How To Fail by Elizabeth Day

How To Fail by Elizabeth Day

“How to fail at being Gwyneth Paltrow”

I am a sucker for a genius cover, and this one is beautiful! Catching my eye as I was leaving the library (hence the super glossy cover), I thought this is speaking my language! With chapter headings including ‘How to fail at being Gwyneth Paltrow’ this is one woman’s recollection of valuable lessons learnt from those frequent moments when life disappoints, or in fact just completely shits on you. This is for anyone who wonders if they are the only one without an Insta-perfect life (you are normal). Well done Elizabeth Day!

Cull by Tanvir Bush

Cull by Tanvir Bush

“Four years is a long time in politics.”

God, isn’t it just! Four months is also a long time, and is approximately how long I have been putting off writing my review of this great book. Cull is a brilliant book, but I knew I would either write a little about myself and my own experiences of the subject matter, or not write a review at all. Context, you know, is SO important to a reader’s experience of a book. So, for the sake of understanding the context of my review: I have had a life long battle with poor mental health and other health issues, am currently floating in the welfare system, unable to work, have been through a Work Capability Assessment, and have chronic frustration with the welfare system and NHS services, yet have met and been helped by, and still am being helped by, some amazing human beings who are a beacon in the dark, and whom I wish could be replicated a million times over! I am utterly grateful that we have a welfare system at all (there are many places in this world that do not), and think that there have been some changes in recent years that are wonderfully helpful, while others are at best totally baffling/at worst downright cruel.

Cull centers around Alex, a journalist who is blind and whose faithful guide dog Chris opens the novel with a point of view chapter of her own, the first of many witty and lovely passages exploring the bond between dog and (wo)man. Set amongst a hostile social and political backdrop, a speculative picture of a Britain that has truly come to shit emerges, one that seems mostly believable, and, given the state of things today, fairly probable. The Care and Protect Act has been shat out in order to ‘ease the burden on home carers and social workers’ – said no Tory minister, ever – by providing vulnerable people with places in new high-care facilities with 24 hour nursing and medical support. ALWAYS be sceptical of a free lunch…

If I had read this without the author’s name on the front, I would have been delighted that Margaret Atwood had written another great social satire slash horror novel after The Heart Goes Last! All the marvellous ingredients of a dystopian comedy are right here, exploring some of the biggest topical issues of our time, such as how the fuck are the kinds of laws that affect the lives of the most vulnerable in society still being made by people who are as far removed from their situations as a 9p pack of super noodles is from Chequers?

Alex investigates what is actually happening to the vulnerable and sick, including those who have disappeared in peculiar circumstances. She meets a sassy group of women called the Ladies’ Defective Agency, although I’ll leave the discovery of what that entails for the reader. Just know that this novel is very creative and highly original 😉

The trail leads Alex to the clinic offering fabulous care at the heart of the Care and Protect Act, where everything comes to a head, with the vulnerable coming together in an attempt to stand up for the abused and change things for the better. I was really disappointed when I was reading the big ending, initially. It didn’t seem sinister in any way, and the kind of thing a group of children would come up with, until it struck me that sometimes the very worst thing you can do to these monstrous people, is to embarrass them. (But not the kind of embarrassment that comes from going through a WCA, spilling your guts for a process that is degrading and in my case, actually makes health conditions worse)

I love the journalistic style of the novel, and the frequent news clippings are effective, given how much (often incorrect shite) is often said about the vulnerable and those on welfare, for any reason, in the media, and how they are represented. (Hint: atrociously)

Cull is a clever work of art, a terrifying prediction of the political landscape completely losing touch with its responsibilities of looking after its citizens, and I am very much looking forward to seeing what Tanvir Bush writes next.

Rating ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Cull was published on 24th January 2019 by Unbound. Thanks to them for the ARC

Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton

Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton

“If words are weapons, then silence is defence. Bisby said nothing, building a wall of words unsaid”

Sent away by her mother, Sara (no not me, I promise) arrives in London and soon finds herself working in a brothel, enduring an awful time before she is taken in by and made a lady’s maid to Esther Thorel, the much neglected wife of a prominent master weaver. Tensions in the community simmer as Esther’s creative desires grow, whilst Sara struggles to escape her past. The whole cast of characters are set on an epic collision course which culminates in a shocking showdown which feels authentically 18th century.

There are lots of interesting characters in the novel, and the dynamic between Sara and Esther (and that bloody kitchen maid) is fascinating, and the style that the story is told in, from the point of view of the two main female characters, is superb (it felt very Sarah Waters-like). The effect, early on in the novel, is simply hilarious. Two characters, living in the same house, spending most of their time together, and yet experiencing each other in totally different ways. Later on though, when the shit truly hits the fan, it becomes poignant as tragedy appears on the horizon.

Don’t let the pretty cover fool you, this is a novel that once again proves that historical fiction has the power to shine a light on modern day issues.*

What this novel does so well is with its themes of class and power, including tensions between the workers and those who wield the power. This has a lot of relevance to today, as though we have a more established welfare state, the economic pressures still remain due to an ever changing social climate, like the effects of globalisation (imports such as Indian calico are mentioned). It illustrates the struggles of change within British manufacturing and craft industries even as far back as the 1760s. If only William Morris had had a novel like this to hand when he was dreaming of his socialist utopia!

Social injustice and inequality are tackled head on in the novel, but handled delicately, and it hurts to see how some characters escape their pasts whilst others are held to account for each indiscretion, because this is still true to this day in real life. Gender inequality also features heavily, and we find out that in this period women cannot do much of what a man can do but a women is unlikely to hang.

My only criticism? Silk isn’t produced by ‘sticky little worms’ (I should point out I flipping love insects, and am actually opposed to silk production, but anyway…), but the larva of silkmoths who get boiled alive after spinning their cocoons. Perhaps the expression wasn’t meant literally, perhaps it was. Aside from this one little detail, it is evident that a great deal of research has gone into the story, and the world that is depicted feels alive. It is a gripping read.

5 silky stars!

Blackberry and Wild Rose was published on 10th January 2019 by Quercus. Many thanks for the ARC.

*For a wonderful example of this, go and read Michelle Jana Chan’s ‘Song’, published last year by Unbound. You can find a review/appetite whetter on my blog

The Dollmaker by Nina Allan

The Dollmaker by Nina Allen

Firstly, I adore this novel. But I will be honest here, I nearly abandoned this novel a couple of times early on. It has an unusual structure, and before I do any research, I’m unsure at to why it is this way and what purpose it serves, and if for any other reason but a demonstration of the author’s ability to write about almost anything and remain captivating. The Dollmaker follows Andrew Garvie, a most peculiar man who is fascinated with dolls, who answers an ad from Bramber Winters, a most peculiar woman who is also fascinated with dolls, seeking to find out more about Ewa Chaplin, a maker of dolls and writer of curious short stories. Thus follows the correspondence between Andrew and Bramber, who reveals she has been living for numerous years at the mysterious West End House, a place full of characters, which she is free to leave but doesn’t. Still, Andrew sets out on a journey to ‘rescue’ her – his words – and on the way intermittently reads Ewa Chaplin’s short stories, of which we are treated to, the first at which served as my first episode of ‘can I be bothered to read this?’. Confession: I skipped through the first short story, as after a couple of pages it wasn’t grabbing me, but I read the others that followed, and thought they were wonderful little eerie nuggets of oddness. It’s interesting to read stories and to then hear a character in the novel’s thoughts about them. Makes them feel a little more real. Was that the point of the stories? Who knows.

The ‘A love story about becoming real’ on the front shouldn’t put off anyone, who, like me, would rather not read love stories, as I think this novel sits more within literary fiction than romance, such is its focus on character development and interesting structure of stories within stories within stories. (A novel is only literary fiction if it is absolutely totally bloody baffling, right?)

I find this book extremely lovely, in the way that it explores characters who to the rest of the world are oddities, misfits, who find a missing connection with each other, and the beauty of them blooming when it happens. We learn more about their lives prior to their current situations, but I get the feeling that it is for context, not explanation, the suggestion that people don’t need reasons for their quirks and the things that make them them, just the freedom to express all that they are.

I wanted the ending to be muddlingly weird, for there to be an epic case of false or mistaken identity, or for one of the main characters to even not exist at all, perhaps even a doll or two to come alive and go on a rampage, but then again, I am as weird as the characters in this book. I won’t give anything away, except that the ending is touching, and provides many answers. Perhaps other readers will be able to pick up even more of them.

5 stars.

The Dollmaker was published by riverrun on 4th April 2019. Thank you to riverrun for the ARC

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Set in Lagos, Nigeria, nurse Korede practically has a second job cleaning up after her sister Ayoola, who seems to lure men in almost siren style, habitually killing them. Unsurprisingly, painting a picture of Ayoola as a vicious princess that you want to dislike, that even her own sister wants to dislike (‘Ayoola looks like a Bratz doll and I resemble a voodoo figurine’).

The plot is set up fast with a catchy opener, the second novel I’ve recently read – the other being Good Samaritans, a seriously twisted comedy – that establishes the tone of the novel via an introduction to the wonders of bleach, which is always handy if you have a body to dispose of.

Shamefully, my knowledge of African literature is thinner than a piece of tracing paper, yet it is clear that in any other context this novel wouldn’t stick together as it does, the things that matter in this society, such as status and class, underpinning the characters beautifully as the layers of the story are unwrapped. It presents itself as a dark comedy then reveals a tender tribute to loyalty, exploring the legacy of abuse and the fragility of mental health. At it’s heart, it isn’t about serial killers, nor murder, or even crime. It isn’t even about the ‘why’ to the crime, though we are given answers to questions that we didn’t even think to ask.

Even as a serious undercurrent gradually shapes the plot, the mischievous sarcasm of Korede stops the novel from becoming far too heavy. I shouldn’t laugh at Korede’s handling of simply being a woman, but I do, because us women don’t even realise half of the things we do to protect ourselves until it’s put in our face. Yet this novel doesn’t seem to have an agenda of slamming men, nor ridiculing the caricature-like ones who appear in it, it is just this: examining the complex relationship between two women who happen to be sisters.

5 stars

My Sister, The Serial Killer was published by Doubleday on 3rd January 2019. Thank you to Doubleday for the ARC.

I read and reviewed My Sister, The Serial Killer quite some time ago, and it has since been long listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Congratulations to Oyinkan Braithwaite for being nominated, and thank you for giving me the rare experience of looking through an award’s nominees and being able to say ‘I’ve read that! (And liked it)’

What I Read In 2018, Learning (From Books and From Life), My Intentions For 2019

Lessons

(Generally)

  • Ignoring mental illness does not make it disappear, in fact it makes its roots grow deeper
  • Dealing with mental illness rather than ignoring it is just as difficult, painful and exhausting
  • The company you keep and the environments you find yourself in have a big impact on said mental illness
  • You’re rarely as powerless or helpless as that mental illness makes you feel
  • Learning to manage mental illness is possible, but does not come easily or quickly
  • You cannot manage it alone, having a healthy support network is crucial
  • You do not have to explain yourself to those who do not have your best interests at heart
  • It is a million percent worth the pain of perseverance in the pursuit of inner peace and a nourishing life

(Reading & Blogging)

  • There are some very wonderful people in the world of books whose support and kind words have meant a great deal to me
  • There aren’t enough hours in the day or days in a year to read as much as I’d like
  • Reading with a mental illness is a bloody challenge and I’m proud that I read even one book let alone the amount I did, seeing as my mind is either spaghetti junction or a black hole
  • That said, reading has largely been about numbing from other things that have been happening (meaning that is hasn’t always been a healthy habit)
  • I do not enjoy using social media or that side of blogging. I care very little for numbers of likes or followers and my only aim is that those with tastes like mine can discover books that are right up their street
  • I am an honest person, I am honest when I talk about books, I value honesty from others and am distrustful when people say they won’t say ‘negative’ things in their reviews (I want to write reviews, not kiss peoples arses). I feel deceitful when I don’t speak the full truth, although I respect that people should do things however they wish.
  • Above all else, taste plays a more important role than most people realise, and therefore I don’t believe there is such a thing as a bad/awful/rubbish/brilliant/lovely/insert word here book, just books that a person experiences on a scale of pure dislike to utter awe. If you don’t like a book, it isn’t a bad book, you just aren’t the right reader.

What I Read

I refer back to my last point about taste and no such thing as a bad book and the important of a book finding its way into the right hands. My top 10 of 2018 isn’t what I think are the ‘best’ books of the year, but books that I particularly loved or that moved me. They also weren’t all published in 2018, that was simply when I read them. I also read a lot more books than I wrote about. I would have like to have reviewed everything, but mental health issues crept in a lot and is something I will work on next year. There is a mixed bag of books here, some I loved more than others, but those that I did not finish aren’t on this list so suffice to say that everything here has something that I liked. By the way, these are listed in no particular order.

1. An Almond For A Parrot by Wray Delaney (published by HQ)

2. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (Virago)

3. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber)

4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Vintage)

5. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (Vintage)

6. The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer (Faber & Faber)

7. To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo (Bonnier Zaffre)

8. Whistle In The Dark by Emma Healey (Viking)

9. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)

10. Pretend I’m Dead by Jen Beagin (Oneworld)

11. The Poison Bed by EC Fremantle (Michael Joseph)

12. Song by Michelle Jana Chan (Unbound)

13. The Backstreets Of Purgatory by Helen Taylor (Unbound)

14. The Black Prince by Adam Roberts (Unbound)

15. Sex Drive by Stephanie Theobald (Unbound)

16. Sour Fruit by Eli Allison (Unbound)

17. Bones Lines by Stephanie Bretherton (Unbound)

18. Sex, Lies & Bonsai by Lisa Walker (Harper360)

19. Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donaghue (Virago)

20. England’s Lane by Emma Woolf (Three Hares Publishing)

21. Elmet by Fiona Mozley (John Murray Press)

22. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (Portobello Books)

23. If Cats Disappeared From The World by Genki Kawamura (Picador)

24. Munmun by Jesse Andrews (Allen & Unwin)

25. Astroturf by Matthew Sperling (riverun)

26. The Beekeeper Of Sinjar by Dunya Mikhail (Serpent’s Tail)*

27. The Psychology Of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas (Head Of Zeus)

28. The Way Of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry (Canongate

29. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (HarperCollins)

30. This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay (Picador)*

31. Odette by Jessica Duchen (Unbound)

32. Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach by Ramsey Campbell (Flame Tree Press)

33. Good Samaritans by Will Carver (Orenda Books)

34. The Sicilian Woman’s Daughter by Linda Lo Scuro (Sparkling Books)

35. Give People Money by Annie Lowrey (WH Allen)*

36. Killing It by Camas Davis (Picador)*

37. The Story Of Shit by Midas Dekkers (Text Publishing)*

38. The Book Of M by Peng Shepherd (HarperVoyager)

39. Tomorrow by Damien Dibben (Michael Joseph)

40. Elefant by Martin Suter (Fourth Estate)

41. 84K by Claire North (Orbit)

42. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (Bloomsbury)* ***

43. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer (Little, Brown)* ***

44. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (Little, Brown)

45. Us by David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)

46. Suicidal by Jesse Bering (University of Chicago Press)*

47. All The Little Lights by Jamie McGuire (Montlake Romance)

48. Calm by Fearne Cotton (Orion)*

49. The Self Care Project by Jayne Hardy (Orion)*

50. Resilient by Rick Hanson (Ebury)*

51. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero (Hodder & Stoughton)*

52. Tired But Wired by Dr Nerina Ramlakhan(Souvenir Press)*

53. Ultimate Energy by Tricia Woolfrey (Hodder & Stoughton)*

54. The Curious Case Of The Dog In The Nighttime by Mark Haddon (Vintage)

*Non fiction titles **Self help titles ***Audiobook version

My Top 10 Favourites (in no particular order)

Song by Michelle Jana Chan

Munmun by Jesse Andrews

Pretend I’m Dead by Jen Beagin

The Backstreets Of Purgatory by Helen Taylor

An Almond For A Parrot by Wray Delaney

Bone Lines by Stephanie Bretherton

Sour Fruit by Eli Allison

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Intentions For 2019

(Reading & Blogging)

  • To read less books but savour them completely and offer more in my posts about them and hopefully to offer relevant content such as author interviews and other interesting content
  • To continue to do things my way
  • To not request or accept books when I have a stupidly big pile of books already to read ffs
  • To swiftly respond to all messages and requests
  • To seek out more self published books and those from small presses/indies.

(Generally)

  • To always be me.

And The Swans Began To Sing by Thora Karitas Arnadottir Book Review #ZeroFilterBooks

The premise, in a nutshell: Narrative non-fiction in which the author assumes the voice of her mother, telling her story, which includes childhood sexual abuse and the lifelong impact of it.

The things I loved about it: This book is a compelling, tender memoir and it is beautifully, gracefully written. I’ve read quite a few memoirs that feature childhood abuse and have often been left feeling that the editing has made them as shocking as possible and featured little else of the writer’s life. I like that this account is both tender and hard hitting and does not seek to shock, as the facts are shocking enough on their own. I really admire the honesty in the struggles that she has faced coming to terms with what happened to her, particularly her journey into and through therapy. The word inspirational doesn’t quite seem right but I think that how I feel about this book is somewhere along those lines, in that I’m sure there are many people for whom their own experiences have taken a long time to process, and a reminder that it is a slow and messy thing to endure.

The things I didn’t: The subject matter makes for an incredibly difficult read, although I’m sure that that is no surprise. I would urge caution to anyone who is emotionally vulnerable to read this slowly and in small chunks.

I rate this: 5 stars.

The author: ‘Thora Karitas Arnadottir studied drama in Britain and is best known for the award winning TV series, Astridur, in her home country and for hosting Unique Iceland, a highly popular travel magazine show about Iceland. Thora is currently working on her first novel, which will be released in Iceland in 2019.’ (wildpressedbooks.com)

The swans on the lake began to sing. It was a singing so loud they were almost screaming, as if they were encouraging me to release what I had been keeping inside for so long.

Gudbjorg Thorisdottir has been hiding from the ghost of an ugly secret for most of her life. When she finally faces the truth of what happened in her childhood, the ghost floats away. Painting an evocative picture of life in Iceland, this is the story of a little girl who didn’t know how unnatural it was to experience both heaven and hell in the same house.

And The Swans Began To Sing was published by Wild Pressed Books on 10th January 2019. Thank you to Wild Pressed Books for the ARC.