If you follow me on Twitter or are a regular reader of the blog you will know that over the past year or so I have been drawn further and further into the web of short fiction. So when Reflex Press approached me about Emily Bullock’s new collection Human Terrain I was very excited to get my hands on a copy.
Human Terrain is a collection of 20 short stories, some almost flash length, which concentrate very much on the human condition; on those things that motivate and bind us. The things that both hold us back and drive us forward.
Within these pages are snapshots of lives. From an elderly man revisiting his childhood home, to the young girls groomed by extremists; we move seamlessly from the everyday to the extreme. And whatever the focus, the content or the characters each story is as vivid and alive with connections as the next. No setting feels mundane, no seems character forced or unbelievable. Here is a writer who has harnessed, embraced and extended the human spirit in multitude ways, harnessing each stories energy and going where it might take her.
Diversity and adversity run through this collection like welcome silver threads. We meet characters who are up against it, who are doing what they need to do to survive both physically and emotionally. We witness self destruction and self awareness in equal measure, but we are invited to view them through a three dimensional, empathetic lens.
This is a sparkling collection with humanity at it’s heart. Beautifully balanced and constructed, it is a perfect short story collection.
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.
People who follow me on Twitter may or may not had noticed that over the past few months I have fallen increasingly and hopelessly in love with Flash Fiction. So when David Borrowdale from Reflex Press asked me if I would be interested in reading and reviewing Love Stories for Hectic People by Catherine McNamara I jumped at the chance.
Flash fiction is an art, a beautiful elusive skill. The ability to encapsulate, convey and develop a story in under 1,000 words is something to be cherished and admired. And within these pages are found thirty three fantastic examples.
The over arching theme is, as the title suggests, love. And it is love in it’s many and varied forms. Here, drawn with clarity, wit, empathy and razor sharp precision are stories of couples the world over. Couples in love, couples in lust and everything in between.
Here are relationships that are at the beginning, relationships in their death throes and relationships that have developed to stand the test of time.
Brevity might be the key in this collection, but each tale has as an impeccable structure, a view point that pans like a camera, zooming in and out, drawing the readers eye to the heart of each matter every single time.
If you are looking for something new, something biting, raw and fresh, then grab yourself a copy and feast away. I promised myself that this would be book to be taken on board in bitesized chunks. Turns out I gorged on it, one glorious tale after the other.
Love Stories for Hectic People by Catherine McNamara is available to order here.
It has been Shortlisted for The Saboteur Awards 2021 Best Short Story Collection.
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.
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 Mirrorby 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 Harpyis 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!!
The thing I love about Bookish Twitter is that you discover new and unexpected gems every single day. A few weeks ago I responded to a tweet from writer Susan Hill, asking for book bloggers to be in touch. Under a week later I was sat in my garden, enjoying a copy of her latest collection of short stories.
Walter and Florence and Other Stories was published on 10th May 2020 by Long Barn Books, and for short story lovers it is a must read.
This is a collection of ‘real’ stories. This may seem a strange thing to say and maybe it is. But what I mean by this is that from the beginning I was enthralled by each tale , I was captured. I wasn’t looking for the deeper meaning, my attention wasn’t wondering, I wasn’t even pausing to make notes.
I was just enjoying that simple but honest pleasure of being told a good story.
The subject matter found within the collection is diverse, and showcases the author’s skill, experience and versatility as a writer. There is a gentleness, and a beguiling charm to the stories that are woven here. There isn’t a story in this collection which I was able to break away from.
To those of you who have read, and marvelled at Hill’s The Woman in Black it will come as no surprise when I tell you that the two ghost stories within this volume are special.
The title story Walter and Florence begins as the tale of a quiet domestic life. A couple drawn to each other, childless but happy; their marriage is the very model of ‘for better, for worse.’ But when one spouse dies, the other is left vulnerable. The ending is unexpected but triumphant. And steeped in the supernatural.
The Quiet House again centres around a widow. Lost, lonely and barely recovered following the death of his beloved, the unnamed widow takes refuge in the The Quiet House, trying to escape the demands of Christmas. But what he finds there is most unexpected. So too is what he discovers about himself.
There is a feeling in several of these stories of a reawakening. Of characters finding answers, or even asking new questions; a sense that a life they thought was mapped out for them might not be as secure as they thought. For example in Irish Twins we see Fern struggling to find her place in the world when the ties between her and her sister begin to break. This is the bond she has always relied on begins to give her life shape and meaning. How does she move forwards now?
And similarly Paula, the wife of Adrian, captured so perfectly in Hunger, finds moving to the country is not what she anticipated it would be. But the reality might something all together more liberating.
Each story has a clear sense of pace and purpose. Sometimes rooted firmly in the domestic, but never humdrum or dull, the characters are beautifully drawn. They speak to the reader and take the mind’s eye into their own world. This is never more true than in the case of the final story Reader, I Married Him.
This piece was published in a collection of stories of the same title, edited by Tracey Chevalier. This was a collection of works connected to and inspired by Jane Eyre, published by Harper Collins.
In this story Hill has painted a haunting, sometimes quite heartbreaking portrait of an ageing Duchess of Windsor. We find this infamous woman looking back on her life and the choices she made, with a raw frankness. It is a simple yet compelling challenge to the long held view of the manipulative femme fatale, who stole a king.
This is a collection of stories that will charm and entertain. They are written with authority. There is a sense of an author in charge of her craft throughout, drawing her audience in and holding them lightly in her hand. This is story telling at it’s best.
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.
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 Rentzenbrinkwas 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…
August is always my Happy Reading month! A combination of so much good stuff coming out at the beginning of September and the fact I am not in school, means I can truly indulge myself, and my reading totals tend to climb. This month I have read 21 books in total. It’s been bliss! Back to school this week and I suspect that September’s totals will struggle to reach double figures! August is definitely the purple patch!
August’s books were really varied. I read both physical and eBooks, and was able to catch up with several books I have been meaning to get to for a while. These included Breaking and Mending by Joanna Cannon, Himself by Jess Kidd, Keeper by Jessica Moor , Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield, Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore . Each one was a book neglected for too long and it’s own unique way a delight.
Another book that I finally got round to reading cover to cover was Hollie McNish’s Nobody told me. I am way behind with this one but if you don’t know it is a collection of prose and poetry written during the author’s pregnancy and the first weeks, months and years of her daughter’s life. It is perfection. It sums up the terror, exhaustion, love and exhilaration of that unique time so beautifully. And for this mum about to send her eldest off to the big wide world of University it was a reflective trip down memory lane.
Another book I had been saving for a special, uninterrupted reading time was Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers.Honestly it was one of the best books I have read this year. I wasn’t planning to review it but having been totally immersed in it there was no way I could pass this one by!
Similarly hoarded and enjoyed have been In The Sweep of The Bay by Cath Barton and Alison Weir’s fifth Tudor Queen book; Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen.
I love short stories, but I don’t feel I have read enough this year. So I have managed to squeeze a couple in to August. First was the newly released Supporting Cast by Kit de Waal. This book was like meeting up with old friends as we gain further insights into the lives of the characters from Kit’s previous novels. This one is going on the forever shelf and is due a reread.
The second collection of stories, arrived through my love of Pondweed by Lisa Blower.It’s gone dark over Bill’s mother’s provoked every emotion going! Highly recommended!
My one and only audiobook this month has been Hamnet. Having read this one back in April, the beauty of this book kept us company on the long drive through France and drew a whole car full of people under it’s spell. I will never fail to be stunned by this book.
I made one foray onto the Booker Prize list with The Redhead By The Side of the Road by Anne Tyler. Always in a safe pair of hands with Tyler!
And, as always this month I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to read some cracking proof copies. Thanks to everyone who sent and continues to send me books. I will never take this privilege for granted.
A pretty inspirational proof for me this month was Finish your book by Lizzie Enfield. It has given me the writing kick up the backside I needed and August was a really productive month!! Thank you Emma Dowson for sending this one my way.
Gifted books that have thrilled me in every sense (!) this month have been The Heatwave by Kate Riordan, for which I am delighted to be part of the Blog Tour, andAfterthe silence by Louise O’Neillpublished on 3rd September. Both kept me enthralled and intrigued! Similar responses were provoked by the stunning debut The Night of the Flood by Zoe Somerville published on 3rd September. Review coming next week…
And last but certainly not least are the two gorgeous reads that were A Ghost in the Throat and Potterism. Both unique and both bringing new writers into my life, something which gives me joy.
So it’s been a mammoth reading month! The feast before the famine I suspect, but that’s the way it rolls! Bring on autumn…
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 CrawdadsSing 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 Tsarinaby 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!
I am intrigued by short stories. I make no secret of my admiration for writers who can weave a spell in this particular way. I am always on the look out for well put together collections that show off the skills and diversity of an author. This collection, A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth by Daniel Mason, published by Mantle is a stunning example of it’s genre. Heartfelt thanks go to Camilla Elworthy for my gifted copy.
Right from the beginning this books feels like a journey. It has the quality of a genuine collection, in the truest sense of the word. Opening it’s pages is like stepping into the beautifully curated museum of curios. Each chapter is flanked by a beautiful engraving and stories are presented with craft, care and love. Like exotic winged specimens within a case they will provoke so many emotions, but I guarantee you will be marvelling at the beauty that they possess.
From the first story; of the bare knuckle fighter, clawing his way through the ranks one bloody fight at a time; to the desperate and driven mother looking for the answers to her sudden’s debilitating illness, there is a sense of awe and wonder. A pervading sense of a world filled with secrets, a world of treasures and happenings still undiscovered, unexplained and unexplored.
Like a A Victorian specimen collector the reader is invited to travel through time and over distance. Each story holds its own miracle, it’s own way of questioning the world as we know it and it’s own way of imparting new knowledge and perspective. The human spirit of adventure and it’s thirst of knowledge drives us through the collection, pausing to appreciate the known and to push the boundaries of the unknown, one delightful story at a time.
Stories such as the tale of Alfred Russel Wallace and his communications to Darwin, Psammeticus I and the beginnings of psychological experimentation, all highlight humankind’s ongoing and instinctive search for truth. And crucially while as a species we explore the truth created around us, we all instinctively need to make our own to make a mark upon the earth.
This collection is a jewel. It has certainly made it’s mark on me. Time to get exploring.
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.
SheClown 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 MyriadEditions for my gifted copy.