Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 6th August 2020

This book was an absolute gem of a surprise and probably the book that makes me most thankful for unexpected book post!

I’d not heard of Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart until it dropped through my letterbox. As I always do with new books, I had a read of the blurb (which sounded amazing) then I had a flick through and a little read of various sentences and sections just to get a vibe (anyone else do this?). All this did was make me super hyped to read the book and despite it not being published for a few months at the time it arrived, I pushed all other books aside and cracked on!

Man am I glad I did!

Glasgow, 1981 and against the backdrop of a Thatcher led government, Agnes Bain has big dreams for herself and her little family. Unfortunately, circumstances and finances conspire against her and she must make do with putting on a perfectly made up brave face and act the life she wants rather than actually living it.

When she is abandoned by her cheating husband ‘Big Shug’ on a housing ‘scheme’ in a near defunct mining town, Agnes relies more and more on the drink to get her through. It’s not long before her oldest child Catherine makes her escape from the family leaving brothers Leek and little Shuggie behind.

Shuggie is considered a strange boy by the local kids on the scheme and is often told by the adults around him to ‘act normal like the other boys’. He is fastidious like his mother, he has a doll, he enjoys dancing and he is very well spoken and polite. He absolutely adores his mother, she is the centre of his little world and he will do anything to see her happy.

As Agnes relies more and more on the drink and spends time with various different men, Shuggie is left to pick up the pieces when Agnes reaches blackout point. Despite vowing a number of times that she will give up drinking, Agnes is never very successful for long and the evil drink clutches hold of her time and time again.

Shuggie is neglected, not only by his struggling mother but by his two older siblings who can no longer put up with the life they’ve been dealt and flee the scheme, leaving Shuggie with the heavy weight of the responsibility for caring for his mother. His adoration is unerring and he is such a resilient little boy, he really breaks my heart!

Even though Agnes quite clearly neglects Shuggie I couldn’t help but feel empathy for her mental health and addiction struggles. Her desperate desire for a perfect life and to portray to those around her how ‘put together’ and in control she is when quite clearly she is failing. When the narrative sat with Shuggie, I felt such pain for him and wanted to shake Agnes to open her eyes to what she was doing to him and her family. However, when the narrative switched to Agnes’s point of view I felt I could understand her thoughts and actions and I felt like I was firmly in her head, experiencing her issues.

Although this is a dark and tragic story there are glimmers of hope. Shuggie deals with too much in his young life, things that no child should ever endure and some events he would not have experienced if maybe he had a mother who opened her eyes to what was happening around her instead of blocking life out with alcohol.

The relationship between Agnes and Shuggie albeit unbalanced in terms of parent/child responsibility is so beautiful at times. There are occasions where they bond over singing and dancing and playing ‘jewellery shops’ together. There is so much love between them. Love that Shuggie desperately needs and craves.

Agnes clipped through the scheme with the message bag by her side. She glides faster now, and Shuggie struggled to keep up as she flew down the hill. When she got home she went into the kitchen without taking off her coat. Shuggie sat in the living room and let her gather herself. He waited for the hiss and splash of the cans and then the sound of the drink being hidden. He waited until he heard the tap running at the big metal sink.

‘You feeling better?’ He asked from the doorway. She turned from the tea mug. The nervousness from her face was gone, but the worry was still there. ‘Much better, thanks. You were a good wee helper the day.’

He went and wrapped himself around her waist. ‘I’d do anything for you.’

He has such a hard time fitting in, with his sexuality and the way he holds himself, his interests and his general demeanour but he’s a little fighter.

This book is by no means an easy read but it is such an important one. There are so many themes running through it. It deals with violence, hopelessness, addiction, poverty, neglect, sexual abuse, unemployment and other grim subjects. However you cannot look away from this book.

There are also moments of pure humour and vibrancy! There’s a particularly vivid scene at the start involving a card game, a catalogue night and some new bras. Pure genius! Some of the peripheral characters are fabulous! So full of grit and life and grim determination. Agnes herself is a feisty one at times and I couldn’t not include this quote from her that had me chucking and thinking ‘gwaaarn Agnes!’

Agnes closed her coat against her neck and smiled goodbye. ‘Oh, and I fucked your man. It was lousy.’ She sniffed distastefully at the memory of it. ‘He had a line of skidmarks on his underwear that was a pure embarrassment’.

It has been a couple of months since I read it but revisiting this review now has brought back so many emotions. I feel like I need to go back and re-read it very soon but I’m not sure my heart can cope!

This is Douglas Stuart’s debut novel and has now been longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am about this! I will be championing this book SO HARD! I urge you to pick it up if you haven’t already.

Also, just before I leave you, if you’re the kind of reader who doesn’t read the acknowledgements in a book, please make an exception for this one.

I cannot thank Camilla Elworthy, Picador and of course Douglas Stuart for bringing Shuggie into my life. I’ll never ever forget him.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat. Xx

Boy Parts By Eliza Clark – A Review

Publisher: Influx Press

Publication Date: 23rd July 2020

When the lovely Jordan Taylor Jones sent me a copy of Boy Parts by Eliza Clark I was proper chuffed. I can’t remember where I’d seen it talked about but there was a buzz around it, as there has been for months, which has reached fever pitch over the last month or so, and RIGHTLY SO.

When reading this book I remember tweeting that the whole experience was like having a shot of pure adrenaline straight in the arse cheek and I think a lot of us who have read this book are still BUZZING OFF OUR TITS on this adrenaline injection.

So what do we have here then?

Irina is a photographer from Newcastle, taking a sabbatical from her bar job after an incident in which she gets punched square in the face by the mother of one of her photography subjects.

Because yes, Irina has a very distinct talent for photographing ‘ordinary’ looking men in sexually explicit poses and scenarios. She scouts men and boys from around her in her everyday life, the supermarket, bars etc and approaches them to pose for her. Irina has a way of luring people in and she seems to have many people orbiting around her and her great talent.

This at times is unfathomable given Irina’s acerbic, sharp and often mean behaviour, but she really does draw people into her world. When she’s offered an exhibition at a top London gallery she starts to look back through her previous portfolio of work and we see shots and memories of previous lovers and complete strangers that she has photographed in the past which leads her down a very dark road of self destruction.

Irina has a friend and ex lover called Flo who is one such person who orbits Irina’s world. Flo is utterly obsessed with Irina and writes a ‘secret’ blog based around her unrequited love for Irina or ‘Rina’ as she affectionately terms her. Irina for her part capitalises on this weakness of Flo’s and uses her love for her to push her buttons.

Irina is one of those protagonists who explodes into your psyche by welcoming you into her own despite it being so very dark. She is awful at times, JUST AWFUL and there were points where I wanted to look away but JUST COULDN’T DO IT.

She is a woman I will never ever forget due to her no bullshit attitude and her propensity to ride absolutely fucking roughshod over everyone!

If you haven’t guessed already, Boy Parts is grim, it’s hilarious, it’s dark as you like and it’s fizzing with urgent life. It’s base, it’s disgusting, it punches low and it punches hard and I effin loved it!

Of course the true icing on the cake is that Eliza Clarke is a northern writer and as you know I’m a northern bird who loves to shout about the talent we have up here. Eliza Clark is just nailing it with this book and not only that she is such a strong personality over on Twitter, she makes my day over there!

I feel like I always say that I’m looking forward to whatever a good author is going to produce next but in this case I’m DOUBLE EXCITED ON SPEED (oh yes, there’s drugs in this book OF COURSE) to see what brilliant disgustingness Eliza Clark births next….

If you want a book to punch you in the gut and make your blood fizz, BOY PARTS IS IT. I urge you to give it a whirl. I’ve seen nothing but effusive praise for this book, and I mean that, not a bad word has been said. Eliza Clarke has burst her way into everyone’s brains with this debut novel and none of us will ever be the same again.

Thank you so much to Jordan Taylor Jones and Influx Press for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Bookish Chat About: The Darker Side Of Sex

I recently read wounding by the brilliant Heidi James, published by Bluemoose (you should grab yourselves a copy) and it’s a story surrounding a female protagonist who is bored of married life and has not taken to motherhood. All she wants to do is feel something and not be so numb. This pursuit of punishing pain leads her down a dark path and I bloody loved it!

It got me thinking about other books I’ve read in a similar vein. Most notably Adèle by Leila Slimani published by Faber & Faber (which I loved and reviewed here ) which tells the story of Adele, a French woman who from the outside appears to have it all, an attentive husband and a young son and a promising career. However she feels distanced from her family and seeks out darker and darker sexual encounters which put her in physical danger.

I also read and enjoyed Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum which is similar in ways to Adele. In this case we meet Anna living in Zurich who once again appears to have it all yet decides to risk everything for a series of sexual affairs.

I also recently read Blow Your House Down by Pat Barker published by Virago, which is completely different than the books I’ve mentioned above but still portrays the darker side of sex. This book tells the story of northern women working as prostitututes at a time when the Yorkshire Ripper was on the loose. It’s grim and makes for scary reading but I really enjoyed it (if ‘enjoyed’ is the right word to use in these circumstances!).

These books got me thinking about the darker side of sex and I asked out on Twitter for some recommendations. I knew I didn’t want Fifty Shades Of Grey awfulness (sorry if you’re a fan!), or nicey nicey ‘romance’, I’m not about that vibe. I wanted stories of unusual love, dangerous sex or dark encounters.

As always I had some great suggestions and went on a buying spree so I thought I’d show you my choices.

Let’s get cracking.

The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek (Serpents Tail)

BLURB:

Erika Kohut teaches piano at the Vienna Conservatory by day. By night she trawls the city’s porn shows while her mother, whom she loves and hates in equal measure, waits up for her. Into this emotional pressure-cooker bounds music student and ladies’ man Walter Klemmer.

With Walter as her student, Erika spirals out of control, consumed by the ecstasy of self-destruction. A haunting tale of morbid voyeurism and masochism, The Piano Teacher, first published in 1983, is Elfreide Jelinek’s Masterpiece.

It’s not only the darker side of Erika’s habits that drew me to this one, I also am very intrigued by her love/hate relationship with her mother. That cover is gorgeous! Looking forward to this one.

Bad Behaviour by Mary Gaitskill (Penguin Modern Classics)

BLURB:

Mary Gaitskill’s tales of desire and dislocation in 1980s New York caused a sensation with their frank, caustic portrayals of men and women’s inner lives. As her characters have sex, try and fail to connect, play power games and inflict myriad cruelties on each other, she skewers urban life with precision and candour.

I recently read This Is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill (review here) and really loved it. When I bought Bad Behaviour I didn’t realise that it’s actually a short story collection but that’s fine because you guys know I love my short stories. I’ve actually seen a few other Mary Gaitskill books I’d like to buy, she’s one of those authors I really gel with.

Perfume by Patrick Suskind (Penguin)

BLURB:

In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and if his name has been forgotten today, it is certainly not because Grenouille fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, or, more succinctly, wickedness, but because his gifts and his sole ambition were restricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent . . .

I actually bought this one a couple of months ago but it came up as a suggestion. When I intitially posted a picture of it I had so many people tell me how good it was. Whilst I don’t think it’s directly sexual it has been described as having an eroticism and I know it’s very dark!

The Collection by Nina Leger (Granta)

BLURB:

Jeanne moves from room to room. In the anonymous hotel bedrooms of Paris – Hotel Agate, Hotel Prince Albert, Hotel Prince Monceau, Hotel Coypel, Hotel Nord & Champagne – she undresses man after man, forgetting faces, names, pleasures, thoughts, and all physical attributes but one. In her head, a palace of memories is being built, image by new image, lover by new lover. There is no pathologizing Jeanne; she resists it. There is no way to impose a story on Jeanne; she escapes it. There is no pitying Jeanne, no lusting after Jeanne, no uncovering the secret to Jeanne; she won’t allow it. Jeanne moves from room to room.

I actually discovered this one myself when I was browsing. That cover is absolutely stunning! It’s a short one this one and is translated from French. I’m really looking forward to it in a strange way!

This final choice is probably the most stunning!

A Spy In The House Of Love by Anais Nin (Penguin Modern Classic)

BLURB:

Beautiful, bored and bourgeoise, Sabina leads a double life inspired by her relentless desire for brief encounters with near-strangers. Fired into faithlessness by a desperate longing for sexual fulfilment, she weaves a sensual web of deceit across New York. But when the secrecy of her affairs becomes too much to bear, Sabina makes a late night phone-call to a stranger from a bar, and begins a confession that captivates the unknown man and soon inspires him to seek her out…

I’ve never read any Anais Nin before but as with Mary Gaitskill I have since found quite a few of her works I’d like to read, particularly Delta Of Venus and Little Birds. This cover again is beautiful! The cover photograph is called Doe Eye by Erwin Blumenfeld 1950. Bloody gorgeous!

So there we have it! There will no doubt be more purchases made so there may be a part 2 to this post. Have you read any of these books? Any of them get your juices flowing!?…..OR do you have any more suggestions for me? I’m all ears!

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers – A Review

Publisher: W&N

Publication Date: 9th July 2020

I have to be honest and say that I was initially drawn to this book purely on the basis of that gorgeous cover! I mean look at it!

However, once I’d read the blurb I was drawn in even further and was lucky enough to get my hands on a proof copy. (I’m hoping the finished copy will be just as stunning).

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers tell the story of Jean, a female journalist on a local paper in the late 1950’s. When word comes in that there is a woman claiming to have given birth to a baby ten years prior having had no physical contact with a man, Jean is assigned to the case. For Jean it is something way out of her usual comfort zone of household tips and advice columns but she’s up for the challenge.

Jean wants to prove that she can report on more than domestic items and launches herself into investigating this case of Gretchen Tillbury and her bold claim of parentogenisis (essentially virgin birth) fully expecting that she will encounter a fraud.

However when Jean meets Gretchen and her 10 year old daughter Margaret, she can’t help but wonder what Gretchen is hoping to gain from her story. A story in which she is 100% adamant that her child was the product of a virgin birth.

Jean sets out to speak to various people in Gretchen’s life to see if she can flesh out who Gretchen is as a person and what her motives may possibly be. It transpires that Gretchen was an inpatient in a convalescent home at the time she reportedly became pregnant and Jean sets out to speak the various patients and staff who worked there at the time.

In the process of her investigation she also speaks with Howard, Gretchen’s husband. A man who steadfastly stands by his wife’s claims and declares he has no reason to disbelieve her.

As medical tests begin on Gretchen and Margaret, Jean starts to become deeper and deeper embroiled with the Tillson family, growing ever closer to little Margaret and feeling as though Gretchen is strangely pushing her towards Howard.

But just how much will this outlandish claim affect Jean’s mundane life and the lives of those around her? And how far will she go to find her own happiness within a family unit?

What I loved about this story was the characterisation. I found Jean to be such a difficult woman to fathom at first. She comes across as prickly and standoffish and I found her hard to piece together but I enjoyed the challenge of her. She lives with her mother and they have a very regimented and orderly, if somewhat dull life. Set days for hair wash, set days for meals etc. Jean’s mother is very dependent on her and quite stifling. Jean finds this cumbersome and their relationship quite often curtails her social life. What little social life she has before she meets the Tillson’s anyway.

Despite wanting to do a great journalistic job of the story, Jean also yearns to have what the Tillson’s seem to have. A perfect family life.

The relationship between Jean and Howard as it progresses is such a joy to watch unfolding, despite the fact that Howard is obviously married to Gretchen.

The reasoning behind Gretchen’s apparent need to push them both together is finally unveiled and all becomes startlingly clear.

The standout moment in this book is the ending. It took me completely by surprise (such a clichè I know!) but I had been so wrapped up in Jean and Howard’s relationship that I’d completely forgotten what I’d read at the start of the book to bring everything full circle.

It’s an absolute gut punch!

Clare Chambers has written very believable characters against a backdrop of an unbelievable situation. I adore her writing style and I am so pleased that she has a back catalogue that I can now go back to.

I would very much recommend this book!

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

The Colour Collection: Yellow Edition

I’m always trying to think of ways to showcase some of the MANY books I have on my various bookshelves and two ram jam full book trollies, so when I noticed a few colours popping out at me recently I grasped that loose thread for blog content and didn’t let go!

I do think it’s nice though to have a little nosey through people’s bookshelves and I do have hundreds of books that I wouldn’t necessarily get to talk to you about unless I’ve read and reviewed them.

So today I’m bringing you my yellow books. A collection of six books (only one of which I’ve read) that maybe you’ve not seen before and might like to check out for yourself. So let’s crack on!

Keeper by Jessica Moor (Penguin Viking)

BLURB:

He’s been looking in the windows again. Messing with cameras. Leaving notes. 
Supposed to be a refuge. But death got inside.

When Katie Straw’s body is pulled from the waters of the local suicide spot, the police decide it’s an open-and-shut case. A standard-issue female suicide. 

But the residents of Widringham women’s refuge where Katie worked don’t agree. They say it’s murder.

Will you listen to them?

I think the cover of this book is so eye catching! I’m not usually drawn to covers with real life people on them but I’ll definitely make an exception for this one. I do enjoy a good thriller every now and again to break up my usual reading taste of the dark and gothic. This one looks like an absolute corker and I’ve heard nothing but amazing things.

All About Sarah by Pauline Delabroy Allard (Harvill Secker)

BLURB:

It’s all about Sarah, her mysterious beauty, Sarah the impetuous, Sarah the passionate, Sarah the sulphurous, it’s all about the exact moment when the match flares, the exact moment when that piece of wood becomes fire, when the spark lights up the darkness.

A thirty-something teacher drifts through her life in Paris, raising a daughter on her own, lonely in spite of a new boyfriend. Then one night, at a friend’s tepid New Year’s Eve party, Sarah enters the scene like a tornado. A talented young violinist, she is loud, vivacious, appealingly unkempt in a world where everyone seems preoccupied with being ‘just so’. It is the beginning of an intense relationship, tender and violent, that will upend both women’s lives.

This is a very recent purchase after I heard Jen Campbell talking about it on Booktube during one of her haul videos. The synopsis gives me vibes of Pages For You and Pages For Her both by Sylvia Brownrigg which I enjoyed. It’s a short book at only 165 pages but I think it could be quite an intense read.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman (Tinder Press)

BLURB:

It begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things.

And then there are two boys, Ellis and Michael,
who are inseparable.
And the boys become men,
and then Annie walks into their lives,
and it changes nothing and everything.

Ahhhh this book holds so many memories. I read it a couple of years ago and loved it even though it broke my heart. I loved it so much that I told my husband that he should read it too. Now….he’s not a reader. He reads maybe one or two books a year BUT he took this with him one afternoon when we took our kids to soft play and he devoured it with tears in his eyes. At one point he had to put it down on the table and still reading because it was ‘too much’. I was sitting there all smug thinking ‘ah ha! Gotcha!’ It’s a short but brilliant book that packs the hugest of punches. I would definitely recommend it (but grab some Kleenex!).

The Long Song by Andrea Levy (Headline Review)

BLURB:

You do not know me yet. My son Thomas, who is publishing this book, tells me, it is customary at this place in a novel to give the reader a little taste of the story that is held within these pages. As your storyteller, I am to convey that this tale is set in Jamaica during the last turbulent years of slavery and the early years of freedom that followed.

July is a slave girl who lives upon a sugar plantation named Amity and it is her life that is the subject of this tale. She was there when the Baptist War raged in 1831, and she was present when slavery was declared no more. My son says I must convey how the story tells also of July’s mama Kitty, of the negroes that worked the plantation land, of Caroline Mortimer the white woman who owned the plantation and many more persons besides – far too many for me to list here. But what befalls them all is carefully chronicled upon these pages for you to peruse.

Perhaps, my son suggests, I might write that it is a thrilling journey through that time in the company of people who lived it. All this he wishes me to pen so the reader can decide if this is a novel they might care to consider. Cha, I tell my son, what fuss-fuss. Come, let them just read it for themselves.

I love Andrea Levy’s writing and thoroughly enjoyed Small Island and Every Light In The House Burnin’ both ate brilliant books. I picked up The Long Song from a secondhand book shop and didn’t really read the blurb, I just saw Andrea Levy’s name and knew I’d be in safe hands. I’ll update you more when I’ve read it!

The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson (Two Roads)

BLURB:

In 1627 Barbary pirates raided the coast of Iceland and abducted 250 of its people from a tiny island off the mainland. Among the captives the island pastor, his wife and their three children. Although the raid itself is well documented, little is known about what happened to the women and children afterwards.

In this brilliant reimagining, Sally Magnusson gives a voice to Ásta, the pastor’s wife. Enslaved in an alien Arab culture Ásta meets the loss of both her freedom and her children with the one thing she has brought from home: the stories in her head.

I recently read The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson and my review is here (spoiler I LOVED it!).

I won a copy of The Sealwoman’s Gift a good while ago now on a Twitter Giveaway I had however had my eye on the book for a while so was thrilled to win a copy. I really must get around to reading it soon now that I know how great a writer Sally Magnusson is!

The Farm by Joanne Ramos (Bloomsbury)

BLURB:


Life is a lucrative business, as long as you play by the rules.

Ambitious businesswoman Mae Yu runs Golden Oaks – a luxury retreat transforming the fertility industry. There, women get the very best of everything: organic meals, fitness trainers, daily massages and big money. Provided they dedicate themselves to producing the perfect baby. For someone else. 

Jane is a young immigrant in search of a better future. Stuck living in a cramped dorm with her baby daughter and her shrewd aunt Ate, she sees an unmissable chance to change her life. But at what cost?

I was kindly sent a copy of the upcoming paperback release of The Farm which I’d had my eye on for a while. I recently saw Lauren from Lauren And The Books talking about how much she enjoyed this book over on Booktube and I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. I think it sounds like an absolutely fascinating premise.

So there we have it! Have you read any of these books? What were your thoughts?

I’ll be back soon with another colour collection….I’m sitting here eyeing up the oranges already…..

See you all soon and stay safe!

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Finders, Keepers By Sabine Durrant – A Review

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication Date: 9th July 2020

I have to hold my hands up and be very honest (as I always am). I had never read any Sabine Durrant books before I was offered this book.

I of course knew of her and had only heard great things and the premise of this book completely drew me in particularly the line ‘Like the ivy that creeps through the shared garden fence, their lives are all entwined now. And the knots can only get tighter….’

That was all I needed!

When this book arrived I had every intention of setting it to one side for at least a few days whilst I finished off a couple of other books I had on the go. However, I started to run a bath and thought to myself that I’d just read a page or two to get a feel for the writing style etc. Well…….a couple of hours and one bath later I was still reading.

Verity Baxter has lived in the same house in Trinity Fields for pretty much her whole life. It’s the house she grew up in with her sister Faith and the house she spent most of her adult life caring for her sick mother. Now her mother is dead and her sister is gone and it’s just Verity and her dog Maudie.

That is until a the Tilson family move in next door.

Ailsa, her husband Tom and their three children Melissa and twins Bea and Max have recently moved to Trinity Fields from Kent. They’ve gutted the house and given it a completely modernised renovation. Verity does a little research on the family before they move in, interested to find out who her new neighbours are. When they do arrive, there is an altercation between Tom and Verity over the state of Verity’s garden, but Ailsa acts as a buffer between them both and the two women develop a friendship.

Verity starts tutoring the Tilson’s teenage son Max, as she is a lexicographer and this is when she finds herself spending more and more time with the family. She is fascinated by their family dynamic but also witnesses some cruel displays from Tom and the way he treats both Aisla and the children. Ultimately she wants to feel useful and wanted by the family and feels the need to hang on to her tentative place within their family dynamic.

The two women continue to bond in an odd way. Both of them needing the investment in the friendship for their own reasons but both having secrets they would prefer were kept hidden.

But what effect will these secrets have on these two women and their lives and when tragedy strikes, who needs who more?

I cannot give anything else away plot wise! This book really does need to be read. I finished it in one sitting which took me until 1am on a school night no less! It was so worth the tiredness!

The main draw for me was the intriguing relationship between these two women and the juxtaposed nature of their lives. Ailsa with her family and husband and lovely modern minimalist home, Verity all alone in her house which is frozen in time and quite literally stuffed full of memories.

This is a slow burner of a story with ever increasing tension. Tension which doesn’t exactly ratchet up but rather simmers underneath the surface ready to boil over.

Sabine Durrant writes a taught thriller which is sharp and utterly, utterly compelling. Reading Finders, Keepers has made me so excited to explore Sabine’s back catalogue of books. I’ve been recommended a few since shouting about how much I loved this one. And I did love it!

Thank you to Jenny Platt and Hodder for my review copy and for having me along on the blog tour.

Check out what everyone else thinks on the rest of the tour dates:

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Pond Weed By Lisa Blower- A Review

Publisher: Myriad

Publication Date: 9th July 2020

When I found out that Lisa Blower had a new novel coming out I was absolutely thrilled. I have a special place in my heart for her short story collection It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s, which I reviewed here. I absolutely adored this collection which is dripping with nostalgia and northern heart. Being a northern girl myself I found I identified with the characters in this collection so fiercely. Anyway……we’re not here to talk about that book (you should buy it and read it though!).

I’m here today to talk about Pond Weed.

Pond Weed tells the story of Selwyn and Ginny a couple in their late sixties/early seventies who met early in life when they were neighbours then parted ways until they were much older and came back into each other’s lives again.

Selwyn is a pond supplies salesman with an absolute love bordering on obsession for ponds and pond plant life and the story opens with him arriving home towing the Toogood Aquatics exhibition caravan and telling Ginny to get into the car. He is apparently taking her on an impromptu holiday to wales…..

Ginny is understandably reticent and wants a better explanation from Selwyn, however he is adamant they are going so she reluctantly agrees.

What follows is not only a road trip to their ultimate destination, it is a nostalgic, tough, emotional trip through their past.

This couple were briefly together in their youth but having parted ways for so many years they have huge chunks of each other’s lives missing. This forms cracks for jealousy and recriminations to seep in. Do they really know each other? Can they base their relationship on what they knew of each other before and what does this mean for their future.

There are various stops along the journey where Selwyn gets to indulge his passion for ponds and Ginny is quite literally along for the ride. They meet various people, some from Selwyn’s past and Ginny has to fathom what they mean to him.

Whilst tripping down the B roads across the country, Ginny and Selwyn have to do some soul searching and delve into their shared past in order to look forward into their future.

Along the way we learn of Ginny’s childhood and get to know her mother Meg who is a butcher and for me was such a fascinating character not least due to this description of her:

There is no species to define my mother. Meg was one of a kind. A six-foot chump with size ten feet and a heart of twenty four carat gold – as a child, she told me she could touch the sky and pull down the clouds, and that’s what made cotton wool. As for the rest of her, a natural fatness over elephant bones which she swathed in black smocks and blood-stained aprons; it was all hidden and folded away. She smelt of boot polish, of animal blood and tar, but on Sundays, of perfume two or three squirts from an expensive bottle of something she would travel to Manchester to buy. Her hair was kept swimming-cap short and wispy about her ears, and when kids called her a man I thumped them…..

I mean come on! That description alone had me hooked. Ginny’s mother is a complex woman with issues of her own and I just loved it when we travelled back in time through Ginny’s memories of her childhood to meet Meg and the mysterious Bluebird (I’ll leave you to discover who this is for yourself).

Going forward in time we also get snapshots of Ginny’s relationship with her daughter. Which isn’t always the most comfortable or easy flowing.

This book is filled with human emotion, ram jam full of heart and humour. Lisa Blower is the kind of writer who can take you by the heart and lead your through the complex and often heartbreaking lives of ordinary folk. People we can identify with ourselves or see parts of our own treasured family members in. I found myself willing Selwyn and Ginny on in their tangled relationship and was genuinely gutted when I finished the book and felt like I had left my friends behind.

It was an absolute pleasure to go on their road trip with them and so refreshing to follow the relationship of characters later on in life.

I will always read everything that Lisa Blower writes. I think she is an extraordinarily talented writer and Pondweed is now nestled in my heart right next to It’s Gone Dark Over Bills Mother’s.

Thank you so much as always to Emma Dowson for sending me my review copy and extra special thanks for including a quote from my Its Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s review in the finished hardback edition of Pond Weed I will treasure it on the forever shelf.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Family Favourites: Could You Choose Your Top Ten Favourite Books?

Let’s face it, you’re all here for the books.

You’re all here because you are all bookworms, just like me.

You are my crew and I love having this space to talk about books with you all. I have very few people in my real life who read as much as I do….BUT I do have a wonderful bookish Aunty who I chat books with and swap books with and I thought, why not get some guest content over here on the blog so you don’t have to listen to me all the time!

When I asked if my Aunty Lisa would maybe give me a run down of her 5 all time favourite books she was up for the challenge AND EVEN BETTER so was my Uncle Gary! Two in one! Result!

We did however decide that a Top 5 was just TOO HARD so I widened the field to Top 10. Still a tricky task but one which they valiantly undertook. Let’s take a look at their choices. We’ll start with Gary as he finished his list first (well done on being so decisive Gary!)

Here we go……!

Lights by Patrick Stenson
This is the true story of one man’s life that was full of unbelievable experiences – Charles Herbert Lightoller. He was born on the 30th March 1874 and spent most of his life at sea, as a young boy he was on board a sailing ship taken by pirates.  He encounted U-boats in the Great War, was a surviving crew member on the Titanic and helped evacuate soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk (who knows maybe even saving my great uncle).
Frank by Jon Ronson
The story of Chris Sievey, who you may know better as Frank Sidebottom.  I have to say that Chris is special to me as I am also a Timperley lad and went to the same school, although a few years younger.  I can identify with so much in this book.  This is only a small book, I read it in one go, an easy read, but if you shared Frank’s humour you will love it.  He really was a one off.
A Tommy’s Sketchbook by Lance-Corporal Henry Buckle
This is a wonderful little book of the diary written and drawn by Henry Buckle.  His watercolour and pencil drawings together with his written account give us an invaluable insight into what a Tommy saw from the trenches.  It covers the period of time from March to October 1915 in Belgium and France.  Ending when Henry was under enemy fire and the trench he was in collapsed on him, his legs were badly injured and he was discharged from active duty in August 1916
Edited by David Read it is a must for anyone with an interest in the Great War.  

Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves
As I have lived in the Highlands of Scotland for 7 years and now for the last 3 in the Borders, the character of Shetland based Jimmy Perez appealed to me as well as the setting.  When Detective Perez returns to Fair Isle knowing that he will be viewed with a degree of mistrust by the community, things are made worse by the autumn storms cutting the island off from the mainland. A body is found, fear and anger from the islanders hinder Perez as he has to quickly find the killer.  I really like how Ann Cleeves writes, amongst other things small chapters, sorry but I can not leave a book mid chapter.
The Peterloo Massacre by Joyce Marlow
Last year was the 100th anniversary of this event.  As someone who has a keen interest in history and as a Mancunian, this is a book that for me should be on the curriculum of schools in Manchester.  It is not an easy read but that is not a reason not to read this book.
I’m not really here by Paul Lake
Paul was an unbelievable young footballer with the world at his feet. He was tipped to be a future England captain until his career was tragically cut short by injury.  The book is so open and frank about his struggles to come to terms with life after football.
The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah
I have to admit that I have not read a single Agatha Christie book. I love her character Hercule Poirot  played by David Suchet in the tv series and I was intrigued by another writer protraying him in a new story.  I am so glad I decided to read it as the Agatha Christie Estate made the right choice of new author, this is Poirot from his perfect moustache to his sparkling white spats.  I will definitely be reading the other two Poirot stories by Sophie Hannah.
The Last Fighting Tommy by Richard Van Emden
This is the true story of Harry Patch who was a Private in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.  I could not wait to read this book as I’d read some of Harry’s stories in a book called Veterans, where lots of WW1 men and women were interviewed. Through Harry I feel I understand a little more why my Grandad didn’t talk about his experiences in Gallipoli.  Harry died in 2009 aged 111.
Shackleton’s Whisky by Neville Peat
I have to include this book as Sir Ernest Shackleton is one of my heroes.  The book is the extraordinary story of a heroic explorer, his men and 25 cases of unique MacKinlays Old Scotch Whisky.
Trautmann’s Journey by Katrine Clay
As the author says this is a story from Hitler Youth to F.A. Cup legend.  I grew up listening to my Dad telling me the story of this German Manchester City goalkeeper, but you do not have to be a football fan to enjoy this book.  It really is a remarkable boys own story.  Thank you to Amanda (& Ian) for this 50th birthday present.

So those are Gary’s choices. What I love most about these books is the nostalgia and memories attached to them. They have been chosen for such lovely reasons and it’s always nice when books stir particular feelings for you. I also agree wholeheartedly with Gary’s choice of Sophie Hannah, such a great author! I also love the fact that these choices are non-fiction heavy. I do read non-fiction but fiction will always be my first choice, so it’s nice to see someone who’s reading preferences are weighted the opposite way.

Right!

Let’s have a little gander at Lisa’s choices…..

LISA:

This has been an enjoyable but difficult task, to pick only 10 books, oh no what could I leave out? Who could I leave out?! Then I got to thinking of all the wonderful books I have read and still have on my ultimate shelf and I picked the ones I will read again with pleasure.
Mr Galliano’s Circus by Enid Blyton
This is a book from my early childhood, I first read it about 48 years ago, I last read it about a month ago.  Yes it is about a circus but that’s not the main thing, it is about kindness and the love of animals big and small.  A wonderful read whatever your age.
The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson
This is my latest read which I purchased from my local independent bookshop (Mainstreet Trading) after reading the brilliant review by Bookishchat.  I have enjoyed reading Sally Magnusson before this book.  Stunning cover, history, folklore, strong women, Royalty and Scottish fairies what more could you need to escape with.
Who on Earth is Tom Baker – an autobiography
My favourite Dr Who, that is who Tom Baker is.  This is for lovers of Tom or as I discovered for those of us who like wild dark comedy, so funny, so moving.  I could hear his voice all the way through, a joy and an interesting education into Tom Baker.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
This is a haunting book set in Ireland which attracted me immediately.  My mum was from Southern Ireland and it holds a strange attraction especially though the history and religion.  From the dedication quoting the Irish blessing – ‘’May there be no frost on your potatoes, nor worms in your cabbage’’ to the last page it gripped me tight.
Elsie & Mairi Go to War by Diane Atkinson
This is the true story of the two most famous women of WW1.  They were both motorcyclists and met at a club, racing in rallies and trials from 1912 to 1914.  I first read this book when I borrowed it from my local library (brilliant places), after finishing I sourced a copy for sale, an ex library book.  Elsie & Mairi risked their lives and their health, were awarded 17 medals and as they say, had the time of their lives.  This is not an easy read in parts, they lived through so much and saw so much.  It is also about the challenges they faced after the war.
The Corset by Laura Purcell
A birthday present which I love.  History, gothic, mystery, murder, supernatural, all the words that can mean you are about to read a book you will wish could last forever.  This is that BOOK.  All I can say is read it and love it.
Mr Golightly’s Holiday by Salley Vickers
Another birthday present, although a few years earlier.  I am so glad my family know me so well, another cracker.  Set in Dartmoor, this is a profound and mysterious story told in a very descriptive way.  It draws you in and keeps you wanting to know more about Mr Golightly, is he who you suspect he is? 
Home to Roost & other peckings by Deborah Devonshire
This is THE Deborah Devonshire, the youngest of the Mitford sisters.  A series of short stories, reminiscences of events she experienced from the farmers club dinner to President Kennedy’s funeral.  We used to visit Chatsworth estate and it is beautiful, we always looked out for the Duke or Duchess.  Anyone who Alan Bennett thinks is a character and funny gets my vote too.
My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You By Louisa Young
I do like history and have a draw towards WW1.  My Grandfather and his two brothers all served and survived, although Grandad was injured and lost an eye.  This book, although a novel helps you realise how much was hidden by some who served from those they loved.  It is based on the history and medicine of the time and gives a very moving view.  A book that just might make you cry.
Reaperman by Sir Terry Pratchett
Finally my ultimate book, this is one that if I had to choose only one book to keep and read forever it would be this one. The old desert island choice, this is mine.  I have found that reading this book has helped me in times of sadness, anger, stress and in times of joy.  It has pulled me out of reading slumps and I can honestly say I have now no idea how many times I have read it.  I own 5 copies, including a tape version (old style audio).  I only hope that everyone can find their version of my Reaperman to live with and enjoy, time and time again. 

So those are Lisa’s choices! Some corkers there (I know because I recommended a couple!) a good mix of fiction and non-fiction and chosen because they are steeped in nostalgia or because Lisa would happily read them again and enjoy them just as much as the first time round. It’s sometimes tricky with favourite books to re-read them, what if the magic fades the second time round? But I suppose the test of a true favourite is the ability to return to it and love it all over again.

It’s always nice to have other people recommend books and I hope you’ll see something you might like to take a look at within these 20 books.

It’s a tough task to pull a list together of your favourite 10 books. The very idea brings me out in a cold sweat but I think Lisa and Gary have done a crackin job!

Thank you!

See you all again soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Valentine By Elizabeth Wetmore – A Review

Publisher: 4th Estate

Publication Date: 11th June 2020.

Valentine by a Elizabeth Wetmore is one of those books that arrived through my door a few months back and got shelved for reading closer to publication.

I picked it up as I knew the publication date was coming up and as soon as I started reading I berated myself for leaving it so long!

The book opens up with a chapter that punches you straight in the stomach and thoroughly winds you. It is the aftermath of a brutal and violent rape of a 14 year old Mexican girl called Gloria Ramirez. Her attacker is Dale Strickland, a roughneck living and working in Odessa Texas during the oil boom of 1976.

We find Gloria plotting her escape as dawn breaks over the oil patch and Dale sleeps in the front of his pick up truck. She is lying in the dust barely daring to move. Watching the sky change colour and knowing she has to be brave and make her escape otherwise Strickland will surely kill her.

She stumbles her way to a ranch farmhouse owned by a local family. Mary Rose, heavily pregnant with her second child is confronted with this young girl battered, beaten and bloodied on her porch. She has to make the choice of whether to help the girl or turn a blind eye and keep her daughter Aimee safe.

It’s is not much of a choice and Mary Rose grabs her gun and ushers the girl inside. When Dale awakes and realises he needs to find the girl and cover his tracks, he arrives at the farmhouse and Mary Rose is once again faced with a dilemma. To give up the girl to him or protect her with all she has.

These decisions on that day will have repercussions on the lives of both Mary Rose and Gloria.

After this traumatic event, Mary Rose decides she no longer feels safe in the ranch and persuades her husband to rent a house in the centre of town on Larkspur Lane. Here she spends all her time with her young daughter Aimee and her new baby son. Her husband stays back at the ranch most of the time and she is left to look after the children and fend off unrelenting abusive calls due to her defence of Gloria and willingness to testify in the trial of Dale Strickland.

Strickland is a white man with many people jumping to his defence. Gloria is a teenage Mexican girl who chose to climb up into his truck and was a victim of her own stupidity in the eyes of the locals.

Mary Rose is absolutely furious with the treatment of this girl and the local reaction to her brutal rape and beating and is determined to stand up for her despite any possible consequences to herself or her family.

Her move to Larkspur Lane introduces us to more characters. We meet widow Corinne Shepherd who’s husband has just died after a long illness. She spends her days drinking and chain smoking and trying to forget. We learn about her marriage to Potter and their early relationship and we also become aware of a loose link between the couple and Gloria on the night she was attacked.

We also meet a little girl, 10 year old Debra Ann Pierce who has been abandoned by her mother and spends her time wandering up and down Larkspur Lane, bothering Corinne and the other women, and chatting to her imaginary friends.

There are various other characters that we get glimpses of. Peripheral characters who give extra depth to the main hub of characters. At first I thought the book was going to be a two-hander and we’d hear alternately from Gloria (later reinvented as Glory after the attack) and Mary Rose. However the more I read on, the more I realised we were seeing the event not only through the eyes of the two women closest to it, Glory who suffered and Mary Rose who was the first to see her after the attack, but also the people it affected as the reverberations of the aftermath rippled through the town.

At one point I did wonder whether we would hear from Glory’s perspective after the opening chapter. But she does appear further down the line. I was happy to find out what had happened to her but equally in retrospect I would have been just as happy to explore the attack through the eyes of those around her, however tenuous the links.

The horrific rape excepted, this book is very much a character study. We delve into the lives of these multi-generational females and experience their problems, their anxieties and the limitations forced upon them. They have wildly varying degrees of acceptance of their lot in life. Either being passive or railing against the inequalities.

There were a couple of moments that made me take a step back and consider what life was like for these women in small town Odessa in the 70’s. Corinne refers to wanting to return to teaching after the birth of her daughter, when she approaches the headmaster of the local school he tells her to ask her husband to call him with his permission for her return. Absolute madness!

But perhaps the most jarring passage is one where all the ways men can lose their lives are listed, mostly industrial accidents etc and then this line hits home:

And the women, how do we lose them? Usually, its when one of the men kills them.

Such a poignant line and one that has stayed in my mind and will do for some time.

What Elizabeth Wetmore does with this novel is stunning. A real solid sense of place, you can almost feel like you are breathing in the dusty arid air. The sweltering heat is palpable and makes for an intense and gripping read.

There are so many themes to be explored in this book, sexual assault, violence against women, grief, morality, community, motherhood and its struggles. It would make a brilliant book club book with so much to talk about and delve into.

The fact that Valentine is Elizabeth Wetmore’s debut novel is hugely exciting. I will be looking out eagerly for more of her work in the future.

A thoroughly compelling and gut twisting read they I would very much recommend.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Agora Books – Lost The Plot Work In Progress Prize 2020

I am really excited to be bringing this blog post to you today. If ever there was a time we need to retreat into words it’s now!

I am honoured and proud to have been asked to be on the judging panel again for the Agora Books Lost The Plot Work In Progress Prize for 2020.

This is an annual writing competition aimed at anyone who has a piece of writing that is currently a work in progress. People are asked to submit a synopsis and the first three chapters of their work with some amazing prizes up for grabs!

Last year I had such a great time reading some brilliant pieces of writing including that of the winner Louise Tucker, and I’m super excited to get cracking again this year!

So what’s it all about?…..

Well, the competition is open for entries from Monday 1st June to June 30th and writers are encouraged to submit a synopsis plus the first three chapters of their work.

After being read by a panel of judges including Agora Books publisher Sam Brace, Peters Fraser + Dunlop agent Lisette Verhagen, Writing Magazine editor Jonathan Telfer, author Laura Pearson and myself of course, one lucky writer will win a meeting with both a Peters Fraser + Dunlop agent and an Agora Books editor as well as manuscript feedback from the rest of the panel.

Two lucky runners up will also receive manuscript feedback and the top five entrants will be sent a writers survival kit to help them on their writing journey!

Lovely!

Full details for entry can be found here.

So what have you got to lose? Show us your work and get some valuable feedback and maybe this will be the first step to getting your writing published!

Go on! What are you waiting for?

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx