The Mermaid Of Black Conch by Monique Roffey – A Review

Publisher: Peepal Tree Press

Publication Date: 2nd April 2020

This book rescued me from a very severe reading slump. Nobody can escape the fact that the world is a very different place at the moment with the dreaded C word. I have found it extremely difficult to concentrate on reading in recent weeks, particularly the last week. I picked up The Mermaid Of Black Conch by Monique Roffey on a whim and boy am I glad I did! I read this book in one day and it has really pulled me out of my reading slump.

It’s 1976 in Saint Constance a Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch. A fisherman named David whilst out at sea one day attracts a strange creature which turns out to be a mermaid. He is very cautious around her and does not want to frighten her away. The sound of his boat lures her back to him day after day and he becomes bewitched by her. However one day two American fishermen who have arrived in Black Conch for an annual fishing competition end up hooking the mermaid and reeling her in after a protracted battle.

The men take the mermaid to shore with dollar signs in their eyes. The locals have heard of tales of Mermen in the waters around Black Conch but never a Mermaid. The local men employed on the American vessel as crew have an uneasy feeling about what bringing a mermaid to shore could mean. Would it be bad luck?…

The Mermaid is brought to shore and strung up beside the more regular catches. When David hears that his mermaid has been captured he manages to cut her down and take her home to his house where he keeps her sequestered away.

Initially David tries to keep her alive as if she were still in the sea. Keeping her in the bath with salt water, trying to tempt her with food. However it quickly becomes apparent that the mermaid is changing……changing into a real woman.

What we learn from her metamorphosis is that she was once a human woman named Aycayia who was cursed by local women to live a long and lonely life at sea. Local women who were jealous of her hold over their menfolk.

David learns more and more about Aycayia and they tentatively learn to communicate. They each become entranced by the other but David must fight to keep Aycayia’s identity hidden whilst Aycayia is fighting demons of her own. In between being desperate to become a real woman, experience love and family on land and the lure of the sea, Aycayia learns just how far reaching the curse that was bestowed upon her hundreds of years ago is.

As I said at the start of this review, I absolutely tore through this book. Told from the viewpoint of David via his written journal, and Aycayia via her sometimes limited language threaded through the main narrative, this story sweeps you away.

I initially expected maybe an idealised view of what we all imagine a mermaid to be. Sleek glossy tail, beautiful face and long flowing gorgeous locks…….I was happily surprised to find that Aycayia was anything but:

I had to touch her. Her teeth were small and sharp; to put my hand inside her mouth looked dangerous. Then, keeping her eyes direct, slow slow, she opened her mouth. A foul smell floated out. A strong ocean stench of salt and dead fish and all the fruit she was eating. Man, her teeth needed a good brush. Her throat was a strange deep pinky purple. I didn’t want to show her my disgust….’

I really enjoyed the developing relationship between David and Aycayia. Their blooming efforts to communicate, David’s protective nature towards her and Aycayia’s willingness to trust him despite past traumas.

This book almost feels like it vibrates with life in your hands. The setting, the characters and the imagery are all so vibrant and full of life. It feels colourful (I hope that makes sense!).

Ultimately this is a story of love against adversity. A tale of ancient legends quite literally dragged into the present day. A study of how women sometimes don’t have agency over their own bodies and the assumption of men that women are possessions. It’s also a tale of female jealousies and the far reaching implications of this.

Monique Roffey is such an exciting author to me. I loved The Tryst and have also gone on to read her memoir With The Kisses Of His Mouth. He writing is just so evocative and engaging. She lured you in from page one. I’m excited to see what she comes up with next and I would heartily recommend her work. Go check her out!

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx


What Have I Done? By Laura Dockerill – A Review

Publisher: Square Peg

Publication Date: 24th April 2020

What Have I Done? By Laura Dockerill was firmly on my radar towards the end of 2019 and made it on to my Most Anticipated Books Of 2020 list.

What drew me in most was the whole subject of post-natal psychosis. I’ve mentioned before that I suffered with PND after the births of both of my children but didn’t reach out for help and just suffered in silence. Now that my children are both far enough away from the baby phase for me not to be ‘triggered’ by reading about PND I find it a huge comfort to read about the subject (be that fiction or non-fiction) and breathe a hefty sigh of relief that I wasn’t a failure, a bad mother or any of the other insults you levy at yourself when you’re smack bang in the middle of this terrible illness.

Laura starts her story from meeting and falling in love with her husband Hugo and swiftly follows on to her getting pregnant. She gives us insights into how she imagined her life would be after her baby was born. A life which turned out to be wildly different to the one she dreamed of.

Her ordeal started with the birth of her son Jet and the way that the whole process spiralled out of her control and ended up being a terrifying and painful experience. Jet was a small baby and had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck causing his heart rate to drop dramatically resulting in Laura having to have a Caesarean section.

What follows after the birth of Jet is essentially a swift and terrifying decline in Laura’s mental health and the start of a difficult journey through the confusing and exhausting days of early motherhood.

Laura explains in great detail her struggles with anxiety, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, paranoia and suicidal thoughts. At first she battles on through these issues at home with the support of Hugo and her family, however there comes a tipping point where Laura can no longer cope and her family take her to a secure mental health facility where she is diagnosed with post-natal psychosis.

Her admission to the facility is her first tentative step on the road to recovery, however it is far from a quick fix and Laura continues to battle paranoia, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, post-partum bleeding and her reluctance to take the anti-psychotic medication that her doctors have prescribed.

Throughout her recovery Laura has the unerring support of her lovely family. Hugo who has to deal with Laura thinking he wants to take the baby away from her (which is so far from the truth) her mother and father and sister who all visit everyday and surround her with love and support.

I think it probably goes without saying that I found this book fascinating. Even though Laura’s experience was far more severe than my own, I could recognise myself in so many of the issues she tackled. I have to admit that there were times I had to put the book down and just put a little distance between it and myself. Although my experiences are many years in the past, some elements of Laura’s battle really brought some long buried feelings rushing back.

Laura writes candidly, honestly and from the heart. There are moments of gentle humour and a real gritty down to earth quality. It felt like such a relief to read this book as it made me feel less alone and less guilty about my memories of that time.

This book I’m sure will be a huge help to women dealing right now with some degree of PND and families who are supporting their wives/daughters/sisters/friends. Laura ends the book with a very informative and useful section giving advice on depression, anxiety, self-care and how to help new mothers.

Ultimately this book will bring hope and comfort to many families and was a huge privilege for me to read.

Laura made me feel less guilty about standing in the shower after giving birth to my first child, crying and thinking ‘What have I done?’

I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone going through this right now. Or just anyone who has an interest and an empathy.

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

See you all soon

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Magpie Lane By Lucy Atkins – A Review

Publisher: Quercus

Publication Date: 2nd April 2020

Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins turned out to be a completely different book to what I originally thought when I requested a proof from the publisher. In an AMAZING way!

What I thought was going to be a ‘missing child’ thriller turned out to have a ghostly, creepy supernatural element which as you all know I AM HERE FOR. It was such a treat to discover this spooky thread and I immediately got the lovely ‘book tingles’. We all love the book tingles don’t we?!

I also starting reading this book when we were essentially put on lockdown by Boris and I so desperately needed a distraction. This book was perfect for that.

From the outset we are aware that a young child has gone missing. The structure of the whole story hangs on a framework of the police investigation and interview of a woman named Dee.

Dee is a nanny living and working in Oxford. She is between nannying jobs when she has a chance encounter with the new oxford Don Nick Law. Nick is currently looking for a nanny for his 8 year old daughter Felicity. Felicity’s mother died when she was 4 years old and now Felicity is selectively mute. She will only talk to Nick and completely ignores his new wife Mariah.

Dee starts work at The Lodgings and begins to care for Felicity. Dee quite quickly discovers that Nick and Mariah are extremely caught up in their new whirlwind life within the university with all the dinner parties and

Felicity is understandably a troubled child. She is painfully shy, she barely eats and she suffers terribly with sleep disturbances and episodes of sleep walking. She has a fascination with ‘tokens’ and talisman’s of sorts and likes you collect bleached animal bones. Dee indulges Felicity in her little idiosyncrasies despite Nick’s disapproval of his daughters strange habits.

When Nick employs a house historian named Linklater to trace the origins of The Lodgings as a present to Mariah, both Dee and Felicity begin to learn some facts about the houses history, most of which is somewhat disturbing. Felicity grows close to both Dee and Linklater and opens up to them both about the strange visions she sees in the attic rooms.

Dee continues to struggle with Nick and Mariah’s treatment of Felicity. She knows they don’t understand her and are not offering her the love and support she needs following the tragic death of her mother. Dee also struggles with her own past and the life she has run away from.

But where is Felicity now? Where has she disappeared to? Did she wander off alone? Or was she taken. Dee struggles to make herself heard with the two detectives who are leading the investigation, how far will she go to protect her innocence?…

I absolutely adored this book! At first when the book opened up with a police interview I was a little apprehensive. I don’t really enjoy police procedurals but this story is most certainly not one of those! The backdrop of a police interview topped and tailed each chapter and gave the book a great pace and sound structure to springboard the rest of the story off.

The interview allows Dee to recount what happened up to the point of Felicity’s disappearance, gives the reader the back story of her life and fleshes out the relationships between the main characters.

And what great characters they are! Dee is such an odd protagonist. In a great way! She comes off as quite detached and abrupt. She is quite the loner and spends her time buried in mathematics, trying to work out a mathematical ‘proof’. She can certainly hold her own against the bullish Nick. However, conversely she is really attentive to Felicity and quickly develops a huge affection for the child. She is quite guarded and stand offish, very protective of her early life and the secrets she carries deep within her.

Linklater is perhaps my favourite character. He appeared so fully formed in my minds eye right from the moment he blustered onto the scene. And boy does he bluster! He’s a typical academic, always pondering, ruminating, buzzing with distracting thoughts and bouncing from one idea to the next. He immediately bonds with Felicity and she him, so much so that he is initially unaware that she even is selectively mute. He is fully invested in researching the house and revels in the fact that Felicity shares his fascination.

I really enjoyed Lucy Atkins writing style and I think she absolutely nails dialogue! It feels so natural and free flowing, nothing stunted or forced. I really could imagine the conversations playing out between characters which gave the story real depth.

I was propelled along with the narrative and was desperate to discover just what had happened to little Felicity. But I also was completely happy to linger in the back story for a while, building up a firm picture of just what had been going on at The Lodgings.

All in all I really loved this book. I am hooked by Lucy Atkins writing style and very eager to read more from her.

Thoroughly recommended!

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat. Xx

The Ninth Child By Sally Magnusson – A Review

Publisher: Two Roads

Publication Date: 19th March 2020

I hadn’t read any Sally Magnusson before even though I own a copy of The Sealwoman’s Gift and have heard countless good things about it but when I saw The Ninth Child was coming out this year and it had Faery vibes I knew it would be for me.

1856 in Glasgow and Isabel Aird wife of Dr Alexander Aird is less than happy about the fact that her husband has been planning to get involved in the building of a new water works in the Scottish Highlands.

Glasgow has many issues with polluted water due to the poor living conditions and Dr Aird wants to put his medical skills to good use at the building of the water works in Loch Katrine. One of the main reasons he wants to feel helpful and needed is that Isabel is struggling to take a pregnancy to full term and he feels powerless to help her.

Isabel is almost numb with the grief of losing her 6 children up to the point that she begrudgingly moves to the highlands with Alexander. However once she’s there in the countryside beside the beautiful Loch Katirne she starts to see signs from her lost children and feels a connection to them despite going on to lose two more.

Isabel spends her days walking and thinking and one day chances upon a strange man who introduces himself as Reverend Robert Kirke. Robert is an episcopalian minister who died in….wait for it…..1692. Yes! Robert is no ordinary man, although he once was many many years ago. Robert wrote a book about the myths and legends of the Faery world and it is believed that he was taken by the fae at the time of his death and now he roams the earth in his quest for peace. What he is desperate for is to find his final resting place.

He has an extremely strong interest in Isabel. Particularly when she once again falls pregnant. But what is the lure and what fate will befall Isobel?

I absolutely devoured this book! not least because it is set in Victorian times (my favourite time period as you know!). I also really love anything remotely linked to the dark world of the Fae. There is a beautifully delicate balance between the realist narrative and the magical narrative in this story and I think this lends itself well to having a little something for everyone.  

Another wonderful addition to this tale was the inclusion of chapters surrounding Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their opening of the works.  I love it when ‘real’ people from history are almost re-imagined by the author and we get an albeit fictitious peep behind the curtain.  I was delighted to encounter these chapters, they really were a joy to read.

Sally Magnusson’s writing is just beautiful, stunning prose and perfect depictions of the glorious Scottish landscape.  There is a real sense of place throughout this story and Sally expertly transports you to the Scottish highlands.

The perfect blend of fact and fiction, this book is captivating and a brilliant book to get your hands on, particularly during these very confusing and troubled times.  A little something to whisk you away from real life and I couldn’t recommend it more.

Thank you to the publisher for my copy to review.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx