When The Lights Go Out by Carys Bray – A Review

Publisher: Hutchinson

Publication Date: 7th May 2020 (Kindle/Audio)

I read A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray some time ago now and really enjoyed it. It still sticks in my mind now. Particularly the opening chapters.

When I saw Carys had a new book out I knew I had to read it and when I read the premise it only strengthened this feeling. Luckily I was kindly sent a proof copy! Publication for this book has been pushed back due to current hideous virus situations but the audiobook and kindle edition are out now I believe.

When The Lights Go Out tell the story of the Abram family, Chris, Emma and their two teenage sons Dylan and James. They live in a seaside town in the North West of England and times are currently hard for Chris job-wise.

Chris is a gardener and has been losing copious amounts of business due to the fact that it hasn’t stopped raining for sometime. He is unable to work as he usually would and starts to become fixated on the changing weather and environment. Convinced that water levels will rise and become unmanageable, Chris’s anxiety levels start to rise too. So much so that he starts stockpiling food items and non-perishable supplies in order to keep his family safe should an environmental disaster threaten their lives.

Emma for her part has always been a bit of an activist in her youth but since marriage and children has taken her activism to a more low key level. Growing their own vegetables, recycling, eating frugally and healthily.

When Chris starts to become fixated on his anxieties the fractures begin to show in the Abrams marriage and their previously solid foundations begin to crumble and erode. Their conflicting interests and priorities only serve to push Emma and Chris that much further apart.

This all plays out in the run up to Christmas where one fateful night an annual family party takes place and doesn’t end as anyone expects. Forcing Emma and Chris to make some difficult choices.

What I love about Carys Bray is her innate ability to write about the ordinary family dynamic against the backdrop of extraordinary circumstances. As much as Chris’s change in attitude and actions have consequences for the family they still have to rub along together and deal with the humdrum aspects of domesticity. That’s not to say that this story is dull, not at all! I feel it perfectly depicts family life and I’m here for that!

The interaction between family members was so true to life at times that I cringed a little. There were scenes between Emma and her Mother In Law Janet where they were both trying so hard to be polite but coming off as passive aggressive. It was very amusing! There are various drops of lightheartedness within the narrative which serve as pinpricks of light in what is otherwise quite dark subject matter.

I also must make mention of the two sons Dylan and James. Being teenagers I was dubious (we all know I’m non too keen on the teens!) however the characters of the two boys were perfectly nailed. I have a 14 year old son and could see some of his character traits in Dylan and James, the caustic humour, the inappropriate dinner table conversation. They were not perfect (who is!!) but I really enjoyed their dynamic with each other and within the family unit.

I was not expecting what happened at the Christmas party AT ALL. It was one of those ‘is this really going to happen?’ Moments but in a really plausible way. No over dramatics, no big scenes just something terrible yet believable happening.

The disintegration of the marriage of Emma and Chris which starts in the most subtle of ways and flits back to their earlier happier life together was one of the main pulls for me. Emma trys her hardest to understand where Chris is coming from with his fears and Chris makes what he thinks are the right choices to educate or scare Emma into coming around to his way of thinking.

‘If I imagine grandchildren, it’s only to pity them. They’ll be born into God knows what. There’ll be a new Dark Age, and they’ll live through it. If I could, I’d have the boys sterilised.’

How she longs to pull him out of this; to lower a rope and winch him to safety, but he doesn’t want to be rescued, or even reassured, he wants to pull her in after him.

I cannot fault Carys Brays writing and I really got swept away (no pun intended!) with this family’s life. It’s not a high octane, fast paced book by any stretch of the imagination and the subject matter makes for quite depressing reading at times but the gentle humour and real moments of tender interplay between family members is so heartwarming.

I really enjoyed this book and found it to be a quick read. Give it a whirl!

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

A Little Lockdown Reading Update.

Ey up

How’s life round your gaff at the minute? You surviving? You managing to read?

I didn’t have a review scheduled for today so I thought I’d come atcha with a little reading update. Have a quick chin wag about my reading since lockdown started and show you what I’m currently reading.

Hope that’s alright with you lot?

So, since lockdown began, I, (like a lot of people) have struggled with my concentration levels when it comes to reading and in particular, writing.

In the initial week or two after lockdown I really read very little and wrote absolutely nothing. I just felt a bit numb to it all and coupled with working from home and trying to homeschool my two kids, life was stressful! (Let’s not even add in the anxiety surrounding the dreaded Rona!).

I think us readers fell into one of two camps.

1. I can’t read ANYTHING. (Because the world is shit).

OR

2. I am reading EVERYTHING (Because the world is shit).

I was firmly in camp 1 hoping to claw my way over to camp 2. I thought the way to do that would be to read some short stories. Surely short bursts of fiction would be manageable for my dire concentration levels, right?

Wrong.

Short stories were NOT holding my attention one iota and had the complete opposite effect of what I was aiming for.

I then picked up a couple of chunky books, one of which had been on my shelf for AGES (The Parentations by Kate Mayfield which is brilliant historical fiction by the way and I would defo recommend). This was my breakthrough and totally pepped me up.

I obviously needed longer books to absorb myself in!

I have read some absolute corkers over the past few weeks but I will be saving my opinions on those books until I review them.

Let’s move on to what I’m reading (and listening to) at the moment shall we?

I have to hold my hands up and say I’ve overstretched myself completely in the multi-reading stakes…..I can cope reading around 3 books at a time as long as they are all vastly different. 4 would be my absolute limit. So I find myself today (foolishly!) having 6 books on the go!

Idiot.

Let’s have a little butchers at them eh?

First up we have Pilcrow by Adam Mars Jones. This chunky bugger has been on my shelf for at least a year or more I reckon. It tells the story of a young man from when he was a child and suffered an illness which saw him being prescribed strict bed rest for a long time. It is set in the 1950’s when growing up gay and disabled was far from easy. At the moment I am only around a quarter of the way through and I find that it’s the kind of book that you can dip easily in and out of and still pick up very nicely where you left off, helped by the fact it is told in quite short snappy sections. It’s funny and has a lot of heart and I’m looking forward to carrying on with it. There is a second instalment called Cedilla which is equally as chunky!

Then we have This Taste For Silence by Amanda O’Callaghan which is a short story collection. This is a tricky one because I’ve read around 4 or 5 of the stories and whilst I know I enjoyed them at the time I wouldn’t be able to tell you what they’re about now! I will carry on and finish it and hope that it is just Corona Brain causing me to be so forgetful!

Next up is Rawblood by Catriona Ward. I read Little Eve last year and absolutely loved it! Rawblood is everything I love in a book, gothic, dark and haunting historical fiction set against the backdrop of an old house on Dartmoor. Bloody brilliant!

Next up we have Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker. This book is BLOWING MY MIND. I saw it and was immediately drawn to the cover! It is non-fiction telling the story of the Galvin family, Don and Mimi Galvin and their twelve children. Ten boys and two girls. Six out of the ten boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia and this book explores the question of whether this mental illness can run in families. It really is fascinating!

Then we have two audiobooks that I’m alternating between, one fiction and one non-fiction.

Fiction wise I’m listening to Grown Ups by Marian Keyes. I love Marian on Twitter, she’s such a lovely woman. This book wouldn’t normally be one I’d pick up but having seen so many of you enjoying it, I thought I’d give it a go. I will be honest and say I stopped listening very quickly BUT hear me out……it was nothing to do with the book. I listen to my audiobooks on quite a high volume and I found myself tuning in far too much to the breaths that Marian takes in between sentences. As daft as it sounds, this then made me think about my own breathing and it threw me out! ANYWAY, never fear! I went back to it (albeit at a lower volume) got over my stupid self and am now really enjoying it.

Lastly we have Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin. I have developed a low key obsession with Shirley Jackson of late (which you’ll see when I show you some books I’ve recently purchased!). I’m not very far into this one so I’ll report back when I’m further along!

So there we have all the books I’m currently reading/listening to.

Let’s end on the books I’ve bought recently……because we’re all feverishly buying new books right? WHAT ELSE ARE WE GOING TO DO?!?

Here are a few of my recent purchases (see what I mean about the Jackson obsession?!!). The covers of the Penguin Classic Shirley Jackson books are what dreams are made of quite frankly!

LOOK AT THEM.

On that note I will love you and leave you.

Please do let me know how you’re getting on during these proper tricky times. Are you reading healthy amounts or has your motivation upped and left?

Whatever you’re doing, concentrate on yourself and keep safe.

See you all soon when I’ll have some lovely family members bringing some guest content……

Big love x

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

The Discomfort Of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld – A Review

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Publication Date: 5th March 2020

I’d seen bits and pieces about this book online and had half an eye on it. I was reading a review of it one day that opened up by saying it was ‘odd’ and ‘dark’…….case closed. I knew I had to get my hands on it.

This was a ‘lockdown’ purchase for me. Which basically just means me using the lockdown of the country as an excuse to buy books a plenty! I started it as soon as it arrived because I was in the mood for dark…..glutton for punishment.

The Discomfort Of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is translated from the Dutch and tells the story of our ten year old protagonist Jas and her family who live on a dairy farm. When tragedy strikes and Jas loses her older brother to a terrible accident (not a spoiler, this happens at the start of the book) her life and her family dynamic totally changes, leaving her and her siblings struggling to grow up.

Her mother is devastated by the loss of her son and Jas feels a certain guilt too surrounding someone thoughts she had about him on the day he died. Her mother retreats into herself and begins to limit her food intake, cultivating a serious eating disorder. Her father struggles with bringing up his remaining three children whilst battling issues with the dairy farm and his precious herd and livelihood.

Jas, her older brother and younger sister are pretty much left to navigate their lives themselves without much parental support. They have no support with their own grief and are sidelined whilst their parents drift further and further apart. Jas is desperate to bring her parents back together and unite them again and in her own childish ways feels like she can instigate this and life will somehow improve.

This is very much a coming of age story against the backdrop of grief and it’s intrinsic effects on a whole family unit. It is extremely dark but is shot through with a wry childish humour courtesy of Jas. There are some extremely uncomfortable issues discussed in this book and in the interests of trigger warnings I have to say there is an element of incest. It is viewed through the childish eyes of Jas our narrator, which makes it all the more uncomfortable. I feel it’s only fair to give you that warning.

There is a lot of unpleasant imagery in this book. There is a huge focus on body parts, particularly the bottom, be that bovine or human! Infact when reading it I tweeted this and without stating specifically what the book was, quite a few people knew straight away what it was!:

It’s difficult to say I ‘enjoyed’ this book but I did race through it. A sure sign I’m enjoying a book obviously. I have sat and thought about who I would recommend it to and it’s tricky! It’s by no means a walk in the park! If you’re a fan of dark stories, unusual and compelling child narrators and are ok with animal cruelty/incest and other uncomfortable subject matters I would say give it a whirl!

For sure it has some beautiful writing. I even went back over a few paragraphs and read them again. There was one particular section relating to grief that rang so true with my own experiences that it nearly took my breath away.

Listen, is it a perfect book? No. Did I ‘enjoy’ reading it? Yes! I would maybe issue an ‘approach with caution’ warning but would say give it a try and see for yourself……oh and brace yourself for the darkest of dark endings!

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

The Mermaid Of Black Conch by Monique Roffey – A Review

Publisher: Peepal Tree Press

Publication Date: 2nd April 2020

This book rescued me from a very severe reading slump. Nobody can escape the fact that the world is a very different place at the moment with the dreaded C word. I have found it extremely difficult to concentrate on reading in recent weeks, particularly the last week. I picked up The Mermaid Of Black Conch by Monique Roffey on a whim and boy am I glad I did! I read this book in one day and it has really pulled me out of my reading slump.

It’s 1976 in Saint Constance a Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch. A fisherman named David whilst out at sea one day attracts a strange creature which turns out to be a mermaid. He is very cautious around her and does not want to frighten her away. The sound of his boat lures her back to him day after day and he becomes bewitched by her. However one day two American fishermen who have arrived in Black Conch for an annual fishing competition end up hooking the mermaid and reeling her in after a protracted battle.

The men take the mermaid to shore with dollar signs in their eyes. The locals have heard of tales of Mermen in the waters around Black Conch but never a Mermaid. The local men employed on the American vessel as crew have an uneasy feeling about what bringing a mermaid to shore could mean. Would it be bad luck?…

The Mermaid is brought to shore and strung up beside the more regular catches. When David hears that his mermaid has been captured he manages to cut her down and take her home to his house where he keeps her sequestered away.

Initially David tries to keep her alive as if she were still in the sea. Keeping her in the bath with salt water, trying to tempt her with food. However it quickly becomes apparent that the mermaid is changing……changing into a real woman.

What we learn from her metamorphosis is that she was once a human woman named Aycayia who was cursed by local women to live a long and lonely life at sea. Local women who were jealous of her hold over their menfolk.

David learns more and more about Aycayia and they tentatively learn to communicate. They each become entranced by the other but David must fight to keep Aycayia’s identity hidden whilst Aycayia is fighting demons of her own. In between being desperate to become a real woman, experience love and family on land and the lure of the sea, Aycayia learns just how far reaching the curse that was bestowed upon her hundreds of years ago is.

As I said at the start of this review, I absolutely tore through this book. Told from the viewpoint of David via his written journal, and Aycayia via her sometimes limited language threaded through the main narrative, this story sweeps you away.

I initially expected maybe an idealised view of what we all imagine a mermaid to be. Sleek glossy tail, beautiful face and long flowing gorgeous locks…….I was happily surprised to find that Aycayia was anything but:

I had to touch her. Her teeth were small and sharp; to put my hand inside her mouth looked dangerous. Then, keeping her eyes direct, slow slow, she opened her mouth. A foul smell floated out. A strong ocean stench of salt and dead fish and all the fruit she was eating. Man, her teeth needed a good brush. Her throat was a strange deep pinky purple. I didn’t want to show her my disgust….’

I really enjoyed the developing relationship between David and Aycayia. Their blooming efforts to communicate, David’s protective nature towards her and Aycayia’s willingness to trust him despite past traumas.

This book almost feels like it vibrates with life in your hands. The setting, the characters and the imagery are all so vibrant and full of life. It feels colourful (I hope that makes sense!).

Ultimately this is a story of love against adversity. A tale of ancient legends quite literally dragged into the present day. A study of how women sometimes don’t have agency over their own bodies and the assumption of men that women are possessions. It’s also a tale of female jealousies and the far reaching implications of this.

Monique Roffey is such an exciting author to me. I loved The Tryst and have also gone on to read her memoir With The Kisses Of His Mouth. He writing is just so evocative and engaging. She lured you in from page one. I’m excited to see what she comes up with next and I would heartily recommend her work. Go check her out!

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

What Have I Done? By Laura Dockerill – A Review

Publisher: Square Peg

Publication Date: 24th April 2020

What Have I Done? By Laura Dockerill was firmly on my radar towards the end of 2019 and made it on to my Most Anticipated Books Of 2020 list.

What drew me in most was the whole subject of post-natal psychosis. I’ve mentioned before that I suffered with PND after the births of both of my children but didn’t reach out for help and just suffered in silence. Now that my children are both far enough away from the baby phase for me not to be ‘triggered’ by reading about PND I find it a huge comfort to read about the subject (be that fiction or non-fiction) and breathe a hefty sigh of relief that I wasn’t a failure, a bad mother or any of the other insults you levy at yourself when you’re smack bang in the middle of this terrible illness.

Laura starts her story from meeting and falling in love with her husband Hugo and swiftly follows on to her getting pregnant. She gives us insights into how she imagined her life would be after her baby was born. A life which turned out to be wildly different to the one she dreamed of.

Her ordeal started with the birth of her son Jet and the way that the whole process spiralled out of her control and ended up being a terrifying and painful experience. Jet was a small baby and had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck causing his heart rate to drop dramatically resulting in Laura having to have a Caesarean section.

What follows after the birth of Jet is essentially a swift and terrifying decline in Laura’s mental health and the start of a difficult journey through the confusing and exhausting days of early motherhood.

Laura explains in great detail her struggles with anxiety, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, paranoia and suicidal thoughts. At first she battles on through these issues at home with the support of Hugo and her family, however there comes a tipping point where Laura can no longer cope and her family take her to a secure mental health facility where she is diagnosed with post-natal psychosis.

Her admission to the facility is her first tentative step on the road to recovery, however it is far from a quick fix and Laura continues to battle paranoia, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, post-partum bleeding and her reluctance to take the anti-psychotic medication that her doctors have prescribed.

Throughout her recovery Laura has the unerring support of her lovely family. Hugo who has to deal with Laura thinking he wants to take the baby away from her (which is so far from the truth) her mother and father and sister who all visit everyday and surround her with love and support.

I think it probably goes without saying that I found this book fascinating. Even though Laura’s experience was far more severe than my own, I could recognise myself in so many of the issues she tackled. I have to admit that there were times I had to put the book down and just put a little distance between it and myself. Although my experiences are many years in the past, some elements of Laura’s battle really brought some long buried feelings rushing back.

Laura writes candidly, honestly and from the heart. There are moments of gentle humour and a real gritty down to earth quality. It felt like such a relief to read this book as it made me feel less alone and less guilty about my memories of that time.

This book I’m sure will be a huge help to women dealing right now with some degree of PND and families who are supporting their wives/daughters/sisters/friends. Laura ends the book with a very informative and useful section giving advice on depression, anxiety, self-care and how to help new mothers.

Ultimately this book will bring hope and comfort to many families and was a huge privilege for me to read.

Laura made me feel less guilty about standing in the shower after giving birth to my first child, crying and thinking ‘What have I done?’

I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone going through this right now. Or just anyone who has an interest and an empathy.

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

See you all soon

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Magpie Lane By Lucy Atkins – A Review

Publisher: Quercus

Publication Date: 2nd April 2020

Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins turned out to be a completely different book to what I originally thought when I requested a proof from the publisher. In an AMAZING way!

What I thought was going to be a ‘missing child’ thriller turned out to have a ghostly, creepy supernatural element which as you all know I AM HERE FOR. It was such a treat to discover this spooky thread and I immediately got the lovely ‘book tingles’. We all love the book tingles don’t we?!

I also starting reading this book when we were essentially put on lockdown by Boris and I so desperately needed a distraction. This book was perfect for that.

From the outset we are aware that a young child has gone missing. The structure of the whole story hangs on a framework of the police investigation and interview of a woman named Dee.

Dee is a nanny living and working in Oxford. She is between nannying jobs when she has a chance encounter with the new oxford Don Nick Law. Nick is currently looking for a nanny for his 8 year old daughter Felicity. Felicity’s mother died when she was 4 years old and now Felicity is selectively mute. She will only talk to Nick and completely ignores his new wife Mariah.

Dee starts work at The Lodgings and begins to care for Felicity. Dee quite quickly discovers that Nick and Mariah are extremely caught up in their new whirlwind life within the university with all the dinner parties and

Felicity is understandably a troubled child. She is painfully shy, she barely eats and she suffers terribly with sleep disturbances and episodes of sleep walking. She has a fascination with ‘tokens’ and talisman’s of sorts and likes you collect bleached animal bones. Dee indulges Felicity in her little idiosyncrasies despite Nick’s disapproval of his daughters strange habits.

When Nick employs a house historian named Linklater to trace the origins of The Lodgings as a present to Mariah, both Dee and Felicity begin to learn some facts about the houses history, most of which is somewhat disturbing. Felicity grows close to both Dee and Linklater and opens up to them both about the strange visions she sees in the attic rooms.

Dee continues to struggle with Nick and Mariah’s treatment of Felicity. She knows they don’t understand her and are not offering her the love and support she needs following the tragic death of her mother. Dee also struggles with her own past and the life she has run away from.

But where is Felicity now? Where has she disappeared to? Did she wander off alone? Or was she taken. Dee struggles to make herself heard with the two detectives who are leading the investigation, how far will she go to protect her innocence?…

I absolutely adored this book! At first when the book opened up with a police interview I was a little apprehensive. I don’t really enjoy police procedurals but this story is most certainly not one of those! The backdrop of a police interview topped and tailed each chapter and gave the book a great pace and sound structure to springboard the rest of the story off.

The interview allows Dee to recount what happened up to the point of Felicity’s disappearance, gives the reader the back story of her life and fleshes out the relationships between the main characters.

And what great characters they are! Dee is such an odd protagonist. In a great way! She comes off as quite detached and abrupt. She is quite the loner and spends her time buried in mathematics, trying to work out a mathematical ‘proof’. She can certainly hold her own against the bullish Nick. However, conversely she is really attentive to Felicity and quickly develops a huge affection for the child. She is quite guarded and stand offish, very protective of her early life and the secrets she carries deep within her.

Linklater is perhaps my favourite character. He appeared so fully formed in my minds eye right from the moment he blustered onto the scene. And boy does he bluster! He’s a typical academic, always pondering, ruminating, buzzing with distracting thoughts and bouncing from one idea to the next. He immediately bonds with Felicity and she him, so much so that he is initially unaware that she even is selectively mute. He is fully invested in researching the house and revels in the fact that Felicity shares his fascination.

I really enjoyed Lucy Atkins writing style and I think she absolutely nails dialogue! It feels so natural and free flowing, nothing stunted or forced. I really could imagine the conversations playing out between characters which gave the story real depth.

I was propelled along with the narrative and was desperate to discover just what had happened to little Felicity. But I also was completely happy to linger in the back story for a while, building up a firm picture of just what had been going on at The Lodgings.

All in all I really loved this book. I am hooked by Lucy Atkins writing style and very eager to read more from her.

Thoroughly recommended!

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat. Xx

The Ninth Child By Sally Magnusson – A Review

Publisher: Two Roads

Publication Date: 19th March 2020

I hadn’t read any Sally Magnusson before even though I own a copy of The Sealwoman’s Gift and have heard countless good things about it but when I saw The Ninth Child was coming out this year and it had Faery vibes I knew it would be for me.

1856 in Glasgow and Isabel Aird wife of Dr Alexander Aird is less than happy about the fact that her husband has been planning to get involved in the building of a new water works in the Scottish Highlands.

Glasgow has many issues with polluted water due to the poor living conditions and Dr Aird wants to put his medical skills to good use at the building of the water works in Loch Katrine. One of the main reasons he wants to feel helpful and needed is that Isabel is struggling to take a pregnancy to full term and he feels powerless to help her.

Isabel is almost numb with the grief of losing her 6 children up to the point that she begrudgingly moves to the highlands with Alexander. However once she’s there in the countryside beside the beautiful Loch Katirne she starts to see signs from her lost children and feels a connection to them despite going on to lose two more.

Isabel spends her days walking and thinking and one day chances upon a strange man who introduces himself as Reverend Robert Kirke. Robert is an episcopalian minister who died in….wait for it…..1692. Yes! Robert is no ordinary man, although he once was many many years ago. Robert wrote a book about the myths and legends of the Faery world and it is believed that he was taken by the fae at the time of his death and now he roams the earth in his quest for peace. What he is desperate for is to find his final resting place.

He has an extremely strong interest in Isabel. Particularly when she once again falls pregnant. But what is the lure and what fate will befall Isobel?

I absolutely devoured this book! not least because it is set in Victorian times (my favourite time period as you know!). I also really love anything remotely linked to the dark world of the Fae. There is a beautifully delicate balance between the realist narrative and the magical narrative in this story and I think this lends itself well to having a little something for everyone.  

Another wonderful addition to this tale was the inclusion of chapters surrounding Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their opening of the works.  I love it when ‘real’ people from history are almost re-imagined by the author and we get an albeit fictitious peep behind the curtain.  I was delighted to encounter these chapters, they really were a joy to read.

Sally Magnusson’s writing is just beautiful, stunning prose and perfect depictions of the glorious Scottish landscape.  There is a real sense of place throughout this story and Sally expertly transports you to the Scottish highlands.

The perfect blend of fact and fiction, this book is captivating and a brilliant book to get your hands on, particularly during these very confusing and troubled times.  A little something to whisk you away from real life and I couldn’t recommend it more.

Thank you to the publisher for my copy to review.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx