Lanny By Max Porter – A Review

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Publication Date: 7th March 2019

I procrastinated over writing this review almost as much as I procrastinated over reading the actual book!

I read Grief Is The Thing With Feathers some time ago.  I think it was at the start of my book blogging life and marked a turn in my literary tastes.  I had seen such a lot of talk on BookTube surrounding this, Max Porter’s first book that I thought I’d give it a go. It was so far outside of my comfort zone at the time, (there was a huge man size crow in it for petes sake!) and at the time if it couldn’t happen in ‘real life’ I would have dismissed it.  My tastes were firmly based in reality and even a hint of magical realism would have sent me running for the hills!. However this book blew me away!

Having loved Grief so much I was excited yet apprehensive to pick up Lanny.  I reserved it at the library which gives you 3 weeks to read a book and by the time my 3 weeks were up I still hadn’t picked the book up, despite it winking at me seductively from my book-trolley.  Therefore I clicked the ‘renew’ button on my library app and gave myself a further 3 weeks to tackle it!

And tackle it I did.

Lanny tells the story of Lanny Greentree, a young lad living in a rural village.  The village is steeped in history and folklore, particularly surrounding Dead Papa Toothwort a fictional figure akin to the orignal Green Man who belongs in tall stories and cautionary tales.

Say your prayers and be good too, or Dead Papa Toothwort is coming for you

Lanny is a unique child, in tune with nature and the land.  He has a propensity to drift off into a world of his own and is the epitome of being ‘away with the fairies’.  He sings songs in his own made up language, collects small trinkets from his rambles in and around the village and is very good at appearing to vanish infront of his parents eyes.

His parents Jolie and Robert, a crime thriller author and a city worker are quite unsure of their own child, they cannot make him out.  He seems to exist on another plane and sometimes seems unreachable.  I would go as far as to say he makes them uncomfortable at times, especially in the dead of night when they find him talking to the girl who lives under the tree in their back garden.  He is an unfathomable child who they cherish dearly for his idiosyncrasies.  They choose to nurture Lanny’s inherant creative flair by sending him to local famous artist Pete Blythe or ‘Mad Pete’ as the villagers often refer to him as.

Pete and Lanny forge an unlikely friendship and bond over creating art to express themselves.

One day Lanny goes missing, but is this just one of his many disappearing acts, foul play or something more elemental at work?

The book is told in 3 distinct parts and starts with the voice of Dead Papa Toothwort. Immediately I wanted to love his narrative but immediately didn’t a reason I couldn’t fathom.  He is able to connect with the villagers and his narrative in interspersed with swirly snatches of overheard conversations in and around the village.  I say ‘swirly’ because they words literally swirl on the page, like so:

I really connected with these snippets if not with Toothwort himself (initially anyway).  I was nervous about whether I actually wanted to continue reading as I felt like I wasn’t quite ‘getting it’.  I am so happy that I did however because this book turned into quite the reading experience!

We go on to learn from the perspectives of Jolie, Robert and Pete, short paragraphs headed up Lanny’s Mum, Lanny’s Dad and Mad Pete. We hear their take on Lanny, their inner thoughts about their lives, jobs, life in the village etc and then we move onto the second section which for me was the hook.

This section starts just after Lanny’s disappearance and we are bombarded with brief snippets of the thoughts of not only Lanny’s direct family but all of the villagers too.  This could either be a sentence of two of their conversations with others or slightly longer paragraphs detailing, thoughts and feelings.  This part was such a joy to read because I feel it gave such a well rounded view of what goes on when an event like this happens. Snarkey comments, heartfelt comments, gossip, assumptions, accusations, it was like being a fly on the wall of all the houses in the village, where buried feelings and opinions come to the fore at a time of crisis in the community.

It’s been five days; it feels like months.

I am not ‘making light of it’ Marion, but let’s be honest, every stiff little dick trying to be the hero of the hour, behaving as if they’re action stars of a soap opera, canonising St Lanny, people who don’t lift a finger for anyone else their whole miserable existence suddenly sprinting into Search-and-Rescue Save-the-Child-of-Light mode. Sorry if I find that a bit rich.

Carla, please, we are dying of thirst here. Missing child or no missing child, we shouldn’t have to wait six minutes for two pints of Fosters.

The final section is a crazy, surreal masterpiece.  I was utterly entranced! Hurtling towards a conclusion, whipping you up and whirling you along.

The writing is beautiful and at times lyrical, Max Porter is a master at weaving a richly vivid tale.  A true storyteller to his very core.  Emotive and stunningly engaging, Lanny is a real treat to read.  I would not however recommend this book to everyone, and I understand that some people have found it a little inaccessible but if you enjoyed Grief then Lanny is a must for you.  Also, there are certain Lincoln In The Bardo vibes during the middle section, where a chorus of voices are chipping in to give their opinion.

Lanny is a book I know I will re-read (and i’m not a re-reader).  I feel like I absolutely must go back and revisit it, knowing that I will take even more from it a second time around.  It’s not a long book by any means but it seriously packs a punch!

I felt like I had been picked up, whirled around in a tornado and placed back on the ground, feeling dizzy!

Try it!

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx






You Let Me In By Lucy Clarke – A Review

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publication Date: 6th September 2018

I am going to try sooooo hard not to fall down the thriller cliché rabbit hole with this review but I fear I may fail. I will DEFINITELY say the phrase ‘page turner’ and I make no apologies for this!

You Let Me In by Lucy Clarke was the book that came with my My Book Moment Subscription box which I reviewed here. I read the blurb and instantly new it had the potential to be a goodie. However, at the time of receiving it I was snowed under with proofs to read before publication dates so I had to put it on the back burner (otherwise known as the third shelf down on my book trolley).

Recently I have had a lull in proofs to read and as I didn’t have another one due until mid May I decided to choose a book of my own….imagine the thrill!

Long story short I picked You Let Me In and really enjoyed immersing myself in a pacy, creepy, hair raising thriller.

Our protagonist is Elle is an author who’s debut novel shot to the top of the best seller list and in turn shot Elle into a life in the limelight. To the unassuming observer she appears to have it all, a successful career, a beautiful bespoke built 3 storey house on the coast of Cornwall, the fame and the acclaim. Elle indeed likes to perpetuate this myth by posting the perfect little pockets of her life on Instagram and Facebook for her avid fans and followers to see.

However, behind the facade, Elle is struggling. Massively. Her marriage has fallen apart and she has separated from her husband Flynn. She is expected to deliver a second book very soon, a book which she is yet to start writing. Elle is fresh out of ideas, and the pressure of keeping to her deadline in order to keep her extravagant house is getting to her.

Elle decides to go to a writer’s retreat in France for a break. Whilst she’s there she lets out her beautiful house to an Airbnb customer. Something her brother in law has persuaded her to do. Elle sees no harm in it given that it will generate some much needed cash and her sister, Fiona, has offered to keep an eye on the family who are renting the house.

What could possibly go wrong?…..

On Elle’s return, something doesn’t feel quite right about the house. She finds a few belongings left behind which could indicate that a family have stayed there but Elle has her doubts. When she discovers that an ornament which had been locked away in her writing room at the top of the house has been broken, Elle’s fears begin to spiral.

Various other events and findings give Elle a strong sense of unease and when she tries, and fails to contact the family who were meant to have stayed in her house her imagination begins to run wild. Elle’s worries start to take over her life, suffering from intense insomnia, writers block and high levels of anxiety at every little noise and creak in her isolated coastal house.

But just who had been inside Elle’s house? And what if they haven’t left?….

Right, I’m going to say it…….this book is the epitome of a page-turner! The building levels of tension are immense! I do enjoy a good thriller but this one for me is next-level!

It combines three of my favourite elements perfectly. A dual timeline narrative, we hear about Elle’s university life in flashback sequences and an event that happened there. We also get the story from the perspective of the person who rented Elle’s house out. We then have the unreliable narrator element which I LOVE. Elle is suffering from insomnia and is so bone tired and exhausted that she begins to question herself about what she has seen and heard which then makes us, the reader question Elle. Finally a house, somewhat isolated and creepy af (even though it’s a modern build).

What I absolutely loved was the fact that for much of this book I had NO CLUE who the person who seems to be stalking Elle was! At one point I counted a potential 7 suspects, all of which were either acting strangely or had a motive. Each time I thought ‘right this it, it’s definitely him/her!’ I was proven wrong. However, each time someone was potentially ruled out they were never quite fully ruled out in my mind.

As I say, I didn’t guess who it was or the motives behind it and I’m always grateful when that happens. It makes for a much more satisfying reading experience.

The blurb says ‘stop reading immediately if you’re home alone’ – my daughter read this out to me from the back of the book in a warning voice… being me, all brave like, thought ‘nah I’ll be fine’ and then…..

On the window, there is a smear of a fingerprint. Looking more closely I can make out a word written in the faint condensation.……HOUSE. As I’m considering the word, something within me turns cold, like splinters of ice spreading and branching along the back of my neck, down my spine. It isn’t just a single word. Three others are stacked above. I’M IN YOUR HOUSE.

Well…..reading that late at night on your own in bed gives you a little…..chill, shall we say.

This is probably one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a while. With a plausible plot line and enough red herrings to keep you interested. It is a book I know I will be recommending to a lot of thriller lovers. In fact I already have!

Pick yourself a copy up if you like the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up whilst you’re reading… night…..alone.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat. Xxx

Jailbirds By Mim Skinner – A Review

Publisher: Seven Dials Books

Publication Date: 30th May 2019

I’m all over anything involving prisons. I love a good prison documentary or TV drama. I mean granted, most of my prison knowledge comes from Orange Is The New Black but how different can it be?……

Yeah it’s massively different.

You knew that.

I was drawn to this book because it was pitched not as a book based on statistics. (I hate numbers), but rather the actual people living inside the prison walls the humans, the real life women (and men occasionally). Be that residents (that’s what they’re called, NOT inmates or convicts or criminals) or the staff who work there. I’m much more drawn to the human interest aspect of non-fiction than I am any kind of statistic analysing or report quoting.

Mim Skinner was a teacher in a prison in the north of England before she wrote this book.  She spent her time teaching essentially creative pursuits, card making, crafting, creative writing, poetry and painting. She connected with many of the women in the prison through her classes and various artistic pursuits, getting to know each of them and their varied characters, personalities and troubles.

The fact that Mim was not a prison guard or anyone responsible for the discipline (for want of a better word) of the residents, she was able to maybe get a little closer to the women and lend a sympathetic ear to their plights.  She was also lucky enough to experience and instigate many group activities leading to close friendships between the women and a sense of camaraderie.

What I really loved about this book was the different ways in which the information Mim is giving you is presented.  There were brief chapters told in the form of lists (6 Uses For Sanitary Products, Three Uses For Prison Coffee Whitener and 8 Things To Know About Keys), transcripts of conversations, poetry written by the residents, interviews, snippets of information from the residents, what they were missing from the outside etc etc. all sandwiched between Mim’s fascinating narrative.

I’ve learned a great deal about life in a women’s prison, about the disturbing drug culture (and the things you can do with a Buscopan tablet!), women giving birth in the confines of the prison walls and what happens to them and their babies.  The rules (both written and unwritten), the sensible to the bizarre. Privileges and perks, hierarchy’s and prison structure.

Mim also touches on what happens to the women once they leave the prison and return back to normal life, which in itself is quite jarring for them. These women often reoffend just to be sent back to the only place they feel safe.  A place where they have a roof over their heads, stability, structure, routine and friendships.  Often they are cast back out into society not having had much preparation for doing so and quite often having no stable home to return to which in itself is so sad and so eye opening.

I feel like I’ve had a great education without having statistics rammed down my throat (which lets face it can be boring!).  There are literally just a couple of pages of stats and that’s it however these are very accessible, easily understandable yet enlightening stats.  For example:

  • 48% of women in prison have committed an offence in order to support the drug use of someone else.
  • 46% of women in prison report having attempted suicide at some point in their lifetime. This is twice the rate of men (21%) and more than seven times higher than the general population.
  • 84% of sentenced women are there for non-violent crimes.

There are also three Glossary sections which explain the meaning of some prison related abbreviations and lingo. Fascinating!

Mim herself seems like a lovely woman.  She is determined to give the residents her time and dedication and make life for them behind bars as enjoyable as possible, even if that is just for a few short hours, by the way of a contraband biscuit (or wheel of brie!).  I particularly enjoyed the sections surrounding the putting together of the prison xmas show and Mim’s crusade to make use of the giant leeks and other veg grown by the women, which was not getting put to good use due to security restrictions. An mental image of Mim trying to force a strong smelling mammoth leek into her rucksack and casually stroll through security was quite amusing!

This book is not only factual and educational, it is very touching and heartwarming in places.  Obviously there are some very difficult sections to read, detailing the struggles some of the women have endured and continue to endure in their lives.  It is something I have had no experience of and never wish to.  It is a whole way of life for some of these women and they amazed me with their unwavering strength and resilience.

All in all this was a very interesting, educational, emotional read and I would heartily recommend it.

Thank you as always to the publisher for my advanced proof copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Haverscroft By S.A Harris – A Review

Publisher: Salt

Publication Date: 15th May 2019


Where do I start?

If you don’t relish the idea of having the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you’re reading in bed at night….

If you don’t want to be slightly disconcerted about looking into the mirror…

If you jump at the slightest noise…..

Or have an aversion to disembodied voices…

Doors slamming….

Toy’s turning up in places where they really shouldn’t be…

Then this book probably isn’t for you…. BUT you should still read it you wimp! (said with love).

This book was ABSOLUTELY for me! I love a dark, ghostly, terrifying read.  I love a rambling old house with a creepy attic and creaky doors.  I love a family mystery, an unreliable narrator, a feeling of distinct unease, tales told and added to over the decades……Haverscroft has all these things and much much more in absolute spades!

So what the blazes is it all about Mand?..

Kate and her husband Mark have just moved out of London to Haverscroft, a large rambling property in need of a little work, with their 9 year old twins Sophie and Tom.  Straight from the off we know that something has happened in Kate’s recent past to prompt a breakdown of sorts which she appears to be recovering from, with the help of medication and her own coping mechanisms of deep breathing and counting exercises.

Kate is not happy about the move to Haverscroft but has acquiesced to her husbands wishes as she feels she owes him, (that’s all I’ll say about that!).  However she is determined (at least initially) to make things work not only at Haverscroft but in her marriage aswell.

Soon after moving in things begin to happen in the house which unnerve Kate and the two children.  With Mark working away in London during the week, Kate is left feeling isolated and unnerved.  She begins to dig a little deeper into the history of the house to assuage her perturbed feelings.  She discovers that Mrs Haverscroft has sold them the house with certain conditions and caveats laid down by her solicitor.  Conditions which it appears Mark was aware of and Kate was not.

But just what can Kate uncover about the dark and varied history of Haverscroft? Why is the attic room a shrine to the previous family’s children? Why are her own children so scared of being alone in their bedrooms? Why does the spare bedroom door seem to open and close of its own volition, despite being locked?…….and most importantly who can Kate trust to tell her the truth when she struggles trusting herself?

Plot wise I don’t want to give any more away than this! I think Haverscroft is a story to be discovered and experienced.  So now I’ll just rhapsodize about how much I enjoyed it!

This book for me is an example of a perfect modern ghost story.  What I love the most about a ghost story is perfect pacing.  A slow build of tension and small events which eventually culminate into a dramatic ending.  Haverscroft certainly has a dramatic ending! I almost wanted to read through my fingers!  But to go back to my original point, I enjoy being drip fed the spooky little details.  I love it when odd events are not blatant or veer off into the ridiculous.  I like the insidious creeping feeling of strange happenings that could perhaps be explained away……..the breeze slamming a door, the wind whilstling down the chimney making that noise….a trick of the light making that ghostly shadow……etc

What adds to this feeling in Haverscroft is the fact that Kate could be considered an unreliable narrator.  She’s recently experienced a mental breakdown, she’s feeling lonely and isolated, she has panic episodes and sees things she cannot explain.  At times she doubts herself and what she has seen or heard which in turn makes the reader dubious.

The flip side to this is the sheer frustration Kate feels when she is utterly convinced that there is a dark malevolent force at play in the house and Mark does not even entertain the idea.  Kate is extremely worried for the safety of the children and her anxieties fall on deaf ears and even worse, her capabilities as a mother come into question. The claustrophobic atmosphere is ramped up by Kate’s struggles to get her husband to believe her, back her and keep their children safe.

There are some very interesting peripheral characters, not least Mrs Havers herself.  A stubborn, taciturn woman with deep secrets hidden within her. We also have the housekeeper Mrs Cooper (every house like Haverscroft needs a housekeeper right?!) who becomes a confidante and companion to Kate, she’s uncomfortable in the house and knows some of the history it holds…

There are some genuine spine chilling moments in this book which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, which is of course testimony to some great writing skills! There is a particular scene involving a mirror which had me steadfastly refusing to look into my vintage dressing table mirror for a good few hours I can tell you!

Sally Harris is certainly an author I will be looking out for in the future. I have a feeling that she has an innate talent for the deliciously creepy. I just know that I will read any future books of hers without question. It takes a particular skill to compose such a spine chilling tale and Sally Harris has this skill in-built.

If you’re in the market for a traditional haunted house mystery to have you listening just that little bit more closely to the creaking of your house at night……do yourself a favour and buy yourself a copy of Haverscroft. You won’t regret it.

Well you might…..when you can’t sleep!

Thoroughly recommended and huge thanks to Emma Dowson and Salt for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx



Most Anticipated Reads Of 2019/20 (Part 2)

I was kicking around on Twitter one day last week and it seemed to me like I was seeing tweets about fantastic book after fantastic book and I got that lovely buzzy excited feeling.  It felt a little like we were entering a new phase of book buzz with a new wave of brilliant bookish treats to come.

With this in mind I thought it might be an idea to do another ‘Most Anticipated’ blog post, a part deux if you will (part une is here if you’re interested). Excuse the blurb heavy content of this post, I’m not usually big on including blurbs but I’ve not read these books yet (obvs!) so we’ll have to discover them together.

I have to just add in an apology in advance for the fact that the latter two of these 8 books are not due to be published until 2020! Curses!

Ok lets get crackin’!


First up:

The Warlow Experiment By Alix Nathan: Serpents Tail 4/7/19


Herbert Powyss lives on a small estate in the Welsh Marches, with enough time and income to pursue a gentleman’s fashionable cultivation of exotic plants and trees. But he longs to make his mark in the field of science – something consequential enough to present to the Royal Society in London.

He hits on a radical experiment in isolation: for seven years a subject will inhabit three rooms in the cellar of the manor house, fitted out with books, paintings and even a chamber organ. Meals will arrive thrice daily via a dumbwaiter. The solitude will be totally unrelieved by any social contact; the subject will keep a diary of his daily thoughts and actions. The pay? Fifty pounds per annum, for life.

Only one man is desperate enough to apply for the job: John Warlow, a semi-literate labourer with a wife and six children to provide for. The experiment, a classic Enlightenment exercise gone more than a little mad, will have unforeseen consequences for all included.

In this seductive tale of self-delusion and obsession, Alix Nathan has created an utterly transporting historical novel which is both elegant and unforgettably sinister.


Three words jump out at me there…..’historical’ and ‘unforgettably sinister’.  If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll know that historical fiction is my bag and the more dark and sinister the better! I love a social experiment and I have a tingly feeling that I’m going to love this book.  Also, the cover and end papers look beautiful.  I’m sold!

Then we have:

Three Women By Lisa Taddeo: Bloomsbury Circus 9/7/19


All Lina wanted was to be desired. How did she end up in a marriage with two children and a husband who wouldn’t touch her?

All Maggie wanted was to be understood. How did she end up in a relationship with her teacher and then in court, a hated pariah in her small town?

All Sloane wanted was to be admired. How did she end up a sexual object of men, including her husband, who liked to watch her have sex with other men and women?

Three Women is a record of unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsessions.


This one is the only non-fiction book on the list.  I beleive the author is telling the stories of the three women via their sex lives and relationships.  This ticks all of my nosey non-fiction boxes and I think it could be a fascinating read.



Platform 7 By Louise Doughty: Faber & Faber 22/8/19


Platform Seven at 4am: Peterborough Railway Station is deserted. The man crossing the covered walkway on this freezing November morning is confident he’s alone. As he sits on the metal bench at the far end of the platform it is clear his choice is strategic – he’s as far away from the night staff as he can get.
What the man doesn’t realise is that he has company. Lisa Evans knows what he has decided. She knows what he is about to do as she tries and fails to stop him walking to the platform edge.

Two deaths on Platform Seven. Two fatalities in eighteen months – surely they’re connected?

No one is more desperate to understand what connects them than Lisa Evans herself. After all, she was the first of the two to die.



Just that final sentence of the blurb made me shiver! I read and really loved Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard, so I am looking forward to this one immensely! I’ve also seen some really positive reactions to it online.



The Inheritance Of Solomon Farthing By Mary Paulson-Ellis: Mantle 5/9/19


Solomon knew that he had one advantage. A pawn ticket belonging to a dead man tucked into his top pocket – the only clue to the truth . . .

An old soldier dies alone in his Edinburgh nursing home. No known relatives, and no Will to enact. Just a pawn ticket found amongst his belongings, and fifty thousand pounds in used notes sewn into the lining of his burial suit . . .

Heir Hunter, Solomon Farthing – down on his luck, until, perhaps, now – is tipped off on this unexplained fortune. Armed with only the deceased’s name and the crumpled pawn ticket, he must find the dead man’s closest living relative if he is to get a cut of this much-needed cash.

But in trawling through the deceased’s family tree, Solomon uncovers a mystery that goes back to 1918 and a group of eleven soldiers abandoned in a farmhouse billet in France in the weeks leading up to the armistice.

Set between contemporary Edinburgh and the final brutal days of the First World War as the soldiers await their orders, The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing shows us how the debts of the present can never be settled unless those of the past have been paid first . . .


I read The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson Ellis some time ago and really enjoyed the dual timeline narrative and the mystery wrapped up within it.  As her second book also appears to have a dual timeline narrative I’m super excited! Her writing is very engaging and she weaves a good mystery to be solved. I’m all over that!


Bone China By Laura Purcell: Bloomsbury Raven 19/9/19


Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken. But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home. While he devotes himself to his controversial medical trials, Louise finds herself increasingly discomfited by the strange tales her new maid tells of the fairies that hunt the land, searching for those they can steal away to their realm.

Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last.


Well…..I mean this one needs very little introduction! If you know me AT ALL you will know that I have read and raved about Laura Purcell’s previous books.  I ADORED both The Corset and The Silent Companions and to be honest, just reading this blurb gives me the tingles.  I just KNOW I’m going to love it.  In fact I keep re-reading it! yes I’m a weirdo. I cannot express just how excited I am about this book!!!!!!! (lots of excited exclamation marks)


Things We Say In The Dark By Kirsty Logan: Harvill Secker 3/10/19


Some things can’t be spoken about in the light of day. But we can visit our fears at night, in the dark. We can turn them over and weigh them in our hands and maybe that will protect us from them. But maybe not.

The characters in this collection find their aspirations for happy homes, happy families and happy memories dissected and imbued with shimmering menace. Alone in a remote house in Iceland a woman is unnerved by her isolation; another can only find respite from the clinging ghost that follows her by submerging herself in an overgrown pool. Couples wrestle with a lack of connection to their children; a schoolgirl becomes obsessed with the female anatomical models in a museum; and a cheery account of child’s day out is undercut by chilling footnotes.

These dark tales explore women’s fears with electrifying honesty and invention and speak to one another about female bodies, domestic claustrophobia, desire and violence. From a talented writer who has been compared to Angela Carter, Things We Say in the Dark is a powerful contemporary collection of feminist stories, ranging from vicious fairy tales to disturbing horror and tender ghost stories.


As you all know, I do love me a short story collection and I have read Kirsty Logan’s collection The Rental Heart. The fact that this new collection is being published in the run up to halloween and has dark and chilling undertones is the absolute icing on the short story cake!


My Dark Vanessa By Katie Elizabeth Russell: 4th Estate 23/1/2020 (sorry!)


Amid the rising wave of sexual assault allegations against powerful men in 2017, thirty-two-year-old Vanessa Wye learns of one that involves her intimately: her high school English teacher Jacob Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by another former student. 

The scandal brings back memories of her past and the idyllic campus of the exclusive boarding school she attended in Maine. A scholarship student, serious, lonely, and yearning for adulthood, Vanessa was both baffled and enthralled when Strane singled her out for his attention. Here was a man three times her age who recognized and praised her intellect, writing talent, and beauty—and, at fifteen-years-old, she fell into a fiery and life-defining affair with him. 

Now, nearly two decades later, another woman has shone a spotlight on Strane, and Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenaged self willingly engaged in the relationship or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? How can she accept that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may have seduced and abused other girls?


Well I’ve seen much chatter about this one on Twitter and it has already got much buzz surrounding it. I think it looks intruiging.  I think this could be a very timely book with a very important message and I can’t wait to read it.


The Animals At Lockwood Manor By Jane Healey: Mantle/Pan Macmillan 2020 (sorry again!)


In August 1939, a lonely thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright arrives at Lockwood Manor as the director of the evacuated Natural History Museum.

She is unprepared for the scale of protecting her charges from party guests, wild animals, the elements, the tyrannical Major Lockwood and Luftwaffe bombs. Most of all though, she is unprepared for the beautiful and haunted Lucy Lockwood.

For Lucy, who has spent much of her life cloistered at Lockwood suffering from bad nerves, the arrival of the museum brings with it new freedoms. But it also resurfaces memories of her late mother, and nightmares in which Lucy roams Lockwood hunting for something she has lost.

When the animals start to move of their own accord, and exhibits go missing, they begin to wonder what exactly it is that they might need protection from.

As the disasters mount up, it is not only Hetty’s future employment that is in danger, but her sanity too. There’s something, or someone, in the house. Someone stalking her through its darkened corridors…


This book is straight away all kinds of me! Historical *check*, old manor house *check* bad nerves *check*, darkened corridors?….*check check check*! I really don’t think I need to say much more about this one!

So there we have it!

I hope you have seen some books here that might be of interest to you.  I will update you on my thoughts as and when I get my hands on them!

Bloody belters!

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx






The Den By Abi Maxwell – A Review

Publisher: Tinder Press

Publication Date: 16th May 2019

It was the dual timeline narrative aspect of this book that drew me in. I LOVE me a dual timeline people! Especially when it is involving one house or area, which this book is.

The Den is the story of two sets of sisters living in a rural town in New England. Jane and Henrietta in the present day and Clare and Elspeth in the mid 1800’s.

The book is split into sections told by each of the sisters and opens with Jane, the youngest out of herself and Henrietta. We learn of their close relationship in the building they call The Den on their property, their childhood games here and their fathers story of the family who disappeared during the Great Freeze, a night when cayotes were apparently found roaming the house with no sign of the family….

Jane watches as her older sister starts to mature in front of her eyes and discard their childish games in The Den in favour of her tempestuous and passionate relationship with a local boy.

When life for Henrietta gets difficult she disappears, leaving Jane and her parents wondering where on earth she can be. Jane is stuck wondering about the comparisons of her sisters disappearance and the family’s disappearance during the Great Freeze. How can people be there one minute and gone the next?

Next we hear from Elspeth, raised in Scotland in the 1800’s, she has to move to New England due to the shame of becoming pregnant at a young age. She moves there to be with her husband when he takes a job at the local mill. Isolated and lonely, with only the company of her three young boys, her husband and a neighbour, Elspeth yearns for a more exciting and fulfilling life. She’s creative and writes as an outlet for her loneliness and isolation. But when Elspeth becomes embroiled in the darker side of the new mill owner an event occurs which forces her hand and sees her disappearing in the dead of night with her family, never to be heard of again by the locals who take it upon themselves to spread word of the families disappearance.

Back at home in Scotland, Elspeth’s sister Clare becomes increasingly concerned when her sister stops writing, so much so that she follows in her sisters footsteps across the ocean to try and track her down and discern the truth about her sudden vanishing and the mythical stories and theories that ensued.

We also follow Henrietta after she ups and leaves her home. How she is determined to leave no trace of herself and leave behind her previous life. How she struggles to set up a new life and learn to trust the people around her.

Henrietta’s chapters were the most engaging for me. There was an air of loneliness and desperation surrounding her but I was willing her on to succeed.

This is a story steeped in myths and legends, and how they translate into modern day life and how correlations can be drawn. It explores themes of not belonging, yearning for a better life, being an outsider in a small community and being judged for your actions.

It also deals with the strength and determination of women and how far they will go to protect their families. I enjoyed the exploration of the relationships and bonds between the two sets of sisters and how each one of the women left behind dealt with the ‘loss’ of their sister.

I also enjoyed the links between the past and present day, how the stories of the sisters were similar but played out years apart and how the threads of the mythical coyote story interwove between the lives of all the women. I love a good legend, particularly when the story is perpetuated through the years until it has become so ingrained in a community that it is considered absolute fact no matter how outlandish it seems.

Abi Maxwell’s writing style is very engaging and fluid. I believe this is her debut novel and it feels like a very accomplished one. I’ll be keeping my eye out for her future work for sure.

Thank you as always to the publisher for the advanced proof copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

What Red Was By Rosie Price – A Review

Publication Date: 9th May 2019

Publisher: Harvill Secker

I remember seeing this mentioned on Twitter way back towards the end of last year and going away and doing a little bit of research. I liked the sound of it and got a buzzy excited feeling about it which prompted me to add it to my Most Anticipated Reads of 2019 post here.

What Red Was tells the story of Kate who at the opening of the book has just started at university. She is a little isolated but manages to make friends with Max, a fellow student and they bond over their love of watching films.

Although they are extremely close, they do not have a romantic connection but are completely comfortable sharing a bed together. Max has a film director mother and Kate wants to work her way into film production. Max brings Kate into his family life, a life which is privileged and wealthy, some way off Kate’s humble upbringing with her single mum.

However, affluence doesn’t equate to happiness and various members of Max’s family are troubled and have their demons.

Kate bonds with Max’s family and finds herself welcomed by them and taken under their wing. When a sexual assault takes place upstairs at a gathering at one of the family homes, Kate’s life is turned on it’s head and her position within Max’s family changes.

I was absolutely gripped by this story even though it’s not hugely plot based. I tweeted when I was reading it that although it was an uncomfortable read, I just couldn’t look away from it.

The sexual assault scene was very deftly done. Rape in any guise is rape and of course is absolutely horrific but there was something extra unsettling in that this was not a stranger violently grabbing a woman down a back alley somewhere, the attacker is known to Kate and the rape itself is not particularly violent and that for me made it all the more uncomfortable to read, infact Kate is horrified when her body betrays her brain and actually begins to respond. However, Kate quite clearly says no and has her trust and dignity shattered. I found this an unbearable scene to read, quite quite heartbreaking.

What follows on from the aftermath of this is event is not some huge police enquiry or fallout of epic proportions. Kate tries her utmost to get on with her life. A fact that made this story all the more distressing in my opinion. I was particularly upset when in the hours and days following the rape, Kate is desperate for someone to notice that this has happened to her, without her having to explicitly say so. In having coffee with one of the other characters the next morning or when she attends a chemist to get the morning after pill she is hoping her little subtle body language signals or expressions will give away some clue to these people to prompt her into telling them what has happened to her. She is desperate for them to read between the lines and save her.

When this doesn’t happen, Kate has to try and carry on with her life despite feeling hopelessly lost and angry deep down inside.

What I also loved about this book is the fact that Kate does eventually tell some of the people around her what has happened. It is not a story based on trying to cover up any perceived shame which can quite often be the way these stories can go.

I will say that I was quite disappointed that having told a handful of people about the event, not one of them told her to report it to the police until much much later on and even then it was only one individual who mentions it, almost too casually. I didn’t quite understand this and thought it was puzzling to say the least.

Alongside, but not overshadowing the central rape story is a story about class, inheritance and entitlement. Max’s family property being divided between his father and two uncles after the death of his beloved grandmother. I enjoyed this aspect very much as I feel it gave a certain depth to not only Max but some of the peripheral characters.

Max and Kate’s relationship is beautiful. The way they communicate and interact, the way they drop everything for each other is lovely to read. It could have been quite easy for the author to push them together romantically and I’m so glad this didn’t happen. They both have their demons, Kate coping with the aftermath of her rape in self-destructing ways and Max coping with trying to carve a successful career out for himself and worrying about his uncles mental state. They both abuse alcohol and drugs, particularly Max and I have to just mention a trigger warning for self-harm.

I feel like this book is such an important read. It made me feel things that I’m struggling to put into words. Was I uncomfortable? disgusted? shocked?…..yes, all of these things but some other indefinable emotion that I felt so strongly yet can’t verbalise. 

There is a real anger and rage in this story and a real power to Kate and in the end I found it quite a cathartic read.  It has certainly played on my mind a lot since I’ve finished it.  One of those books that really gets under your skin and makes you question your own thoughts and internal arguments.

A thoroughly immersive, important story that very much needs to be heard.

Thank you as always to the publisher for my proof and finished copies.

See you soon

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Tiger By Polly Clark – A Review

Publisher: Riverrun

Publication Date: 2nd May 2019

When I saw the first whisperings about Tiger by Polly Clark over on the socials, I was immediately interested.  I had read and really enjoyed Larchfield by Polly (reviewed here) and really got along well with her writing style.  She is an author that I know I will always want to read what she writes in the future.

I was lucky enough to be sent an advanced review copy of Tiger and of course as always, my thanks go to the publisher and publicists involved with this.

Tiger is split up into 4 distinct sections.  We start with Freida Bloom a primatologist who works in a research centre, studying the bonobo monkeys.  Freida has a huge affiliation with these creatures and feels almost at one with them, forming a distinct and strong bond with one of the older female monkeys.  However, Freida is a troubled soul, a survivor of a horrific unprovoked hammer attack which left her with a terrible head injury and an addiction to morphine.  When Freida is caught stealing morphine from the research centre, compounded by the fact that she was under the influence of the drug whilst on shift there, she unfortunately loses her job.  The only thing that is really keeping her going.  Charlie her mentor arranges for her to take a position in a small zoo, where Freida is the not always welcome newcomer who has been tasked with looking after the new tiger which has been brought to the zoo from Russia.  Tigers are not Freida’s thing, she’s happier amongst the primates.  But maybe she can form a different bond with the new female in town, Luna…..

Next we jump to the story of Tomas, who’s father Ivan owns a reserve in the taiga region of Russia.  Here in this isolated terrain Tomas tracks the Tigers, rigging up cameras to get the all important shots of these majestic animals in their habitat.  The importance of these images comes to the fore when an imminent visit from an important man with links to President Putin himself is scheduled. But can Tomas track The Countess and her cubs and provide his exacting father with the necessary footage he needs to secure more investment, or will Tomas come back from the forest with more startling news?…..

Here, we move on to Edit’s story.  A woman who once belonged to the Udeghe people living in Russia but who has decided that the way of life there and her failing relationship with her husband Valery is not enough to keep her there.  She takes to the forest with her young daughter Zina where they scratch together an existence, with Edit always looking over her shoulder for danger in the form of the Siberian Tiger, an animal she feels holds a grudge and never forgets…..

Finally, the story is concluded with the point of view of the tiger.  The desperate hunt for food with her cubs, the survival instinct.

The story is rounded off with all of the segments weaving together to make a cohesive story.  The links between the characters and landscapes all dropping into place in the most satisfying of ways.

Whilst I did really enjoy each of the sections, I think my favourite story was Edit’s and her daughters.  The sheer determination of this woman to escape a life she was not happy in, leave the safety and the support of her family and her people and strike out on her own with her only child is quite something to read.

I enjoyed the link between the characters in each section, not just from a bringing the story together perspective but also the fact that they are all fairly lonely, disperate people.  Living life somewhat on the periphery in isolation.  Freida, with the after effects of her trauma, her all encompassing addiction and losing her grip on various cherished aspects of her life.  Tomas, living in a remote setting, his only company the motley crew of men who have also eschewed family life in favour of working on the reservation.  Finally Edit, a woman who has willingly turned her back on her family and community in search of a better life for her and her daughter.  The tigers themselves are somewhat on the periphary, prowling around looking for sustenance and doing what they can to survive, much like our protagonists.

As I said at the start of this review, I enjoy Polly’s writing style very much.  Her depictions of the cold, harsh landscapes were breathtaking.  Her fascination and love of the Siberian Tiger really comes across in her prose.  She quite assuredly brings the Tiger to life and its heart is beating throughout this book. 

I certainly learned a lot about not only the Tigers themselves but the Bonobo Monkeys and various other animals and their traits, a real Google book! It had me reaching for my phone to learn more.  I also took out the publicity sheet that came with the book to show my work colleagues just how huge the Siberian Tiger is. (I probably became a bit of a Tiger bore!).

There are sections in this book depicting encounters with the magnificent Tigers, be that within an enclosed zoo environment where the beast is in captivity, or out in the wilds of Siberia, where the animals are roaming free that really had my heart pumping and my blood pressure rising.  Some of these encounters are hair-raising to say the least and I really found myself transported there, barely breathing!

Such an atmospheric and unsual read with wildness and vital animal emotion running right through it.  I would recommend it as an unusual and captivating read.

Thank you so much again to Katya Ellis, Ana Sampson McLaughlin and Riverrun Books for giving me the opportunity to meet The Countess and her brood.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx





Stanley And Elsie By Nicola Upson – A Review

Publisher: Duckworth

Publication Date: 2/5/19

I have recently been enjoying fictionalised non-fiction and have read a fair few corkers in this genre……is it a genre? has it got a better name than my made up ‘fictionalised non-fiction’?….let me know. I recently wrote a post about this very subject here in which I mention Stanley And Elsie by Nicola Upson.

I was drawn to this book just because again it involves a real life figure, painter,Stanley Spencer.  I googled a little about him and discovered he had a somewhat difficult marriage and a questionable relationship with another woman.  This was enough to pique my interest.

I have to hold my hands up and admit that when this book arrived, I was a little put off by the cover design.  I know it isn’t the be all and end all and of course we should never judge a book by it’s cover, but I do!  If I had seen this book on the shelf at the library or in a shop I’m afraid I would not have picked it up, which would have been a crying shame because it is an absolute gem of a book!

Stanley And Elsie tells the story of the life of painter Stanley Spencer from the point of him hiring young housekeeper Elsie Munday.  Elsie comes from a very close, large family and it the eldest unmarried girl.  She takes on the role of housekeeper for the Spencer family, (which consists of Stanley, his artist wife Hilda and their young daughter Shirin), to gain some independence.

The books opens with a prologue depicting Stanley leaving to fight in WW1 and picks up in the late 1920’s after he has returned from war with many haunting memories of what he saw there. The appointment of Elsie as housekeeper is seamless and she slots into the Spencer family life with apparent ease.  She becomes somewhat of a confidante to both Stanley and Hilda, as they have a fairly tumultuous marriage and find it very difficult to communicate, often resorting to writing each other letters.

Elsie forms a strong connection with both of them for different reasons.  In the early days she has a little crush on Stanley, which quickly turns into a strong friendship and Elsie takes on the role of nurturing him whilst he works on a huge piece of commission work in a memorial chapel. Feeding him, talking to him about his marital problems, discussing various aspects of his work with him and being an all round support to him in all areas of his life.

With Hilda, Elsie is a constant support and listening ear for all her woes surrounding Stanley and their rocky marriage.  She is the woman who organises the house and the children, tries to inspire Hilda to start painting again after she loses her motivation and keeps things ticking along when Hilda becomes melancholy and introspective.

Stanley has a huge affection for Cookham, the village he was brought up in.  It’s on visiting here for a family break that he encounters two aspiring artists Patricia and Dorothy. Stanley very quickly becomes entranced by the beguiling Patricia and embarks on trying to win her affections.  This endeavour is not beyond the prying eyes of the village, and Hilda tries and fails to turn a blind eye to his ministrations with Patricia.  Elsie is understandably concerned and finds it very difficult to condone Stanley’s seemingly careless and hurtful behaviour and his actions have repercussions for everyone involved, not least Hilda and Dorothy, Patricia’s lover.

What I loved about this book was the many layers and threads of the story which is essentially people’s lives. Not just a tale weaved from an authors imagination. The themes of marriage, love, ambition, the effects of war, jealousy and the relationship between employee and employer were all superbly explored.

I also really enjoyed the fact that the latter part of the book focused more on the relationship between Stanley and Patricia, (who’s intentions were not exactly honourable), and the effects of their relationship not only on Hilda but Patricia’s secret lover Dorothy.  Dorothy is understandably heartbroken by watching her lover form a relationship with Stanley, however she loves Patricia so much that she is willing to stay with her in the hope that she can eventually win her back.  Patricia for her part has ideas beyond love and uses Stanley as a means to an end with regards to her artistic life, ambitions and future financial security.

This book is 100% a brilliant ‘Google book’ – a book which prior to reading sent me straight to Google.  I read a little about Stanley Spencer and saw some of his artwork, however I didn’t read too deeply as I didn’t want to spoil anything for myself. After I closed the book however, I was straight on Google! I brought up pictures of Stanley, Hilda, Patricia and Dorothy.  I pored over Stanley’s paintings and gobbled up details about his relationships.  I found a stunning picture of the inside of the memorial chapel at Berghcler painted by Stanley, which put the depictions I’d read about into perspective.  I make a point of trying not to look at pictures of ‘real life’ people before I read about them (I recently did the same with Graceland by Bethan Roberts, waiting until I’d finished reading it before I googled what Elvis’s mother looked like). There’s a real sense of ‘ah there you are’….when you finally see someone who you have previously only been picturing in your minds eye.

I also found a couple of fascinating articles about the way Stanley had treated his wife and children and a response by Shirin and Unity, now well into their 80’s, responding to the claims.  I also found out that Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) drowned whilst trying to rescue Patricia from drowing as a child.  There is a passing mention of it in the book but I don’t think I quite realised that it was THE Gilbert!

There is also a lovely afterword, fillin gin some deatails of what had happened after the time period in which the book had ended, which I devoured. The deaths of Hilda and Stanley and notes about Elsie’s grandchildren giving details about their grandmother for the purposes of the book.

This is a story heavy with emotion and full of ‘characters’ –  even though it feels wrong to say that.  I absolutely adored it!

I am thankful to the author for introducing me to Stanley Spencer and his art, (and his chaotic life!).  I am also glad I got to ‘meet’ the lovely Elsie and the long suffering Hilda Carline.

I would thoroughly recommend this book.

Thank you as always to the publisher for the advanced review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx