Cover Image: This Shining Life

This Shining Life

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Displaying grief from various perspectives, this book encourages us not only to try and move on after loss, but to empathise with others even when that seems like the hardest job in the world. It's a beautiful, painful thing, and reminded me so much of losses that I've suffered, making me thinking about if I could have handled them better, and if I could have done better for the people around me. It was almost a relief, telling me to let go of some of that pain, and the thought provoking qualities of it are beautiful, clever, and of benefit to the literary universe.
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This moving story deals with death and coping with grief. 
When Rich is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, his wife Ruth and his autistic eleven year old son Ollie have to come to terms with his imminent death.
The novel explores the families response to the diagnoses and to the death of Rich. Ollie loves solving sudoku puzzles and memorising football players but life is one puzzle that Ollie is struggling to solve.
This Shining Life tackles some tough subjects terminal illness and death; however the novel is moving, has humour, and beautifully written.
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Thank you to Anne Cater for my invitation to the tour and to Doubleday books for my copy of the proof in return for a fair and honest review.

I will start with a Trigger warning as there is a cancer diagnosis and bereavement, however it is also beautifully written and honest .

Rich is a husband, a father, a son and a friend and when he is diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour, his life and the lives of those close to him are tipped upside down.

The book is written from the perspective of those people affected but also most poignantly Ollie, Rich’s son. Ollie find the world a struggle anyway and his Dad often helped him to make sense of this so after he is gone and everything is different he finds life even more of a struggle. Rich leaves a list of presents and they all get muddled and Ollie can not rest until the puzzle is solved.

The story highlights the complex relationships that the families have and how each one has a different way of dealing with loss. This book will make you weep and laugh, it is so raw and real that I could feel the grief, anger and sorrow that they are all going through. I particularly found Ollie’s grief heartbreaking as he cannot understand why his Dad has died and I think this is such a common feeling when someone close to you does die but the way that author is able to articulate this so heart rending it really touched me so deeply.

Although this is not an easy read it is hopeful, remarkable and unique.

5 stars *****
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This Shining Life is an exploration of the impact of Rich’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent death on the members of his family.

Although this is such a terribly sad tale there are lighter moments and times of joy. Harriet Kline's characters are beautifully drawn, each with misunderstandings of one another. I was particularly fond of Ollie’s character as he tries to cope with the world around him. Some huge subjects are touched on in this novel including terminal illness, mental illness, dementia, and bereavement, yet the author never allows things to become too melancholy. Compelling, bittersweet and beautifully written.

I received a complimentary copy of this novel from Random House/ Doubleday via NetGalley at my request and this review is my own unbiased opinion.
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This Shining Life

Wow, this is heartbreakingly sad, but so beautiful too. Rich is dying. Funny, charming, Rich has a love of cheese and throwing parties. He has a son called Ollie who is neuro-diverse and a wife called Ruth who is coping with so much anyway, how will she cope with his death? The book covers Rich’s attempts to live, while dying and also the aftermath of his death where Ruth and Ollie have to learn how to cope without the most important person in their life. Ruth finds it very hard to cope with the idea that her time with Rich is now limited and she has no idea when. As time passes, Ollie finds it harder too. He doesn’t understand what it means to die. So, Rich devises a plan and involves his son in choosing gifts for those  he loves, as something to remember him by. Ollie loves puzzles and he sees the presents as clues -  he thinks each gift has a hidden meaning that his Dad chose to teach him the meaning of life. 

The story is told through the important people in Rich’s life and it begins with Ollie. Ollie has realised that the gifts went to the wrong people and he must rectify the mistakes, because otherwise he’ll never understand life or death. He is starting to come apart at the seams but has anyone noticed? Ruth is struggling to cope with his obsessive rituals and her grief is all encompassing. In counselling we refer to ‘complicated grief’ - this can happen when a death is: unexpected with things unresolved or left unsaid, a sudden decline or an accident, the result of a crime, long-term health related with caring roles attached, complicated by circumstances such as being out of touch or at odds with each other, or where a disease is hereditary. Here, Ruth and Ollie haven’t really had time to prepare and their lives have had to adapt very quickly. Ruth can’t fall apart because she has to be there for Ollie, but it is wearing her down and she needs to deal with her own feelings too. I liked the way the author brought in other voices, from Ruth’s family to Rich’s own mother and father, each with their own grief and needs. 

The author is a great observer of human behaviour and family dynamics. We can see how grief passes through this family, less like ripples on a pond and more like a shockwave passing through everyone in the vicinity. I talk with clients about the circle of grief - this is a series of concentric circles with the person experiencing the bereavement in the centre, next their spouse or partner, then in layers outwards until we get to the wider community. This is a simple tool that works well in the context of working with an individual because in that space, they are the afflicted person. We show how grief is expressed outward - with people in the outer circles expressing grief outward to family, friends, then they go to workmates or the wider community. Then comfort is expressed inwards, with those in outer circle ‘shoring up’ those further in, giving them the strength to support those in the inner circle. People in the outer circles should not be expecting comfort from those in the centre. Yet, grief is rarely so neatly expressed and the circles are often breached. This could be because of narcissism or lack of boundaries. However, more likely, what happens is shown very clearly in this book. Everyone is at the centre of their own circle. Ruth has to show comfort outward to Ollie and to Rich’s parents who are both struggling with their own grief and the added complication of dementia. Some people can’t put another’s needs in front of their own. 

When we face a huge upheaval or loss in our lives, we experience it through our own filter. Made up of our own experiences, the emotions we find it easy or difficult to express, our own bias or prejudice. The author has written such an authentic story of loss by exploring each character’s filters, their earlier life experiences and the unique relationship they had with Rich. We each grieve in a unique way because of the unique way we connected with that person. In dying, Rich has given them all the secret, of the meaning of life. It’s in the connections we have with another person and in a way Ollie is right - the gifts do hold the secret. Rich has bought each person something he thinks will remind them of him, in the context of the relationship they had. Knowing each person will miss him in a different way. I thought the book was emotionally intelligent, full of complex and interesting characters and explored beautifully what happens when such a big personality is taken from a family. A final mention must go to that beautiful cover, with Ollie using his binoculars to focus on the beauty in the world. Simply stunning.
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Thank you to Netgalley, Random House/Doubleday and Harriet Kline for this ARC in return for my honest review. A beautifully written book. Such a gentle and tender story filled with love, grief and above all hope. Simply sublime.
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This is a slow read as there are a lot of family members whose stories we follow. Ollie is the central character who brings them altogether after the death of his Father.
 Ollie is a great character and I did think that his needs were not entirely met at first. Grief affects everyone differently though and this book definitely shows this.
It is well written but can be difficult to read at times. I wanted to finish it though to see if and how Ollie finished his puzzle. The subject of illness, death and grief can be heavy going at times but it is worth it.
Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for my ARC.
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When Rich was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour, his wife, Ruth, was devastated. Everyone was – Nessa, Ruth’s sister and Angram, Nessa and Ruth’s mother. Marjorie and Gerald, Rich’s parents couldn’t get past the grief of it all. Gerald himself was drifting into the beginnings of dementia. But it was eleven-year-old Ollie, Rich and Ruth’s son who struggled the most. Ollie was autistic and needed his routine, which his dad understood. And with everyone knowing Rich was going to die, Rich chose to buy gifts for all those he loved. Ollie loved puzzles; sudoku was his greatest challenge and biggest delight, and Ollie thought his dad had set him a puzzle with the gifts, so when he died, Ollie wanted to work out the puzzle to know the meaning of life…

This Shining Life is a gentle, poignant look at grief, love, sadness and life by Harriet Kline, her debut novel. Ollie was a delight, struggling with everyday issues that changed regularly – not something he could manage. His meltdowns when they came, were spectacular and his father was the one to help him through. I enjoyed each and every character in this book, with Ollie being at the top of the list. The beauty of everyday pleasures drifted away after Rich’s death, but would his family find them again? I must make mention of the beautiful cover as well, and now I've read the book, the cover's meaning! Highly recommended.

With thanks to NetGalley and Transworld Publishers, Penguin Random House, UK, for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.
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Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an early review copy. 

There’s a question Ollie needs an answer to, and that is:: "How will I ever know, then, what it means to be alive?" 

A list of gifts was compiled when Ollie's father Rich was dying, he had a brain tumor, for friends and family. The gifts for each person were picked with thought and care. 

There was binoculars for Ollie, a pink vase for Other Grandma, Bohemian necklace for Aunt Nessa. The list continued on. 

So when his Father passes, the list is found by Ollie, and he makes it his mission, that is finding out what/how each of these gifts were supposed to teach him about life. Ollie is autistic and he’s obsessed in doing this.. 

But the other members of his family, who are also grieving, don’t care much about what Ollie’s doing.

Will Ollie find his answer….. Will his family realise in time to help him……
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This Shining Life by Harriet Kline
This is a fascinating novel about grief and the different ways in which people respond to it.  Rich is a young, fun-loving father of an autistic son, Ollie, but Rich is then diagnosed with a brain tumour.   When given the diagnosis he plans to send all of his loved ones a special gift and it is these gifts which form the puzzle which Ollie seeks to solve.
Ruth, Rich’s wife, is beset by depression and finds herself sinking under the weight of her despair.  She is surrounded by those who think they know what is best for her.   Her mother wants to take control and look after her and Ollie.  Her sister is determined she must drag herself out of her despair.  Meanwhile Other Grandma, Marjorie, and Gerald struggle with his onset of dementia whilst they strive to cope with the death of their beloved son.
All the characters are extremely well drawn and although this is an achingly sad book in parts there are also moments of joy.  The description of Ollie’s fears and obsessions are beautifully conveyed and you can feel the anguish that each step in a pair of uncomfortable socks would cause.
Many thanks to the author, the publishers and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in return for an honest review.
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I enjoyed the idea of this book more than the actual book but it is still a moving and thoughtful read. Ollie has autism and his father dies of cancer when he is 11. He has to try to make sense of it and uses the gifts that his father left for people to try to do that.
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An engaging gentle read about a fascinating family, a collection of seemingly disparate characters and yet they come together as families can do in a crisis. The book opens with Ollie, a boy with autism telling us his dad is dying, Ollie believes that his dad has set him a puzzle and he likes puzzles, so this becomes his focus after his dad dies. His mum Ruth, her sister Nessa and his dad's parents grandpa and other grandmother, along with his mum's mother Angran, all deal with their loss in their own way, sometimes too caught up in grief to cope with Ollie. A real character driven book, each person comes to life on the page and gets a chance to be the narrator, including Rich, Ollie's dad, as the book moves back and forward through time. I really enjoyed this book, it was a realistic portrayal of grief, with moments of sadness but also joy and interesting relatable characters. Also a realistic portrayal of a child with autism, some of my favourite parts were when Ollie was speaking and expressing his frustration and the various ways the adults responded to him. 

With thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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A nicely written book which I believe is the author's debut novel. The cover deserves a mention too - it is beautiful!

This Shining Life tells the story of a father who dies too young from brain cancer leaving behind his wife and eleven year old son, Ollie. Ollie is neuro diverse and sees the world in a different way to most of us and it was his share in the story that interested me the most.

After Rich's death the family respond in an assortment of ways as families do, but I found all of them to be rather unpleasant people who were very irresponsible regarding Ollie. I am afraid I was mostly irritated by their self-centredness and this spoiled the reading experience for me a little.

By the end of the book there was a slight feeling of optimism but I wanted more and I still felt we left Ollie in an insecure place. Still an interesting and very readable book and I know a lot of people like it much more than me.
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I am very impressed by this author's debut novel. It really is beautifully written with the most descriptive and lovely prose. It's not the easiest read I have to say as there are several very serious and dark themes running through it. Terminal illness, death, autism and dementia are the main issues dealt with here and it maybe isn't the type of book one should read if feeling a bit down. I did struggle myself - maybe it's just me and I'm not in the right place emotionally at the moment but having said that I couldn't help but admire the writer's skill with words.  I will most definitely look out for her future books but this one left me feeling quite sad and in need of something a lot lighter to lift my mood back up.  My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a pre-release copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.
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This Shining Life is a genuinely moving book. It's a sweet and sad tale of how a death from cancer devastates a family. Ollie, the autistic son of the deceased is a wonderful memorable character as he struggles to come to terms with what is happening. There are plenty of funny moments in the book and the writing is superb throughout.
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“Can I do that puzzle, Dad, the one that tells you what it means to be alive?”

This Shining Life is the first novel by British author, Harriet Kline. When nearly-eleven-year-old Ollie’s father dies, dealing with the avalanche of grief that surrounds him is a challenge. Rich was a cheese-loving, party-throwing joyous individual, loved by almost all who encountered him. Dad was the person who quizzed him on football teams and national capitals, helping to distract him from things that caused a meltdown.

Ollie is different. He might be described as neuro-diverse, but his mum, Carrie simply says “It’s just how his brain’s wired. If he can’t see the world as we do, then we have to honour that.” Ollie loves things to be neat and correct. “I love puzzles. Killer sudoku are my favourite but I like word ladders and codewords too. They make me happy, but only when they’re finished. If they go wrong or I have to rub something out and the page gets creased, I get itchy under my fingernails”

And “When there’s a thread in my sock, wriggling against my skin, I’m supposed to act as though it isn’t there. But it makes my feet feel blurry if the threads move around. I can only ignore it if I do a sudoku. Then I get told off for being rude because I’m ignoring everything else.” Also “I hate it when people ask me two questions at once because I don’t know which one to answer first.”

Given a poor prognosis, Rich concentrates on enjoying the life he has remaining, being with those he loves. “He started telling me then that being alive was like a puzzle and it was all falling into place” When he makes a list of gifts he plans to give them, Ollie concludes “each present gives a clue about being alive.” So when Rich dies, this is the puzzle that Ollie fixates on: he will understand what it means to be alive. Of course, that doesn’t quite go to plan. 

Ollie is a smart boy: “Rich realized, as he watched him, that he was gathering information. He might have no instinct for being with people and he took scarce pleasure in their company, but it was obvious that he was making an effort to understand. He was storing up his observations and somehow, in the future, he would put them to use.”

But Ollie is too young and perhaps too literal, to understand the reactions of those beloved. Carrie’s grief as a widow overlays her ongoing depression; her sister, Nessa is well-intentioned but lacks sensitivity to what others really need; their mother Angran, still determined to triumph over her abandonment by the father of her two small daughters, has no idea of how to mother, to show affection.

Rich’s father, Gerald plagued by tinnitus and encroaching dementia, holds fast to the importance of rules and manners at the expense of accepting difference; his wife, Marjorie initially seems focussed on appearances. 

Kline paints the many faces of grief with skill and feeling. Her characters are appealing for all their very human flaws, and Ollie is likely to find a spot in the hearts of many readers. And while a happy ending with this plot is difficult, a hopeful one can be, and is, achieved. A beautifully written, moving debut novel.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Transworld Publishers.
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This is a bitter sweet novel about death and grief as well as life and living. Richard, Rich to his friends, a young husband and father, is diagnosed with an untreatable brain tumour and told he doesn’t have long to live. He is a cheerful, joyous man who loves life, parties, his family and friends. Over the weeks following his diagnosis and then his death we see how his dying impacts on his wife Ruth, his autistic son Ollie, his wife’s mother and sister and his own mother and father who is in the process of losing himself in dementia. 

Ruth is thrown into a deep depression by Richard’s death and can’t cope with Ollie’s obsessive rituals. Rich was always the one who could deal with his meltdowns and get him to laugh. Ollie is having trouble understanding what it means to die. Before Richard died he carefully chose a present to send each of the family to remember him by and got Ollie to help him post them. Ollie likes to do puzzles and thinks the meaning of the gifts forms part of a puzzle his father left him to solve to help him understand the secret of life. 

Although, the book is achingly sad, there are also lighter moments and moments of joy. The characters are beautifully drawn, each with their own flaws and misunderstandings of each other. Ollie’s character is particularly sweet as he tries to understand the world around him and get people absorbed in their own grief to listen to his questions. Rich’s death will force them all to become more forgiving of each other and accept that love can come in many forms.
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I’d like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read ‘This Shining Life’ by Harriet Kline in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Rich enriches the lives of everyone he meets with his bubbling effervescence and love of life, but Rich has a brain tumour.  When he leaves this life he leaves behind a loving wife Ruth and young son Ollie who’s in the autism spectrum.  As Ollie’s searching for an answer to the puzzle his father has left him, what it means to be alive, his mother Ruth is struggling with depression which makes life difficult for Ollie who needs structure and order in his life.  

This may sound a sad and depressing story but it’s anything but.  ‘This Shining Life’ is about life and death, and how a family copes with the grief when an integral part of the family is no longer there.  But humour is also present in the story, in particular when Rich decides to post a present to each member of his family unfortunately sticking the labels on the wrong boxes.  It’s a lovely story that’s kept me involved from page one until I reached the touching conclusion.  It’s a moving and beautifully written novel which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
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What an extraordinary novel. One of the best books to be published in 2021.

Rich is too young to die from a brain tumour. His young son Ollie needs special love and care. His wife, Ruth, is fragile and very much under her mother, Angran’s thumb. Nessa, Ruth’s sister and one of his oldest friends might be brave and feisty on the outside, but she’s going to miss his constant presence in her life. His father Gerald is at the onset of dementia and his mother Marjorie is struggling to keep the peace between Gerald and Ollie because he’s “different” and loves doing sudokus and naming all the players in the football league. Rich wants to buy each family member a present to cherish after his passing. He spends hours choosing the presents but leaves the packing to Ollie and unfortunately, Ollie gets things muddled. 

We follow Rich, Ruth, Ollie, Nessa, Marjorie, Gerald and Angran as they come to terms, first with the diagnosis and then in the weeks after Rich’s death. Their desperate despair and being so alone. Angran’s insistence that she’s the only person who can help Ruth. The slow decline of Gerald. But most of all, Ollie trying to make sense of the world. 

I don’t want to spoil the experience of reading this novel by giving any more details. What I want to is say that Harriet Kline has captured her characters in perfect detail. Ollie will help so many other parents or people not knowing anything about the autism spectrum understand about these incredibly unique beings who come into our lives with thought processors operating on a different wavelength the what’s considered “normal”. 

Harriet also blew me away with how she captures Gerald slow decline into dementia. I think having read this book I can say that I now have a far better understanding of what it must be like living with the disease. How each day another tiny little thing might be too difficult to remember, yet on other days, lucidity might be almost normal. 

This is a storyline that captures ordinary people dealing with situations that are anything but normal. Harriet Kline, Bravo! You’ve opened my eyes with your beautiful pictures painted in words and I will forever be in your debt. I thought I understood both dementia and autism, I didn’t until seeing them through your writing. 

Rony

Elite Reviewing Group received a copy of the book to review.
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This book shines a light on the process of  dying and bereavement. Young Dad Rich has terminal cancer and he is preparing for his death by picking out specially selected presents for his loved ones., saying that each one will show what it means to be alive. His son, Ollie, is helping him with the wrapping ready for postage but Richard becomes tired and the parcels get mixed up

In the aftermath of his death Sudoku/puzzle fan Ollie thinks that if he solves the clues the other people will be able to tell him what it means to be alive, because they have had their present.

The chapters are told in the 3rd person from the viewpoints of the adult characters. Wife, Ruth,  is floored by grief and rendered incapable of  getting  up and function on a daily basis. Her sister, Nessa (a good friend to Rich before he met Ruth) is trying to shore up her sister and Ollie in the aftermath of Rich’s death whilst grieving for her beloved friend.

In the next generation there is Rich’s mother Marjorie who can still recall her son as a young boy. She is also having to cope with her husband Gerald who has a stiff upper lip outlook on life and strong views (for example that Ollie’s behaviour is unacceptable rather than being accepting of his autism)  However his health is declining as he is showing signs of dementia and she has to take the difficult decision to put in a home.
In contrast the other grandmother Angela, who is known as Angran, wants to take direct action (knocking down walls etc) Her name is supposed to be an amalgamation of Angela and Gran but of course has connotations of angry. She leads a more Bohemian lifestyle, but her daughters both harbour resentment to how she ignored/neglected  them to go off to The Ravages- a Dartmoor waterfall-  when she was suffering from depression in the past, when they were young. She is well meaning but not always sensitive to others.

The only 1st person narrator is Ollie who has autism. He needs structure and order in his life (he especially needs his socks to be in a certain condition) He repeats the phrase my Dad died as he tries to make sense of a world turned upside down and in turmoil. Nobody wants to help him solve the puzzle about life as the parcels all went to the wrong people.
Ultimately events move towards understanding and something new emerges out of the depths of grief

This is an insightful; book about grief and how it divides people and how everyone reacts differently depending on their personality, past and relationship with the dead person. The terrible pain of grief is lightened by some moments of humour  and moments of love. There is one moment when Marjorie crawls under the table with Gerald and they lie looking at each other and their bond of love is still there.
 It's  a wise and moving exploration of loss and love.
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