Bath, Books and Mr B’s

I had a big birthday recently. A big one. Huge. I’d prefer not to discuss numbers but let’s say it begins with a 4 and ends in 0.

My husband has been struck down with this self same affliction and as we are both one foot closer to the grave (I swear this blog post gets more positive, hang in there, stay with me), we decided we’d do a little jaunt away somewhere. Ditch the kids and ride off into the sunset, just the two of us oldies.

But where could we go that we would both enjoy? Hmmmmm what a puzzler. I scratched my head and pretended to think long and hard about it when my whole soul was silently screaming Bath! Bath! Bath! I knew I just had to visit Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights……and well…..if I’m happy then my husband is happy. Capiche?

I’m not really a selfish pig, we would do lots of sight seeing and eating and drinking so everyone’s a winner.

I desperately wanted to do the book spa experience but ever the procrastinator I left it too late to book and they were fully booked up. The staff however bent over backwards via email to try and fit me in on another day. Unfortunate we were only dahn sarf that one weekend so it was not to be.

Just as I’d resigned myself to a trip to Disappointment Central, calling at Dashed Hopes and terminating at Shattered Dreams Parkway, the lovely staff at Mr B’s emailed to ask if I’d thought of joining up for their book subscription service and if so would I like a 30 minute consultation to sign up for it?…….well hell to the yeah! I’m up for that!

And so it came to pass that on the 29th day of the month of July, we merrily packed our kids off and jetted off down the old motorway.

Now it goes without saying that Bath is a beautiful city but if you didn’t already know and have never been, it is a beautiful city. Bustling and busy with lots to see and do. We walked our little legs off.

We stayed in a rather lovely little boutique B&B called Brindley’s, the owners are so lovely and helpful. They suggested places to eat and drink and we had some rather potent cocktails in an underground cocktail bar called The Dark Horse.

On our first trot round the city centre we actually passed Mr B’s (and my stomach did a little flip, ya get me?) BUT I was booked in for the next day and didn’t want to ruin the moment so what did I do?…..I sneakily took a quick picture whilst whispering ‘tomorrow my pretty….’ (not really, that sounded a bit creepy) I did take a picture though.

At this point I feel like I need to give an honourable mention to another absolutely beautiful bookshop called Toppings. Walking into this shop is like walking into book heaven. It’s floor to ceiling bookshelves with the moveable ladders and squillions of beautiful books. Lots sealed up in clear cellophane and lots of signed first editions. If you’re ever in Bath you NEED to visit here.

See what I mean?…..

So, Mr B’s…..what can I tell you? I arrived fashionably early but was then told I was actually on time and had got the time wrong. Yay me! Amy got me started on my book subscription consultation. I have chosen to go for a 6 month paperback subscription at a cost of £85. I also had some extra birthday money with me (lucky girl) to spend on books whilst I was there.

The lovely Amy took me up to the second floor and sat me down in the comfy chairs. I was offered a coffee and had the chance to have a quick perusal of the shelves whilst Amy went to get it.

The room really is beautiful and the atmosphere is very relaxing. Amy then took a few details from me regarding where my books should be sent etc then she asked me some questions about my reading tastes, habits, preferences etc. We covered which genres I love (literary fiction and gritty gothic historical fiction) and genres I like not so much (YA, Sci-Fi, Fantasy). It quickly became apparent that myself and Amy had very similar reading tastes and we chatted quite easily about the books we’ve both read and loved recently.

I told her about my blog which she made a note of and I told her my Goodreads name so that when I am assigned a person to pick my books they can have a look and see if I’ve read what they’ve chosen or would like to read it.

She said that they would all be fighting to be assigned to me because a lot of the staff enjoy gothic historical fiction. It felt nice to be up for grabs as it were.

I went with the option of being given a ‘hint’ email before my book gets sent out each month. This will be an email containing a detail about the book, usually the authors name and then this can help weed out books I may have already read. I would recommend this option if you read a lot or are a blogger.

After we’d chatted and Amy had all of the relevant details she needed, she left me to have a perusal and gave me a couple of recommendations aswell, which I of course went with!

When I took my choices to till Amy made a note of what I’d picked so that there would be no crossovers in my subscription.

So what did I choose I hear you cry?……

Well I chose these beauties:

And I was given a lovely Mr B’s tote bag. What’s not to love?!

If you get the chance to head to Bath I can thoroughly recommend Mr B’s. The staff are not only knowledgable but are lovely to boot! The shop itself is a book lovers dream and I really didn’t want to leave.

I’d still be interested in doing the reading spa another time and will definitely look into it for the future.

All in all a rather special couple of days.

Bath, you were lovely.

I’m still 40 though. Booooo.

See you all soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

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Bitter Orange By Claire Fuller – A Review

Publisher: Fig Tree Books/Penguin

Publication Date: 2nd August 2018

I hold my hands up. I was extremely jel when I saw people on Twitter showing off their beautiful proofs of this book. Like proper green eyed monster stuff. So when I saw that it was available to request on Netgalley I was straight in there like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe. Luckily I was approved (had a couple of knockbacks recently boooooo). And I started it straight away.

The story opens with Frances Jellico, our protagonist apparently incarcerated in some kind of institution nearing the end of her life. Suffering from a wasting disease and having conversations with a vicar that she vaguely recalls from her past.

Frances lapses back into the past during her medicated haze and takes the reader with her. We are transported back to the hot summer of 1969 when Frances is employed by a rich American man to survey the land and follies of a decrepit country house he has just purchased called Lyntons.

Frances has taken two of the attic rooms and soon discovers that there is a couple living in the downstairs quarters, Peter and Cara. Peter has been employed in a similar vein to Frances, and has been tasked with surveying and doing an inventory of the actual house itself.

Frances arrives with very few belongings and seems happy to live in the sparse rooms whilst carrying out her work. However, Peter and Cara soon prove to be a distraction with their seemingly tempestuous, complex relationship. Frances finds herself invited into their world, intoxicated by their slightly bohemian way of living. They regularly help themselves to the wine in the wine cellar and eat from crockery they have found in the house, not bothering to wash it up. Simply using new plates when necessary. They spend their days walking and swimming and most of all talking. They spend many evenings in an alcohol haze putting the world to rights.

Frances becomes a confidant to both Peter and Cara separately. Cara is a spirited Irish woman with an obsession with Italy and the Italian language. She has a troubled past and seems to want to unburden herself to Frances. However, Peter refutes some of the things Cara is telling Frances and has stories of his own to tell.

Frances gets taken in by both of them and becomes a little obsessed with being in their company and their world and finding out about their relationship dynamic. Believing their tales and struggling to understand who she should trust. What exactly happened to Cara in Ireland to make her so troubled? Why does Peter never want to leave her alone in the house?

It’s so very difficult to review this book without letting a myriad of plot points slip and ruining the entire structure of the story. There are so many layers to this book and so many topics covered.

The overriding themes are of loneliness, solitude, religion, theology, love, and guilt and it’s effects.

The characters in this story are just perfect. All essentially flawed and fascinating. This is by no means a long book but I tore through it, desperate to know how the ending was going to culminate but at the same time not wanting it to end at all.

I love stories where there is a creeping sense of something not being quite right, of something being ‘off’. A slow journey into an ultimate climax where the little things that haven’t been ‘quite right’ rush to make sense. I love when the ordinary becomes extraordinary and this book perfectly fits that bill.

I enjoyed the slight supernatural element, especially set against the backdrop of a crumbling mansion. Again, nothing too overt, just some things that weren’t ‘right’.

The depictions of the house and grounds were very detailed and within the first few pages I had Lyntons firmly in my minds eye. That’s a good indicator of whether I’m going to enjoy a book, whether I can be transported straight there very soon after starting to read.

I also enjoyed the short snappy paragraphs. I read this on my phone so I’m not sure what the physical finished copy and it’s layout will look like but the brief paragraphs which sometimes segued between past and present with no preamble were perfect. I found this represented Frances’s moments of lucidity excellently.

This is one of those books that I know I will be thinking about for a long time. I really want to buy a copy of it for everyone and put it into their hands. I really wanted to ditch work and just read it in one sitting but unfortunately money needs to be earned and bills need to be paid apparently!

I was put in mind of English Animals by Laura Kaye when I was reading this (another fabulous read) but it also had vibes of Du Maurier about it. It is fair to say I adored this book and it it most definitely a five star read. I can see it making my top ten books of the year.

Get yourselves a copy. You won’t regret it.

Thanks as always to the publisher for the arc.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

So Far So Good……

A while back in a wanky management meeting we did one of those pointless personality tests. Turns out I’m a ‘reflector’ not an ‘activist’.

What are you blathering on about woman?….

Well, I’m using this to highlight the point that I’m late to the mid-way point of the year where more organised book bloggers amongst us have already put out their post/video detailing their most loved books of 2018 so far.

I’m 11 days behind the times people and today this will be rectified. I have done much soul searching and ‘reflecting’ and have compiled my list.

I say ‘soul searching’ what I actually did was scroll through my Goodreads, look at the books and judge whether it was a definite ‘yes’ or a definite ‘no’ based on my gut instinct. Only the creme de la creme were getting through! Yeah I’m a tough nut when I want to be kids!

If you follow me on Twitter you’ve probably already seen me wanging on about these books so I apologise for the repetition. I also apologise for the fact that 3 of the 7 books I’m going to mention are not yet published BUT they will be by the second week of August. Something to look forward to you could say.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the books, and I will link my reviews of the books that have already been published and you can go check these out should you choose to. (You should)

So……in no particular order:

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg Jephcott

Published by Hutchinson – Out now 

This beauty (and it is an actual beauty with a stunning cover and end papers) was such a treat to read. I’d never read anything written by Truman Capote and didn’t have much of an idea of who he was. After reading this fictionalised account of his relationship with his ‘swans’ I feel I know him much better. The swans are the various socialite women who fulfil his every whim, whom he then dishes the dirt on. It’s a funny, touching, glamorous romp of a book and it has a piece of my heart. Check out my review here.

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

Published by Vintage – 12th July 2018

I’ve been raving about this one till the cows come home on Twitter recently. Another stunning book both outside and in. This one was gritty and raw but at the same time lyrical and compelling. Based firmly in folklore this book had me hooked from the get go and has made me want to reach for Daisy Johnson’s short story collection Fen. (If the library hadn’t have lost it! Don’t get me started….livid!). Check out my review here.

Resin by Ane Riel

Published by Doubleday – 9th August 2018

This is an odd one in a completely marvellous way. Claustrophobic and atmospheric with a first line that knocks your socks off! The rollercoaster ride starts immediately and has you firmly strapped in until the killer last paragraph, after reading which you feel like you have been holding your breath the entire time. My review of this one will follow closer to publication date, so keep your eyes peeled!

Bitter by Francesca Jakobi

Published by W&N – Out now

Yet another bloody stunning cover! I’ve been a lucky girl being treated to all of these gems. Not only is this book awesome, the author is a total doll too. She’s lovely. Just lovely. This one is another one that has a little piece of my heart. Emotive, thought provoking and utterly compelling with a completely fascinating protagonist. This book kick started my amazing reading year so far. Check out my full review here.

Call Of The Curlew By Elizabeth Brooks

Published by Doubleday – Out now 

I consider myself lucky to have been involved in the blog tour for this one. An absolute stonker of a dual timeline story (and I do love me a dual timeline!). This book made me want to urge everyone to read it at the same time as me. I so desperately wanted someone to chat through my thoughts with whilst I was reading it. I remember closing it after I’d finished and knowing that I’d been part of something magical. Sounds daft. But true. I got straight on to writing my review (which is always a good sign) and you can check that out here.

The Weaning by Hannah Vincent

Published by Salt. Out now.

I can’t remember how I came by this book but someone must have mentioned it or I must have seen something on the socials and I’m hella glad I did! I tore through this one in mere hours. It’s not a long book by any means but it sure does pack a sucker punch! Another one I wanted to shout from the rooftops about as soon as I’d finished it……..actually I think I did! If you want to find out what got me waxing lyrical then check out the full review here. Sidenote: published by Salt so you know it’s awesome right?

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Published by Fig Tree and out 2nd August 2018

This was just a perfect book in my humble opinion. It encapsulated everything I adore about a compelling read. So atmospheric and almost stifling, set during one long hot August in a crumbling country house (who doesn’t love a country house I ask ya?!). You don’t have to take my word for this one as I’ve recommended it to a few of my most trusted bookish bloggers who have also adored it. I can see this one most definitely making my top books of the year. No question. Unfortunately you will have to wait until August for this one…..and my glowing review.

So there they are. My top reads of the year so far. Just to clarify, this doesn’t mean that the other books I’ve read were no good. It just means that I feeeeeeeel these ones in my heart and bones. Ya get me?

See you soon for some more bookish stuff.

Bookish Chat. Xxx

Sticks And Stones by Jo Jakeman – A Review

Publisher: Harvill Secker

Publication Date: 12 July 2018

Well what can I say?! This book was a proper fast paced page turner and no mistake! It came at a time when I very much needed an action packed corker of a book to grab my attention.

This book opens with the funeral of Philip Rochester. (Not a spoiler, and the mock up of the funeral order of service that came with this proof was a nice touch!). Attending Phillips funeral are Imogen his ex wife, Ruby his ex-ex wife and Naomi his girlfriend.

The story is told from the perspective of Imogen, who is the only one of the women to have a child, Alastair, with Phillip. Right from the off we are aware that there is no love lost between Imogen and Phillip, and understandable tensions between the three women.

So what exactly happened to bring about Phillip’s demise? From the funeral we travel back in time to 22 days before the funeral (each chapter is headed up with a countdown of days before the funeral). We begin to build up a very grim picture of Phillip and the way he has treated these three women. He is abusive, controlling, violent and demeaning and we learn about how his marriage to Imogen eventually broke down. Imogen still lives in the house she originally shared with Phillip and their son, and when Phillip informs her that he wants her to move out so that he can sell the house, giving Imogen very little notice, Imogen does something which is a catalyst for changing the lives of all the women.

I don’t really want to give too much away plot wise, suffice to say that there is some nail biting stuff in here! It’s also quite violent and graphic but not in a gratuitous way.

There are so many layers character wise in this story. So many fascinating relationships to untangle and try to fathom. The tension between all three of Phillips women is very evident at the start but when events start to throw them implausibly together, their relationships evolve to being beyond anything they could have imagined.

There’s a strong theme of mistrust in this story which I loved. Between each of the women and Phillip but also between the women themselves. They are all bonded by a common goal to bring Phillip down for various reasons of their own. Reasons that we find out about in certain special chapters where we are taken further back in time and are told about the terrible ways in which he treated each woman during their time with him. Despite these women having a common goal they are very mistrustful of each other which in turn made me as a reader not trust anyone either! But I like that, I love being kept on my toes.

I must admit that as I neared the end of this story I had some concerns about just how Phillip Rochester was going to meet his end. I didn’t want it to be as cut and dried as it could potentially be. Luckily it wasn’t, and the ending left me very satisfied that everything had been sewn up to my liking!

If you’re in the market for a super fast paced nail biter then you need to get your hands on this one immediately.

Thank you to Harvill Secker and Mia Quibell-Smith for the advanced proof.

See you all soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

Everything Under By Daisy Johnson – A Review

Publisher: Jonathan Cape

Publication Date: 12th July 2018

Just take a moment to appreciate the stunning cover on this specimen please…….just Look. At. It!…..gorgeous.

Ahhhhhhh where was I?…..yes! I was cheeky with this one kids. I asked the lovely folk at Vintage if I could perhaps pretty please have a copy for review and being the total doll faces that they are lo and behold it arrived.

I bumped it right to the top of my TBR and the rest is history. This is the kind of book that I wish every one of my bookish pals were reading at the same time as me so that I at least had people to talk to about it as I was reading. I was bursting with thoughts and ideas and questions, questions, questions!…..not to mention feelings. Oh mate the feelings!

Gretel works as a lexicographer, defining words for the dictionary. Words played a hugely important role in Gretel’s childhood and upbringing with her mother on a canal boat on the river.

It’s not until Gretel is abandoned by her mother at 16 years old and sucked into the care and schooling system that she realises just how important words are. Her mother had brought her up using completely made up words that Gretel had no idea did not exist in normal everyday language in the outside world. Gretel and her mother Sarah live an isolated life, it’s them against the world and sometimes Sarah against Gretel. Sarah clearly suffers with mental illness and alcoholism when Gretel is growing up and their lives are far from stable.

After her mother’s abandonment Gretel finds herself as an adult, trying to locate her mother. Ringing hospitals and morgues, trying to trace Sarah in order that she might be able to answer some questions and fill in some blanks in Gretel’s childhood memories of their time on the boat. Gretel has vague recollections of a boy called Marcus who came to stay with them on the boat one winter for a month. She has only a patchy memory and feels she needs to know exactly what happened to him.

We follow Gretel’s childhood, the search for her mother and the present day having found her mother back on the river. In the present day Gretel is struggling with a clearly ailing mother, with what appears to be some form of altzheimers or dementia. A woman who Gretel wants to take care of but at the same time shake the truth out of.

We also learn of Marcus’s story, his links to Sarah and Gretel and the family he is estranged from and just what happened to him that winter he stayed on the river. A winter where Sarah and Gretel are obsessed with the ‘Bonak’, a river dwelling creature responsible for stealing items, animals, humans…..Marcus is already wary of what the river people are calling the Canal Thief, a creature that lives in the water but walks on land. A creature the canal communities are terrified of.

The timeline of this book jumps all over the place but the chapters are clearly headed up to show what time thread you’re in.

The writing is just so beautiful and atmospheric that I can’t even begin to do it justice. Lyrical, with such depth. Highly evocative, depicting the landscape, the river, the wildness of Sarah and Gretel and their tumultuous relationship.

The characters all had many layers to discover. The character of Sarah I found absolutely fascinating. Troubled, bohemian, wild. Gretel by comparison, desperate to belong, desperate for normality. And Marcus, confused, lonely, abandoned, just wanting so much to belong.

There were points in this book where my jaw dropped. There were points where I had to go back and reread what I had just read and let it sink in. Even the introduction had me thinking, had my brain ticking, had me tingling in anticipation of what I knew was to be an amazing book. I was not wrong. The sense of creeping realisation as the true horror of events unfolded just held me captivated.

It’s so difficult to put across the sheer magic of this book without giving too much away. I really want everyone to read it so that I have someone to talk to about it. I know that this book will stay ticking over in my mind for some time to come. I was going to say it feels almost fairytale-esque but I think that would be wrong. It’s more mythical, magical, perfect.

Utterly absorbing and compelling. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Honestly.

Go.

Get.

It.

See you soon

Bookish Chat xx

The Lost Letters Of William Woolf By Helen Cullen – A Review

Publisher: Penguin/Michael Joseph

Publication Date: 12th July 2018

When I read the blurb for this book I knew instantly that it was a bit of me. Being inherently nosey as I am, I could think of nothing better than reading about other people’s lost letters. There’s something mysterious and magical about the idea of reading other people’s post and piecing together a story….

And that’s what William Woolf is employed to do. He works at The Dead Letters Depot in London and is tasked with the job of opening parcels and post which have gone astray in the system due to a variety of reasons, be it a missing post code, illegible handwriting, lost address labels etc etc.

For William, being a letter detective was not his vocation in life. He was an aspiring writer before a huge case of writers block knocked his confidence and impacted his marriage to lawyer Clare.

William now spends his days reuniting the errant parcels and letters to their rightful owners and he takes a particular interest in the 4th floor where all the letters to ‘mythical’ beings get sent. All the letters to Santa, God, Saints, Prophets and TV Characters. He enjoys reading people’s missives and always try’s to reunite a piece of post with its rightful owner.

When William starts to find letters simply addressed to ‘My One True Love’ signed off by a lady called Winter he starts to wonder whether he is actually the person destined to receive these letters. They are letters written to a future love, a love that Winter has yet to find. She describes the things she and her as yet unfound great love will do, and how she so wishes she could find him and give him the letters full of her thoughts and feelings herself.

William is at a very vulnerable part of his life, his marriage to Clare is failing and he is struggling to keep a hold on it. Their once passionate, creative marriage has grown somewhat stagnant and both Clare and William are feeling the disappointment.

Williams decision to try and track down Winter takes him on a journey of self discovery as well as a physical journey between London, Devon and Ireland.

I was utterly absorbed by this book. Taken into William and Clare’s hearts each time they told their stories in the alternate chapters. There is so much depth of feeling in this story, a slight fairytale esque quality whilst still retaining a real down to earth authenticity.

I loved the fact that the letters themselves were almost whimsical, transporting William away to a different life whilst his actual relationship in the here and now is floundering and heartbreakingly real and difficult.

I was happy in a way that William and Clare didn’t have a perfect marriage, and when they argued it wasn’t just glossed over or forgiven in the blink of an eye. These two really struggle to make it work and their marriage is depicted in heart rending honesty.

I found myself rushing towards the conclusion of this story, eager to know how things were going to pan out for William and Clare and indeed the elusive Winter. The ending was perfect and tied everything together in a very satisfying way.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am very pleased to report it is very deserving of the praise it has been getting on social media and in the blogging community.

Special thanks to Michael James/Penguin for the advanced review copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

You’re Being Ridiculous By C.E.A Forster – A Review

Now I’m not fussy about where a good book comes from. I buy some full price, I buy some secondhand, I borrow some from the library, I’m lucky enough to have publishers send me books and occasionally I have authors approach me directly.

Now I will hold my hands up say that the experience I’ve had with direct requests from authors so far have meant me usually refusing books based in outer space about killer unicorns…..I don’t know what it is but I seem to get approached about books that are so far outside of my reading tastes that I can’t even attempt to help out. (Disclaimer: I’m sure there are loads of folk out there who are bang into killer unicorns from outer space, it’s just not my bag).

So….where am I going with this? Well, I was approached directly by the author of this book and asked whether I would read her book in exchange for an honest review. I did some brief research and saw that one of my trusted Twitter pals had also read, enjoyed and reviewed the book so I thought why the devil not?

This book details the authors experiences with being a foster carer. A single Forster carer at that. Now there are a lot of mummy diary-esque books out on the market doing terrifically well. It’s a genre in itself and you have to have that special edge to be recognised (In my humble opinion). Well this lady has the added slant of not being someone’s biological Mum but being the sole carer of multiple children who aren’t hers. Children who have come from difficult backgrounds and landed feet first into her calm single life. A choice she has made for herself and has thrown herself wholeheartedly into.

The first children in her care are Neil and Owen. Two spirited brothers who cause mayhem and havoc. They are very much a baptism of fire, leaving the author wondering what on earth she has got herself into. I absolutely adored these boys and with the book opening with a very amusing exchange on a trampoline I was drawn in immediately.

The author goes on to tell us stories of the various scrapes and predicaments these children get themselves, and her into. The humiliation and shame when faced with rambunctious children in public.

There are some really very funny stories that had me chuckling to myself on the bus. Stories full of heart and emotion but by no means a pity party for these children who have had difficult lives. In fact the author is very careful to say that she doesn’t want to get too bogged down with the details of why of the children come to be in her care, it kind of goes without saying that these children are vulnerable and you take that thought with you as a reader throughout the entire book.

The author is very candid and honest about her feelings towards these children and the choices she has made. She has a very engaging voice and it really feels as though you’re having a chat with a friend.

She has a razor sharp wit but with bags of humility. This book is touching, thoughtful and utterly engaging.

I would heartily recommend it.

See you soon

Bookish Chat. Xxx