January round up … the longest month ever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel x

Book review: Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden.

I am starting this review with a confession. And perhaps an apology. I read this glorious and beautifully complex book quite a while ago. I have been meaning to review it ever since.

It has sat on my bedside table and I have looked at it every single day, most days I have picked up and turned the pages. Each time it’s brilliance has hit me again and again, each time I am remind of the skill and originality of the author. And each time I wonder how on earth I am going to find the words to do this one justice!

This week on 28th January Mrs Death Misses Death is published by Canongate and the time has come to get my review written and try and express how incredible it really is.

The premise of this book is in essence simple. Death is tired, battle weary and looking for rest. Death wants someone to listen to and tell their story. But Death is not who we might think they are. Death is not the skeletal, white male figure hanging around corners in a black hooded cloak. Death is a woman, a old black woman.

Let that sink in. One of the most underrepresented, under estimated and discriminated against personas in history is responsible for ushering life out of this world. She possesses the ultimate power.

And when we add in the fact that Mrs Death has a sister; a sister who holds the responsibility for birth and life, who takes control of the beginnings in the way her sister controls the endings, the sense of power grows, is all encompassing and overwhelming. These are two sisters in the ultimate symbiotic relationship, one bringing life into the world , one taking it away; making room for the next generation. And they are black. And they are female. And they are old.

After years of carrying this responsibility Mrs Death needs a confidante, someone who she can unburden her own grief to. But who is equal to this unimaginable task? Who can take on the confessions, doubts and torments accumulated by years of ending lives?

Chosen by Death herself is Wolf, at first glance an unlikely candidate. Wolf is a writer, struggling and troubled who has danced with Death before in a number of ways. But now the connection is cemented and as Wolf clings to life and sometimes sanity by the slimmest of margins, with Death’s own desk as the platform for their work, the two troubled souls begin a journey through the past, present and future.

Through a work of complexity and richness, where we dance through a huge showcase of techniques and devices, each perfectly chosen, a whole range of subjects are explored.

Here death itself is laid bare. Mrs Death is complex. She possesses compassion and humanity, alongside a finality and ruthlessness The text forces us into a simple confrontation of death. It forces us to consider how we reassess a life when death occurs, to understand the process of grief and the pain that accompanies it.

And yet this work is more about more than Death. This is about life in all it’s glorious and terrible forms. This is a novel that challenges you to consider the wider human condition. To philosophise on the subjects of sex, gender, race. To look back in time at events we think we understand and see them with fresh eyes, to take a different perspective and challenge ourselves. To consider the endless cycle of life and death, of greed and consumption, of love and hate, of mental well-being and mental illness. To consider just how far we have come and have far we still have to go in all kinds of ways; in compassion, in kindness and in equality. As Wolf grapples with the huge questions and concepts that soar around and above us, that defy explanation and definition, we, as readers, grapple with them too.

This book is the personification of writing as therapy. Through our potentially unreliable narrators we are taken on a complex, compelling and sometimes shifting journey. Filled with equal shares of humour and pathos this is a novel to be absorbed. A single reading will be delightful but not enough. This is a text for life, to be enjoyed but to be studied. To be embraced and then discussed. And never to be forgotten.

Rachel x