January 2021 Reading: A Sparrow Alone; Lost Girls; The Mothers; The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; Cockfight; The Care of Strangers; The Clearing; The Man Who Died; Murder on the Orient Express; Open Water; Havana Year Zero

I’ve had a really good start to the year reading-wise, and even though I’ve taken the pressure off in terms of setting a number goal, I still managed to get through 11 books this month, which is lovely. I’m doing alright on my intentions for 2021, too – mixing up the genres, reading some older stuff, getting some indies and translated fiction in there. I also read my first section of Ducks, Newburyport – I’ve broken it up into monthly sections as it’s such a chonkster – and I LOVE what I have read so far.

Here’s my round-up of what I have read this month, with links to my full reviews where relevant:

A Sparrow Alone by Mim Eichmann (2020)

I started the year off with a blog tour book for @The_WriteReads. For me, this historical fiction novel was a good, but not amazing, read. You can read my full review here.

Lost Girls by Ellen Birkett Morris (2020)

I loved this short story collection by Ellen Birkett Morris. The themes and characters overlap in an extraordinarily clever way, and it got under my skin in the way the best writing does. You can read my full review here.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett (2016)

I read and loved The Vanishing Half last year, and immediately bought Brit Bennett’s previous novel. Of course, it then languished on my shelf for too long, but I have finally got round to it, and it did not disappoint. My review will be up soon, but in a word: stunning.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926)

I don’t even know if this counts as a reread, as I have definitely read a lot of Agatha Christies, but not for YEARS. I’m doing some Christie readalongs with my lovely @The_WriteReads crew, and we started with this. Loads of fun, so deliciously quick to read – I’m so glad I’m going to be spending more time with Poirot and his little grey cells this year!

Cockfight by María Fernanda Ampuero translated by Frances Riddle (2021)

This book is astounding. It is absolutely unapologetically fierce and brutal and really quite disturbing; I loved it. It won’t be for everyone, but if you like your fiction to push boundaries and take you far, far our of your comfort zone, do check out my full review here.

The Care of Strangers by Ellen Michaelson (2020)

This gentle, beautiful novella was a complete change of pace, and one that left me pondering the special set of qualities that those who dedicate their professional lives to the care of others possess. It was a quietly moving read, and one which I highly recommend. You can read my full thoughts here.

The Clearing by Samantha Clark (2020)

Samantha Clark’s memoir is a work of art in itself. Rarely have I encountered such intellectually rigorous and yet beautifully crafted writing. Do read my full review here: this book is a gem, and I hope many of you will be tempted to discover it.

The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen translated by David Hackston (2016)

This book had me snorting with laughter, which is not what you might expect from a novel narrated by a dying man. I absolutely adored it, and I’ll try and get a full review up soon. I can’t wait to read more of Tuomainen’s work – I’m so grateful to Orenda Books for introducing me to him.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934)

My second encounter with Poirot this month, and again, tons of fun. From a writing point of view, I think there are some useful basic reminders about how to build a plot in these books: Christie certainly knows a thing or three about keeping the reader on the edge of their seat! I’m really looking forward to more investigations with M. Poirot this year!

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (2021)

This debut novel absolutely blew me away. It is devastatingly beautiful, and I’ve been thinking about it constantly since I read it. You can read my full review here – this really is one not to miss.

Havana Year Zero by Karla Suárez translated by Christina MacSweeney (2021)

I just finished this last night, and I loved it. It’s my first book from Charco Press, and it certainly won’t be my last. I’ll be getting a review up very soon, so watch out for it!

All in all, I’m really pleased to have read such a fab selection of books, brightening up a grey, rainy lockdown January. I have so many books I want to read in February – I’ve found myself longing for a uni-style ‘reading week’ – but I guess I’ll have to stick to those precious couple of hours once the day’s kiddie-wrangling is done!

I’d love to hear what books you’ve enjoyed this month, and what you’re looking forward to (book wise, there ain’t a lot else atm!) in February.

Happy reading!

Ellie x


Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (2021)

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson


Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence.

At once an achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it. With gorgeous, soulful intensity, Caleb Azumah Nelson has written the most essential British debut of recent years.


I am extremely grateful to Alexia Thomaidis at Viking Books for sending me a proof copy of this debut novel in exchange for an honest review. I managed to wait all of about four hours after receiving the book before – excuse the pun – diving in.

Days later, I am still thinking about this novel on an hourly basis. I don’t think I am going to be able to find the words to do this book justice. Reading Open Water is such a powerful, exquisite pleasure. The prose is delicate, poetic, unfurling in gorgeous tendrils across the page, wrapping you up in its sheer beauty. The second person “you” invites empathy with the protagonist, as we see the world through his eyes, as if staring out through a camera. Indeed, there is a cinematic feel to the novel, and the beautiful trailer currently circulating captures the gentle light that seems to suffuse the pages detailing the young couple’s slow, tentative movement from friendship into love. It is a wonderfully tender (with all its meanings, both soft and raw) depiction of the complicated nature of falling in love, one of the best I’ve read in a long time.

And yet there is another thread that runs alongside the love story, a second narrative that casts a shadow, insidiously weaving trauma and conflict into the golden tapestry of two beautiful souls falling in love. I have read some (though not enough) nonfiction about systemic racism and societal racial stereotyping, but it is here in this fictional story that I felt that my understanding of the cold, hard, damaging truth of what it means to experience prejudice on a daily basis, to fear for your very survival, to know that you are seen as a body only, took a leap forward. The hardening of the protagonist’s psyche, the protective armour he is forced to coat himself with in order to somehow try and cope with the daily struggle of being profiled for “matching a description” – this book shows the absolutely traumatic, tragic effects of such survival tactics in a way that is utterly heartbreaking. The direct link between the exhausting, endless cycle of prejudice and the breakdown of a loving relationship is one that hits hard. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Open Water is an all-consuming experience. It is so clever in its exploration of artistry; the book somehow moves beyond the novel form to encompass all art, so that I could imagine the story as a musical score, or a perfectly choreographed dance, or a sculpture of two figures trying to reach out for each other, their fingertips almost touching. It is visual, balletic, sensory – and, like the best love stories, and the best art, it leaves a space for interpretation.

I feel like this is a novel that will affect people in different ways, that will resonate differently with each reader. It feels deeply important, timeless and yet so timely, as rich a tragedy as any I have read and yet it folds its drama in gently, with care and skill and absolutely staggering talent on the part of the author. I was mesmerised as I read, and I will be turning this story over in my mind for a long time to come. Caleb Azumah Nelson has created something very special indeed: Open Water is a true work of art.

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson is published by Viking Books on 4th February. It is available to preorder here.

Review: The Clearing by Samantha Clark (2020)

The Clearing by Samantha Clark


This house has been a regular presence in my life for as long as I can remember. My heart has sunk a little every time I walk in . . .

Samantha Clark enjoyed a busy career as an artist before returning home to Glasgow to take care of the house that her parents had left behind. Moving from room to room, sifting through the clutter of belongings, reflecting on her mother’s long, sedated years of mental illness and her father’s retreat to the world of amateur radio and model planes, Samantha began to contemplate her inheritance.

A need for creativity and a desire for solitude had sprung up from a childhood shaped by anxiety and confusion. Weaving in the works and lives of others, including celebrated painter Agnes Martin and scientist of dark matter Vera Rubin, The Clearing is a powerful account of what we must do with the things we cannot know.


I am so grateful to the author for reaching out and offering me a copy of her book in exchange for an honest review. I read a lot more non-fiction than I used to, and I’m gradually realising that the books I learn the most from are those that draw upon the author’s personal experience.

It doesn’t get much more personal than the subject matter of The Clearing. After her parents’ death, the author and her brothers begin the long task of sorting out their cluttered, crumbling house. As she works, Clark reflects on the incredibly complex relationship she had with each of her parents, and, through her reflections, she generously invites the reader into her thoughts.

On the surface, this seems simple enough. But Clark’s many gifts include a burning intellect combined with a beautiful artistic sensibility, and it is the merging of these two elements that make this book something very special indeed. The prose is exquisite, artfully crafted, redolent with phrases that melt in the mouth when you say them out loud, and images that paint in vivid colours in the reader’s mind. Clark is clearly an artist with words as well as in other forms.

The delicate, pitch-perfect descriptions are matched by an intellectual rigor that swells out to include great thinkers and scientists, bringing in philosophical and scientific concepts to help illuminate her thought processes. The overall effect is stunning: it brings to mind the all-encompassing, multi-disciplinary nature of Renaissance Humanism, lead into the modern age by Clark’s comprehensive analysis of all the microscopic strands that feed into her family story. It is a story that shimmers with unseen light, that clears spaces not to fill them but to observe and respect them. The cover image, with its suggestion of both landscapes and galaxies, is a really apt visual representation of the journey I felt I was following Clark on – at once localised, personal, specific, and also universal, full of deep truths.

The agility of the author’s mind and the careful excavation of her own thoughts and feelings combine to make this an utterly unique reading experience, one that is hard for me to put into words. It feels like standing before a canvas, a huge and beautiful, intricate painting, but with the artist beside you, picking out meanings you may not have noticed, gently drawing your attention to the brushstrokes and the careful use of light. I am sure this is a book I will return to again and again – it has so much to say about art, about meaning, about how we can begin to understand not only the words of our own stories, but also the silence.

The Clearing by Samantha Clark is published by Little, Brown and is available to purchase here. The paperback will be released in March, but I personally would recommend the gorgeous, tactile hardback – it is a work of art in itself!

Review: The Care of Strangers by Ellen Michaelson (2020)

The Care of Strangers by Ellen Michaelson


Working as an orderly in a gritty Brooklyn public hospital, Sima is often reminded by her superiors that she’s the least important person there. An immigrant who, with her mother, escaped vicious anti-Semitism in Poland, she spends her shifts transporting patients, observing the doctors and residents … and quietly nurturing her aspirations to become a doctor herself by going to night school. Now just one credit short of graduating, she finds herself faltering in the face of pressure from her mother not to overreach, and to settle for the life she has now.

Everything changes when Sima encounters Mindy Kahn, an intern doctor struggling through her residency. Sensing a fellow outsider in need of support, Sima bonds with Mindy over their patients, and learns the power of truly letting yourself care for another person, helping to give her the courage to face her past, and take control of her future.

A moving story about vulnerability and friendship, The Care of Strangers is the story of one woman’s discovery that sometimes interactions with strangers are the best way to find yourself.


There are lots of reasons why I was delighted to be contacted by the publisher, Melville House, and offered a digital copy in exchange for an honest review: firstly, they are the US publishers of the fantastic Leonard and Hungry Paul, by Rónán Hession, which I, like so many, adored; next: they were kind enough to say they had noticed and appreciated my support of indie publishers, and thirdly, having just finished Cath Barton’s lovely novella In The Sweep of the Bay (published by another fab indie, Louise Walters Books), I had just rediscovered the joy of this particular form (though it is described as a ‘novel’ on the cover, The Care of Strangers is definitely more novella in length, and has won prizes as such). My final reason was simply that there seems no better time to read about the ordinary, extraordinary people who work in hospitals.

Sima, the protagonist, emigrated from Poland as a child. She works as a hospital orderly and takes pre-med courses in the hope of one day becoming a doctor. What I found most striking about this curiously gentle, subtle story was how the author manages to convey, in a very delicate and unobtrusive way, how Sima has all the makings of a good doctor. With each description of her taking care of her patients and watching her co-workers, we build up a picture of someone for whom this setting, this life of looking after others and making quick but careful decisions, seems inevitable. It is really quite moving and humbling – I’ve always had enormous respect for health workers, and of course in recent times my admiration has gone through the roof, and I really liked the way this story shows that it is a kind of vocation, that there is something special about those whose professional lives revolve around caring for others, without resorting to drama and dazzling heroics. Sima is calm, controlled, thoughtful, empathetic without being sentimental, and it is a special kind of pleasure and privilege to watch her work, so to speak.

There is a lilting, gentle beauty to Ellen Michaelson’s writing. The repetition of daily routines, the medical terminology, and the level of observational detail all flow together to become quite lyrical and meditative. The work that Sima and her colleagues do forms a constant backdrop to her growing friendship with Mindy, and their relationship is as delicately nuanced as everything else in the book. Sima both pities and idolises the intern; she tries to protect her while also seeing her as a mentor. It is a very real, convincing portrait of how bonds come to be forged, and I really enjoyed watching the dynamics between the two characters ebb and flow.

This is a delicate, subtle, understated story that offers a realistic glimpse into hospital life without using melodrama or romance tropes or any of the other ‘hooks’ with which the lay person is often baited in order to find their way into this very specific world. I will always be in such awe of people whose life’s work is caring for others, and I’m grateful for this small insight into what it must be like to be such a person. Michaelson’s own medical background gives this book a depth and authenticity which makes it read like a fictional memoir, closer in some ways to non-fiction. It is another wonderful example of the possibilities of the novella form. I’m very glad to have spent time with Sima, and I highly recommend her story.

Author website: https://www.ellenmichaelson.com/

The Care of Strangers by Ellen Michaelson is published by Melville House and is available to purchase here.

Review: Cockfight by María Fernanda Ampuero translated by Frances Riddle (2021)

Cockfight by María Fernanda Ampuero


Named one of the ten best fiction books of 2018 by the New York Times en Español, Cockfight is the debut work by Ecuadorian writer and journalist María Fernanda Ampuero.

In lucid and compelling prose, Ampuero sheds light on the hidden aspects of the home: the grotesque realities of family, coming of age, religion, and class struggle. A family’s maids witness a horrible cycle of abuse, a girl is auctioned off by a gang of criminals, and two sisters find themselves at the mercy of their spiteful brother. With violence masquerading as love, characters spend their lives trapped re-enacting their past traumas.

Heralding a brutal and singular new voice, Cockfight explores the power of the home to both create and destroy those within it.


Many thanks, as always, to Jordan Taylor-Jones at Influx Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

You only have to glance at the blurb for Cockfight to know that this is a hard-hitting book. Violence, abuse, incest, the destruction of innocence, and the deadly cycle of trauma are the coiled springs that lie like traps within each of the thirteen stories. When it comes to fiction, as some of you know, I am not afraid of the dark, and I certainly do not regret plunging myself into the bloody, visceral, often grotesque world that Ampuero lays bare in these stories.

From the very first story, ‘Auction,’ in which a young girl is kidnapped by a gang, the author takes us on a terrifying, unflinching journey through some horrific experiences. But there is far more here than shocking spectacle: Ampuero is an incredibly skilled writer, her language restrained and unadorned in a way that is suggestive of her journalistic background, and her insights into human nature are profound and sometimes dazzling. ‘Nam,’ one of the most affecting stories for me, brings the horrors of war into the domestic space in an incredibly complex and brilliant way. There are so many levels at play in this story in particular, from the narrator’s confusing feelings towards her friend, to the spectre of her own father and the unspoken trauma she carries within herself. ‘Pups,’ while also a disturbing story, contains within it some aching truths about the difficulty of going home again, and there is a kind of weird beauty in among the deeply unsettling events.

Two of the stories, ‘Passion’ and ‘Mourning,’ stand apart as more apocryphal, taking biblical figures and carving a new narrative that places women firmly at the centre, pain, suffering, magic, and all. I liked this change of mode; it seems to offer a glimpse of just how staggeringly far-reaching the author’s vision and talent is. Then Ampuero returns us to a more modern domestic space: in ‘Ali,’ the cyclical, inescapable nature of trauma is tragically detailed, as we watch Miss Ali’s descent alongside her household. And ‘Coro’ is a flaying indictment of the ways in which women can tear each other down – it is probably the most powerful story on this theme I have ever read.

These stories are so fresh and yet so dark, somehow simultaneously rotten to the core and coruscating with bright truths. They are stunning in the most literal sense of the word: after reading each story, I felt as if I had been thumped around the head with cruel, twisted realities and, dazed and blinking, I had to take a break and recover before I was ready to read another. And yet these immensely powerful stories are completely worth the emotional pummelling: they are fiercely, brilliantly original, taking thought and language to places most writers would not dare to go. I would also be intrigued to read these in Spanish (which I speak, or at least used to!); I sense that Frances Riddle’s translation has absolutely captured the precise, unflinching, utterly compelling prose of the original. It reads flawlessly in English, and I could hear the echo of how it might have been expressed in Spanish.

I would definitely read more of Ampuero’s work. I have never read anything quite like it before.

Cockfight by María Fernanda Ampuero, translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle, is published by Influx Press and is available to purchase directly from the publishers here.

Review: Lost Girls by Ellen Birkett Morris (2020)

Lost Girls by Ellen Birkett Morris


Lost Girls explores the experiences of women and girls as they grieve, find love, face uncertainty, take a stand, find their future, and say goodbye to the past. A young woman creates a ritual to celebrate the life of a kidnapped girl, an unmarried woman wanders into a breast feeder’s support group and stays, a grieving mother finds solace in an unlikely place, a young girl discovers more than she bargained for when she spies on her neighbors. Though they may seem lost, each finds their center as they confront the challenges and expectations of womanhood.


I am so grateful to the author for reaching out and offering me a copy of her book in exchange for an honest review. I am a huge fan of short story collections, and Lost Girls sounded like just my thing.

This is a brilliant collection. Morris is an incredibly skilled writer, creating quietly devastating, insightful stories which mine the lives of women and girls to build up a profound, unflinching picture of all the quirks and hurts wrapped up in everyday experiences. These stories ring absolutely true: they are shockingly perceptive, deeply probing, intelligent, and above all, beautifully written. I have spoken before about the ‘short story pang’, when you recognise a truth you’d never seen expressed before – Lost Girls delivers this feeling in spades.

It’s hard to pick out individual stories as favourites, as one of the most exciting features of this collection is the way it subtly builds, circling back to characters and situations, each new story adding to what has come before while standing apart from it. However, if I had to highlight the stories I am most keen to revisit, they would certainly include ‘Religion’ (a stunning example of the deeply unsettling seam that runs through these stories), ‘Life After,’ in which a grieving mother is depicted with almost unbearable poignancy, ‘Helter Skelter,’ ‘Neverland,’ and ‘Emoticon.’ The latter is one of the shortest stories in the book, and the one that reminded me of Mary South’s debut collection, You Will Never Be Forgotten, which I read last year and loved.

Morris’ writing combines the sharp, modern tang of writers such as Mary South and Lauren Groff with a sensibility that reminds me of Alice Munro’s work: a depth rather than breadth of subject, repeating themes and situations (and the specific location of Slocum) to chisel away at the veneer of mundanity that covers over all of the deep, dark truths that these stories expose. Like Munro, Morris seems to be documenting rather than inventing, so close does her work seem to the truth of female experience. It is a remarkable, beautifully crafted achievement, like a sculpture carved from natural materials, revealing shapes hidden beneath the surface.

As you can tell, I am in awe of Morris’ skill as a short story writer. She is so assured and confident with this powerful form, and Lost Girls is really something very special. This is a collection to be savoured and revisited, and I can’t wait to read more from this talented author. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for vivid, profound, beautifully written short stories with an edge.

Lost Girls is published by TouchPoint Press and is available to purchase here.

Author website: https://ellenbirkettmorris.ink/index.html

2020 Reading: The Big List!

  1. Old Filth by Jane Gardam
  2. The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro
  3. The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany translated by Humphrey T. Davies
  4. Lullaby by Leila Slimani translated by Sam Taylor
  5. Flights by Olga Tokarczuk translated by Jennifer Croft
  6. The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
  7. Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
  8. Upturned Earth by Karen Jennings
  9. The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
  10. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
  11. Motherhood by Sheila Heti
  12. Tin Man by Sarah Winman
  13. Melmoth by Sarah Perry
  14. The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling
  15. Crudo by Olivia Laing
  16. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
  17. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
  18. Milkman by Anna Burns
  19. Spark by Naoki Matayoshi translated by Alison Watts
  20. The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey
  21. Middle England by Jonathan Coe
  22. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  23. Kilo by Toby Muse
  24. Finding Clara by Anika Scott
  25. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
  26. The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually by Helen Cullen
  27. We Are Animals by Tim Ewins
  28. Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession
  29. You Will Never Be Forgotten by Mary South
  30. The Book of Shanghai by various authors
  31. A Bookshop in Algiers by Kaouther Adimi translated by Chris Andrews
  32. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
  33. The Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees translated by Max Weiss
  34. The Codes of Love by Hannah Persuad
  35. Ordinary People by Diana Evans
  36. Watermarks by Lenka Janiurek
  37. You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr
  38. Love Me To Death by Susan Gee
  39. This Is Not a Book About Charles Darwin by Emma Darwin
  40. Saving Lucia by Anna Vaught
  41. What Doesn’t Kill You by various authors
  42. I Wanted You To Know by Laura Pearson
  43. The Sound Mirror by Heidi James
  44. Sky Light Rain by Judy Darley
  45. Conjure Women by Afia Atakora
  46. The Dressing-Up Box by David Constantine
  47. The Distance From Four Points by Margo Orlando Littell
  48. Sea Wife by Amity Gaige
  49. What’s Left of Me is Yours by Stephanie Scott
  50. How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  51. The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  52. Tapestry by Beth Duke
  53. Dancers on the Shore by William Melvin Kelley
  54. The Almost Mothers by Laura Besley
  55. Famished by Anna Vaught
  56. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  57. The Book of Cairo by various authors
  58. The Familiars by Stacey Halls
  59. Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
  60. Echo Hall by Virginia Moffatt
  61. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  62. A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelley
  63. The Naseby Horses by Dominic Brownlow
  64. For When I’m Gone by Rebecca Ley
  65. Inside the Beautiful Inside by Emily Bullock
  66. Long Live the Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth translated by Charlotte Barslund
  67. The Girl from the Hermitage by Molly Gartland
  68. A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington
  69. Girl by Maria Straw-Cinar
  70. Exercises in Control by Annabel Banks
  71. The Secret of Creek Cottage by Tina M. Edwards
  72. Should We Fall Behind by Sharon Duggal
  73. Love Orange by Natasha Randall
  74. A Place Remote by Gwen Goodkin
  75. The Same Ledge by Daniel James
  76. PMSL by Luce Brett
  77. Bringing Up Race by Uju Asika
  78. Running the Orient by Gavin Boyter
  79. The Night of the Flood by Zoe Somerville
  80. Sway by Dr Pragya Agarwal
  81. Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie
  82. The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal
  83. I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite
  84. Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again by Katherine Angel
  85. In the Sweep of the Bay by Cath Barton
  86. Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
  87. Everything Is Fine by Gillian Harvey
  88. A Necessary Blessing by Sarah Head
  89. The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor
  90. Three Rival Sisters by Marie-Louise Gagneur translated by Anna Aitken and Polly Mackintosh
  91. The Servant by Maggie Richell-Davies
  92. Cat Step by Alison Irvine
  93. Exit Management by Naomi Booth
  94. Panenka by Ronan Hession
  95. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  96. Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams
  97. Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
  98. Understanding Children and Teens by Judy Bartkowiak
  99. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
  100. The Unravelling of Maria by F.J. Curlew
  101. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin
  102. The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
  103. Asylum Road by Olivia Sudjic
  104. The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn
  105. Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel by Drew Gummerson
  106. You Will Have a Black Labrador by Nino Gugunishvili

Review: You Will Have a Black Labrador by Nino Gugunishvili (2020)

You Will Have a Black Labrador by Nino Gugunishvili


Love, memories, family, enduring friendships, cooking, movies, dogs, travels, hairstyles, and saying Yes to many No’s in a witty, yet often sentimental, journey of self-discovery…

You Will Have a Black Labrador is a collection of semiautobiographical essays forming a narrative about a modern Georgian woman. Her stories range from the search for a perfect romantic partner to exploring food as an integral part of the Georgian culture. Many of the vignettes centre on childhood memories or weird family traditions, such as the way family members stay connected no matter if they’re deceased or alive. One essay reveals how making a simple omelette can change your life; and that No can be the most powerful word in any language. She shows us, too, that a haircut can be a tribute to the movies you love as well as a path to your freedom; and how owning a dog always brings unexpected experiences. In this poignantly humorous collection, reality mixes and interferes with an imaginative world in so many surprising ways.


My final read of 2020 was this utterly delightful little book, kindly sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. I love something a bit different, as my two regular readers may know, and the idea of semiautobiographical essays intrigued me, so when Nino sent me a lovely email offering to send me her book, I jumped at the chance.

This is a slim volume that takes no time at all to read – I gulped down Nino’s vignette-like essays in a single sitting before my cup of tea had time to get cold. With titles like “A Long Story of a Short Hair” and “A Belated Apology to My Dog,” this is a wonderfully quirky, family-centred, personal exploration, and I thoroughly enjoyed my brief time in Nino’s bright, funny company. She has a lovely turn of phrase, and the book strikes exactly the right tone between wry and reflective.

There are some interesting insights into Georgian culture, as well as plenty of refreshingly honest confessions and amusing anecdotes. There is a warmth to Nino’s writing, a curiosity and generosity that shines through, and it is a pleasure to read her stories.

This charming little book feels like a proper chat with an old friend, and in these isolated times, what could be more comforting than that? I would recommend this to anyone who is finding long tomes difficult to get into at the moment – this is the perfect reading slump buster, a brief window into a bright and funny mind.

You Will Have a Black Labrador by Nino Gugunishvili is out now and is available to purchase here.

Review: Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel by Drew Gummerson (2020)

Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel by Drew Gummerson


You could’ve been someone, you could’ve been a contender, yet instead you ended up here, a dishwasher at the Flamingo Hotel. From the death of your mother, to homelessness, to insanity, and back again, to an encounter with an American serial killer, a love affair with a performance artist, to the loss of your foreskin, to living in a shed, and certain bum operations, you have only ever wanted one thing…

To find someone worse off than yourself.

And now’s your chance.

You’ve got seven nights…at the Flamingo Hotel.


Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel is the first book to be published by new indie press Bearded Badger. It is very exciting to see a new indie publisher (especially one with such a delightful name/logo) and the fact that the Badger has burst onto the scene with this daringly different, totally mad but utterly brilliant book bodes very, very well indeed. Huge thanks to Paul for reaching out and sending me a copy of Drew’s book in exchange for an honest review.

The most obvious stylistic feature of this book is of course the second person “you” point of view. I’ve read quite a few short stories which use this voice, but not many novels – Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City is the only one that comes readily to my mind. It’s a tricky voice, and one that has the potential to sound gimmicky, but Gummerson absolutely smashes it: the direct address, the sense of complicity, the capacity for alternating between effrontery and empathy, all add so much to the richness of the eccentric tapestry he weaves. This is not experimentation for its own sake: the point of view fits the story perfectly.

And what a story! There are so many crazy, crude, shocking surprises in this book that I don’t want to divulge too much. If you are easily offended by graphic descriptions of sex and bodily functions, you’ll want to steer clear of this one, but the surface level of puerile humour is far from the whole story. Seven Nights is clever, it’s insightful, and it’s far more complex in structure than it initially appears. Following the protagonist through the week results in some magnificent and hilarious set pieces, but what is most impressive is the way that the story BUILDS, almost without the reader noticing, until, by the end, this outrageous, filthy, utterly outlandish tale becomes something that is surprisingly deeply moving.

Finally, and you’ll have to trust me on this rather odd point: the bums and willies (and there are a LOT of bums in this book, always referred to with deliberately childish terminology, sometimes featuring in rather surprising ways) are there for a reason. The protagonist is undergoing a really quite poignant struggle with his own sexuality. It is subtly and quite beautifully done. This novel is hugely funny: it’s rude, bizarre, brightly original – but most importantly, beneath the jokes and the eccentricity, it tells a very human story, and it does so brilliantly.

I’m absolutely thrilled to have had the chance to read this book, and I urge you to give it a try, supporting a fab new indie press into the bargain.

Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel by Drew Gummerson is out now from Bearded Badger Publishing and is available to purchase here.

Review: A Sparrow Alone by Mim Eichmann (2020) #TheWriteReads #BlogTour

A Sparrow Alone by Mim Eichman


1890s. Colorado. Following her mother’s sudden death, thirteen-year-old Hannah Owens is hired as domestic help by a wealthy doctor’s family in Colorado Springs. When the doctor declares bankruptcy and abandons his family to finance his mistress Pearl DeVere’s brothel, Hannah is thrown into a world of gold mining bonanzas and busts, rampant prostitution and the economic, political and cultural upheavals of the era. Two of Cripple Creek’s most colorful historic characters, Winfield Scott Stratton, eccentric owner of the richest gold mine in Cripple Creek, and Pearl DeVere, the beautiful madam of The Old Homestead come to life as this old-fashioned, coming-of-age saga unfolds, a tribute to the women who set the stage for women’s rights.


Many thanks to The Write Reads and the author for my spot on the tour, and for providing me with a digital copy of the book. I was really intrigued by this book – I love historical fiction, and the setting was not one I had read much about.

Cripple Creek comes alive in this book, as Eichmann repopulates the mining town with characters both historical and fictional. The novel doesn’t shy away from the harsh, brutal reality of life for women at the time – in a way, despite the very different setting, it reminded me of Maggie Richell-Davies’ excellent novel The Servant, which I read last year (and not just because the protagonists share a name!). Both books expose the vulnerability of being a lower class woman in their respective societies, and the terrible power men wield over their lives and their bodies. In A Sparrow Alone, themes of prostitution and exploitation are explored in myriad ways: it is a bleak picture, but within the constraints of their situations, the resourcefulness and resilience of the women shine through.

Hannah is an engaging protagonist, and I enjoyed following her story. The fictionalised versions of real historical characters are well done, and Stratton in particular is a fascinating character – although I found him much more disturbing than the protagonist seemed to. The dialogue between characters occasionally sacrifices realism at the altar of exposition, and there are a lot of lengthy discourses which could have been more subtly folded into the narrative, but the content is interesting, and it didn’t detract too much from the story. Likewise, I found the pacing a bit uneven: important events sometimes take place off-stage, and for me, the ending was slightly rushed. Despite these little quibbles, however, I did find myself immersed in Hannah’s world and keen to find out what happened next.

A Sparrow Alone is an entertaining, fast-paced story which paints a vivid picture of life for women at the time. There is a sequel, Muskrat Ramble, coming out in March this year – fans of historical sagas should check out these books and discover Cripple Creek for themselves!

About the Author

(from Mim Eichmann’s website):

Mim Eichmann has found that her creative journey has taken her down many exciting, interwoven pathways.  For well over two decades she was known primarily in the Chicago area as the artistic director and choreographer of Midwest Ballet Theatre and director of its home, Midwest Ballet Academy, bringing full-length professional ballet performances to thousands of dance lovers every year and was the recipient of many arts’ programming grants.   A desire to become involved again in the folk music world brought about the creation of her acoustic quartet Trillium, now in its 15th year, a folk band well known for its eclectic repertoire performing throughout the Midwest that has also released four cds.  She’s also written the lyrics and music for two award-winning original children’s cds, “Why Do Ducks Have Webby Toes?” and “Wander Down Beyond the Rainbow” and occasionally schedules concerts of her children’s music and movement programs.

Always captivated by the writings, diaries and journals of late 19th century women, as well as that era’s economic, social and political upheavals, Ms. Eichmann has now put pen to paper and the historical fiction novel she has been passionately researching, its rich synopsis gradually evolving over many years, has finally become a reality.  We hope you’ll enjoy “A Sparrow Alone” and its sequel, “Muskrat Ramble.”

Author website: https://www.mimeichmann.com/

Purchase link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sparrow-Alone-Mim-Eichmann-ebook/dp/B08468BL9S