Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month! June 2021.

Wow! June has been quite a month when it comes to fiction releases and I’ve had an absolute blast reading them. I think this is the biggest number of five star reads I’ve had in one month – usually I might include a couple of four star books here and there on the list, but not this month. There was a point when I’d read four, 5 ⭐️ novels in a row and was scared to pick up another in case I was disappointed! This is going to be a bumper year and I may have to do a ‘21 of 2021’ to accommodate everything I want to include in December. I’m hoping that my reading luck continues into July. Happy summer reading everyone!

I must give special mention to Karen at Orenda Books who said to me back in March that I needed to read the Jubilant June books they were publishing, particularly Everything Happens For A Reason. She said I would cry and I cried buckets, but I absolutely loved it too. Rachel is struggling to cope with the grief, after her baby son, Luke, is stillborn. Using the type of platitude many people resort to in the face of such terrible loss, she is told that ‘everything happens for a reason’. Unable to cope with the idea that Luke’s death is senseless, Rachel latches on to the idea. She thinks about saving the man who wanted to throw himself onto the train tracks and wonders if it is a coincidence that this was the very same day she found out she was pregnant? Rachel looks for the man she saved, in order to find the meaning in her experience. This is a stunning story of love, loss and hope.

In One Last Time we meet Anne, long term carer for her husband Gustav after a series of strokes. Not long after Gustav is transferred to a nursing home, Anne is diagnosed with cancer. This novel is an exploration of living, while dying. However, it’s also about motherhood and the relationship Anne has with her daughter, which was complicated by her caring role. Daughter Sigrid believes she was neglected by Anne, who chose Gustav’s needs over those of her children, but we also see Sigrid’s mothering skills and how they are interpreted by her daughter. This is a novel about the things we want to say to those we love, how they are meant and how they are received. Brilliantly perceptive, moving, honest and real.

Finally from Orenda is This Is What It Means To Be Human. Veronica lives in Hull with her adult son Sebastian. Sebastian is on the autistic spectrum and in a lot of ways acts the same way he did when he was small, even continuing to attend his childhood swimming club. However, there is one new interest in his life; Sebastian wants to have sex and although he is quite humorous in the way he expresses this, it is a natural urge. Usually Veronica helps with his hobbies, but she doesn’t know what to do with this one. After fruitless visits to their GP and a sexual health clinics, Veronica considers an escort. Could this be the answer to Sebastian’s prayers? This is a brilliantly ground breaking book that shows disabled people do have sex. You will laugh and cry at Sebastian’s quest to find a partner and Veronica’s realisation that her son is becoming a man. This really is am incredible novel from a writer at the peak of her skills.

This is a truly exceptional novel, one I’m sure I’ll read again and again. Ruth is struggling for direction in life and thinks she has chosen a path with Alex – a married man who left his wife and children to live with her in her tiny flat. Yet it doesn’t feel like the right fit. Can Ruth end the relationship knowing the havoc caused to Alex’s family? Yet she can’t remain, knowing this wasn’t what she expected. She takes a drastic decision, to leave London and work in a whale sanctuary in New Zealand. However, during her flight the unthinkable happens, Europe is wiped out in some sort of nuclear event that is also on its way down under. Ruth tries to find her destination and ends up on a beach, with a dying stranded whale and a man called Nik. Miraculously saved by climbing inside the whale, Ruth knows they are possibly the last people on earth. This book is extraordinary, not just the post-apocalypse survival story but the examination of love. Is it flowery exclamations or simply working together every day, them waking up one day with the realisation you’re a team and you couldn’t live without each other. It’s also about our definition of ‘self’ and who we are when everything we know and love is stripped away. I absolutely love this stunning novel and expect it to feature in my best books of 2021.

After my love of Elizabeth Buchan’s previous novel The Museum of Broken Promises, I was really excited about reading this on NetGalley. It follows two British women, living and working in Rome; one in the 1970’s as Italy is struggling out of fascism and one in the present day. Lottie has moved to Rome to live with her husband and work at the Archivo Espatriati. Her first job is to catalogue the papers of a woman called Nina Lawrence who worked in Rome in the 1970s as a garden designer, redesigning some of the gardens ruined by war. However, it seems that Nina is a woman of secrets and once Lottie starts to unravel her life and murder, she finds she may be in danger herself, attracting the attention of spies and the Catholic Church alike. The descriptions of Italy, and it’s incredible food, are vividly brought to life by the author and it’s a great chance to enjoy the Eternal City, However, the novel also asks serious questions, about where we belong, whether we drift through life or whether we make decisions based on a deep sense of duty to our religion, our family and our country. I think this novel cements Elizabeth Buchan as a ‘go to’ author for her sense of place, interesting and complicated women, and her wonderful historical detail.

I was absolutely enthralled by this great thriller from one of my favourite authors Lisa Jewell. In fact I read it in a weekend as a treat. Sophie and Shaun haven’t been together very long, but when he gets a teaching job at the exclusive private school Maypole House she decides to move out to the country with him. As a crime writer she can work anywhere, but she soon sniffs out a real-life mystery on her new doorstep. One year ago, in the woods behind their new house, Sophie learns that a young couple disappeared after a party. When she finds a buried box in her garden with the invitation to ‘Dig Here’, she can’t resist and unearths an engagement ring. Now she’s determined to find out what happened to young couple Tallulah and Zach, destined for a night in the pub, only to end up at a party at Dark Place – an historic house, situated in the woods. How did they end up with Scarlett Jacques and her friends when neither of them knew her. Mum Kim knows Tallulah would never have voluntarily left her baby, and neither would Noah. Yet neither of them have ever been found. Rumours abound about secret tunnels in the woods and they’re not the only twists and turns in this great thriller, along with a few red herrings and a totally unexpected ending. This book is ‘stay up till 3am’ sort of addictive.

An excellent thriller, filled with childhood trauma, psychological problems and the dynamics between people damaged in this way. Over two timelines we follow Nell in her final year of foster care and in a group home run by foster mum Meagan Flack, then one year later, living on the street in London. There’s a secret, deep down, that Nell can’t share or talk about, but it was the catalyst for her move to London with Joe. However Joe hasn’t weathered a winter on the streets as well as Nell, and when she discovers him entering a house with a blonde woman, she wants to know where he’s been, Nell observes Starling Villas from the coffee shop across the road. She doesn’t see Joe, but notices a young woman leaving the house and heading for a coffee. Thinking on her feet, Nell pretends to be in recruitment and when the girl opens up about the job at the house she concocts a story. Telling the girl her would- be employer is known to sexually harass his staff, she then poses as a potential employee and meets Robin, owner of the house. Now starts a game of cat and mouse, but who is the real predator? This is a great thriller, trying to solve two mysteries – what happened back in Wales a year ago and where are Joe and the blonde woman? Fragile is complex and atmospheric, exploring what happens when psychologically damaged people come together.

This was a book I’d been waiting to read – historical fiction with a focus on the treatment of women and those with mental health issues. Eugénie is the daughter in a middle class Parisian family, who has a very strong affinity with her grandmother. However, Eugénie has been keeping a secret from her whole family; since adolescence she has seen and been able to communicate with the dead. Trusting her grandmother, she confides in her about the presence of her grandfather who wishes to communicate with his wife. Despite seeming calm about Eugénie’s gift, the very next day her father takes her out in the carriage alongside her brother Theo, This is no ordinary outing. As the infamous Saltpétrière Asylum looms into view, she realises her grandmother has betrayed her and that the two men she should be able to trust most in the world are committing her to an asylum. Saltpétrière is run by Dr Charcot who has enthralled Paris society with his use of mesmerism on the women in his care. Coming up is the highlight of Paris’s season – the MadWomen’s Ball – where patients are given costumes to appear in for the amusement and fascination of the Paris elite. This is a book about women and the barbaric ways they could be treated and displayed, at the behest of the men in their family who have found them either mad, too intelligent, too excitable or struck with melancholy. I loved the strong female characters in the asylum, and the complicated relationship between Eugénie and Geneviéve. The novel’s strength is in these fascinating women and the way they defy the rules.

It’s been a very busy reading month with thirteen other books read over the last four weeks! Here are just a few of the books on my TBR in July. I’m hoping to have a quieter August and September so I can catch up on my NetGalley list and some great proof copies sent in the last few weeks. See you in July. Hayley xx

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month! May 2021

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.

Looking Forward To in June

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books Of The Month: April 2021!

What an incredible mix of reading I’ve had in April. First of all I reached a milestone of over 20 books read in a month. Something I haven’t managed since my university days. I’m thinking it needs to calm down a little in the weeks ahead. I’ve travelled from Ireland, to Orkney via Kenya, and from the 1940s to the present day and from a feminist manifesto to charming, uplifting reads. There’s is a thread through all of them though – strong female characters and an understanding of how life’s events, including trauma, affect women mentally.

The Imposter by Anna Wharton

Publisher: Mantle 1st April 2021

Chloe lives a quiet life. Working as a newspaper archivist in the day and taking care of her nan in the evening, she’s happy simply to read about the lives of others as she files the news clippings from the safety of her desk. But there’s one story that she can’t stop thinking about. The case of Angie Kyle a girl, Chloe’s age, who went missing as a child. A girl whose parents never gave up hope. When Chloe’s nan is moved into care, leaving Chloe on the brink of homelessness, she takes a desperate step: answering an ad to be a lodger in the missing girl’s family home. It could be the perfect opportunity to get closer to the story she’s read so much about. But it’s not long until she realizes this couple isn’t all they seem. In a house where everyone has something to hide, is it possible to get too close?

The Source by Sarah Sultoon

Publisher Orenda Books 15th April 2021

One last chance to reveal the truth…

1996. Essex. Thirteen-year-old schoolgirl Carly lives in a disenfranchised town dominated by a military base, struggling to care for her baby sister while her mum sleeps off another binge. When her squaddie brother brings food and treats, and offers an exclusive invitation to army parties, things start to look a little less bleak…

2006. London. Junior TV newsroom journalist Marie has spent six months exposing a gang of sex traffickers, but everything is derailed when New Scotland Yard announces the re-opening of Operation Andromeda, the notorious investigation into allegations of sex abuse at an army base a decade earlier…

As the lives of these two characters intertwine around a single, defining event, a series of utterly chilling experiences is revealed, sparking a nail-biting race to find the truth … and justice.

Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan.

Publisher Two Roads, 1st April 2021

Imelda Burova has spent a lifetime keeping other people’s secrets and her silence has come at a price. She has seen the lovers and the liars, the angels and the devils, the dreamers and the fools. Her cards had unmasked them all and her cards never lied. But Madame Burova is weary of other people’s lives, their ghosts from the past and other people’s secrets, she needs rest and a little piece of life for herself. Before that, however, she has to fulfill a promise made a long time ago. She holds two brown envelopes in her hand, and she has to deliver them.

In London, it is time for another woman to make a fresh start. Billie has lost her university job, her marriage, and her place in the world when she discovers something that leaves her very identity in question. Determined to find answers, she must follow a trail which might just lead right to Madame Burova’s door.

In a story spanning over fifty years, Ruth Hogan conjures a magical world of 1970s holiday camps and seaside entertainers, eccentrics, heroes and villains, the lost and the found. Young people, with their lives before them, make choices which echo down the years. And a wall of death rider is part of a love story which will last through time.

The Metal Heart by Caroline Lea.

Publisher Michael Joseph, 29th April 2021

Orkney, 1940.

Five hundred Italian prisoners-of-war arrive to fortify these remote and windswept islands. Resentful islanders are fearful of the enemy in their midst, but not orphaned twin sisters Dorothy and Constance. Already outcasts, they volunteer to nurse all prisoners who are injured or fall sick. Soon Dorothy befriends Cesare, an artist swept up by the machine of war and almost broken by the horrors he has witnessed. She is entranced by his plan to build an Italian chapel from war scrap and sea debris, and something beautiful begins to blossom.

But Con, scarred from a betrayal in her past, is afraid for her sister; she knows that people are not always what they seem. Soon, trust frays between the islanders and outsiders, and between the sisters – their hearts torn by rival claims of duty and desire. A storm is coming . . .

Charity by Madeleine Dewhurst.

Publisher Lightning Books, 26th April 2021

Edith, an elderly widow with a large house in an Islington garden square, needs a carer. Lauren, a nail technician born in the East End, needs somewhere to live. A rent-free room in lieu of pay seems the obvious solution, even though the pair have nothing in common.

Or do they? Why is Lauren so fascinated by Edith’s childhood in colonial Kenya? Is Paul, the handsome lodger in the basement, the honest broker he appears? And how does Charity, a Kenyan girl brutally tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion, fit into the equation?

Capturing the spirited interplay between two women divided by class, generation and a deeper gulf from the past, and offering vivid flashbacks to 1950s East Africa, Madeline Dewhurst’s captivating debut spins a web of secrets and deceit where it’s not always obvious who is the spider and who is the fly.

The Seven Necessary Sins of Women and Girls by Mona Eltahawy

Publisher Tramp Press 26th April 2021

The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls identifies seven sins women and girls are socialised to avoid anger, attention, profanity, ambition, power, violence and lust. With essays on each, Mona Eltahawy creates a stunning manifesto encouraging women worldwide to defy, disobey and disrupt the patriarchy. Drawing on her own life and the work of intersectional activists from around the world, #MeToo and the Arab Spring, Eltahawy’s work defines what it is to be a feminist now.

Special Mention – The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor.

I have to mention this absolute joy of a book, now out in paperback from Simon and Schuster. Evie takes us all the way back to the 1960s and a Yorkshire village where her Dad runs a dairy farm. This summer Evie is waiting for her exam results, but Chrissie – her dad’s new girlfriend – doesn’t want her just laying round the house and reading. Chrissie is busy upgrading the farmhouse from all that wood and bringing in some modern Formica. Evie wants her Dad to see what Chrissie is truly like, but isn’t sure how. This teenage diary is hilarious, poignant and uplifting. It’s an absolute joy of a read.

Yellow Limited Edition Paperbacks available at Independent bookshops.

So that’s my monthly picks. Here are some other good picks from this month.