Blog Post: Why I’m Keeping My Book Blog

Some Bookish Thoughts

So, it’s been a while since I’ve written a long, rambling post on my blog, and I’m sure you’ve missed it. I’ve been seeing a lot of disillusionment about book blogging on my Twitter feed, and I am far from immune to it myself. A few months ago, I was wondering what the point of my blog was, when my tweets and Instagram posts seem to get a lot more engagement. I mean, my blog views are LOW, and yet a silly tweet I posted about my kids went viral. Social media is certainly a funny one. And the effort that goes into writing blog posts is fairly considerable – it’s a time-consuming (not a) business, and I fully understand why people might start to feel jaded. It’s always worth reflecting and considering whether we’re spending our time on the right things, and I think we’ll all come to different conclusions.

For me, I needed to think back to why I started blogging about my reading in the first place. I wanted a reading record, somewhere to note down what I had read and a few thoughts about the books. For YEARS, it was an inconsistent, highly personal mish-mash of posts, mostly what I now know as ‘monthly wrap-ups’, and the only person who read it with any regularity was my lovely bookish auntie. But it was somewhere to keep track of what I’d read, and I was happy enough with that.

Then I stopped reading. Unsurprisingly, this coincided with having two babies in two years, and a full time career, and a general creative lull. The blog went on pause while life went on. I lost parts of myself, and found new parts, and occasionally I’d have a reading binge on my Kindle, but I was lucky to read five books a year. Then, in 2019, after the total sleep deprivation had eased, and my creative spark returned, I found books again. I read quite a lot (by previous years’ standards) and I started keeping a list again. I thought, why not revive the blog, and go back to keeping my monthly log? I think that’s when I moved it to WordPress – but at this stage it was still a private thing, a personal record.

In February 2020 I remembered a Twitter account I’d set up five years previously and never used, and figured why not post my January Reading on there? This, of course, led me to discover that my personal, private hobby of ‘book blogging’ was in fact A THING.

Fast forward to now: I actually get sent proofs of books that aren’t out yet; I have authors messaging me to ask if I want to review their books; I sign up for the occasional blog tour; I have fully returned to physical books and learned the weird, paradoxical joy/terror of the teetering TBR pile. It’s simultaneously amazing and overwhelming, and I’ve had to learn to occasionally say ‘no’ to books – which is HARD. My record of my hobby has become something more public, something with expectations and commitments, and that is quite a strange thing in and of itself.

I’ve also dipped my toe into Instagram, which I fall in and out of love with on a regular basis. I go through phases of really enjoying ‘stack challenges’ and setting up arty shots, and then I have weeks when I just don’t feel like posting at all. I’ll be honest, I find Instagram quite hard work, and I can’t pretend to understand the dreaded ‘algorithm’ at all. For me, it feels less personal, and I don’t post full reviews there. Although I do read them, and enjoy them, so I’m not quite sure what it is that stops me. I think I don’t like having a word limit, and also I find it harder to keep track of my reviews as neatly as I can on here.

After much ruminating, what it boils down to is this: if the ARCs stopped tomorrow, and my blog went 100% offline, would I still keep writing it? For me, the answer is yes. I like writing down my personal response to books, and I love having a record of what I have read (I am a list geek – lists are the best). If I was only reading books I’d bought, as indeed I was doing for many, many years, I’d still be noting down my thoughts on them and making lists and so forth. It’s useful to me as both a reader and a writer. I like to see where I’m falling into the trap of sticking to a couple of genres; where I’m neglecting forms I love, like short stories and literature in translation. It allows me to take stock of my reading and see where I need to diversify. Ultimately, I guess, I’m keeping my blog for the selfish reason that it is still of immense value to me personally.

I will add that, with the new dimension of ARCs and author requests, I know that Twitter shout-outs and Instagram are also important – if I am sent a proof, and I enjoy it, I want to shout about it in the most effective way possible (let’s be honest, that is WHY I’ve been sent it) – but I can do that, too – I can post a nice pic on Instagram, tweet about it, support the author as much as I can. I can do all that as well as writing my reviews and my monthly wrap ups for me. I do want to be a part of creating buzz around books I love – it’s a great feeling – and I know that my blog reviews aren’t actually a huge part of that – but I still want to do them, because I still enjoy it.

Finally (yep, nearly done!) I want to say that there are masses of absolutely fantastic bookish folk who don’t have a blog, and who shout about books in loads of different ways, and I think it is essential that we have all these different mediums for doing so. I’m excited by the enthusiasm of the Book Tok crowd, and the hugely positive effect they have on persuading potential readers to make purchases – but I also know that I really don’t want to join in that particular strand, as even Instagram feels almost too much for me! Find what makes you happy, what’s fun and makes you feel like you’re getting your message and your love of books across, and do that. Change it up when you need to, take a break from the bits that start to feel like work, and remember there are a million different ways to share the book love. I like having my own space to write down my thoughts, and to be honest, the low stats make it fairly unintimidating, so for me, for the foreseeable, I’m keeping my book blog. I’ll do me – you do you, and let’s all keep enjoying all the fab books that come our way.

Happy reading!

Ellie x

August 2021 Reading: Fireborn; Cecily; The Light Years; Snow Country; The Hierarchies; This Good Book

August was a very difficult month, as I was very unwell and ended up in hospital for three days, followed by quite a long recovery period. I’m amazed I managed to read anything at all last month, but I did, and these six crackers are all well worth a read. I’m just about back on form now, so I’m hoping to get through a few more books in September, but do you know, I read less than usual and the world didn’t end (okay, poor choice of words, as it is all a bit apocalyptic atm…) – so I guess there is probably a lesson there about taking off the pressure when it comes to my reading!

Fireborn by Aisling Fowler (2021)

I was thrilled to be on the Write Reads tour for this fantastic MG adventure. The story of Twelve and her companions makes for a cracking read, with monsters and magic aplenty, plus there is an adorable squirrel called Widge – what more could you want?! I’m looking forward to the next instalment. You can read my full blog tour review here.

Cecily by Annie Garthwaite (2021)

Cecily was our @Squadpod3 Book Club Pick for August, and I loved chatting about this novel and getting to ask the author about it in our Q and A. This is a deeply intelligent historical novel, impeccably researched, and it gave me a new perspective on the role of women in politics during this era. You can read my full review of Cecily here.

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1990)

This is the first volume in the Cazalet Chronicles series, most of which I read a very long time ago. I’ve got the newly reissued editions, which are absolutely beautiful, and I reread The Light Years while recovering from being ill – it was exactly the right thing! You can read my review here. I can’t wait to crack on with the rest of the series!

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks (2021)

I was so excited to receive a proof copy of the new Sebastian Faulks novel, and Snow Country did not disappoint. An elegant, original story that shows what a fantastic writer Faulks is. You can read my full review of Snow Country here.

The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson (2021)

I’d seen bloggers whose opinion I trust implicitly raving about this book, so of course I had to see what all the fuss was about. The Hierarchies is brilliant – perfect for fans of Atwood’s dystopian fiction (me!) and Sylv.ie is a character who will stay with me for a long time. You can read my full review here.

This Good Book by Iain Hood (2021)

I really loved this book, and I think it is going to be one of my top reads of 2021. It’s a clever, funny, fresh examination of morality and art and platonic friendship, and I just think it’s one of the most original novels I’ve read in a long time. You can read my full review of This Good Book here.

All in all, I’m really pleased that I managed to read these wonderful books last month, and I hope at least one of them has piqued your interest! Do let me know what you’ve been reading – am always looking for more recommendations!

Happy reading!

Ellie x

Review: This Good Book by Iain Hood (2021)

Blurb

‘Sometimes I wonder, if I had known that it was going to take me fourteen years to paint this painting of the Crucifixion with Douglas as Jesus, and what it would take for me to paint this painting, would I have been as happy as I was then?’

Susan Alison MacLeod, a Glasgow School of Art graduate with a dark sense of humour, first lays eyes on Douglas MacDougal at a party in 1988, and resolves to put him on the cross in the Crucifixion painting she’s been sketching out, but her desire to create ‘good’ art and a powerful, beautiful portrayal means that a final painting doesn’t see the light of day for fourteen years.

Over the same years, Douglas’s ever-more elaborately designed urine-based installations bring him increasing fame, prizes and commissions, while his modelling for Susan Alison, who continues to work pain and suffering on to the canvas, takes place mostly in the shadows. This Good Book is a wickedly funny, brilliantly observed novel that spins the moral compass and plays with notions of creating art.

Review

Huge thanks to Will at Renard Press for sending me a copy of This Good Book in exchange for an honest review.

I’m going to have to do it: THIS is a damn GOOD BOOK (sorry, not sorry). It really is something special, and I will try and tell you why, although to be honest, I don’t want to be too specific, as I think a lot of the ‘frisson’ comes from not knowing too much about it before you start reading. I devoured it in one sitting, staying up way past my bedtime, as I just had to keep reading. That’s a pretty good sign.

What I can tell you is that you won’t have met a character quite like the narrator of This Good Book before. Susan Alison is a creation of literary genius – she is somehow straightforward and enigmatic at the same time both blunt and sharp, dry-humoured and naive all at once. She isn’t endearing or empathetic, but my god, she is fascinating. There is also something almost mesmerising about the rhythm of the dialogue, with the repeated “And I said,” “And he said,” “And I said” structure; it chugs along like a runaway train, and it is impossible not to get caught up in the hectic whirl of conversation.

This book is full of tricks and delights, playing with structure and language, and yet managing to avoid being gimmicky. I gradually realised that the paragraph breaks had one word repeated either side, worked into the text so naturally that I had to flick back and make sure that I wasn’t inventing it. It’s a small thing, but it is an example of how the narrator AND the author play with the form of the novel, a subtle acknowledgment that this is a carefully constructed work of art, which of course links back to the main themes of This Good Book.

I think what I love most about this book is that it is a hugely intelligent and philosophical examination of the big question: “What is Art?” without being at all pretentious – on the contrary, it is loads of fun, and I laughed a lot. It packs in so much – religion, morality, unlikely friendships, the act of creation – and manages to be playful without being frivolous. There is a darkness that creeps in, too, but I won’t spoil anything here, except to say that the ending left me reeling. I feel very strongly that books like this are why we NEED indie publishers willing to reach outside the mainstream – it is a very exciting thing as a reader to discover a book that feels entirely new. I can’t recommend this book highly enough – you honestly won’t have read anything like it before.

This Good Book by Iain Hood is published by Renard Press and is available to purchase here.

Review: The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson (2021)

Blurb

Your Husband is the reason for your existence. You are here to serve him. You must not harm your Husband. Nor may you harm any human. Sylv.ie is a synthetic woman. A fully sentient robot, designed to cater to her Husband’s every whim. She lives alone on the top floor of his luxurious home, her existence barely tolerated by his human wife and concealed from their child. Between her Husband’s visits, deeply curious about the world beyond her room, Sylv.ie watches the family in the garden–hears them laugh, cry, and argue. Longing to experience more of life, she confides her hopes and fears only to her diary. But are such thoughts allowed? And if not, what might the punishment be?

As Sylv.ie learns more about the world and becomes more aware of her place within it, something shifts inside her. Is she malfunctioning, as her Husband thinks, or coming into her own? As their interactions become increasingly fraught, she fears he might send her back to the factory for reprogramming. If that happens, her hidden diary could be her only link to everything that came before. And the only clue that she is in grave danger. Set in a recognizable near future and laced with dark, sly humor, Ros Anderson’s deeply observant debut novel is less about the fear of new technology than about humans’ age-old talent for exploitation. In a world where there are now two classes of women–“born” and “created”–the growing friction between them may have far-reaching consequences no one could have predicted.

Review

I’d seen a few blogger friends posting about this book, and I am a big fan of the work that Dead Ink publishes (Exit Management by Naomi Booth was my book of the year last year), so I treated myself to a copy from new indie bookshop Bearded Badger Books (and I may have chucked in one of their fabulous tote bags too, because, you know, I love a tote).

The premise is, admittedly, somewhat familiar – I read the blurb to my husband and he said, “Right, so it’s like that TV show Humans?” but remember, folks, he is a non-reader who doesn’t understand that even a familiar concept can make a fantastic story if done well, so don’t let that put you off. Yes, okay, sex robot gains sentience and wants more from life may be something we’ve seen before, but trust me, the way that this book is written makes it an incredible, fresh, original read.

The success of the story hinges on the brilliance of of Sylv.ie as a character. The first person narration and the diary-style episodes keep us immersed in her point of view, learning and understanding more about her situation only as she does. It is also a really good mix of dramatic events and more ruminative sections on really quite deep questions of what it means to be human or not, to have consciousness and free will in varying degrees – it’s fascinating. But it’s also a funny book, full of wicked humour and sharp observations. One of the joys of reading a story from a non-human point of the view is the mirror it holds up to the ridiculousness of so much of human behaviour, and Sylv.ie’s puzzlement at our foibles is wonderfully depicted.

I wasn’t expecting to be so moved by this book, but I got so caught up in Sylv.ie’s story. The twists and turns of her story are much less predictable than the premise suggests, and there are plenty of surprising, even shocking, moments. The ending is just right (I shall say no more about it for fear of spoilers!) and I finished the book feeling satisfied in that lovely way that the very best stories leave you feeling.

As dystopian fiction teeters ever closer to reality, books like The Hierarchies take on a new and frightening resonance, and I think this heightens the reading experience. It helps that Ros Anderson writes beautifully – there are many phrases and sentences that will stay with me from this book. It’s a story that leaves a lasting impression, and I highly recommend it.

The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson is published by Dead Ink and is available to purchase here.

Review: Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks (2021)

Blurb

1914: Aspiring journalist Anton arrives in Vienna where he meets Delphine, a woman of experience and deep secrets. Entranced by the light of first love, Anton comes to life. Until his country declares war on hers.

1927: For Lena, life with her mother in a small town has been cosseted and cold. After a few years of schooling, she encounters a young lawyer who spirits her away to Vienna. However, what she imagines to be love soon crumbles, and she leaves the city behind to take a post at the snow-capped sanatorium, the Schloss Seeblick.

1933: Having lost many friends on the Eastern Front, Anton is sent to write about the mysterious Schloss Seeblick. In this place, on the banks of a silvery lake where the roots of human suffering are laid bare, two people will see each other as if for the first time.


Sweeping across Europe as it recovers from one war and awaits the coming of another, SNOW COUNTRY is a landmark novel of exquisite yearnings, dreams of youth and the sanctity of hope. In elegant, shimmering prose, Sebastian Faulks has produced an epic love story of timeless resonance.

Review

I was very excited to get an early read of Snow Country (even my family were impressed that I had an early copy of the new Sebastian Faulks novel – first time they’ve shown any interest in my book post!). Huge thanks to Najma at Hutchinson for sending me a proof copy in exchange for an honest review.

This is the second novel in the planned Austrian trilogy (which began with Human Traces), but it can absolutely be read as a standalone story. It is an elegant book, sweeping in its themes and locations, while also managing to feel intimate. The two protagonists, Anton and Lena (pronounced Layna), are complicated and original, their personalities built up in multiple layers, revealing a psychological astuteness on the part of the author that matches the setting of the Schloss Seeblick sanatorium. Lena in particular is such an interesting, unique character – I can’t think of any other character I have read recently to compare her to, and I loved seeing the idiosyncratic way she interacts with the world.

Faulks excels at the two cornerstones of a great novel: description and dialogue. The balance between the two is pitch-perfect, and the settings, from early twentieth century Vienna to the lakeside sanatorium surrounded by snow-capped mountains, feel as integral to the plot and the character development as the interactions between the characters themselves. There is something slantwise in the approach to the story that really intrigued me – perhaps connected to the inter-war setting much of the novel takes place in, a sense of sliding into the liminal spaces of history and closely examining the psychology of people who seem ordinary but are in fact anything but.

From a writing point of view, there’s so much to learn from Faulks about crafting beautiful prose that serves the story, that is not embellished for its own sake – every sentence, every description moves the narrative on. It flows wonderfully, and is a pleasure to read. I highly recommend this evocative story of the quiet places between the big events of history, the frenzied psychological activity taking place beneath a lake of seeming calm.

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks is published by Hutchinson and is available to purchase here.

Review: The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1990)

Blurb

Elegantly constructed and told with exceptional grace, The Light Years is a modern classic of twentieth-century English life and is the first novel in Elizabeth Jane Howard’s extraordinary, bestselling family saga The Cazalet Chronicles.

Every summer, the Cazalet brothers – Hugh, Edward and Rupert – return to the family home in the heart of the Sussex countryside with their wives and children. There, they are joined by their parents and unmarried sister Rachel to enjoy two blissful months of picnics, games, and excursions to the coast. But despite the idyllic setting, nothing can be done to soothe the siblings’ heartache: Hugh is haunted by the ravages of the Great War, Edward is torn between his wife and his latest infidelity, and Rupert is in turmoil over his inability to please his demanding wife. Meanwhile, Rachel risks losing her only chance at happiness because of her unflinching loyalty to the family.

With cover artwork exclusively designed by artist Luke Edward Hall, this will be an edition to treasure. The Light Years is followed by Marking Time, the second book in the series.

Review

I can’t tell you how delighted I was to receive a set of the newly reissued Cazalet Chronicles – huge thanks to Rosie Wilson at Pan Macmillan for some of the most beautiful book post I have ever been sent! I also realised that I have only read four out of the five (many years ago), so I am really excited to reread the whole series and then catch up with what I’ve missed!

Rereading a book that you haven’t read in years is always a bit of a risk, especially when it is one you absolutely loved. What if your tastes have changed? What if it’s not as good as you remember? Fortunately, with Elizabeth Jane Howard, I knew within a few paragraphs that I was still in love with her writing. I am going to sound a bit like I am describing a cake here, but, bear with me – her prose somehow manages to be both light and rich at the same time. There is a delicate touch that makes the story extremely easy to read, and yet each page is imbued with dozens of tiny details and tactile descriptions that elevate it beyond being merely a quick read.

The characters came flooding back to me – each one as complex and multi-faceted as anyone you might meet in real life. I remembered my favourites, and those I loved to hate. Moments, incidents, sometimes individual sentences stirred my memory as if it had been days and not years since I last read them. There is a beautiful balance of light and dark, of humour and poignancy, and there was one moment in particular (no spoilers) that I realised had deeply upset me years ago and that somehow I had never really forgotten it. But there were also moments that made me laugh, that filled me with affection for the characters, even as they reveal their flaws. I genuinely think that EJH operates on a a kind of higher plane of writing – it’s very close to perfect. If you haven’t read these books yet, now is the time; and if you read them a long time ago, let me tell you, they absolutely stand up to a revisit.

This is a book that etches itself on your psyche and leaves a permanent impression, and it was such a joy to retrace those shapes. I’m desperate to fit in Marking Time, the second book in the series, as soon as possible.

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard is published by Pan Macmillan and is available to purchase here.

Review: Cecily by Annie Garthwaite (2021)

Blurb

‘Rebellion?’
The word is a spark. They can start a fire with it, or smother it in their fingertips.
She chooses to start a fire.

You are born high, but marry a traitor’s son. You bear him twelve children, carry his cause and bury his past.

You play the game, against enemies who wish you ashes. Slowly, you rise.

You are Cecily.

But when the king who governs you proves unfit, what then?

Loyalty or treason – death may follow both. The board is set. Time to make your first move.

Told through the eyes of its greatest unknown protagonist, this astonishing debut plunges you into the closed bedchambers and bloody battlefields of the first days of the Wars of the Roses, a war as women fight it.

Review

Cecily was our @Squadpod3 Book Club Pick for August, and I want to say a big thank you to Viking Books for sending me a beautiful finished copy for the readalong. The cover, designed by Julia Connolly absolutely deserves a shout-out – it is stunning, and so perfect for the bold, dramatic story contained within it.

There are a lot of ‘feminist retellings’ around at the moment, and I am a massive fan of many of them. However, I think it’s worth stating that it’s not a cohesive ‘genre’ – there is as much variety and difference between the books that get thrust under this label as between any others. Cecily, in particular, stands out as very much its own type of book. Yes, it introduces us to a lesser known character from history, and centres her rather than the male characters, but what I found most interesting is how bound up in the ‘male’ world of power and politics Cecily actually is. The history, which I was only vaguely familiar with, of her husband’s problematic relationship with the King is not pushed to the side to allow for a more ‘domestic’ narrative – rather, Cecily IS a part of that history, a powerful figure in her own right, just as devious and cunning and in control as any of the men – if not more so at times. The book is not so much saying “but lets look at what the women were doing while history was being made,” rather, “lets look at how the women made the history itself.” It’s fascinating, and it really opened my eyes – I was not aware that a noblewoman at the time could wield such influence.

There is a lot of political intrigue in this novel, and I think it would appeal to fans of the Wolf Hall trilogy – there is that same sense of the author knowing her source material inside out, weaving fictional conversations out of what the records state actually happened. It’s quite a dense read, but the punchy present tense and the high stakes keep the energy going, so that even as I occasionally had to go back and double-check names and places (NB there are handy family trees at the back of the book), the momentum was never lost. The writing is sharp and immediate, and I really enjoyed Cecily’s direct way of speaking, her assertiveness and confidence – in many ways it was Richard who came across as the more hesitant of the two. Their relationship is so well done – it is refreshing to see a marriage that, while not a love match, actually transforms over the years into a real partnership, and the scenes between the two of them were my favourite.

I also need to give a shout out to Marguerite – I think I was one of the only people in our Twitter chat who actually really liked her as a character! She has the same fierce survival instincts as Cecily, and in a lot of ways, the two women are at the heart of the power wrangling at play here. I probably would have read a dual narrative that also gave Marguerite’s perspective, but Garthwaite has already packed so much in that this was not the place for it!

The ending is fabulous – both satisfying and leaving it open for the story to continue, which, I believe, is on the cards. Annie Garthwaite is an author to watch – I have a feeling this is just the start of an incredible writing career. Historical fiction fans, get her firmly on your radar!

Cecily by Annie Garthwaite is published by Viking and is available to purchase here.

Review: Yours Cheerfully by AJ Pearce (2021)

Blurb

London, September, 1941.

Following the departure of the formidable Editor, Henrietta Bird, from Woman’s Friend magazine, things are looking up for Emmeline Lake as she takes on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Her relationship with boyfriend Charles is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, is still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, but bravely looking to the future. Together, the friends are determined to Make a Go of It.

When the Ministry of Information calls on Britain’s women’s magazines to help recruit desperately needed female workers to the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help. But when she and Bunty meet a young woman who shows them the very real challenges that women war workers face, Emmy must tackle a life-changing dilemma between doing her duty, and standing by her friends.

Every bit as funny, touching and cheering as AJ Pearce’s debut, Dear Mrs BirdYours Cheerfully is a celebration of friendship, a testament to the strength of women and the importance of lifting each other up, even in the most challenging times.

Review

AJ Pearce’s debut, Dear Mrs Bird, was one of those books I’d seen around on Twitter and kept planning to get hold of, so when the lovely Camilla Elworthy at Picador sent me a copy of the sequel, Yours Cheerfully, it was the perfect excuse to go for the double. I read both books back to back, and it was an absolute pleasure. Dear Mrs Bird is such a charming, warm, moving book that I was a little bit worried that the sequel wouldn’t live up to it – absolutely no need for such a concern!

Yours Cheerfully is a delight, a proper treat of a book, and I was so happy to be able to immediately spend more time with Emmy and Bunty, as well as meeting new characters along the way. Pearce does an amazing job of internalising the ‘Blitz spirit,’ of weaving it into the prose and the very fabric of the characters themselves. And yet, despite the ‘keep calm and carry on’ mentality displayed by Emmy and her friends, the novel explores the more complex aspects of being a woman in wartime – the conflicting duties of family and country, the problems of unsympathetic employers and torn loyalties. Although it is very much rooted in its time period, there is a resonance beyond the setting that poignantly echoes down the generations.

Like Dear Mrs Bird, it is also a wonderfully funny book. I love novels that are able to balance emotion and humour seemingly effortlessly, letting the absurd sit alongside the meaningful, having characters laugh and joke just as often as they cry. It’s life, it’s real, it’s a funny old mess, and Pearce does it so well. Regular readers of my blog (hi, both!) will know that I often read pretty dark books, but I also sometimes find myself craving something lighter, more gentle in tone, and this hits the spot without tipping into oversentimentality. I finished this book with a strong desire to give my best friends a hug (which is not so easy to do these days) – there is such an uplifting message of the power of kindness, standing together, helping each other out. And isn’t that exactly what we need more of at the moment?

I’m really glad I read both of these books together, as it felt like a proper immersion in Emmy’s world. I don’t know if there is more to come from this particular series, but if there is, I’m all in, and I will certainly be reading whatever AJ Pearce comes out with next!

Yours Cheerfully by AJ Pearce is out now from Picador and is available to purchase here.

Review: Falling Is Like Flying by Manon Uphoff translated by Sam Garrett (2021)

Blurb

This is a story she never wanted to tell, but in the end she had no choice. When her older sister dies at the age of sixty-nine, it brings back a past the author thought she had left behind. Incensed, she delves back into her childhood, recreating the abusive world that she grew up in, ruled over by her tyrannical father, The Minotaur.

In a narrative by turns shockingly dark and strangely beautiful, she retraces her path through the phantasmagorical labyrinth, bringing a tale of silent trauma to a triumphant, raucous conclusion. Falling is Like Flying is an extraordinary autobiographical story of abuse and resilience, a literary triumph that reminds us what language is capable of.

Review

Many thanks to Tara at Pushkin Press for providing me with a proof copy of Falling Is Like Flying in exchange for an honest review.

This book comes with the biggest of all trigger warnings – hopefully clear from the blurb – this is a searing, flaying exploration of trauma and abuse, and I do think it needs to be read when you’re feeling strong enough. I can’t comment on what it would be like to read this as a survivor of abuse, but my advice would probably be approach with caution. Having said that, it is also an utterly remarkable book, a work that pushes past the unspeakable and breaks out into almost a whole new mode of prose. As dark and distressing as the subject matter is, the result is something transformative and quite beautiful.

There is a dual power to Uphoff’s words, as translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett. First, there is an emotional heft and weight, metallic and frightening, lurking in the hints and metaphors that circle around the story of Uphoff’s childhood. And then, as the narrative progresses, there is, gradually, a realisation of the work that is being done here, her story being subtly, beautifully, taken ownership of, transformed into a staggering work of literature that left me reeling after finishing it.

It is impossible to overstate the emotional impact of this book. But the greater surprise, and even, towards the very end, pleasure of Falling Is Like Flying is the sheer power of thought and language, of what can be achieved by a fierce intellect and almost unbearable honesty. This is extremely powerful work, and it feels like an honour to be invited into the story Uphoff did not want to tell, but which gave her no choice. I hope that the telling has brought her the peace she so deserves.

Falling Is Like Flying by Manon Uphoff translated by Sam Garrett is out now from Pushkin Press and is available to purchase here.

Review: Fault Lines by Emily Itami (2021)

Blurb

Mizuki is a Japanese housewife. She has a hardworking husband, two adorable children and a beautiful Tokyo apartment. It’s everything a woman could want, yet sometimes she wonders whether it would be more fun to throw herself off the high-rise balcony than spend another evening not talking to her husband or hanging up laundry.

Then, one rainy night, she meets Kiyoshi, a successful restaurateur. In him, she rediscovers freedom, friendship, a voice, and the neon, electric pulse of the city she has always loved. But the further she falls into their relationship, the clearer it becomes that she is living two lives – and in the end, we can choose only one.

Alluring, compelling, startlingly honest and darkly funny, Fault Lines is a bittersweet love story and a daring exploration of modern relationships from a writer to watch.

Review

Phoenix Books is the new imprint from Orion, and definitely one to watch. I was thrilled to receive a beautiful finished copy of Fault Lines (with gorgeous cover design by Holly Ovenden) in exchange for an honest review.

There is a growing and welcome trend in literature towards exploring the ‘dark side’ of motherhood, the unspoken thoughts we are too ashamed to articulate. Fault Lines is partly about this, about the yearning for more, the sense of loss of identity and endless tedium, stirring up a desire to rebel, and it is brilliantly depicted. In the close first person narrative of Mizuki, we are drawn into her story, which she relates to us as “one last scream” before she settles back down into her life. It is a short novel, and thoroughly immersive – I felt as if I was swimming in Mizuki’s consciousness for the duration of reading.

There are so many individual strands that come together beautifully. The descriptions of Tokyo as Mizuki discovers it anew through Kiyoshi’s eyes, taking him to her favourite hidden places, getting caught up in the glamour of his entrepreneurial lifestyle are rich and atmospheric, peeling back the layers of a city with many sides. The relationship itself feels fresh and original – it is exciting to see them get to know each other, falling in love without the predictable, cliched markers. There is so much emotion in this book, but it is handled so skilfully and delicately, overlaid with style and humour. It is a thoroughly modern book, unique and gripping in its unravelling of domestic mundanity and the darkness that lurks beneath.

I loved Itami’s writing – the prose is precise and piercing, descriptive without being overwritten, and I am really excited to read more of her work in the future. Do get your hands on this one if you haven’t already read it – this is a very special book.

Fault Lines by Emily Itami is out now from Phoenix Books and is available to purchase here.