I don’t review all the books I read because…..well…..I have a full time job and two kids and only shreds of my sanity left!
I have recently been adding little reviews over on Instagram when I’ve come to the end of a book and I’ve found this a good way of talking about the books I wouldn’t have necessarily sat down and written a full blog post review for. It’s not fair to let good books pass by just because I’ve not got the time to write a full review. Don’t get me wrong, I always tweet and IG about the books I’m reading and enjoying, so they do get a mention but I find it easier to do an Instagram post with some of my thoughts than I do to plan a whole review here on the blog.
Having said that, moving forward I may do more of these ‘reading round-up’ type of posts, as they will again let me talk about the books I’ve recently enjoyed but won’t be fully reviewing.
Today I’ll be giving you some of my thoughts on 7 books I’ve recently read. We have three fiction, one non-fiction, one short story collection and two audiobooks.
So let’s get cracking!
First up we have Mary Toft Or The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer (Corsair). 14/8/20
Surgeon John Howard is a rational man. His apprentice Zachary knows John is reluctant to believe anything that purports to exist outside the realm of logic. But even John cannot explain how or why Mary Toft, the wife of a local farmer, manages to give birth to a dead rabbit. When this singular event becomes a regular occurrence, John realizes that nothing in his experience as a village physician has prepared him to deal with a situation as disturbing as this. He writes to several preeminent surgeons in London, three of whom quickly arrive in the small town of Godalming ready to observe and opine.
When Mary’s plight reaches the attention of King George, Mary and her doctors are summoned to London, where Zachary experiences for the first time a world apart from his small-town existence, and is exposed to some of the darkest corners of the human soul. All the while, Mary lies in bed, waiting for another birth, as doubts begin to blossom among the surgeons and a growing group of onlookers grow impatient for another miracle . . .
I’d had this book on my radar due to the fact that I knew it was about a supposed true story of a woman in the 1700’s who was reported to give birth to rabbits. Now I love a folklore tale and was intrigued by this one.
It does exactly what it says on the tin! 1726 in Godalming, a young woman confuses the eminent medical community with her apparent affliction of giving birth to rabbits. Now we’re not talking cute little fluffy bunnies, we are taking dead, partially skinned and dismembered rabbits. Nice!
Local surgeon John Howard is the first medical professional to witness this bizarre occurrence with his young apprentice Zachary, but it’s not long before several other high profile doctors with links to King George himself become involved in the strange tale.
This is a book heavily weighted with Male characters as obviously during those days all doctors and surgeons were male. They are a mixed bag of personalities, each using the incredible story as a way of gaining notoriety in the medical world. We hear very little from Mary Toft herself and I can’t decide whether this added to the mystery or took away her female voice….I’m undecided! I enjoyed this book as a whole but there were little niggles that I had to force myself to overlook. For example, the author is American but he is obviously writing a book set in 1700’s England, however little American words and phrases crept in (Fall instead of autumn and a use of the word ‘gotten’). It may sound petty but it jolted me out of the setting a little.
All in all though I did enjoy it.
The Museum Makers by Rachel Morris (September Publishing) 27/8/20
Museum expert Rachel Morris had been ignoring the boxes under her bed for decades. When she finally opened them, an entire bohemian family history was laid bare. The experience was revelatory – searching for her absent father in the archives of the Tate; understanding the loss and longings of the grandmother who raised her – and transported her back to the museums that had enriched her lonely childhood.
By teasing out the stories of those early museum makers, and the unsung daughters and wives behind them, and seeing the same passions and mistakes reflected in her own family, Morris digs deep into the human instinct for collection and curation.
I don’t read a huge amount of non-fiction but when I do it tends to be memoirs. This one caught my eye because it was billed as ‘part memoir part detective story’ and that appealed to me massively! I always say I am inherently nosey, so books like this where I get to not only delve into the author’s family history via artefacts she unboxes from her family archives, but learn about the history of museums themselves is perfect for me. Rachel is a museum expert who helps to design and create some amazing museum displays all over the world. But the most gripping part of this book for me was Rachel’s trip into her family’s past, turning her focus from the artefacts of other time periods, countries and civilisations to confront her own family secrets.
I really enjoyed this slice of non-fiction.
Pew by Catherine Lacey (Granta) 14/5/20
Fleeing a past they can no longer remember, Pew wakes on a church bench, surrounded by curious strangers.
Pew doesn’t have a name, they’ve forgotten it. Pew doesn’t know if they’re a girl or a boy, a child or an almost-adult. Is Pew an orphan, or something worse? And what terrible trouble are they running from?
Pew won’t speak, but the men and women of this small, god-fearing town are full of questions. As the days pass, their insistent clamour will build from a murmur to a roar, as both the innocent and the guilty come undone in the face of Pew’s silence.
I’d seen Jen Campbell and Liv Hooper talking about this one and knew I had to treat myself to a copy. Pew tells the story of Pew, a person found sleeping on one of the pews in a church one Sunday service. When they wake up they are taken back to the home of one of the local families. The family and the wider community cannot quite fathom who Pew is or where they’ve mysteriously appeared from. They don’t even know if this person who has ended up in their small religious town is male or female. Pew doesn’t talk you see, so they are unable to elicit any response from their enquiries.
When Pew is passed from pillar to post in the town, each person they encounter uses them as a kind of confidant, as they feel safe in the knowledge that Pew is mute and therefore unlikely to go spilling their secrets.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book right up until the last few pages where I got completely lost and wondered if I’d missed something or if I wasn’t quite clever enough to ‘get it’. Having said that I did enjoy the read very much. If you’ve read this one, please can we chat about that ending?!
The Art Of The Body by Alex Allison (Dialogue Books)
Janet is caught between care work and caring for herself. Her life revolves around Sean, a talented fine art student, living and working with cerebral palsy. Both Janet and Sean are new to London and far from their families. Both are finding a means of escape through pushing their bodies to the limit.
When Sean is faced with an unexpected and deeply personal tragedy, Janet must let her guard down at last and discover what she’s prepared to fight for.
I recently read and loved Boy Parts by Eliza Clarke (review here) and so I asked Eliza to recommend any other oils along the same lines. I’d previously taken the recommendation of Wetlands by Charlotte Roache from Eliza, and whilst it traumatised me (trust me it’s gross!), I’d enjoyed reading it.
Eliza recommended The Art Of The Body by Alex Allison and I tore through it. I hate to use the overly bandied about stock review phrase of ‘unflinching’, but this book really is an unflinching, warts and all story of the relationship between a carer and patient. I’d highly recommend it.
Outsiders – Edited by Alice Slater (3 Of Cups)
As soon as this short story anthology appeared on my radar I knew I had to have it. Luckily the lovely Clare Bogen offered to send me a copy. I read this collection in just a couple of sittings. There’s not a dud story in here and three of them are right up there in my top short stories of all time. ‘Skin’ by Lena Mohammed in which we encounter a world where people remove their skin at night, but unscrupulous folk are on the look out for better skins and will think nothing of stealing them. ‘But Not Like That’ by Susan James in which we meet a woman reflecting on a special, enduring friendship with her female friend in a small farming village. They slept in the same bed ‘but not like that’. This story explores prejudice, narrow minded thinking, love and grief. ‘The Lady’s Not For Burning’ by Sarvat Hasin tells of a vengeful ghost who wreaks havoc when a newcomer infiltrates their family home.
This whole collection is about people on the periphery, people who feel as though they are on the outside looking in, dislocated and not fitting in. I have put this book straight on my Forever Shelf and I know I’ll be revisiting it often.
Ok the last two books I’d like to quickly mention are audiobooks. I’m not a huge audiobook ‘reader’ and I quite often ‘buy’ audiobooks with my monthly Audible credit, start listening and promptly stop again.
However, if an audiobook really grabs my attention I will be hooked and binge listen.
Two I’ve really enjoyed recently are:
A Place For Everything by Anna Wilson (HQ).
Anna grew up in a house that was loving, even if her mum was ‘a little eccentric’. They knew to keep things clean, to stay quiet, and to look the other way when things started to get ‘a bit much for your mum’.
It’s only when her mother reaches her 70s, and Anna has a family of her own, that the cracks really start to appear. More manic. More irrational. More detached from the world. And when her father, the man who has calmed and cajoled her mother through her entire life becomes unwell, the whole world turns upside down.
This is a story of a life lived with undiagnosed autism, about the person behind the disorder, those big unspoken family truths, and what it means to care for our parents in their final years.
This was a raw and honest account of finally gaining a diagnosis for Anna’s mother’s increasingly odd behaviour. It is a heartbreaking story but I really did appreciate the fact that Anna didn’t shy away from getting across her real feelings. She was 100% honest about her feelings for her mother and how her increasingly difficult behaviour impacted her life. It’s one of those memoirs that will always stick with me, much like When I Had A Little Sister by Catherine Simpson.
Finally we have The Other People by C J Tudor (Michael Joseph)
Driving home one night, stuck behind a rusty old car, Gabe sees a little girl’s face appear in the rear window.
She mouths one word: ‘Daddy.’
It’s his five-year-old daughter, Izzy.
He never sees her again.
Three years later, Gabe spends his days and nights travelling up and down the motorway, searching for the car that took his daughter, refusing to give up hope, even though most people believe that Izzy is dead.
Fran and her daughter, Alice, also put in a lot of miles on the motorway. Not searching. But running. Trying to keep one step ahead of the people who want to hurt them.
Because Fran knows the truth. She knows what really happened to Gabe’s daughter. She knows who is responsible. And she knows what they will do if they ever catch up with her and Alice . . .
I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I haven’t read The Chalk Man by C J Tudor. This is the book that everyone was talking about when it was published. (Fear not, I do have a copy!). The Other People caught my eye and let me tell you, this audiobook has got me through many an hour at work. I was gripped!
Don’t even get me started on how much I fancy the narrator based solely on his voice…..(I’ve since found out it’s Richard Armitage, the man Geraldine Granger married in The Vicar Of Dibley…).
So there we go!
Just a few of the books I’ve read recently and not reviewed anywhere. Have you read and of them?
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx