They Call Me The Cat Lady by Amy Miller

This adorable, personal and moving story of Nancy Jones, her five cats, and her past, was honestly lovely to read.

You’ve seen me on the street. You’ve walked past my house, and pointed, and wondered. The cat lady. All on my own, with only my five cats to keep me company. Did no-one ever tell you that you can’t judge a book by its cover?
Everyone in town knows Nancy Jones. She loves her cats. She loves her tumbledown house by the sea. She loves her job in the local school where she tries to help the children who need help the most. Nancy tries hard not to think about her past loves and where those led her…
Nancy never shares her secrets – because some doors are better kept locked. But one day she accepts a cat-sitting request from a local woman, and at the woman’s house, Nancy sees a photograph, in a bright-red frame. A photograph that opens the door to her painful past…
Soon Nancy doesn’t know what frightens her the most: letting her story out, or letting the rest of the world in. It’s impossible to find companionship without the risk of losing it. But can Nancy take that risk again?

Nancy is such an uplifting yet sensitive character – I really love novels that are character-centric. Her relationship with her cats was so cute, the way she spoke to them was so genuine and their personalities seemed to really shine through. The moments with Nancy and her cats were some of my favourite scenes in the whole novel, as she was at her most comfortable and relaxed, and the reader got to see another side to her than during her interactions with other people.

Nancy’s story was honestly so heart-breaking. Her cautiousness and safety-conscious attitude were an intrinsic part of her, and it was devastating that the one time she relaxed a bit something tragic happened. I won’t give too much away, but seeing her genuine pain and guilt affect her present-day relationships and decisions was very emotional. Her relationship with her ex-husband was clearly problematic in various ways, with overwhelming feelings of guilt and blame hanging over both of them. Their reunion towards the end was super sweet, and it was satisfying for the reader to see some of their issues being resolved.

I felt like Nancy’s journey throughout the novel was so beautiful, and it was explored in a really in-depth way. She started as a really lonely and fragile woman who slowly became more confident and happy throughout. Her friendships and relationships improved dramatically as the story went on, and I loved how the improvement of her house mirrored this. Her house started as a ruined and dusty dumping ground, with an overrun garden and unused rooms. By the end it was transformed, reflecting Nancy’s personal growth and increased happiness, and I loved how this connection between the two worked.

I would definitely recommend this, it was different to a lot of my recent reads, but it was fun, inspiring and a very sweet story.

They Call Me The Cat Lady
Amy Miller
Bookouture, 26th April 2019

The Swap by Fiona Mitchell

This was a powerful and poignant tale about discovering the real meaning of family, parenthood and love.

Two women. Two children. One swap.
Tess and Annie both went for IVF at the same clinic, at the same time. They both went home with a child, but that child isn’t theirs. Their embryos were mixed up, and they went home with the wrong child.
Three years later they discover the devastating error. Tess wants to swap the children back while Annie doesn’t, so they embark on a hard journey of discovery about themselves, motherhood and family.

*warning: minor spoilers*

I loved this. I thought it was really inspiring and gave a lot of food for thought about what family really means. It makes you consider what it takes to create and build a family, about nature vs nurture and the love a parent has for their child.

Tess was such a painful and heartbreaking character. She had pain and grief etched over her throughout the novel, but it wasn’t clear why until quite far through, and it was emotional to see how much the events of her past have affected her relationship with her children in the present. Her sheer desperation to have a relationship with her daughter who was born to Annie was really intense. It made her so frustrating to read at times, as she made some potentially destructive choices throughout. This, however, is what made her such a ‘real’ character, it’s what made her story so heartbreaking to read and it really intensified her story, gripping the reader even more.

Annie, the other mother affected in this story, seemed to balance on that thin line between judgmental and concerned. At times she was annoying, because she seemed to be assuming things about Tess’ relationship with her son that weren’t completely true – although Mitchell did offer a rather intense and revealing insight into the way that the assumptions Annie made can easily happen. Annie starts to questions the relationship she sees between Tess and Freddie, convincing herself that something isn’t right – yet Mitchell really digs deeps into this to show the various layers and emotions that are involved between Tess and Freddie. Families are incredibly complex, and this book really highlights this in such an effective and emotive way. Apart from this, Annie’s relationship with her daughter Willow was really sweet, yet it was clear that she was being torn apart by the discovery that she actually had a son. In some ways she seemed more vulnerable that Tess, but she turned this into a strength, and coped with the discovery admirably.

The two children themselves were adorable – they seemed unaware of what was happening in their lives and the massive potential changes that were happening, but they also weren’t oblivious. Willow’s obvious distress at times around Tess was sad to see, but completely understandable. Freddie’s anger and frustration really heightened the emotions in various situations, but the times in the book when he was quiet and subdued were even more upsetting to read. They were written so well, especially considering they were in some ways the focus of the novel, despite it being written from the perspective of the mothers.

The journey that the two mothers went on was really insightful. It was such an interesting look at family and motherhood, and I felt the ending was exactly as it should have been. It provided a sense of calm after a truly rocky journey, but at the same time, it hinted at irrevocable change and acceptance that would benefit both mothers and children.

I loved this book, it’s stayed with me long after I read it and would definitely recommend it!

The Swap
Fiona Mitchell
Hodder & Stoughton, 18th April

If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman

This was such a powerfully moving story, really emotional and with such beautifully written characters.

*warning, spoilers*

Every family has their secrets. But none so heartbreaking, or emotional, than Audrey’s family.
Audrey’s daughters, Jess and Lily, haven’t spoken to each other in decades. Her teenage granddaughters aren’t allowed to meet. But Audrey is running out of time, and she’s determined to solve the rift between them.
As they each delve into their past, secrets will come out, and the choice that one of them made years ago is about to come out. Can they find happiness as a family again?

This is one of those books that’s going to stay with me long after I read it. It starts with one of those chapters where you know there is a lot being unsaid or left until later, and although it hooks you in, it’s not necessarily the plot itself. The writing is simply beautiful – ‘She does not know it yet, but by the time she gets home this afternoon, the fabric of her family will have been altered irrevocably, and the morning’s events will repeat in her mind like a record stuck under the groove of a needle for the next thirty years’.

How is this not one of the most beautiful sentences? It’s one of those pieces of writing that sticks in your mind, you know exactly the feeling or event behind described, and it will affect anyone who reads it. The rest of the story continues to be written like this, with momentous parts of the book marked by gorgeous similes and metaphors that make complete sense. It’s honestly one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time.

I really enjoyed how the story flicks between the present and various moments of the past. Audrey, the mother, is a fascinating character, who clearly has stuff from her past that’s holding her back. Her decision not to have chemotherapy to treat her cancer was a difficult part of the novel to read, but I really felt like Beckerman wrote it incredibly sensitively and well. Because Audrey was balancing this with her desire to reunite her daughters, there was a real sense of urgency throughout the novel to uncover the reason for Jess and Lily’s estrangement. This didn’t take away from the story however, and instead played to it perfectly, by highlighting and enhancing the emotions of the characters.

Jess was a very defensive but caring character, protective in her own way but it was clear to the reader that she had some serious trust issues and unresolved feelings holding her back. Her relationship with her daughter was also frustrating because the reader could see how Jess was trying to push her own dreams on her daughter. Jess’ secrecy and unwillingness to trust anyone however, made her a very vulnerable character, with her pain clear to anyone whether she meant it to be or not. Beckerman wrote this character outstandingly, bringing to attention the power of childhood memories and experiences.

Lily was, in some ways, harder to read than Jess as it was clear that her marriage was breaking down and she was in denial about it and that was really hard to watch. She was also a really strong woman, as becomes clearer nearer the end, and was perhaps able to keep her emotions in check better than Jess (not that either way of coping is better or worse). Her ability to maintain patience in the face of hatred and unfriendliness was honestly astonishing, but she was also extremely vulnerable and open to pain.

The mysterious events from the past weren’t revealed until the very end, and I think this worked really well. It allowed the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the characters rather than focusing too much on the story itself and have it overshadow the characters.

Overall, I truly loved this. It was so poignant, beautifully and deeply moving, with really human and relatable characters. I would recommend this to anyone, it’s a 5 star read.

If Only I Could Tell You
Hannah Beckerman
Orion, 21st Feb 2019

The Foyles Bookshop Girls by Elaine Roberts

This was a heart-warming yet emotional story about three girls who lives are touched by the war, and demonstrates real depth in representing their reactions to it.

London, 1914: one ordinary day, three girls arrive for work at London’s renowned Foyles bookshop. But when war with Germany is declared their lives will never be the same again…
Alice has always been the ‘sensible’ one in her family – especially in comparison with her suffrage-supporting sister! But decidedly against her father’s wishes, she accepts a job at Foyles Bookshop; and for bookworm Alice it’s a dream come true.
But with the country at war, Alice’s happy world is shattered in an instant. Determined to do what she can, Alice works in the bookshop by day, and risks her own life driving an ambulance around bomb-ravaged London by night. But however busy she keeps herself, she can’t help but think of the constant danger those she loves are facing on the frontline…

I really enjoyed how these three women were represented. It was great to see them as strong independent women but it didn’t go too far and still stayed in context of the time it was set. All of them had jobs and their own struggles to deal with, and they were written so well.

Alice was definitely my favourite character – she was stronger than she realised and I really warmed to her as she had such a kind heart, but her tendency to overly worry definitely resonated with me! She was quietly insistent that she work at Foyles and as an ambulance driver, and I enjoyed this quiet rebellion against her father more than her sister Lily’s outright anger. Lily was still a brilliant character, providing the perfect counterpart to Alice’s more sensible persona, and her confidence at standing up to her father and doing whatever she wanted was great to read. The two girls represent perfectly that time when the suffragette movement was taking off, and the ways in which different women dealt with it. Despite Alice not being so outspoken about it and not attending the same rallies that Lily did, her whole being generally radiated a confidence and belief in change, and parts of the book, such as her discussion with Freddie, cement this further.

Alice’s relationship with Freddie was simply lovely. They were the couple that everyone wants to be but without being too sickly sweet. They were super cute, and his love for her was so obvious. Her struggle while he was away at war, and watching her deal with highs and lows by herself for fear of worrying him was really emotional, and I spent most of the book wishing for him to return and surprise her.

Luke, Alice’s father, was a fascinating character. His bitterness and unhappiness was so evident, but the cause of it was fairly unclear for ages into the book. His sudden shock into reality was emotional to follow, but also interesting to see his reaction to the realities of war. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t seem to understand or care about the reactions of his family to his actions and comments but gradually throughout the book he is more and more understood and changed.

The other two girls, Victoria and Molly, were a great balance to Alice. Victoria’s grief at losing her parents and her struggle to maintain the house and a good life for her siblings was very hard to imagine, but Roberts wrote the situation beautifully. It was also interesting to read how Alice tried to help Victoria, and it was easy to see how the two girls clashed – it’s a hard situation to navigate, and it was understandable why Victoria didn’t want Alice’s help, so I thought that Roberts wrote this in a really realistic way. Molly was so much fun, her relationship with Tony was again a very realistic situation to be in, but it was interesting watching her inner conflict when it came to him.

I honestly loved this book so much, I felt it was realistic and heart-warming and I always enjoy books that are set during a war period but not directly about war. I love seeing the effect it has on people trying to live their normal lives, and overall it was a beautifully written book.

Credits:
The Foyle Bookshop Girls
Elaine Roberts
Aria, 1st June 2018