My Most Anticipated Books Of 2020

Happy New Year everyone! 2020 is shaping up to be a stellar year publishing wise (I think we say that every year don’t we!) there are SO MANY great books heading our way this year and even as I write this post, more and more fantastic looking books are being brought to my attention.

This post will be a long one for two reasons. Firstly there are quite a few books I want to mention and secondly I will be including the blurb for each book. I’m not usually big on including blurbs on my posts but in cases like this where I haven’t actually read the book yet it is a necessity, so bear with!

I have a mix of fiction, non-fiction and short stories (as always) but the majority are fiction. I have also put them in publication month order. So without further ado, let’s crack on with the books!

FEBRUARY:

Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride – Faber

BLURB:

At the mid-point of her life a woman enters an Avignon hotel room. She’s been here once before – but while the room hasn’t changed, she is a different person now.

Forever caught between check-in and check-out, she will go on to occupy other hotel rooms, from Prague to Oslo, Auckland to Austin, each as anonymous as the last, but bound by rules of her choosing. There, amid the detritus of her travels, the matchbooks, cigarettes, keys and room-service wine, she will negotiate with memory, with the men she sometimes meets, and with what it might mean to return home.

I have never read any Eimear McBride but I have heard great things about her writing. The premise of this one really intrigues me and I’m excited to give her a whirl.

The Foundling by Stacey Halls – Bonnier Books

BLURB:

London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst, that Clara has died in care, she is astonished when she is told she has already claimed her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.

Less than a mile from Bess’s lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.

I read Stacey Hall’s The Familiars in 2018 and really enjoyed it. I have a bit of a fascination with the whole idea of foundlings and I think this could be another great piece of historical fiction.

 

MARCH:

Coming Up For Air by Sarah Leipciger – Doubleday

BLURB:

On the banks of the River Seine in 1899, a young woman takes her final breath before plunging into the icy water. Although she does not know it, her decision will set in motion an astonishing chain of events. It will lead to 1950s Norway, where a grieving toy-maker is on the cusp of a transformative invention, all the way to present-day Canada where a journalist, battling a terrible disease, risks everything for one last chance to live.

Taking inspiration from a remarkable true story, Coming Up for Air is a bold, richly imagined novel about the transcendent power of storytelling and the immeasurable impact of every human life. The legacy of the woman at its heart touches the lives of us all today, and this book reveals just how.

 I must admit that I’m intrigued by the back story for this one. I do enjoy a multi time period narrative and I gave very high hopes for this one!

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – Tinder Press

BLURB:

On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

I don’t think I need to say much about this one! I’ve seen it all over the socials and the excitement and buzz around this book is almost palpable!

The Recovery Of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel – Michael Joseph

BLURB:

Rose Gold Watts believed she was sick for eighteen years.

She thought she needed the feeding tube, the surgeries, the wheelchair . . .

Turns out her mother is a really good liar.

After five years in prison, Patty Watts is finally free. All she wants is to put old grievances behind her, reconcile with her daughter – and care for her new infant grandson.

When Rose Gold agrees to have Patty move in, it seems their relationship is truly on the mend.

But Rose Gold knows her mother. Patty won’t rest until she has her daughter back under her thumb. Which is inconvenient because Rose Gold wants to be free of Patty.

Forever.

Only one Watts woman will get her way.

Will it be Patty or Rose Gold? Mother or daughter?

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book based around the subject of Muchausen Syndrome by proxy (which I find fascinating!) add to this the dynamic of an unusual mother/daughter relationship and I’m there!

 

The Animals Of Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey – Mantle

BLURB:

Some secrets are unspoken. Others are unspeakable . . .

August 1939.

Thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright is tasked with the evacuation and safekeeping of the natural history museum’s collection of mammals. Once she and her exhibits arrive at Lockwood Manor, however, where they are to stay for the duration of the war, Hetty soon realizes that she’s taken on more than she’d bargained for.

Protecting her charges from the irascible Lord Lockwood and resentful servants is work enough, but when some of the animals go missing, and worse, Hetty begins to suspect someone – or something – is stalking her through the darkened corridors of the house.

As the disasters mount, Hetty finds herself falling under the spell of Lucy, Lord Lockwood’s beautiful but clearly haunted daughter. But why is Lucy so traumatized? Does she know something she’s not telling? And is there any truth to local rumours of ghosts and curses?

A Manor House? Darkened corridors? Ghosts and curses? YES PLEASE. Enough said.

 

The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson – Two Roads

BLURB:

Loch Katrine waterworks, 1856. A Highland wilderness fast becoming an industrial wasteland. No place for a lady.

Isabel Aird is aghast when her husband is appointed doctor to an extraordinary waterworks being built miles from the city. But Isabel, denied the motherhood role that is expected of her by a succession of miscarriages, finds unexpected consolations in a place where she can feel the presence of her unborn children and begin to work out what her life in Victorian society is for.

The hills echo with the gunpowder blasts of hundreds of navvies tunnelling day and night to bring clean water to diseased Glasgow thirty miles away – digging so deep that there are those who worry they are disturbing the land of faery itself. Here, just inside the Highland line, the membrane between the modern world and the ancient unseen places is very thin.

With new life quickening within her again, Isabel can only wait. But a darker presence has also emerged from the gunpowder smoke. And he is waiting too.

I do enjoy books that tell the story of a pregnant woman. Particularly one who has either struggled to get pregnant, stay pregnant struggle to cope after a baby is born. When you add a Fae element to this I am immediately interested!

 

She Clown And Other Stories by Hannah Vincent – Myriad Editions

BLURB:

These are stories told with a female gaze, showing women striving to be artists, employers, employees, daughters, mothers, sisters, friends, partners, wives and girlfriends. Characters are captured in recognisable moment of real life and in occasional flights of fancy. At the centre of each story is a woman engaged in an act of self-preservation.

In one story a young woman on the cusp of adulthood tries to express the horror and violence she perceives in the world around her, in another a teenage mother struggles to look after her child in the face of her obsession with the baby’s father. One character experiences the freedom of the workplace while another perceives its constraints. One discovers how far her career has pushed her out to the margins of family life while another contemplates retirement. In the title story a woman catches a whiff of what respect and reciprocal attraction feels like.

Women in these stories are exhilarated to discover the joy and surprise of other women’s company, they make bold sexual choices and go on night-time excursions. As grandmothers they give their grandchildren unsuitable presents. These women are at home and on holiday, at work and at play. They are young and they are old, fulfilled and frustrated, professional and amateur, educated and uneducated, knowing and unknowing. Their stories are witty, colourful tales of struggle and success, of yearning and learning.

If you’ve been around for a while you’ll know that one of my favourite books of all time is The Weaning by Hannah Vincent. When I saw she had a short story collection coming out I knew I had to have it! And have it I will!

Rest And Be Thankful by Emma Glass – Bloomsbury

BLURB:

Laura is a nurse in a paediatric unit. On long, quiet shifts, she and her colleagues, clad in their different shades of blue, care for sick babies, handling their exquisitely frangible bodies, carefully calibrating the mysterious machines that keep them alive.

Laura may be burned out. Her hands have been raw from washing as long as she can remember. When she sleeps, she dreams of water; when she wakes, she finds herself lying next to a man who doesn’t love her any more. And there is a strange figure dancing in the corner of her vision, always just beyond her reach.

This is a very interesting one because I didn’t really gel with Peach story wise but I knew Emma Glass could write. Does that make sense? Therefore I want yo give her second book a try and see whether I get on better with it.

 

APRIL:

Death In Her Hands by Otessa Moshfegh – Penguin

BLURB:

While on her daily walk with her dog in the nearby woods, our protagonist comes across a note, handwritten and carefully pinned to the ground with stones. Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.

Shaky even on her best days, she is also alone, and new to this area, having moved here from her long-time home after the death of her husband, and now deeply alarmed. Her brooding about the note grows quickly into a full-blown obsession, as she explores multiple theories about who Magda was and how she met her fate. Her suppositions begin to find echoes in the real world, and the fog of mystery starts to form into a concrete and menacing shape. But is there either a more innocent explanation for all this, or a much more sinister one – one that strikes closer to home?

I discovered Ottessa Moshfegh towards the end of 2019 (I know, I know, VERY late to the party!) but I binge read her books after reading My Year Of Rest And Relaxation. I am very excited for this one!

 

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi – Mantle

BLURB:

A Sin Eater’s duty is a necessary evil: she hears the final private confessions of the dying, eats their sins as a funeral rite, and so guarantees their souls access to heaven. It is always women who eat sins – since it was Eve who first ate the Forbidden Fruit – and every town has at least one, not that they are publicly acknowledged. Stained by the sins they are obliged to consume, the Sin Eater is shunned and silenced, doomed to live in exile at the edge of town.

Recently orphaned May Owens is just fourteen, and has never considered what it might be like to be so ostracized; she’s more concerned with where her next meal is coming from. When she’s arrested for stealing a loaf of bread, however, and subsequently sentenced to become a Sin Eater, finding food is suddenly the last of her worries.

It’s a devastating sentence, but May’s new invisibility opens new doors. And when first one then two of the Queen’s courtiers suddenly grow ill, May hears their deathbed confessions – and begins to investigate a terrible rumour that is only whispered of amid palace corridors.

This blurb really gets my juices flowing! I’d never heard of the concept of sin eaters before but since receiving a proof copy of this book I’ve done a fair bit of Googling! Which has only served to get my juices flowing even more!

MAY:

What Have I Done? by Laura Dockrill – Square Peg 

BLURB:

Laura Dockrill had an idyllic pregnancy and couldn’t wait to meet her new baby. But as she went into labour things began to go wrong and Laura started to struggle. A traumatic birth, anxiety about the baby, sleep deprivation, a slow recovery – all these things piled up until Laura (like any new mum) felt overwhelmed.

As many as 8 out of 10 new mums struggle in the weeks after birth. In Laura’s case these feelings escalated scarily quickly into post-partum psychosis. She became paranoid and delusional and had to be institutionalised for a fortnight without her baby. Throughout this time she was haunted by a sense of: ‘What have I done?’, at first as she wondered if she could cope with her baby, and later because she was trying to grasp at reality as she slipped into nightmarish delusion.

Laura’s experience was devastating but this is a hopeful book. Not only has Laura slowly recovered she has come out the other side stronger and more assured about parenting on her own terms. Now she is determined to break the silence around post-natal mental health and with her story tell new parents: you are not alone.

I’ve mentioned lots of times that I enjoy reading books (be they fiction or non-fiction) which tell if struggling new mothers. I was once a struggling new mother myself and so can see myself a lot in these kinds of books. They are sometimes hard to read but I find them cathartic.

Blasted Things by Lesley Glaister – Sandstone Press

BLURB:

WW1 is over. As a nurse at the front, Clementine has found and lost love, but has settled for middle class marriage. Vincent had half his face blown off, and wants more than life offers now. Drawn together by their shared experiences at the Front, they have a compulsive relationship, magnetic and parasitic, played out with blackmail and ending in disaster for one of them.

I absolutely LOVE Lesley Glaister! I think she doesn’t get talked about it appreciated enough. She writes some absolute gems (Honour Thy Father being my all time favourite) and she makes the ordinary extraordinary in quite often a very dark way.

JUNE:

The Harpy by Megan Hunter – Picador

BLURB:

Lucy and Jake live in a house by a field where the sun burns like a ball of fire. Lucy works from home but devotes her life to the children, to their finely tuned routine, and to the house itself, which comforts her like an old, sly friend. But then a man calls one afternoon with a shattering message: his wife has been having an affair with Lucy’s husband, he wants her to know.

The revelation marks a turning point: Lucy and Jake decide to stay together, but in a special arrangement designed to even the score and save their marriage, she will hurt him three times. Jake will not know when the hurt is coming, nor what form it will take.

As the couple submit to a delicate game of crime and punishment, Lucy herself begins to change, surrendering to a transformation of both mind and body from which there is no return.

I have seen The Harpy being talked about on social media and I have only heard good things. Thats all I need. I just want to read it!

I Had A Wolf By The Ears by Laura Van Den Berg – Farrar Straus and Giroux

BLURB:

I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, Laura van den Berg’s first story collection since her acclaimed and prizewinning Isle of Youth, draws readers into a world of wholly original, sideways ghost stories that linger in the mouth and mind like rotten, fragrant fruit. Both timeless and urgent, these eleven stories confront misogyny, violence, and the impossible economics of America with van den Berg’s trademark spiky humor and surreal eye. Moving from the peculiarities of Florida to liminal spaces of travel in Mexico City, Sicily, and Spain, I Hold a Wolf by the Ears is uncannily attuned to our current moment, and to the thoughts we reveal to no one but ourselves.

In “Lizards,” a man mutes his wife’s anxieties by giving her a La Croix-like seltzer laced with sedatives. In the title story, a woman poses as her more successful sister during a botched Italian holiday, a choice that brings about strange and violent consequences, while in “Karolina,” a woman discovers her prickly ex-sister-in-law in the aftermath of an earthquake and is forced to face the truth about her violent brother.

I Hold a Wolf by the Ears presents a collection of women on the verge, trying to grasp what’s left of life: grieving, divorced, and hyperaware, searching, vulnerable, and unhinged, they exist in a world that deviates from our own only when you look too close. With remarkable control and transcendent talent, van den Berg dissolves, in the words of the narrator of “Slumberland,” “that border between magic and annihilation,” and further establishes herself as a defining fiction writer of our time.

I cannot take the credit for this one. The lovely Siobhain @thelitaddict_ gave me a nudge when she saw this one. It’s quite well known that I enjoy a short story collection! All I needed to see were the words ‘sideways ghost stories’…..I’m sold!

 

JULY:

Sisters by Daisy Johnson – Jonathan Cape 

BLURB:

Something unspeakable has happened to sisters July and September.

Desperate for a fresh start, their mother Sheela moves them across the country to an old family house that has a troubled life of its own. Noises come from behind the walls. Lights flicker of their own accord. The dank basement, where July and September once made a blood promise to each other, is deeply disquieting.

In their new, unsettling surroundings, July finds that the fierce bond she’s always had with September is beginning to change in ways she cannot understand.

You all know that I adored Fen and Everything Under by Daisy Johnson. There was no way I was going to be anything other than beside myself with excitement for this beauty!

AUGUST:

The Quickening by Rhiannon Ward – Trapeze

BLURB:

England, 1925. Louisa Drew lost her husband in the First World War and her six-year-old twin sons in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Newly re-married to a war-traumatised husband and seven months pregnant, Louisa is asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex where she is to photograph the contents of the house for auction.

She learns Clewer Hall was host to an infamous séance in 1896, and that the lady of the house has asked those who gathered back then to come together once more to recreate the evening. When a mysterious child appears on the grounds, Louisa finds herself compelled to investigate and becomes embroiled in the strange happenings of the house. Gradually, she unravels the long-held secrets of the inhabitants and what really happened thirty years before… and discovers her own fate is entwined with that of Clewer Hall’s.

A hall……..a seance. SIGN. ME. UP.

 

SEPTEMBER:

Famished by Anna Vaught – Influx Press

BLURB:

In this dark and toothsome collection, Anna Vaught enters a strange world of apocryphal feasts and disturbing banquets. Famished explores the perils of selfish sensuality and trifle while child rearing, phantom sweetshop owners, the revolting use of sherbet in occult rituals, homicide by seaside rock, and the perversion of Thai Tapas. Once, that is, you’ve been bled dry from fluted cups by pretty incorporeals and learned about consuming pride in the hungriest of stately homes. Famished: eighteen stories to whet your appetite and ruin your dinner.

Here I am again with the short story love! This time surrounding food and eating. My other loves! What’s not to like?!?

So there we have it! I hope some of these books will now be on your Bookish radar if they weren’t already.

Just re-reading all those blurbs has stoked up my excitement again!

I can barely contain myself! It’s going to be a bloody good year my bookish pals!

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

 

 

 

 

Sealed By Naomi Booth – A Review

Publisher: Dead Ink Books

Publication Date: 2 July 2019

I saw various Booktuber’s talking about Sealed by Naomi Booth and it sort of took root in my mind as being a book I could possibly love.  I got super busy in the run up to Christmas and the book fell by the wayside and into the recesses of my tiny mind!  There was one day over the Christmas period where in amongst thinking about cheese and wine and chocolate I thought ‘What was that book I saw being talked about where people’s bodies are sealing up?’……..Hey Mand, maybe the clue is in the title?…….

I put a quick tweet out asking my bookish friends if they knew of the book and the lovely Jordan Taylor-Jones offered to send me a copy for review (the HUGEST of thanks Jordan!).  When it arrived I really wanted to crack into it straight away but also wanted to save it as my first read of 2020…………..

Reader, I caved on December 28th.  I just couldn’t hold off any longer!  Zero willpower, story of my life.

Sealed is set in Australia in the present day or the not too distant future.  We follow Alice and Pete as they relocate out of the city and closer to the remote bush.  Alice is heavily pregnant and obsessed with the effects of pollution, bush fires and the smog of the city.  There have also been reported cases of a new disease called ‘cutis’ whereby people’s bodies are effectively sealing up (think eyes, ears, noses, mouths, genitals…….I know right! *shudder*).

Precious little is known about the disease and many experts are hypothesising about the potential causes.  Alice has been following the news reports avidly and has created her own logs and files surrounding the reported cases.

Pete doesn’t seem to share Alice’s worry’s and is hoping that their move will alleviate some of her concerns and is desperate for them to make a fresh start where the air is clearer and hopefully Alice’s thoughts will be clearer too.

However, it’s not long before Alice is seeing hints of symptoms in the locals.  The GP’s surgery won’t take on new patients and the staff there are cagey as to why. Alice tries to convey her fears and worries to Pete but he brushes them away in the hope of making a new life for their family.

The overwhelming fears that Alice has mean that her thoughts are almost entirely taken up by cutis.  This in turn leads to difficulties with her bonding with her unborn baby which she looks upon as almost a ‘thing’ or a ‘creature’.  Alice’s mother has also recently died and Alice has doubts about her official stated cause of death.  This plays heavily on Alice’s mind throughout.

Pete tries to involve them both in small town life and they begin to socialise with their neighbours and their young son.  Nobody around Alice seems to be overly concerned about cutis and the smog which only serves to make her more anxious.  As her pregnancy progresses and reaches it’s peak, Alice finds herself trapped in the middle of the most horrific nightmare imaginable and fighting for her newborn baby.

What I loved about this book was the fact that the dystopian element was not so far fetched that it couldn’t be feasible.  I am not a huge dysopian reader so I took a bit of a punt on this book in the hope that it wouldn’t be too far beyond the realms of possibility.  On the flip side of this however is the dawning realisation that THIS COULD HAPPEN!

I mean….Ok…..it probably won’t, but WHAT IF?????……

Scary stuff!

I really felt for Alice as a character.  You can really feel the sheer frustration she feels at not being able to convey to people how serious she knows cutis is.  It’s almost as if she’s living in the middle of a conspiracy and battling to make her voice heard.  There appear to be so many cover ups, not just officially but even her own partner playing down her fears and the creeping onset of his own.

I’ve read other reviews of this book which dub it an eco-horror, and I would agree with this.  The ‘eco’ part of that runs throughout the book but the ‘horror’ really ramps up in the last 25-30 pages!  As we know, Alice is heavily pregnant and what happens when women are heavily pregnant?……….Birth.  Birth in times of serious crisis!  The labour and birth scene (not a spoiler because hello, she’s preggers!) is so visceral and raw and not for the faint hearted!

Naomi Booth has such a stark and beautiful way of writing and I very much enjoy her style. I recently read The Lost Art Of Sinking by the same author and thoroughly enjoyed it. I feel like I am in safe hands with her books and I know I will enjoy anything she writes.

Sealed is a claustrophobic and intense read with an end that will make your toes curl. I loved it and would heartily recommend it!

Thank you so much to Jordan Taylor-Jones for my copy. I can’t wait to read what Naomi Booth writes next!

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

 

My Top Books Of 2019

Here we go!

It’s that time of year again when we all start putting together our ‘end of year’ lists and I’m bringing mine to you today!  I could have whittled it down to 10 books, 15 books, 20 books? but ya know what?……I didn’t want to!

I choose my books of the year based on the very scientific process of scrolling through my Goodreads and seeing which books still give me ‘the feeling’.  Crazy I know! There will be some 5 star books on my Goodreads that won’t necessarily appear on this list due to the fact that they have faded a little for me, and that is the true test of a good book! Whether it can still give me ‘the feeling’ some months after reading it.

I have a good mix of novels and short story collections here, however I only have ONE non-fiction! ( I really need to make more of a non-fiction effort in 2020!).

I will also say that these books are books I’ve read in 2019 and not books published in 2019 so bear that in mind.

I won’t harp on about each book but I will link any reviews I’ve done.  (Lets face it, a lot of you will probably just scroll through the pictures anyway! No judgement here!).

Without any further ado, lets crack on! (In a loose ‘oldest first’ order)

Slack Tide by Elanor Dymott – Jonathan Cape

This gave me distinct vibes of Louise O’Neill’s Almost Love (which I adored!)  I also loved Elanor Dymott’s novel Silver & Salt, she’s an amazing author.  Add to the mix a tale of a coercive relationship and I was hooked! my review is here.

When I Had A Little Sister by Catherine Simpson – 4th Estate

This book just broke my heart.  I still think about it often and can remember feeling utterly bereft and having a good old cathartic sob in the bath.  This an unflinchingly raw account of suicide in a rural farming family.  I think it will always remain one of my most memorable non-fiction reads.  My review is here.

It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mothers by Lisa Blower – Myriad Editions

I have such a strong nostalgic feeling even just looking at the cover of this short story collection.  It is perhaps the collection I recommend the most.  If you haven’t read it, you really need to! My review is here.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal – Picador

This book could not have been any more ME! A dark and gritty historical tale that lures you in and drags you under.  Bloody marvellous! My review is here.

 

The Rapture by Claire McGlasson – Faber & Faber

Another stonking historical tale but with one foot firmly rooted in the truth.  If cults are your bag then you need to get your hands on this beauty (and it is a beauty! Look at it!) My review is here

 

Common People Edited By Kit De Waal – Unbound

This book is another nostalgic trip down memory lane for me! I feel like I could have written some of the stories myself, they felt so closely connected to my own Northern working class upbringing.  This book will always have a huge piece of my heart.  My review is here.

 

Some New Ambush by Carys Davies – Salt 

Carys Davies was a new author to me this year and the stories in her collection Some New Ambush are amongst some of the most memorable I’ve read.  I read a lot of short stories and sometimes I struggle to remember who wrote what or which collection each story appears in.  However, Carys’ distinct voice shines through in this collection and it contains one of my most memorable stories.

Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine – Picador

Another short story collection with some of the most enjoyable tales I’ve read.  If I ever see anyone reaching out and asking for short story recommendations I always suggest Sweet Home.  They are stories of everyday lives behind closed doors on normal streets but with deeply rooted themes of loss and grief.  My review is here

The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns – Virago

2019 was the year that Barbara Comyns came into my life! Man am I glad she did! This book sparked a love affair with Comyns and I now have read or own most of her books.  My review of The Vet’s Daughter is here.

Witches Sail In Eggshells by Chloe Turner – Reflex Press

I chanced upon this short story collection via Twitter.  It is an absolute stunner and each of the stories touched a part of me. This is another hugely memorable collection which has pride of place on my ‘Forever Shelf’ and another book I recommend lots!  My review is here.

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley – John Murray

If I was pushed I would have to say that Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley is probably my overall book of the year.  I ate it up in one rainy afternoon and can still remember how it made me feel.  I closed it immediately wanted to shout about it to the world!  My review is here.

The Mating Habits Of Stags by Ray Robinson – Eye & Lightning

This book was a joyous little surprise.  One that almost flew under the radar but thankfully ended up soaring right above it!  This is another one that I gobbled up really quickly and immediately wanted to tell everyone about.  My review is here

They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple – John Murray

Ahhhhhh Dorothy! I think someone suggested Dorothy Whipple to me when I asked on Twitter for recommendations of books based in the 1920’s and 30’s.  As with Barbara Comyns, They Were Sisters sparked a Whipple love affair and some may remember that I battled with the library to let me keep the old fusty falling to bits copy they kept in their basement, to no avail!  However I am now the proud owner of this First Edition which was kindly sourced for me by my lovely Aunty and Uncle! I love it!

Things We Say In The Dark by Kirsty Logan – Harvill Secker

Now this short story collection is just deliciously dark and horrifying! I sat and read it all the way through one night.  Wow! What an experience! I love Kirsty Logan’s writing so much! My review is here.

 

The Murder Of Harriet Monckton – Myriad Editions

A stonker of an example of perfect historical fiction for me.  Elizabeth Haynes can do no wrong in my eyes and I absolutely adored this book! Get your hands on it immediately.

This Is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill – Serpents Tail

This is a short powerhouse of a book that really packs a huge punch!  I was conflicted about my thoughts on the protagonist and wanted everyone to read the book so that I could discuss it!  My review is here.

Reality, Reality by Jackie Kay – Picador

Jackie Kay is another new to me author this year.  I picked up a copy of her other short story collection Why Don’t You Stop Talking purely on a whim and really enjoyed it.  This led me to loaning Reality, Reality from the library and racing through it.  Short stories with a hint of magical realism? yes please!

Haven’t They Grown by Sophie Hannah – Hodder & Stoughton

Now this book sparked off pure excitement before I’d even started reading it!  I read the blurb to my friends and family and it had us all crying out ‘BUT WHY HAVEN’T THEY GROWN???’.  Having now read it, I KNOW why they haven’t grown……..but I’m not telling.  You’ll also have to wait for my review until my stop on the blog tour on 16th January. Ooooh I’m a tease and no mistake!

Little Bandaged Days by Kyra Wilder – Picador

Sorry but this is another book that hasn’t been published yet! I love books surrounding struggling mothers and the mental issues this presents.  This book knocked me sideways and was one of those books that I had to review IMMEDIATELY as soon as I’d finished reading it because my brain was fizzing!  Again, you’ll have to wait until closer to publication at the end of January for my review.

We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson – Penguin

I know, I know! I was super late to the party with this one! You’ve all read it, you’ve all loved it.  I’m now part of your crew and kicking myself that I left it soooo long to actually read it!

All The Birds Singing by Evie Wyld – Vintage

This book is the reason why you should never close off your books of the year list too early.  I read this a few days ago and it has made a huge impression on me.  It was recommended to me by the amazing Daisy Johnson when I asked on Twitter for books about living in isolation.  It blew me away and I’m so glad I kept my mind open to amazing books this close to the end of the year.

So there we have it folks!  My ‘List’.

I have read 148 books this year and most have been hugely enjoyable.  The 21 books you’ve seen here are my ultimates.  The cream of the crop (a great crop at that!).

Have you read any of them and do any of them appear on your list?

I hope you all have a marvelous New Year and here’s to more amazing books in 2020!

Thank you all so much for your continued support.

Much Love.

 

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

 

 

Bookish Chat About: My Reading And Blogging Year 2019

As the end of the year fast approaches, I thought I’d just pop on to do a little summary of my reading and blogging year.  I will of course be doing a Best Books Of The Year post, more than likely on New Years Eve.  My post won’t be a top 10 or Top 20, it will just be however many books give me ‘the feeling’, but I’ll explain more about that in the post on NYE.

What I thought I’d do today is just have a quick look back over 2019 as a whole in terms of my reading and my blogging.  I mentioned to my best bookish pal Clare at Years Of Reading Selfishly that I don’t feel like 2019 has been my best reading year and I don’t mean because of the standard of books.  When I think back to 2018 I felt as if I was on a roll with blogging, I felt motivated and juiced up and enjoyed creating content and publishing posts at least twice a week.  However, as this year panned out, I found myself under increasing (self imposed) pressure to read and review EVERYTHING before it was published.  I felt like I was churning out reviews and began to feel very much bogged down and demotivated.

Some of you may remember that I had a little break from blogging in August (1 week) and then again at the start of November (2 weeks).  It was during the two week hiatus that I knew I had to stop putting pressure on myself and start paring back the posts.  I decided that 1 post a week was ample for me as I have 2 children and I work fulltime and want a life away from blogging! (I know right!) Since then I have been posting once a week and it feels much more managable.  I feel rejuvinated and excited to head into 2020 with a renewed vigour for writing.

2019 has also been the year of the DNF for me too.  I very rarely gave up on a book if I wasn’t enjoying it.  I would steadfastly trudge on until the end and consider it a personal mission.  Towards the end of 2018 I DNF’d a couple of books (popular ones too!) and I felt the odd twinge of guilt.  However this year I have felt very little guilt and have realised that life is too short to force yourself to plough on with a book you are not enjoying! I still stand by my policy of not reviewing books I have DNF’d but I do usually tweet about books I feel I can’t finish.  I know a few people who like to keep quiet and let DNF’s slink away but If I’ve tweeted that I’m currently reading a book and then decide to DNF I feel its only fair to let people know my decision.  That’s just me.

This year has also seen me breaking into audiobook territory! If I ever forgot my physical book and tweeted lamenting this fact, I used to get so many people responding with ‘audiobooks’.  NO! I used to rage….they are NOT for me.  However, I feel I can now eat big bowl fulls of humble pie and sheepishly admit you were all SO RIGHT!  I took the plunge and downloaded Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am I Am I Am and since then I haven’t looked back!  Audiobooks have seen me through bus journeys, walks, baths, wallpaper scraping, and afternoons in the office. I tend to stick to non-fiction but as recently as yesterday I downloaded Saltwater by Jessica Andrews and I’m loving it! Watch this space….(update: since writing this blog post I’ve finished listening to Saltwater and bloody loved it!).

2019 has also been a huge year for short story collections for me.  I feel like I’ve become known for my love of a good short story collection and I love recommending them.  My Best Books Of The Year Post currently features around 6 or 7 collections, something which I never thought would happen.  There are some crackin’ collections due to be published in 2020 aswell which I’m super pumped for!  If you’ve not yet made the leap to short stories I would urge you to do so….If you need any recommendations, I’m your gal!

I also bought my first poetry book this year…..I’m yet to read it……I’m scared!……..2020 has to be the year that I’m brave and give it a whirl!

The last point I just want to touch on is my Goodreads challenge target.  Last year I set my goal at 120 and read over 130 (I think).  This year I set it at 150 to stretch myself a little.  Currently with 13 days of December left to go I have read 141 books.  I did wonder whether I should grab some short books and push myself to hit the 150 target but do you know what?…..I want to reach it organically if I can.  If I don’t, its no great shakes, for me its just a record of my reading year.  Next year I think I’ll drop it slightly……

Going into 2020 I am very excited by some of the books I already have in my possession and some of the books I’ve got my eye on and my fingers crossed for.  I will continue to post once a week (no set day) and I will hopefully have a slightly better blogging year!

This is my last post now until New Years Eve.  I’m going to enjoy christmas in all it’s madness and mayhem and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas too! Thank you all so much for your continued interaction and support, you’re all bloody brilliant bookish belters!

See you all soon!

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

 

Orkney By Amy Sackville – A Review

Publisher: Granta

Publication Date: 6th February 2014

Orkney by Amy Sackville was one of my subscription book choices from Mr B’s Emporium. They know I enjoy books that are a little dark and strange and this one is no exception.

At 253 pages it’s not a huge read but it’s super atmospheric and I found myself fully immersed.

A literature professor and his new wife, one of his ex pupils, are taking their honeymoon on a remote island in Orkney at the young wife’s request. Desperate to please her, the professor agrees, eschewing all other more exotic places with more clement climes.

The professor has taken a sabatical from his university work to write a book based on myths and fairytales and hopes to use some of his time on Orkney to continue with his research and writing. However he becomes somewhat obsessed and entranced by his new wife. A woman he considers himself extremely lucky to have married. The 40 year age gap (he is 60 she is 20…..you can do subtraction I’m sure!) plays on his mind and he is very alert and sensitive to people’s reactions to the two of them together, particularly within a small island community.

The young (nameless) woman spends her days walking along the coastline, or quite often just standing motionless watching the sea. The professor, who should be working, spends his time watching her from the window of their rented cottage. Desperate to keep his eyes on her, trying so hard to figure her out, to get into her mind and her thoughts. He is a man who wants to keep hold of this enigmatic woman who he feels is the pinnacle of his life.

She spends her nights plagued by nightmares all surrounding the sea and her apparent fear or awe of it. She cannot swim and some of her trepidation around the sea and it’s force and power seems to dominate her dreams. The professor soothes her through these frightening nightmares which seem so visceral and urgent in the dead of night but which she recounts in the morning with an almost casual air of storytelling before venturing back outside to the beach and the ocean.

The woman likes to tell the professor myths and fairytales about people of the sea, selkies, mermaids, sea-princesses. The professor, listens, rapt and enchanted by her. But just how much of a pull does the sea have and how much power can the ocean wield over their relationship?..

This book is so steeped in atmosphere. The descriptions not only of the island of Orkney, its remoteness, it’s landscape, but also the depictions of the coast and the sea. There is a dampness that hangs in the air which you can almost feel permeating your bones.

This book is most definitely a character study and not so much plot based. As the story is told from the perspective of the Professor we are effectively inside his head so we can share in his love and adoration of this enigmatic almost ethereal woman. We are trying to figure her out as a reader just as much as the professor is as her husband.

The woman seems to veer from being quite childlike, fun loving and playful to being introverted, almost taciturn and secretive. She is most assuredly an interesting character. The little nuanced touches of her demeanour and character lending even more of a fascination for me. Her apparent ability to shrug off the cold, her slightly webbed fingers and toes….

She and me. I and she. Safe within, the dark sea outside, and the poor envious sailors who long for home, who cannot have her; the heat of the skin of her chest, her shoulders, as I slid from them shawl and sweater; the small of her back quite cool; the soles of her feet, folded under her, frozen. I clasped my hands around about them; the only part of her skin that has toughened, my barefoot urchin. As I warmed my hands before the grate, the better to administer to her chilled extremeties, she unfolded herself and splayed her toes before the fire – yes, they are also just a little webbed, so that each tiny membrane glowed orange, like a frogs foot in the firelight.

Orkney is just the right kind of strange that I love. If you’re into the selkie myths as I am, or fairytales linked to the sea, this would be a book I would wholeheartedly recommend.

A great pick from the Mr B’s staff!

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Women’s Weird – Strange Stories By Women 1890 – 1940 – A Review

Publisher: Handheld Press

Publication Date: 31st October 2019

If you’re a regular around here or Twitter, you’ll know that I adore a spooky, creepy, dark and gothic tale. When I saw the cover of Women’s Weird – Strange Stories by Women 1890 – 1940 I knew it had the potential to be a piece of me.

Whilst I love a good ghost story, historical or comtemporary, I also love it when the ordinary becomes extraordinary and there is horror to be found in the everyday.

In the past when I’ve been reviewing certain books I’ve had to try to portray a feeling that a book has given me. It can quite often be difficult to harness this feeling into words and I usually fall back on the phrase ‘I love it when something isn’t quite right or feels ‘off’. When I read the introduction by Melissa Edmundson and she used pretty much this exact same phrase, I knew I’d struck gold.

Melissa goes on the explain that ghost stories in the traditional sense of a grey mist or an apparition clanking their chains have been around for centuries and had a particular resurgence in the Victorian era. Whilst this book does indeed have it apparitions and it’s possessed objects it also takes it’s creeping sense of unease from the darkness of everyday human emotions and perhaps most chillingly of all the theme of patriarchy running through the core of the majority of these stories.

I was even more excited when I read that the stories of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Edith Wharton featured in the collection. I read and loved The Yellow Wallpaper by Perkins Gilman and I have a collection of ghost stories by Edith Wharton on my short story shelf.

I don’t like to look into all of the stories too closely when reviewing a short story collection, but rather just give you a taste of some of my favourites.  Stories which stand out in the forefront of my mind are the first story The Weird Of The Walfords by Louisa Baldwin in which a man detroys the bed which has been in his family for generations.  A bed in which his ancestors before him have all seen out their last days.  He doesn’t wish to be swept up in this macabre tradition and so eradicates the death bed from his life and shuts up the room it used to lie in.  However, when he marries and his new wife takes an interest in the locked up room and its contents, the man discovers that you can’t always outrun an overriding force.

I also really enjoyed Kerfol by Edith Wharton in which the main ghostly focus is the presence of spectral dogs.  Edith Wharton is such a great writer, she absolutely nails a spooky atmosphere and is fabulous at creating an certain energy which lures you in and makes the hairs on the back of your neck rise!

The middle section of this book really stood out to me as some absolutely superb quirky and chilling tales that feel like absolute classics with a definite twist.  Hodge by Elinor Mordaunt where a brother and sister almost will into life a neanderthal man.  At first he is compliant and subserviant but soon takes a darker turn when he becomes obsessed with the sister.  I adored this story so much, the idea that this sibling pairing were seeing the same unbelievable being and reacting to him in their differing ways.  In The Haunted Saucepan by Margery Lawrence we discover the story of precisely that!……a haunted saucepan! When the male protagonist moves into a flat which has seen previous tenants leave quickly in mysterious circumstances (isn’t that always a brilliant premise for a spooky story!).

What is very refreshing about this collection is that there are many and varied themes that are sure to send a chilling sense of uneasiness through your veins.  Whether you’re a  staunch fan of the traditional ghost story or prefer something a little more off the wall and ‘weird’, then there will be a story in here that will grab you. There are ‘ghosts’ in the age old sense of the word but there are also possessed objects, everyday objects that could be found in any home (bed, saucepan!).  There are ghostly animals, shadows, feelings of dread and terror.

This collection fills a gap between gothic ghost story and out and out fantastical weird fiction.  I also love the fact that these amazing stories came from the brains of such brilliant female writers.  I enjoy the writing style of the early 20’s and 30’s, the language, the interplay between characters, the sense of time.  A couple of the stories even put me in mind of Daphne Du Maurier’s writing style, particularly her short stories (Don’t Look Now And Other Stories, brilliant collection!).

This book is just perfect for the chilly, dark Autumn/Winter evenings.  You can snuggle up under a blanket and pick and choose any story you like to give you chills.  This book can be kept and returned to time and again each time the spooky season rolls around.

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

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Sudden Traveller by Sarah Hall – A Review

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Publication Date: 7th November 2019

When I first started getting into short story collections at the end of last year, Sarah Hall’s Madame Zero was one of the first collections I remember picking up and really enjoying, and one particular story in the collection, Mrs Fox is one that always sticks in my mind.

When I saw that she had a new collection coming out I knew I had to try and get my hands on it, and get my hands on it I did (with huge thanks to Lauren Nicoll and Faber!).

Sudden Traveler – Sarah Hall:

The seven stories of Sudden Traveler immerse us anew in one of the most distinctive literary imaginations. In Turkish forests or rain-drenched Cumbrian villages, characters walk, drive, dream and fly, trying to reconcile themselves with their journey through life and death. A woman fitted with life-changing technology returns to the site of her strongest memories; a man repatriated in the near east hears the name of an old love called and must unpack history’s suitcase; and from the new world-waves of female anger and resistance, a mythical creature evolves.

Radical, charged with a transformative creative power, each of these stories opens channels in the human mind and spirit, as Sarah Hall once more invites the reader to stand at the very edge of our possible selves.

I had very high expectations on picking up this collection having loved Madame Zero so much and whilst I did enjoy the majority of the stories in this brief collection, I think Madame Zero is the stronger of the two.

It has been a couple of days since I finished the collection as I write this review and there are a few of the stories that jump to the forefront of my mind still, however there are also a couple which have paled somewhat for me.

The first story M really lured me in and got my hopes up for the rest of the collection. Any story where a woman morphs into something ‘other’ has become a recent fascination for me and in this visceral tale of revenge over pain a woman is twisted up in agony night after night as darkness falls.  When she begins to transform into another being she takes on the distress of many women and avenges the wrong that has been done to them.

Orton tells the story of a woman who has been fitted with new technology in which she can choose to essentially end her own life.  She travels back to the site of some of her most powerful memories of her past linked to one person in particular.  The idea that technology like this may one day be a reality gives this story a extra layer of depth and unease.

The Grotesques is another story that stands out in my head as a highly uneasy read.  The narrator tells of a uncomfortable dinner party thrown by her overbearing mother.  A mother who doesn’t allow her to eat.  Prior to the party the narrator has seen the abuse of a local vagrant and this plays on her mind, making her feel anxious and ill at ease.  She performs her social duties under the reproachful eye of her mother nonetheless.

There is no doubt that Sarah Hall is an excellent writer.  I think she nails the short story format perfectly.  I don’t think her writing would be for everybody as her fiction can be a little experimental shall we say.  There is more than a hint of the weird and fantastical and whilst in the main I enjoyed the collection, there were times where I had to sit and think ‘what have I just read?’….

This is a very brief collection but by no means an easy read.  I expected to whip through it but found I had to pause to reflect between each story and try and decipher what I had read and draw my own conclusions from it.

I am very eager to pick up some of Sarah Hall’s novels and see how she constructs longer works of fiction.  Her writing is beautiful and descriptive and really draws you in, even if sometimes you are not really sure what it is exactly that you are being drawn into!

Give Sarah Hall a go and see what you think.

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

See you all soon.

 

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx