One of the absolute pleasures of book blogging is when someone send a ‘new-to-me’ author my way. And this is exactly what happened when Miranda Jewess sent me a copy of The Rosary Garden by Nicola White, published this week by Viper.
Set in Dublin in the mid 80’s, a teenage girl finds the body of a new born baby in the grounds of her Convent School. Just on the cusp of leaving a life filled with restriction, her future shimmering ahead of her Ali Hogan is suddenly pulled back into a past she had almost forgotten. And it threatens to hold her there.
Because this isn’t the first dead baby that Ali has discovered. Years before, hard on the heels of the death of her father Ali found a scrap of a newborn on Christmas Day in her Aunt’s farmhouse. Concealed from view then, it hasn’t been spoken of since.
Now current events are stirring up the past, and it’s ripples are felt throughout a number of close knit huddles. Through the Convent, through Ali’s own family and friendship group, and through the tight community in the home town of Buleen.
But the truth is hard to come by, for this Ireland of the 1980’s, where the voice of the Catholic Church rings loud, where illegitimate babies are not discussed and alternative solutions need to be found. But never divulged. And for Detective Vincent Swan these issues are very close to home.
This is a case that threatens to run away with the lives of all involved and suddenly Ali’s world is turned upset down, as her role in the tragedy comes under the harshest of spotlights. What exactly is Ali’s role in this crime and how can anyone be persuaded to break their silence?
In this novel it is true the past meets the present but the issues remain the same. Within the narrative we find a sensitive, authentic exploration of the women’s rights. With skill the issues of contraception, the intervention and power of the church, societal pressures and so much more are woven into a compelling and compulsive novel.
So much more than a crime novel, this book tackles difficult issues head on and will open up debate. Highly recommended.
How the one-armed sister sweeps her house is a novel alive with with warnings. From the long established local tale about a disobedient girl that Wilma tells her granddaughter, to the fate of Tone, a young man who has been up against it his who life, the sense of a cautionary tale is never lost.
This is a story whose intensity hits you from the off and is maintained throughout. This is the story of Barbados, or more specifically a town on the beach. A town of stark constraints, where tourists occupy sprawling beach front villas, but where poverty, drug abuse and violence stalk the local community.
Here is the story of three women. Wilma, married young and having endured years of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband. Unable to protect her daughter from her own father, Wilma has raised her granddaughter Lala. With the iron rod and tales of despair Wilma has tried to keep Lala close.
But Lala falls in love. She too marries young and finds herself trapped in the same cycle of abuse that her grandmother and mother have experienced. The story begins with traumatic premature birth of her daughter, born on the night when Adan her husband kills a white man in a robbery gone wrong. Baby’s life is short, but it is the catalyst for a series of events tinged with a desperate inevitably.
Mira is the wife of the man who Adan shot. A local girl who has married in to wealth, who is grieving not just the loss of her husband, but her own longing to be a mother, the loss of her step children and the fact she never got the chance to tell her husband how she felt.
The lives of these three women have their differences but all are intertwined. Each life is a struggle. All have experienced extreme poverty, all know what it is like to want the world to be different, to have the briefest taste of your dreams only to have them snatched away. Each women is fighting daily for her life, in a system, a society that seems riddled with violence and oppression. Each leads a life where domestic violence is the norm rather than the exception and where mothers are teaching their daughters to survive rather than leave.
Each of these women make sacrifices to ensure their own survival. Each is faced with terrible choices, that aren’t really choices at all. The power of this society seems to lie with the men, and women are fighting from the bottom up.
But there is power and hope in these women’s stories. They are smart, they are watchful and they take their chances where they can. As the novel reaches it’s climax there is a sense that better things may be in reach.
This tale is told in words so electric, so vibrant that they sing from the page. The sense of place is tangible from the start. These characters move seamlessly through a world so real you can feel the heat of the sun and the sand between your toes. There is pain and desperation but also humour, humanity, and a real connection with these characters, which leaves you immersed and invested. Each small detail, each back story gives the story motivation and credibility. It is a story whose power gathers momentum with each turn of the page.
How the one-armed sister sweeps her house is published today, 21st January 2021 by Tinder Press. I feel privileged to have a chance to read and review this powerful and beautifully hard hitting novel. Watch this one closely, it is on a path to greatness.
From the title to the very last page this collection of poems feels like perfection. It will stir just about every emotion within you. It will have you laughing, crying, nodding in agreement and just about everything else in between. It is a collection about life, about those things that are topical in this crazy world but also those things which have been with us for time immemorial.
It’s title, Alexa, what is there to know about love? sums up the premise of this work perfectly. These poems are in equal parts about the things that have changed, i.e Alexa, and those things that will never change, that is the subjects we are continually asking about.
And indeed there are many poems that focus on the age old questionsof love in all its many forms. Here you will find love poems for the ages; for the past; for the future. All quirky, all clever and all deliciously original. Take for example Five Clerihews for Doomed Loves, a tribute to some of the most iconic recorded lovers. No spoilers here but I will say that the poets views of Romeo and Juliet had me cheering in agreement!
Drudge Work is a beautiful tribute to the many different manifestations of love , of the impossibility of one solid definition. A theme returned to in Minutes from a Multidisciplinary Symposium on ‘What is Love. And the simple, churning tale found within Status Update: A Lonely Cloud will fell you with it’s final line.
And for a bookworm like me the shape poem Tsundoku is just perfection. To the point where I am sure Brian Bilston has bugged my home and is tapping into a recurring argument with Mr C!! ( And if you want to know what that argument might be, you will have to buy the book!)
This collection is quite simply a work of quiet, unassuming brilliance. Where the use of the familiar, of the rhyming couplet soothes, enhances and then suddenly, unexpectedly destroys. Within these pages is comfort, humour and delicious levels of challenge. The role of the poet feels like the role of an medieval fool, to entertain but also to speak the truth. To tell the passive onlookers of their beauty and their triumph, but also to expose their weaknesses, their foolishness and at times down right stupidity.
For despite it’s universal themes, this is very much a poetry book for our times. With a comforting, a times sing song voice and a crucial bite Bilston offers us commentary and sharp, powerful insight in to recent political and societal events. The eight lines of The White House will have you reeling and for anyone despairing about the rise of the right, Brexit and wider social conditions there are poems within this book that will have you nodding in agreement , even if that agreement is tinged with despair.
Take for example Hold my hand and let’s jump off this cliff. I defy you not cry out at it’s brilliance and start recommending it to anyone you might make eye contact with in the next week!
There are poems here that will break your heart; Penguinsand Bird Watching spring immediately to mind. Others will make you smile, maybe even laugh out loud; ee Cummings attempts online banking is a great place to start.
But each page contains a little gem, a word, a line, a verse, most often a whole poem to tuck away for later and savour, and most definitely to share.
Camilla Elworthy, thank you for sharing this pocket rocket with me. I promise you I am busy exploding it just everywhere I go!!!
Alexa, What Is There To Know About Love By Brian Bilston is published by Picador on 21st January 2021.
Bluemoose Books were one of my reading heroes last year. And having read their upcoming release Captain Jesus by Colette Snowden I see no reason why this year is going to be any different.
Released on 28th January this book is tender, touching and full of emotion. Just what the world needs in abundance right now.
The story unfolds through a dual narrative. Firstly from the perspective of Jim; a 10 year old boy growing up in the present day. A member of a loving family, who are about to experience an unimaginable and unbearable tragedy. The second perspective belongs to his mother Marie and takes the reader back to her teenage years, growing up in a single parent Catholic family; feeling different and tainted by a shame that she doesn’t understand.
Through the eyes of these two young people we see the world within this novel come to life. Colette Snowden has created two very distinct characters and given them powerful and unique narrative voices. At no point does the style of either narrator jar, or feel disconnected, rather there is a complete blanket of authenticity wrapped around their words. Giving life to young characters, giving them a steady believable voice is not always easy, but Snowdon pulls it off with style.
This is a story that has grief and loss at it’s core. It touches upon the physical and emotional toll that grief takes on a family not just in the aftermath of loss but also through the long term effects. The web that loss spins through this novel is far reaching and indeed loss comes in many forms. It is not just the loss of a loved one that drives this story, but the loss of a dream, the loss of faith and the loss of what makes you whole.
The multigenerational perspective is inspired. For Marie, growing up in small, constrained family, has had far reaching and long lasting effect. Her childhood is marked by a strange silence where truths were occasionally spat out only to be swallowed back and then never spoken of again. She is attempting to create a different life for her children.
But will the tragedy that befalls her small family be too big for her to deal with and what will be the impact on Jim and his siblings life?
From laughter, to religion, to growing up and beyond, this story crosses so many divides and offers an insight into grief, but also joy. It is beautifully told and reflects the best and the worst of the human spirit.
As always I am honoured to have had a sneak preview of this very special Bluemoose release. Roll on 28th January!
It’s been another full on and scary start to the year!! And I haven’t had nearly enough time to immerse myself in the blanket of books I had planned for January. Reading time has been sparse, but oh so important and it has been an absolute pleasure to disappear into the pages of my gifted copy of Old Bones by Helen Kitson.
Published by the wonderful Louise Walters Books on 18th January, this is a story of lives, loves and long standing regrets.
Old Bones is set in the fictional Shropshire Village of Morevale, first introduced to us in Helen’s first novel The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson. It is the home to three women. Sisters and spinsters Diana and Antonia share a house and a life but seems to co-exist in a uncomfortable atmosphere of bitterness and regret. Diana owns a small, successful business, but is on the edge of it, rarely entering the shop. Antonia has fallen from grace, dismissed from her teaching job under a cloud.
Naomi lives alone, tormented by the failure of two marriages, working at the local library, lonely and unfulfilled.
Their lives have moved on almost without their consent and their hopes, passions and dreams are firmly trapped in the past, tied up with lost love and ambition. All three women are keeping secrets and all three women are haunted by what they feel is their own reality, but as the novel progresses we begin to question the accuracy of their memories. Have the women forgotten their own truths?
The lives of the women and the village are unsettled by a series of events. The discovery of a body in the local quarry, coupled with the reappearance of an old flame, threaten the exterior peace of the women’s lives and force them to confront old ghosts.
Helen Kitson has created a story that hangs on it’s characters. These are characters that are authentic, believable and crucially, brilliantly drawn. Here is a portrayal of three flawed women, all with regrets, all trapped in the past and clinging in their own ways to lost loves and opportunities. Each woman is struggling to live in the present, all unable to grasp their present opportunities.
These characters draw the reader in and keep us in an air of gentle suspense and recurring compassion. The discovery of the bones is clear catalyst for change, but also for reflection.
This story is carefully plotted; it’s characters provide both light and shade, raising questions about the path life takes us on and the opportunities we allow ourselves to take.
This book was a gentle and moving start to my January reading, for which I am extremely grateful.
There are many times when I sit down to write a blog I find imposter syndrome hovering just behind me. And right now it’s dancing a merry little jig!! Because for the first time ever I am attempting a ‘Most Anticipated’ post , and I feel woefully unqualified!!
And I am also a little overwhelmed, simply because every time I log on to social media, read a review or connect with a publisher there are hundreds more treasures to be found.
So this post comes with a huge disclaimer or two. It is very much a snap shot in time; every book listed here genuinely excites me but I know I am missing others. Forgive me and please if you think there is something not on my radar that should be, let me know. Book doors are always open!
I was going to do attempt a 2021 Most Anticipated Post but to be honest that felt just too overwhelming. There are literally hundreds of good books heading our way this year and I wanted to give my choices a little space to breathe. So in the spirit of eating the elephant one bite at a time and saving my own sanity in the bargain, I am beginning, quite simply with January!
Enough rambling! Let’s begin!
This month might be a bit bleak on many fronts but there are so many great books making their way into the world. And I have already read an reviewed a couple.
The Pushby Ashley Audrain is a complex psychological portrait of motherhood and everything that goes with it!! Released 5th January by Michael J Books
If historical fiction is your thing than Frances Quinn’s The Smallest Man is perfect reading. My review is here but Nat Davy will linger long in your mind. Released Simon and Schuster on 7th January 2021.
Other books I have already devoured and have review pending on include the moving and quite brilliant Captain Jesus by Colette Snowdon (Bluemoose – 28th January) and the absolutely mind blowing Mrs Death Misses Death By Salena Godden (28th January, Canongate) . Both these books are going to be huge. Both deal with loss and grief, both brilliant and but oh so, different! My reviews will be up soon.
You can’t talk about January releases with mentioning the fact that Laura Purcell is about to release a new novel, The Shape of Darkness(21st January, Raven Books). If gothic historical fiction with more than a touch of darkness is your thing, then hold on to your hats. And this is my first blog tour of the year and I can’t wait!!!
Old Bones by Helen Kiston is released on 18th January by Louise Walters and takes us back to the fictional village of Morevale. When a body is found in a local quarry the quiet lives of three local women are disrupted and carefully constructed lives are threatened. I haven’t been let down by any of the books Louise has published and this one is literally at the top of my TBR pile.
Shiver by Allie Reynolds (21st January, Headline); well what can I say?? Aside from having a complete January weather vibe going on immediately, the premise of a reunion that isn’t and friends who no one can trust is just the kind of distraction we all need this month! If thrillers are your thing then Shiver is not to be missed.
Next up is wholly intriguing debut novel from Cherie Jones, How the One Armed Sister Sweeps Her House ( 21st January, Tinder Press). Set in Barbados, we are settling in for a tale of caution, poverty and the story of women. It is already being hailed by some of out greatest women novelists and the Twitter reaction has been spectacular.
If you are looking for nonfiction this month then How to be a refugee by Simon May (21st January, Picador) is definitely worth a look . Focused on the author’s family, and Jewish survival, this is the story of some thing other than the concentration camps. This is the story of denial. And everything that brings with it.
And if poetry is your thing?? Well who doesn’t want to read Brian Bilston’s Alexa, What is there to know about love? (21st January, Picador) This is what we need to get us through the month ahead!!
So there you have it, for what it is worth, my own take on what is being published this brand new month, in a brand new year.
Firstly, for good or ill, it’s been a year like no other! And secondly, I wouldn’t have survived it without reading a lot of books.
Each month I have shared a monthly wrap up, and I am finishing the year with my top 25 books. Not all of them I reviewed, some I just devoured. Not all were published in 2020, but it was the year I personally discovered them. The list is arranged in the order I read them, not in any kind of preferential order. It is also worth noting that over the last month or so I have read some cracking 2021 proofs. These are not included here, but there will be a most anticipated list coming very soon.
So, deep breath, here goes …
1. Three Hours- Rosamund Lupton
This book blew me away right at the beginning of the year. I read it from cover to cover on one rainy Sunday.
Set in a progressive English private school, this is the story of a school shooting, but my goodness, it is so much more! Perfectly plotted, with pinpoint accurate writing and a level of complexity that astounded me, I am still recommending it now.
2. The Mercies – Kiran Millwood Hargrave
The first historical novel to make the list, and this one is a cracker.
Set in Norway in the 1600’s, based on a true story, it is the portrait of a remote but tight knit community being slowly ripped apart by suspicion, vindictiveness and worse. It is so vividly told and my full review can be found here.
3. My Dark Vanessa – Elizabeth Russell
Unsettling, thought provoking and I feel essential reading this book hasn’t left me yet.
It is a tale of power, manipulation and inappropriate relationships. It will provoke strong emotions, and intense debate and my review can be found here.
4. Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell
This book!! I read it back when it first came out in April and from the first few pages I fell in love! I have long admired Maggie O’Farrell, but this book feels like her masterpiece.
On the surface it is story of Shakespeare’s son Hamnet , who died in childhood but in reality it is so much more. It is one of those rare novels where each word is perfectly placed. Despite having read it and revisited it in audiobook I haven’t reviewed this book. Quite simply I knew I couldn’t do it justice!
5. Conjure Women – Afia Atakora
This book was just bursting with every emotion going!! This is the story of Miss Rue. Rue is a black woman, healer and midwife to the recently freed black community on an American plantation.
Humour, love, life and grief of every shade is found within it’s pages; a unique and special tale. I was lucky enough to be on the blog tour for this one and my review can be found here.
6. The Mirror and The Light – Hilary Mantel
This book needs no introduction from me!
The final instalment in Mantel’s epic Trilogy, this book that details the downfall and fate of Thomas Cromwell. Long listed once again for the Booker, Mantel amazes me every time I read her. Quite simply stunning!
7. A Thousand Ships – Natalie Haynes
I love a Greek myth retelling and this book is right up there with the best.
A retelling of the story of the Trojan war, Haynes focuses on and brings to life, the unique perspective of the woman involved. Beautiful and heartbreaking from beginning to end, this novel thoroughly deserved it’s place on the Women’s Prize Shortlist.
8. The Bass Rock – Evie Wyld
This one was getting so much attention on Twitter, so many people whose opinion I trust were raving about this one, that I knew this was a winner. A beautiful inter generational story that will linger for a long time.
It is fair to say that I have recommended this book to so many people and to find out why you can find my review here.
9. Saving Lucia – Anna Vaught
BlueMoose Books never ever let me down. This year they have published only books by women authors and what an absolute treat it has been. Saving Lucia begins with the narrative of two women, both incarcerated at St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton. Both women are public figures; Lady Violet Gibson was sectioned after attempting to assassinate Mussolini, Lucia Joyce is the daughter of poet James Joyce, a talented dancer and artist in her own right.
This unique story by Anna Vaught was another book I devoured in a day. My review can be found here.
10. Summerwater – Sarah Moss
It’s hard for me to pick a favourite author, there are way to many to choose from! But Sarah Moss has to be pretty near the top spot.
Summerwater is perfection. Written across the period of one day, in one remote place, from the point of view of several diverse characters this work is an absolute joy. In fact it was so good I read it twice. My review can be found here.
11. The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett
I read this book against the back drop of the #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations gathering momentum across the globe. It is hard to imagine a more momentous time to have engaged with this particular novel, but I am quite convinced that whenever I had met The Vanishing Half , it’s impact would be have been the same.
13. The Miseducation of Evie Epworth – Matson Taylor
It’s fair to say that 2020 has sometimes fallen short on laughs! But this book helped to raise mirth and spirits alike.
It is the story of 16 year old Evie, a Yorkshire lass, living on a farm with her Dad Arthur. It’s 1962 and having lost her mother as a baby Evie is close to her Dad, so her world is rocked when the indomitable Christine appears on the scene. With her entirely pink wardrobe, over bearing mother Vera and grand plans for the family – none of which actually involve farming or Evie – Christine is a force to be reckoned with and it seems she has Arthur under her spell.
What happens next is a glorious riot of a story!
14. The Pull of the Stars – Emma Donoghue
Considering I have been living through a pandemic you might have thought I would avoid books that reflected that world back to me.
However The Pull of the Stars, set in Ireland in 1918 flu pandemic made me realise just how lucky we are today. Here was a civilisation, still coping with the ravages of war, poor sanitation, economic hardship and limited communication, dealing with challenges we could only imagine.
This book was profound, moving and in many ways hopeful.
15. Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart
This book needs no introduction from me. A Booker Prize winner that I will forever feel privileged to have read in proof form; this book went to the core of my soul.
So beautifully written, full of heartbreak and joy; light and shade in equal measure. Shuggie Bain is a present and future classic.
16. The Sound Mirror – Heidi James
Back to Bluemoose Books (there is a delightful pattern developing here!!) and this time to the raw and rather special The Sound Mirrorby Heidi James.
If I can write just one paragraph with the skill, beauty and sharpness of Heidi James I will die a happy woman. This is the story of women, of families and the mark they make, for good or ill, on the lives they touch.
This one is unsurpassed.
17. Supporting Cast – Kit De Waal
Short stories continue to delight me, and these are up there with the best of them. They are made all the more delightful by linking to Kit’s previous novels.
Touching, tender and immersed in compassion, these stories were like revisiting old friends and peeking into their hearts and souls.
18. Small Pleasures – Clare Chambers
I read this book back in the summer and I still haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. This is an unusual and atmospheric tale and one which perfectly radiates and reflects the period in which it is set.
My review is here and I know this is one I will be rereading in the not too distant future.
19. The Harpy – Megan Hunter
There was no other book quite like this one in my reading pile this year!
A tale of betrayal, deceit and the ultimate revenge, this novel is heavy with mythological reference and symbolism. The Harpyis once read and never forgotten.
20. A Ghost in the Throat – Doireann Ni Ghriofa
This book was an unexpected find and joy this year. A book that introduced my to the idea of ‘Women’s Texts’ and spoke to me in a myriad of ways.
This book is a celebration of women’s lives through the ages, of women telling their own and each other’s stories, of celebrating the extraordinary and the domestic with equal gravity and relish. My review is here.
21. The Night of the Flood – Zoe Somerville
I always get excited when I am introduced to a new author, especially when that author is right at the beginning of their publishing journey. Because it means there are more exciting things to come.
This was most definitely the case with The Night of the Flood.Set against the backdrop of the 1953 Norfolk flood, this story is exciting, tender and robustly told.
22. Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books – Cathy Rentzenbrink
If there has been one more thing comforting than books and reading this year, it has been sharing that love with other people. Be that through the giving and receiving of books, blogging, zoom book clubs or through wonderful books like Dear Reader that focus on what it is that books mean to the author.
This one was such a treat; a beacon in a very dark time. My review, I hope, will explain why this is a not be missed book.
23. Should we fall behind – Sharon Duggal
This year has been an opportunity to embrace and celebrate the power of community. To remind ourselves once more of the individual stories and experiences that come together as a whole to make us what we are.
And this book is a true reflection of that philosophy. Another Bluemoose offering, Should We Fall Behind is the story of what happens when we look beyond the surface and start to let others in. It was a glorious book to lose myself in this autumn.
24. When I Come Home again – Caroline Scott
Literature set around the First World War has it’s own special place in my heart. There is something so individual about this period, about the challenges, the loss and in a strange way, the gains, that I will always seek out these stories.
When I Come Home Again is a perfect example of this canon of literature and it was my absolute pleasure to read and review as part of the blog tour.
25. The Thief on the Winged Horse – Kate Mascarenhas
Set in the modern day but in a world more magical than our own, this story of family tradition, magic and rivalry captures both my heart and my imagination.
It’s attention to detail was exquisite, and it’s strong female characters, intent on reclaiming a stolen birthright, was just the boost I needed. This book is powerful and just a little bit special. And it was a privilege for my review to be catching a ride on the blog tour.
So there, are my top 25! So many fabulous books read and shared this year. And so many people to thank. Huge thanks to everyone who has sent me books to read, review and generally worship; it is a privilege I will never take for granted.
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read the blog this year and connect with me on Social Media. It’s always a pleasure but this year it has literally been a lifeline.
Here’s to 2021 – whatever it brings, let’s remember there are always books!!
Welcome to my last blog tour review of 2020. And I couldn’t have a better choice to finish the year with!!
A few months ago I shared a post on Twitter about an Icelandic tradition called Jolabokaflod The idea behind this is simple and quite brilliant; on Christmas Eve people give gifts of book and chocolate and then retreat to their beds to enjoy them. For a book worm, especially one at the end of exhausting year this sounds like the perfect plan.
And what better book to snuggle up with than Ragnar Jónasson’s WinterKillpublished this month by Orenda . It’s Icelandic setting and air of intrigue make it the perfect Jolabokaflod read.
Set in Siglufjörður, a small but growing tourist town in the north of Iceland, we find Ari Thor. It is the beginning of the Easter weekend and the Police Inspector is awaiting the arrival of his estranged partner and young son. But his weekend takes a unexpected turn when in the early hours he is called to attend the body of a young teenage girl.
Found lying on the pavement in the street, the girl appears to have jumped from the balcony of an empty flat. The victim, Unnur is a local teenage; studious, quiet and close to her mother, it is impossible to see why see might have taken her life.
As the investigation develops and the weather closes in, it seems that there are many pieces of this jigsaw. But none of them seem to fit.
With Unnur’s mother adamant that her daughter wouldn’t have killed herself and only one tantalisingly out of character reference found in Unnur’s diary the leads are slight, and Ari Thor’s frustration mounts along with the encroaching storm.
But then a resident in a local care home scrawls the message ‘She was murdered’ over and over again on the walls of his rooms. How does this relate to a young girl he appears to have no links to?
Jónasson is the master of gentle, building suspense, of leading the reader down blind alleys and switching tack at the last minute. The whiteout that wraps it’s slowly around the action and climax of this novel keeps the reader guessing in more ways than one.
Yet again Ragnar Jónasson has pulled off the perfect crime novel. Authentic characters and skilled plotting are in evidence throughout. This is the perfect Christmas Eve read.
Huge thanks to Orenda Books and Anne Cater at Random Tours for the chance to take part in this blog tour.
And there is more…
For more reviews and reactions, check out the rest of the #WinterKill blog tour …
Back in the early autumn Amanda @Bookishchat sent a truly incredible book my way. I knew from all the accolades it was receiving on Twitter it was going to be good; so I stashed it away for my half term holidays and waited.
It wasn’t good; it was incredible. So incredible I wrote literally pages and pages of notes and have sat quaking since then, wondering how on earth I am going to write a review to convey what this book provoked in me as I read it.
But the time has come, this book is released in January by Michael Joseph Books and I need to add my voice to the chorus already predicting it’s deserved success.
So what is the book about? Well in it’s simplest, most descriptive form it is the tale of three generations of mothers and daughters. Their narratives are woven throughout the novel. The main focus of the novel is Blythe and her own experiences as a mother and a daughter and how these are interlinked. Her narrative is told in the first person, it feels as if she speaks directly to you.
In essence this book is about motherhood. It examines every angle, every nook and cranny. The extreme highs and the dark lows; this is a story that is bound up in pushing the boundaries on that institution that society holds so dear, a story that probes at the edges of relationships and bonds.
From the first pages of this book the reader is challenged, you are pulled in and immediately find yourself dissecting the narrative and undertones of the story. From the outset there is an acknowledgement of how much physically and mentally motherhood can cost a woman.
Blythe might be the central character of this story, but her past experiences all feed into her narrative and her own experiences as a mother. Audrain lays bare traditional expectations and experiences. Through Blythe we feel the weight of expectation felt by new mothers. How giving birth can equate to a lack of control, control that is impossible to claw back. How society throws a blanket of perfection over motherhood, and perpetuates the lie of it being an inherent and natural process for all women regardless of age, background or personality.
Audrain acknowledges the weight of change that a baby brings to marriage and to a women’s life. She explores the very real sense of loss of self and identify, the changes to a relationship. There is a tangible sense of anger to this thread. So many times as a reader I was longing for someone to throw Blythe a lifeline, for someone to put a stop to the pretence that motherhood is easy, that it is some kind of competition, with winners and losers, and nothing in between.
Tantalisingly there are many moments when someone nearly says or does the right thing. When that fragile thread of solidarity, of hope that could change the course of actions is almost grasped. But no one ever quite probes deep enough or reaches far enough across the divide.
The narrative is multilayered and rich. Blythe’s past experiences and those of her ancestors highlight the different experiences of motherhood and how these feed into the experiences of children. The mental health of women and it’s lasting impact on the mental health of their children is explored in so many complex, critical and often dark ways.
The author does not shy away from the difficult and the uncomfortable, and while this story represents the highs and lows of mothering it is much more than just an honest and open account.
For this is also a story of that unique mother / daughter connection, and what happens when a mother can see something within her child that no one else seems to see. When a child is unique, even challenging, but the rest of the world does not see it, where does the responsibility for this lie? Or is it even a truth? Or is this brought about, even distorted by years of dysfunctional mother / daughter relationships? Who is to blame when motherhood doesn’t conform to the accepted norm?
There is just so much to say about this novel. So many ways to interpret and dissect the narrative, characterisation and themes. Even the title, The Push has so many different meanings. From the obvious links to the physical process of labour, to pushing through the dark encroaching days of parenthood, to later more specific and singular meanings within the plot itself.
This book is about to take the world by storm. It is a book that will challenge, often unsettled but it will stick with you and resurface time and again.
I love historical novels. There is something comforting about being able to escape completely to a time far away, so finding a great immersive historical read always is always a huge pleasure for me. And The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn more than fits the bill.
The buzz around this January 2021 release has been building for a while and heartfelt thanks go to Jess Barratt for my gifted copy.
This is the story of Nat Davy. Growing up in Oakham, Nat has just one wish; to grow. To grow and be like the other boys in the village. To grow and be accepted by his father. To grow and start living the life he believes is waiting for him.
But destiny has other plans for Nat Davy. When it is clear that he has stopped growing, his father sells Nat, quite literally to the highest bidder. It is just a shilling that keeps Nat out of the travelling freak show and sees him dressed in finery and presented as a gift to the Queen of England.
In a giant pie no less!
Finding himself at court, Nat strikes up a relationship with the young lonely Queen. Both have been torn away from their families, both labelled as outsiders; Nat for his size, the Queen for her religion. Both have something to prove.
Becoming widely known and accepted as ‘The Queens Dwarf’ makes Nat his share of both friends and enemies, all of whom will help to shape his fortunes. And when after years of luxury but growing unease, the country descends into civil war Nat finds his allegiance to the Crown puts him in danger.
The Smallest Man is a story that will stay with you. On a personal level it was a story that brought to life the period around the English Civil War; a period I knew very little about. But this story in it’s own right was a triumph. From the off it was entertaining and alive. It is a narrative filled with vivid characters, believable and authentic, and all provoking strong reactions.
It is a story that flits across the continent and through time, harbouring fortunes that change quicker than the blink of an eye. This is a story filled with action and pace, but also with a depth that grabs your attention throughout.
It is a story of courage and opportunity, both of which are found in the most unlikely of places. It is a tale of what can be achieved when you challenge expectations. A tale of friendships made in unlikely places and how kindness well placed will be repaid in kind
And it is the story of what happens when you learn to love your own being and accept that different doesn’t equate to inferior.
Quite simply I loved this book. January 2021 is in for a treat!!
The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn is published by Simon and Schuster on 7th January 2021