The Bus On Thursday By Shirley Barrett – A Review

Publisher: Fleet

Guys! What have I just read?!?

This book is absolutely bonkers in a fabulous way! One of those books that as you’re reading you’re thinking really?!?! Is this for real?…..

Eleanor’s life is in a bit of a mess to say the very least. She has just broken up with her boyfriend, and is recovering from breast cancer. After an ill judged and ill advised pass made at her middle aged cancer specialist doctor, a disastrous blind date and some pretty serious soul-searching, Eleanor decides to take the job of teacher at the school in a small town called Talbingo. (The book is set in Australia by the way).

Talbingo’s former teacher has mysteriously disappeared and everyone in town is devastated, not least the schoolchildren. But not everything is as it seems in Talbingo, with the locals acting strangely and what was supposed to be Eleanor’s tranquil, stress free road to recovery becoming anything but!

Just what exactly has happened to former teacher Miss Barker? Eleanor is about to find out, whether she wants to know or not……

This book is like some wild, trippy rollercoaster ride when you’ve had too much coffee!

Told in the form of an unpublished personal blog, Eleanor tries to make sense of all that has happened in her personal life and all that is happening to her in her new life in Talbingo.

When faced with stepping into perfect Miss Barkers shoes, Eleanor finds herself falling drastically short. Especially when she lets a four letter tirade out on her poor pupils. She’s not the most accomplished of teachers shall we say….

Let us draw a veil over parent-teacher night.

It did not go so well.

Selected highlights:

Arrived late, swollen eyes, had obviously been crying.

Could not get slide show working, in spite of extensive dicking around with computer.

Forgot to cover up love bites – parents commented.

Kept getting kids names wrong.

Pushed to the end of her tether when weird experience after weird experience seems to befall her, Eleanor doesn’t want to admit defeat and flee Talbingo. Some of the scrapes she gets herself into will have you cringing with embarrassment on her behalf. But she fronts it out even when the local pastor ‘The Praying Mantis’ blames her for bringing on her cancer herself and tries to ‘exorcise her demon’.

She’s such a hilarious character despite her obvious devastating cancer diagnosis. She has a unique type of ‘gallows humour’ which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (and I don’t think will be every readers cup of tea either) but I found her voice very refreshing and straight to the point. She certainly doesn’t pull any punches!

Here’s a tip: Never Google ‘what does breast cancer metastasis feel like?’ Turns out it feels like just about anything! Here are some metastasis symptoms I’ve experienced in the last three days: feeling tired, feeling under the weather, cold or flu like symptoms, headache, feeling like you’ve pulled a muscle, tingling sensation in arms, blah blah blah blah blah

Clearly I am riddled with the fucker.

I think she may be one of my favourite female protagonists.  She is flawed and she knows it.  She owns her mistakes and takes lots of rough stuff on the chin! If i’d have been through half of the awful events Eleanor has, I’d be a gibbering wreck on the floor!

The fact that this book is told in the format of a blog makes it feel very conversational, as if you’re having a chat with Eleanor in front of you.  The chapters are fairly short and broken down into smaller chunks within.  This made it feel like a very speedy, accessible read.

I would liken this book to a macabre Bridget Jones with less romance and more horror. There’s a very sinister edge to it but in a comedic vein.  It kept me so entertained from page one right through to the end.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I think that there are many themes running through it, some which I would like definitive answers to. I made some assumptions about the characters and events along the way and I’d like to know if I’m right!  In that respect I think this would make a great book club read. I don’t think it would be to everyone’s taste and I think it could divide opinion but I would recommend it heartily no question, and no doubt it would provoke some very interesting discussions!

I will say that I had to ask out on Twitter about the ending…….I just wasn’t sure I’d quite ‘got it’.  However, having spoken to someone else I have found that we interpreted it in much the same way so I’m relieved about that! (again the ending could provoke some very interesting discussions!).

All in all this book is an absolute blast! It’s bonkers but it’s brilliant!

Get involved!

See you soon.

Bookish Chat. Xxx

Advertisements

The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser +Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award in association with The University Of Warwick

Picture the scene…..

A grim, hum-drum, run of the mill morning in the office.  The usual pleasantries have been exchanged, the debate about who’s turn it is to brew up rumbles on and the only thing I have to look forward to is my daily 3pm biscuit, or ‘threesies’ if you will.

That is until my iPhone pings with an exciting email (it didn’t actually ping, it was on silent, office rules).  So what did this ‘exciting email’ say Mand?, I hear you cry! well, sit your bottom down and lemme tell ya….

I had been asked to be on the shadow panel of The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser and Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award! I know right!? Me! Little old (fairly wet behind the ears) Book Blogger me!

After an initial hike in heart rate, the like of which my body hasn’t experienced since I attempted the 30 Day Shred, I checked, double checked and triple checked it wasn’t a hoax.  It wasn’t.  To be honest I’m still waiting for the email to arrived which either says ‘Gotcha!’ OR ‘Sorry we emailed the wrong gal!’……..but it hasn’t arrived yet so………it must be legit! I’m here now anyway and I’m staying!

So what’s it all about?  Well The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser and Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award (to give it it’s full tongue twisting title!) is awarded annually for a full-length published or self-published work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, by an author aged 18-35 years.  The winner receives a smashing £5000! There are also three prizes of £500 each for runners up.

Previous winners of this prestigious award have been Sally Rooney for Conversations With Friends (last years winner), Max Porter for Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (which I adored!) Sarah Waters, Zadie Smith and many more….what an illustrious list!

The prize had become the definitive platform for young writing.  Working with a growing network of partners including the British Council, it provides a very important support system for the very best talent at work now.  The award is sponsored by literary agency Peters Fraser and Dunlop and created by The Sunday Times.  The award also runs in association with The University Of Warwick home to the Warwick Writing Programme who are offering a 10 week residency for whoever wins the award and a year long programme of digital support for the prize.

How fantastic does that all sound!

I will of course be in prestigious company on the panel with 4 talented bookbloggers:

Paul Cheney at Half Man Half Book

Susan Osborne at A Life In Books

Lucy Pearson at The Lit Edit 

Lizzi Risch at These Little Words

Here are our lovely little faces (well half of mine!):

I cannot wait for us to get together and bash it out over who we want our winner to be.

Of course you must now all go and follow those guys above IMMEDIATELY and check out what they’re saying too.

The official judging panel is made up of Andrew Holgate,  Literary Editor of The Sunday Times, along with authors Susan Hill (a total legend!) and Kamila Shamsie, winner of The Women’s Prize For Fiction 2018.

At the time of writing this post I cannot reveal which 4 amazing books and authors have been shortlisted. Suffice to say it’s a diverse and exciting list! However please do swing by the blog on Sunday 4th November when all will be revealed!…….Shameless tease!

I will of course be taking you all along with me for the ride and will be reviewing all four books here on the blog as well as revealing our choice of winner and the overall winner.

In all honesty I am ridiculously delighted and excited to be involved with this fabulous prize and I am naturally forever grateful to be a book blogger, spreading the book love wherever I go, like a little fairy sprinkling magic book glitter…….except fatter with a mortgage to pay.

I’ve rambled.  Please do check out all our deets here and please follow @youngwriteryear on twitter and catch up on all the latest news using the #youngwriterawardshadow hashtag.

You are duly dismissed, but I expect to see you all back here on Sunday 4th November for the big reveal! Don’t be late!

Other important dates to put in your diary are:

Blogger event held at The Groucho (fancy!) 17th November.  Bloggers are invited to this exclusive event at London’s Groucho Club, to meet the shortlisted authors and hear them read from their books. For more details and to get yourself on the list click here.

Shadow Panel Winner Announced 28th November.

Overall Winner announced 6th December.

In the meantime please do go and give me a follow on the old socials and lets have some bookish chat……(see what I did there). @Bookishchat (Twitter and IG)

Big bookish love.

See you soon! Oooohh exciting!

Bookish Chat xxx

The Museum Of Cathy By Anna Stothard – A Review

Publisher: Salt

This book was somewhat of a revelation to me and totally not what I was expecting, but in a good way!

To be honest I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I bought it other than I knew it was a Salt book (we all know I love Salt) and the cover was pretty and intriguing. I think I expected some gentle humour, maybe some light hearted quirkiness but I got neither of these things and I’m so pleased!

Cathy works as a curator in the Natural History Museum in Berlin. She lives with her fiancé Tom who also works at the museum. She spends her days painstakingly cataloguing and recording specimens of animals. Bones, skeletons, artefacts from the animal world.

But hidden in one of her cupboards in her office are various items and mementos she has collected all through her life. Some hold very dear childhood memories or links back to happy times in her relationship with Tom. Tickets, small toys, a restaurant menu fashioned into a paper airplane. But there is also a very sinister side to her own personal museum.

Cathy holds on to items which are from a very disruptive, unsettling and frightening time in her life. She feels that she has some control of the memories if she can control the objects linked to them. Hence why she shuts them away.

Although Cathy is now in a loving relationship with Tom, she is also still deeply affected by a very controlling abusive relationship with her childhood friend Jack’s older brother Daniel.

Daniel has been to prison during Cathy’s move to firstly LA and then the move to Berlin but he has never once relinquished his grip on her. Sending small artefacts to her in the post whenever she is just to make sure she remembers him.

She’d had four email accounts and three phone numbers since leaving him, just in case that was how he was finding out where she was all the time. For the fifth time since arriving in Los Angeles, she moved apartments again. It didn’t ever make a difference.

The story is set over one night in the museum where an award ceremony is being held. Cathy is due to receive an award but becomes embroiled in her past catching up with her. We also have flash backs of her childhood on the coast, living with her alcoholic father and her soon to be absent mother. Her friendship with Jack and her awkward relationship with his older brother Daniel.

The way the relationship between Cathy and Jack is written is beautiful. Both somewhat wild children who are fascinated with nature. Cathy is often referred to as ‘feral’. Revelling in exploring the coast line and the marshes. Discovering bones of dead animals and painstakingly piecing them back together.

Cathy and Jack have a bond over nature and start to collect their own treasures from the coastline. Both of them finding easy companionship with each other in the face of family adversity, a not very present father with alcohol issues and a brother who is more interested in girls than looking after his little brother.

The chapters written in the modern day on that one night in the museum are very claustrophobic. There’s an intense cat and mouse type feeling to them which I found very atmospheric. I think I stopped breathing at certain points!

Cathy is such a complex character. Shaped by her difficult childhood and desperate to escape her past despite clinging on to the bad memories in the form of her little museum of hurt and pain. She is still somewhat ‘feral’ in her current life but not to the extent she was as a child. She’s flawed and fascinating and has such strength. Her relationship with Tom is so quirky and beautiful. They recite facts to each other whilst having deep and meaningful conversations. Tom is entranced by her and this comes through in every action he takes.

By the time I’ve finished speaking this sentence the earth will have spun 1450 metres,’ she said, then tilted her head to the side. ‘Daniel used to hit me a lot. I was never in a car crash like I told you; my scars are mostly from him, although I was an accident prone kid too. I stayed far too long with him. I thought I deserved what he did to me. I didn’t know how to get away’.

I love you’ he said.

This book slowly drew me in. The writing is gorgeous and the museum itself is almost like another character. Descriptive, compelling and insidiously chilling, I really enjoyed this book. Although given the subject matter that feels wrong to say.

If you enjoy slow, atmospheric, chilling narratives then this book is for you. A fascinating female protagonist and amazing scene setting.

I’m now also intrigued by the authors earlier work and will most definitely be investing in her previous two novels.

Give it a whirl.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

The Lonely Witness By William Boyle – A Review

Publisher: No Exit Press

Publication Date: 25th October 2018

When I was approached to be involved in the blog tour for this book I read the premise and immediately thought, yes! Sign me up! I’ve also recently read Bellevue Square which is published by No Exit Press and really enjoyed it, so I assumed I would be in for a treat.

I believe this is a loose spin off from the authors novel Gravesend, which I haven’t read. However you don’t need to have read this book first. One of the characters from Gravesend goes on to become the protagonist in The Lonely Witness. That character is Amy Falconetti.

Amy lives in the neighbourhood of Gravesend in Brooklyn. She keeps herself to herself and does a lot of work for the local parish. Namely providing communion to elderly parishioners who are to old and infirm to get to church to take communion for themselves.

We know that Amy has lead quite a hedonistic life in the lead up to becoming heavily involved in the church, once a party girl, bar hopper and somewhat of a wild child she is now much more subdued and doing her bit for the local community.

It is during one of these visits to an elderly lady, Mrs Epifanio that Amy hears that there has been a young man coming around to visit who has started to unnerve poor old Mrs E and Amy wants to know why. Vincent the son of one of Mrs Epifanio’s friend Diane has been making somewhat of a nuisance of himself and discomfiting Mrs E to the point where she believes he may have done something to harm Diane.

When Amy follows Vincent she chances upon an encounter he has with another local man. Vincent ends up dead (not a spoiler) and Amy is a witness to the whole bloody scene.

But does Amy do the right god fearing thing and report the murder and her witnessing of it? No, she decides to keep schtum. I know right!

What follows after this is Amy trying to come to terms with what she’s done whilst becoming deeper and deeper embroiled with the various characters in the neighbourhood.

This is all set against a backdrop of personal issues in Amy’s private life that she is trying to deal with. The sudden reappearance of her once absent father, the breakdown of her relationship with her girlfriend and various internal demons Amy is battling regarding her disappointment with how her life has turned out.

What I enjoyed about this book was the fact that it wasn’t just a fast paced, action packed thriller surrounding the murder and the events leading up to and following it. It was also as much to do with Amy’s character and her struggles with life too.

Amy is such a fascinating character, a strong willed young woman with lots of guts and bravery. She doesn’t always know the difference between right and wrong but she trusts her gut instinct and knows what she needs to do.

Another element of this book I enjoyed was in regards to the construction of the dialogue between characters. It was never stilted or over written. It flowed just as normal conversations would in the real world, and I felt as if I was witnessing an actual normal conversation that hadn’t been ‘constructed’ for want of a better word. Some of the names in this book are just fab! I felt like I wanted to know these people more!

The one thing I could have done without in this book were all the street names and directions. Maybe it’s because I’m based in the UK and have never visited the US. Maybe the various street directions would mean more to someone from the US? Who knows.

If you’re after a thriller with a crackin strong female character at its heart then this is a book you need to head to.

Thank you so much as always to No Exit Press and Anne Cater for my review copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat. Xxx

Little By Edward Carey – A Review

Publisher: Gallic Books

Published: 4th October 2018

This book was such an absolute treat!

I knew it was going to be my kinda thing when I read the blurb. As you may know, I’m bang into historical fiction these days, especially if it has a dark edge and this book fitted the bill perfectly.

Little is the tale of young Anne Marie Grosholtz – who later goes on to become the Madame Toussauds that we all know for her waxwork fame.

Told right from Marie’s birth in 1761 in Alsace, through to her being orphaned at a young age and being taken under the wing of ex physician and wax model enthusiast Dr Curtius. We hear of Marie’s involvement with the first tentative steps into taking wax models of first body parts and then heads of the rich and noble.

Marie is dubbed ‘Little’ by those around her due to her diminutive stature, however her personality is anything but.  We follow Marie during her tutelage with Dr Curtious as she learns the various techniques used to create a waxwork model of someones head. Left with only her mother’s nose and her fathers chin (and quite literally her fathers jaw…..you’ll see) Marie cleaves herself to Dr Curtious and makes him her only family.

When they travel to Paris and join forces with a tailors widow and her son, life for Marie takes an altogether different turn. Widow Picot and her son Edmund help the wax business take off inside the walls of The Monkey House on the Boulevard.

When the lust and curiosity for seeing the cast heads of noblemen wanes, the business branches out into murder. The wax heads of murderers who have been sentenced to death.

Little eventually catches the eye of Princess Elisabeth who has Marie sent to the palace of Versailles to become her drawing tutor. Here, Marie uses her skills to model the heads of the royal family (and lives in a cupboard!).

This novel is so brimming and vibrant with life. Each and every character is bold and bursting with personality. Set against a back drop of the French Revolution this story is grim, gruesome and utterly gory. But in a fabulous way! (Although it’s worth mentioning that if you’ve not got a strong constitution there are certain parts you may struggle with!). I of course have the constitution of an ox and loved every minute of it, the gorier the better!

Marie has lived about 5 lives by the time we say goodbye to her at the end of the book! She is such a determined child, a tenacious learner and has buckets full of bravery. She lives through various heartbreaks allowing each of them to make her stronger still. She experiences great loss and great loves in her lifetime and is such a fascinating determined little thing.

She is treated terribly by the Widow Picot who does not appreciate her talents or her close bond with Dr Curtious. But she forges on and remains a loyal servant and assistant.

It was such a privilege to share Little’s journey, her fates and fortunes and of course her failures.

Such a quirky tale, the like of which I don’t think I’ve ever encountered. This fictionalised account of Madame Toussauds life has made me want to find out more about who she actually was and what she had to live through to become the Toussauds we know.

Now of course it is usually just the writing I would be reviewing (with occasional fawning over a beautiful cover!) but this book has an abundance of stunning illustrations punctuating the story. The author Edward Carey is the illustrator and he has an amazing talent. Such a lovely (if occasionally gory!) touch. His illustrations really bring the characters to life and you can see them easily in your minds eye.  Of course the cover itself is a stunner (and the disembodied boob gave my children no end of mirth!).

A striking, imagination bending romp through the French Revolution via the world of wax, gently and macabrely humorous, Little is someone who will remain in your heart forever.

This stunner of a book should be gracing your bookshelves this autumn. You know it makes sense.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat. Xxx