November 2020 Reading: In The Sweep of the Bay; Everything Inside; Everything Is Fine; A Necessary Blessing; The Miseducation of Evie Epworth; Three Rival Sisters; The Servant; Cat Step; Exit Management; Panenka; Rebecca; Forget Russia

I can’t quite believe that I have managed to read 12 books this month with everything else that has been going on! I’m ahead of schedule to reach my goal of 100 books in 2020, which is nice, although I have already decided that next year I’m not setting a goal. It’s been good to push myself, but I miss being able to take my time with a book, and it has, if I am honest, put me off tackling some of the longer books on my TBR, which I am looking forward to reading at a leisurely pace next year!

It has been another brilliant, eclectic month of reading – do have a look and let me know if any of these catch your eye!

In The Sweep of the Bay by Cath Barton (2020)

I reviewed this beautiful novella as part of the Damp Pebbles blog tour. Louise Walters Books is fast becoming one of my favourite indie publishers, and Cath Barton’s book is a soothing, elegant work, reminiscent of Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers. Read my full review here.

Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat

This is a stunning short story collection, which presents multiple perspectives on the Haitian disapora. It is the first work I have read by Danticat, but it definitely won’t be the last. My full review is here.

Everything Is Fine by Gillian Harvey (2020)

A hilarious, sharp, deeply modern comic novel which takes in some big themes as it rollicks along, you can read my full review of Gillian Harvey’s sparkling debut here.

A Necessary Blessing by Sarah Head (2020)

This book is very different – a quirky. supernatural village-set mystery which opens a planned series of Roelswick stories. Full review here.

The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor (2020)

Oh Evie, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…I fell hard for the heroine of this wonderful debut novel, and I defy you not to do the same. Matson Taylor has created a character who lives beyond the pages, and I can’t wait to see what she gets up to next. Full review here.

Three Rival Sisters by Marie-Louise Gagneur translated by Anna Aitken and Polly Mackintosh (2020)

Translated for the first time into English, these two stories by French writer Marie-Louise Gagneur are reminiscent of Austen, but even more biting. I loved them. Full review is here.

The Servant by Maggie-Richell Davies (2020)

The Servant is a brilliantly immersive depiction of life in the lower classes in eighteenth century London. It gets pretty dark, but the writing is compelling and wonderfully detailed. My full review is here.

Cat Step by Alison Irvine (2020)

The first of two excellent books published by Dead Ink on my reading list this month, Cat Step is a gripping, taut, powerful exploration of motherhood and grief. You can read my full review here.

Exit Management by Naomi Booth (2020)

I’m in the middle of writing my review for this staggering novel, so all I will say here is that this is one of the best books I have read this year. And I’ve read some brilliant books this year. It blew me away. More later…

Panenka by Ronan Hession (2021)

I was so lucky to receive an early proof of Ronan Hession’s new novel, out next May from Bluemoose Books. I couldn’t wait to dive in, so in I dove/dived(?) and I will be posting my thoughts shortly. Spoiler alert: it’s utterly wonderful, and you don’t need to wait for my review to get this one pre-ordered.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)

I have apparently reached the age where I can no longer remember if I have read certain books, or if I did read them, it was twenty years ago so it doesn’t count. I read (or possibly reread) this with my crew from The Write Reads – we have the BEST book chats, total anarchy and lots of wild speculation, and this was a really fun book to talk about with them! Opinions were mixed, but on the whole, I loved it. I may or may not write a full review of this one – I am trying to remind myself I don’t HAVE to review every book I read!

Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams (2020)

Technically I am still reading this book, but since it is the 30th and I will definitely finish it tonight, it counts as a November read! Forget Russia is an incredible piece of work, a historical novel that feels like a documentary; a gorgeously written puzzle of the past being pieced together in front of my eyes. I am absolutely loving it, and I hope I can do it justice when I come to write my review.

So there we go, 12 wonderful books, which have got me through a rather turbulent month! I’d love to hear about your best November reads, so drop me a comment and help me grow my already enormous TBR!

Ellie x


Review: Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again by Katherine Angel (2021)

Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again by Katherine Angel


A provocative, elegantly written analysis of female desire, consent, and sexuality in the age of MeToo

Women are in a bind. They are told that in the name of sexual consent and feminist empowerment, they must proclaim their desires clearly and confidently. Sex researchers tell us that women don’t know what they want. And men are on hand to persuade women that what they want is, in fact, exactly what men want. In this environment, how can women possibly know what they want—and how can they be expected to?

In this elegantly written, searching book Katherine Angel surveys medical and psychoanalytic understandings of female desire, from Freud to Kinsey to present-day science; MeToo-era debates over consent, assault, and feminism; and popular culture, TV, and film to challenge our assumptions about female desire. Why, she asks, do we expect desire to be easily understood? Why is there not space for the unsure, the tentative, the maybe, the let’s just see? In contrast to the endless exhortation to know what we want, Angel proposes that sex can be a conversation, requiring insight, interaction, and mutual vulnerability—a shared collaboration into the unknown.

In this crucial moment of renewed attention to violence and power, Angel urges that we remake our thinking about sex, pleasure, and autonomy without any illusions of perfect self-knowledge. Only then will we bring about Michel Foucault’s sardonic promise, in 1976, that “tomorrow sex will be good again.”


One of the most powerful pieces of television I’ve watched this year is Michaela Coel’s searing show I May Destroy You. Like many people, I was struck by how well Coel portrays the myriad complexities that surround issues of consent and desire. When Maya at Verso offered me the chance to read Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again, which deals with similar themes, and in fact references the show, I jumped at the chance. Many thanks to Maya for my proof copy, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

This topic is timely, fascinating, and vital, and Angel’s book, though short, makes a huge contribution. Divided into four sections, ‘On Consent,’ ‘On Desire,’ ‘On Arousal’ and ‘On Vulnerability,’ this extended essay probes the rhetoric around consent, the #metoo movement, and female desire, revealing the places where disparities and contradictions lie hidden. I have to admit, as a feminist, I think I have previously aligned myself with certain tenants of consent culture without perhaps analysing it in enough detail. As Angel points out, though, we do have to start somewhere. There is nothing wrong with saying that consent is essential, of course, but this book explores the reasons why that cannot be the end of the discussion. The link between confidence culture and consent culture is examined, and Angel posits that by putting the onus on women to know what they want, this rhetoric ignores the unknowability of desire, its mutability, its reliance upon context.

Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again is elegantly argued and extremely well researched. I learned an awful lot about the study of desire, about the work of sexologists, and about the conflicting scholarly opinions on these unsurprisingly contentious topics. For such a slim book, it packs in a lot of information, but it is written in an accessible, thoughtful style that is never less than fascinating. There is a point in the text where Angel observes that were she ever to accuse someone of sexual assault, her own frankness and openness in discussing her sexuality would almost certainly be used against her: the truth of this hit me hard, and, I think, demonstrates just how important these conversations are.

I found this book extremely thought-provoking, and I very much hope it is widely read. Angel’s arguments are compelling, nuanced, and eloquently expressed; I found myself nodding in agreement (and doing my usual thing of reading out passages to my slightly terrified husband) at several points. Her central theme, that sex is not an object to be given or taken, but an encounter, an interaction, a conversation, seems so obvious but is so often forgotten. This is a powerful, important book – it addresses the vital question, as posed by Angel herself: “Why should women have to know themselves in order to be safe from violence?” There are no easy answers, but the conversation is a crucial one, and this book is a valuable contribution to it.

Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again by Katherine Angel will be published in March 2021 by Verso Books and is available to preorder here.

Review: Cat Step by Alison Irvine (2020)

Cat Step by Alison Irvine


One mistake can unravel everything….

She only left her daughter in the car for a minute; just a quick minute whilst she ran into the shop. She barely thought twice about making the decision, but it soon began to consume her every thought. And not just her thoughts, but those of every neighbour, police officer and social security worker in a 15-mile radius. But this is her child. Surely she knows best?

After she’d made the move to a small town in Scotland, the rolling hills and blustery beaches seemed to be the perfect backdrop for her and her four-year-old daughter, Emily, to start again. It wasn’t always easy just the two of them, but Liz was sure that she could manage this time. And now this?

Sometimes, one mistake is all it takes to unravel everything. Cat Step is a lyrically sparse tale about judgement, intergenerational relationships, community, class and the expectations that we place on mothers. With sharp prose Alison Irvine has crafted a compassionate narrative that compels you to listen on.


Thank you so much to Jordan Taylor-Jones and Dead Ink for providing me with an ARC of the book in exchange for an honest review. I’d seen a few people raving about this book on Twitter, so I bumped it up the TBR, and I am glad I did.

Cat Step begins with the dramatic incident outlined in the blurb: the narrator leaves her young daughter unsupervised in the car while she pops into the shop, and a chain of events is set in motion. As a plot device, I am a massive fan of the seemingly innocuous moment that reveals itself to be a hinge on which the story pivots – when it is done well, as it is here, it is simultaneously satisfying and unnerving. In making a snap decision, one which I think any parent will understand, even if they wouldn’t do it themselves, Liz lays herself open to the very worst sort of criticism and scrutiny. The question of whether or not we are fit to be parents is agonising enough when it swirls privately in our own anxious, sleep-deprived minds: when it becomes a matter of public reckoning, it must be horrific.

The first person narrative allows Irvine to fully explore the complexities of the mother-child relationship, and the way frustration can turn to love and back again in an instant is brilliantly depicted. It reminded me a lot of Lydia Kiesling’s novel, The Golden State, which I read earlier this year – both books isolate the mothers in a new environment, allowing for an intense focus on that key relationship and what it means for the women’s identities. Both Kiesling and Irvine do important work in laying bare some of the more uncomfortable truths of parenthood, and it is refreshing to see such honesty and insight in fiction – too often the intricacies of parenting are glossed over as not interesting enough to be part of the story. Cat Step captures not only the emotions of motherhood, but also the physicality, the practicality, the mental load that mothers carry, so that even in the midst of a crisis, Liz worries about getting to nursery in time for pick up; even when she feels as if she is falling apart, she must still attend to the day-to-day business of caring for her child. It is powerful and very well done.

The writing style is equally impressive. Sparse, spare prose, not a word wasted, with sharp dialogue which cuts to the heart of the story: this is a masterclass in taut story-telling. It feels as if the author has taken a specific stopped moment in time and stretched it out, cleverly weaving in strands from the past and glimmers of the future. For me, I was less interested in the uncovering of Robbie’s secrets than I was in watching Liz’s story unfold, although I liked the narrative drive that Robbie’s past provided. Liz is such a complex and fascinating character: watching her push and push when she knows she ought to stop and walk away makes for gripping reading.

This novel is a brave, honest, unflinching look at parenting, at grief, at the imperfect but necessary nature of human connections. It is skilfully written, utterly absorbing, sprinkled with unique touches like the references to dance and the beautiful descriptions of the light on the Campsie Fells. I was captivated by this book, and I am in awe of Alison Irvine’s assured, strong voice. I am really looking forward to reading more by this author.

Cat Step by Alison Irvine is published by Dead Ink and is available to purchase here.

Review: The Servant by Maggie Richell-Davies (2020)

The Servant by Maggie Richell-Davies




Young Hannah Hubert may be the granddaughter of a French merchant and the daughter of a Spitalfields silk weaver, but she has come down in the world.

Sent one spring day as maidservant to a disgraced aristocrat, she finds herself in a house full of mysteries – with a locked room and strange auctions being held behind closed doors.

As a servant, she has little power but – unknown to her employers – she can read. And it is only when she uses her education to uncover the secrets of the house, that she realises the peril she is in.

Hannah is unable to turn to the other servant, Peg, who is clearly terrified of their employers and keeps warning her to find alternative work.

But help might come from Thomas, the taciturn farmer delivering milk to the neighbourhood, or from Jack Twyford, a friendly young man apprenticed to his uncle’s bookselling business. Yet Thomas is still grieving for his late wife – and can she trust Jack, since his uncle is one of her master’s associates?

Hannah soon discovers damning evidence she cannot ignore.

She must act alone, but at what price?


I am extremely grateful to the author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was very intrigued by the description of The Servant: genre-blending historical fiction with a strong female protagonist ticks a lot of boxes for me, and I am delighted to say I was not disappointed. This is a brilliant, powerful book.

The story is narrated by the servant, Hannah, in vivid present tense. Rich in sensory detail and expertly crafted, the narrative feels completely immersive, and allying us so closely with Hannah’s experiences has the effect of drawing the reader right into the book, in a way which is almost suffocating at times, echoing Hannah’s suffering. It is incredibly effective, removing the barrier between protagonist and reader, putting us in Hannah’s place, and I have to say that during some of the more traumatic experiences, I had to come up for air and escape for a short while. It does get dark, and I would advise readers who find themselves triggered to tread carefully. But it is also, I think, one of the most realistic portrayals of servitude that I have ever read – Hannah’s desperate situation rings true. This is not a caper or a jolly, this is the harsh, brutal existence that many in her position would have faced.

Hannah herself is a strong woman in an appalling situation. I had some frustrations with her as a character at points because she closed herself off from a path of escape due to her principles, but this was a sign that she had become so real to me that I felt annoyed with her for not doing what I wanted her to do! Her relationship with Peg is touching and original, and I was glad she had at least one companion she could trust. Her fear of men, which understandably grows as the novel progresses, highlights her vulnerability in the male-dominated world she exists in, and had me aching in sympathy for her. The sense of not knowing who to trust, of not being able to rely on anyone except herself and poor, beaten-down Peg, looms tragically over the story, and eventually I came to understand her actions more and more. The author deftly avoids neat solutions and happy ever after cliches, bringing to bear a modern understanding of the effects of repeated trauma and suffering.

The Servant is an extremely well-written, powerful novel, which draws the reader into its dark, sometimes terrifying world and offers an examination of the real consequences of the class system at the time. It is brutal but skillful, encompassing big themes of power, corruption, education, and so on, while remaining focused on the story of one individual whose life was not counted as important by so many around her. At its best, historical fiction gives a voice to the forgotten, and Maggie Richell-Davies pays respect to the women of Hannah’s class by doing just that. This was an emotional, immersive, utterly engrossing read, and I am very glad I had the opportunity to follow Hannah on her journey.

The Servant by Maggie Richell-Davies is published by Sharpe Books and is available to purchase here.

Review: Three Rival Sisters by Marie-Louise Gagneur translated by Anna Aitken and Polly Mackintosh


Much acclaimed amongst her contemporaries and yet all but forgotten today, Marie-Louise Gagneur was a defining voice in French feminism. These stories, translated into English for the first time, critique the restrictions of late nineteenth-century society and explore the ways in which both men and women are hurt by rigid attitudes towards marriage.

In ‘An Atonement’, the Count de Montbarrey awakes one morning to find his wife dead, leaving him free to marry the woman he really loves. Could the Count have accidentally killed his wife? And how can he atone for his crime?

‘Three Rival Sisters’ tells the story of the rivalry between Henriette, Renée and Gabrielle as they compete for the affections of one man. But marriage does not necessarily guarantee happiness, as the sisters are about to find out.

Steeped in wit, empathy and biting social criticism, and with echoes of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Kate Chopin, these stories show Gagneur to be worthy of renewed attention.


I was lucky enough to win an ARC of this book, which is part of Gallic’s Revolutionary Women series, and I will definitely be checking out the other titles. I always think it is quite exciting to read an older book which has been translated for the first time: there is a sense of rediscovery, of hidden treasure coming to the surface.

This book is made up of two stories, the title ‘Three Rival Sisters’ and ‘An Atonement’. Taken together, they give a wonderful flavour of Marie-Louise Gagneur’s style and concerns. The tone is acerbic, dripping in irony, revelling in melodrama while undercutting it with sharp wit. Imagine a French Jane Austen: more stylish, darker, Galouises cigarette dangling from a painted lip as she jabs into the hypocrisies of the French upper classes with her pen.

In the first story, the sisters compete for the affections of the entirely unworthy Monsieur de Vaudrey, whose arrival provides intrigue and excitement in their mundane lives, but also tears them apart. There is an arch knowingness to the writing, as Gagneur draws attention to the conventions of novels of the day, establishing a delicious complicity with the reader in which the artifice is both exposed and scrutinised:

“Let us, then, bring our modest tale to its quiet conclusion, and put aside the conventions of storytelling with their twists, turns and entanglements.” (p.71)

Despite the acid wit, there are notes of tenderness, particularly in her descriptions of the relationship between the two younger sisters, Gabrielle and Renee. Cynicism may be the key flavour here, but there is enough heart to engage the reader and to save the story from total parody. In ‘An Atonement’, too, there are hints of real love and hope and conflict which stand out as nuggets of truth amidst the melodrama.

The translators, Anna Aitken and Polly Mackintosh, have done a great service in bringing these stories to an English readership. There is enough that will be familiar to readers of nineteenth century literature to enable them to quickly immerse themselves, while the delightfully sharp edge adds fresh bite to this style of tale. I highly recommend this book, and will be keeping my eye on future publications from this publisher.

Three Rival Sisters is published by Gallic Books and is available to purchase here.

Review: The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor (2020)

The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor


July, 1962
Sixteen year-old Evie Epworth stands on the cusp of womanhood. But what kind of a woman will she become?
The fastest milk bottle-delivery girl in East Yorkshire, Evie is tall as a tree and hot as the desert sand. She dreams of an independent life lived under the bright lights of London (or Leeds). The two posters of Adam Faith on her bedroom wall (‘brooding Adam’ and ‘sophisticated Adam’) offer wise counsel about a future beyond rural East Yorkshire. Her role models are Charlotte Bronte, Shirley MacLaine and the Queen. But, before she can decide on a career, she must first deal with the malign presence of her future step-mother, the manipulative and money-grubbing Christine.
If Evie can rescue her bereaved father, Arthur, from Christine’s pink and over-perfumed clutches, and save the farmhouse from being sold off then maybe she can move on with her own life and finally work out exactly who it is she is meant to be.  
Moving, inventive and richly comic, The Miseducation of Evie Epworth is the most joyful debut novel of the year and the best thing to have come out of Yorkshire since Wensleydale cheese.  


This wonderful debut novel is a breath of fresh air, and the perfect antidote to all the 2020 madness. I am not going to write a long review, because some books lodge themselves firmly in my heart and not my head, and simply deserve to be shouted about as an absolute joy. In a way, I wish I had read this book sooner, but actually, Evie came to me at the perfect time, and reading this novel felt like a warm hug from a friend at a time when warm hugs are hard to come by/legally prohibited.

The book reminded me of Adrian Mole, in that the young protagonist feels so incredibly real that I completely forgot that she was fictional. But of course, Evie is very different from Adrian. Evie ROCKS. She is, in terms of likeability, probably my favourite fictional character that I have met this year. She is such a joyous presence on the page – her voice is authentic, hilarious, realistic despite the crazy circumstances she finds herself in, and, although she is far from annoyingly perfect, she seems to me to represent a really lovely way to live and to be. I honestly think Matson Taylor has created a character whose ability to learn and to change and to grow up without losing the best of childlike joy and innocence is a lesson to us all. We should all try to be a bit more like Evie!

The story itself is funny, poignant, and well-written. The period detail is lovely (I keep using that word because it is such an Evie word!) and despite Taylor’s light, humorous touch, there are plenty of truly moving moments. And also lots of drama, which is a huge amount of fun! The supporting characters are a fabulously eccentric bunch, and I loved – or loved to hate – them all.

I think what I loved most about this book was the way in which it shows, in a completely non-preachy way, how to accept imperfections or disappointments without letting them curb your enthusiasm for life. Life is messy, it is imperfect: sad, crazy, mad, bad, weird stuff is always going to happen, but there is always joy and humour to be found in between.

I am absolutely thrilled to hear that an Evie sequel may be on the way – I would follow her for many, many more books!

The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor is published by Scribner UK and is available to purchase here.

Review: A Necessary Blessing by Sarah Head (2020)

A Necessary Blessing by Sarah Head


A stunning novel of family secrets, ancient magic and healing – perfect for fans of Barbara Erskine and Christina Courtenay.

Ruth Turner has a unique ability. She can walk through time, seeing the village, religious community and inhabitants as they used to be. Abandoned by her philandering husband, she makes new friends amongst village leaders, Greg Iles, the village blacksmith, Granny Compson, a retired farmer’s wife and Lord Peter Brazington, the prickly Earl of Haverliegh, owner of Roelswick Estate.

As Ruth learns more about village history, she uncovers many secrets, which change her life and affect her closest friends, putting her at the centre of ghostly retribution. Can she use her new knowledge to unravel the cause of all the trouble before her community is torn apart again?

A Necessary Blessing is the first book in the Roeslwick Chronicles by Sarah Head. Set deep in the heart of the Cotswolds, it charts the story of a rural village where modern and ancient practice work side by side.

Where past beliefs inform present customs, promoting future action, we understand how water is a necessary blessing to us all.


Many thanks to Charlie Farrow for providing me with a digital copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. I was really intrigued by the sound of this book – I didn’t quite know what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised by how quirky and original it is.

The world this novel takes place in is very unusual. While it is set in Roeslwick Village in modern times, it is as if the contemporary gradually recedes as the novel progresses: there is a strong sense of moving back in time, as the traditions and superstitions that link the villagers to their past subsume the touches of modernity that open the book. By the end of the novel, it is almost a shock when email or mobiles or Landrovers are mentioned, as I really felt as if I was reading historical fiction by that point. I can’t think of anything else I have read which does this in quite the same way – it is strikingly original.

The large cast of characters are all vividly drawn and their individual personalities come through as the story unfolds. However, there is also a strong sense of the collective, of a community bound together by its history and its rituals. Ruth is an interesting guide to follow as she is seemingly an outsider, but gradually becomes more and more inextricably linked with the village. For me, the supernatural storyline worked well, and I liked that the majority of the characters seemed surprisingly unperturbed by the existence of a spirit world alongside their own – it added to the sense of quirkiness and strangeness!

The novel is fast-paced and very visual – action scenes are dramatically described, and the village itself provides a convincingly constructed stage for this bizarre events to play out on. It occurred to me more than once that it would make a fantastic TV adaptation! The conclusion is satisfying, but with a hint of more to come, and I do think Roelswick would be an interesting place to revisit. The rich folklore and mysterious goings-on are underpinned by solid characters that engage the reader’s sympathy. I very much enjoyed the way this book started out quite conventionally, with a woman escaping a bad marriage, and then quite quickly became something very unconventional indeed! You certainly need to be able to suspend your disbelief to fully enjoy this book, but if you are prepared to go with the flow and let the excitement carry you away, you’re in for a fun ride!

A Necessary Blessing by Sarah Head is published by Heresy Publishing and is available to purchase here.

Review: In the Sweep of the Bay by Cath Barton (2020) @CathBarton1 @LouiseWalters12 @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours #InTheSweepOfTheBay

In the Sweep of the Bay by Cath Barton


This warm-hearted tale explores marriage, love, and longing, set against the majestic backdrop of Morecambe Bay, the Lakeland Fells, and the faded splendour of the Midland Hotel.

Ted Marshall meets Rene in the dance halls of Morecambe and they marry during the frail optimism of the 1950s. They adopt the roles expected of man and wife at the time: he the breadwinner at the family ceramics firm, and she the loyal housewife. But as the years go by, they find themselves wishing for more…

After Ted survives a heart attack, both see it as a new beginning… but can a faded love like theirs ever be rekindled?

“A tender and moving study of a marriage” Alison Moore, author of the Booker short listed
The Lighthouse


I have been really looking forward to reading this novella, having heard wonderful things about it. Thank you so much to Emma at Damp Pebbles, Louise Walters Books and to the author for having me on the blog tour and providing a digital copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

I don’t think I have actually read all that many novellas, and certainly not recently, so I was very excited to read this one. The first thing to say is that Cath Barton has chosen her form perfectly. The narrow, specific location works extremely well in a book of this length, and the sweep of years it covers are given more space to breathe than they would be in a short story. Time is extremely well-handled in this book – it feels neither rushed nor too slow, rather an expertly judged dipping in and out of the lives of the characters, which just so precisely matches the beautiful cover image – the very structure of the story really did conjure up a feeling of swooping gulls dipping their beaks into an ocean, skimming and tasting, giving us glimpses of lives that feel full and realistically drawn.

The framing device of the narrator worked really well for me, and I grew very fond of the characters very quickly. Ted and Rene’s story is resonant with simple, quiet dignity and sadness. This is an elegant story, evoking an old-fashioned and yet timeless quality. It reminded me of Clare Chambers’ book Small Pleasures, which I read earlier this year – a careful, detailed rendering of the small, important things in life. The links between the characters are satisfying and add to the sense of completeness and roundness.

Cath Barton’s writing is wonderful. Parts of the book, particularly the natural descriptions, are lyrical and poetic, creating a soothing rhythm that washes over you. The dialogue feels real, and the little details added to descriptions are finely judged, never overdone. There is a quiet confidence bubbling beneath the surface of this gentle book, and also a delicious sense of humour that peeks through the poignancy. It is a delight to read, and I reached the end with regret, but nevertheless pleasantly sated by the experience of reading this story.

All in all, this is a perfectly formed novella. It is gentle yet poignant, expertly crafted and delicately gilded with the aches of love and disappointment. It feels true and beautiful, and I was deeply moved by it. I highly recommend this book, and I look forward to reading more by Cath Barton in the future.

About the Author

Cath Barton lives in Abergavenny. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella in 2017 for The Plankton Collector, which was published in September 2018 by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. She also writes short stories and flash fiction and, with her critical writing, is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review. In the Sweep of the Bay is her second novella. 

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Review: Everything Is Fine by Gillian Harvey (2020)

Everything Is Fine by Gillian Harvey


Jessica Bradley has it all: the perfect boyfriend; influential healthy-eating blog; successful PR company and wonderful daughter, Anna. Or at least that is what her thousands of followers believe.

The truth is, her boyfriend just broke up with her in four words on a post-it; her zest for healthy-eating has all but disappeared; her PR success is all reliant on her now not-so-honest online-life and she just got caught eating her daughter’s Coco-Pops.

So as they say: fake it ’til you make it. A few little white lies and phoney smiling selfies and Jess can keep up appearances. But when her real-life starts to spiral out of control how can Jess tell the truth from the lies? And will she be able to seize real happiness when it is right in front of her?

Hilarious, heart-warming and oh-so relatable, Everything Is Fine is perfect for fans of Louise Pentland, Anna Bell and Lindsey Kelk.


I am extremely grateful to the author for providing me with a digital copy in exchange for an honest review. This is not my typical genre, but if you are one of my regular followers (hi both!) you’ll know that I firmly believe in mixing things up when it comes to my reading. Variety is the spice of life, and all. With the weather turning grey and the relentless slog of 2020 madness showing no signs of letting up, the best thing to do is, of course, LAUGH.

I laughed A LOT while reading this book. I loved the way Jessica’s problems always seemed to begin as something utterly relatable and then gradually started to spin out of control and tumble into the realm of ridiculousness. The situations she finds herself in rival Bridget Jones herself for sheer farcical comedy value, but since much of the delight is in the element of surprise, I shan’t elaborate further. No spoilers here.

While the comedy in this novel is big, and the scenarios burst joyously against the seams of credibility, there are kernels of truth and poignancy which point to the fact that this is also a book with a big heart, and a sharp eye for the idiosyncratic ironies of modern life. It feels especially relevant to me as someone newly fumbling around the world of social media (not that I would ever consider myself an ‘influencer’ – as I have said before, I am at most a ‘tentative suggester’), but it is certainly the case that questions of how much to share of your true self online, or how different each version of our ‘selves’ can be, is one that plays on my mind, as I suspect it does with many of us. (My sister likes to tease me about my bookstagram pics of neat stacks on pristine mantelpieces, knowing full well, as she does, that behind me is a scene of utter chaos and carnage). Everything is Fine takes this idea to the extreme, tethering Jessica to a version of herself from which she she feels she cannot escape, and though there is a lot of humour to be derived from the disparity between her social media self and her IRL self, I think the author has really tapped into something that affects a lot of us, probably more than we care to admit.

But hey, let’s not get too serious here, this is supposed to be fun, after all. And it really is – complicated, messy, 21st century fun, with a cast of characters that each add sparkle and intrigue to Jessica’s story. I loved the portrayal of her daughter, Anna, and found the cosy home-spun wisdom of Jessica’s client, Remembering Rainbows author Robert, endearing and sweet. I don’t mind admitting I tried a couple of his tips out to cheer myself up. They do actually work. As for Dave, he deserves a thump, but you’ll have to read the book to find out why.

This was a lovely, quick read which lifted my spirits and made me laugh. And in 2020, you can’t say fairer than that.

Everything Is Fine by Gillian Harvey is published by Orion and is available to purchase here.

Review: The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal (2019)

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal


London. 1850. On a crowded street, the dollmaker Iris Whittle meets the artist Louis Frost. Louis is a painter who yearns to have his work displayed in the Royal Academy, and he is desperate for Iris to be his model. Iris agrees, on the condition that he teaches her to paint.

Dreaming of freedom, Iris throws herself into a new life of art and love, unaware that she has caught the eye of a second man. Silas Reed is a curiosity collector, enchanted by the strange and beautiful. After seeing Iris at the site of the Great Exhibition he finds he cannot forget her.

As Iris’s world expands, Silas’s obsession grows. And it is only a matter of time before they meet again . . .


I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages, so when I got the chance to pick a book for a readalong with some of my fab @The_WriteReads crew on Twitter, I snuck this one in. It is, by the way, the perfect book for group discussion – the only problem we had is that there was possibly TOO much to say about it! I’m delighted that The Motherload Book Club on Facebook will also be discussing The Doll Factory this month, so I get another chance to chat about this wonderfully immersive, delightfully dark book!

The setting is fantastic. 1850s London comes alive in the novel’s pages, aided by the vivid present tense and the carefully crafted details which build up a world around the reader, so that you really feel as if you are there. The level of sensory detail lends a heady atmosphere of total immersion that serves the story incredibly well. The novel ranges widely, taking in all walks of life, from shopkeepers to artists to street urchins, transporting us from galleries to alleyways, and there is a wonderful sense of the author taking the reader by the hand and running at full pelt through a city caught in a moment in time, delightedly showing off both its glamour and its seedy underbelly. I loved the scenes at the Great Exhibition, and the contrast between that huge collaborative grand endeavour and Silas’ gloomy shop, with its dark cellar beneath it.

Silas is a complex, sinister character whose growing obsession with Iris drives the novel. Iris herself is equally complicated, and her relationships with the other characters are well-drawn and realistically tangled. I enjoyed watching her escape the confines of her narrow existence in the hope of making a new life for herself, and I liked the way several narrative threads play out at once in the book. It gives the story a depth and a kind of roundness, which takes me back to that feeling of being totally immersed in the world of the novel.

This novel is exactly the sort of historical fiction I enjoy: vividly detailed, atmospheric, and full of unexpected events. I couldn’t finish my review without a shout-out to my two favourite characters, the heroes of our readalong chat: Albie and Guinevere. Read this book to meet them, and for many other reasons. I’m really looking forward to reading more work by this author in the future.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal is out now, published by Picador, and is available to purchase here.