Bookish Chat About: Non-Fiction

I’m often to be found trotting out the phrase ‘I’m just not a non-fiction kinda gal!’…….

Lies.

If for example I was at a pub quiz and was asked the question ‘How many non-fiction books did Amanda read in 2018?’ – My teams answer would be four maybe five if I thought really hard about it.  Well…..

1. My answer would be *cue Family Fortunes style noise* INCORRECT and

2. We’d be at a very dubious pub with very niche pub quiz questions.

It turns out in 2018 I read 15 non-fiction books.  Whilst that’s still not huge amounts considering I read 140 books in total, it’s still more than I thought.

Here they are in all their glory:

Love Nina: Dispatches From Family Life by Nina Stibbe.

Member Of The Family by Dianne Lake

Trafficked Girl by Zoe Patterson

Dead Babies And Seaside Towns by Alice Jolly

Look What You Made Me Do by Helen Walmsley Johnson

This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay

Why Mummy Swears by Gill Sims

Impossible Things Before Breakfast by Rebecca Front

Hunger by Roxanne Gay

You Left Early by Louisa Young

Gross Anatomy by Mara Altman

A Life Discarded by Alexander Masters

My Shitty Twenties by Emily Morris

The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman

Kings Of The Yukon by Adam Weymouth

I put it to you the jury that Bookish Chat does indeed read non-fiction.  Case Closed.

Thinking about it I have read some absolute belters over the years, so I just wanted to do a little blog post about the non-fiction I have already read and enjoyed and then follow it up with a post about the non-fiction I am slowly amassing in my quest to be wider read this year.

I of course read Kings Of The Yukon By Adam Weymouth and The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman for The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award and really enjoyed them both.

I also read You Left Early by Louisa Young and Look What You Made Me Do by Helen Walmsley-Johnson and enjoyed them both. Louisa Young tackles her partners alcoholism and Helen Walmsley-Johnson tackles her coercive relationship. Both books are unflinchingly honest, sometimes difficult reads. I actually remember tweeting that it was difficult to admit that I had ‘enjoyed’ Louisa’s book as it felt wrong to say it under the circumstances and was hugely relieved when she tweeted back that it was perfectly fine to say so.

In terms of the non-fiction I am drawn to, it seems to be books that are medically based, be that physically or mentally, or just books that satisfy my inherantly nosey nature. The perfect example of this being Home: The Story Of Everyone Who Ever Lived In Our House by Julie Myerson. Which is a book that does exactly what it says on the cover.  Julie Myerson takes it upon herself to research all the people who have lived in her London victorian house. This quest sees her visiting the library and checking out old archives and records (I’ve always wanted to do that!) she uncovers the lives of the families who lived their lives in her home. This has always fascinated me and I have to admit I got bit excited recently when we had to dig out our house deeds! It’s amazing to see the names of people who have lived through loves and losses in your home. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Next up is a book that is the epitome of nosey! What better way to snoop on somebody than to read their diary! A Life Discarded (148 diaries found in a skip) by Alexander Masters is the story of Alexander’s mission to find the owner of a stack of old diaries he chances upon in a skip. Piecing together somebody’s life via their innermost thoughts be they mundane or profound. Alexander doesn’t even know (up to a point) whether the diarist is male or female even. It’s like a quirky detective story with an edge of eavesdropping on someone’s thoughts. Again, I found this book fascinating.

Talking of diaries…….

Two books which are entirely made up of diary entries are The Diary Of A Book Seller by Shaun Bythell and Love Nina by Nina Stibbe. Both of these books are dryly humorous and witty. I love a book told in diary entries, not least again because I’m nosey but because they are short and snappy little glimpses into someone’s life and inner thoughts. I would heartily recommend both of these books.

Another great book I read last year was My Shitty Twenties by Emily Norris. I found an affiliation with this one straight away as Emily lives quite near to me and mentions a lot of the places I know in her book about falling pregnant, dropping out of university and initially struggling to bring up her baby as a single parent. Again this is a funny and heartwarming book full of northern heart. My review is here.

I am ashamed to admit that with Adam Kay’s This Is Going To Hurt, I have read it and loved it and I even wrote a review but it’s sitting in my drafts unpublished and I’m not sure why! All I can think is that this book has been EVERYWHERE and so many people have loved and reviewed it that I feel like why would anyone want to read MY review? Stupid eh? I wrote it such a long time ago now that I feel like I might never publish it……….ok ok I will one day…..maybe. Anyway, it’s a GREAT book. You know this I’m sure.

As this blog post goes live I have just finished When I Had A Little Sister by Catherine Simpson. Man. I can’t talk about it yet. My review will follow soon. Heartbreaking.

My intention was to do a post about the non-fiction I have read and enjoyed and the non-fiction I have collected recently by hook or by crook by this post has turned out to be a bit longer than I’d like so I’ll save my new non-fiction books for a separate post!

Suffice to say I DO INDEED read non-fiction and I DO INDEED enjoy it.

Do you have any suggestions of other books I may enjoy? I’m all ears!

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Advertisements

You Know You Want This By Kristen Roupenian – A Review

Publisher: Jonathan Cape

Publication Date: 7th February

I was perusing the Vintage website one lunch hour at work and I stumbled across this short story collection. Described as ‘stories that make you feel fascinated but repelled, scared but delighted, revolted but aroused’ – how could I not get my hands on it?!

With my recent growing affection for short story collections I knew I had to read this one. Which I did. In fact I binge read it. Gorging on one fantastic story after another, my jaw dropping.

The first story in the collection is called Bad Boy and oh my goodness what an opener!

Straight off the bat Roupenian hooks you, but then continues to reel you in at a frightening pace until you are horrified but can’t look away. To be honest I was left a little uncomfortable after that first story but in a good way. In a ‘can’t wait to see what she follows THAT with’ way.

These stories tell of the power that women can wield, not always for the greater good. The distinctly different dynamics between men and women in their relationships. The confusion that women can cause men and the subtle or not so subtle ways they can deliver pleasure or pain.

The author apparently wrote a short story which went viral entitled ‘Cat Person’. This story appears in the collection but for me it was the weakest story but still enjoyable, so I guess if you’ve read and enjoyed that one then you’ll love the rest! Whilst writing this review I had to go back and remind myself what it was all about whereas just seeing the titles of the other stories brought them all rushing back in glorious detail.

My favourites are The Boy In The Pool, The Matchbox Sign (an skin tingling, insidiously unsettling tale) and and Sardines (the story of one little girls birthday party wish and the power she has over her gathered party guests) . All of which start pretty innocuously and quickly ramp up to a horrific crescendo.

I suppose these are horror stories for the modern age. Not overtly gruesome, typical horror, but very inventive, unique, quirky, gripping and thought provoking horror. Stories to make your brain tick and keep you discombobulated. Having said that I’ve just remembered that the story entitled ‘The Mirror, The Bucket And The Old Thigh Bone is written like a fairytale which was quite refreshing in its delivery.

I really enjoyed Roupenian’s writing style. Pared back and not at all flouncy. Straight to the point and punchy.

This is slightly reminiscent of Lara Williams collection, A Selfie As Big As The Ritz. Maybe on speed……after a few too many shots of vodka. Darker with buckets of shock value.

A very accomplished collection that I would thoroughly recommend to any short story lovers.

Thank you as always to the publisher and particularly Sophie Painter for hooking me up with a proof copy for review.

See you soon.

Amanda @bookishchat xxx

Blood Orange By Harriet Tyce – A Review

Publisher: Wildfire

Publication Date: 21st Feb 2018

This is one of those books that you see other bloggers receiving and get a touch of the old green eyed monster descending over you. At least I did. I was then hella lucky to receive one of the precious orange hued boxes in the post containing this beauty.

Despite this book not being released until February 2019 I dived straight in! (And I’m writing this review in September 2018 BUT it won’t be published until next year which will be NOW as you’re reading this! Crikey that was some Back To The Future type trickery right there!).

I’ll tell you about the book now eh?

Alison, to all intents and purposes has it all. A devoted husband, a perfect little girl Matilda and a job as a criminal lawyer. However things are never quite as they seem (of course not, this is a thriller after all!). Alison is struggling under the weight of a secret. She’s been having an affair with a colleague named Patrick. A man who seems to only want her for quick, rough sex on his terms. Alison knows this is wrong, she knows she’s endangering her marriage and home life but she feels an indescribable pull towards Patrick.

Alison drinks too much, works long hours and puts herself in risky situations with Patrick. Carl her husband has had enough of her ways and is embarrassed about her behaviour, especially when she’s been drinking.  He fears for the safety of his daughter whilst she’s in Alison’s care and makes Alison feel like a failure at being a mother.  An accusation she refutes.

When Alison is assigned her first ever murder case, a domestic incident in which a woman has murdered her abusive husband, Alison begins to question her own relationships. How can she extricate herself from Patrick’s hold over her, and who else knows what she’s been up to?

This is one of those thrillers that pulls you in right from the start. If I didn’t have a job to go to and children to keep alive I would have sat myself down and devoured this in one sitting. It’s everything I adore about a good thriller without being cliched. It has an edginess to it, the like of which I’ve not read in a thriller for a long while.

It is dark and gritty and doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. The writing is stripped back, real, visceral (hate that word but it fits!). And it has the added perfection of not only a pacy plot line to keep you gripped but absolutely fascinating characters that you want to sit down and study.

Alison as the main protagonist is not exactly a likeable lady! She’s essentially putting her family at risk for the sake of a cheap thrill but I did feel for her as I watched her slowly begin to unravel. The drinking, the recklessness all serving to make her difficult life all the more tumultuous.

The men in this story will absolutely make your blood boil! Mysoginistic, controlling beyond words and domineering. But fear not! The women are ballsy and strong and ultimately make you feel empowered!

The author Harriet Tyce spent the best part of a decade working as a criminal barrister in London and whilst you can certainly tell she knows her stuff, she doesn’t ram the legalese down your throat. Something I was very grateful of. I was also happy that the main murder trial that Alison was working on was not the main focus for the story. I’m not a huge fan of courtroom legally stuff (correct terminology I’m sure) so having the murder case as a thread running through Alison’s story was perfect for me.

This story did grip me from the start but my god, the final chapters were what that little ‘hands clasped on the face shocked expression’ emoji was made for! At one point when Alison is having a conversion and something starts to dawn on her, the cold realisation that she was experiencing I was feeling too! Brilliant!

If a pacy, gritty thriller is your bag then trust me, you need to get your hands on this one ASAP!

Such an accomplished debut by the author. I’m excited to read more from her………..has she written another book yet?…….how about now?…….now?……

Thank you as always to the publisher for the arc.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat. Xxx

Bookish Chat About: How I Structure A Review

I read a post on another blog recently about how that person likes to structure a book review and I found it very interesting. Given that my recent (Slightly contentious!) blog post about When Is A Review Not A Review? garnered some interest and great discussion points, and a few people asked me about the best way to structure a review, I thought I’d do a little blog post of my own.

Now before I start I must say that there is no ‘best way’ to structure a review. I am certainly no expert and still consider myself a ‘newbie’ even though I’ve been bookblogging in earnest for over 18 months now. Some of you out there have been at for YEARS, honing your review skills and nailing it!

I still get nervous before I start a review, what if I’ve lost my knack? I still get a gut churning sense of anxiety when I press ‘publish’ on a post, what if I’m totally off pitch? What if its……..UTTER RUBBISH?! The HORROR!

That said, I do tend to stick to a tried and tested vague structure when I’m composing a review.

When I start reading a book I always set up a draft post with a picture of the book and publisher details. This acts as a kind of ‘aide memoire’ and allows me to see more or less at a glance what reviews I have on the go and when they need to be written by.

A draft post also allows me to add bits in as and when the mood strikes (or I’ve snatched myself some time to write!). I rarely write a complete review in one sitting but it has been known if I’m super pumped after reading a book and fizzing with ideas.

I don’t write notes.

There I’ve said it.

I don’t use those notebooks.

They’re blank.

CALL THE COPS.

I’ve tried, I really have. But I’m just too lazy for writing notes I’m afraid kids.

So when I’ve got my draft post ready, image of the book in situ, book read, I can crack on.

I usually start with a brief description of how I came by the book, what drew me to it etc. I then give a brief overview of the story. I personally don’t use the blurb in any way in reviews. I will use them in ‘haul’ posts because I haven’t read the books yet and can’t summarise them myself. I have nothing against bloggers who use the blurb as part of a full and detailed review. I just prefer to use my own words rather than the words of a book marketer. That’s just me folks!

I don’t give away spoilers and in books where I’ve gone in ‘blind’ I try to give as few plot details as possible if I think my reading experience was made all the better for not knowing them myself.

I tend to then move on to characters and characterisation in general. Discussing my thoughts on them, reaction to them, what I think was going on with them and whether I liked or disliked them etc.

I move on to writing style, what was the prose like? Sparse or detailed? What was the narrative perspective? First, second or third person? Any likes or dislikes of writing style. Pacing is also a good point to mention and I like to give a nod to chapter length if I feel that it had an effect on my reading (I enjoy short snappy chapters).

I then like to mention any over arching themes just to add weight and detail, although I personally don’t give specific trigger warnings, if I’m asked outright I will of course try my best to give details of any subjects that might be considered triggering. As an aside this whole triggering subject is an interesting one. Drew over at The Tattooed Book Geek recently wrote a very incisive blog post about the subject here which you should check out.

I then usually conclude a review with a general final thought and maybe a nod to whether it’s a book I would recommend to everyone (not every book I enjoy is!).

If I have received a proof copy I will thank the publisher. If I use a quotation I will mention that it is from the proof and NOT the finished copy. This is a new thing I’ve started doing and whilst I don’t always use quotes I find them helpful for giving people a sample of the writing style. I like to read reviews with quotes in.

So….is there anything I DON’T include in a review?….

Well I tend not to do any ‘about the author’ detail, because I don’t really tend to read these on the blog posts I read. If I don’t like to read it, I don’t like to write it!

I also don’t tend to include links of where to buy the books from because……well I’m just too lazy! I’m sure we all know where to buy books from.

Contrary to popular belief, size ISN’T everything and I would say my reviews are of average length. Long enough to be considered a detailed review (I hope!) but not too wordy. I don’t enjoy reading extra long reviews, I need succinctness to hold my interest. Therefore, again, if I don’t like to read it, I don’t like to write it.

At the end of the day folks, it’s your blog and your reviews and the best advice I can give is you do you!

I just thought a little ‘what I do’ post might be helpful. And it’s worth noting that even I sometimes stray from my tried and tested review structure.

How do you do yours?…..

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

The Flight Of Cornelia Blackwood By Susan Elliott Wright – A Review

Publisher: Simon And Schuster

Publication Date: 21st February 2019

I’m going to find it extremely difficult to review this amazing book without giving away very important plot points, so forgive me if I’m deliberately vague and sketchy on the actual storyline.

In fact I went into this book knowing very little about it myself and personally I think that is absolutely the best way to experience this story.

What drew me to it in all honesty, were the hashtags it was given on social media. #postpartum #mentalhealthmatters. Having had two children and suffering both times with varying degrees of postnatal depression, something chimed in me and I knew I had to read this book. I’ve read some great books which tackle the subject of PND and postpartum psychosis and as both my children are now far enough beyond baby age (one is 13 and one is 10), I don’t find the subject as uncomfortable to read about anymore. Thankfully this meant I could enjoy this book for what it is, and that is a heartbreaking masterpiece.

So what can I actually tell you without ruining your enjoyment of the book? Well, our protagonist is Cornelia Blackwood, or Leah as she’s known. We know early on that she has suffered some heartache in her past and with her husband Simon’s help she appears to be trying to get over whatever has happened to her, despite some physical and mental boundaries.

When she experiences a further blow and her life is massively turned on it’s head once again, events conspire to bring a young single mum named Cassie into her life along with her young son Ollie.

Leah and Cassie strike up a firm friendship and Leah begins to take much more of an interest in Ollie, letting her affections grow stronger for him, but for what reasons and how far will this interest and affection go?….

Told via a dual timeline narrative with distinct ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ chapters, the sequence of events in Leah’s past are slowly revealed. Even though I thought I knew what had happened, I was totally wrong footed when all the details were eventually revealed. The ‘now’ chapters were quite pacey whereas the ‘then’ chapters felt more purposefully slow and at times almost dreamlike. Possibly mirroring Leah’s mental health at the time. There is a recurrent theme of crows and what they signify to Leah which makes for a very discomfiting read.

This book is heavy with emotion, heartache and grief. Postpartum mental health is dealt with so deftly and with such empathy that it had me tearing up at times (and I’m an ice queen!). I imagine this book could be very triggering in terms of infant loss, miscarriage, PND and mental health issues so there’s that to bear in mind if you are going to read it.

I sped through it super fast and was totally and utterly absorbed in Leah’s heart rending story. Watching her unravel and hoping against hope that she could find some well deserved peace.

This is a stunningly emotive, utterly compelling story that I think will strike a personal cord with lots of people and one that I would urge everyone to read. In fact I’ve seen lots of people tweeting about how much this book has affected them, and having to take a while to process what they’ve read.

I feel privileged to have read it myself and thanks as always go to the publisher for the advanced review copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

Adèle By Leila Slimani – A Review

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Publication Date: 7th February 2019

This book lived up to every expectation I had. I’d read Lullaby (The Perfect Nanny in the US) and really enjoyed it. So I am so very grateful to the lovely folk at Faber and Faber for the early review copy of Adèle.

Adèle is a 35 year old journalist living and working in Paris. She is married to an eminent surgeon Richard and they live with their toddler son Lucien.

Right from the start we are aware that Adèle has a habit of sleeping with random men. It is almost like a compulsion. She is constantly seeking something that’s missing within her. She seeks out meaningless, potentially violent sexual encounters with men, some of which she doesn’t even find attractive.

‘She gets up and drinks a strong black coffee. The apartment is silent. In the kitchen she hops about restlessly. She smokes a cigarette. Standing in the shower she wants to scratch herself, to rip her body in two. She bangs her forehead against the wall. She wants someone to grab her and smash her skull into the glass door. As soon as she shuts her eyes she hears the noises: sighs, screams, blows. A naked man panting, a woman coming. She wishes she were just an object in the midst of a horde. She wants to be devoured, sucked, swallowed whole….

She goes to great lengths to hide her secret life from husband Richard, with only close friend Lauren aware of her behaviour and her questionable sexual habits and morals.

Adèle is a very disillusioned woman. She appears to be wholly unsatisfied with her marriage and indeed her entire existence. She tries to hold back her compulsion but struggles against it daily. She’s fully aware of what she could lose and the risks she’s taking and after each encounter she makes deals with herself that she won’t do it again. But ultimately she finds herself with an itch she needs to scratch and she’s back to square one.

Richard struggles with Adèle’s behaviour, especially in front of his colleagues or their friends. She is likely to drink too much and smoke too many cigarettes. She becomes bolder (particularly with men) when she’s been drinking and Richard can see the change in her.

When something happens to change the dynamic of their marriage, Adèle’s behaviour becomes even more erratic at a time when Richard has to rely heavily on her being there for him.

Adèle is such a fascinating woman. She is driven by sex, but not the act itself. She craves the attention of men and thrives off them wanting her. She wants them to take her as they wish, use her almost and fill the void within her. She’s a journalist, a competent one at that when she’s not distracted by her needs (or sleeping with her colleagues). She’s a mother but she doesn’t seem to take to the role very well. Lucien comes across as quite a demanding child and Adèle often becomes overwhelmed by her role as a mother. She frequently leaves him with various people in order for her to have one of her assignations.

She’s selfish and comes across as cold and calculating. Although I couldn’t help but feel for her. It’s just so sad that she needs the attentions of men in order to feel validated as a person. Not Adèle ‘Richards wife’ or Adèle ‘Lucien’s mother’. Anonymous sex with strangers is how she achieves this.

I was so engrossed in this book, Slimani’s writing is so immersive. She does dark brilliantly. And this book is dark. Definitely not erotic in any way, not salacious either. When I initially started reading this book I tweeted that it was ‘sexy’.  It isn’t in retrospect, in any way at all. It is a fascinating study of female sexuality but it isn’t titilating. It’s more about a desperate and fraught sexuality than anything sensual. No sex scenes for the sake of it. Just gritty, raw, emotive writing that leaves you breathless.

Leila Slimani is one of those authors who I know I will enjoy everything she writes.  She tackles taboo subjects head on, unflinching and down to earth writing that draws you in with an almost base quality that I find I can’t look away from.

This book made my top ten reads of 2018 and deservedly so. I’m hoping it has just as much, if not more, attention as Lullaby.

A thoroughly immersive read.

Thank you as always to the publisher for this ARC.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat. Xxx

*Quotation used is from the proof copy*

A Small Dark Quiet By Miranda Gold – A Review

Publisher: Unbound

I’ve made a conscious decision to not jump into too many blog tours this year. I’ll be really doing my research when it comes to the books I’m offered. So when I was asked to be part of the blog tour for this book I had a look into it and thought that the premise sounded fascinating. Luckily I was correct.

Against the backdrop of a London emerging from the Second World War, Sylvie gives birth to twins, two boys Who she names Harry and Arthur.

Arthur sadly does not survive and is promptly whisked away before Sylvie even gets the chance to hold him in her arms.

Given that many millions of mothers have lost their sons to the ravages and brutality of war, Sylvie is made to feel that she should be grateful for the one remaining son she has and her grief for Arthur is almost swept under the carpet by those around her.

Sylvie struggles with her feelings with little support from her husband Gerald, a man whom she got little chance to fully connect with before he had to go away to fight for his country, but is now most certainly a man changed by the horrors of war, a man she no longer recognises.

When Harry is two years old, Sylvie and Gerald adopt a Jewish orphan born into the world of concentration camps and Sylvie begins to channel her grief for Arthur into this little boy. She gives him Arthur’s name and begins to embroil him in her grief and loneliness, at the cost of him losing his own identity and heritage.

Sylvie’s mind is trapped in a realm where her dead son is buried in the park (he isn’t). A park she visits every Thursday with a handful of flower buds for him. She is waiting until her Arthur is big enough and strong enough to come back to her. A story she tells her new Arthur, a story he hears often. Told over and over about ‘the other little Arthur’ but never hearing his own story.

As Arthur grows up in a house with his father, referred to as ‘General Gerald’ for those times he acts as though he is still in the army, and his brother who sides with his father in their constant jibes against him, Arthur feels ever more disassociated with his family.

As Sylvia’s physical and mental health decline Arthur spends more and more time in the park where he meets Lydia, a woman looking after a set of twins.

In a bid to carve an independent life for himself, Arthur leaves the family home and starts renting a run down room with Lydia on the Holloway Road.

Lydia has mental issues of her own and Arthur struggles to find himself between her issues and his odd collection of neighbours.

This book is by no means an easy read, both in subject matter and style. The story is constructed with short punchy paragraphs and incomplete lines. The fractured prose mirroring the fractured thoughts of the narrators, be that Sylvie or Arthur.

The timeline jumps around and takes a little time to get into. Switching between Arthur and Harry’s childhood and back to the late 1960’s when Arthur is in his twenties.

For me this is a book you need to read in a short time and with no outside distractions. It took a little concentration for me to hold on to the sometimes ethereal, dreamlike style of writing. It is also a book that I wouldn’t want to put down and return to.

I gobbled up the second half of this book one Sunday afternoon and if I’m honest I’m glad it didn’t go too heavy on the religion/Jewish element as I originally thought it might.

I was caught up in Arthur’s story and I was saddened by the deterioration in poor Sylvie’s mental health. A woman who so desperately wanted her little Arthur back.

This book explores loss, grief, lives changed by war, identity and place. It’s an emotive but hard hitting read. I swept along with Sylvia and Arthur and I am glad I read their story.

Not a book for everyone, but if you like to read about any of the themes mentioned above and enjoy a quirkily styled book then I would recommend getting your hands on this one.

Thank you as always to the publisher and Anne Cater did the review copy of this great read.

See you soon

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx