#TuesdayBookBlog

‘The Swooping Magpie’ by @LizaPerrat #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘The Swooping Magpie’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

swooping magpie

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The thunderclap of sexual revolution collides with the black cloud of illegitimacy. 
Sixteen-year-old Lindsay Townsend is pretty and popular at school. At home, it’s a different story. Dad belts her and Mum’s either busy or battling a migraine. So when sexy school-teacher Jon Halliwell finds her irresistible, Lindsay believes life is about to change.
She’s not wrong.
Lindsay and Jon pursue their affair in secret, because if the school finds out, Jon will lose his job. If Lindsay’s dad finds out, there will be hell to pay. But when a dramatic accident turns her life upside down, Lindsay is separated from the man she loves.
Events spiral beyond her control, emotions conflicting with doubt, loneliness and fear, and Lindsay becomes enmeshed in a shocking true-life Australian scandal. The schoolyard beauty will discover the dangerous games of the adult world. Games that destroy lives.
Lindsay is forced into the toughest choice of her young life. The resulting trauma will forever burden her heart.
Reflecting the social changes of 1970s Australia, The Swooping Magpie is a chilling psychological tale of love, loss and grief, and, through collective memory, finding we are not alone.

This is a hugely emotive and important subject and one that deserves to be in the spotlight. While this is fiction, these dreadful things really did happen and the way unmarried mothers were treated was absolutely appalling. Anyone who has read about the Magdalene laundries, or watched ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ or ‘Philomena’ (both very much recommended) will be familiar with the issues behind this novel.

Lindsay is naïve though she tries to be a grown up. She’s vulnerable, though she seems to have it all. She’s looking for love, acceptance, acknowledgement. So she’s the perfect target for the slippery, creepy Jon.

This is a very well-written book. Lindsay is a great main character – she’s not perfect, she’s selfish and headstrong and vain. But she doesn’t deserve what happens to her. Her development as a character, the relationships and friendships she forms, all change her. And what happens to her shapes her life. Her story is written with honesty and candour, and feels completely authentic.

The cast of characters are memorable and their own stories are heart-breaking, particularly poor little Dawnie. And these are stories that deserve to be told. Anything that shines a light on the way these girls and women were treated is a good thing and this novel shows their stories so well.

That said, there were a couple of things that prevent me from giving this novel five stars. I felt that some of the historical detail used to give a sense of time and place were a little forced, felt a little shoehorned into the narrative. I also felt that the story’s full potential wasn’t completely realised – it felt like there was so much more to tell. I wanted to know more about the conditions at the home, Lindsay’s emotions and feelings at having to be there, more about her time afterwards. It felt a little rushed at times, and though it’s not a short novel, I felt that the characters and their stories deserved a bit more time.

That said, this is an important novel, well told and a must-read.

4 stars

 

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The David Bowie Reading Challenge #TuesdayBookBlog #DBowieBooks #DavidBowie

It’s David Bowie’s birthday today, and since his death three years ago I’ve been intermittently taking part in the David Bowie reading challenge, which I first heard about here.

To be completely honest, I’ve not done too well – but the challenge has led me to read some wonderful books, and I’m determined to read more from the list this year.

Here are the books I’ve read so far with links to my reviews.

‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter

nights at the circus

‘As I Lay Dying’ by Williams Faulkner

Faulkner

‘Room at the Top’ by John Braine

room

‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ by Muriel Spark

brodie

‘Billy Liar’ by Keith Waterhouse

billy

‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’ by Hubert Selby Jr

last-exit

‘1984’ by George Orwell

georgeorwellxobeygiantprintset-1984coverbyshepardfairey

‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters

fingersmith

‘Madame Bovary’ by Gustave Flaubert

bovary

You can find a complete list of the books here.

I’ve also read ‘Passing’ by Nella Larsen, and will post my review soon.

I do recommend the challenge – there are so many books out there, new and old, but there are books on this list that really are must reads and many are books that I’ve been meaning to read for years, so it’s a good way of focusing on that goal.

Do let me know if you’ve read any of the books on the list, and what you thought.

bowie 3

 

 

‘Winter’ by Ali Smith #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

ali smith winter

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Winter? Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. The shortest days, the longest nights. The trees are bare and shivering. The summer’s leaves? Dead litter.

The world shrinks; the sap sinks.
But winter makes things visible. And if there’s ice, there’ll be fire.

In Ali Smith’s Winter, lifeforce matches up to the toughest of the seasons. In this second novel in her acclaimed Seasonal cycle, the follow-up to her sensational Autumn, Smith’s shape-shifting quartet of novels casts a merry eye over a bleak post-truth era with a story rooted in history, memory and warmth, its taproot deep in the evergreens: art, love, laughter.

It’s the season that teaches us survival.
Here comes Winter.

I appreciate that book reviews are a matter of opinion, and that not all books are for all people. But sometimes I read a book, look at the reviews, and just can’t get my head around them.

This book has an average of 3.5 stars on Amazon. And yet it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time.

I can’t be completely out of touch with what most other readers think, can I?

Oh well, all I can say is I absolutely loved it. It’s different. It’s clever. It’s skilful, uncompromising. The narrative is firmly rooted in the everyday, in reality, but it meanders around, with a feeling of unreality, delusion, even enchantment that lifts this away from being a novel about Christmas, about family, about the past and coming to terms with it, about the strained relationships that are brought to the fore by an enforced jollity. And yet it is all these things too.

And of course the writing is beautiful, poetic, charming and yet also bleak, harsh, cruel at times. A bit like Christmas.

Wonderful.

5 stars

‘The Toymakers’ by Robert Dinsdale #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

Toymakers

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Do you remember when you believed in magic?

An enchanting, magical novel set in a mysterious toyshop – perfect for fans of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Stephanie Garber’s Caraval by way of Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist

It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment.

The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into this family business comes young Cathy Wray, running away from a shameful past. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own.

But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own…

Fifteen-year-old Cathy, pregnant and in danger of having to give away her baby, runs away to London and secures a job in Papa Jack’s Emporium.

The emporium isn’t just any old toy shop. Open only for winter, the toys use the magic of imagination, the innocence and magic of childhood, to create patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy soldiers that really fight, Wendy houses that are as big inside as they seemed to be when you were little.

Cathy soon becomes an essential part of the emporium, safe, happy and loved. But war is looming and the repercussions of a sibling rivalry put that happiness and safety at risk.

This is such a beautiful book. The writing is truly lovely, absolutely magical in places and it really is the perfect book to sink into on a winter’s afternoon. The magic is presented in such a way that it seems totally believable, and the dark threads of war, violence, jealousy and cruelty are wound through so skilfully, that this is much more than a fantasy.

Cathy is a lovely main character and her relationships with Kaspar, Emil, Papa Jack and Martha are a real highlight of the book – as is lovely Sirius, the patchwork dog. If you think you can’t cry over a toy, think again!

Perfect for Christmas, and one of my books of the year.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

‘Petals and Stones’ by @Joanne_Burn #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

petals

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When Uma discovers her husband’s infidelity just hours before his untimely death, the carefully woven threads of her life begin to unravel.

Struggling to manage the grief of those around her, she escapes to a remote cottage by the coast where she swims in the winter sea, cooks the forgotten Keralan dishes of her childhood and begins the search for her husband’s lover.

It isn’t long before Uma realises what she must do to pick up the tattered threads of her life. But will her choices jeopardise the only family she has left?

Such an interesting way to begin a novel – we are with Uma, content, to an extent, enjoying a normal day in a relatively normal life when two horrible things happen in quick succession – she discovers her husband Daniel’s affair, and then he is killed on his way back to explain himself to her.

Her grief is tempered by anger and frustration, and the way she has to keep these things in check in front of his family and friends is so well portrayed. And the dual timelines exploring their relationship, their pasts and that of their friends Aaron and Pippa, make for a really beautifully written and novel about relationships, love, loss and the little decisions we make that affect our lives in huge ways.

The writing is wonderful, almost lyrical in places, without feeling overdone or ‘clever’. It flows so well and the author draws her scenes beautifully, immersing the reader in the different places with some beautiful descriptions and details that never overwhelm, just give a lovely sense of time and place.

Joanne Burn is definitely an author to watch out for. An accomplished and absorbing novel.

5 stars

‘Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams’ by Matthew Walker #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

sleep

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Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our life, health and longevity and yet it is increasingly neglected in twenty-first-century society, with devastating consequences: every major disease in the developed world – Alzheimer’s, cancer, obesity, diabetes – has very strong causal links to deficient sleep.

In this book, the first of its kind written by a scientific expert, Professor Matthew Walker explores twenty years of cutting-edge research to solve the mystery of why sleep matters. Looking at creatures from across the animal kingdom as well as major human studies, Why We Sleep delves into everything from what really happens during REM sleep to how caffeine and alcohol affect sleep and why our sleep patterns change across a lifetime, transforming our appreciation of the extraordinary phenomenon that safeguards our existence.

I have suffered from poor sleep on and off for most of my adult life. I’ve tried all the usual things – less caffeine, less alcohol, more alcohol, warm baths, no screen time after 8 p.m. – the list goes on and on and none of those things have worked. So I was keen to read this book and see if it could offer any help.

It does so much more than that. This book goes into real depth about how and why we sleep. It’s scientific, research-based and full of sometimes quite startling information. But it does all this in a very readable and reader-friendly way. It isn’t confusing or dense, and it certainly isn’t boring. It’s informative and fascinating and very, very well-written.

It’s eye-opening and concerning to discover just how much of an impact on health – both mental and physical – poor sleep has. And it’s a real concern in a culture that is based on work, work, work with little time for relaxation. It’s a reminder that sleeping and resting and caring for yourself isn’t a luxury or an indulgence but is something that is vital and necessary. A real wake-up call.

I still don’t sleep all that well, but I have more good nights than bad. And I understand now how important that is.

I can’t recommend this book enough.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

 

 

‘Home’ by Amanda Berriman #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

home

Amazon.co.uk

Meet Jesika, aged four and a half. The most extraordinary narrator of 2018.

She lives in a flat with her mother and baby brother and she knows a lot. She knows their flat is high up and the stairs are smelly. She knows she shouldn’t draw on the peeling wallpaper or touch the broken window. And she knows she loves her mummy and baby brother Toby.

She does not know that their landlord is threatening to evict them and that Toby’s cough is going to get much worse. Or that Paige, her new best friend, has a secret that will explode their world.

This should be a thoroughly depressing read, but it is saved from being so by Jesika, the four-year-old narrator.

It isn’t easy to successfully write from a child’s point of view once you’re an adult, but Jesika feels really  authentic. Her misconceptions and misunderstandings really make you realise how confusing the things adults say can be, and you long for the grown-ups in her life to listen to her properly, to slow down and to realise that she’s confused and worried and scared.

Jesika’s love for her mum and brother is beautifully portrayed, and her visceral fear of being left is one of the strengths of the story. And while, as adults, readers understand what is going on completely, Jesika’s confusion adds to the tension and drama – there’s an almost physical reaction, wanting to protect Jesika and poor little Paige.

This is a timely portrayal too of the frustrations and stupidities involved in accessing services, particularly for the most vulnerable. Someone should be helping Jesika and her mum – they shouldn’t be in a mouldy, dangerous flat, at the mercy of an unscrupulous private landlord. It’s a damning portrayal of the times we live in.

Hard to read at times, but definitely one to read, I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ this, but Jesika will stay with me for a long time.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘The Men’ by Fanny Calder #RBRT #TuesdayBookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘The Men’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Cover Image - The Men

Amazon.co.uk

A darkly brilliant debut novel by Fanny Calder, and arguably essential reading for the feminist hedonist woman in your life.

City life in the 1990s. Anonymous, intense, paradoxical and sometimes lonely. A young, haunted woman falls in love with a singer. She finds she has been consumed by the relationship and when it ends – as it inevitably does – she feels unable to quite rediscover herself.

Cities can draw you into even darker places, and she embarks on a series of intense relationships with thirteen men of very different types, from a rough sleeper to a millionaire, and from a transvestite to a leading politician. As she is propelled through a series of extraordinary adventures and wild parties she finds she begins to lose her own identity. Is there a way out?

A raw and unflinchingly honest narrative with stripped down language that is liberating and sometimes challenging. It is a tale of urban human connections crafted with no judgement or deep introspection – a window on the author’s own life at that time that will resonate and stay with you.

How refreshing to read something different, something honest and authentic. This is a book that is what it says it is – raw and unflinchingly honest. It follows the experiences of an unnamed woman as she moves from encounter to encounter and from relationship to relationship, making mistakes, getting into difficult situations, looking for something she can’t quite reach.

The relationships she has make for a compelling read, and one that is difficult at times. I found the first few episodes a little irritating to be honest and I wasn’t sure I was going to like the narrator or the book, but then, as things progressed, I warmed to her and became really engrossed in the narrative. She grows on you and you find yourself feeling angry with her, sorry for her, frustrated with her and happy for her when she does find joy and contentment.

I found her friendship with the transvestite and his boy really touching and a joy to read. She found with them, it seemed, a relationship that was real and good and good for her.

The author is a very talented writer, the writing here is beautifully done – well-crafted, measured, beautiful in places without being overblown. The writer knows how to build a scene, build characters without overdoing descriptions, unnecessary adjectives and tired, clichéd similes and metaphors – this is a writer with natural flair.

An unusual, intelligent and unsettling book. Very much recommended.

5 stars

 

‘The Confession’ by Jo Spain #tuesdaybookblog #bookreview #crime

confession

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Late one night a man walks into the luxurious home of disgraced banker Harry McNamara and his wife Julie. The man launches an unspeakably brutal attack on Harry as a horror-struck Julie watches, frozen by fear. It looks like Harry’s many sins – corruption, greed, betrayal – have finally caught up with him.

An hour later the intruder, JP Carney, hands himself in, confessing to the assault. The police have a victim, a suspect in custody and an eye-witness account, but Julie remains troubled.

Has Carney’s surrender really been driven by a guilty conscience or is this confession the first calculated move in a deadly game?

The opening of this book is a lesson in how to hook your reader – and is also not for the faint-hearted. It’s shocking, but not gratuitous, and brings you straight into the drama.

Told form varying points of view, we follow Julie as she meets and marries Harry, realises he’s not all he’s cracked up to be, but finds herself unable to give him up. We also follow JP, his troubling past, and discover what has led him to this crime.

There is also Alice, the detective assigned the case, who  knows there’s more to it than others want to believe, but who is frustrated at every turn, by both JP and by Julie.

This is a very well-written book, and one that is much more than a crime novel. There is much here about the complexities of love, loyalty and jealousy, there is also a good dose of social comment (without being preachy) and enough drama to keep you turning the pages.

I did feel, however, that there could have been more detail about Harry and Julie’s early relationship. It’s all a bit vague – how did he become so successful exactly? And I wanted more about Alice too. She’s a great character, funny, clever and interesting and I felt that she deserved much more room in this novel.

I was also a little disappointed by the ending. It didn’t feel that realistic to me.

That said, this is a really enjoyable read.

4 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘While You Sleep’ by Stephanie Merritt #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

sleep

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A house full of secrets…
The McBride house lies on a remote Scottish island, isolated and abandoned. A century ago, a young widow and her son died mysteriously there. Last year a local boy, visiting for a dare, disappeared without a trace.
A woman alone at night…
For Zoe Adams, the house offers an escape from her failing marriage. But when night falls, her peaceful retreat is disrupted—scratches at the door, strange voices—and Zoe is convinced she is being watched.
A threat that lurks in the shadows…
The locals tell Zoe the incidents are merely echoes of the house’s dark past. Zoe is sure the danger is all too real—but can she uncover the truth before she is silenced?

A remote Scottish island, a creepy house, the wind moaning, waves crashing, a terrifying legend and the kind of locals that all go silent when you walk into the pub – what more could you ask for?
Zoe is looking for peace and quiet and isolation so she can get her head together. A beautiful old house miles from anywhere seems ideal. But the house has a mysterious past and the locals are a bit cagey. Strange things begin to happen – but this isn’t bumps in the night and rattling chains; there’s a weird feeling in the house and Zoe’s dreams are vividly erotic and very unsettling.
But this is no Fifty Shades (thank goodness) and the sex is, on the whole, well-written. And what the writer does especially well is to weave a really suspenseful and at times terrifying tale. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the house, the isolation, the fear that Zoe feels are so well portrayed – you feel terrified for her.
I also liked the weaving of myth and history with the reality of the characters’’ present. It’s done really well, and there are two stories going on here, that of Zoe and that of Ailsa, the widow who died a century before. Ailsa’s story is fascinating – it could probably be a whole different novel in itself.
It’s truly a gripping read, well-paced, dark, but fun too if you like to be scared! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

four-and-a-half-stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.