May has been a very busy blog month and had me almost at the edge of my reading limit. I found myself having to take breaks from reading because my eyes were so sore. However, I’ve still managed to read some fantastic novels. All the novelists above are new to me, except for one.
I had read Elizabeth’s MacNeal’s first novel The Doll Factory, so I knew I would love this one. The story of a young girl with birthmarks on her face and body, catches the eye of a passing showman. Jasper Jupiter has seen her dancing round the camp fire with her brother. She has the sort of wild abandon that’s rare in one so shy and reserved. He can see her now, in his circus, perhaps even performing before the Queen if she could be tempted away from mourning Prince Albert. The book flits between the circus and back to Jasper and his brother Toby’s time in the Crimea. We follow Nell as she leaves her village behind to become Queen of the Moon and Stars. However, could Jasper’s eagerness to expand and show in London be their undoing? There are some very interesting disability issues here, including a look at the ethical concerns around freak shows.
This novel was a great surprise. I read this for a blog tour and I really couldn’t stop reading, so had to cope with a couple of regrettable late nights! For the first chapter I expected a bit of an ‘aga saga’. Cass lives a very comfortable life in the country with her husband and daughter. She is a gardener and is very involved in her local community, including a friendship group of very close women friends. Ellie turns up at a Sunday barbecue and makes quite an entrance. Where the other women are in shirts and jeans, Ellie is fully made up, wearing a stunning 1950’s style dress and a pair of towering red high heels. She’s an author and has moved close to Cass, hoping for some quiet to write her novel. Cass wonders whether she’s met a new friend, and Ellie does seem to slot into the group very easily. However, over the coming weeks Cass finds little things going wrong, she’s confused and feels alienated from her friends, but has no idea why. This is a great thriller that will keep you guessing.
This was an incredible debut from this author and a feminist rewrite of the Greek myth Theseus and the Minotaur. Ariadne is the eldest daughter of King Minos of Crete and his wife Pasiphae. She has a sister called Phaedra, but has very mixed feelings about her younger brother Asterion. Asterion was the result of a prank played by Poseidon on King Minos. To embarrass the King, Poseidon placed an enchantment on Pasiphae so she fell in love with a bull. Asterion was the result of their union and at first Ariadne has very positive memories of her baby brother and his little horn buds above huge eyelashes. Yet before long Minos has renamed him the Minotaur, and instructs Daedalus to build a labyrinth to keep him in. Once a year, Minos demands the sacrifice of young men and women from Athens, who are placed in the labyrinth and chased down by the Minotaur. Then, one year, Theseus arrives with the sacrificial group. Ariadne is dazzled by this young man and agrees to help him by placing his weapons inside the labyrinth, enabling him to kill her brother. He promises to take Ariadne with him, when he returns to Athens. So how come she wakes up a day later, on a different island, alone. The author retells this well known story from the point of view of the women and I really enjoyed reviewing it from a disability perspective too.
This was my first Faith Hogan novel and I’ll definitely be buying more. Again, women are front and centre in this story based in a small village in Ireland. Elizabeth is the doctor’s wife and lives in the big house, but her marriage has been far from happy and after the death of her husband she finds they were drowning in debt. Luckily she has a good friend to turn to. Jo lives in a little cottage at the bottom of the village and she has a brainwave to help her friend. Jo’s daughter Lucy is a doctor, taking a break from working in a hospital after her marriage broke down. She brings her teenage and stays at her mother’s, agreeing to keep the GP surgery ticking over until Elizabeth knows what she wants to do. Then Jo receives shocking news that will change life for them all. The women dispel their worries by meeting at night and going wild swimming in the Irish Sea. When they’re laid back in the waves looking up at the stars, life looks different and their worries seem smaller. It also gives them the idea for a fundraiser for their local hospice. I loved this story of female friendship and the support we can give each other.
Finally, there’s this disturbing read, which was an uncomfortable experience since we’re still living in a pandemic. This is another clever debut, set in 2025, where a Glasgow doctor reports a worrying pattern of illness she’s detected. Dr Andrea McLean is horrified when a young man presents with a fever and dies within three hours. It spreads through the hospital with frightening speed, but the powers that be don’t want to acknowledge the problem at first. By the time they do, it will be too late. A pandemic is underway, and strangely this virus seems to only affect men. This book made me think really deeply about what such a pandemic would mean to society. There are all the roles that men usually fill, but also some terrible choices for individual women to make. If your partner was ill, would you leave to protect your male children? Could you leave your elderly father to die, to keep your husband safe? Although this was an uncomfortable read, it was thought-provoking and incredibly clever too.