October Wrap Up – Escaping from the world…

It’s been a strange old October. The world shows no sign of getting any calmer and in general things feel trickier than at any point in the year. My reading, the book community and the friends I have within it seem like a focal and high point in my life at the moment. And I continue to be grateful for that.

In terms of blogging this month there has been the inevitable slowing of posts. I am working on roughly a post a week at the moment; the Autumn return to school necessitates a slow down! But the blog is still alive and kicking!! Just a wee bit slower!

I have been involved in some fantastic bookish events this month. High on this list was the Blog Tour for A More Perfect Union by Tammye Huf. This is a beautiful story of love that transcends barriers but also a study of true freedom and what it costs us.

I was thrilled to be able to take part in the cover reveal for Medusa Retold by Sarah Wallis, published by Fly on the Wall Press next month. I often say I don’t read enough poetry, but this myth interpretation is firmly in my sights.

Talking of November releases please don’t miss the unique and beautifully crafted novel by Catherine Cusset about the genius that is David Hockney! David Hockney – A life is published by Arcadia Books on 12th November.

One of the most beautiful and moving books I have read this year has been published this week by the wonderful BlueMooseBooks. Sharon Duggal’s Should We Fall Behind was a joy from the first sentence to the last; the perfect antidote to the craziness of the world around us. It is out now, and everyone needs a copy in their lives.

As well as new releases this has also been a month of dipping into the TBR pile and getting to those books that have been waiting for too long. I finally got around to polishing off Kate Atkinsons latest Jackson Brodie novel Big Sky, as always a pleasure. I read my first, and definitely not my last (!) Donal Ryan, the haunting All We Shall Know. And I was lost in the beauty that is Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie, the Women’s Prize nominee which deals with one fateful day in a tower block’s history; a day that will change the world forever.

And of course with Hallowe’en upon us October isn’t complete without some haunting reads. Tick off one long delayed visit to The Haunting of Hill House and an often trodden path to Wuthering Heights and spooky reads are accounted for.

I have also spent the last week looking forward. November promises to be a bumper month of reading and new releases. I am lucky enough to be part of four blog tours, all unmissable reads. Look out for the latest release from Caroline Scott. Following on from the wonderful Photographer of the Lost, Caroline returns to WW1 in her latest novel When I come home again. It is looming large in my mind still, and already causing a well deserved Twitter storm after it’s release earlier this week.

Dipping into the magical and the next two blog tour reads are The Thief On The Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas – perfect for fans of The Doll Factory and Once upon a river – and The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. Any story that combines witches and suffragettes gets my vote!!

The final blog tour read ready for next month was the delightful How to belong by Sarah Franklin. Set in the Forest of Dean and populated with a cast of authentic characters this one was an absolute joy. I can’t wait to share my review.

My final book of October was a dip into my pile of 2021 proofs. I am squirrelling away information ready for my Most Anticipated Reads of 2021 blog posts later next month. And my goodness did I start my 2021 reading with a bang! I am still finding the words to describe The Push by Ashley Audrain, but this one is going to be HUGE!!!

So there ends the month of October. I have a few reads on the go which are hanging on in there and will pop in next months round up. Happy reading and stay safe.

Rachel x

May Wrap Up!

May is almost done and it seems my reading speed as picked up! From struggling with my reading mojo at the beginning of lockdown, I now seem to be finding my retreat in books the longer the situation continues.

With the ever more crazy situation in politics and current affairs in general, books seem a safer refuge. Beautiful weather has taken my reading outside, and the world has seemed blissfully far away.

So, what I have I read! Well quite a lot actually, and I have finally begun to get through some of my ‘overlooked’ titles. Books that have been sitting on my shelves for ages. One such book was The Confession by Jessie Burton. Published last year, I was late to the party but it was completely worth the wait. I hadn’t planned to review this one but I was so surprised and delighted by it that I felt I had to.

Another ‘catchup’ book, was The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey. Set at the beginning of World War Two, and with strong female characters, this one was always destined to be a winner for me. My review can be found here.

I also finally got around to reading Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I particularly enjoy the setting of this novel. It was one of those books where you became completely transported and immersed. It brought to mind one of my all time favourite reads To Kill a Mockingbird.

I embarked upon a couple more catch up reads as part of my book club reading. The first was the gentle and delightful Saving Missy by Beth Morrey. I read it and enjoyed it but it really came alive in our book group discussion. So many layers are cleverly woven into this novel, it made for a great Book Club book.

My second book club read of this month was Normal People by Sally Rooney. I have to admit here and now that I have avoided this book for a long time. I know it came out to universal praise, but I was quite reluctant to read it. I had read and not enjoyed Conversations With Friends and this quite simply put me off. I haven’t had my book club discussion on this one yet, so I am playing my cards close to my chest…Watch this space!

This month I also completed my self imposed challenge to read the Women’s Prize Short List . Let’s not kid ourselves, this has been no great hardship. I can honestly say that I have enjoyed each book on the short list this year. I finished my reading with Dominicana by Angie Cruz and Weather by Jenny Offill. I will be watching with interest when the winner is announced on 9th September. I have my favourite, but that is for another time.

Other books I have read and reviewed in May have included some fascinating historical fiction. The witty and observant Chatterton Square by E.H Young was recently re-released by British Library Publishing. Set in the summer of 1938, against the backdrop of appeasement, it is a wonderful commentary on a women’s perspective on marriage.

From 1930’s London to 1700’s Imperial Russia, allow me to present Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten. This was a book I reviewed as part of a blog tour. Filled with opulence and cruelty in equal measure it is the story of Catherine I of Russia and her remarkable rise from peasant to Tsarina. You can fine my review here.

One of my favourite books of the month, both to read and review was the extraordinary Saving Lucia by Anna Vaught. Published earlier this month by Blue Moose Books, this book is the story of four women. All incarcerated within asylums, all infamous , but at the same time all desperately misunderstood and overlooked. This novel is a beautiful reimagining of their stories, offering them freedom through their own voices.

My final review of the month was an Instagram Review of A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet. Focusing on the approaching global emergency that is Climate Change, the author explores what happens when theory becomes reality and how the older generations struggle to adapt to the sudden and necessary changes needed. A powerful warning to all.

The vast majority of my reading this month has been fiction, but there have been two notable and worthy exceptions. Firstly I dabbled in poetry, picking up Matthew Francis’ The Mabinogi. I heard of this retelling of the ancient Welsh epic from not one but two podcasts, Backlisted and Hay Festival Podcast. I have to say, I loved it. Evocative and lyrical it was a unexpected and welcome change.

Secondly, I come to my one nonfiction read of the month Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker. The fascinating, and often heart breaking story of the Galvin family. A fine all American family to the outside world, 6 of their 12 children were diagnosed with schizophrenia. This book examines the realities of life in the Galvin household, and explores how this family helped unwittingly to inform future research in to and treatment of schizophrenia. Thank you to Amanda @BookishChat for putting this one on my radar.

Finally I come to what I am thinking of as ‘Treats yet to come.’ These are the books that I have read this month that either have reviews pending or are yet to be published. And there are some crackers!

I am so excited to currently be working on my review of Summerwater by Sarah Moss. Sarah Moss is a genius in my eyes, and Summerwater is just a delight. This review is taking an age to write, as I am determined to do the book justice. Due out in August of this year, it is not to be missed.

A couple of books that I have reviews written for and ready to share in the next week or so are Walter & Florence and other stories by Susan Hill and The Light Keeper by Cole Moreton. Neither of these books were on my radar at the beginning of the month and both have been a delight. Watch out for the reviews!

And finally we come to What Doesn’t Kill You – Fifteen Stories of Survival. A collection of moving and deeply personal accounts of individual experiences of surviving mental ill health. It is my pleasure to be part of the blog tour beginning early next month, organised by Anne Cater, which celebrates this very important book.

So, all in all a very busy reading month. I think it is far to say that what is getting me through lockdown are family, ice cream and books!! Bring on June!

Rachel x

It’s Women’s Prize Short List week!!

Just that really! On Tuesday of this week the Short List for the 25th Women’s Prize for fiction will be announced.

The Long List this year is :

  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
  • Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz
  • Actress by Anne Enright
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie
  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
  • How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Led
  • The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
  • The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
  • Girl by Edna O’ Brien
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell
  • Weather by Jenny Offill
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
  • Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Every year I set a completely unrealistic goal of reading each book before the Short List is announced and every year I fail spectacularly. I always forget how many other brilliant books I want to read that aren’t on the list!

This year out of 16 books I have managed 6. In fairness one was 900 pages long, so could actually count as 3 books! And I have 6 more waiting on my shelves.

But I can’t let Women’s Prize Short List week go by without marking it in some way, so I bring you my thoughts on those I have read.

Red at the Bone – Jacqueline Woodson

I thought this was an incredible book. It was short and I read it quickly. Probably too quickly. I am convinced that it is one of books that you need to reread to pick up all the inferences and cleverness you missed first time around.

It is an inter generational novel, set in NYC, chronically the changing fortunes of one black family. It had a time frame that reaches as far back as 1920’s, detailing the Tulsa Massacre and encompasses the 9/11 tragedy.

For a book with relatively few pages it paints a detailed picture of a family beautifully and effectively. I love a long book, but I also really appreciate a book that uses words sparingly and makes every paragraph count. This is one of those rare books.

Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams

This one was a Christmas gift. I had heard lots of good things and was intrigued.

Set in London this is the story of Queenie, a young black woman whose life is spinning out of control. There is so much humour, love and life in this book.

And there is also darkness and pain.

It is a book that creeps up on you. At the beginning it seems light, easy to read, unassuming, but as the story develops it becomes clear that this a skilled exploration of mental struggles and the journey back to health. It is about how our past shapes us, can scar us but how sometimes the support we need can be found where we least expect it .

Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo

Twelve black women of Britain, all different ages, all with a different story to tell.

This book is a collection of perspectives and experiences bringing seemingly separate stories together; all cleverly intertwined through the characters within their tales.

When I heard about this volume I wondered if I would find it disjointed and disconnected. Nothing was further from the truth.

It is a glorious melting pot of sexuality, gender, politics and family identify. A triumphant representation of Black Women in Britain today.

I adored this book. It is going on the forever shelf.

The Dutch House – Ann Patchett

I might as well come clean now and say I am a huge fan of Ann Patchett. Her novel Commonwealth has stayed with me for a long time, so I had high hopes for this one.

Again, in the interest of transparency I think it is only fair that I admit that I listened to this book. With Tom Hanks narrating it was likely to be a winner, but it was so much more than that.

The story of Maeve and Danny, growing up in The Dutch House in the suburb of Elkins Park, Philadelphia. When their Father remarries, they find themselves increasingly isolated.

It is a story that spans five decades, told in detail, a beautiful portrait of siblings tied together through hope and adversity. In their lives the unique and beautiful house in which they spent their formative years becomes a symbol and a focal point.

This is a story that is told with the attention to detail and the understanding of family dynamics which is Ann Patchett’s own particular strength. It is a joy.

The Mirror and The Light – Hilary Mantel

This needs very little, if any introduction from me. The third book in her epic Trilogy documenting the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, it is quite simply a masterpiece.

At over 900 pages it is a challenging read, but in all the right ways. A host of complex and vivid characters, each vividly painted and woven into the novel seamlessly.

The historical research and accuracy of this novel is quite simply staggering. But for all that attention to detail, nothing of the emotion of the situation is lost. Quite simply this novel broke my heart. Being a Tudor geek I knew in glorious technicolour what Cromwell’s end would be. But Mantel had me believing that we could rewrite the story, she summed in me a hope that was cruelly dashed.

Simply brilliant.

And have producing one volume of this brilliance seems impossible, to have produced three is staggering.

It is hard to believe that this won’t win awards. Possibly it will follow it’s predecessors and claim the Booker, completely the Triple. Will it win the Woman’s Prize ? Who knows, but I will be amazed if it isn’t on the Short List.

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell

And finally we come to Hamnet.

I am not sure where to start with this book. It may not be the 900 pages of The Mirror and The Light. But it is a little drop of perfection.

I love Maggie O’Farrell’s writing. I find her one of the most skilled and versatile contemporary authors whose work I have read. Hamnet is, I feel, her masterpiece.

The fictional account of Shakespeare’s son’s short life and death and the love of a mother, skilled in healing but unable to protect him. It is also a testament to the love between parent and child and how loss shapes our lives.

The characters of this novel, burst off the page. For example Agnes, his wife, individual, strong and devoted; looking into the future with her curious gift of sight, facing down demons and healing the sick. Agnes is a creation of such skill and empathy that it is hard to see another novel being able to topple this from my read of the year so far.

I am going to put my neck on the line and say I would love this to win the Women’s Prize. And I will throw quite an unseemly tantrum if it isn’t shortlisted!

And what of the rest…?

In addition to the six books I have read I have another six waiting for me on my shelves.

I am particularly excited by Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. The publication of this novel as, due to ‘current circumstances’ been delayed. I am scheduled to be on the blog tour for this one later in the year and have a gifted copy waiting for me. For which, I am as always very grateful.

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo is another one waiting in the wings. After seeing it described on Twitter as a cross between The Cazalet Chronicles and Little Woman, I knew I had to have it. Seriously hoping it lives up to that label!!

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes has been sitting on the book trolley for a while and I am pretty sure that is where I am heading next. Circe, The Song of Achilles and The Silence of the Girls have all been winners for me in the last couple of years; I quite fancy losing myself in Ancient Greece again for a bit.

And finally, Girl by Edna O’ Brien, Actress by Anne Enright, and How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Led have all been waiting for me while. Plenty to be getting on with as always, and plans might well change when the short list is published !

So, a couple of predictions from me, but I haven’t read nearly enough of these stunners to predict the whole short list. I will be watching and waiting with anticipation, and as always really interested to hear your thoughts.

Rachel x

Yet another Women’s Prize Short List reaction! Don’t all cheer at once!

So it’s Monday night and I am blogging after a day at work, ending with a full staff meeting. What could possibly go wrong? Currently typing this whilst cooking meatballs, feeding dogs and trying not to forget that tomorrow is bin day! So, disclaimer; don’t expect Chaucer! I am going for coherent!

Why am I risking ruining any credibility I might have build up in the 2 weeks or so I have been blogging?? Because the WOMEN’S PRIZE SHORTLIST has been announced and if I can’t drag my weary carcass to a computer on that occasion I might as well give up this book blogging lark.

Less rambling, more book chat. Lets start with…

What would my list have been…

Time to come clean now, I only got around to reading 7 from the 16 longlisted books. In my usual way I got distracted by other lovely shiny books. Also, in my defence, and this is genuinely an important point, literary prize lists are just the tip of the iceberg. So many backlisted, new, undiscovered authors out there, you have to mix up it a little.

Anyway, I digress. I did warn you blogging on a Monday night would be a bit of a risk.

So, having read only 7 books, my preferred short list that I posted on Twitter (@bookbound2019 blog) and Instagram (@bookbound2019) only had 5 books.

And they were…

  • The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker
  • My Sister the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • Circe – Madeline Miller
  • Ghost Wall – Sarah Moss
  • Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn

The actual Short List was…

Thoughts on what’s there…

  • American Marriage – Tayari Jones – Having not read this one I obviously can’t add too much, beyond saying it is on my TBR list. It has also gained a lot of praise from other book bloggers and vloggers, whose opinions I respect and often reflect my own. Excited to get to this one . (If I ever finish A Little Life!)
  • Ordinary People – Diana Evans – Again another ‘no read’, pretty hopeless so far. But again lots of love for this so watch this space!!!
  • Milkman – Anna Burns – One I have read. Finally I hear you cry! (If you have even got this far!!) This was of course the Man Booker Prize Winner last year. I mentioned in my early blog about the Prize that I found this a difficult read. I read it when I was really busy and I found it hard to connect with the style. So it wasn’t on my personal short list. But it is no surprise that a ManBooker Winner and such an innovative novel would make the short list. I actually think this one was a given.
  • Circe – Madeline Miller I am thrilled that this one is here. This bold and empowering retelling of the myth of Circe is as beautiful and tantalising as it’s gorgeous cover. If you haven’t read this one please do. It is so refreshing and gives new depth and perspective to a classic tale.
  • The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker In all honesty I didn’t think that two re-imaginings of Ancient Greek literature would make it to the short list but, on this occasion, I am absolutely delighted to be wrong. In a similar vein to Circe this book takes a well known story and gives it new and very real credence by using the female perspective. Gritty and honest in true Pat Barker fashion, this absolutely deserves it place on the short list.
  • My Sister the Serial killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite Of those on the list this is definitely my stand out. Having reviewed it just days ago, there seems little point in waxing lyrical about it again here. All I will say is that Braithwaite is a master wordsmith who uses her tools sparingly but with a precise and dark beauty. This is the one from the list that has stuck with me, and it is the one that I am recommending to any poor fool who will talk to me about all things books.

Thoughts about those that didn’t make it…

In terms of those that didn’t make the list I think I am most disappointed about Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. I really love this author’s work and for a novella Ghost Wall was so multi layered. I am still thinking about it months later. Bonus points for being set in my go to happy place, wild and beautiful Nothumberland.

Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn was a recent read for me. Pretty sure this is my first taste of Flash Fiction and it really packed a punch. Another little book filled to the brim with life and so much to discuss. The setting of Romania behind the Iron Curtain and everything that entails was absolutely fascinating. I don’t think this is the last time this author will be around a list such as this.

Finally I must say something about Normal People – Sally Rooney. Just about everywhere I go people are raving about this book and there is so much admiration for her work in general. I am going to out myself here and say I breathed a small sign of relief when this wasn’t on the short list. Rightly or wrongly I always try and read at least the short list and…

…I didn’t like Conversations with Friends, her first novel. I am well aware that I am in a small and, probably, shrinking minority, however there it is. I can quite see what people admire about her skill as a writer but I found the characters so intensely irritating that I couldn’t move beyond that. I don’t mind an annoying character but this felt overloaded with self absorbed people living vacuous lives. More than that I didn’t like the way I felt when I was reading the book. For someone who likes to think that I am pretty easy going, I felt old and judgemental and staid.

Having said all of this I am quite a nosy article and hate to think I am missing out so who knows. Feel free to convince me…

So what’s next? My new Women’s Prize reading plans.

Well in reality they aren’t all that different to the ones I published last month. I have read three from the list in my earlier blog post

  • My Sister the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luisella (More of that in a later blog post)
  • Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn

I will definitely be reading Remembered – Yvonne Battle-Felton. Heard so much good stuff about this and it’s themes have been really prevalent in lots of my reading over the past couple of years. May have just ordered this online today…possibly…maybe.

And of course I will be reading the remaining two novels on the Short List – Ordinary People and An American Marriage. No doubt I will be blogging about them in due course.

So, from a sunny Cumbrian Monday evening, I hope you have made at least something of my barely coherent ramblings. Off to throw ‘beans-on-toast’ down my neck and start up Mum’s taxi!

Always want to hear your thoughts, so please comment below or get in touch via Twitter or Instagram.

Happy Short List Day!