Blog Tour – Five Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Maurice Barkley

#thewritereads blog tour!

Genre: Short stories, Mystery

Similar to: Classic whodunnits like Agatha Christie, or…you know… Arthur Conan Doyle

Could be enjoyed by: Everyone! I found these stories really enjoyable and suitable for all ages

Publication date: 6th July 2017, according to Amazon (which seems weird but ok)

 

I’m going to say this right at the start – I’ve never actually read any Sherlock Holmes stories before. I’m vaguely familiar with some of the TV adaptations but the actual novel seems to have passed me by. So, it was with some trepidation that I began to read this book.

I have to say, I was really impressed! I found the stories very engaging and I was immediately drawn into the world of Victorian London. All of the stories feel like classic tales of murder, intrigue and suspense and I thought that the overall tone of what I’d expect a Sherlock Holmes novel to be was captured really well. If you’re not familiar with Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing then the nearest thing I could liken it to was Jonathan Creek.

There was no backstory given as to how Holmes and Watson began their partnership or who they even were as people (what is Watson a doctor of? How does Holmes support his somewhat lavish lifestyle?) but even with my limited knowledge I was able to piece together their working relationship. It was nice to see familiar places and phrases pop up, although there was no “elementary, my dear Watson!” which I was waiting for. I did spot one tiny Americanism which I found somewhat jarring but overall I thought that the book was well written and completely evoked the feeling of foggy, repressive Victorian London.

My only real issue was that every time Baker Street was mentioned, that bloody sax solo kept popping into my head:

 

 

Overall, I really liked the Sherlock Holmes short stories. Perhaps the characters could have done with a little more fleshing out and maybe Watson could have done a little more than stand there wetly with absolutely no idea of what was going on but these are minor criticisms. I found the stories to be nicely bite-sized chunks of mystery, murder and suspense, very cleverly written and easy to read. A great little book to dip in and out of if you need to immerse yourself in another world – and let’s face it, we could all do with a bit of that right now.

 

Four “I cannot get this song out of my head”s out of five.

Really well captured, a great addition to the cannon.

 

 


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of #thewritereads. Thanks Dave!

 

Blog Tour – Kingshold by D. P. Wooliscroft

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Part of #TheWriteReads Blog Tour!

Genre: Fantasy (possibly high fantasy? I’m not knowledgeable enough about the sub-genres)

Similar to: A bit Assassin’s Apprentice with occasional Terry Pratchett overtones

Could be enjoyed by: People who like multiple POV, political fantasy

Publication date: 17th April 2018

I haven’t written a book review in months, so I think the first thing that I should do is apologise for how rusty I am. As always, life has gotten in the way etc. etc. I’ll try my hardest not to ramble but after the week I’ve had even this opening paragraph is a bit of a stretch!

Soooo, Kingshold. To summarise: the King and Queen get assassinated, there’s a city wide search for someone to run the newly-founded republic.

Chaos ensues.

(This is easier than I thought! Oh no, wait…)

To start with the positives – I thought the book was well written. There was the occasional repetition of a more unusual word and the inclusion of some more modern phrases which sometimes felt a little incongruous but overall the tone was refreshingly light, especially for something as serious as a political fantasy. In particular, I loved how I don’t have a single bad thing to say about sexism – the female characters were likeable, had autonomy and didn’t act as “sexy lamps” (standing around in the background waiting to be turned on by men). One of them even got introduced as Ms! I don’t know a single thing about any of their breasts and there were no bad sex scenes so kudos to the author for not writing like a misogynistic dickbiscuit.

On to the not-so-good bits…

I thought that the characters needed a little more fleshing out as a lot of the time they were somewhat interchangeable. Alana and Petra? Motega, Trypp and Florian? I’m still not exactly sure who was who and I struggled to picture them in my head. I also had some issues with some of the names; Neenahwi… Neena-h-wi? Nee-nah-wi? Neenah-wi? Who knows. I did find that every time that character was mentioned, the pronunciation of her name pulled me right out of the story.

I also couldn’t help but notice some of the – ahem – similarities between certain other books. Now clearly Kingshold is a genre novel so you’d expect certain tropes but in the absence of clear character definitions my mind started to default to, well, mostly the Discworld. We had Rincewind a dodgy wizard, Gimli bearded dwarves, Great A’Tuin a draco-turtle with a town on his back, Inigo, Fezzik and Vizzini a group of three marauding brothers-in-arms and The Luggage some floating luggage. 

There was a large cast of characters and plenty of interaction between them all but in terms of action I found it all a bit, well, admin based. I guess the thing about writing a political fantasy is that there’s quite a lot of tedious going-to-curry-favour-with-Lady-such-and-such and although there were plenty of diversions and random events, I found the plot quite slow overall. The events happened in a kind of “oh look, fire!” or “who is that unknown assassin?” type way, with very little tension or build up. There were also some interesting hooks thrown in that weren’t followed up – was Mareth’s singing actual magic? Where on earth did that demon come from – is she banished? I guess we will find out more in subsequent books in the series.

Overall, I liked Kingshold but I didn’t love it. For me, the pacing was too slow, the characters and setting needed better descriptions and I would have like to see a bit more build up and tension to the events that unfolded. I imagine that if you read a lot of fantasy then you’d probably really enjoy this book (after all, I am the woman who found Assassin’s Apprentice quite tedious) but it wasn’t really for me.

 

Three “Is her name Need-A-Wee?”s out of five.

Good writing, an interesting premise but overall just not for me.

 

 


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of The Write Reads. Thanks Dave!

 

New Year’s Resolutions

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Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

Hello bookworms!

Happy 2020! It’s quite hard to be positive when the world is currently on fire/on the verge of war but lets forget about the things that we can’t control and look at our own personal goals for the forthcoming year. Focus!

Firstly, lets check how I did with the resolutions that I made last year. There were ten (TEN! What was I thinking!) of them – clearly I was in a more upbeat mood in January 2019!

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  1. Make my peace with Goodreads and use it properly. I actually did this one! I’ve logged every single book that I’ve read for the last 12 months on there. Whilst I still hate the site and I don’t understand 9/10th’s of what you can use it for, I have at least accurately tracked my reading. Woo hoo! Gold star!
  2. Smash my NetGalley backlog out of the park. Well, kinda. I did read quite a few books that were on my back list, although there’s still three on there that were released pre-2019 and another five that I’ve missed the 2019 publication dates for. Sooo… half a gold star? I’ll be generous.
  3. Consistency is key, Lucinda. Last year I wrote; “Basically, stop f#*king about with your “unintentional hiatuses” and post according to a proper schedule.” Reader, I failed miserably – to the point where I felt guilty even calling myself a blogger. I have been SO BAD at posting regularly (or, at all). 0/10, must try harder etc. etc.
  4. Keep going with the varied content. I… think I did this? When I posted, anyway.
  5. Branch out into other forms of social media. I’m all over Twitter like a pigeon on chips so that’s a point for me. I tried Pinterest but I just… don’t get it? I’ll have another go this year. I’m not doing Instagram, it’s too depressing!
  6.  Get more involved in other people’s stuff. I started really well with this then tailed off massively… I must get back on it!
  7. Complete Read Harder 2019. TICK!!!!!
  8. Complete the Chapter-a-day Read-along. FAILED MISERABLY DON’T EVEN TALK TO ME ABOUT IT.
  9. Just…try to make a dent in your physical TBR. Well, I certainly tried. Then I started volunteering in my local library and found their bookshop, where all books are 50p and…
  10. Mumbles *something about getting 500 followers*. Achievement unlocked! I currently have 544.

That makes a grand total of… FIVE AND A HALF OUT OF TEN ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!

Soooo… not great. However, I’ve rolled over some of the important resolutions and ditched the ones that I’ve moved on from. Oh well *shrugs shoulders* life got in the way a bit last year so I’m not going to beat myself up over it.

Moving on!

Blurb (6)

  1. Read 100 books. I tried last year with the Goodread’s challenge and read 87, so I think that with a bit more effort I should be able to achieve this.
  2. Get rid of the final three books that have been on my NetGalley since forever and reduce the 2019 backlog. I’ve come to accept that there will always be a backlog, I just want it to be less intimidating.
  3. Blog more regularly. Note, not more – just at a steadier pace. No more three posts a week for a few months then a four month hiatus. Accept that it’s virtually impossible to blog in the summer (my partner has weeks on end off from work and expects us to Do Stuff) so plan accordingly.
  4. Have another go at Pinterest. I mean, I’ll try. Not holding out too much hope for this one though.
  5. Don’t let the physical TBR get any bigger. I’m planning to read three books a month from my physical TBR – that should get it down a bit.
  6. Translate Twitter friends into blogging friends. Find all of the people that you regularly talk to on Twitter and actually follow their blog content.
  7. Keep up with the bullet journal. Hey Lucinda, you know how you stopped using it and then your reading/blogging plans went out of the window? I think the two things might be related…
  8. Continue to read widely without the help of a reading challenge. Reading challenges are great for making you read more varied content but I’ve done them for the past few years and they’re starting to get a bit repetitive now. They also force you to constantly find new books and my TBR is so big that this year I just want to focus on reading the books that I’m actually interested in.

And that’s it! Ten resolutions were just too many so I’m hoping that eight is a more achievable number. Wish me luck!

All the best for a happy and healthy new year,

Lucinda x


So, what are your bookish resolutions? Have you checked what you resolved to do last year? Did you fare better than I did? Let me know in the comments!

 

Review: Love Punked by Nia Lucas

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Genre: That’s a tough one. New adult (is that really a genre?)/ Romance (of the most down-to-earth, realistic kind – as in “I’ll let your kids be sick on me just so you can have a break”/ General fiction (surely this is too realistic to be anything other than autobiographical?)

Similar to: Nothing. See my previous post about Why I don’t like YA because everyone is too well behaved and middle class

Could be enjoyed by: Teenagers – this book would be brilliant for anyone who found themselves in a situation like Erin’s

Publication date: 21st July 2018

Controversial opinion: I’m not a fan of Young Adult or New Adult books (and yes, I know they’re not strictly genres but everyone else treats them like they are – don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about Karen). So, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I agreed to read Love Punked. I was swayed by the idea that the central characters did all of the things that I’ve previously criticised YA books for not having enough of -drinking, drug taking and having irresponsible, contraceptive free sex in a totally relatable and realistic way. Finally!

The novel centres around Erin, a feisty teenager who accidentally gets pregnant after having sex on a sun lounger in her Mum’s garage with someone she’s just met at a rave (we’ve all been there). She brings up her twins (yes, TWINS!) with the support of their father and her family, plus lots of help from her friends. It’s cute, sad, exciting, depressing and often downright hilarious to see the situations that Erin gets into and how she uses her trademark temper to forcefully get herself out of them.

Love Punked feels like it’s an autobiography because it’s so beautifully observed. It was great to read about characters who spoke… like they were teenagers. I am SO SICK of reading books where the young protagonists all sound like fifty year olds, debating the merits of da Vinci vs Michelangelo and saying no to literally everything in favour of doing their homework. Dawson’s Creek, this is entirely your fault.

I really enjoyed the characters – I thought that they were all very well fleshed out, believable and nuanced. No-one was perfect – far from it – and in particular it was really refreshing to see a mother who wasn’t saintly, breezing through life or standing in the background, telling everyone off all of time. Erin absolutely had her own agency and it was great to see her hold her own against some really challenging situations.

I liked the storyline and seeing Erin grow into an amazing Mum, whilst still getting to appreciate how bloody hard it was for her. It’s so difficult to find stories from ordinary working class families like my own and I really liked how you could feel the love that everyone in her family had for each other. Awww. My only criticism is that the book was a tiny bit overly detailed in some areas and could do with a little bit of trimming down but that’s a very minor issue.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Love Punked and would highly recommend it to everyone!

Four “You’ve got this, Erin!”s out of five.

Amazing, funny and hugely entertaining, I loved this book!

 


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of the author. Thanks to the lovely Nia for sending me a copy and for being such a nice human being!

 

Mid-Month Mini-Reviews

Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of my mini reviews! Today, I’ve chosen three novellas to discuss, all of which manage to be short on word count but big on ideas…

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Minutes from the Miracle City by Omar Sabbagh

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Last year, I read my first novel published by Fairlight Moderns (Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn) and absolutely bloody loved it so I was really excited to find that there were a new batch available on NetGalley – woop!

Set during Ramadan in Dubai, Minutes from the Miracle City features several different characters all narrating their interwoven stories – not something that can be easily achieved in such a slim volume. There were some unusual choices – in such a city of wealth I expected to be reading about upper middle-class expats or local rich businessmen but instead there was a real breadth to the types of individuals personified – a taxi driver, a hairdresser, a security guard, an academic, a journalist/writer/mother. I loved seeing their behaviour around Eid regardless of their religion and the challenges that living with the juxtaposition of a modern, metropolitan but also traditional Islamic society afforded them.

My issue with this novella was (as I seem to be writing more and more frequently) that not very much happened. Yes, it was interesting to read about a city that I’ve never been to and to look at the lives of people who are all different to me but I felt like the narrative needed more of an event to pull all of the characters together.

Overall, this was an interesting character driven novella but I personally would have appreciated a more dynamic plot.

 

 

Two and a half “But what happens???” out of five.

 


 

Atlantic Winds by William Prendiville 

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More from Fairlight Moderns – but this time a totally different take on life in an odd pocket of society.

Atlantic Winds is set in Bear Lake, Canada during the 1970’s. It’s a claustrophobic town with just one main employer and a close-knit community who have their own sense of right and wrong. I imagined a family diner, lots of young families with stay-at-home Mums and plenty of men in plaid. Traditional, poor-but-making-ends-meet, safe.

Or not.

Right from the start you get the impression that there are some families who are just a little… off. This creeping sense of unease permeates the text like the mist that I imagined rolled off the lake every morning. The writing is wonderfully atmospheric and added to the overall themes of justice, guilt and duty.

Written primarily about the teenagers in the town, the novella explores the roles of men vs women in a town with limited options and little scope for upwards mobility. I found the characters to be a little one-dimensional (the “hero”, the “victim” and the “villain”) but I could have lived with that… had the hero not been involved in one of the most dubiously consensual sex scenes I’ve ever read:

“And so she’d followed him there… until the moment it happened and she’d seized up and tried to show him, by a tremulous, calming smile, that it didn’t hurt.”

Then:

“‘I’m fine’ she told him, and hugged him to make him feel better.”

I could write for several pages here about how sex is something that women – even young women losing their virginity – can and should be actively, happily engaged in and that THIS IS NOT OK. I mean – seized up? How much more obvious can it be that this girl doesn’t want to have sex? Plus that line about making him feel better (because he clearly feels guilty) REALLY made me angry. However, I understand that a) this is the 1970’s and b) the novella explores the extent to which the female character (Sasha) is denied her own agency through the expectations put upon her to be a good, dutiful daughter – and perhaps the author is trying to show how this affects her life in a myriad of ways.

Maybe.

Overall, I found this complex, evocative little novella to be a really compelling read, even though it did make me incredibly angry. It certainly raised a lot of issues but for me they weren’t fully resolved, perhaps due to the brevity of the text. I can’t say that I liked it, but it definitely made me think.

 

 

Three and a half “THAT’S NOT OK” out of five.

 


 

Skellig by David Almond

Skellig (Skellig, #1)

There’s a part of me that wants to ask “what even is this book?” but I think that would be doing it a disservice. Sure it’s a very weird story but it’s also one of those rare occasions where the precise writing and the not-fully-explained subject matter come together to create one of those wonderful little novellas where it’s as much about what isn’t said than what is.

Skellig is the name of the dusty, shrivelled up old man* who is found by 12 year old Michael at the back of a collapsing barn in the garden of the house that he and his family have just moved into. Michael decides to help him, not least as a distraction from his very poorly baby sister who is in and out of hospital.

What is Skellig? Is it all a dream? Is his presence a coping mechanism? Is he *spoiler* an angel? What is he doing eating spiders in the back of a barn? Is he only there because Micheal’s sister is ill? Is he helping her?

Who knows. All I can say is that this wonderfully written, odd little book is an utterly charming one off (or at least, it would be if Patrick Ness hadn’t essentially written the same story in A Monster Calls). It’s about friendship and worry and magic and there’s no kissing and everyone is a kind and compassionate individual – so it’s basically perfect.

*maybe

 

Five “a number 27 and a number 53 please” out of five.

 


 

So, have you read any of these books? Do you enjoy a novella? Is it ok to add them to my Goodreads goal? Let me know in the comments!

 

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TL;DR June Review

Hello Bookworms!

SUMMER IS HERE!!! THIS IS NOT A DRILL!!!!

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I’m currently sitting by my french doors, smelling the flowers and picking at my peeling sunburn (yuck!) It’s been so hot recently (although, thankfully, quite cold at night) that everything in the garden has gone mad, although the previous heavy rain has meant that most things on the allotment have been ravaged by slugs 😦. So, I’m rushing to plant more beans, kale and french beans in the hopes that we might be able to salvage something.

I’ve been out and about this month for my Dad’s birthday (75!) including a nice family meal with my cousins. We went to Gardener’s World Live! where I bought some nice bits and pieces and generally had a lovely day out and I also went to a plant sale where everything was £1.25 and bought a load of stuff with my friend who is just getting into gardening – I think I’m a bad influence! I had a night out locally with friends too which was great and won a pub quiz with my library friends where we got a hamper of books to split up between us ☺

The saga of the other house is never-ending but we’ve had the gardens gravelled and a boiler installed so that’s another few jobs ticked off the list. I’ve got a big green wooden planter and a lavender to go inside it which can go in the front garden and I’ve given the back a bit of a tidy up too. In a couple of weeks my cousin is coming round to make a start on the bannisters and to box in the boiler so that’ll (hopefully) be the last of the major jobs done. We found a giant hole in the outside wall when we were digging down in the garden – it seems that someone knocked out some bricks to lay a gas pipe then removed it and never bothered to fill it back in! No wonder we had damp.

The library is starting to take over my life again! We’re short staffed due to holidays and there’s so much going on that it’s been pretty busy. I’ve got some exciting authors coming to do talks from September onwards which is great – just need to firm up dates and confirm content. I’ve never done anything like this before so it’s a bit trial and error but I’m hoping it will go ok.

I’ve had another bad month of blogging – I think I should revert to a reduced summer schedule! I’ve caught up with my Goodreads challenge with the help of a few cheeky novellas and I’m back into Read Harder, so at least there’s that. I’ve taken part in the Calendar Girls meme where I chose Women by Chloe Caldwell as my favourite book with LGBTQ+ representation and I published some Mid Month Mini Reviews and started a new series called Gateway Books where I looked at what books from my childhood influenced my reading tastes today.

I posted three reviews in total:

Affinity by Sarah Waters: I loved everything about this gothic lesbian sort-of romance. I don’t usually go for creepy books but I was totally sucked in – even though I had to stop reading it at night! Four and a half out of five stars.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal: I really enjoyed this beautifully crafted Victorian tale – it was so richly evocative of the era. Would highly recommend. Four out of five stars.

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd: I just couldn’t connect with this book at all. It’s well written, it was really imaginative and unique – just not for me. Two and a half out of five stars. 

 

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

Gateway Books Part One

Hello Bookworms!

I’ve fallen down a nostalgia induced Google wormhole today trying to research this blog post – aargh!

*Bonus points for knowing what 90’s music video this is from

Why have I spent the last hour chuckling at images of old Just 17 magazines and frantically trying to place random tv theme tunes? Well, I’ve been looking back through my life to see which books have been the real game-changers… the ones that I’m calling:

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A whole new worrrrrrlllllldddddd….

Ahem.

So, I thought it would be good to start at the beginning, when I first began to choose my own books. I guess at around ten years old I was mostly reading:

Children’s Fiction (unsurprisingly)

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I remember reading Goodnight Mister Tom with the rest of the class at primary school and it was so sad but utterly captivating too. Even the annoying kids with poor concentration were absolutely gripped by the story! The backdrop of the war led me to  other books like Warhorse by Michael Morpurgo and Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden and when I was even older, books like All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Birdsong by Sebastien Faulks (which I purchased years ago and still haven’t got round to reading, oops).

I also LOVED all of those animal stories written for children like The Sheep Pig by Dick King-Smith (which was made into the film Babe) and Charlotte’s Web, which very nearly made me a vegetarian (but failed at the first sniff of a bacon sandwich). I still love books about animals – I recently read The Bees by Laline Paull which was both super interesting and super-disturbing.

I also read lots of…

Children’s Classics

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I went through a big Enid Blyton phase when I was younger, especially The Famous Five (I wanted to be George, obvs) and Mallory Towers, which made me want to go to boarding school. I can draw a direct line between this book and a later series of books set at a somewhat more magical boarding school… in hindsight these books are pretty problematic but at the time I loved them.

I also loved books like What Katy Did, where naughty Katy got her comeuppance and learnt to be good by following the meek and mild Aunt Helen. I have SUCH vivid memories from this book – the medicine bottles on the shelf, the cracked staple holding up the fateful swing, the menus she would have to write where she complained that every meal had to either be pork, chicken or beef and couldn’t someone just invent a new meat (something I regularly think about when I can’t decide what to cook). The feminist in me shudders at this story now but at the time I couldn’t get enough of it. I have equally fond memories of books by E. Nesbit like The Railway Children and Five Children and It, which led me to the fantastical, magical stories of people like Neil Gaiman.

Finally, I also got very much into…

Humour/Humorous Poetry

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(Aargh why won’t these pictures align????)

I went on holiday when I was about eight or so and, glory of glories, there was a whole bookshelf full of (adult) books for any of my family to borrow. I chose to read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 which, in hindsight, was far too old for me (I think I just skipped over the parts that I didn’t understand) and Some More of Me Poetry by Pam Ayres, which was really funny in a very innocent 1970’s way (or at least, that’s how I remember it). Both of the books were brilliantly amusing and made me love that kind of downtrodden working class sense of humour, leading me on to the rest of Sue Townsend’s works and even into stand up like Victoria Wood and working class folk-rockers like Grace Petrie:

 

And with that solid grounding in literature, I ventured into my teenage years… which will have to wait for another post!

So, what books did you enjoy growing up? How do you think they influenced your reading tastes now? Did they a wider impact on you as a person? Let me know in the comments!

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

Things in Jars

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!

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…

Taking a Break.png

 

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!