#Excerpt The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw

Today I have an excerpt from The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw, which is FREE on Amazon at the moment (have downloaded my copy and am looking forward to reading!)

thumbnail_The things we learn COVER FINAL

Length: 399 pages

Please note that the cover image leads to a universal Amazon buy link for the book

What they say:

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is about how small decisions can have profound and unintended consequences, but how we can sometimes get a second chance.

On the way home from a dinner party, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. When she wakes up she is in what appears to be a hospital – but a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions.
It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN, because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. She seems to be there by accident… or does God have a higher purpose after all?
Despite that, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is neither sci-fi nor fantasy. It is a book about memory and how, if we could remember things slightly differently, would we also be changed?

In HVN, Lorna can at first remember nothing. But as her memories return – some good, some bad – she realises that she has decisions to make and that, maybe, she can find a way back home.

The Excerpt: The old man was as good as his word and a tray was swiftly brought by a male nurse in white clinical overalls who looked spookily like a young James Bond. On it was a plate of grilled lamb cutlets, string beans and sautéed potatoes. There was also a warm bread roll with a knob of butter and, under a silver dome, a bowl of chocolate profiteroles with cream. In short, exactly what she would have ordered in an expensive restaurant, given the choice, and if she’d ever been able to afford to eat in one. Also on the tray was a small metal jug of white wine, which made no sense. During her coma, had it become health service policy to keep patients inebriated? And why the metal jug?<

“The boss says that you’re up and about now,” he remarked, placing the tray down and making sure it was well balanced on her knees. The jug of wine and glass he placed on her bedside table. Why wasn’t there a bunch of flowers in a vase? That’s the first thing her mother would have brought. It was the first thing she always took to friends and relatives in hospital, even the ones who suffered from hay fever.

“Who was the old man? The one who was here a minute ago?” she asked, as if there might be several old men in her wing of the hospital. “Grey hair. Beard. Beads,” she added.

The nurse merely gave a small shrug. “He’ll tell you himself the next time you meet. Anyway,” he added, making for the door, and looking uncomfortable, “if there’s anything else I can do, just ask.”

“I’d like to know how long I’ve been asleep.”

“Asleep?” The nurse raised one eyebrow.

“Yes, asleep. I mean, how long have I been here?”

He didn’t reply for a few moments, hands clasped behind his back. “Not long, as far as I know.”

“And how long is not long?” she asked. “Look, if you don’t know, could I please speak to someone who does.” Lorna, running out of patience, had raised her voice. The nurse took a step backwards towards the door.

“All in good time,” he assured her and indicated the tray. “For now, you need to eat. Get your strength back.”

“Look, I really need to know how long I’ve been here. Can I see a doctor? Actually, I shouldn’t have to bloody ask that, should I? What kind of useless hospital is this?”

The nurse, perhaps unused to being shouted at, had backed himself to the door. “Anything you need, just ask. Okay?”

Lorna wanted to scream at him. “But how?” she asked instead, looking around the blank walls for a call button. “And what did he mean by not feeding the little brutes?”

“Just ask, that’s all. Your room is sound-activated so don’t worry, I’ll hear.” He touched a blank place on the wall that somehow made the pneumatic door hiss open. “But he’s right about not feeding them,” he added as the white door closed again, leaving Lorna utterly exasperated.

About the author (couldn’t help taking this from his website because it’s such a  good bio!!!)

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Charlie Laidlaw (me) is the author of two novels, The Herbal Detective (Ringwood Publishing) and The Things We Learn When We’re Dead (Accent Press).  

I was born in Paisley, central Scotland, which wasn’t my fault.  That week, Eddie Calvert with Norrie Paramor and his Orchestra were Top of the Pops, with Oh, Mein Papa, as sung by a young German woman remembering her once-famous clown father.  That gives a clue to my age, not my musical taste.

I was brought up in the west of Scotland (quite near Paisley, but thankfully not too close) and graduated from the University of Edinburgh.  I still have the scroll, but it’s in Latin, so it could say anything.

I then worked briefly as a street actor, baby photographer, puppeteer and restaurant dogsbody before becoming a journalist.  I started in Glasgow and ended up in London, covering news, features and politics.  I interviewed motorbike ace Barry Sheene, Noel Edmonds threatened me with legal action and, because of a bureaucratic muddle, I was ordered out of Greece.

I then took a year to travel round the world, visiting 19 countries.  Highlights included being threatened by a man with a gun in Dubai, being given an armed bodyguard by the PLO in Beirut (not the same person with a gun), and visiting Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave in Samoa.  What I did for the rest of the year I can’t quite remember.

Surprisingly, I was approached by a government agency to work in intelligence, which just shows how shoddy government recruitment was back then.  However, it turned out to be very boring and I don’t like vodka martini.

Craving excitement and adventure, I ended up as a PR consultant, which is the fate of all journalists who haven’t won a Pulitzer Prize, and I’ve still to listen to Oh, Mein Papa.

I am married with two grown-up children and live in East Lothian.   And that’s about it.

 

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Force Of Nature by Jane Harper

force

 

Length: 400 pages

Please note that the cover image leads to a universal Amazon buy link for the book

What they say:

FIVE WENT OUT. FOUR CAME BACK…

Is Alice here? Did she make it? Is she safe? In the chaos, in the night, it was impossible to say which of the four had asked after Alice’s welfare. Later, when everything got worse, each would insist it had been them.

Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.

The hike through the rugged landscape is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case – and Alice knew secrets. About the company she worked for and the people she worked with.

Far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell Falk a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. And as he delves into the disappearance, it seems some dangers may run far deeper than anyone knew.

The Review: From one set of women navigating a wilderness to this … erm, another group of women navigating the wilderness … (coughs).

So, to start, what a blurb, tells you everything needed to pull you in, and means I can tell you all about the book without worrying about spoilers, including the fact that it’s Alice that disappears, and it’s very much a case of did she leave or did something happen to her. The one thing I picked out of the book that still stays with me is that to start with one person called the name of Alice when they all found out she was missing, find that person and you find an innocent. Or are they all innocent? Or are none of them? (These ponderings are in no particular order, they’re just what I thought to myself, so don’t try to read into them!)

This was a book I’d left aside, firstly as I hadn’t read ‘The Dry’ which contains policeman Aaron Falk, and secondly because I’ve read so many crime/ thrillers set in vast wilderness that didn’t have the dialogue or storytelling to live up to the beauty the author could capture with their pen (well, computer, but I’m trying to soften this all a bit!). Actually I may as well start with Aarom Falk, because I’m afraid he was the only thing that didn’t work for me. I didn’t feel much for him or his past and wanted to get back to what was happening with the women every time he appeared. This is a pity as obviously there’s times the investigator reels you in as much as the story, but here it wasn’t the case. That being said the rest of the book was so good it just washed over me and I moved on.

The story is excellent because the group of girls work together as opposed to being real friends, so you get that politeness to start off with, because they don’t know each other that well, then the griping and little jibes as things go wrong, followed by all out fighting when everything falls apart and they struggle to find their way to camp.

There are some genius moments in this book including some excellent falsities that sent you totally on the wrong trail! I adored this book and gobbled it up, drinking in the different characters, their predicament and the amazing beauty of the wilderness they stumbled through . There are many people who are saying this is their book of the year to date and I can totally see why! Very much recommended and I’ll definitely get back to The Dry, which is on my Kindle. Thanks so much to Netgalley and Little Brown for the book in return for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5/5

All We Have Lost by Aimee Alexander

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Length: 276 pages

Please note that the cover image leads to a universal amazon link for the book

What they say:

From the bestselling author of Pause to Rewind and The Accidental Life of Greg Millar comes this ‘stunning tale of modern marriage.’

Kim Waters seems to have it all: her own PR agency, a loving husband and two adorable children. Then Kim announces that she’s fed up plugging Flush toilet cleaner and writing sparkling press releases for mediocre products; she wants to write ‘the great novel’ and spend more time with her young family. She folds her business and settles down to a life of cosy domesticity.

If only it were that easy. The ‘great novel’ is, in fact, a great struggle. Life as a domestic goddess has (many) hidden challenges. And her relationship with her husband is rapidly losing its equilibrium.

As the perfect life Kim has built for herself starts to crumble comes the revelation that will make her doubt everything she had taken for granted…

The Review: I saw Aimee Alexander aka Denise Deegan, speaking at a literary festival some years ago, and I knew from her covers which were dark, her extract, which was a rom com, and the way she spoke about writing, that she was one to read straight away. Of course I didn’t. Instead I went to Amazon, bought two of her books, constantly reminding myself I had to read her, with this hitting fever pitch as I watched everyone around rave over The Accidental Life Of Greg Millar … And again I didn’t get to her. Until Christmas time, and boy am I relived I did!

So the book begins with the lead arriving home to a darkened house after she’s missed her children’s bedtime again. The narrative, that of the first person, present tense variety, was perfect. We see Kim, the working mum who feels guilty all the time, who has done this one too many times and decides to give up life as she knows it to become a stay at home mum and a writer (yes!). This resulted in some very funny book issues, which I couldn’t get enough of (I loved how the protagonist had to come to terms with a best friend who had a book deal based off her notoriety while she was starting from the absolute beginning). My only issue actually was that the writer in me would have loved to see more of this.

This book struck so many chords with me. The feelings, the change of dynamic in the house, sometimes possibly perceived as opposed to actual, and the difference in relationship between Ian and Kim, who were such a great pairing. There were times in this book that I took it upon myself to be mad for Kim as household tasks were now handed over to her, but with no please or thank you (would you know that I perhaps see some of our home situation here, lol?) as decisions they made jointly were suddenly solely the duty of the earner of the house (no fingers, stop typing, you are NOT going to do this!) There was an excellent portrayal of the mixed emotions that come with going from a career to staying at home with children, with the feelings of being content and happy to be with the kids sometimes being usurped by loneliness, an itch to do more, a niggling feeling that you’ve lost your place in terms of value in the world, as well as your rights in the household.

The pacing was excellent, with twists and turns, cliches that turned out not to be and side issues and back issues that I won’t go into as I don’t want to spoil it. I’ll tell you that this is what I would catalogue as a slightly darker form of ‘mom lit,’ and it’s one I’ll be recommending all around me. I really enjoyed this and will most definitely be reading Aimee Alexander’s books (see her catalogue here), again.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Colour of Water In July by Nora Carroll

thecolorofwaterinjuly

Length: 251 pages

What they say:

It’s been a long seventeen years since Jess last saw her grandmother or visited the family cottage set on an idyllic lake in Northern Michigan. For all that time, she’s been haunted by loss—of her innocence and her ability to trust and, most of all, of a profound summer romance that might have been something more. So when her grandmother leaves the house to her, Jess summons her courage and returns to a place full of memories—and secrets.

There, she stumbles upon old letters and photographs of a time not so much forgotten as buried. As she begins to unravel the hidden histories of her mother and her grandmother, she makes a startling discovery about a tragic death that prompted her family’s slow undoing. With every uneven and painful step into the past, Jess comes closer to a truth that could alter her own path—and open a door to a different future.

The Review: I’m ashamed to say that I kept bypassing this book on my Kindle. I think from the cover I thought that this would be a heavier read than it actually was, plus I’m not fully au fait with historical fiction, and so I took a step back. Once I actually got down to it, I read it in three nights (I could probably have read in one or two sittings had it not been a hectic few days), spending each day looking forward to when the night time came so I could pick up on where the story left off.

‘There must be a precise moment when wet cement turns dry, when it no longer accepts footprints or scratched-in declarations of love, an ordinary moment, unnoticed, just like any. But in that moment, the facts of life can change.’

This is how the story begins. We jump between two stories, that of Jess, who has arrived at her now deceased gran’s cottage, in a magnificent setting, overlooking the lake at Michegan, and her Gran. We were shown tragedies through Jess and Mamie’s eyes, with the stories overlapping and yet not, such was the way we were let in on secrets and heartbreaking revelations as the story went further back through the ages to secrets that impacted on Jess and her family. I loved that the Gran’s story was told from when she was older, and so we were looking back, as far or as near as we needed.

Jess recounted her idea of what happened years ago, a story of a Summer that would never be forgotten, either by Jess or her Gran, a Summer full of love and drama. I loved the innocence that we could find in places, that peaceful, lying about, lazy carry on. The descriptions in this book were so beautiful and vivid and I could picture every family setting, every romantic scene, and then every trauma and heartbreaking event that happened. And there were many of those.

This book was like a lesson in how to do dramatic twists, with surprises, shocks and gasp out loud moments as you uncovered the reasons true love was never allowed to fluorish. The secrets and lies broke your heart and made you want to read on, the romance took your breath away, the story never disappointed. The ending was excellent, and surprisingly for me I think I’d read it again(as a teen or a child I re-read books over and over again, not so far as an adult). Thanks to Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing for the book in return for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5/5

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

aboymadeofblocks

Length:400 pages

Note: The cover image leads to a universal Amazon buy link for the book

What they say: Discover a unique, funny and moving debut that will make you laugh, cry and smile.

Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex
He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn’t understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

Meet eight-year-old Sam
Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can’t solve on his own.

But when Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other . . .

Can one fragmented family put themselves back together, one piece at a time?

Inspired by the author’s experiences with his own son, A Boy Made of Blocks is an astonishingly authentic story of love, family and autism.

A Boy Made of Blocks an astonishingly authentic story of love, family and autism. Fans of About a Boy, Us and The Rosie Project will love this heart-warming, heart-breaking & wonderfully funny debut from an exceptionally talented new writer.

The review: When I was first offered this book I have to admit, I balked, just a little. Books with autism as the main subject matter generally hurt my head, as there’s Aspergers in my family. The idea of fiction books with autism as the subject matter generally lead to me overthinking, and, I’ll be honest, worrying. Saying that, the ones I’ve read before I’ve always ended up enjoying. This was no exception.

The book opens with us learning about Alex’s marriage with Jody, which is disintegrating. It read the way I’d imagine the screenplay of ‘The Break Up’ (Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughan) did, with little snide comments, bickering and bitterness, and I have to admit I was torn between that awful fascination you experience when you’re let into someone’s private life (yes, I do know this is just a book), and not wanting to just experience argument after argument. But of course I’d jumped the gun in expecting the whole gun to be like this and anyway I’d already warmed to Mr. Stuart’s style.

We saw Alex’s job as an estate agent, met his friends and associates. We were presented with excellent descriptions and witty asides and at times a  gorgeously cynical narrative. These were mixed with Alex’s moments with Sam, as he tries to move past being nervous, afraid almost, of his own son. The book can read like an inspirational how to manual, as well as a how not to, and I loved it so much. His observations on Sam put us right there

‘He was like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas-small, funny, but at the flick of a mental switch, easily capable of extreme and demented violence’

and to be honest I highlighted so many quotes my Kindle began to give out (note to self, write post on Kindle pros and cons). I loved how they interacted, and seeing their story together develop. Everything in this book is so well balanced, and there are so many moments and realisations in this book, both for Alex, and for Jody. She wants everything done the way she way she wants it and forgets that because he isn’t there all day he couldn’t know the way things have to be.

‘She glances between us-the two men in her life, equally bewildering to her, I realise.’

A special mention for Matt and Claire, who I loved (good for anyone who’s a fan of chaotic, mom/ dad lit kind of stories) and actually pretty much all of the side characters. I should probably leave it here, and say just that this book had it spot on and how much I loved Sam and how many times I wanted to hug him or just say ‘yes!’ and well done, three dimensional etc Alex and Jody’s characters were, but instead I’m going to talk about Minecraft.

Minecraft has taken over our house for about the last two years. I had no idea of what it was about (Previous to marraige and kids I’d generally focused any gaming in my life purely on Street Fighter, Sonic the Hedgehog and Pac-man ) and my only dalliance with it had been at the start, when I was handed the controller, unaware of how the hell you armed yourself, or ate or anything else you have to do in Minecraft. After wandering in circles with an axe and listening to my six year old patiently trying to tell me that I was doing great, but I needed to do something, I chalked it down to experience, and handed it back.  I have learned so much from this book in terms of minecraft, and the lads have actually started offering up information since I’ve begun to ask questions that didn’t start with ‘so this is the box thing, right?’  Also I now know what that song on Youtube ‘don’t mine at night,’ actually means! But I suppose I should get back to the book. Yes, I cried in this book (sobbed hysterically actually), laughed out loud (properly!) got mad and caught my breath. It had hidden gem after gem of advice, put nice and diplomatically so shouty people out there can’t go on the warpath (parents aren’t always a great group at taking advice, take it from a mother of four!) and comments on autism. It was uplifting and heartwarming, life affirming and simultaneously terrifying! Definitely one to buy/ go on the wish list.

Thanks to Little, Brown Book Group and Netgalley for this book in return for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

 

About the Author

keithstuart

KEITH STUART is games editor at the Guardian. He started out as writer and features editor on the highly influential magazine Edge before going freelance in 2000 to cover games culture for publications such as The Official PlayStation Magazine, PC Gamer and T3, as well as investigating digital and interactive art for Frieze. He also writes about music, film and media for the Guardian and is a regular on the Tech Weekly podcast. He is married with two sons.

He lives in Somerset.

Website: A Boy Made of Blocks

Twitter:@keefstuart

Room by Emma Donaghue

By the

 

room

Amazon US

Amazon UK

What They Say: NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE — nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture

To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world. . . . It’s where he was born, it’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack’s curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.

Room is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating–a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child.

The Review: I read this some time ago but due to all the buzz and craziness (probably warranted) I thought I’d post a review. It’s now a bit overdue but anyhoo …

I adored this book. When I read it there was a lot of talk about it (pre film, though a lot of people were hoping for one), but I had no real idea what it was about and I’ll admit, hadn’t even read the blurb. The narrator  of the book is the gorgeous five year old Jack, obviously intriguing and ingenious in itself,a s he goes through everyday life in ‘Room, ‘with ‘bed’ and ‘wardrobe’ practically characters in his mind. We are given insights into his mother’s frame of mind and yet her strength as she struggles to give Jack a ‘normal’ life, playing with him, telling him of stars and things ‘out there’ that he doesn’t believe exist. This may just be a mother’s view, but I think one of the big themes of this book was that even faced with huge amount of adversity in life, if a child has some form of stability in forms of a parent or guardian, they can still be well adjusted and educated.

It’s funny how such a simple story can bring you along with it, for most of it is simple, you remember that they’re trapped there, you have a slight feeling of unease  and yet you’re just listening to a mother and son converse, a mother explaining things to her son without trying to upset him and yet, as would be expected, it’s not always that easy, nobody could be expected to hold it together all the time, and there are times she falls and you feel the horror again, how can anyone exist like this and what will happen to make things change?

Her captor makes appearances every so often and he’s everything you expect him to be, a monster who thinks of people as property, with no thought for what he’s doing. Even though he is this, and even though the subject matter is oh so dark, I didn’t really empathise with the reviews that found it so disturbing, and I think that that’s where Ms. Donoghue’s simple and effective writing, as well as the child’s narrative comes in. We’re so deeply involved in the story, in listening in, in thinking about their next move, as in the next five minutes, not whether this can continue long term, that we just read on, we have the slight uneasy feeling the whole time, but there’s not the graphicness and horror that other writers may have added to shock. I have not seen the films, but was a bit shocked by the unnecessary spoiler contained in the trailer, in the same way I’m pretty sure the paperback had a hint as to what might happen in the book and it annoyed me. Let me tell you, you don’t need to know. A must, must, must read (in my humble opinion!) Oh and make sure to let me know, have you read? Have you seen the film? Maybe you plan to do both together or are you just not bothered?I’d love to know!

Rating: 5/5

 

Tapestry by Elle Turner (a book of short stories)

tapestry

What they say: In hope, in pain,
we lose, we gain,
but always and forever
the human heart braves life
in light and in shade

A collection of twelve short stories exploring the complexities of life and love.

The review: I’m a sucker for short stories. I’m always using the phrase ‘dip in, dip out’ in relation to how you can read them but actually I generally read a book of short stories in one go. It’s the same with books with short chapters, I think to myself ‘just one more, just one more,’ and before I know it I’m nearing the end and am somewhere between tired and irritable and excited to see how the story will end. ‘Tapestry’ was no different. The title of the book first grabbed me and this was quickly followed by the cover. I thought about what a tapestry was, and this book definitely lived up to the title, with stories that are interwoven, themes and characters popping up all over the place with frayed edges, strands almost at breaking point and loose ends that are clearly visible.

The subject matter varied, but they are mostly love stories with a darker tinge to them, some so dark they border on claustophobic, not always a bad thing, it just meant that they reeled me in. I did find that there was possibly one too many in a row on unrequited love and obsession but then the subject matter changed again and all was good with the world. The crossover in particular was artfully done, as you guessed which character would appear again, and, coupled with the presence of twists timed very, very, well, alongside an absence of a twist where there was none required, I was very happy out!

I read it quite quickly (Amazon say it’s only 74 pages), with my eyes rarely moving from my Kindle. It’s always commendable when your eyes remain glued to the screen and your fingers continue to scroll, as if you’re in a trance, and that’s what happened here. There are twelve stories in this book, and I didn’t flick ahead once, nor did my eyes stray from the page. That being said there were possibly one or two I didn’t enjoy as much as the others, but that was evened out by the presence of a few that were outstanding (as well as a few very ingenious ones!).

Very much recommended, in particular for a journey, I think it would pass the time very nicely indeed, just hope that nobody creeps up on you!

Rating 4.5/5