Book Review: Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth MacNeal

Ever wanted to join the circus? Well now might be your chance. But just a word of warning there is a darker side to the brightest of lights. But take a step inside the Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal and have a closer look.

A huge thank you goes to Camilla Elworthy for my gorgeous gifted copy. Having fallen in love with The Doll Factory I was very keen to read this one!

It’s 1866 and Nell lives on the edge of her community. Set apart by her curious speckled skin, she picks violets and is wrapped in the love of her devoted brother. Nell’s dreams are small but when the circus comes to town she is just as fascinated as the rest of the village.

Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrival leads to the biggest betrayal of Nell’s young life. Sold to the show by her father, Jasper makes Nell his newest attraction, his amazing ‘leopard girl.’ Life on the road is hard but there is also a glamour and a growing sense of adoration that Nell has never experienced before.

Reborn as the magical ‘Nellie Moon’ London is soon abuzz with her name. Friends are found in the other performers and Toby, Jasper’s younger brother brings a gentleness to her life she has long been missing.

But Jasper’s show and Jasper’s life are both built on tentative and shaky ground. Debts and his past are always one step behind him and when his star threatens to outside her creator the world of the circus suddenly turns very dark.

Set in an age of invention, of trickery and spangled appearance, this is the tale of both how things appear and how they really are. It is a life built on illusion and show, of light and dark and the struggle it takes to stay on the right side of each. For each dream that is made another is crushed and the thread that binds exploitation and empowerment glows brightly throughout. A connection that is impossible to ignore m.

This is a story filled with contrast and partnerships, both within its characters and it’s themes. It is an exploration of how dark can turn to light and how redemption can be found in the most unexpected of places. The story is filled with both the constraints and loyalty found in love, and what happens when we claim too much too fast.

The pictures that Elizabeth Macneal paints are vivid, alive and vibrant. It is a book that reaches out to each sense and brings the reader inside. Whether at the heart of the circus, in a money lenders lair or in the ruins of the Crimea the sense of place is second to none.

Keep your eyes on the Circus! It’s never what you think!

Rachel x

Book Review : The Field by Robert Seethaler

A beautiful book in translation is something I don’t read enough of. So this month I have been indulging myself. The Field by Robert Seethaler translated from the German by Charlotte Collins has been, quite simply perfect.

This is the story of a field, a field now a graveyard. The final resting place for the villagers of this provincial town. And with death, which is the ultimate leveller, comes a series of stories told by the grave’s inhabitants. It is an idea that is quite breathtaking, both in it’s simplicity and it’s flawless execution.

Each story is unique, both in content and style. These are are told by people young and old, rich and poor. Those who lived lives that were full and content, that died fulfilled. Those whose lives were short, bitter and brief. And those who fall in between.

Some stories focus on just one event, however trivial or unimportant it may seem. Some stories are longer, comprehensive and encompass the full course and content of life, loss and love. Each on their own is a gem, a window into a community. Taken together, threaded into a single strand they form a picture of a town. A community shaped by those who have worked, lived, loved and died there.

This collection of tales, woven together, is a lesson in how life is layered over time, over generations and with small interconnecting stories that both strengthen and fracture the community they encounter.

A web of styles, of emotions and characters, this is a book that will keep you reading to the end. As always Camilla Elworthy has sent me a smasher.

The Field by Robert Seethaler is published by Picador and is out today

Rachel x

Book review : The LampLighters by Emma Stonex

If you like a locked door mystery, and a locked door mystery with a very unusual setting then this week sees the perfect book for you published. Welcome to The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex. And yet while this might appear to be a locked door mystery it is so much more!

Although this book is set across two time periods, 1972 and 1992, the inspiration for this story comes from a real life event which took place in December 1900. It was then that three lighthouse keepers disappeared from an isolated rock lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides.

Within the novel the three keepers in question are Arthur Black, Bill Walker and Vincent Bourne. All different in character, all with their own stories and secrets, all missing in the strangest of circumstances.

Fast forward 20 years and the women left behind are still no nearer to understanding what happened to the men they loved. When author Dan Sharp approaches them regarding the incident, old memories resurface and Helen, Jenny and Michelle are all forced to relive the past.

Through immaculate retelling and beautifully paced prose the story of the three keepers and their families begins to unfurl. Against the rugged background of the winter sea the voices of the missing men are finally heard and they have surprising things to say.

This is a novel told by a chorus of voices, each story layered upon the other, providing clarity and then taking it away, moving slowly towards it’s conclusion. This is story telling at it’s absolute best, building tension and empathy as it’s story moves beautifully to it’s conclusion.

It is a story with a vivid setting, where the sea is a force in it’s own right, and it’s presence is continual, relentless and essential to put understanding of what really happened to those men. Although this is a novel with a mystery at it’s heart, it is a story alive with characters, emotion, love and grief.

The Lamplighters hits the shelves this week and, believe me, it is one not to be missed.

Rachel x

February wrap up and it feels like Spring is on the way!

Finally, finally it feels like the world is getting a little bit lighter and brighter. Signs of spring are peeping through in greater numbers everyday and it feels like everyone is daring to hope again.

After a long, cold January, February seems to have rushed past me. There have been so many interesting and amazing books published this month and March looks like a pretty bumper month too. As well as reading as much as I can, when home school, online and in school teaching has allowed(!), I have been trying to write; working on my never ending WIP!

As far as new releases go this month I have had the pleasure to read some absolute crackers. I started the month pleasantly lost in both the possibilities of time travel and 70’s childhood nostalgia with the quirky Space Hopper by Helen Fisher. And ended it immersed in the mind blowing book that is The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward . Published next month my review is in the pipeline, but there is so much to assimilate first!

Back to this month’s releases and I was thrilled to be reading Patricia Lockwood’s first novel No one is talking about this. I found her memoir Priestdaddy a truly unforgettable book and as you will see from my review her first novel was equally as impressive and challenging.

Continuing the theme of challenge and rawness and we come to Daisy Buchanan’s Insatiable. An exploration of sexuality, lust and pushing all boundaries this book is not easily forgotten!

While we find ourselves still in lockdown, travelling through my reading has become even more important to me. This month I have found myself ‘back’ in places familiar; the streets of Paris in Jane Smiley’s gorgeous The Strays of Paris and in places totally foreign and waiting to be explored. From 1970’s Uganda in the wonderful debut novel Kololo Hill by Neema Shah to the battlefields of France, and the streets of New Orleans in Michael Farris Smiths Gatsby inspired Nick.

Next month is filled with absolute treats of new releases and I am working my way through some of them. I have just finished the wonderful mystery that is The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex and my review is out this week.

And looking ahead to April I loved my buddy read with four fab book friends, Emma (@corkyorky), Jules (@julesbuddle), Rebecca (@_forewoodbooks) and Siobhain (@thelitaddict_). Tall Bones by Anna Bailey kept us all on the edge of our seats, full review on it’s way very soon!! As is our next buddy read!

And in amongst all these varied novels, I have been dipping in to the oasis of poetry that is Empty Nest: Poems for families edited by Carol Ann Duffy. This is the perfect collection for these times when family can seem both really close and yet so, so far away. Beautifully put together, diverse and insightful. Just lovely in every way.

So there we so. A whistle stop tour of February’s reading. Hold on to your hats for March!!

Rachel x

Book review: Kololo Hill by Neema Shah

Published on 18th February by Picador, Kololo Hill by Neema Shah is a debut not to be missed. Striking and heartfelt, this novel has a lot to say. Sincere thanks to Katie Green for my gifted copy.

It’s 1972 and Idi Amin is on the rise. With brutality and fear as his weapons of choice he issues a devastating decree. All Ugandan Asians must leave and leave within 90 days. They can take virtually nothing with them, their property and money are now belong to the state. They can not return.

Through the eyes of one ordinary Ugandan Asian family we experience the fall out of such a situation, and the impossible choices they make; both as families and individuals.

Asha and Pran are a young Asian couple. Married for a short time, after a whirl wind courtship that was hi jacked by their families. They are still in the early days of their relationship, still testing the water and finding the boundaries when suddenly their whole world is thrown into crisis, everything and everyone they hold dear under immediate and terrible threat.

Along with Pran’s parents , Jaya and Motichand, and his younger brother Vijay, their life of relative ease, their business running a local dukan their sense of self and security are lost. The family must begin the painful and seemingly impossible task of looking to the future. But where do they start?

Each have different paperwork, passports and access to different countries. They all have to leave but will it be possible to do that together or will they be spilt even further apart? And how can they protect their house boy December who has served the family loyally for years? For now as a member of one of many ‘wrong’ tribes he too is in danger.

This is a story of displacement, of having to take huge leaps of both faith and fear in order to move forwards. With vivid detail and heart breaking clarity Neema Shah paints a skilful picture of what it meant to be an Ugandan refugee, arriving in the middle of a British winter. Against each slight and knock back we see men and women fighting to both make a new life and hold on to their sense of identity, self and culture.

The characters in the novel maybe experiencing the same trauma but there is no stereotyping of pain or reaction. With well rounded brush strokes each character takes their own path and makes their own distinct choices. For Vijay, his youth and disability shape his reactions, in the same way Pran’s inability to let go of the past shape his .

But for me it was the female characters who really shone through this narrative. Asha is determined, determined not to look back or let her trauma shape the rest of her life. And her mother in law Jaya holds on to the best of what she left behind while struggling to adapt to their strange grey land that is 1970’s Britain.

There are many things I look for in a novel and teaching me about the world I think I know Is pretty high on that list. This episode in history was a complete blind spot for me. I knew nothing about it at all. This novel has opened my eyes, taught me new things and made me thirsty to know more.

As a debut this one is pretty special.

Rachel x

January round up … the longest month ever!

I have always hated January. There is just no getting away from the fact that it is dark, cold and ridiculously, almost supernaturally long. Add in another Covid lockdown and this month was destined to be a bit of a trial!

Books as always have been my salvation, my salvation and often my window on the world. So welcome to January’s round up; I hope you find something here to catch you eye.

I started the month with a very special book, special initially because it was given to me by one of my oldest and dearest friends. Life in Pieces by Dawn O’Porter was a reflection on the authors time in lockdown with her young family in LA. There was much we could all identify with here; the sense of panic and disbelief, the fluctuation of emotions, the inability to stop eating or to remember which day it is. But there were also personal challenges too, because Dawn entered lockdown in a state of grief having lost her dear friend Caroline Flack to suicide just weeks before. This book is raw, heartbreaking and hilarious, sometimes at the same time. A delightful first read of the year.

Next up was Old Bones by Helen Kitson , published this month by Louise Walters Books this is a delightful story of regret, loss and evolving friendships. You can fine my review here.

In fact this month has been an absolute gem for new releases and I am thrilled to have been able to read and review a fair few. Whether it’s the competitive world of snowboarding, found in the thriller Shiver by Allie Reynolds, the complexities of growing up in Catholic Ireland, The Rosary Garden by Nicola White or the beautiful and deadly beaches of Barbados, How the one armed sister sweeps her house by Cherie Jones the books published this month have literally had something for everyone.

Sticking with new releases, one of the patches of light in these strange dark days has been the opportunity to attend online book launches and events. It was a joy to see both Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden and Captain Jesus by Colette Snowden off on their publishing journeys.

I am thrilled, as always, to be supporting some cracking blog tours this year. Laura Purcell’s The Shape of Darkness was another perfect gothic offering, and next week I will be sharing my blog tour reviews of Lucy Jago’s A Net for Small Fishes and Inga Vespers A Long, Long Afternoon. Both very different books, but both completely immersive and vibrant in their own unique ways.

My month has been pretty fiction heavy this month as far as new releases are concerned. But Alexa, what is there to know about love by Brian Bilston was a delightful detour into poetry. Anyone who has spoken to me in real life this month has had this book continually and wholeheartedly recommended. And I have been making quite a bit of Twitter noise about it too.

My one and only non fiction book this month has been How to be a Refugee by Simon May. An incredible story of survival at any cost, you can find my Instagram review here.

And finally to two more books I have read but not reviewed. The first of my Daunt Books subscription books was Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor and it was a cracker! This is the tale of Sir Henry Irving, Ellen Terry and Bram Stoker. With Oscar Wilder and Jack the Ripper as bit players this book was just incredible!

And in a bid for just good old fashioned comfort reading I have persuaded my book group to read the first of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles The Light Years . I have been bathing in the warm glow of the audio book but also slightly dreading what will happen if my book friends don’t love these stories as much as me!!

And there ends January! Who knows what February has in store – but remember there are always books!

Rachel x

A Review: Alexa, what is there to know about love? By Brian Bilston

From the title to the very last page this collection of poems feels like perfection. It will stir just about every emotion within you. It will have you laughing, crying, nodding in agreement and just about everything else in between. It is a collection about life, about those things that are topical in this crazy world but also those things which have been with us for time immemorial.

It’s title, Alexa, what is there to know about love? sums up the premise of this work perfectly. These poems are in equal parts about the things that have changed, i.e Alexa, and those things that will never change, that is the subjects we are continually asking about.

And indeed there are many poems that focus on the age old questionsof love in all its many forms. Here you will find love poems for the ages; for the past; for the future. All quirky, all clever and all deliciously original. Take for example Five Clerihews for Doomed Loves, a tribute to some of the most iconic recorded lovers. No spoilers here but I will say that the poets views of Romeo and Juliet had me cheering in agreement!

Drudge Work is a beautiful tribute to the many different manifestations of love , of the impossibility of one solid definition. A theme returned to in Minutes from a Multidisciplinary Symposium on ‘What is Love. And the simple, churning tale found within Status Update: A Lonely Cloud will fell you with it’s final line.

And for a bookworm like me the shape poem Tsundoku is just perfection. To the point where I am sure Brian Bilston has bugged my home and is tapping into a recurring argument with Mr C!! ( And if you want to know what that argument might be, you will have to buy the book!)

This collection is quite simply a work of quiet, unassuming brilliance. Where the use of the familiar, of the rhyming couplet soothes, enhances and then suddenly, unexpectedly destroys. Within these pages is comfort, humour and delicious levels of challenge. The role of the poet feels like the role of an medieval fool, to entertain but also to speak the truth. To tell the passive onlookers of their beauty and their triumph, but also to expose their weaknesses, their foolishness and at times down right stupidity.

For despite it’s universal themes, this is very much a poetry book for our times. With a comforting, a times sing song voice and a crucial bite Bilston offers us commentary and sharp, powerful insight in to recent political and societal events. The eight lines of The White House will have you reeling and for anyone despairing about the rise of the right, Brexit and wider social conditions there are poems within this book that will have you nodding in agreement , even if that agreement is tinged with despair.

Take for example Hold my hand and let’s jump off this cliff. I defy you not cry out at it’s brilliance and start recommending it to anyone you might make eye contact with in the next week!

There are poems here that will break your heart; Penguins and Bird Watching spring immediately to mind. Others will make you smile, maybe even laugh out loud; ee Cummings attempts online banking is a great place to start.

But each page contains a little gem, a word, a line, a verse, most often a whole poem to tuck away for later and savour, and most definitely to share.

Camilla Elworthy, thank you for sharing this pocket rocket with me. I promise you I am busy exploding it just everywhere I go!!!

Rachel

Alexa, What Is There To Know About Love By Brian Bilston is published by Picador on 21st January 2021.

2020! – The year reading should have been on prescription! – Top 25 reads!

There are two indisputable facts about 2020..

Firstly, for good or ill, it’s been a year like no other! And secondly, I wouldn’t have survived it without reading a lot of books.

Each month I have shared a monthly wrap up, and I am finishing the year with my top 25 books. Not all of them I reviewed, some I just devoured. Not all were published in 2020, but it was the year I personally discovered them. The list is arranged in the order I read them, not in any kind of preferential order. It is also worth noting that over the last month or so I have read some cracking 2021 proofs. These are not included here, but there will be a most anticipated list coming very soon.

So, deep breath, here goes …

1. Three Hours- Rosamund Lupton

This book blew me away right at the beginning of the year. I read it from cover to cover on one rainy Sunday.

Set in a progressive English private school, this is the story of a school shooting, but my goodness, it is so much more! Perfectly plotted, with pinpoint accurate writing and a level of complexity that astounded me, I am still recommending it now.

2. The Mercies – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The first historical novel to make the list, and this one is a cracker.

Set in Norway in the 1600’s, based on a true story, it is the portrait of a remote but tight knit community being slowly ripped apart by suspicion, vindictiveness and worse. It is so vividly told and my full review can be found here.

3. My Dark Vanessa – Elizabeth Russell

Unsettling, thought provoking and I feel essential reading this book hasn’t left me yet.

It is a tale of power, manipulation and inappropriate relationships. It will provoke strong emotions, and intense debate and my review can be found here.

4. Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell

This book!! I read it back when it first came out in April and from the first few pages I fell in love! I have long admired Maggie O’Farrell, but this book feels like her masterpiece.

On the surface it is story of Shakespeare’s son Hamnet , who died in childhood but in reality it is so much more. It is one of those rare novels where each word is perfectly placed. Despite having read it and revisited it in audiobook I haven’t reviewed this book. Quite simply I knew I couldn’t do it justice!

5. Conjure Women – Afia Atakora

This book was just bursting with every emotion going!! 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.

Humour, love, life and grief of every shade is found within it’s pages; a unique and special tale. I was lucky enough to be on the blog tour for this one and my review can be found here.

6. The Mirror and The Light – Hilary Mantel

This book needs no introduction from me!

The final instalment in Mantel’s epic Trilogy, this book that details the downfall and fate of Thomas Cromwell. Long listed once again for the Booker, Mantel amazes me every time I read her. Quite simply stunning!

7. A Thousand Ships – Natalie Haynes

I love a Greek myth retelling and this book is right up there with the best.

A retelling of the story of the Trojan war, Haynes focuses on and brings to life, the unique perspective of the woman involved. Beautiful and heartbreaking from beginning to end, this novel thoroughly deserved it’s place on the Women’s Prize Shortlist.

8. The Bass Rock – Evie Wyld

This one was getting so much attention on Twitter, so many people whose opinion I trust were raving about this one, that I knew this was a winner. A beautiful inter generational story that will linger for a long time.

It is fair to say that I have recommended this book to so many people and to find out why you can find my review here.

9. Saving Lucia – Anna Vaught

BlueMoose Books never ever let me down. This year they have published only books by women authors and what an absolute treat it has been. Saving Lucia begins with the narrative of two women, both incarcerated at St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton. Both women are public figures; Lady Violet Gibson was sectioned after attempting to assassinate Mussolini, Lucia Joyce is the daughter of poet James Joyce, a talented dancer and artist in her own right.

This unique story by Anna Vaught was another book I devoured in a day. My review can be found here.

10. Summerwater – Sarah Moss

It’s hard for me to pick a favourite author, there are way to many to choose from! But Sarah Moss has to be pretty near the top spot.

Summerwater is perfection. Written across the period of one day, in one remote place, from the point of view of several diverse characters this work is an absolute joy. In fact it was so good I read it twice. My review can be found here.

11. The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett

I read this book against the back drop of the #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations gathering momentum across the globe. It is hard to imagine a more momentous time to have engaged with this particular novel, but I am quite convinced that whenever I had met The Vanishing Half , it’s impact would be have been the same.

It was an absolute pleasure to read and review.

12. Leonard and Hungry Paul – Rónán Hession

Ok, I know I am really late to the party with this one but I honestly believe that this is one book everyone needs to read.

In a time of darkness Leonard and Hungry Paul is a ray of hope and light.

13. The Miseducation of Evie Epworth – Matson Taylor

It’s fair to say that 2020 has sometimes fallen short on laughs! But this book helped to raise mirth and spirits alike.

It is the story of 16 year old Evie, a Yorkshire lass, living on a farm with her Dad Arthur. It’s 1962 and having lost her mother as a baby Evie is close to her Dad, so her world is rocked when the indomitable Christine appears on the scene. With her entirely pink wardrobe, over bearing mother Vera and grand plans for the family – none of which actually involve farming or Evie – Christine is a force to be reckoned with and it seems she has Arthur under her spell.

What happens next is a glorious riot of a story!

14. The Pull of the Stars – Emma Donoghue

Considering I have been living through a pandemic you might have thought I would avoid books that reflected that world back to me.

However The Pull of the Stars, set in Ireland in 1918 flu pandemic made me realise just how lucky we are today. Here was a civilisation, still coping with the ravages of war, poor sanitation, economic hardship and limited communication, dealing with challenges we could only imagine.

This book was profound, moving and in many ways hopeful.

15. Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart

This book needs no introduction from me. A Booker Prize winner that I will forever feel privileged to have read in proof form; this book went to the core of my soul.

So beautifully written, full of heartbreak and joy; light and shade in equal measure. Shuggie Bain is a present and future classic.

16. The Sound Mirror – Heidi James

Back to Bluemoose Books (there is a delightful pattern developing here!!) and this time to the raw and rather special The Sound Mirror by Heidi James.

If I can write just one paragraph with the skill, beauty and sharpness of Heidi James I will die a happy woman. This is the story of women, of families and the mark they make, for good or ill, on the lives they touch.

This one is unsurpassed.

17. Supporting Cast – Kit De Waal

Short stories continue to delight me, and these are up there with the best of them. They are made all the more delightful by linking to Kit’s previous novels.

Touching, tender and immersed in compassion, these stories were like revisiting old friends and peeking into their hearts and souls.

18. Small Pleasures – Clare Chambers

I read this book back in the summer and I still haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. This is an unusual and atmospheric tale and one which perfectly radiates and reflects the period in which it is set.

My review is here and I know this is one I will be rereading in the not too distant future.

19. The Harpy – Megan Hunter

There was no other book quite like this one in my reading pile this year!

A tale of betrayal, deceit and the ultimate revenge, this novel is heavy with mythological reference and symbolism. The Harpy is once read and never forgotten.

20. A Ghost in the Throat – Doireann Ni Ghriofa

This book was an unexpected find and joy this year. A book that introduced my to the idea of ‘Women’s Texts’ and spoke to me in a myriad of ways.

This book is a celebration of women’s lives through the ages, of women telling their own and each other’s stories, of celebrating the extraordinary and the domestic with equal gravity and relish. My review is here.

21. The Night of the Flood – Zoe Somerville

I always get excited when I am introduced to a new author, especially when that author is right at the beginning of their publishing journey. Because it means there are more exciting things to come.

This was most definitely the case with The Night of the Flood. Set against the backdrop of the 1953 Norfolk flood, this story is exciting, tender and robustly told.

22. Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books – Cathy Rentzenbrink

If there has been one more thing comforting than books and reading this year, it has been sharing that love with other people. Be that through the giving and receiving of books, blogging, zoom book clubs or through wonderful books like Dear Reader that focus on what it is that books mean to the author.

This one was such a treat; a beacon in a very dark time. My review, I hope, will explain why this is a not be missed book.

23. Should we fall behind – Sharon Duggal

This year has been an opportunity to embrace and celebrate the power of community. To remind ourselves once more of the individual stories and experiences that come together as a whole to make us what we are.

And this book is a true reflection of that philosophy. Another Bluemoose offering, Should We Fall Behind is the story of what happens when we look beyond the surface and start to let others in. It was a glorious book to lose myself in this autumn.

24. When I Come Home again – Caroline Scott

Literature set around the First World War has it’s own special place in my heart. There is something so individual about this period, about the challenges, the loss and in a strange way, the gains, that I will always seek out these stories.

When I Come Home Again is a perfect example of this canon of literature and it was my absolute pleasure to read and review as part of the blog tour.

25. The Thief on the Winged Horse – Kate Mascarenhas

Set in the modern day but in a world more magical than our own, this story of family tradition, magic and rivalry captures both my heart and my imagination.

It’s attention to detail was exquisite, and it’s strong female characters, intent on reclaiming a stolen birthright, was just the boost I needed. This book is powerful and just a little bit special. And it was a privilege for my review to be catching a ride on the blog tour.

So there, are my top 25! So many fabulous books read and shared this year. And so many people to thank. Huge thanks to everyone who has sent me books to read, review and generally worship; it is a privilege I will never take for granted.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read the blog this year and connect with me on Social Media. It’s always a pleasure but this year it has literally been a lifeline.

Here’s to 2021 – whatever it brings, let’s remember there are always books!!

Rachel x

September’s gone??! Here’s a quick wrap up!

So autumn is very much upon us and September seems to have disappeared in the blink of an eye. For me September is always about the start of the school year, always busy, but this year unsurprisingly it has presented it’s own unique challenges!!

As such the reading totals are way down on last month and the type of books I have read have varied enormously!!

For example, there have been a number of books which I think of as ‘dip in and out books’, books perfectly suited to grabbing when I have five minutes to indulge myself. Keeping me company throughout the whole month has been the glorious Poems to live your life by collected and illustrated by the wonderful Chris Riddell. It’s been the perfect bedside companion to busy days and early mornings.

Entirely different and accidental poetry and very light relief has been found in The beautiful poetry of Donald Trump by Rob Sears. Each poem is a little gem created by the author from actual Trump quotes. As with anything surrounding the current US President it is hilarious and scary in equal measure.

My final ‘dip in and out’ read has been the excellent The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla. This is a collection of experiences and essays by a multicultural cast of voices, focusing on what being a immigrant in Modern Britain really means. Illuminating, sometimes heartbreaking, this collection is likely to provoke every emotion going but it is an absolute must read.

Immigration seems to have been a bit of a theme in my reading this month. I started the month with the fabulous, if some what challenging Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar, part fiction, part fact this is an honest account of what it is like to grow as a Muslim in the USA.

And in a similar vein the month drew to a reading close with the beautiful The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim. My Instagram review can be found here

In a bid to escape the reality of daily news I have reawakened my habit of listening to an audiobook on the drive to work. I am almost at end of my life long love Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, performed by the talented Joanna Froggat. and l have also listened to this month’s book club pick Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

I have been involved in two cracking blog tours this month. One was the mammoth but delightful undertaking of Unto This Last by Rebecca Lipkin, a detailed and compelling retelling of the complex loves of John Ruskin.

The second was an absolutely fascinating series of essays focusing on female philosophers too long over looked and unappreciated. The Philosopher Queens by Lisa Whiting and Rebecca Buxton . It’s already on my Christmas Gifting list for this year!

I am sent so many fabulous books to read and review and I am genuinely appreciative and overwhelmed by them all. But I wanted to take this opportunity to say a special thank you to Camilla Elworthy from Picador. This year, thanks to her, I have had the pleasure to read some amazing books, including the incomparable Shakespearean by Robert McCrum; my Instagram review can be found here

But this month Camilla sent me a book that literally saved me. In all kinds of ways this has been a tough month but sinking into the pages of Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink was like being enveloped in a warm and book lined cloak. I am so grateful for the chance to read and review this book. Camilla, from the bottom of my heart, Thank You!

I have ended the month with two cracking books which have both come highly recommended and neither disappointed. I delighted in the short but deliciously dark Sisters by the super talented Daisy Johnson. And lost myself in the workings of the Royals with The Governess by Wendy Holden.

So there we have it; September’s reading laid bare. On to October…

Rachel x

Book Review – Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Since all this Covid madness began the one thing I have been missing hugely is hugs. Not being able to throw my arms around a friend or give a colleague a reassuring squeeze is just the hardest thing in the world. So if you, like me are missing your fix, get your hands on Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink, because this my friends is a book hug! Huge and heartfelt thanks to Camilla Elworthy at Picador for my gifted copy.

It’s not often these days I sit down to write a blog post with no notes. As I am reading I am usually scribbling away, trying to get my thoughts down. But this review has come from a place of love and instinct; I don’t need any notes to tell you this book spoke immediately to me.

Any book that has embraced and celebrated Rebecca and The Chronicles of Narnia within the first 10 pages is guaranteed to touch a special place within me. These are the books that I return to time and again, that are tied up within my life, woven into the fabric of growing up. So many familiar and favourite books are to be found here. The Cazalet Chronicles, for example provokes an almost identical reaction within me as it does the author; a beautifully constructed time-gone-by saga which gives more of it’s self every time you read it.

And there are books celebrated here that remind me of those I love. I have never read a Catherine Cookson in my life but these novels were the backdrop to my childhood, exchanged every other Sunday by my Mum and my Grandad, each new release eagerly awaited and devoured.

Cathy Rentzenbrink reads compulsively and with passion. I am told I am a quick reader, but I am in awe of her ability to devour three books a day. This book felt like sitting down with a kindred spirit and comparing notes. This isn’t a list of books the author has read; it isn’t a volume of put together reviews; it is a tale of how reading had underpinned, shaped and support a life, through all it’s challenges and joys. And I feel a deep connection with that.

You see reading has helped to build me and it always has the power to put me back together again. For me reading is like breathing. I need to read. In this world of box sets and social media the amount I read each year often seems to provoke constant comment, as if compulsive reading is some kind of disease or affliction. Maybe it is but like the author I am powerless to change now.

Cathy Rentzenbrink has made books her salvation and her career. It is a source of regret to me that no one ever told me and the teenage me never realised, that I could make books the centre of my professional life. Maybe my blog is part of the desire to address this. Or maybe it is way of fulfilling that desire to recommend books to complete strangers in libraries, in book shops and in public transport.

This book felt like coming home to an old friend. My reading list has grown beyond all measure and so has my bookish heart.

Rachel x