Blog Tour | When We Danced at the End of the Pier (Sandy Taylor)

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Brighton 1930: Maureen O’Connell is a carefree girl, but her family is on the brink of tragedy, war is looming and life will never be the same again. Jack and Nelson have always been dear friends to Maureen. Despite their different backgrounds, they’ve seen each other through thick and thin. As Maureen blossoms from a little girl into a young woman, the candle she’s always held for Jack burns bright. But just as she’s found love, war wrenches them apart. The man she cherishes with all her heart is leaving. When the bombs start to fall, Maureen and her family find themselves living in the most dangerous of times. With Jack no longer by her side and Nelson at war, Maureen has never felt more alone. Can she look to a brighter future? And will she find the true happiness she’s dreamt of? An utterly gripping and heart-wrenching story about the enduring power of love, hope and friendship during the darkest of days. Perfect for fans of Pam Jenoff, Nadine Dorries and Diney Costeloe.

First things first: the title. Isn’t it beautiful? I absolutely adore it. I was worried: what if I didn’t like the book? No one wants to say they dislike a book with such a beautiful title :O Fortunately, When We Danced at the End of the Pier was a truly enjoyable novel that I can’t wait for you to read.

This is a story about family, friendship and love. A family saga that spans quite a few years and features Maureen, Brenda, Jack, Nelson, Monica, and Maureen and Brenda’s parents. If I had to choose a favorite part, I’d say that the father story broke my heart (and it will break yours too). I desperately wanted to know what was going on, although I kind of suspected. He was a sweet and loving dad and I wanted him to get better. When We Danced at the End of the Pier is one of those novels where all the main characters are good-natured people and you can’t help but root for them. They deserve to be happy (especially my little Brenda!)

Maureen was the protagonist and a classic goody two-shoes. I’m not saying she wasn’t as interesting as the others (after all, she was the key of everything), but there were times when I wanted to sit down and talk to her, knock some sense into her. For example, she falls in love with Jack the very first time they meet and she already knows they’re going to marry one day. She doesn’t even tell him about it! I wanted to tell her that you can fall in love more than once, that there are different types of love, and that your teenage sweetheart isn’t always the person you’re supposed to be with. Maybe yes, of course, but not always. I think you can now guess who I was rooting for 😉

Even though I was completely engaged from the beginning, I still felt the writing was maybe too saccharine, as I don’t have much patience when it comes to cheesy stuff. However, I noticed that, as the main characters grew up, the writing evolved as well. And I kind of liked that, as it felt natural and fitting: the writing being a reflection of the characters’ minds. It was a rather short book but it made a lasting impression.

This is not a book filled with action, as you can expect from the title, the cover and the blurb. I remember reaching 25% and thinking that not much had happened yet, but still, there hadn’t been a dull moment. I was totally engrossed by the setting, the story and these characters. I already felt they were part of my family and their day-to-day tribulations were as engaging as any thriller I’ve recently read.

I also remember moments when I felt I had something in my eye… Finally, don’t worry if you see this is #3 in a trilogy. I didn’t know that but this can be read as a standalone. And what a lovely read!

 

Netgalley, Bookouture, 2017

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About the author
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Sandy Taylor grew up on a council estate near Brighton. There were no books in the house, so Sandy’s love of the written word was nurtured in the little local library. Leaving school at fifteen, Sandy worked in a series of factories before landing a job at Butlins in Minehead. This career change led her to becoming a singer, a stand up comic and eventually a playwright and novelist.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep (Joanna Cannon)

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Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a quirky and utterly charming debut about a community in need of absolution and two girls learning what it means to belong. England, 1976. Mrs. Creasy is missing and the Avenue is alive with whispers. The neighbors blame her sudden disappearance on the heat wave, but ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly aren’t convinced. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, the girls decide to take matters into their own hands. Inspired by the local vicar, they go looking for God—they believe that if they find Him they might also find Mrs. Creasy and bring her home. Spunky, spirited Grace and quiet, thoughtful Tilly go door to door in search of clues. The cul-de-sac starts to give up its secrets, and the amateur detectives uncover much more than ever imagined. As they try to make sense of what they’ve seen and heard, a complicated history of deception begins to emerge. Everyone on the Avenue has something to hide, a reason for not fitting in. In the suffocating heat of the summer, the ability to guard these differences becomes impossible. Along with the parched lawns and the melting pavement, the lives of all the neighbors begin to unravel. What the girls don’t realize is that the lies told to conceal what happened one fateful day about a decade ago are the same ones Mrs. Creasy was beginning to peel back just before she disappeared.

“A summer of Space Hoppers and dancing queens, when Dolly Parton begged Jolene not to take her man, and we all stared at the surface of Mars and felt small.”

I’m sure you know that feeling… When you’re completely captivated by a book and you haven’t even finished it but you already know it’s going to be among your favorites. That’s what I felt with The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. And I’m fully aware that this is not going to be a novel for everyone (I’ve read mixed reviews and we all have different tastes, after all), but it was perfect for me and just what I needed this past weekend.

“He doesn’t look like a murderer,” said Tilly.
“What does a murderer look like?”
“They usually have mustaches,” she said “and are much fatter.”

Joanna Cannon is a master of storytelling and this is just the kind of story I wish I had crafted. I love the writing, the humour, the references, the characters… I’ve already said it before, but small-town tales full of peculiar characters are one of my favorite ingredients in a story and I had been looking for a book that made me feel like Tall Oaks did, for quite a while. I’m so glad I found it!

“The policeman was very tall even after he took his hat off”

This is not even a town, but an Avenue. Nosy neighbors judging each other and taking matters into their own hands. In The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, we travel back to 1976, during an extremely hot summer. Mrs Creasy is missing and Grace and Tilly (two lovely ten-year-olds) are determined to find her. Because God is everywhere and so they need to ask Him to bring Mrs Creasy back. But why is He so hard to find? And is that Him on a drainpipe (that part was hilarious). I think Grace might be one of my favorite narrators ever, but Tilly was just the loveliest girl I’ve ever encountered in a book. She was only ten years old but I wanted her as my friend.

“You were the one who found Him, though, Tilly; not Grace”
“But we’re friends” Tilly looked at me. “We go halves on everything. Even Jesus”.

And if you don’t usually like child narrators, keep in mind that there are plenty of chapters told from the point of view of every neighbor, as each one of them has a secret of their own… It even features flashbacks. I knew this was a special story because it made me laugh (I highly value that in a book!) and smile and it would also be a great novel for teenagers, as I believe its message is still relevant. It’s about judging others by their appearance, fitting in and what friendship really means.

So yes, I admit I have a soft spot for quirky coming of age stories, both in books and films; and The Trouble with Goats and Sheep was a wonderful one. If that weren’t enough, it’s also a mystery of sorts, although told in a lighter tone (even if it deals with some dark themes).

Why do I suddenly want Angel Delight?

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Scribner, 2015

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley (Hannah Tinti)

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After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter Loo to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife’s hometown, Hawley finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past – a past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. Both a coming of age novel and a literary thriller, THE TWELVE LIVES OF SAMUEL HAWLEY explores what it means to be a hero, and the price we pay to protect the people we love most.

This novel had one of the most wonderful beginnings I’ve read in quite some time. As soon as I started reading The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, I knew it would be a highly unique story. Hours later, I had finished it and I knew I had been right: I had never read something quite like this. However, my initial delight wasn’t always present, as I admit I struggled a bit because of its length.

I wouldn’t say this is a mystery; it’s more like a coming of age story and a contemporary action thriller: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a tale about family, loneliness and fitting in. The writing by Hannah Tinti is brilliant and the characters are simply unforgettable. I think we can expect a film sometime in the next few years.

Who are the main characters? Let’s introduce you to Samuel Hawley and Loo (father and daughter). They’ve just moved to Olympus, Massachusetts and they’re having a hard time fitting in. Years pass (Loo is twelve at first and seventeen in the last chapter) while we’re witness of their struggles and endless adventures. At the same time, there are some flashback chapters where we learn about Samuel’s 12 lives (bullet scars that he carries on his body). Initially, I thought this flashbacks were a great idea, but the more I read, the more these parts felt repetitive. For once, I was more interested in the present story, especially Loo’s “coming of age”.

As I said, Loo was simply amazing (independent, strong and complex) and, even though we didn’t get to know her that much, Mabel Ridge was also a character I wanted to know more about. The mystery surrounding Loo’s mother, Lily, was one of my favorite aspects of the book. And I appreciated how the author made no excuses for anyone’s behavior. After all, when you love someone, you’re able to overlook their mistakes… Blood is thicker than water.

In the end, I think I will remember this book because there’s something quite special about it. It hasn’t been my favorite read of the year, but I’m not sure I’ll read something quite like it anytime soon. And that’s not something you can say often.

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Netgalley, Tinder Press, 2017

Dollbaby (Laura Lane McNeal)

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When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets. For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.

This was undoubtedly the best book I could possibly read after finishing SirensDollbaby was a sweet and easy-to-read novel, a quirky southern tale for those who’re looking for a lovely adventure. After endless crime books and psychological thrillers, sometimes you need something different.

This is the story of Ibby, whose father suddenly dies after a silly bicycle accident. Her mother, who never showed she cared for her, takes Libby to live with her grandmother Fannie and her help: Queenie and Dollbaby. Throughout the years, Ibby will learn it all about family, secrets, and life in the south.

I can’t resist a good southern story, especially if it’s set in the past. Dollbaby had all those details I enjoy about this kind of novels, but the plot never seemed to advance, not until the very end. Quiet novels are among my favorites and the characters in this book were odd and adorable at the same time, but that wasn’t enough for me, not this time.

In addition, the “big secret” didn’t feel like something particularly innovative or surprising. What I’m trying to say is that Dollbaby was a nice and pleasant read, but nothing extraordinary that I hadn’t read or watched before in countless of movies.

Dollbaby was a short and fun book, and while I enjoyed Ibby’s story and grew to like her and her family, the novel didn’t manage to completely captivate me like other similar books (The Help, The Education of Dixie Dupree). It was definitely sweet and I read it in a matter of hours, but I don’t think it will stay with me forever.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Penguin Books, 2015

The Education of Dixie Dupree (Donna Everhart)

28814312.jpgIn 1969, Dixie Dupree is eleven years old and already an expert liar. Sometimes the lies are for her mama, Evie’s sake—to explain away a bruise brought on by her quick-as-lightning temper. And sometimes the lies are to spite Evie, who longs to leave her unhappy marriage in Perry County, Alabama, and return to her beloved New Hampshire. But for Dixie and her brother, Alabama is home, a place of pine-scented breezes and hot, languid afternoons. Though Dixie is learning that the family she once believed was happy has deep fractures, even her vivid imagination couldn’t concoct the events about to unfold. Dixie records everything in her diary—her parents’ fights, her father’s drinking and his unexplained departure, and the arrival of Uncle Ray. Only when Dixie desperately needs help and is met with disbelief does she realize how much damage her past lies have done. But she has courage and a spirit that may yet prevail, forcing secrets into the open and allowing her to forgive and become whole again.

Sometimes, a story captivates you and you don’t know exactly why. After only a few pages, The Education of Dixie Dupree had already won me over. There was something about it that made it special… or perhaps it was simply that everything seemed to click.

I’ve always loved southern stories, mostly in films (I don’t think there are more quirky southern films for me to watch… Ya-ya Sisterhood, Fried Green Tomatoes, Now & Then… I’ve seen them all), but I’d love to read more books set in this particular location. The Education of Dixie Dupree was narrated by an eleven-year-old kid from Alabama, and that is probably the main reason why I loved it so much: Dixie was absolutely delightful and I found her an incredibly strong main character, with her virtues and flaws, both realistic and unforgettable.

So what is it about? In a word: Abuse. If you want me to develop it a bit more, I’d say that this is the story of a young girl who starts lying to protect her mother (a woman who doesn’t know how to control herself) and so she earns a reputation as a liar. But what happens when she really needs help? Will people actually believe her?

By reading the blurb and my review, you can easily figure out what’ll happen to Dixie, can’t you? But don’t let that discourage you: this novel is a true gem. There aren’t many books that manage to make you laugh out loud and two pages later feel completely horrified. This is why I found this so unique. Dixie is sassy, smart and brave but deeply innocent at the same time, something which made me suffer a lot.

I’m going to be completely honest: this is not an easy read. No matter how lovely the cover is, there are some graphic scenes in here and they’re not nice to read. The Education of Dixie Dupree will make you feel uncomfortable, but I will recomend it anyway. However, if you have problems reading about violence towards kids and sexual abuse, you should keep this in mind.

The book had already earned my 5 stars, but then I finished reading the writer’s epilogue and I fell even more in love with it. I won’t mention what exactly (because of potential spoilers), but basically, the author stated not all stories about child abuse are the same and I simply loved her choice of perspective.

Similar recommendations:
The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (Rebecca Wells)
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt (Beth Hoffman)

Other reviews:
Bookish Regards
The Deb Chronicles

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Kensington Publishing Corp 2016

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