Magpie Lane By Lucy Atkins – A Review

Publisher: Quercus

Publication Date: 2nd April 2020

Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins turned out to be a completely different book to what I originally thought when I requested a proof from the publisher. In an AMAZING way!

What I thought was going to be a ‘missing child’ thriller turned out to have a ghostly, creepy supernatural element which as you all know I AM HERE FOR. It was such a treat to discover this spooky thread and I immediately got the lovely ‘book tingles’. We all love the book tingles don’t we?!

I also starting reading this book when we were essentially put on lockdown by Boris and I so desperately needed a distraction. This book was perfect for that.

From the outset we are aware that a young child has gone missing. The structure of the whole story hangs on a framework of the police investigation and interview of a woman named Dee.

Dee is a nanny living and working in Oxford. She is between nannying jobs when she has a chance encounter with the new oxford Don Nick Law. Nick is currently looking for a nanny for his 8 year old daughter Felicity. Felicity’s mother died when she was 4 years old and now Felicity is selectively mute. She will only talk to Nick and completely ignores his new wife Mariah.

Dee starts work at The Lodgings and begins to care for Felicity. Dee quite quickly discovers that Nick and Mariah are extremely caught up in their new whirlwind life within the university with all the dinner parties and

Felicity is understandably a troubled child. She is painfully shy, she barely eats and she suffers terribly with sleep disturbances and episodes of sleep walking. She has a fascination with ‘tokens’ and talisman’s of sorts and likes you collect bleached animal bones. Dee indulges Felicity in her little idiosyncrasies despite Nick’s disapproval of his daughters strange habits.

When Nick employs a house historian named Linklater to trace the origins of The Lodgings as a present to Mariah, both Dee and Felicity begin to learn some facts about the houses history, most of which is somewhat disturbing. Felicity grows close to both Dee and Linklater and opens up to them both about the strange visions she sees in the attic rooms.

Dee continues to struggle with Nick and Mariah’s treatment of Felicity. She knows they don’t understand her and are not offering her the love and support she needs following the tragic death of her mother. Dee also struggles with her own past and the life she has run away from.

But where is Felicity now? Where has she disappeared to? Did she wander off alone? Or was she taken. Dee struggles to make herself heard with the two detectives who are leading the investigation, how far will she go to protect her innocence?…

I absolutely adored this book! At first when the book opened up with a police interview I was a little apprehensive. I don’t really enjoy police procedurals but this story is most certainly not one of those! The backdrop of a police interview topped and tailed each chapter and gave the book a great pace and sound structure to springboard the rest of the story off.

The interview allows Dee to recount what happened up to the point of Felicity’s disappearance, gives the reader the back story of her life and fleshes out the relationships between the main characters.

And what great characters they are! Dee is such an odd protagonist. In a great way! She comes off as quite detached and abrupt. She is quite the loner and spends her time buried in mathematics, trying to work out a mathematical ‘proof’. She can certainly hold her own against the bullish Nick. However, conversely she is really attentive to Felicity and quickly develops a huge affection for the child. She is quite guarded and stand offish, very protective of her early life and the secrets she carries deep within her.

Linklater is perhaps my favourite character. He appeared so fully formed in my minds eye right from the moment he blustered onto the scene. And boy does he bluster! He’s a typical academic, always pondering, ruminating, buzzing with distracting thoughts and bouncing from one idea to the next. He immediately bonds with Felicity and she him, so much so that he is initially unaware that she even is selectively mute. He is fully invested in researching the house and revels in the fact that Felicity shares his fascination.

I really enjoyed Lucy Atkins writing style and I think she absolutely nails dialogue! It feels so natural and free flowing, nothing stunted or forced. I really could imagine the conversations playing out between characters which gave the story real depth.

I was propelled along with the narrative and was desperate to discover just what had happened to little Felicity. But I also was completely happy to linger in the back story for a while, building up a firm picture of just what had been going on at The Lodgings.

All in all I really loved this book. I am hooked by Lucy Atkins writing style and very eager to read more from her.

Thoroughly recommended!

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat. Xx

The Ninth Child By Sally Magnusson – A Review

Publisher: Two Roads

Publication Date: 19th March 2020

I hadn’t read any Sally Magnusson before even though I own a copy of The Sealwoman’s Gift and have heard countless good things about it but when I saw The Ninth Child was coming out this year and it had Faery vibes I knew it would be for me.

1856 in Glasgow and Isabel Aird wife of Dr Alexander Aird is less than happy about the fact that her husband has been planning to get involved in the building of a new water works in the Scottish Highlands.

Glasgow has many issues with polluted water due to the poor living conditions and Dr Aird wants to put his medical skills to good use at the building of the water works in Loch Katrine. One of the main reasons he wants to feel helpful and needed is that Isabel is struggling to take a pregnancy to full term and he feels powerless to help her.

Isabel is almost numb with the grief of losing her 6 children up to the point that she begrudgingly moves to the highlands with Alexander. However once she’s there in the countryside beside the beautiful Loch Katirne she starts to see signs from her lost children and feels a connection to them despite going on to lose two more.

Isabel spends her days walking and thinking and one day chances upon a strange man who introduces himself as Reverend Robert Kirke. Robert is an episcopalian minister who died in….wait for it…..1692. Yes! Robert is no ordinary man, although he once was many many years ago. Robert wrote a book about the myths and legends of the Faery world and it is believed that he was taken by the fae at the time of his death and now he roams the earth in his quest for peace. What he is desperate for is to find his final resting place.

He has an extremely strong interest in Isabel. Particularly when she once again falls pregnant. But what is the lure and what fate will befall Isobel?

I absolutely devoured this book! not least because it is set in Victorian times (my favourite time period as you know!). I also really love anything remotely linked to the dark world of the Fae. There is a beautifully delicate balance between the realist narrative and the magical narrative in this story and I think this lends itself well to having a little something for everyone.  

Another wonderful addition to this tale was the inclusion of chapters surrounding Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their opening of the works.  I love it when ‘real’ people from history are almost re-imagined by the author and we get an albeit fictitious peep behind the curtain.  I was delighted to encounter these chapters, they really were a joy to read.

Sally Magnusson’s writing is just beautiful, stunning prose and perfect depictions of the glorious Scottish landscape.  There is a real sense of place throughout this story and Sally expertly transports you to the Scottish highlands.

The perfect blend of fact and fiction, this book is captivating and a brilliant book to get your hands on, particularly during these very confusing and troubled times.  A little something to whisk you away from real life and I couldn’t recommend it more.

Thank you to the publisher for my copy to review.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Rest And Be Thankful By Emma Glass – A Review

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Publication Date: 19th March 2020

I had a very strange relationship with Emma’s first book Peach. I absolutely adored her writing however I did feel like I wasn’t clever enough to understand what she was saying. That wasn’t a bad reflection of the book I actually felt like it was more a reflection on myself as a reader.

When I heard that Emma had a new book out I knew that I absolutely had to give her a try again. I knew that I had to experience her distinct and innovative voice one more time and see if I got on better with this book.

I am so beyond pleased that I decided to request a copy of this book (and of course ever thankful and grateful to the publisher). Because of course I could fully understand this book and to think that I couldn’t would be to do not only myself a disservice but Emma’s stunning writing aswell.

This book absolutely blew me away and I read it in one sitting (it is only 135 pages long). It was the kind of book that makes your bathwater cold and by that I mean I really didn’t want to get out of the bath and stop reading. To do so felt like to bursting a bubble or rising to the surface of a deep dream.

Rest And Be Thankful tells the story of our protagonist Laura, a paediatric nurse working on a children’s ward in a hospital and dealing with very sick children everyday. She is extremely exhausted and drained, not only from her work but from her failing relationship.

Laura often works the night shift and almost lives in a dreamlike state during her working hours. When she arrives home after her emotionally and physically tough shifts at the hospital she is flung into another depleting situation when she has to deal with her partner’s apparently hostility towards her.

You ask me if I’m okay, you touch my head, trying to be tender but the strokes of your dry fingers drag my hair back. Hair pulls from the root of my scalp, the sharp pain cuts through me like chalk screeching, sketching on a blackboard. My teeth grit. You take your hand away and wipe it on the quilt cover. Your mouth turns down in disgust. You tell me I am soaking wet, I am late for work, you spit the words. You remain disgusted and get out of bed.

She finds it very difficult to sleep but when she does manage to snatch some fleeting rest, she dreams of drowning. Her sleep is very rarely refreshing and she wakes as drained as when she fell asleep.

The lack of sleep coupled with the fact that she rarely nourishes her body with appropriate food and the emotional turmoil she experiences both at work and in her personal life all take their toll on her. So much so that she is convinced she regularly sees a dark figure in the periphery of her vision. Be that waiting for the tube, walking down the street or sitting in the hospital rooms.

Laura is such a complex character who spends her time holding the lives of sick babies and children in her hands. She gets close to the families of the children in her care and cannot help but absorb their emotions in with her own. Her dark dreams and daytime thoughts cast a shadow over her which she finds difficult to shake. But just how much of an effect will the darkness ultimately have on her.

What Emma Glass does here in just 135 short pages is amazing. Her writing is poetic yet sparse and utterly visceral and captivating. Not a word is wasted. The way the story is constructed also packed a huge punch for me. The short snappy chapters are so powerful and propulsive. Some of my most favourite books are constructed in this choppy way which I feel adds a certain blunt yet dynamic quality to a narrative.

I was pulled along with Laura and felt almost trapped inside her troubled mind.  Emma Glass was a nurse herself and you can really tell that she knows what she is writing about.

I am so glad that I opened my mind and read this book.  I know that Emma’s writing style is one that I will continue to enjoy,  and I am excited for any further books she writes.

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

See you all soon.

 

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

 

Black Car Burning By Helen Mort – A Review (The Dylan Thomas Prize Longlist)

Publisher: Chatto & Windus

Publication Date: 4th April 2020

It’s my stop on the huge blog tour for the Dylan Thomas Prize longlist today and I am pleased to be bringing you my review of Black Car Burning by Helen Mort.

When I saw that this book had been included in the longlist I knew it was the one I wanted to read for the blog tour. I’d heard some great reviews over on Booktube and was really looking forward to reading it.

So what’s it all about?..

SYNOPSIS

Alexa is a young police community support officer whose world feels unstable. Her father is estranged and her girlfriend is increasingly distant. Their polyamorous relationship – which for years felt so natural – is starting to seem strained. As she patrols Sheffield she senses the rising tensions in its disparate communities and doubts her ability to keep the peace, to help, to change anything.

Caron is pushing Alexa away and pushing herself ever harder. A climber, she fixates on a brutal route known as Black Car Burning and throws herself into a cycle of repetition and risk. Leigh, who works at a local gear shop, watches Caron climb and feels complicit.

Meanwhile, an ex-police officer compulsively revisits the April day in 1989 that changed his life forever. Trapped in his memories of the disaster, he tracks the Hillsborough inquests, questioning everything.

As the young women negotiate the streets of the city and its violent inheritance, the rock faces of Stanage and their relationships with each other, the urban and natural landscape watches over them, an ever-present witness. Black Car Burning is a brilliant debut novel of trust and trauma, fear and falling, from one of our best young writers.

My Thoughts:

What we have here in Black Car Burning are very compelling character studies. Each of the characters are battling their own internal demons whilst trying to mitigate external factors.

There are so many subjects tackled in this book, polyamorous lifestyles, post traumatic stress, cultural differences, social unrest and struggling relationships.

We all remember the Hillsborough Disaster and the rippling and devastating effects this had on lives and communities long after it had happened. The far reaching consequences on people’s lives and mental health. This is examined here and deftly handled with emotion and heart. The threads of fallout weaving their way through generations and still affecting lives many many years after the event itself.

I do have to say I was particularly interested in the central relationship between Alexa and Carron. I don’t think I’ve read a book which focuses on polyamourous relationships and the challenges that can be encountered. Alexa is deeply in love with Carron who almost feels like a bit of an enigma. She is a very charismatic woman who seems to draw people to her, not least Leigh.

This book has a huge sense of place as obviously it is set in Sheffield. I think if you have never been to Sheffield or have experience of the north you may not feel such an affiliation with the setting of the book. Sheffield is almost a fully formed character in itself and the main narratives are interspersed with the points of view of various different landmarks around the area. Personification at its best and a very nice touch in my opinion.

There are so many themes and subjects to unravel in this book that I feel like it would be an awesome book club pick. You can really delve deep into the psyche of these characters whilst learning about history and rock climbing and differing social classes and cultures.

I found Black Car Burning a really fascinating read and would recommend it.

Thank you to MidasPr for having me along on this huge blog tour! It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Please check out all the other reviews.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Coming Up For Air By Sarah Leipciger – A Review

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication Date: 19th March 2020

When I first saw glimpses of this book on Twitter I was immediately drawn to it even though I knew very little about it.  What I did know was that this book was constructed around the fact that resuscitation dolls used in first aid courses everywhere were in fact based on the death mask of an unknown woman who’s body was found in the River Seine in Paris in the late 1800’s.  Very little was known about this woman other than estimates of her age and she was known as L’Inconnue de la Seine (The Unknown Woman Of The Seine) but what was so intriguing about her was the serene look on her face, even in death.  She had no apparent marks on her body and nobody quite knew how she ended up in the Seine.  Was it suicide and who was she?

Now I find this story so fascinating so to have a work of fiction crafted around this premise was hugely exciting to me. I also historically have really enjoyed fiction that has roots based firmly in fact. I am always in awe of an authors skill in taking a fact and weaving it into something amazing, taking a scrap of a story which most people were not aware of and running with it.

In Coming Up For Air, Sarah Leipciger gives us the 3 handed narrative of 3 characters who exist decades apart yet are intrinsically linked.  The book opens with the death of the L’Inconnue in the River Seine in the late 1800’s (not a spoiler obvs!), we then jet forward to Pieter, a toymaker from Norway in the 1950’s.  We then sprint further forward in time to Canada to meet Anouk, a journalist who is battling Cystic Fibrosis and is in need of a lung transplant in order to save her life.

Once we have been initially introduced to these three characters in their separate time periods we then revisit them where they move back and forth through time in their own narrative.  For example in the case of L’Inconnue we journey back a few years to find out how she came to be dead in the river.  We never learn her name, she remains anonymous to the reader but she is so alive in her narrative.  She is employed as a ladies maid to a wealthy old widow and strikes up a relationship with one of the ladies young female aquaintances.

We learn about Pieter and the loss of one of his children and how this tragedy permeated through his life and was the impetus for one of his best inventions.

Via Anouk’s story we learn of the terrible debilitating illness that is CF and how this impacts her as a child, as a teenager and the far reaching effects of the disease on her parents marriage.

In my opinion, all three threads of narrative could be amazing stand alone novels in their own right.  Each character is so fully rounded and compelling and each of their stories needs to be told and heard.  However, the skill Sarah Leipciger has in delicately linking these narratives together through not only the obvious tangible links but the more ethereal themes of wild swimming, breath, air, lungs, life, death, drowning is just a joy to behold.

Each of the narratives is presented to the reader in different forms.  The story of L’Inconnue is told in the first person which allows us into this young girls head without really knowing much about her actual identity.  Pieter’s story is put across to the reader as almost a love letter to his child, recounting various stories from his own childhood and from his life with his child. Anouk’s story is told in the third person which I think works very well given that her parents play a huge part in the narrative and their fractured relationship is almost as absorbing as the struggles Anouk is living through.

This book was such a compelling read in myriad ways. Sarah Leipciger’s writing is captivating and sharp and all historical and medical elements were very well researched and portrayed.

Coming Up For For Air is one of those books which stays with you long after you’ve finished it. I have a feeling it will make my top books of the year.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

 

 

The Animals At Lockwood Manor By Jane Healey – A Review

Publisher: Mantle

Publication Date: 5th March 2020

You lot know that I love me some dark, gothic historical fiction. All the better if there are strange goings on in a large spooky Manor House.

When I read about The Animals At Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey it immediately went on to my Most Anticipated Books Of 2020 list.

When this proof arrived from Mantle it was absolutely beautifully packaged. It came with a specimen tag and a little key (I LOVE a tiny little key!). But perhaps most interestingly of all was the letter from the author describing how she came about the idea for the book when she was researching the history of London’s Natural History Museum and discovered that during the war, museum collections were evacuated to country manor houses to keep them safe.

I found myself absolutely fascinated with this and did a bit of googling to read more. I’ve said this before in previous reviews but I do enjoy fictional works that are rooted in some way in fact.

August 1939 and Hetty Cartwright who works at The Natural History Museum has been given the job of evacuating the museum’s mammal collection. Not an easy task when dealing with large exhibits and small delicate collections. Hetty is eager to prove that she is up to the task since she has made some mistakes during her time at the museum and wants to impress her superiors.

She cares so much about the exhibits and has them painstakingly moved to Lockwood Manor under her inscrutable eye.

Lockwood Manor is the home of Lord Lockwood and his daughter Lucy. His wife and Lucy’s mother had unfortunately died following an accident on the estate. Hetty soon begins to realise that Lord Lockwood is a force to be reckoned with and living in his home will not be plain sailing.

However, Hetty is immediately drawn to Lucy and they quickly form a very strong bond.

When some of the exhibits start to move, become damaged or even disappear completely, Hetty begins to wonder just what kind of a place she has brought her precious collection to.

There is a fabulous ghostly vibe about this book. Lucy is clearly troubled in lots of ways due to her mothers untimely death but also because her mother was not the most stable of women prior to her death.

Lucy has disturbing dreams and it isn’t long before Hetty herself is getting caught up in Lucy’s fears and apprehensions whilst battling Lord Lockwood to keep her animals safe.

There are rumours and whispers abound amongst the Manor’s servants which lend an air of apprehension to the story.

What is so special about this book is Jane Healey’s beautifully descriptive writing style. She brings to life perfectly Lockwood Manor in the readers minds eye which helps to set you firmly in the gothic and insidious atmosphere. Her characters are multifaceted and Hetty is one of my favourite female protagonists of recent years. She is strong and outspoken but also wears her heart firmly on her sleeve. She feels deeply and loves hard.

This book is steeped in atmosphere, expertly researched and is a perfect example of unsettling historical fiction which as you know is right up my street!

With themes of sexuality, grief, mental health, love and loss, The Animals Of Lockwood Manor is a multi-layered story set against the back drop of WW2.

I can not recommend this book highly enough.

Thank you so much to Mantle for my copy for review.

See you soon

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

A Famished Heart By Nicola White – A Review

Publisher: Viper Books

Publication Date: 27th February 2020

I was lucky enough to receive a bumper pack of proofs from the new Serpents Tail imprint Viper Books (Thank you Miranda!) and A Famished Heart was the one I was most drawn to.  It was one of those books that I had to restrain myself from picking up too soon!

I patiently waited until new year rolled around and then it felt like the right time to pick it up.  I read it within two days and it was an absolute belter.

The book opens in Dublin in the 1980’s with the grim discovery of two middle aged sisters dead in their own home.  The local priest Father Timoney, is called by the two women’s niece Maddy when she finds that they are not answering the door and are not contactable, nor have they been for a long time. Father Timoney on entering the property finds Berenice, the oldest sister, dead in her arm chair, essentially looking like a skeleton.  The younger sister Rosaleen is then discovered dead, curled up under her own bed in much the same emaciated state as her older sister.

The police are notified and it quickly becomes apparent that the sisters have in fact starved themselves to death. But what had prompted them to act in this way?  Who’s idea was it to die in such a horrifically painful and long drawn out way? and was anyone else aware of what the sisters had planned?

To certain members of the Gardai it is an open and shut case of suicide, albeit a very unusual case. However to Detective Vincent Swan there is more to the case than initially meets the eye and he is determined to find out what has been going on.

The sisters young sister Francesca returns home from the US where she moved some decades prior to pursue a career in theatre. She finds herself in the middle of the case not really knowing herself what could have happened to her sisters. She is tasked with sorting out affairs amidst the fractured remains of her family and trying to take young Maddy under her wing.

There is a strong religious theme running through the book with the dead sisters heavy involvement with the local church and their staunch religious beliefs. Father Timoney, the local priest plays a huge part in the investigation and feels somewhat guilty that this grim discovery is tarnishing his church having recently taken over there.

This book is not just a crime thriller, for me it was more a family tale and a character study. Each of the characters are well formed and vital. Francesca is a confident and strong woman who is not afraid to speak her mind and is more than used to outside attention. Father Timoney is somewhat hapless (constantly putting his back out!) and bumbles along trying to do his best under the judging gaze of his superiors (and housekeeper!).

If you’re looking for a high octane thriller, this book is certainly not that but in my opinion is equally as gripping and compelling.  Fully formed and complex characters are the mainstay of this mystery and you really do find yourself propelled forward in the search for answers.  We get to learn about the background and secrets of these characters, through not only their back story which is fed to us in increments but their nuanced interactions with each other.

This was just my kind of novel. Not overstated and horrifyingly believable. I would thoroughly recommend it! Nicola White is certainly one to watch!

Thank you so much to Miranda and huge congratulations to Viper Books on their first published book!

See you soon

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx