Book review : The LampLighters by Emma Stonex

If you like a locked door mystery, and a locked door mystery with a very unusual setting then this week sees the perfect book for you published. Welcome to The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex. And yet while this might appear to be a locked door mystery it is so much more!

Although this book is set across two time periods, 1972 and 1992, the inspiration for this story comes from a real life event which took place in December 1900. It was then that three lighthouse keepers disappeared from an isolated rock lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides.

Within the novel the three keepers in question are Arthur Black, Bill Walker and Vincent Bourne. All different in character, all with their own stories and secrets, all missing in the strangest of circumstances.

Fast forward 20 years and the women left behind are still no nearer to understanding what happened to the men they loved. When author Dan Sharp approaches them regarding the incident, old memories resurface and Helen, Jenny and Michelle are all forced to relive the past.

Through immaculate retelling and beautifully paced prose the story of the three keepers and their families begins to unfurl. Against the rugged background of the winter sea the voices of the missing men are finally heard and they have surprising things to say.

This is a novel told by a chorus of voices, each story layered upon the other, providing clarity and then taking it away, moving slowly towards it’s conclusion. This is story telling at it’s absolute best, building tension and empathy as it’s story moves beautifully to it’s conclusion.

It is a story with a vivid setting, where the sea is a force in it’s own right, and it’s presence is continual, relentless and essential to put understanding of what really happened to those men. Although this is a novel with a mystery at it’s heart, it is a story alive with characters, emotion, love and grief.

The Lamplighters hits the shelves this week and, believe me, it is one not to be missed.

Rachel x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel x

Book review: Kololo Hill by Neema Shah

Published on 18th February by Picador, Kololo Hill by Neema Shah is a debut not to be missed. Striking and heartfelt, this novel has a lot to say. Sincere thanks to Katie Green for my gifted copy.

It’s 1972 and Idi Amin is on the rise. With brutality and fear as his weapons of choice he issues a devastating decree. All Ugandan Asians must leave and leave within 90 days. They can take virtually nothing with them, their property and money are now belong to the state. They can not return.

Through the eyes of one ordinary Ugandan Asian family we experience the fall out of such a situation, and the impossible choices they make; both as families and individuals.

Asha and Pran are a young Asian couple. Married for a short time, after a whirl wind courtship that was hi jacked by their families. They are still in the early days of their relationship, still testing the water and finding the boundaries when suddenly their whole world is thrown into crisis, everything and everyone they hold dear under immediate and terrible threat.

Along with Pran’s parents , Jaya and Motichand, and his younger brother Vijay, their life of relative ease, their business running a local dukan their sense of self and security are lost. The family must begin the painful and seemingly impossible task of looking to the future. But where do they start?

Each have different paperwork, passports and access to different countries. They all have to leave but will it be possible to do that together or will they be spilt even further apart? And how can they protect their house boy December who has served the family loyally for years? For now as a member of one of many ‘wrong’ tribes he too is in danger.

This is a story of displacement, of having to take huge leaps of both faith and fear in order to move forwards. With vivid detail and heart breaking clarity Neema Shah paints a skilful picture of what it meant to be an Ugandan refugee, arriving in the middle of a British winter. Against each slight and knock back we see men and women fighting to both make a new life and hold on to their sense of identity, self and culture.

The characters in the novel maybe experiencing the same trauma but there is no stereotyping of pain or reaction. With well rounded brush strokes each character takes their own path and makes their own distinct choices. For Vijay, his youth and disability shape his reactions, in the same way Pran’s inability to let go of the past shape his .

But for me it was the female characters who really shone through this narrative. Asha is determined, determined not to look back or let her trauma shape the rest of her life. And her mother in law Jaya holds on to the best of what she left behind while struggling to adapt to their strange grey land that is 1970’s Britain.

There are many things I look for in a novel and teaching me about the world I think I know Is pretty high on that list. This episode in history was a complete blind spot for me. I knew nothing about it at all. This novel has opened my eyes, taught me new things and made me thirsty to know more.

As a debut this one is pretty special.

Rachel x

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

A Review: Alexa, what is there to know about love? By Brian Bilston

From the title to the very last page this collection of poems feels like perfection. It will stir just about every emotion within you. It will have you laughing, crying, nodding in agreement and just about everything else in between. It is a collection about life, about those things that are topical in this crazy world but also those things which have been with us for time immemorial.

It’s title, Alexa, what is there to know about love? sums up the premise of this work perfectly. These poems are in equal parts about the things that have changed, i.e Alexa, and those things that will never change, that is the subjects we are continually asking about.

And indeed there are many poems that focus on the age old questionsof love in all its many forms. Here you will find love poems for the ages; for the past; for the future. All quirky, all clever and all deliciously original. Take for example Five Clerihews for Doomed Loves, a tribute to some of the most iconic recorded lovers. No spoilers here but I will say that the poets views of Romeo and Juliet had me cheering in agreement!

Drudge Work is a beautiful tribute to the many different manifestations of love , of the impossibility of one solid definition. A theme returned to in Minutes from a Multidisciplinary Symposium on ‘What is Love. And the simple, churning tale found within Status Update: A Lonely Cloud will fell you with it’s final line.

And for a bookworm like me the shape poem Tsundoku is just perfection. To the point where I am sure Brian Bilston has bugged my home and is tapping into a recurring argument with Mr C!! ( And if you want to know what that argument might be, you will have to buy the book!)

This collection is quite simply a work of quiet, unassuming brilliance. Where the use of the familiar, of the rhyming couplet soothes, enhances and then suddenly, unexpectedly destroys. Within these pages is comfort, humour and delicious levels of challenge. The role of the poet feels like the role of an medieval fool, to entertain but also to speak the truth. To tell the passive onlookers of their beauty and their triumph, but also to expose their weaknesses, their foolishness and at times down right stupidity.

For despite it’s universal themes, this is very much a poetry book for our times. With a comforting, a times sing song voice and a crucial bite Bilston offers us commentary and sharp, powerful insight in to recent political and societal events. The eight lines of The White House will have you reeling and for anyone despairing about the rise of the right, Brexit and wider social conditions there are poems within this book that will have you nodding in agreement , even if that agreement is tinged with despair.

Take for example Hold my hand and let’s jump off this cliff. I defy you not cry out at it’s brilliance and start recommending it to anyone you might make eye contact with in the next week!

There are poems here that will break your heart; Penguins and Bird Watching spring immediately to mind. Others will make you smile, maybe even laugh out loud; ee Cummings attempts online banking is a great place to start.

But each page contains a little gem, a word, a line, a verse, most often a whole poem to tuck away for later and savour, and most definitely to share.

Camilla Elworthy, thank you for sharing this pocket rocket with me. I promise you I am busy exploding it just everywhere I go!!!

Rachel

Alexa, What Is There To Know About Love By Brian Bilston is published by Picador on 21st January 2021.