Common People Edited By Kit De Waal – A Review

Publisher: Unbound

Publication Date: 1st May 2019

I have read and thoroughly enjoyed Kit De Waal’s novels, My Name Is Leon and The Trick To Time, so when I saw that she was responsible for putting together a collection of essays, poems and memoir centred around the subject of being working class, I was VERY interested.

When Unbound offered me an advanced review copy I jumped at the chance to read and review it.  The front cover shows an illustrious list of 33 working class writers.  Names which jumped straight out at me were Lisa Blower, Cathy Rentzenbrink, Damian Barr and Louise Doughty.  I recently read and reviewed Lisa Blower’s short story collection It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s and absolutely loved it, so I was particularly eager to get to her piece (which I adored by the way!).

This collection kicks off with a poem called Tough by Tony Walsh (aka Longfellow) and this perfectly captured the tone of the book and set the scene for what was to follow impeccably.  I remember sitting next to my book trolley and just flicking through the book, not actually ready to sit down and read it yet but devouring that poem and re-reading it a couple of times to myself and thinking, in fact knowing, I was going to love the book.

What followed for me was an almost perfect reading experience which struck so many chords within me and sparked myriad memories of my childhood that I felt like I’d been transported back in time.  You see, I live in the North of England, had a working class upbringing and still consider myself to be working class. Many of the essays/memoir were centred around childhood and various aspects of working class life.

I can honestly say that bar one essay, (which I think went a little over my head!), each and every piece resonated in some way with me.  I found comparisons to draw with my own childhood or adult life, and if not, there was nuggets of emotion that chimed within me anyway.

I obviously can’t talk about every single story much as I’d love to (I know they aren’t ‘stories’ as such but I shall refer to them that way). But I will just mention a few to give you a feel for some of the subjects touched upon.

Don’t Mention Class by Katy Massey is the story of Katy’s childhood, growing up in Leeds as a half-caste child of a single parent who makes her living in the sex industry. Katy credits her education in marriage, sex, relationships and life in general to the various women who passed through her mothers brothel Aristotles. The idea that most people now in her adult life consider her to have ‘overcome’ her working class northern upbringing is fascinating given that Katy herself doesn’t see it as ‘overcoming’ at all, rather her childhood ‘constructed’ her. I love this sentiment.

Then we have Little Boxes by Stuart Maconie which details his childhood growing up on a purpose built housing estate. Warrens of alleyways, cut-throughs and entries linking blocks of houses together. Estate life with street names designed to give an air of intellect to the area, Keats Avenue, Eliot Drive, Blake Close, Milton Grove. This immediately brought back memories for me, having had grandparents who lived on one of these purpose built estates which they moved to when they were brand new in the early 60’s. Also with literary links Shakespeare Road, Stratford Gardens, Shottery Walks. There is a paragraph in this story which struck me as oh so true:

There is no point telling working class mums that you ‘had a nice lunch’ or ‘will grab something later’. They will not let you sit in the house without eating; food equals love in houses where hugs and kisses are still awkward currency

Peoples relationships with food was a subject being talked about at work one day and I happened to have Common People in my bag. I read the paragraph above out loud and so many people could identify with it.

One story which really sticks in my mind is The Funeral And The Wedding by Jodie Russian-Red. The idea that the only two occasions in life where the whole of a family gets together is either a funeral or a wedding. From deciding who’s wearing what, debating whether there will be a decent buffet, worrying about who’ll be there and whether there’ll be any tensions between so and so and you know who. Then of course there’s the slightly hungover debrief the next morning, the gossip, the scandal. It is of course entirely true that all extended family come together for these occasions and I’ve attended many a wedding and a funeral at our local working men’s club to identify. Again another piece of writing full of memories for me.

As I said, I can’t possibly talk about all the stories but between life in a high rise flat where most interactions with neighbours begin and end in the lifts, darts teams, nights out at the dog track and life growing up in the Stoke potteries, there is something for everyone here.

Obviously all the writing styles are different as you would expect but there is a common thread which binds them all together into one brilliant cohesive collection. The thread of working class honour, pride and determination. And not just that, also this idea that you can be from a working class background and be a writer, of course you can!

This is a beautifully curated collection and I can now fully stand by my bold tweet that the lovely Kit De Waal can do no wrong in my eyes.

Not only has this book stirred some lovely cherished memories it has given me a deep sense of working class pride. Pride in my family, my upbringing and the way I’m choosing to raise my own children, in the hope they have lots of cherished memories too.

I have spent time with some favourite writers and been introduced to some exciting, fresh new voices which I will absolutely go on to explore.

A stunning collection that I can’t recommend highly enough!

Thank you to Unbound and Becca Harper-Day for allowing me to read an advanced review copy. Thank you also to the lovely folk who crowdfunded the publishing of this book.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat. Xxx


Hard Pushed By Leah Hazard – A Review

Publisher: Hutchinson

Publication Date: 2nd May 2019

If you know me and my reading habits, you will know that I don’t read masses of non-fiction.  That’s not to say I don’t read any (I actually wrote a blog post about my non-fiction reading here) but when I do, it’s quite often a book with a medical bent.

When I saw Leah Hazard’s book Hard Pushed (Hutchinson) my interest was immediately sparked.  I have birthed a child………in fact I have birthed two, and I had two quite different labours.  I won’t bore you with the deets! I knew i’d be interested to learn about the midwives roles, not only in pre-natal care and labour itself but also in post-natal care.

Leah Hazard has been a midwife for some years and Hard Pushed takes you right back to the rigours of her years of training, the anxieties around setting foot on her first shifts and ‘catching’  actual babies, right up to the present day where Leah is still a practicing midwife.  Of course there are many stories in between!

Leah gives a little introduction before each chapter, detailing the subject she is about to discuss or the story she is about to tell, they are often entitled ‘Notes about:’ I thought this was a very nice touch.  The various subjects Leah tackles include, the struggles with language barriers and communication, women who ‘shouldn’t be having a baby’, gravely ill women, women who struggle post-natally, still births and death and a myriad other labour stories all showing the strength and determination of women in the face of adversity and sometimes life and death situations.

Some of the stories Leah tells will stay with me forever.  Each of the women’s stories are individual, deftly and sympathetically told.  I almost need to know how they’re getting on now, particularly the case with a young girl named Crystal who’s story is not fully played out to its conclusion.

Leah almost plays a peripheral part to these women’s stories and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way at all.  She is adept at telling a story, recounting her memories but making the women the central focus.  Allowing them to take the forefront and portray their various troubles or successes.

There is no doubt that midwives do an extremely demanding and important job. I knew this before i’d even opened the book.  However, Leah gives a very in-depth, sometimes shocking picture of just how stretched the NHS is not only in the area of midwifery but all departments in general.  There are times when the hospital has to literally turn away labouring women and send them to hospitals in the surrounding areas because there simply aren’t enough beds or enough staff to care for them.  Leah is often rushed off her feet during her shift, but that phrase seems a little asinine and doesn’t do the real situation justice.  There are times when Leah and her colleagues do not get a break, can’t even grab a drink or a mouthful of food or even go for a quick toilet break.  Leah does address the fact that an awful lot of midwives are on anti-depressants, a number of them quit the job within the first year or two and she herself tells a story of when she simply felt so ill and anxious that she had to walk out of the department and go home for some rest.

This book really opened my eyes to how tirelessly these midwives work.  The adrenaline inducing situations that they are placed in and the anxiety of what lies ahead at the start of each shift.  They have such a huge responsibility on their shoulders, the like of which I cannot really comprehend.

Leah comes across as such a lovely person and a wonderful midwife.  Caring, compassionate, going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that these women have as safe and comfortable labour as possible.  I would have loved her as my midwife!

If you have an interest in childbirth/medical memoirs and a behind the curtain look at the NHS then this book is for you.

There are of course some heartbreaking stories and some tough subjects to read about but I think Leah’s stories and the stories of these women need to be heard.

Thank you very much to the publisher for my advanced review copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx







The Doll Factory By Elizabeth Macneal – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 2nd May 2019

The Doll Factory is set in London in the 1850’s, a time when curiosities and collecting was rife. To be honest this brief nugget of detail was all I needed to know. If you know me at all you will be well aware that Victorian London is my favourite historical time period and setting. Add to this the fact that the publicity information that came with this book said I was in for a story surrounding strange collections, obsession, possession (and a doll shop owned by a laudanum quaffing tyrant!) and I was in!

The Doll Factory tells the story of Iris a young woman working with her twin sister Rose in Salter’s Doll Emporium. She is tasked with the job of painting the delicate porcelain heads of the dolls, whilst Rose sews the finishing intricate touches to the dolls clothing. A local urchin boy Albie sews the rough shapes of the clothing to earn himself some money and the finer detail is left to the girls.

However, Iris dreams of bigger things and aspires to be a painter, convinced she is not meant to merely sit wasting her days painting the inanimate faces of dolls.  Rose on the other hand has problems of her own, after an illness she is left disfigured and bitter about Iris’s good looks, although Iris does not share her sister’s view of her appearance as she has a twisted clavicle.  A deformity which has plagued her and diminished her self esteem ever since she was born.  The sisters pass their days side by side in the doll shop with an air of bitterness hanging over them both.

Then we have Silas, a taxidermist and collector of sorts.  A man who procures the corpses of animals with the help of young Albie, stuffs them and mounts them in interesting compositions.  He also provides pre-raphelite artists with specimens for them to use in their paintings.  Silas, like Iris has dreams of bigger things.  He wants to be known for having found that one interesting, eye catchingly curious specimen that nobody else has been able to get their hands on. Perhaps a specimen with an interesting skeletal deformity…..

Iris and Silas meet quite unexpectedly as the preparations for the great exhibition are underway.  Both connected as they are through young Albie, who is out with Iris at the time of the meeting.  From that first instance Silas is bewitched by Iris, with her long fiery red hair and distinct beauty. Iris on the other hand pays barely any mind to Silas at all and instantly forgets the meeting.

Going forward Silas cannot get Iris out of his mind and when one of the painters Louis Frost needs to call in a favour from Silas, Silas suggests that he knows of a girl who would be perfect to sit for one of frosts paintings….

Louis approaches Iris to model for a painting he is hoping to have accepted and displayed at the Great Exhibition, Iris at first is against the idea, however she strikes a deal with Louis that she will indeed sit for him if he teaches her more about painting and helps her hone her own skills. As their relationship begins to develop, Silas becomes ever more obsessed with Iris.  But just how far will this obsession reach and at what price?

I have read quite a few great pieces of historical fiction of late and The Doll Factory is certainly one of them! Expertly crafted by Elizabeth Macneal, we have a dark and twisty story which will sweep you up and fully immerse you in Victorian London.  I have said this before but I will say it again, I have so much admiration for authors who write historical fiction, particularly a debut novel.  The research and attention to detail that goes into this genre just astounds me.  On top of this, the talent to be able to create an atmospheric read is quite remarkable and The Doll Factory has atmosphere in spades!

This is a dark rich and vivid, disturbing study of obsession and possession and what that means.  Themes of ambition and the way women are viewed as a lesser being, and at times dolls and posessions to be acquired and owned are also explored in detail. The pacing is perfect, a slow and sinister build up to an absolutely tense and gripping denouement. I read the latter section with my heart in my mouth, almost wanting to look away but desperate to read on.

The characters are all fully rounded and be they slightly flawed or down right dark they are all hugely memorable and compelling.

The Doll Factory is a book that I know for certain I will be pressing into the hands of lots a people.  It is a stunning debut and Elizabeth Macneal deserves great acclaim for her work.  I am super excited to find out what she crafts next!

Thank you as ever to Camilla Elworthy and the publisher for my very much appreciated advanced proof copy.

(The finished copy is beautiful by the way!)

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx





The Main Street Trading Company Bookshop And Deli – St Boswells

A couple of weekends ago we made our regular trip to visit family in a lovely little village called Lilliesleaf in Melrose, Scotland.

We were heading home on the Monday and on Sunday evening plans were made to have lunch at a lovely pub in St Boswell’s before our trip home.

‘The bookshop is there at St Boswell’s too, we can have a look in there before you go’ words to make my ears prick up!

Bookshop you say? Hell yes, I’m in!

I put a little excited tweet out on Sunday evening before bed, exclaiming to the bookish Twitterverse that I was planning a bookshop visit and a few people oooh’d and ahhhh’d and extolled the virtues of Main Street Trading. I went to sleep a little bit giddy I don’t mind telling ya!

Monday morning rolls around and I awake to the tweet of doom……

And I was indeed ‘gutted’.

But WAIT!……

The lovely Ros at Main Street Trading sent me a DM saying she happened to be around for a short window of time and would I like a quick tour around the shop?….

Erm………YES PLEASE! So lovely of Ros to offer!

I was quickly back in excitement mode.

So we bobbed along at the agreed time and Ros let us in, all clandestine like!

It became quickly apparent that this shop was my Nirvana!

It was set up beautifully and was much bigger than I had anticipated after a quick Google search and a sneaky look at pictures of the interior.

There is an absolute chock-a-block Fiction section which stocks all the bang up to date books. Hardbacks which have literally just been published in the few days prior to my visit, books I’d struggled to get my hands on in my local Waterstones.

All the books are displayed perfectly in the large airy space. Gorgeous attention to detail. The way books are displayed can make or break a bookshopping experience for me but ask soon as I entered the fiction section I had already spotted the books I wanted.

There are of course a wealth of non-fiction books too but I was focussed on a fiction mission!

The children’s section is also stunning, crammed with so many beautiful children’s and teen books. My daughter is 10 and an avid reader. Unfortunately she wasn’t with me for the brief visit but I promised her I’d choose a book for her. And choose I did, with the help of Ros who recommended The Skylarks War by Hilary McKay. (My daughter has since read and adored it).

My daughter could spend many hours (and pounds!) here and we will absolutely be bringing her back next time we visit.

The absolute icing on the cake for children though has to be the Book Burrow’s. Two little nooks where children can go and listen to audiobooks in peace. Complete with borrowers under the floor! Too cute! And such a fabulous idea!

Ros also showed me a building separate from the main shop which sells mainly ‘cheese and booze’ in Ros’s words (and who doesn’t love cheese and booze I ask ya?!), and beautiful homeware pieces. I could’ve browsed for hours!

The shop also hosts regular author events and proudly displays pictures of the various authors who have visited on their display board. I believe Jess Kidd is there at the start of May and I’m kicking myself that I can’t go!

There is also a lovely looking cafe area (which I didn’t photograph as obviously it was closed and chairs were up on tables) but trust me it’s a lovely area with a delicious looking menu that I’m very eager to try.

I obviously made a few purchases because…….well…YOU KNOW ME! And had a lovely chat with Ros who told me she used to work in publishing herself. We discussed the shops latest book club choices and generally I had a rather lovely time (and luckily a rather generous husband!).

I was given my books in a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tote bag, and lets face it, who doesn’t love a good tote?!

So what did you buy?!?! I hear you ask.


You all know by now how much I ADORED Things In Jars by Jess Kidd (Canongate), and if you don’t, firstly where have you been these last few months?!? And secondly you can read my review here. I had obviously read a proof copy but needed a finished copy for my Forever Shelf…..and here she is! Ain’t she a beauty!

I also picked up a short story collection by Jamie Quattro called I Want To Show You More (Picador). I have read Fire Sermon by the same author and wasn’t entirely sure I liked it in terms of the story. I enjoyed the authors writing style though so I thought I’d give them another go (and we all know I love a short story collection).

I picked up this copy of Nina Stibbe’s Reasons To Be Cheerful (Viking) because for one, I’ve been seeing it all over social media and two, I love her sense of humour! I read and loved Love, Nina last year and knew I had to give this one a go.

The final book was a ‘just because’ choice, Love After Love by Alex Hourston (Faber). I’ve not heard of the author or the book but I was drawn to the cover and the blurb hooked me in too. Have any of you read it?

All in all I was blown away by this shop and will definitely be back (when it’s open of course!) very very soon. To be honest I can’t really fathom why I’d not visited sooner! It’s a real treat of a shop and I would urge anyone in the area to pay it a visit. You won’t regret it.

Huge huge thanks to the lovely Ros for taking the time out of her day to show me around. I was like the proverbial kid in a sweet shop. Loved it!

The website for the shop, detailing opening hours and the shops interesting history plus news of upcoming events etc is here. Go check it out!

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat.

Cape May By Chip Cheek – A Review

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Publication Date: 30th April

That cover! How beautiful and classy is that?!

I requested a copy of Cape May after reading the blurb and thinking ‘yeah go on then’. Knowing I would potentially enjoy it, BUT I had no idea just how much it would consume me!

1957 and young newlyweds Henry and Effie arrive at Cape May a coastal town in New Jersey, for their honeymoon.

Not quite realising that it being autumn and ‘out of season’ this would mean the town was more or less desolate. Certainly the street in which their honeymoon cottage is situated is full of locked up, deserted houses.

They spend their first week in Cape May trying to fill their time. Walks on the beach, shopping in the handful of stores that are still open for business and discovering each other’s bodies in ways they never had before their marriage.

But as Effie grows increasingly sullen, withdrawn and seemingly bored, Henry begins to panic that he’s not fulfilling all of his new wife’s needs and their idyllic honeymoon they had been so looking forward to was ruined. When they decide to cut their honeymoon short and return home, Henry’s confidence is shaken. That is until one night, a light goes on in the house at the end of the street.

Deciding to be neighbourly, and in desperation for different company, Henry and Effie decide to go and introduce themselves. This action changes the course of their honeymoon and indeed their relationship forever.

Residing at the house on the corner are socialite Clara Kirschbaum, her writer lover Max and his mysterious step-sister Alma. In that first night of meeting, Henry and Clara are swept up in a hedonistic party. Gin and tonics aplenty, music, dancing, lots of people chatting and laughing. Henry can’t quite believe his luck, whilst a tentative Effie who knows Clara of old is slightly more wary.

The party is a catalyst for the newlyweds to discover a new way of life, to abandon their plans to cut short their honeymoon and stay on at Cape May and become embroiled in this wild and carefree lifestyle.

Drinking all day and sailing in the sunshine. Drinking and eating in front of the open fire at night time, divulging secrets and opening up. Walking naked around the neighbourhood in wild abandon, making love on the front lawn, certain nobody else can see them in their deserted street. It almost feels as if the town is their oyster.

But when Henry begins to look a little too closely at how his wife responds to Max and is forced to confront his own awakening desires for the aloof Alma, their marriage is tested on levels they never could have envisaged.

Oh my! This book! It had me gripped from the outset. I would say that it is mostly a character study more than it is a plot driven story. Don’t get me wrong, things happen! Oh boy do things happen! But the element I found most fascinating was seeing how both Henry and Effie changed as people over as short a space of time as a few weeks. How the outside influences of others changed the whole dynamic of their relationship.

The story is told from Henry’s point of view which I really enjoyed. He starts out as such a sweetie and despite the fact that he’s not perfect by any means I kind of felt for him. He is flawed, as they all are but each of the characters is still very relatable. Each of them displaying differing negative personality traits. Clara is frivolous, gregarious, overtly sensual, Henry finds himself entranced by her voluptuous, generous body, so at odds with his young wife’s. Max is enigmatic, oozing with charisma, wealthy and wild. Alma by contrast is a little introspective, stand offish, enjoying her own company away from the raucous lifestyle of the group.

Chip Cheek’s writing is so vibrant that this group of characters are brought expertly to life. The party scene at the start of the story felt like I was watching it play out in front of me in glorious technicolour! I could almost hear the clink of glasses and the hubbub of chatter and laughter. Superbly evocative writing.

The very nature of this hedonistic beast is that it of course has its sex scenes. They are not unduly graphic or salacious. We have some very perfunctory, down to earth ‘real’ moments and we have a particularly teasing and tantalising scene towards the end of the story which was perfectly pitched and perfectly placed. A story of awakening desires, burgeoning sexuality and discovery of pleasure.

The final few pages of the book wrap up Effie and Henry’s lives. Spanning many years into the future. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. I think maybe I would have liked to have been left guessing but then equally I gobbled up the detail voraciously and was pleased with the conclusion, so what do I know eh?!

This is one of those books that I know I will be wanging on about. I already have been! It is one I will recommend again and again. It starts with an almost ‘On Chesil Beach’ vibe but swiftly turns into something so much more.

I cannot wait to read more of Chip Cheek’s work. Simply stunning.

Thank you as always to Poppy Stimpson and Wiedenfeld and Nicolson for the advanced proof copy.

See you soon

Bookish Chat xxx

The Life Of Death By Lucy Booth – A Review

Publisher: Unbound

Publication Date: 2nd May 2019

When Unbound contacted me to ask if I would like a copy of The Life Of Death to read and review, I went away and did a bit of googling to find our more. The premise is fairly simple yet fascinating and I decided to give it a go.

It’s the 1500’s and Elizabeth is to be burnt at the stake as a witch. Always a very intuitive child with a talent for healing and a close connection to Lucifer himself (if gossip is to be believed). On the day of her impending death, The Devil visits her and gives her a way out. If she sells her soul to him, in return he will grant her eternal life with a purpose. The purpose being she must assist people at the point of their death in crossing over to the other side as painfree and fearless as possible. Each death which comes entrenched in suffering and abject pain directly affects The Devil, draining him of energy.

If He can feed on Elizabeth’s soul as nourishment and she can provide a smooth transition to the other side for the dying, she will be granted the gift of eternal life.

Elizabeth takes Him up on the offer. Even knowing she will he owned by Him for eternity.

For the next 400 years Elizabeth is present at every death, taking on the guise of the dying person’s most loved woman in their lives. A loving mother, a devoted wife, a beloved Sister or a lifelong friend. Easing their pain and anxieties.  One day however, Elizabeth is present at the death of a young woman, her partner Tom, the man she is leaving behind makes an impression on Elizabeth and she feels a deep connection with him and his deep love for his girlfriend and his subsequent grief after her death.

This awakens a desire in Elizabeth to feel love, live a mortal life and experience a deep connection with Tom.  Desperate, she visits the Devil to ask him to release her from eternal life.  The Devil informs her he will grant her wish, but only if she provides him with 5 lives that she herself must take.  The Devil will choose who she is to kill.  Elizabeth, although extremely and understandably reticent, takes him up on the offer.

From here we follow her as she carries out her challenge, taking lives, each proving more difficult than the last.  But can Elizabeth carry out the task to the Devil’s exacting standards? Can she ignore her gut instincts and is love really worth it?

I’ll admit that going into this book I was a little trepidatious.  I’d read a book by Claire North called The End Of The Day with a similar ‘death’ theme and I had to DNF it.  When I read the first couple of chapters of The Life Of Death I did stop and think ‘what on earth am I reading here?’…..I knew I wanted to give it a decent shot, so I powered on.

Man am I glad I did!

This book is like nothing I’ve ever encountered before.  A real head scratcher, one that makes you think ‘what if?’  I adored the way that we got a back story for each of people passing over, and when I realised that Elizabeth was effectively going to have to kill people, I wrongly assumed they would be easy pickings…….murderers etc people who could be considered to ‘deserve it’.  However….it’s The Devil himself that we are playing with here and of course things would not be as easy as that.  I was surprised and relieved that the author didn’t take this route.  The ‘victims’ as it were, have various reasons for being chosen but none of them are bad people.  I found this utterly fascinating.

The Devil appears sporadically throughout this book but he is a fully rounded character.  An impeccably dressed, tall, slim man who is often incongruous with the setting.  He can be found lounging on a deckchair on a deserted beach, tucking into an icecream, or having a little trip out to a football match and helping himself to a hot dog.  He refers to Elizabeth as ‘Little D’ the D standing for Death obviously and he has a razor sharp wit and a wicked (of course!) sense of humour.

Elizabeth as the character of death is a genius idea.  Kicking against the usual narrative that Death is a dark, looming, hooded male figure, roaming the land with his scythe.  To have a female interpretation of Death, and have her easing the passage of the dying instead of being a harbinger of doom was a very unique idea.

There is of course an extra nuance to this story of death, in that the author Lucy Booth sadly passed away in 2016 after battling breast cancer since 2011. She wrote the book during this time and it is to be published posthumously. I had this in the forefront of my mind as I was reading the book. How interesting to choose the subject of death to write about when you are faced with the possibility yourself.

It feels slightly wrong to say I ‘enjoyed’ this book but I did. It read it within a couple of days and it was one of those books that keeps you up past your bedtime on a school night just because you need to read more!

I would thoroughly recommend that you get your hands on a copy!

Thank you Becca and Unbound for my proof copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx


The Life Of Stuff By Susannah Walker – A Review (Non-Fic)

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication Date: May 2018

I saw this book on somebody’s Instagram feed and was immediately intrigued. I’m trying to read more non-fiction this year and this book seemed to call to me. I’ve always said that I need non-fiction to fulfill my nosey nature and what better way to do that than to look through somebody’s belongings.

Obviously I’m being a bit glib there and this book is not a peek behind closed doors and a rummage through someone’s cupboards, it’s a heartbreaking, searingly honest account of one woman’s life with a hoarder mother and, after her death, trying to figure out the kind of woman she was through the belongings she left behind.

When Susannah received the call that her mother had fallen in her home and was in hospital some miles away, she made the dutiful trip to visit her mother, despite having a semi-estranged, strained and difficult relationship with her. Whilst picking up some belongings from her mothers house, Susannah is confronted with the full shocking extent of her hoarding habits and the squalor she had been living in.

After a few days in the hospital, Susannah’s mother unfortunately passes away and Susannah is left with the mammoth task of clearing out her mothers house, Rose Cottage, and putting it back on the market.

This is no mean feat and is not simply a house clearance situation. Whilst sorting through the piles of paperwork, books, ornaments, and general belongings, Susannah slowly but surely tries to understand just who her mother had been and ultimately what had sparked her hoarding habits and driven her to live such a life.

A cold and detached woman who could be considered selfish, Susannah’s mother suffered some loses in her own life which impacted how she treated her children. Susannah didn’t live with her mother after the age of 8 and had periodic contact with her over the intervening adult years, only some of it amicable. With a dependency on alcohol, her mother lived a quiet life of solitude, only broken by her volunteer shifts at the local Oxfam bookshop.

What I enjoyed immensely about this book was the fact that each chapter is constructed around an item or items found in the clearing out of Rose Cottage, a photograph album, a napkin ring, a glass bird ornament. These items spark either a memory for Susannah or provide information about her mother. I also really enjoyed the family tree aspect and found the extended threads of the family very interesting. They didn’t span back so far as to not still be engaging and relatable to Susannah and her mother.

This book not only explores the difficult relationship between mother and daughter, it also explores the themes of loss and grief, not just that of Susannah losing her mother but the losses of her ancestors and how they impacted on the family down the line.

There is also a lot of information about the research into hoarder behaviour and the psychology behind it which again is fascinating. Susannah extends this further by drawing parallels with the museum she worked in and their collections of objects, and characters throughout literature who could be considered hoarders in some way.

This book is a thoroughly immersive read, it’s highly emotive, sad, and poignant. A story of a difficult mother/daughter relationship and a daughters quest to find a mothers identity in order to make sense of her own.

I would thoroughly recommend it.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s By Lisa Blower – A Review

Publisher: Myriad

Publication Date: 11th April 2019

When my good bookish pal Clare from Years Of Reading Selfishly brought this short story collection to my attention it made me feel quite emotional.

My lovely Dad who is no longer with us used to say ‘It’s gone dark over Dick’s mothers’ whenever the sky looked gloomy. He was called Bill….

Apparently the phrase is one that developed in the Stoke potteries area, often uttered by the working classes. Which was another huge draw for me to this book. The stories are all told by the northern working classes, many of which are matriarchal voices. I ADORE this!

The very first story ‘Barmouth’ tells of a working class family’s road trip to their annual caravan holiday. Within the first 3 pages I had read things which sparked memories of my own childhood holidays. It was like a warm comforting blanket despite the story going on to become not so chirpy!

Each of the subsequent stories are told through strong working class northern voices, be that matriarchs, children, men. Some of them are written in a northern dialect and come across as conversational, a lot of them told in the first person perspective which makes the reader feel like they are being drawn into a secret conversation.

Interestingly one of the stories Dirty Laundry Is written in the second person which is a perspective I don’t often come across but which I really enjoy, I think the last time I encountered this was with Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary.

The general themes of the stories in this collection are of normal family struggles, secrets held over a number of years and the difficulties encountered in normal family life when lines of communication breakdown.

I often say that with short stories I don’t always ‘get’ them but I enjoy the way they make me feel. With these stories there was a lot of reading between the lines and making assumptions about what could have happened, I love this. I enjoy a story that makes me think. The exception with this collection was a story called Happenstance which is a back and forth unpunctuated dialogue between two people in a bar. This was the one story that I didn’t quite gel with.

These stories are in equal parts comedic and achingly sad.  The Cherry Tree and Smear Campaign really stand out as extremely poignant stories in my mind. Good examples of the types of stories I went away to think about and ponder.

Dripping with nostalgia and a real sense of place, told through the down to earth northern voice, this is a collection about real folk and real struggles that will always have my heart, not least for the stunningly engaging writing, but also for the memories it stirred for me.

Thank you do much to the publisher for my advanced review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx


Things In Jars By Jess Kidd – A Review

Publisher: Canongate

Publication Date: April 2019

Oh my goodness where to start?!….

Things In Jars by Jess Kidd is the book I boldly awarded 6 stars to after I’d finished it. 6 stars Mand? Why that’s madness! All good book bloggers know that the star rating system is 1 to 5 and that’s that! But who says so? Who says we can’t break the rules once in a while? Let me tell you, this book is a book to break the rules for and then some!

Before being lucky enough to get my hands on the proof of Things In Jars, I had read and loved The Hoarder also by Jess Kidd. Knowing as I did, Jess’s writing style and talent for weaving magical stories I was excited before I even opened this book.

When I received it I immediately bumped it to the top of my TBR because I’m an impatient kinda gal and delayed gratification be damned! I read the prologue in bed one night and immediately tweeted that it was probably the most perfect prologue I had ever read. A bold statement that I still stand staunchly by. In fact, since finishing the book I have been back over the prologue and read it again a couple of times, just for my own pleasure and to be honest I’m not a huge re-reader.

In Things With Jars we meet our protagonist (and all round kick-ass heroine!) Bridie Devine (what a name!). London in the late 1800’s and Bridie, somewhat of a detective, takes up the case of missing little girl Christabel Berwick, daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick.

Christabel is no ordinary child and seems to have an irresistible value to certain underhand swarthy characters. Bridie must figure out exactly who Christabel is and why she is so sought after by the dark underworld of curiosity hunters, anatomists, ressurectionists and the like. Along with her various allies and contacts, Bridie sets out to crack the case and rescue Christabel, a girl with a price on her head.

I won’t tell you too much about the plot as that would be to do you all a disservice. This absolute treat of a book needs to be discovered and revelled in for yourself.

I can of course tell you about the characters, and my goodness we are presented with such a rich and varied array of them! They are so expertly written that they leap out of the book. So vivid and entertaining! What I love about this book is that even the smaller ‘bit part’ characters such as prison guards are so full of life that even they stick out in your mind. The little humorous exchanges, the perfectly scripted dialogue! I could just harp on and on about it! But I won’t, you’ll just have to trust me on this!

Bridie is probably one of my most favourite female protagonists in any book I’ve ever read. Another bold statement I know! She is pragmatic, methodical, brave, fearless and willing to do anything to find answers. She’s shrewd, gutsy, sharp, intelligent and just……..well she’s just AWESOME!

As with Jess Kidd’s other two novels The Hoarder and Himself, there is a supernatural element. In this case Bridie can see a certain ghost, Ruby Doyle who very much becomes her sidekick in the investigation. A much loved sidekick I might add who Bridie has an extremely strong bond with.

Bridie has a 7 foot maid called Cora with mutton chops……yes you read that right….I mean COME ON! These characters are just THE BEST bunch of people who compliment each other perfectly!

On the dark side, (and there is a very dark side!) the characters are just as vivid and rich but in a thoroughly dastardly way! I absolutely adore a character who is vile but so fascinating. In this book there are a few, my favourite being Mrs Bibby who treats everyone with contempt and has a real evil streak running right through the heart of her.  A woman who I absolutely loved to hate, she had quite an acerbic tongue in the most entertaining of ways. Not a woman you could forget in a hurry!

Jess is such a talented writer and one I know I will devour everything she creates.  And ‘create’ she does.  She weaves stand out magical stories which take you in right from the opening page.  She crafts characters, the calibre of which I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before.  Be they good hearted or the wickedest of the wicked, they will always remain with you in glorious detail in your minds eye.

On finishing this book I missed the characters contained within it and felt a little twinge of jealousy at the people who now get to read it for the first time. I hate that (but also love that, a true sign of a great book!).

As I mentioned earlier, I have read and loved The Hoarder, but now I have also picked up Jess Kidd’s first novel, Himself, and I am reticent to start it because I know once I’ve read it i’ll have to sit around twiddling my thumbs until Jess writes another book! I’m keeping Himself in reserve for now!

On that note, I also feel I need to mention that I really hope we see Bridie again in a future book of Jess’s! I think she has more stories to tell and more adventures to be had.  Hint hint Jess!

I honestly cannot recommend this book highly enough. I think I might have got on people’s nerves wanging on about it all over Twitter but when a book takes my heart like Things In Jars has, its very difficult to keep your enthusiasm contained. I’ve loved seeing the tweets from people discovering the complete joy of this book for the first time. The overwhelming and resounding reaction has been one of such positivity. Jess’s writing is held in such high regard and rightly so! I’ve seen people commenting that they simply had to go back and re-read sections of prose and I completely understand why. I’ve found myself flicking through my proof and reading random sections to myself just to be back in Bridie’s London once again.

An absolute triumph and a book I will always champion.

Thank you Jess for arranging for me to have a proof copy. It has been a much treasured reading experience.

I’ll leave you all with this thought….


See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Dignity By Alys Conran – A Review

Publisher: Wiedenfeld & Nicolson

Publication Date: 4th April 2019

Dignity was a book I was drawn to on the socials due to its beautifully colourful cover.  When I read the synopsis, I thought yeah I’m interested in this and wangled myself a copy. Then it arrived and I flicked through it and put it in my book trolley ready to get to before its publication date.  If I’m honest it kinda went out of my head until time whizzed by and March was upon us.  It was next up in the loose order of books I ‘had’ to read, and I’m not saying that in any derogatory way, I’m sure we all have a schedule of proofs we need to get to as we’ve committed to reading and reviewing.  Anyway, waffle waffle waffle, I grabbed Dignity, marvelled at its beauty once again and tucked it into my bag for the journey to work, not really having any expectations.

What followed, for me, was a beautifully empowering, touching, unflinching reading experience.  I LOVE when a book takes you by surprise and you think ‘I’ve had this sitting patiently on my shelf, why the very devil have I not read it sooner?!’.

Dignity tells the interweaving stories of three women, over two time periods.  Firstly we have Magda, her young care worker Susheela in the present in the UK, then we have Evelyn, Magda’s mother in the past, in India. Magda is a curmudgeonly old lady who’s brusque no nonsense nature has meant that she has worked her way through a whole host of different care workers trying to find someone who will put up with her challenging ways and moods. Magda is house bound in her large family home, she has an aversion to the outside world and takes great pains to not allow any aspects of the outside world permeate through her precious protective walls.

Enter Susheela, a young university student with problems of her own, dealing with the death of her mother and her difficult relationship. She’s trying to cope not only with her own grief but with her father’s too, desperately trying to keep them both afloat. Susheela has a begrudging admiration for Magda and doesn’t seem phased by her off hand manner. When an event in Susheela’s life accidentally involves Magda, their relationship takes a turn and they are somewhat thrown together.

The evolving of their friendship is so beautiful and heart warming, the stubborn, taciturn, old fashioned nature of Magda and the caring, nurturing but vulnerable side of Susheela.

Interspersed in the modern day we have chapters told from the perspective of Evelyn, Magda’s mother.  Told right from the point that she leaves the UK to head to India to be with her railway engineer husband, Benedict in Darjeeling. We learn of Evelyn’s struggles with living in a completely different country, far from home and learning to live with her Indian servants, whom her husband has a very distinct lack of respect for. When she falls pregnant with Magda, Evelyn struggles even more with the Indian way of life, how the British behave over there and the customs she is ill prepared for. She is even less prepared for the change in her husband’s attitude towards her, his demeanour with the staff and his philandering lifestyle.

She feels as though she is being sidelined as a mother to Magda when an indian wet-nurse named Aashi is employed by Benedict to feed the baby. As Magda grows, Evelyn distances herself more for the child, as a self preservation instinct to protect herself from the inevitable pain and heartache when Magda is to be sent back to the UK to be schooled.  This is another custom Evelyn is not in agreement with. When Aashi’s involvement with the family causes irreparable issues, there is a life changing event for both Magda and Evelyn.

There are almost too many marvellous threads weaved and storylines crafted for me to discuss.  Essentially, we have an epic story of three remarkable women’s lives, each of them in turn as compelling as the other.  The dual timeline narrative is always a big plus point for me, however the extra nuance of Evelyn being Magda’s mother and determining and shaping the character she is as an old lady herself is just fascinating, especially as there are chapters in the second half of the book told from the perspective of Magda as a young child in India.

Each of the characters of the three women are so wonderfully written, each with their own distinctive voice, they draw you in and take you right along with them. Magda I think is my favourite, a woman left with no family in a huge old house with only her failing health and her memories.  The house is actually pitched as a character in itself, Number 3 Victoria Road.  It has become almost a suit of armour, or maybe a prison enclosing Magda in isolation for most of her life. It almost breathes along with her.

There are lots of themes running through this story, grief, war, motherhood and what that means to different people, relationships both romantic and familial, traditions and secrets.  I think this would be a fantastic book club choice, so many issues to discuss and a wealth of interesting conversations to be had.

A truly stunning gem of a book that I think will safely make it onto my best books of the year list.

Get yourself a copy!

I would like to thank Virginia Woolstencroft and the publisher for the advanced review copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx