It seems that this book is popping up on many, many ‘One to Watch’ lists this year…and with good reason.
Back in the long hot summer of uninterrupted blogging and reading that was August 2019, I requested a review copy of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins after seeing a growing buzz on Twitter.
The lovely people at Tinder Press were kind enough to grant my wish and the book has winked at me from the shelf for quite a while.
However, just for once I have made a conscious decision to delay my reading. This was based on the fact that everyone I have spoken to who has read this book has been immediately blown away by it. I quickly picked up the vibe that it was a book I would want to review and probably struggle to contain my enthusiasm for. So I have shown uncharacteristic reading restraint and waited.
And I am so glad I did.
There is no doubt in my mind that this book is going to be huge. It is current, original and filled with compassion and grace. Just what the world needs at the beginning of a new decade which it would appear is getting off to a rather shaky start.
American Dirt is the story of Lydia Quixano Perez and her 8 year old son Luca. A middle class woman, running a book shop in Acapulco, Lydia is married to Sebastian, a talented journalist who likes to push the boundaries. Writing about the drug cartels which infiltrating the city means that Sebastian is, at the very least, a person of interest.
The novel opens with Lydia’s normality being ripped apart by unimaginable tragedy. In the blink of an eye she and Luca are fugitives and their own lives in danger. At risk within their own country their only choice is to flee, to run north to the US border, trying to reach el norte.
Taking cold hard cash and little more the clothes they stand up in, Lydia has to take risks she has never imagined she could. Gone is the life of safety harnesses in cars and worrying about school and vitamins; she is now sleeping with a machete strapped to her thigh and asking her 8 year old to jump on to moving trains, la bestia.
Written largely in the present but interspersed with flashbacks to Lydia’s previous and comfortable life, we become starkly aware of the contrasts and contradictions of Mexico. The rule of the drug cartels is wide reaching and it is clear that is not only Sebastian’s actions that have put the family in danger.
This is far far more than a fugitive story. Within these pages you will find a tender portrayal of grief and loss. Through the characters of Lydia and Luca we see how quickly a life can be torn apart and the lengths people will go to survive.
Their journey brings them into contact with many other migrants, all with individual tales to tell. All moving forwards motivated by desperation, the desire for a better life but overwhelmingly the very human instinct for survival.
There are no cliches in this book. There is just humanity in all it’s heart breaking forms. Not all migrants are saints, but they are all people and deserve to be treated as such whatever their ‘immigration status.’
This is a book that will terrify and move you in equal parts. There is nothing in this life that we take for granted more than freedom. American Dirt might just make you stop, think and even appreciate the more important things in life.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is published on 21st January 2020 by Tinder press. You can preorder here
I finished last year with an unexpected short story collection review and looks like I am starting 2020 the same way.
Here is the point in the blog where I have to hold my hands high in apology to the good people at Myriad Editions.
Because last summer I remember requesting a copy of To The Volcano by Elleke Boehmerand then life got in the way. It has sat on the book trolley, shamefully neglected…until yesterday …
Yesterday I opened it up, read a page… which turned into a whole story…which turned into another story…and…
You get the idea! Long story short, I finished it in a day! So now is the time to review.
When I read a collection of short stories I tend to look for a theme, something that binds the whole together, without losing the individuality of each tale. It’s a tall order I know, but To The Volcano did not disappoint.
There isn’t one over riding theme but many that run through the collection. Firstly, this is a selection with a international and cosmopolitan feel. Settings range from a University town in England, to South African, to Argentina, to Paris. And beyond. In addition characters are constantly travelling, on the move looking for answers, trying to fulfil dreams and escape.
And yet for all the feelings of excitement and discovery there are equal and, sometimes, overwhelming feelings of fear, displacement, unease and straightforward homesickness.
Take for example Luanda, the accomplished ‘African’ student who featured in The child in the photograph. When we meet her she has fulfilled her dream of attending a world renowned western university only to realise that the key to her happiness and fulfilment lies back where she first began.
Similarly Lise ( South, North) has travelled half way around the world only to discover the Paris she fell in love through the pages of Zola and Balzac isn’t the reality of modern day.
There is an underlying and ongoing commentary here about the fact that all destinations come with preconceived ideas and expectations. In the title story, To The Volcano, a group of university employees and students go on a field trip to an elusive and extinct volcano. Each visitor has very different experience of the same place, leaving us questioning is the destination itself really shape shifting or is it merely a mirror for the emotions of its visitors?
For this collection isn’t just about geographical travel, it is very much concerned with our journey through life, how we interact with others and how those relationships change through our daily experiences and expectations.
It is a collection about fine lines, and how they shift constantly throughout our lives. It is about the appropriateness of relationships, love/ hate (Powerlifting), concern/ control, swimming/ drowning (Synthetic Orange), youth/ age (The Biographer and The Wife).
It delivers thoughts on how we create relationships and what we take away from them. Boehmer continually poses that age old question; Do we take and give in equal measure?
There are 12 intelligent and individual stories to discover in this collection. Unsurprisingly I have my favourites, which I am loathe to disclose, because I feel the take home message from To the volcano and other stories is that life is an individual journey and your favourites are pretty much guaranteed not to be mine.
Signing off with a huge thank you to Myriad Editions and Elleke Boehmer for gifting me this copy for review.
To The Volcano and other stories can be purchased by clicking here
I still have to let that sink in. I started it to record my reads, and expand my own love of reading. I could never have imagined the amazing and extensive literary world it has opened up to me.
From the amazing authors I have had the chance to connect with through reviews and blog tours, to publishers who have kindly gifted books for review and most importantly all the tremendously talented bloggers who have been so supportive and welcoming.
There have been lessons learnt and frustrations at times but starting Bookbound has definitely been one of my better 2019 decisions.
Over the past week I have been trying and failing to pick my 10 books of the year. My slightly unreliable stats (a.k.a – the list on my phone! ) says I have read 139 books, and picking 10 of the best has proven impossible.
So I had ‘one of those chats’ with myself, in which I remind myself for the billionth time that it is ‘my blog, my rules’ and decided to just go for the standouts. It is worth noting that not all these books were published in 2019, but they were all new discoveries to me.
Hope you enjoy …
The Salt Path – Raynor Winn
This was my very first read of 2019. I heard Raynor Winn interviewed as I drove my husband to a hospital appointment on New Years Eve 2018. This uplifting and inspirational tale of a couple overcoming adversity in their own unique and moving way did not disappoint.
This is most certainly one of my most recommended books of the year, and I see no reason to stop now. So if you haven’t read it, make some time to add this to your list.
Lowborn – Kerry Hudson
This book should be required reading for every single person who makes any kind of decision that affects social policy or spending in this country. In fact when a new MP is elected or a teacher trained, or social worker employed a copy of this book should be thrust into their hands and they should not be unleashed into the world of work until they have read every single last word.
Breathtaking, accomplished and heartbreaking, all in equal measure.
I am saying no more … just read.
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper – Hallie Rubenhold
If you are looking for a book that retells the grisly details of this famous crime in glorious technicolour, or expounds yet another theory as to the killer’s identity then this book isn’t for you.
However if you want to look beyond the deaths of the women involved and understand the social constraints and poverty they lived in then grab yourself a copy.
Hallie Rubenhold examines the lives of each of the five women, looks in detail at the path their lives took before the murders and crucially and systematically debunks the age old myth that all these women were involved in prostitution. It is a comprehensive and sensitive social commentary, one which has rattled more than one Ripperologists cage. Highly recommended!
Fiction picks …
Everything Under – Daisy Johnson
My second read of 2019 and my first one by this author. And it certainly won’t be the last.
I loved this quirky retelling of the Oedipus myth. Beautiful writing, unique and compelling, it drew me and held me there. Almost a year on and I am still thinking about it.
The Doll Factory – Elizabeth McNeal
This one blew my socks off.
A Victorian setting, clever imagery and consistent themes and best of all a DEBUT novel which invariably means more treats to come.
It was one of my most viewed blogs of the year and should you so wish you can find it here!
The Rapture – Claire McGlasson
This was one of the first books I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of and honestly I couldn’t believe my luck. It was a pleasure to write this review
Based on the true story of an almost exclusively female religious cult based in 1920’s Bedford, I was totally hooked. If you haven’t already discovered the tale of the Panacea Society then you are in for a treat.
Expectation – Anna Hope
I discovered the writing of Anna Hope with the poignant and beautiful Wake several years ago. So I suspected I was in for a treat when I heard about Expectation. I wasn’t disappointed.
A stunning exploration of friendship, expectations and the underlying tensions and secrets, my review is right here
Lanny – Max Porter
Not dressing it up, I blooming loved this one! If I absolutely had to pick one book of this year then Lanny would be it.
When I wrote my review in the summer I was full of hope that this one was heading for the Booker Prize shortlist. Alas it was not to be…I am still recovering…
10 Minutesand 38 Seconds in This Strange World – Elif Shafak
Looking for a book that assaults the senses in the most beautiful and profound way? Then look no further than this.
Everything about this book was stunning from it’s cover, it’s imagery and it’s message of true friendship. Reviewed as part of my Booker Prize reading, this one made the short list.
The Caravaners– Elizabeth von Arnim
This book was such an unexpected find. A most welcome gift from Handheld Press this book is a feminist triumph.
The story of a hapless German Baron and his long suffering second wife on their turn of the Century caravanning holiday made me quite literally howl with laughter. This book has been loaned out so many times since I reviewed it in the Autumn that I have lost count. Easily one of the cleverest and funniest books I have read this year.
Things in Jars – Jess Kidd
I am so late to the party with this one. It’s is the first Jess Kidd I have read … I know!! And I literally finished this hours ago.
Quirky, funny and historical, this book has left me wondering quite why I had taken so long to read it. It might be one of, if not the last read of 2019, but there is no way this wasn’t making the list.
I have The Hoarder on my TBR list and it has just been bumped right up the pile!
Until a few years ago I would announce on a regular basis that I wasn’t a fan of short stories.
Well quite clearly I hadn’t read the right collections because 2019 has been a bit of a bumper year.
Witches Sail in Eggshells By Chloe Turner
Devoured in an afternoon and reviewed almost immediately, this collection of short stories was an absolute treat.
I know I would never have stumbled across and reviewed this book if I hadn’t entered this wonderful world of blogging. Thank you Reflex Press for the chance to get my hands on this stunner. Time for a reread me thinks.
Salt Slow – Julia Armfield
Carrying on the theme of end of year goodies, this collection had been floating around on Twitter for a while, catching my eye with it’s beautiful cover and high praise from impeccable sources.
Adding Salt Slow to my Christmas list was a definite winner. Another collection that took my breath away and inspired an impromptu, unplanned but oh so deserved blog post.
Let’s have a quick chat about Audiobooks. Now up until recently I haven’t been a huge fan. But the combination of AirPods and being thoroughly sick of listening to the news has lead to a relatively recent change of heart.
They are never going to replace the joy of reading a book but I have to admit I have come across some beauties.
If you haven’t already read it then you could do much worse than to listen to The Dutch House By Ann Patchett. A detailed and beautifully told family saga, made all the more intriguing by being read by the wonderful Tom Hanks
And if poetry is your thing then The Lost Words by RobertMacfarlane is truly a thing of beauty.
Authorof the year…
Well, this might be a slightly misleading heading as I suspect that this is too a hard a call to make. But this author has three titles that all crop up on my favourites list this year.
I truly haven’t recovered yet from my disappointment that her deliciously dark novella Ghost Wall didn’t make the Women’s Prize Short List – Sarah Moss was robbed I tell you!
This short but beautifully formed tale of dark family secrets was the catalyst that led me to Bodies of light and Signs for Lost Children, two connected novels set at the turn of the century. They deal with women’s suffrage and the price women paid for what they fought for. They are also a fascinating portrayal of how families both nurture and damage and the developing understanding and treatment of mental health.
Sarah Moss is a gem of an author with so much more for me to discover. I keep promising to blog about her and it’s a promise I will keep in the near future.
And finally… Book of the Decade???
So question has been floating around on various Bookish forums over the past few days.
At first I felt it was an impossible choice and it still might be. It goes without saying that there is no definitive answer, indeed the literary world would be so much poorer if we all agreed.
But for me the book I have read, reread, recommended and bored my entire family senseless about on a regular basis has to be ..,
Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders
From the second I read this novel I was entranced by it’s premise and the originality of the telling. Humour, pathos, history and compassion – this one has the lot.
If you have got this far thanks for reading. Bring on 2020!
Today was marked on the calendar as an official slob day. It involved chocolate, cheese, log burners and books. It did not, however, contain the writing of a book review.
That was until I cracked open the Christmas Stack…
and dived into Salt Slow by Julia Armfield.
This collection of short stories has been on my radar for a while, having earned a well respected and learned following on Bookish Twitter. I suspected I was in for a treat but flipping heck! Off blew my festive socks and then some!
This is one of those rare and beautiful things, a collection of short stories with no weak link. Undoubtedly every reader will have their favourites but I defy anyone to identify a short which falls short of the others.
A debut collection…and a short pause here to say I am still digesting that fact…such an accomplished collection for a debut seems incredible…but it also means more to come…
But, yes, a debut collection it is and one woven together with a number of powerful and gothic themes.
The inside blurb highlights the exploration of bodies, the exploration and boundary pushing portrayal of the human form. In each story the physical and emotional elements of human nature are moulded in a mythical form, each reflecting the other.
Each story depicts the physical within a cloak of magical realism, taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary with twists and turns along the way,
But for this reader the immediate and most compelling theme was that of the power of women. Throughout each story we feel the power of women; women of all ages and sexualities are portrayed, all coming to terms with their own beings and bodies and enhancing the power they possess.
There is a sense within each story of discovery, of women pushing beyond the limitations that the society strives to place upon them. From an ultimate late blooming and sexual awakening found in the dark Mantis, to the modern day Gorgon heroine of Granite, Armfield has created a cast of confident and edgy females, casting off their shackles and radiating a dark and powerful sense of being.
For each reader there will be favourite fable, I am not even going to try and predict yours. I repeat my assertion that this volume is strong from beginning to end, but a girl is allowed a preference and mine lies with the haunting Stop Your Women’s Ears With Wax.
It is the story exploring the collective power of women; a girl band who entrance and entrap their female followers to unprecedented levels of dedication, desire and ultimately violence. Dark and with more than a hint of witchcraft, it breaks taboos and again pushes boundaries.
There is much more to say about this book, so much more to be discovered, but it’s a discovery that needs to savoured.
My hope is that I have opened the door on this mystical world and given you a glimpse of the brilliance inside. If you have time to squeeze in one more read this year, give Salt Slow a go.
During the wonderful and inspiring Manchester Literature Festival in October of this year, I attended a series of wonderful talks and events. On a rainy Sunday morning my closest friend and I embarked upon the Manchester Women’s Walking Tour. A tour dedicated to the City’s Literary Women we started in St Peter’s Square and our first point of call was the recently erected statute of ‘Our Emmeline’; heroine of not only the town but of British Women throughout the Isles.
So when Kelly from Love Books Tours offered me the chance to join the blog tour for First in the Fight By Helen Antrobus and Andrew Simcock I jumped at the chance.
This book tells the story of the Women who shaped the city of Manchester and how Emmeline’s iconic statute came into being.
This beautiful book tells the story of 20 inspirational women, all with links to Manchester and all the orginal 20 longlisted women considered for the Womanchester Statue Campaign. This campaign was established by Labour Councillor Andrew Simcock when the realisation that the only Women’s Statue in Manchester was that of Queen Victoria. The longlisted was reduced to a short list of 6 women, all identifed as having a signicant impact on the development of Manchester. When the list was put to the public vote Emmeline Pankhurst was the outright winner.
So began the three year process of fundraising, commissioning and creating, culminating in the public unveiling of ‘Our Emmeline’ on 14th December 2018, exactly 100 years after women had first voted in a General election. It is a story which forms the heart of this book.
So, a week after another crucial election, it feels right on all levels to review this now.
Alongside the story of Emmeline’s statue, Helen Antrobus, social history curator and historian, weaves the stories of all 20 women, paying tribute to each unique and inspiring personality.
Some I knew; Elizabeth Gaskell, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia and Marie Stopes, but many I did not.
Each story is beautifully told, each a tale to take heart and inspiration from. Take for example Mary Quaile, feminist and trade union activist, fighting for improved Women’s Working Rights. Or Enriqueta Rylands, a Cuban born women who made Manchester her home, married a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist, and spent time and money raising ‘The John Rylands Library’ in her husband’s honour for the good of the city. Or maybe spend time with Olive Shapley, BBC announcer, Women’s Hour Presenter and creator of a safe house for abused women.
Accompanying each story is an equally unique piece of art. The cover is created by Jane Bowyer and each story is illustrated by women who make up the Women in Print Project, more details of which can be found here www.womeninprint.uk
For anyone with love of the great city of Manchester this book is a must, just as it is a unique take on the women who have shaped our world, sometimes against incredible odds. It’s an inspiring and informative collection of personalities, all seeking to remind us of how far we have come, how far we have to go and who we need to be thankful to.
Back when I started blogging in the Spring of this year, Louise Walters was the first publisher to take a chance on a newbie blogger. She responded immediately and graciously to my request to an advanced copy of The Naseby Horses and I could not have been more grateful for that lavender wrapped package when it landed.
Now, many months later I am thrilled to have the privilege of kicking off the blog tour for this unique and atmospheric book.
The immediate appeal of this novel and the reason I sent out my first tentative ARC request was it’s setting. Fenland stories always hit my radar. I am constantly on the lookout for a book that can capture the landscape of my childhood, something that encapsulates the unique sense of space, strange beauty and quite unease found in The Fens.
The Naseby Horses does not disappoint. Aside from the little leap of joy and recognition that sparked inside me when I saw the words ‘Gedney Drove’ in print – I have never seen this familiar spot mentioned in literature before (!) – emersing myself in the prose was like standing in the edge of Fenland field. All unease, beauty and strange possibilities.
This impeccable sense of place is one of the novel’s many strengths and it is indeed crucial to the mounting discord within it. Seventeen year old Simon, the central character, has embraced the landscape. A keen birdwatcher he feels an affinity with the wide skies and fens. The family’s recent move to Glennfield, a remote Fenland village, has been largely prompted by his health. Simon suffers from debilitating and deteriorating epilepsy.
But for his twin sister Charlotte, the move has been a disaster. It has wrenched her away from her natural landscape; the chaos and excitement of London, not to mention friends and boyfriends. Two sides of the same coin, the twins invoke an immediate juxtaposition and their relationship adds another strand of tension to the novel.
Tension is the driving force within this tale. It is apparent from the very beginning; for the story begins with Charlotte’s disappearance. The initial feeling is that she has run back to London, to her old life. But the trouble is Simon may potentially have been the last person to have seen her and his memory has been warped by the fact he suffered a major seizure that evening.
Simon’s illness means that his thought’s and recollections are increasingly disjointed. He is the classic unreliable narrator, guiding the reader through not only the circumstances leading up and immediately after Charlotte’s disappearance but also family and village history.
When Simon is handed information about the local curse of The Naseby Horses, his research leads him to believe that it is the key to unlocking Charlotte’s disappearance and bringing her home safely. However the police and his family are less than convinced, and add in the confusion created by his own deteriorating condition and Simon fears that Charlotte may be lost forever.
Dominic Brownlow has created a tale that cultivates and builds upon its unique setting. There is a feeling of a secrets and a deeply entrenched history that is not easily accessed or shared by outsiders. Not everyone will understand or embrace the story and dark past of the village, in the same way that the beauty of the Fenland landscape is not tangible to all.
Told over a tight time scale, the pain filled and chaotic days following Charlotte’s disappearance, the novel manages to weave a complex web of history and mystery, making the unique landscape more than a setting, almost a character in it’s own right.
About the author…
Dominic Brownlow lives nears Peterborough with his two children. He lived in London and worked in the music industry as a manager before setting up his own independent label. He now enjoys life in The Fens and has an office that looks out over water. The Naseby Horses is his first novel. It was long listed for the Bath Novel Award 2016.
And there is more…
For more reviews and reaction to The Naseby Horses check out the rest of the blog tour below.
Throughout my previous posts I have made no secret of my love for historical fiction. Although I have my favourite periods in time the thrill of acquring new knowledge and making new discoveries never leaves me.
Children of Fire by Paul C W Beatty has certainly ticked all my historical fiction boxes and more. Set in the early Victorian period this is a novel which embraces so many cultural changes and significant historical shifts.
The central character Josiah, is a young man recently recruited to the newly formed Stockport police force. Having grown up as the adopted son of a Methodist Minister, Josiah has strong moral foundations. Foundations which have been rocked by his experiences travelling abroad. When we meet Josiah, he is a man mired in self doubt and guilt, questioning his sense of place and identity.
Joining the newly formed Stockport Police force is a way of attempting to outrun his own demons. However Josiah is not a man confident of his professional abilities, so when he finds himself send to the Furness Vale to quietly investigate links between an explosion in a powder mill and a breakaway religious community, The Children of Fire, he feels out of his depth.
What was supposed to be a low level fact finding mission, with Josiah working undercover, quickly becomes a full scale investigation following the violent and seemingly ritualistic death of the community’s leader Elijah Bradshawe.
Suddenly the links and relationships Josiah has made within the group and the wider community are threatened as he is forced to reveal his true identity and begin to unpick complex motivations and allegiances, both past and present.
Much more than a classic whodunnit, the novel touches upon and embraces many social issues of the day. In a world on the very edge of the Industrial Revolution, poverty and power exist side by side. The author weaves through the story a growing and unsettling feeling of imbalance and rising tensions which will ultimately shape the future of England’s industrial North.
The character development is solid. The flawed hero we see in Josiah provides opportunities for other characters to make there presence and motivations felt within the narrative. It is always pleasing to encounter strong female characters. Within the novel the role of women in the shaping of this part of history is not overlooked, conversely it is crucial.
Children of Fireoffers a unique perspective on a crucial and often dark time in our countries history. Many thanks to Rachel, of Rachel’s Random Resources and of course author Paul Beatty for giving me a chance to read and review.