THE FREQUENCY OF US: A BOOK REVIEW

Are we where we truly should be? Where we belong with those who love us absolutely? These questions are at the heart of ‘The Frequency of Us’, a novel that defies genres and offers in one sweep romance, elements of the supernatural and hints of a ghost.

I was propelled by explosive force into the book as German bombs fall upon the city of Bath on the fateful night of 26th April 1942. Amongst the terror of the barrage of explosions Will Emerson, a young wireless engineer, dashes to rescue a neighbour’s son who is in Will’s radio workshop. Heading back across the long garden he sees his Austrian wife, Elsa Klein shouting a warning to him; a warning he fails to heed and instead, looking up he sees a bomb heading their way … then there is the light.

At this moment Will’s life and those around him are changed beyond one’s wildest imagination.

He awakens to a world without Elsa, where seemingly no one knows of her and his house has returned to its earlier bachelor self.

Already thoroughly hooked by the superb narrative the novel quickly moves seventy years into the future and introduces Laura James, a young woman whose life is defined by her emotional abuse by her father which led to her chronic anxiety and depression. As her first job back after her breakdown which included strong antidepressants, Laura is assigned as a carer to an elderly gentleman, to assess his needs and possible removal from his rundown home. A house that feels haunted. The home of Will Emerson.

The two are opposites in many ways, Will’s curmudgeonly nature almost drives Laura away, yet they are oddly drawn to each other, finding a form of understanding and gradually she becomes convinced his memories of Elsa and life pre-1942 are not signs of dementia but actual events. Laura’s tenacious research threatens to break her down once again and as she meets people from his earlier years, discovers events from the night of the bombing, Will’s and Laura’s lives become irrevocably intertwined.

Throughout a refrain used constantly by Will and one she heard as young from her father runs through her head: “Everything is always happening.” Somehow this seems the key, but how?

At one particularly low point, suffering from suspected severe medication withdrawal side-effects, Laura reflects wryly: “We are not credible witnesses to our own life.” Of course, the truth is far more complex, immersive and emotionally wrought.

As the mystery deepens the author’s deft handling of the complicated strands of the plot creates an intense read. Only afterwards did I fully appreciate all the clever details which foreshadowed the nail-biting final section of the book. I read like one possessed, racing to finish the book yet rueing the moment I would reach its end.

‘The Frequency of Us’ unfolds through a series of alternating first-person narratives of war-time Will and modern-day Laura. These are interspersed with the occasional voice of other characters which reinforce the story, all created with Keith Stuart’s natural flair.

From the first, I was completely enthralled by ‘The Frequency of Us’, hooked by the combination of heartwarming and vibrant romance and confusing conflicting paranormal events. Will, Laura and the myriad of other characters are portrayed with heart and skill, quickly entering my psyche and remaining there.

This is a superb and original third novel by Keith Stuart and as with ‘A Boy Made of Blocks’ and ‘Days of Wonder’, a book that will stay with me and I highly recommend. I’m eagerly awaiting his next book!

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Publication Date: 25th March 2021

Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group / Sphere

Available: Amazon US Amazon UK

Hello, Again: A Book Review

Photo courtesy of Isabelle Broom

Philippa (known as Pepper to her friends) has lived her whole life in the picturesque coastal town of Aldeburgh in the East of England. A life numbed by grief following the accidental death of her sister Bethan two decades ago; a life only partly lived as Pepper has given up her dreams of travel and ambition to become a professional artist. Instead, she has sought refuge in teaching art through her own community project ‘Arts For All’. Outside of work, she socialises with a few close friends and her mother. A mother whose remote distant existence has been defined by her younger daughter’s death and no one, not even Pepper can find a way through to her.

Into this world Pepper’s older and feisty friend, Josephine, cajoles her to come along on a trip to Lisbon to try and discover what happened to Josephine’s first and true love, Jorge. What Pepper does not realise is that Josephine’s invitation becomes the catalyst which alters her entire life.

Wow! As the pair arrive in Lisbon the novel truly takes off and luckily this is only the first of five trips abroad that Philippa ends up making.

Lisbon is described in glorious lush technicolour detail, capturing the mesmerising beauty of the city and its people. The author paints a vivid image of the capital, the serenity palpable through the wonderful and magical depiction. I felt transported to Lisbon (and later the other destinations); yet I must reinforce that at no stage is the energy and ease of the narrative sacrificed for the sake of the locations.

Travel is so much more than sightseeing and this is the case for Pepper who finds herself transformed through her travels and experiences. First, in Lisbon she meets a German named Finn and the two of them seem destined to be together. As the story moves back to Aldeburgh, then to Hamburg, Barcelona and Guernsey, Pepper finds increasing creativity and freedom within herself as she faces the guilt of moving forward with her life, both personally and artistically.

“Guilt that her own pain did not run deep enough, that she dared to hope for elation in the wake of tragedy.”

Excerpt from ‘Hello, Again’.

Romance is interwoven throughout the book and interestingly played out across the various generations. Whilst the love interest between Pepper and Finn dominate, her enigmatic friend Simon becomes a frequent presence in her life. The romantic life of Josephine and even that of her mother and father also are explored with sensitivity and warmth.

Through this powerful portrayal of love, loss and friendship I found myself drawn ever deeper into the lives of all the characters, hooked by their tangled romantic encounters and I cheered along as they found a life beyond sadness. Nothing is predictable and the continual surprises ensure this is a rewarding, thoughtful and entertaining book.

Finally, a note to myself! How has this author not been on my radar! ‘Hello, Again’ is Isabella Broom’s eighth book and I now look forward to catching up with some of her previous works. I think I’ve got my summer reading sorted!

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date: 9th July 2020

To purchase: Amazon UK Amazon US or any bookshops or book websites.

About Isabelle Broom

Isabelle Broom was born in Cambridge nine days before the 1980s began and studied Media Arts in London before a 12-year stint at heat magazine.

Always happiest when she’s off on an adventure, Isabelle now travels all over the world seeking out settings for her escapist fiction novels, as well as making the annual pilgrimage to her second home – the Greek island of Zakynthos.

Currently based in Suffolk, where she shares a cottage with her two dogs and approximately 467 spiders, Isabelle fits her writing around a busy freelance career and tries her best not to be crushed to oblivion under her ever-growing pile of to-be-read books.