#BookReview – Chouette by Claire Oshetsky

Ever read a book that stops you in your tracks? A book that takes a situation that millions of people all over the world are experiencing and looks at it through an entirely different lens. If fact through a lens so magical that it takes your breath away?

That’s exactly what happened when I read Chouette, beautifully crafted by Claire Oshetsky and released this week by Virago . A huge thank you goes to GraceVincent

for my gifted copy.

Chouette is the story of Tiny and her child Chouette. Chouette is not a typical child. According to her mother Chouette is an Owl Baby; a child beautiful, individual and complex, a child with her own very specific needs.

Tiny is tune with her daughter. She understands her needs, is prepared to shape family live to fit in with her child and feels no need to change her. Chouette’s father on the other hand longs for a normal child, refusing to accept her into the wider family until she has been ‘fixed’.

But fixing Chouette is a thankless and cruel task. The world into which she is born isn’t made for Owl Babies and the interventions and treatments her Father insists upon grow more extreme and cruel as time goes by.

This story is a unique parable about the joys and challenges of raising a child that does not conform to the norms of society. It is about the power of a mother’s love; love that will bend in every way to accommodate a child’s needs. But it is also about isolation; about the fear that builds when things go wrong repeatedly and the rest of the world turns away.

This is a lyrical and beautifully woven story charting the experiences of thousands of families raising children with complex needs. It is about the incredible highs and lows, the unbreakable bonds they forge, but also the fracturing of relationships that occurs everyday.

This novel shines a ghostly light on things we sometimes refuse to see. In parts tender, in parts brutal, it is a fable for all those unique and special families who we too often leave behind.

Rachel x

#Bookreview: Burntcoat by Sarah Hall

I am aware that I sound like a broken record but once again I apologise for taking longer than I would have like to review this captivating book. Huge thanks to Kate Burton for my early copy of Burntcoat by Sarah Hall.

Given what we have all been through these past two years there is going to be an inevitable rise in ‘Pandemic Stories’. It is inescapable and unrealistic to expect that artists of all kinds won’t want to record and respond to these world changing events. We are after all, living through history.

But as you would expected from established and talented Cumbrian author Sarah Hall her approach to this telling is unique, heartbreaking and painfully beautiful.

Hers is the story of Edith, talented sculptor and her lover Halit. Immediately but newly connected when the first lockdown begins, the pair hide from the world in her huge studio, Burntcoat. Their world is one of fear but also of love, of discovering each other and building a new and strengthening relationship.

This part of the novel captures beautifully the intensity and unreality of those initial lockdown days. The writing is sensual, vital and pulls at the edges of a collective experience.

Edith’s story is largely told in retrospect. When we meet her she is preparing for her death. Her work, waiting in the studio below is her testament, but it is her love for Halit and the short time of their togetherness that she returns to again and again.

Sarah Hall is unique in her story telling. Her boundaries are wide but her edges are sharp. This story cuts through experience and turns the collective experience of the pandemic on it’s head.

This one is going down in history.

Rachel x

Book Review : Dead Relatives by Lucie McKnight Hardy

Dead Relatives. Well where do I start?!? Maybe firstly with a thank you and an apology.

The Thank You going to Jordan at Dead Ink Books for sending me an copy of this stunner before publication day.

And the apology again to Jordan and author for Lucie McKnight Hardy for the delay in getting the review written. I know it’s so last year but blame Covid!

Dead Relatives is a collection of short stories with a deeply delicious and unsettling tone. From the title story, whose last paragraph made me throw the book in surprise (only to grab it straight back hungry for more) to the last tale, there is glorious sense of horror and unease.

Comparisons to Shirley Jackson are wholly justified, but there is no doubt that Lucie McKnight Hardy has a style completely of her own. These stories are all the more powerful for being rooted firmly in the every day. These tales hang themselves on the domestic, on family dynamics and deep seated emotion; elements that combine to develop an unstopped and unbearable tension that spills over in the macabre and delights in it’s power to both shock and delight.

It is also impossible to ignore and wonderful to celebrate the strong female characters within these stories. There is a sense of long held wrongs being righted, often in the most unexpected and darkest ways.

If I had to choose a favourite tale, if you really, really pushed me, I would plump for Dead Relatives but the gloriously dark Resting Bitch Face and The Pickling Jar are screaming at me from the sidelines!

If you want an October read to push the boundaries of darkness, malevolence and everything in between than Dead Relatives is just the book for you!

Rachel. X

#BlogTour Review: The Hiding Place by Amanda Mason

It’s October; the month where everything spooky, creepy and the wrong side of the light come out to play! So what better time of the year to be releasing a novel with an intriguing supernatural twist?

Welcome to my blog tour review of The Hiding Place by Amanda Mason, published today – 14th October – by Zaffre. It is an absolute pleasure to be sharing my review on publication day.

Nell Galilee is a jewellery designer, married to Chris, trying to co-parent her troubled stepdaughter Maude. A family party has brought the trio back to Nell’s home town of Whitby, and they are staying in the ancient Elder House, tucked against the cliff, at the end of one of town’s historic yards.

The family arrive looking to escape domestic problems, but Nell’s unease only seems to grow as they are consumed by the strange old house and its inexplicable presence. Maude on the other hand, furious with the adults in her life, seems strangely drawn to the old house; fascinated by it’s strange markings, hidden places and untold history.

But it isn’t only Nell and Maude who have strong feelings about the Elder House. In the days that follow their arrival female faces from the past emerge, each one tied to the house in some way. Each one hiding their own secrets and looking for their own answers…

From beginning to end The Hiding Place had me hooked! The female perspectives from which this story is both seen and developed are strong, troubled and believable. There is just the right amount of shadow and light, of doubt and truth to maintain the flame of intrigue and make this a truly great supernatural tale.

It is particularly pleasing to find a cast of female characters that are placed across the range of age and experience. Each one is compellingly and skilfully drawn, each one adding their own dimension and depth to the story. A wonderful lesson in careful characterisation.

This is a novel with truth and the search for truth at it’s heart. It has a strong sense of place, both within the unsettling atmosphere of the Elder House but also within the wider setting of Whitby. There is a tangible feeling throughout of the past reaching through into the present and the lessons that there still are left to be learned.

If you are looking for a perfect October read, then I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending The Hiding Place. It has been a joy to both read and review; thank you Amanda, you have done it again!

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reactions and reviews to The Hiding Place check out the rest of the blog tour below…

#Blog Tour Review: How To Bring Him Back by Claire HM

Fly On The Wall Press are one of my favourite discoveries of the past couple of years. From their literary stable has bolted some of the best poetry and flash fiction. And their latest release How To Bring Him Back: A story by Claire HM is no exception.

A novella in flash set across two time frames, roughly 20 years apart, this is story of Cait. Present day Cait is on her yearly writing retreat, trying to conjure up a long overdue apology which only now is she ready to write.

The Cait of the mid 1990’s seems lost and wandering. She is living post-university and has recent stepped away from her Masters degree. Working in a bar, living hand to mouth in a bed sit, Cait’s life is held up by the strings of alcohol and drugs, compounded by a unstopped sexual attraction to Rik.

Stadd is her friend. He looks out for her, steadies her and quietly worships her, but despite all this it is Rik, the archetypal bad boy that Cait is drawn too.

In her haze of self destruction Cait bounces between the two men and in the process sets about breaking Stadd’s trust and his heart. The story is a simple one; one often told and often repeated but with a sharpness of language and a sting in the tail, Claire HM brings this inflammatory situation to a new life.

Weaving the magic that keeps great flash fiction alive Claire creates and then develops three believable and compelling characters. Each has their own motivations, each with their own exploitable flaws, which burst from the page. Their interactions are by turn tender, disturbing, painful and delightfully complex.

It is the dual timeline that really makes this a novella such a triumph. Cait’s later reflections are heartfelt and lyrical. They provide the perfect balance to the earlier lost and lonely Cait. This is a character who grows, who develops and who takes heed of her past.

Thank you Fly On The Wall for inviting me to be part of this tour. It has been a pleasure to read and review such a punchy little book.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reactions and reviews to How To Bring Him Back check out the rest of the blog tour below…

Book Review: No Touching by Ketty Rouf

This month is Women in Translation month. And the stark fact is I don’t read enough translated fiction. So this month I have been trying to put that right and when Europa Editions contacted me about No Touching by Ketty Rouf , translated from the French by Tina Kover I had a strong inkling this one was for me.

This is the story of Josephine, ground down by her job as a high school philosophy teacher, who finds a new way of living when she walks into a Champs-Elysee strip club.

Here begins her double life. Tired and uninspired teacher by day, risqué dancer by night. Her life in the club provides her with a new insight on the world and her own being. Through her night time persona, Rose Lee, she learns to fall in love with her body. She learns about the power of dancing for men, about how she can manipulate and stoke their desire. From the other women she learns the rules both spoken and unspoken and begins to find strength in female company, something she has never experienced before.

But this is a dangerous game. Working day and night leaves Josephine tired and keeping the two worlds separate is a challenge. One night the inevitable happens; her two worlds collide and she is forced to reassess where her life is heading, forced to decide if the risks she takes are worth the pay off.

This is a novel that gets to the heart of desire and power. It is dappled by light and shade, forcing the reader to reevaluate their expectations and stereotypes, whilst at the same time encouraging to look beyond the norm.

Josephine is a complex character; she is intelligent and increasingly aware of her own being. Brave enough to step outside of her world but wary of choices which might take her too far. She isn’t static, she is continually evolving. She is written with challenge and complexity at the fore.

It is a novel dripping in richness. Each page is evocative of a time and place. Be it the ridiculous and absurd directives of the Education system, or the dark seductive underworld of the strip club, these pages will tease, tantalise and challenge you. They will pull you right into the heart of the action and hold you just where you need to be.

Winner of the prestigious Prix du Premier Roman 2020 this is the perfection addition to you Women in Translation reading list. Be prepared to be dazzled.

Rachel x

Book Review : An Approach to Black by Emily Jeremiah

Over my time as a blogger one of the biggest delights has been discovering indie presses and in turn being introduced to a whole treasure trove of work that I was previously unaware of. A particularly delightful discovery has been Reflex Press. Over the past year I have been lucky enough to read several of their titles and, honestly, not one of them has let me down.

Yesterday one of their newest releases An Approach to Black by Emily Jeremiah dropped through the letter box. Within two hours I had devoured it and was settling down for a reread! This slim little novella packs a mighty punch.

The story centres around a 19th Century Finnish artist, Anna S, who married a fellow artist, Eino. Eino’s career flourished while Anna’s stalled with the arrival of children and it’s associated domesticity. Anna was subsequently committed to an asylum.

In London, in the present day, Anna appears to be little more than a footnote to Eino’s history but two people have taken an interest in her fate. One is is her great- great- great grandson Jonathan, a struggling and rather lost young artist, who has almost stumbled into Anna’s path. The other is Emma, a retired Finnish academic, who is writing a book about Anna.

Both Emma and Jonathan are looking for ways to take them out of their own lives and begin to strike up a friendship as they delve deeper into Anna’s story. Details are sketchy, but Emma particularly is determined to give Anna a story of her own.

This book is beautifully written with precise, sharp prose that perfectly conjures both setting and tone. In both Anna and Emma we see intelligent and talented women who are pushing at the boundaries of creativity, while bearing the burden of complex and sometimes destructive family life.

There is a deep sense of regret and indeed rage around Anna’s story. It is a familiar but no less tragic scenario, whereby a strong and talented women fails to conform to a stereotype or convenient role and ends up paying the ultimate price. It speaks for generations of women denied access to self expression, fulfilment and indeed basic liberty.

Skilfully woven and painted in the most delightful shades, take some time to wander among the images created by this work. It’s is a rare treat.

Rachel x

Book Review : The Fell

Sarah Moss is a genius of our time. And it is going to take a brave person to convince me other wise.

I have made no secret of my admiration of her writing and when Camilla Elworthy very kindly sent me a copy of The Fell, due for publication by Picador on 11th November, I genuinely felt like I had won the lottery.

Set in the latter part of 2020 when the whole country was right in the heart of the COVID 19 pandemic, this is the story of one day. The story of the kind of day that so many of us have experienced over the past two years but never ever dreamed we would. With her own tight, precise and undaunted prose Sarah Moss unfolds the story of Kate , her son Matt and elderly and shielding neighbour Alice.

Kate should be self isolating but Kate is desperate. A single mum just about scraping by, being outside is her only escape. So she decides to take an early evening walk on the fell. She slips out, believing herself unseen, believing she won’t be long.

Her teenage son Matt is left behind, aware his Mum shouldn’t be out. Also aware she has been gone too long. Caught between fear of leaving the house and fear of what has happened to his Mum Matt turns to Alice for help.

What unfold over the next few hours is a masterclass in conveying human emotion, in representing the effects of imposed solitude and consequences of decisions hastily made. It is the usual quiet but impeccable writing of Sarah Moss which gets right to the heart of where each of us have been. The sort of writing that holds you still for a moment and touches something real within. Moving between perspectives; from Kate on the hillside, Matt and Alice both waiting alone at home and the Mountain Rescue Team who are searching, this is some of the most insightful, truthful writing I have read this year.

Sarah Moss takes the every day lived experiences and makes them extraordinary. Her sentences resonate with emotion and dark simplicity. Nothing is over complicated, everything is honest, everything rings true.

The Fell is simply breathtaking. It deserves all the praise, all the awards. Prepare yourselves because there is some very special coming your way.

Rachel x

Book Review: Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson

It’s been a while since I wrote a review as I have been having myself a little summer break. But this barnstormer of a book; Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson published this week by Tinder Press, has inspired me to hop back on the blog.

Set on the Californian coast, amongst the logging community of the 1970’s this is a novel that will touch every part of you. It is beautifully told, beautifully constructed and worth every single minute of your reading time.

It is 1977 and Rich Gunderson’s family have been logging the giant redwoods for years. His father lost his life in one of the all too frequent logging accidents and Rich wants a better future for his son Chub. With this in mind he buys up a local plot of land, the yield of which could set his family up for life. But only if he can get to it and that’s a risk of it’s own.

His wife Colleen is the community’s unofficial midwife, a role that she finds both fulfilling and heartbreaking in equal measure, as she longs for a second child of her own. After suffering several miscarriages Colleen is desperate and grieving.

When a face from the past arrives in the town then something rotten at the core of the community threatens to rise to the surface. Each family has a different opinion, but the very survival of this way of life suddenly seems to hang in the balance.

Written with passion, heart and breathtaking complexity, this is the story of all sides of the argument. It is the story of economics and the survival of a way of life that finds its self pitted against the continuation and protection of the landscape that supports it existence.

By creating characters with honest and complex motivations, characters who lives are laid bare for all to see Davidson brings this debate to life. Nothing in this story is ever as clear cut as we would imagine it to be.

This is a story of powerful motivations, strong people, and ultimately love; all set against the fragile and majestic beauty of the land.

One of my books of the year so far. Thank you Caitlin Rayner for my gifted copy and the very welcome introduction.

Rachel x

#BlogTourReview: Lying with Lions by Annabel Fielding

Today it is my pleasure to take my turn on the blog tour for Lying with Lions by Annabel Fielding. I was approached by Annabel a while ago to ask if I would be interested in reading her historical novel set at the turn of the 20th Century. A quick read of the blurb – see below- and my interest was piqued!

The Blurb…

Edwardian England. Agnes Ashford knows that her duty is threefold: she needs to work on cataloguing the archive of the titled Bryant family, she needs to keep the wounds of her past tightly under wraps, and she needs to be quietly grateful to her employers for taking her up in her hour of need. However, a dark secret she uncovers due to her work thrusts her into the Bryants’ brilliant orbit – and into the clutch of their ambitions.

They are prepared to take the new century head-on and fight for their preeminent position and political survival tooth and nail – and not just to the first blood. With a mix of loyalty, competence, and well-judged silence Agnes rises to the position of a right-hand woman to the family matriarch – the cunning and glamorous Lady Helen. But Lady Helen’s plans to hold on to power through her son are as bold as they are cynical, and one day Agnes is going to face an impossible choice…

My thoughts…

This is a book absolutely buzzing with period detail. It is a story of family secrets, intrigue and a fight for survival as the world heads towards irresistible and irreversible societal change.

The characterisation is strong, direct and you will find yourself drawn towards points of view and sympathies you never expected. Of particular strength is the considered and careful portrayal of both Agnes and Lady Helen. Born in different eras, both from different social classes theirs is a meeting of minds and a testament to what happens when strong, intelligent women come together, working to common ends. It is tale of unexpected courage and unexpected love.

The plot is dark and twisting. There are many skeletons rattling within these Edwardian cupboards and at times it is hard to see where morality and necessity both begin and end. But for a family with such a chequered past the Bryant’s passage through life was always going to be eventful.

From beginning to end this story has you guessing, has you reeling and has you hooked! If you love historical fiction and want to dip you toe into some Edwardian intrigue then Lying with lions could very well be the place for you to go.

Rachel x