Review: This One Sky Day by Leone Ross (2021)

Blurb

Dawn breaks across the archipelago of Popisho.

The world is stirring awake again, each resident with their own list of things to do:

A wedding feast to conjure and cook
An infidelity to investigate
A lost soul to set free

As the sun rises two star-crossed lovers try to find their way back to one another across this single day. When night falls, all have been given a gift, and many are no longer the same. The sky is pink, and some wonder if it will ever be blue again.

Review

I knew I was going to love this book. I’m a sucker for magical realism, and the lush, strange, evocative descriptions of the archipelago of Popisho captured me immediately. My edition is also a thing of physical beauty, with a gorgeous cover and stunning sprayed edges – perfectly representing the treasure that lies within its pages.

The opening is powerful: Xavier’s wife, Nya, washes up on the beach dead but still speaking, an immediate taste of the almost mythic mode that the novel operates in. As we learn more about each inhabitant, and their magic, or ‘cors’ is revealed, the story gets richer and richer, a multi-coloured tapestry woven with dazzlingly bright threads. It is a literary feast of many different flavours, as unique and delicious as one of Xavier’s meals. The writing is both lyrical and visceral, with a raw, pumping heart that splashes blood and sex and death onto the page among the lighter moments. It is a sensual experience, imbued with flavours, scents, sights; a heady mixture that feels at times like being in a delirious dream.

For me, This One Sky Day combined elements of many of my favourite books: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, The Famished Road by Ben Okri, and the luminous yet threat-tinged stories of Irenosen Okojie’s stunning collection, Nudibranch. I took my time with it, wanting to stay in Popisho as long as possible, and at the end, I was sad to leave it behind. I felt as if I’d been on a sweeping, epic adventure with the characters, one that would continue for them after I closed the book. I’m really looking forward to reading more by this author.

This One Sky Day by Leone Ross is published by Faber & Faber and is available to purchase here.

Review: Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason (2021)

Blurb

Everyone tells Martha Friel she is clever and beautiful, a brilliant writer who has been loved every day of her adult life by one man, her husband Patrick. A gift, her mother once said, not everybody gets.

So why is everything broken? Why is Martha – on the edge of 40 – friendless, practically jobless and so often sad? And why did Patrick decide to leave?

Maybe she is just too sensitive, someone who finds it harder to be alive than most people. Or maybe – as she has long believed – there is something wrong with her. Something that broke when a little bomb went off in her brain, at 17, and left her changed in a way that no doctor or therapist has ever been able to explain.

Forced to return to her childhood home to live with her dysfunctional, bohemian parents (but without the help of her devoted, foul-mouthed sister Ingrid), Martha has one last chance to find out whether a life is ever too broken to fix – or whether, maybe, by starting over, she will get to write a better ending for herself

Review

This book was all over Book Twitter last year, so I knew I had to get it. There’s always a bit of a worry when everyone loves a book that I’m going to be the weird one who doesn’t – fortunately that was most definitely NOT the case with Sorrow and Bliss. I started it at 9:30pm (that dangerous time when you finish one book and decide it’s not too late to start another!) and stayed up till nearly 2am, having devoured the whole thing (for me, a book hangover = the grogginess the next day after such foolishness when the kids bound in at 5:30am). Totally worth it – I loved every page.

I don’t think I have ever read a book which does so exactly what it says on the tin. The balance of tragedy and comedy in this novel is astounding: within a few sentences, I went from tears welling up in my eyes to laughter, and vice versa. It’s a devastatingly funny book – and Martha’s sister, Ingrid, queen of the one-liners, is one of my new all-time favourite characters. Although Martha’s relationship with her husband, Patrick, is ostensibly the centre of the book, for me, the sisters provided the emotional core. Through their different paths, Mason explores modern womanhood in a way that feels fresh and new.

As someone who has suffered with mental health issues of various different flavours, I was incredibly moved by Martha’s struggles, and I thought the way her diagnosis was handled, late on in the novel, was perfectly done. That feeling of seeing your past in a whole new light because of newfound knowledge about yourself is so powerful, and it’s captured beautifully in Sorrow and Bliss.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough – if you’re a fan of contemporary fiction that dares to be different, that evokes the whole range of emotions, you don’t want to miss this wonderful novel.

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason is published by W&N and is available to purchase here.

Review: Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead (2021)

Blurb

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2021.

For fans of The GoldfinchAll the Light We Cannot See and The Girlsthis monumentally powerful epic weaves together the astonishing lives of a daredevil female aviator and the Hollywood rebel who will play her on screen.

From the days of giant passenger ships sliding past Arctic icebergs, to the daring pilots of WWII, to present-day Hollywood and its malcontents, at the core of this story is the indomitable Marian Graves and her twin brother Jamie who are twice abandoned by their parents. Marian and Jamie grow up roaming Montana forests, more comfortable with landscape than with people.

When a pair of aerobats take their exhilarating show to a nearby airfield, Marian’s life is changed forever. Watching them roll, dive, and loop in their mini plane, she can think of nothing else but flying. As she grows into a woman, she sacrifices everything to command the breathtaking sense of freedom, of utter control over her own fate, that she feels when in the air. She becomes one of the most fearless pilots of her time, and in 1949 she sets out to do what no one has done before: fly the Great Circle around the earth, north to south around the poles. Shortly before completing the journey, her plane disappears, lost to history.

In 2015, Hadley Baxter, former child star and poster girl of the blockbuster Archangel franchise, has just been fired for cheating on her on-screen boyfriend. Struggling to escape the fury of the fans, she grasps at an offer for the comeback role of a lifetime: to play the famed female pilot Marian Graves in a biopic. From the first pages of the script, she feels an instant connection with Marian, a woman who refused to be bound by gravity or any of the other strictures of her time. After filming is complete, her bond grows stronger as she begins to question whether the Great Marian Graves really did die at all.

Maggie Shipstead is the author of the bestselling and prize-winning debut novel Seating Arrangements. With Great Circle, she cements her place among a famed list of American Literary Stars as one of the greatest storytellers of our time.

Review

Many thanks to the publishers for sending me a proof copy in exchange for an honest review.

I’d seen several awesome people on Book Twitter raving about this novel, so I had a feeling I was in for a treat with Great Circle. I have to admit, it took me a while to pick it up, mostly because I got very behind with my reading last year and I was slightly intimidated by its size. I wish I hadn’t waited – this book is an utter triumph. It has the sweeping feel of an epic, but is also tightly focused on understanding the characters, digging beneath the surface. It’s totally immersive, and, appropriately for a novel with a plot thread about film-making, very cinematic. Reading it feels akin to following a camera swooping and soaring, alongside Marian in her plane, and then zooming in for the smaller, character-driven moments.

There is so much going on in this book, which spans continents and a century, but the material is handed so elegantly that it is never overwhelming and always a joy to read. I was surprised to find that I was just as intrigued by the modern sections featuring Hadley and her attempts to bring Marian to life on the screen as I was by the fascinating life of Marian herself. A lot of this is due to the clever interweaving of the two timelines, so that as we gradually unravel the mystery surrounding Marian’s disappearance, Hadley is also moving towards a new understanding both of the character she is playing and of herself. There is also a fantastic cast of characters in each storyline – everyone is vividly portrayed and comes to life as you read – from Caleb, whom I fell a bit in love with, to the complicated monstrosity of Marian’s husband, to the hilarious Sir Hugo – these are characters who stay with you.

Great Circle dazzles with its range, its dexterity, its beautiful language and heart-breaking moments. It is the sort of book that makes you sad to reach the final pages, makes you wish you could experience it all again for the first time. It covers such a broad spectrum of emotion, and does so with a delicate touch that gently guides you through its intricacies, so that reading it is pure pleasure. Anyone who hasn’t read this yet is in for a wonderful ride, I promise.

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead is published by Transworld and is available to purchase here.

Review: I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins (2022)

Blurb

A darkly funny, soul-rending novel of love in an epoch of collapse-one woman’s furious revisiting of family, marriage, work, sex, and motherhood.

Since my baby was born, I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things. a) As much as I ever did. b) Not quite as much now. c) Not so much now. d) Not at all.

Leaving behind her husband and their baby daughter, a writer gets on a flight for a speaking engagement in Reno, not carrying much besides a breast pump and a spiraling case of postpartum depression. Her temporary escape from domestic duties and an opportunity to reconnect with old friends mutates into an extended romp away from the confines of marriage and motherhood, and a seemingly bottomless descent into the past.

Deep in the Mojave Desert where she grew up, she meets her ghosts at every turn: the first love whose self-destruction still haunts her; her father, a member of the most famous cult in American history; her mother, whose native spark gutters with every passing year. She can’t go back in time to make any of it right, but what exactly is her way forward? Alone in the wilderness, at last she begins to make herself at home in the world.

Bold, tender, and often hilarious, I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness reaffirms Watkins as one of the single writers of our time.

Review

Thank you so much to Ana at Quercus for sending me a proof copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This novel had me at the title, and the cover. What’s inside does not disappoint: it is dark, ferocious, absolutely unflinching. There is a strong autofiction vibe, with the protagonist being a writer called Claire Watkins, and autobiographical detail from her life (yes, her father really was a member of the Manson Family) woven into the text. I’ve struggled with autofiction in the past, only because of my nosy nature and my desire to know which bits are true, but I was cured by Michael Chabon’s Moonglow (a novel I loved), which made me realise that trying to separate out the fact from the fiction is kind of missing the point. And isn’t ‘truth’ all relative, anyway? Or something like that.

The central plot point of this novel is deliberately shocking: a woman walks out on her husband and young baby, choosing instead the seeming hedonism of drugs, affairs, rootlessness. It is confronting and defiant, not least in the way that the narrator struggles to feel bad about her choice. She wishes she could be sorry, but she’s not sure she is. For those of us who live loaded with Mum guilt over the smallest parental failings, this borders on revelationary – I thought I would judge her decision, but as the book progresses, I think my feelings tipped more into a secret envy. I could never do what Claire does in this story, but her absolute commitment to following her own path has a certain courage to it – at the very least, it smashes through the patriarchal norms of ‘motherhood’ and what is expected of women once we bear children. It’s fascinating.

The descriptions of the desert and of the various childhood homes that the narrator lives in growing up are wonderfully evocative, and the sections describing her father’s connection to the Manson Family are morbidly interesting. There are also letters written by her mother as a girl – I have to say, I couldn’t quite work out where these fitted in, and their repetitive tone didn’t draw me in as much as the other facets of this remarkable book. However, when it came to Claire’s story, I was all in. Watkins writes with a bare, fierce honesty, almost flaying in its intensity, and I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness is an incredibly powerful novel.

Sparks fly in this book, from passionate sexual encounters to ghosts from the past slamming into the present, to the sheer taboo-busting ferocity of Claire’s search for identity. It’s explosive, original, sometimes tough to read, drilling down right to the core of what it means to exist in this world, at this time. I was worried I wouldn’t find the ending satisfying, but it worked really well for me. I think this book is really important, shining a light on deep, dark, hidden truths, soul-baring in a pure and brave way. If you are a reader who wants their characters to be likeable and relatable, perhaps steer clear, but if you like bold, shattering fiction that makes the world anew, I highly recommend I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness.

I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins is published by riverrun on 20th January 2022 and is available to pre-order here.

2021 Reading: The Big List!

  1. A Sparrow Alone by Mim Eichmann
  2. Lost Girls by Ellen Birkett Morris
  3. The Mothers by Brit Bennett
  4. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
  5. Cockfight by María Fernanda Ampuero translated by Frances Riddle
  6. The Care of Strangers by Ellen Michaelson
  7. The Clearing by Samantha Clark
  8. The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen translated by David Hackston
  9. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  10. Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
  11. Havana Year Zero by Karla Suárez translated by Christina MacSweeney
  12. Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal
  13. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  14. Kololo Hill by Neema Shah
  15. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
  16. The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson by Helen Kitson
  17. The Strays of Paris by Jane Smiley
  18. Nightshift by Kiare Ladner
  19. The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie
  20. Old Bones by Helen Kitson
  21. Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
  22. Fortune’s Hand by R.N. Morris
  23. The Push by Ashley Audrain
  24. Call Me Mummy by Tina Baker
  25. Backstories by Simon Van der Velde
  26. Little Bandaged Days by Kyra Wilder
  27. From My Balcony to Yours by Nino Gugunishvili
  28. Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel
  29. The Smash-Up by Ali Benjamin
  30. Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding
  31. My Brother the Messiah by Martin Vopenka translated by Anna Gustova Bryson
  32. What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson
  33. Empower Your Kids by Judy Bartkowiak
  34. Another Life by Jodie Chapman
  35. The Dig Street Festival by Chris Walsh
  36. The Summer Job by Lizzy Dent
  37. Sybelia Drive by Karin Cecile Davidson
  38. Chauvo-Feminism by Sam Mills
  39. Absorbed by Kylie Whitehead
  40. Outsiders edited by Alice Slater
  41. Boys Don’t Cry by Fíona Scarlett
  42. Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie
  43. Among the Beasts and Briars by Ashley Poston
  44. Charity by Madeline Dewhurst
  45. Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden
  46. Fridge by Emma Zadow
  47. Yes Yes More More by Anna Wood
  48. The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex
  49. Mrs Narwhal’s Diary by S.J. Norbury
  50. 100neHundred by Laura Besley
  51. Catch The Rabbit by Lana Bastasic
  52. Still Life by Sarah Winman
  53. The Five by Hallie Rubenhold
  54. The Big Four by Agatha Christie
  55. The Stranding by Kate Sawyer
  56. Gold Fury by Kieren Westwood
  57. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  58. Assembly by Natasha Brown
  59. The Mesmerist’s Daughter by Heidi James
  60. Wounding by Heidi James
  61. The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper
  62. So The Doves by Heidi James
  63. Grown Ups by Marie Aubert translated by Rosie Hedger
  64. Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
  65. Fallen by Mel O’Doherty
  66. My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes
  67. The Sound Mirror by Heidi James
  68. Line by Niall Bourke
  69. The Idea of You by Robinne Lee
  70. Colouring In by Nigel Stewart
  71. A Hundred Million Years and a Day by Jean Baptiste Andrea translated by Sam Taylor
  72. Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
  73. Pah by Orla Owen
  74. Elena Knows by Claudia Pineiro translated by Frances Riddle
  75. Fault Lines by Emily Itami
  76. Falling Is Like Flying by Manon Uphoff translated by Sam Garrett
  77. Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce
  78. Yours Cheerfully by AJ Pearce
  79. Fireborn by Aisling Fowler
  80. Cecily by Annie Garthwaite
  81. The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard
  82. Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks
  83. The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson
  84. This Good Book by Iain Hood
  85. She Came to Stay by Eleni Kyriacou
  86. The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
  87. Black Coffee by Agatha Christie
  88. Iron Annie by Luke Cassidy
  89. The Impossible Truths of Love by Hannah Beckerman
  90. Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun translated by Janet Hong
  91. 29 Locks by Nicola Garrard
  92. An Island by Karen Jennings
  93. The Whistling by Rebecca Netley
  94. Somebody Loves You by Mona Arshi
  95. The Book of Uriel by Elyse Hoffman
  96. On The Edge by Jane Jesmond
  97. You: From Pissed to Publication by Drew Gummerson
  98. More Than Mistletoe by The Christmas Collective
  99. Human Terrain by Emily Bullock
  100. Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook
  101. Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard
  102. Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard
  103. Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard
  104. All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard
  105. Salt Lick by Lulu Allison
  106. The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont
  107. Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
  108. I, Mona Lisa by Natasha Solomons

December 2021 Reading: Salt Lick; The Christie Affair; Ducks, Newburyport; I, Mona Lisa

Another month where I read fewer books than usual (and one is a bit cheaty as I was just finishing off the final section!) but I am getting much more zen about my monthly totals – life gets in the way sometimes, and reading isn’t a competitive sport! Let’s have a little look at how I finished my year in books – links to full reviews where relevant.

Salt Lick by Lulu Allison (2021)

I really enjoyed this beautifully written novel about a dystopian future that feels uncomfortably close. And it has a cow chorus. You can read my full review here.

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont (2022)

This book has such an intriguing premise, and I enjoyed reading it, but it wasn’t a top read for me. You can see my full review here.

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (2019)

Ducks, Newburyport has been my constant companion during 2021 – I’ve been reading a section a month. For my full review (and details of how I found the experience!) see my post here.

I, Mona Lisa by Natasha Solomons (2022)

I loved this book – it was the perfect novel to finish off a wonderful year of reading. Unfortunately I’d already passed on my Squadpod list of 21 top books of 21, so I’ll have to put this on my Top Reads of 2022 – it is going to take some beating! To see why I adored it, check out my full review here.

I didn’t get through a ton of books in December, and to be honest, I don’t care at all! I said at the start of the year that I wasn’t going to put pressure on myself to read loads of books every month, and indeed, life made damn sure that wasn’t even possible, but I have had a fantastic year of reading, and once again, books have got me through some tough times.

Huge thanks to all the authors, publishers and publicists who have sent me books in 2021 – I feel so lucky to be trusted to review ARCs – I couldn’t have imagined it even a couple of years ago. And thanks to everyone in the bookish community, all of whom have provided so much support in so many ways.

Here’s to more fabulous bookish goodness in 2022!

Happy reading!

Ellie x

Review: I, Mona Lisa by Natasha Solomons (2022)

Blurb

Listen to my history. My adventures are worth hearing. I have lived many lifetimes and been loved by emperors, kings and thieves. I have survived kidnap and assault. Revolution and two world wars. But this is also a love story. And the story of what we will do for those we love.

In Leonardo da Vinci’s studio, bursting with genius imagination, towering commissions and needling patrons, as well as discontented muses, friends and rivals, sits the painting of the Mona Lisa. For five hundred tumultuous years, amid a whirlwind of power, money, intrigue, the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo is sought after and stolen.

Over the centuries, few could hear her voice, but now she is ready to tell her own story, in her own words – a tale of rivalry, murder and heartbreak. Weaving through the years, she takes us from the dazzling world of Florentine studios to the French courts at Fontainebleau and Versailles, and into the Twentieth Century.

I, Mona Lisa is a deliciously vivid, compulsive and illuminating story about the lost and forgotten women throughout history.

Review

Huge thanks to Najma Finlay at Hutchinson Heinemann for sending me an advanced copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

I, Mona Lisa has such a bold premise. This is not the story behind the painting: this is the painting’s story. I can think of nothing better than when a talented writer takes an outlandish idea (a talking painting!) and runs with it so successfully – it makes my heart sing at the myriad possibilities of fiction. Yes, you have to suspend your disbelief, but Solomons makes this effortlessly easy. Mona Lisa’s voice is strong, fierce, weathered by the centuries, softened by the memory of her beloved creator, and hardened by the things she wishes she hadn’t seen. Rarely have I felt so passionate about a narrator who isn’t technically human.

I devoured this novel, reading it in greedy gulps late into the night. Solomons takes us on an intricately structured journey from da Vinci’s studios to French palaces and, finally, to twentieth century Paris, but we move back and forth, getting each strand of the story in tantalising pieces which, by the end, fit together to make a beautiful mosaic of the ‘life’ of this extraordinary protagonist. But it is not only Mona Lisa and Leonardo who make this story come to life. Every single character is drawn with such vivid realism, such bright colours, that I could see it all before my eyes: scowling Michelangelo, the fragile, wounded Lisa del Giocondo, Francis the arrogant, adolescent French king, and later, others whom I won’t mention as I don’t want to spoil anything!

This story feels like a full immersion in European history, and yet it is told with a light touch. The detail is wonderful, never too much, always perfectly pitched to allow the reader to see the scenes unfolding as if before their eyes – we become observers just like Mona Lisa herself. The are moments of drama, of quiet tenderness, of humour – I was sad to reach the end, as I could have kept on reading forever. It may feel like a flippant pun to describe I, Mona Lisa as a masterpiece, but I mean it – I adored this book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It has set the standard for 2022 books for me, and it will take some beating.

I, Mona Lisa by Natasha Solomons is published by Hutchinson Heinemann on 10th February 2022 and is available to pre-order here.

Review: The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont (2022)

Blurb

In 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days. Only I know the truth of her disappearance.
I’m no Hercule Poirot.
I’m her husband’s mistress.

Agatha Christie’s world is one of glamorous society parties, country house weekends, and growing literary fame.

Nan O’Dea’s world is something very different. Her attempts to escape a tough London upbringing during the Great War led to a life in Ireland marred by a hidden tragedy.

After fighting her way back to England, she’s set her sights on Agatha. Because Agatha Christie has something Nan wants. And it’s not just her husband.

Despite their differences, the two women will become the most unlikely of allies. And during the mysterious eleven days that Agatha goes missing, they will unravel a dark secret that only Nan holds the key to…

Review

Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a beautiful proof copy of The Christie Affair in exchange for an honest review.

I enjoyed this novel – although it turned out to be quite different from what I was expecting. I had imagined that Agatha would be the main focus, and that it would be a twisty, Christie-esque unravelling of the mystery of her disappearance. However, it becomes clear that this is really Nan’s story, and that Nan’s affair with Agatha’s husband is only a very small piece in the puzzle.

This is a tough book to review as I don’t want to give anything away – the sections set in Ireland had some parallels to another book I read in 2021, but if I name it, it may give the game away! So I shall stick to being vague and cryptic, and merely state that I don’t think you’ll see where this one is going until quite near the end (which is quite Christie-esque in itself!).

There are some enjoyable characters – I particularly liked Inspector Chilton – and the story rattles along at a good pace. There are a lot of coincidences, up and and down the country, and at times it was perhaps just a stretch too far for me. I didn’t get the insight into Agatha Christie as a character that I was hoping for, but Nan is a fascinating protagonist, with a complex, moving story that is well worth reading.

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont is published by Mantle on 20th January 2022 and is available to pre-order here.

Review: Salt Lick by Lulu Allison (2021)

Blurb

Britain is awash, the sea creeps into the land, brambles and forest swamp derelict towns. Food production has moved overseas and people are forced to move to the cities for work. The countryside is empty. A chorus, the herd voice of feral cows, wander this newly wild land watching over changing times, speaking with love and exasperation.

Jesse and his puppy Mister Maliks roam the woods until his family are forced to leave for London. Lee runs from the terrible restrictions of the White Town where he grew up. Isolde leaves London on foot, walking the abandoned A12 in search of the truth about her mother.

Review

Huge thanks to the author for sending me a copy of Salt Lick in exchange for an honest review. Many apologies for the delay in posting this – the last few weeks of 2021 were, um, interesting!

This book grabbed me from the opening chapters. Its unique mix of pastoral dystopia is not something I remember reading about before, and the descriptions of nature reclaiming the country are exquisitely rendered. There is a poetic beauty to Allison’s prose, heightened by the wise words of the wonderful cow chorus, who I loved. But it isn’t sentimental – there’s a harsh edge of realism, indeed, to the point where it feels uncomfortably close to our present reality. This isn’t a distant, sci-fi future – it feels like a distinct possibility, only a few years away, and this adds a poignancy and a layer of fear, even to the more innocent scenes of Jesse and his puppy. The White Towns feel so terrifyingly possible; this is a book that cuts close to the bone of modern Britain.

It is written in a meditative present tense that unfurls around the reader – it is immersive and immediate, and the characters are treated with a tender respect that honours their humanity and their flaws. I really enjoyed the way their stories intersected – this isn’t a plot-heavy novel, but the careful revelation of the connections between the characters of different timelines shows storytelling skill as well as the ability to write stunning prose.

There is something of the mythic about Salt Lick, and yet it is couched in a realism that seems to reflect a very possible future for this country. By turns it delighted me with the beauty of its language and scared me with the accuracy of its depiction of our society – this is a book that lulls you into a dream-like state and then gently shakes you awake. I highly recommend Salt Lick, and am looking forward to reading more work by Lulu Allison.

Salt Lick by Lulu Allison is published by Unbound and is available to purchase here.

November 2021 Reading: Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter; Marking Time; Confusion; Casting Off; All Change

The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted a barely discernible theme in my November reading. November was not my month – I spent five days in hospital after rupturing my appendix (0/10, would not recommend) and then had a lengthy recovery period. So all bets were off when it came to reading, and I decided to pick up just exactly whatever I was in the mood for. Which turned out to be one absolutely stunning 2022 proof, and the remaining four Cazalet Chronicles novels, which I began rereading earlier this year. I have no regrets – all five of these books were a joy and a balm.

Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook (2022)

This book is going to be HUGE next year – it’s like a rawer, grittier Crawdads, with a fantastic protagonist and a story that whizzes along. You can read my full review here – I’ll be raving about this one A LOT, and I’m not even sorry.

Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1991)

The second instalment in the Cazalet Chronicles series covers the early years of World War II and is just as beautifully written as the first. The characters we met in The Light Years now find themselves up against new, unforeseen challenges, and the way Howard allows each of them to develop in her slowly unfolding narrative is a masterclass in storytelling.

Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1993)

The third instalment in the series sees the characters in the thick of the long, dreary war years. My favourite relationship in the book, the friendship between Polly and Clary, suffers a blow, but it is so realistic and well done that I’ll allow it! I love the way this book weaves together the fragmented stories of the different characters.

Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1995)

The penultimate book sees the Cazalets entering a brave new world after the end of the war – much of what defined their family is no longer relevant in this more modern age, and it feels very much like an era has come to an end. But there are still plenty of twists and turns for the characters, and it is wonderful to see the ones we met as children becoming adults with full lives of their own.

All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard (2012)

The final book, All Change, is one that I never actually got around to reading the first time round (which I now realise is because I read my Mum’s copies, and it hadn’t come out by the time I left home!) – so I was excited to see how it would all wrap up for these characters I’d come to know so well. On the whole, I thought it was a fitting end to the series, with one or two slight reservations about a couple of plot points. It’s a brilliant achievement, however, to have written five novels about a set of characters that is so engrossing and moving and representative of the time its set – this won’t be my last visit to the Cazalet family.

So there you have it – not hugely varied, but the absolute definition of comfort reading! I have really been reminded this year what a solace reading can be, how important books are to me, and how, from time to time, I need to forget the real world (including the self-imposed deadline pressure of book blogging and ARCs) and just immerse myself in a damn good book.

Happy reading!

Ellie x