Welcome to 2023 at The Lotus Readers! It’s already looking like a busy one and if January is anything to go by there are going to to be some hot contenders for my round-up in twelve months time. I’m going to be spoiled for choice. There are going to be some new and developing projects this year that I’m excited about and I’m already planning into June. I’m doing a lot more work with the Squad Pod Collective this year and I’m very excited at some of the books and read alongs we have scheduled. On a more personal level I’m hoping to be a better planner this year, with the hope of clearing some of my NetGalley backlog and keeping on top of publisher’s proofs. I want to develop my Instagram account and start work on TikTok too. I have various themes planned throughout the year and new spotlights to bring to you, with poetry and classics featuring more prominently. I’ve also realised I need to tell you all a little bit about me and I must get used to seeing to showing you my face a little bit. Finally I’m hoping to update the website with new photos and a better layout so I’m easier to find. So to kick off this new year, here are my first books of the month for January.
House of Fortune by Jessie Burton
To say I’m a fan of Jessie Burton is an understatement. I am in awe of her writing abilities and love every one of her books, but there’s a soft spot in my heart for her debut novel The Miniaturist. I was transported straight back to 16th Century Amsterdam and whenever I think about the town house where Nella goes to live with her new husband Johannes and his sister Marin, I have an almost synaesthesic response because I can smell it. It’s a mixture of wood panelling and beeswax. Considering how attached I am to this extraordinary tale, there was a certain amount of trepidation in reading her follow up House of Fortune. I’d saved it for the end of the year and it came to me in two special editions, one with spredges in a green pattern and one with a yellow pineapple print. It’s been eighteen years since the events of the first book and Thea’s birthday approaches. As her father Otto is let go by his employer the household is in decline, almost down to the last treasures it can sell to stay afloat. Maybe their only hope for the future is Thea and the family are forced to launch her on Amsterdam society with the hope of finding her a husband with the fortune to keep them afloat. Otto wants Thea to have a choice and with new friend Caspar he has planned to farm Thea’s childhood home, Assendelft, by growing a crop of pineapples. However, Thea has her own plans and when small packages start appearing on the doorstep it’s clear a period of change is on the way. Could this be the miniaturist, up to her old tricks?
I was sucked straight back into Nella’s world as mistress of this extraordinary house. I loved that Burton took us to Nella’s childhood, with the walls of Assendelft full of memories, good and bad. Over the eighteen years since Johannes’s death she has become a force to be reckoned with and this reminds us of how naïve and young she was at the beginning. I felt sad that she had almost written herself off, pinning all their hopes for the future on Marin’s daughter Thea and not even considering that she could be the one pursued by potential husbands. Wealthy widows can be very attractive in the marriage market and nobody knows what Johannes’s arrangements were for his wife. I felt that Nella didn’t want marriage though, having been free for eighteen years it would certainly be hard to adjust to the more conventional woman’s role a husband might expect. I also really enjoyed being taken into the world of the theatre, where Thea is transfixed by the stories being told on stage. Her fear that someone has seen her hanging around backstage, especially since spending time with scene painter Walter, really came across strongly. I felt for her and I wanted Thea to remember what it felt like to be a teenager without her whole family’s fortunes weighing heavy on her shoulders. I was compelled to keep reading, completely caught up in the world of this strange family of outsiders, but also wondering if this time the miniaturist would be unmasked and her purpose revealed. I throughly enjoyed being back in Nella’s world and it renewed my desire to go to Amsterdam to see the original cabinet house that fired up Jessie’s imagination.
We All Want Impossible Things by
This book was a joy. That’s going to seem odd when I explain what it’s about, but it is joyful and full of life. Even though at it’s centre there’s a death. Ash and Edi have been friends forever, since childhood in fact. They’ve gone through adolescence together: survived school; other girls; discovering boys and even that awkward phase of starting adult life, when one went to college and the other stayed behind. They’ve both married and been each other’s maids of honour and become mothers. Instead of any of these things pulling them apart they’ve remained platonic partners in life. However, now Edi is unwell and decisions need to be made. After years of struggle with being, treatment, remission and recurrence, Edi now has to decide how she’ll be dying. With all the hospices locally being full, Ash makes an offer – if Edi comes to a hospice near Ash, she can devote time to being with her and Edi’s husband can get on with every day life for her son Dash. There’s a hospice near Ash that’s like a home from home, with everything that’s needed medically, but the informality and personal touch of a family. Now Ash and Edi have to negotiate that strange contradiction; learning how to live, while dying.
Ash’s home and family life is so enviable I wanted to be part of it. Her estranged husband Honey is an incredible chef and her daughter seems to have picked up the talent. The author’s descriptions of their meals really did make the mouth water and are their way of contributing and supporting Ash. All of these people are so nurturing, in Honey’s case this is despite he and Ash being separated. Before you think this sounds schmaltzy and sentimental I can assure you that these characters are not perfect. Each has their flaws and their ways of coping, some of which are destructive and possibly difficult for others to understand. Ash particularly has a novel approach to grief, but I understood it. If we look beneath the surface, it’s a way of forging connection with others on the same journey and expressing their love for Edi. It’s also a distraction, a way of leaving all the paraphernalia of death behind and affirming life. That doesn’t mean her behaviour isn’t confusing, especially to her teenage daughter who supplies whip smart commentary, eye rolls and remarkable wisdom. The men in this friendship group seem to understand that their grief is secondary, because Edi is the love of Ash’s life. I enjoyed the little addition of Edi’s other friend – the college friend – who Ash has concerns about. Does Edi like her more than Ash? Do they have a special bond? The author provides us with this loving picture but then undermines it slightly, so it isn’t perfect. We are imperfect beings and no one knows how they will react in a time like this, until we’re there. Catherine Newman shows this with realism, charm, humour and buckets of compassion.
The Curious Case of The Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett.
I was enthralled, addicted and so desperate to find out what actually did happen on the night when the police found a strange cult massacre in a deserted warehouse. Open the safe deposit box. Inside you will find research material for a true crime book. You must read the documents, then make a decision. Will you destroy them? Or will you take them to the police? Everyone knows the sad story of the Alperton Angels: the cult who brainwashed a teenage girl and convinced her that her newborn baby was the anti-Christ. Believing they had a divine mission to kill the infant, they were only stopped when the girl came to her senses and called the police. The Angels committed suicide rather than stand trial, while mother and baby disappeared into the care system. Nearly two decades later, true-crime author Amanda Bailey is writing a book on the Angels. The Alperton baby has turned eighteen and can finally be interviewed; if Amanda can find them, it will be the true-crime scoop of the year, and will save her flagging career. But rival author Oliver Menzies is just as smart, better connected, and is also on the baby’s trail. As Amanda and Oliver are forced to collaborate, they realise that what everyone thinks they know about the Angels is wrong. The truth is something much darker and stranger than they’d ever imagined. And the story of the Alperton Angels is far from over.. After all, the devil is in the detail…
It was hard to review when I didn’t want to let slip any signal or clue, so I won’t comment on the storyline. It’s drip fed to you in the different communications and I loved how we were presented with other people’s opinions and thoughts on the discoveries being made. Who to trust and who to ignore wasn’t always clear and the red herrings, including the involvement of the Royal Family, were incredible. I felt that true crime author Amanda had an agenda, that possibly had nothing to do with the story at hand and was more about a personal grudge. Janice Hallet’s research is impeccable and here she has to cover the early 1990’s and 2003, as well as the workings of the police, special forces and the social services – some of which is less than flattering and even corrupt. I found delving into the True Crime genre fascinating considering how popular it is these days, something I’m personally very conflicted about. This has all the aspects of a sensational True Crime investigation with a more nuanced perspective from other characters to balance things out. I was gripped to the end and the end didn’t disappoint.
River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer.
This incredible debut novel grabbed hold of my mind and heart, never letting go until the final paragraph. I shed tears at several points in Rachel’s journey and she’s a character I won’t forget. We meet her working on a plantation in Barbados, at that strange point after slavery when plantations were instructed to free slaves, but their sense of freedom was short-lived as masters were able to keep slaves for a further six years as apprentices. So, despite being freed the day afterwards started just the same, at the crack of dawn and walking to the cane fields for a day of back breaking work. Having nothing meant that most had no other choice. Rachel is thinking of her children, several lost before they had a chance to live but others scattered to the four winds. Her boys Micah and Thomas Augustus and her girls Cherry Jane, Mary Grace and Mercy all taken from her in different ways. Only Cherry Jane spends a few years nearby as a house slave, but in her superior position she doesn’t acknowledge Rachel who is merely a field hand. One day she decides that she must find her children, she mustknow where they are and what happened to them, even if the news is that devastating final loss. Rachel says that as a slave she plants cane but nothing of her own. However her children came about, Rachel feels that they anchor her in this world and she can’t rest until she finds them. So she runs and with our hearts pounding we follow her.
Shearer uses incredibly evocative detail to bring nature to life in this book and underscore Rachel’s sense of freedom. A river takes them deep into the forest and a community of freed slaves and indigenous tribespeople where one of her sons may be. It also sweeps them along, back to freedom after searching Grenadian plantation for daughter Mary Grace. The whole journey is littered with joys and terrible grief, but Rachel knows she must keep going. She meets others who have started to build a new life, placing the past firmly behind them and never pining for it. They live firmly in the here and now with questions left unanswered and people left behind. For Rachel that isn’t enough. Her children are like the scattered pieces of a broken vase. She doesn’t expect her family to be perfect and knows that there will be cracks and missing pieces. Rachel is putting her broken vase back together and she will pour a substance into the cracks, bringing the pieces together until her past is whole again. The binding substance used in Japanese Kintsugi pottery is usually gold, each crack making the piece more valuable and beautiful. In Rachel’s case the binding substance is love. Love for those here, those found but far away and those gone forever. An all encompassing love symbolised by the bond between a mother and her children.
Amazing Grace Adams by Fran Littlewood.
It’s possibly way too early to start picking candidates for favourite books of 2023 – I’m still deliberating over 2022 – but I think this book is certainly going to be in contention. Grace is one of those characters that you fantasise about having cocktails with and you already know you’d have the best time. Grace is stuck in traffic, it’s a boiling hot day and she’s melting. All she wants to do is get to the bakery and pick up the cake for her daughter’s birthday. This is one hell of a birthday cake, not only is it a Love Island cake; it has to say that Grace cares, that she’s sorry, that will show Lotte she loves her and hasn’t given up on their relationship. It’s shaping up to be the day from hell and as Grace sits in a tin can on boiling hot tarmac, something snaps. She decides to get out of the car and walk, leaving her vehicle stranded and pissing off everyone now blocked by a car parked in the middle of a busy road. So, despite the fact her trainers aren’t broken in, she sets off walking towards the bakery and a reunion with Lotte. There are just a few obstacles in the way, but Grace can see the cake and Lotte’s face when she opens the box. As she walks she recounts everything that has happened to bring her to where she is now.
When we first meet Grace she’s living alone, estranged from husband Ben and even from her teenage daughter Lotte. She’s peri-menopausal, wearing trainers her daughter thinks she shouldn’t be wearing at her age and she’s had enough. There’s that sense of the Michael Douglas film Falling Down except when the meltdown comes all she has is a water pistol filled with river water, an embarrassingly tiny Love Island cake and a blister on her heel. Then in flashbacks we can follow Grace all the way back to the start, to when she and Ben met at a competition for polyglots. The truth when it comes is devastating, but feels weirdly like something you’ve known all along. Those interspersed chapters from happier times are a countdown to this moment, a before and after that runs like a fault line through everything that’s happened since. As Grace closes in on Lotte’s party, sweaty, dirty and brandishing her tiny squashed cake, it doesn’t seem enough to overturn everything that’s happened, but of course it isn’t about the cake. This is about everything Grace has done to be here, including the illegal bits. In a day that’s highlighted to Grace how much she has changed what will happen to her relationship to the people she loves most?
All of these books are out now and you can potter along to your local book shop for them. Happy Reading! ❤️📚