#bookreview

‘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

 

 

‘Our Kind of Cruelty’ by Araminta Hall #bookreview #fridayreads

cruelty

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Mike and Verity have a special game. The Crave.

They play it to prove what they already know: that Verity loves Mike. That she needs Mike.

Even though she’s marrying another man.

Now Mike knows that the stakes of their private game are rising.

This time, someone has to die…
Mike adores Verity. She’s everything to him. His troubled background makes him crave security and love and he thinks Verity is the answer to everything. And he thinks she feels the same. At first she does, and she’s a willing participant in the excitement of their game. But when things change, Mike can’t accept it. And the story gets incredibly dark.

I’m really in two minds about this book. It is well-written, well-paced (not a twisty, turny roller coaster, but a good, slow burner), it’s gripping, and involving. It’s also an extremely thought-provoking and honest account of how women are treated, of how assumptions are made of them, how they better not like sex, or they will be judged. And I think that’s something very important.

That said, I did feel that Mike’s character was a little stereotypical. He’s badly affected by his childhood but there must be something else that makes him behave the way he does. It can’t be that simple. It’s a rather flat portrayal of mental health problems and it does get a little tiring, as someone with experience of mental health issues, to see such ‘easy’ motivations for unlikeable characters.

That said, the scenes that explore the treatment of Verity are excellent, timely, valid, important – the novel is well-worth reading for this alone.

Recommended.

4 stars

 

‘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

My Best Reads of 2018 #bookreview #reading

I love a good list and I love the chance to look back on some of the excellent books I’ve read. I also love reading other people’s lists so if you have a post about your best book of the year, do post a link in the comments so I can take a look and add to my ever growing TBR list! Thank you!
These are in no particular order, as each book is so different it seems unfair to say one is better than another, but, that said, ‘The Toymakers’ and ‘The Twelve-Mile Straight’ are my standout books of the year.

A Horse Walks Into a Bar

horse
This has some mixed reviews, and I can understand why, to an extent. It’s very unusual, very dark and is difficult to read at times. But it’s brilliant.
Stand-up comedian Dovaleh G is giving a performance in a small Israeli town. A childhood friend has been asked to attend – he doesn’t know why, and as the evening progresses, he feels more and more uncomfortable, as do the audience, who realise that this isn’t the show they were expecting.
This is an unsettling novel, but it is beautifully crafted, and highly recommended.

The Cottingley Secret

cottingley

I love reading fiction based on history and I’d heard the fascinating story about the Cottingley fairies before, so was very keen to read this novel.
This is a really lovely book and a pleasure to read. The author treats Frances and Elsie with respect, sensitive always to the fact that these two girls were real people, and her retelling provides an explanation as to how and, perhaps more importantly, why, people were so ready to believe in fairies.
If you like fast-paced drama with twists and turns then this probably isn’t the book for you. But I felt that the pace and the tone were ideally suited to the subject matter and the book weaves a lovely spell that draws you in and might even make you believe in fairies.

The Twelve-Mile Straight

12 mile

In a world that seems to be moving backwards, with the rise of the far right in the US and here in the UK, this is a pertinent novel. We kid ourselves that we’ve moved so far, that we have achieved equality, but the prejudice and discrimination written here is unfortunately only too real almost a hundred years later.
Sharecropper’s daughter Elma gives birth to twins – one light-skinned, one dark. Not surprisingly, this garners a great deal of interest, and gossip, and the result is that field hand Genus, deemed to have raped Elma, is lynched.
But there’s more to the twins’ conception and birth than meets the eye. And Elma, her father Juke, and housekeeper Nan find themselves entangled in a web of lies and deceit.
This isn’t a pleasant, happy read. But it is an important one. Like Britain’s history of colonialism, the US has never seemed to really address its past, admit its guilt and make amends. That it isn’t too hard to imagine the events of this book happening still is a sad indictment of how little we’ve progressed. A must read.

Petals and Stones

petals

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

Home

home

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.
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.

The Toymakers

Toymakers

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 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!

 

 

‘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

‘What’s Left Unsaid’ by @DeborahStone_ #BookReview #RBRT #FridayReads

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘What’s Left Unsaid’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

unsaid

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Sasha is just about managing to hold her life together. She is raising her teenage son Zac, coping with an absent husband and caring for her ageing, temperamental and alcoholic mother, as well as holding down her own job. But when Zac begins to suspect that he has a secret sibling, Sasha realises that she must relive the events of a devastating night which she has done her best to forget for the past nineteen years.

Sasha’s mother, Annie, is old and finds it difficult to distinguish between past and present and between truth and lies. As Annie sinks deeper back into her past, she revisits the key events in her life which have shaped her emotionally. Through it all, she remains convinced that her dead husband Joe is watching and waiting for her. But there’s one thing she never told him, and as painful as it is for her to admit the truth, Annie is determined to go to Joe with a guilt-free conscience.

As the plot unfurls, traumas are revealed and lies uncovered, revealing long-buried secrets which are at the root of Annie and Sasha’s fractious relationship.

You can tell as soon as you begin reading this book that you’re going to enjoy it. The opening works so well and is a real attention-grabber. And the rest of the novel doesn’t disappoint.
Sasha is a lovely character. As a woman approaching a rather important birthday, I love female characters I can relate to, and I can’t bear it when a woman approaching middle age is portrayed as supremely confident, and with a body that makes men gasp! It isn’t realistic and it’s annoying. Sasha drinks wine and eats whole packets of biscuits when she’s fed up – far more relatable, far more real, without falling into stereotype.
The three points of view here work exceptionally well. There’s no ‘head-hopping’ and the differing viewpoints really work in enabling you to sympathise with characters that you might otherwise absolutely despise – Annie, for example. When we hear about her from Sasha, all our sympathy is with Sasha, but when we learn about Annie’s past, we see why she is like she is, and while we still feel so much for Sasha, we can feel for Annie too.
The author really shows these different characters so well – she has a firm understanding of human nature and relationships. Her characters are real, and fully developed.
And Sasha has a lovely dog too, who is very much a part of the story – always a plus for me!
My only gripe is that there were a few errors in the text – issues with tense and capitalisation, though not enough to spoil things, and I did feel that some of Joe’s story relied a little too heavily on telling. That said, this is a lovely book, and thoroughly enjoyable to read. I’ll definitely look out for more from this author.

4 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.

 

 

 

‘Everything Is Lies’ by Helen Callaghan #bookreview #FridayReads #psychological #thriller

Everything

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What if your parents had been lying to you since the day you were born? 

Sophia’s parents lived quiet, ordinary lives. At least she thought so, until she came home to discover her mother hanged, and her father in a pool of blood.

Sophia is certain her mother didn’t try to kill her father – but clearing her name will draw Sophia deep into a past she never imagined.

A past that hides a dark and twisted secret . . .

Because if everything you’ve been told is lies, then how dangerous is the truth? 

Sophia has escaped the boredom of her childhood home and is living in London, working as an architect. Her mother, who she recognises has issues, bothers her constantly, and as the novel opens, she calls Sophia when she is out with her new colleagues, asking her to come home. Irritated, Sophia refuses, a reaction she’ll come to regret, because her mother has been hiding a huge secret for years, and nothing about her quiet, reclusive parents is what Sophia thought it was.

There’s loads of mystery here, and intrigue, and lots of twists and turns, all centred on a book Sophia’s mother was writing about her past. Sophia reads the first two parts of the manuscript and discovers her mother was part of a cult headed by a rock star. But the third part is missing and it seems that someone will go to any lengths to stop Sophia finding out exactly what it contains.

The clever part of this novel is that you often think you know exactly what has happened, and then something shifts, something new is discovered, and you realise you’re wrong, again. The plot is flawless, the writing tight, suspenseful and really well-paced. I really enjoyed reading this – it was pure escapism. The only thing stopping me giving it five stars is that I just didn’t connect fully with Sophia. I didn’t feel her horror and grief at her mother’s death or her fear or shock when she begins to discover her mother’s past. But that doesn’t stop me recommending this book – if you like twisty, turny, well-written thrillers, then it’s definitely for you.

4 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.