Finders, Keepers By Sabine Durrant – A Review

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication Date: 9th July 2020

I have to hold my hands up and be very honest (as I always am). I had never read any Sabine Durrant books before I was offered this book.

I of course knew of her and had only heard great things and the premise of this book completely drew me in particularly the line ‘Like the ivy that creeps through the shared garden fence, their lives are all entwined now. And the knots can only get tighter….’

That was all I needed!

When this book arrived I had every intention of setting it to one side for at least a few days whilst I finished off a couple of other books I had on the go. However, I started to run a bath and thought to myself that I’d just read a page or two to get a feel for the writing style etc. Well…….a couple of hours and one bath later I was still reading.

Verity Baxter has lived in the same house in Trinity Fields for pretty much her whole life. It’s the house she grew up in with her sister Faith and the house she spent most of her adult life caring for her sick mother. Now her mother is dead and her sister is gone and it’s just Verity and her dog Maudie.

That is until a the Tilson family move in next door.

Ailsa, her husband Tom and their three children Melissa and twins Bea and Max have recently moved to Trinity Fields from Kent. They’ve gutted the house and given it a completely modernised renovation. Verity does a little research on the family before they move in, interested to find out who her new neighbours are. When they do arrive, there is an altercation between Tom and Verity over the state of Verity’s garden, but Ailsa acts as a buffer between them both and the two women develop a friendship.

Verity starts tutoring the Tilson’s teenage son Max, as she is a lexicographer and this is when she finds herself spending more and more time with the family. She is fascinated by their family dynamic but also witnesses some cruel displays from Tom and the way he treats both Aisla and the children. Ultimately she wants to feel useful and wanted by the family and feels the need to hang on to her tentative place within their family dynamic.

The two women continue to bond in an odd way. Both of them needing the investment in the friendship for their own reasons but both having secrets they would prefer were kept hidden.

But what effect will these secrets have on these two women and their lives and when tragedy strikes, who needs who more?

I cannot give anything else away plot wise! This book really does need to be read. I finished it in one sitting which took me until 1am on a school night no less! It was so worth the tiredness!

The main draw for me was the intriguing relationship between these two women and the juxtaposed nature of their lives. Ailsa with her family and husband and lovely modern minimalist home, Verity all alone in her house which is frozen in time and quite literally stuffed full of memories.

This is a slow burner of a story with ever increasing tension. Tension which doesn’t exactly ratchet up but rather simmers underneath the surface ready to boil over.

Sabine Durrant writes a taught thriller which is sharp and utterly, utterly compelling. Reading Finders, Keepers has made me so excited to explore Sabine’s back catalogue of books. I’ve been recommended a few since shouting about how much I loved this one. And I did love it!

Thank you to Jenny Platt and Hodder for my review copy and for having me along on the blog tour.

Check out what everyone else thinks on the rest of the tour dates:

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Pond Weed By Lisa Blower- A Review

Publisher: Myriad

Publication Date: 9th July 2020

When I found out that Lisa Blower had a new novel coming out I was absolutely thrilled. I have a special place in my heart for her short story collection It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s, which I reviewed here. I absolutely adored this collection which is dripping with nostalgia and northern heart. Being a northern girl myself I found I identified with the characters in this collection so fiercely. Anyway……we’re not here to talk about that book (you should buy it and read it though!).

I’m here today to talk about Pond Weed.

Pond Weed tells the story of Selwyn and Ginny a couple in their late sixties/early seventies who met early in life when they were neighbours then parted ways until they were much older and came back into each other’s lives again.

Selwyn is a pond supplies salesman with an absolute love bordering on obsession for ponds and pond plant life and the story opens with him arriving home towing the Toogood Aquatics exhibition caravan and telling Ginny to get into the car. He is apparently taking her on an impromptu holiday to wales…..

Ginny is understandably reticent and wants a better explanation from Selwyn, however he is adamant they are going so she reluctantly agrees.

What follows is not only a road trip to their ultimate destination, it is a nostalgic, tough, emotional trip through their past.

This couple were briefly together in their youth but having parted ways for so many years they have huge chunks of each other’s lives missing. This forms cracks for jealousy and recriminations to seep in. Do they really know each other? Can they base their relationship on what they knew of each other before and what does this mean for their future.

There are various stops along the journey where Selwyn gets to indulge his passion for ponds and Ginny is quite literally along for the ride. They meet various people, some from Selwyn’s past and Ginny has to fathom what they mean to him.

Whilst tripping down the B roads across the country, Ginny and Selwyn have to do some soul searching and delve into their shared past in order to look forward into their future.

Along the way we learn of Ginny’s childhood and get to know her mother Meg who is a butcher and for me was such a fascinating character not least due to this description of her:

There is no species to define my mother. Meg was one of a kind. A six-foot chump with size ten feet and a heart of twenty four carat gold – as a child, she told me she could touch the sky and pull down the clouds, and that’s what made cotton wool. As for the rest of her, a natural fatness over elephant bones which she swathed in black smocks and blood-stained aprons; it was all hidden and folded away. She smelt of boot polish, of animal blood and tar, but on Sundays, of perfume two or three squirts from an expensive bottle of something she would travel to Manchester to buy. Her hair was kept swimming-cap short and wispy about her ears, and when kids called her a man I thumped them…..

I mean come on! That description alone had me hooked. Ginny’s mother is a complex woman with issues of her own and I just loved it when we travelled back in time through Ginny’s memories of her childhood to meet Meg and the mysterious Bluebird (I’ll leave you to discover who this is for yourself).

Going forward in time we also get snapshots of Ginny’s relationship with her daughter. Which isn’t always the most comfortable or easy flowing.

This book is filled with human emotion, ram jam full of heart and humour. Lisa Blower is the kind of writer who can take you by the heart and lead your through the complex and often heartbreaking lives of ordinary folk. People we can identify with ourselves or see parts of our own treasured family members in. I found myself willing Selwyn and Ginny on in their tangled relationship and was genuinely gutted when I finished the book and felt like I had left my friends behind.

It was an absolute pleasure to go on their road trip with them and so refreshing to follow the relationship of characters later on in life.

I will always read everything that Lisa Blower writes. I think she is an extraordinarily talented writer and Pondweed is now nestled in my heart right next to It’s Gone Dark Over Bills Mother’s.

Thank you so much as always to Emma Dowson for sending me my review copy and extra special thanks for including a quote from my Its Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s review in the finished hardback edition of Pond Weed I will treasure it on the forever shelf.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Family Favourites: Could You Choose Your Top Ten Favourite Books?

Let’s face it, you’re all here for the books.

You’re all here because you are all bookworms, just like me.

You are my crew and I love having this space to talk about books with you all. I have very few people in my real life who read as much as I do….BUT I do have a wonderful bookish Aunty who I chat books with and swap books with and I thought, why not get some guest content over here on the blog so you don’t have to listen to me all the time!

When I asked if my Aunty Lisa would maybe give me a run down of her 5 all time favourite books she was up for the challenge AND EVEN BETTER so was my Uncle Gary! Two in one! Result!

We did however decide that a Top 5 was just TOO HARD so I widened the field to Top 10. Still a tricky task but one which they valiantly undertook. Let’s take a look at their choices. We’ll start with Gary as he finished his list first (well done on being so decisive Gary!)

Here we go……!

Lights by Patrick Stenson
This is the true story of one man’s life that was full of unbelievable experiences – Charles Herbert Lightoller. He was born on the 30th March 1874 and spent most of his life at sea, as a young boy he was on board a sailing ship taken by pirates.  He encounted U-boats in the Great War, was a surviving crew member on the Titanic and helped evacuate soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk (who knows maybe even saving my great uncle).
Frank by Jon Ronson
The story of Chris Sievey, who you may know better as Frank Sidebottom.  I have to say that Chris is special to me as I am also a Timperley lad and went to the same school, although a few years younger.  I can identify with so much in this book.  This is only a small book, I read it in one go, an easy read, but if you shared Frank’s humour you will love it.  He really was a one off.
A Tommy’s Sketchbook by Lance-Corporal Henry Buckle
This is a wonderful little book of the diary written and drawn by Henry Buckle.  His watercolour and pencil drawings together with his written account give us an invaluable insight into what a Tommy saw from the trenches.  It covers the period of time from March to October 1915 in Belgium and France.  Ending when Henry was under enemy fire and the trench he was in collapsed on him, his legs were badly injured and he was discharged from active duty in August 1916
Edited by David Read it is a must for anyone with an interest in the Great War.  

Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves
As I have lived in the Highlands of Scotland for 7 years and now for the last 3 in the Borders, the character of Shetland based Jimmy Perez appealed to me as well as the setting.  When Detective Perez returns to Fair Isle knowing that he will be viewed with a degree of mistrust by the community, things are made worse by the autumn storms cutting the island off from the mainland. A body is found, fear and anger from the islanders hinder Perez as he has to quickly find the killer.  I really like how Ann Cleeves writes, amongst other things small chapters, sorry but I can not leave a book mid chapter.
The Peterloo Massacre by Joyce Marlow
Last year was the 100th anniversary of this event.  As someone who has a keen interest in history and as a Mancunian, this is a book that for me should be on the curriculum of schools in Manchester.  It is not an easy read but that is not a reason not to read this book.
I’m not really here by Paul Lake
Paul was an unbelievable young footballer with the world at his feet. He was tipped to be a future England captain until his career was tragically cut short by injury.  The book is so open and frank about his struggles to come to terms with life after football.
The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah
I have to admit that I have not read a single Agatha Christie book. I love her character Hercule Poirot  played by David Suchet in the tv series and I was intrigued by another writer protraying him in a new story.  I am so glad I decided to read it as the Agatha Christie Estate made the right choice of new author, this is Poirot from his perfect moustache to his sparkling white spats.  I will definitely be reading the other two Poirot stories by Sophie Hannah.
The Last Fighting Tommy by Richard Van Emden
This is the true story of Harry Patch who was a Private in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.  I could not wait to read this book as I’d read some of Harry’s stories in a book called Veterans, where lots of WW1 men and women were interviewed. Through Harry I feel I understand a little more why my Grandad didn’t talk about his experiences in Gallipoli.  Harry died in 2009 aged 111.
Shackleton’s Whisky by Neville Peat
I have to include this book as Sir Ernest Shackleton is one of my heroes.  The book is the extraordinary story of a heroic explorer, his men and 25 cases of unique MacKinlays Old Scotch Whisky.
Trautmann’s Journey by Katrine Clay
As the author says this is a story from Hitler Youth to F.A. Cup legend.  I grew up listening to my Dad telling me the story of this German Manchester City goalkeeper, but you do not have to be a football fan to enjoy this book.  It really is a remarkable boys own story.  Thank you to Amanda (& Ian) for this 50th birthday present.

So those are Gary’s choices. What I love most about these books is the nostalgia and memories attached to them. They have been chosen for such lovely reasons and it’s always nice when books stir particular feelings for you. I also agree wholeheartedly with Gary’s choice of Sophie Hannah, such a great author! I also love the fact that these choices are non-fiction heavy. I do read non-fiction but fiction will always be my first choice, so it’s nice to see someone who’s reading preferences are weighted the opposite way.

Right!

Let’s have a little gander at Lisa’s choices…..

LISA:

This has been an enjoyable but difficult task, to pick only 10 books, oh no what could I leave out? Who could I leave out?! Then I got to thinking of all the wonderful books I have read and still have on my ultimate shelf and I picked the ones I will read again with pleasure.
Mr Galliano’s Circus by Enid Blyton
This is a book from my early childhood, I first read it about 48 years ago, I last read it about a month ago.  Yes it is about a circus but that’s not the main thing, it is about kindness and the love of animals big and small.  A wonderful read whatever your age.
The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson
This is my latest read which I purchased from my local independent bookshop (Mainstreet Trading) after reading the brilliant review by Bookishchat.  I have enjoyed reading Sally Magnusson before this book.  Stunning cover, history, folklore, strong women, Royalty and Scottish fairies what more could you need to escape with.
Who on Earth is Tom Baker – an autobiography
My favourite Dr Who, that is who Tom Baker is.  This is for lovers of Tom or as I discovered for those of us who like wild dark comedy, so funny, so moving.  I could hear his voice all the way through, a joy and an interesting education into Tom Baker.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
This is a haunting book set in Ireland which attracted me immediately.  My mum was from Southern Ireland and it holds a strange attraction especially though the history and religion.  From the dedication quoting the Irish blessing – ‘’May there be no frost on your potatoes, nor worms in your cabbage’’ to the last page it gripped me tight.
Elsie & Mairi Go to War by Diane Atkinson
This is the true story of the two most famous women of WW1.  They were both motorcyclists and met at a club, racing in rallies and trials from 1912 to 1914.  I first read this book when I borrowed it from my local library (brilliant places), after finishing I sourced a copy for sale, an ex library book.  Elsie & Mairi risked their lives and their health, were awarded 17 medals and as they say, had the time of their lives.  This is not an easy read in parts, they lived through so much and saw so much.  It is also about the challenges they faced after the war.
The Corset by Laura Purcell
A birthday present which I love.  History, gothic, mystery, murder, supernatural, all the words that can mean you are about to read a book you will wish could last forever.  This is that BOOK.  All I can say is read it and love it.
Mr Golightly’s Holiday by Salley Vickers
Another birthday present, although a few years earlier.  I am so glad my family know me so well, another cracker.  Set in Dartmoor, this is a profound and mysterious story told in a very descriptive way.  It draws you in and keeps you wanting to know more about Mr Golightly, is he who you suspect he is? 
Home to Roost & other peckings by Deborah Devonshire
This is THE Deborah Devonshire, the youngest of the Mitford sisters.  A series of short stories, reminiscences of events she experienced from the farmers club dinner to President Kennedy’s funeral.  We used to visit Chatsworth estate and it is beautiful, we always looked out for the Duke or Duchess.  Anyone who Alan Bennett thinks is a character and funny gets my vote too.
My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You By Louisa Young
I do like history and have a draw towards WW1.  My Grandfather and his two brothers all served and survived, although Grandad was injured and lost an eye.  This book, although a novel helps you realise how much was hidden by some who served from those they loved.  It is based on the history and medicine of the time and gives a very moving view.  A book that just might make you cry.
Reaperman by Sir Terry Pratchett
Finally my ultimate book, this is one that if I had to choose only one book to keep and read forever it would be this one. The old desert island choice, this is mine.  I have found that reading this book has helped me in times of sadness, anger, stress and in times of joy.  It has pulled me out of reading slumps and I can honestly say I have now no idea how many times I have read it.  I own 5 copies, including a tape version (old style audio).  I only hope that everyone can find their version of my Reaperman to live with and enjoy, time and time again. 

So those are Lisa’s choices! Some corkers there (I know because I recommended a couple!) a good mix of fiction and non-fiction and chosen because they are steeped in nostalgia or because Lisa would happily read them again and enjoy them just as much as the first time round. It’s sometimes tricky with favourite books to re-read them, what if the magic fades the second time round? But I suppose the test of a true favourite is the ability to return to it and love it all over again.

It’s always nice to have other people recommend books and I hope you’ll see something you might like to take a look at within these 20 books.

It’s a tough task to pull a list together of your favourite 10 books. The very idea brings me out in a cold sweat but I think Lisa and Gary have done a crackin job!

Thank you!

See you all again soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Valentine By Elizabeth Wetmore – A Review

Publisher: 4th Estate

Publication Date: 11th June 2020.

Valentine by a Elizabeth Wetmore is one of those books that arrived through my door a few months back and got shelved for reading closer to publication.

I picked it up as I knew the publication date was coming up and as soon as I started reading I berated myself for leaving it so long!

The book opens up with a chapter that punches you straight in the stomach and thoroughly winds you. It is the aftermath of a brutal and violent rape of a 14 year old Mexican girl called Gloria Ramirez. Her attacker is Dale Strickland, a roughneck living and working in Odessa Texas during the oil boom of 1976.

We find Gloria plotting her escape as dawn breaks over the oil patch and Dale sleeps in the front of his pick up truck. She is lying in the dust barely daring to move. Watching the sky change colour and knowing she has to be brave and make her escape otherwise Strickland will surely kill her.

She stumbles her way to a ranch farmhouse owned by a local family. Mary Rose, heavily pregnant with her second child is confronted with this young girl battered, beaten and bloodied on her porch. She has to make the choice of whether to help the girl or turn a blind eye and keep her daughter Aimee safe.

It’s is not much of a choice and Mary Rose grabs her gun and ushers the girl inside. When Dale awakes and realises he needs to find the girl and cover his tracks, he arrives at the farmhouse and Mary Rose is once again faced with a dilemma. To give up the girl to him or protect her with all she has.

These decisions on that day will have repercussions on the lives of both Mary Rose and Gloria.

After this traumatic event, Mary Rose decides she no longer feels safe in the ranch and persuades her husband to rent a house in the centre of town on Larkspur Lane. Here she spends all her time with her young daughter Aimee and her new baby son. Her husband stays back at the ranch most of the time and she is left to look after the children and fend off unrelenting abusive calls due to her defence of Gloria and willingness to testify in the trial of Dale Strickland.

Strickland is a white man with many people jumping to his defence. Gloria is a teenage Mexican girl who chose to climb up into his truck and was a victim of her own stupidity in the eyes of the locals.

Mary Rose is absolutely furious with the treatment of this girl and the local reaction to her brutal rape and beating and is determined to stand up for her despite any possible consequences to herself or her family.

Her move to Larkspur Lane introduces us to more characters. We meet widow Corinne Shepherd who’s husband has just died after a long illness. She spends her days drinking and chain smoking and trying to forget. We learn about her marriage to Potter and their early relationship and we also become aware of a loose link between the couple and Gloria on the night she was attacked.

We also meet a little girl, 10 year old Debra Ann Pierce who has been abandoned by her mother and spends her time wandering up and down Larkspur Lane, bothering Corinne and the other women, and chatting to her imaginary friends.

There are various other characters that we get glimpses of. Peripheral characters who give extra depth to the main hub of characters. At first I thought the book was going to be a two-hander and we’d hear alternately from Gloria (later reinvented as Glory after the attack) and Mary Rose. However the more I read on, the more I realised we were seeing the event not only through the eyes of the two women closest to it, Glory who suffered and Mary Rose who was the first to see her after the attack, but also the people it affected as the reverberations of the aftermath rippled through the town.

At one point I did wonder whether we would hear from Glory’s perspective after the opening chapter. But she does appear further down the line. I was happy to find out what had happened to her but equally in retrospect I would have been just as happy to explore the attack through the eyes of those around her, however tenuous the links.

The horrific rape excepted, this book is very much a character study. We delve into the lives of these multi-generational females and experience their problems, their anxieties and the limitations forced upon them. They have wildly varying degrees of acceptance of their lot in life. Either being passive or railing against the inequalities.

There were a couple of moments that made me take a step back and consider what life was like for these women in small town Odessa in the 70’s. Corinne refers to wanting to return to teaching after the birth of her daughter, when she approaches the headmaster of the local school he tells her to ask her husband to call him with his permission for her return. Absolute madness!

But perhaps the most jarring passage is one where all the ways men can lose their lives are listed, mostly industrial accidents etc and then this line hits home:

And the women, how do we lose them? Usually, its when one of the men kills them.

Such a poignant line and one that has stayed in my mind and will do for some time.

What Elizabeth Wetmore does with this novel is stunning. A real solid sense of place, you can almost feel like you are breathing in the dusty arid air. The sweltering heat is palpable and makes for an intense and gripping read.

There are so many themes to be explored in this book, sexual assault, violence against women, grief, morality, community, motherhood and its struggles. It would make a brilliant book club book with so much to talk about and delve into.

The fact that Valentine is Elizabeth Wetmore’s debut novel is hugely exciting. I will be looking out eagerly for more of her work in the future.

A thoroughly compelling and gut twisting read they I would very much recommend.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Agora Books – Lost The Plot Work In Progress Prize 2020

I am really excited to be bringing this blog post to you today. If ever there was a time we need to retreat into words it’s now!

I am honoured and proud to have been asked to be on the judging panel again for the Agora Books Lost The Plot Work In Progress Prize for 2020.

This is an annual writing competition aimed at anyone who has a piece of writing that is currently a work in progress. People are asked to submit a synopsis and the first three chapters of their work with some amazing prizes up for grabs!

Last year I had such a great time reading some brilliant pieces of writing including that of the winner Louise Tucker, and I’m super excited to get cracking again this year!

So what’s it all about?…..

Well, the competition is open for entries from Monday 1st June to June 30th and writers are encouraged to submit a synopsis plus the first three chapters of their work.

After being read by a panel of judges including Agora Books publisher Sam Brace, Peters Fraser + Dunlop agent Lisette Verhagen, Writing Magazine editor Jonathan Telfer, author Laura Pearson and myself of course, one lucky writer will win a meeting with both a Peters Fraser + Dunlop agent and an Agora Books editor as well as manuscript feedback from the rest of the panel.

Two lucky runners up will also receive manuscript feedback and the top five entrants will be sent a writers survival kit to help them on their writing journey!

Lovely!

Full details for entry can be found here.

So what have you got to lose? Show us your work and get some valuable feedback and maybe this will be the first step to getting your writing published!

Go on! What are you waiting for?

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

When The Lights Go Out by Carys Bray – A Review

Publisher: Hutchinson

Publication Date: 7th May 2020 (Kindle/Audio)

I read A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray some time ago now and really enjoyed it. It still sticks in my mind now. Particularly the opening chapters.

When I saw Carys had a new book out I knew I had to read it and when I read the premise it only strengthened this feeling. Luckily I was kindly sent a proof copy! Publication for this book has been pushed back due to current hideous virus situations but the audiobook and kindle edition are out now I believe.

When The Lights Go Out tell the story of the Abram family, Chris, Emma and their two teenage sons Dylan and James. They live in a seaside town in the North West of England and times are currently hard for Chris job-wise.

Chris is a gardener and has been losing copious amounts of business due to the fact that it hasn’t stopped raining for sometime. He is unable to work as he usually would and starts to become fixated on the changing weather and environment. Convinced that water levels will rise and become unmanageable, Chris’s anxiety levels start to rise too. So much so that he starts stockpiling food items and non-perishable supplies in order to keep his family safe should an environmental disaster threaten their lives.

Emma for her part has always been a bit of an activist in her youth but since marriage and children has taken her activism to a more low key level. Growing their own vegetables, recycling, eating frugally and healthily.

When Chris starts to become fixated on his anxieties the fractures begin to show in the Abrams marriage and their previously solid foundations begin to crumble and erode. Their conflicting interests and priorities only serve to push Emma and Chris that much further apart.

This all plays out in the run up to Christmas where one fateful night an annual family party takes place and doesn’t end as anyone expects. Forcing Emma and Chris to make some difficult choices.

What I love about Carys Bray is her innate ability to write about the ordinary family dynamic against the backdrop of extraordinary circumstances. As much as Chris’s change in attitude and actions have consequences for the family they still have to rub along together and deal with the humdrum aspects of domesticity. That’s not to say that this story is dull, not at all! I feel it perfectly depicts family life and I’m here for that!

The interaction between family members was so true to life at times that I cringed a little. There were scenes between Emma and her Mother In Law Janet where they were both trying so hard to be polite but coming off as passive aggressive. It was very amusing! There are various drops of lightheartedness within the narrative which serve as pinpricks of light in what is otherwise quite dark subject matter.

I also must make mention of the two sons Dylan and James. Being teenagers I was dubious (we all know I’m non too keen on the teens!) however the characters of the two boys were perfectly nailed. I have a 14 year old son and could see some of his character traits in Dylan and James, the caustic humour, the inappropriate dinner table conversation. They were not perfect (who is!!) but I really enjoyed their dynamic with each other and within the family unit.

I was not expecting what happened at the Christmas party AT ALL. It was one of those ‘is this really going to happen?’ Moments but in a really plausible way. No over dramatics, no big scenes just something terrible yet believable happening.

The disintegration of the marriage of Emma and Chris which starts in the most subtle of ways and flits back to their earlier happier life together was one of the main pulls for me. Emma trys her hardest to understand where Chris is coming from with his fears and Chris makes what he thinks are the right choices to educate or scare Emma into coming around to his way of thinking.

‘If I imagine grandchildren, it’s only to pity them. They’ll be born into God knows what. There’ll be a new Dark Age, and they’ll live through it. If I could, I’d have the boys sterilised.’

How she longs to pull him out of this; to lower a rope and winch him to safety, but he doesn’t want to be rescued, or even reassured, he wants to pull her in after him.

I cannot fault Carys Brays writing and I really got swept away (no pun intended!) with this family’s life. It’s not a high octane, fast paced book by any stretch of the imagination and the subject matter makes for quite depressing reading at times but the gentle humour and real moments of tender interplay between family members is so heartwarming.

I really enjoyed this book and found it to be a quick read. Give it a whirl!

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

A Little Lockdown Reading Update.

Ey up

How’s life round your gaff at the minute? You surviving? You managing to read?

I didn’t have a review scheduled for today so I thought I’d come atcha with a little reading update. Have a quick chin wag about my reading since lockdown started and show you what I’m currently reading.

Hope that’s alright with you lot?

So, since lockdown began, I, (like a lot of people) have struggled with my concentration levels when it comes to reading and in particular, writing.

In the initial week or two after lockdown I really read very little and wrote absolutely nothing. I just felt a bit numb to it all and coupled with working from home and trying to homeschool my two kids, life was stressful! (Let’s not even add in the anxiety surrounding the dreaded Rona!).

I think us readers fell into one of two camps.

1. I can’t read ANYTHING. (Because the world is shit).

OR

2. I am reading EVERYTHING (Because the world is shit).

I was firmly in camp 1 hoping to claw my way over to camp 2. I thought the way to do that would be to read some short stories. Surely short bursts of fiction would be manageable for my dire concentration levels, right?

Wrong.

Short stories were NOT holding my attention one iota and had the complete opposite effect of what I was aiming for.

I then picked up a couple of chunky books, one of which had been on my shelf for AGES (The Parentations by Kate Mayfield which is brilliant historical fiction by the way and I would defo recommend). This was my breakthrough and totally pepped me up.

I obviously needed longer books to absorb myself in!

I have read some absolute corkers over the past few weeks but I will be saving my opinions on those books until I review them.

Let’s move on to what I’m reading (and listening to) at the moment shall we?

I have to hold my hands up and say I’ve overstretched myself completely in the multi-reading stakes…..I can cope reading around 3 books at a time as long as they are all vastly different. 4 would be my absolute limit. So I find myself today (foolishly!) having 6 books on the go!

Idiot.

Let’s have a little butchers at them eh?

First up we have Pilcrow by Adam Mars Jones. This chunky bugger has been on my shelf for at least a year or more I reckon. It tells the story of a young man from when he was a child and suffered an illness which saw him being prescribed strict bed rest for a long time. It is set in the 1950’s when growing up gay and disabled was far from easy. At the moment I am only around a quarter of the way through and I find that it’s the kind of book that you can dip easily in and out of and still pick up very nicely where you left off, helped by the fact it is told in quite short snappy sections. It’s funny and has a lot of heart and I’m looking forward to carrying on with it. There is a second instalment called Cedilla which is equally as chunky!

Then we have This Taste For Silence by Amanda O’Callaghan which is a short story collection. This is a tricky one because I’ve read around 4 or 5 of the stories and whilst I know I enjoyed them at the time I wouldn’t be able to tell you what they’re about now! I will carry on and finish it and hope that it is just Corona Brain causing me to be so forgetful!

Next up is Rawblood by Catriona Ward. I read Little Eve last year and absolutely loved it! Rawblood is everything I love in a book, gothic, dark and haunting historical fiction set against the backdrop of an old house on Dartmoor. Bloody brilliant!

Next up we have Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker. This book is BLOWING MY MIND. I saw it and was immediately drawn to the cover! It is non-fiction telling the story of the Galvin family, Don and Mimi Galvin and their twelve children. Ten boys and two girls. Six out of the ten boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia and this book explores the question of whether this mental illness can run in families. It really is fascinating!

Then we have two audiobooks that I’m alternating between, one fiction and one non-fiction.

Fiction wise I’m listening to Grown Ups by Marian Keyes. I love Marian on Twitter, she’s such a lovely woman. This book wouldn’t normally be one I’d pick up but having seen so many of you enjoying it, I thought I’d give it a go. I will be honest and say I stopped listening very quickly BUT hear me out……it was nothing to do with the book. I listen to my audiobooks on quite a high volume and I found myself tuning in far too much to the breaths that Marian takes in between sentences. As daft as it sounds, this then made me think about my own breathing and it threw me out! ANYWAY, never fear! I went back to it (albeit at a lower volume) got over my stupid self and am now really enjoying it.

Lastly we have Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin. I have developed a low key obsession with Shirley Jackson of late (which you’ll see when I show you some books I’ve recently purchased!). I’m not very far into this one so I’ll report back when I’m further along!

So there we have all the books I’m currently reading/listening to.

Let’s end on the books I’ve bought recently……because we’re all feverishly buying new books right? WHAT ELSE ARE WE GOING TO DO?!?

Here are a few of my recent purchases (see what I mean about the Jackson obsession?!!). The covers of the Penguin Classic Shirley Jackson books are what dreams are made of quite frankly!

LOOK AT THEM.

On that note I will love you and leave you.

Please do let me know how you’re getting on during these proper tricky times. Are you reading healthy amounts or has your motivation upped and left?

Whatever you’re doing, concentrate on yourself and keep safe.

See you all soon when I’ll have some lovely family members bringing some guest content……

Big love x

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

The Discomfort Of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld – A Review

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Publication Date: 5th March 2020

I’d seen bits and pieces about this book online and had half an eye on it. I was reading a review of it one day that opened up by saying it was ‘odd’ and ‘dark’…….case closed. I knew I had to get my hands on it.

This was a ‘lockdown’ purchase for me. Which basically just means me using the lockdown of the country as an excuse to buy books a plenty! I started it as soon as it arrived because I was in the mood for dark…..glutton for punishment.

The Discomfort Of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is translated from the Dutch and tells the story of our ten year old protagonist Jas and her family who live on a dairy farm. When tragedy strikes and Jas loses her older brother to a terrible accident (not a spoiler, this happens at the start of the book) her life and her family dynamic totally changes, leaving her and her siblings struggling to grow up.

Her mother is devastated by the loss of her son and Jas feels a certain guilt too surrounding someone thoughts she had about him on the day he died. Her mother retreats into herself and begins to limit her food intake, cultivating a serious eating disorder. Her father struggles with bringing up his remaining three children whilst battling issues with the dairy farm and his precious herd and livelihood.

Jas, her older brother and younger sister are pretty much left to navigate their lives themselves without much parental support. They have no support with their own grief and are sidelined whilst their parents drift further and further apart. Jas is desperate to bring her parents back together and unite them again and in her own childish ways feels like she can instigate this and life will somehow improve.

This is very much a coming of age story against the backdrop of grief and it’s intrinsic effects on a whole family unit. It is extremely dark but is shot through with a wry childish humour courtesy of Jas. There are some extremely uncomfortable issues discussed in this book and in the interests of trigger warnings I have to say there is an element of incest. It is viewed through the childish eyes of Jas our narrator, which makes it all the more uncomfortable. I feel it’s only fair to give you that warning.

There is a lot of unpleasant imagery in this book. There is a huge focus on body parts, particularly the bottom, be that bovine or human! Infact when reading it I tweeted this and without stating specifically what the book was, quite a few people knew straight away what it was!:

It’s difficult to say I ‘enjoyed’ this book but I did race through it. A sure sign I’m enjoying a book obviously. I have sat and thought about who I would recommend it to and it’s tricky! It’s by no means a walk in the park! If you’re a fan of dark stories, unusual and compelling child narrators and are ok with animal cruelty/incest and other uncomfortable subject matters I would say give it a whirl!

For sure it has some beautiful writing. I even went back over a few paragraphs and read them again. There was one particular section relating to grief that rang so true with my own experiences that it nearly took my breath away.

Listen, is it a perfect book? No. Did I ‘enjoy’ reading it? Yes! I would maybe issue an ‘approach with caution’ warning but would say give it a try and see for yourself……oh and brace yourself for the darkest of dark endings!

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

The Mermaid Of Black Conch by Monique Roffey – A Review

Publisher: Peepal Tree Press

Publication Date: 2nd April 2020

This book rescued me from a very severe reading slump. Nobody can escape the fact that the world is a very different place at the moment with the dreaded C word. I have found it extremely difficult to concentrate on reading in recent weeks, particularly the last week. I picked up The Mermaid Of Black Conch by Monique Roffey on a whim and boy am I glad I did! I read this book in one day and it has really pulled me out of my reading slump.

It’s 1976 in Saint Constance a Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch. A fisherman named David whilst out at sea one day attracts a strange creature which turns out to be a mermaid. He is very cautious around her and does not want to frighten her away. The sound of his boat lures her back to him day after day and he becomes bewitched by her. However one day two American fishermen who have arrived in Black Conch for an annual fishing competition end up hooking the mermaid and reeling her in after a protracted battle.

The men take the mermaid to shore with dollar signs in their eyes. The locals have heard of tales of Mermen in the waters around Black Conch but never a Mermaid. The local men employed on the American vessel as crew have an uneasy feeling about what bringing a mermaid to shore could mean. Would it be bad luck?…

The Mermaid is brought to shore and strung up beside the more regular catches. When David hears that his mermaid has been captured he manages to cut her down and take her home to his house where he keeps her sequestered away.

Initially David tries to keep her alive as if she were still in the sea. Keeping her in the bath with salt water, trying to tempt her with food. However it quickly becomes apparent that the mermaid is changing……changing into a real woman.

What we learn from her metamorphosis is that she was once a human woman named Aycayia who was cursed by local women to live a long and lonely life at sea. Local women who were jealous of her hold over their menfolk.

David learns more and more about Aycayia and they tentatively learn to communicate. They each become entranced by the other but David must fight to keep Aycayia’s identity hidden whilst Aycayia is fighting demons of her own. In between being desperate to become a real woman, experience love and family on land and the lure of the sea, Aycayia learns just how far reaching the curse that was bestowed upon her hundreds of years ago is.

As I said at the start of this review, I absolutely tore through this book. Told from the viewpoint of David via his written journal, and Aycayia via her sometimes limited language threaded through the main narrative, this story sweeps you away.

I initially expected maybe an idealised view of what we all imagine a mermaid to be. Sleek glossy tail, beautiful face and long flowing gorgeous locks…….I was happily surprised to find that Aycayia was anything but:

I had to touch her. Her teeth were small and sharp; to put my hand inside her mouth looked dangerous. Then, keeping her eyes direct, slow slow, she opened her mouth. A foul smell floated out. A strong ocean stench of salt and dead fish and all the fruit she was eating. Man, her teeth needed a good brush. Her throat was a strange deep pinky purple. I didn’t want to show her my disgust….’

I really enjoyed the developing relationship between David and Aycayia. Their blooming efforts to communicate, David’s protective nature towards her and Aycayia’s willingness to trust him despite past traumas.

This book almost feels like it vibrates with life in your hands. The setting, the characters and the imagery are all so vibrant and full of life. It feels colourful (I hope that makes sense!).

Ultimately this is a story of love against adversity. A tale of ancient legends quite literally dragged into the present day. A study of how women sometimes don’t have agency over their own bodies and the assumption of men that women are possessions. It’s also a tale of female jealousies and the far reaching implications of this.

Monique Roffey is such an exciting author to me. I loved The Tryst and have also gone on to read her memoir With The Kisses Of His Mouth. He writing is just so evocative and engaging. She lured you in from page one. I’m excited to see what she comes up with next and I would heartily recommend her work. Go check her out!

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

What Have I Done? By Laura Dockerill – A Review

Publisher: Square Peg

Publication Date: 24th April 2020

What Have I Done? By Laura Dockerill was firmly on my radar towards the end of 2019 and made it on to my Most Anticipated Books Of 2020 list.

What drew me in most was the whole subject of post-natal psychosis. I’ve mentioned before that I suffered with PND after the births of both of my children but didn’t reach out for help and just suffered in silence. Now that my children are both far enough away from the baby phase for me not to be ‘triggered’ by reading about PND I find it a huge comfort to read about the subject (be that fiction or non-fiction) and breathe a hefty sigh of relief that I wasn’t a failure, a bad mother or any of the other insults you levy at yourself when you’re smack bang in the middle of this terrible illness.

Laura starts her story from meeting and falling in love with her husband Hugo and swiftly follows on to her getting pregnant. She gives us insights into how she imagined her life would be after her baby was born. A life which turned out to be wildly different to the one she dreamed of.

Her ordeal started with the birth of her son Jet and the way that the whole process spiralled out of her control and ended up being a terrifying and painful experience. Jet was a small baby and had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck causing his heart rate to drop dramatically resulting in Laura having to have a Caesarean section.

What follows after the birth of Jet is essentially a swift and terrifying decline in Laura’s mental health and the start of a difficult journey through the confusing and exhausting days of early motherhood.

Laura explains in great detail her struggles with anxiety, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, paranoia and suicidal thoughts. At first she battles on through these issues at home with the support of Hugo and her family, however there comes a tipping point where Laura can no longer cope and her family take her to a secure mental health facility where she is diagnosed with post-natal psychosis.

Her admission to the facility is her first tentative step on the road to recovery, however it is far from a quick fix and Laura continues to battle paranoia, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, post-partum bleeding and her reluctance to take the anti-psychotic medication that her doctors have prescribed.

Throughout her recovery Laura has the unerring support of her lovely family. Hugo who has to deal with Laura thinking he wants to take the baby away from her (which is so far from the truth) her mother and father and sister who all visit everyday and surround her with love and support.

I think it probably goes without saying that I found this book fascinating. Even though Laura’s experience was far more severe than my own, I could recognise myself in so many of the issues she tackled. I have to admit that there were times I had to put the book down and just put a little distance between it and myself. Although my experiences are many years in the past, some elements of Laura’s battle really brought some long buried feelings rushing back.

Laura writes candidly, honestly and from the heart. There are moments of gentle humour and a real gritty down to earth quality. It felt like such a relief to read this book as it made me feel less alone and less guilty about my memories of that time.

This book I’m sure will be a huge help to women dealing right now with some degree of PND and families who are supporting their wives/daughters/sisters/friends. Laura ends the book with a very informative and useful section giving advice on depression, anxiety, self-care and how to help new mothers.

Ultimately this book will bring hope and comfort to many families and was a huge privilege for me to read.

Laura made me feel less guilty about standing in the shower after giving birth to my first child, crying and thinking ‘What have I done?’

I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone going through this right now. Or just anyone who has an interest and an empathy.

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

See you all soon

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx