A Reading Wrap Up #4

Hello All,

I thought I’d come at you this Easter weekend with another reading wrap up.  I’ve joined the library since we last talked books and man alive I’m thrilled! I can’t believe I didn’t join sooner! what an absolute balloon.  Considering I shell out a gajillion pounds a year for reading matter you’d have thought I’d have been a bit more savvy but nooooo, Mand knows best!

Anyway, I bit the bullet and joined the local library which I pass twice a day on my way to and from work……(and yet I’d still never joined, utter melt!).  So 3 of these four books were library ones.

Another first for me was I actually DNF’d one of these books and DNF’ing is not something I’ve ever done before.  Ever!  DNF’ing for those that don’t know means Did Not Finish.  I can’t bear to not make the effort to finish a book but one of these was so repetitive that I felt I could skim the majority of pages and still get the overall jist.

Anyways, onwards with the books:

A Kind Of Intimacy – Jenn Ashworth


I picked this one up after hearing the authors most recent release ‘Fell’ talked about on BookTube.  I did a little research and read a few blogs and heard that this book A Kind Of Intimacy was also very good so I decided to give it whirl (pre-library days) and bought it second hand from Amazon.

This is the story of Annie, an obese, lonely, recently separated woman who has just moved into a new neighbourhood.  She quickly becomes intent on getting to know her neighbours in order to escape her past.  However, she develops an intense fascination with her neighbour Neil who unfortunately for Annie also has a young, beautiful girlfriend called Lucy who Annie sees as an obstacle to her developing (imagined) relationship with Neil.

I loved the fact that Annie is such an unreliable narrator, she’s telling you the story as she sees it, recounting events that have happened through her eyes and you just know that it didn’t happen like that and you as the reader can see how the other characters in the book are really feeling and viewing the same events very differently.

There are times you know that Annie is acting oddly but she doesn’t seem to be aware that she is, she is very good at justifying her behaviour to herself and normalising it in her own head.  There is one point where she hears a barbeque going on in Neil and Lucy’s garden that she hasn’t been invited to.  She stands at the fence eavesdropping on them and hearing them talk disparagingly about her….

‘I was angry to tell you the truth.  To have to stand there in the sanctuary of my own garden, doing nothing more sinister than enjoying a warm evening, and then suffer the verbal assault of a woman I’d never met, well, it was more than I could take.  My hands started to hurt again and I looked at them, surprised at the grazes on my knuckles.  I’d been hitting the wall above the pedal bin with my fists, over and over without realising it.  I can’t tell you how long had passed, me standing looking into the bin and thumping the wall like that, it couldn’t have been more than a matter of minutes: when I held my breath I could hear, above the sound of my own blood booming in my ears, the continuing music and laughter from outside…’

At times this book was toe curlingly cringey and you really feel for Annie and her desperate loneliness and the tireless way she tries to fit in.  She is of course hiding a very murky past which is drip fed to the reader in small doses, with the tension building at just the right pace. This book is very dark and has a shocking ending.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

The Dark Circle – Linda Grant


Now this book was one of my first library rentals.  I went in there and was literally like a kid in a sweetshop, or Belle from Beauty and The Beast whirling round in the bookshop…..except fatter and more harassed looking.

This book was on the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist and yet again I’d heard only good reviews so I bagged it!

I was not disappointed, in fact it has probably been one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It tells the story of 18 year old jewish twins Lenny and Mirium who are admitted to a sanatorium in rural Kent after being diagnosed with TB post Second World War.  Ironically, Lenny’s uncle had just paid a doctor to say that Lenny was medically unfit to be a solider and he ended up not being fit anyway.

The book then goes on to tell the stories of various different characters within the sanatorium and their back stories and how they all came to be there.  They are all different classes together because the NHS had just been founded and the respite care was offered to all walks of life.  Linda Grant gives you such an interesting insight into the treatments and life within a sanatorium at the time, I found it fascinating.  So much so that after I’d finished reading it I googled sanatoriums and read some real life accounts of previous patients.  Some of the treatments sounded bonkers but at the time were medically approved.  They left patients in beds on veranda’s literally all night in all weathers as ‘fresh air therapy’ was thought to be very beneficial. They deflated one lung intentionally to let it ‘rest’ and left people using only one.  They removed ribs, they recommended ‘whisper’ therapy, (which is just allowing patients to only talk in a whisper to take the strain off the lungs) and they had patients constantly taking their own temperatures and testing samples of phlegm.

‘One floor above Lenny and Colin, Miriam was screaming that she wouldn’t get undressed.  She would not take off her clothes, she wouldn’t take off so much as her shoes if this was what they were going to do to her. “And not a chance i’ll take my knickers off!”.  She was wearing a cherry-red felt coat and a cherry-red beret pinned gingerly onto the back of her head, not to disarrange her foam of stiff blue-black curls.  Her lips were painted with post-box red lipstick. In this room she looked like a giant strawberry frozen inside an icecube.  The clinical interior, the glacial whiteness of it, the prim hospital bed, the hospital odours, the sight of the chrome spittoon and the silence outside the plate glass window gave her the heebie jeebies.’

I also didn’t realise that people could be in these places for months and years at a time.  This story is set around the time that a new wonder drug ‘streptomycin’ was discovered and had not yet been fully approved for all patients as it had some bad side effects.  several of the main characters in this book are desperate to be one of the chosen few to trial the drug and hopefully be cured of their affliction.  All of the characters are so well written that you feel for each and every one of them.

I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.

 

The Passion Of Mademoiselle S – Jean-Yves Berthault


I picked this one up on a whim from one of the library displays called ‘In Their Own Words’.  This is a book of letters written in 1920’s France by a mistress to her married lover.  They were found by a friend of the editor when he bought a new apartment, and an old suitcase full of old glass jam jars was found to have these letters concealed in the bottom.

Now this information alone was enough to have me intrigued.  This is actually the book that I DNF’d.  It was interesting for a few chapters and was very racy (I didn’t realise they even knew those kinds of words in 1920’s France!) but once you’d read a few letters they were much of a muchness.  She rambled on about the same old rubbish time after time after time.  I found the most interesting part of the book were the footnotes by the editor who explained life at the time and the various assumptions he’d made about Simone and Charles’s relationship.  But I suppose in the end it was just that, assumption based.  We didn’t have any of Charles’s letters to get his side of the story and we didn’t really know how the relationship ended.

All very dull and disappointing.

Big Fat DNF!

 

Little Deaths – Emma Flint


Another Baileys Womens Prize for Fiction book.  Although I think this one made the longlist and not the shortlist.

Another bloody fabulous read!  This tells the story of Ruth, a woman in 1960’s New York.  Recently seperated from her husband and mother of 5 year old Frankie and 4 year old Cindy who mysteriously disappear one night and are later found murdered (not a spoiler).  Ruth is immediately the number one suspect based purely on the way she acts, presents herself and the fact that she doesn’t publicly seem to grieve for her babies.  She is a waitress in a cocktail bar (not a cue for a song) and is always immaculately turned out, hair set, make-up perfect and she lots and lots of gentleman friends.

The police and in particular the officer in charge Sergeant Devlin are hell-bent on pinning the murders on Ruth because of the person she is.

‘”Ok Honey, Okay.  The cops are on their way.  We have to stay calm, we have to think.”  Minnie trotted in and pressed her nose against Ruth’s knee until she pushed her away.  She couldn’t bear to be touched.

It took Ruth a moment to get to her feet.  She had to pee, and then she looked at herself in the bathroom mirror.  Her face was covered in a film of perspiration, and her eye makeup had smudged.  She repaired the damage as best she could, lifted her arm to comb her hair and smelled sweat.  She looked in the mirror again.  Beneath that layer of makeup, her body, her face were all wrong.  She looked wrong, smelled wrong.  You smell like a bitch in heat.  She went into the bathroom and changed her clothes.  Put on a clean blouse that flattered her figure.  She knew that there would be men, strangers, looking at her, asking questions.  Their eyes all over her like hands.  She had to be ready for them.  She had to look right.’

As much as this book deals with a very obviously upsetting subject, it is done with just enough detail so as not to be gratuitous yet still realistic.  Its a really atmospheric story and the scene setting is brilliant.  I really felt like I was there in 1960’s New York in the middle of a heat wave.  The chapters are told alternately from Ruth’s perspective and that of journalist Pete Wonike who becomes a little obsessed with both the story and Ruth herself.

Another really great 5 star read that I would thoroughly recommend.

That’s all for now folks.  I’ll let you crack on with demolishing your Easter Eggs.  Hope you’ve all had a fab weekend and as always let me know if you’ve read any of the books mentioned above and your thoughts on them.

 

 

Mand xxx

 

 

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A Reading Wrap Up #3

Hello again, I’m here to give you a little run down of the last 4 books I’ve read recently.  One great, two okay and one no-no.


Lets get straight to it.

First up was this one:

Night Waking by Sarah Moss

I’d never read anything by this author before but I’ve heard lots about her on Booktube recently.  I think her most recent novel ‘The Tidal Zone’ got lots of positive reviews and is something I need to pick up, but I’d also heard good things about this one too and decided to start here.

This book follows Anna, the sleep deprived, beleaguered mother of Raphael (Raph) and Timothy (Moth).  She and her husband Giles have just moved to a remote Hebridean island so that her ornithologist husband can study the Puffin population.  Now Anna herself used to have a very prestigious job at Cambridge and is trying to write a study on childhood, although my details on this are a bit sketchy as the passages relating to this were taken from text books and studies and were quite convoluted and ‘wordy’.  This didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book because luckily they were mostly kept to the chapter headers and I found myself just skimming over these bits.

Anna is struggling with everyday life on the remote island with a very small population, in fact I think they may be the only ones living there as Giles ancestors owned a lot of the property and the old islanders moved away years ago. She is tired, struggling to find time to work, stressed and missing her academic life.

One day whilst planting trees they discover the remains of a baby buried under the soil.  This find is then investigated by the police but also gets Anna wondering about what could have happened to the child back in the day.  She starts to research the island and the history, using it in her study on childhood.  I will say that the book is not based around the discovery of the bones which I was really happy with.  I didn’t pick up the book expecting some kind of murder mystery so I was please it was a side story more than anything.

There are interspersing chapters from a nurse sent to the island back in the 1800’s to uncover why babies are mysteriously dying 8 days after being born.  She documents her struggles with the islanders shutting her out and being unwilling to disclose their practices and methods.

Overall this book perfectly depicts the utter desperation at times of mothers to young children, trying to keep everything together and be a good mother despite the bone weary exhaustion.

I have been bending over the cot, my index finger locked in Moth’s sticky grasp, for thirty-six minutes, during which time I have made four escape attempts, sung ‘Hush Little Baby’ end to end sixteen times and convinced myself that the pins and needles in my hands promise an early, if slow, release by mercy of a neurological degenerative disease.  How may years of my life would I give for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep?…

I mean who doesn’t relate to that? I really enjoyed this book, Sarah Moss’s writing style is one I know I will continue to enjoy and I plan to read more of her work in the future.  This could even possibly be a book I re-read and I NEVER re-read anything.

Next up:

The Wild by Esther Freud

This was a lovely quick read.  Well I say ‘lovely’, the content was quite dark and emotional.  This is the story of Tess and her brother Jake who, together with their mother Francine have rented 2 rooms from William, a divorcee and his 3 daughters following the breakdown of Francine’s marriage.

Jake struggles to get along with William who is somewhat of a control freak and very manipulative. 8 year old Tess on the other hand is absolutely desperate to win the affections of William and become a part of his family.

This book starts with a tragedy and then flits back to the start of the trouble and takes you on the journey leading up to the event.  At times I found this book heartbreaking.  The sheer desperation of little Tess trying to win William round was so upsetting.

There’s a point in the book where Tess has spent lots of time and effort knitting William some socks for his birthday and is utterly convinced he will love them and ultimately love her.

‘So now what do we have here?’  The roll of the next present flopped across his hand.  ‘It feels like a tie’, he laughed, ‘or a pair of socks’.  He chuckled as if this was the least likely thing in the world that it could be.  Tess gulped, shivery with waiting, and saw the small worms of the apple darkening brown.  And then there they were, her socks unfurling out of the paper, still warm from knitting, a mound of lumpy wool.  William held one up by the toe.  ‘The look……very practical.’  Tess wanted to tell him, in case he hadn’t noticed, that she’d knitted every stitch of them herself.  ‘Thank you, right’ he was moving on, glancing at his watch….

I wanted to grab Tess and hug her and tell her not to waste her time on this vile man.

This was a very enjoyable book despite dealing with some emotional subjects.  I really enjoy Esther Freud’s writing and she’s not an author I see talked about much.  I’ll definitely be reading more of her work.

 

The Fire Child by S.K Tremayne

I’d read The Ice Twins by the same author and really loved it.  I had high hopes for this one.  The premise of it being set in a grand old house near some remote mines was right up my street.

The story follows Rachel who had just married the rich, handsome widower David and moved in with him in his beautiful old house in Cornwall.  David has an 8 year old son called Jamie who soon after the marriage begins to behave oddly.  He tells Rachel he can hear and see his dead mother walking around the house and he even more oddly starts to predict the future.  Most notably predicting the apparent death of Rachel that coming Christmas.

Obviously Rachel is unsettled by all of this but begins to experience odd happenings herself and decides to investigate the death of Jamie’s mother Nina as all is not as it seems and her husband David has been hiding things from her.

Now it does take a lot to spook me out when reading a book but I remember one night whilst reading it in bed, my heart hammering, thinking what the eff am I doing?! The scene starts on Christmas Eve when Rachel and Jamie have been snowed in at the house and inevitably there’s a blackout (of course there is! why wouldn’t there be in a creepy story?!):

‘But that perfume! It’s Mummy.  Can’t you smell it?  I want Mummy to stay dead now.  It’s enough now, isn’t it?’

‘I can’t smell her perfume.’

And I cannot.  Not this time.  But I maybe detect another presence.  An evil woman, capable of evil things.

‘I want Mummy to stay in the mine.  Or in the grave at Zennor, wherever she is, I miss her but I don’t want her to talk to me anymore’

‘Jamie, she isn’t talking to you.  She can’t be.’

But how can I be sure? That face in the darkness, I saw it, coming from the old hall.  And I have not been inside the Old Hall since.  An entire wing of this house scares me.  I am returned to being an infant, frightened by the thing behind the door.’

I did enjoy this story but I’m not sure about the far fetched twist at the end.  It’s worth a read but if you’re looking to read anything by this author, I’d suggest The Ice Twins first as I much preferred it.

And finally….

 

The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale

I picked this one up because the cover is beautiful (fell into that old trap again didn’t I?!).  It also has a tagline of ‘An Infamous Murder In Victorian London’ and we all know I love a bit of Victorian London.

BUT…..I hated this.  No that’s a bit strong actually.  I didn’t enjoy it.  There, that about sums it up.

This book tell the story of two brothers Robert and Nattie Coombes who murder their mother and leave her dead in bed whilst they whoop it up around London, blowing her cash for ten days until they are discovered.

Now this is a true story of an actual crime and we know from the off that one of these boys has killed their mother, there’s no question of it.  So in that respect there’s no mystery as such to solve.  The main chunk of the book follows the court case and the psychologist investigation behind why one of these boys would do such a horrific thing.  Now, I don’t enjoy courtroom drama’s on the telly…..and I didn’t enjoy the trial section of this book.  Too many dates and extraneous information which had nothing to do with the story (I really don’t need to know that the court clerks mother was born in 1845 and was the daughter of a shipbuilder blah blah blah).

The second third of this book talked about Roberts time in Broadmoor which was slightly more entertaining, as it detailed other inmates and their crimes but then it got duller still when Robert was released from Broadmoor and moved to Australia….so what?  It was a proper damp squib.

The only saving grace was that the back 71 pages were ‘notes’ and I didn’t have to read them.  Thank the Lord!

I do not recommend this book unless you really are into facts and dates and history surrounding criminal trials….and even then…….nah.

Oh well, you win some you lose some.

 

See you next time.

 

 

Mand xxx

 

 

 

 

The Doll Funeral By Kate Hamer – A Review


I heard about this book on Booktube where somebody read out the blurb and it honestly made me think ‘Wowzers! I NEED this book!’.

I did a little bit of ever so subtle hinting around Mother’s Day…ie I grabbed the book from the shelf in our local indie bookshop and brandished it in front of The Husband’s face whilst saying ‘I’d like this for Mothers Day please…’.  Luckily he’s a right clever sausage that husband of mine and he stealthily bought it for me.

Firstly, lets address the fact that it has a beautiful cover, hardback, looking up through a canopy of trees.  The title ‘The Doll Funeral’ jars with the beautiful serene looking front cover and I suppose this is kind of a theme throughout the book.  Creepy things happening in normal surroundings under everyday circumstances and I often find that this is when stories are the most scary, when the cold fear creeps in insidiously.  Magical realism?….is that what it’s called?  I’m getting an education from watching Booktube people!

I’m going to start by sharing the blurb which drew me in so much.  I’ve since put a picture out of this blurb on both Instagram and Twitter and people have said ‘what is this book? I need it!’.  Here let me show you:


What is NOT to LOVE about that? Shadow who sits on the stairs *shudder*, The Wasp Lady and the woman in the buttercup dress hanging upside down from her seatbelt.  I have read this blurb over and over just to get the same little chill, yes I’m odd.  But isn’t it just marvellous?

I so wanted to fall in love with this book for lots of reasons and fall I did.  Hard.  I think it will most likely end up being one of my favourite books of the year.  But we’ll see…

So the story is set around our protagonist Ruby who at the start of the book has just 13 and her ‘parents’ have just told her that they are not her real Mother and Father.  Ruby is elated with the news.  She suffers horribly at the hands of Mick her adoptive Father.  He’s violent, abusive and cruel.  Barbara her adoptive mother tries her best to step in between them but she’s not strong enough to stop the abuse.

Ruby has always known she’s a little bit special.  She has a port wine stain birthmark around her eye and is able to see ‘ghosts’ or the spirits of the dead in various guises.  The one who has been with her since she was small is Shadow.

‘When did Shadow arrive?, He’d always been there.  Sometimes he was as dense as a nut and moved swiftly.  Other times he drifted.  Often, I could whisper in his ear and he would listen.  Then he’d disappear for long weeks and I’d almost forget about him.  Sometimes I wondered if he’d been my twin – If he’d slipped out behind me from the womb like the black afterbirth and nobody noticed.  Yes, the Shadow had always been there.  The darkness around his mouth I thought was dirt – or mud perhaps – I couldn’t tell.  The first proper memory of him was when I was three.  He was sitting on a shelf and watching me as I scribbled on the wall with fat wax crayons.  Perhaps he knew better than me the pasting I’d get for that.  Perhaps that’s why he’d turned up that day.’

With the news that she isn’t really Barbara and Mick’s daughter Ruby feels she now has a mission in life to find her real Mum and Dad who surely wouldn’t give her the terrible life she currently has at the hands of Mick.

‘Look, look how his fists are going in and out like little jack hammers working.  See how his shirt has pulled out of his trousers with all the effort.  See how Ruby’s fingers are getting busted because she’s covering up her head with them.  Ruby’s father, he intends to mash her into a paste this time and smear her across the walls until she is no more.  Maybe there’ll just be an eye stuck to the wall watching him as he goes to bed tonight that he’ll pluck off and lob out of the window like a golf ball.’

All the while she is on this mission the dead are all around her, closing in.  They want to use her body as a vessel in which they can live life back in the real world again. The narrative flits back and forth between Ruby’s life (set in the early 1980’s) and the life of her mother Anna back in the 70’s.  There are also a few chapters from the Shadow which I loved.  They really help explain what’s happening to Ruby and why he’s there attached to her.

‘The thing being, with each new beating I see how your eye gets cracked a little more, the hole that lets us in.  Each time new Shadows slip inside, Shadows such as me.  The crack becomes wider and wider as you grow.  I’m afraid one day it will form such a chasm it will swallow the rest of you up.  I’m frightened for you Ruby.  I’ve seen how close to death you have come.  How it sniffs and stalks about you when the fists begin to fly.  Then we come, the lost souls leaking into your eye, finding our way in…’

This story is written so beautifully even though it deals with some really dark subject matters.  It’s quite lyrical and poetic in places, (I’m aware that sounds wanky) but I really enjoyed the writing style.  I must say though that I preferred the narrative involving Ruby’s mother Anna, it was interesting to see the back story and give some explanation as to why Ruby ended up where she did.

I said earlier on, the creepiness in this story is quite subtle but chilling all the same.  I often find that goings on are far more authentically scary when they happen in an everyday setting and not say for example in a typical old haunted mansion etc.  You catch my drift? One example of this which sticks in my mind is when Ruby goes to a cleaning job to help her Mother Barbara out, she’s helping her dust the furniture:

Inside the fretwork was a kind of hollowed-out place and there was shuffling, a movement there.  My eyes adjusted to look beyond, to focus out the room and see…..a creature there.  No, a person.  A felty coat pressed against the filigree.  Scrunched up, folded in on itself.  My eyes travelled up.  Grey flesh, a head, sideways on.  No eyes though, they were looking the other way, into the wall.  It shifted again, as if trying to get comfortable in its confinement.’….

I mean how effin creepy is that?….who’s sitting in YOUR cupboard right now *shudder*.  You never find out who it is or what they are doing there and that’s what makes it all the more sinister, although this is Ruby’s everyday life.

You really do feel for Ruby and Anna throughout the book.  The chapters with Shadow in are quite emotional too and I was very happy and satisfied with the ending which tied up a few loose ends.

There’s almost too much I could say about this book but it’s difficult without giving away spoilers.  It has so many layers and supernatural threads and its just fabulous. It is ultimately a kind of coming of age story I suppose, Ruby desperately trying to belong and find a sense of normality and family life when all around her is far from normal. 

I also have Kate Hamers debut novel The Girl In The Red Coat so I’ll definitely be getting onto that one soon.

If you get the opportunity please read The Doll Funeral.  I highly recommend it.  Five stars!

I’ll be back soon with another reading wrap up.

 

Mand xx