The Lion Tamer Who Lost By Louise Beech – A Review

Publisher: Orenda

Publication Date: 15th July 2018

I’d seen a fair bit of conversation about this one on the socials and had half an eye on it as you do, floating around in my book addled brain!

When I was asked to join in the blog tour I went back and had a look at the blurb and had to think twice about the ‘animal’ factor. I’m not a huge fan of books with animals in BUT I read some of the reviews for this beaut of a book and just knew that the central relationship would grip me and hold me. I’m so glad I didn’t let my dislike of ‘animal’ books put me off this gem.

So anyway, the point of all that waffle was, I signed up!

So what do we have here?

The story starts with Ben just arriving in Zimbabwe to volunteer at a Lion sanctuary, helping to rear and release lions into the wild.  This is a dream he has always had and he promised his mother before she died that he would fulfil it.  However it quickly becomes apparent that Ben is also using this excursion as a way to escape something that is going on in his personal life at home.  There is clearly an issue with his father and another relationship with someone who he obviously desperately misses.

This is the point that we find out about Andrew.  Ben and Andrew meet in a library whilst Ben is studying and Andrew is working on his children’s book, The Lion Tamer Who Lost.  They keep on bumping into each other in a series of coincidences and quickly develop a romantic relationship.  Ben struggles with the relationship due to feeling that his father would be predjudiced about his sexuality, and as such he hides himself and Andrew away.  Andrew suffers from diabetes and when his health starts to deteriorate and tests are performed, the results have a massive impact on both his and Ben’s relationship and indeed their whole lives.  It is at this point that the importance of family is brought to the forefront in both men’s lives.

This book has so many themes running through it.  Sexuality, family ties, missed opportunities, unfulfilled dreams and wishes.  Andrew has a silver box which he has posted his wishes into since being a child.  He is very careful not to make outlandish wishes as he feels these will never come true.  However he posts wishes which he feels stand half a chance at coming true.  Not knowing that one day one of these wishes will have a massive irrevocable impact on his life.

There is so much heart in this book, so much raw emotion, its a real ‘lump in throat’ read.  I did feel like I guessed what the twist in the tale would be but I didn’t guess how it would be revealed and what the far reaching impact would be.  The relationships in this story are fascinating.  Aside from the main central relationship between Ben and Andrew, I also enjoyed the exchanges between Ben and his Father Will, despite them being riddled with tension and bubbling under with animosity.  If anything I felt like Will was a little misunderstood but could fully appreciate Ben’s mixed up feelings towards him.

I felt fully invested in this story from quite early on and I am hugely glad that I didn’t let the animal element put me off this book.  I actually quite enjoyed the chapters based in Zimbabwe and learning about the lions.  Another subject I wanted to google!

The sections of the book are split between Ben and Andrew (not alternate chapters though) but told in the third person.  I must admit that I preferred Andrew’s voice.  It was also nice that a small section was dedicated to Will, Ben’s father, and his perspective.  Another nice touch were the extracts from Andrew’s children’s book heading up each chapter.

This book is emotionally charged and makes your heart ache. A real intuitive, beautiful story. Read it if you are feeling strong!

Thanks as always to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for the advanced review copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

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Melmoth By Sarah Perry – A Review

Publisher: Serpents Tail

Publication Date: 2nd October 2018

The tale of Melmoth was one best used by parents centuries ago to keep their children in line. Melmoth, the woman dressed in dark flowing clothes, cursed to wander the Earth until the Earth is no longer. Melmoth, who bears witness to lost, lonely, guilty souls, who bears witness to their sins. Her eyes upon them, holding out her hand and asking them to follow her….

But, is this story purely a myth? A dark fairytale? Something borne of folklore?

Or is Melmoth really coming?…..

It’s 2016 and translator Helen Franklin is living a simple, austere life in Prague. When one of her only friends, scholar Karel Prazan is left a manuscript by an old man named Hoffman after his sudden death in the city library, Helen’s life begins to change.

A leatherbound file of notes detailing accounts of sightings of the fabled Melmoth The Witness holds more fear than Helen is initially willing to believe. Why is Karel so suddenly and inexplicably afraid, looking over his shoulder, feeling eyes on him? How much of these Melmoth mysteries does Helen really believe and why does she choose to live a life of self imposed austerity, punishing herself and only allowing herself the most basic of commodities to live, to just merely exist. What has happened in her past to cause such self denial?

Set in the depths of winter, you can almost feel the damp chill settling into your bones as you read this book. The creeping sense of forboding is there almost from page one. I love the way that the appearance of Melmoth is always just hinted at, a dark shadow in the periphery of someone’s vision, a feeling of being watched, of hairs standing up on the backs of necks. Implied presence is always a firm favourite of mine with stories like this, when the object of fear is too blatant it loses its impact for me.

Initially inviting the reader in, like a witness themselves to the story as it plays out this book reminded me of the start of The Crimson Petal And The White. One such scene in the book is when Helen is back in her lodging room and cannot see Melmoth from where she is, however, you are invited as a reader to look out of the window and see Melmoth there for yourself. It makes my hairs on my neck stand up just thinking about it!

Even though this is a contemporary story set in 2016, the language and intonation made it feel as if I was reading a classic tale set in a period from the past. The information held within the manuscript is told in various forms. Letters, first hand accounts and stories dating back centuries so of course the language used was befitting of the time period in which the story or the letter was being written.

Part 2 of the story where we learn of Helen’s transgression and the reason for her self imposed life of deprivation is some of the most perfect writing I think I’ve ever read. Set around a dinner table in a restaurant, 4 women of startlingly differing temperaments and characters experience an opulently rich meal whilst divesting themselves of their long buried secrets. Probably the most bizarre gathering I’ve ever read about, such a brilliant scene to behold. The latter part where the women are at the opera is heartstoppingly chilling!

Character wise, I didn’t really find any of them particularly likeable but that’s fine. I almost revel in that. Albina Horikova, Helen’s landlady is one of the most cold, cruel characters. Scornful of Helen and her life of solitude with no pleasures. Derisive of the lack of food and wine and even small necessities like bedding and adornments in her lodging room. Mocking and sneering, she is vile, I loved her!

Melmoth is like no book I’ve ever read. The writing is perfect, like a long and twisty darkest of dark fairytales. The only slight grumble I have, and it is only slight, is that the start of Part 3 lost its way a little for me. I didn’t quite understand what was happening. But maybe that’s just me being a bit dense! This is no way detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

This book is so perfectly crafted that even now when I think about it I can feel the chill in my bones and the way it made me feel whilst reading it. (Crikey Amanda, dramatic much?!). It will be one of those books that stays with me and implants itself somewhere in my brain only to present itself years down the line and give me a little shiver….

I’ve not read The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry but have been told by the world and his wife that I must. And don’t worry people! I have it on my shelf ready and raring to go!

Melmoth is the epitome of a perfect Autumn/Winter read and I’m so glad I waited until Autumn to read it.  So draw the curtains, light the candles, hunker down and immerse yourself in Melmoth’s world……you won’t regret it.  Just stunning.

Thank you to Serpents Tail for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

What Was Lost By Jean Levy – A Review

Publisher: Dome Press

Publication Date: 13th September 2018

Firstly I adore the cover of this book.  I usually don’t like ‘real’ photo images of ‘real’ people on book covers (I’m fussy…..hell we ALL are right? We all have our little foibles), but this one is so captivating.

When I read the blurb I was intrigued. It sounded right up my street. When children’s author Sarah Blake is found unconscious on a beach, with a broken arm and no memory of her adult life, her life is handed over to various doctors and specialists who are drafted in to help her piece together her memories. They hope that they will be able to fill in enough detail to ascertain why Sarah went missing for 2 days and figure out what brought about her subsequent memory loss.

The story starts at the point at which Sarah is released from the hospital having spent some considerable time recuperating and relearning some vital skills.

The decision is taken by the doctors to strip back Sarah’s life, remove most of her belongings from her home and depersonalise it. The reasoning being that she must learn about herself with no outside input. She must not be fed any memories, told what has happened to her in her adult life and have no contact with the people she knew before the event which left her unconscious on the beach that day.

Sarah is only left with snapshots of her childhood memories and must try to piece together fragments to form pictures of her parents and grandmother.

When out shopping in the supermarket one day she meets a man called Matthew who then seems to take a shine to Sarah and wants to become involved in her life. With Matthews help Sarah starts to question her doctors methods and starts trying to recover her memory in her own ways.

When piece by piece, fragments of Sarah’s memory start to return she is confronted with some shocking revelations about her own life and just exactly what happened on that fateful day leading up to her being discovered on the beach.

This book is gripping from the outset. Totally intriguing and sucks you right in. Riddled with unreliable narrators (which we all know I absolutely adore in a book!) it keeps you fully on your toes at all times.

The author has definitely done her research in terms of the medical terminology and the methods used within neuroscience (which are absolutely fascinating by the way).

It is a fairly long book at 400+ pages and could perhaps have been a little shorter but this didn’t detract from my reading experience.

I would highly recommend this one to anyone who loves a fast paced thriller full of twists and turns that constantly keeps you on the back foot. It is quietly unsettling and has you questioning everyone’s motives and what they could potentially be hiding. Not least Sarah herself!

What could be more compelling than trying to figure out who’s telling the truth and who wants the best for Sarah.

This is an accomplished, thrilling debut from the author and it has made me excited to see what she gives us in the future!

You definitely need to check it out!

Thank you as always to Dome Press for the advanced copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat. Xx

The Corset By Laura Purcell – A Review

Publisher: Bloomsbury Raven

Publication Date: 20th September 2018

This book is as close to perfect as a book can possibly be, for me anyway. I was a huge fan of The Silent Companions and knowing Laura Purcell’s writing, I was hotly anticipating this book.

It ticks absolutely every one of my 5 star book boxes. Historical, dark, grim, shocking, and twisted. At one point I was reading this on the bus and felt physically queasy! And I’ve got the constitution of an ox! BUT DO NOT BE ALARMED! It was a good queasy……a brilliant queasy, a got right under my skin and turned my stomach queasy. Trust me! Read on…..

Dorothea Truelove has a penchant for phrenology, a study of the skull as a means to give indications of a persons character. She often visits Oakgate Prison as part of her charity work, spending time with prisoners and taking measurements of their craniums all to give an idea of their propensity to commit crime and whether they can be rehabilitated.

When Dorothea hears of a new inmate, 16 year old seamstress Ruth Butterham and the murder she has committed, she knows she must visit her and continue her research. But when Ruth starts to tell her story, hinting at more deaths on her hands than the authorities originally thought, Dorothea is torn between whether to believe young Ruth or dismiss her dark tales as mere fiction.

Ruth believes the power she wields in her sewing needles are far beyond comprehension and indeed her control. But to what end has Ruth put this power to?

The story swings between the two women narrating. I must admit that I was drawn more towards Ruth’s narrative, probably due to all the fascinating detail it held, and really the story was unfolding with her. Dorothea’s voice is very distinctive and you can make the very definite differentiation between the social standing of both women when reading her chapters.

Laura Purcell’s writing is so compelling and atmospheric, you are almost transported back to the Victorian era, witnessing Ruth’s horrors with her. And they are horrors! Man are they! Grim details surrounding death are not shied away from. As a reader you are thrust deep into the awful, shocking, hell of it all and emerge on the other side a little wrung out! (At least I did!)

I should also mention that I read this via Pigeonhole, (I must do a blog post about this soon) so I was given a ‘stave’ a day. This was by turns both a saviour and an annoyance. A saviour because it made me draw out this marvellous book and saviour each and every word. An annoyance for obvious reasons, once you’ve come to the end of the stave you immediately WANT MORE!

I could wax lyrical about this masterpiece all day. I know that I will be thinking about this book for a long time. It will be lingering there in the back of my mind. I’ve already purchased 2 copies for likeminded people who I know will love it. I’d love to buy everyone a copy, push them down in a chair and say ‘read that’.

This book will definitely be in my top books of 2018. Maybe even the number one spot! A beautifully crafted, dark tale that crawls under your skin and takes root in your brain.

Perfection!

See you all soon

Bookish Chat xxx

After He Died By Michael J Malone – A Review

Publisher: Orenda Books

Publication Date: 20th September 2018

You need to know who your husband really was

Paula Gadd is no stranger to heartbreak. Having lost her son Christopher 7 years ago and now mourning the recent death of her husband Thomas, she is awash with grief and overwhelmed with her loss.

When she is approached by a young woman at Thomas’s funeral who simply says ‘You need to know who your husband really was’, Paula is left wondering what on earth this woman could mean and questioning her entire marriage to the man she loved and has now lost.

With Thomas not there to explain himself, Paula is left to try and piece together events surrounding Thomas’s death. The only people who can offer her any help are Thomas’s two brothers Joe and Bill and the strange woman Cara who she met at the funeral.

Paula struggles with what Cara is telling her, the difference between the man she knew and loved and the type of man Cara is portraying with her information are so at odds with each other. Whilst dealing with her grief Paula is left to unravel the past whilst protecting her future.

What I enjoyed about this book was the fact that although it is a thriller there was a gentle humour at various points. Paula has a very touching relationship with Joe who is a priest and brother of Thomas. Joe as a character was very engaging, as I enjoyed reading the scenes between him and Paula, they share a lovely bond.

Cara is also a very engaging character, such a strong willed kick ass woman, she does masses for girl power! Determined and driven she is a force to be reckoned with. Even though the relationship between Cara and Paula is initially extremely strained, they ultimately share a begrudging bond aswell.

Aside from larger than life characters this book is chock full of plot twists. Tense and gripping, especially in the latter chapters, this story will keep you guessing throughout.

It’s difficult to know who to trust and who to believe, you can really feel Paula’s confusion and bewilderment. Living a life she never expected and discovering things she never in a million years would have thought would happen.

As with all good action packed thrillers, this one is pacey and full of momentum. Just when you think you might have it all sussed out you’re back at square one.

Tense and full of twists, this is a great thriller to get your hands on. I would thoroughly recommend it.

Thank you as always to Anne Cater and the Orenda team for the review copy.

See you soon

Bookish Chat xxx

The Book Collector By Alice Thompson – A Review

Publisher: Salt

Look at that beauty!

As some of you will no doubt know, I recently took a trip to Bath and more importantly had a little visit to the fantastic Mr B’s Book Emporium, which you can read about here .

Whilst there I met the lovely Amy and signed up to a 6 month paperback subscription. We chatted about my tastes, likes and dislikes etc etc and then Amy went away to have a little think about the kinds of books she could treat me to. I opted to have a little teaser email sent to me before the book was posted, which is just the authors name just incase I’ve already read a lot by that author and there’s a chance I’ve already read the selected book. So…….the first teaser email asked if I’d ever read any Alice Thompson. I knew immediately what book they had in mind and I was thrilled! This book has been on my wish list for a while after hearing Jen Campbell talk about it on booktube.

I waited patiently for it to arrive and when it did, it was packaged beautifully!

This book is everything I love. Gothic historical fiction with a dark dark tone. My tastes were nailed in this first selection. Amy got me spot on!

Edwardian England and Violet seemingly lives a charmed life. She has a baby son, Felix whom she adores and a thoroughly devoted husband, Archie, the proprietor of a secondhand bookshop with a huge interest in rare and expensive books.

Archie also had a first wife Rose who unfortunately died in childbirth, who Violet takes an interest in. After the birth of their son Violet struggles with her anxieties around keeping her baby safe and happy. Her anxieties grow further when she discovers a rare book of fairytales in a safe in her husbands study, a book she has seen him treat in her words ‘like a lover’. A very special book that Archie is fiercely protective of.

When she asks Archie about the book he clams up and becomes very defensive, almost angry that she has dared to open the safe containing it. He tells her she mustn’t touch it, which piques her interest further. She also discovers her husband disappearing in the night, and when she follows him to the local asylum she cannot fathom why he would be going there, especially in the dead of night.

The book plays on her mind and together with her confusion and worry surrounding her ability as a mother and her husbands nighttime escapades, Violet starts to suffer from delusions. She imagines insects crawling under the skin of the baby and when Archie discovers her clawing at him, he decides to have her committed to the asylum.

On Violet’s release she discovers that Archie has hired a nanny, Clara, to help out with Felix and from here Violet’s life is destined to never be the same..

In one of my previous posts I have discussed the fact that historical fiction never used to be my bag. I only really discovered it in the last year or two. It has to be dark and gritty to catch my attention and I love it when it involves asylums, the way women were treated back then, hysteria and a good old slug of laudanum!

This book has all of those things in spades. It has an almost dreamlike quality to the writing and feels quite claustrophobic. Imagine being a woman during those times and having little or no say over your own life. Having your husband decide to have you committed and your whole existence changing with just his signature on a piece of paper.

Violet although clearly suffering from some form of mental health issue is still a strong woman. She’s not as deluded as her husband makes her out to be. She’s shrewd and cleverly plays situations to her advantage despite uncovering some awful secrets.

I raced through this book, with my heart pounding. A grim, creepy, chilling story with a nightmare quality that haunts you long after you’ve finished.

This is a perfect book to get your hands on this autumn/winter if you’re after an atmospheric read. (Published by Salt aswell, so you know you’re in for a treat!).

A fabulous first choice for my subscription and I’m now so excited for the next delivery!

See you all soon.

Bookish Chat xxx