I’m Just Going to Leave This Here..

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I don’t know what it is about January – maybe it’s the fact that it seems to go on for 456 days, that Christmas seems a distant memory, or perhaps it’s because it’s a New Year, you think it’s time to just get everything out so you can start the year with a clean slate.

I hope you know me well enough by now to understand that part of my whole ethos is to be upfront with you all, and talk about things I think we are all experiencing or not understanding as part of the Blogging world – be it on Twitter or Instagram.

Over the past few weeks, well, actually, for quite a while now, there have been lots of conversations going on  – and I have taken part in them too, about how this whole book blogging world works.

Years of Reading has been running since 2017 (I know!), and I love every thing about it. I cannot tell you the joy it brings me to talk to all of you about books and reading, to discover books and authors that I would never have dreamed of picking up in a bookshop, and to share my love of books with you all every single day.

However, there are still a number of things I get asked about, and I don’t know the answer.  So, if you are feeling like this whole blogging malarkey is confusing, I am going to tell you a few things, hopefully so you can see that you are not on your own.

Some days, I have had enough of Book Blogging and I have to step away because it drives me mad.

Truly, there are days when I don’t want to read, I feel like a book reading machine, and I don’t get replies from people I have contacted. I have to put my phone down, and do something else because I need to remind myself that this is not a paid job.  I am doing it because I want to.

The best thing for me is to talk to someone who has no involvement with the Book Blogging world, and for them to tell me it doesn’t matter and they don’t get why you need to read a certain book.

I need to want to pick up a book, and sometimes I lose that and have to step away.

I get frustrated when I see people getting books I would have loved to review.

I think we can all admit this has happened to us.  It drives me crazy, and honestly, I used to try and comment on the tweet in the vain hope that someone would take pity on me and send it.  I mean, when you step back and look at that statement – that’s not healthy is it?

It’s really hard, but at the end of the day, how many books do we have sitting on our bookshelves, that we could pick up and review?

It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype of needing to have the latest books, and I am guilty of that, and I need to get better at accepting that I am not entitled to them, and new releases are not everything.

I can’t find the words to write my reviews and I think they all sound the same.

How many times can you say ‘I love this book and you need to read it’!  Now I have written quite a lot of blog posts, although I am happier with the format they are going to take, I still worry that they all sound the same and they are not doing the books the justice they deserve.

My Blog Posts do not get lots of views.

For a book review, if I get 50 views, I have done really well.  Posts about Bookish Things like this, tend to do a lot better.  Funnily enough, since I started doing video reviews on Twitter and Instagram, they do a lot better and I get many more views of those.  Why do I do them? Honestly, because I like communicating in different ways, and sometimes a video review is like chatting to you all, and I think it’s much more natural.

I have less than 250 followers on my Blog.

When I see people celebrating that they now have 1000 followers on their blog, I am mystified! How do they do this? Is there some site I should be posting my blog on to get more followers – why does it matter how many followers I have? What does it mean to have so many followers? Does it mean that my blog isn’t as good as theirs?

This used to really bother me, now it doesn’t, because I am amazed I’ve stuck at blogging for this long!  I went through phases of different hobbies for years, and this is the one I have stuck at!

I do not know how to make people visit my Blog.

I mean, I post everything on Twitter and Instagram, and Instagram stories, and retweet during the day, but I can’t MAKE people read my posts!

I know realise that as long I have done everything I have promised, and tagged everyone I said I would -it’s kind of out of my hands!

Why aren’t people retweeting my Blog Post tweets?

Is it because they follow too many people? Is the book I am talking about not one they are interested in? Do they not enjoy my Blog Posts?

This one really used to drive me mad. Especially when you have poured your heart and soul into it, tagged the author, publisher and publicist – and nothing. Not even a like, let alone a retweet. I now post at 10 am, retweet at 2pm and 6pm, and leave it at that. I know that I have written the best I can, so you have to learn to accept it and let it be!

It takes a HUGE amount of time to keep everything going across all your social media.

You honestly could spend all day, tweeting, retweeting, taking pictures of books, posting on Instagram, Instagram stories, Instagram TV, posting on your blog and don’t forget Facebook, Amazon and goodreads.

So pick what works for you and do what you can when you want. I don’t have Facebook or use goodreads, and I also have a husband, two boys, a dog and a whole lot of things I have to do during the day.

Just remember, that Bookish People are genuinely so grateful and appreciative for whatever you do, and that sharing your love of books is the most important thing always.

Also, I don’t know about you, but I’m doing all this because I absolutely love it, and am not getting paid any money. For that reason,  I do what I can, when I can. If it’s too much, stop, and do what you want – your blog and social media, your rules.

I still do not understand how proof mailings work.

Sometimes publicists (who by the way are genuinely, the kindest, and most supportive people you can ever encounter) ask if Bloggers would like a proof.  You ask, and you might get one, or you might be too late. That’s fine, and we all absolutely understand that.

What is a million times more difficult to understand is when you see a Blogger/Bookstagrammer with a proof that you would have sold your children for to read.  How is that mailing list created? Is it that the publicists look at follower numbers or engagement levels? Do they have a list of trusted bloggers that they use? How do I get on that list? Who do I ask to get on the list?

Why can’t I just relax and realise it doesn’t matter?

Honestly, because it is a HUGE fear of missing out. You know that you would have done everything you should have – taken a picture, thanked and tagged the appropriate people, featured it across all your social media, and reviewed it, again making sure your review is posted everywhere too.

Thanks to the alway fabulous Bookish Chat, she gave me the perspective I needed. We talked about it and realised it does really get under our skin, but also, it takes the pressure off, because we can get our own copy, and review it IF WE WANT TO!

Imagine if you pleaded for a proof, were lucky enough to get one, and then didn’t like it. How do you deal with that when faced with writing a review?

That’s one thing I would absolutely say. Before you request a proof – bearing in mind especially for the small presses that budget is a huge issue, do your research to decide whether you really want it.

If I read the blurb and it’s not for me, I don’t ask for it, or I politely decline it. My reasoning is that it’s not fair to take a copy if it’s going to sit on my shelf and I am not going to review it.  There is always someone who would love that book and give it the attention it deserves, and so for that reason, have the courage to say no thank you.

Learning to do that is one of the best things ever, and also stops you asking for everything, and means that you are being true to yourself as a blogger.

You can’t read and review all the books, life is too short to read books you don’t love, and I promise you, making that decision is one of the best things ever! I now go by the rule that if I wouldn’t pick it up in a bookshop, I don’t ask for it. Trust me, it really does work!

No one asked me to write this Blog Post, and I don’t know if anyone will read it. I just think that being honest about the realities of Book Blogging and this fabulous world we all choose to be part of is very important to me. You might not agree with what I say, or that you have twenty more things you think too. All I know is that I love books and reading with all my heart, that starting Years of Reading was the best decision I ever made, and part of that is being honest about all of it with all of you – always.

Love,

Clare xxx

Isabelle in the Afternoon by Douglas Kennedy

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Douglas Kennedy – Isabelle in the Afternoon

Published by Hutchinson Books on 9th January

Available from All Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say:

Before Isabelle I knew nothing of sex.
Before Isabelle I knew nothing of freedom.
Before Isabelle I knew nothing of life.

Paris in the early Seventies. Sam, an American student, meets a woman in a bookshop. Isabelle is enigmatic, beautiful, older and, unlike Sam, experienced in love’s many contradictions. Sam is instantly smitten – but wary of the wedding ring on her finger.

What begins as a regular arrangement in Isabelle’s tiny Parisian apartment transforms into a true affair of the heart, and one which lasts for decades to come.

Isabelle in the Afternoon is a novel that questions what we seek, what we find, what we settle for – and shows how love, when not lived day in, day out, can become the passion of a lifetime.

What I Say:

“Love when declared after a desperate misstep – it’s the hardest love to embrace”.

I think it is always important to be honest about the books I choose to review on Years of Reading. First of all, this is the first Douglas Kennedy novel I have read (don’t @ me!), and I wanted to read it because I thought the cover looked beautiful. I mean, that is not really the way a book blogger should choose their next novel is it?

Anyway, Isabelle at ed.pr contacted me to ask if I would like a copy, and I can tell you what is inside the novel is just as wonderful as the outside.

Isabelle in the Afternoon is a novel about love, expectation and societal expectations, and I could not put it down.

Sam is an American student who finds himself in Paris before he starts the next chapter of his life at Harvard University.  His mother has passed away, and his father is emotionally distant, who seems almost relieved at the fact that he won’t have to deal with his son over the summer. As Sam navigates Paris alone, he starts to tire of the endless days he has to fill, and finds himself at a Bookshop where he meets Isabelle.

The attraction is instant, and Sam seems slightly overwhelmed at the thought that this elegant woman could possibly find him of any interest.  What is so refreshing about this novel is that right from the start, it is Isabelle that sets the parameters of the relationship.

Isabelle tells Sam that they will only meet at her apartment in Paris between the hours of five and seven in the afternoon.  They will never be seen out in public, and this is all that Isabelle will give to Sam. If he cannot comply with the rules of their relationship, it is over.  The arrangement is complicated by the fact that Isabelle is married, and she will not leave her husband Charles. She is absolutely aware of what is expected of her in Parisian society, and that to veer from that in any way would be catastrophic to the reputation of her husband and herself.

Sam at first accepts this arrangement, and is in the thrall of his older and more experienced lover.  As he settles into the affair, and is seemingly happy with their relationship, he also realises he is falling in love with her, and naively cannot understand why she cannot be with him and leave her husband.  It is interesting to see how Isabelle is unwavering in the rules she has created for their affair, in spite of her passionate relationship with Sam, she refuses to give in to his increasingly desperate demands.

To say that Isabelle is an unfeeling and stoic character, incapable of compassion, would be misleading.  She is in a claustrophobic and cloying marriage, where she has to appear to be the collected and contented wife, in order to comply with what is expected of her in the world she inhabits. Isabelle is very aware that her husband is also far from faithful, and it emerges that both partners seem to be resigned to keeping the marriage intact. It  is only when she is with Sam, that she can be free to express her feelings, desire and sexuality.

Unfortunately, the summer has to come to an end, and Sam has to return to the United States, and Isabelle has to seamlessly move back into her role of wife.  What I loved about this novel, is the way in which the two central characters have to continue the route their lives are expected to follow, whilst at the same time they are suppressing what they really want and feel.

For Sam, he studies, becomes a successful laywer, and meets Rebecca, a woman who in love with him, but you always get the sense that Sam is not absolutely in love with her.  Rebecca, to everyone else is perfect for him, but as the reader you see that she will never emotionally fulfill him.  In Paris, Isabelle is a devoted wife and mother, but similarly, you feel that her heart is always with Sam in America. Both Sam and Isabelle attempt to forget about each other, by conforming to what they are supposed to do, but you know that their lives are only being half lived, and this is what makes their stories so absorbing.

They cannot break the bond, and as their lives go on, the connection between them is constantly tested but never fades.  Sam and Isabelle are characters you feel empathic towards, because they have faults and foibles.  They are not always likeable, in fact at times you feel increasingly frustrated with both of them. However, the skill that Douglas Kennedy has as a writer means that you really do engage with them and want to find out what happens.

The plot moves along at the perfect pace, I always felt that the story was natural and spent enough time engaging with both characters.  The whole premise of the novel, that these two people who are meant to be together, but can’t be, is absorbing and believable.  The novel also addresses many different themes sensitively and effectively, I found the portrayal of Sam’s son’s issues were realistic and affecting, and Rebecca’s mental health  was handled by Douglas in such a way that you really felt for what Rebecca was going through, and the effect that this has on her relationship with Sam and everyone around her.

The twist and turns of Sam and Isabelle’s relationship is played across the decades, and the notion that these two people so obviously in love with each other but cannot completely be together is a delicious one for me.  They spend time together in Paris and America over the years, but the reality is that they are always playing at being a couple, they cannot absolutely commit to each other. The lives of Isabelle and Sam play out, and neither of them can let go of the other, however hard they try.  Do they finally reconcile? You are just going to have to read it to find out.

Isabelle in the Afternoon is a thoughtful and passionate novel, epic in its scope and ambition, and it is a bold move to ask readers to engage with two characters for such a long period of time – especially when they are seemingly thwarted at every turn.  The reason it works so well for me, is that Douglas Kennedy has created a novel where you are absorbed by the characters, their world, and the choices they make.  They matter to you, and as you see how passionate and complete their relationship is, I really wanted Sam and Isabelle to have the life they both desperately wanted. That for me is the sign of an amazing novel, and the mark of a novelist who understands the importance of the reader connecting with their characters.

I loved it.

Thank you so much to Isabelle at ed.pr for my gifted copy, and I decided to write a review simply because I loved it so much! 

 

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

 

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Steph Cha – Your House Will Pay 

Published By Faber and Faber on 16th January

Available from all good Bookshops and Online

What They Say:

Grace Park and Shawn Mathews share a city – Los Angeles – but seemingly little else. Coming from different generations and very different communities, their paths wouldn’t normally cross at all. As Grace battles confusion over her elder sister’s estrangement from their Korean-immigrant parents, Shawn tries to help his cousin Ray readjust to city life after years spent in prison.

But something in their past links these two families. As the city around them threatens to erupt into violence, echoing the worst days of the early 1990s, the lives of Grace and Shawn are set to collide in ways which will change them all forever.

Beautifully written, and marked by its aching humanity as much as its growing sense of dread, Your House Will Pay is a powerful and urgent novel for today.

What I Say:

“Yet it came with a heightened awareness of all that had brought them here, the past clinging to them in thin, sticky layers”.

To try and review Your House Will Pay is a difficult task, not because of the novel itself, which is filled with the tension and pain that permeated 1990’s Los Angeles and its aftermath, but because it is impossible to adequately convey the passion and emotion that Steph Cha has poured into her work.  It examines hugely emotive issues such as race, violence, family and retribution, but does so in a way that never feels didactic.

On the surface, this story of two families in Los Angeles seems at the start to be disconnected.  Why are we learning about what Shawn Matthews and Grace Park are going through, what could possibly link these two seemingly incredibly disparate families? What happened in the 1990’s that could possibly bring them together? The timeline runs between 2019 and the 1990’s and by moving back and forth, we start to understand the realities for Korean and black families living in Los Angeles at that time. It was also an education for me, and I spent some time reading about what happened to try and appreciate more what life at that time was like.

Grace’s Korean family now run a pharmacy, and are apparently settled in their ways and lifestyle, while Shawn who comes from a black family have a chaotic and chequered past which has resulted in him and his cousin Ray spending a lot of time in prison, and his sister has passed away.

Although these two families seemingly have nothing in common, as a reader, you initially feel that slightly disorientated by the switch in focus and storyline.  The absolute skill that Steph has, is that she takes away any pre-conceptions or stereotypes you may expect, and brings the families down to the most basic level. They are simply people who are there for us to see with all their flaws and faults. The issues that the families are going through are set against the backdrop of a world where there are constant tensions between different cultures, and the Korean and black communities are at odds with each other.

In both worlds there is prejudice and inequality – there is a sense that the tensions that are always present in the everyday world are ready to explode at any moment, and you feel it in every page you read. You know that events of the 1990’s Los Angeles has had wide ranging and life changing effects for these families, but you don’t know what they were.  The ever present and all consuming city of Los Angeles is the one constant in this mesmerising and absorbing novel. As the narrative switches between Shawn and Grace, you not only feel that you are slowly starting to understand the very different families, but that there is a constant sense of something seismic about to happen.

Grace is an educated and intelligent woman, who lives at home with her parents, seemingly stuck between trying to please them and be a good daughter, whilst at the same time being aware that there is so much more to the world if she would only have the courage to embrace it.  Her sister Mariam, has been estranged from her parents for a while and lives with her elder boyfriend free from their expectations.

Shawn on the other hand, has become almost a surrogate father to his cousin’s children, and looks after Ray’s family as almost a penance for the life he lived before.  He had a troubled childhood as he attempted to fit in with a world of gangs and crime, and his loyalty to his friends and their beliefs meant that he ended up in prison.  Since his release, he has been determined to ensure he doesn’t make the same mistakes, and is trying to educate Ray’s children so they too can make the correct choices.

For me, what I really enjoyed about Your House Will Pay was the immersive way you are drawn into Grace and Shawn’s world. It addresses the realities of being a young person in a world where you don’t quite fit, and that others expectations mean the choices you make can have a huge impact on not only your world, but those who live in it with you too.  They are people you really believe in, and the way in which we follow their lives serves to underline not only the huge differences between them, but also how similar their beliefs and concerns are.

To try and review this novel is a complicated task, because it is so many things in one book.  When the devastating connection between the family is revealed, trust me, it is one of those jaw-dropping chapters you dream of as a reader! It is thrilling, unexpected and almost like a crime novel as you try and work out who could have done what and when.  However, for me, always at the heart of this book is the notion of family, of belonging.  The secrets they hide in order to protect others, the unspoken bonds that mean it comes before everything, and how your world can be turned upside down by the people you thought you knew the best.

From the moment where we find out how the two families are known to each other, it is a compelling novel that has you turning the pages trying to decide what possible resolution there could be.  I loved the balance between the 1990’s and the modern day, the fact that as a reader you are looking for clues, any little thing you can ascertain that will bring you closer to understanding what has happened and why.

The characterisations are always well rounded and serve to bring you closer to the novel because you really feel invested in what happens to all of them, irrespective of what they have done. There are so many touching familial scenes, acutely and perfectly observed, cut through with reality and humour, with nuances and in jokes that every family has.  This is also what helps to drive the story forward, as you really care what has happened and will happen to the Matthews and Parks.

Your House Will Pay is a timely and devastating novel, that works so well because Steph Cha has created a world where your connection to the characters and the plot mean you only want the best outcome for the Parks and Matthews family.  Who are we to judge the mistakes made by those closest to us when we are far from innocent ourselves? Surely, in times of crisis, the true notion of family and belonging is knowing that by forgiving and protecting those closest to us, we can truly be free. Your House Will Pay makes you stop and think, and want to understand why and what happened to these families. For me, that is truly a sign of a novel that has made a profound impact and changes and educates you as to your view of a world you naively thought you understood.

 

Many Thanks to Lauren Nicoll from Faber and Faber for a gifted copy of this book and for inviting me to take part in this Blog Tour in exchange for an honest review.

Have a look at what my fellow bloggers below are saying about Your House Will Pay..

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I’ll Tell You What I Want What I Really Really Want… To Read in 2020…

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Now that the Christmas decorations have been packed away, the last Quality Street and Roses have been eaten, and life is settling back into a routine again, it’s that time of year.

As always, already on Bookish Twitter and Instagram, people are talking about the books they are most looking forward to in 2020.  I would be lying to you all if I didn’t admit there are a LOT of books I am very excited about reading this year, but would any of you be interested in hearing it?

Then I thought, well why not – we all need something bookish to look forward to this year!

So grab a cuppa, make sure you have a pen and paper handy, and lets talk 2020 books!

JANUARY

Motherwell by Deborah Orr from W & N Books – Published on January 16th.

What They Say:

Just shy of 18, Deborah Orr left Motherwell – the town she both loved and hated – to go to university. It was a decision her mother railed against from the moment the idea was raised. Win had very little agency in the world, every choice was determined by the men in her life. And strangely, she wanted the same for her daughter. Attending university wasn’t for the likes of the Orr family. Worse still, it would mean leaving Win behind – and Win wanted Deborah with her at all times, rather like she wanted her arm with her at all times. But while she managed to escape, Deborah’s severing from her family was only superficial. She continued to travel back to Motherwell, fantasizing about the day that Win might come to accept her as good enough. Though of course it was never meant to be.

MOTHERWELL is a sharp, candid and often humorous memoir about the long shadow that can be cast when the core relationship in your life compromises every effort you make to become an individual. It is about what we inherit – the good and the very bad – and how a deeper understanding of the place and people you have come from can bring you towards redemption.

What I Say:

I heard a lot about this memoir on Bookish Twitter, and followed Deborah Orr before she sadly passed away. In that time, and from other people’s recollections of her, I knew that Motherwell would be a emotional and compelling read. Quite simply, I wanted to read it, and have already pre-ordered it.

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur from Chatto – published 16 January.

What They Say:

Every time I fail to become more like my mother, I become more like me.

On a hot August night on Cape Cod, when Adrienne was 14, her mother Malabar woke her at midnight with five simple words that would set the course of both of their lives for years to come: Ben Souther just kissed me.

Adrienne instantly became her mother’s confidante and helpmate, blossoming in the sudden light of her attention; from then on, Malabar came to rely on her daughter to help orchestrate what would become an epic affair with her husband’s closest friend. The affair would have calamitous consequences for everyone involved, impacting Adrienne’s life in profound ways, driving her into a doomed marriage of her own, and then into a deep depression. Only years later will she find the strength to embrace her life — and her mother — on her own terms.

This is a book about how the people close to us can break our hearts simply because they have access to them. It’s about the lies we tell in order to justify the choices we make. It’s about mothers and daughters and the nature of family. And ultimately, it’s a story of resilience, a reminder that we need not be the parents our parents were to us; that moving forward is possible.

What I Say:

I heard about Wild Game last year, and was immediately intrigued by the notion of a shift in a traditional mother daughter relationship. The fact that Adrienne’s book is based on her life only made me want to read it more.  Definitely one I will be seeking out this year.

Little Bandaged Days by Kyra Wilder from Picador Books – published 23 January.

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What They Say:

A mother moves to Geneva with her husband and their two young children. In their beautiful new rented apartment, surrounded by their rented furniture, and several Swiss instructions to maintain quiet, she finds herself totally isolated. Her husband’s job means he is almost never present, and her entire world is caring for her children – making sure they are happy, and fed and comfortable, and that they can be seen as the happy, well-fed, comfortable family they should be. Everything is perfect.

But, of course, it’s not. The isolation, the sleeplessness, the demands of two people under two, are getting to Erika. She has never been so alone, and once the children are asleep, there are just too many hours to fill until morning…

Kyra Wilder’s Little Bandaged Days is a beautifully written, painfully claustrophobic story about a woman’s descent into madness. Unpredictable, frighteningly compelling and brutally honest, it grapples with the harsh conditions of motherhood and this mother’s own identity, and as the novel continues, we begin to wonder just what exactly Erika might be driven to do.

What I Say:

I was lucky enough to be sent a proof by Alice from Picador last year, and I have to tell you, it is simply mesmerising!  It is a compelling and unsettling study of motherhood, about what happens when a Mother is left in sole charge of her children for a long time, in a country she has just moved to, with a husband who is consumed by his new job.

It is a brilliant novel because Erika slowly and gently starts to blur the boundaries between reality and her madness.  It is a little line here, a phrase there that has you checking and re-reading just to make sure you read it correctly.  I think this is an important novel which raises many questions about the pressures of motherhood, and the fact we are all working so hard to be insta-perfect, that we lose ourselves and our sense of reality along the way.

I absolutely loved it, and recommend it constantly.

Pine by Francine Toon from Doubleday – published 23rd January.

What They Say:

Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Halloween night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pickup. In the morning, she’s gone.

In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren’s mother a decade ago.

Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father’s turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it’s no longer clear who she can trust.

In the shadow of the Highland forest, Francine Toon captures the wildness of rural childhood and the intensity of small-town claustrophobia. In a place that can feel like the edge of the word, she unites the chill of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller. It is the perfect novel for our haunted times.

What I Say:

This is a bit of a sneaky one, because I was lucky to receive a copy of Pine from Antonia at Doubleday. The reason I have added it on this blog post, is that I think it is a book so many of you will love. The writing is so absorbing, and Francine perfectly balances the isolation and wildness of the Highlands, with the claustrophobia and tensions that often run deep in a close knit community.  You absolutely need to read Pine.

FEBRUARY

The Foundling by Stacey Halls from Zaffre Books- published 6th February.

What They Say:

London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst, that Clara has died in care, she is astonished when she is told she has already claimed her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.

Less than a mile from Bess’s lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.

From the bestselling author of The Familiars comes this captivating story of mothers and daughters, class and power, and love against the greatest of odds . . .

What I Say:

I read and loved The Familiars, Stacey’s first novel, and I have to say this one sounds just as fascinating.  My mum was adopted, and I have a familial connection to the Foundling Hospital, in that my nephew was adopted from the Coram charity, which is part of what the Foundling Hospital now is.  I also visited the Foundling Hospital last year, and it is such an emotional and thought provoking place, that I think this novel will resonate with me on so many levels.

Saving Missy by Beth Morrey from Harper Collins – Published on 6th February.

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What They Say:

Missy Carmichael’s life has become small.

Grieving for a family she has lost or lost touch with, she’s haunted by the echoes of her footsteps in her empty home; the sound of the radio in the dark; the tick-tick-tick of the watching clock.

Spiky and defensive, Missy knows that her loneliness is all her own fault. She deserves no more than this; not after what she’s done. But a chance encounter in the park with two very different women opens the door to something new.

Another life beckons for Missy, if only she can be brave enough to grasp the opportunity. But seventy-nine is too late for a second chance. Isn’t it?

What I Say:

Now, I was very lucky that the fabulous LoveReading (if you don’t know about them, you really should!) sent me an early copy of this one.  It is quite simply, the book we are all going to need to read this year.  It is charming, kind, filled with hope, and it is one of those novels you simply can’t forget.  If you don’t love Missy by the end, well you must have a black pebble where your heart should be!

House of Trelawney by Hannah Rothschild from Bloomsbury Books – 6th February.

What They Say:

The seat of the Trelawney family for over 800 years, Trelawney Castle was once the jewel of the Cornish coast. Each successive Earl spent with abandon, turning the house and grounds into a sprawling, extravagant palimpsest of wings, turrets and follies.

But recent generations have been better at spending than making money. Now living in isolated penury, unable to communicate with each other or the rest of the world, the family are running out of options. Three unexpected events will hasten their demise: the sudden appearance of a new relation, an illegitimate, headstrong, beautiful girl; an unscrupulous American hedge fund manager determined to exact revenge; and the crash of 2008.

A love story and social satire set in the parallel and seemingly unconnected worlds of the British aristocracy and high finance, House of Trelawney is also the story of lost and found friendships between three women. One of them will die; another will discover her vocation; and the third will find love.

What I Say:

I absolutely loved Hannah’s first novel, The Improbability of Love, and was so excited to hear she has a new novel coming out in 2020. A novel all about a family, their wealth (or lack of it), and social satire? This is my perfect novel!

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes from Michael Joseph – Published on 6th February.

What They Say:

They’re a glamorous family, the Caseys.

Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, their beautiful, talented wives and all their kids spend a lot of time together – birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weekends away. And they’re a happy family. Johnny’s wife, Jessie – who has the most money – insists on it.

Under the surface, though, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, other people like each other far too much . . .

Everything stays under control until Ed’s wife Cara, gets concussion and can’t keep her thoughts to herself. One careless remark at Johnny’s birthday party, with the entire family present, starts Cara spilling out all their secrets.

In the subsequent unravelling, every one of the adults finds themselves wondering if it’s time – finally – to grow up?

What I Say:

Oh Marian Keyes – how do you put into words what an amazing author and fabulous person she really is!  Water Melon was my first Marian Keyes novel, and with every new book, you just love her more. Marian’s skill is writing the ordinary in a way that makes it extraordinary, and her perception and wit make this novel one I will just want to sink in to for as long as it takes to read it.

Actress by Anne Enright from Jonathan Cape – Published on 20 February.

What They Say:

This is the story of Irish theatre legend Katherine O’Dell, as told by her daughter Norah. It tells of early stardom in Hollywood, of highs and lows on the stages of Dublin and London’s West End. Katherine’s life is a grand performance, with young Norah watching from the wings.

But this romance between mother and daughter cannot survive Katherine’s past, or the world’s damage. As Norah uncovers her mother’s secrets, she acquires a few of her own. Then, fame turns to infamy when Katherine decides to commit a bizarre crime.

Actress is about a daughter’s search for the truth: the dark secret in the bright star, and what drove Katherine finally mad.

Brilliantly capturing the glamour of post-war America and the shabbiness of 1970s Dublin, Actress is an intensely moving, disturbing novel about mothers and daughters and the men in their lives. A scintillating examination of the corrosive nature of celebrity, it is also a sad and triumphant tale of freedom from bad love, and from the avid gaze of the crowd.

What I Say:

I heard about Actress very recently, but again, I knew as soon as I heard about it, it was absolutely going to be on this blog post.  For me, novels about relationships between mothers and daughters are endlessly fascinating, and I am always fascinated by the notion of celebrity and all the issues that surround it.

MARCH

The Weight of Love by Hilary Fannin from Doubleday Ireland – Published 19 March. 

 

What They Say:

London, 1996. Robin and Ruth meet in the staff room of an East London school. Robin, desperate for a real connection, instantly falls in love. Ruth, recently bereaved and fragile, is tentative.

When Robin introduces Ruth to his childhood friend, Joseph, a tortured and talented artist, their attraction is instant. Powerless, Robin watches on as the girl he loves and his best friend begin a passionate and turbulent affair.

Dublin 2017. Robin and Ruth are married and have a son, Sid, who is about to emigrate to Berlin. Theirs is a marriage haunted by the ghost of Joseph and as the distance between them grows, Robin makes a choice that could have potentially devastating consequences.

The Weight of Love is a beautiful exploration of how we manage life when the notes and beats of our existence, so carefully arranged, begin to slip off the stave. An intimate and moving account of the intricacies of marriage and the myriad ways in which we can love and be loved.

What I Say:

I love novels about relationships and marriages, and this novel from Hilary Fannin, which looks at what happens when the past starts to come in between a couple sounds like a story I want to read.  I think it’s one that might not be on your radar, but really should be.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell from Tinder Press – Published on 31 March.

What They Say:

On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

What I Say:

I am sure you have seen Hamnet EVERYWHERE already.  A new Maggie O’Farrell novel is always a huge event in the literary calendar, and for good reason.  Her novels are beyond compare, and the writing is just sublime. Do we even need to talk about the beautiful cover?  I just cannot wait to read this, and am absolutely adding it to my list!

APRIL

The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves from Century – Published on 2 April.

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What They Say:

Frank hasn’t spoken to his wife Maggie for six months.

For weeks they have lived under the same roof, slept in the same bed and eaten at the same table – all without words.

Maggie has plenty of ideas as to why her husband has gone quiet.

But it will take another heartbreaking turn of events before Frank finally starts to unravel the secrets that have silenced him.

Is this where their story ends?
Or is it where it begins?

What I Say:

I love the idea of a novel where you have no clue where it will take you, or what will happen next. The notion that a couple haven’t been talking for six months? How can you possibly not want to know why!  The Silent Treatment has already received lots of praise, and I am really excited about finding out why Frank and Maggie are not talking!

As You Were by Elaine Feeney from Harvill Secker – Published on 16th April.

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What They Say:

Sinéad Hynes is a tough, driven, funny young property developer with a terrifying secret.

No-one knows it: not her fellow patients in a failing hospital, and certainly not her family. She has confided only in Google and a shiny magpie.

But she can’t go on like this, tirelessly trying to outstrip her past and in mortal fear of her future. Across the ward, Margaret Rose is running her chaotic family from her rose-gold Nokia. In the neighboring bed, Jane, rarely but piercingly lucid, is searching for a decent bra and for someone to listen. Sinéad needs them both.

As You Were is about intimate histories, institutional failures, the kindness of strangers, and the darkly present past of modern Ireland. It is about women’s stories and women’s struggles. It is about seizing the moment to be free.

Wildly funny, desperately tragic, inventive and irrepressible, As You Were introduces a brilliant voice in Irish fiction with a book that is absolutely of our times.

What I Say:

As soon as I heard about As You Were, it sounded like a novel that was both timely and necessary.  I think this is a novel which will raise a lot of discussion, but will also be a brilliant read, and I can’t wait to start it.

Death In Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh from Penguin published on 23 April.

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What They Say:

While on her normal daily walk with her dog in the nearby forest woods, our protagonist comes across a note, handwritten and carefully pinned to the ground with a frame of stones. Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body. Our narrator is deeply shaken; she has no idea what to make of this. She is new to this area, having moved here from her longtime home after the death of her husband, and she knows very few people. And she’s a little shaky even on her best days. Her brooding about this note quickly grows into a full-blown obsession, and she begins to devote herself to exploring the possibilities of her conjectures about who this woman was and how she met her fate. Her suppositions begin to find echoes in the real world, and with mounting excitement and dread, the fog of mystery starts to form into a concrete and menacing shape. But as we follow her in her investigation, strange dissonances start to accrue, and our faith in her grip on reality weakens, until finally, just as she seems to be facing some of the darkness in her own past with her late husband, we are forced to face the prospect that there is either a more innocent explanation for all this or a much more sinister one–one that strikes closer to home.

A triumphant blend of horror, suspense, and pitch-black comedy, Death in Her Hands asks us to consider how the stories we tell ourselves both guide us closer to the truth and keep us at bay from it. Once again, we are in the hands of a narrator whose unreliability is well earned, only this time the stakes have never been higher.

What I Say:

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh is one of my favourite novels.  I have nothing more to say except that as soon as I heard this was being released this year, I knew I needed to read it! Her writing is always pitch perfect, and the whole premise for this novel sounds intriguing!

MAY

What Have I Done by Laura Dockrill from Square Peg – Published on 7th May.

What They Say:

Laura Dockrill had an idyllic pregnancy and couldn’t wait to meet her new baby. But as she went into labour things began to go wrong and Laura started to struggle. A traumatic birth, anxiety about the baby, sleep deprivation, a slow recovery – all these things piled up until Laura (like any new mum) felt overwhelmed.

As many as 8 out of 10 new mums struggle in the weeks after birth. In Laura’s case these feelings escalated scarily quickly into post-partum psychosis. She became paranoid and delusional and had to be institutionalised for a fortnight without her baby. Throughout this time she was haunted by a sense of: ‘What have I done?’, at first as she wondered if she could cope with her baby, and later because she was trying to grasp at reality as she slipped into nightmarish delusion.

Laura’s experience was devastating but this is a hopeful book. Not only has Laura slowly recovered she has come out the other side stronger and more assured about parenting on her own terms. Now she is determined to break the silence around post-natal mental health and with her story tell new parents: you are not alone.

What I Say:

I think this is such an important book. Too often we are focussed on the Insta-perfect side of Motherhood, without being honest about the reality of it.  I struggled after having both my sons, and no one ever talked to me about it, or asked me how I was doing. I absolutely think Laura’s book is must read for 2020.

JUNE

The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig from Little Brown UK  -published on 4th June.

What They Say:

When Hannah is invited into the First-Class carriage of the London to Penzance train by Jinni, she walks into a spider’s web. Now a poor young single mother, Hannah once escaped Cornwall to go to university. But once she married Jake and had his child, her dreams were crushed into bitter disillusion. Her husband has left her for Eve, rich and childless, and Hannah has been surviving by becoming a cleaner in London. Jinni is equally angry and bitter, and in the course of their journey the two women agree to murder each other’s husbands. After all, they are strangers on a train – who could possibly connect them?

But when Hannah goes to Jinni’s husband’s home the next night, she finds Stan, a huge, hairy, ugly drunk who has his own problems – not least the care of a half-ruined house and garden. He claims Jinni is a very different person to the one who has persuaded Hannah to commit a terrible crime. Who is telling the truth – and who is the real victim?

What I Say:

Have you read the synopsis?! I just think it sounds like a novel you wouldn’t want to miss, and I am always attracted to novels where your viewpoints change as you turn the pages.  Amanda’s last novel The Lie of the Land was brilliant, unsettling and I think The Golden Rule is going to be just as brilliant.

Olive by Emma Gannon from Harper Collins  – published on 11th June.

What They Say:

OLIVE is many things.

Independent.
Adrift.
Anxious.
Loyal.
Kind.
Knows her own mind.

It’s ok that she’s still figuring it all out, navigating her world without a compass. But life comes with expectations, there are choices to be made, boxes to tick and – sometimes – stereotypes to fulfil. And when her best friends’ lives start to branch away towards marriage and motherhood, leaving the path they’ve always followed together, Olive starts to question her choices – because life according to Olive looks a little bit different.

Moving, memorable and a mirror for every woman at a crossroads, OLIVE has a little bit of all of us. Told with great warmth and nostalgia, this is a modern tale about the obstacle course of adulthood, milestone decisions and the ‘taboo’ about choosing not to have children.

What I Say:

I am always fascinated by stories of women who choose to find their own path – especially in the face of society’s expectations and all the pressures that bring.  I think Olive’s story is going to be an interesting and absorbing one, and I can’t wait to read it.

JULY

Sisters by Daisy Johnson from Jonathan Cape – published on 2nd July.

What They Say:

Something unspeakable has happened to sisters July and September.

Desperate for a fresh start, their mother Sheela moves them across the country to an old family house that has a troubled life of its own. Noises come from behind the walls. Lights flicker of their own accord. The dank basement, where July and September once made a blood promise to each other, is deeply disquieting.

In their new, unsettling surroundings, July finds that the fierce bond she’s always had with September is beginning to change in ways she cannot understand.

Taut, transfixing and profoundly moving, Sisters explodes with the fury and joy of adolescence. It is a story of sibling love and sibling envy to rival Shirley Jackson and Stephen King. With Sisters, Daisy Johnson confirms her standing among the most inventive and exciting young writers at work today.

What I Say:

I loved Everything Under, and now to find out that Daisy Johnson has a new novel coming out this year – well, of course I would want to read it! I love the idea of troubled sisters and a troubled house, and together – I think this is going to be one of the must reads of the Summer.

OCTOBER

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata from Granta – published on 1st October.

What They Say:

Natsuki isn’t like the other girls. She has a wand and a transformation mirror. She might be a witch, or an alien from another planet. Together with her cousin Yuu, Natsuki spends her summers in the wild mountains of Nagano, dreaming of other worlds. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the two children forever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what. Now Natsuki is grown. She lives a quiet life with her asexual husband, surviving as best she can by pretending to be normal. But the demands of Natsuki’s family are increasing, her friends wonder why she’s still not pregnant, and dark shadows from Natsuki’s childhood are pursuing her. Fleeing the suburbs for the mountains of her childhood, Natsuki prepares herself with a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it?

What I Say:

One of my aims this year is to read more translated fiction, and I loved Convenience Store Woman, so am really looking forward to Earthlings.  I like stories that are slightly quirky and unexpected, and I think this will fit the bill perfectly.

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton from Fig Tree – published on 15th October.

What They Say:

32-year-old Nina Dean is a successful food writer with a loyal online following, but a life that is falling apart. When she uses dating apps for the first time, she becomes a victim of ghosting, and by the most beguiling of men. Her beloved dad is vanishing in slow motion into dementia, and she’s starting to think about ageing and the gendered double-standard of the biological clock. On top of this she has to deal with her mother’s desire for a mid-life makeover and the fact that all her friends seem to be slipping away from her . . .

Dolly Alderton’s debut novel is funny, tender and painfully relatable, filled with whip-smart observations about relationships and the way we live today.

What I Say:

If you haven’t read Everything I Know About Love, then that is another book you need to add to your reading pile straight away. Dolly writes so perfectly about love and relationships, and as a 49 year old woman, I am probably far from her target audience, but I know that Ghosts will be another slice of sublime writing, and I cannot wait to dive in.

Summer Water by Sarah Moss from Picador Books – published in October.

What They Say:

The novel, a multi-voice narrative set in a Scottish holiday park over the course of one fateful rainy summer’s day, is being hailed by Picador as its standout literary publication for autumn 2020.

Described as “swift, sharp and dark”, the book follows a group of residents and their growing animosity to a noisy outsider family staying at the park, with tension mounting to a devastating climax.

What I Say:

The reason I can’t tell you more about this, is that this is all I know (thank you The Bookseller website!)!

I can tell you I loved Ghost Wall, and that there has been a lot of brilliant reviews already, and I couldn’t imagine writing a post like this and not including it!

 

I know this is a HUGE post, and this is just a fraction of the books that are being published this year, but these are the ones so far that I want to read and put on your radar in January!

I hope you found a book or two you like the look of, and hopefully ten more you absolutely need to read!

2020 is already shaping up to be a stellar year for new books, and here’s to lots of bookish conversations and sharing lots of booklove too!

Love

Clare xx

 

 

 

Mr Nobody by Catherine Steadman

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Catherine Steadman: Mr Nobody

Published By: Simon and Schuster UK

Available online and from all good bookshops

What They Say:

When a man is found on a Norfolk beach, drifting in and out of consciousness, with no identification and unable to speak, interest in him is sparked immediately. From the hospital staff who find themselves inexplicably drawn to him; to international medical experts who are baffled by him; to the national press who call him Mr Nobody; everyone wants answers. Who is this man? And what happened to him?

Neuropsychiatrist Dr Emma Lewis is asked to assess the patient. This is her field of expertise, this is the chance she’s been waiting for and this case could make her name known across the world. But therein lies the danger. Emma left this same small town in Norfolk fourteen years ago and has taken great pains to cover all traces of her past since then.

But now something – or someone – is calling her back. And the more time she spends with her patient, the more alarmed she becomes.

Has she walked into danger?

What I Say:

When I read and reviewed Catherine’s previous novel, Something In the Water , I realised I had found that rare thing, an author who had written a novel where I could not guess one of the twists!

I love the fact that sometimes as a reader, you are as much in the dark as the protagonist, and that the discoveries they make along the way are just as fresh for you as for them. When I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Catherine’s latest novel Mr.Nobody from the wonderful LoveReading I have to admit I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t be able to live up to the brilliance of her first novel.

I think it’s even better.

A man, bruised, battered and absolutely bewildered is found wandering on a beach in Norfolk. He is unable to speak, has no memory of who he is or how he got there.  Added to this, he has no identification on him and no one has reported him missing. He is taken to a local hospital where no one is able to reach him, until the renowned Dr Emma Lewis is hand picked to work on his case.  Her curiosity is piqued as she has to go through various faceless bureaucratic hoops to gain access to Mr. Nobody, and none of her contacts will truly tell her what is happening, or why they are so evasive.

So far so straightforward. However, Emma was not always called Emma Lewis.  It transpires she has a very chequered past with the same small town in Norfolk, after a family tragedy (of course I am not going to tell you what that is – you need to read it!) which meant that she and her family had to move far away and assume new identities.

You can imagine the jaw dropping moment for Emma – and for us as a reader, When she meets Mr Nobody, he calls her by her previous name as soon as he sets eyes on her! He also knew very private information about the Nurse called Rhonda who he has formed a bond with, which he could not have possibly known. Already there is a huge sense of unease in the novel, a delicious sense of anticipation as to what is come, and for me, that is what elevates a story from readable to unmissable, and Mr. Nobody has that in spades.

As this case is so high profile, and potentially dangerous for Emma, she is given police protection.  One of the police officers assigned to the case is her old friend Chris who knew her when she lived here before, and recognises her immediately – he is now married to a story hungry and not particularly likeable journalist called Zara who will stop at nothing to get to the heart of Mr. Nobody, and will use anyone, even her husband to get to the story before everyone else.  As appalling as Zara’s ethics were, it was interesting to see how someone so driven was so willing to put the story above everything else.

Told in alternating viewpoints from The Man and Emma – this device works well and switches easily and also keeps us on our toes.  Mr. Nobody starts to remember things and flashes of memory come back, and we follow him as he attempts to try and piece together what is happening to him now, and what has brought him to this specific beach in Norfolk.

The brilliance of the novel is compounded by the fact that the style is pacy, the narrative believable, and it also brings up many issues of how we as a society cope with people who do not function in the way we do. We get a real sense of the frustration Mr Nobody feels and his bewilderment as to his mental state. Also the book is very frank in its treatment of people who are guilty by association and when Emma’s identity is revealed, we see the way in which the press move and how ruthless Zara is to be the first person with the story.

I also thought that it was interesting to see how both Emma and Mr. Nobody have to deal with the themes of identity and belonging.  Even though Emma grew up there, she no longer really belongs, and has had to create a whole new identity to survive.  Similarly, Mr. Nobody has no idea where he is from or where he has been, and he survives by trying to remember anything to give him that sense of place or time.  The brief flashes of recollection are peppered with a sense of fear and pain, as he cannot put them into any tangible order and this adds to his sense of dislocation even further.

As the novel hurtles towards its conclusion, Emma unravels Mr.Nobody’s true identity and reason for appearing on that particular beach at that particular time. It is an intricate and detailed plot, which means that you are fully engaged with it, but also that you turn the pages faster as you want to see who Mr. Nobody truly is! It was for me, one of those novels where it is so tightly plotted and executed that you absolutely understand every character’s motivation and actions – although you might not always like them, they are real and fallible, and that is what makes the story work so well.

In the hands of a lesser writer, Mr. Nobody could have been a novel that seemed too bizarre and ambitious to work effectively.  However, Catherine Steadman not only engaged me from the outset of the novel, but her clever and intelligent story had me absolutely hooked and the fact that I could not guess where the narrative was going next, only added to my enjoyment of it.

I loved it.

Thank you as always to LoveReadingUK and SimonSchusterUK for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

that Emma and Matthew are both having to deal with the notion of identity and belonging, of celebrity and loss.

I loved it.

Thank you as always to LoveReadingUK for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Post I Didn’t Want To Write – But Needed To.

I really struggled with this post.  Half of me was saying delete it, the other half was telling me to press the publish button, so as you can probably gather by the fact you are reading this, the publish desire was stronger than saying nothing.

This is not the year I should be writing this post, I never wanted to write this, but I guess that at least when I am gone too, there will be a tiny part of the internet that has my memories stamped on it.

Normally end of year posts like this are brilliant to write, if only for the fact that you can look back at your year, and think – I can’t believe I did that!

In terms of book blogging, I have to say that 2019 was undoubtedly the most amazing, fulfilling and fantastic year I could have wished for.  I met Antonia, who is the host of Booktime Brunch on Chiltern Voice and she very kindly asked me to be a guest on her programme. I have been on Booktime Brunch three times now, and honestly, being with Antonia is just like sitting with a good friend talking about books! She is one of the most kindest and genuine people I know, and am so pleased I plucked up the courage to reply to her tweet!

Antonia and I at Chiltern Voice Radio Station!

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Henley Literary Festival – plus a tote – what more could a Bookworm want?!

After plucking up the courage to approach them, I was lucky enough to live tweet at the Henley Literary Festival, which was a mixture of nerve wracking and brilliant.  Sara, Tom, Martha and Sam could not have been kinder, and really helped me all through an absolutely unforgettable day.

I met not only the authors (and could only mumble and blush “I loved your books so much” to them, who were all so lovely!), but also finally got a chance to meet Alison Barrow, Louise Swannell and Becca Mundy, who have been brilliantly supportive to me ever since I started Years of Reading!

It was a hectic, fantastic, memorable day and I loved every single minute.

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Tring Book Festival

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Fired up by my braveness – or the fact I thought why not, I also approached Alison and Ben at the Tring Book Festival to ask if I could live tweet for them too!  They were so kind and welcoming, and it was a book bloggers dream event!  I was gutted I couldn’t go to more, and I loved it. From the moment I got there, I felt part of the team and it was a fabulous day.

Ben went one stage further and let me help with the social media for the Festival which was a dream come true! Plus it gave me a real insight into how a Book Festival really works, and it was fantastic to be involved with the inaugural festival – I can’t wait to see what happens next year… watch this space… !

Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award Shadow Judge

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I have to admit that when I first got the email from Maddy asking if I would like to be a Shadow Panel Judge on the Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award, I thought it was an elaborate phishing email!

Fortunately it wasn’t, and I cannot tell you how amazing it was to be part of such a prestigious and fabulous prize.  Not only did I discover books that were unlike anything I had ever read, I also finally met some of my Bookish Friends in real life that I had only talked to online.  As well as Anne, David, Linda and Phoebe who were my fellow Shadow Judges, I also met Patrick, Clair, Eric, and Ova. We’ll skip over the part where I went up and hugged a woman before realising it wasn’t Phoebe – but to be fair they did look identical!

I needed to get all of that out of the way, not to brag or show off, but to kind of explain why I did these things.  Why 2019 was the year all these things happened.

Honestly, I could give you all some flannel about being nearly 50 and ‘finding myself’ and ‘making time for me’ but it is far simpler than that.

My Mum passed away in March, and I just thought, what is stopping me? What is the worse that could happen?

The last conversation we had before she passed away, she told me that she was proud of me and was glad I had found what made me happy. She said that her illness had made her realise that there were times she had wondered what if, and she didn’t ever want me to look back and think the same.

I realised I didn’t either.  I was always someone’s Mum, someone’s wife, someone’s daughter and I am not saying I don’t love that, but it is not enough.  I know some people love being at home and get great joy from what they do, and I absolutely admire and get it, but God, I was bored.

It was suddenly like a switch had been flipped, and I realised that first of all, people can only say no – which is why I never tweeted publicly, or wrote some teasing ‘You will never guess what I’m doing’ tweet, because quite frankly, I would have looked a right banana if it never came off!

As I thought about it, I reckoned that most of the people I would approach to ask were technically young enough to be my children, and I always treat people with respect at all times, suddenly, asking someone didn’t seem scary any more! Little by little, with each small success, be it a publicist very kindly agreeing to send me a proof, or someone sending me a thank you tweet for recommending a book, I realised I knew this was something I could do. Long conversations with my bookish best friend Amanda (Bookish Chat) who has been the best cheerleader a woman could wish for, were just what I needed to keep going.

Does this mean that my grieving has stopped and now all I care about is books? Absolutely not – Christmas has been an emotional, heartbreaking mixture of seeing the joy and happiness my kids have (when not trying to wind each other up), and filled with the searing pain of not being able to ring the one person I could share my Christmas with. I forgot to cancel a book I ordered for Mum and I cannot tell you how much it hurt when I held that book in my hands, but that I can’t bear to return it.

Grief is not something you deal with and put away, ready to move on after a length of time. It is an ever present sadness and catches you the most when you least expect it. The most pain can come from the most random thing – from seeing an advert for a telly programme I know Mum would love, to having to explain it all to people you haven’t seen for a long time, when they ask you how your parents are.

This was not what was supposed to happen to my Mum yet, I was not ready for this, I want her here with me and it hurts like hell.

I guess what I am trying to say to you all is this.  All I have ever done since starting Years Of Reading Selfishly is talk about books I love.  Along the way, I have not only realised that I am actually quite good at it, and I do know my bookish onions (thank you fabulous and wonderful Siobhain), but that Years Of Reading Selfishly is mine, and I can do whatever I want with it!

As we go into 2020, all I know for sure is that I will never stop talking about books, that I am grateful for every book I am sent, and I love what I am doing.  I am not going to worry what other people think, or not ask for something because I feel I haven’t earned the right. You know what, I have.

Thank you to every single fellow blogger, author, publicist, and bookish person who has helped make 2019 for Year of Reading so unforgettable – I can’t ever thank you all enough, and have finally found my perfect tribe!

This time next year, who knows? I could have had another wonderful Book Blogging year, or I might have decided that I am done and have stopped doing it all together.

At least I will be able to look back and say I loved every single crazy, full on minute of it, and that’s all that matters right now.  It’s just not fair my Mum isn’t here to see it too.

Lots of love,

Clare

xxx

Bone China by Laura Purcell

Laura Purcell: Bone China

Published By: Bloomsbury Raven

Available online and from all good bookshops

What They Say:

Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken.

But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home.

Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last.

What I Say:

‘Can a woman control a house, a family, through something as brittle as porcelain?’

If you have learned anything about me in our time together, you will know that The Silent Companions is quite possibly my favourite novel. If you need to know why, you can read my review here. I also adored Laura’s next novel, The Corset – and of course I reviewed it!

What you also need to know about me, is that if everyone is raving about a novel at a particular time, I tend to put it to one side to read later. If there is a lot of hype, I need to step away and read the novel when I’m ready without everyone else’s opinions! With Bone China, I wanted to appreciate it when I was ready to read it without everyone else telling me what I should think because I wanted to make my own judgements.

I decided that I wanted to read Bone China before Christmas, and I’ll explain why on Twitter and Instagram very soon.

Well, what can I tell you?

Laura Purcell has written another novel that is so perfectly pitched, which draws you in from the first page and holds you in its thrall to the last. I loved the fact that her writing of landscapes, of lives, of a world which is so close to our own, yet so far from our understanding is one which you cannot help but sink in to from the first chapter.

This is the story of the Pinecroft family, who live in the family home called Morvoren in Cornwall. When Hester Why arrives to take up a post there, she is assigned to look after Miss Pinecroft, who is vulnerable and unable to speak, and sits in her room surrounded by piles and piles of blue and white bone china.

Hester is not an innocent woman who happens to find herself here, she has a past and former identity as Esther Stevens, and as a maid to Lady Rose. She has left behind her a trail of destruction and damage, and has picked up an addiction to gin and laudanum which makes her far from a paragon of virtue – but endeared her even more to me!

For me, the notion of a woman who is slightly disclocated from the world is a delicious and absorbing one. Hester finds herself in this world that is so far removed from the society she has come from, but at the same time, she brings with her the understanding and acceptance of how servants should behave. Her departure from Lady Rose’s employment was far from auspicious, but at the same time, she knows in order to survive, she has to fit in with what is expected of her.

Morvoren is a house creaking with secrets and unspoken understanding. We learn that Miss Pinecroft has a young charge called Rosewyn who is hidden away from the world, and although in her early twenties, is like a child and is fiercely protected by the ferocious Creeda. A woman who has been with the Pinecroft family for a very long time, and rules the house with a devotion that is bordering on the obsessive.

Added to this domineering woman at the head of the household, there are unexplained noises and lights when the household tries to go to sleep, and Miss Pinecroft’s refusal to communicate or move from the room filled with china. This is why Laura Purcell is such a brilliant writer, her talent is the teasing of the unknown, the suggestion of something that we want to discover, but at the same time unsettling us so we are reluctant to confront it.

The narrative switches between the time of Hester Why, and Miss Pinecroft’s story as an assistant to her Father, who is a Doctor on a mission. He has decided that he wants to find the cure for consumption, a disease that left him widowed and without two of his children. Louise is enlisted to help him tend to a group of convicts who are suffering from consumption, and her father has decided to bring them to the caves that are under Morvoren in an attempt to cure them.

In my opinion, this is where Bone China elevates itself above a traditional gothic novel. Louise has not been allowed to ever express herself, she has always had to follow her father’s wishes and help him in his quest to find a cure for consumption. What we see in these pages is an intelligent and inquisitive young woman who has no choice in her destiny other than to appease her father. Her sense of duty means that she has pushed all her feelings and emotions away functions only as a living reminder to her father of the wife he has lost.

As preparations are made for the arrival of the prisoners, a young woman called Creeda is sent to Morvoren to serve the family in exchange for medical help from Dr Pinecroft. As the reader, we soon realise that this mysterious woman who is so entrenched in the traditions and folklore of the Cornish people is the catalyst for a chain of events that will permeate the whole of the Pinecroft family and Morvoren forever.

The prisoners are treated by Dr Pinecroft and Louise, and as the days pass, unexplained things start to happen. Cupping glasses find their way from the treatment table back into boxes, marks appear on the men, and they are convinced that there are fairies trying to drag them away.

Could this be true? After all these men are seriously ill and could be hallucinating, but also they are criminals who could be lying as a means to escape. Added to this sense of confusion and tension, Louise finds herself attracted to one of the prisoners called Harry, and in this underground world unlike any other, she starts to discover who she really is as a woman with devastating consequences. The caves are filled with the sensation that the Pinecrofts and the prisoners have disturbed something no one can explain, and that all of them will have to pay the price.

In the present time, Hester is aware that even though she cannot be certain as a woman reliant on drugs and alcohol, something is very wrong in Morvoren. The way that Creeda exerts control over the household, fixated in her belief that the fairies are intent on their desire to take back with them any woman of child bearing age, disorientates Hester even further, as we are never quite sure what is real and what is the product of Hester’s drink and drug induced reality.

Laura Purcell’s measured and controlled writing means that Bone China is a novel that never falls into the unbelievable. It is not a tick the box clichéd gothic novel, but a sublimely disturbing piece of fiction that disorientates and delights with each chapter. Every character is flawed, hiding from a world they don’t fully understand, but that only serves to make them believable and relatable.

Bone China is an exquisite exploration of a world we cannot explain and do not want to face. As you race to the conclusion, you understand just like Hester, that sometimes the only way to confront your demons is to face them head on whatever the cost.

I loved it.