Just this week a group of friends and I were discussing the reason we read. Since then it has occurred to me that my answer was missing one vital element. I read because I am nosey. I want to know what it is that makes people tick, what is behind the decisions they make. In short I want to know their secrets.
So being given the chance to read and review Dreaming of Rose : A Biographer ‘s Journal by Sarah LeFanu was an absolute gift. A gift of a chance to see into the lives and minds of not just one great writer but two!
In 2003 Sarah LaFanu published her biography of 20th Century author Rose Macaulay. During the period of her research and writing thoughts of Rose, unsurprisingly came to inhabit her head and somewhat overtake her life. First published in 2013 Dreaming of Rose is the story of what it took to create such an accomplished biography and the trial LeFau went through to get there.
This is a glimpse of one writer trying to pin another to the page. Through the pages of Sarah LeFanu’s journal we are able to both witness and share in the triumphs and despair born of hours of research. The frustrations of contacts who seem willing to talk but then mysteriously clam up and the difficulties of prizing fact from fiction, a little more each day.
Throughout this time, when money is tight and work on the biography is somehow fitted in between writing for the BBC and teaching, Sarah is determined to find and represent the true Rose. However frustrating and difficult that maybe.
The journal is a window on her world, a fascinating insight into how a book morphs into being. Of the process and the doubts, of agonies around structure and tone and the sweet joy when something sits just right.
This book has so much to say on so many levels. It’s is testament to the work ethic, creativity and determination of two great female writers, and my heartfelt thanks to Handheld Press for sending a gifted copy my way.
Before I get started on my response to this incredible book, let me thank Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for bringing it to my attention and inviting me to take part. small: on motherhoods by Claire Lynch was published on 24th June by Octopus Books.
small is the story of motherhood, of a very personal journey to become a mother, to find a space to be a mother and to be recognised as such. For Claire Lynch and her wife Beth becoming parents was a difficult path, one fraught with difficulties. Some familiar to all, some specific to just a few but all equally unique to this small family as it struggles to grow.
This book is an honest reflection on the realities and emotions that made up the journey of queer motherhood. The heart wrenching and physical demands of the IVF process and the difficult decisions and acceptances that they both need to make are just the beginning of the story.
In poetic and rolling prose Claire details the highs and lows of loss and hope, of lives that began too early but grow into big adventures. Of trying to build lives and love in a system that seems to only recognise one mother, whilst coming to terms with the all encompassing love and devastating change that only children can bring.
I am reluctant to call this post a review. There is so much raw honesty and carefully curated, intimate detail within these pages that it feels wrong to do any more than hold the words lightly and feel immensely privileged to have even a the smallest glimpse into a very personal and beautiful experience.
The title of this book may be small but there nothing diminutive about the feelings and experiences that are documented here. Without being intrusive Claire Lynch expresses her experience and depth of feeling in the most authentic and beautiful way. This book is a testament to truth, to hope , life and love.
Thank you for allowing me to share.
About the Author …
Claire Lynch works as a university lecturer and is author of two academic books and numerous scholarly articles and chapters. Small is her first book for a general audience. Claire’s Four Thought talk ‘The Other Mother’ was first broadcast on BBC Radio Four in 2020 and her first piece of narrative non-fiction took second place in the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize in 2017. She was a shortlisted writer for the Penguin Random House WriteNow scheme in 2018 and a longlisted writer for the Hinterland non-fiction Prize in 2019. small is her first book for a general audience.
And there is more…
For more reviews and reactions to small check out the rest of the blog tour below..
Life at the moment in our household feels a bit crazy. There has been work stuff, exam stuff, self isolation stuff. A whole lot of stuff going on!
I have been reading to escape the world and I seem to have accumulated quite a backlog of reviews. I have read some cracking stuff recently and so I don’t want to miss anything out when time is short so…
I though I would have a go at my first Triple Decker Review!
Which is a fancy way of saying ‘three reviews’ in one blog post!
The three books in question are all different in subject matter but definitely all have some deliciously dark themes and over tones.
So, first up is Come Closer by Sara Gran. First published in 2003, it became a cult classic and was rereleased in the UK by Faber and Faber on 1st July this year. Huge thanks to Josh Smith for my review copy.
It is easy to see why this book became a classic. From the off you are grabbed by the throat and pulled into the world of Amanda and the strange things that are happening to her. Married, with a good job and a busy life, Amanda suddenly finds herself plagued by a strange tapping in her apartment. But this is just the beginning…
Amanda herself begins to change. The way she dresses, the choices she makes, the thoughts she has and the things she says.; they all begin to morph into something quite removed from her original character. It seems that Amanda may have been possessed.
This novel is short, dark and terrifying. It’s like a ride that you can’t get off and the horror film you can’t look away from. It leaves you with a hundred questions and the answers are not as obvious as they seem. Devoured in 24 hours, I loved it!
Next up, The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson. Thanks you Jordon Taylor-Jones at Dead Ink for sending me a copy.
Continuing the theme of dark, let’s step into the dystopian world so skilfully created within this book. Where AI robots are embedded into society and divides between those who are born and those who are created have begun to threaten stability and peace.
Our narrator is Sylv.ie, a humanoid pleasure doll, created to serve her husband and her husband alone. But Sylv.ie’s systems are advanced and complex and the lines between human and machine are already becoming blurred. When Sylv.ie over steps the line in her home she find she has no choice but to leave. And a whole new world is revealed.
This is a complex and fascinating read which raises a whole host of questions. Questions that range from what makes us human, to considerations about the future of AI and the ethics around it’s use in society. This is one that will provoke any number of discussions and deserves to become both a feminist and dystopian classic.
And finally, continuing the dystopian theme let me intro you to AccidentalFlowers by Lily Peters. A novel written in a series of short stories, it was published last month the wonderful Arachne Press. I jumped at the chance when offered a copy by Sara Aspinall and I am so glad I did.
Set in the near future this is book with a heavy emphasis on the impact of Climate Change. Told in four sections the author begins with the subtle but deadly changes that occur in the UK environment , moving onto what the world looks like after the sea levels have risen and the rains have fallen.
This is a world of displaced people, where only a chosen few are safe, living in the great towers that dominate the skyline. Places in The Towers are awarded both by perceived usefulness and lottery, but life within them is strange and run by a series of complex rules.
It is world where those living outside the Towers are forced to scavenge and loot and the time before is but a distant and devastating memory.
This novel is a warning. It is filled with fragments of lives torn apart and people displaced, trying to come to terms with a reality they refused to believe in and ignored for too long. It’s familiar North East setting makes it all the more relatable and unsettling, forcing the reader to think the unthinkable.
It is a powerful collection of humanity and prose. Possibly not an easy read but I would say essential.
So there ends my first Triple Decker! Huge thanks to all the authors, publishers and publicists who have kindly shared their work with me. I am forever grateful.
I read a fair amount of nonfiction, but what I read varies enormously in both style and content. I always find it hard to pin down what draws me to a nonfiction title, but if pressed for an answer I think I would say I need to encounter honesty and truth.
Both of these qualities are found in painful abundance in this beautiful book. Will this house last forever? is a very personal examination of love, family relationships and ultimately grief. It examines the death of Xanthi Barker’s father, the poet Sebastian Barker. And it tries to come to terms with the complexities and intricacies of their love, relationship and the depth and confusing grief Xanthi feels after her Father’s untimely death.
Xanthi was just a baby when her Father left her and her older brother, walking away from his family to concentrate on his writing and another relationship. For all of her life Xanthi seemed to be seeking the father she barely knew. His presence was confined to holidays where the usual rules did not apply and the boundaries between parent and child were sketchy and blurred.
During his sudden but devastating illness Xanthi tried her hardest to understand her Father, his work and motivations; and to cling on to her hope that in some way she could heal their relationship and in the process make herself whole.
This is a book filled with the honesty and inevitable pain of grief and discovery. Of coming to terms with the process of having to let go, when letting go seems impossible. And of making peace with the ghosts of the past even if you don’t really understand who they are and where they have been.
Throughout the prose the rawness of emotion, emotion of all kinds, is constantly apparent. At times the words are like a gentle balm, lulling both reader and writer into acceptance. At times they are like razor blades dragging mercilessly over the surface of old and hidden wounds.
This book is a work of beauty, a brave treaty on personal grief and individual acceptance and understanding. It is a book that will linger long.
This week sees the long anticipated publication of Animal by Lisa Taddeo, by Bloomsbury. It follows the success of her 2019 release Three Women; a work of nonfiction that detailed and examined the sexual and emotional lives of three women living in the USA. Three Women was a book filled with insight, hard truths and untapped emotion.
In many ways Animal has many of the same qualities. The biting intelligence and sense of raw perspective is present throughout this novel, as is the unguarded examination of a women’s sexual and emotional choices. But nothing you have read before will quite prepare you for meeting Joan.
The novel opens in New York City, and the suicide of a lover. It is bloody, brutal and public. One lover shoots himself in front of Joan and her other lover. So the scene is set.
Both Joan and the story move painfully and at pace, trying to escape the horrors of the immediate and distant past. Final destination: California. And while Joan is running away from the past, she is also running towards it. Heading to meet the shadowy Alice.
Here among the dust, the heat and crucially the circling coyotes, Joan starts anew. But life it seems is finally catching up with her. From the outset we are aware that Joan’s life is unorthodox, unstable and filled with trauma. Her parents loom large in her life. Both died when she was young and the manner of her death stalks her lived experience. It is never far from the decisions she makes.
Joan’s life is marked by her relationships. Her sexual relationships with men, in which she seeks both comfort and revenge, and which ultimately leave her hollow. Her relationships with women are complex and often filled with regret. All roads seem to lead back to her parents. It’s a truth that could seem clinched. But it never does. It feels honest, brutal and ultimately real.
Joan is our narrator, our guide and she leads us over some pretty bleak terrain. She is often hard to trust, hard to like and at times abandoning yourself to her damaged hands can feel terrifying. The scent of blood lingers on Joan, growing stronger as the story unfolds. And like the coyotes, the past is moving in.
This is a novel where the boundaries are blurred. It’s is a landscape filled with sharp edges and sudden drops. You aren’t meant to to feel comfortable here. You are meant to feel alive, you are meant to be in your guard.
It is a novel that is alive with the effects of trauma, it bubbles and boils with pain and the ways we deal with disturbing and life altering events. Sex in this both is complex and ever present. Sometimes a security blanket, some times a weapon and more often than not a punishment.
Animal is unforgettable. It is raw, it is dark and it is not for the faint hearted. I wanted to devour this novel, but the story itself had other ideas. It is a tale too rich, too spicy to be rushed. You need to take it in steady gulps and let each one digest.
I begin this review with an apology. I read this book a couple of weeks ago, and I really wanted to get a review up for it’s publication date which was 10th June. However this proved to be one of those books where the reading experience continued long after I had turned the final page. It was a book that I needed time to consider, a book that just needed to ‘sit awhile’.
Lives Like Mine tells the contemporary story of Monica. Married to Dan, with three children, she is a stay at home mum. Monica is of dual heritage and her husband is white.
Her in-laws are ever present in her life. She finds solidarity and support in her sister-in-law Nancy, but she is very much the exception. There might be a veneer of acceptance as far as Monica is concerned but Dan’s family are racist to the core. And the mask of tolerance slips again and again.
Monica has spent years shaping herself into something she’s not. Denying her heritage, her identify, her very being and trying to fit in, trying to keep the peace, trying to maintain family harmony for the sake of her children. But the support from her husband Dan is weak at best and he repeatedly fails to challenge the embedded attitudes of his family.
Add in the fact that Monica is estranged from her own parents, still coming to terms with the events of her youth that drove them apart, then by the time we meet her Monica is desperate for change. And it is at this point Joe enters her life.
A simple connection on a school trip soon develops into something more and their relationship is both a catalyst for change and a mirror in which Monica sees just how conflicted and at odds with herself her life has become.
Eva Verde has created a story that is powerful, painful and wholly believable. Themes of love, loss and cultural identity are woven together, held in place by strong multilayered characters and contemporary events. There is a genuine exploration of the motivations and experiences of each character, even those whose views are very hard to tolerate. No one is perfect, and everyone is flawed. And the book is all the better for that.
The story happens in real time, with a relatively compact timeline, a normal few months in the life of a family. But the exploration and unpicking of attitudes, events and feelings goes far beyond this. Eva Verde explores with sensitivity, wit and searing honesty the impact of generations on today’s lived experience.
This was a book that provoked every emotion. It made me gasp with shock and anger, it made me laugh and it made me cry. Beautifully written from a place of honesty and reflection, this one is a keeper.
There are some blog tours I will always jump at the chance of being on, pretty much setting the keyboard on fire with the speed of my response. And when the new Stacey Halls lands in your inbox this exactly one of those times!
Welcome then to my stop on the blog tour for Mrs England, published today, 10th June, by Manilla Press. Huge thanks to Tracey Fenton at Compulsive Readers for my blog tour invite and Francesca Russell and Eleanor Stammeijer for my gifted copy.
It is 1904 and Ruby May is a children’s nurse. Recently graduated from the prestigious Norland Institute Ruby is a poor girl made good. Dedicated, skilled and hard working Ruby loves her job and wants the best for the children in her care. But when an unforeseen circumstance forced her to take a position in a remote Yorkshire village Ruby wonders if she has bitten off more than she can chew. Four children of different ages and the isolated position of Hardcastle House make this situation seem daunting and unfamiliar. Little does Ruby know that these are the easier ingredients of her new life.
The marriage of her new unemployed Mr and Mrs England is immediately unusual. Having married into his wife’s large and wealthy mill owning family, Charles England is undeniably in charge. The household, including the nursery is under his control, while Lilian England is nervous and often absent.
As time passes and Ruby becomes more established in her role the cracks in the household begin to show and she is left wondering just what does form the basis of the upper class family and Edwardian marriage. And when things take a darker turn Ruby’s own past threatens to overwhelm her.
From beginning to end this a story of depth and complexity. Stacey Halls’ writing is a masterclass in perfect plotting and building of tension. Each chapter, indeed each sentence reveals just enough, no more, no less, to keep you reading, to keep you guessing. To keep you wanting more.
This is a gripping tale, immersive and created with intelligent attention to detail. The social standing of the Edwardian up class family is explored and laid bare. The veneer of perfection is carefully dismantled to show the secrets that might just lurk beneath. Add in to the mix Ruby May’s own unique story and the scene is set for a groundbreaking and unexpected tale.
If you are looking for spellbinding historical fiction, then this could be right up your alley. Stacey Halls strikes again!
And there is more…
For more reviews and reactions to Mrs England check out the rest of the blog tour below…
This book has been creating a buzz on Twitter for several months now. It’s author Louise Beech is always generous in the way she shares her creative process and everything she and publisher Orenda Books were saying about this story interested and intrigued me.
As an SEND practitioner the premise of this book had me hooked. Books that portray characters with autism are few and far between, and it’s fair to say that some are more successful than others. So I was waiting with baited breath to see how Louise would rise to this particular and unique challenge. It’s fair to say I wasn’t disappointed.
Right at the heart of this book is Sebastian. Sebastian is 20 years old, lives with his Mum Veronica in Hull. He likes eggs, swimming and Billy Ocean. Sebastian is autistic and like most young men of his age Sebastian is interested in sex.
His Mum Veronica loves her son, and is broken hearted that he is lonely, confused and frustrated. Desperate to find a way to help her son she begins to consider paying to give him the experiences he desperately wants.
Isabelle is lost. Working as an escort under the name of Violetta, she is struggling to pay her father’s medical bills and keep up with her nursing degree.
When the paths of all three characters cross some solutions are found but lives are changed forever. Decisions that are made with the best of intentions begin to take on a life of their own with far reaching and unforeseen consequences.
Within this story Louise Beech tackles a complex and little discussed issue head on. She acknowledges and explores what society to often chooses to ignore; that young people and adults who are neurodivergent still want and need to engage in healthy sexual relationships. They still have thoughts, feelings, wants and desires just like the rest of this crazy world. And the challenges they face around understanding social constraints and boundaries, including issues of consent, need thought, discussion and appropriate support. Not to be ignored or worse condemned.
With skill and compassion Louise has created a cast of three dimensional, sympathetic and beautifully flawed human beings. No one is perfect but everyone is striving to stay one step ahead of the game. Autism might be at the centre of this novel but it is human nature that gives this story it’s beating heart.
The qualities I admire in fiction are vast but variety and pin point accuracy are pretty high on my list. Over the past few months I have increasingly been scratching these particular literary itches by devouring flash and micro fiction. In all it’s many forms !
My introduction to flash fiction proper was somewhat delayed, but finally came in the form of Laura Besley’s wonderful book, The Almost Mothers. My reading was delayed due to my own tardiness and the fact my teenage daughter pounced on the book the minute it was delivered to our lockdown abode!
But when I finally got my hands on the collection I was just blown away. And so when Saira Aspinall from Arachne Press approached me to ask if I would like to be part of the blog tour for Laura’s latest collection 100neHundred I nearly bit her hand off!
100neHundred is a collection of 100 pieces of the best not just flash, but micro fiction, all exactly 100 words long. The stories are divided equally into ‘seasons’, each season filled with colour, emotion and gloriously diverse subject matter. Each piece of writing is a pearl, unique and unexpected all woven together by a ribbon of ingenuity and skill.
Laura has created beautiful snapshots, each one alive with precision and emotion. Each story excels in it’s originality, each one a complete tale, each carefully crafted without a word to spare. The skill of creating an engaging story, alive with meaning, that both fulfils and leaves the reader wanting more is something to be admired. To be able to produce a series of these stories, is nothing short of mind blowing!
This collection is diverse and genre defying. It is as book filled with every kind of emotion. It will make you laugh, make you smile and sometimes make you cry. Laura is a master of commanding few words for maximum impact. From the thoughts of a grieving mother, to realms of outer space, this volume becomes a beautiful, engaging and colourful journey.
It is one I recommend you take.
And as a special treat…
It is my pleasure and absolute privilege to be able share one of Laura’s stories with you here. A special shout out for publication day!
Death in Suburbia
Nice neighbourhood, I think, driving down the quiet morning streets.
My partner opens the door. ‘No blood, no murder weapon. Wife’s in the kitchen. Completely distraught.’
‘Morning to you too.’
The husband is slumped in a chair, dead.
‘Any sign of forced entry.’
‘Overdose on alcohol, pills?’
‘Wife said he was clean living.’
I take a closer look and notice a piece of paper in his shirt pocket. I slip on some gloves and carefully prise it out.
Stop contacting me, Dad. It’s too little, too late.
‘Get the pathologist to check his heart,’ I say.
‘It’s probably broken.’
Page 49 – 100neHundred by Laura Besley.
And there is more…
For more reviews and reactions, check out the rest of the Blog Tour below…
Leonard and Hungry Paul is a book whose brilliance and reputation has spread like well deserved wildfire. It is a book with empathy and humanity at it’s heart. And quite possibly a tough act to follow.
So when Bluemoose Books announced the publication of Ronan Hession’s next novel Panenka, I for one was both thrilled and intrigued. Huge thanks as always go to Kevin at Bluemoose for my gifted copy.
A couple of weekends ago, I settled down and dived in. And resurfaced just about 24 hours later. It took less that two pages for me to be completely hooked.
Panenka is the story of a life. Of a man shaped and defined by a moment in time. A moment that changes not just his outlook, his family but even his name. For the footballing moment that turned Joseph to Panenka is embedded not just in his DNA but the fabric of the community he remains within.
When we join Panenka’s story he is middle aged, his life is tainted by the past but there are shoots of hope in the form of his newly nurtured relationship with his daughter, Marie -Therese and his beloved grandson Arthur. But Panenka is keeping a secret and it is a secret that threatens to bring down everything he holds dear.
A chance encounter with a newcomer to the town Esther gives Panenka the chance to momentarily leave his past behind. When he is with Esther he can become Joseph again, move through the streets he knows well but look around with fresh eyes. Esther allows him to step outside the events that have come so long to define him and begin to contemplate what is next in this uncertain world.
And while Panenka’s story is at the centre of this novel it is far from the only life on show here. For the true magic of this tale lies within the characters that populate it. Their motivations, their decisions, their complexities and their charm are all tangible. They move gently on your mind and form a community of personalities that bring the novel to life. Each character has made decisions that define them, each clings to things that make them whole, while at the same time wondering if life has more to offer. Each character has a backstory, a time and space within which they exist. Ronan Hession is the master at allowing all his characters, however small they might appear, space and time to breathe.
Panenka has just as much heart and soul as Leonard and Hungry Paul. The tone and message are undeniably different, and this novel has a quiet melancholy that runs throughout. But at the heart of both books is the spirit of humanity, the celebration of what makes each of us tick and the things that drive us forwards each day.