Cover Image: How We Remember

How We Remember

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Member Reviews

Unfortunately, I have not been able to read and review this book.

After losing and replacing my broken Kindle and getting a new phone I was unable to download the title again for review as it was no longer available on Netgalley. 

I’m really sorry about this and hope that it won’t affect you allowing me to read and review your titles in the future.

Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. 
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Unfortunately I did not and could not engage with this book at all. There was just no emotional resonance there for me and I found the plot and format dull, unfocused and unoriginal. I particularly disliked the awkwardly shoehorned in lesbian fling. It seemed like little more than a trope to add drama for drama's sake and as such was a cheap and annoying thing to do.
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A dysfunctional family at its best!
How We Remember takes us into the life of Jo O'Brien as she comes to terms with the loss of her mother. 
This is at times harrowing, with a feeling of reality throughout, reading like a memoir as opposed to a work of fiction. 
It deals with some hard hitting subjects such as domestic abuse but it is written with feeling, understanding and delicacy. 
Told from Jo's point of view she takes us with her as she as she revisits her past and her present as she discovers her mothers diary and attempts to fill in the holes in the diary, as well as the holes in her own memory. 
With a plethora of characters, each with their own problems, this is not a sunshine and rainbows kind of book, this is a look into what could be a real family, the family that lives net door or across the street. 
There maybe some trigger issues for some, a touch hard to read in parts but, if you can, then you really should. Read it that is!
If you scratch the surface of this book you will be swept away with what's inside.
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CONTENT WARNING: discussions of sexual assault, cancer, death by suicide, and drug/alcohol abuse.

As a passionate researcher in memory studies I am always drawn to books, both fiction and nonfiction, that draw on and play with the way we remember collectively and individually. J.M. Monaco’s novel is an exquisitely painful exploration of collective remembering within families as well as a close study of the manipulation and willful forgetting that accompanies families that experience trauma.

The story jumps between present-day and Jo’s childhood. Jo returns to her hometown as her mother, Terry, enters palliative care before she dies of lung cancer. Upon her death, Terry leaves her children, Jo and David, along with her husband a sizeable inheritance. Jo is also tasked with going through her mother’s belongings and she comes across a diary her mother kept. The diary is arguably the catalyst that forces Jo to not just remember her past, but to actively engage with her personal traumas that include not just the sexual assault she experienced by her Uncle Ron, but also the traumas that followed after her family pressures her to rescind her truth.

Incest is a type of sexual trauma that comes with more than just the trauma of the act itself. It forcibly rips families apart. It asks people to choose between two people that they love and that they ‘should’ know well. When Uncle Ron drugs and assaults Jo when she is a teenager in 1976, Jo is so afraid and confused by what happened that she never fully feels able to tell her story. Indeed, sexual violence mixed with drugs makes the victim less ‘believable’ for many people. The drugs effects on memory and cognition compounded by the trauma inflicted on Jo’s body mean that she is not a ‘reliable’ narrator of her experiences because she cannot clearly remember what happened. Mixed in with this is the shame of the assault and the fact that the rapist is her adult uncle. All of this in and of itself would be enough trauma for one body. Yet Jo’s Aunty Peggy, who is Ron’s wife, ignores Terry and Jo. She asks Terry, her own sister, to write a statement saying that she doesn’t believe Jo and the rape never happened otherwise she will ostracize Terry and Terry’s immediate family from the rest of the family. This is heartbreaking and sadly, no fictional exaggeration.

    “I don’t believe any of what she said about you. You need to know that, right?”

    “Then why, Ma? Why?”

    The smile switches off and within a couple of minutes she is weeping quietly through her words. “She’s my sister. It’s family. It’s so hard. I go to family get-togethers and we’re all there and things aren’t right. Peggy’s different to me, ignores me. And now she’s saying she’s finished with me if I don’t do this.”
    Conversation between Jo and Terry about Aunty Peggy’s request.

This exchange between Jo and her mother is an excellent example of the many layers of trauma inflicted on families that have been touched by incest. It also highlights the very painful reality that victims of sexual assault a rarely believed.

Jo’s life is changed by not just the rape, but by the betrayal of her mother who eventually placates Peggy’s request. After this, Jo makes decisions that allow her to leave the U.S. and move to London where she has a fairly successful life as an academic. She marries a kind man called Jon and I believe it is her desire to escape her family, the rape, and the shame that comes with it all that propels her to London. Jo’s life is not just shaped by assault, but also by her sometimes abusive and often drunk father, her drug addicted brother, and her flaky mother. Each pillar in her close family has let her down in more ways than she can count and when she returns to look after her mother until she passes away, Jo is forcibly confronted by everything she tried to escape in London.

Jo feels obligated to return and look after her mother. Her mother’s aforementioned words “It’s family” ring throughout every decision that Jo makes upon her return. When her father dies by suicide after her mother’s death, Jo returns again to clean up and organise the mess that is left behind. Again, “it’s family”. However, upon the death of her father, Jimmy, Jo is released in some ways of her families dysfunctional ways. Her mother and father are gone. Aunty Peggy is gone. She has made peace with her brother David and she tells him she will not help him anymore. Her Uncle Jon is old and not far from the grave. In death, everything becomes final. Secrets are left stagnant, layers of truth are buried literally and figuratively, and all that is left is the struggle to live with everything that was said and unsaid.

Monaco’s novel is not an easy read due to the traumas brought up throughout the novel, however, I would argue that it is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that challenges how memories are told and retold in narratives.

Do you enjoy reading novels that play on memory and remembering? As always, share the reading love.

NOTE: This novel was was accessed through Netgalley and Red Door Publishing for review purposes.
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I did not finish this book. Illness and trauma were just to much for me at this time so I may revisit it at a later date
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Thankyou to NetGalley, RedDoor Publishing and the author, J M Monaco, for the opportunity to read a digital copy of How We Remember in exchange for an honest, unbiased opinion.
I thought the storyline was beautifully written. It certainly makes you question how you remember your own family's past.  I enjoyed reading this book.
Well worth a read.
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I couldn't make my mind up on this title. It reads like a grief memoir, whilst clearly being presented as fiction. Which I guess wouldn't matter if the plot was more focused, or found some kind of resolution, but it felt a little lacking here. I enjoyed the writing style, and thought the treatment of disability was well done.
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When her mother is about to die, Joanna returns home in the US after years of living in London. What she was not prepared for are the memories that come back to her and that are closely linked to her childhood and teenage years:  the plans to run away from home together with her brother, the times when her uncle approached and molested her, her way out of middle-class life, the beginning of her academic career and the realisation that she will never fit in and that she is simply not good enough to marry a son of a well-off family even though she excels at an Ivy-League University. A week of mourning and memories that not all are welcome to Jo and her family.

What I liked about the book was how easily one could sympathise and bond with Jo and thus follow her thoughts. The springing back and forward between the events around the mother’s death and funeral and her memories helped to keep the story lively and authentic; some words or people just trigger memories that you can neither prevent from coming to the surface nor control in the extent that they hit you. 

The novel addresses several interesting topics that are worth pondering about: what keeps a family together and why do some women over and over again forgive all their husbands’ wrongdoings? Is there some kind of escape from your family, can you ever really cut the links that were established by birth? Coming from a certain class, working hard and doing everything right, what keeps you still from really belonging and being considered an adequate match? A lot of food for thought, especially when you share the protagonist’s background and visions of life. A quiet novel that is perfect for calmer days.
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2.5 stars. Families are messy though each family is messy in their own way. The complex interplay of relationships in the story was very believable and very frustrating, just as families are wont to be. This book will not leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling. 

I liked the premise and setup but found the narration a little flat. I also found the end dragging. Must say that part of the frustration stemmed from the weird pdf formatting of the ARC which made reading difficult. 

Review copy received from NetGalley.
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Do we, or our family and friends always remember things as they were? Do events in our past still resonant in the present or are they forgotten, pushed under the carpet and never spoken off again? In Jo’s case what happened to her has long been buried by her family, but for her it remains as clear as the day it occurred, only Jo has learnt how to live with what happened. It would be wrong of me to divulge what happened to Jo, but suffice to say it has a huge impact on the novel and the many tensions that existed amongst Jo, her brother, her father and her wider relatives.

What Monaco does so well, is to use the death of Jo’s mother to tear apart those tensions, to re open old family wounds and grievances. Told mainly from Jo’s point of view we got a glimpse into a fractured family, torn apart by alcohol, drugs, affairs and illness. Jo herself, was one strong lady, blighted by multiple sclerosis, a career nearing an end, but a determination that you had to admire. What I loved was Monaco’s skill in getting straight to the very heart of Jo, drawing out every nuance of emotion and turmoil for the reader to experience. I felt huge sorrow for her, but I also admired her sheer guts and determination to achieve and fight for what she wanted.

I am not sure I had quite the same feelings for Jo’s brother, Dave. He may have had mental health issues, but I found him to be quite selfish, and unrealistic, offering little or no support to his sister. His father was no better, and he was in some way a typical man. He came across as very rugged, tough and intolerant of his children, caring little for family life or it seemed his wife.

Yet, families always have a way of coming together when it matters and that is what I hoped for as I read. It is not for me to say in this review if they did or not, it is up to you to pick up a copy of How We Remember and discover for yourselves.

What I can say, is that Monaco’s novel is wonderfully written. The narrative, is at times both poignant and emotive, and it drew me in as I read, fully immersing me in the world of Jo and her family.

The themes are timely and, the difference from how we would deal with them today and how they were dealt with long ago so abjectly different it made me quite cross.

What does not differ is how families operate, how dynamics can change after an event or the death of a loved one. I found the book a timely reminder to treasure those close to us, to not take them for granted and make the most of the time we have.

How We Remember is a book at I would highly recommend to anyway who enjoys a novel of family emotions, you will not be disappointed.
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This a book about grief,life and death. About how death can affect everyone in a family. Also when death occurs past memories that have long when unaddressed all of a sudden need to be. (memories both good and bad)
Can fully empathize with what J.M Monaco is writing about.
Thank you to both NetGalley and Red Door Publishing for the opportunity to read ’How we remember in exchange for my honest opinion
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I found this darker and more disturbing than I anticipated and have chosen not to finish the book . I think it’s realistic but is just not for me. Thanks for the opportunity.
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How we remember by JM Monaco made for a good read. 

A thrilling suspense story it isn’t. Nor is it a romance or a fast paced telling of wonderful adventures. 

It is however, a story of a life. A family. A girl, now a middle aged woman forced to relive her memories. 

A brother and a sister and imperfect parents who try their best in their own way. 

The ending is soft and not  completely unexpected. 

The rhythm is decent, holding its own through JoJo’s reminiscing. 

I particularly liked the Brian chapter/episode  and her service to the wider female sisterhood by teaching him where to find the spot. 

As somebody who’s relocated for university and choosing to live there after, a lot of her musings and experiences have resonated with me. 

4 stars. It made me think about my own relocation and its challenges, as well as the parents I left behind in a different country. 

How we remember treats several interesting subjects quite aptly such as sense of belonging, childhood drama, family bonds and parent- children relationship. 

Like I said, an enjoyable read. 

Thank you NetGalley and RedDoor for the free advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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My review is written with thanks to Anna at Red Door Publishing for inviting me on the tour and for my copy of the book.
When Jo's mother passes away following an illness, she returns to her home in America to spend time with her family. As she is sorting through her mother's possessions, Jo learns that she has inherited a significant sum of money and also finds her mother's diary. The diary reminds Jo of events from her past where exact details are unclear. As Jo is forced to confront what happened, will she be able to fill in the gaps?
As I am going through a family bereavement myself at the moment, How We Remember struck a chord with me. I loved how Monaco manages to capture the emotions that Jo experiences at every stage of the novel: her grief, her sadness, her anger and her happiness. These feelings are so vividly described that I felt everything as though it were real to me and I appreciated the opportunity to follow Jo on her journey.
Through the issues that are present in. Jo's family, Monaco is able to explore a range of subjects including sexual abuse, drug abuse, mental illness and physical illness. This helped me to relate to the characters, as many of the issues were relevant to me, even if only in part. At times, it felt as though Monaco may have tried to include too many different themes, but it is likely that the themes will resonate with a large number of readers.
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Will not be finishing this book.  It was very slow to start and jumped all over the place,  Jo was not an interesting character.  Her father did not make me want to read any more about him either and when she got to Beth's house they all seemed boring too.
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'Unlike Dave, in my younger years I grew up with a sense of my position in the world that was closely aligned with my mother’s. I accepted that I should never expect any sense of entitlement to anything.  I continued to live out the expectations required of the good girl who never fussed. I ate that soggy McDonald’s burger without complaining and said thank you very much for the privilege.'

Now an academic living in North London, Jo returns home after her mother’s death, surprised that her mother saved enough money for an inheritance. Her mother who expected nothing from life, a mother who often disappointed her still had a few surprises it seems. Once her marriage was over, she took on the role of single motherhood, becoming a nurse. Jo’s childhood was mostly a lesson in spirit breaking, the same dreary life she escaped by beating the odds with her education, a mysterious turn of luck in the universe that led her to university in England earning her ‘fancy pants’ degree,  love with Jon, and a great career. It is a far cry from her childhood with a brother who took and took from her in between disappearing acts, now an adult and still just as lost, unstable and pulling at her with his needs. The early days when her parents were still together and tension was thick as the smoke from her mother’s cigarettes, the way she only felt the love and comfort of a real family when she was at her friend Beth’s, sharing their meals and easy affection. Then there was the big shame between Jo and her uncle as she became a teenager, a seduction in which she felt somewhat complicit, as girls often do, a hushed up incident buried in the bowels of her dysfunctional family, to keep peace between her mother and her aunt, despite the cost to Jo. Her parents own wildly chaotic, broken marriage isn’t something she wanted to mirror but Jo isn’t immune to relationship woes. Now, she has her mother’s diary and the incident feels fresh, her mother’s sorrow about the strain it caused with her family and proof that her mother knew exactly what her uncle was! That she believed Jo.

Jo is battling severe health issues far worse than her inability to conceive a child or carry it to term, and coming home is only opening old wounds on top of current troubles in her own marriage. There is a student, someone she fell for, and it’s all coming back to bite her. The trouble may cost her more than her job, if Jon finds out everything may come crashing down! Dave is adamant that the money from their mother should go to him, to help him in his latest scheme to make something of himself with a business! Jo already has everything (as if she hadn’t worked hard for it, saved) so why not give him a leg up for once? Why must he Dave always think he is entitled to things without working for them? There is a struggle, she has enough to fight against on her own than to deal with her brother’s outbursts, surely it’d be easier just to give him the money, despite her lack of faith it will do him a bit of good. Her father refuses to budge, knowing his ex-wife was adamant in how she wanted the money dispersed before dying of cancer. Her father is mentally declining, but the last thing she wants with her own illness is to be tied to caring for the man who never showed up for his kids, nor his ex-wife. Maybe she won’t have to, maybe her father has his own shocking surprise too.

This story does feel like a sad memoir about deeply flawed, lost people. No one gets fixed, there are no rainbows nor happy endings. Sometimes damaged people just continue their entire life falling apart and are too stubborn or helpless to change. Is the dysfunction so deeply rooted that there is no hope, or is it simply a case of turning over and playing dead, a constant victim of circumstances? It’s hard to say. Each character seems to have done terrible stuff that needs forgiving, Jo included when it comes to her own husband Jon. Maybe some people just have to be accepted as the mess they are.

Publication Date: September 13, 2018

RedDoor Publishing
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Jo is an academic living in London, an achievement which surprised even Jo. When her mother is dying home in Boston she returns to be with her in her final days. She has worked hard to shake off her former life but is dragged back to face  some skeletons in the cupboard. She has a difficult relationship with her father and brother, and an act by her uncle from her teenage years which still haunts her. I felt the story at times a little rambling, although the characterisations were good.
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This book was ok - I felt like it could have gone deeper - which frustrated me.  But good writing and I liked it.
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Reads like a not very compelling memoir rather than a novel. Skimmed parts and had to force myself to finish it.
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I’m not sure what to make of this. Great insight and heart-felt family drama at times. A wee bit rambling at others. Overall, an interesting read that left me a little flat.
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