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

Blog Tour Review: A More Perfect Union by Tammye Huf

Today I am thrilled to be taking my turn on the Blog Tour for A More Perfect Union by Tammye Huf, published by Myriad Editions . Thank you to Emma Dowson for my gifted copy and blog tour invite.

It’s 1848. In Ireland the potato famine has the country in it’s grip and families are being ripped apart. The combination of hunger, economic ruin and unjust British Rule is driving more and more Irish families to seek a life across the Atlantic.

When Henry O’Toole arrives in New York, it seems that anti- Irish feeling is as rife here as in the land he left. But when a violent twist of fate and a change of name pushes him in a different direction he finds himself in Virginia and a world he never knew existed. In amongst the booming cotton plantations of the South, Henry encounters the horror of slavery for the first time.

Establishing regular work on the Jubilee Plantation Henry falls deeply in love with Sarah, a house slave. Not long sold to this establishment, Sarah is mourning the loss of her family. The situation seems hopeless, their union is not only considered a moral abomination but also illegal.

And so begins a tale of developing feeling, of trying to establish a union when all the world is against you, and the inequalities within the relationship threaten to destroy it at every level. For Henry believes that he has known what it is like to live under unjust rule. He tries to compare his experiences back in Ireland, working for British landowners, to Sarah’s situation. And it is not long before he sees that comparison comes up short. For Sarah being a slave mean that every part of her life is controlled. What she eats, who she talks to, where she goes, who she marries. Despite his love and empathy Henry can never truly understand this.

Yet he is determined to try, and equally as determined to get Sarah away from the life she lives and make her a free woman, and his wife.

Whilst Sarah and Henry are at the heart of this story, this is a novel populated with vivid characters, all with their own unique stories to tell and all add a different dimension to the tale of this plantation and it’s place in history. There is Maple, cook and house slave, gifted to Miss Martha on the occasion of her marriage, and forced to leave her family behind. Each day she is tormented by the fear of what is happening to her mother and daughter; both left at the mercy of Master Jeremiah. Bessie, the old cook and childhood nurse of Master Johnson, now widowed and blind, who is set free in a perceived gesture of kindness but cannot comprehend life beyond the plantation walls and her family. Red, young and with fire in his belly, refusing to accept his lot and silently looking for a way to escape.

The plantation owner, Master Johnson, believes himself to be progressive and just. He claims his slaves are treated well, and while it is true he spares the lash more than most of his society, he still sees his slaves as no more than his property. The concern he has for their treatment stems from a desire to pacify the growing anti-slavery movement of the North rather than genuine concern for their welfare.

Here is a detailed, complex and beautifully drawn portrayal of a relationship tied down with complexities and opposed from all sides. Each individual story, each character, each carefully placed word within this web of beautiful prose, provides strength to it’s authenticity and power. It is a story of the greatest adversity and the struggle of love in the darkest of times.

It has been an absolute pleasure and privilege to have had the chance to read this book, and to add my voice to it’s supporting blog tour. Tammye Huf, your book is a triumph and I wish it every success as it makes it’s way out into the world.

And there is more…

For more reviews and reactions to A More Perfect Union check out the blog tour below…

Book Review: She Clown and Other Stories by Hannah Vincent

I keep questioning , as I am writing my current reviews; Should I mention the strange world we are living in? Or is everyone sick to death of hearing about COVID-19 and do they just want to come places like book blogs for escape?

But I have come to the conclusion that any review is about my response to a book and my response is always going to affected by the context in which I read. For example in the last month I have abandoned more books that I have finished. My brain is struggling to cope, and so something has got to be pretty special to get me interested and keep me there. I strongly suspect that I would have continued and enjoyed those discarded books in normal times.

But these are not normal times, and so ignoring that fact seems pretty pointless to me.

But, what you may ask does this long winded justification have to do with She Clown By Hannah Vincent?

Well, to be honest finding a volume of well written and engaging short stories is always a welcome and wondrous thing but at time like this it is a life saver. The short, snappy but beautifully formed stories were just perfect for my current reading style. Like a delicious box of chocolates I could ration myself to grabbing one here and there as my work load and wandering attention allowed or I could gorge on a few given the inclination and opportunity.

She Clown is a relatively thin volume, containing 16 short stories. All the stories concentrate on the life of women, of all ages, social classes and races. But all have names that begin with ‘C’…

With some of the women I formed an immediate connection. Charlotte, for example, the hen pecked and suppressed daughter living with her mother in The Poison Frog. A story with a strong leaning towards the darkest of fairy tales, she is rescued by a frog prince in the most unusual way.

And Caro, the young working mother, exhausted, trying to keep everyone happy and finding her balm in work ( An Extra Teat)

Conversely, there are women that I actively disliked. Bella, for example, the rich, privileged mother, looking constantly to blame others for the things that go wrong in her life, biting her own child in a rage, made me recoil from the page! ( Granny’s Gun) . ( NB I know her name doesn’t begin with ‘C’ – but all becomes clear…read the book!)

But all of these women have a tale to tell. And that is the point.

Hannah Vincent has created a series of tales that are snapshots of women’s lives. These snapshots are a ‘warts and all’ portrayal and celebration of women. Not one women is held up as a saint. All are working within the boundaries of their lives and experiences, all shaped by their past, present and future. Each women is presented within their own social context and connections. Some seem trapped, but others show remarkable abilities to make subtle and sometime dramatic changes to their lives. Here there is no feeling of ‘one size fits all’ but a recognition and embracing of diversity.

The stories are, by definition short. In some cases the snapshot only provide the smallest glimpse of a situation, dilemma or lifestyle. Sometimes we see or feel a sense of resolution, sometimes we don’t.

The final story, Woman of the Year, brings the whole collection together. By taking each central character and putting them together in one story, one social situation, the author offers us further insight into each character but also strengthens and enhances her message of diversity and celebration

She Clown and other stories is a collection of short stories that that both challenges and comforts and one I would heartily recommend, especially in times when we could do with both these qualities in our lives.

Thank you Emma Dowson at Myriad Editions for my gifted copy.

Rachel x

P.S You can buy She Clown by clicking here

Book Review : To The Volcano and Other Stories by – Elleke Boehmer

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 Boehmer and 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.

Rachel x

To The Volcano and other stories can be purchased by clicking here