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.
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
Hello and welcome to the last month of the year! I don’t know about anyone else but in the whole surreal experience that has been 2020, this month has felt like the toughest.
Dark mornings and evenings, colder weather, lockdown and Covid just getting just too close for comfort on more than one occasion has made this month feel like a bit of a slog. I haven’t read anywhere near as much as I wanted but I have tried to find escape and refuge in the books I have read.
A highlight of this month has been some of the cracking book post I have received. I am honestly overwhelmed by the generous nature of publishers, publicists and authors. 2021 is going be a cracking reading year!!
And on the theme of amazing 2021 reads let me introduce you to Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden. This book just blew me away!!! Original in style, subject matter and structure, it’s a rocket waiting to launch. Full review coming later this month but it’s going to set January 2021 on fire!!
A couple of other books awaiting a full review and just finished Medusa Retoldby Sarah Wallis and Inherent by Lucía Orellana Damacela. I repeatedly say I don’t read and review enough poetry so I thrilled to be offered these two books by Fly On The Wall Press. Both unique and beautiful in their own ways; my full review will be up next weekend.
Poetry has given me the perfect opportunity to dip in and out of reading material when my concentration is not what it should have been . Another ‘dipping’ book which had been with me for a couple of months now is Hilary Mantel’s Mantel Pieces. A stunning collection of her articles and essays, written with her usual wit, insight and intelligence. Quite simply a joy.
Another joy was Hag: Forgotten Folktales Retold. Emma, @corkyyorky, told me I was going to love it and I did!!! Authors Daisy Johnson, Kirsty Logan, Emma Glass, Eimear McBride, Natasha Carthew, Mahsuda Snaith, Naomi Booth, Liv Little, Imogen Hermes Gower, Irenosen Okojie retell British Folk Takes, and they are stunning. The accompanying Audible podcasts are a must listen and getting me through the dark mornings as I drive to work.
Another ‘Emma’ recommendation was Coming Up For Air by Sarah Leipciger. Set across three time periods, told in beautiful lyrical prose, here is a story that converges with skill and precision.
Talking of recommendations RichardOsman’s Thursday Murder Club has been raved about in every bookish quarter!! And now I see why! A perfect blend of wit, style and entertainment!! This is going to under a fair few Christmas Tress this year!
My book club read this month was TheTurn of The Screwby Henry James. For a slim book it took some getting through!!! One more classic read chalked up, but won’t be a reread!
My final read of the month was the tranquil trip along the canal found in the novel Three Women and a Boat by Anne Youngson. My mini Insta review can be found here
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.
And there is more…
For other reviews and reactions to this beautiful book, check out the rest of the blog tour, detailed below…
If you are looking to inject some magic into your life this winter, then look no further than the enchanting and evocative read that is The Thief On The Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas published on 12th November by Head of Zeus.
It’s always a promising sign when I finish a book in day, pushing aside all other chores and commitments to lose myself entirely in it’s pages. It’s an even better sign when the plot, character and general magic of the book in question are still dancing around my head several days later. It was hard to pull myself from the world created by this book, but for all the right reasons.
Welcome to Kendrick’s Workshop; a firm specialising in the creation of enchanted dolls since 1820. The firm was established by four unique women; the Peyton sisters, whose own births were shrouded in an air of magic and mystery. The four sisters; Lucy Kendrick, Rebecca Jackson, Sally Botham and Jemima Ramsay all married, but Jemima died young and left no heirs.
Fast forward 200 years and Kendrick’s is still trading, it’s dolls, each bearing it’s own particular enchantment or ‘hex’ are collected across the world. The business is tucked away on the Eyot, a small river island in Oxford. Only descendants of the four founding sisters are employed here and the community that has grown up around the company is insular, cloaked in traditions, festival and an unchallenged hierarchy which hands all the power to men.
For despite the creation of the company being down to four gifted and powerful women, since their death only men are allowed to work as sorcerers with the workshop. Women are employed in various capacities such as dolls house creation, working in sales but they are forbidden from obtaining the prized position of making and enchanting the dolls the world covets.
Every male descendant of the Kendrick’s sister is bestowed one hex on his thirteenth birthday, and it is his to lay upon a doll of his creation. In a continuation of the patriarchal hierarchy that runs through this community each daughter’s hex is given to her father and only shared at a time of his choosing.
When we step onto the Eyot in 2020, there is a feeling of change in the wind. Conrad Kendrick, descendant of Lucy Kendrick is head of the firm. At war with his alcoholic brother Briar, Conrad is the undisputed ruler of the Eyot. His housekeeper Hedwig, is young and ambitious and is making herself indispensable by attending to Conrad’s every need. She is intelligent and wily and looks for opportunity to work within the system for her own empowerment and gain.
Persephone Kendrick, Briar’s daughter is frustrated. Deprived of her hex by her father she works in the company shop, but is desperate to fulfil her ambition of working as a Sorcerer. She, like many on the Eyot, is discontented with her lot on the island and is straining at the boundaries of what is accepted.
When a young, charismatic and talented doll maker by the name of Larkin arrives in their midst the community and it’s order is shaken to it’s core. Larkin seems to possess proof that he is descended from the younger and childless sister, Jemima. Conrad takes Larkin into the firm, employing him as doll maker. He is, however forbidden the knowledge of enchantment.
Larkin and Persephone, drawn together by a common goal, strike up and alliance. And when the rare and priceless doll ‘The Paid Mourner’ is stolen from under their noses the order of Kendrick’s is threatened. Conrad is of the belief that the doll has been taken by the fae folk, a long held belief in the community. Tales of the mysterious Thief on a winged horse have provided the basis of the customs and way of life on the Eyot for hundreds of years. It is the disappearance of the doll that provide the catalyst for the events that follow.
The Thief on the Winged Horse is a skilled tale of female empowerment, of women reclaiming their birthright in a world of tangled belief and tradition that seek to deny them. The story and it’s telling weave together a curious and beguiling mix of fantasy and ordinary. The tale might be set in the modern day but it is rich and alive with feelings of other worlds and a time gone by.
Here is a skilled and tangible feeling of reality and fantasy intertwined, a feeling that this all this magic, enchantment and unsettling beauty could be found amongst us, if only we had the skill to find it.
As well as being a tale of magic, it is a tale of duplicity and deviousness operating both within the close circle of the Eyot and the world beyond. It is a narrative driven forward by many varied and carefully constructed agendas and intrigues. It is a fable that teaches us about the imparting of knowledge and the power it brings. It has things to say about equality, what true equality means, and how the pursuit of equality is bound tightly to the welcoming of truth and self discovery.
The Thief on the Winged Horse is truly unique. It is a beauty of a book and it has been my absolute pleasure to support it’s journey into the world by taking part in these blog tour. I recommend that you inject a little magic into your lives this Christmas by getting this one on your wish list.
And there is more…
For other reactions and review to The Thief on the Winged Horse check out the rest of the blog tour listed below…
Last year I read a beautiful, thought provoking book called The Photographer of the Lostby Caroline Scott. Set in the period of and immediately after the First World War it was one of those books that stayed with me. It took me to places I hadn’t been and gave me knowledge and perspective I didn’t expect. So when Anne Cater invited me on to the blog tour for Caroline’s latest book When ICome Home Again I jumped at the chance.
In her second novel Caroline returns to the First World War. We begin in the final week of the war, when a soldier is arrested in Durham Cathedral. Scared, confused and totally alone, ‘Adam’ as he is named, has no memory of who he is or where he has been.
He is released to the care of James Haworth and his superior Dr Alan Shepherd, both specialists in treating men traumatised by war. Adam is taken to Fellside House in the heart of the Lake District where his therapy begins. Over the course of years there seems to be little progress. Adam shows an innate empathy for nature and skill for tending the overgrown gardens, as well as a talent for drawing but he is unable or unwilling to open the locked box of his past.
When, two years after the war, an article about Adam runs in the national press, three women come forward to claim him as their own. Celia is a mother, stuck in time, still believing that Robert her son will come home. Anna has been running the farm single handedly since her husband Mark left abruptly for war. Lucy is struggling under the weight of raising her brother’s children after he failed to return from the front.
Each women has a credible case, each women is convinced that Adam belongs in their lives. But Adam is unable to wholly connect with anyone. The only tangible clue to his past is the face of a women he draws over and over again, a woman he claims has revisited him in the woods that surround Fellside House.
The effects of war are beautifully and painfully presented here not only in the character of Adam and the other men who are treated at Fellside. Beyond just these collection of men Scott has created a cast of characters that are all touched, even years on, by the four years of fighting and absence. Each of the women who come forward to claim Adam have a story to tell; a story of loss, of struggle and of learning to cope in a world that will never be the same again.
Effects of the war radiate through and permeate each character and each strand of this beautifully woven story. James might be striving to fix the men in his care but he too has been left broken by the horrors of war. Haunted by his experiences in France and visions of the death of his brother- in- law, Nathaniel, James is slowly unravelling. His night terrors and daytime drinking are pushing his wife Caitlin further and further away. He is trapped in his memories as much as Adam is trapped by his inability to remember.
This novel is a sensitively and beautifully crafted tribute to those who survived. It examines in detail, through individual stories, the aftermath of war, the changes that it wrought on society, both on a national and individual level and acknowledges that loss, grief and death did not end on the final day of the war. This is a story of afterwards. Told without sentimentality but with swathes of empathy and realism, these characters tell their own tales of trying to move forward in a time when every has changes beyond recognition.
When I come home again is a portrait of memory. Of how each of us remember in different ways, how each of us construct and hold those memories close to help us cope with events and the world around us. This novel also asks the question of what happens when memories fail us. Not just by refusing to unlock their secrets, but also by distorting and dominating our present. Each character in this book is held in time by the past, one way or another.
This November, over 100 years since the end of The Great War, I heartily recommend you take some time to read this novel and consider the legacy of the war. I guarantee that this story will hold you still and will linger long. And that is just as it should be.
And there is more…
For more reactions and reviews, check out the rest of the blog tour, listed below…