January!! A Monthly Wrap Up.

I am going to come clean right at the start and say I am one of the those people who has an almost pathological hatred of January. I know it is probably a state of mind issue but I honestly can’t get over how long it goes on for and how grey it is.

That said despite the dark mornings and the hundreds of days, it has been a cracking reading month!

To start with I seem to have got my blogging mojo back again. After a bit of a dip in the autumn I am now right back in the swing of it. The TBR piles are still huge but they aren’t intimidating me anymore and I have requested and received some lovely and most welcome books this month. Something I never take for granted and I always genuinely touched and grateful for.

If we are talking numbers then I have read 14 books in January ( I told you it was a supernaturally long month!!) and listened to 1 audiobook.

The audiobook ‘thing’ is a relatively new addition for me. I have made the decision to stop listening to the news on the way too and from work. It’s is, I have decided bad for my mental health in the the current climate, I can’t physically read, unless I want to end up in a ditch (!), so audiobook it is. January has been a comfort listen, as I am revisiting the delightful Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard, my literary fluffy jumper. Just finished Marking Time and nicely stuck into Confusion.

Revisiting fiction has been a bit of a theme this month, as in preparation for the much anticipated release of The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel I joined in my first blogger read along. Embarking on Wolf Hall this month and Bring Up the Bodies next is nicely stoking the fires of excitement . Wolf Hall is as brilliant as I remember, but I do concede that it take a while to get into the rhythm. If you stick with it I promise it is worth it!

I began 2020 with a collection of short stories; Sudden Traveller by Sarah Hall. Hall is an accomplished writer and Queen of the short story. Her collection Madame Zero still looms large in the memory. It was a great start to the month and whetted my appetite for more great short stories.

Luckily I had To the Volcano and other stories -Elleke Boehmer from Myriad Editions waiting patiently for me. Another feast of short stories whose review was an absolute pleasure to write.

I am very much a physical books girl but I do read on the Kindle from time to time. And this month I read The Hunting Party By Lucy Foley. This novel had been getting loads of attention on Twitter last year and it was chosen as my book club read for January, mainly due to it’s setting, both in place and time. The remote Scottish Highlands at New Year with a murderer on the loose provided a welcome distraction from the rapidly ending Christmas holidays! I read it at the perfect time!

Talking of Christmas, my ‘other half’ did me proud and came up with a bumper stack this year. I have been slowly working my way through, deviating, as you do, alongs paths of proofs and ‘accidental’ book purchases!

Some were devoured and worshipped in that rather strange and chocolate filled time between Christmas and New Year, but this month I have indulged in just a few more.

The Offing by Benjamin Myers needs very little introduction. Such a beautiful book, filled with eloquence and stunning descriptions of the natural world, it offered a gentle escape to the East Coast of Yorkshire. A strong story of friendship and support unexpectedly found I honestly loved every word.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams was another delight. It is initial tone is quite deceptive. It seems lighthearted, is certainly humorous but as the novel progresses it’s true depth is revealed. Make no mistake, there is a lot going on here. Concentrating on Queenie a young black woman, it embraces her life, her mental health and everything that has affected it. This novel is a must read. And it is also just out in paperback so this is the perfect time to dive in!

Finally from the Christmas stack was my only nonfiction read of the month Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner. Lady in waiting to the late Princess Margaret, it is Anne’s own marriage that provides the most colour in this book. Her husband, Colin Tennant, was flamboyant and charismatic, the brain child behind the exclusive private island of Mustique. He was also mentally ill and prone to tremendous ‘meltdowns’, one of which earned him a lifetime ban from British Airways! Anne has lived a colourful, privileged but also at times tragic live, and I challenge you to read this one without your mouth hanging open!

On the whole though, January has definitely been a fiction heavy month. For example I finally embarked on The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker. This story, of a strange sleeping sickness that strikes down a Californian town, beginning in the college dorms and leading to the town’s complete isolation, was addictive and unsettling. The feelings were heighten by the fact that no sooner had I closed the book than the Coronavirus outbreak began to be reported.

I was lucky enough to read two gifted books this month. Firstly the spectacularly haunting Our Fathers by Rebecca Wait, whose review can be found here, and the historical novel The Alphabet of Heart’s Desire by Brian Kearney from Holland House Books, Instagram mini review can be found here

Reading aside perhaps the most lovely bookish thing to happen this month was my first blogger meet up. With nearly all of us fighting the Great British Rail Network to the last (!), I met up with four lovely bloggers in Manchester. Huge thanks go to Emma, @corkyyorky, Jules, @julesbuddle, Siobhan, @thelitaddict_ and Rebecca, @_forewardbooks, for inviting me along.

Aside from great conversation, food and a teeny bit of wine it was fairly inevitable we were going to land up in a bookshop!

So for the last two reads of the months I have these lovely ladies to thank. It was Emma who told me had to read Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton. She wasn’t wrong! What a book! I am not saying too much as I have a review in the pipeline but I am seriously wondering whether I haven’t already found one of my books of the year! In January, I know!!

I also came away with The Need by Helen Phillips. A really quirky and original read which offers a very honest and sometimes dark commentary on motherhood. I finished it last weekend and I am still thinking about it everyday.

Add in the fact that I have had the pleasure of being involved in two blog tours this month; Payback by R.C Bridgestock and The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G Parry , then this has been a pretty full reading month!

Goodbye January and bring on all the bookish goodies that February has to offer!

Rachel x

P.S. Is it spring yet??

Blog Tour Review: The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep By H G Parry

Sometimes a book tour request comes along that is out of my normal reading sphere but nevertheless it speaks to me.

That is exactly what happened when I was given the chance to read and review The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry , published on 23rd January 2020 by Orbit.

You see I have a bit of a tricky relationship with fantasy books. Although some of my favourite childhood books have a strong grounding in fantasy I haven’t really read much from this genre at all in the last few years. But the premise of this novel really drew me in.

Because the hero of this book can read characters to life! Can you imagine? Settling down with a cuppa and Jane Eyre and finding Mr Rochester snuggled up on the sofa next to you? Or lounging on the beach and finding Moby Dick washed up on the shore?

It is like all those memes and t-shirts you see advertised on Facebook, proclaiming; ‘Reading is my superpower!’ Only this time it’s true and the reality is exciting, the possibilities endless and quite frankly more than a bit terrifying .

The book is narrated by Rob, a normal middle class lawyer, living in Welington, New Zealand, trying to get on with the day job. The trouble is that his brother Charley, an English Professor at the local university, is far from normal.

After a shaky start in life, still born, only drawing his first breath 20 minutes later lying in his grieving mother’s arms, Charley emerges as a truly remarkable child.

Reading Dickens by 4, at Oxford age 13 and a PhD student before he is twenty Dr Charles Sutherland, Charley, is a prodigy. And one with a remarkable gift. His talent for understanding and interpreting literature allows him to ‘read’ characters into the present. It is a powerful skill, but one which his family have always pressed him to keep hidden fearing ridicule and worse, recriminations.

How many times does it take? Just keep your thoughts under control when you read a book! it shouldn’t be so hard!

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep. Pg 8

You see it is the interpretation of character that give characters life and lifts them off the page. All of his life Charley has believed he is the only Summoner, but when literary characters start turning up all over the city then it becomes clear this isn’t true.

Not only are literary characters appearing, sometimes in multiples, there are no less than 5 Mr Darcy’s knocking around (!) but also places. A whole street has sprung up and it is mysteriously growing.

And it seems that, while Charley’s intentions might be benign sometimes even accidental , there is another Summoner at work whose intentions are quite the opposite. This mysterious creature makes it clear they are ready for war and they have over a thousand years of literature at their disposal from which to create an army, adding a whole new meaning to ‘Words as weapons’!

Suddenly Charley’s hidden ability is needed to save the city. Torn between family loyalty and his love of the characters he has unwittingly brought into the world, Charley is fighting to maintain control.

This novel is certainly a wonderful, jolting fantasy ride but at it’s heart there are many lessons to be learnt. Not least this book has much to say about the nature of family and what constitutes the ties that bind. It’s about the people we choose to surround ourselves with and the sacrifices we are prepared to make for those people.

This is a book written by a book lover, for book lovers everywhere. It is bursting at the seams with everyone’s favourite characters. I might have let out a little involuntary scream when Heathcliff appeared and the inclusion of a leather clad White Witch astride a Silver Harley Davidson was just sublime!

But most of all this book is fun! It’s like a breath of fresh literary air and there are no limits to what can happen. Sit back enjoy and let your imagination run wild !

Rachel x

And there is more…

For other great reviews and reactions to this unique book, check out the blog tour poster below!

Blog Tour Review: Payback by R.C. Bridgestock

Sometimes an offer comes your way and there are one or two words in the inquiry email that grab you immediately.

This is what happened when Dome Press asked me if I would like to be involved in the Blog Tour for Payback.

And those two words were Happy Valley. You see the pen writing duo that created Payback, Carol and Bob Bridgestock, were previously storyline consultants for the gripping TV series, starring Sarah Lancashire and also the equally wonderful Scott and Bailey. Just reading those two words and I was pretty sure I would be in for a damn good story.

And I wasn’t disappointed!

Payback is the first in a brand new series and introduces the character of Charley Mann. Charley is a ambitious and accomplished police officer. She left her beloved Yorkshire to work in the Met, where she has been fast tracked. Returning now to her home town, she is about to take on the role of DI, the first female officer to rise to this rank in the area.

Coming home is bittersweet. Her love for the locality and it’s people is tainted by previous relationships gone sour, both in the work place and her personal life.

Her former mentor, DCI Roper is one such person. Experience has taken the scales from Charley’s eyes, calling into question everything he stands for and certainly his behaviour in the job.

Closer to home Charley is struggling to deal with the attentions of her childhood sweetheart and ex-boyfriend Danny Ray. Now a local reporter, he seems to be popping up all over the complex murder investigation that she finds herself immediately caught up in.

The murders are fascinating. Brutal, with complex crime scenes and seemingly obvious suspects who don’t just fit the profile. It is here that the experience of the writing team is apparent. The procedural writing is more than plausible, it is authentic and gripping, challenging both character and reader to the end.

Charley is a strong independent woman but she isn’t without her ghosts. The balance of power with her ex partner Danny is an interesting power dynamic and the portrayal of control and it’s misuse in a relationship is fascinating and dark.

Charley is a character on the rise professionally but her personal life is complicated and her methods of escape and release are unorthodox and sometime dangerous. At times she is living on the edge, and risks her personal and professional life colliding.

In addition to strong characters and storylines this novel has a fantastic sense of place. The Yorkshire town and it’s surrounding countryside are affectionately, but accurately portrayed. I particularly enjoyed how local folklore peppered the narrative giving the action a truly grounded feel.

If you are looking for a well written and well rounded crime novel, with just the right amount of bite and heart then look no further.

Enjoy!

Rachel x

And there is more…

For other reactions and reviews to Payback then check out the rest of the blog tour …

Blog Tour Review – The Man Who Saw Everything – Deborah Levy

Deborah Levy is a writer unlike no other.

This strikes me, even as I write it, as a sentence that feels over used and some what stale. But that doesn’t stop it from being true.

There are so many authors out there that I admire but Levy’s work is always immediately identifiable as hers. Her work is consistently insightful, always complex and raw, and always magnificent.

I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for her third Man Booker long listed novel, The Man Who Saw Everything.

The novel centres on Saul Alder, a young historian and opens in 1988. Saul is knocked over on the famous Abbey Road crossing, and despite a rather confusing encounter with the driver who hits him, seems physically unharmed. Immediately after the accident he visits his girlfriend, Jennifer Moreau, a talented American art student and fiesty independent women, who has imposed clear rules on their relationship.

This evening is a crossroads in their relationship. Saul is about to embark on a research trip to the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Jennifer is finishing her studies and moving on. Saul proposes marriage, Jennifer ends the relationship. The theme of misremembering, misinterpretation and conflict begins, and we get our first glimpse of the nature of Saul Alder.

For Levy has created a character that is intelligent, beautiful and articulate. Having lost his mother at an early age Saul seems emotionally tied to the past. At odds with his working class father and bully of a brother, refusing to remove his mothers pearls, Saul Alder is self absorbed, often selfish, but certainly not self aware. A man with an incredible eye for detail in the world around him, he is woefully lacking in his understanding of his own character and behaviour.

As his relationship with Jennifer ends Saul travels to the GDP. He is assigned a translator, Walter Muller, with whom he begins a relationship, one which comes to dominate his life despite it’s breivity. He also becomes involved with Walter’s sister Luna, a young woman looking for her key to the west.

The second half of the book takes place in 2016. Saul has again been struck by a car, again on the infamous Abbey Road crossing. This time he is seriously injured and the second half of the book is an account of his time in hospital. A time where the threads of his life come together and Saul begins to face the man he is.

Throughout the novel there runs an overwhelming sense of history; personal history and world history, particulary that of Europe. It is not a linear presentation, rather it is fragmented, appearing in snapshots, interpreted and misrembered by individual characters each adding their own version of events.

Levy continually plays with the concept of time. There is a fractured and fragmented feel to the novel as elements from each part of Saul’s life appear in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Personalities from the past appear in the future and vice versa, creating a running commentary on the complexity of what makes a person and what defines our experiences and choices. There is an inflated sense of deja vu as the echoes of the past affect the future and back again.

Saul feels like a conduit within the novel, a way of drawing together the past, the present and the future. A feeling embodied by Luna, when she says…

But you must.” she said, firmly. “You are history”

Pg 89

Continually the lines of time are blurred. Whilst in the GDP Saul is able to give Luna an accurate prediction about the fall of the Berlin Wall, bringing the future to the present. Equally we feel that the grief he holds, literally around his neck, for the loss of his mother, is what drives Saul to his study of German policital history. Again Levy is playing with and breaking through the barriers of time to create the sense of a novel seeped in history but unconstrained by it.

Throughout the novel there is a sense of haunting. The image of spectres appear again and again, particularly as Saul is hospitalised after his second accident. Levy points out that events in our lives continue to contribute to and define us as we move forwards. Similarly the motif of wolves, dogs and predators stalk the narrative, in the way that his grief for his mother and his guilt surrounding his relationship with Walter stalk Saul’s own life.

Yet Saul is the ultimate unreliable narrator. Taking into account the moving and fractured time frames, his own lack of self awareness and his two accidents, there is a continual sense of story and an author shaping and rediscovering themselves. At times this feels very insular and persoanl to Saul’s story, at other times this feels very much like a wider metaphor for the historial and polictical times we currently find ourselves in.

For this is a novel steeped in the history of Europe. There are continual references to various European countries and influences, woven skillfully into the narrative. The history of Europe and it’ s division and subsequent reunification through the fall of the GDR is central to the novel. It doesn’t feel coindicidental that Saul’s second accident is firmly in the time frame of the EU referendum result. There is a feeling that whatever our future relationship with Europe, we are still bound to it through the past and the present. Nothing is as linear as we would like to believe.

It feels so trite and unimaginative to call this novel complex and orginal. But it truly is. Every review I have read has come up with a different perspective and focus. For it is a novel that lends it’s self to interpretation and discussion. There is so much more to this work than I could ever hope to include in these short paragraphs. It is a work to be read debated and then reread. And I guarantee that much like the narrative structure adopted by Levy your perception will shift and you will find new angles, new motifs and new meanings upon each reading. I have read this book twice in 5 days and each time I have taken something different away from it.

The Man Who Saw Everything is an incredible book. There is no doubt it is a novel for our time; it is a novel for all time. And I am predicting a third Man Booker short listed book for Deborah Levy.

Blog Tour Review : The Oshun Diaries by Diane Esguerra

Today I am taking my turn on the Blog Tour for The Oshun Diaries by Diane Esguerra. Many thanks toRachel @ Rachel’s Random Resources for the opportunity to read and review this individual and iluminating book.

The Blurb…

High priestesses are few and far between, white ones in Africa even more so. When Diane Esguerra hears of a mysterious Austrian woman worshipping the Ifa river goddess Oshun in Nigeria, her curiosity is aroused.

It is the start of an extraordinary friendship that sustains Diane through the death of her son and leads to a quest to take part in Oshun rituals. Prevented by Boko Haram from returning to Nigeria, she finds herself at Ifa shrines in Florida amid vultures, snakes, goats’ heads, machetes, a hurricane and a cigar-smoking god. Her quest steps up a gear when Beyoncé channels Oshun at the Grammysand the goddess goes global.

Mystifying, harrowing and funny, The Oshun Diaries explores the lure of Africa, the life of a remarkable woman and the appeal of the goddess as a symbol of female empowerment.

My thoughts…

As a teacher I am a big believer in the fact that your education never really ends. You spend your whole life acquring knowledge, sometimes from the most unlikely of places. This desire to learn and grow is a huge factor in my love of reading. And I enjoy nothing more than learning about completely new things.

It was this philosophy that drew me to The Oshun Diaries. I do read non fiction, but usually about subjects that I have some prior knowledge of; this book pushed me completely out of my comfort zone. And I am so pleased that it did.

The basis of the Ifa culture is one bound up in the importance of women and the empowerment of the female form. A religion with many Gods and Goddess where gender stereotypes are challenged and the roles are fluid, it is a culture that was margianlised and virtually destroyed by the Colonial Power Structure imposed by the West. Diane explores throughout the book the ways the West have cheated and robbed the African nations and left countries in chaos in their wake.

Nigeria is presented as a beautiful country but one that is filled with complexity and often danger. It is against this backdrop that an incredible Western woman is seeking to reinstate and preserve the Sacred Groves of the Ifa culture. It is a complex story of cutures coming together, one which many find hard to understand. When seeking to find a place for her documemtary about Adunni’s life and work Diane comes up against fears of cultural appropriation and questions about the validity of the culture in today’s world.

Her relationship with Adunni, protector of the sacred shrines is fascinating. Adunni was born Suzanne Wenger. An Austrian Artist who fell foul of the Nazi regime, she join the Resistence, helping marginalised groups during the war by providing safe havens. As with many things about Suzanne/ Adunni her past is unclear; did she, for example serve time in a German Concentration Camp?

This was a fascinating read for me, unlike anything I had read before. It was refreshing to read about a belief system that was so firmly rooted in the female form. It was empowering and enlightening and made me aware of just how narrow, how mainstream, how Western my view of the world’s religion’s is.

This book gave me the reminder that I sometimes need of how much there is to see out there and just reaffirmed my belief that you have to push out of your comfort zone at times, because you never, ever stop learning.

About the author…

Diane Esguerra is an English writer and psychotherapist. For a number of years she worked as aperformance artist in Britain, Europe and the United States, and she has written for theatre and television. She is the recipient of a Geneva-Europe Television Award and a Time Out Theatre Award.

She is previously the author of Junkie Buddha, the uplifting story of her journey to Peru to scatter her late son’s ashes.

She lives in Surrey with her husband David.

Diane Esguerra

Giveaway to Win 5 x PB copies of The Oshun Diaries (UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/33c69494265/?

Links to purchase The Oshun Diaries

Readers can order the book from the Lightning Books website at 30% off (with free UK p&p) if you enter this code at checkout :

BLOGTOUROSHUN

http://eye-books.com/books/the-high-priestess-of-oshun

or Amazon links for UK can be found here and US here

And there is more…

For other’s thoughts on The Oshun Diaries check out the blogs listed below.

Blog Tour Review: This Stolen Life by Jeevani Charika.

Today I am delighted to be participating in my first ever Blog Tour. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me along and giving me this opportunity. And a huge thank you and massive congratulations to Jeevani Charika. It has been my absolute pleasure to read and review This Stolen Life.

On to the book…

This Stolen Life is a story set across two very different cultures. Beginning in rural Sri Lanka, Jaya is running from an abusive home life. When a chance meeting and a tragic opportunity present themselves, she takes the chance to change her life forever. In the blink of an eye she is on her way to the UK , a new identity and a new life awaiting her.

So Jaya becomes Soma. However she quickly finds that despite a new country, new job and a new name escaping your past and changing your very being isn’t as easy as it seems.

Soma is working in Hull, nannying for a Sri Lankan couple, Yamuna and Bim. Only recently betrothed, within an arranged marriage, this outwardly self assured couple are coping with their own uncertainties and difficulties. A new mother, Yamuna is working through the haze of undiagnosed postnatal depression, whilst long term bachelor Bim is struggling to adjust to family life.

It is through her employers that Soma meets Sahan, nephew of Yamuna. A young, bright undergraduate, Sahan is embroiled in his own journey. Even after three years of living in the UK Sahan finds the cultural differences between his Sri Lanka and his current home difficult to assimilate and come to terms with. Both set adrift in a unfamiliar culture, Soma and Sahan experience an instant attraction which quickly grows into something more. Their’s is a deep and innocent bond, supportive and sustaining but threaten by past secrets and cultural expectations. Soma’s secret is to big to remain concealed, the clock is ticking and can their relationship survive the shock?

What I really enjoyed about this book is how Jeevani Charika explores and portrays the difficulties and complexities faced by those people trying to assimilate a culture that is alien to them. So many of the characters here are on a journey, be that living in a new country, being a new parent, studying or working and they are all trying desperately to fit in.

The balancing act of making your way in a strange world whilst remaining true to yourself and your heritage is skillfully and beautifully portrayed. It is through the innocent eyes of Soma we feel the shock of the English weather, the blandness of food and the utter terror of even stepping outside the front door. It is no accident that the first and most fulfilling bond Soma creates is with her charge, Louie, the infant son of Yamuna and Bim. Here there is no judgement, no social norms to learn and maintain. Within this relationship she can speak her own language and not worrying about maintaining her pretence. It is her sanctuary.

On first reading, the title of the book ,This Stolen Life, seems to related completely to the character and story of Soma. However the more I reflected on this book, the more it appeared that it could equally have applied to many of the novel’s other characters. To some degree many of the character’s lives are constrained by outside pressures. Yamuna is quietly grieving the change that motherhood and marriage have wrought upon her, Sahan is balancing his own desires against those of his parents and their strict cultural expectations. Do any of these characters have the courage to take control of their own destinies and successfully bridge two cultures, and create lives true to themselves in the process?

At first glance this is a simple story, but in reality it is anything but. Charika has woven many complex and relevant issues into her narrative. It is a book to make you stop and think, to reassess and question your own experiences and motivations. I feel it would make a really interesting bookclub read; there is so much to discuss and it is likely to draw a wide range of opinions.

This book is a quiet little gem just waiting to be discovered. A genuine and honest story of self discovery and all that entails. And the fact it was set in Hull, my old University stomping ground and place I meet my future husband, was the icing on a very delicious cake.

Thank you Jeevani Charika, for sharing this book with me and allowing me to review. I hope, like your characters, it gains it wings and flies. It deserves to.

About the author.

Jeevani Charika is a British Sri-Lankan, who also writes under the pen name Rhoda Baxter. She describes herself as a writer of ‘women’s fiction and contemporary romances with a hint of British cynicism.’ Her books have been shortlisted for RoNA awards, the Love Story Awards and the Joan Hessayon Awards. She is a member of the UK Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of Authors.

And there is more…

The Blog Tour for This Stolen Life runs until 17th May 2019. Why not check out more reviews of this delightful book?