The Inverts By Crystal Jeans – A Review

Publication Date: 1st April 2021

Publisher: Borough Press

I’d seen this colourful book plenty of times on Twitter and I’d not had the chance to sit down and research it. When I was offered a proof copy I got my chance to have a little look at just what The Inverts by Crystal Jeans was all about. I knew once I’d read the blurb that it was a book I’d be saying a hearty Yes to!

The Inverts is set in the roaring 1920’s and 30’s and tells the story of the relationship between Bettina Wyn Thomas and Bartholmew (Bart) Dawes. They meet when they are children and their parents are friends. We first meet them when they are in their early teens and having spent much of their relationship being ‘just friends’ Bart wants to try out his charms on Bettina.

After a clumsy assignation it becomes blatantly apparent that neither party enjoyed the experience and it is mutually agreed that yes indeed they are just friends. But we soon learn that the reason for this disconnect is the fact that Bart has a penchant for boys and Bettina is finding herself increasingly attracted to one of her girlfriends at school.

What follows on is a tapestry of their failed and successful relationships with the same sex. Their loves, their objects of lust, their dalliances and their deeper connections. These relationships all orbit around the central pairing of Bart and Bettina who decide to marry to conceal their sexual preferences at a time where it could be potentially very detrimental to their lives should they be found out. I found this ‘lavender marriage’ element fascinating.

There are fleeting escapades on both sides, one night stands and assignations. But there are also deeper loved that have to find a place within Bart and Bettina’s relationship and assimilate around them.

They may not always like each other, and indeed there are times where their relationship is tested but there is always a much deeper, stronger bond built on sturdy foundations that cannot be shaken. I loved the fact that their love is not perfect, it gets messy, it gets wild it gets ambivalent over a number of decades but they remain firm in their connection.

This wonderful relationship is mainly set against a backdrop of the roaring 20’s and 30’s. A time period which was by turns both glamorous and debauched. There’s the quaffing of champagne, drugs and casual clandestine sex which are all perfectly depicted and set the scene and tone of the book. You really feel like you are there.

There are highs and lows, funny and tender moments which spirit you away through the book loving every moment you spend with Bart and Bettina. They are characters who I will never forget and I already have the urge to revisit them.

Get your hands on a copy and pay Bart and Bettina a visit. You won’t regret it.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Unsettled Ground By Claire Fuller – A Review

Publisher: Penguin Fig Tree

Publication Date: 25th March 2021

I am a huge fan of Claire Fuller’s writing. Her book Bitter Orange was one of my favourite books of 2018. Not only do I love her writing style, I love her book recommendations over on Instagram and have found some great books this way.

Unsettled Ground tells the story of 51 year old twins Jeanie and Julius Seeder who have lived all of their lives in a cottage with their mother Dot. The book opens with the death of Dot and what follows on from this tragic event is Jeanie and Julius slowly discovering that their mother was not as she appeared and a huge part of their lives had been built around secrets and lies.

Dots death is the catalyst for a huge chain of events which leave Jeanie and Julius struggling not only with their grief but the possibility of losing their home and finding themselves plunged into the harsh realities of poverty and financial strain.

The relationship between the twins is ever evolving and morphing after the death of their mother as they strive to find a way to survive in her absence as her secrets are revealed bit by bit.

Claire Fuller’s characters are always fully rounded and so well written. We have not only the two main characters of Jeanie and Julius but the peripheral characters who circle the twins lives be they good in intention or not.

Jeanie is an introverted woman who was essentially cosseted by her mother in childhood due to a heart condition. She even slept in the same bed as her mother right up until the day she died. Despite this, Jeanie does learn to become independent and fend for herself and her brother however she can.

The overall poverty and financial struggle in the twins lives is so sad but written so deftly. It’s hard to imagine being plunged into a new life and having to question your whole past and worry about your future. Essentially the whole foundation of the twins lives is shaken.

Claire’s writing is just so beautiful and has an underlying tension and sense of atmosphere which builds as the book progresses. I enjoy feeling tense when reading (I’m perhaps a little strange in that respect!) and reading Unsettled Ground made me feel just that, unsettled.

I will always read whatever Claire writes and I have a feeling that I will always enjoy what she writes too. I know I am in safe hands with her excellent writing and storytelling skills.

This book has now been longlisted for the Women’s Prize For Fiction and I couldn’t be more thrilled for Claire. Fingers crossed!

Please do pick up a copy of Unsettled Ground. You won’t regret it!

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

See you soon

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Bright Burning Things By Lisa Harding – A Review

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Publication Date: 4th March 2021

Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding was a book I included in my most anticipated reads of 2021 blog post. I stumbled across it when I was perusing Bloomsbury’s catalogue and was drawn to the struggling alcoholic mother element presented in the blurb.

Set in Dublin, Bright Burning Things tells the first person story of single mum Sonya, a young woman living on benefits with her 4 year old son Tommy and their rescue dog Herbie. Sonya has a troubled past, dogged by signs of anxiety and mental illness after the death of her mother when she was 8 years old. Sonya’s isolation is further impacted by her fractured and distantly tense relationship with her father who struggled with grief after the death of his wife.

Sonya has a very close relationship with little Tommy, which at times proves destructively close. They have their own language, their own in-jokes, their own haphazard way of living life. Unfortunately Sonya is also living with an alcohol addiction and Tommy has to witness her becoming ‘blurry’ and has to deal with the ‘bad fairy’ who comes out of her when she’s been drinking.

Sonya clearly isn’t coping at all with life in general and looking after her son who should by now be attending school. She quite often forgets to feed him and has a propensity to blackout when she’s drunk, which in turn leads to precarious and downright dangerous events around the house.

When Mrs O’Malley across the street threatens to call social services, Sonya’s father steps back into her life and takes the decision to corral Sonya into a rehab facility for a 12 week stay.

Sonya has to suffer the absolute wrench of having Tommy taken from her and placed in the care of strangers and when she emerges from rehab having dried out she has to face the even more daunting fact of putting her family back together and getting her young vulnerable child to trust her again.

This book obviously tackles very difficult subjects, ones which you cannot look away from no matter how uncomfortable they make you feel. To follow the story through the eyes of the person suffering from the alcohol addiction is very compelling. To know that there are times when you can’t completely trust what this person is telling you, and you can see the effect her behaviour is having on this young boy is heartbreaking at times.

I was always willing Sonya on in her recovery and I was pleased in a way that the path back to some semblance of ‘normality‘ was not an easy one. Sonya doesn’t emerge from rehab miraculously ‘cured’ and all shiny and brand new. She still fights her demons daily, hourly. She still has to control the ‘flapping creatures’ that rise up in her chest, the outbursts of anger, the lapses of lucidity. She has to battle all of this whilst trying her utmost to appear stable and ‘normal’ in the eyes of the authorities and the judgemental eyes of her father.

The relationship between Sonya and Tommy is so touching. They are so very close at the start of the book, living in their own little bubble. Making their own way through the days trying to have fun and in no need of help from anyone (in Sonya’s eyes). When they are torn apart it is absolutely heartbreaking even though rationally you know it’s for the best.

Lisa Harding’s writing is beautiful, and given free reign to sound even more lyrical when a small child’s sing-song, innocent voice is added to the mix. I enjoyed the way the writing reflected the times when Sonya was struggling, short clipped sentences not quite fully formed giving the narrative an almost distracted flighty feel.

I absolutely raced through this book and am now tempted to get hold of a copy of Lisa Harding’s first novel Harvesting.

Thank you to the publishers for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

The Last House On Needless Street By Catriona Ward.

Publisher: Viper Books

Publication Date: 18th March 2021

If ever there was a book that I wanted to bypass a writing a review and just shout READ THIS IMMEDIATELY!!! It’s The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward.

To be honest I’m so nervous about writing this review because I have a feeling I may short change you on the details but it is nigh on impossible to explain the plot of this wonderful book without ruining it completely for you. Something which I will never do. Spoiler free reviews here as always.

But this does leave me with quite the predicament. All I can do is give you as much as I can of the plot, say some words about how important it is that you go out and buy this book now. Like RIGHT NOW. And then send you on your merry way to buy it. Because you SIMPLY MUST buy it. (I’ll stop with the bold caps now).

Ted Bannerman, our main protagonist voice is a man who lives on Needless Street with his cat Olivia and his young daughter Lauren. Ted is considered strange, a quirky character who from the off has a narrative that feels very off-kilter. You know as a reader that something is very much ‘not right’ with Ted’s life and his way of thinking. This is highlighted by how he lives in his disordered rundown house with wooden planks nailed across the windows.

The story starts with a murder. But not the usual murder you’d be expecting. Ted has a great love of birds and has a garden full of feeders. When someone sets traps to kill these birds, which Ted discovers dead in his garden it sets off a chain of events. The murder of the birds coincides with the 11th year anniversary of a young girl going missing. She’s dubbed Little Girl With Popsicle by Ted and at the time of her disappearance Ted was actually a suspect who was later cleared.

The young girl’s sister Dee has tried and failed over the years to locate the person who took her sister from the lake 11 years ago but she is determined to crack the case and get justice for little Lulu. When Ted comes back on to her radar she takes up residence into the empty house next door to Ted do that she can befriend him and observe his every move.

Along with Ted’s narrative we hear from Olivia the cat. I have to hold my hands up and say I was a little reticent about how this would be dealt with. I cannot get onboard with talking animals in books but Olivia’s voice such as it is was perfectly written. It didn’t ever feel silly and contrived in any way and actually becomes a huge part of the story as time progresses.

We also hear from Lauren, Ted’s daughter. Who is portrayed as a wilful girl with a quick temper, prone to outbursts of anger. Their relationship is tricky, with Lauren coming across as a difficult child to control.

Ted often refers back to his childhood and talks about his ‘Mommy’ in a childlike, immature tone. Mommy is a complex character who wields her power over little Ted and his father. She is quite often cruel which is thinly veiled as ‘caring’ and lots of things are done for Ted’s own good. Lessons to be learned about life which she feels will serve him well in the future.

As a reader you know that there are many holes in Ted’s memory and he is the ultimate unreliable narrator. There are sentences within this book that really make you stop and think ‘that can’t be right’. There are small details almost concealed within the narrative that give you a jolt and have you questioning what you’ve read before. This book gave me frown lines I was thinking that hard! I may need Botox!

You lovely lot know that I love nothing more than a dark and twisty tale where something isn’t right and you can’t put your finger on it. That’s how this story starts out. You know in your heart of hearts that Ted’s whole existence isn’t normal but you’re waiting to discover what and why…..

There is a building sense of unease as you read which ramps up to real tension. And I’m talking shoulders up around your ears, breath holding tension.

I really can’t tell you anything else plot wise. I know, it’s a bit rum of me but seriously, you just to buy this book and put your faith in me!

I have always loved Catriona Ward’s writing and really enjoyed Rawblood and Little Eve. She is a writer who can draw you in completely into dark world’s and each of her books are completely unique. I can honestly say I have never read a book like The Last House On Needless Street. Ever. It tackles a subject I don’t think I’ve ever read about and in such a deft and confident way.

I read this book in one breathless sitting and I feel like this was the best way to consume it. In any case I couldn’t put it down anyway! You emerge at the end with such a strange feeling. One which I’m struggling to label as I write this review less than 24 hours after finishing the book.

It is certainly a book I will never ever forget! I urge you all to pick up a copy! Speaking of which……

Pre-order is currently available for The Last House On The Needless Street from any UK retailer, in hardback, ebook or audiobook. Pre-order your copy now, and send proof of receipt to and receive an EXCLUSIVE enamel pin! Get your pre-orders in as soon as possible so you don’t miss out. T&Cs apply. Open to UK only. Closes Wednesday 17th March.

What more can you ask for!

A big thank you as always to the publisher and Miranda Jewess for my review copy. Bloody beltin!

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Pharricide By Vincent de Swarte (translated by Nicholas Royle) – A Review

Publisher: Confingo Publishing

Publication Date: May 2019

I recently had a hankering for books set around lighthouses. I had only just read You Me And The Sea by Elizabeth Haynes and watched an episode of Most Haunted in which they investigated a reputedly haunted lighthouse in Wales. This got me wondering whether there were any creepy books set around a lighthouse.

Luckily the bookish belter’s over on Twitter came through for me with some suggestions. One of which was the book I’m reviewing today, Pharricide by Vincent de Swarte, translated from the French by Nicholas Royle. The lovely Nicholas offered me a copy for review and I snapped his hand off and got straight down to reading it. Nicholas warned me it was a dark book, you guys know that dark is my thing! However, I wasn’t expecting it to be *quite* as dark as it was……which is great!

The story is told in the first person perspective by our narrator Geoffroy Lefayen, a man who has been asked to caretake a lighthouse for a solitary 6 month period. The lighthouse is the oldest in France and is called Cordouan. Geoffroy agrees to the job as long as he doesn’t have to have any assistance from anyone else. He wants to be completely alone there for the full 6 months.

He takes up the position in early October and we are privy to his daily tasks around the lighthouse via his dated log book. At first we are given the day to day minutia of living alone whilst tending a lighthouse and all the jobs that need to be done as well as certain other jobs tasks that Geoffroy does merely to pass the time.

As time goes on we learn that Geoffroy has a penchant for taxidermy and sets to work on a conger eel he has captured. It soon becomes apparent that Geoffroy feels like in taxidermy he is bringing his subjects back to life in a way. He is extremely proud of his work and loses himself in the task, allowing it to completely consume him.

Time ticks further on and we become more and more aware of the effects of solitary living on Geoffroy’s mental health. There are occasions where he locks himself away, refusing to speak with the men from the supply boat. We also become aware that he considers the lighthouse to have some oppressive hold over him and his actions. The lighthouse is almost a character in itself.

‘Since yesterday, however, there’s been the faintest trace of madness in the air. I’ve been checking my knives and equipment. The prospect of getting down to work makes me mad with joy’

With the arrival of a British couple who have contacted Geoffroy to ask if they can visit Cordouan, things take an extremely shocking and dark twist. I was not expecting what transpires with this couple at all!

The next arrival at the lighthouse is a female engineer called Lise who has problems of her own, namely issues with alcohol. Geoffroy quickly becomes attached to her and they embark on a strange relationship based on sex and huge amounts of mistrust. With the arrival of Lise I was expecting that maybe Geoffroy would have to start concealing his odd behaviour, however Lise appears to spur him on and becomes somewhat of a catalyst for the further descent of Geoffroy into madness.

‘What I don’t know on the other hand, is when I’m my normal self. Am I in some kind of a trance when I’m concentrating on the lighthouse, and myself the rest of the time, or the other way around? For example, I can’t explain why I was out on the rocks getting myself all worked up yesterday. Perhaps I needed exercise. Or it’s all Lise’s fault. Yes, Lise is driving me round the bend. But it’s no reason to destroy everything, or go on hunger strike, as I have been these last few days’.

Because we have Geoffroy as our narrator we are ourselves trapped in his head and we have to trust what he is telling us whilst knowing he is the most unreliable of narrators!

What I found most unsettling about this short, sharp novel is the way in which Geoffroy reveals his wrongdoings, his heinous acts, almost quietly and calmly as if to all intents and purposes it was the correct thing to do. I also really enjoyed the pacing and the way that the oddness of Geoffroy is slowly revealed with little nuggets of strange behaviour interspersed in the almost mundane initial narrative of arriving at the lighthouse and settling into day to day life.

The foreword by Patrick McGrath and the afterword by Alison Moore gave the story added depth and gravitas and I really enjoyed the setting up and rounding off of the book with their thoughts.

This is a hugely unsettling story with lots of layers to pull apart and dissect and will be a tale that you think about long after you’ve put the book down and allowed it to burrow into the darkest parts of your brain and take root there. Geoffroy will live in your head rent free forever!

Loved it!

Thanks again to Nicholas Royle and Confingo for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx