Tag Archive | How to be Brave

The Mountain In My Shoe by Louise Beech (Orenda Books)

I’m very excited to be a part of the¬†blog tour for The Mountain In My Shoe by the incredibly talented, Louise Beech.

Ever since I read How To Be Brave earlier in the year, I have been really looking forward to Louise Beech’s next novel. How To Be Brave is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. I have loved it and recommended to anyone who will listen (as my friends and family will attest). It was so stunningly written and so obviously from the heart that The Mountain In My Shoe was very eagerly awaited. I was so excited when it fell on my doorstep that I started reading it that very night.

The Mountain In My Shoe tells the stories of Bernadette, a woman who is getting ready to leave her controlling husband, and Conor, a 10 year old boy who has had a very traumatic upbringing, being shipped from foster home to foster home while his mum decides if she is up to taking care of him. Bernadette is Conor’s volunteer friend through Befriend For Life, a volunteer service that provides a constant adult friend for children within the care system. Bernadette’s life-affirming change has to wait when she gets a call from Conor’s foster mum, Anne, to say that Conor is missing. At the same time, Bernadette’s usually prompt husband does not arrive home. Bernadette’s priorities are split as she wonders where her husband is whilst she is desperate to find Conor. Making Conor her priority, she tries to find him with Anne, her own life on hold while she finds the boy who has become her best friend.

The narrative is split three ways, with chapters from Bernadette and Conor’s point of view, as well as regular sections taken from Conor’s Lifebook, a book that is updated by anyone who has contact with Conor, such as social workers, foster parents, psychiatrists and Bernadette. The Lifebook is set up by the first social worker who worked on Conor’s case with a view to giving the book to Conor when he is 18, so that he can read where he has come from, what people thought of him and why decisions were made about his life that perhaps he was too young to understand at the time. The book has gone missing from Bernadette’s bookshelf and she is trying to find it when she gets the call from Anne. This narrative style, split between the formality of the Lifebook, Bernadette’s adult viewpoint and Conor’s “ten-going on twenty-one” view is particularly effective in tugging at the heartstrings of the reader.

The chapters about Bernadette move the story along and give some insight into why she is leaving her husband and how she came to be Conor’s friend in the first place. Conor’s chapters are in first person narrative which read beautifully as Conor’s innocence clashes with his experiences of hard times. He is a cheeky chappy with a heart of gold and a knowledge of life that is sadly far too advanced for a boy of his age. The reader cannot help but want to give him hug, despite knowing that he’d probably brush them off with an expletive!

However, it is the effect of “The Book” that had me in tears at regular intervals. As we get to know Conor, we learn of his experiences at various foster homes, tragedies that have befallen him along the way, and the importance of Bernadette in his life. The Lifebook elements also allows the reader to separate fact from emotional responses. It adds considerable authenticity as the formal reports are paralleled with the individual character narratives.

As with How To Be Brave, Louise Beech has woven stories together beautifully to give an exceedingly rich, emotionally charged narrative that moves the reader more and more with each chapter. Her ability to switch the narrative voice to suit each character is truly magnificent, from Conor’s ten-year-old cheeky confidence to the formality of the social workers, the colloquial rhetoric of Conor’s mum to the tender, caring narrative of Bernadette. Each character is so defined, that their stories speak through their choice of vocabulary.

I loved this book, just as I loved How To Be Brave. Both books are quite different in their style and plot yet both books are sad and optimistic at the same time, leaving you smiling through your inevitable tears at the end. Louise Beech’s characters are so lovely and the reader will undoubtedly champion them from the beginning to the end. The overwhelming feeling I felt at the end of both books was just how perfect they were, in terms of providing a fulfilling reading experience and how I would not change a single thing about either, which is quite rare. There is always usually something, however small, that the reader thinks could have been different, but not with these books. To have one book be so special is a wonderful achievement, but to have two is amazing. Louise Beech is well on her way to having a second critically acclaimed novel. Of that, I have no doubt.

When Lisa met Louise…

Last night, I went to Waterstones in York to see the lovely Louise Beech at the launch of her new book, The Mountain In My Shoe. I was very excited to meet the writer of one of the best books I’ve read this year, How To Be Brave. I was also a little nervous. Having never been to a book launch before, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. However, with my fantastic friend Alison, we found our way there, albeit a tad late.

There’s one thing you should know about me. Whilst I can articulate myself pretty well in writing, actually engaging my brain in sync with my mouth is a skill that alludes me, particularly when I’m nervous. Also, because I’m aware that I can quite often sound like a moron when I try to have a conversation with someone I’ve not met before (and sometimes people I knowūüėä), this increases my nervousness, thus increasing my incessant babbling.

I needn’t have been concerned, though. Louise was absolutely lovely, gracious, funny and put me at ease straight away. Once we had got over her surprise that I am, in fact, a brunette and not the blonde she had expected, she gave me a big hug and my nerves (more or less) dissipated. There’s always that danger that you will meet someone who you have an online rapport with and you’ll be disappointed that it isn’t the same as when you are chatting on Facebook. However, Louise was as lovely face to face as she is online and to hear her talk about her inspirations, her writing methodology and where the characters/locations in her book came from was absolutely fascinating.

I do wish that I could have said more about how much I enjoyed her books. “Your books are brilliant” was as far as my brain-engaging-mouth deficiency would take me. If my reviews were that sparse, they wouldn’t be worth reading!! What I wanted to say was how wonderfully engaging her characters were and how the style in which she writes her books is so unique. I wanted to say how her use of books as an extra character in these first two books was inspired.

I hope that the next time I meet Louise, I can encourage my brain and mouth to work properly. I had a lovely time last night at my first book launch, as well as the hilarious journey there and back with my amazing friend. I can’t wait until the next time, hopefully a tad closer to home, so that we may not get lost this time!

Thank you for the invite, Louise, and I promise I will do my best to sound more articulate next time we meet!ūüėä

Look out for my review of The Mountain In My Shoe as part of the blog tour on 20th October.

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How To Be Brave by Louise Beech

Every so often a book will come along and will seep its way into your heart right from the very beginning. You’ll instantly connect with the main protagonists and it will leave you feeling completely overwhelmed by how much it has affected you. For me, this was the effect that How To Be Brave by Louise Beech had on me.

How To Be Brave is a true fact-meets-fiction novel in that it is loosely based on Beech’s own experiences as a mother of a diabetic daughter and the true story of how fourteen men (including her grandfather) were lost at sea. Beech’s main protagonist, Natalie, is forced to come to terms with the shocking diagnosis that her nine-year-old daughter Rose has Type 1 diabetes after she collapses in the kitchen. As she has to learn how to manage her daughter’s condition in terms of learning the routine of testing her blood by pricking Rose’s fingertips and injecting her with the correct dose of insulin numerous times a day, whilst at the same time dealing with Rose’s own difficulties in coming to terms with her illness, Natalie struggles to keep it together. Her husband, Jake, is in Afghanistan and she is not good at accepting help, so she pushes on, trying to find a way to reconnect with Rose and to try and help her come to terms with her life-changing condition. As these traumatic events unfold, Natalie and Rose are individually ‘visited’ by Natalie’s long-dead grandfather as he becomes the lynch-pin that binds Natalie and Rose together. Natalie tells Rose the story of her great-grandfather, quite literally an exchange of blood for words, and they share this mind-blowing story of how Grandad Colin survived being lost at sea for such a long time and what became of those who were lost at sea with him.

Beech has quite clearly demonstrated her own bravery in bringing these two emotionally heart-wrenching stories together to write a beautifully poignant, yet uplifting novel. The two stories are so flawlessly intertwined and despite the element of the fantastical, Beech has seamlessly juxtaposed the two stories to write a wonderfully truthful account of a mother’s struggle to cope. The reader shares Natalie and Rose journey, as well as the harrowing reality of being lost at sea. Whilst, on first consideration, it may be difficult to see how these two stories could knit together, Beech does a wonderful job of making it so naturally combined. The threads of authenticity enhances the narrative for a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience.

Ultimately, this is a story of survival, of the desire to survive and what it takes to be brave in the most adverse of situations. Each character is fighting their own battle that, in turn, inspires others to fight for their own lives. The fourteen men on the boat all handle their dire situation in different ways, depending on their strength of character and their reasons for wanting to survive. All the characters are pushed to their limits on numerous occasions, yet they find strength from within, and from those around them, to push on. Beech draws such engaging characters that each pitfall is devastating to the reader and each victory is thrilling.

The sense of realism that Beech brings to this novel completely engulfed me; I felt for Natalie and Rose so much as a mother of three girls myself, all of them as smart-mouthed and sassy as Rose. I sympathised with Natalie as she is rejected by Rose and I despaired for Rose as she has to grow up fast to adapt to her new lifestyle. I laughed at Rose’s cheek and I cried at her level of wisdom for one so young. Beech weaves such a rich tapestry of characters throughout the novel that the reader cannot help but will each one to survive and wish the best for each of them. Knowing that the basis of the novel is in real-life situations adds extra depth to this wonderful narrative. As Rose is desperate for the men on the boat to survive, so too is the reader. Beech describes their plight with such intricate detail that you can almost place yourself on the tiny boat and imagine the treacherous conditions that they suffered through.

If I had the time, I would undoubtedly have read this book in one sitting and it is definitely a book I could read again and again. I loved it from the very first page to the last. I felt that dreadful sadness when a book that you have been so engrossed in ends. It is a stunningly written novel that completely deserves the acclaim it has been afforded so far. It is moving, funny, gripping and uplifting. How To Be Brave has completely won me over and I have every intention of telling everyone I know to read it.

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