Reviews

I found this Memoir, thought provoking and touching       Trishie B        24 February 2017

I found this Memoir, thought provoking and touching. The Author covers many aspects of her childhood in Manchester, UK during the 1940s – she is able to aptly describe the surroundings and you do get an idea of what it was like. There’s also the ‘secret’ – which is interwoven throughout the book. It’s tricky for me to review further as I don’t want to give anything away. Well written in my humble opinion.

Celia’s Secret’ Review       Tanya Robinson       2 December 2016

This book comprises the author’s personal tale detailing her life journey throughout which she had to deal with the impact a family secret had upon her and the family as a whole. It is technically well written and right from the start we have a clear understanding of the author’s thoughts, emotions and opinions. It clearly shows how a secret can affect people, whether they know of its existence or not.

In the first half, well just over, the reader is given a detailed insight into the author’s history; upbringing, education, development, inner thoughts, questions and emotions. I understand, to make sense of the overall account, this was necessary however, to me, it primarily read as a series of facts. I did not ‘feel’ drawn in though the domestic (British) and world history backdrops are interesting. Readers of this review need to bear in mind reading is a subjective experience and therefore others may well disagree with this assessment of the first half.

Having set the background, the book changes tone and, for me at least, became far more interesting. This commences with a fuller description of the author’s mother’s life, motivations, values and social acceptances. Except for one or two instances near the end, I, from this point forward, felt drawn into, and part of, the tale. The descriptions of how the author herself as well as her relatives dealt with the situation are fresh and real. She really shows how differently people, even those related to each other, deal with the same situation. The author has also been very honest about her own condition; the secret, from her earliest days, had an insidious impact upon her leading eventually to serious depression.

Throughout the rest of the book Martha Ashwell draws upon her knowledge and experience of philosophy and counselling as well as her inherent faith and beliefs. She very generously shares her acquired insights and suggested techniques for dealing with depression and other aspects of mental health issues. These are not only very interesting in themselves but also have the added value of enlivening and making the author’s tale relevant to modern day readers. The book also depicts the challenges associated with a search for reconciliation.

As said, the author is very honest about her own condition, reconnecting her depression, sense of insecurity and uncertainties regarding her life’s future. The reader is drawn along, sharing the sensations of concern and relief as and when circumstances change one way or the other.

In many ways this is a complex, yet personal, book. It certainly will not appeal to all readers. Nevertheless, I suggest those either suffering themselves, or seeking to help those who are suffering, with depression and its related conditions would find this an insightful and helpful read. It is not a manual or text book of solutions, but has many insights, suggestions and observations that could well assist. Be assured however, though it has these elements to it, this is primarily a personal and family tale.

It will be noted little has been said about the story itself. This is intentional; so as not to spoil it for potential readers.

Assessing an overall rating was not initially straight forward. The first part inclined me toward three stars (I believe most books really fall within this range) however, the change of tone and the considerable information contained in the second part merits four. Consequently, I give an overall four stars (4*).

It’s over a year since I read this memoir and …         RiverCree      23 November 2016

It’s over a year since I read this memoir and the strong effect it had on me hasn’t lessened. It’s really three books in one – firstly, the story of a secret and its effects on family members, the author in particular; second, the role that religion, philosophy, counselling, etc. can play in resolving issues raised by such situations; and third, the story of a girl growing up in Manchester in the late 1950s/early 1960s. It is this final strand that I  found the most enjoyable and I very much hope that the author will develop it in the future.

An excellent read that makes you think          Sarah Swarbrick      19 October 2016

I can thoroughly recommend this book. It is a very personal and touching account of growing up in South Manchester post war. It paints a vivid picture such that it is easy to place yourself in the story. From the outset something does not seem quite right and the reader is easily drawn in wanting to discover what the secret is. The journey is not just one of growing up, developing relationships and a snapshot of the times, but also one of deep faith. The golden thread throughout this book is how Martha is supported and sustained by her beliefs. It is a heart warming, at times sad and yet enriching story. It makes us all think about our families, all the good and bad therein and reassess what really matters to us.

Martha Ashwell writes in an easy and very readable style    Selina Hepworth      27 September 2016

One of the most honest and thought-provoking memoirs I have read. The ‘Secret’ of the title had a profound effect on Martha and her family as she was growing up. The book is cleverly constructed to keep the reader in suspense as to what the secret is.

Martha Ashwell writes in an easy and very readable style and we are taken through her life, both factually and at a deep emotional level, as she tries to come to terms with the secret and how it has effected all her relationships. It deals with deep family issues of love, truth, understanding, forgiveness, reconciliation; and traces her own life-long spiritual development at an intimate level. This is interspersed with thought-provoking literary references and links to pieces of music that have been the back-drop of her life.
Martha Ashwell cleverly places the whole memoir in its historical context, from her birth in Manchester during World War II, through the Cold War, the campaign for nuclear disarmament, the American Civil Rights movement right through to 9/11 in New York. She understands the importance of placing people’s actions in the context of the period in which they occurred.
A thoroughly readable and thought provoking memoir by an author who has considered her life’s journey at it’s deepest and most intimate level.

A thought provoking book            Chris Bradshaw (on behalf of Jane Bailey)     24 September 2016     

This is a thought provoking book, a personal history which will touch your heart. It is a book at so many levels. Many threads run through the unfolding of the secret, the sharing of the secret and the reconciliation. It is a powerfully emotional story and very much Martha’s personal account. The reader shares the pain and isolation of Martha as she comes to terms with the secret.

She describes her childhood isolation, growing up in a family where relationships were just not right. Martha stumbled like a lost child in a strange adult world where powerful emotions affected her understanding of relationships. Life both at home and sometimes at school seemed without the happiness that all children seek. Only when visiting friends’ homes did she encounter family love and family fun that was so lacking in her own world. When Martha moved to secondary education she left a safe and happy primary school. Along with the pain of her home life came added pressures of academic studies and teachers who were impersonal and even unfriendly. It seemed inevitable that Martha should slip into depression.

However, as her life moves on Martha finds strength to find a way through her life limiting experiences. She questions her religious belief but then finds deeper strength to move forward. As she marries and has children of her own we know the deep happiness she feels. Her husband is her strength, her children her “little miracles”. And so she is able to face “the secret” and make decisions about her life in order to gain freedom. The story unfolds and throughout there are details of everyday life and routines that brought back memories of my own childhood, the visit of the coalman, wet clothes on washing day, even the clothes that were worn. The linking to world news events anchors the story and helps the reader to reflect upon personal and wider social norms of the time. On another level this book is almost “Desert Island Discs” in written form, and shows the power of music in Martha’s life.

This book needs time to read and to reflect upon. I strongly recommend it for both personal and professional reading. If you are interested in children, family life, relationships, education, mental illness, religion and even social history this book will have something to offer.

Warm congratulations        Nuala O’Conner      8 April 2016

Warm congratulations on a very beautiful memoir. I read it over the Easter holidays and I found it compulsive reading. ‘Celia’s Secret’ is a very poignant story, told with great sensitivity. It reveals the author’s own admirable  strength of character and a spirituality which connects with all the diverse areas of her life. The book is inspiring and very thought provoking and by the way thanks for all the nice things you said about Ireland.

A very personal story             Sarah Dyer        20 September 2015

‘Celia’s Secret’ is clearly a very personal story – the author is sharing her personal journey through life from birth until the present day: the people, places and events that have shaped her life; her religious, spiritual and intellectual journey; and, critically, as a thread that runs through her life, ‘The Secret’ she discovered as a young woman and how it has affected her life and relationships. At first, I felt a little frustrated, as what I was reading didn’t reflect what I had been led to believe from the title and Prologue. However, after a short way through, I suspended my expectations, became open minded as to where the book would take me and, as a result, started to enjoy the book more! The book offers a great personal and historical insight into the life and times of a woman, born in the 1940s into a working class family in Northern England. As someone from a similar background, I really identified with the author and her family and loved how she described her life experiences, home, schooling, love of music etc. as I felt it was probably quite similar to my parents’ experience.

The author really brings to life a very personal story in a way I think other people will connect with. This is largely as a result of how she is able to help the reader visualize her life with some lovely descriptive and evocative writing – and the musical and historical references. The book reads like a very personal memoir of one individual; it is her journey, both good and bad. Overall, I enjoyed the punchy, short sentences. It made the book easy to read, very ‘digestible’. I also enjoyed some of the more evocative and descriptive vocabulary and writing style. I liked the short quotes at the beginning of each chapter. They were very relevant and set up what follows in each section really well.

Certain aspects of the book such as counselling and self-help will be more relevant to some readers than others. For me, it’s great – I’m really interested in this subject matter – but not everyone is. I liked the concept of having more detail/discussion about specific historical events in the book – it felt interesting and individual. However, some I read, some I didn’t and some of the events mentioned are so recent and/or well documented I wonder if readers might feel they already know enough? Another interesting theme is the vulnerability of children who have no means of changing their unhappy situation as they are completely under the power of adults.

The book feels as though it is written primarily for the author and her family. It’s her story, as she wants to tell it, as personal ‘therapy’ and to help her close family gain better insight and understanding of her and their wider family history. This does not mean, however, that it will fail to engage readers and positively affect their lives. The author’s overall message appears to be a desire to communicate with her readers and to help them by relating her own experiences.

A compelling read                        Allie     7 August 2015

This is a story that immediately draws the reader into a specific time and place – Manchester in the post war period. It conjures up the atmosphere of the city and all those domestic details of how we lived. The writer ‘s eye for detail extends to her memory of the unusual circumstances of her childhood as she conveys how emotion was repressed and the truth of family life was hidden, not only from those outside the home, but from those within.
As the book develops we see a life set against a backdrop of world events and changes in attitudes and morality but, above all, this is a book where the writer lays bare her innermost thoughts and fears. A memoir of searing honesty and a compelling read.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I related to a lot in your story         Geraldine Rea         5 August 2015

I related to a lot in your story, having come from an Irish family myself, and growing up in the same era. There was so much nostalgia, with all the great musical references, and world events of the time. I think that incorporating the music was a great idea. I love to watch ‘Heartbeat’ on TV and there’s no better way of evoking nostalgia than through music. I also related to the fact that my children didn’t grow up Catholic, though I did take them to church and they joined the youth group, but the liberal ideas at the universities put the last nails in the coffin. I too had to deal with the counter culture which was so powerful in the 1960s with its concept of free love. But, the most touching for me was the way the story was interwoven with quotes and ideas from the various spiritual giants of the ages. It took me a long time to educate myself about my faith by reading the books I should have read many years ago, but thankfully for us God has given us both the time to do this. I also appreciated your knowledge with regard to the various counselling techniques employed. I have friends who are counsellors. Now, I ‘m more au fait with what they are about. Martha, maybe I haven’t given you a very professional critique, but it’s come from my heart. I admire you even more now than I have always. I had no idea of the extent of your education, especially at the college in Oxford. Well done, you are a very gutsy lady, and your family must be very proud of you.

A brave and moving memoir        E M Powell     21 July 2015

The past is often cited as being a golden age, where crime was low and people could leave their doors unlocked without fear of theft. In this brave and moving memoir, which begins in the author’s childhood of Manchester in the 1940s, we get a true glimpse of what that golden age actually meant. A child can only trust that the adults in his or life are living the truth. When it emerges that they are living a lie of almost breathtaking proportions, the fallout and heartbreak for so many individuals is inevitable. The tragedy is that it was avoidable, by simply living an honest and open life.

Ashwell presents her story in an accessible, moving style, underpinned with a deep spirituality. Her personal history is deftly interwoven with the history of the time. While some of her account is almost unbearably sad, the book gives the reader plenty of hope, with so many positives emerging from it.

A satisfying read for those who enjoy a well-written memoir.

Note: I received a free copy from the author in return for my independent review.