Mid-Month Mini Reviews – Victorian Gothic

Hello bookworms!

Welcome to another load of mid-month mini-reviews – this time focusing on the Victorian period…

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Affinity by Sarah Waters

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I picked this book up in a charity shop while I was waiting for my car MOT and I’m honestly so glad that I did. I’d never read Sarah Waters before (despite Tipping the Velvet being on my TBR for about 20 years) so I had high expectations – and this book did not disappoint.

Told from the viewpoint of Margaret, a wealthy spinster (God I hate that term) with a desire to help the poor unfortunates incarcerated within Millbank Prison, an encounter with the notorious spiritualist inmate Selina Dawes leaves her reeling. Is Selina truly psychic? Can she help Margaret to deal with the death of her father? Can Margaret help Selina to obtain justice? And is their friendship… something more? Set against a backdrop of heavy prescription drug taking, it’s hard to see where the truth lies – especially in a relationship so heavily weighted by the privilege that money affords you and the desperation to achieve freedom.

I absolutely adored the way that this book was written. I’m such a scaredy cat that certain scenes about wax castings of ghostly apparitions had me completely freaked out! The overall tone was creepy and gothic – much of the book is set within the Victorian prison – but the writing never dragged. Instead, it gave an almost visceral interpretation of the misery, drudgery and relentless monotony of what it would have been like to be locked up in such an institution. I could almost feel the damp stone walls and see the trudging circles of women getting their daily exercise in the bleak prison yard. I hate to use the term “lyrical prose” but yeah… the writing was absolutely beautiful.

The novel is interspersed with the memories of Selina from when she was working as a spiritualist medium and I got completely sucked in by her “powers” (despite the fact I don’t believe in anything paranormal in real life). The relationship between Margaret and Selina was fascinating, exciting and heartbreaking and I LOVED the way that the book ended. If this is one of Sarah Water’s lesser known novels then I can’t wait to read the rest of her work!

 

Four and a half “Look what money can get you” out of five.

 

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

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I loved this richly evocative tale set in Victorian London of Iris, a talented artist who is taken out of poverty by Louis, a rich pre-Raphaelite painter. Her rags-to-riches story seems almost too good to be true – a new (scandalous) role as an artist’s muse, a huge increase in salary, a love affair with a soon-to-be widowed man – yet there’s a shadow hanging over Iris’ happiness and he goes by the name of Silas…

I have to say how beautiful that book cover is. Just glorious. Like the novel, it juxtaposes the beauty, art and grace of the period with the claustrophobia, death and creepy gothic sensibilities of Victoriana – and I can’t get enough of it. The writing within the book is also hugely evocative and has a bit of everything – sex, obsession, art,  death, taxidermy, disfigurement, filth, light, sadness, romance… and a wombat. Everything felt very authentic to the time period even though the story of a woman striking out on her own felt very modern.

The characters were beautifully depicted, with an attention to detail that made them jump off the page. I could see the dirt under Silas’ fingernails, the emerald green on Louis’ painting, the crimson lips on the doll that Iris was painting. I loved the use of the Great Exhibition as a backdrop to their lives – again, a juxtaposition of all that light and ingenuity and modernity sat right next to the filth and decay of the London slums.

Yes, the writing was a little slow in places but I can forgive that, since this is the author’s debut. I loved the use of detail, the setting and the characterisation and I thought that the constant playing with light and shade, love and obsession, hope and despair was inspired. Elizabeth Macneal is clearly a writer to watch out for.

 

    

Four “Has there ever been a nice character called Silas?” out of five.

 

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

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I’d heard a lot about this book on ye olde Twittersphere but I have to say I was a tiny bit let down by it. It’s certainly a fun romp with a highly eclectic cast of characters but for some reason I just didn’t connect with the writing. Not that it’s bad – it’s just not for me.

Bridie Devine, the infamous female detective is challenged to take on the oddest of cases – the disappearance of Christabel, a strange child with colour changing eyes and extraordinarily sharp teeth. Aided by Ruby, the prizefighting ghost and Cora, the towering, magnificently bearded maid, Bridie attempts to find Christabel but on the way encounters everything from beautiful snake charmers to evil surgeons – plus a whole lot of painful memories.

I love the wacky cast of characters and the excitement of the fast paced prose but I just couldn’t emotionally connect to anyone. There was so much going on, plus plenty of back-and-forths in time that I got a bit confused as to who was who and what on earth was happening. Ultimately, I felt like the side plots took over a bit and detracted from the main narrative, so I wasn’t that bothered with the ending. Lots of people have loved this book but it really wasn’t for me.

 

 

Two and a half “Is that the dead guy?” out of five.

So, have you read any of these books? Do you love a good gothic novel? Are there any Cure fans in the house? Maybe The Smiths? Let me know in the comments!

 

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TL;DR May Review

Hello Bookworms!

Mmmmm, it feels like summer might finally be on it’s way!

It’s been so nice and warm recently that we’ve almost run out of rainwater in our water butts so I’m probably one of the few people in the country hoping for a downpour! This is England though, so I expect my wish will be granted pretty soon. I have been sooooo busy getting the allotment prepped and ready for our crops – we’ve got the peas, beans and squash in, the strawberries are coming on nicely, the onions are doing well and the brassicas, celery and spring onions are all growing strong in the greenhouse ready to be planted out.

We had a lovely bank holiday working as per usual, sorting out the never-ending sanding, filling and generally tidying up of the woodwork at our other house. We’ve had the final last few electrical bits sorted, dealt with a mini-flood (upstairs windowsill is faulty) and got people booked in to fit a new boiler and hard landscape the gardens. It’s still nowhere near ready, but once these items have been ticked off the list we’ll be onto painting and then it should hopefully look habitable.

I went out to see “We’ve Got Each Other – the almost entirely imagined Bon Jovi musical” at Warwick Arts Centre with the BFF Juliet which was incredible – a one man show where the narrator asked the audience to literally imagine a musical based 50% on West Side Story and 50% on the lyrics to Livin on a Prayer. Loved it! If you get the chance to see it you should definitely go along, it’s already won loads of awards. May was also the month of Eurovision, so we had a party for that (where there was a SAUSAGE DOG!!!) which was super fun and camp and awesome.

We had a nice day out to High Wycombe and Amersham Old Town, which was gorgeous and old fashioned (and posh). We had a lovely picnic in the park and picked up what will be a very nice new tortoise enclosure (once we’ve got round to building it). We also had a lovely day out at Croome Court where we saw (amongst other things) their Grayson Perry exhibition, which was amazing:

 

I’ve had a fair few library meetings this month including one with the lovely Ellen from the Coventry 2021 team (when Cov becomes the City of Culture). We’ve got some very exciting ideas for a complete library revamp that may or may not come to fruition – watch this space!

I’ve had a terrible month blogging wise (but still managed to gain new followers. Not sure how? Also, hello!). I’m behind in the Goodreads challenge, although it’s hard to track when you read seven books at once – I can go for weeks without finishing anything then suddenly I’ve finished six in one day. I’ve not even looked at Read Harder as I knew I’ve been ahead for so long – I need to finish off a load of old ARCs then I’ll get back onto it.

I did manage to take part in the May Calendar Girls meme where I chose Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine bu Gail Honeyman as my favourite book with a mother/daughter relationship. I also published Mid-Month Mini-Reviews and Monthly Wrap-Up Mini-Reviews.

I posted seven reviews in total:

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman: I couldn’t believe how powerful this book was. What an amazing story, pitched exactly right for the YA audience. Just a shame I was too old to have read it as a teenager when it first came out. Four and a half out of five stars

Becoming by Michelle Obama: A fantastic autobiography that really showed what an amazing person Michelle is. I thought it would be boringly political but it wasn’t at all. Loved it. Four out of five stars

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: I loved how much this book made me think, long after I’d finished it. The characters were all horrible, the plot didn’t really go anywhere… and yet I still really liked it. Weird. Four out of five stars

Come Back For Me by Heidi Perks: This was such a page turner! I loved the setting of an island for a thriller (what a great plot device) and the atmospheric writing. A great book to take on holiday. Four out of five stars

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney: Despite seemingly everyone not liking this book – I did. I felt oddly compelled by the characters and completely identified with that post-teenage angst that comes partly from boredom and partly from not having any sense of who you are or what you’re meant to be doing. A great read. Four out of five stars

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend: Amusing but lacked direction – I needed more plot! Not her greatest work. Three out of five stars

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh: I felt like this was kind of a nothing-y book. Not much plot, horrible characters, a distinct lack of tension. I’m sure it’s meant to be a subversive comment on modern art or something but I’m afraid that went right over my head. Two and a half out of five stars

So that’s May wrapped up! Are you slumping like me? Is anything interesting going on in your gardens? Let me know in the comments!

Calendar Girls June: Favourite Book with LGBTQ+ Representation

Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of the Calendar Girls!

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Calendar Girls was a monthly blog event created by Melanie at MNBernard Books and Flavia the Bibliophile and will now be hosted by Katie at Never Not Reading and Adrienne at Darque Dreamer Reads It is designed to ignite bookish discussions among readers and was inspired by the 1961 Neil Sedaka song Calendar Girl.

Just like the song, each month has a different theme. Each blogger picks their favourite book from the theme and on the first Monday of the month reveals their pick in a Calendar Girls post.

So without further ado, this month’s theme is…

 

…and my top pick is…

Women by Chloe Caldwell

Women

I absolutely ADORED this book when I first read it last year. I’m sure that literally no-one else will have read it but it remains a firm favourite with me.

Women is a short, stripped down story of a lesbian relationship where nothing much happens but it is just SO REAL. It’s honest and raw and funny and sad and managed to give me all of the feels. It felt like I had stolen someone’s diary and was illicitly gobbling up the details of their life – a bit like when you come across someone who over shares everything on social media and you fall down a rabbit hole stalking  learning everything about them.

I think it’s the quality of the writing. Chloe Caldwell writes with the most unflinching honesty and has elevated the tale of a fairly short lived, obviously doomed relationship from one of navel-gazing self pity to raw exploration of human emotion. I loved that all of her characters were so flawed and that they acted in completely illogical ways because it made them real. I loved the detail, I loved the depth, I loved the characterisation. I even loved the sex scenes because again, they felt so honest. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the sex is detailed but not titillating, relatable but not comedic, orgasmic but not euphemistic. It’s so rare to see a character with unshaven legs and half her clothes still on having incredible sex and it’s this unashamed female gaze/queer perspective that makes this book stand apart.

 

Do you enjoy reading queer fiction? Where do you stand on the issue of #ownvoices?  Have you written your own Calendar Girls post? Let me know in the comments! 

 

 

 

 

End of Month Mini-Reviews – May

Hello bookworms!

I’ve had a terrible months blogging activity so I’m desperately trying to get reviews done for all of the books that I’ve recently read! Thank goodness for mini reviews!

So, in light of the fact that I’ve not really done very much recently, today’s theme is…

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The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend

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Eva’s twins have finally been packed off to university and she’s decided that she’s had enough. Enough of the daily drudgery of housework, enough of her tedious husband, enough of being at everyone’s beck and call. So, she decides that it’s time for a well earned rest. Eva takes to her bed and decides that everyone else can look after her for a change. In typical Sue Townsend style this quickly develops into a farcical comedy, with Eva’s husband Brian moving into his purpose built shed-cum-lovenest with his new squeeze Titania (Tit) and Alexander the white van man being left to hold things together.

I liked the easy style of the writing but what this book (and all of the books in this post) suffered from is a lack of robust plot line. Yes, it’s a fun, light book but it’s hardly a page turner. I love Sue Townsend as a writer so it’s still good but it’s nowhere near her best work.

 

Three “It’s not Adrian Mole” out of five

 

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

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Well, this has certainly turned out to be a controversial choice – it’s had accusations of being un-feminist, lacking in plot, failing to follow the basic rules of grammar, being confusing, poorly written… I could go on. And yes (she says, flouting the rules of grammar herself), perhaps all of those things are true – although I don’t think it’s un-feminist to write complicated, emotional female characters – but I still liked it.

Frances is a young, possibly bisexual woman who becomes involved with Nick and Melissa, a slightly older monogamish married couple. Nick begins an affair with Frances, whilst Frances’ ex-girlfriend Bobbi begins a flirtation with Melissa. Frances does very little in the way of work – she’s a performance poet with Bobbi, she lives rent free in a flat owned by her uncle, she states that she never wants a job. Indeed, she’s only forced to get one when her father’s allowance stops, following his descent into alcoholism. Her lack of structure leads to an awful lot of soul searching, in the way that you can only do when you’re young and in love and don’t have to also worry about a million other boring adult issues.

Despite the annoyingly millennial (Gen Z?) characters, I loved the subtlety of the prose, the devastating one liners, the horrid complications of trying to love someone when you don’t love yourself. I could really relate to Frances and her unemotional dialogue which betrayed an ocean of pain and suffering below her bland exterior. I thought that Sally Rooney absolutely caught the aimless horror of being in your early twenties, indecisively drifting between friends, partners and jobs. Urgh. Youth really is wasted on the young.

Four “Not entirely sure how I just enjoyed a book where nothing happened” out of five
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
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An unnamed narrator (I never realise that until I come to write the review) decides that

she needs a rest, so visits a quack “doctor” who prescribes her with ever increasing numbers of sedatives, uppers, downers and everything in-between. The narrator then proceeds to quite literally sleep for an entire year – not going out, not really eating, not menstruating… nothing but popping pills and occasionally buying coffee from the local shop. Whilst I’m sure we’ve all had days where this type of self induced coma sounds rather appealing, it doesn’t exactly make for a page turning novel.

I didn’t like any of the characters in the book (I say any, there’s really only two) but even the peripheral boyfriend and dead parents are incredibly narcissistic, unlovable people. The only vaguely interesting bit of tension comes from your realisation that the “year” is 2001 and the setting is New York City… as you get closer to September you obviously know what’s about to happen but even that gets passed over with very little emotion.

There is something oddly compelling about the writing though. In a weird way it reminded me of American Psycho – that ultra-privileged antipathy, the desire to do something destructive just because you’re bored and you’ve got the money to get away with it. However, murder makes for a far more interesting storyline than sleeping, so I’m only able to give it a Goodreads-unfriendly…

Two and a half “And I thought nothing happened in Conversations With Friends” out of five
AAAAAND RELAX!

 

So, do you think the idea of doing absolutely nothing sounds really appealing? Could you manage to get an interesting book out of it? Do you like books that are more focused on characterisation than plot? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Come Back For Me by Heidi Perks

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Genre: Thriller

Similar to: Now You See Her, The Girl on the Train… all the usual suspects

Could be enjoyed by: Thriller fans – this is definitely a good example of the genre 

Publication date: 1st June 2019

I feel like I need to start this review with an apology – I received an email giving me super early access to read this book AGES ago and I’ve only just got round to writing the review. Luckily I’ve just about managed to beat the publishing date soooo…. yay? Ooops? Not really sure. Anyway, life has taken over a bit from the blog recently so I’m sorry that I’ve not been around much and I’m sorry that it’s taken me until now to write this review – especially as I really enjoyed Come Back For Me.

Grovel over… on to the review!

Stella grew up on a tiny island just off the British mainland and had a seemingly idyllic childhood – think The Famous Five but without the racism. Then one day – completely out of the blue – her Dad decides that they all have to leave, despite the huge storm that makes it totally unsafe to travel. Despite the fact that the family survive the ferry crossing to the mainland, they’re oddly changed by their move. Stella’s parents split up, her brother moves away and severs contact, her mother dies. She has no idea what happened and longs for her picture perfect childhood home. Then one day she spots her old house on the news – it seems that a body has been found buried in the garden. Stella is both horrified and intrigued and as she struggles to understand the implications of the discovery, she realises that it’s not just human remains that have been uncovered – it’s a web of family secrets too.

I really love the way that Heidi Perks writes. Her descriptions of the island and it’s inhabitants were brilliant and I could see the kind of utopia that she’d created – all children doing wholesome activities like climbing trees whilst their mothers baked bread and hung out the washing. There was a real risk that her setting could have felt too old-fashioned for the 1990’s but it was just the right side of modern but cozy.

The family exodus takes places in the first chapter and my heart was absolutely in my mouth. The writing was so tight and the situation so dangerous that it really kicked things off with a bang. It opened up numerous possibilities for the reasons behind the family needing to urgently leave and I loved how I was immediately drawn into the novel, inventing my own theories as to what had happened straight away.

As the book progressed, the tension built brilliantly and there was a good number of red herrings thrown in to the twisty turny plot that kept me constantly re-evaluating what I thought I knew. I loved the way that island setting slowly moved away being safe and secure to being smotheringly claustrophobic once secrets started to be revealed. I actually struggled to put the book down, so much so that I put off doing some major household tasks so that I could sneakily finish it off. Sorry bathroom ceiling, you’ll have to wait for that final coat of paint!

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Come Back for Me and thought that it was a thoroughly engaging read. My only issue with the novel was with the name of the island – Evergreen. Guess what I was singing in my head every time it was mentioned…

 

 

Four “We’re gonna take this life and make it…” out of five

Really addictive, exciting and fast paced – a hard book to put down.


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of NetGalley and Penguin Random House. Thanks to Natalia Cacciatore for giving me advanced access!

 

Mid Month Mini Reviews – May

Hello bookworms!

Welcome to my a-bit-later-than-planned-mid-month mini-reviews!

I’ve been trying to read more diversely recently and so today I’m focusing on black female authors. All of these books are absolutely excellent and they’ve all made me think about race, racism and privilege (amongst other issues) from entirely different angles. I’d highly recommend them all.

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

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I didn’t go into this book with high expectations but I was blown away by it – not only by the sheer force of Michelle Obama’s drive and ambition but by how well written and engrossing it was. As a British person I don’t understand the system that the US uses to elect its politicians so I had hoped the autobiography wouldn’t get too politically technical and thankfully, it didn’t. What it did do, however, was show what a truly inspirational person Michelle Obama is. Her sheer determination to do well in life was astounding – just the lengths that she had to go to just to get a good education were ridiculous and her constant willingness to defeat the obstacles put in front of her was amazing.

I loved hearing about how Michelle took the role of First Lady and made it her own, with her unique blend of optimism, personality and hard work. I also loved getting a behind-the scenes glance at what life in the White House was really like, especially when you’re also trying to bring up a young family. It was great to hear about what a nuisance the Secret Service were when you were trying to organise your daughter’s sleepover or what it was really like to meet the Queen when you’d only a vague idea of protocol!

Overall, I thought this was a super-interesting look at an amazing woman and her incredible life so far. My only criticism would be her cheese on toast making skills – guys, she used the microwave. Whaaaaat???

    

Four “That’s not how you make cheese on toast, Michelle” out of five.

 

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #2 Read an alternate history novel.

Oh. My. God.

I don’t know that anything could have prepared me for this book – especially with that ending – but safe to say that I loved it, even though it was upsetting and graphic and difficult to read in places.

Noughts and Crosses is set in a world where power has been flipped on it’s head – black people (crosses) are the ruling elite over the just-out-of-slavery whites (noughts). Sephy (a cross) has been lifelong friends with Callum (a nought) but when their friendship begins to develop into something more, the trouble begins.

There’s a lot of adult themes in the book – not just around privilege, power and racism but also rape, abuse and murder. These topics are handled incredibly sensitively though and although in parts it’s a difficult read, the writing is so outstanding that you’re unable to put the book down. The characters are multi-faceted, complicated individuals who often act irresponsibly – entirely how teenagers should behave – and this made the story seem all the more real to me.

Overall, I thought this was a great book with a very important message – I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

 

Four and a half “You can’t do that to a main character!” out of five

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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This is an odd book to review. On the one hand, I enjoyed reading it but I found that it was only after I’d finished that I truly understood how great it was. I just couldn’t. Stop. Thinking. About. It. And every time I considered the novel from a new angle, I found a whole slew of other issues hiding behind it.

An American Marriage is the story of a married couple, Celestial and Roy, who become separated after Roy is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Roy goes to prison and Celestial is left to build a life on her own, with just the shadow of her husband looming in the background.

It’s the omnipresence of Roy in Celestial’s life that really gives the book some tension. Their marriage is always there in the background, overshadowing every move they both make. The issue of their legal union binds them together and creates all kinds of questions about freedom – it acts as a kind of metaphorical, socially driven prison of their own making. It really made me think about injustice and how punishment of an individual ripples out to affect the whole family.

There’s many things about the book that mean it shouldn’t work – the characters are unlikable, the plot isn’t particularly dynamic, the ending is a bit disappointing. However, there’s something about the writing that compels you to keep reading. I should have hated it but instead I loved it.

 

Four “those dolls sound hella creepy” out of five. 

 

So, have you read any of these books? Do you make an effort to read from a diverse range of authors? Let me know in the comments!

Calendar Girls May: Favourite Book With A Mother/Daughter Relationship

Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of the Calendar Girls, which I totally forgot to post yesterday! I’m so sorry guys!!!

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Calendar Girls was a monthly blog event created by Melanie at MNBernard Books and Flavia the Bibliophile and will now be hosted by Katie at Never Not Reading and Adrienne at Darque Dreamer Reads It is designed to ignite bookish discussions among readers and was inspired by the 1961 Neil Sedaka song Calendar Girl.

Just like the song, each month has a different theme. Each blogger picks their favourite book from the theme and on the first Monday of the month reveals their pick in a Calendar Girls post.

So without further ado, this month’s theme is…

calendar girls may

 

…and my top pick is…

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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When I first saw the theme of mother and daughter relationships I was initially a little stumped. I don’t read a lot of novels that focus on family ties so I had to cast around on google for a bit to see what I could come up with. Then it hit me – I was looking for positive, healthy Mum/Daughter bonds… but what about toxic relationships? That’s when I knew exactly which book I’d recommend – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

In the book, Eleanor lives a life of pared down efficiency. Her meals are one pot, one plate. Her shoes are smart but comfortable, with Velcro for quick fastening (none of those inefficient shoe laces). Her role as a finance administrator requires analysis and ordering of numbers, which can be broken down into repetitive tasks and scheduled accordingly. All of this means that Eleanor creates minimal fuss and requires few interactions with other people. Everything seems to be pretty normal (if a bit lonely) until you realise that Eleanor treats vodka like an essential basic grocery and thinks of a pot plant as her one and only friend.

Eleanor struggles with people, and as the book progresses, you start to guess at what might have happened in her childhood to make her so ill equipped to deal with social situations. Apart from having burn scars across her face and body, Eleanor has a very troubling relationship with her mother (Mummy) who she only contacts via telephone for 15 minutes on a Wednesday (and thank God, because this woman is a BITCH). As the book progresses, Eleanor makes some woeful (often hilarious) attempts to make herself more attractive to her crush and through a freak event is forced to spend time with Raymond, who she knows from work. Through this very off-kilter friendship Eleanor begins to accept herself and deal with her past… and her mother.

I thought that Eleanor was such a great character and although she is clearly odd and her life is terribly sad, the novel is written in such a way that you don’t ever feel that you’re laughing at her, or at least not in a malicious way. When she acts inappropriately you can see it’s because she doesn’t understand social norms and never because she aims to cause offence – but to outsiders I suppose she seems aloof or downright rude. It’s this constant formality and awkwardness that made me empathise so much with Eleanor – you can’t help but be completely on her side.

The ending of the book has a fantastic twist that I half guessed at but the sadness of the whole situation really hit me. I loved how Eleanor’s past was hinted at throughout the novel and that by the end of the book everything had come to light. I really liked how what could have been fluffy chick lit was turned into something much more challenging and emotive by offsetting the lighter elements with something far darker. The book is very well written and a fabulous debut – everyone should read it!

 

Have you read Eleanor Oliphant…? Do you have any favourite books with toxic mother/daughter relationships in them? Let me know in the comments! 

 

 

 

 

TL;DR April Review

Hello Bookworms!

HEATWAVE!!! HAPPY EASTER!!! BANK HOLIDAY!!!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I can’t believe how warm it was over the Easter bank holiday weekend! We went out on bank holiday Monday in SHORTS and I had to put suncream on! We even sat out at night in the garden with our wood burner going after having a barbecue and it was lovely.

April saw the launch of the library as a full volunteer led community resource, which means we’ll have much more flexibility about the kind of things that we can use it for – we already have a poetry evening, farmers market and various kids clubs but we’ll be expanding even further, which is both super exciting and a lot of work. The launch day itself was really great – the whole community pulled together to create a fantastic atmosphere. I got up at the crack of dawn to marshal a fun run but it was all for a good cause so I didn’t really mind.

I’ve been out quite a lot in April – we visited Snowshill Manor for the non-hubs birthday (getting more usage from our National Trust membership) which is absolutely fascinating as it houses the most eclectic collection of hand crafted items from all over the world. The interior of the house reminded me of Grimmauld Place so it was perfect for a mooch around; this is just one of the many rooms:

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We also had a meal at The Fleece Inn near Evesham which was amazing – a proper traditional English pub with a great beer garden and fabulous, locally sourced food. We even went back there a few days later after we’d been out antiquing at Malvern, where I got a lovely German studio pottery bowl and French vase.

We had my parents over for Easter Sunday lunch which involved loads of hot food, wine and chocolate which was really nice. My Mum had her birthday too so we went to Edingale, the village where she used to go during the holidays (some scheme run by the Church maybe?) to stay with a woman called Miss Abel. She hadn’t been back since the 1950’s and amazingly it hadn’t changed much. It’s a lovely place, still very rural and the house that she used to stay in was still there, looking pretty much the same.

Our other house is slow going – we’re still sanding down the cement like filler round all the door frames but we’re close to finishing the woodwork, so that’s something. Disasters this month have included ants in the kitchen (why? there’s literally nothing for them to eat) water ingress into my lovely new kitchen (I think the upstairs window is leaking) and some more problems with the plasterwork but we’re on top of them now.

In terms of my book blogging life I’m now halfway through the Read Harder Challenge which is obviously ahead of schedule and I’m doing ok in the Goodreads Challenge, although I have slipped back a bit.

This month, I took part in the April Calendar Girls meme where I chose Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough as my favourite book with a surprise ending. I took part in a blog tour run by The Write Reads for After the Green Withered by Kristin Ward and expanded my mini review feature to two postings a month – Mid-Month Mini-Reviews and Monthly Wrap-Up Mini-Reviews.

I also did a discussion post about blogging pressure called Are We Having Fun Yet? and continued with Sorting Out the Shelves #5.

I posted eight reviews despite having a pretty bad reading month quality wise:

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie: A fantastic essay that really cut to the bones of why it’s important to be an intersectional feminist in the 21st Centuy. Loved everything that she had to say. Five out of five stars

Bloodchild by Octavia E Butler: I loved this novella, especially as it felt like proper old school sci-fi. I’m super interested in the rest of the series now! Four out of five. 

After the Green Withered by Kristen Ward: An interesting debut with a great message but a few problems with pacing and structure. Three and a half out of five.

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor: I found that again, a restrained, something-might-happen-but-then-it-doesn’t plot dull as ditchwater. Some characters were brilliant but unfortunately they didn’t feature heavily enough for me.  Three out of five. 

First Love by Gwendoline Riley: One word: depressing. I hate books that don’t have redemptive arcs and this was just one horrible character after another, even though the writing was excellent. Two and a half out of five.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry: I didn’t hate this book but it dragged on and on with very little in the way of plot. It was beautifully written but I needed more action. Average. Two and a half out of five. 

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley: I hated this book – the confusing structure of some sentences, the character names, the incongruous details that didn’t sit well within the Victorian setting…urgh. I made it through to the end but my God it was a slog. One out of five. 

The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville: I hated every single thing about this book and DNF’d it half way through. One out of five.

So that’s April wrapped up! Did you read better books than me? Are you making plans for the summer? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Wrap-Up Mini Reviews – April

Hello bookworms!

Since my mini-reviews have been such a hit (and I have a massive backlog to get through) I thought I’d attempt them twice a month – ooooh! So, welcome to my monthly wrap-up mini-reviews!

Today, I’m focusing on my recent forays into the world of novellas and short essays – tiny reviews for tiny manuscripts!

 

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie

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I LOVED everything about this essay/novella that was adapted from Chimamanda’s Tedx talk of the same name. Considering how short it is (60 pages) she does an absolutely brilliant job of defining modern feminism in an eloquent and engaging way. I completely agreed with all of her points about why a patriarchal society is bad for everyone (not just women) and the ways that we can all work together to combat systematic inequalities that hold everyone back.

Many books about feminism are written by white, middle class women with a limited experience of the world outside of Europe/the US/Australia so it was interesting to read about the viewpoint of someone with a completely different background. I thought that all of the author’s points were well reasoned and that her unique perspective brought something genuinely new to the debate.

Overall, I loved the passionate, informative way that the essay was written and think it should be required reading!

Five “It’s not as boring as it sounds!” out of five.

 

Bloodchild by Octavia E Butler

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WHY have I never read Octavia E Butler before? Bloodchild is a tiny little novella that took me about half an hour to read but it was A-MA-ZING. The basic premise (from what I could tell – the writing is s p a r s e) is that there’s a planet occupied by both space aliens and people. The space aliens need human hosts to incubate their eggs which the humans submit to sort-of willingly (presumably for peace? I’m sure this is explained better in subsequent books).

I loved everything about the story – how old school sci-fi it felt, how exacting the prose was, how original the idea was…also, it was free download from the Kindle store (yay!) It really reminded me of something written by Philip K Dick (a personal favourite of mine) but with more – I don’t know – emotion? Humanity? (Tries desperately to avoid gender stereotypes when thinking about how this might relate to the author).

In short (literally) Bloodchild was a fabulous taster of the world that Octavia E Butler has built. I’ll definitely be checking out the rest of the series.

 

Four “I’ve been missing out!”s out of five

 

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

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I picked this novella up in a charity shop while waiting for my car to be fixed purely because it had been previously nominated for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. It was a lovely sunny day, I was sitting in a delightful cafe on the high street with a nice big pot of tea and… this was totally the wrong book to be reading. It is dark and depressing and has absolutely no redemptive arc.

The main character is called Neve and the book focuses on her emotionally and physically abusive relationship with her horrible bellend of a husband. It also moves back and forth through key parts of her life, showing the toxic relationships she has had with other people – her grotesque father, her unreliable mother, her unloving ex. I wasn’t exactly sure what the point of the book was – were these depressing little vignettes meant to offer an explanation as to why Neve didn’t just up sticks and leave? Were they to garner sympathy for the character? Was I meant to be apportioning blame for the choices that Neve had made? I didn’t get it.

In saying that, I thought that the writing was very good. It gave a very realistic portrayal of several abusive relationships and all of the characters were complicated individuals, despite the brevity of the prose and the sparseness of their descriptions. Overall though I felt that the book was too unbalanced, too wayward and too bloody depressing to warrant anything more than an average rating.

 

Two and a half “RED FLAG!”s out of five. 

 

So, have you read any of the above novellas? Do you enjoy shorter books? Am I still allowed to count them towards my Goodreads challenge? Let me know in the comments!

Sorting Out the Shelves #5

Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of sorting out the shelves! I haven’t done one of these for a while and although I thought I’d mostly covered the books I wanted to get rid of, when I looked harder I still have loads more to get through. So, it looks like this feature is here to stay!

Today, I’m looking at books that I bought when I became interested in two very different topics – fantasy writing and gardening! Soooooo… it’s time for Own or Re-Home!

Own

Assorted works by J. R. R. Tolkien

I love that edition of the Hobbit…

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The copies of LOTR are some of my most battered books (having been obtained when I was a student and surviving four different house moves – including a period where they were kept in my Grandma’s shed) but they’re also amongst my most loved books. Confession: I essentially stole them off my then boyfriend and never returned them – oops – but that was fifteen years ago and he never asked for them back, so… yeah. Mine now! He recommended that I read them despite my initial trepidation – I’d made an attempt at reading The Hobbit when I was about six or seven and thought it was the dullest book in the world. Surprisingly, I loved them and that started my journey into fantasy. I bought the special edition copy of The Hobbit mostly because it was pretty but when I actually read it again I loved it – I think I’d just been too young the first time round. Now, I fondly look at these books as a kind of gateway drug into a world that I didn’t know existed and even though I really don’t like my ex I’m grateful that we had a relationship purely for the book recommendations!

Re-home

A selection of gardening books that all pretty much say the same thing…

We have the internet now…

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All of these books have been gifts (because what else do you buy for someone who likes both gardening and reading?) and although they were initially useful, they’re pretty basic and the internet has much more up to date information. I haven’t referred to any of them in years, so off they go to the used bookstore at the library.

 

Do you have any “long term loan” books lurking on your shelves that you’ve never got round to returning? What were your “gateway” books that introduced you to a specific genre? Are reference books even remotely useful in the 21st century? Let me know in the comments!