My Phantoms By Gwendoline Riley – A Review

Publisher: Granta

Publication Date: 1st April 2021

I read First Love by Gwendoline Riley a few years back, right at the start of my book blogging days. When I saw that she had a new book coming out I jumped at the chance to review it.

I did a quick scan of the blurb and what I got from that was not what the book was at all! But in a brilliant way.

My Phantoms tells the story of Bridget, a woman in her 40’s originally from the north but living in London with her partner John. Bridget is essentially recounting for us some salient points of interest in her childhood with her sister Michelle, their mother Helen (known as Hen) and their father. In fact we come to the story after the divorce of Hen and Bridget’s father and start from a point of Bridget recounting the awkward and uncomfortable weekend visits with her father.

The section involving her father is quite short but brilliantly written and if I’m honest I would have liked to have found out a bit more about him. He’s a strange character but also he has qualities of many a northern Dad. He makes cringey ‘Dad’ jokes and fools around in public to make his two young daughters embarrassed. The girls for the most part stay quiet and don’t really react to his ‘acting the goat’. However, there are times where the good natured ribbing becomes spiked with small acts of almost cruelty, where the humiliation of the girls become the main aim.

‘That outlaws camp was what Michelle and I were bundled into when we got into his car. A rough-and-tumble territory where saying hello was a discardable courtesy, for a start. Instead our father would open with ‘Lock!’ even as we were pulling on our seat belts. If the weather looked cold, he might say ‘Jumper!’, meaning we were to show him that we were wearing one, and if we weren’t, by barking the word again – ‘Jumper!’ – he communicated that we were to go back in to the house and get one. ‘Haircut!’ meant one of us had had a haircut, and would be followed up, as we waited to turn out of our cul-de-sac, with, ‘Did they catch whoever did that? And, ‘Hey? Deaf lugs. Did they catch them?’….’

The majority of the rest of the book focusses on Bridget’s relationship with her Mother Helen. most of this is told from Bridget’s adult perspective. The two of them fall out of contact for a few years and we’re never really told why. Their relationship is strained and is reduced at one point to an annual birthday visit from Hen to London during which the two women meet for a meal and a drinks. These meals are awkward and Bridget veers from desperately trying to keep her mother engaged in conversation to becoming weary of the treading on eggshells and almost goading her mother into arguments.

The dialogue between the two characters in these scenes is just perfectly true to life and utterly toe-curlingly awkward. Bridget tries to wring dry any subject she can think of to make conversation with her mother without inadvertently upsetting her. Hen is an inscrutable character but it is clear that she doesn’t like to be left out. She joins all manner of clubs and groups and is always on the go. She becomes subdued and sulky almost when Bridget recounts anything positive that is happening in her life.

‘Conversely, if I let slip about anything lucky, or nice, in my life, that could be tricky. Once, when I mentioned that I’d been to a Christmas party, she looked very hurt. ‘You’ve just told me about all sorts of festive drinks dos’ I said. ‘This was just like them’. She wasn’t convinced though. When I didn’t tell her enough about it, she said, ‘oh tell me. Oh let me live vicariously, Bridge!‘. ‘There’s nothing else to tell!’ I said, and I searched my memory for a detail I could share. ‘I got stuck with a really boring woman for about ten minutes’, I said. ‘Oh no!’ my mother said. ‘So typical,’ I said, ‘in a room full of interesting people.’ That was a slip up. I knew it as soon as I’d said it. ‘Mmm,’ she said bravely. I tried to get her back: ‘The dreadful thing is, I think she felt she’d got stuck with me too! But neither of us had the wherewithal to break it off.’ ‘Aargh!’ Said my mother. And encouraged, I went on, ‘I think it’s worse when you feel you’re the boring one!’ I said. But there again, that was wrong: I’d given the impression now of such a party-rich life that I could make generalisations. ‘Mmm’, she said, again. And then, again, she smiled bravely and looked at me expectantly. What to say? What else was there?…’

The tension in these scenes is palpable and what I found so fascinating was the fact that I didn’t really know who to side with between mother and daughter. I was fully expecting at the start of the book to find a poor downtrodden woman who has been so ground down in life by her overbearing and cruel mother. This is absolutely not how it turned out and my preconceived ideas were very incorrect!

I loved this book despite its low level tension throughout. It’s easy to draw parallels with real life relationships and identify small personality traits within the characters that I could see in myself or my family relationships.

Gwendoline Riley’s writing is sharp and focussed and I’ve now enjoyed both of the books I’ve read of hers, which of course means I now need to visit her back catalogue.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

The Inverts By Crystal Jeans – A Review

Publication Date: 1st April 2021

Publisher: Borough Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Unsettled Ground By Claire Fuller – A Review

Publisher: Penguin Fig Tree

Publication Date: 25th March 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Bright Burning Things By Lisa Harding – A Review

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Publication Date: 4th March 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to the publishers for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

The Last House On Needless Street By Catriona Ward.

Publisher: Viper Books

Publication Date: 18th March 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What more can you ask for!

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

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

Publisher: Confingo Publishing

Publication Date: May 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loved it!

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

The Lamplighters By Emma Stonex – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 4th March 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Empty Houses By Brenda Navarro – A Review

Publisher: Daunt Books

Publication Date: 25th February 2020

Translated by: Sophie Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Nightshift By Kiare Ladner – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 18th February 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really did enjoy it and I thoroughly recommend it.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Lullaby Beach By Stella Duffy – A Review

Publisher: Virago Press

Publication Date: 4th February 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx