The Lamplighters By Emma Stonex – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 4th March 2021

I’ve always been drawn to novels based on real events of the past and this book was no exception. When I read the blurb of The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex I knew it would be right up my street.

In December 1900, three lighthouse keepers disappeared from a remote lighthouse on an island in the Outer Hebrides, The Lamplighters is inspired by this event.

Cornwall, 1972 and three keepers mysteriously vanish from the Maiden Rock Lighthouse. The three men Arthur Black (Principal Keeper) William (Bill) Walker and Vincent Bourne quite literally vanish from the locked from the inside lighthouse leaving behind a dinner table set for an uneaten meal, and two clocks stopped at the exact same time, as the only clues.

They were never found and their disappearance became something of a local legend. Twenty years later an author is now interested in writing a book about the event and seeks out the partners left behind to get their take on the vanishing. The three women left behind should have cleaved to each other in their joint grief and distress, however these women have fractured relationships with each other and react very differently to the probing of the author.

Their lives back then were riddled with secrets and heartaches. But just how much are they willing to reveal twenty years later….

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this book for me was the detail involved in describing not only the isolated backdrop of the lighthouse, the rough seas, the rocky terrain but the depiction of lighthouse life.

‘Freezing water splurges across a sunken warren of rocks; when the sea fills up the rocks disappear; when it drops, they emerge like black, glistening molars…’

We gain a detailed insight into the isolation that these men faced during their time on the rock in their working lives. The routines they build up between the three of them, the tasks each man takes on, the way they work together as a team. Most interestingly in my opinion was the delicate balance of personalities. Imagine being stuck in a lighthouse for weeks on end with the same two people….if there is even the slightest clash of personalities, of rubbing up the wrong way or of mismatched values or work ethics there is very little you can do about it.

‘When Bill first came to the Maiden, I thought, hows this going to go? Some men open up to you and others don’t. Bill was quiet, contained….

‘There’s lots of time for talk, especially on middle watch, midnight to four, when you find your conversations going down all sorts of dark alleys that you never mention again come the morning. Whoever’s coming off watch before you will get you up, fetch you tea and a plate of cheese and digestive biscuits and bring it all up to the lantern, where he’ll sit with you for an hour before going off to his bed. He’ll do this to wake you up, get your brain engaged so you don’t fall back asleep when you’re there on your own. When it’s Bill and me, he’ll tell me things he’ll wish he hadn’t in the light of day….’

The mystery at the heart of this novel is in itself fascinating not least because it’s based on a true story but there are also the secrets and lies surrounding the characters to draw you in.

The writing is descriptive and flows beautifully and you really fe like you’re there at the lighthouse. I was right to be excited for this one and I’m equally as excited to read more of Emma Stonex work in the future.

If you like a mystery with interesting and compelling characters, you need to get your hands on this one.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx


Empty Houses By Brenda Navarro – A Review

Publisher: Daunt Books

Publication Date: 25th February 2020

Translated by: Sophie Hughes

I’m writing this review in December 2020 after swearing blind that I wasn’t going to read any 2021 proofs until 2021 rolled around. When Empty Houses by Brenda Navarro dropped through my letterbox I had to abandon that plan. I read this book in one sitting.

Set in Mexico, the book opens with a mother explaining how her 3 year old son Daniel was abducted from a play park whilst she was supposed to be looking out for him. She is wracked with guilt not only because he disappeared when in her care, she also was heavily invested in reading messages from her secret lover on her mobile phone at the time. She can’t provide the police with much evidence as she wasn’t looking out for her child so didn’t see or hear anything, so absorbed was she in her lovers messages.

We then start to get an idea of what she was like as a mother as she travels back in time to describe her relationship with her husband Fran up to the point of her making the decision to have a child. A decision which was borne out of her attempting to assuage her guilt regarding her affair and hoping that a child with Fran would break the bond she had with her lover Vladimir.

‘Do you know I lost my son because I was reading your messages? And what have you done about it? Cheapen my life, that’s what you’ve done, turn my life into a joke. Do you know that, do you? What do you know? Nothing, you know absolutely nothing. Do you know I had a child as an excuse to get away from you? Could there be a stupider reason to have children? I had a child to keep you at arms length. And how idiotic of me, when in the end it was you who walked away…..’

Not only does she have the abduction of her son to deal with, she also has to take on the mothering role to Fran’s niece Naggore who’s own mother has been murdered by her father. Our narrator struggles to fulfil the role with Nagore when she feels like she wasn’t much of a mother to her own child. Why should she care about Nagore now that her own child is gone and why couldn’t it have been Nagore they lost?

Next we switch perspective to another unnamed narrator who is the young woman who abducted little Daniel. We start from the point of her swiping him off the park and into a taxi whereby she spirits him away to her own home on the opposite side of town.

She has been desperate to have a child of her own with her abusive and witholding boyfriend Rafael, however he has never really been sold on the idea. She renames Daniel as ‘Leonel’ and attempts to pass him off as a child of Raphael’s cousin.

What follows is a very interesting and often heartbreaking look at how these two women view motherhood and their suitability to the role. We have two very different and very distinct voices but both women struggle with knowing their worth and feeling such tremendous guilt about their misdemeanours.

The sections alternate between the two narratives which I always enjoy. Both voices were written very differently, which helped delineate the women. There was an immaturity to the way the child abductor was written and a sense of the vulnerability of the young behind her very outspoken and tough talking facade.

I’m always drawn to books which explore motherhood and this one was fascinating with all of its complexities and at times shocking truths. On the one hand we have Daniel’s mother, a woman who feels she made a mistake in getting pregnant and allowing another person to take over her body and her life. She feels the guilt of a woman who regrets having her own child and cannot place herself and how she should be feeling in the aftermath of his disappearance.

Then we have the abductor. A young girl who wants nothing more than a nice home, a child, a life partner, a family. But the only thing she can do is take this little boy away from his family to fulfil her own desperate needs. It is by no means an easy feat, as Daniel has autism and she struggles to look after him and keep her patience. However she feels the sacrifice is worth it to have someone who relies on her as a mother figure.

What I found most surprising and heartbreaking was the police reaction to Daniel’s disappearance. It almost seems like child abduction is a day to day occurrence and his mother Is told he will ‘turn up’. There are also references made to children being sold into pornography and Daniel’s mother and Fran even at once point have to identify the body of a young boy who isn’t Daniel where this has been the case.

This is a tale of motherhood, guilt, longing to belong, class and violence. (Trigger warnings for domestic abuse and miscarriage). It will divide opinion for sure in terms of where your loyalties lie as a reader.

As I said, I tore through this one in one sitting, it flows at a pace despite it not being linear timeline wise. There is no neat tying up of plot either and neither woman gets any redemption. A difficult and often troubling read but worth it.

Thank you Jimena Gorraez and Daunt Books for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Nightshift By Kiare Ladner – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 18th February 2021

With its striking cover and promise of ‘a story of obsession set in London’s liminal world of nightshift workers’ I was drawn to Nightshift by Kiare Ladner and even included it in my most anticipated reads of 2021 post.

Set in London in the late 90’s, Meggy is our first person narrator. Meggy works the day shift for a press company, summarising news stories. When enigmatic Belgian Sabine joins the company, Meggy starts to find her fascinating and finds herself wondering more and more about who Sabine is and what she’s all about.

Meggy is in a relationship with Graham, a ‘safe’ and stable man who is infinitely patient with Meggy and her seeming reluctance to make a commitment to him. Meggy appreciates her cosseted life with Graham but yearns for excitement and new adventures.

When Sabine transfers to the nightshift and asks Meggy to transfer with her, they embark on a strange relationship against the backdrop of London’s nightshift workers. A motley crew who drink their way through their shift, taking drugs to pep themselves up and shake off the exhaustion.

As Meggy becomes deeper and deeper involved in Sabine’s life, orbiting her at a distance, she begins to realise that their relationship cannot be neatly slotted into a conventional ‘friendship’ box nor can it be considered a sexual/romantic relationship. The women exist in a strange dance of withholding elements of themselves whilst tiptoeing ever closer to intimacy.

Meggy pulls further and further away from Graham, who is happy for her to experiment with her wants and desires. She almost wants to slip into the role of being someone else, that someone being Sabine.

Sabine is a character who could be considered frustrating and if she were your friend in real life you would have to be a very relaxed and forgiving person to have her in your life. She appears and disappears from Meggy’s life, jetting away with her ‘lover’ and becoming someone else entirely with him. She is secretive and closed up unless sharing on her terms. There is a constant shift in the dynamic between the two women but ultimately it is Meggy who suffers the most.

One of the elements I loved about this book was the portrayal of the other handful of nightshift workers in Meggy’s team. Prawn, Earl, Lizard and Sherry seem to exist only when Meggy is around them and then each disappear into different worlds when they are on their two weeks off. These characters come to life in the darkness of the night, vodka in their coffee cups and lines of cocaine along with their regular Pot Noodle breaks.

The effect of nightshift working on Meggy’s body clock does nothing to help her confusion over her relationships. You can really feel the exhaustion and muffled thought processes brought on by too little sleep and the strangeness of living your waking life in the dark.

The writing is sharp and precise. The sense of place and time is very apparent and I really felt like I was back in the late 90’s. This is a sometimes melancholy story of the desire to be someone else and obsession and whether you can ultimately extricate yourself from it.

I really did enjoy it and I thoroughly recommend it.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Lullaby Beach By Stella Duffy – A Review

Publisher: Virago Press

Publication Date: 4th February 2021

I’d be a complete liar if I said I wasn’t initially drawn to Lullaby Beach by Stella Duffy because of its vintage cover beauty. I will always be there for a vintage frock!

But when I read the synopsis I was equally as drawn in. I’d never actually read any Stella Duffy before but let me tell you I intend to visit her back catalogue and I read Lullaby Beach in one sitting, staying up till gone midnight on a school night no less. This should give you a good indication of my feelings on this book. That and the fact that it appeared on my Best Books Of 2020 post.

The story opens with Lucy discovering that her Great Aunt Kitty has committed suicide by overdose of pills in her beach hut home, leaving a strange message behind.

Kitty has always been the strong matriarchal figure in the family. The one who held everyone together with her no nonsense attitude. Lucy is determined to find out what pushed her Great Aunt Kitty to end it all.

From here we meet Kitty’s two nieces, Lucy’s mother Beth and her aunt Sara. The story encompasses three generations of women and the secrets that have shaped them all. Starting with Kitty in the 1950’s, desperate to leave the coast and travel to London to start a new life with her love Danny Nelson. When they finally make it to the capital, life isn’t all that Kitty hoped it would be. Her relationship with Danny takes a destructive turn and Kitty ends up back home much sooner than she could have ever anticipated, dealing with the physical and emotional fall out.

Essentially this is a story of family secrets held across decades. Secrets which these women have kept to themselves but which have shaped their lives immeasurably. However, with the unraveling of Kitty’s heartbreaking secrets, Beth, Sara and Lucy can begin to take stock of what’s happened to them each in turn and how they can deal with that with honesty going forward in their lives.

The book deals with many topics which could be triggering to some people so I will just mention a few here. There’s sexual assault, infant death, and abortion. Ultimately it is a story of women’s agency over their own bodies and the violence of men and how this has changed over the years but also how it sadly has stayed the same in lots of ways.

The women in this story are strong. None more so than Kitty herself who’s death is the catalyst for the remaining women in the family to open up and attempt to heal their own past traumas. Kitty is one of those characters that you instantly miss when you close the book. I still think about her now and she will always remain in my heart as one of my favourite characters in any book I’ve read.

Stella Duffy weaves a beautifully compelling and at times heartbreaking story that lures you in right from the off. Her writing is wonderful and her scene setting is perfect. I could picture myself on the coast at Lullaby Beach so effortlessly. The interaction between the characters is honest and authentic which made them all so relatable and enables the reader to empathise with these women.

Lullaby Beach is certainly a book I won’t forget and will be one that I recommend for a long time to come.

Thank you to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Insatiable By Daisy Buchanan – A Review

Publisher: Sphere

Publication Date: 11th February 2021

I’d had Insatiable by Daisy Buchanan on my radar for a good while. I talked about it in the Autumn issue of NB Magazine and it appeared in my Most Anticipated Reads of 2021 blog post here.

You guys know I can usually be found lurking around anything dark, gothic and historical but occasionally I enjoy a burst of fresh contemporary fiction.

Insatiable tells the story of Violet, a twenty something woman living in London and working in the lower echelons of the art world and struggling to make ends meet (due mainly to her shopping habits and maxed out credit cards). Whilst attending an arty party one evening having acquired some tickets, Violet feeling out of place and awkward is drawn to an enigmatic, beautiful and serene looking woman who introduces herself as Lottie. Lottie turns out to be looking for someone to deal with the socials for her and her husband Simon’s new start-up company and invites Violet to a meeting.

Violet does some Instagram stalking and realises that not only is Lottie beautiful and Simon is ‘Gandy’ handsome but they also live a very privileged life. Their initial meeting to discuss the job is fizzing with sexual tension, and when the good quality wine is flowing Violet becomes entranced by this power couple.

Violet swiftly becomes embroiled in their opulent world, including their Friday night sex parties with two other couples, Max and Mimi, and Richard and Sasha. Violet is almost pimped out at the beginning, brought in at a moments notice to business meetings with potential investors as a kind of eye candy treat. Whilst she feels used she goes along with whatever Lottie and Simon want because not only does she so desperately want to be part of their world, she really really needs the job they are dangling in front of her.

Violet’s past relationship and the fact that she cancelled her wedding, losing her best friend and the respect of her parents (plus hundreds of pounds in deposits!) means that she is desperate to belong somewhere and feel loved and needed by someone. When she is drawn into this world of sex and wealth, Violet has to decide if it’s what she really wants.

There is a lot of sex in this book. A lot of really well written sex in my opinion. Violet is having a lovely old time! However there is also sexual assault, the reaction to which is not as you would expect so just bear that in mind.

Daisy Buchanan writes characters that feel fully three dimensional and you become invested in this strange world of people who have very tenuous and often very tense and strained connections. Violet herself is loveable yet wholly frustrating! There were times when I wanted to shake her to open her eyes to these people who were flawed and toxic in varying degrees. She makes some stupid decisions and is highly flawed herself but I found myself rooting for her and hoping she made the right decisions in the end whilst being willing to forgive her if she didn’t!

This is a fresh, gutsy and vibrant story about love, female desire, ambition and women’s agency over their own bodies and desires. Daisy has a quick wit and this book is funny and sexy and super sharp.

‘After showering, I try to cover my body in mango scented moisturiser. It sits on top of my damp, sweaty skin. I look like bait for a yoghurt fetishist. I spy a rogue hair sprouting from the middle of my neck, a pube tourist that has taken a series of wrong turns. I tweeze it out and my neck starts bleeding and won’t stop. After failing to staunch the wound I pluck my eyebrows until there are barely any left. I try to fix them with a pencil. In a few strokes I go from Cara Delevingne to Bert from Sesame Street.

I’ll admit I was a little worried that I might be too old at 42 to read and enjoy a story about a bit of a hapless millennial having rampant sex with people she barely knows but to hell with that! Age is but a number! I loved it.

If you want an eye opening and filthy romp with love and belonging at its heart then you need to get your hands on a copy immediately. I was absolutely right to include this book on my Most Anticipated list.

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

See you all soon

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx