#BookReview When the Music Stops by Joe Heap @fictionpubteam

A note from Joe:

I owe this book to my grandparents, John and Jean Sands, for sharing the stories that inspired it. In many ways their story is more remarkable than the one I have written.

At a summer season in Ramsgate, 1959, two ice skaters held a party. My grandfather, a Glaswegian saxophonist who would rather have gone to the pub, was convinced by a comedian on the same bill to come along. My grandmother, another one of the ice skaters, sat down next to him and spilt her drink in his lap. Though she has since denied it, her first words of note to him were ‘Oh no, not another Scot.’

Nobody could have guessed how much would spin off that moment, myself and this book included. Here are a few pictures of them.”

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9780008293208About the Book

This is the story of Ella. And Robert. And of all the things they should have said, but never did.

What have you been up to?’
I shrug, ‘Just existing, I guess.’
‘Looks like more than just existing.’
Robert gestures at the baby, the lifeboat, the ocean.
‘All right, not existing. Surviving.’
He laughs, not unkindly. ‘Sounds grim.’
‘It wasn’t so bad, really. But I wish you’d been there.’

Through seven key moments and seven key people their journey intertwines. From the streets of Glasgow during WW2 to the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll of London in the 60s and beyond, this is a story of love and near misses. Of those who come in to our lives and leave it too soon. And of those who stay with you forever…

Format: Hardcover (384 pages)           Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: 29th October 2020 Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Romance

Find When the Music Stops on Goodreads

Purchase links*
Amazon UK | Hive (supporting UK bookshops)
*link provided for convenience not as part of an affiliate programme


My Review

The book’s structure, revisiting seven key moments and people in Ella’s life, was, according to the author, inspired by the ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. However, as Joe Heap also writes, “This is a book about music, inspired by music” so cleverly incorporated into the story are the seven modes that have been part of musical notation since ancient times.

In When the Music Stops, each of these modes is represented by a song in a music book Ella acquires when she first takes up the guitar. Although other elements of her memory have faded by the time we first meet her as an old woman – alone, in rather strange circumstances – the tunes are still at her fingertips, evoking memories of significant stages in her life – and the people who shared them with her. As she muses, “There are seven songs. I have to play all of them, though I don’t know what will come at the end. I just have to play them.”

The ability of music to evoke memories is just one of the fascinating concepts explored in the book, along with the nature of memory itself and how we experience the passing of time. I’ll leave others to explain Einstein’s theories on the latter but I liked the metaphor Robert, Ella’s friend since childhood, employs. He compares time to a long-playing record. While you’re listening to the second verse of a song, he explains, the first verse is still there but you’re just not listening to it anymore.

As the reader learns, Ella’s life has been punctuated by moments of loss, often signalled by that thing we’ve probably all come to dread – the unexpected early morning or late night telephone call. Robert’s earlier metaphor is applicable here too. As he confides to Ella about a person they both knew, “I don’t think she’s really gone… I just think we can’t see her anymore.”

Another key theme of the book is that of the missed opportunities in life, especially between people like Ella and Robert. ‘The Road Not Taken’ of Robert Frost’s poem, as it were. Their encounters over the years are populated by falsely reassuring thoughts such as “There will be other chances” and fateful hesitations, “The door of possibility stays open, waiting for her to walk through, but she stays put”.

I admired the way the author recreated the atmosphere of each stage on the journey through Ella’s life, referencing the clothing, the television programmes or even the food of the time: the school playground gift of tablet (a sweet similar to fudge for you non-Scots out there) or a corned beef and pickle sandwich prepared for a picnic.

The standout section for me, entitled ‘The Rebel’, was Ella’s experiences as a session musician in 1960s London, rubbing shoulders with many famous, or soon to be famous, bands of the period. (In his acknowledgements, Joe mentions Carol Kaye, “a trailblazing female musician” who played guitar and bass on many hit records and was the inspiration for Ella.) I also found the section entitled ‘The Matron’ particularly moving.

At one point in the book, a character mentions ‘fantastical thinking’ and I think that’s a great description of the premise of this clever but very touching novel. At the online book launch, Joe Heap mentioned fantasy as making up some of his own early reading – books by authors such as Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman – and it’s easy to see that influence in elements of the book. However, more than anything, When the Music Stops is an emotional story of love, loss and the power of the human spirit. I think it would make a great book club choice.

With its gorgeous cover, this is one of those occasions when I feel I’ve slightly missed out by opting for a digital version of a book.  So I may just have to treat myself and help out an independent bookshop through Lockdown 2.0 in the process…

In three words: Imaginative, insightful, heartfelt

Try something similar: Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day

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Joe Heap Author PicAbout the Author

Joe Heap was born in 1986 and grew up in Bradford, the son of two teachers. His debut novel, The Rules of Seeing, won Best Debut at the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards in 2019 and was shortlisted for the Books Are My Bag Reader Awards. Joe lives in London with his girlfriend, their two sons and a cat who wishes they would get out of the house more often.

Connect with Joe
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Throwback Thursday: The Hour of Daydreams by Renee Macalino Rutledge

Screenshot_2020-11-24-15-33-13_kindlephoto-236712199This week I was kindly reminded by WordPress  that it’s four years since WhatCathyReadNext was launched into the blogosphere. I thought I’d mark the occasion by revisiting the first book review I ever published on my blog, updated to reflect the current format of my reviews.


The Hour of DaydreamsAbout the Book

Manolo Lualhati, a respected doctor in the Philippine countryside, believes his wife hides a secret. Prior to their marriage, he spied her wearing wings and flying to the stars with her sisters each evening. As Tala tries to keep her dangerous past from her new husband, Manolo begins questioning the gaps in her stories – and his suspicions push him even further from the truth.

The Hour of Daydreams, a contemporary reimagining of a Filipino folktale, weaves in the perspectives of Tala’s siblings, her new in-laws, and the all-seeing housekeeper while exploring trust, identity, and how myths can take root from the seeds of our most difficult truths.

Format: ebook (232 pages)                  Publisher: Forest Avenue Press
Publication date: 14th March 2017  Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy

Find The Hour of Daydreams on Goodreads

Purchase link*
Amazon UK
*Link provided for convenience not as part of an affiliate programme


My Review

The author weaves fantasy and fable into the story of Tala and Manolo’s meeting and marriage.  The writing has a lyrical, fairytale quality which at times is mesmerising – “He began walking along the lip of the water, where it saturated the sand with kisses” – and the author has some imaginative metaphors/similes – “They talked rapidly and their conversation was like a dance; as one took the lead, the others were eager to follow. It was a meandering dance, circling from place to place…“.

However, at other times, the language was surprisingly ‘clunky’. “Cigarette in hand, he assessed the scene in front of him with some degree of calm” or “Your mother’s anguish invoked you from sleep, and we combined our efforts to pacify your discomfort.

There are well-observed descriptions of everyday life, at the market or on the quayside, but I found some of the author’s extended metaphors, as in pretty much the whole of Chapter 6, baffling. The supporting characters are well-drawn and the importance of food and sharing communal meals is lovingly described.  I enjoyed the story of the main characters but, for me, the fantasy element confused rather than enhanced the narrative.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Forest Avenue Press via NetGalley.

In three words: Lyrical, imaginative, fantasy


Renee M RutledgeAbout the Author

Renee Macalino Rutledge is the author of The Hour of Daydreams, a literary fiction novel that has been dubbed “essential reading” by Literary Mama, “one of 24 books to get excited for in 2017” by The Oregonian, and a “captivating story of love and loss unlike any other” by Foreword Reviews.

Renee’s work has also been published in The Margins, ColorLines, Mutha Magazine, Ford City Anthology, Oakland Magazine, Literary Hub, Red Earth Review, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Necessary Fiction, Women Writers Women’s Books, The Tishman Review, and others. She lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she works as a nonfiction book editor and regularly explores the tidepools and redwoods with her family. (Photo/bio credit: Goodreads author profile)

Connect with Renee
Website | Twitter