Sudden Traveller by Sarah Hall – A Review

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Publication Date: 7th November 2019

When I first started getting into short story collections at the end of last year, Sarah Hall’s Madame Zero was one of the first collections I remember picking up and really enjoying, and one particular story in the collection, Mrs Fox is one that always sticks in my mind.

When I saw that she had a new collection coming out I knew I had to try and get my hands on it, and get my hands on it I did (with huge thanks to Lauren Nicoll and Faber!).

Sudden Traveler – Sarah Hall:

The seven stories of Sudden Traveler immerse us anew in one of the most distinctive literary imaginations. In Turkish forests or rain-drenched Cumbrian villages, characters walk, drive, dream and fly, trying to reconcile themselves with their journey through life and death. A woman fitted with life-changing technology returns to the site of her strongest memories; a man repatriated in the near east hears the name of an old love called and must unpack history’s suitcase; and from the new world-waves of female anger and resistance, a mythical creature evolves.

Radical, charged with a transformative creative power, each of these stories opens channels in the human mind and spirit, as Sarah Hall once more invites the reader to stand at the very edge of our possible selves.

I had very high expectations on picking up this collection having loved Madame Zero so much and whilst I did enjoy the majority of the stories in this brief collection, I think Madame Zero is the stronger of the two.

It has been a couple of days since I finished the collection as I write this review and there are a few of the stories that jump to the forefront of my mind still, however there are also a couple which have paled somewhat for me.

The first story M really lured me in and got my hopes up for the rest of the collection. Any story where a woman morphs into something ‘other’ has become a recent fascination for me and in this visceral tale of revenge over pain a woman is twisted up in agony night after night as darkness falls.  When she begins to transform into another being she takes on the distress of many women and avenges the wrong that has been done to them.

Orton tells the story of a woman who has been fitted with new technology in which she can choose to essentially end her own life.  She travels back to the site of some of her most powerful memories of her past linked to one person in particular.  The idea that technology like this may one day be a reality gives this story a extra layer of depth and unease.

The Grotesques is another story that stands out in my head as a highly uneasy read.  The narrator tells of a uncomfortable dinner party thrown by her overbearing mother.  A mother who doesn’t allow her to eat.  Prior to the party the narrator has seen the abuse of a local vagrant and this plays on her mind, making her feel anxious and ill at ease.  She performs her social duties under the reproachful eye of her mother nonetheless.

There is no doubt that Sarah Hall is an excellent writer.  I think she nails the short story format perfectly.  I don’t think her writing would be for everybody as her fiction can be a little experimental shall we say.  There is more than a hint of the weird and fantastical and whilst in the main I enjoyed the collection, there were times where I had to sit and think ‘what have I just read?’….

This is a very brief collection but by no means an easy read.  I expected to whip through it but found I had to pause to reflect between each story and try and decipher what I had read and draw my own conclusions from it.

I am very eager to pick up some of Sarah Hall’s novels and see how she constructs longer works of fiction.  Her writing is beautiful and descriptive and really draws you in, even if sometimes you are not really sure what it is exactly that you are being drawn into!

Give Sarah Hall a go and see what you think.

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

See you all soon.


Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx



Bookish Chat About: Teenage Protagonists

I’ve had plans to write this post for a while now but I just haven’t had the time!  However, I was recently reading a book which brought this issue to the forefront of my mind and I thought that now would be a good time to address it.

I’ve always assumed that I don’t really enjoy reading books told from a child protagonist’s narrative, however, when I thought about examples of books I could use to highlight this point I found that this is not strictly the case.  I have read quite a few books that I have really enjoyed, told from a younger child’s perspective, (Room by Emma Donoghue, Home by Amanda Berriman, The Choke by Sofie Laguna, Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel by Ruth Hogan and The Trouble With Goats And Sheep by Joanna Cannon to name a standout few).  So if I have enjoyed books told through the voices of younger children what is my problem???

Teenagers. They are my problem!

Specifically teenage girls.

Or even more specifically female teenage friendship groups.

If I pick a book up and read the blurb only to find a mention of ‘coming of age’ or ’15 year old blah blah blah’ then I am instantly going to put that book right back down! If I’m reading a book which focuses on adult characters BUT they have teenage children then this will also put me off (there have however been a few exceptions to this too, Whistle In The Dark  by Emma Healey and How It Was by Janet Ellis and The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss). The difference with these books were that the teen girls were interesting, they were something other than the run of the mill schoolgirls navigating friendships, boys, parental troubles etc.

I think the main issue for me is that I have been an angst ridden teenage girl and to be honest, why would I want to relive those years? For me there is nothing more dull than reading about the cracks in teenage female friendships, the mean girls, the boys they are batting their eyelashes at, the parents they are railing against. Yawn.  I have zero interest in reading about any characters difficult pubescent years.  Massive eyeroll territory for me.

A few months ago I had to pull out of a blog tour for a book by an author I really enjoy the work of.  I had been hotly anticipating their new book and nothing in the blurb mentioned that the three main female protagonists were in fact teenagers, we were just given their names.  My heart sank when I realised.  I gave the book a good go, I really did! But after 75 or so pages I had to admit defeat and compose an ‘I’m sorry’ email to the publisher.  No way could I have done a blog tour for a book I DNF’d as my review policy is not to review books I haven’t finished. Also, I stopped reading the book due to my own reading tastes and not anything to do with the book itself.

I also can’t deal with books about female adult friendship groups who go way back to their teens and have a ‘secret’ between them.  No thanks.

More recently I picked up Asking For It by Louise O’Neill. I had had this book on my shelf for a while and had heard some great things.  I have read and enjoyed Louise O’Neill’s other novels so I had high hopes. I knew going in that the whole premise was based around teenagers but with the weight of recommendation on me I thought I’d be able to cope………

Not so.

I unfortunately had to give up and call it a DNF.  This book was the epitomy of everything I don’t like about teenage narratives. I felt bad for giving up (only briefly) because so many people had said how great the book was and I knew it tackled a very important subject.

I know now that I can’t really deal with teenage girls.

I’ve tried.

I really have.

But I guess it’s good to know your own tastes so well.  At least now I don’t waste any publishers time requesting books I’m not going to enjoy or be able to review.  I’d be interested to know if there is a certain character type or trope that instantly puts you off a book.

Let me know!

See you all soon.


Amanda  – Bookish Chat xx



Wait For Me, Jack By Addison Jones – A Review

Publisher: Sandstone Press

Publication Date: 19th January 2017

The lovely Ceris at Sandstone Press recently sent me a copy of Finer Things by David Wharton and with it came a catalogue of other books they had published. Ceris rather generously let me choose any other books that took my fancy and I was drawn to Wait For Me, Jack by Addison Jones, mainly by the beautiful front cover. I am always a sucker for anything remotely vintage looking. When I read the synopsis I was even more intrigued and so I asked for a copy and Ceris very kindly obliged.

What we have in Wait For Me, Jack is a study of one marriage spanning decades and told in reverse.  We do start with a short chapter about how the couple Billie and Jacko get together in the 1950’s, meeting at Billie’s place of work when Jacko takes a job as a writer of product information for a catalogue.  We are given only a brief glimpse of their initial exchange on the first day they met and then we are catapulted forward in time to the present day where Jacko and Billie (now Jack and Milly) are both in their 80’s and both struggling with their various health problems.

When Jack very sadly dies (this happens very very early on in the book and isn’t a spoiler) we take a meandering journey back in time over this couples marriage and the various obstacles, heartaches and joys they have experienced in their life together.  Each chapter jumps back a certain number of years in chunks from 2-3 years to 7-10 years.  Each time we get a snapshot of their marriage and we are drip fed information which then becomes clearer a few time-hops down the line.

Theirs is a marriage that has navigated some extremely rocky shores.  Jack has rather a wandering eye for the ladies which results in him getting a lover pregnant and essentially having a child who has to integrate into the family he already has with Billie.  They also take parental responsibility for 2 of Billie’s wayward sister’s children.  Billie has to put up with Jack and his ways and sometimes feels like he looks down on her intellect and social standing.  She does however love him dearly (and he her) and they seem to bowl along through life under the old adage of ‘can’t live with them, can’t live without them’.

The main draw of this book for me was the reverse timeline.  I think if it had been told from the past to the future it would of course have been a perfectly good book, the characters of Jacko and Billie would have made it stand up on its own, but I think it would have lost a certain ‘edge’.  To read about a marriage in reverse, the lives of not only the two main protagonists but the peripheral characters is fascinating.  Events are mentioned briefly, characters are introduced and you have no idea how and when they entered Billie and Jacko’s lives, that is until you make the next leap of time and land around the time they appeared and all becomes clear.  Billie has problems with her legs which are not age related and an ‘accident’ is referred to.  You have to wait a few time leaps to find out how and when this occurred.  To be fed little details and to have to wait to find out what occurred made for quite a pleasing reading experience.

Jack’s actions do not always make him a likeable character and yet I found I was able to forgive him his failings as a husband because Milly does too and together they make a great team.  It’s nice to see a marriage that isn’t perfect and can still stand the test of time.  Although it does make you wonder if they remain together out of misplaced duty or routine or whether there is a true and deep love.  I like to think it’s the latter.

I found myself thoroughly immersed in Jacko and Billie’s lives and relationship (or Jack and Milly as they are know in older age).  It was a very nice touch to come full circle and end the book exactly where it began, with the start of their relationship.

I would very much recommend this book.

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


Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx


This Is Pleasure By Mary Gaitskill – A Review

Publisher: Serpents Tail

Publication Date: 7th November 2019

Mary Gaitskill is one of those authors that I knew I’d like before I’d even read any of her work. Do you ever get that feeling?

When I read some samples of her short stories online I knew instantly that her writing style was for me. I discovered she had a new book coming out in early November and I approached Serpents Tail with the cheeky ask.

This Is Pleasure arrived on Saturday when I was away and was a lovely surprise when I arrived home on the Sunday. I immediately snuggled up and blasted through this powerhouse of a book in about an hour. It is just short of 90 pages long and it packs a punch in a very subtle way.

We meet Quin, a forty something, charismatic and influential man in the world of publishing. We also meet his slightly older female friend Margot.

When they encounter each other through their work, Margot and Quin strike up an immediate connection. When they meet for dinner one night, Quin crosses a line and is told firmly by Margot that he is in the wrong. However, when Quin is the only person she can think of calling when she is upset one day, Margot allows the friendship to continue. The fact that she admonished him for his inappropriate behaviour towards her seems to bring about a respect from Quin that he has rarely had for women before.

Quin is a married man with a small child, however he also has a raft of female aquaintances whom he charms and flirts with almost obsessively. He seems to work his way through women with a startling regularity.  He offers them fashion advice, he makes suggestions of how they should have their hair done, he is on hand to give relationship advice should they need it.  They in turn seem to bask in his attention and seem to rely heavily on his approval.

Margot for her part, looks on with a slight puzzlement.  She is bewildered and cannot really fathom why these women allow Quin to treat them as he does, almost as if they are playthings, toys for his entertainment.

When one of these women makes accusations against Quin and more women reveal themselves off the back of this, Quin’s life plunges into devastation.  He is stunned that he is being treated this way and cannot really see what he has done wrong.

Margot is forced to re-examine her relationship with Quin and decide whether she is to stand with him or against him. She is so angry that he has put himself into this terrible situation and finds it increasingly difficult to rationalize his behaviour.

The story is told from the alternating view points of both Quin and Margot.  I found this quite a fresh and interesting concept.  There have been an abundance of books recently based around the #metoo movement (most notably for me What Red Was by Rosie Price, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, The Girl At The Door by Veronica Nimmo and Putney by Sofia Zinovieff) and quite often these stories are told from the viewpoint of the accuser and very rarely the accusee.  To hear Quin’s side of the story in the absence of the women’s voices that he has purported to have treated badly, was a little tricky for me but totally fascinating.  To have the viewpoint of Margot, who is essentially Quin’s closest female friend added a very interesting, nuanced element which served to further muddy the water on who was in the right and who was in the wrong.

What makes the whole story that little bit more unsettling is the distinct lack of any real detail about Quin’s behaviour.  What I took away from the story was that no sexual assualt of any description took place. I think there were many occasions in which Quin’s behaviour made women feel very uncomfortable,  but I think from his point of view he had done nothing wrong other than flatter them, engage them, flirt with them.

I was almost a little reticent to write this review having read some viewpoints of others in response to Quin and his behaviour. Whilst I know without a shadow of a doubt that Quin’s behaviour was questionable at the very least, I found myself sitting on the fence with regards to whether the punishment in this case ‘fit the crime’.  Just like Margot, I was left wondering just how many of these women enjoyed Quin’s toying with them, just how many of them were swept up and bowled along of their own free will? It’s difficult to form a solid opinion in the absence of ‘the other side of the story’.

I think this brief novella has the power to divide opinion and will be an excellent book club choice that will bring about many and varied discussions. I finished reading it and immediately wanted to talk to someone about it.  I’ve seen many others feel the same way.

Nuanced tales are not the norm in the wake of the #metoo era and to spin a story which lies firmly in the realms of ambiguity, in which the complex characters don’t conform is extremely compelling.

I urge you all to pick this book up, read it, contemplate it and come and have a chat with me about it!

Based on my love of this book I have now gone on to reserve more of Mary Gaitskill books at my library and I have very high hopes.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat  xxx



So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter – A Review

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication date: 31st of October 2019

I have always followed and loved Dawn O’Porter on Instagram, her stories are just hilarious and she has this natural way about her that makes me think we could be friends (in a totally non-weird, non-stalker way!) If you’re reading this Dawn please don’t be afraid!

When I saw that Dawn had a new book coming out and that the female protagonists were all of a similar age group to me, I knew I would have to get my hands on it. When the lovely folk at Harper Collins asked me whether I would like to be involved in the blog tour for So Lucky I jumped at the chance.

I’ve never read any of Dawn’s books before but I believe her previous books centered around teenage protagonists or young women in their twenties and I don’t very much get on with these. In the case of So Lucky the three females are all in their late 30’s early 40s, two of them have children (albeit much younger than mine) but I have navigated those very choppy waters of early motherhood and found I could identify parts of myself in the two women (Ruby and Beth) and could very much sympathise with their struggles.

So lucky tells the story of the aforementioned three women. We have Ruby who is a single mother of a three-year-old girl named Bonnie. We have Beth who is a new mother to a four month old baby named Tommy and who is also a wedding planner. Then we have Lauren, social media influencer and very much a ‘someone’ on Instagram. Lauren is set to marry Gavin Riley, an multi-millionaire businessman and former ‘dragon’ from Dragon’s Den. Beth is planning their wedding and Ruby has been employed to ‘touch up’ the wedding photos on the actual day so that Lauren can post them to her adoring Instagram followers and make good on her #AD posts for her sponsors.

Each of these women have their own issues and worries and each of them portray a completely different life outwardly than what is going on behind closed doors or what is going on in their anxiety ridden heads.

Ruby has a condition that she battles with constantly and really lets it define who she is. She has pushed away her husband and she feels like she is failing massively as a parent. She struggles to bond with her daughter Bonnie and finds herself run ragged between motherhood and work.

Beth is also juggling work and early motherhood having gone back to work more or less straight away after having baby Tommy. Her work on the high profile wedding of Lauren and Gavin is providing financial rewards for her and her family and she has her husband Michael at home to look after Tommy. However, Michael is a perfect doting Dad but finds it hard to show Beth the closeness and physical affection she craves. They haven’t had sex for a long time and Beth is beginning to crave it. She has massive doubts about her post-birth body and worries about how she looks to her husband. What could possibly be turning him off her so much?

Lauren is the ultimate Instagram clichè in lots of respects. She poses for heavily stylised photos and hashtags the hell out of them like all good ‘influencers’ do. Her chapters are particularly interesting because they are descriptions of the image she has posted along with the heavily hash tagged caption, followed by the various comments left by her followers. Some positive and adoring, some nasty and negative. That’s the world of Instagram! We don’t really get to ‘meet’ Lauren properly until maybe the second half of the book. We see her through her idealised perfect Instagram life which, when we finally see behind those little squares is anything but perfect.

What I enjoyed about this book was the fact that these women weren’t just thrown together for the sake of the story. In fact they aren’t all together until the final scenes in the book. They touch on each other’s lives from the periphery and we are given the opportunity to find out about them and discover who they are as people separately before they come together to form bonds.

Friendship, however unlikely is one of the main over arching themes. Women supporting women and rising up together to help each other succeed. Of course the main theme is the idea that life as observed from the outside can be a hell of a lot different than it is behind closed doors. The three women in this book go on a journey to discover this, culminating in them feeling stronger and more liberated for it.

I do have to be entirely honest and say I struggled slightly with the first few chapters of the book and was unsure it would be for me. That isn’t the book’s fault at all, it’s my own reading tastes. You guys know I usually go for the dark and gritty historical stuff and contemporary fiction isn’t usually my bag. However Dawn is such a huge character on Instagram and I really wanted to try out her writing.  It really didn’t take me long to settle into the story and then it whipped along at a pace.  So Lucky is dripping with Dawn’s inimitable sense of humour!  She doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, but rather opens them out in all their striking and bold reality.  She tackles sex with her trademark humour and is completely candid and open.

I can’t end this review without mentioning Risky, Beth’s assistant with the wedding organiser business.  She is a larger than life, positive, ‘out there’ breath of fresh air.  Such a great character, brimming with life and verve! She is almost a ‘side kick’ character but is oh so much more! I love her!

If you want a contemporary, refreshing read about female empowerment and the harsh realities of life, motherhood and relationships then this book is for you. I think this would make an excellent book club choice.

I’m also thrilled to see that So Lucky is now on The Sunday Times Bestseller list! Congratulations Dawn!

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

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx


Starve Acre By Andrew Michael Hurley – A Review

Publisher: John Murray Press

Publication Date: 31st October 2019

Well firstly, let us appreciate that front cover…..

Done? Ok.

I am writing this review having just closed Starve Acre after a chilling 24 hours.

I have just taken to Twitter to declare that this is hands down THE BEST book I’ve read all year, up there with the best books I’ve ever read in fact! (It is a very rainy July day as I write this, just to give you some time perception, this review will not go live until November because OF COURSE this book is going to be published on Halloween!). It is going to take a fabulous book to knock this one off my top spot I can tell you!

Richard and Juliette Willoughby move to Starve Acre, an isolated house on the moors after Richard’s father died and they inherit the property. Richard is reticent to move there given that his father’s behaviour became odder and odder until his final demise. Juliette on the other hand is keen to start a new life in a new house that she hopes to make her mark on and slot seamlessly into an idyllic village life.

Juliette falls pregnant with a very much planned for and anticipated baby, and when their son Ewan is born, life seems to be perfect.

However, (and isn’t there always a ‘however’!) there are strange things afoot not only in Starve Acre house but the field across the way. As Ewan grows from a loving toddler into an introverted 5 year old his behaviour becomes more and more outlandish. He spends time alone in the field opposite the house. A field in which the Stythwaite Oak used to stand, a huge oak tree dubbed ‘Old Justice’ for the fact it was used for public hangings in times gone by. The Stythwaite Oak is no longer standing in the field, and is only known through folklore and village tales. So why does Ewan say it’s ‘sometimes there, sometimes not’ and why does he stand in the field looking up into the empty sky as if he can see it?…

The unthinkable happens to Richard and Juliette when Ewan unexpectedly passes away (not a spoiler, this is known from page 1) and they are plunged into every parents living nightmare.

Six months after Ewan’s death, Juliette is consumed with grief, spending hour upon hour in Ewan’s bedroom, convinced she can feel his presence in the house still. Filling the room with mirrors, setting up audio equipment in the hope she will catch just a glimpse, just a whisper. She has sunk into a terrible depression, desperate to contact her baby.

Richard has taken an enforced sabbatical from his job as a history lecturer and has filled his time and mind with trying to find the roots of the old Stythwaite Oak. Setting up a tent against the ravages of winter and spending his days digging the earth and pushing Ewan from his thoughts. When he chances upon the skeleton of a hare during his dig, he brings it back to the house and unwittingly invites something else, something sinister, in.

As Juliette’s sister Harrie arrives at Starve Acre to try and pull Juliette out of her depression it becomes startlingly clear that she has plans to bring Ewan back into her life in whatever form that may be. She has been put into contact with a group of occultists known as The Beacons, headed up by a Mrs Forbes. But when she invites them to Starve Acre, will they really be able to help her or will they find something in the house they cannot fathom…?

The story flits back and forth in time between the present day and the days when Ewan’s behaviour starts to change. We are fed details of events of the time which build up a sinister picture of how life at Starve Acre was in the months leading up to Ewan’s sudden death. How he hurt a young girl at school, wilfully trapping her fingers in the door jamb. Starting a fire in the house and generally veering between the need for attention and the strong desire to be left alone.

But why is he reticent to head over to the field to play? Who’s voice does he say he can hear? Who is instructing him to behave in this odd way? Could this be down to an overactive imagination of a lonely child? The result of listening to village stories and myths? Of could something more foreboding be at play?

I cannot even begin to express how perfect this book is to me. An old house steeped in mystery, the claustrophobic nature of small village life. The intrinsic thread of unease, and strange occurrences running throughout, all shot through with the desperate loneliness of grief.

I found it fascinating that this married couple were dealing with their grief in such opposing ways. Juliette desperate to invite Ewan back into their lives. Grasping at straws, reading so much into little coincidental signs. And Richard, pushing thoughts of Ewan firmly away. Distracting himself with his quest to find the roots of the Stythwaite Oak, not truly the comprehending exactly what it is he is uncovering and unleashing.

The threads of Starve Acre history told through village folklore and Richards discovery of seventeenth century wood block prints, depicting scenes of Old Justice, were so sinister and unnerving. They really drew me in. You get catapulted back in time to the days when public hangings were ten a penny and strong beliefs were staunchly held true.

The deterioration in Ewan’s behaviour, the wilful hurt and destruction he seems hellbent on causing, juxtaposed with his apparent innate fear of the presence that is exerting power over him sent shivers down my spine!

To come to a point in life when you are scared of your own child and what they may do when your back is turned becomes a sad fact of daily life for Juliette. Whilst Richard tries hard to defend his son and keep everything as normal as possible.

I enjoyed the fact that although we know from the outset that Ewan has died, it is only in the final pages that the details surrounding his death are revealed. This is hanging over you as you read, but not in a negative way, more in a ‘I HAVE to find out what happened!’ way.

Andrew Michael Hurley’s writing is just stunning. I’ve not read The Loney or Devil’s Day but I will certainly be heading to them!

Starve Acre provided me with one perfect day of reading, for me it’s not just the brilliant writing and storyline, it was the complete reading experience as a whole. When I closed this book I had tingles up my spine and desperately wanted to speak to someone about what I had just read…..or just go right back and read it again!

Starve Acre has pride of place on my Forever Shelf and deservedly so.

Now is the perfect time for you to check it out. Grab a blanket and get settled for a perfect reading experience.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx