August 2020 Reading: Small Pleasures; Echo Hall; The Vanishing Half; A Different Drummer; The Naseby Horses; For When I’m Gone; Inside The Beautiful Inside; Long Live the Post Horn!

August has been another great month for reading, and I am really pleased that I managed to read eight amazing books alongside getting ourselves settled in our new (seaside!) home. As always, I’m so grateful to the authors, publishers and blog tour hosts who have introduced me to such fantastic books. I’ve also started stumbling clumsily into the world of Instagram, so check out @ehawkes13 on there if you fancy seeing pictures of books, flowers, the sea and more books!

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers (2020)

I was delighted to win a beautiful proof copy of this book: you can read my full review here. Elegant, perfectly crafted, with an impeccable sense of its 1950’s setting, this novel is a gorgeous treat. This was the first book by Clare Chambers that I had read, and I can’t wait to dive into her extensive backlist. It is wonderful to discover such a superb writer and to find out they have many more books already out – any recommendations of where to go next with Chambers are most welcome!

Echo Hall by Virginia Moffatt (2017)

I took part in the Damp Pebbles blog tour for this ambitious, sweeping historical novel, whose titular echoes resound through the generations. You can read my full review here. I thought Echo Hall was a very well-crafted book, and a powerful reminder that the lessons of history should not be forgotten.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (2020)

Brit Bennett’s novel has been much praised, to the point where I was slightly anxious that it would not live up to the hype. Fortunately I need not have worried – this is one of the best books I have read this year. I reviewed it in conjunction with A Different Drummer, which is also absolutely outstanding, and you can read my thoughts on both books here.

A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelley (1962; republished 2018)

Last month, I reviewed Kelley’s republished short story collection Dancers on the Shore, and I was so in love with his writing that I immediately ordered this novel. It is incredible, as timely today as when it was written: an immensely powerful and moving work that will stay with me forever.

The Naseby Horses by Dominic Brownlow (2020)

My second Damp Pebbles blog tour of the month was for this beautiful, poetic novel by Dominic Brownlow. I was mesmerised by the gorgeous prose, in thrall to the natural descriptions, and struck by what a unique novel this is. You can read my thoughts in full here.

For When I’m Gone by Rebecca Ley (2020)

I feel so lucky to have had the chance to read Rebecca Ley’s wonderful debut novel, which is out on September 3rd. Sylvia is a complex, nuanced, entirely convincing character who, as I say in my full review here, is the kind of female protagonist fiction needs far more of. This is definitely one not to miss.

Inside The Beautiful Inside by Emily Bullock (2020)

I love it when you think you’ve read the best of the month’s books and then, right towards the end, an absolute belter knocks you for six. I cannot express how much I loved this punchy, bold, utterly immersive voyage into the mind of marine James Norris – it is a book I will definitely be revisiting. You can read further ravings on its brilliance here. This novel has stormed onto my Top Reads of 2020 list for sure.

Long Live The Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth translated by Charlotte Barslund (2020)

I honestly would not have expected a novel about a PR consultant working on an assignment for the Norwegian Postal Service to be such an emotional, philosophical read. I think this book is wonderful, and I would urge you to seek it out. You can read my full review here.

Eight incredible, very different books: I notice that somehow I have once again fallen into reading only novels this month, so I need to be on the lookout for some short story collections and perhaps even (gasp) non-fiction to balance the scales. Still, I regret nothing – it has been an amazing month of reading, and many of these books are ones I want to read again.


Review: Inside the Beautiful Inside by Emily Bullock (2020)


A marine without his ship. A man without his liberty.

When the locks can’t hold James Norris they chain him, and when the chains won’t stay James Norris they fix him to a stake. But they still can’t take the thoughts out of his head. He is a man shackled to his own tragedies: the commission he never took; the family and friends he lost; the lover who betrayed him.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Mutiny on the Bounty – an exploration of love, sanity, suffering, and compassion. Based on the true story of James Norris, an American marine who was chained to a stake for fourteen years in Bethlem, Hospital for the Insane (1800-15).

Will James Norris find what he is hunting for? Can he ever sail free?


I received a copy of this gorgeous book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Emma Dowson and Everything With Words for my copy. The cover design, by Holly Ovenden, is absolutely beautiful, and made me even more excited to dive into this novel.

The premise of Inside the Beautiful Inside put me in mind of Anna Vaught’s Saving Lucia, which I read earlier this year. Like Vaught, Bullock has taken a real historical figure, incarcerated in an asylum, and set them free in an imaginative sense. However, while both novels are utterly brilliant, the style could not be more different. Inside the Beautiful Inside uses simple language, truncated sentences, fragments and a rhythm as insistent as a pounding drum beat to carry the reader along. The energy is palpable, almost intimidating at first: it took me a few pages to adjust to the relentlessly kinetic prose. For some reason I am yet to put my finger on, it reminds me of one of my all time favourite writers, William Golding (possibly the maritime connection with his Rites of Passage trilogy; possibly a kind of macho energy that booms out of the page).

James Norris is a character rich with complexities and nuance. At first, his brusque seaman persona seems hard to penetrate, and his coarse language and bitter grudges keep the reader at a distance. But as the novel progresses and his past begins to invade the present, memories floating up from the deep, the distance dissolves, and we enter fully into his consciousness in a fascinatingly immersive way. I loved the permeable boundaries between memory and present experience, the way figures from his past appeared in his cell, the juddering sense of reality becoming fluid. His madness is questionable: at times he is entirely sane and lucid, and the horrors he undergoes at the hands of the keepers would be enough to send even the most reasonable man over the edge (Rodley’s amateur dentistry springs to mind as one particularly grisly example).

It is a real talent to be able to create characters through the mind of a single protagonist, and this book does it beautifully. We only ever meet Ruth, William, and (possibly) the infamous Fletcher Christian through James’s memories, and yet their stories become as much a part of the narrative as if they were ‘present’. There is a moment in the book when James describes these three relationships as points on a compass, and the depth of feeling and complexity that the author has worked into these relationships makes that moment all the more profound.

Inside the Beautiful Inside is a staggering work of fiction: utterly unique, unfathomably powerful, not a word wasted or a sentence spare. Taut, almost mercilessly paced, yet with a thin line of compassion running through it, this is a book that will stay with me for a long time. A final special mention must go to Davey, the finest ship’s cat I have come across in a novel. I was enthralled by this book, and I urge you to read it.

Inside the Beautiful Inside is published by Everything With Words on 24th September 2020 and is available to pre-order here.

Review: #TheNasebyHorses by @DominicBrownlow (2020) @LouiseWalters12 @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours


Seventeen-year-old Simon’s sister Charlotte is missing. The lonely Fenland village the family recently moved to from London is odd, silent, and mysterious. Simon is epileptic and his seizures are increasing in severity, but when he is told of the local curse of the Naseby Horses, he is convinced it has something to do with Charlotte’s disappearance. Despite resistance from the villagers, the police, and his own family, Simon is determined to uncover the truth, and save his sister.

Under the oppressive Fenland skies and in the heat of a relentless June, Simon’s bond with Charlotte is fierce, all-consuming, and unbreakable; but can he find her? And does she even want to be found?

Drawing on philosophy, science, and the natural world, The Naseby Horses is a moving exploration of the bond between a brother and his sister; of love; and of the meaning of life itself.


I was immediately drawn to the description of this book, and am very grateful to Emma at Damp Pebbles for offering me a spot on the blog tour, and to Louise Walters and the author for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

To put it simply, The Naseby Horses is unlike any other novel I have read. The plot itself, with its central mystery of what has happened to Charlotte, and the gradual uncovering of the curse folded into the history of the Fenland village, would sustain a conventional novel with ease, but Brownlow goes far beyond the remit of a ‘conventional’ story. Instead, the style of the book is dream-like, almost hallucinatory: timelines merge into each other, memories barge their way into the present, and the natural world seeps into human consciousness in a startling and beautiful way. The prose is surprising and lush, close to poetry, and gorgeously evocative:

“A long thin feather of white cloud hangs over the horizon. Caught in its slender edges are the faintest tones of dusk: pinks and creams and coppery greys that flay out like the tentacles of some enormous jellyfish caught beneath the skyline.”

The protagonist, Simon, is an absolutely fascinating character, and it feels like a privilege to be offered an insight into his unique way of seeing the world. His epilepsy seems to give him access to the edges of existence, to something rich and strange that, in Brownlow’s novel, cannot be dismissed as simply symptoms of an illness. I loved the glimpse into his mind, into the way he is transported instantly into past moments, time losing its linear structure and looping back and forth like a tangled ribbon:

“it’s beautiful the way the air sparkles and glitters like this, as though two worlds, two moments of time, neither of which I really belong to, have been laid on top of each other like sheets of ice.”

The themes in this book are huge: reality, time, human existence – Brownlow does not shy away from the big questions, though of course there are no easy answers. Those who like their novels tied up in a bow of narrative completion may not find much resolution here, but this did not concern me in the slightest; I was happy to be bathed in the stunning language of the book. I liked the way that pieces of the history of the area came to light, and the links with the village’s current inhabitants were interesting. The bond between Simon and his sister is beautifully described, and his inability to recall exactly what happened on the night she disappears adds a further layer of poignancy to the story. His relationship with his mother is particularly heartbreaking – I felt so much sympathy for Simon during their interactions.

The Naseby Horses is full of sensory detail and natural description that is thrillingly emotive: Simon describes his “demons” as “the dilated shadows of moths”, the looming corvids that appear as ominously as Hitchcock could have wished for are “black and jigsaw-shaped, like missing pieces of the day.” Simon’s puzzling out of the history of the curse, the relevance of the Naseby horses, and even the search for Charlotte all came second to me to the pure linguistic and intellectual beauty of this novel. It is a book that I did not so much read as experience, and I am very glad I had the opportunity to do so.

About Dominic Brownlow:

Dominic Brownlowlives near Peterborough with his two children. He lived in London and worked in the music industry as a manager before setting up his own independent label. He now enjoys life in the Fens and has an office that looks out over water. The Naseby Horses is his first novel. It was long listed for the Bath Novel Award 2016.

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Published in paperback, hardcover and digital formats by Louise Walters Book on 24th August 2020

Review: For When I’m Gone by Rebecca Ley (2020)


Because there’s never enough time to say goodbye…

Sylvia knows that she’s running out of time. Very soon, she will exist only in the memories of those who loved her most and the pieces of her life she’s left behind.

So she begins to write her husband a handbook for when she’s gone, somewhere to capture the small moments of ordinary, precious happiness in their married lives. From raising their wild, loving son, to what to give their gentle daughter on her eighteenth birthday – it’s everything she should have told him before it was too late.

But Sylvia also has a secret, one that she’s saved until the very last pages. And it’s a moment in her past that could change everything…


I was delighted to receive a beautiful finished copy of Rebecca Ley’s debut novel from Virginia Woolstencroft at Orion: huge thanks. This is my honest review of the book, which I devoured in two sittings (or lyings, as I read in bed!) When I read the blurb for this book, I was instantly reminded of Laura Pearson’s beautiful novel I Wanted You To Know, which I read earlier this year. That book also features letters from a woman suffering with breast cancer, and I started this with the same sense of trepidation, with the inevitability of tears and heartbreak creating tension from the very first page.

The structure of For When I’m Gone switches between Sylvia’s manual for her husband, Paul, written in a confessional first person, and sections from both Sylvia and Paul’s third person points of view (sometimes both in the same chapter) moving between ‘Then’ and ‘Now’. Through flashbacks and flash forwards, we build up a picture of their life together, and there are elements here of a classic love story: first meeting, first intimacy, marriage, kids. It is very much the story of their relationship, but what Ley does so brilliantly is show us a truly modern love story, revealing the cracks and the challenges that do not undermine how Sylvia and Paul feel about each other but rather bring it into reality. This is a real marriage, utterly convincing in its depiction of the way individuals bring their flaws and quirks to coupledom, bumping up against each other’s edges and differences. The prose style is surprising and wonderful – all of the words I scribbled down to describe it sound like biting into an apple: fresh, sharp, crisp, delicious…tangy (I know what I mean by tangy prose, apologies if I’ve lost you!). Ley writes as if each word has been plucked and scrutinised carefully, to make sure it is fit for purpose, and the results are stunning.

For me, the revelation of this book was not the eventual disclosure of Sylvia’s long-kept secret, but the gradual discovery of Sylvia herself, who is a fictional creation of staggering brilliance. It is all too rare to come across a female character who is so complex and flawed and sometimes downright unlikeable but who is not cast as a “bad person”. I wrote briefly about this last year after reading Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation: we need more Sylvias, more women who suffer and inflict suffering, who live through tragedies that might not make them stronger, who get it wrong but are not malevolent, who provoke the same reactions of frustration, annoyance, sympathy and understanding that we might feel for our own friends and family. I was so deeply involved in Sylvia’s story that I found myself arguing with her in my head (small example: when she calls herself selfish for choosing a home birth, it struck a personal chord with me and I got very cross!) By the end of the book, I felt as if I had met Sylvia and really knew her, which of course made the final chapters harder to bear.

In the author’s note that came with my copy of the book, Rebecca states that it was important to her that Sylvia not be perfect, that “Motherhood doesn’t confer saintliness, nor does breast cancer.” For When I’m Gone captures this brilliantly, as well as illustrating that life is not a respecter of tidy plot lines or single crises: tragedy does not strike once per family, and nor does it automatically make the sufferer “pure” or “good.” The novel is outstanding on motherhood, showing that we can be flawed people and good mothers, that motherhood changes but doesn’t “fix” us. I think this book is deeply important: fiction needs more women like Sylvia, and more writers like Rebecca Ley. I highly recommend it to anyone who is not likely to be triggered by its powerful themes. I am certainly looking forward to reading more from this hugely talented writer.

For When I’m Gone by Rebecca Ley is published by Orion on 3rd September and is available to preorder here.

(Note: I don’t want to add spoilers here by listing all the triggers, but will be asking the wonderful @jenjenreviews to add a page to @BookTWs’ excellent wiki for trigger warnings for books!)

Review: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (2020) and A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelley (1962; republished 2018)

Blurb for The Vanishing Half:

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ story lines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passingLooking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

Blurb for A Different Drummer:

June, 1957. One afternoon, in the backwater town of Sutton, a young black farmer by the name of Tucker Caliban matter-of-factly throws salt on his field, shoots his horse and livestock, sets fire to his house and departs the southern state. And thereafter, the entire African-American population leave with him.

The reaction that follows is told across a dozen chapters, each from the perspective of a different white townsperson. These are boys, girls, men and women; either liberal or conservative, bigoted or sympathetic – yet all of whom are grappling with this spontaneous, collective rejection of subordination.

In 1962, aged just 24, William Melvin Kelley’s debut novel A Different Drummer earned him critical comparisons to James Baldwin and William Faulkner. Fifty-five years later, author and journalist Kathryn Schulz happened upon the novel serendipitously and was inspired to write the New Yorker article ‘The Lost Giant of American Literature’, included as a foreword to this edition.


I read these two brilliant books in succession, starting with The Vanishing Half, and I was so struck with both of them that I’ve decided to review them together in order to help me gather my thoughts. The Vanishing Half was published earlier this year by Dialogue Books, and I was so intrigued by it that I couldn’t resist pre-ordering. I was introduced to William Melvin Kelley’s writing this year as well, by @AnaBooks, who kindly sent me a copy of his short story collection, Dancers on the Shore, which has just been released by rivverun. You can read my review of the collection here. I was deeply taken with his writing, and immediately ordered A Different Drummer. I also now have a copy of Bennett’s debut, The Mothers, and am going to read Kelley’s A Drop of Patience and dem as soon as I can. I’m sure my fellow booklovers can understand my excitement at coming across two writers who have headed straight onto my all-time-favourites list!

Both of these novels have a fiercely original and confronting premise, highly relevant to the current discussions around racism, and a reminder that these issues are deeply ingrained in American society. Bennett’s novel introduced me to the concept of ‘passing’, which I had not come across before, and which raises all kinds of questions about how we construct ‘race’ in our society. The two sisters in her novel are light-skinned enough to bridge the colour divide. Desiree lives as a Black woman, marries a Black man, and returns to her hometown, Mallard, with her dark-skinned daughter. Stella ‘passes over’ and lives as a white woman, cutting all ties with her past and her family, and desperately concealing her secret from her husband and neighbours. In Kelley’s Southern town, Tucker Caliban, a Black farmer, starts a chain reaction which results in the entire Black population of the state leaving almost at once. The white folk are left behind to puzzle over what has happened, and what comes next.

A Different Drummer follows a fairly straightforward timeline, as we see how the events of the mass exodus unfold, but there are flashbacks woven into the story which add nuance and develop the relationships between the characters. The Vanishing Half is divided into six sections, moving forwards and backwards through the sixties, seventies and eighties, bringing to light the effects of the past on the present lives of the twins and their families. In both books the structure complements the narrative drive, and the reader is carried along by the events. Pacing is spot on in both: these are literary gems, but also page turners. There is an excitement and energy about both stories that feels fresh and kinetic.

For me, these books are first and foremost absolute masterclasses in character. Both Bennett and Kelley have the gift of being able to create characters that leap off the page and into the reader’s heart – each novel contains a richness of human portraits, people you wish were real, people you feel for as deeply as anyone you might meet in real life. The Vanishing Half made me fall deeply in love with Desiree, Early, Jude and Reese (Jude and Reese’s relationship is one of the most sensitively and beautifully depicted love stories I have read in a long time), and even Stella and Kennedy, towards whom I had a more complicated reaction, are so subtley and realistically complex in their motivations and behaviour that I found them just as fascinating. In Kelley’s novel, I was astounded by the depth of character he manages to imbue in persons who may not have that much ‘page time’, but who are utterly unforgettable. The scene in which Tucker teaches Dewey to ride a bike is an quiet, complicated joy of an extract, and I want to study it again and again to work out exactly where its pure brilliance comes from.

As Bernadine Evaristo states in her foreward to The Vanishing Half: “to call this an “issue-based” novel would be dismissive and undermining,” and I think the same could be said of A Different Drummer. These books are powerful, thought-provoking, moving, beautifully written pieces of literature, the kind of novels that change you a bit, that lodge their characters in your heart and make you understand a little bit more about the world and about human nature. The ending of A Different Drummer is just about the most affecting ending I have ever read: it punched me in the chest, and then gave my hand a gentle squeeze, as if to say: “I know, but look, there are good people in the world”. Similarly, at the end of The Vanishing Half, there is a glimmer of hope, a shining brightness for the future that now more than ever we must cling on to. I can’t recommend these books highly enough: novels like these are the reason I read.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is published by Dialogue Books and is available to purchase here.

A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelley is published by riverrun and is available to purchase here.

TBR Special: Eight #3rdSeptembers On My TBR List!

I don’t normally do TBR posts, but with so many fantastic books coming out on 3rd September, I wanted to highlight a few that I am particularly excited about! I’ve got a thread pinned on my Twitter page @EHawkes13 for any bloggers who want to share reviews or posts or just general excitement about 3rd September releases – feel free to add/share/have a browse and see what grabs you!

There are SO many great books coming out, it was hard to narrow down my list, but here are eight #3rdSeptembers that I can’t wait to read:

For When I’m Gone by Rebecca Ley


Because there’s never enough time to say goodbye…

Sylvia knows that she’s running out of time. Very soon, she will exist only in the memories of those who loved her most and the pieces of her life she’s left behind.

So she begins to write her husband a handbook for when she’s gone, somewhere to capture the small moments of ordinary, precious happiness in their married lives. From raising their wild, loving son, to what to give their gentle daughter on her eighteenth birthday – it’s everything she should have told him before it was too late.

But Sylvia also has a secret, one that she’s saved until the very last pages. And it’s a moment in her past that could change everything…

Why I can’t wait:

I am lucky enough to have an advance copy of this book, and I’m planning on diving in after I finish my current read. The premise sounds brilliant: heartbreaking and mysterious, with hints of the story being more complex than it first seems. This is Rebecca Ley’s debut novel, and I’m always excited to discover new writers. Look out for my review in the next few weeks!

For When I’m Gone by Rebecca Ley is published by Orion Fiction and is available to preorder here.

The Night of the Flood by Zoë Somerville


An atmospheric literary thriller set during the devastating North Sea flood of 1953, in which a love triangle turns murderous.

Her heart beat hard. There was a crazed beauty to the storm. It was almost miraculous, the way it took away the mess of life, sweeping all in its path…

No-one could have foreseen the changes the summer of 1952 would bring. Cramming for her final exams on her family’s farm on the Norfolk coast, Verity Frost feels trapped between past and present: the devotion of her childhood friend Arthur, just returned from National Service, and her strange new desire to escape.

When Verity meets Jack, a charismatic American pilot, he seems to offer the glamour and adventure she so craves, and Arthur becomes determined to uncover the dirt beneath his rival’s glossy sheen.

As summer turns to winter, a devastating storm hits the coast, flooding the land and altering everything in its path. In this new, watery landscape, Verity’s tangled web of secrets, lies and passion will bring about a crime that will change all their lives forever.

Why I can’t wait:

This debut novel sounds utterly gripping. I love an atmospheric setting, and I’m expecting plenty of dramatic natural descriptions of the flooded landscape, which sounds like the perfect backdrop for this story to play out. I’m also intrigued by the post-war era in which the novel is set.

The Night of the Flood by Zoe Somerville is published by Head of Zeus and is available to preorder here.

A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington


A lyrical and atmospheric homage to the strange and extraordinary, perfect for fans of Angela Carter and Erin Morgenstern.

This is the story of The Greatest Funambulist Who Ever Lived…

Born into a post-war circus family, our nameless star was unwanted and forgotten, abandoned in the shadows of the big top. Until the bright light of Serendipity Wilson threw her into focus.

Now an adult, haunted by an incident in which a child was lost from the circus, our narrator, a tightrope artiste, weaves together her spellbinding tales of circus legends, earthy magic and folklore, all in the hope of finding the child… But will her story be enough to bring the pair together again?

Beautiful and intoxicating, A Girl Made of Air brings the circus to life in all of its grime and glory; Marina, Manu, Serendipity Wilson, Fausto, Big Gen and Mouse will live long in the hearts of readers. As will this story of loss and reconciliation, of storytelling and truth.

Why I can’t wait:

The blurb had me at “fans of Angela Carter”. This sounds deliciously reminiscent of Nights at the Circus, one of my all-time favourite books. It also comes highly recommended by @DMan1504 who has never steered me wrong with his recommendations, and whose beautiful book photos have almost convinced me to join the ‘Gram. I can’t wait to meet the dazzling cast of characters this book promises, and follow their adventures.

A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington is published by Quercus and is available to preorder here.

Daddy by Emma Cline


An absentee father collects his son from boarding school after a shocking act of violence. A nanny to a celebrity family hides out in Laurel Canyon in the aftermath of a tabloid scandal. A young woman sells her underwear to strangers. A notorious guest arrives at a placid, not-quite rehab in the Southwest.

In ten remarkable stories, Emma Cline portrays moments when the ordinary is disturbed, when daily life buckles, revealing the perversity and violence pulsing under the surface. She explores characters navigating the edge, the limits of themselves and those around them: power dynamics in families, in relationships, the distance between their true and false selves. They want connection, but what they provoke is often closer to self-sabotage. What are the costs of one’s choices? Of the moments when we act, or fail to act? These complexities are at the heart of Daddy, Emma Cline’s sharp-eyed illumination of the contrary impulses that animate our inner lives.

Why I can’t wait:

I really enjoyed Cline’s novel The Girls a few years ago, and I was delighted to spot this short story collection among the upcoming releases (thanks @Bibliotreasures for your excellent list!) I have banged on many times about how much I love the short story form, and it’s always exciting to find a collection by an author you have previously enjoyed.

Daddy by Emma Cline is published by Chatto & Windus and is available to preorder here.

The Girl From The Hermitage by Molly Gartland


It is December 1941, and eight-year-old Galina and her friend Vera are caught in the siege of Leningrad, eating soup made of wallpaper, with the occasional luxury of a dead rat. Galina’s artist father Mikhail has been kept away from the front to help save the treasures of the Hermitage. Its cellars could now provide a safe haven, provided Mikhail can navigate the perils of a portrait commission from one of Stalin’s colonels.

Nearly forty years later, Galina herself is a teacher at the Leningrad Art Institute. What ought to be a celebratory weekend at her forest dacha turns sour when she makes an unwelcome discovery. The painting she embarks upon that day will hold a grim significance for the rest of her life, as the old Soviet Union makes way for the new Russia and Galina’s familiar world changes out of all recognition.

Warm, wise and utterly enthralling, Molly Gartland’s debut novel guides us from the old communist world, with its obvious terrors and its more surprising comforts, into the glitz and bling of 21st-century St Petersburg. Galina’s story is at once a compelling page-turner and an insightful meditation on ageing and nostalgia.

Why I can’t wait:

This debut novel sounds right up my street, and I jumped at the chance to take part in the blog tour – look out for my review on 20th Sept! The dual timeline and the Russian setting has me chomping at the bit to follow Galina’s story, and I love the mixture of excitment and reflection that the blurb promises.

The Girl From The Hermitage is published by Lightning Books and is available for preorder here.

Love Orange by Natasha Randall


An extraordinary debut novel by Natasha Randall, exposing the seam of secrets within an American family, from beneath the plastic surfaces of their new ‘smart’ home. Love Orange charts the gentle absurdities of their lives, and the devastating consequences of casual choices.

While Hank struggles with his lack of professional success, his wife Jenny, feeling stuck and beset by an urge to do good, becomes ensnared in a dangerous correspondence with a prison inmate called John. Letter by letter, John pinches Jenny awake from the “marshmallow numbness” of her life. The children, meanwhile, unwittingly disturb the foundations of their home life with forays into the dark net and strange geological experiments.

Jenny’s bid for freedom takes a sour turn when she becomes the go-between for John and his wife, and develops an unnatural obsession for the orange glue that seals his letters…

Love Orange throws open the blinds of American life, showing a family facing up to the modern age, from the ascendancy of technology, the predicaments of masculinity, the pathologising of children, the epidemic of opioid addiction and the tyranny of the WhatsApp Gods. The first novel by the acclaimed translator is a comic cocktail, an exuberant skewering of contemporary anxieties and prejudices.

Why I can’t wait:

This debut novel sounds fiercely original: fresh, funny and uncompromising. I am really looking forward to getting mixed up in this delicious-sounding “cocktail” and burrowing into the secrets of this American family.

Love Orange is published by riverrun and is available to preorder here.

Bringing Up Race by Uju Asika


You can’t avoid it, because it’s everywhere. In the looks my kids get in certain spaces, the manner in which some people speak to them, the stuff that goes over their heads. Stuff that makes them cry even when they don’t know why. How do you bring up your kids to be kind and happy when there is so much out there trying to break them down?

Bringing Up Race is an important book, for all families whatever their race or ethnicity. Racism cuts across all sectors of society – even the Queen will have to grapple with these issues, as great grandmother to a child of mixed ethnicity. It’s for everyone who wants to instil a sense of open-minded inclusivity in their kids, and those who want to discuss difference instead of shying away from tough questions. Uju draws on often shocking personal stories of prejudice along with opinions of experts, influencers and fellow parents to give prescriptive advice making this an invaluable guide.

Bringing Up Race explores:
– When children start noticing ethnic differences (hint: much earlier than you think)
– What to do if your child says something racist (try not to freak out)
– How to have open, honest, age-appropriate conversations about race
– How children and parents can handle racial bullying
– How to recognise and challenge everyday racism, aka microaggressions

A call to arms for ALL parents, Bringing Up Race starts the conversation which will mean the next generation have zero tolerance to racial prejudice, and grow up understanding what kindness and happiness truly mean.

Why I can’t wait:

I’ve already preordered this book as it sounds brilliant and deeply important. I’ve been trying to educate myself on anti-racism, and I still have a long way to go, but it seems as if the next logical step is to try and learn how I can help my kids to grow up with a better understanding of these issues. I love the sound of the practical advice offered in this book, and I am excited to think of the conversations it will spark.

Bringing Up Race by Uju Asika is published by Yellow Kite and is available to preorder here.

Charlotte by Helen Moffett


For fans of Longbourn and The Other Bennet Sister, this beautifully told story of marriage, duty and friendship follows Charlotte’s story from where Pride and Prejudice ends.

Everybody believes that Charlotte Lucas has no prospects. She is unmarried, plain, poor and reaching a dangerous age.

But when she stuns the neighbourhood by accepting the proposal of buffoonish clergyman Mr Collins, her fortunes change. Her best friend Lizzy Bennet is appalled by her decision, yet Charlotte knows this is the only way to provide for her future.

What she doesn’t know is that her married life will propel her into a new world: not only of duty and longed-for children, but secrets, grief, unexpected love and friendship, and a kind of freedom.

Why I can’t wait:

I’ve always had a soft spot for Charlotte Lucas, and her awareness of her predicament as an unmarried woman in a patriarchal society. Her practicality in accepting Mr Collins’ proposal always struck me as poignant, and I can’t wait to see how she fares in life after marriage. Not everyone can get the fairytale ending of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy – and what happens after the “end”?

Charlotte by Helen Moffett is published by Zaffre and is available for preorder here.

So there we go – a round-up of eight out of many books that I am excited about for September! I’d love to hear what upcoming releases you are most looking forward to, and I’d be particuarly interested to hear about books by Black or POC authors, as well as short story collections and non-fiction books, as I am sure I am missing news of lots of amazing books, and I would love to do a few more spotlight posts! Comment on here or find me on Twitter @EHawkes13 and use my pinned thread – let’s get excited about all the brilliant books coming our way!

Ellie x x

Review: Echo Hall by Virginia Moffatt (2017) #EchoHall @aroomofmyown1 @unbounders @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours


Set against the backdrop of three wars – the 1991 Gulf War, World War 2 and World War 1 – the novel follows the fortunes of three women who become involved with the Flint family, the owners of Echo Hall.

Phoebe Flint visits Echo Hall in 2014, where she follows in her mother’s footsteps to uncover the stories of a house ‘full of unhappy women, and bitter, angry men’.

Ruth Flint arrives at Echo Hall in 1990 – newlywed, pregnant, and uncertain of her relationship with her husband, Adam. Ghostly encounters, a locked door, and a set of photographs pique her curiosity. But Adam and his grandfather refuse to let her investigate. And her marriage is further strained, when Adam, a reservist, is called up to fight in the Gulf War.

In 1942, Elsie Flint is already living at Echo Hall with her children, the guest of her unsympathetic in-laws, whilst her husband Jack is away with the RAF. Her only friend is Jack’s cousin Daniel, but Daniel is hiding secrets, which when revealed could destroy their friendship for good.

Rachel and Leah Walters meet Jacob Flint at a dinner party in 1911. Whilst Leah is drawn to Jacob, Rachel rejects him leading to conflict with her sister that will reverberate through the generations.

As Ruth discovers the secrets of Echo Hall, she is able to finally bring peace to the Flint family, and in doing so, discover what she really needs and wants.

Echo Hall is a novel about the past, but it is very much a novel of the now. Does history always have to repeat itself, or can we find another way?


I am delighted to be taking part in this blog tour: thank you so much to Emma at Damp Pebbles for my spot, and to the author and publisher for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. As soon as I read the blurb, I knew I wanted to read this book – a multi-generational story with an intriguing setting and multiple timelines sounded right up my street. And indeed it was!

Echo Hall has an ambitious structure: the four timelines are nested like Russian dolls, so that we travel back in time to the furthest point in the past and then back out again until we return to Phoebe in the 21st century. It reminded me of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – a bold narrative experiment that takes skill to handle. Fortunately Moffatt is more than equal to the task of balancing the many strands of her story, and this movement backwards and then forwards again is a lovely formal ‘echo’ of the themes of her book. The Hall itself is a gloomy, gothic-tinged beast, the perfect setting for a story which gradually reveals its dark secrets.

All of the characters are complex and well-drawn. I was most sympathetic to Elsie, Daniel and Rachel, but even the characters who perform some of the cruellest acts are given an opportunity to show different sides: there are no simple dichotomies of good and evil here. Rachel’s letters, which make up what I think of as the ‘heart’ of the novel, are wonderfully descriptive, painting a picture of the period while also showing the personal struggles she endures. The central theme of war, and the repeated moral tussle between pacifism and patriotism, is a really interesting hook, and the way in which the issue plays out in different generations shows how history cannot be confined to the past: its ripples affect us in the present.

I was intrigued by the touches of the paranormal in this novel, and for my own personal tastes, I wanted them to be explored further, although I can understand why Moffatt handles the hints of actual ghostly echoes with a light touch. On the whole, this book carried me along very pleasantly: despite its complex narrative structure, it is not a difficult read, and there is enough intrigue and mystery to keep the reader turning the pages until the very end. I would recommend Echo Hall to anyone who enjoys sweeping historical dramas and explorations of complex themes via a thoroughly absorbing story.

About the Author

Virginia Moffatt was born in London, one of eight children, several of whom are writers. ‘The Wave’ is her second novel. Her previous publications are ‘Echo Hall’ (Unbound) and ‘Rapture and what comes after’ (flash fiction collection published by Gumbo Press). She also writes non-fiction. Virginia is married to Chris Cole, Director of Drone Wars UK. They have two daughters at University and a son still living with them in Oxford.

Social Media


Purchase Links

Amazon UK:
Amazon US:

Echo Hall was published in paperback, audio and digital formats by Unbound on 28th November 2017

Post: Bookshelf Nostalgia Part One

I recently posted the above pic on Twitter: these are some of my favourite books, which I hadn’t seen for a while.

I am currently at my parents’ house, enjoying a bit of family time and semi-normality in between stages of our house move. One of the hardest things for me about this year has been not seeing my parents, and I know they have missed me (a little bit) and the grandkids (loads). My parents’ house is a really special place. We travelled a lot growing up, as my Dad was a diplomat, but we always had this house to come back to. The memories here run deep, and it will always feel like coming home.

Every time I come back, I am surprised to remember that I still have shelves and shelves of books here. I’ve also moved a lot in my adult life, and my ‘permanent collection’ has remained in what is now the guest room. I like to visit them, scanning the titles and looking at the covers, each one bringing back memories. I thought I would just share a few with you here.

If we are going to go right back, yep, there are still plenty of our childhood books. It’s not hard to guess who my favourite author was as a child:

Another book I have always loved is The Little Prince. This drawing in particular means so much to me; as an imaginative child, I completely related to the narrator’s frustration at adults not understanding that the first picture was quite clearly an elephant inside a boa constrictor!

For a few years, my parents lived in Namibia, and for an animal lover like me, it was paradise. School holidays were spent in game parks, me with my Mammals of Southern Africa book, geekily correcting my family’s attempts to identify various boks and bucks. My favourite book at that time was Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens, as you can see by how “loved” my copy is!

At that time I fully believed I would grow up to become a park ranger or a zoologist. I’m already trying to instill a love of nature and animals in my kids so that I can live vicariously through them (isn’t that what we do?!).

A lot of my books at my parents’ are from university, with one or two possibly even left over from school. I studied literature, and read so many ‘classics’ in my first couple of years that I think my love of contemporary literature is probably a reaction against so much medieval, Renaissance and nineteenth century literature!

I also developed a William Golding obsession at university, probably because I never had to study Lord of the Flies at school!

Looking through my shelves is also a slightly regretful exercise, as it reminds me of knowledge I have lost. For some reason, I decided to do Ancient Greek A-level, and continued it a bit at university. My old Primer is quite literally all Greek to me now (sorry!). Similarly, I moved to Spain for a few years after university, working as an English teacher, and at one point I was almost completely fluent in Spanish. I would like to think that it is all still there, buried somewhere deep in my brain!

Just to finish up this rather rambling post, here are some of my parents’ shelves. I LOVE how much they reflect my Mum and Dad as people. My Mum is mad on history and biography, and has a surprising obsession with polar exploration! It is nothing if not appropriate that I can spot a book called Matriarch! And my Dad’s books are a wonderful illustration of the places he has lived and worked, and the many languages he speaks. I’m so proud of both of them, and so lucky to have this refuge to retreat to. I seem to have something in my eye, so I will leave it there for now.

Next time I am back, hopefully soon, I’ll pick out some more of my all time favourite books to share with you.

Ellie x x x

Review: Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers (2020)


1957, south-east suburbs of London.
Jean Swinney is a feature writer on a local paper, disappointed in love and – on the brink of forty – living a limited existence with her truculent mother.

When a young Swiss woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud.

But the more she investigates, the more her life becomes strangely (and not unpleasantly) intertwined with that of the Tilburys: Gretchen herself, her husband Howard – with his dry wit and gentle disposition – and her charming daughter Margaret.

But they are the subject of the story Jean is researching for the newspaper, a story that increasingly seems to be causing dark ripples across all their lives. And yet Jean cannot bring herself to discard the chance of finally having a taste of happiness.

But there will be a price to pay – and it will be unbearable.


I was thrilled to win a beautiful proof copy of this book – thank you again to Virginia Woolstencroft, W&N, and the author for my copy. Below is my honest review of the book.

Small Pleasures is a quietly surprising book. The premise of the novel – a local reporter investigating claims of a virgin birth – is absolutely gripping, but the sensationalism of this premise belies the incredible subtlety of the book. Similarly, the use of newspaper extracts could have been gimmicky in the hands of a less skilled writer, but Chambers uses the household tips and opinion pieces scattered throughout the book to add another layer of poignancy to Jean’s story. It is very cleverly done, and I am in awe of how this novel is constructed.

The language and the period detail of Small Pleasures are an appropriately understated joy: the novel feels so of the time it is set that it could almost have been written in 1957. Nothing is overdone – it is a masterclass in nuance and precision. There is something so careful and detailed in Chambers’ writing – every sentence feels lovingly shaped, and the overall effect is quite mesmerising.

Jean is one of the most convincing characters I have come across in my recent reading. Following her viewpoint through the story, I both sympathised with her and occasionally got frustrated with her, which for me is always a sign that the character has become real to me. I felt a lot warmer towards Gretchen than Jean does as the novel progresses, but Jean’s fading sympathy makes absolute sense for the character as her feelings for Howard, Gretchen’s husband, grow. Gretchen’s situation is heart-wrenching, but Jean, of course, is on her own path, and sees things differently to me. It was quite something to realise that the meaning of the beautiful cover was, in a way, much more poignant to me that it was to Jean – my heart ached for Gretchen when I came across its significance, and I am not sure Jean’s would have at that point in the story. This is a really interesting and very real way to experience characters, and I am still thinking about the intricacies of this complex story.

Anyone who has read this book knows that the ending is…something. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it, so I will instead sum up how I feel about the book as a whole. There is so much skill, so much quiet, restrained emotion here. It is a story which shows us that tragedy doesn’t have to be bright and bold, and that the accumulations of an unsatisfying life can be as damaging as more obviously traumatic experiences. This is a novel that makes you think and makes you feel, which is the very best kind of reading experience.

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers is out now published by W&N/Orion.

July 2020 Reading: The Mercies; Tapestry; Dancers on the Shore; The Almost Mothers; Famished; Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race; The Book of Cairo; The Familiars

July has been a crazy month for our family as we’ve been packing up to move house. I am amazed I have managed to fit in eight books, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s going to be a brief round up as I am already behind, but here are my thoughts on another deliciously eclectic selection of books:

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (2020)

This is exactly my sort of book, a wonderfully immersive piece of historical fiction with strong female characters. The writing is gorgeous – evocative and immediate, creating a sense of place and of character which allows the reader to fully experience the world of the story. My only complaint, if you can call it that, is that it ended too soon for me – I would have happily continued reading about Maren and Ursa for double the length, and I was desperate to follow Maren on the next stage of her story.

Tapestry by Beth Duke (2020)

I was delighted to be on the blog tour for this lovely book, which manages to be a light read while also touching on deep questions of heritage and family. You can read my full review here.

Dancers on the Shore by William Melvin Kelley (1964; republished 2020)

I recently put a shout-out on Twitter asking for suggestions of short story collections, as I realised my reading was getting a little novel-heavy, and I absolutely love the power of the short form. I am so grateful to Ana Sampson for offering to send me a copy of this outstanding collection, which is published by Riverrun in August. Do have a look at my review here – I am so pleased to have been introduced to Kelley’s work, and I hope some of you will check it out.

The Almost Mothers by Laura Besley (2020)

This fantastic flash collection struck a chord with me, as motherhood is such a defining part of my identity. The stories flit through many moods and modes, building up a beautifully nuanced picture of the many meanings of the concept of being a mother. You can read my full review here.

Famished by Anna Vaught (2020)

I was ridiculously excited to receive an ARC of this short story collection, out with Influx Press in September, having loved the author’s brilliant novel Saving Lucia, which came out earlier this year (Vaught is both talented and prolific, it seems!). My full thoughts on these wonderfully strange, unsettling tales are here.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (2017)

This was an eye-opening and important read for me. I am slowly learning more and more about how insidious and institutionalised racism is in our society, and although it is confronting and guilt-inducing to face my own complicity, it is deeply necessary. The problem may be systemic, but that does not lessen my individual responsibility to make efforts to listen and understand. In particular, the wilfully amnesiac view of British history has to end if we are to move forward, and Eddo-Lodge’s book is illuminating on this topic, as it is on many others. I have plenty more books to read on this subject, but am always open to further suggestions.

The Book of Cairo edited by Raph Cormack (2019)

I am a total convert to Comma Press and to their excellent Reading the City series: gorgeous little anthologies that take the reader by the hand and lead them through the city in the best possible way: via fiction. I ‘visited’ Cairo earlier this year through Alaa Al Aswany’s brilliant novel The Yacoubian Building and I was intrigued to return to this volatile, ever-changing city. This collection confronts the legacy of Cairo’s recent past, and contains a typically informative introduction to the state of writing in Cairo as well as its current political situation. The stories themselves are as varied and insightful as I have come to expect from Comma Press, with my personal favourites including the opening story, ‘Gridlock’, by Mohamed Salah al-Azab (translated by Adam Tahib), Hatem Hafez’s ‘Whine’ (translated by Raphael Cohen) and Nahla Karam’s ‘The Other Balcony’, translated by Andrew Leber.

Since armchair travelling is all we are likely to get this year, I really would urge readers to pop onto the Comma Press website and pick up a couple of these anthologies. I have a feeling I will be collecting them all…

The Familiars by Stacey Halls (2019)

With its historical setting, female protagonist, its theme of the persecution of ‘witches’ and, more superficially, its beautiful cover, it was impossible for me not to compare this book to my first read of the month, The Mercies. It turns out that these two novels were the perfect way to bookend (sorry) my reading month, for I loved them both, and despite their similarities, they struck me as quite different in terms of style and execution. The Mercies, for me, was all about the characters, in particular Maren, whom I adored, and the beauty of the language. The Familiars was much pacier, and I was swiftly carried along by its twisting, expertly constructed plot in quite a different way to my slow savouring of The Mercies. With The Familiars, I was gleefully wrapped up in the story as its mysteries were revealed. Both books dazzled me with their utterly convincing settings. Two very ‘Ellie’ books to start and finish the month!

I have some fantastic reads lined up for August – as ever, I still can’t believe how lucky I am to receive such wonderful books to review, and of course I’ve bought more than I ought to as well! Do let me know if you’ve read or are planning to read any of my July books, and what you’ve got planned for August!

Ellie x x x