Book Review – Keep Them Close by Betty Rose

Genre: Family saga

Similar to: I’m not sure as this isn’t a genre I usually read. Angela’s Ashes maybe?

Could be enjoyed by: Anyone who is interested in multi generational, heartfelt stories

Publication date: 30th January 2020

Full disclosure – I read this book because I met the author at my local library and she was lovely enough to gift me a free copy. So, although Keep The Close is not my usual fare, I decided to give it a go and I have to say was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Thank you Betty!

The book starts with the early life of Robina in her hard working rural Irish family. Robina is a fascinating character – a charming dreamer who is also a tiny bit magical. She moves to Liverpool to study nursing which brings a culture clash so abrupt that innocent Robina is left not knowing which way is up. She meets Moses, falls in love and begins her happily ever after – except that life doesn’t work that way.

I loved the way that although I’ve referred to the book as a family saga, it has a bleaker, more realistic edge which made the story feel more true to life. It could have been quite one dimensional – a tale of two soulmates finding each other and starting a family – but the plot is far more complex and nuanced than that. There’s a lot of elements at play; an interracial relationship at a time when that was very much frowned upon, immigration, poverty, religion, mental health issues, racism… it’s all woven into a storyline which spans a lifetime.

I really liked the characterisation in this novel, especially the main protagonist Robina.  Each individual in the book has been really well depicted, so much so that I’d be shocked if it wasn’t based on real life events. I liked how human everyone was, often making bad decisions for good reasons and frequently getting things wrong! What really shone out though was the love that the characters had for each other and the close family bonds which kept them together – even when they were physically far apart.

As the book progressed I became more and more emotionally engaged with Robina and her family. Even though the ending wasn’t what I expected AT ALL it again felt very realistic and tied up all of the loose ends.

The only criticisms I have for Keep Them Close are that the cover is quite misleading – I think it makes it look like a gothic horror story rather than a family saga and I got a little bit annoyed by the use of quotation marks around every colloquialism. I’m all in favour of using dialect but my own personal preference is if it doesn’t have speech marks round it.

Overall though I very much enjoyed reading Keep Them Close and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading true-to-life novels about family and relationships.

 

Four “Is this real life?”s out of five.

Perfect for lockdown reading – heartfelt, comforting yet somewhat unexpected.

 


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of Betty Rose the author. It was so lovely to meet her and very kind of her to give me a copy of her book. Thanks Betty!

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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!

 

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!

 

Blog Tour – Sapphire Smyth and the Shadow Five Part One by R. J. Furness

Genre: YA Fantasy

Similar to: A little bit Golden Compass, serialised à la The Green Mile

Could be enjoyed by: People who like their fantasy in bite-size chunks

Publication date: 16th March 2019

Blurb (4)

Have you ever seen something you can’t explain? Did it vanish as fast as it appeared? Perhaps that thing you saw was lurking in the shadows, and you caught a glimpse of it before it went back into hiding. There’s a good chance, of course, that the thing you saw simply emerged from your imagination. Or maybe, just maybe, it didn’t… Sapphire Smyth is no stranger to rejection. When she was only a baby, her father abandoned her after her mother died. Since then, Sapphire has never felt like she belonged anywhere, or with anyone. To make things worse, her foster carers have now turned their back on her – on her eighteenth birthday. After living with them throughout her childhood, Sapphire has to find a new home. Is it any wonder she finds it hard to trust people? Abandoned by the people she called family, Sapphire is alone and searching for some meaning in her life. Except that meaning has already come looking for her. When she discovers mysterious creatures lurking in the shadows, Sapphire soon realises that her fate is unlike anything she had ever imagined.

Blurb (3)Now don’t get me wrong, I love a big epic fantasy novel. The Chronicles of Amber, The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time; I’ve really enjoyed them all (actually, I’m only on book four of WoT… so perhaps let’s gloss over that one. Guys it is SO LONG)… Anyway, I adore getting stuck into a huge heavy tome that I struggle to fit into my handbag and gives me backache. So, I was a little concerned about reading a fantasy novella – how would they fit in all the world-building? Surely the first 100 pages of any fantasy book barely scratches the surface of the storyline? How on earth do you build a narrative arc – won’t it end just as I’m getting into it?

FEAR NOT READERS!!!

Sapphire Smyth and the Shadow Five worked reaaaaaalllly well as a serial. The writing was immediately engaging and fast paced. There was a good narrative arc – the book ended in a *ahem different place to the beginning, which meant that there were some nicely defined boundaries and a natural place to pause. Despite my reservations, I actually quite liked the short novella style – it was different, sure – but once I had got my head round the idea that the story was to be continued, it was much like mentally agreeing to read to the end of chapter four.

EXCEPT YOU CAN’T IGNORE YOUR OWN LIMITATIONS AND READ ON ANYWAY AAAARRRGGHH WHAT EVEN IS THIS

Unfortunately, I did find that the payoff for having such a direct, action filled plot was that the word building suffered a little. I struggled to visualise some elements and thought that in places more detail was needed. I also thought that there were certain parts where a slower build up/acceptance of what was going on would have worked better. For example, Sapphire seemed pretty accepting of certain situations – like her almost comically quick assertion that she was in a different realm – which I felt let the storyline down a little.

However, as a character I really liked Sapphire and her kick-ass persona. I thought that her and Ben’s relationship was great and I’m excited to see how it will develop. I loved the idea of the mythical daemon/patronus/familiar fox that kept appearing and the concept of terrifying shadow creatures was truly creepy.

The only thing I couldn’t get out of my head was the ending on the futuristic transport thing… I’ll just leave this GIF here…

 

Overall, I loved this little gem of a fantasy novella/part one of an epic. The pacing was super quick and engaging, the characters were awesome and the overall idea was really unusual and just the right amount of creepy. I would have preferred slightly more description and perhaps a slower pace in some areas but this was a minor criticism. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

 

Four “What the fox say?”s out of five.

Brilliant writing, an engaging storyline and a fantastic format make Part One of Sapphire Smyth… a winner for me. Can’t wait to read more!

Blurb (2)Author R. J. Furness has been passionate about great stories since he was able to read. At an early age, he would frequently create new characters, worlds and creatures then write crazy tales all about them. However, until now, he has always kept those ideas completely secret. After having a lifelong interest in animals, music and anything spawned from pure imagination, R.J.’s first loves are now his wife and children. Over time, he has also developed an overwhelming desire for mugs of tea and good biscuits to dunk. He lives in Southport, England, with his family, a dog and several fish, chickens and quails.


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

 

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!

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

Affinity

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!