of Mercy
This is a fantastic book wrapped in a crappy cover. Billie Livingston's latest novel tells the story of three characters, Ben who is having a mental breakdown after the sudden death of this child; Maggie, Ben's wife, who is trying to cope with the death and with Ben's detachment from the world as well as looking after her brother, Francis, a priest with a drinking problem and unlikely Youtube star after a mishap with a police officer. This is an interesting look at the way families come together as well as fall apart when a personal disaster hits. I'll be reviewing this book very soon.

Ali Smith - There But For The
A dinner guest turns up and doesn't leave. The stuff of middle class nightmares! Ali Smith's novel looks at the way this infects different characters who are connected to the dinner guest. This is definitely not my favourite Ali Smith book (but then Hotel World is brilliant). I love the David Hockney cover though!

So what did you read in September?