Things We Say In The Dark By Kirsty Logan – A Review

Publisher: Harvill Secker

Publication Date: 4th October 2019

I feel a little bit like a stuck record when I say that I love short story collections. But as you all know this hasn’t always been a love for me. Especially anything that could be considered a little bit ‘strange’ or ‘out there’.

The regulars among you will also know that my reading tastes have changed massively since I started book blogging and a huge metamorphosis has occurred over the last couple of years. I have gone over to the dark side I suppose! I love anything odd or ‘off beat’. I adore the dark and twisted. I admire so many authors for their amazing imagination and story crafting abilities, and I use the word ‘crafting’ purposefully. Because I believe the short story is indeed a craft.

Kirsty Logan has in my opinion created an absolutely perfect collection of dark, vivid, insidiously creepy and outright horrifying tales to really drawn you in, mesmerise you and spit you back out again with a buzzing brain full of tumbling thoughts.

I started this collection one Thursday night, expecting to make my way through a few of the stories. What happened was I found myself so transfixed that I don’t think I moved for around 3 hours. I’m not sure I even breathed but I must have done because I’m here to tell the tale!

Things We Say In The Dark is split into 3 distinct parts, The House, The Child and The Past. Each part starts with a section split into four ‘fears’ First Fear, Second Fear, Third Fear and Fourth Fear (as if I needed to spell that out!). These are four relatively short quirky tales around the main theme. We then move on to the longer short stories. Interspersed throughout is a narrative of an author, telling the reader about her writing retreat in a remote Icelandic town, her own dark fears and struggles whilst isolated within the writing process.

I don’t like to talk about all the stories in a collection when I’m reviewing and I always find it difficult if I’m honest to review short story collections. I have to choose some favourites to talk about, some stand out stories that have stayed in my mind long after I’ve finished the book. However it is extra difficult with Things We Say In The Dark because more or less every story has been emblazoned on my brain!

Stand outs for me though are:

The Only Time I Think Of You Is All The Time in which a young woman is plagued by the ghost of a middle aged woman called Brigitte. Brigitte will not leave this woman alone and literally follows her everywhere. The only way she can get any peace is by completely submerging herself in an overgrown weed ridden pond at the bottom of the garden.

She’s just – there. Wherever I go, whatever I do. I walk down the street and I feel her toes stepping on the backs of my heels. I type emails and I feel her fingers on top of mine. I read a book and she bends the cover back so she can read it too. I get in the bath and see the water rise as she climbs in after me. I go to the toilet and she slides her fingers under the door, calling my name…

Half Sick Of Shadows in which a couple drive to a deserted and long abandoned theme park with their young daughter in the hopes of doing the absolute unthinkable. Something which no parent would ever even contemplate….

My Body Cannot Forget Your Body: First Fear in which a woman’s stomach begins to grow and her skin begins to stretch and tear. She has the doctors stitch her up countless times but she continues to grow something inside of her. When one day a finger bursts out of the hole and begins to scratch, she knows that no amount of stitching will keep it contained…..

My skin cannot stretch any more, and so it grows upwards into my body. I feel it’s elbows pressing hard against my spleen, it’s knees prodding at my kidneys, it’s eyes opening and closing on the inside of my collar bones. My heart still beats and my lungs still inflate, but only just…..

And also Second Fear:

Where women give birth to an array of fruit and vegetables from tiny pomegranate seeds to multiple lemons, to carrots and kumquats. However, the woman in this Fear is destined to give birth to something far more problematic…..

And Third Fear:

Where a woman who has just given birth and waits to meet her baby contemplating all of the horrors it could turn out to be…..

The nurse brings me a baby made of glass, tiny and perfect and smashable; a baby so tiny, so microscopic, that you need machines just to see; a baby with gills like tuna fish; a baby with feet sharpened to a stiletto point; a baby made of cat shit, a baby with eyes that run out of his head like egg yolk…..

In The World’s More Full Of Weeping Than You Can Understand, a young girl describes an innocent, lovely sounding day out at the seaside with her mother, with very sinister and dark footnotes…..

There are many many more stories I could wang on about but I feel you need to experience them for yourself!

These stories are based around female fears, the things that play on our minds in the night hours when the world is dark, quiet and still.  The horror of the normal, the abnormal and the things we cannot let ourselves think about during the cold light of day.

These stories are an eclectic mix of contemporary tales and dark fairytales with a very distinct sense of creeping unease.  Some are outright horrifying and will play on your mind long after you have closed the book.

As I said, I gulped this collection down in one dark and wet autumn evening, under a blanket in the candle light with the shadows playing around the room.  I was absolutely transfixed.  I just could not stop reading. I went to bed with a brain that was buzzing with the imagery and the energy that these stories had suffused me with.

Kirsty Logan is the queen of the short story for me. She has an awe inspiring imagination and I would love to have a chat with her about how she takes inspiration for her stories and weaves them into complete and utter magic.

This collection will stay firmly on my forever shelf. If you only buy one book in October to read at Halloween, make it this one and you won’t regret it!

I cannot recommend it highly enough and I am now off to re-read some of the stories.

Thank you so much as always to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

*The quotations in this review are taken from the uncorrected proof.

Foxfire, Wolfskin And Other Stories Of Shapeshifting Women By Sharon Blackie – A Review

Publisher: September Publishing

Publication Date: 26th September 2019

I think 2019 has absolutely been the year of the short story for me. I know I’ve said this countless times before, but in the past I never really picked up short story collections. I thought they would be far too short for me to become invested in them or be bothered about them.

How throughly incorrect I was! I don’t mind admitting when I’ve been a complete fool!

I think someone on twitter may have alerted me to Foxfire, Wolfskin by Sharon Blackie knowing that I love a short story collection. That cover below me away and I was really drawn in by the ‘shapeshifting women’ element of these stories. When the actual book arrived I was blown even further away by just how stunning it looks in real life! It really is a bloody stunner!

As I said, it was the shapeshifting women that lured me in like a siren onto the rocks and boy am I glad they did!

I picked this book up one night and read the first story Wolfskin in which a woman can summon her wolf pelt and become an actual wolf. When a hunter discovers her secret and steals her pelt, she has to marry him. When he sells her pelt she becomes pregnant and rumours are bound when the child is born that the mother is a wolf. The child grows to hear these rumours and discovers that if he too wants to become a wolf, his mother can show him but only when she has her pelt and becomes a wolf herself. When the boy discovers the pelt one day their lives change and the wolf ultimately gets the last laugh…..

It is a mere 3 pages long and yet my heart was beating wildly all the way through and my blood was fizzing in my veins because I just knew this collection was going to excite me beyond belief.

Initial thoughts were proven right and what followed on from here was story after story that lured me in and kept me utterly absorbed.

In I shall Go Into A Hare a woman who is desperate to conceive a child thinks back to the stories of her grandmother who was purported to be a witch. A witch who could turn herself into a hare, a pale haired bright blue eyed hare. She also supposedly had the secret to infertility, linked closely to the hare. But can Isobel summon her grandmother’s powers to finally conceive the much longer for baby that she has been dreaming of?…

The Saturday Diary Of The Fairy Mèlusine tells of a woman who has been cursed by her own mother to spend every Saturday of her life with a serpents tail. She spends every Saturday in the bath, hiding her secret from her husband. But when he discovers the truth what effect will this have on Mèlusine’s family?…..

In No Country For Old Women we learn of a woman who has the power to regenerate herself every 100 years by submerging herself in a body of water. However there are very specific rules and timings that can ruin the process if not strictly adhered to…..

I really don’t want to talk about any more stories as I feel like they need to be discovered by the reader themselves. Suffice to say that if you enjoy folklore and myth and stories which have survived and metamorphosed over hundreds of years then this collection will steal your heart.

There are two added elements to this book which were absolute treats and were a complete joy, adding so much richness and depth to the stories themselves. Firstly we have some stunning artwork at the start of each story. In fact I’ve flicked back through the pictures since finishing the book. They are just beautiful.

 

The other added extra is the notes on the origins of each story that the author has provided at the back of the book. In her Author’s Note at the start, Sharon Blackie suggests that you read the notes to get a feel for the stories and the characters to better understand the meaning behind each story. I chose to read these notes after I’d read each story and not before as I wanted to absorb the stories myself first and see what I made of them before reading about where and how they originated.

These stories originate from far and wide across Europe.  Some remain mostly in their time period setting but a couple are brought right up to date, especially in the story Meeting Baba Yaga where the narration is contemporary (and wryly humourous!).  I enjoyed the fact that Sharon Blackie made tweaks to her variations of the folklore stories and made them her own whilst staying true to the original meaning.  Her writing is beautiful, lyrical and utterly bewitching.  This is the perfect book to become lost in on a dark and chilly autumn evening.

If you are a fan of folklore, myth and dark fairytales I would sincerely urge you to pick up a copy of this wonderful book.  You will not regret it.

Thank you so much to September Books for my beautiful review copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

A Book Haul – The Farnham Edition

We recently took a little trip dahhhn sarrf to visit relatives and were told of a ‘glorious’ Oxfam charity bookshop in Farnham. Now Farnham itself is bloody lovely! But even lovelier still was indeed the glorious secondhand bookshop!

I do have to say that whenever I’ve ventured into an Oxfam bookshop they’ve always been superb. Can’t fault them.

Anyway, enough rambling. I thought I’d just show you the 6 books I picked up all for the princely sum of £15. I could have purchased more but I showed a very tiny minuscule modicum of restraint.

First up:

The Tooth by Shirley Jackson – Penguin Modern Classics

I know nothing about this one to be honest so let’s discover together via the blurb:

BLURB:

The creeping unease of lives squandered and the bloody glee of lives lost is chillingly captured in these five tales of casual cruelty by a master of the short story. Portraying insanity, disturbing encounters, troubling children and a sinister lottery, Shirley Jackson’s work has an unmatched power to unnerve and unsettle.

Wowsers! I’m even more intrigued now! I do love a short story and ‘creeping unease’ is what I live for! Oooh this sounds like a good one!

I have to admit that I STILL have We Have Always Lived In The Castle on my shelf unread but I’m planning to get to it this autumn, I promise!

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter – Picador

BLURB:

As flood waters close over London, a woman gives birth to her first child.
Days later, they are forced to leave home in search of safety. They head north through a Britain that is changed beyond recognition: a familiar place made dangerous, its people become refugees. 
Yet, against all the odds, the baby thrives. He learns to smile, to laugh, to crawl. And as their story unfolds and the country falls apart around them, this mother’s world promises new life and fresh hope.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve picked this up and put it back down again in Waterstones. I think the reason being, it’s quite a short book and I like a bit more heft for my money! I’ve been meaning to take it out of the library but keep completely forgetting so I thought I’d pick this copy up and read it at my leisure.

The Dream Mistress by Jenny Diski – Phoenix

BLURB:

When Mimi discovered an unconscious bag lady huddled behind a London cinema, a sense of duty prompted her to call an ambulance. Later, she wondered if the tramp, who could have been anybody, might not be somebody after all. Could she be her abandoning mother? Or Bella, a bomb-blast victim?

I’m not entirely sure why I picked this one up other than I was intrigued by the cover! I’ve since read the Goodreads reviews and it really doesn’t come up very well! Oh well!…….we live and learn. It could be fabulous! *crosses fingers*

Sexing The Cherry by Jeanette Winterson – Vintage

BLURB:

Sexing the Cherry celebrates the power of the imagination as it playfully juggles with our perception of history and reality. 

It is a story about love and sex; lies and truths; and twelve dancing princesses who lived happily ever after, but not with their husbands. 

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never read any Jeanette Winterson but I have 3 of her books unread on my shelf Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Why Be Normal When You Can Be Happy? and Frankisstein. I know that the world and his wife are raving about Frankisstein at the moment so I think in all fairness this will be the one I head to first but it’s nice to know you have more of an authors work to fall back on if you find you enjoy their writing. Let’s hope I do!

Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn – Picador

BLURB:

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Mother’s Milk is the fourth of Edward St Aubyn’s semi-autobiographical Patrick Melrose novels, adapted for TV for Sky Atlantic and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as aristocratic addict, Patrick.

The once illustrious, once wealthy Melroses are in peril. Caught up in the wreckage of broken promises, child-rearing, adultery and assisted suicide, Patrick finds his wife Mary consumed by motherhood, his mother in thrall to a New Age foundation, and his young son Robert understanding far more than he should. But even as the family struggles against the pull of its ever-present past, a new generation brings a new tenderness, and the possibility of change.

In looking up that blurb I have discovered that this book is the follow up to a book called Some Hope and is part of a 5 book series surrounding Patrick Melrose. I hate it when that happens! I will never read a book out of order. Ah well, this means only one thing……I now need to buy Some Hope and start from there!

Devil’s Day by Andrew Michael Hurley – John Murray

I recently read Andrew Michael Hurley’s upcoming novel Starve Acre and absolutely loved it! In fact I think I’ll stick my neck out and say it’s my favourite book of the year so far. Suffice to say, when I saw Devil’s Day in the charity shop I knew I had to have it. I’ve not read The Loney because my husband read it and didn’t enjoy it so he put me right off! Let me know if you’ve read it and whether I need to! I’d hate to miss out. My review of Starve Acre will be up in October. You really don’t want to miss that one!

So there we have it. A cheeky little southern book haul that I’m (mostly) pleased with!

Let me know if you’ve read any of them and what your thoughts were.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Don’t Think A Single Thought By Diana Cambridge – A Review

Publisher: Louise Walters Books

Publication Date: 26th September 2019

I was initially drawn to this book due to its beautiful cover! the whole 1960’s glamour vibe had me sucked in.  I also read the blurb and felt like it could be a book I would zip through, and zip through it I absolutely did!  It is only a relatively short book anyway but it has a momentum to it that means you cannot stop reading.

Our protagonist is Emma Bowden and what a protagonist she is! She lives a privileged life with her doctor husband, Jonathan.  They have a very nice apartment in New York and a beautiful weekend home in The Hamptons, Picasso paintings, designer clothes, upscale dinner parties and staff to assist are just part and parcel of everyday life for Emma. From the outside she appears to have it all, however she has led a very troubled life stemming from a difficult childhood and she has lots of dark feelings buried inside that she has much trouble processing and dealing with.

Emma was adopted as a child and separated from her siblings, she then went on to be involved in a tragic incident on a cliff walk with her class at school in which her friend died.  This event has overshadowed Emma’s life in a huge way and has left her in therapy trying to deal with her guilt. Just how involved was she on that fateful day and how instrumental was she in the little girls demise.  Emma herself can barely remember.

These lapses in memory are in part down to her habit of popping various pills, be they painkillers, tranquilizers or sleeping tablets and her love of sleeping her troubles away, cocooned safely away from normal adult life.  There is a sense of ennui surrounding Emma most of the time, that is unless something is happening in her life to pull her reluctantly out of her cosseted stupor.

When she and Jonathan  are at the house in the Hamptons one weekend, she has an altercation on the beach with some children.  When one of these children then goes on to drown, Emma begins to question just how much involvement she had in the incident…

You see, Emma is a very unreliable narrator.  Her pill popping propensity all washed down with alcohol, means she questions her own thoughts and very often doubts her own actions.  If she can’t be sure where she was or what she said, then we as readers certainly can’t trust what she is telling us! I love that!

Emma moves on from the incident at the beach and goes on to write a successful book, followed by a not so successful book which sends her crashing back into her depression again.  This drowned child and her friend back in school who died in the cliff fall have a tendancy to pop up in her mind when she least expects it.  She also suffers from very troubling dreams in which a voice calls out to her…

The timeline of the narrative flits back and forth, sometimes within a year or two, others a decade or so.  We learn snippets of Emma’s childhood, the early years in her relationship with Jonathan and her relationships with her siblings, one of which makes an appearance towards the end of the book.

There are times in this book where there is an almost dreamlike quality yet the writing is so tight and sharp.  I think this is due to the fact that Emma views the world behind this medicated veil, drifting in and out of consciousness.  Sometimes being fully present and in control of her own life, (usually at times of great success in her career), and other times allowing herself to sink back down into the murky depths of medicated sleep.

This is a real surprising gem of a novel with one of the most fascinating female protagonists I’ve read so far this year. In Emma, Diane Cambridge has written a not entirely likeable but always compelling woman.

It’s a short, sharp, brilliantly written little book that I think deserves lots of praise. It has a great pace and momentum and I found that at certain points I felt a little uncomfortable but couldn’t look away. I always love books that can elicit this feeling.

I throughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend you get yourself a copy.

Thank you as always to the publisher Louise Walters for my review copy of the book.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

The Dutch House By Ann Patchett – A Review

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Publication Date: 24th September 2019

I had somewhat ashamedly only read one of Ann Patchett’s books prior to getting my hands on The Dutch House, and that was Commonwealtha sprawling family epic that I really enjoyed.  I have heard nothing but good things about her though and after reading The Dutch House I have realised I really do need to work my way through her back catalogue.

In this book we have another family saga spanning 5 decades.  The tale of siblings Danny and Maeve Conroy, and their formative years living in The Dutch House, so named and well known in the area because a very prominent and wealthy dutch family once lived there.  The house is purchased by Danny and Maeve’s father as a present for their mother.  It is a gesture to show how successful he has become in his construction and property rental business. 

However, from the off their mother is uncomfortable with this show of wealth, having come from a modest background, and never feels quite at home in this huge glass fronted house.  When she ultimately decides to leave when Danny is quite small, the children are left with their father and a couple of house staff.  That is until their father meets and marries Angela, a younger woman who has an interest in the Dutch House bordering on an obsession.

Maeve does not bond well with Angela and although Danny tries his best to, he never really feels that she wants them around.  When their father passes away suddenly, the unthinkable happens and they are left with a woman who cares so much about The Dutch House and very little for them. 

When they are ousted from the house with no claim over their fathers estate, the siblings have to deal with not belonging anywhere.  They lost their mother, they have had to deal with their fathers death and then they are plunged into financial and emotional instability as they have to watch Angela and her two daughters living in their childhood home.  And watch they do, literally, as over the years they regularly drive to The Dutch House and park a little way down the street, watching and talking for hours.

The story covers many many years and examines the impact of the loss of The Dutch House on the two very close siblings.  The house itself becomes a character in some ways.  There is always this sense of regret and injustice hovering over Danny and Maeve and their adult lives are shaped by what happened in their childhood. Maeve appears to be the most affected in my opinion, she seems to be the one most unwilling to let go, the one most likely to ruminate over events and feelings and the iniquitous nature of their childhood.

What Patchett does brilliantly in my opinion is write these sprawling family saga’s that draw you right in. They span decades but you still feel invested in the character’s lives, more so than if it was a snapshot in time. The timeline in this book is not linear. We jump all over the place back and forth between times when Danny is unmarried, then to when he has his children then back to his childhood at the Dutch House. I didn’t mind this but there were times where it took me a minute or two to settle into the new narrative.

That Ann Patchett chose to write from the perspective of a male protagonist was very interesting and also very authentic. I also breathed a sigh of relief that it was Danny’s story and not Maeve. I have an aversion to teenage girl narratives (more on that another time!) so if I am to read a book told from a child/teen perspective, as some of this book is, then I much prefer it to be male.

I’ve been thinking hard about how to word this without it coming across as derogatory because it isn’t AT ALL! But when I was part way through this book I messaged my good Bookish friend Clare over at Years Of Reading Selfishly and said something along the lines of ‘The Dutch House is fabulous! Nothing much happens’……now I know that could be taken as a negative but what I meant was there isn’t some big complicated plot, it’s not a thriller, there aren’t many twists and turns, it’s just life! But it’s throughly compelling life and even though plot wise there were no great surprises I felt fully invested in the characters and their relationships.

If you are a fan of family saga’s you absolutely need to get your hands on a copy as soon as you can. I’ve a feeling you won’t be disappointed.

Me? I’m off to find more Ann Patchett books.

Thank you so much to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Orange World By Karen Russell – A Review

Publisher: Chatto & Windus

Publication Date: 4th July 2019

You all know by now that I love a short story collection but I think Orange World by Karen Russell may have passed me by if it hadn’t have been for me chancing upon a review of the collection in The Guardian by the marvellous Daisy Johnson.  The review is here and you should maybe read that instead of my review as Daisy puts my thoughts into much more eloquent words than I ever could.

I will of course endeavour to tell you my opinion on this collection though, otherwise why are we here!

This collection of 8 stories is pretty mind expanding!  A couple of years ago, if anyone had ever told me I would be reading and enjoying stories about dead bog girl girlfriends and women suckling the devil I’d have laughed in their faces.  However, this kind of crazy magic is now what I live for reading wise.

In The Prospectors we meet two young girls in 1930’s USA, getting by on swindling hapless men and living a high old life until they get beguiled by the potential glitz and glamour of a brand new ski resort hotel at the top of a mountain.  They make the journey up on a ski-lift but what greets them at the top is far from what they were ever expecting.

In The Bad Graft a young woman becomes cross pollinated or infected by the sap of a Joshua Tree and fights to regain control of her own body and thoughts.

Bog-Girl: A Romance tells the story of how one young man chances upon the fully preserved corpse of a bog-girl from the middle ages whilst digging up peat.  He feels a connection with this young girl who has been frozen in time and takes her on as his girlfriend.

The Tornado Auction tells the tale of a lonely old widow, who’s daughters have long since flown the nest.  Feeling inert and disinterested in life he takes to farming tornado’s.  Curating weather can be big business and he wants to travel back in time to when his family owned a tornado farm and feel alive again.  That is until his carefully nurtured tornado rages out of control.

I think for me the most fascinating tale was the title story of Orange World where a new mother makes a bargain with the devil that she will breastfeed him night after night in return for him keeping her new baby boy safe.  When this all becomes too much for the exhausted mother, she enlists the help of the postnatal group Mum’s to rid her of the demon she has invited in.

In each of these memorable stories there is a very distinct element of future worlds.  A hint of the dystopian, which was for me just enough.  Each story starts out as fairly ‘normal’ and quite quickly turns into something far more off the beaten track!  I found myself almost holding my breath as I read, waiting for the twist, the ingenuity, the ‘unusual’ element in each tale.  It is stories like these that make me admire authors like Karen Russell so so much.  I am in complete awe of her imagination.  I almost want to peer inside her brain and see what on earth is going on in there!  To be able to craft these compelling, mind-bending tales is such a great skill, and Karen Russell has it in absolute spades.

Her characterisation is fabulous.  It is sometimes difficult to get a full grasp of all the various nuances of characters when they are presented to you in short story form.  But with each of the protagonsists in Orange World (and sometimes even the peripheral characters) they feel fully developed and authentic.  These people and their stories feel almost ‘colourful’ and I hope you know what I mean when I say this!  They are vibrant and full of life and intrigue.  Each protagonist can be considered to be someone living on the periphery of the norm, not part of the masses, a little bit different, isolated, ‘out there’.  Be that the new exhausted mother, the young gondolier girl who navigates tricky flood waters by echolocation, the doctor who may or may not have performed a medical procedure incorrectly and is finding himself with the weight of suspicion hanging over him.

Of the eight stories in this collection there was only one that I didn’t really gel very well with but the others I can call to mind very easily by their characters or the worlds they depicted.

This was my first Karen Russell book and her third short story collection but I have heard nothing but great things about Vampires In The Lemon Grove and St Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves. I will most definitely be checking them both out.

If you’re in the market for a collection of quirky tales I would highly recommend that you get your hands on a copy of Orange World.  I’m so chuffed to have found another author I know I will continue to enjoy.

Thank you as always to the publisher and Polly Collier for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Days Of Grace By Catherine Hall – A Review

Publisher: Granta

Publication Date: 28/1/2010

I read and really enjoyed The Proof Of love by Catherine Hall, and immediately had a look to see what else she had written.  I love it when that happens, when you are so certain of the quality of an author’s work based on reading just one of their books.

I picked up a copy of Days Of Grace secondhand and it has been sitting on my shelf for a good while.  I recently went through a phase of wanting to pick up and read some of my own books rather than heading to the brand new proofs I felt I had to read (I think we all feel this way from time to time, right?) and I was glad I’d finally picked it up.

The book opens with us meeting Nora.  A woman in the latter years of her life who lives alone and seems to keep herself isolated.  She is ill and is convinced she has cancer, however she is unwilling to seek any help from the doctor.  Nora notices a young woman sitting in the window of the house opposite hers and takes to watching her everyday.  She then realises that this young woman is pregnant, and watches the bump growing as the weeks and months pass, still never having had any actual contact with her. When the time comes for the baby to be born, Nora becomes involved in the birth and pretty soon realises that the young girl Rose is quite alone as she is.  They strike up a friendship and Rose moves into Nora’s house with the new baby which Nora names Grace.

Then we flit back in time to Nora as a 12 year old during the Second World War, at the point she is evacuated from London into the Kent countryside, leaving her mother behind and being taken in by The Reverend Rivers and his wife, and young daughter Grace. Nora is welcomed into the family and Grace immediately becomes a dear dear friend.  Grace and Nora spend their days roaming the fields, playing games and making their own entertainment, with their bond growing ever stronger.

When the time comes for Nora to possibly be sent back home, the decision is taken to let her stay with the Rivers family as Nora feels this is where she rightly belongs even though she misses her mother dearly.  The Reverend Rivers and his wife do not have a happy marriage, The Reverend choosing to spend his time sequestered away, alone, writing his sermons and praying.  Mrs Rivers spends a lot of her time at the piano, playing melancholy tunes.  The girls are more or less left to their own devices, not schooled in the traditional sense, just given some lessons by Reverend Rivers every now and again.

As the years roll by and the war rumbles on a now teen Nora realises that her feelings for Grace run much deeper than friendship and when tragedy strikes back home in London and strange tensions reach a new height in the Rivers’ house, Nora finds herself drawn back home, with her beloved Grace in tow.

When they reach bomb stricken London, the girls have to navigate the destroyed streets, finding a place to stay and trying to keep themselves safe.  When they meet a generous enigmatic stranger their fortunes take an upturn, however Nora is not happy with the every burgeoning relationship between Grace and their benefactor.

Back in the present day narrative, Nora is becoming weaker by the day, the cancer ravaging her body.  She has Rose and baby Grace for company but she often thinks back to her days with Grace and her time spent in Kent.

It is during these present day narratives that Nora lets slip little inklings that something devastating happened during her years in London with Grace, which then had repercussions for the rest of her life. As she loses her grip on life she allows her memories to flood back, taking hold and dragging her under. But just what happened between her and Grace? How did she end up nearing the end of her days alone? and what could she have done differently?

I do love a story set around WW2 and it’s even better if there is a dual timeline narrative, made even better still by there being one central character who spans both timelines. I also have a soft spot for an old lady, someone who has lived quite a life and has allowed it to shape her, not always for the better.

The fact that there is a secret that is hinted at throughout this book also kept me invested.  I had an inkling of what it might be but I wasn’t entirely proved right!

The relationships between the females in this story are beautifully written and deftly handled.  We of course have the main relationship between Nora and Grace as young girls, surviving the war together in the Kent countryside.  Bonding and growing up together as close as any two girls can be.  Nora is the more timid and reserved of the two, the quiet thinker, the more composed.  Grace is the impetuous one, the girl who longs to get out and see something of the world, the girl who loves to take a risk, break the rules and just grab life with both hands.  Their personalities compliment each other perfectly.

Their relationship evolves once they return to war torn London and Nora has to become somewhat of a protector, the adult in the relationship.  Trying to keep them both safe, keep them both with a roof over their heads whilst Grace is still hell bent on doing what she wants and living quite precariously in the moment. These two vibrant girls and are very different but equally charming.

Catherine Hall has the great of ability of being able to write characters that you become highly invested in and really care for.

This book is an absolute gem and I would urge you to give it a try.  Also, if you’ve not read The Proof Of Love, grab yourself a copy of that too!

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat x