A Hundred Small Lessons By Ashley Hay – A Review

Publisher: Two Roads

This book was such a treat to read. It came at a time when I’d been reading lots of high energy, heavily plot based, action packed books and was the perfect antidote to high drama.

This is a character focussed gem of a story based around two separate families living in the same house over different time periods. The particular focus being on the two women of the households.

The story opens with Elsie Gormley lying on the floor of her family home, a house she has lived in for over 60 years with her husband Clem and their twin children Donny and Elaine. Elsie has suffered a fall and her family realise she is no longer able to look after herself alone at home and move her into a housing facility.

The house is sold to Lucy and Ben and their young toddler son Tom. Lucy develops a kind of fascination with Elsie, the woman who’s house she’s now living in and often talks to her in her head. When she discovers a box of old photographs of the family in the attic she feels closer still to Elsie. She becomes convinced that Elsie is coming back in the night to visit the house but her husband Ben remains unconvinced and even begins to get annoyed with Lucy for developing such a fascination with the old woman.

As the story develops we learn about Elsie’s life in the house, bringing up her family with Clem her devoted husband. We flit between the points of view of Elsie and Clem. Seeing their family through their own eyes.

Lucy in the present day is struggling with new motherhood, with their recent relocation to Brisbane and her changing marriage. What was once a quite passionate union has changed into something a little more settled and she isn’t quite sure if she’s losing herself. She is on a state of high alert around Tom the baby and lives an anxious life, worrying about the smallest of things and trying to keep her family safe.

I really enjoyed the little nuances in this story, the small tenuous links between the families and their histories. This a fascinating character study, especially where relationships are concerned and deals beautifully with marriage, mother and child bonds and friendship. The imagery is lovely too, with depictions of the landscape, flowers and animals native to Australia.

This is a heartwarming tale of family ties through the years, whilst it’s not soppy it’s just the right amount of sentimental and I found myself really bonding with each of the characters.

Such a joy to read.

Thank you to Two Roads and Bookbridgr for the review copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

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Swan Song By Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott – A Review

Publisher: Hutchinson

Publication Date: June 14th 2018

Well the first thing I need to say about this book is that it is STUNNING. Its probably one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever owned. The end papers are blinking gorgeous too! Just wowsers.

I have to hold my hands up and say that I have never read any of Truman Capote’s work. I’m aware he wrote Breakfast At Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood but my knowledge of the man began and ended there……..until this book that is.

Now this is a fictionalised account of how his idea for a book Answered Prayers came to be. Truman, after his acclaim for In Cold Blood finds himself in the unenviable position of suffering from writers block and turning in desperation to writing about the colourful lives and personal affairs of his elite set of socialite friends.

In two excerpts from his book, serialised in Esquire magazine Truman effectively detonates a social grenade and pays the price. Despite changing the names of the characters everyone in the New York social scene knows exactly who Truman is talking about.

Told from Truman’s humble beginnings, a childhood with his neglectful mother who was repulsed by his strangeness. A poor upbringing in Alabama to a prolific writing career and a place firmly in the middle of the high society social scene, where anybody who’s anybody just loves to have salubrious Truman along for the ride. He inveigles himself in their lives and swiftly builds confidences with them, allowing them to see Truman as a trustworthy close friend to whom they can impart their innermost secrets. They see him as kind of asexual and their husbands see that he is not a threat. He’s the life and soul of any party and larger than life and they adore him. He calls them his ‘swans’ and he basks in their adoration.

So who are these ‘Swans’? Well they are the women shown on the end papers. Gloria, C.Z, Babe, Slim, Lee and Marella. Lee is the sister of Jackie Onassis, to give you some idea of the calibre of these women. They are the creme de la creme of the social scene. Their husbands and their various mistresses either making them stronger or breaking them down all under the watchful gaze of Capote.

We get to learn about each of the women, their back story, their heartbreaks and personal lives all under the glamourous backdrop of various restaurants in New York (Cirque, The Plaza, La Cote Basque) to the chic streets of Paris and the sumptuous yachts and private jets.

I so enjoyed this book and tore through it in a weekend. It was one that I just had to get back to and if I didn’t have children and a husband I think I would have holed myself up and read it in one sitting. It’s just so glamourous and prestigious but with a real grubby, gritty edge.

I was grateful to have the images of the ‘swans’ on the endpapers and during the first third I found myself flicking back and forth and seeing just exactly who Truman was talking about. Around halfway through I had their images emblazened in my brain and really felt like I knew these women.

This was one of those books that you know is fiction rooted in truth and had me grabbing my phone and googling little tidbits about Truman and his swans trying to find out exactly how much of it was truth and how much of it was fiction. It had a real ‘peeping behind the curtains’ feel to it, (albeit very classy heavy brocade ‘drapes’ perhaps rather than curtains!) I loved finding out the various secrets of these women. Their past lives, their relationships with husbands and lovers and their individual relationships with Truman himself.

The ultimate demise of Truman was very sad (and another googleable subject to get lost in). Ultimately I absolutely loved this book. The end chapter has an almost dream like ethereal quality and the writing throughout, but most noteably in the concluding chapters is just stunning. The whole production of it, the gripping, salacious storyline and the larger than life characters. Just simply stunning in every way. (Can I say ‘stunning’ enough times?) What an absolutely marvellous world to become immersed in.

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous!

I can’t leave this review without quoting one of my most favourite lines:

His legend will loom, bigger than a tit through a telescope.

And it does!

A real 5 star read for me.

Thank you as ever to the publisher and Isabelle Everington for the beautiful advanced copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

Mine By Susi Fox – A Review

Publisher: Penguin

Publication Date: 14th June 2018

This was a case of right book, right time for me. I could feel myself slumping a little, I’ve read some corkers this year and had just picked up a book that was very poetic and wordy. I wasn’t in the right head space for it so (rather sensibly for me!) I set it down and picked up Mine by Susi Fox. With the tag line ‘Someone’s stolen your baby. But no one believes you.’ – now that ain’t no lyrical poetic book!

I tore straight in!

So what’s it all about?

Sasha wakes after an emergency c-section to find herself alone in her hospital room, no baby beside her. In a panic, she asks a passing midwife if her baby daughter is ok. When she’s told her ‘son’ is in the premature baby ward but is doing well, Sasha begins to feel uneasy. The baby had been confirmed in scans as being a girl and Sasha had just felt deep down inside that her baby was a girl.

The midwife also mixes Sasha’s name and file of notes up with another patient, a seemingly innocuous event that does nothing to alleviate Sasha’s fears that something isn’t quite right.

When she is finally taken to visit her son in his incubator Sasha’s fears are seemingly confirmed when she looks at him and feels absolutely nothing for him. No connection, no bond and she struggles to see any familial likeness, either to her side of the family or her husband Mark’s.

And anyway where is Mark? Hadn’t Sasha made him promise to stay with the baby at all times should something bad happen during the birth?

From this point we follow Sasha’s mission to find her true baby despite nobody around her believing her. Her husband Mark appears to be humouring her and her thoughts that somehow her baby has been switched with another in some massive devastating error.

The hospital staff are dismissing her fears as post natal depression, failing to bond with her baby due to the traumatic birth. Sasha however is determined to prove everyone wrong and get her baby back before it’s too late.

We have alternating chapters told from Sasha’s perspective in the present day and Mark’s perspective building a picture of their early relationship and troubles in conceiving. We also gain some insight into Sasha’s childhood and relationship with her father after her mother abandoned her when she was a young child. We also learn about an event in Sasha’s career as a paediatrician that has shaken her confidence and shaped her career and life.

All of the peripheral and background information is there to put you on the back foot and make you question Sasha and her mental health. At least that’s the way it felt for me. I love never quite trusting a protagonist, an unreliable narrator is one of my most favourite things.

It is quite frustrating in a brilliant way, to not know what had happened and to not know who to trust. There are so many possible people to point the finger at that my head was in a wonderful whirl.

Midwife Ursula, psychiatrist Dr Niles, Dr Solomon, husband Mark……what are they all potentially trying to hide?

Sasha is such a determined character, I found myself willing her on in her mission. I mean, sure, there were times when I had to suspend disbelief for a little while…..not sure some of the things that happened in this particular hospital would have happened in good old Blighty in an NHS hospital but hey-ho (this book is set in Australia).

It’s a gripping read which really took me on an intense journey and the ending is an eye opener!

Give it a whirl, you won’t regret it!

Thank you to Sam Deacon for the review copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xx

Warlight By Michael Ondaatje – A Review

Publisher: Vintage

Publication Date: 7th June 2018

Oh my goodness did I feel the weight of other people’s expectations with this one!

I was lucky enough to attend the Vintage 2018 showcase in Waterstones Manchester back in March where this book was discussed briefly by one of the publicists. He mentioned a shadowy figure known as The Moth and that right there is what hooked me in.

I left the event thinking about this book and cheekily approached Vintage for a review copy. Lo and behold a mere few days later this beauty popped through my letterbox.

Now, since receiving it I have posted a couple of pictures over on the old ‘gram and Twitter and on each occasion I have been met with exclamations of envy. People declaring Michael Ondaatje as a literary hero, people who cannot wait to hear what it’s all about.

I have to hold my hands up here and say it’s a fair cop guv! I have never read any of Ondaatje’s work, nor have I even watched the film The English Patient. Needless to say I went into this book with a completely clean pallet if you will. A fact which I was happy about if I’m honest. I do enjoy heading into a book with very little idea of the premise.

So, having finally read it, I can now tell you a little about Warlight, not too much though as you’re going to want to discover it for yourselves.

Post WW2 London and Nathaniel and Rachel’s parents have just told them that they are moving away for a year to Singapore whilst their father does some work for his companies office over there. They are to be left in the care of The Moth, a lodger who has been living in one of their upstairs rooms.

Teenagers Nathaniel and Rachel are to still attend their schools and continue their education under the wing of The Moth. Their father leaves for Singapore, and their mother is due to follow on shortly after. When Nathaniel discovers the meticulously packed trunk of his mother left behind after her departure, he finds himself questioning her real whereabouts. With snippets of information regarding her involvement with the war effort told through memories from The Moth, Nathaniel has his suspicions.

Life at Ruvigny Gardens under the care of The Moth quickly becomes hectic and disordered. Their house is often full of lively colourful characters who fly somewhat under the radar of the law. Most notable of which being ex boxer known as The Pimlico Darter whom Nathaniel becomes close to. He also becomes embroiled in some criminal undertakings under cover of darkness along the Thames. Under the tutelage of The Darter he finds himself in some situations and scrapes. Learning the complex life of the criminal underworld.

We later go on to discover just where his mother is and the reasons for her departure. In the latter part of the book we follow Nathaniel as an adult trying to piece together his mother’s secretive life after her death.

This book for me had 2 distinct parts. The first half was by far the more light hearted and humourous. I loved discovering all the colourful characters, larger than life and oh so fascinating. The comings and goings of life at Ruvigny Gardens is fascinating. The relationships Nathaniel builds with these people under various guises are lovely to read. The Darter is one of my favourite characters, bold, striking and outlandish versus The Moth’s quiet reserve.

There is an event around a third of the way through which changed the whole course of the story and the mood for me. From this point on the story takes a more serious turn and the lightheartedness dissipates quite rapidly.

This is not in any way a criticism. I enjoyed getting under the skin of the story. Unravelling the mysteries along with Nathaniel. Discovering just who his mother had been, what her involvement with the war effort had been and how far she had gone to protect her family.

As I said at the start, I’ve never read any Michael Ondaatje but I can assuredly say that I will be doing so in the future. I’ll admit I was intimidated by this book before going into it but the story was beautifully written and very accessible. This book has the double whammy of perfectly depicted characters and an intriguing plot. I don’t really think I can pick any holes in it, nor would I want to.

I would thoroughly recommend it.

Thank you to Vintage for the ARC. I really appreciate it as always.

See you soon

Bookish Chat xxx

Snap By Belinda Bauer – A Review

Publisher: Bantam Press

Publication Date: 17th May 2018

I heard the synopsis for this book on somebody’s YouTube channel and thought it sounded intriguing. When it came up on Netgalley to request I was straight in there!……Sadly I was rejected *cue sad music*. So I quietly fumed to myself (OR took to twitter to complain a little bit, obvs).

When one of my good bookish pals saw the physical copies being offered to bloggers on Twitter she alerted me quick smart and I jumped right aboard that train with my hand in the air shouting ‘Me! Me! Me! Pick me!’

Not only did I bag myself a copy of the book (Thank you Becky Short!) I became involved in a little blogger game of Snap (hence the Ace of Hearts playing card in the picture of the book up there), and managed to win myself a copy of another Belinda Bauer book to boot! So it all worked out ok in the end, and all was right with the world.

Anyway enough of me being a Billy bragger…..let’s get on with the review.

This book opens with 3 children stranded in a lay-by in their broken down car. Their mother had told them to sit tight and she’ll be back soon….their mother never comes back.

The three children are Jack, and his sisters Joy and Merry (love that name!). Their lives are irrevocably changed that baking hot August day and Jack is forced to grow up very quickly, thrust into the role of guardian for his two sisters, despite none of the authorities knowing they are living alone and in poor conditions.

Jack has to learn a life of petty crime in order to survive. Stealing food and items to sell for money.

One night Jack breaks into a house and finds a sleeping woman, pregnant Catherine While and stumbles across what he believes is a connection to his mother.

Catherine and her husband Adam are excitedly looking forward to the impending birth of their baby, but the sudden appearance of Jack in their lives, making bold claims threatens to derail their marriage and their lives.

Jacks quest to find out what really happened to his mother and seek justice is a complicated one but Jack is a determined young lad and isn’t willing to be ignored.

Told from the perspective of Jack, Catherine and new DCI in town John Marvel, this book is fast paced and a real page turner (cliche I know).

I read it in a couple of sittings over one day. It’s one of those stories that pulls you along and leaves you wanting to know more. The characters in this book are larger than life and I absolutely loved DCI Marvel. Curmudgeonly, straight talking and perpetually grumpy. Jack is such a lovely character too. Even though he’s cashing in on other people’s belongings he’s doing it for all the right reasons. To keep his already fractured family together and keep his sisters out of the care system.

The writing is very atmospheric and the opening chapter centred around the baking hot day, with the children sat waiting in a stuffy, airless car was so realistic you could almost be there with them.

This was one of the most enjoyable thrillers I’ve read in a while.

I would definitely recommend getting your hands on it.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat. Xxx

Marlena By Julie Buntin – A Review

Publisher: Picador

Firstly I’d like to say huge thanks to Picador and Grace Harrison for the proof of this book.

I have to hold my hands up and say I didn’t really know what to expect with this novel. I am not a fan of teenage ‘angsty’ stories. My least favourite protagonist would be a teenage girl and this book has two….but I’m becoming much more willing to give books a go these days because I’ve discovered some blinkin corkers this way. I’m glad to say this book was no exception.

15 year old Cat has just moved to a new town with her mother and brother Jimmy, following the breakdown of her parents marriage.

Her mum is struggling somewhat with being suddenly single and bringing up her two teenage children alone. She uses alcohol as a crutch and can be found comatose in bed most nights.

Lonely Cat finds herself fascinated with Marlena across the street. She lives with her drug dealing father and her somewhat neglected younger brother after their mother ran out on them. Cat gravitates towards Marlena, this interesting, cool girl who seems troubled and wayward.

The girls form a quick intense friendship, soon spending the majority of their time together often getting into scrapes and regularly ditching school to hang out around the neighbourhood, drinking and taking drugs. Marlena slots easily into their family and their home, desperate to belong.

Whilst Cat is more of an experimenter with drugs, alcohol is her main vice. Marlena however begins to rely heavily on drugs to get her through the day. She finds herself having to sacrifice more and more of herself in order to obtain the drugs she craves from her dealer.

When Marlena is found dead in the woods near their home, drowned in 6 inches of freezing cold water, Cat’s life is irrevocably changed forever.

Looking back on their intense but brief year of friendship, a now adult Cat is obviously still scarred by events and still using alcohol as a crutch just to see her through the day. She wonders what exactly happened to Marlena in those woods, could she have done more to save her friend? Was she in some way to blame?

I really enjoyed this book and it’s gritty rawness took me a little by surprise. It was a coming of age novel which I expected but it was also oh so much more. It was achingly sad and poignant. This friendship between two vulnerable girls who are essentially both lonely, doubting themselves and where they fit in. Struggling to find their identities in a small town.

Cat abandoned by her father who is far too caught up with his new young mistress and Marlena, also abandoned by her neglectful father, lured into his world of drugs without a mother figure in her life. Their friendship is intense and all too brief.

I haven’t read The Girls by Emma Cline but I have it on my shelves and this book has been likened to that.  If you’ve read The Girls and enjoyed it then you need to get your hands on Marlena.  I would highly recommend this book as a great summer read, intense, raw, visceral and thoroughly gripping.

See you all soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

The Dissent Of Annie Lang by Ros Franey – A Review

Publisher: Muswell Press

Publication Date: 8th April 2018

If you’d have told me 18 months ago that I’d be regularly reading historical fiction I’d have laughed in your face. But I’m so glad my little mind has been expanded by some great historical tales. This book would have completely passed me by otherwise and that would have been a real shame.

So what’s it all about?

In 1920’s Nottingham we meet our protagonist the spirited Annie Lang. At a young age her mother dies leaving Annie, her brother Fred and her older sister Beatrice in the soul care of their father.

Not a man to be without a woman he takes Miss Higgs the harmonium player from their deeply religious Grandfathers Mission as his wife and the children’s new mother.

Right from the outset Annie doesn’t get along with her stern, controlling step-mother. Miss Higgs appears to enjoy wielding her power over the children and her husband too, with her pious, righteous ways.

Her position of harmonium player at the mission is filled by Mildred Blessing and Annie is a little besotted with her (and her fancy shoes). When Millie disappears one day along with more local girls, Annie is plunged into a life of confusion and loneliness.

Fast forward 6 years later and Annie is just returning from studying in France to find her brother Fred has been committed to a mental hospital in her absence suffering from nervous exhaustion. From this point onwards we follow young Annie unravelling the mystery of just where Millie Blessing disappeared to and what is going on behind closed doors at home.

I just loved the character of Annie, she’s tenacious and determined and a plucky heroine in her own right. She’s astute and definitely ahead of her time.

I also enjoyed the character of Miss Higgs, despite her obvious failings as a motherly figure. She had such hidden depths. Potentially a little misunderstood (although that could be more to do with my forgiving side!). I’d have loved to have known more about her.

The first half of this book for me was scene setting. Drip feeding little nuggets of information to pave the way for the second half of the book which really picked up a pace! Action packed and eventful, I was enthralled. There were a couple of heart in mouth moments, and who doesn’t love that feeling?

There’s a definite ‘girl power’ vibe towards the end of the story which again is ahead of its time.  Empowering, beautifully written and so engaging.

This book would be perfect for anyone who enjoys a good family drama with a mystery to unravel.

Thank you to Anne Cater and Muswell Press for the opportunity to read and review this book.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

About the author:

Ros Franey grew up in the Midlands where this book is set. She is a maker of award-winning documentaries, including two films about the Guildford 4 which, along with the book she co-authored Timebomb, contributed to the quashing of their case. This is her second novel. She lives in Camden, North London.