Hello friends and welcome to damppebbles. It’s Tuesday, we’ve bid a fond farewell to Monday and we’re well and truly getting into the week now. It’s also day 29 of #R3COMM3ND3D2022, the penultimate day of this year’s series and what a series it’s been! We’ve had 81 books recommended with 3 of those books being picked by our esteemed judges twice. Will that still be the case after today’s guest have revealed their three picks? Let’s find out….
Joining me today to chat about their three #R3COMM3ND3D2022 picks is one of my favourite bloggers. If you’re a book lover and you’re not following him, then you’re getting it all wrong! It’s the brilliant David of Blue Book Balloon. I’m a huge fan of David’s blog and I heartily recommend you give him a follow if you don’t already.
So, what is #R3COMM3ND3D2022? It’s about sharing the book love. It’s a chance for authors, book bloggers, reviewers and bookstagrammers to shout about three (yes, *only* three) books they love. They can be written by any author, in any genre and published in any way (traditionally, indie press or self-published). But there is a catch. All three books must have been published in 2022. To make things interesting there are a couple of teeny, tiny rules; 1) the book must have FIRST been published in 2022 and 2) special editions and reissues do not count. I like to keep you lovely people on your toes 😉
Here are the three books David recommends…
All the White Spaces by Ally Wilkes
This is story set in the heroic age of Polar exploration, and it takes an unlikely adventurer way out of their comfort zone. It’s a different world that Ally Wilkes takes us to. Not only is the fell, merciless territory of Coats Land itself a strange, haunting place – a place unwelcoming of humanity – but the psychological landscape, the attitude of those on the expedition, feels so remote in its almost inhuman fixation on painting in those white spaces. Oddly, in some respects, at least outward ones, it reminded me most of Arthur Ransom’s Swallows and Amazons stories in its portrayal of an obsession with, a worship of, the last great generation of explorers, a meticulous attention to their journeys, their survival and their endurance.
It is, though – to be absolutely clear – not a book of children’s adventure, even if some begin by seeing the world in that way. This is not the high Edwardian nursery but the fallen, post-war world. The members of the expedition have all brought their own baggage to Coats Land, including losses from the Great. One man was a conscientious objector, and is therefore hated and mistrusted by his fellows. Others are scarred by what they saw in France. The expedition is pinched, operating on a shoestring, forced to get by with second best, and it soon becomes clear that the whole thing is something of a gamble, an attempt to reclaim lost glories, to succeed where a German rival recently failed. A reflection, perhaps, of the war-weary, fading state of Britain.
Such a comparison could have been made crudely and clumsily, but Wilkes, in her first novel, avoids that danger, drawing a group of men whose strengths and weaknesses, histories and prejudices, are allowed to speak for themselves – but also to evolve, becoming more marked as danger increases and as its nature subtly changes. Physical threats – cold, darkness, shortages of food, failure of equipment – are joined by something stranger, exploiting who the men are and what they’ve lost. English reserve and the suppression of feelings are fatal then: the only way to survive is to trust, to share, even to love, and this is so out of kilter with the attitude of Imperial disdain that won the war, it’s hard to see how anyone will come through…
David’s Review of All the White Spaces
Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield
Our Wives Under the Sea is a story of two women, Miri and her wife Leah. Miri works from home writing grant applications for charities; Leah is an explorer, a scientist working on deep sea research for the mysterious Centre. In chapters narrated alternately by Miri and Leah, Armfield tells how Leah went to sea, was lost, and unexpectedly returned. And about the aftermath of that. Along the way we hear about their earlier lives, how they met, and their friends.
It’s a short book but packs so much in. There is loss, twice over – Miri’s time after Leah vanished (her dive went several months past its scheduled end) is mentioned in retrospect, with her complex feelings, the lack of closure, hinted at. More directly addressed is the growing realisation that the person who came back is not the same. Returned, Leah spends much of her time in the bath; she eats little; there is little conversation and no intimacy. Yet is she is, indisputably, back and shows flashes of her old self – and Miri desperately tries to find a way to cope, to reach out, researching, for example, an online community ‘Our Husbands in Space’ of women who pretend that their husbands have gone off on space missions (or, in some cases, ‘Come Back Wrong” – CBW).
It’s a very weird book but the weirdness only points up the love been the two women, more vivid because of the loss and the brokenness of their lives. The wider world is uncaring, though Armfield gives us very mundane, rooted scenes of modern life: a party with Leah’s mates, figures who are immediately familiar, the recurring annoyance of a neighbour who leaves their TV on loud at all hours, the difficulty of negotiating the logic loop of a call centre.
Inevitably the question arises of whether this is a “lockdown” novel and, yes, it does have that sense of enclosure, of squashing one’s head against the window, as well as reflecting on the openness of sea (the book is imbued with the heaviness of the ocean) and sky (‘People grow odd when there’s too much sky’). But there’s much more going on here than that. Leah’s and Miri’s lives, as seen in glimpses of the ‘before’ are being milled into something else by the rolling of the waves and that’s not just a slide, it’s a very active process which we seen going on – and, while the book may sound very sorrowful, it’s not a process without hope.
David’s Review of Our Wives Under the Sea
Kezia and Rosie by Rebecca Burns
This is a collection of linked stories which, while being self-contained in their explorations of a moment or an event, link to tell us about the lives of Kezia (8) and Rosie (6), two young girls staying with their grandparents in the summer of 1986 while their mum is elsewhere. They, especially Rosie, from whose point of view the stories are told, worry about her absence – less about their dad’s absence. The reader will see that there is some trouble there. Rosie is also conscious of that, but is focussed very much on the here and now.
Rebecca Burns is very good at developing this split perspective, so much so that Kezia and Rosie is almost like reading two books in one, since we inevitably do so with an adult perspective and knowledge. And while the narrative is driven by vivid childhood highlights – escaped ferrets from the garden next door and the exaggerated gusto with which the adults join in the pleasing terror, the boredom staying indoors during a rainy spell, loss of a favourite toy – it’s more than nostalgia, there’s always the wider picture in the background, a sense of uncertainty over the future, disruption to little lives, the fact that Grandad and Grandma are clearly worried.
It’s a gem of a book, both sad in what we glimpse of the wider background and also comforting in its focus on loving relationships and on finding a way through. A great read, and a book I’d strongly recommend.
David’s Review of Kezia and Rosie
Thank you so much, David. Three really interesting sounding books. One I’ve had my eye on for a while now so I’m just going to take the plunge and add all three to the TBR! That’s how this works, right? 🤔🤣
David splits his life between dogs, reading and the irritating need to make a living by answering emails. He lives in prime Midsomer Murders country and is married to a vicar, so may be found interestingly done in one day (possibly involving chocolate? Please?)
Sadly submissions for #R3COMM3D3D2022 are now closed. Shortly after the last post I will be inviting you to attend the virtual after-show party, which should be fun. We’ll get to gaze upon the marvellous and majestic beauty of 2022’s books and also crown 2022’s winner, if we have one (they’re all winners, right?). Until then stay tuned as we have one more post to go (but don’t get too excited as it’s only me! I can’t believe we *almost* made it to the end of November, but not quite 🙈🤣).