February wrap up and it feels like Spring is on the way!

Finally, finally it feels like the world is getting a little bit lighter and brighter. Signs of spring are peeping through in greater numbers everyday and it feels like everyone is daring to hope again.

After a long, cold January, February seems to have rushed past me. There have been so many interesting and amazing books published this month and March looks like a pretty bumper month too. As well as reading as much as I can, when home school, online and in school teaching has allowed(!), I have been trying to write; working on my never ending WIP!

As far as new releases go this month I have had the pleasure to read some absolute crackers. I started the month pleasantly lost in both the possibilities of time travel and 70’s childhood nostalgia with the quirky Space Hopper by Helen Fisher. And ended it immersed in the mind blowing book that is The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward . Published next month my review is in the pipeline, but there is so much to assimilate first!

Back to this month’s releases and I was thrilled to be reading Patricia Lockwood’s first novel No one is talking about this. I found her memoir Priestdaddy a truly unforgettable book and as you will see from my review her first novel was equally as impressive and challenging.

Continuing the theme of challenge and rawness and we come to Daisy Buchanan’s Insatiable. An exploration of sexuality, lust and pushing all boundaries this book is not easily forgotten!

While we find ourselves still in lockdown, travelling through my reading has become even more important to me. This month I have found myself ‘back’ in places familiar; the streets of Paris in Jane Smiley’s gorgeous The Strays of Paris and in places totally foreign and waiting to be explored. From 1970’s Uganda in the wonderful debut novel Kololo Hill by Neema Shah to the battlefields of France, and the streets of New Orleans in Michael Farris Smiths Gatsby inspired Nick.

Next month is filled with absolute treats of new releases and I am working my way through some of them. I have just finished the wonderful mystery that is The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex and my review is out this week.

And looking ahead to April I loved my buddy read with four fab book friends, Emma (@corkyorky), Jules (@julesbuddle), Rebecca (@_forewoodbooks) and Siobhain (@thelitaddict_). Tall Bones by Anna Bailey kept us all on the edge of our seats, full review on it’s way very soon!! As is our next buddy read!

And in amongst all these varied novels, I have been dipping in to the oasis of poetry that is Empty Nest: Poems for families edited by Carol Ann Duffy. This is the perfect collection for these times when family can seem both really close and yet so, so far away. Beautifully put together, diverse and insightful. Just lovely in every way.

So there we so. A whistle stop tour of February’s reading. Hold on to your hats for March!!

Rachel x

#BlogTourReview: Nick by Michael Farris Smith

It is my absolute pleasure to be taking my turn on the blog tour for Nick by Michael Farris Smith, published on 25th February by No Exit Press. The book will be launched online, and Michael will be joined to discuss his book by The Guardian’s Alison Flood. A link to this live event can be found here.

It is quite feat to take up a character from any classic novel and weave a story around them. To do so is to take on the expectations of generations of readers, each with their own thoughts, feelings and perceptions. And when that novel is one of the most iconic stories of the Twentieth Century, the task seems a mammoth one.

And yet that is exactly what Michael Farris Smith has set out to do. Plucking Nick Carraway from his role in F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the author takes us back in time, back to the years before the wild hedonistic days of the West Egg mansions, and back to an even bleaker darker time.

When we first meet Nick he is caught up in the First World War, having joined up to serve his country. With a few days leave in Paris he meets a mysterious, evocative young women Ella. Scratching a living selling homemade goods and living illegally in a theatre garret, Ella is unlike any woman Nick has ever met before; he is entranced.

Forced back to the battle field, back an existence of daily horror, Ella both haunts his thoughts and sustains him.

By the end of the war, when it is time to return to the US, Nick like many of those around is scarred by experiences both on and off the battlefield. Finding it impossible to return to his family in the MidWest, he is drawn to the chaotic and semi lawless street of Frenchtown, New Orleans.

Here, with the country on the brink of prohibition, in a society of gangsters and Madams, he tries to both lose and find himself. To make sense of what he has seen and work out how to reconcile his experiences and build some kind of future.

Nick becomes embroiled in the messy, feuding relationship between Colette and Judah, another relationship ravaged by war. In fellow veteran Judah Nick recognises his own hopelessness and is drawn towards it, like a moth to the flame.

This is a story of the time in between. Of that brutal and dark period when the horror of war stops for the wider world but it’s after effects are felt by veterans everywhere. It is an examination of how lives and minds were changed, and how returning to normal life was an impossibility.

Through intense and unsettling prose Farris Smith creates a period in time that brings to life the horror of war. It lays bare it’s lingering effects; the desire to forget, whilst at the same time feeling an overwhelming need to remember, the sense of everything lost and the relentless search to find it all again.

Compelling and dark, this is a clear eyed story of men who have lost everything and are trying to claw it back in whatever way they can.

I thought this book was darkly evocative of a period in time that fascinates me. And it is my pleasure to be able to share with you a clip of Michael himself reading from his work.

This book will linger with you long after the last page. There will be times you want to turn away and times that events will threaten to overwhelm. This is the power of what is written here, and I guarantee you will be with Nick to the very end.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reactions and reviews to Nick, then check out the rest of the blog tour below…

And check out the books trailer too…

#BlogTourReview : The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

It feels like it’s been a long time coming but I am finally able to to share my blog tour review for the wonderful The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot, the debut novel (Yes!!! Debut!!!) by Marianne Cronin. Huge thanks to Alison Barrow for my gifted copy and Anne Cater for my blog tour invite.

Lenni Pettersson is 17 years old. Margot Macrae is 83. Put them together and they have lived for a hundred years. Both are reaching the end of their lives, but neither of them are done with living quite yet.

In the newly built hospital Art Room the two meet, kindred souls, both looking at life in a different and uplifting way, both ready to face what ever remains to them head on. And so begins as beautiful friendship as they set out together to tell the story of their hundred years, a project painted in words and pictures and wrapped up with enduring love.

I read Lenni and Margot’s story many months ago. I read it a time, a time that seems to be persisting still, when the world needed hope, light and understanding. I found all of these rare and elusive qualities in the pages of this book.

The relationship between Margot and Lenni is the best that people can be. An acceptance that age, experience and circumstances don’t need to be the boundaries we all perceive them to be. That true wisdom and kindness can be found at any age and is always best when it is shared around. It is a celebration of both age and youth, a symbiotic relationship of support and love.

Through the stories these characters share with the reader and each other, a bond of understanding and knowledge. This book is a celebration of life long learning and of squeezing every last drop out of what has gone before and what is yet to come.

Most of the story takes place physically with the hospital, and the sense of place the author has created here is spot on. For anyone who has ever spend a few days or longer in a hospital will instantly recognise the vibe! The descriptions of the unique hospital community, the way time moves in it’s own strange and inexplicable way, the rules and hierarchies and all the stories found within it.

Through Lenni and Margot’s creations they escape the confines of the ward. Because when when you can’t step outside, you travel within stories, within pictures and memories. At a time of lockdown this book brings alive the power of imagination and artistic communication.

This is the story of not one but two special lives, sympathetic and beautifully told.A story alive with it’s share of sorrow and joy, where strong emotions are continually welcomed and embraced

Lenni and Margot will make you roar with laughter and make you weep with empathy, but never will they let you feel regret. In the darkest of times this story is a light shining gently on the world.

Simply unforgettable!

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reviews and reactions to this beautiful book, check out the rest of the blog tour below…

#BlogTour Review: The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper

Yesterday, I kissed my husband for the last time.

Sometimes you pick up a book and the first line is absolute perfection. A line that is a hook that sinks in deep and refuses to let go. And that is exactly what happened when I settled down with Inga Vesper’s The Long, Long Afternoon published 4th February, by Bonnier Books.

It’s 1959, in the serene , immaculate suburb of Sunnylakes. Amongst the swimming pools, sprinklers and Sunday gatherings, a tragedy is brewing. Quietly and without warning Joyce Haney, model housewife and mother, vanishes without a trace. Her two frightened children are discovered by the black maid, Ruby. The girls are alone, blood is smeared across the modern, perfect kitchen and brand new baby clothes lie abandoned on the floor.

It is up to Detective Mick Blanke, an ex – NYC cop, to try and peel away the layers of perfection that surround this case and find out the truth that lurks beneath. Escaping his own gremlins , Mick sees this case as a way of atoning for past mistakes and is determined to get this case right.

But this case is anything but straightforward and it is quickly apparent that nothing and no one are what they first appear to be. And Mick is going to need whatever help he can get, however unconventional that maybe.

In Ruby, Mick recognises an intelligence and determination that belies the prejudice and horror she faces on a daily basis. Befriended and championed as she was by Joyce Haney, Ruby is desperate to find out the truth and is persuaded, at great personal risk to help the Detective put the pieces of this grisly jigsaw together.

Aided by Ruby’s unique insight into the homes of Sunnylakes Detective Mick Blanke examines the cast of characters that surround this case and probes deeper, asking questions and turning stones.

How devoted is Frank Haney to his missing wife? What exactly do the women discuss at Genevieve Crane’s Women’s Improvement Meetings? Why had Joyce befriended young Deena Klintz, so obviously from the wrong side of the tracks? Which of these perfect friends and neighbours really understand Joyce? And who is the mysterious Jimmy that has suddenly reappeared in her life?

This novel is populated by a cast of colourful and shifting characters, whose motives and emotions dance like fireflies before your eyes. There is a vibrancy to the dialogue, to the plotting and the atmosphere that makes this story impossible to leave. The telling of this tale is so authentic and evocative of the period and there is more than just the complex story of Joyce Haney evolving here.

This is web of stories; stories of the forgotten voices, of the past we try to out run, the prejudices we try to ignore, the facades we create and the lies we tell ourselves in order to move forward.

It is also the story of the people who dare to look behind the facade and to challenge the norm, to address the prejudice and to push the boundaries, even if that might bring the whole house of cards crashing down.

This books burst with life, emotion and most of all humanity. Thank you Tracy Fenton for my blog tour invite. This one was an absolute joy!

Rachel

And there is more…

For other reviews and reactions, check out the rest of the blog tour below…

#BlogTourReview: A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago

Today it is my turn on the blog tour for A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago published on 4th February by Bloomsbury. Huge thanks to Ros Ellis for inviting me along…and without further ado let me take to the court of James I . But keep your eyes peeled and your wits about you!

From the first pages of this novel the prose is alive with intrigue, vibrancy and glorious detail. Each page leads us further and further into a court whether appearance is everything and alliances are made and broken in the blink of an eye.

This is the tale of courtiers and power, but our chief guides are Frankie, Frances Howard – Countess of Essex and her confidante, serving woman and friend Anne Turner. Thrown together through circumstance, both women are intelligent, cunning and ready to make the most of whatever opportunity comes their way.

Frankie is trapped in a loveless, abusive marriage to Robert Devereux. Desperate, first to please and then to escape her husband she uses Anne’s knowledge of fashion, apothecary and alchemy to help her.

Anne is a doctor’s wife, but is a business women in her own right, holding a patent to a fashionable yellow starch. But despite her intelligence she remains at the mercy of the fortunes of the rich and crucially the men in her life.

When the King’s favourite Sir Robert Carr catches Frankie’s eye the two women work together to gain the ultimate prize. But to do so they must take unimaginable risks and put everything they have on the line.

From the beginning of this story there is an air of tension, of dangerous games being played with high stakes, where the factions of court are built on the shifting sands of family ties and religion. Where fortunes constantly rise and fall and favourites of the Crown attract as many enemies as they do admirers.

Life at court is a one continual and dangerous game, where the stakes are high, and where women need to rely on what little power they have to keep ahead. For both Frankie and Anne their power lies in their sexuality, cunning and intelligence. And they will need all of this to advance their cause and ultimately stay alive.

This is a story of power, of betrayal but crucially of the friendship and compassion of women. With a cast of characters that are unforgettable, dripping with decadence and detail, and whose fortunes change in the blink of an eye.

Heartbreaking, beautiful and unforgettable.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more review and reactions to this glorious books, check out the rest of the blog tour below…

January round up … the longest month ever!

I have always hated January. There is just no getting away from the fact that it is dark, cold and ridiculously, almost supernaturally long. Add in another Covid lockdown and this month was destined to be a bit of a trial!

Books as always have been my salvation, my salvation and often my window on the world. So welcome to January’s round up; I hope you find something here to catch you eye.

I started the month with a very special book, special initially because it was given to me by one of my oldest and dearest friends. Life in Pieces by Dawn O’Porter was a reflection on the authors time in lockdown with her young family in LA. There was much we could all identify with here; the sense of panic and disbelief, the fluctuation of emotions, the inability to stop eating or to remember which day it is. But there were also personal challenges too, because Dawn entered lockdown in a state of grief having lost her dear friend Caroline Flack to suicide just weeks before. This book is raw, heartbreaking and hilarious, sometimes at the same time. A delightful first read of the year.

Next up was Old Bones by Helen Kitson , published this month by Louise Walters Books this is a delightful story of regret, loss and evolving friendships. You can fine my review here.

In fact this month has been an absolute gem for new releases and I am thrilled to have been able to read and review a fair few. Whether it’s the competitive world of snowboarding, found in the thriller Shiver by Allie Reynolds, the complexities of growing up in Catholic Ireland, The Rosary Garden by Nicola White or the beautiful and deadly beaches of Barbados, How the one armed sister sweeps her house by Cherie Jones the books published this month have literally had something for everyone.

Sticking with new releases, one of the patches of light in these strange dark days has been the opportunity to attend online book launches and events. It was a joy to see both Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden and Captain Jesus by Colette Snowden off on their publishing journeys.

I am thrilled, as always, to be supporting some cracking blog tours this year. Laura Purcell’s The Shape of Darkness was another perfect gothic offering, and next week I will be sharing my blog tour reviews of Lucy Jago’s A Net for Small Fishes and Inga Vespers A Long, Long Afternoon. Both very different books, but both completely immersive and vibrant in their own unique ways.

My month has been pretty fiction heavy this month as far as new releases are concerned. But Alexa, what is there to know about love by Brian Bilston was a delightful detour into poetry. Anyone who has spoken to me in real life this month has had this book continually and wholeheartedly recommended. And I have been making quite a bit of Twitter noise about it too.

My one and only non fiction book this month has been How to be a Refugee by Simon May. An incredible story of survival at any cost, you can find my Instagram review here.

And finally to two more books I have read but not reviewed. The first of my Daunt Books subscription books was Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor and it was a cracker! This is the tale of Sir Henry Irving, Ellen Terry and Bram Stoker. With Oscar Wilder and Jack the Ripper as bit players this book was just incredible!

And in a bid for just good old fashioned comfort reading I have persuaded my book group to read the first of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles The Light Years . I have been bathing in the warm glow of the audio book but also slightly dreading what will happen if my book friends don’t love these stories as much as me!!

And there ends January! Who knows what February has in store – but remember there are always books!

Rachel x

#BlogTourReview : The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell

This is my first Blog Tour of 2021 and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be reviewing the latest novel from Laura Purcell. Let me introduce you to The Shape of Darkness, a glorious historical novel with just the right touch of gothic to keep you turning the pages, with each sentence unsettling you slightly more than the last.

Welcome to Bath of the late 1800’s. The spa and naval town is not quite as glamorous as once it was and there is air of abandonment hanging heavy in the air.

This is reflected in the footsteps of characters we follow. Agnes Darken, is a middle aged silhouette cutter, struggling to make ends meet. Her lover has deserted her years before but still she is quietly hoping for his return. References to past tragedy and illness add to the air of mystery and decay. Agnes’ concerns now centre around how to support her elderly mother and young orphaned nephew, Cedric . Her widowed brother in law Dr Simon Carfax, is a constant support but the memory of his wife, Agnes own sister Constance, is shrouded in secrecy and darkness.

And life suddenly takes an even darker turn when Agnes’ clients seem to be falling victim to murder, each case more gruesome and chilling than the last. Why are her clients being targeted in this way and are the people Agnes loves in danger from this unseen menace?

As Agnes becomes increasingly desperate and the boundaries between the real and the imagined become increasingly blurred, Agnes finds herself drawn to look for answers in the most unlikely of places.

Enter Myrtle and her young albino half sister Pearl. Having lost her mother at birth Pearl is left at the mercy of her own, forceful sister. Having moved to Bath for the health of her father, a victim of the notorious match factories which have left him maimed and dying, the sisters are making a living through the increasingly popular art of Spiritualism. But her increasingly powerful talent terrifies 11 year old Pearl and her world seems to be getting darker by the day.

When the world’s of Agnes and Pearl unexpectedly collide the scene is set for a gothic tale of unimaginable proportions.

Once again Laura Purcell has created a story that will keep the pages turning and your interest alive to the very last minute. Each detail, each turn of fate is woven skilfully into a plot that both chills and delights at every turn. The sense of family and bonds that bind is a recurring theme. The need for love, security and comfort is close to the hearts of both Agnes and Pearl, but their quest continues to take darker paths, each turn more desperate than the last.

When family is not the haven it should be, where will Agnes and Pearl find the protection and affection they need? And has the past finished with both of them or is the worst still to come?

In short Laura Purcell has, yet again produced a novel of true gothic beauty. If you are looking for something which will immerse you in delicious darkness this one is your winner.

And there is more…

Huge thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me along for the ride. And to read more reactions and reviews check out the rest of the tour, all dates and blogs listed below.

#BlogTourReview: WinterKill by Ragnar Jónasson

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 WinterKill published 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 …

#BlogTourReview: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

It is more than a pleasure to be taking my turn on the blog tour for The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. I first encountered this wonderful author when I read Larry’s Party many years ago. Carol Shield was a writer of impeccable timing and insight; some one who could get to the heart of the human condition and bring the magic of life to a wide audience. She was particularly skilled in her portrayal of women. She saw the joy in the everyday and brought those stories to life.

The Stone Diaries, first published in 1993, and now reissued by World Editions is widely regarded as Shield’s masterpiece. It’s reissued coincides with the launch of the first Carol Shields Prize, created to honour women in literature.

The Stone Diaries is the story of one women’s life through out the Twentieth Century. Spanning major historical events and travelling between Canada and America, with a little bit of the Orkneys thrown in, the novel concentrates on the life and evolution of Daisy Goodwill Fleet. From her unexpected and eventful birth, through to her death we follow Daisy, through each era, incarnation and event.

The sense of perspective within the novel is unusual and ever changing. Shields seems to both acknowledge, play with and disparage the notion that a life is seen and judged through many windows, often not those best informed. Any perception or judgement of an individual is tainted by our own views or preconceived ideas; and as such how close do we get to knowing the truth of some and their life.

Daisy’s story appears symbolic of many women of the past twenty years. At times she seems in control of her own destiny, at others very much trapped and defined by the role she finds herself in. As a daughter, mother, wife, it seems that society has a place for Daisy. But who is the real Daisy Goodwin Fleet?

With her usually eye for detail, Shields builds up layer upon layer of information and insight. Some seems domestic, easily dismissed as trivial, but it is this pinpoint accuracy that gives the novels it’s depth of perception and marks Shields out as a compassionate and empathetic mouth piece for Daisy and hundreds of women like her.

Beginning with Daisy’s stone mason father, who is devoted to the memory of his wife, devastated by her loss, the motif of lasting memorials runs throughout the book. How do we choose to spend our lives with someone? How do we evaluate and express their worth? And what testaments do we raise to them after they have gone? Shields poses all these questions and more, pushing at the edges of the readers responses for answers, showing us how one person, one life lived can be so different in each different interaction and at different times of their lives. Shields quietly and insightfully questions the markers we use to evaluate a life and questions whether we can ever truly know someone entirely.

This is a novel that begins in both birth and death, and comes full circle. It is a novel that challenges us to look for the extraordinary in ordinary and reevaluate what we might find there. It deserves every accolade and truly is a modern classic.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reviews and responses to this book, please check out the rest of the blog tour, listed below…

#BlogTour Review : How to Belong by Sarah Franklin

Today it is my turn on the blog tour for Sarah Franklin’s latest release, How to Belong published by Zaffre on 12th November. And I am thrilled to be able to add my own small voice to the avalanche of warmth and praise that is, quite rightly, wrapping it’s self around this book.

This is the story of two women, both at turning points in their lives, both trying to establish a sense of belonging. It is a feeling that life has slipped through their fingers and they are desperately trying to reconnect.

Jo Butler, was born and bred in the Forest of Dean. Her parents, stalwarts of the local community, have run the family butchers for years. Her hometown is a constant in Jo’s life, a place to return to, away from her legal career in London. Jo is the local girl made good.

But when the family business is due to be sold, Jo feels like her safety net is slipping and all her insecurities about her own unsatisfyingly career bubble up to the surface. She persuades her parents to give her a trial period running the shop and she moves back home.

But the question that quickly rears its ugly head is , is this actually home? Does Jo still belong in this community and does the connection she craves with her long term friend Liam, the Forest and the shop still exist?

Tessa is the local farrier and Jo’s landlady. She operates on the edge of the community and her sense of belonging seems permanently adrift. Tessa is struggling in every sense of the word and living a closed, half life in an attempt to protect herself and her secrets.

The two women are brought together by circumstance and although their situations seem miles apart, they have more in common than they think. Their stories of attempting to move forward and find their way become interwoven, in a narrative that is filled with authenticity and empathy.

This is a novel rich in a sense of place. Both the physical place of the Forest of Dean, which provides a tangible and beautiful backdrop to the story within these pages. But also the sense of place that comes from knowing when you are home, and how dislocating and disturbing it is when the things you have taken for granted, the bed rock on which your very being is build, suddenly seem to shift away from under your feet.

Sarah Franklin frames difficult and all too familiar questions within this story. For example, how far is our own identify tied up with our sense of place and past? Can you ever truly return to a time and space to find answers to the present ? And what happens when life changes before you are ready to move on?

The story of Jo and Tessa, both individually and together, will linger long after you close the final chapter. This is tale of looking in, before you can look out.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For other reviews and reactions to this beautiful book, check out the rest of the blog tour, detailed below…