Call Of The Curlew By Elizabeth Brooks – A Review

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication Date: 28th June 2018

Firstly thank you to Anne Cater for the opportunity to be involved in the blog tour for Call Of The Curlew. I’m so honoured to be involved as this really is a stunning book.

I’m writing this review having just closed the book and I still have the shivers going down my spine. My mind is a whirr of thoughts and I’m desperate to talk to people about it!

Even the first 4 lines of the synopsis gave me the shivers:

Virginia Wrathmell has always known she will meet her death on the marsh.

One snowy New Years Eve, when she is eighty-six, a sign arrives that the time has finally come.

The book opens on New Years Eve when 86 year old Virginia receives the sign she’s been waiting for every New Years Eve since she was 12 years old. The tiny skull of a Curlew bird on the doorstep of Salt Winds, her childhood home on the periphery of Tolbury Marsh. Resigned to her fate, Virginia starts the painstaking process of sorting out her belongings and saying her final goodbyes to the rooms of Salt Winds. The rooms that hold so many memories from her childhood, most of them upsetting, distressing and full of grief, fear and remorse.

From here we travel back in time to the beginnings of Virginias life at Salt Winds when as a 10 year old orphan she is adopted from a children’s home by writer Clem Wrathmell and his wife Lorna. All against the backdrop of the beginnings of the Second World War.

Right from the outset during the journey from the orphanage to Salt Winds, Clem and Virginia’s relationship is so heartwarming and genuine. Lorna struggles with her new role as ‘mother’ despite Clem’s feeling that adopting a child will improve their marriage.

There’s very obvious tension and underlying resentment in their relationship which becomes particularly strained when Mr Deering, Clem’s childhood friend and apparent adversary visits the house.

Virginia is ill at ease when Max Deering is around. His apparent hold over Lorna, his unwanted attentions and unhealthy interest in young Virginia. Why has Clem asked Virginia to keep an eye on Lorna and Mr Deering and report back to him anything unusual? Why does Lorna seem a little afraid in his presence?

One quiet afternoon on the marshes when thoughts of the war raging on couldn’t be further from Clem and Virginia’s minds, a German fighter plane loses control and crashes into the marsh which sparks devastating events set to change the future of Virginia, Clem, Lorna and Salt Winds.

I don’t really want to say much more than that plot wise as you really need to discover the wonder of this book yourselves. Each chapter alternates between Virginia’s childhood and 2015, with Virginia preparing to meet her fate out on the marshes.

This book has everything I love. A dual timeline narrative, a house with secrets, dark deeply flawed characters and skeletons in the closet. A family saga that has far reaching consequences into the present day.

The depiction of Salt Winds and the marshes themselves were just perfect. I had the house sitting in my minds eye in detail right from the first chapter. The atmosphere of the marsh, the damp foggy landscape, the almost constant whip of the wind was just so atmospheric.

Each and every character is expertly written, robust, visceral and perfectly formed. Mr Deering is just deplorable! Lorna is such a fascinating character with many layers, I really wanted to discover more about her, complex and slightly unreachable in a tantalising way.

Virginia is such a feisty, tenacious character. At times she seems older than her 11/12 years. She’s astute and tunes in to the changes in atmosphere between the adults.

Virginia in the present day is somewhat resigned to her fate but still harbours thoughts of revenge and retribution against the Deering family.

I feel as though my words alone will not do this story justice. It is one of those books that grabs you from the outset. I was initially reading it in small chunks because I had a genuine fear of it ending. Then I just tore through it, desperate to bring it to a conclusion. The tension builds perfectly and the ending which I was almost too scared to read incase it didn’t bring a satisfactory conclusion was just breathtaking. (I had no real basis for this fear other than the rest of the book had been so perfect I was scared the ending wouldn’t stack up and my bubble would be burst!).

The last paragraph gave me actual shivers. I’m still recovering now!

I urge anyone and everyone to read this book. I already know it will be in my top 10 books of 2018, if not the top 5…….hell maybe even number 1! It’ll be special book indeed that beats this one to a place in my heart.

A well deserved and 5 stars from me without a doubt.

Just stunning.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat. Xxx

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Memoirs Of A Dipper By Nell Leyshon – A Review

Publisher: Penguin

This book was a pure impulse purchase based on the cover and the general premise. It’s not a huge book and the chapters are short so it flys along at a pace.

So what’s it all abaht gavnah? (My best cockney accent for you there) well, our narrator (first person narrative) is Gary. We meet him as an adult and he’s determined to tell the reader his story. He takes us from his deprived, neglected childhood on a London housing estate. Living with his alcoholic mother, his brother Alan, who is determined to better himself and his little sister Sharon. His father is a ‘sometimes’ father. Occasionally cropping up at various points in Gary’s life. Most noteably during his childhood, where one night he takes Gary on a ‘job’ with him to a factory and introduces Gary to a life of crime and ill gotten gains.

Gary becomes involved with various ‘tutors’ over the years, being shown a criminal underworld that he has a surprising gift for. He knows all the so called tricks of the trade (which are fascinating), all the little distractions, ruses and schemes.

‘I lift the wallet to my nose. The leather smells of animal and for a second I imagine it coming back to life, unfurling, shedding stitches, lifting its head to the air’…..

Gary feels things deeply and almost seems to have a sixth sense which enables him to get out of a scrape or two. The way he tells a story is at times quite poetic, philosophical and full of honesty.

The entrance to the tube looks like a mouth and I go into the throat. Jump barriers. Run and get on a train as the doors close. It’s rush hour. Push hour. Push and bloody shove you out the way hour’….

Gary’s is a tumultuous life, with episodes in prison, struggles with addiction, homelessness and loneliness. There are times in his life when Gary is flying high, feeling untouchable, but these times are short lived.

As disturbing and hard hitting as this book is there is real heart and honesty in it. There is a gentle humour and the style of writing is highly readable. I’m not always a fan of stories told in the first person, usually when an accent is included as I find it difficult to read large chunks in someone else’s voice and find I need a short break. With this story, with its short chapters it was easy to digest and take small breathers without losing the pace.

I really enjoyed this book and can thoroughly recommend it. Gritty, raw and eye opening. Grab yourself a copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat. Xxx

A Hundred Small Lessons By Ashley Hay – A Review

Publisher: Two Roads

This book was such a treat to read. It came at a time when I’d been reading lots of high energy, heavily plot based, action packed books and was the perfect antidote to high drama.

This is a character focussed gem of a story based around two separate families living in the same house over different time periods. The particular focus being on the two women of the households.

The story opens with Elsie Gormley lying on the floor of her family home, a house she has lived in for over 60 years with her husband Clem and their twin children Donny and Elaine. Elsie has suffered a fall and her family realise she is no longer able to look after herself alone at home and move her into a housing facility.

The house is sold to Lucy and Ben and their young toddler son Tom. Lucy develops a kind of fascination with Elsie, the woman who’s house she’s now living in and often talks to her in her head. When she discovers a box of old photographs of the family in the attic she feels closer still to Elsie. She becomes convinced that Elsie is coming back in the night to visit the house but her husband Ben remains unconvinced and even begins to get annoyed with Lucy for developing such a fascination with the old woman.

As the story develops we learn about Elsie’s life in the house, bringing up her family with Clem her devoted husband. We flit between the points of view of Elsie and Clem. Seeing their family through their own eyes.

Lucy in the present day is struggling with new motherhood, with their recent relocation to Brisbane and her changing marriage. What was once a quite passionate union has changed into something a little more settled and she isn’t quite sure if she’s losing herself. She is on a state of high alert around Tom the baby and lives an anxious life, worrying about the smallest of things and trying to keep her family safe.

I really enjoyed the little nuances in this story, the small tenuous links between the families and their histories. This a fascinating character study, especially where relationships are concerned and deals beautifully with marriage, mother and child bonds and friendship. The imagery is lovely too, with depictions of the landscape, flowers and animals native to Australia.

This is a heartwarming tale of family ties through the years, whilst it’s not soppy it’s just the right amount of sentimental and I found myself really bonding with each of the characters.

Such a joy to read.

Thank you to Two Roads and Bookbridgr for the review copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

Swan Song By Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott – A Review

Publisher: Hutchinson

Publication Date: June 14th 2018

Well the first thing I need to say about this book is that it is STUNNING. Its probably one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever owned. The end papers are blinking gorgeous too! Just wowsers.

I have to hold my hands up and say that I have never read any of Truman Capote’s work. I’m aware he wrote Breakfast At Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood but my knowledge of the man began and ended there……..until this book that is.

Now this is a fictionalised account of how his idea for a book Answered Prayers came to be. Truman, after his acclaim for In Cold Blood finds himself in the unenviable position of suffering from writers block and turning in desperation to writing about the colourful lives and personal affairs of his elite set of socialite friends.

In two excerpts from his book, serialised in Esquire magazine Truman effectively detonates a social grenade and pays the price. Despite changing the names of the characters everyone in the New York social scene knows exactly who Truman is talking about.

Told from Truman’s humble beginnings, a childhood with his neglectful mother who was repulsed by his strangeness. A poor upbringing in Alabama to a prolific writing career and a place firmly in the middle of the high society social scene, where anybody who’s anybody just loves to have salubrious Truman along for the ride. He inveigles himself in their lives and swiftly builds confidences with them, allowing them to see Truman as a trustworthy close friend to whom they can impart their innermost secrets. They see him as kind of asexual and their husbands see that he is not a threat. He’s the life and soul of any party and larger than life and they adore him. He calls them his ‘swans’ and he basks in their adoration.

So who are these ‘Swans’? Well they are the women shown on the end papers. Gloria, C.Z, Babe, Slim, Lee and Marella. Lee is the sister of Jackie Onassis, to give you some idea of the calibre of these women. They are the creme de la creme of the social scene. Their husbands and their various mistresses either making them stronger or breaking them down all under the watchful gaze of Capote.

We get to learn about each of the women, their back story, their heartbreaks and personal lives all under the glamourous backdrop of various restaurants in New York (Cirque, The Plaza, La Cote Basque) to the chic streets of Paris and the sumptuous yachts and private jets.

I so enjoyed this book and tore through it in a weekend. It was one that I just had to get back to and if I didn’t have children and a husband I think I would have holed myself up and read it in one sitting. It’s just so glamourous and prestigious but with a real grubby, gritty edge.

I was grateful to have the images of the ‘swans’ on the endpapers and during the first third I found myself flicking back and forth and seeing just exactly who Truman was talking about. Around halfway through I had their images emblazened in my brain and really felt like I knew these women.

This was one of those books that you know is fiction rooted in truth and had me grabbing my phone and googling little tidbits about Truman and his swans trying to find out exactly how much of it was truth and how much of it was fiction. It had a real ‘peeping behind the curtains’ feel to it, (albeit very classy heavy brocade ‘drapes’ perhaps rather than curtains!) I loved finding out the various secrets of these women. Their past lives, their relationships with husbands and lovers and their individual relationships with Truman himself.

The ultimate demise of Truman was very sad (and another googleable subject to get lost in). Ultimately I absolutely loved this book. The end chapter has an almost dream like ethereal quality and the writing throughout, but most noteably in the concluding chapters is just stunning. The whole production of it, the gripping, salacious storyline and the larger than life characters. Just simply stunning in every way. (Can I say ‘stunning’ enough times?) What an absolutely marvellous world to become immersed in.

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous!

I can’t leave this review without quoting one of my most favourite lines:

His legend will loom, bigger than a tit through a telescope.

And it does!

A real 5 star read for me.

Thank you as ever to the publisher and Isabelle Everington for the beautiful advanced copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

Mine By Susi Fox – A Review

Publisher: Penguin

Publication Date: 14th June 2018

This was a case of right book, right time for me. I could feel myself slumping a little, I’ve read some corkers this year and had just picked up a book that was very poetic and wordy. I wasn’t in the right head space for it so (rather sensibly for me!) I set it down and picked up Mine by Susi Fox. With the tag line ‘Someone’s stolen your baby. But no one believes you.’ – now that ain’t no lyrical poetic book!

I tore straight in!

So what’s it all about?

Sasha wakes after an emergency c-section to find herself alone in her hospital room, no baby beside her. In a panic, she asks a passing midwife if her baby daughter is ok. When she’s told her ‘son’ is in the premature baby ward but is doing well, Sasha begins to feel uneasy. The baby had been confirmed in scans as being a girl and Sasha had just felt deep down inside that her baby was a girl.

The midwife also mixes Sasha’s name and file of notes up with another patient, a seemingly innocuous event that does nothing to alleviate Sasha’s fears that something isn’t quite right.

When she is finally taken to visit her son in his incubator Sasha’s fears are seemingly confirmed when she looks at him and feels absolutely nothing for him. No connection, no bond and she struggles to see any familial likeness, either to her side of the family or her husband Mark’s.

And anyway where is Mark? Hadn’t Sasha made him promise to stay with the baby at all times should something bad happen during the birth?

From this point we follow Sasha’s mission to find her true baby despite nobody around her believing her. Her husband Mark appears to be humouring her and her thoughts that somehow her baby has been switched with another in some massive devastating error.

The hospital staff are dismissing her fears as post natal depression, failing to bond with her baby due to the traumatic birth. Sasha however is determined to prove everyone wrong and get her baby back before it’s too late.

We have alternating chapters told from Sasha’s perspective in the present day and Mark’s perspective building a picture of their early relationship and troubles in conceiving. We also gain some insight into Sasha’s childhood and relationship with her father after her mother abandoned her when she was a young child. We also learn about an event in Sasha’s career as a paediatrician that has shaken her confidence and shaped her career and life.

All of the peripheral and background information is there to put you on the back foot and make you question Sasha and her mental health. At least that’s the way it felt for me. I love never quite trusting a protagonist, an unreliable narrator is one of my most favourite things.

It is quite frustrating in a brilliant way, to not know what had happened and to not know who to trust. There are so many possible people to point the finger at that my head was in a wonderful whirl.

Midwife Ursula, psychiatrist Dr Niles, Dr Solomon, husband Mark……what are they all potentially trying to hide?

Sasha is such a determined character, I found myself willing her on in her mission. I mean, sure, there were times when I had to suspend disbelief for a little while…..not sure some of the things that happened in this particular hospital would have happened in good old Blighty in an NHS hospital but hey-ho (this book is set in Australia).

It’s a gripping read which really took me on an intense journey and the ending is an eye opener!

Give it a whirl, you won’t regret it!

Thank you to Sam Deacon for the review copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xx

Warlight By Michael Ondaatje – A Review

Publisher: Vintage

Publication Date: 7th June 2018

Oh my goodness did I feel the weight of other people’s expectations with this one!

I was lucky enough to attend the Vintage 2018 showcase in Waterstones Manchester back in March where this book was discussed briefly by one of the publicists. He mentioned a shadowy figure known as The Moth and that right there is what hooked me in.

I left the event thinking about this book and cheekily approached Vintage for a review copy. Lo and behold a mere few days later this beauty popped through my letterbox.

Now, since receiving it I have posted a couple of pictures over on the old ‘gram and Twitter and on each occasion I have been met with exclamations of envy. People declaring Michael Ondaatje as a literary hero, people who cannot wait to hear what it’s all about.

I have to hold my hands up here and say it’s a fair cop guv! I have never read any of Ondaatje’s work, nor have I even watched the film The English Patient. Needless to say I went into this book with a completely clean pallet if you will. A fact which I was happy about if I’m honest. I do enjoy heading into a book with very little idea of the premise.

So, having finally read it, I can now tell you a little about Warlight, not too much though as you’re going to want to discover it for yourselves.

Post WW2 London and Nathaniel and Rachel’s parents have just told them that they are moving away for a year to Singapore whilst their father does some work for his companies office over there. They are to be left in the care of The Moth, a lodger who has been living in one of their upstairs rooms.

Teenagers Nathaniel and Rachel are to still attend their schools and continue their education under the wing of The Moth. Their father leaves for Singapore, and their mother is due to follow on shortly after. When Nathaniel discovers the meticulously packed trunk of his mother left behind after her departure, he finds himself questioning her real whereabouts. With snippets of information regarding her involvement with the war effort told through memories from The Moth, Nathaniel has his suspicions.

Life at Ruvigny Gardens under the care of The Moth quickly becomes hectic and disordered. Their house is often full of lively colourful characters who fly somewhat under the radar of the law. Most notable of which being ex boxer known as The Pimlico Darter whom Nathaniel becomes close to. He also becomes embroiled in some criminal undertakings under cover of darkness along the Thames. Under the tutelage of The Darter he finds himself in some situations and scrapes. Learning the complex life of the criminal underworld.

We later go on to discover just where his mother is and the reasons for her departure. In the latter part of the book we follow Nathaniel as an adult trying to piece together his mother’s secretive life after her death.

This book for me had 2 distinct parts. The first half was by far the more light hearted and humourous. I loved discovering all the colourful characters, larger than life and oh so fascinating. The comings and goings of life at Ruvigny Gardens is fascinating. The relationships Nathaniel builds with these people under various guises are lovely to read. The Darter is one of my favourite characters, bold, striking and outlandish versus The Moth’s quiet reserve.

There is an event around a third of the way through which changed the whole course of the story and the mood for me. From this point on the story takes a more serious turn and the lightheartedness dissipates quite rapidly.

This is not in any way a criticism. I enjoyed getting under the skin of the story. Unravelling the mysteries along with Nathaniel. Discovering just who his mother had been, what her involvement with the war effort had been and how far she had gone to protect her family.

As I said at the start, I’ve never read any Michael Ondaatje but I can assuredly say that I will be doing so in the future. I’ll admit I was intimidated by this book before going into it but the story was beautifully written and very accessible. This book has the double whammy of perfectly depicted characters and an intriguing plot. I don’t really think I can pick any holes in it, nor would I want to.

I would thoroughly recommend it.

Thank you to Vintage for the ARC. I really appreciate it as always.

See you soon

Bookish Chat xxx