So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter – A Review

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication date: 31st of October 2019

I have always followed and loved Dawn O’Porter on Instagram, her stories are just hilarious and she has this natural way about her that makes me think we could be friends (in a totally non-weird, non-stalker way!) If you’re reading this Dawn please don’t be afraid!

When I saw that Dawn had a new book coming out and that the female protagonists were all of a similar age group to me, I knew I would have to get my hands on it. When the lovely folk at Harper Collins asked me whether I would like to be involved in the blog tour for So Lucky I jumped at the chance.

I’ve never read any of Dawn’s books before but I believe her previous books centered around teenage protagonists or young women in their twenties and I don’t very much get on with these. In the case of So Lucky the three females are all in their late 30’s early 40s, two of them have children (albeit much younger than mine) but I have navigated those very choppy waters of early motherhood and found I could identify parts of myself in the two women (Ruby and Beth) and could very much sympathise with their struggles.

So lucky tells the story of the aforementioned three women. We have Ruby who is a single mother of a three-year-old girl named Bonnie. We have Beth who is a new mother to a four month old baby named Tommy and who is also a wedding planner. Then we have Lauren, social media influencer and very much a ‘someone’ on Instagram. Lauren is set to marry Gavin Riley, an multi-millionaire businessman and former ‘dragon’ from Dragon’s Den. Beth is planning their wedding and Ruby has been employed to ‘touch up’ the wedding photos on the actual day so that Lauren can post them to her adoring Instagram followers and make good on her #AD posts for her sponsors.

Each of these women have their own issues and worries and each of them portray a completely different life outwardly than what is going on behind closed doors or what is going on in their anxiety ridden heads.

Ruby has a condition that she battles with constantly and really lets it define who she is. She has pushed away her husband and she feels like she is failing massively as a parent. She struggles to bond with her daughter Bonnie and finds herself run ragged between motherhood and work.

Beth is also juggling work and early motherhood having gone back to work more or less straight away after having baby Tommy. Her work on the high profile wedding of Lauren and Gavin is providing financial rewards for her and her family and she has her husband Michael at home to look after Tommy. However, Michael is a perfect doting Dad but finds it hard to show Beth the closeness and physical affection she craves. They haven’t had sex for a long time and Beth is beginning to crave it. She has massive doubts about her post-birth body and worries about how she looks to her husband. What could possibly be turning him off her so much?

Lauren is the ultimate Instagram clichè in lots of respects. She poses for heavily stylised photos and hashtags the hell out of them like all good ‘influencers’ do. Her chapters are particularly interesting because they are descriptions of the image she has posted along with the heavily hash tagged caption, followed by the various comments left by her followers. Some positive and adoring, some nasty and negative. That’s the world of Instagram! We don’t really get to ‘meet’ Lauren properly until maybe the second half of the book. We see her through her idealised perfect Instagram life which, when we finally see behind those little squares is anything but perfect.

What I enjoyed about this book was the fact that these women weren’t just thrown together for the sake of the story. In fact they aren’t all together until the final scenes in the book. They touch on each other’s lives from the periphery and we are given the opportunity to find out about them and discover who they are as people separately before they come together to form bonds.

Friendship, however unlikely is one of the main over arching themes. Women supporting women and rising up together to help each other succeed. Of course the main theme is the idea that life as observed from the outside can be a hell of a lot different than it is behind closed doors. The three women in this book go on a journey to discover this, culminating in them feeling stronger and more liberated for it.

I do have to be entirely honest and say I struggled slightly with the first few chapters of the book and was unsure it would be for me. That isn’t the book’s fault at all, it’s my own reading tastes. You guys know I usually go for the dark and gritty historical stuff and contemporary fiction isn’t usually my bag. However Dawn is such a huge character on Instagram and I really wanted to try out her writing.  It really didn’t take me long to settle into the story and then it whipped along at a pace.  So Lucky is dripping with Dawn’s inimitable sense of humour!  She doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, but rather opens them out in all their striking and bold reality.  She tackles sex with her trademark humour and is completely candid and open.

I can’t end this review without mentioning Risky, Beth’s assistant with the wedding organiser business.  She is a larger than life, positive, ‘out there’ breath of fresh air.  Such a great character, brimming with life and verve! She is almost a ‘side kick’ character but is oh so much more! I love her!

If you want a contemporary, refreshing read about female empowerment and the harsh realities of life, motherhood and relationships then this book is for you. I think this would make an excellent book club choice.

I’m also thrilled to see that So Lucky is now on The Sunday Times Bestseller list! Congratulations Dawn!

Thank you so much to the publisher for my review copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

 

Starve Acre By Andrew Michael Hurley – A Review

Publisher: John Murray Press

Publication Date: 31st October 2019

Well firstly, let us appreciate that front cover…..

Done? Ok.

I am writing this review having just closed Starve Acre after a chilling 24 hours.

I have just taken to Twitter to declare that this is hands down THE BEST book I’ve read all year, up there with the best books I’ve ever read in fact! (It is a very rainy July day as I write this, just to give you some time perception, this review will not go live until November because OF COURSE this book is going to be published on Halloween!). It is going to take a fabulous book to knock this one off my top spot I can tell you!

Richard and Juliette Willoughby move to Starve Acre, an isolated house on the moors after Richard’s father died and they inherit the property. Richard is reticent to move there given that his father’s behaviour became odder and odder until his final demise. Juliette on the other hand is keen to start a new life in a new house that she hopes to make her mark on and slot seamlessly into an idyllic village life.

Juliette falls pregnant with a very much planned for and anticipated baby, and when their son Ewan is born, life seems to be perfect.

However, (and isn’t there always a ‘however’!) there are strange things afoot not only in Starve Acre house but the field across the way. As Ewan grows from a loving toddler into an introverted 5 year old his behaviour becomes more and more outlandish. He spends time alone in the field opposite the house. A field in which the Stythwaite Oak used to stand, a huge oak tree dubbed ‘Old Justice’ for the fact it was used for public hangings in times gone by. The Stythwaite Oak is no longer standing in the field, and is only known through folklore and village tales. So why does Ewan say it’s ‘sometimes there, sometimes not’ and why does he stand in the field looking up into the empty sky as if he can see it?…

The unthinkable happens to Richard and Juliette when Ewan unexpectedly passes away (not a spoiler, this is known from page 1) and they are plunged into every parents living nightmare.

Six months after Ewan’s death, Juliette is consumed with grief, spending hour upon hour in Ewan’s bedroom, convinced she can feel his presence in the house still. Filling the room with mirrors, setting up audio equipment in the hope she will catch just a glimpse, just a whisper. She has sunk into a terrible depression, desperate to contact her baby.

Richard has taken an enforced sabbatical from his job as a history lecturer and has filled his time and mind with trying to find the roots of the old Stythwaite Oak. Setting up a tent against the ravages of winter and spending his days digging the earth and pushing Ewan from his thoughts. When he chances upon the skeleton of a hare during his dig, he brings it back to the house and unwittingly invites something else, something sinister, in.

As Juliette’s sister Harrie arrives at Starve Acre to try and pull Juliette out of her depression it becomes startlingly clear that she has plans to bring Ewan back into her life in whatever form that may be. She has been put into contact with a group of occultists known as The Beacons, headed up by a Mrs Forbes. But when she invites them to Starve Acre, will they really be able to help her or will they find something in the house they cannot fathom…?

The story flits back and forth in time between the present day and the days when Ewan’s behaviour starts to change. We are fed details of events of the time which build up a sinister picture of how life at Starve Acre was in the months leading up to Ewan’s sudden death. How he hurt a young girl at school, wilfully trapping her fingers in the door jamb. Starting a fire in the house and generally veering between the need for attention and the strong desire to be left alone.

But why is he reticent to head over to the field to play? Who’s voice does he say he can hear? Who is instructing him to behave in this odd way? Could this be down to an overactive imagination of a lonely child? The result of listening to village stories and myths? Of could something more foreboding be at play?

I cannot even begin to express how perfect this book is to me. An old house steeped in mystery, the claustrophobic nature of small village life. The intrinsic thread of unease, and strange occurrences running throughout, all shot through with the desperate loneliness of grief.

I found it fascinating that this married couple were dealing with their grief in such opposing ways. Juliette desperate to invite Ewan back into their lives. Grasping at straws, reading so much into little coincidental signs. And Richard, pushing thoughts of Ewan firmly away. Distracting himself with his quest to find the roots of the Stythwaite Oak, not truly the comprehending exactly what it is he is uncovering and unleashing.

The threads of Starve Acre history told through village folklore and Richards discovery of seventeenth century wood block prints, depicting scenes of Old Justice, were so sinister and unnerving. They really drew me in. You get catapulted back in time to the days when public hangings were ten a penny and strong beliefs were staunchly held true.

The deterioration in Ewan’s behaviour, the wilful hurt and destruction he seems hellbent on causing, juxtaposed with his apparent innate fear of the presence that is exerting power over him sent shivers down my spine!

To come to a point in life when you are scared of your own child and what they may do when your back is turned becomes a sad fact of daily life for Juliette. Whilst Richard tries hard to defend his son and keep everything as normal as possible.

I enjoyed the fact that although we know from the outset that Ewan has died, it is only in the final pages that the details surrounding his death are revealed. This is hanging over you as you read, but not in a negative way, more in a ‘I HAVE to find out what happened!’ way.

Andrew Michael Hurley’s writing is just stunning. I’ve not read The Loney or Devil’s Day but I will certainly be heading to them!

Starve Acre provided me with one perfect day of reading, for me it’s not just the brilliant writing and storyline, it was the complete reading experience as a whole. When I closed this book I had tingles up my spine and desperately wanted to speak to someone about what I had just read…..or just go right back and read it again!

Starve Acre has pride of place on my Forever Shelf and deservedly so.

Now is the perfect time for you to check it out. Grab a blanket and get settled for a perfect reading experience.

Thank you as always to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Halloween/Autumn Reads – Recommendations For The Spooky Season

As you know I’ve recently had a little hiatus from blogging but I always knew I wanted to do this post to recommend some spooky Halloween reads. I was anxious that I wouldn’t have time to write a full detailed blog post but I didn’t want to let the opportunity slip by when I feel that spooky gothic reads are kinda my thing!

So what I’m going to do today is recommend some books to you that stick out in my mind as either being classic ghost stories, stories with a gothic twist, or just stories that make you feel uneasy. I’ve read tons of books in this vein but these are the ones that I would heartily recommend at this time of year. I know that Halloween is only a few days away but I do feel that Autumn/Winter are the best seasons for reading stories with a spooky edge. I will link any reviews I have done for these books and I will also include the full blurbs. 

I won’t go into huge detail about each book because I don’t have the time at the moment but as I say I didn’t want to let the opportunity pass by without making some suggestions. I hope you see something you like.

Let’s get cracking!

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell (Bloomsbury Raven)

BLURB:

Some doors are locked for a reason… 

Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge. 

With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. For inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself…

As most of you know, I have enjoyed both of Laura Purcell’s books and could have easily recommended The Corset here too but I feel that The Silent Companions just had that Gothic creepy edge and will send tingles up your spine. My review is here.

Dolly by Susan Hill (Profile Books):

BLURB:

The remoter parts of the English Fens are forlorn, lost and damp even in the height of summer. At Iyot Lock, a large decaying house, two young cousins, Leonora and Edward, are parked for the summer with their ageing spinster aunt and her cruel housekeeper. At first the unpleasantness and petty meannesses appear simply spiteful, calculated to destroy Edward’s equanimity. But when spoilt Leonora is not given the birthday present of a specific dolly that she wants, affairs inexorably take a much darker turn with terrifying, life-destroying consequences for everyone.

I couldn’t not include a Susan Hill book on this list. I have never read The Woman In Black but I have seen the film and most likely will never read the book now. I could have also included The Small Hand but I wanted to tell you about Dolly because……. well I mean look at that cover! Who doesn’t love a creepy doll I ask ya?! This is also a super quick read that you could scare yourself silly with in one sitting on Halloween.

The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer (Faber & Faber)

BLURB:


My name is Ruby. I live with Barbara and Mick. They’re not my real parents, but they tell me what to do, and what to say. 

But there are things I won’t say. I won’t tell them I’m going to hunt for my real parents. I don’t say a word about Shadow, who sits on the stairs, or the Wasp Lady I saw. Or that I’m a hunter for lost souls.

I’m going to be with my real family. And I won’t let anyone stop me.

Although this one isn’t set in the autumn or the winter but rather the humid summer months, it still has a very creepy sinister edge. There are paragraphs in this book that I can still remember and that gave me chills at the time. A child who can see things that aren’t there always is a winner for me. I loved this one! My review is here.

The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne (Picador)

BLURB:

 Eleanor and Richard have stretched themselves to the limit to buy the perfect home. But the cracks are already starting to show. Eleanor is unnerved by the eerie atmosphere in the house and she is convinced it is making her ill. Their two young daughters are restless and unsettled. Richard, on the other hand, is more preoccupied with Zoe, their alluring young lodger, who is also struggling to feel at home. 

As Eleanor’s symptoms intensify, she becomes determined to unravel the mystery of the family who lived in the house before them. Who were the Ashworths, and why is the name Emily written hundreds of times on the walls of the upstairs room?

This one came as a bit of a surprise to me. I don’t know what I was expecting to be honest but I remember thoroughly enjoying it. The idea that a house, or a room in a house can have such an effect on you I found fascinating. That the main character should become unwell and diminished in herself by some external force made for such a great creepy read! My review is here.

The Visitors by Catherine Burns (Legend Press)

BLURB:

Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother, John in a decaying Georgian townhouse on the edge of a northern seaside resort. A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to shut out the shocking secret that John keeps in the cellar.

Until, suddenly, John has a heart attack and Marion is forced to go down to the cellar herself and face the gruesome truth that her brother has kept hidden.

As questions are asked and secrets unravel, maybe John isn’t the only one with a dark side.

I wanted to include this amazing book as something a little bit different. It is not a spooky ghost story, it’s not Gothic, but it does involve a huge sense of unease and horror. This is a book that I would recommend to almost everyone and anyone I have recommended it to has really enjoyed it. It is dark, it is surprising and it lingers in your mind long after you have finished it. My review is here.

Blanky by Kealan Patrick Burke

BLURB:

In the wake of his infant daughter’s tragic death, Steve Brannigan is struggling to keep himself together. Estranged from his wife, who refuses to be inside the house where the unthinkable happened, and unable to work, he seeks solace in an endless parade of old sitcoms and a bottle of bourbon.

Until one night he hears a sound from his daughter’s old room, a room now stripped bare of anything that identified it as hers…except for her security blanket, affectionately known as Blanky.

Blanky, old and frayed, with its antiquated patchwork of badly sewn rabbits with black button eyes, who appear to be staring at the viewer…

Blanky, purchased from a strange old man at an antique stall selling “BABY CLOSE” at a discount.

The presence of Blanky in his dead daughter’s room heralds nothing short of an unspeakable nightmare that threatens to take away what little light remains in Steve’s shattered world.

Because his daughter loved Blanky so much, he buried her with it.

I’m actually not going to say too much about this one it’s only a short novella, you just need to trust me, dive in and scare yourself witless!

Haverscroft by S.A Harris (Salt)

BLURB:

Kate Keeling leaves all she knows and moves to Haverscroft House in an attempt to salvage her marriage. Little does she realise, Haverscroft s dark secrets will drive her to question her sanity, her husband and fatally engulf her family unless she can stop the past repeating itself. Can Kate keep her children safe and escape Haverscroft in time, even if it will end her marriage?

Haverscroft is a gripping and chilling dark tale, a modern ghost story that will keep you turning its pages late into the night.

This one is what I would class as a modern ghost story, which feels like the classic ghost stories of the past. There were genuinely times when I was reading this book that I had to just pause for a moment or put the book down, especially if I was reading it at night. This feels like a book that is timeless and one which will stay on my shelf for me to return to during the spooky season long into the future! My review is here.

The Book Collector by Alice Thompson (Salt)

BLURB:

In Edwardian England, Violet has a fairy tale existence: loving husband, beautiful baby son and luxurious home. She wants for nothing. But soon after the birth of her baby the idyll begins to disintegrate. Violet becomes obsessed by a book of fairy tales her husband has locked away in a safe. Paranoid hallucinations begin to haunt her and she starts to question her sanity. Meanwhile, vulnerable young women are starting to disappear from the nearby asylum. Soon Violet herself is interned in the asylum for treatment only to discover, on coming out, that her husband has hired a nanny while she has been away, the beautiful, enigmatic Clara. The brutality of the asylum is nothing compared to the horrors that now lie in wait.

The Book Collector is just a little gem! Another book that I recommend to lots of people. It’s absolutely riddled with gothic elements including an asylum. What could be more gothic than that?! I bloody love an asylum me! My review is here.

The Coffin Path by Katherine Clements (Headline Review)

BLURB:

Maybe you’ve heard tales about Scarcross, the house on the old coffin path that winds from village to moor top. They say there’s something up here, something evil.

Mercy Booth isn’t afraid. The moors and Scarcross are her home and lifeblood. But, beneath her certainty, small things are beginning to trouble her. Three ancient coins missing from her father’s study, the shadowy figure out by the gatepost, an unshakeable sense that someone is watching.

When a stranger appears seeking work, Mercy reluctantly takes him in. As their stories entwine, this man will change everything. She just can’t see it yet.

A creepy old house on the hills? Something evil up on the moors and strange goings on? Yes please! This is another gothic beauty (I’m well aware I’ve said the word ‘gothic’ too many times but hey-ho! My review of this one is here.

Melmoth by Sarah Perry (Serpents Tail)

BLURB:

Twenty years ago Helen Franklin did something she cannot forgive herself for, and she has spent every day since barricading herself against its memory. But her sheltered life is about to change. 

A strange manuscript has come into her possession. It is filled with testimonies from the darkest chapters of human history, which all record sightings of a tall, silent woman in black, with unblinking eyes and bleeding feet: Melmoth, the loneliest being in the world. Condemned to walk the Earth forever, she tries to beguile the guilty and lure them away for a lifetime wandering alongside her. 

Everyone that Melmoth seeks out must make a choice: to live with what they’ve done, or be led into the darkness. Helen can’t stop reading, or shake the feeling that someone is watching her. As her past finally catches up with her, she too must choose which path to take.

I’ve not read Sarah Perry’s most famous book The Essex Serpent but when Melmoth was published I knew from that blurb that this would be a book for me! I wasn’t wrong. This is another book that gave me chills whilst reading it and has some of the most beautifully crafted scenes in it. I distinctly remember feeling alone and a little jittery reading this one on the bus home surrounded by fellow passengers. A sure sign of a brilliant creepy read! My review is here.

Help The Witch by Tom Cox (Unbound)

BLURB:

Railway tunnels, the lanes and hills of the Peak District, family homes, old stones, shreds fluttering on barbed wire, night drawing in, something that might be an animal shifting on the other side of a hedge: Tom has drawn on his life-long love of weird fiction, folklore and natures unregarded corners to write a collection of stories that will delight fans old and new, and leave them very uneasy about turning the reading lamp off.

I wanted to include some short story collections in this post because you don’t have to become invested in a full on novel to get a creepy chill. This collection will remain one of my absolute favourite short story collections. It has ghosts, it has unease but it also has humour. Bloody perfect! My review is here.

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley (John Murray Press)

BLURB:

The worst thing possible has happened. Richard and Juliette Willoughby’s son, Ewan, has died suddenly at the age of five. Starve Acre, their house by the moors, was to be full of life, but is now a haunted place.

Juliette, convinced Ewan still lives there in some form, seeks the help of the Beacons, a seemingly benevolent group of occultists. Richard, to try and keep the boy out of his mind, has turned his attention to the field opposite the house, where he patiently digs the barren dirt in search of a legendary oak tree.

I’m not saying anything about this book other than my review is coming up and I think it may very well be my book of the year……watch this space!

Things We Say In The Dark by Kirsty Logan (Harvill Secker)

BLURB:

Some things can’t be spoken about in the light of day. But we can visit our fears at night, in the dark. We can turn them over and weigh them in our hands and maybe that will protect us from them. But maybe not. 

The characters in this collection find their aspirations for happy homes, happy families and happy memories dissected and imbued with shimmering menace. Alone in a remote house in Iceland a woman is unnerved by her isolation; another can only find respite from the clinging ghost that follows her by submerging herself in an overgrown pool. Couples wrestle with a lack of connection to their children; a schoolgirl becomes obsessed with the female anatomical models in a museum; and a cheery account of child’s day out is undercut by chilling footnotes. 

These dark tales explore women’s fears with electrifying honesty and invention and speak to one another about female bodies, domestic claustrophobia, desire and violence. From a talented writer who has been compared to Angela Carter, Things We Say in the Dark is a powerful contemporary collection of feminist stories, ranging from vicious fairy tales to disturbing horror and tender ghost stories. 

I bloody love Kirsty Logan’s writing and this short story collection had me hooked. So much so that I read it all in one go! This collection absolutely NAILS unease! My review is here.

Naomi’s Room by Jonathan Aycliffe (Corsair)

BLURB:

Charles and Laura are a young, happily married couple inhabiting the privileged world of Cambridge academia. Brimming with excitement, Charles sets off with his daughter Naomi on a Christmas Eve shopping trip to London. But, by the end of the day, all Charles and his wife have left are cups of tea and police sympathy. For Naomi, their beautiful, angelic only child, has disappeared. Days later her murdered body is discovered.But is she dead?In a howling, bumping story of past and present day hell, Jonathan Aycliffe’s haunting psychological masterpiece is guaranteed to make you sink to untold depths of teeth-shaking terror.

I’ve left the most traumatising one for last! If I ever see anyone asking for scary book recommendations anywhere, THIS is the book I always suggest! It absolutely terrified me! I really couldn’t read it alone and that’s the gods honest truth! You have to check it out! My review is here.

Phew! I think that’s it! I hope you see something you like the look of! If you do read any of these, please let me know your thoughts.

Enjoy Halloween and I’ll see you all soon!

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

I’m Back! – A Reading Catch Up

I’m back!

I just thought I’d do a little post to catch you all up on where I’ve been and more importantly what I’ve been reading.

Just recently I was reading Little Eve by Catriona Ward (W&N), it’s such an amazing book but it has a very convoluted plot and very in-depth characters. As I was reading it I was beginning to get anxious and I couldn’t at first figure out why. Then I realised that I was reading it from the perspective of a blogger. That is to say I was already thinking about how on earth I was going to review this brilliant book with its very nuanced plot and characters that deserved in-depth examination. Then a thought struck me, this was a book that I had had on my shelf for a couple of years at least. It was a book that I did not need to review in the sense that I had not promised a publisher or publicist I would review it. I bought the book with my own money and I was under no obligation to review it at all. With this realisation came the thought that if I was feeling like this and my reading pleasure was diminished because of these feelings then maybe I should have a little break.

Back in August I had a few days off but this time I wanted to give myself a larger chunk of time just to sit back and read whatever I liked. To have the freedom to peruse my shelves and just take what I wanted to read on a whim. No pressures, no obligations to review and to just enjoy my reading time. Real life has also been slightly stressful recently so this was a perfect opportunity for a little hiatus.

But now I’m back! I feel thoroughly refreshed and ready to get back to this business we call blogging. Whilst I’ve been away I have of course been reading and I just wanted to update you on where I’m at and what books I’ve been enjoying.

Well. There is Little Eve by Catriona Ward that I’ve already mentioned. As you know, I’m not going to review this book but trust me when I say it’s a good solid four to five star read for me. I’ll insert the blurb for you so you can check out whether it’s a book you may be interested in.

Little Eve By Catriona Ward – BLURB

Eve and Dinah are everything to one another, never parted day or night. They are raised among the Children, a community of strays and orphans ruled by a mysterious figure they call Uncle. All they know is the grey Isle of Altnaharra which sits in the black sea off the wildest coast of Scotland.

Eve loves the free, savage life of the Isle and longs to inherit Uncle’s power. She is untroubled save by her dreams; of soft arms and a woman singing. Dinah longs for something other.

But the world is at war and cannot be kept at bay. As the solitude of Altnaharra is broken, Eve’s faith and sanity fracture. In a great storm, in the depths of winter, as the old year dies, the locals discover a devastating scene on the Isle.

Eve and Dinah’s accounts of that night contradict and intertwine. As past and present converge, only one woman can be telling the truth. Who is guilty, who innocent?

 

Then I picked up a another book that has been on my shelves for a good few years now that I picked up secondhand. The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger  is a book that I have heard lots about and when I put a picture up online of the book so many people replied and said it was one of their favourite books of all time so I had high hopes from the outset.

However, at the risk of alienating those staunch fans this book was not for me. I just didn’t care enough about the main couple Henry and Claire. The time travel element was a bit mindbending for me, let’s face it I struggled with the plotline of Back To The Future! Not only that there was an awful lot of time travelling and appearing naked, vomiting, stealing and beating people up! I gave it a good hundred or so pages but eventually I had to concede defeat and call it a DNF. I do hope I’ve still kept a few of you as friends in light of this confession!

I then picked up A Shapeless Unease by Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape). This is a book about her year of insomnia. I’ve not read any of Samantha Harvey’s fiction however I do have an interest in sleep issues as I suffer from night terrors myself. I’m still in the process of reading this one so I will let you know my thoughts in due course.

I then picked up another book that has been on my shelves for a while and one which a lot of you recommended to me when I put a tweet out recently regarding books to do with changelings. The Good People by Hannah Kent was just the book I needed. I tore through it and it was totally up my street! It’s one of those books that you kick yourself about the fact that you left it so long to pick up. I also have one of her other books Burial Rites to read, which I’m now really looking forward to.



I’ve also been enjoying short story collections (as always) the main one being Why Don’t You Stop Talking by Jackie Kay (Picador). I picked this one up on my recent trip to Main Street Trading Bookshop and decided to tuck in. It became my bus book and I’ve been enjoying it on my lunch hour at work. So much so that I had to go online and see which of her other books I could get my hands on. I’ve managed to pick up another of her short story collections from the library called Reality, Reality and I’m really looking forward to delving in. Jackie Kay is a new author to me but I know she’s going to become a firm favourite. She’s also written poetry collections which I’m going to be brave and get my hands on as I think her writing will be accessible enough that I have a fighting chance of understanding it!

I was also recently sent a spooky short story collection called Women’s Weird published by Handheld Press, which is a collection of weird tales written by women from the late eighteen hundreds to the early 1900s. If you know me at all you will know that this is perfect for me! Just reading the introduction gave me the tingles. I’ve read the first two stories and both have been hit so far so I’m looking forward to cracking on with the collection over the Halloween period.

I’m not much of an audiobook listener but I had a few audible credits and decided to download Breaking And Mending by Joanna Cannon and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty. I listened to Joanna Cannon in what felt like one big gulp, most probably at a time in my life when it was a little bit triggering (I’m not always keen on that word) however I was absolutely spellbound! I have read and enjoyed Joanna’s fiction and her memoir of her time as a doctor is absolutely compelling, heartbreaking but also life affirming. I would recommend it to anyone. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes however, deals with death in quite a humorous way. No less thought-provoking than Breaking And Mending but Caitlin deals with the murky depths of death with a robust sense of humour. I’m still listening to this one and have a few hours left but I have recently taken the decision to walk home from work at night which is at least an hours walk so I will have plenty of time to indulge in audiobooks (finally!).

Oh! I almost forgot I also recently picked up a collection of flash fiction, something which I don’t read a lot of despite being a fan of the short story. I think I had my fingers burnt when I read the collection Fine Fine Fine Fine Fine by Diane Williams. This flash fiction was absolutely nonsensical to me and I was wondering whether it was me or the writing! A quick peruse on Goodreads told me I wasn’t on my own and then I left fast flash fiction well alone! The Lobsters Run Free is a different kettle of fish (if you’ll pardon the pun) and I have been enjoying the very brief short, sharp bursts of fiction. Books like these are so handy to just pick up when you have a few minutes spare. I will definitely be looking into more flash fiction in the future.

Finally I saw this book mentioned on Twitter recently and asked Serpents Tail if I could have a copy to review. This Is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill is less than 90 pages long but is a total powerhouse of a book. My review for this one will be coming in early November, keep your eyes peeled for it!



I think that’s all I have to update you with reading wise. As I said I’m back and I’ll be coming at you with my usual reviews and discussion posts. I will just say that I’m not going to stick to my twice weekly Tuesday and Thursday slots as I find this too much pressure. I will be reviewing or putting out blog posts whenever I feel like it which will be no less than once a week so you’re not getting rid of me that easily! I just want to be able to read and enjoy reading without pressure. I know you will understand this and I know you are all behind me.

It’s so good to be back!

See you all soon!

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

The Wayward Girls By Amanda Mason – A Review

Publisher: Zaffre

Publication Date: 5th September 2019

When I first heard the synopsis of The Wayward Girls by Amanda Mason I was a little apprehensive about the fact that the two main central characters are teenage girls. I don’t get on well at all with novels written from a teenage female perspective. I have been saying for ages that I’ll address this in a blog post so I really must get round to it!

However, when I heard that this book had a supernatural element in a remote farmhouse I knew that I could just get over my fears and throw myself into a book that sounded right up my street. I am SO GLAD that I did!

The novel starts back in the long hot summer of 1976, when the Corvino family have moved into Iron Sike Farm. They have quit their lives in the city in the hopes of a more simple life in the country.

The family is made up of mother Cathy, Father Joe and 5 children Dante, Bianca, Lucia, Florian and Antonella. Cathy is a little bohemian and wants to embrace the country life despite feeling somewhat harassed as a mother. Joe is an artist who has gone to work away ‘teaching’, or at least this is what the children have been told.

The two older children Dante and Bianca (known as Bee) are resentful of the fact that they have been torn away from their old lives and friendships etc and Lucia (known as Loo) is at that in-between tricky age, not quite a child and not quite a teenager.

During the hot and humid summer of 1976 strange things begin to happen in the farmhouse. Loud knocking which seems to be emanating from the walls, showers of marbles that seemingly come from nowhere, furniture moving of its own accord, strange feelings and an almost electric atmosphere.

When exhausted Cathy feels like she can take no more and local police can’t seem to assist her, she accepts the offer of help from members of a paranormal society who are conducting research into paranormal activity. They are two men, Michael and Simon. Simon is planning on writing a book and is intent on finding out just what is happening at Iron Sike Farm.

With the help of local newspaper photographer Isobelle, the team set up camp at the farmhouse to conduct experiments and record their findings in the hope of uncovering what could be causing these strange and frightening events.

Simon and Michael are convinced that the activity is centering on the two young girls and it is their teenage energy that is in some way involved.  Simon himself becomes a focus for both Loo and Bee in different ways.

Jumping forward to the present day, a now adult Loo (Lucy as She’s now known) is struggling with her mother’s health. Cathy is now a resident in a care home and is showing signs of dementia.  Cathy has been seeing things which are put down to her progressing disease, however Cathy isn’t convinced and when a group of paranormal investigators show a keen interest in Iron Sike Farm and want to interview Cathy, she is keen to sit down with them.  Lucy however is very reluctant and doesn’t want her mother to be upset by thoughts of the past.  A past which she herself is desperately trying to forget.  But when Cathy is becoming more unsettled, Lucy relents and joins the group up at Iron Sike where the past has trouble staying buried.

I am a huge Most Haunted fan and the paranormal investigation side of this story really appealed to me and drew me in.  It also gave me vibes of The Enfield Haunting which is a real life event from the 1970’s where poltergeist activity centered around a teenage girl. The way the story unfolds is very suspenseful and atmospheric.  I do love a dual timeline narrative and the alternating time periods kept the story driving along at a pace.  I usually prefer one or other of the time periods in a dual timeline but with this book I found myself equally immersed in both.

The supernatural events were not over played and were just the right side of ‘odd’ to be believable.  I always find that this is a huge hook for me in stories of this nature.  Once the happenings become too far fetched I lose interest, but with The Wayward Girls there is a creeping sense of unease which makes the hairs on the back of your neck rise.  What I also enjoyed was the break from the norm in terms of season.  A typical ghost story is usually set in the Autumn/Winter, but to have this particular story set in that infamous long hot summer of 1976 added a new dimension which I absolutely loved.

The atmosphere felt oppressive. You could almost feel the humidity and the cloying stickiness, very evocative writing which crackled and fizzed with a powerful energy.

Each of the characters were fascinating on their own but as a collective they created some very interesting relationships and bonds that were extremely compelling.

I really enjoyed Amanda Mason’s writing style and I just know that she will be an author I look out for in the future.

The ending of this book took a turn which I wasn’t fully expecting but I felt satisfied with its conclusion. This is a perfect read for Halloween to give you a little shiver up your spine.

Thank you as always to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

 

Bookish Chat About: My Autumn TBR

I don’t usually do seasonal TBR’s as a rule.  In fact I’m not much of a TBR maker at all.  I consider every unread book in my house as being my TBR!  However, there are certain seasons that lend themselves well to create a TBR and Autumn for me is the best season!  We have dark gothic historical fiction, we have spooky reads in the run up to Halloween and we also have cosy reads to snuggle up with on the dark nights (if that’s what floats your bookish boat).

With this in mind I had a little peruse along my various bookshelves and pulled out some books that I am feeling the urge to get to in the next 2 or 3 months.  Now this is a VERY loose TBR and I am well aware that other books may come along and usurp the ones I have chosen here, but I think having a vague idea of where you want to head next is always handy!

This post may be a little ‘blurb heavy’ which I don’t ordinarily like to do but as I haven’t read any of this books yet, we will have to find out what the blazes they are all about together via their blurbs.

First up:

 

The Turn Of The Key by Ruth Ware – Harvill Secker

BLURB:

When Rowan stumbles across the advert, it seems like too good an opportunity to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a very generous salary. And when she arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten by the luxurious ‘smart’ home fitted out with all modern conveniences by a picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and her in cell awaiting trial for murder.

She knows she’s made mistakes. But she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is…

I have seen LOTS about this one on social media and immediately placed a reservation at my library for a copy.  However, it was with dismay that I found out I was something like 68th on a 69 person reservation list! It’s a good job I have lovely bookish friends who are willing to loan me a copy (thank you @Hopeandfaithandbooks!)

 

The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber – Mantle

BLURB:

Winter, 1888. In the inhospitable lands of Utah Territory, glovemaker Deborah Tyler awaits her husband’s return home after months working across the state. But as his due date comes and goes without a word, Deborah starts to fear the worst. Facing a future alone, matters are only compounded when a desperate stranger arrives on her doorstep. And with him, trouble. For although the man claims to just need a place to rest for the night, he wouldn’t be here in the bitter month of January if he wasn’t on the run. And where he goes, lawmen are sure to follow. Lawmen who wouldn’t think twice about burning Deborah’s home to the ground if they thought she’d helped their fugitive. With her husband’s absence felt stronger by the minute, Deborah must make a decision. A decision that will change her life forever . . .

I had coveted this book for a while and had often picked it up and put it back down in Waterstones.  A lovely lady on Twitter very generously sent me a copy and I am really looking forward to picking it up.  Historical fiction is my bag as you know and this one sounds quite exciting!

 

A Shadow On The Lens by Sam Hurcom – Orion 

BLURB:

1904. Thomas Bexley, one of the first forensic photographers, is called to the sleepy and remote Welsh village of Dinas Powys, several miles down the coast from the thriving port of Cardiff. A young girl by the name of Betsan Tilny has been found murdered in the woodland – her body bound and horribly burnt. But the crime scene appears to have been staged, and worse still: the locals are reluctant to help.

As the strange case unfolds, Thomas senses a growing presence watching him, and try as he may, the villagers seem intent on keeping their secret. Then one night, in the grip of a fever, he develops the photographic plates from the crime scene in a makeshift darkroom in the cellar of his lodgings. There, he finds a face dimly visible in the photographs; a face hovering around the body of the dead girl – the face of Betsan Tilny.

I was very kindly sent a copy of this one by the publisher.  Historical fiction with a ghostly edge.  What could be more perfect on an autumn evening I ask ya!?

 

Bone China by Laura Purcell – Bloomsbury Raven

BLURB:

Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken.

But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home.

Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last.

I think most of you already know how much I have adored Laura Purcell’s previous books The Silent Companions and The Corset and when a book is described as ‘deliciously gothic’ I AM THERE FOR THAT!

 

Little Eve by Catriona Ward – W&N

BLURB:

New Year’s Day, 1921. Seven mutilated bodies are discovered in an ancient stone circle on a remote Scottish island. The victims are ‘the Children’ – members of a nature cult ruled by the charismatic, sadistic patriarch, the adder.

The sole survivor of the massacre, Dinah, claims that Eve is the murderer, apparently drowned while attempting her escape. Yet as Eve’s story of the years leading up the massacre intertwines with Dinah’s account of the aftermath, a darker, stranger truth begins to emerge.

The Isle is all Eve knows. Hidden from the world, the Children worship the Great Snake who dwells in the ocean, dance in the stones at dawn and offer their blood in sacrifice. The adder’s word is law. When Eve is forced into the world beyond the Isle her faith and love are tested by unexpected friendships that make her question everything. As she begins to see through the adder’s macabre fictions, the world Eve knows collapses. Does she lose her humanity with her belief? Does it drive her to kill?

This book has been on my shelf for a shamefully long time and I was so excited when I bought it.  It has just turned into one of those books I ‘really must get to’.  Well I will definitely be getting to it very soon.  Anything cult based always piques my interest and I have heard so many good things about this one and Catriona Ward’s other book Rawblood (which I also have on my shelf unread!)

 

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield – Picador

BLURB:

In her brilliantly inventive and haunting debut collection of stories, Julia Armfield explores bodies and the bodily, mapping the skin and bones of her characters through their experiences of isolation, obsession, love and revenge.

Teenagers develop ungodly appetites, a city becomes insomniac overnight, and bodies are diligently picked apart to make up better ones. The mundane worlds of schools and sleepy sea-side towns are invaded and transformed, creating a landscape which is constantly shifting to hold on to its inhabitants. Blurring the mythic and the gothic with the everyday, Salt Slow considers characters in motion – turning away, turning back or simply turning into something new entirely.

You all know that I enjoy a short story collection and I’ve heard lots of great things about this one. It’s a beautifully published book and the word ‘gothic’ in the blurb was enough to swing it for me!

 

The Girl Aquarium by Jen Campbell – Bloodaxe

BLURB:

Jen Campbell’s first collection The Girl Aquarium explores the realm of rotten fairy tales, the possession of body and the definition of beauty. Weaving between whispered science and circus, she turns a cracked mirror on society and asks who gets to control the twisted tales hiding in the wings.

I don’t read poetry, I do write it from time to time though. There was a conversation on Twitter recently about book bloggers not really reviewing much poetry and I was challenged to read some. On a recent visit to the lovely Mainstreet Trading Bookshop in Melrose I picked up a copy of The Girl Aquarium by Jen Campbell. It’s only slim so I am hoping to get to it soon and dive into some poetry.

 

Curtain Down At Her Majesty’s by Stewart Richards – The History Press

BLURB:

She was the most powerful woman in the world. Victoria had ruled through more than six decades, watching her kingdom spread to become the world’s biggest empire and witnessing massive change in society and leaps forward in technology. Many of her people had known no other monarch. It is little surprise, then, that her death resulted in chaos, shock and mass outpourings of grief across the world.

Here author and researcher Stewart Richards has delved through the archives to put together the definitive view of Victoria in her drawn-out final days of illness, through the immediate reaction to and aftermath of her death, to the state funeral on 2 February 1901. Based entirely on fascinating first-hand accounts, Curtain Down at Her Majesty’s offers a remarkable insight into the events of those tumultuous few days, and a truly unique perspective on the life and impact of one of history’s great monarchs.

I have always had a thing for Queen Victoria, I find her such a fascinating woman. I asked for this book for my birthday and my parents in-law kindly obliged. I’m really looking forward to getting to it.

 

Why Don’t You Stop Talking by Jackie Kay – Picador

BLURB:

In Jackie Kay’s first collection of stories, ordinary lives are transformed by secrets. Her world might seem familiar – sex, death and family cast long shadows – but the roles of mothers, daughters and lovers are imagined and revealed in the most surprising of ways.

Sometimes it is the things that we choose to hide within ourselves which can transform us – and that has never been more true than in Jackie Kay’s warm, exuberant storytelling. She sees the extraordinary in everyday life, and lights it up with humour and generosity in a way that is uniquely her own.

This is another short story collection. I picked it up on my Mainstreet Trading visit having heard nothing about it or the author. I’ve had a quick flick through and I have a feeling that the stories in this collection are going to be right up my street.

 

The Good People by Hannah Kent – Picador

BLURB:

County Kerry, Ireland, 1825. 

Nóra, bereft after the sudden death of her beloved husband, finds herself alone and caring for her young grandson Micheál. Micheál cannot speak and cannot walk and Nóra is desperate to know what is wrong with him. What happened to the healthy, happy grandson she met when her daughter was still alive?

Mary arrives in the valley to help Nóra just as the whispers are spreading: the stories of unexplained misfortunes, of illnesses, and the rumours that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley. 

Nance’s knowledge keeps her apart. To the new priest, she is a threat, but to the valley people she is a wanderer, a healer. Nance knows how to use the plants and berries of the woodland; she understands the magic in the old ways. And she might be able to help Micheál. 

As these three women are drawn together in the hope of restoring Micheál, their world of folklore and belief, of ritual and stories, tightens around them. It will lead them down a dangerous path, and force them to question everything they have ever known.

Shamefully I’ve had this on my shelf for such a long time! Every time it accidentally features in a picture people always comment on how good it is. It will be great to finally get around to picking it up!

 

This House Is Haunted by John Boyne – Black Swan

BLURB:

1867. On a dark and chilling night Eliza Caine arrives in Norfolk to take up her position as governess at Gaudlin Hall. As she makes her way across the station platform, a pair of invisible hands push her from behind into the path of an approaching train. She is only saved by the vigilance of a passing doctor.

It is the start of a journey into a world of abandoned children, unexplained occurrences and terrifying experiences which Eliza will have to overcome if she is to survive the secrets that lie within Gaudlin’s walls…

 I bloody love John Boyne! The Hearts Invisible Furies is up there with my favourite books of all time. This one will be perfect for the dark Autumn nights.

The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore – Hammer

BLURB:

In the winter of 1952, Isabel Carey moves to the East Riding of Yorkshire with her husband Philip, a GP. With Philip spending long hours on call, Isabel finds herself isolated and lonely as she strives to adjust to the realities of married life.

Woken by intense cold one night, she discovers an old RAF greatcoat hidden in the back of a cupboard. Sleeping under it for warmth, she starts to dream. And not long afterwards, while her husband is out, she is startled by a knock at her window.

Outside is a young RAF pilot, waiting to come in.

His name is Alec, and his powerful presence both disturbs and excites her. Her initial alarm soon fades, and they begin an intense affair. But nothing has prepared her for the truth about Alec’s life, nor the impact it will have on hers …

I love Helen Dunmore and I have been slowly and surely working my way through her back catalogue. Again this sounds like a perfect book for the Halloween/Autumn season.

 

Sudden Traveller by Sarah Hall – Faber & Faber

BLURB:

The seven stories of Sudden Traveller immerse us anew in one of the most distinctive literary imaginations. In Turkish forests or rain-drenched Cumbrian villages, characters walk, drive, dream and fly, trying to reconcile themselves with their journey through life and death. A woman fitted with life-changing technology returns to the site of her strongest memories; a man repatriated in the near east hears the name of an old love called and must unpack history’s suitcase; and from the new world-waves of female anger and resistance, a mythical creature evolves.

Radical, charged with a transformative creative power, each of these stories opens channels in the human mind and spirit, as Sarah Hall once more invites the reader to stand at the very edge of our possible selves.

Sarah Hall’s short story collection Madame Zero is one of my favourite short story collections and one I recommend most often. When I saw she had a new collection coming out soon I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. Luckily Faber & Faber are lovely and sent me this copy for review. Exciting!

So there we have it. I wonder how many of these books I’ll actually read by the end of the year? Do you make seasonal TBR’s?

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Finer Things By David Wharton – A Review

Publisher: Sandstone Press

Publication Date: 27th June 2019

I was initially drawn to this book by that beautiful cover. I’m a vintage clothing fan and that cover screamed vintage class to me. When I read the synopsis I got distinct Five Days Of Fog by Anna Freeman vibes. I adored that book for transporting me so wonderfully to 1960’s London and a group of shoplifting women.

What we have in Finer Things by David Wharton is a tale of two strong women hailing from completely different backgrounds who come together to form a bond based on their individual artistic skills, even if one of them is on the wrong side of the law.

We are transported back to London 1963, where we meet Delia.  Delia is a ‘hoister’ which is essentially a shoplifter.  She is part of a female hoisting group run by a hard faced, no nonsense woman. Delia is in her late 30’s (I think!) and seems to be an old hand at this shoplifting lark.  Confidently donning her huge bloomers and striding into the large department stores, lifting a dress here and a fur coat there.  So established is she and so skilled that she gets to train the new hoisters coming up through the ranks.

When one of her training exercises goes awry, Delia feels responsible for the chain of events that follow and wonders about her future as a hoister.

Running parallel to this we have Tess, a young girl coming to the big smoke for the first time.  Making the journey from Leeds to attend an art college and make her way in the exciting art world in the bustling capital.  She meets Jimmy, a young gay man on her course and immediately strikes up a friendship.

Delia and Tess’s paths cross one night in an exclusive members club where the bohemian art types meet.  Tess is there to immerse herself fully into this world that she loves and Delia is there on an undercover mission.  The two women bond and Tess asks Delia if she would mind letting her paint her portrait.  What follows on is a tentative friendship between these two females who are poles apart in age and social stature but still seem to bond together, teaching each other about their respective worlds.

One of the things I enjoyed hugely about this book was the fact that it wasn’t just centered on how Tess and Delia meet and their relationship from thereon in.  The author gives us a lovely rich and vivid narrative for each of the women seperately, their insecurities, their struggles and their flaws.

There are a wealth of characters on the periphery who are not diminished in any way.  In fact each of the characters in this story are vivid and vibrant (Itchy Pete!) and you can really see these people in your minds eye as you read.

The whole 1960’s London backdrop is one which I do enjoy reading.  I love historical fiction as you already know but ‘modern’ historical fiction, for want of a better phrase is also of great interest to me.  David Wharton takes us on a journey through London in the swinging sixties, buzzing with life and vibrancy, lives full of expectation, hopes, dreams and aspirations.  The worlds of Delia and Tess are colourful and hopeful and we are taken very willingly along with them.

The whole idea of the real life all female shoplifting gang The Forty Elephants who were around in the Sixties really fascinates me and I remember looking into them after reading Five Days Of Fog by Anna Freeman (my review of which is here). I really enjoy reading about strong female protagonists and Tess and Delia are no exception.

David Wharton is very skilled at depicting a world that transports you straight back in time.  I felt like I was living this bohemian life along with these amazing women and I feel privileged to have known them.

I would recommend that you get yourself a copy and immerse yourselves in a London from another time with some amazing characters.

Thank you as always to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx