Sweet Home By Wendy Erskine – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 27th June 2019

You all know I love me a short story collection, and Sweet Home with its quotes from the awesome Sarah Baume and Nicole Flattery is no exception.

These ten short stories set around a contemporary Belfast are sharp, incisive and chock full of emotion, but in an entirely understated way.

In Inakeen we meet a lonely widow who develops an obsession with her new neighbours, the fact they wear Niqab’s and their comings and goings.

Observation tells the story of a young girl who watches her friend steal her mother’s boyfriend, a mother unlike any other in the area, glamorous, fit and almost in competition with her own teenage daughter.

In The Soul Has No Skin we meet Barry, a man who is wrongfully accused of being involved with the abduction of a young girl in his late teens.

In Lady And Dog we meet Olga, an old-fashioned teacher with tragedy in her past who becomes obsessed with the young Gaelic football coach at her school.

A story of class distinction is brought to us in the title story of Sweet Home. Two couples from different social backgrounds are connected through one couples need for working income and the other couples loss of a child.

Last Supper is the understated tale of the manager of a Christian coffee shop covering up for his staff when they are caught having sex in the coffee shop toilets.

These stories give us insights into ordinary lives behind closed doors on ordinary streets. The characters are people who are either just trying to get by, or attempting to make something of their lives. These are people who could be living in your street.

What ties these characters together is that each of them has suffered a tragic or pivotal event in their past, be that loss or grief or violence. We then see how this has impacted on them in their current lives. I always enjoy this element of any story, be it in a novel or short story format. Seeing how an event however simple or life shaking can have repercussions, be they small ripples or echoes from the past or earth shattering consequences.

The characters in this collection are so well developed and engaging. I imagine it is no mean feat to write fully rounded characters that the reader becomes invested in when a story is only 20 or so pages long. In fact a couple of the stories I could imagine as full length novels. I experienced just enough of each of the characters to be satisfied with their story but also was left wanting maybe a little more…..which is a feeling I relish with short stories. I enjoy being left with a sense of ‘I wonder what happened to them after that’. There is a real sense of ‘reading between the lines’ and making assumptions about events and characters based on the feelings that you are drip fed, rather than being told explicitly.

The writing is quite anecdotal and conversational. Many of the stories feel like you are sitting down with a friend and chatting about other people’s lives. The dialogue is unpunctuated which is something I don’t always get on with, however in this case it works perfectly.

I am always a fan of making the ordinary extraordinary and in this collection Wendy Erskine has done just that. That sense of the mundane mingled in with the exceptional is one I really enjoy experiencing.  There is a hint of darkness in some of these stories, something else I enjoy, theres always something so propulsive about a hint of the sinister.

All in all this is a very accomplished short story collection.  I believe it is a debut, which only serves to make me very excited about Wendy Erskine’s work in the future.

If you’re a short story fan then this book is an absolute must for you.

Thank you to Alice May Dewing and the publisher for my review copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish  Chat xx

Advertisements

Bookish Chat About: The Big Ten

At the start of 2019 I wrote a blog post about blogging goals for the coming year. I wanted to be able to showcase some of the books I already have on my shelves and not just the lovely brand spanking new proofs that arrive through the door.

I have a few ideas of how I can theme these blog posts, the first of which is this one, right here, right now.

Kicking it all off with showing you lovely lot the 10 biggest books on my shelves. And by ‘biggest’ I simply mean the longest in terms of page count. I think I’ve got them all, I don’t think there are any chunky books still lurking that I’ve overlooked!

I do love a big book, but since life in the book blogging world has cracked on at a pace, I find myself less and less inclined to pick up the big books due to time constraints. Which lets face it, is a damn shame.

Now some of these ten books I’m going to talk about, I have actually read. Most however I haven’t. I will probably include blurbs for the books (even though I don’t like blurb heavy blog posts!) it’s better you find out what they are about from a synopsis rather than me trying to fudge my way through it! And for the books I’ve read I will include a link to my review if I have one.

I will start with the shortest book first and make my way up to the longest.

Sit tight.

And we’re off!….

The Parentations by Kate Mayfield –  Published by Point Blank  (496 pages)

 

BLURB:

Eighteenth-century London – the lives of the sisters Fitzgerald, Constance and Verity, become entwined with the nearby Fowler household, charged with providing safe harbour to a mysterious baby from far away.

Camden, London, 2015, December 17th – the lives of the sisters Fitzgerald, Constance and Verity, are consumed by the wait for this boy, who may or may not be dead. There is no way of knowing.

Deep within the savage beauty of Iceland, a hidden pool grants those who drink from it endless life. For those that have, their secret must remain held close for two hundred years, but time is slipping away, and malign forces are gathering.

And for those who have sipped from the pool, they discover all too quickly that immortality is no gift, because in the absence of death, true darkness emerges.

To be honest ‘Eighteenth-century London’ was pretty much all I needed to read to draw me into this book! However, I have also heard good things about it, (mainly from Simon over at Savidge Reads) and so I knew this book could be potentially a ‘me’ book. Sounds fab!

 

The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar – Harvill Secker  (496 pages)

BLURB:

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock finds one of his captains waiting eagerly on his doorstep. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society, where he meets Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course.

What will be the cost of their ambitions? And will they be able to escape the legendary destructive power a mermaid is said to possess?

This book will always have a piece of my heart.  It was one of the first books I was granted permission to read via Netgalley, one of the first books I reviewed and of course it was the shadow panel’s winner of  The Sunday Times Young Writer Of The Year Award 2018 and yes I was on that panel.  An experience and a book I will never forget.  My review and details about the award if you are interested are here.

 

Pilcrow by Adam Mars Jones published by Faber & Faber (544 pages)

BLURB:

Meet John Cromer, one of the most unusual heroes in modern fiction. If the minority is always right then John is practically infallible. Growing up disabled and gay in the 1950’s, circumstances force John from an early age to develop an intense and vivid internal world. As his character develops, this ability to transcend external circumstance through his own strength of character proves an invaluable asset.

Extremely funny and incredibly poignant, this is a major new novel from a writer at the height of his powers.

This is another book I discovered via BookTube and have only heard great things.  I do enjoy books set in the 1950’s and I have always had a fascination with how homosexuality was addressed in those days.  I really do need to head to this one soon.

 

Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile by Alice Jolly Published by Unbound (640 pages)

BLURB:

If you tell a story oft enough
So it become true

As the nineteenth century draws towards a close, Mary Ann Sate, an elderly maidservant, sets out to write her truth.

She writes of the Valleys that she loves, of the poisonous rivalry between her employer’s two sons and of a terrible choice which tore her world apart.

Her haunting and poignant story brings to life a period of strife and rapid social change, and evokes the struggles of those who lived in poverty and have been forgotten by history.

In this fictional found memoir, novelist Alice Jolly uses the astonishing voice of Mary Ann to recreate history as seen from a woman’s perspective and to give joyful, poetic voice to the silenced women of the past.

This book caught my eye when it was nominated for The Rathbones Folio Prize. I was very kindly sent a copy by Unbound and when I received it I have to admit that on looking at the layout of it, I was a little intimidated!  It looks like poetry on the page.  Poetry scares me!  I know that it isn’t actually poetry and I have heard some amazing things about it, so the intimidation has changed to excitement with this one.

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne published by Black Swan (736 pages)

BLURB:

Forced to flee the scandal brewing in her hometown, Catherine Goggin finds herself pregnant and alone, in search of a new life at just sixteen. She knows she has no choice but to believe that the nun she entrusts her child to will find him a better life.

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery, or so his parents are constantly reminding him. Adopted as a baby, he’s never quite felt at home with the family that treats him more as a curious pet than a son. But it is all he has ever known.

And so begins one man’s desperate search to find his place in the world. Unspooling and unseeing, Cyril is a misguided, heart-breaking, heartbroken fool. Buffeted by the harsh winds of circumstance towards the one thing that might save him from himself, but when opportunity knocks, will he have the courage, finally, take it?

This is another book which very much has a piece of my heart.  This was my first John Boyne and undoubtedly my favourite.  It is soooo worth all of those 736 pages! My review is here.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova published by Sphere (752 Pages)

BLURB:

Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.

In those few quiet moments, she unwittingly assumes a quest she will discover is her birthright – a hunt for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the Dracula myth. Deciphering obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions, and evading terrifying adversaries, one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil. 

This book was one of my Mr B’s Emporium monthly book subscription books. When I posted a picture of it on both Instagram and Twitter there were so many people singing it’s praises! You will know that I love me a bit of historical fiction and the reaction this one elicited has given me high hopes!

 

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates published by Fourth Estate (752 pages)

 

BLURB:

Who was Norma Jeane Baker?

In ‘Blonde’ we are given an intimate, unsparing vision of the woman who became Marilyn Monroe like no other: the child who visits the cinema with her mother; the orphan whose mother is declared mad; the woman who changes her name to become an actress; the fated celebrity, lover, comedienne, muse and icon. Joyce Carol Oates tells an epic American story of how a fragile, gifted young woman makes and remakes her identity, surviving against crushing odds, perpetually in conflict and intensely driven. Here is the very essence of the individual hungry and needy for love: from an elusive mother; from a mysterious, distant father and from a succession of lovers and husbands. Joyce Carol Oates sympathetically explores the inner life of the woman destined to become Hollywood’s most compelling legend. ‘Blonde’ is a brilliant and deeply moving portrait of a culture hypnotised by its own myths and the shattering reality of the personal effects it had on the woman who became Marilyn Monroe.

I saw this book on somebody else’s Instagram account and immediately got the ‘I NEED that!’ vibe! I have always had a little fascination with Marilyn. I’ve watched a fair few documentaries about her and I think she was far shrewder than the masses believe her to have been. I also love a bit of Fictionalised Non-Fiction so I know that I will love this one.

 

The Crimson Petal And The White by Michel Faber published by Canongate (864 Pages)

BLURB:

‘Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them . . .’

So begins this irresistible voyage into the dark side of Victorian London. Amongst an unforgettable cast of low-lifes, physicians, businessmen and prostitutes, meet our heroine Sugar, a young woman trying to drag herself up from the gutter any way she can. Be prepared for a mesmerising tale of passion, intrigue, ambition and revenge.

This book is my FAVOURITE book of all time. It is just utterly perfect. I read it a couple of years ago and it has stayed with me ever since. It is just my kind of historical fiction, grim, dark, gritty and fantastic! If I could press just one book into every readers hands it would be this one. Check out my thoughts here.

 

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell published by Pan Macmillan (992 pages)

 

BLURB:

Tomorrow is another day . . .

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Civil War, Margaret Mitchell’s magnificent historical epic is an unforgettable tale of love and loss, of a nation mortally divided and a people forever changed. Above all, it is the story of beautiful, ruthless Scarlett O’Hara and the dashing soldier of fortune, Rhett Butler.

Since its first publication in 1936, Gone With The Wind has endured as a story for all our times.

Talk about intimidating! I have no idea what it is about this book that really scares me! I’ve never seen the film and have only ever read really glowing reviews of the book. I think maybe there’s a lot of pressure to love it because it’s a classic? What do you think? Have you tackled it?

 

The Quincunx by Charles Palliser published by Penguin (1248 pages)

BLURB:

The Quincunx is an epic Dickensian-like mystery novel set in 19th century England, and concerns the varying fortunes of young John Huffam and his mother. A thrilling complex plot is made more intriguing by the unreliable narrator of the book – how much can we believe of what he says? First published in 1989, The Quincunx was a surprise bestseller and began a trend for pastiche Victorian novels. It remains one of the best.

I picked this up secondhand when a fellow historical fiction lover recommended it to me over on Twitter. I know very little about it aside from the brief blurb and at a staggering 1248 pages it really is the daunting big daddy of the bunch!

I’m sure one day I’ll get around to reading the behemoths I haven’t read yet! I may have to do it in stages!

I’ll still always be attracted to a big book, what are your thoughts? And more importantly, can you recommend any other stonkers to me?

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Red Circle Mini’s – Mini Reviews

Publisher: Red Circle Authors Ltd

When Richard at Red Circle Authors emailed me to ask whether I would be interested in reading 3 short stories written by Japanese authors and translated into English, I said yes please for two reasons.

One, I have read very little translated fiction. As I write this I am racking my brain to try and think whether I’ve actually read ANY translated fiction….if I have then it was completely inadvertently and that’s a crying shame.

Secondly, if you’ve been around here for a while, you will undoubtedly know that I LOVE a short story and take great pleasure in treating myself to a soak in the bath and good little blast of fiction.

Richard very kindly sent me a trio of short stories, two of which have been translated from Japanese. The premise of each of the stories (after a little googling) sounded intriguing and I was hopeful that I would be in for a treat.

First up we have Stand-In Companion by Kazufumi Shiraishi.

This little gem stands at 43 pages long and tells the story of the marriage of Hayato and Yutori, a couple struggling with fertility issues at a time where IVF is no longer approved aside from special cases. Black market IVF is available at huge cost, not just financial, if a pregnancy resulting from IVF is discovered, an abortion is ordered.

This is a dystopian tale of their love, loss, jealousies and fertility struggles. When they divorce and lose each other, stand-in companions are requested to take each other’s place. Essentially this is an AI unit which looks exactly like them and which has their memories downloaded into them. Amazing right?!

However, these companions are meant only as a temporary salve for the loss of a loved one and usually assigned to the bereaved and have a life span of only 10 years. After this their signal is interrupted and they cease functioning.

What I loved about this quirky dystopian story was the real heart stored within its brief number of pages. Despite being centred around technology and ‘robots’ if you will, it was absolutely drenched in human emotion. A story that packed a huge punch and had me thinking about advancing technology and the way the world could be in the future. It’s amazing that such a brief story can really get you thinking!

Next up we have Tokyo Performance by Roger Pulvers. This one is the only one originally written in English and therefore not translated (obvs!). This tells the story of television celebrity chef Norimasa ‘Nori’ Inomata in the pre-internet age. A man who has revelled in his fame and relished it for decades. A man who has personality and charisma in abundance and who is capable of having the middle aged ladies eating out of his hand with his smooth talk and slightly racy innuendo. When Nori takes a phonecall from his ex-wife live on air, his life and celebrity status begins to unravel. Told through the eyes of his overlooked female producer this is a fascinating insight into the notion of ‘celebrity’ and the very public breakdown of a much loved star live on TV.

The format in which this story is written was a large plus point for me. Alternating between the narrative of Nori’s producer between ad breaks and the live dialogue flow of Nori as he presents his cooking show and talks to his studio audience. (I must admit the food descriptions drew me in too!).

A quirkily told tale that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Lastly in this trio we have Backlight by Kangi Hanawa. I knew this was about a young boy going missing in the mountains but I didn’t realise it was based on the true story of the 7 year old boy who was kicked out of his family car into bear inhabited mountains by his parents as a punishment. When they returned some ten minutes later, the boy had disappeared. This happened in 2016 and the boy was eventually found alive and well (if a little hungry!) six days after he disappeared. Interestingly this story is told from the perspective of various psychologists who were working on the case and trying to decipher how the boy would have felt and how he would have been thinking and therefore which actions he took and where he could have possibly headed.

This trio of short stories felt very fresh and unique, I was interested to not only read the stories themselves but the story behind how they came to be published and the background of the three authors who have won numerous literary awards between them. They are books that I perhaps wouldn’t have ordinarily picked up to read, but they have made a very welcome home on my bookshelf.

Thank you very much to Richard and Red Circle Authors for sending me the books and allowing me experience some great translated fiction.

See you all soon

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

Diary Of A Somebody By Brian Bilston – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: 13th June 2019

I have been following Brian Bilston over on my personal Twitter account for a good while now and I have always loved his poems.  He is great at reading the mood and putting out a little poem to put a smile on people’s faces.  As most of you will already know, I like to occasionally pen a few lines myself, nothing on the scale or quality of Brian’s poems but it’s something I find satisfaction and enjoyment in.  Anyway, what I’m getting at in a roundabout way is that I was excited to get my hands on a proof of Brian’s book as I knew I stood a good chance of really enjoying it.

And enjoy it I did!

It’s the start of a new year and Brian is hoping to gain some clarity and perspective in his tricky life.  He decides he will write a poem a day for a year as salvation from his problems.  His wife has left him for a man who can do no wrong, he is trying to forge a relationship with his teenage son who he seems to consistently disappoint.  He is drowning at work in a sea of management speak and indecipherable spreadsheets, barely keeping his head above water.

His saving grace is the poetry club he belongs to, but even that is proving to be difficult to navigate as he clashes with poet extraordinaire Toby Salt.  Toby is on the up and up in the poetry world and has even achieved the holy grail of having his work published.  Toby is not only Brian’s nemesis in terms of poetry, he also has his eye on Liz, a woman who Brian has a growing affection for.

But when Toby goes missing and Brian is firmly in the frame, he must think on his feet and deduce what has happened to Toby in order to clear his name.

This book was such a treat to read as I knew it would be.  Brian is such a great character, he’s, dare I say it, a bit hapless but entirely loveable.  There were times when I was cringing at some of the things he says and does, particularly involving his interactions with Liz.  You can see as an outside observer that he is unintentionally pushing her away but he’s oblivious to it.  Poor Brian!

The relationship he has with Toby Salt is wryly humourous, I can fully imagine how annoying and insufferable someone like Toby could be.  The one person in the poetry group who is successful, and feels it necessary to critique the others work and belittle them, particularly our lovely Brian.

In fact, all of Brian’s relationships are very engaging.  The sometimes faltering bond between him and his son is so touching. Brian is just trying his best in the shadow of Stuart, his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, a man who seems too good to be true.  It seems as if Brian is always swimming against the tide.

For me the crowning glory in the book, (and the real draw for me if I’m honest) is the actual poetry.  I am in awe of the skill and wit Brian incorporates when he is crafting his poems.  I could read them over and over again and still take such pleasure in them.  I was constantly taking pictures of the poems and sending them to my Husband.  There were a few times that I wanted to stand up on the bus and just say ”’Ere, shut it everyone! listen to this, it’s brilliant!”.  Alas, I’m not brave enough!

Another great thing about this book is how it makes poetry so accessible.  I don’t know about you but there are certain types of poetry that go straight over my head, there can often be a slight apprehension around it, at least it feels that way for me.  However, the poetry in this book I feel would be appreciated and understood by everyone.  Although it is so sharp and cleverly constructed it is still packed full of humour and relatability.

I saw Brian Bilston put a tweet out on the day he went to record the audiobook, saying that he was going to have to come up with interesting ways to read the poems, given that some of them are pictorial and rely on a visual image to make sense.  For example:

I think I need to listen to the audiobook now to see just what ingenius ways were invented to get around this issue!

All in all this book was a joy, it has heart and emotion but isn’t too deep.  It has wry humour and clever poetry to make you chuckle (or in my case, make you think ‘I wish I could write poetry like that!’).

If you love wordplay and poetry you can relate to and absorb then I would most heartily recommend this book.  I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Thank you to Camilla Ellworthy and the publisher for my proof copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

 

Bookish Chat About: Multi-Reading

Just a quickie today pals.

I wanted to have a brief chat about multi-reading. Reading more than one book at once. (I don’t know why I felt the need to explain that to you).

Multi-reading was something I would have never done in a million years if you were asking the ‘me’ from around a year or so ago.

I used to watch certain booktubers talking about the multiple books they were reading at any one time and think ‘u ok hun?’

However, since becoming a book blogger I have found that I am able to multi-read fairly easily. It’s necessity that initially pushed me to give it a whirl. When you have a number of books that you have committed to reading by a certain date and only a limited number of reading hours in a typical day you have to get creative.

Now I’m not saying it comes naturally. It very much doesn’t. But it is becoming more and more ‘the norm’. I would also say that 4 books at a time would be my absolute limit and one of those would need to be an audiobook (another new habit of mine, but we’ll discuss that another time).

There are certain self imposed stipulations I put upon myself with this multi-reading lark. The books have to have different settings and time periods. Ideally I would have one historical fiction and one contemporary/dystopian. It also helps considerably if one of the books is non-fiction. I don’t think I could do 3 fiction, UNLESS……one is a short story collection.

Now.

Here we change the rules again.

Hang on in there!

Short story collections are an entirely different beast.

If I was to count the number of short story collections I am currently reading then we would be up to around 15 books. Therefore I don’t really count them in my ‘currently reading’. The reason for this is that I dip in and out of short stories, usually when I’m in the bath. I pick up whichever collection I’m in the mood for reading and just go with it. However, I could put that book back on the shelf and not pick it up again for several months.

A different reading environment also helps with my multi-reading. I take one book on the bus journey to work and this also will be the book I read during my lunch hour. Rarely will I take that book out of my tote bag and read it at home. The only time I would consider doing this would be if I had literally a few pages left to finish.

I also have a book next to my chair downstairs and a book on the shelf above my bed. Differentiating which room I read which book in can help with keeping the books separate in my head.

It’s not all hard and fast rules though. Sometimes a book will blow me away and I will forsake all others to get that one finished. Sometimes I might need to get a book finished for an upcoming blog tour, therefore that bad boy will come to work with me, come and join me in the bath and see me to sleep in bed at night.

I have heard various stand points about multi-reading and I know it’s not for everyone. I absolutely get that. But what I don’t necessarily agree with is the idea that you cannot possibly be concentrating on all of the books equally.

I would counter this with the idea that having a choice of books available to you to pick up depending on your mood or circumstances is much better than forcing yourself to read the one book you’re currently reading when maybe you’re not in the mood for it. But this is of course just my opinion and what works well for me.

So.

The upshot of this post is this.

I multi-read.

Do you?…..

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

The Rapture By Claire McGlasson – A Review

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Publication Date: 6th June 2019

Can we just take a little moment to appreciate the cover of this book…….and also whilst we’re at it, how it compliments my Laura Ashley wallpaper…..(which is going by the way, gives me terrible night terrors….but that’s by the by).

The Rapture is based on the true story of The Panacea Society from the 1920’s in Bedford. The society was headed up by a vicar’s wife named Mabel who reinvented herself as Octavia, Daughter Of God.

Octavia and her followers believe that to heal the world of all pain and evil, women need to lead the way. Joanna Southcott, a prophetess from 100 years prior reputedly sealed the answers in a mysterious box, however, to open it they have to convince the male members of the church to accept the rule of women.

The society are busy making their preparations for the arrival of the bishops and the subsequent opening of the treasured box, the location of which is unknown, however Octavia is certain that it’s whereabouts will be revealed when the time is right.

What will happen after the opening of the box can surely only be the second coming of Christ and the society followers are living their lives each day hoping to be ‘faultless, colourless, zero’ in order to please him when he finally arrives to save them.

This means they live by many documented rules, the list being added to almost daily.

‘limit all dialogue to pleasantries and practicalities. Do not question. Only obey.

Do not make sandwiches of your bread and butter’

There is no occasion on which it is correct to spread a handkerchief on the lap at tea.

Never allow the arm to rest on the table.

In using pepper, do not scatter it so it affects your neighbour.

An ‘excuse me’ should always follow a sneeze.

Creaking shoes should be apologised for and corrected as soon as possible.

Followers also have to observe each other carefully and note down any indiscretions, flauting of rules and such like, and report them to Octavia.

Dilys is our protagonist and we hear the story in the first person perspective. Dilys lives at number 12 Albany Road with Octavia and a couple of other followers. Octavia has a close inner circle of followers who she has secret meetings with and with whom she performs hidden rituals. Dilys often feels on the periphery of this, as if she is not good enough and strives to live up to Octavia’s high expectations.

She feels as if she is constantly lacking the requirements of a true follower, feels awkward, and is somehow disappointing Octavia in her actions or inactions.

One day whilst out for a walk, Dilys detours into a local church and meets a young girl named Grace. Dilys feels an instant connection to inquisitive Grace and invites her to come and visit her at Albany Road, meet with Octavia and find out more about the society.

From here on in, Dilys and Grace form a strong bond and Dilys begins to develop strong feelings for Grace which she feels go against all the teachings of the society and against the will of God. Whilst she struggles with her intense feelings, she also battles with her strange relationship with Octavia and the fact that her brother, once a member of the society himself is disapproving of the society’s way of life and is desperate for her to see the light and leave.

But just how much of a hold does the society have over Dilys and can she break free of the overpowering zealot that is Octavia?

This book is an absolutely perfect example of a Google Book, a book which during reading (and immediately after in this case!) I felt compelled to grab my phone and Google the real life facts and details.  This subject is absolutely fascinating and the fictional story which Claire McGlasson has weaved around the facts is utterly absorbing.

I really enjoyed the developing relationship between Dilys and Grace, it is such a beautiful bond and connection they share.  Dily is a character who got under my skin.  I was willing her on and hoping she would eventually see the light and break free from Octavia’s hold. She’s perfectly imperfect and I enjoyed watching the change in her personality as the story progressed.

The real life background of how the society came to be is at the start of the book, this was very helpful in setting the scene and filling in some gaps.  As I started reading I found myself flipping back to this page to familiarise myself with the workings of the society and fully engage myself with their ethos.

I’ve always found cults fascinating, the way in which they are formed, how the leaders garner recruits, their respect and their unwavering devotion based on very little that is factual. What I found eye opening about the Panacea Society was the way the rules were changed to suit their beliefs. Their ideas surrounding death (they believe they are immortal) shaken when death does indeed infiltrate the society (as it obviously must at some point!) their beliefs around death are then re-written to suit what they cannot change.

Claire McGlasson has weaved a perfect fictionalised story around the solid framework of fact. I think there is a very fine balance of creating a fictional world, an engaging story, but also providing enough factual detail to keep the reader committed to not only reading on, but doing their own research after they have finished reading the book.

In fact it was the very end of this book that gave me pause to think about the real women behind the society all those years ago.  Claire McGlasson gives us an explanation as to how she came up with the idea for the story of The Rapture, and how a certain photograph inspired the character of Dilys and what actually became of the real life ‘Dilys’ from this photograph. I got chills. A perfect way to end this very special book.

I must just say that I really need to visit The Panacea Museum in Bedford after reading this book. Even writing the review has made me get myself back on Google to look at some pictures.

This is a very accomplished and thoroughly researched debut novel and I am sure I will love anything that Claire McGlasson writes in the future. Isn’t it great when you discover great new authors!

Get your hands on a copy!

Thank you as always to the publisher for my proof copy (and my beautiful finished copy!) and for having me on the blog tour. Please do check out what the other lovely bloggers think too.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

*The quoted rules in this blog post are taken from the proof and not the finished copy.

 

The Body Lies By Jo Baker – A Review

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication Date: 13th June 2019

This book is the kind of psychological thriller that isn’t overtly in your face terrifying. It is insidiously unnerving in such a clever way which had me well and truly hooked!

The story opens with a brief depiction of what appears to be a body lying outdoors somewhere.

We then move on to our unnamed protagonist, a pregnant author living in London with her husband, who one evening gets attacked by a man in the street. She is understandably shaken up, injured, frightened and uncomprehending that something like this could happen to her and even more so, what kind of person could do this.

Mark, her husband is also understandably upset and angry on her behalf however over time he is keen for her to move on from the incident and not let it define her or their lives.

She is cautious and nervy but also desperate to live a normal life with Mark and their new baby, Sam. Fast forward 3 years and she has had enough of life in London and is eager to get away up north, anywhere but London and the reminders of her attack. She applies for a job as a creative writing teacher in a college and makes plans to move to a rural village with both Mark and their son.

However, when it comes to the crunch, Mark decides he cannot simply leave his job as a teacher and ditch the kids part way through a term. It is decided that he will stay in London for the remainder of the school year and travel up north at the weekends, with no guarantees that he will move there permanently.

Life in the isolated village is lonely and initially our protagonist wonders whether she has done the right thing. Being extra careful to make sure she has locked the doors properly, ears pricked up for every little noise and creak in the house, she feels solitary and finds it difficult to relax and settle.

One of her distractions from the loneliness is her work. She takes on task after task and relishes her busy schedule despite very much burning the candle at both ends. She initially feels a little bit like a fish out of water with her creative writing MA students, almost feeling like a fraud with her one successful book.

When tempers and frustrations flare between the students, arguments over the creative process and how women are portrayed within literature, she tries to stay within the rules and boundaries that the college stipulates. However, there is one particular student who she becomes almost too interested in and distracted by. Nicholas produces his work based on truth. Unsettling and dark work which has both the teacher and his fellow students speculating how much of his writing has actually happened in his real life. Things take a more sinister turn when our protagonist finds herself and her life a focus of Nicholas’s stories.

When the teacher/student relationship crosses boundaries despite her protestations, events are set into motion that leave her at her most open, at risk and vulnerable.

I’ll say no more than that plot wise!

What I loved about this book was the absolutely perfect pacing. Little signs and signals that things are not progressing quite as well as planned for our protagonist. A building sense of unease and trepidation surrounding her relationship with Nicholas and his dark past. This is of course heightened by the isolated rural setting.

I also very much enjoyed the mixed media that interspersed the normal narrative. Witness statements, complaints, the stories that each of the students were working on. This helped keep me invested, not that I needed much help! There is just something about this book that propels you along and keeps you turning the pages to see what the blazes will happen next!

There is also an important thread running through the book surrounding the way that women are portrayed not only in literature but how women are treated by men via the way our protagonist is treated not only by her students but by her male superior at the university and male colleagues. It can make for quite uncomfortable reading at times.

There is a theme of sexual assault just to warn you, an assault which happens when the protagonist acquiesces to what is happening to her as she feels its the easiest option. I found it very interesting reading about the aftermath of this assault, she pretty much carries on as usual, with the exception of a trip to obtain the morning after pill.  The desire to keep things normal and on an even keel for herself and her son is the ultimate goal. Difficult to digest as a reader at times though.

This is for sure not a fast paced thriller in the usual sense.  I seen it referred to as a ‘literary thriller’ and whilst I don’t much care for the term I think it’s the closest one we’ll get to describing this book. The character interactions and their relationships were the main pull for me with this book.  The plot was secondary.

I really enjoyed this book and would be very happy to recommend it.

Thank you to Alison Barrow and the publisher for my proof copy.

 

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx