#BookReview Everything Happens for a Reason by Katie Allen @OrendaBooks @RandomTTours

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Everything Happens for a Reason by Katie Allen. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Orenda Books for my digital review copy.

Everything Happens for a ReasonAbout the Book

Mum-to-be Rachel did everything right, but it all went wrong. Her son, Luke, was stillborn and she finds herself on maternity leave without a baby, trying to make sense of her loss.

When a misguided well-wisher tells her that ‘everything happens for a reason’, she becomes obsessed with finding that reason, driven by grief and convinced that she is somehow to blame. She remembers that on the day she discovered her pregnancy, she’d stopped a man from jumping in front of a train, and she’s now certain that saving his life cost her the life of her son.

Desperate to find him, she enlists an unlikely ally in Lola, an Underground worker, and Lola’s seven-year-old daughter, and eventually tracks him down, with completely unexpected results…

Format: Paperback (320 pages)    Publisher: Orenda Books
Publication date: 10th June 2021 Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Find Everything Happens for a Reason on Goodreads

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My Review

The publishers describe Everything Happens for a Reason as “a heart-wrenching portrait of grief” and a “gloriously uplifting and disarmingly funny story”. If you’re sceptical that those two things can exist side by side in a book then think again because somehow the author manages it.

The book is structured as a series of emails from Rachel to a recipient who is initially unidentified but whose identity the reader will soon guess. The format works well, allowing the reader to get inside her mind even if that is a troubling place to be. Having said that, I did marvel at Rachel’s ability to recall conversations in word for word detail.

Her early emails reveal the sad details of her daily life which she has filled with small tasks, all planned to a strict routine and aimed at simply getting her from one day to the next. Akin to the effort of putting one foot in front of the other when you’re absolutely exhausted. Although it might sound intrusive, I actually felt reading the emails made me feel a connection with Rachel as if by being a witness to her grief I was also part of a silent, unseen support network.

As the book reveals, grief can be a lonely place. Rachel’s husband Ed (often referred to simply as ‘E’) is mostly absent, either at work or travelling on business. Often their communication is limited to text messages or notes left pinned to the fridge. There are brief glimpses of his own grief and I did find myself feeling it was shame Ed and Rachel couldn’t communicate with each other as openly as Rachel does in her emails. London Underground employee, Lola, is the one person who, despite initial appearances, appreciates what Rachel is going through and gives her practical help and support. Through Lola, Rachel forms a relationship with Lola’s daughter, Josephine.

When Rachel becomes convinced there is a connection between the man she saved and the loss of her son, her emails recount her efforts to trace him. When she does, Rachel embarks on a mission to make his life of value, as if that can replace the positive impact on the world she’s sure her son would have had. Unfortunately, Ben is not a brain surgeon saving countless others lives but a dog walker. However, that doesn’t deter Rachel and she comes up with a plan for a joint business venture. But is her idea a valuable service, an astute identification of a gap in the market or the sign of her need to control events? I felt usettled by how much she invests in it, both emotionally and financially, especially given I couldn’t really warm to Ben.

Despite the sad events underpinning the story, there are moments of humour. For example, Rachel’s unspoken response to the question about whether the ginger biscuits she’s brought to a prayer meeting are vegan. Or, when returning on the Tube and finding herself quietly repeating a phrase she’s heard at the meeting, her observation that ‘There’s nothing unusual about chanting “all in God’s plan” on the Northern line’.

The most powerful element of the book for me was the way it demonstrated just what an impact ill-thought-out words and deeds can have on someone going through what Rachel is, what she describes at one point as being ‘haunted by other people’s clumsy words’. Something for us all to bear in mind, I think.

In three words: Perceptive, tender, heartbreaking

Try something similar: Train Man by Andrew Mulligan

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Katie AllenAbout the Author

Everything Happens for a Reason is Katie’s first novel. She used to be a journalist and columnist at the Guardian and Observer, and started her career as a Reuters correspondent in Berlin and London. The events in Everything Happens for a Reason are fiction, but the premise is loosely autobiographical. Katie’s son, Finn, was stillborn in 2010, and her character ’s experience of grief and being on maternity leave without a baby is based on her own. And yes, someone did say to her ‘Everything happens for a reason’.

Katie grew up in Warwickshire and now lives in South London with her husband, children, dog, cat and stick insects. When she’s not writing or walking children and dogs, Katie loves baking, playing the piano, reading news and wishing she had written other people’s brilliant novels.

Connect with Katie
Website | Twitter | Goodreads

Everything Happens BT Poster

#BookReview The High-Rise Diver by Julia von Lucadou @WorldEdBooks @RandomTTours

FINAL High Rise Diver BT Poster

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The High-Rise Diver by Julia von Lucadou, translated by Sharmila Cohen.  My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to World Editions for my review copy.

The High-Rise DiverAbout the Book

Riva is a “high-rise diver”, a top athlete with millions of fans, and a perfectly functioning human on all levels. Suddenly she rebels, breaking her contract and refusing to train. Cameras are everywhere in her world, but she doesn’t know her every move is being watched by Hitomi, the psychologist tasked with reining Riva back in. Unquestionably loyal to the system, Hitomi’s own life is at stake: should she fail to deliver, she will be banned to the “peripheries”, the filthy outskirts of society.

For readers of The Handmaid’s Tale, The Circle and Brave New World, this chilling dystopia constructs a world uncomfortably close to our own in which performance is everything.

Format: Paperback (288 pages)    Publisher: World Editions
Publication date: 20th May 2021 Genre: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Literature in Translation

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My Review

In the High-Rise Diver, Julia von Lucadou creates a vivid, disturbing picture of a future society in which surveillance is not just widespread but constant and invasive. Think activity trackers that monitor your sleep patterns, nutritional intake and vital signs, where every action you take online is recorded and scrutinized, where facial recognition technology is omnipresent and your location is tracked in real time using the tablet device that continuously bombards you with news alerts and advertising messages.

The book introduces the reader to a highly stratified society in which those who have earned the right to dwell in the city enjoy privileges denied to those who live in the ‘peripheries’. The only route out of the latter is via success at “casting sessions” at which future life and career paths are determined based on a candidate’s performance. Naturally, the sessions are live-streamed on social media to millions.

Reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, many children are conceived by ‘breeders’ and even those who aren’t may have little contact with their ‘bioparents’. However, like everything else in this society, the simulated experience of family life can be bought for a price. And if you don’t have the credits for that, there’s always the ‘parentbot’ app.

Readers are likely to have varying responses to certain features of the book, such as the absence of speech marks and the frequent use of ™ appended to certain words. Personally, the former didn’t cause me a problem and, although I found the latter a little annoying, it did underline the sense of a society in which anything can be commercialized, even a celebrity’s favourite cocktail. Pour me another flydrive™ barman. (You may be reassured to know that you can still get a martini even in this imagined future.)

If you thought an annual appraisal with your manager was something to be apprehensive about just imagine a situation in which your performance is continuously monitored, evaluated and rated by your superior, and in which your income, social status, accommodation and other ‘privileges’ are dependent on the outcome. If that doesn’t make you shudder, then how about the thought of having a date reviewed and rated by the other party and having to complete a profile in advance setting out your sexual preferences and expectations.

Although it wasn’t hard for me to imagine why Riva might not want to continue training in order to perform ever more daring dives off high buildings – surely a metaphor for the status conscious society imagined by the author – I’m not sure I really felt much connection with her. I was more drawn to Hitomi’s story, that of the watcher who is constantly watched herself and is gradually overwhelmed by the nature of her assignment.

The High-Rise Diver paints a rather grim vision of a possible future, one I hope will never come to pass. By the end, I definitely found myself hoping that Hugo Masters, Hitomi’s creepy boss, might have an encounter with a defective flysuit™. And if you’ve ever lacked the motivation for a digital detox, The High-Rise Diver will definitely provide the kick you need.

In three words: Chilling, thought-provoking, imaginative

Try something similar: A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock

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Julia Von Lucadou Author PicAbout the Author

Julia von Lucadou was born in Heidelberg in 1982. She studied film and theater at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz and Victoria University of Wellington and earned her PhD in Film Studies in 2015. Lucadou worked as both an assistant director and a television editor prior to writing The High-Rise Diver, her debut novel, which was nominated for the Swiss Book Prize in 2018. She lives between Biel, New York, and Cologne.

Sharmila CohenAbout the Translator

Sharmila Cohen is an award-winning writer and German-to-English translator who has translated the works of several leading German-language authors. Her work has been featured in publications such as BOMB and Harpers, and her projects span from poetry and literary fiction to crime and children’s stories. Originally from New York, Cohen came to Berlin in 2011 as a Fulbright Scholar to complete an experimental translation project with local poets. She now divides her time between both cities.