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

Blog Tour Review: Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten

I seem to say this a lot…but I do love historical fiction. I love the places it takes me, it’s ability to transport me away from the daily reality and deposit you somewhere entirely different.

So I always have my eye out for new historical fiction and find it very hard to resist signing up for blog tours when the past is on the cards. When Anne Cater offered me the chance to get on board with Ellen Alpsten’s debut novel Tsarina, published by Bloomsbury, I didn’t even try to resist; I jumped at the chance.

Tsarina begins in 1699. On the cusp of a new century, Russia is in the grip of the Great Northern War. Led by Tsar Peter I, the country is under going a transformation. Peter is well travelled, ambitious and ruthless. His desire to modernise and transform his domains is all consuming, and he will stop at nothing to achieve the Westernised Russia he craves.

Rewards for loyalty and bravery are lavish, but punishment for deception , perceived or otherwise, are brutal in the extreme. The chasm between rich and poor gaps. It is both an exciting and terrifying time to be alive.

As Peter wages war throughout the Baltic, Marta, an illegitimate peasant girl is sold by her family aged just fifteen. Finding herself miles from home and surrounded by brutally, she fears the worse when fate leads her to a Russian battle camp. Here she catches the eye of Peter himself and so begins her spectacular rise to power.

Peter is brutal, but he is also brilliant and charismatic. There is an immediate connection between Marta and himself. She is thrown into the world of excess and riches, becoming Peter’s mistress, living openly with him at court. Showered with material pleasures, Marta is all too aware that her existence hangs continually in the balance. She needs to provide Peter with a true heir, and she needs to maintain his interest in a court full of attractive and ruthless women.

This is a true rags to riches story; the story of how a peasant girl became a Tsarina; the infamous Catherine I of Russia, ultimately a ruler in her own right.

I devoured this book! There is a richness and vitality to the writing that mirrors the turbulent opulence contained within it’s pages. Alpsten is master of the detail. Her ability to transport me from lockdown Britain to 18th Century Russia, never failed to amaze or delight me.

This is one of those novels you get hopelessly lost in, immediately immersed in the prose. Historical fiction fans will undoubtedly love it, but anyone who is looking for a breathtaking story spectacularly told need look no further.

The story of Catherine I has everything, and the writing wrapped around it here gives it that little bit more. I guarantee that once you pick up Tsarina, you won’t be able to put it down.

Ellen Alpsten has created something infused with magic.If you love historical fiction …this one is a feast for the senses and the soul! Enjoy the ride!

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reactions and reviews check out the rest of the Tsarina Blog Tour …

Blog Tour Review: I Am Dust by Louise Beech

It is my absolute pleasure today to be taking my turn reviewing I Am Dust by Louise Beech. Huge thanks go to Louise, Anne Cater and Orenda Books for inviting me along to celebrate this truly unique novel.

The novel spans two time frames, both encompassing the central character Chloe. In the earliest timeframe, Summer 2005, we met Chloe as a teenager. In love with her best friend Jess and involved in the local youth theatre production of Macbeth, she is wrapped up in those heady days of summer.

However when Ryan, Jess’ ‘on/off’ boyfriend suggests dabbling with a Ouija board events take a much darker turn. All three teenagers are talented, all three are looking for bigger and better things, but which one of them has the power to command the game they have begun? And what will the consequences be?

For there are consequences, even if they are not feel until much later.

Fast forward 14 years and Chloe is working as an usher in the iconic Dean Wilson Theatre. She is coasting, unfulfilled both personally and professionally. The scars of her past are emotional and physical. No one, can explain the blackouts she has suffered for years and she hides evidence of longstanding self abuse from her friends and colleagues. Working alone in her room, writing her script she dreams of bigger things, without really daring to reach for them.

Suddenly Chloe‘s world is turned upside when the ailing theatre announces the return of it’s most successful ever show. The musical Dust was the venue’s first performance, frozen forever in cult status. An incredible production made iconic due to the death of it’s leading lady Morgan Miller, murdered in her dressing room during opening week.

The original run of Dust holds many special memories for Chloe, but it’s return is about to bring the past and present together in a spectacular way. The return of a familiar face means that Chloe is forced to face long ignored demons and suppressed memories begin to come to the fore…

I Am Dust is quite simply a book that almost defies classification, It is very much a ghost story, and a breathtaking one at that, but it is so much more.

It is a story which deals with complex relationships. It questions how we define ourselves through the eyes of others and what that means for our personal growth. It considers the lengths people will go to satisfy their desires and how power is a game played with dangerous rules and unforeseen consequences.

The plot and character dynamics of the chosen summer play, Macbeth, are matched by the characters with in the novel. This ‘story within in a story’ sheds new light on the power balance between the three experimenting teenagers. The roles they take on in Macbeth offer insight into their personalities and ultimately clues to their fates.

Ryan is Macbeth; desperate for the power but weaker than he seems. Jess is Lady Macbeth; initially appearing submissive but driven to ruthlessness and regret. Chloe is one of the witches; nameless, overlooked but possessing the ultimate power.

Throughout the novel there is a feeling of duality. Love quickly spills into hate, admiration into envy, life into death, truth into lies. The dual time frames are skilfully and seamlessly woven together to create a feeling of reckless inevitability as history looks destined to repeat it’s self.

If you are looking for a cracking ghost story look no further. But I repeat my assertion that this novel is so much more.

I Am Dust is a book that drives you forward in a mesmerising rush. But stop…take some time to savour what Louise Beech has created here…

Because, believe me, it is special…

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reviews of this gem of a book, check out the rest of the tour …

Blog Tour Review: Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

When the invite for this Blog Tour popped up in my Inbox I was intrigued and thrilled in equal measure. Promises of writing that evoked Toni Morrison were more than enough to get me interested, and what a pleasure it has turned out to be.

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora is a debut novel published by 4th Estate Books on 16th April. This book is already drawing some pretty heady comparisons, including the work of Sara Collins (The Confessions of Frannie Langton) and Yaa Gyasi (Homegoing).

And in my humble opinion it is entirely worthy of all the praise being heaped upon it. Quite simply it is remarkable . And for a debut novel it is exceptional, both in content and style. Thanks go to Lindsay Terrell for my gifted copy.

This is the story of Miss Rue. Rue is a black woman, healer and midwife to the recently freed black community on an American plantation. Rue has followed her mother Miss May Belle in taking on this role.

But her mother’s shoes are proving hard to fill and times have changed since the Civil War brought the nominal freedom of the plantation’s slave community. Rue continues her mother’s work but finds the community’s loyalty and unquestioning respect is no longer the same.

As the novel begins Rue attends the birth of a child; a pale skinned, black eyed and strangely watchful boy who is quickly known as Bean. Bean’s birth seems to herald unsettled times for the community as a strange sickness moves unchecked through it’s people. First affecting the young and then the old, it strikes fear amongst people’s hearts.

As the villagers look for someone to blame they look upon the strange untouched child and a perceived kinship between Bean and Rue, the woman who delivered him.

When Bruh Abel, a celebrated but transient preacher visits the village, suspicion against Rue and her practises increases and she begins to be further cut off from the people who have looked to her to sustain them for years. Talk of the strange spirit or ‘haint’ that roams the woods magnifies their fear and ultimately their distrust of Rue and her ‘hoodoo’ ways.

But can Bruh Abel provide the answers everyone is desperately searching for ? Or are there more similarities between Bruh Abel and Rue than it would appear at first glance? And by attempting to destroy Rue does the community risk it’s own safety in a way it can not comprehend?

For Rue, like her Mother before her is more that the healer of the sick, guardian of the dead and experienced midwife. She is also the keeper of secrets. Secrets that are woven into the fabric of the past, present and future, and whose exposure would jeopardise the community’s very existence.

This novel is a story that spans two distinct time frames. The ‘past’ refers to the time immediately preceding the American Civil War, up to it’s conclusion, ending with the freeing of the plantation slaves and the burning of the big house. The ‘present’ is a new time, of both nurtured hope and long held fear, of white men roaming the woods, unaccustomed freedom and loose ends that need to be explained away.

In the past, in the time of Rue’s girlhood,the figure of Varina, the white daughter of the plantation, owner looms large. She and Rue are of an age. On some level playmates but never to be equals, their destinies are tied together in a way that only Miss May Bell could foresee.

The two girl’s individual losses and trials run parallel to each other, two sides of the same coin, reflected in the unusual doll stitched by Miss May Bell. Over a period of years, the rise and fall of their fortunes seem to mirror one another, in an uncanny and almost predestined way. Change is coming, but change is hard for all involved.

There is a tangible sense of the complex history of the time; the feeling that changes brought about by the end of slavery open a gateway to a new era. And each step along this new path is fraught with fear and only achieved through the presence of hope. The ties to the past are strong, not easily shrugged off in this new world where rules are still being written and the past still lingers in the air.

There is natural pacing to the narrative, it is a story of individual lives woven together; tragic at times but with glimpses of light and colour providing balance. It is a story told with pathos, in lyrical, flowing prose. There is a tangible and authentic ‘voice’, a real sense of a story being told, a history being passed on to those that need to know.

This is ultimately a story of women. Of their bodies, their lives, their hopes, dreams and sorrows. It is a chronicle of motherhood, it’s complexities, sacrifices and joys.The characters that populate the pages of this novel are strong, flawed but genuine.

Everything adds up to make this a beautiful, reflective novel. Afia Atakora has created something that is, quite simply, stunning. Take some time to immerse yourself in the world of Miss Rue. You won’t regret it.

Rachel x

And there is more…

I guarantee I won’t be the only person to fall under the spell of Conjure Women. For more reviews and reactions check out the rest of the blog tour …

Blog Tour Review: The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves

Sometimes a blog tour offer lands in my inbox and I shamelessly beg to be included. This is what happened when the lovely Anne Cater offered the opportunity to read and review The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves.

Lots of book people who I know and trust has been raving about this debut on Twitter and I desperately wanted to be involved. So thank you to both Abbie and Ann for the chance to read and review.

Let me say straight away this novel did not disappoint!!!

The premise of the story is a simple but intriguing one. Frank and Maggie have been happily married for many years. Their’s has been a marriage filled with love, trust, respect and compassion. But in recent times darkness has fallen and so has silence.

For the past 6 months not a word has passed between them.

There have been no blazing rows, no thrown plates or slammed doors. Just a terrible secret sadness that has paralysed their relationship and has caused Frank to stop speaking to Maggie.

They have continued to live in the same house, sleep in the same bed, eat meals together, generally co-exist, but Frank finds he is entirely unable to utter a word to his beloved wife.

The novel opens with Frank, six months into his silence finding Maggie collapsed on the kitchen floor. With her life in the balance, Frank is encouraged by a empathic nurse to begin to talk to his now unconscious, but still beloved wife. Through his memories we begin to unpick the terrible secret burdens that Frank has concealed in his silence.

Equally, as the novel progresses, the narrative shifts to present Maggie’s story and we begin to appreciate that this a couple who both holds secrets and fear close.

Without wanting to state the obvious, this is a novel about silence. But it is more than just the nominal silence of Frank. It is the silence of things unspoken; between generations, families and partners. To label silence a theme would be understating it, it is the very core of the novel

This simple but beautiful novel is an exploration of all the things we don’t tell each other. It details and embraces all those secrets within a family, even those that have been together for years, even those that seem transparent, unbreakable, strong.

Here we see the heartbreaking truth of the all too common cycle of pain lending it’s self to silence only leading, inevitably, to more pain.

Through compelling and empathic characters Abbie Greaves has created a moving portrayal of a family touched by mental health issues. She explores how a sudden breakdown in communication, coupled with the pain and complexity of mental ill health, means that someone whom you have loved for so long and so completely can become entirely unreachable.

She embraces the concept of parental guilt. That unavoidable and debilitating urge to pick over what has happened again and again , even those things you can’t control. With heart breaking clarity she portrays the desperate need to make things right, however terrible the events and the pain when this isn’t possible.

Within these pages are both the joy and pain of family relationships. We see how our love for people can spill over into commitments and obligations and how we start to take responsibility for others happiness even when the answers to problems are far beyond our control.

Abbie Greaves lays bare the uncomfortable truths that come with a lack of communication and the internalisation of pain.


The message of this book is clear. Words are important; they sustain us, they support and nurture us. By communicating we risk opening ourselves up to pain but also embrace life saving support, love and solace.

When the author wrote this novel she could never have predicted the strange and scary times her creation would be launched into. In our current situation of self isolation, social distancing and separation we are finding anew just how important communication really is. Be it through Social Media, Zoom, FaceTime, HouseParty, clapping on the door step, rainbows in windows, a simple phone call or a good old fashioned letter; the ongoing sustaining necessity of words is right now being felt across the globe.

This novel may have been conceived in entirely different times but for me it is the perfect novel for right now. Timely, warm and authentic; it is time to let Frank and Maggie speak to you.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For other reviews of this beautiful book check out the rest of The Silent Treatment Blog Tour

Blog Tour Review: The Unreliable Death of Lady Grange by Sue Lawrence

So there is no getting away from it…life is pretty crazy at the moment. And for the first time in a long time ‘real life’ had intruded on my bookish life to such an extent that my reading mojo seemed to vanish.

So The Unreliable Death of Lady Grange by Sue Lawrence was, I have to, up against it. But do you know what? The past was actually the perfect place to be!!!

Based on a true story, we begin in Edinburgh, 1742. The tale begins at the funeral of Lady Grange. Her sudden death has shocked her family.

But the real shock is that the spirited Rachel, Lady Grange is actually still alive.

Kidnapped by her husband, the father of her five surviving children Lady Grange is banished to the remote Hebridean Monach Isles. Fiery and defiant, certainly not a women of her time, Rachel is paying the price for pushing back against Lord Grange’s infidelity and her own ill treatment.

With the aid of the unscrupulous Lord Lovat, Lord Grange imprisons his wife on a series of remote islands, transporting her from a life of privilege to a life of hardship and deprivation.

Unable to speak the native tongue, deprived of books, writing materials and the love of her family, Rachel has been effectively obliterated. Her husband has not only taken her freedom, he has taken her identity and denied her existence.

His motives reach beyond the personal. Encapsulating a turbulent political time in history, Lady Grange has uncovered her husband’s Jacobite sympathies. Terrified that she will put not just his reputation but also his life in danger, James enacts his terrible revenge.

This is a story that is driven by power . Rachel is the very embodiment of female power in a period of time when woman had very little. Even when her circumstances are altered beyond recognition she is determined to maintain her dignity, sense of self and try to return to her current life.

Ultimately and unavoidably it is a commentary on the historical power imbalance between men and women, and how this was used and abused.

This is a powerful book, of a dark but in some ways uplifting story that might just take you away from our current craziness. Thank you Kelly @LoveBookTours for asking me along.

About the author

As well as writing popular historical thrillers, including Down to the Sea, Sue Lawrence is a leading cookery writer. After winning BBC’s MasterChef in 1991, she became a regular contributor to the Sunday Times, Scotland on Sunday and other leading magazines. Raised in Dundee, she now lives in Edinburgh. She has won two Guild of Food Writers Awards.

And there is more

For other reactions and reviews check out the rest of the blog tour below…

Blog Tour Review: The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep By H G Parry

Sometimes a book tour request comes along that is out of my normal reading sphere but nevertheless it speaks to me.

That is exactly what happened when I was given the chance to read and review The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry , published on 23rd January 2020 by Orbit.

You see I have a bit of a tricky relationship with fantasy books. Although some of my favourite childhood books have a strong grounding in fantasy I haven’t really read much from this genre at all in the last few years. But the premise of this novel really drew me in.

Because the hero of this book can read characters to life! Can you imagine? Settling down with a cuppa and Jane Eyre and finding Mr Rochester snuggled up on the sofa next to you? Or lounging on the beach and finding Moby Dick washed up on the shore?

It is like all those memes and t-shirts you see advertised on Facebook, proclaiming; ‘Reading is my superpower!’ Only this time it’s true and the reality is exciting, the possibilities endless and quite frankly more than a bit terrifying .

The book is narrated by Rob, a normal middle class lawyer, living in Welington, New Zealand, trying to get on with the day job. The trouble is that his brother Charley, an English Professor at the local university, is far from normal.

After a shaky start in life, still born, only drawing his first breath 20 minutes later lying in his grieving mother’s arms, Charley emerges as a truly remarkable child.

Reading Dickens by 4, at Oxford age 13 and a PhD student before he is twenty Dr Charles Sutherland, Charley, is a prodigy. And one with a remarkable gift. His talent for understanding and interpreting literature allows him to ‘read’ characters into the present. It is a powerful skill, but one which his family have always pressed him to keep hidden fearing ridicule and worse, recriminations.

How many times does it take? Just keep your thoughts under control when you read a book! it shouldn’t be so hard!

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep. Pg 8

You see it is the interpretation of character that give characters life and lifts them off the page. All of his life Charley has believed he is the only Summoner, but when literary characters start turning up all over the city then it becomes clear this isn’t true.

Not only are literary characters appearing, sometimes in multiples, there are no less than 5 Mr Darcy’s knocking around (!) but also places. A whole street has sprung up and it is mysteriously growing.

And it seems that, while Charley’s intentions might be benign sometimes even accidental , there is another Summoner at work whose intentions are quite the opposite. This mysterious creature makes it clear they are ready for war and they have over a thousand years of literature at their disposal from which to create an army, adding a whole new meaning to ‘Words as weapons’!

Suddenly Charley’s hidden ability is needed to save the city. Torn between family loyalty and his love of the characters he has unwittingly brought into the world, Charley is fighting to maintain control.

This novel is certainly a wonderful, jolting fantasy ride but at it’s heart there are many lessons to be learnt. Not least this book has much to say about the nature of family and what constitutes the ties that bind. It’s about the people we choose to surround ourselves with and the sacrifices we are prepared to make for those people.

This is a book written by a book lover, for book lovers everywhere. It is bursting at the seams with everyone’s favourite characters. I might have let out a little involuntary scream when Heathcliff appeared and the inclusion of a leather clad White Witch astride a Silver Harley Davidson was just sublime!

But most of all this book is fun! It’s like a breath of fresh literary air and there are no limits to what can happen. Sit back enjoy and let your imagination run wild !

Rachel x

And there is more…

For other great reviews and reactions to this unique book, check out the blog tour poster below!