The Apparition Phase By Will Maclean – A Review

Publisher: William Heinemann

Publication Date: 29th October 2020

I picked up The Apparition Phase from my shelf on a whim one Saturday afternoon after hankering after a classic ghost story.

I love a good haunted house story but often find I’m left wanting in some small way…..luckily with this book I was left fully satisfied and my ghostly tastes were more than catered for!

Set in the 1970’s in the Home Counties, the story kicks off with teenage twins Tim and Abi and their quest to fake a ghost photograph. The twins have an innate interest in anything paranormal and supernatural and spend much of their time in their attic reading books on the subject and debating the various myths and legends surrounding notable ghost stories. They are very much intertwined in their tastes and isolate themselves at school.

Once they have faked their ghost photograph, they figure the only way to test out its success would be to show a pupil at their school and gauge their reaction. They choose Janice Tupp, a girl who is herself isolated and quiet. The experiment doesn’t quite pan out how the twins expect when Janice is completely taken in by the photo and later that day faints in the classroom and knocks herself out.

The twins figure the only way to set the record straight and stop Janice from telling anyone what they’ve done is to tell her that the photograph has been faked. Janice doesn’t take too kindly to the news and insists that the twins have infact taken a picture of a ghost. They invite her round to their house to show her the attic and how they faked the image, however whilst there Janice suffers an episode which looks like a possession of sorts and starts to relay information to the twins that they cannot fathom.

After this incident, a couple of years pass and Abi goes missing one day after school. Tim is distraught and tries to pin her disappearance on the things that Janice foretold in her possession. This unsettles his parents who refer him to a psychologist. This psychologist attempts to prove to Tim that his belief in the supernatural is unfounded by taking him to a country house called Yarlings where a ghost investigation is underway with a small group of ghost hunters who are yet to come up with any supernatural evidence.

This backfires and only serves to pique Tim’s interest more. Over the course of a couple of weeks Tim becomes embroiled in the group’s studies at Yarlings and finds himself at the centre of happenings and disturbances. But just how much of the evidence is real and who at Yarlings can be trusted?….

This book for me was an absolute treat and I almost wish I’d left it closer to Halloween to read. It had all the elements of a ghost story that I absolutely love, made all the more spooky by the 70’s retro vibe. It has lots of information about ghost stories that were reported in books and the press at the time which I found fascinating and I could even remember the famous images of supposed ghosts that were mentioned from looking at the same books in my school days. I have also recently been reading about the Chinnery Ghost which makes an appearance in the book too.

This is an atmospheric read that I absolutely flew through. A perfect read for the spooky season. I loved it!

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Still Life By Sarah Winman – A Review

Publisher: 4th Estate

Publication Date: 10th June 2021

Have you read Tin Man by Sarah Winman?….if not go and read it IMMEDIATELY.

With that said, when I knew that Sarah Winman had a new book coming out this year I was proper excited! When I got a beautiful limited edition proof through my letterbox I nearly POPPED!

It took all of my willpower not to read it too soon ahead of publication so it sat taunting me on my book trolley for a few months. Pure torture!

Still Life tells the story of two central characters Evelyn and Ulysses who meet briefly at the opening of the book. It’s 1944 in Italy and young British soldier and former globe maker, Ulysses meets art historian Evelyn Skinner, a woman in her sixties who has come to Italy to rescue works of art caught up in the war. But there are also whispers that she is actually a spy…

When the two of them spend a night in a Tuscan villa wine cellar during a raid, they make a connection based on art and Ulysses positive mental attitude towards life and his own mortality.

Back home in London, Ulysses has left behind a wife, Peggy. A barmaid at an east end pub called The Stoat And Parrot, Peggy is a woman who loves a drink, perhaps a little too much, and is head strong and quite detached. Despite really loving and respecting Ulysses, she does enjoy a little action on the side, especially with a particular American GI named Eddie who she falls hook line and sinker for.

At the end of the war Ulysses returns to London to help out at the pub run by landlord Col. On his return he finds that times have changed, and not only has Peg found a new love, she’s also had a daughter Alys, and wants a divorce.

Ulysses and Peg have a lovely relationship. They respect each other massively and care about each other deeply, however Peg’s heart now belongs to Eddie who has returned home to America never having known about Alys.

From here we get to know some of the best characters I have ever had the pleasure to read about. We have Col the pub landlord, a sometimes abrasive man with an acid reflux problem. Then there’s his daughter Ginny who has special needs and is such a sweet and much loved girl. Then there are various regulars to the pub, most notably Pete who plays the piano and Cress, a regular who fits neatly into the ‘family’ at the pub. Cress is an intelligent man who looks out for everyone, erudite and in touch with everything around him with a propensity to have ‘visions’ in dreams which quite often turn out to be quite lucrative. Last but not least is resident parrot Claude. A bird who can talk and certainly makes his voice heard!

When Ulysses life in Florence during the war is brought once again to the forefront, an event from the past sees him returning to Florence to set up a new life, along with Alys whom he considers his own daughter, and Cress. The story then spans many years of their lives in Florence, the people they meet there, the friends they make and the strong bonds they form. Various people from the pub back in London come and go and treat Florence as a second home.

It is here in Florence, a good many years after their first meeting that Ulysses and Evelyn’s lives converge again.

I just absolutely adore Sarah Winman’s writing. She portrays an eclectic mix of characters so well. The relationships between them all are just so beautiful and natural and really do warm your heart. This whole concept of a ‘found family’ really fascinated me and the crew from The Stoat And Parrot pub are no exception. They look out for each other, they lift each other up and intuitively know each other inside out.

I was so swept up in Ulysses story and read long after I should have been asleep because I just loved being in his world. I have to admit that I much preferred Ulysses narrative to Evelyn’s. As Evelyn is an art historian her narrative often included references to works of art and artists which I have no knowledge of so in fairness I just let those bits wash over me and I still enjoyed the story.

I really enjoyed the scene setting and the beautiful depictions of Florence which almost becomes a character within itself. The descriptions of food and lovely Italian coffee and wine had my tastebuds tingling and I really wanted to just close my eyes and imagine sitting out in a square as the sun is setting and sipping a good red and eating a delicious bowl of pasta.

This is once again an absolutely stunning book which will leave you a little bereft after reading it. I miss Ulysses and the crew!

Get your hands on a copy for sure!

Thank you to Matt Clacher and 4th Estate for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Nightbitch By Rachel Yoder – A Review

Publisher: Harvill Secker

Publication Date: 22nd July 2021

This book is strange and dark and fierce and positively pulsating with rage and I BLOODY LOVED IT.

That’s it.

That’s the review.

But if you need more, read on…..

When I first saw Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder on Twitter, I was initially drawn to the cover and title and scuttled off to Google more. When I read the blurb I got the book tingles before I’d even got my hands on a copy. An exhausted struggling mother who thinks she’s turning into a dog?…..YES PLEASE.

If you’ve been here for a while you’ll know I love books about motherhood. Particularly when that mother is having problems. But I also love weird fiction that deals with transformation or shapeshifting of sorts (think The Harpy by Megan Hunter or the short story collection Foxfire Wolfskin by Sharon Blackie).

Nightbitch tells the story of a woman and mother in her thirties. She has a young toddler son and a husband who works away for most of the week, returning only at weekends. The woman is referred to only as ‘the mother’ in the first half of the book, later becoming Nightbitch.

The mother used to be an artist but left behind the artistic world to focus on caring for her young son. A boy who at two years old is quite demanding, doesn’t sleep much and subsequently ends up in his parents bed most nights.

It is during one of these restless, sleepless nights that the mother feels such absolute rage at her husband and the life she has been left with and this prompts the start of her strange transformation.

It is a transformation that begins slowly and insidiously, a small patch of fur like hair on the back of her neck, her teeth seeming much sharper and canine like, a very heightened sense of smell and hearing and an urge to buy copious amounts of red meat in the supermarket and taste tiny morsels of it raw.

Her husband laughs off her concerns and her young son is absolutely beside himself with joy as his mother begins to slowly abandon herself to her canine longings. They spend their days playing ‘doggy’ games, chasing each other across the grass, playing with balls, drinking water from a dog bowl and letting the boy sleep in a kennel. When her husband returns from working the mother returns the house to its normal state and tries to play down the doggy games as just a bit of fun with her son, bending to his childish wants.

But in reality the mother feels like a much more accomplished parent when she gives in to her urges to nurture the child as a dog would it’s pup. She battles with the internal struggle of whether she is a good mother or a terrible mother for allowing the dog games to happen and whether they will damage her son in later life.

Ultimately this is a story transformation borne of a deep rage. It is an utterly enthralling, rich an vivid tale of the way women have to find their way in the new role of ‘mother’ that is cast upon them, and leave their old selves behind.

It is feral and bloody and visceral and pulsing with raw anger and rage and I loved it. An interesting take on motherhood that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. Nightbitch is a give star read and will definitely be on my books of the year list.

Thank you to the publisher for my proof copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Magma By Thora Hjörleifsdóttir – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 8th July 2021

I did the cheeky ask for this one when I saw it on YouTube. Any book that tackles difficult relationships is always a draw for me.

In Magma by Thora Hjörleifsdóttir (translated from the Norwegian by Meg Matich) we meet twenty year old Lilja, a woman who has fallen hard for a slightly older man who attends her university. The opening chapter details the fact that Lilja has given her new partner chlamydia and his disgusted reaction to this.

At first their relationship is somewhat casual. The narrative is told in the first person perspective of Lilja as she divulges brief snapshots of their difficult union, referring only to ‘him’ and never telling us his name.

He is a conceited and controlling man who consistently cheats on Lilja and makes very little effort to hide it. In fact returning home to tell her in detail who he has hooked up with. Lilja, for her part blames herself for his infidelity, believing she’s not enough for him in bed and berating herself for not making the effort to go out with him to the bar on that particular evening.

As the story progresses there are more and more red flags coming to the fore. None of Lilja’s friends like him and he’s sullen and rude around her parents and is resentful of the time she spends with them. He spends lots of his time chatting online to various women, again making little or no effort to hide it, and spending time with his ex-girlfriend who he won’t have a word said against. This man is the archetypal gaslighter and Lilja is far too forgiving due to her low self esteem.

As he makes her feel more and more worthless about herself and debases her with acts of sexual degradation, Lilja begins to self-harm and spiral down into a deep depression.

This is one of those fascinating books that drags you in with its short sharp writing style but frustrates you to the core when you read about smart young women who can’t see their self-worth.

The book is quite short in itself but the chapters are essentially very brief vignettes, almost snapshots along the timeline of their relationship. Each vignette is headed up with a different subject, for example ‘The Ex’, ‘Hygiene’, ‘Chlamydia’, ‘Anal Sex’ etc and deals with that particular topic. There are lots of very frank sexual details which can be quite jarring, especially as they are delivered in such a matter of fact unemotional, almost detached way. This only served to make me feel more empathy for Lilja, as she knows the things he’s asking her to do are not to her sexual taste and she’s doing them wholly to please him, as humiliating as that is.

As I’ve previously mentioned, books which revolve around these types of insidiously vile male characters who have a hold over vulnerable women can be extremely frustrating to read and this one was but totally kept my interest.

The writing is sharp and fresh and to the point and feels pacy due to the short vignette style. I really enjoyed it even though ‘enjoyed’ is probably not the right word in this books case!

Thank you so much to Katie Green and Picador for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

The First Day Of Spring By Nancy Tucker – A Review

Publication Date: 24th June 2021

Publisher: Hutchinson

Child narrators have always been a little bit tricky for me. But I when I read that the eight year old girl at the centre of The First Day Of Spring by Nancy Tucker had killed a two year old boy I knew I had to give this book a whirl! And with a first line of ‘I killed a little boy today. Held my hands around his throat, felt his blood pump hard against my thumbs’….I knew this book would be somewhat of a jaw dropper…..IT WAS.

The story starts with eight year old Chrissie Banks giving the reader her murderous bombshell confession in the most calm and contained of ways. We know from the outset that little Chrissie has indeed murdered two year old Steven and left his body in the ‘blue house’ in the alleys.

The close knit community of families are shaken to the core at the grim discovery and mothers are extra vigilant over the safety of their little ones. They are appalled that something so terrible could happen in their neighbourhood and are determined to keep their own children safe and find out who could have perpetrated this heinous act upon an innocent boy.

Chrissie meanwhile is wandering the neighbourhood with her dark secret ‘fizzing like sherbet’ in her belly. She is giddy with the power she felt whilst she choked the life out of little Steven.

Chrissie doesn’t hold any power at home. In fact, Chrissie has a very sad and lonely life at home. Her father is absent ‘at her majesty’s pleasure’ most of the time, flitting in and out of Chrissie’s life as and when he pleases. Chrissie’s mum quite clearly has mental health issues and often isn’t even aware where Chrissie is. The child is neglected and has a constant gnawing hunger.

Despite the terrible neglect, Chrissie still champions her mother and sees the positive in the smallest of concessions, like her mother leaving the kitchen window ajar so she can climb back through at night.

With her friends and other adults Chrissie is somewhat of a force to be reckoned with. She stands for no nonsense and can quite easily handle herself. She thinks nothing of a swift kick to the shins or shoving someone over. The other children are very wary of her bolshy ways and have to keep their wits about them. They are well aware that she has a vicious and mean streak which frightens the majority of them.

The adults in the neighbourhood see a pest, a nuisance and a trouble causer and not the lonely and forgotten little girl who is forced to grow up far too quickly.

The story then flits forward some 20 years later and we follow Chrissie, now given a new identity as Julia, and her young daughter Molly. Julia is working at a fish and chip shop and trying to keep her daughter safe but in only the most physical of ways and struggles to connect with her emotionally. Due to her past and the terrible crime she committed, Julia is well aware of how easily children can come to harm if you are not watching them carefully.

She treats her life with Molly as being very regimented. Their schedule is timed down to the minute in order to fill their days and not allow Julia a moment to stop and think or have to bond emotionally with her daughter. A daughter who she feels she doesn’t deserve.

But when the phone rings, and keeps on ringing, Julia is forced to confront her dark past in order to have a hope of salvaging her future.

Well, this book from start to finish was so compelling. The narrative voice of young Chrissie is so immature yet insightful. To see the adult world through an eight year old’s eyes and experience what it is like to be inside her head is at times hard to handle. She lives such a terrible life at home and on the one hand, of course you feel sad for her but then you are hit over the head by the horrifying fact that she is a murderer.

Chrissie revels in her secret and yearns to feel the fizzy sensation of power again. She only feels momentary jolts of remorse, not enough to make her feel truly sorry for her actions. This is in direct opposition to how she feels as an adult looking back on her crimes.

It’s interesting to revisit the relationship she had with her troubled mother and feckless father. Seeing her mother through little Chrissie’s eyes then seeing how the relationship has changed over the years of Chrissie’s incarceration and beyond.

I think the most notable element for me was witnessing a truly shocking event through the eyes of such a young child. It goes against everything we expect and is made extra shocking by the fact that the naivety and childishness of the perpetrator is jarring with the act itself.

‘I was sitting next to Donna who I didn’t like because she was a goody-goody and she was also fat. I counted the dimples in her puddingy knees while Mr Michaels talked, and I wanted to put my finger inside one, just to see how it would feel, but she shoved my hand away when I tried.

I cupped my hands around my mouth and pressed them against her ear. ‘I was there,’ I whispered. ‘When they found him I was there.’

‘Get off,’ she whispered.

She flicked her head round to look at me. Our mouths were very close together, close enough that I could have kissed her, except obviously I was never ever going to do that because she was a fat goody-goody. Her breath smelt of jam.

What did he look like?’ She whispered

‘There was loads of blood everywhere,’ I whispered. ‘It was spraying out all over everywhere. Some of it even got on me’……

This is a book that I think will pull people in opposite directions. I battled with my conflicting feelings whilst reading it and I just know that for some people it won’t be palatable. I however LOVED it!

Chrissie has a shocking and compelling story that has to be told no matter how hard it is to hear and I will never ever forget her narrative voice.

Please give this book a try! I am certain it will be on my books of the year list.

Thank you to the publisher for my proof copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Sorrow And Bliss By Meg Mason – A Review

Publisher: W&N

Publication Date: 10th June 2021

This book took me completely by surprise in a brilliant way! I’ve just finished reading it and had to sit down and get some words down straight away. This is always a good sign with me!

I’d seen Sorrow And Bliss by Meg Mason doing the rounds on Twitter and when a proof copy dropped through my door I placed it on my proof pile ready for photographing. One night on a whim I picked it up, started reading and after a mere few pages I knew I was in for something GOOD.

The book opens at the point that 40 year old Martha’s marriage to Patrick is disintegrating. There doesn’t seem to be any anger or blame there appears to be a sad resignedness surrounding the end of their relationship.

From here we go back in time through Martha’s early life with her sister Ingrid, and somewhat bohemian parents, her father an unpublished poet and her mother who ‘re-purposes’ items as sculptures. Martha and Ingrid are extremely close siblings and look after each other when their mother is off sculpting in her studio or making a show of herself by drinking too much.

At 17 Martha starts to suffer from an unnamed mental illness which manifests itself with her sitting for days under her desk in her bedroom, barely eating or sleeping. She’s dispatched to the family GP who prescribes antidepressants and sends her on her way. She goes through very dark periods in her life where she can barely get out of bed, interspersed with times where she feels almost ‘normal’. But the dark periods are always hanging over her, lurking around the corner.

We follow the family through the siblings teenage years, spending Christmas and family events at their wealthy Aunt and Uncle’s house with their cousins and cousins friend Patrick, who later of course becomes Martha’s husband.

As the girls grow up Ingrid becomes a mother and Martha is staunchly against motherhood herself for her own private reasons which become painfully apparent as the story progresses.

I loved so many elements of this book! It’s difficult to know where to start and what to focus on first!

For a kick off it’s so funny! Painfully funny, awkwardly funny, darkly funny. The writing is so astute and sharp and Meg Mason really nails ‘normal’ interaction and dialogue between the characters. The little asides and ‘in-jokes’, the portrayal of differing personalities in such an authentic way. I’ve seen other quotes and reviews drawing parallels with Fleabag and I can absolutely see why.

Each of the peripheral characters are fully formed and fleshed out, each with their own idiosyncrasies, and the depiction of the varying interactions between them all is just perfect. The relationship between Martha and Ingrid is gorgeous, they have their own in jokes and shared experiences and an extra special sibling bond. I think for me the relationship between Martha and her Father is particularly beautiful and poignant. He takes her under his wing when she’s ill. He protects her in the smallest of ways without being overbearing. He lets her talk when she needs to but also let’s her sit in his study with him whilst he writes, silently together. Such a special relationship.

The element I loved the most is the way that nothing is tied up neatly in a bow. Nothing is conveniently ‘fixed’ for the sake of the story. Martha’s life is messy, her road to recovery from her mental illness is not linear and a full recovery is not something that is expected of her. She has to deal with life as we all do, the huge up’s and downs, the difficulties in relationships of all kinds, the bumps in the road.

She’s not always a likeable character but I was always rooting for her.

The writing is bang on and I just know that this book will be one of my books of the year. Just brilliant.

Thank you so much to the publisher for my review copy (and can a UK publisher please publish Meg’s back catalogue because it’s expensive to buy them from Australia! Please and thank you most kindly!)

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Circus Of Wonders By Elizabeth Macneal – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 13th May 2021

I will always read anything Elizabeth Macneal writes, and this is due to the fact that she not only writes great books, she weaves some kind of magical literary spell around your heart. Her books are perfect pieces of fiction that fizz with vibrant colourful ‘warts and all’ life and burst with animated, lively characters.

I read and ADORED The Doll Factory back in 2019 (my review is here ) and it made it onto my books of the year list aswell (and OF COURSE sits in pride of place on my forever shelf).

Elizabeth’s second novel, Circus Of Wonders transports us back in time to both Victorian London and the Crimean War. It is 1866 and Nell, a flower picker from a southern coastal village is living frugally with her brother Charlie and drunken father. Nell has birthmarks over her body which set her apart from the other people in her village and mark her out as a second rate citizen, someone to be ignored or feared, someone who is even considered cursed.

When Jasper Jupiter’s Circus Of Wonders arrives in the village, the villagers are beside themselves with excitement. Jasper Jupiter has brought along not only his menagerie of wild animals to exhibit but other special acts such as Stella the bearded lady and Brunette the giantess. Nell’s hard-up father sees an opportunity and siezes it, selling Nell off to Jasper as a ‘leopard girl’.

Nell is at first desperately upset at having been betrayed but soon realises that life in the circus might not be as bad as she initially feared. She becomes close to the other acts and especially close to Toby, Jasper’s brother, a photographer and general dogsbody and muscle around the circus.

Jasper has high hopes and lofty aspirations to be the owner of the greatest show on earth and uses Nell’s unique looks along with some mechanical trickery to raise the profile of the show and get the customers flocking in to see ‘Nellie Moon – Queen Of The Moon And Stars’. With some backstreet financial assistance, he takes his circus to the pleasure gardens of Victorian London, with dreams of putting a show on for the Queen herself. Nell begins to enjoy being looked at and admired by the crowds, their chanting and adoration sweeping her up. But what will happen when Jasper’s main act starts to become bigger than him?….

This book just bursts with life and Elizabeth Macneal’s writing draws you in right from the off. The sights, sounds and smells of the circus are written in such brilliant detail that they are an assault on your senses, in a good way! You are right there in the centre of the action and I could imagine every tiny detail.

The level and quality of historical detail that has gone into this book is just mind blowing. I absolutely loved the references to Queen Victoria as I have a bit of an obsession with her!

Elizabeth Macneal crafts such an brilliant tale that takes you soaring high in the sky (quite literally) and brings you back down to the dark underbelly of circus life with a bump.

It tackles the subject of agency over your own body and whether these circus acts are being exploited for their differences or rescued from a life of exclusion and poverty. It’s certainly something to think about and had me googling the likes of P J Barnam and his contemporaries who are also mentioned in the book.

The ending of the book to me was just perfect. It doesn’t get all tied up in a heartwarming perfect bow and I love that.

Elizabeth Macneal has done it again and written a perfect tale that I will recommended again and again!

Thank you so much Camilla Elworthy and Picador for my review copy and my beautiful finished copy which will sit next to The Doll Factory on my Forever Shelf.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

The Child By Kjersti A. Skomsvold (translated from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken) – A Review

Publisher: Granta

Publication Date: 6th May 2021

If I’m honest I’m not sure where I saw this book. It was one of those ones that pops up on social media or as a suggestion when you’re googling and I decided to do the cheeky ask and Granta willingly obliged.

What drew me to this book was the fact that it explores new motherhood which as you know is something I am particularly interested in for lots of reasons and is one of the main reasons I pick books like this up. This one was also blurbed by Sarah Moss so who am I to argue?

It is a very short and punchy book at a mere 155 pages and feels even more sharp for its vignette style.

We meet our narrator, a Norwegian woman living in Oslo, a writer and mother of two very young children born within 18 months of each other. The story is told from the perspective of the mother talking to her second child, a girl, as she writes about her first child, her son.

It starts off from the birth of the son which is written very viscerally yet also with a poetic and lyrical edge. It is from the springboard of birth that we then go on to learn more about our narrator. She is a woman who has been previously ‘ill’. This illness is never named but it is quite apparent to me that this illness was depression. She is fearful of this illness returning, particularly after the birth of her son but is also steeped in anxiety even before her first child is born. She is worried that if she accepts she is pregnant and tells people about it, that she will lose the baby.

She is desperate to see her stomach grow with the life inside her in order for the child to be safe whilst at the same time being in awe of her body and the odd sensation of it holding a human being inside it.

After he is born she struggles to write and spends her days worrying about all the potential harm that could come to her precious child. The seemingly innocuous everyday occurrences that could turn lethal.

‘I put the child in the horrid pram. I didn’t want to think about all the things that could happen, but I couldn’t stop myself. I imagined how every car that came towards us would swerve onto the pavement and mow us down, and I gripped the handle as if my treacherous hands might let go at any moment…’

It is in writing about this and ridding herself of these feelings that she can go on to relax a little more with her second child. She uses writing about her difficulties with sleeping and anxieties and intrusive thoughts as a kind of therapy which enables her to bond with her daughter more easily.

The timeline is not linear and it took me a few pages to realise what was going on and who the narrator was taking to. However I soon got into my stride and fully understood how the narrator was portraying her story.

We also learn about her husband Bo and their relationship prior to deciding to have a family and even as far back as them meeting and embarking on a difficult time in actually getting together. I enjoyed this element of the book which came fairly near the end as it gave Bo a more rounded background and allowed me to understand his personality a little more.

The writing is at times pinpoint sharp and based firmly in the sometimes messy realities of babies and motherhood and yet there are also moments of dreamlike sequences which are poetic and almost ethereal. I think this was helped by the sleepless fugue that the narrator floated through each day. The bone weary exhaustion of early motherhood.

I sat down and devoured this book in one sitting and really enjoyed it. It is a look at motherhood, family, marriage and bonding. If that sounds like you’re kind of thing, I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Featherweight By Mick Kitson – A Review

Publisher: Canongate

Publication Date: 6th May 2021

Featherweight by Mick Kitson dropped through my letterbox unexpectedly one day and when I opened the parcel and read the blurb I knew it had the potential to be a right corking good read……and boy was it!

Set in the early 1800’s in the Black Country at a time of industrial revolution, we meet Annie Loveridge and her Romi family. Annie’s father Big Tom has died in an accident and the family of seven soon to be 8 have been left destitute and penniless.

With no other choice Annie at the age of 9 is taken by her older brother Tommy to be sold at a local fair. It’s at this particular fair that feared and revered pugilist Bill Perry or ‘The Tipton Slasher’ as he’s known, is fighting in one of his last boxing matches. Bill buys young Annie for the princely sum of 6 guineas and they, together with Bill’s friend and agent of sorts The Gaffer, take to the waterways in their barge.

Annie is immediately enamoured with Bill and they develop a lovely father/daughter relationship. Bill however is ageing and his health is fading. He has a great love of not only Queen Elizabeth but the ale aswell. It’s his love of drinking that pushes him to buy his own public house and spend his days drinking himself into a stupor, telling tall tales with his patrons and knocking out anyone who brings trouble to his doorstep. But when his money dwindles from handing out too many free flaggons of ale to his pals and facing numerous fines for non payment of bills, The Tipton Slasher attempts to get into the ring one last time to win some money to save himself and Annie.

Unfortunately Bill is not up to the job and fearing for his life young Annie steps into the ring against Jem Mason otherwise known as ‘The Bilston Bruiser’. This fight changes her life along with Bill’s and Jem’s and takes them on a whirlwind adventure of ups and downs together.

I really could sit here and type out the whole story but why would I do that and spoil your pleasure in reading this book? which you SURELY MUST.

It is ram jam packed with colourful characters who jump straight off the page. There are Annie and Bill themselves who are not backwards in coming forwards and certainly do not pull their punches. There are various peripheral characters around them that make up an odd family unit of sorts who all stick together and look out for each other through thick and thin.

There’s Janey who teaches Annie to fight and is a sort of common law wife of Bill’s. There’s The Gaffer a close friend and confidante to both Bill and Annie. Then we have Jem who becomes Annie’s love interest and fight show partner at the fairs, and Paddy his agent.

Aswell as this strange family unit there are also numerous contenders in the ring. My favourite of which being Molly Stych who is perfectly depicted:

‘She was a broad woman of around forty years, her hair pulled back from her ruddy face in a bun, and her arms were thick and fleshy, ending in, what seemed to some, unnaturally large hands for a woman. She wore a billowing dress of green silk, with bunched sleeves and a floor length skirt fringed with grimy white lace. Her wide flat face was coloured with rouge and thick powder, and her eyes and eyebrows lined heavily with black kohl. She looked more of a fit for the stage than the boxing ring.

We follow this motley crew of folk along their various adventures. Not all of them successful and not all of them safe but you find yourself swept away and rooting for them all the time.

Both Annie and Bill are brilliant characters, the kind who stick with you for a long time after you’ve closed the book. Annie is a quick thinker and has bravery in spades. She’s the homemaker and the breadwinner with her fighting skills and she is steadfastly attached to Bill and is constantly looking out for him.

Bill is a man who was once feared and respected who is now unfortunately losing his health due to his own battles with the demon drink. He is ferociously protective of Annie and his friends. Loyal and trustworthy to those who respect him.

It is not just the vividly portrayed characters that make this book such a joy to read, it is also the historical detail which really transports you back in time and envelops you in atmosphere.

I could wax lyrical about this book all day but I’ll leave it there and let you decide for yourself if it’s a book for you. If you love historical fiction bursting with colourful characters you really do need to get your hands on this one.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

The Others By Sarah Blau – A Review

Publisher: Pushkin Press

Publication Date: 13th April 2021

This book, on paper (oh the irony) shouldn’t be one I would like. In fact I recently took to Twitter to list some of the topics/tropes in books that I instantly take against, one of them being ‘something happens to a group of friends in the past which now comes back to haunt them in the future’. This books very much has that element. BUT it also looks at motherhood and I am endlessly fascinated by this.

Also, THAT COVER. Creepy doll head? YES PLEASE.

I’m so glad that I cast aside my assumptions and gave this book a whirl because it was a triumph that I gobbled up in a couple of hours after it dropped through my letterbox one dull Friday afternoon.

The Others is translated from the Hebrew by Daniella Zamir and is set in Tel Aviv where a serial killer has struck. The book opens with the body of Dina Kaminer having just been discovered, naked, hog tied to a chair, a baby doll glued to her hands and the word MOTHER carved into her forehead.

The narrative is told from the perspective of Sheila, a one time friend of Dina from university days. Sheila is questioned by police officer Micha in regards to Dina’s murder. Dina is somewhat of a public figure, given that she has written an article based on the women in the bible who did not have children, seemingly by choice and Dina herself has gone on record to say she herself will never have children, much to the chagrin of a lot of people.

In fact, it’s not just Dina who publicly declares her desire to never have children, another woman in their university friendship group, Ronat, now an actress, has given interviews declaring the exact same thing.

It later transpires that the group was originally a foursome, Sheila, Dina, Ronat and Naama. All tentatively brought together during their class Women In The Bible. The girls are fascinated by the concept that not all women are put on the earth to reproduce and they can identify with the likes of Lilith, Miriam the prophetess, Michal (King David’s wife) and the Witch Of Endor.

There is a party where the women dress up and eminate the ‘baron’ women from the bible and it is during this party that something happens to fracture their friendships.

In the present day, the serial killer seems to know things from the party. Symbols and clues are strewn around the bodies which indicate that the killer knows the groups secrets. The investigation rumbles on with Micha trying to glean from Sheila any information he can whilst she is initially a little tight lipped, she eventually gets closer to Micha by degrees and starts to divulge more and more information about her dark past.

What I absolutely loved about this book was Sheila’s character. She’s a very bold and no nonsense protagonist with a wicked almost gallows sense of humour which gave me slight Sweet Pea by C J Skuse vibes. She is caustic and guarded, and a little abrasive and that made me love her all the more.

The ‘something happened in the past’ trope didn’t put me off in any way with this book because what actually did happen was quite dark and it’s sinister tendrils crept forward to infiltrate the future in a ‘you can run but you can’t hide’ way.

I also found myself fascinated by the women in the bible and had to go and Google their stories. I love books that make you go and Google and research for yourself.

All in all I really enjoyed this book. It kept me hooked and had me guessing and who doesn’t love that?

Thank you to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx