The Wayward Girls By Amanda Mason – A Review

Publisher: Zaffre

Publication Date: 5th September 2019

When I first heard the synopsis of The Wayward Girls by Amanda Mason I was a little apprehensive about the fact that the two main central characters are teenage girls. I don’t get on well at all with novels written from a teenage female perspective. I have been saying for ages that I’ll address this in a blog post so I really must get round to it!

However, when I heard that this book had a supernatural element in a remote farmhouse I knew that I could just get over my fears and throw myself into a book that sounded right up my street. I am SO GLAD that I did!

The novel starts back in the long hot summer of 1976, when the Corvino family have moved into Iron Sike Farm. They have quit their lives in the city in the hopes of a more simple life in the country.

The family is made up of mother Cathy, Father Joe and 5 children Dante, Bianca, Lucia, Florian and Antonella. Cathy is a little bohemian and wants to embrace the country life despite feeling somewhat harassed as a mother. Joe is an artist who has gone to work away ‘teaching’, or at least this is what the children have been told.

The two older children Dante and Bianca (known as Bee) are resentful of the fact that they have been torn away from their old lives and friendships etc and Lucia (known as Loo) is at that in-between tricky age, not quite a child and not quite a teenager.

During the hot and humid summer of 1976 strange things begin to happen in the farmhouse. Loud knocking which seems to be emanating from the walls, showers of marbles that seemingly come from nowhere, furniture moving of its own accord, strange feelings and an almost electric atmosphere.

When exhausted Cathy feels like she can take no more and local police can’t seem to assist her, she accepts the offer of help from members of a paranormal society who are conducting research into paranormal activity. They are two men, Michael and Simon. Simon is planning on writing a book and is intent on finding out just what is happening at Iron Sike Farm.

With the help of local newspaper photographer Isobelle, the team set up camp at the farmhouse to conduct experiments and record their findings in the hope of uncovering what could be causing these strange and frightening events.

Simon and Michael are convinced that the activity is centering on the two young girls and it is their teenage energy that is in some way involved.  Simon himself becomes a focus for both Loo and Bee in different ways.

Jumping forward to the present day, a now adult Loo (Lucy as She’s now known) is struggling with her mother’s health. Cathy is now a resident in a care home and is showing signs of dementia.  Cathy has been seeing things which are put down to her progressing disease, however Cathy isn’t convinced and when a group of paranormal investigators show a keen interest in Iron Sike Farm and want to interview Cathy, she is keen to sit down with them.  Lucy however is very reluctant and doesn’t want her mother to be upset by thoughts of the past.  A past which she herself is desperately trying to forget.  But when Cathy is becoming more unsettled, Lucy relents and joins the group up at Iron Sike where the past has trouble staying buried.

I am a huge Most Haunted fan and the paranormal investigation side of this story really appealed to me and drew me in.  It also gave me vibes of The Enfield Haunting which is a real life event from the 1970’s where poltergeist activity centered around a teenage girl. The way the story unfolds is very suspenseful and atmospheric.  I do love a dual timeline narrative and the alternating time periods kept the story driving along at a pace.  I usually prefer one or other of the time periods in a dual timeline but with this book I found myself equally immersed in both.

The supernatural events were not over played and were just the right side of ‘odd’ to be believable.  I always find that this is a huge hook for me in stories of this nature.  Once the happenings become too far fetched I lose interest, but with The Wayward Girls there is a creeping sense of unease which makes the hairs on the back of your neck rise.  What I also enjoyed was the break from the norm in terms of season.  A typical ghost story is usually set in the Autumn/Winter, but to have this particular story set in that infamous long hot summer of 1976 added a new dimension which I absolutely loved.

The atmosphere felt oppressive. You could almost feel the humidity and the cloying stickiness, very evocative writing which crackled and fizzed with a powerful energy.

Each of the characters were fascinating on their own but as a collective they created some very interesting relationships and bonds that were extremely compelling.

I really enjoyed Amanda Mason’s writing style and I just know that she will be an author I look out for in the future.

The ending of this book took a turn which I wasn’t fully expecting but I felt satisfied with its conclusion. This is a perfect read for Halloween to give you a little shiver up your spine.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

 

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Bookish Chat About: My Autumn TBR

I don’t usually do seasonal TBR’s as a rule.  In fact I’m not much of a TBR maker at all.  I consider every unread book in my house as being my TBR!  However, there are certain seasons that lend themselves well to create a TBR and Autumn for me is the best season!  We have dark gothic historical fiction, we have spooky reads in the run up to Halloween and we also have cosy reads to snuggle up with on the dark nights (if that’s what floats your bookish boat).

With this in mind I had a little peruse along my various bookshelves and pulled out some books that I am feeling the urge to get to in the next 2 or 3 months.  Now this is a VERY loose TBR and I am well aware that other books may come along and usurp the ones I have chosen here, but I think having a vague idea of where you want to head next is always handy!

This post may be a little ‘blurb heavy’ which I don’t ordinarily like to do but as I haven’t read any of this books yet, we will have to find out what the blazes they are all about together via their blurbs.

First up:

 

The Turn Of The Key by Ruth Ware – Harvill Secker

BLURB:

When Rowan stumbles across the advert, it seems like too good an opportunity to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a very generous salary. And when she arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten by the luxurious ‘smart’ home fitted out with all modern conveniences by a picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and her in cell awaiting trial for murder.

She knows she’s made mistakes. But she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is…

I have seen LOTS about this one on social media and immediately placed a reservation at my library for a copy.  However, it was with dismay that I found out I was something like 68th on a 69 person reservation list! It’s a good job I have lovely bookish friends who are willing to loan me a copy (thank you @Hopeandfaithandbooks!)

 

The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber – Mantle

BLURB:

Winter, 1888. In the inhospitable lands of Utah Territory, glovemaker Deborah Tyler awaits her husband’s return home after months working across the state. But as his due date comes and goes without a word, Deborah starts to fear the worst. Facing a future alone, matters are only compounded when a desperate stranger arrives on her doorstep. And with him, trouble. For although the man claims to just need a place to rest for the night, he wouldn’t be here in the bitter month of January if he wasn’t on the run. And where he goes, lawmen are sure to follow. Lawmen who wouldn’t think twice about burning Deborah’s home to the ground if they thought she’d helped their fugitive. With her husband’s absence felt stronger by the minute, Deborah must make a decision. A decision that will change her life forever . . .

I had coveted this book for a while and had often picked it up and put it back down in Waterstones.  A lovely lady on Twitter very generously sent me a copy and I am really looking forward to picking it up.  Historical fiction is my bag as you know and this one sounds quite exciting!

 

A Shadow On The Lens by Sam Hurcom – Orion 

BLURB:

1904. Thomas Bexley, one of the first forensic photographers, is called to the sleepy and remote Welsh village of Dinas Powys, several miles down the coast from the thriving port of Cardiff. A young girl by the name of Betsan Tilny has been found murdered in the woodland – her body bound and horribly burnt. But the crime scene appears to have been staged, and worse still: the locals are reluctant to help.

As the strange case unfolds, Thomas senses a growing presence watching him, and try as he may, the villagers seem intent on keeping their secret. Then one night, in the grip of a fever, he develops the photographic plates from the crime scene in a makeshift darkroom in the cellar of his lodgings. There, he finds a face dimly visible in the photographs; a face hovering around the body of the dead girl – the face of Betsan Tilny.

I was very kindly sent a copy of this one by the publisher.  Historical fiction with a ghostly edge.  What could be more perfect on an autumn evening I ask ya!?

 

Bone China by Laura Purcell – Bloomsbury Raven

BLURB:

Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken.

But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home.

Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last.

I think most of you already know how much I have adored Laura Purcell’s previous books The Silent Companions and The Corset and when a book is described as ‘deliciously gothic’ I AM THERE FOR THAT!

 

Little Eve by Catriona Ward – W&N

BLURB:

New Year’s Day, 1921. Seven mutilated bodies are discovered in an ancient stone circle on a remote Scottish island. The victims are ‘the Children’ – members of a nature cult ruled by the charismatic, sadistic patriarch, the adder.

The sole survivor of the massacre, Dinah, claims that Eve is the murderer, apparently drowned while attempting her escape. Yet as Eve’s story of the years leading up the massacre intertwines with Dinah’s account of the aftermath, a darker, stranger truth begins to emerge.

The Isle is all Eve knows. Hidden from the world, the Children worship the Great Snake who dwells in the ocean, dance in the stones at dawn and offer their blood in sacrifice. The adder’s word is law. When Eve is forced into the world beyond the Isle her faith and love are tested by unexpected friendships that make her question everything. As she begins to see through the adder’s macabre fictions, the world Eve knows collapses. Does she lose her humanity with her belief? Does it drive her to kill?

This book has been on my shelf for a shamefully long time and I was so excited when I bought it.  It has just turned into one of those books I ‘really must get to’.  Well I will definitely be getting to it very soon.  Anything cult based always piques my interest and I have heard so many good things about this one and Catriona Ward’s other book Rawblood (which I also have on my shelf unread!)

 

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield – Picador

BLURB:

In her brilliantly inventive and haunting debut collection of stories, Julia Armfield explores bodies and the bodily, mapping the skin and bones of her characters through their experiences of isolation, obsession, love and revenge.

Teenagers develop ungodly appetites, a city becomes insomniac overnight, and bodies are diligently picked apart to make up better ones. The mundane worlds of schools and sleepy sea-side towns are invaded and transformed, creating a landscape which is constantly shifting to hold on to its inhabitants. Blurring the mythic and the gothic with the everyday, Salt Slow considers characters in motion – turning away, turning back or simply turning into something new entirely.

You all know that I enjoy a short story collection and I’ve heard lots of great things about this one. It’s a beautifully published book and the word ‘gothic’ in the blurb was enough to swing it for me!

 

The Girl Aquarium by Jen Campbell – Bloodaxe

BLURB:

Jen Campbell’s first collection The Girl Aquarium explores the realm of rotten fairy tales, the possession of body and the definition of beauty. Weaving between whispered science and circus, she turns a cracked mirror on society and asks who gets to control the twisted tales hiding in the wings.

I don’t read poetry, I do write it from time to time though. There was a conversation on Twitter recently about book bloggers not really reviewing much poetry and I was challenged to read some. On a recent visit to the lovely Mainstreet Trading Bookshop in Melrose I picked up a copy of The Girl Aquarium by Jen Campbell. It’s only slim so I am hoping to get to it soon and dive into some poetry.

 

Curtain Down At Her Majesty’s by Stewart Richards – The History Press

BLURB:

She was the most powerful woman in the world. Victoria had ruled through more than six decades, watching her kingdom spread to become the world’s biggest empire and witnessing massive change in society and leaps forward in technology. Many of her people had known no other monarch. It is little surprise, then, that her death resulted in chaos, shock and mass outpourings of grief across the world.

Here author and researcher Stewart Richards has delved through the archives to put together the definitive view of Victoria in her drawn-out final days of illness, through the immediate reaction to and aftermath of her death, to the state funeral on 2 February 1901. Based entirely on fascinating first-hand accounts, Curtain Down at Her Majesty’s offers a remarkable insight into the events of those tumultuous few days, and a truly unique perspective on the life and impact of one of history’s great monarchs.

I have always had a thing for Queen Victoria, I find her such a fascinating woman. I asked for this book for my birthday and my parents in-law kindly obliged. I’m really looking forward to getting to it.

 

Why Don’t You Stop Talking by Jackie Kay – Picador

BLURB:

In Jackie Kay’s first collection of stories, ordinary lives are transformed by secrets. Her world might seem familiar – sex, death and family cast long shadows – but the roles of mothers, daughters and lovers are imagined and revealed in the most surprising of ways.

Sometimes it is the things that we choose to hide within ourselves which can transform us – and that has never been more true than in Jackie Kay’s warm, exuberant storytelling. She sees the extraordinary in everyday life, and lights it up with humour and generosity in a way that is uniquely her own.

This is another short story collection. I picked it up on my Mainstreet Trading visit having heard nothing about it or the author. I’ve had a quick flick through and I have a feeling that the stories in this collection are going to be right up my street.

 

The Good People by Hannah Kent – Picador

BLURB:

County Kerry, Ireland, 1825. 

Nóra, bereft after the sudden death of her beloved husband, finds herself alone and caring for her young grandson Micheál. Micheál cannot speak and cannot walk and Nóra is desperate to know what is wrong with him. What happened to the healthy, happy grandson she met when her daughter was still alive?

Mary arrives in the valley to help Nóra just as the whispers are spreading: the stories of unexplained misfortunes, of illnesses, and the rumours that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley. 

Nance’s knowledge keeps her apart. To the new priest, she is a threat, but to the valley people she is a wanderer, a healer. Nance knows how to use the plants and berries of the woodland; she understands the magic in the old ways. And she might be able to help Micheál. 

As these three women are drawn together in the hope of restoring Micheál, their world of folklore and belief, of ritual and stories, tightens around them. It will lead them down a dangerous path, and force them to question everything they have ever known.

Shamefully I’ve had this on my shelf for such a long time! Every time it accidentally features in a picture people always comment on how good it is. It will be great to finally get around to picking it up!

 

This House Is Haunted by John Boyne – Black Swan

BLURB:

1867. On a dark and chilling night Eliza Caine arrives in Norfolk to take up her position as governess at Gaudlin Hall. As she makes her way across the station platform, a pair of invisible hands push her from behind into the path of an approaching train. She is only saved by the vigilance of a passing doctor.

It is the start of a journey into a world of abandoned children, unexplained occurrences and terrifying experiences which Eliza will have to overcome if she is to survive the secrets that lie within Gaudlin’s walls…

 I bloody love John Boyne! The Hearts Invisible Furies is up there with my favourite books of all time. This one will be perfect for the dark Autumn nights.

The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore – Hammer

BLURB:

In the winter of 1952, Isabel Carey moves to the East Riding of Yorkshire with her husband Philip, a GP. With Philip spending long hours on call, Isabel finds herself isolated and lonely as she strives to adjust to the realities of married life.

Woken by intense cold one night, she discovers an old RAF greatcoat hidden in the back of a cupboard. Sleeping under it for warmth, she starts to dream. And not long afterwards, while her husband is out, she is startled by a knock at her window.

Outside is a young RAF pilot, waiting to come in.

His name is Alec, and his powerful presence both disturbs and excites her. Her initial alarm soon fades, and they begin an intense affair. But nothing has prepared her for the truth about Alec’s life, nor the impact it will have on hers …

I love Helen Dunmore and I have been slowly and surely working my way through her back catalogue. Again this sounds like a perfect book for the Halloween/Autumn season.

 

Sudden Traveller by Sarah Hall – Faber & Faber

BLURB:

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

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

Sarah Hall’s short story collection Madame Zero is one of my favourite short story collections and one I recommend most often. When I saw she had a new collection coming out soon I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. Luckily Faber & Faber are lovely and sent me this copy for review. Exciting!

So there we have it. I wonder how many of these books I’ll actually read by the end of the year? Do you make seasonal TBR’s?

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Finer Things By David Wharton – A Review

Publisher: Sandstone Press

Publication Date: 27th June 2019

I was initially drawn to this book by that beautiful cover. I’m a vintage clothing fan and that cover screamed vintage class to me. When I read the synopsis I got distinct Five Days Of Fog by Anna Freeman vibes. I adored that book for transporting me so wonderfully to 1960’s London and a group of shoplifting women.

What we have in Finer Things by David Wharton is a tale of two strong women hailing from completely different backgrounds who come together to form a bond based on their individual artistic skills, even if one of them is on the wrong side of the law.

We are transported back to London 1963, where we meet Delia.  Delia is a ‘hoister’ which is essentially a shoplifter.  She is part of a female hoisting group run by a hard faced, no nonsense woman. Delia is in her late 30’s (I think!) and seems to be an old hand at this shoplifting lark.  Confidently donning her huge bloomers and striding into the large department stores, lifting a dress here and a fur coat there.  So established is she and so skilled that she gets to train the new hoisters coming up through the ranks.

When one of her training exercises goes awry, Delia feels responsible for the chain of events that follow and wonders about her future as a hoister.

Running parallel to this we have Tess, a young girl coming to the big smoke for the first time.  Making the journey from Leeds to attend an art college and make her way in the exciting art world in the bustling capital.  She meets Jimmy, a young gay man on her course and immediately strikes up a friendship.

Delia and Tess’s paths cross one night in an exclusive members club where the bohemian art types meet.  Tess is there to immerse herself fully into this world that she loves and Delia is there on an undercover mission.  The two women bond and Tess asks Delia if she would mind letting her paint her portrait.  What follows on is a tentative friendship between these two females who are poles apart in age and social stature but still seem to bond together, teaching each other about their respective worlds.

One of the things I enjoyed hugely about this book was the fact that it wasn’t just centered on how Tess and Delia meet and their relationship from thereon in.  The author gives us a lovely rich and vivid narrative for each of the women seperately, their insecurities, their struggles and their flaws.

There are a wealth of characters on the periphery who are not diminished in any way.  In fact each of the characters in this story are vivid and vibrant (Itchy Pete!) and you can really see these people in your minds eye as you read.

The whole 1960’s London backdrop is one which I do enjoy reading.  I love historical fiction as you already know but ‘modern’ historical fiction, for want of a better phrase is also of great interest to me.  David Wharton takes us on a journey through London in the swinging sixties, buzzing with life and vibrancy, lives full of expectation, hopes, dreams and aspirations.  The worlds of Delia and Tess are colourful and hopeful and we are taken very willingly along with them.

The whole idea of the real life all female shoplifting gang The Forty Elephants who were around in the Sixties really fascinates me and I remember looking into them after reading Five Days Of Fog by Anna Freeman (my review of which is here). I really enjoy reading about strong female protagonists and Tess and Delia are no exception.

David Wharton is very skilled at depicting a world that transports you straight back in time.  I felt like I was living this bohemian life along with these amazing women and I feel privileged to have known them.

I would recommend that you get yourself a copy and immerse yourselves in a London from another time with some amazing characters.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

 

 

Things We Say In The Dark By Kirsty Logan – A Review

Publisher: Harvill Secker

Publication Date: 4th October 2019

I feel a little bit like a stuck record when I say that I love short story collections. But as you all know this hasn’t always been a love for me. Especially anything that could be considered a little bit ‘strange’ or ‘out there’.

The regulars among you will also know that my reading tastes have changed massively since I started book blogging and a huge metamorphosis has occurred over the last couple of years. I have gone over to the dark side I suppose! I love anything odd or ‘off beat’. I adore the dark and twisted. I admire so many authors for their amazing imagination and story crafting abilities, and I use the word ‘crafting’ purposefully. Because I believe the short story is indeed a craft.

Kirsty Logan has in my opinion created an absolutely perfect collection of dark, vivid, insidiously creepy and outright horrifying tales to really drawn you in, mesmerise you and spit you back out again with a buzzing brain full of tumbling thoughts.

I started this collection one Thursday night, expecting to make my way through a few of the stories. What happened was I found myself so transfixed that I don’t think I moved for around 3 hours. I’m not sure I even breathed but I must have done because I’m here to tell the tale!

Things We Say In The Dark is split into 3 distinct parts, The House, The Child and The Past. Each part starts with a section split into four ‘fears’ First Fear, Second Fear, Third Fear and Fourth Fear (as if I needed to spell that out!). These are four relatively short quirky tales around the main theme. We then move on to the longer short stories. Interspersed throughout is a narrative of an author, telling the reader about her writing retreat in a remote Icelandic town, her own dark fears and struggles whilst isolated within the writing process.

I don’t like to talk about all the stories in a collection when I’m reviewing and I always find it difficult if I’m honest to review short story collections. I have to choose some favourites to talk about, some stand out stories that have stayed in my mind long after I’ve finished the book. However it is extra difficult with Things We Say In The Dark because more or less every story has been emblazoned on my brain!

Stand outs for me though are:

The Only Time I Think Of You Is All The Time in which a young woman is plagued by the ghost of a middle aged woman called Brigitte. Brigitte will not leave this woman alone and literally follows her everywhere. The only way she can get any peace is by completely submerging herself in an overgrown weed ridden pond at the bottom of the garden.

She’s just – there. Wherever I go, whatever I do. I walk down the street and I feel her toes stepping on the backs of my heels. I type emails and I feel her fingers on top of mine. I read a book and she bends the cover back so she can read it too. I get in the bath and see the water rise as she climbs in after me. I go to the toilet and she slides her fingers under the door, calling my name…

Half Sick Of Shadows in which a couple drive to a deserted and long abandoned theme park with their young daughter in the hopes of doing the absolute unthinkable. Something which no parent would ever even contemplate….

My Body Cannot Forget Your Body: First Fear in which a woman’s stomach begins to grow and her skin begins to stretch and tear. She has the doctors stitch her up countless times but she continues to grow something inside of her. When one day a finger bursts out of the hole and begins to scratch, she knows that no amount of stitching will keep it contained…..

My skin cannot stretch any more, and so it grows upwards into my body. I feel it’s elbows pressing hard against my spleen, it’s knees prodding at my kidneys, it’s eyes opening and closing on the inside of my collar bones. My heart still beats and my lungs still inflate, but only just…..

And also Second Fear:

Where women give birth to an array of fruit and vegetables from tiny pomegranate seeds to multiple lemons, to carrots and kumquats. However, the woman in this Fear is destined to give birth to something far more problematic…..

And Third Fear:

Where a woman who has just given birth and waits to meet her baby contemplating all of the horrors it could turn out to be…..

The nurse brings me a baby made of glass, tiny and perfect and smashable; a baby so tiny, so microscopic, that you need machines just to see; a baby with gills like tuna fish; a baby with feet sharpened to a stiletto point; a baby made of cat shit, a baby with eyes that run out of his head like egg yolk…..

In The World’s More Full Of Weeping Than You Can Understand, a young girl describes an innocent, lovely sounding day out at the seaside with her mother, with very sinister and dark footnotes…..

There are many many more stories I could wang on about but I feel you need to experience them for yourself!

These stories are based around female fears, the things that play on our minds in the night hours when the world is dark, quiet and still.  The horror of the normal, the abnormal and the things we cannot let ourselves think about during the cold light of day.

These stories are an eclectic mix of contemporary tales and dark fairytales with a very distinct sense of creeping unease.  Some are outright horrifying and will play on your mind long after you have closed the book.

As I said, I gulped this collection down in one dark and wet autumn evening, under a blanket in the candle light with the shadows playing around the room.  I was absolutely transfixed.  I just could not stop reading. I went to bed with a brain that was buzzing with the imagery and the energy that these stories had suffused me with.

Kirsty Logan is the queen of the short story for me. She has an awe inspiring imagination and I would love to have a chat with her about how she takes inspiration for her stories and weaves them into complete and utter magic.

This collection will stay firmly on my forever shelf. If you only buy one book in October to read at Halloween, make it this one and you won’t regret it!

I cannot recommend it highly enough and I am now off to re-read some of the stories.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

*The quotations in this review are taken from the uncorrected proof.

Foxfire, Wolfskin And Other Stories Of Shapeshifting Women By Sharon Blackie – A Review

Publisher: September Publishing

Publication Date: 26th September 2019

I think 2019 has absolutely been the year of the short story for me. I know I’ve said this countless times before, but in the past I never really picked up short story collections. I thought they would be far too short for me to become invested in them or be bothered about them.

How throughly incorrect I was! I don’t mind admitting when I’ve been a complete fool!

I think someone on twitter may have alerted me to Foxfire, Wolfskin by Sharon Blackie knowing that I love a short story collection. That cover below me away and I was really drawn in by the ‘shapeshifting women’ element of these stories. When the actual book arrived I was blown even further away by just how stunning it looks in real life! It really is a bloody stunner!

As I said, it was the shapeshifting women that lured me in like a siren onto the rocks and boy am I glad they did!

I picked this book up one night and read the first story Wolfskin in which a woman can summon her wolf pelt and become an actual wolf. When a hunter discovers her secret and steals her pelt, she has to marry him. When he sells her pelt she becomes pregnant and rumours are bound when the child is born that the mother is a wolf. The child grows to hear these rumours and discovers that if he too wants to become a wolf, his mother can show him but only when she has her pelt and becomes a wolf herself. When the boy discovers the pelt one day their lives change and the wolf ultimately gets the last laugh…..

It is a mere 3 pages long and yet my heart was beating wildly all the way through and my blood was fizzing in my veins because I just knew this collection was going to excite me beyond belief.

Initial thoughts were proven right and what followed on from here was story after story that lured me in and kept me utterly absorbed.

In I shall Go Into A Hare a woman who is desperate to conceive a child thinks back to the stories of her grandmother who was purported to be a witch. A witch who could turn herself into a hare, a pale haired bright blue eyed hare. She also supposedly had the secret to infertility, linked closely to the hare. But can Isobel summon her grandmother’s powers to finally conceive the much longer for baby that she has been dreaming of?…

The Saturday Diary Of The Fairy Mèlusine tells of a woman who has been cursed by her own mother to spend every Saturday of her life with a serpents tail. She spends every Saturday in the bath, hiding her secret from her husband. But when he discovers the truth what effect will this have on Mèlusine’s family?…..

In No Country For Old Women we learn of a woman who has the power to regenerate herself every 100 years by submerging herself in a body of water. However there are very specific rules and timings that can ruin the process if not strictly adhered to…..

I really don’t want to talk about any more stories as I feel like they need to be discovered by the reader themselves. Suffice to say that if you enjoy folklore and myth and stories which have survived and metamorphosed over hundreds of years then this collection will steal your heart.

There are two added elements to this book which were absolute treats and were a complete joy, adding so much richness and depth to the stories themselves. Firstly we have some stunning artwork at the start of each story. In fact I’ve flicked back through the pictures since finishing the book. They are just beautiful.

 

The other added extra is the notes on the origins of each story that the author has provided at the back of the book. In her Author’s Note at the start, Sharon Blackie suggests that you read the notes to get a feel for the stories and the characters to better understand the meaning behind each story. I chose to read these notes after I’d read each story and not before as I wanted to absorb the stories myself first and see what I made of them before reading about where and how they originated.

These stories originate from far and wide across Europe.  Some remain mostly in their time period setting but a couple are brought right up to date, especially in the story Meeting Baba Yaga where the narration is contemporary (and wryly humourous!).  I enjoyed the fact that Sharon Blackie made tweaks to her variations of the folklore stories and made them her own whilst staying true to the original meaning.  Her writing is beautiful, lyrical and utterly bewitching.  This is the perfect book to become lost in on a dark and chilly autumn evening.

If you are a fan of folklore, myth and dark fairytales I would sincerely urge you to pick up a copy of this wonderful book.  You will not regret it.

Thank you so much to September Books for my beautiful review copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

A Book Haul – The Farnham Edition

We recently took a little trip dahhhn sarrf to visit relatives and were told of a ‘glorious’ Oxfam charity bookshop in Farnham. Now Farnham itself is bloody lovely! But even lovelier still was indeed the glorious secondhand bookshop!

I do have to say that whenever I’ve ventured into an Oxfam bookshop they’ve always been superb. Can’t fault them.

Anyway, enough rambling. I thought I’d just show you the 6 books I picked up all for the princely sum of £15. I could have purchased more but I showed a very tiny minuscule modicum of restraint.

First up:

The Tooth by Shirley Jackson – Penguin Modern Classics

I know nothing about this one to be honest so let’s discover together via the blurb:

BLURB:

The creeping unease of lives squandered and the bloody glee of lives lost is chillingly captured in these five tales of casual cruelty by a master of the short story. Portraying insanity, disturbing encounters, troubling children and a sinister lottery, Shirley Jackson’s work has an unmatched power to unnerve and unsettle.

Wowsers! I’m even more intrigued now! I do love a short story and ‘creeping unease’ is what I live for! Oooh this sounds like a good one!

I have to admit that I STILL have We Have Always Lived In The Castle on my shelf unread but I’m planning to get to it this autumn, I promise!

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter – Picador

BLURB:

As flood waters close over London, a woman gives birth to her first child.
Days later, they are forced to leave home in search of safety. They head north through a Britain that is changed beyond recognition: a familiar place made dangerous, its people become refugees. 
Yet, against all the odds, the baby thrives. He learns to smile, to laugh, to crawl. And as their story unfolds and the country falls apart around them, this mother’s world promises new life and fresh hope.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve picked this up and put it back down again in Waterstones. I think the reason being, it’s quite a short book and I like a bit more heft for my money! I’ve been meaning to take it out of the library but keep completely forgetting so I thought I’d pick this copy up and read it at my leisure.

The Dream Mistress by Jenny Diski – Phoenix

BLURB:

When Mimi discovered an unconscious bag lady huddled behind a London cinema, a sense of duty prompted her to call an ambulance. Later, she wondered if the tramp, who could have been anybody, might not be somebody after all. Could she be her abandoning mother? Or Bella, a bomb-blast victim?

I’m not entirely sure why I picked this one up other than I was intrigued by the cover! I’ve since read the Goodreads reviews and it really doesn’t come up very well! Oh well!…….we live and learn. It could be fabulous! *crosses fingers*

Sexing The Cherry by Jeanette Winterson – Vintage

BLURB:

Sexing the Cherry celebrates the power of the imagination as it playfully juggles with our perception of history and reality. 

It is a story about love and sex; lies and truths; and twelve dancing princesses who lived happily ever after, but not with their husbands. 

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never read any Jeanette Winterson but I have 3 of her books unread on my shelf Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Why Be Normal When You Can Be Happy? and Frankisstein. I know that the world and his wife are raving about Frankisstein at the moment so I think in all fairness this will be the one I head to first but it’s nice to know you have more of an authors work to fall back on if you find you enjoy their writing. Let’s hope I do!

Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn – Picador

BLURB:

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Mother’s Milk is the fourth of Edward St Aubyn’s semi-autobiographical Patrick Melrose novels, adapted for TV for Sky Atlantic and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as aristocratic addict, Patrick.

The once illustrious, once wealthy Melroses are in peril. Caught up in the wreckage of broken promises, child-rearing, adultery and assisted suicide, Patrick finds his wife Mary consumed by motherhood, his mother in thrall to a New Age foundation, and his young son Robert understanding far more than he should. But even as the family struggles against the pull of its ever-present past, a new generation brings a new tenderness, and the possibility of change.

In looking up that blurb I have discovered that this book is the follow up to a book called Some Hope and is part of a 5 book series surrounding Patrick Melrose. I hate it when that happens! I will never read a book out of order. Ah well, this means only one thing……I now need to buy Some Hope and start from there!

Devil’s Day by Andrew Michael Hurley – John Murray

I recently read Andrew Michael Hurley’s upcoming novel Starve Acre and absolutely loved it! In fact I think I’ll stick my neck out and say it’s my favourite book of the year so far. Suffice to say, when I saw Devil’s Day in the charity shop I knew I had to have it. I’ve not read The Loney because my husband read it and didn’t enjoy it so he put me right off! Let me know if you’ve read it and whether I need to! I’d hate to miss out. My review of Starve Acre will be up in October. You really don’t want to miss that one!

So there we have it. A cheeky little southern book haul that I’m (mostly) pleased with!

Let me know if you’ve read any of them and what your thoughts were.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Don’t Think A Single Thought By Diana Cambridge – A Review

Publisher: Louise Walters Books

Publication Date: 26th September 2019

I was initially drawn to this book due to its beautiful cover! the whole 1960’s glamour vibe had me sucked in.  I also read the blurb and felt like it could be a book I would zip through, and zip through it I absolutely did!  It is only a relatively short book anyway but it has a momentum to it that means you cannot stop reading.

Our protagonist is Emma Bowden and what a protagonist she is! She lives a privileged life with her doctor husband, Jonathan.  They have a very nice apartment in New York and a beautiful weekend home in The Hamptons, Picasso paintings, designer clothes, upscale dinner parties and staff to assist are just part and parcel of everyday life for Emma. From the outside she appears to have it all, however she has led a very troubled life stemming from a difficult childhood and she has lots of dark feelings buried inside that she has much trouble processing and dealing with.

Emma was adopted as a child and separated from her siblings, she then went on to be involved in a tragic incident on a cliff walk with her class at school in which her friend died.  This event has overshadowed Emma’s life in a huge way and has left her in therapy trying to deal with her guilt. Just how involved was she on that fateful day and how instrumental was she in the little girls demise.  Emma herself can barely remember.

These lapses in memory are in part down to her habit of popping various pills, be they painkillers, tranquilizers or sleeping tablets and her love of sleeping her troubles away, cocooned safely away from normal adult life.  There is a sense of ennui surrounding Emma most of the time, that is unless something is happening in her life to pull her reluctantly out of her cosseted stupor.

When she and Jonathan  are at the house in the Hamptons one weekend, she has an altercation on the beach with some children.  When one of these children then goes on to drown, Emma begins to question just how much involvement she had in the incident…

You see, Emma is a very unreliable narrator.  Her pill popping propensity all washed down with alcohol, means she questions her own thoughts and very often doubts her own actions.  If she can’t be sure where she was or what she said, then we as readers certainly can’t trust what she is telling us! I love that!

Emma moves on from the incident at the beach and goes on to write a successful book, followed by a not so successful book which sends her crashing back into her depression again.  This drowned child and her friend back in school who died in the cliff fall have a tendancy to pop up in her mind when she least expects it.  She also suffers from very troubling dreams in which a voice calls out to her…

The timeline of the narrative flits back and forth, sometimes within a year or two, others a decade or so.  We learn snippets of Emma’s childhood, the early years in her relationship with Jonathan and her relationships with her siblings, one of which makes an appearance towards the end of the book.

There are times in this book where there is an almost dreamlike quality yet the writing is so tight and sharp.  I think this is due to the fact that Emma views the world behind this medicated veil, drifting in and out of consciousness.  Sometimes being fully present and in control of her own life, (usually at times of great success in her career), and other times allowing herself to sink back down into the murky depths of medicated sleep.

This is a real surprising gem of a novel with one of the most fascinating female protagonists I’ve read so far this year. In Emma, Diane Cambridge has written a not entirely likeable but always compelling woman.

It’s a short, sharp, brilliantly written little book that I think deserves lots of praise. It has a great pace and momentum and I found that at certain points I felt a little uncomfortable but couldn’t look away. I always love books that can elicit this feeling.

I throughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend you get yourself a copy.

Thank you as always to the publisher Louise Walters for my review copy of the book.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx