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.

Review: Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro translated by Frances Riddle (2021)

Blurb

From the ‘Hitchcock of the River Plate’ (Corriere della Sera) comes Piñeiro’s third novel, a unique tale that interveaves crime fiction with intimate tales of morality and search for individual freedom.

After Rita is found dead in the bell tower of the church she used to attend, the official investigation into the incident is quickly closed. Her sickly mother is the only person still determined to find the culprit. Chronicling a difficult journey across the suburbs of the city, an old debt and a revealing conversation, Elena Knows unravels the secrets of its characters and the hidden facets of authoritarianism and hypocrisy in our society.

Review

Having absolutely loved Havana Year Zero earlier this year, I was very excited to read another offering from the brilliant Charco Press. Huge thanks to Carolina for sending me a proof copy of Elena Knows in exchange for an honest review.

I don’t read a lot of crime fiction, but whenever I do dip my toe in, I am reminded of just how expertly the best crime writers use plot. Although I wouldn’t categorise Elena Knows as a crime novel exactly, as Argentina’s top crime writer, Piñeiro certainly knows how to draw the reader into a mystery, and I was thoroughly engrossed in the story. What is so unusual about it is that the ‘detective’ figure is an elderly woman suffering from Parkinson’s disease. It is really refreshing to see a protagonist having to modify their investigations in order to accommodate their failing health – and there are some brilliant scenes of her painful progress to uncover the truth about her daughter’s death while managing her condition. It’s so cleverly done.

Elena is at the heart of this novel – she is its centre and its ‘voice’. Despite the third person narrative, the present tense and the lack of paragraphing gives the book an almost Woolfian stream-of-consciousness feel, and the three-act structure and haunting refrain of the title adds a theatrical element. There is something classical about it, even as it explores contemporary issues in Argentinian society.

This is a slim novel, and it didn’t take me long to read it, but it had an enormous emotional impact on me. So many themes are explored within its pages – the difficult mother-daughter relationship, the thorny issue of abortion in a Catholic country, self-knowledge, and the search for the ‘truth’ we want to find vs the real truth – there is so much packed in here, and yet all the threads are woven together seamlessly. It is both an intelligent book and a deeply moving one, and I highly recommend it. It’s another one I want to read in the original Spanish one day, though the translation, by Frances Riddle, is excellent.

Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro translated by Frances Riddle is published by Charco Press and is available to purchase here.

#UltimateBlogTour Review: #Fireborn by Aisling Fowler (2021) @fowler_aisling @The_WriteReads @HarperCollinsCh

Blurb

Lyra. Lucy. Percy. Once in a generation, a hero emerges whose story enthralls readers worldwide.

Fireborn is an epic quest, perfect for fans of the His Dark Materials and The School for Good and Evil series, that will spin readers into a magical world like no other–and introduce them to an unforgettable new heroine named Twelve.

Ember is full of monsters.

Twelve gave up her name and identity to train in the art of hunting them–so she says. The truth is much more deadly: she trains to take revenge on those who took her family from her.

But when Twelve’s new home is attacked, she’ll find herself on an unexpected journey, where her hidden past is inescapably intertwined with her destiny–and the very fate of her world.

Review

First of all, a huge thank you to the publisher and The Write Reads for my spot on the blog tour, and for my beautiful proof copy! I don’t read as much MG fiction as I should, but when I do (almost always persuaded by Dave at The Write Reads!), the writer in me learns so much about plot, and the reader in me loves being swept along in the adventure.

Fireborn is a cracking read. From the first pages, I was completely drawn into Twelve’s world, intrigued by the mystery of how she ended up at the Lodge and the role of the Hunters and the trainee Huntlings. There’s a kind of Spartan ferocity to the training sessions, and the anonymity provided by giving the students numbers instead of names adds to the sense of mystery and of the enforced end of childhood. But there are sweet, funny touches, too – Widge the squirrel is just a delight as Twelve’s constant companion, and even the verbal sparring between Twelve and the hateful Five is done with wry observational accuracy of how kids insult each other.

The action gets going nice and quickly, and it carries the reader along at the perfect pace, introducing new characters often enough to keep things fresh, but allowing time for each character to have their moment to shine. Fowler strikes a lovely balance between familiar fantastical elements that allow the reader to easily and quickly feel immersed in the world that she creates, and weaving those elements together in ways that feel new and exciting. I really want to list my favourite creatures, but as always, part of the joy is discovering them for yourself as you read, so I shall keep quiet!

There’s plenty of drama here, and quite a few twists that I didn’t see coming, but there are also tender moments, points where many of the characters show their flaws and vulnerabilities, and these deepen the emotional resonance of the more cinematic scenes. The setting is eerie and beautiful and sinister all at once – atmospheric and tautly described in Fowler’s sharp, impactful prose. The flashback scenes are really powerful and moving, and not always what you might expect. I think that’s a real strength of this book, actually – even when you think you know how a character might react or what their backstory may be, the author has a way of surprising you and making you reflect and reconsider.

There is so much great, subtle world-building here. There’s a real sense of the history and mythology of Ember bubbling away beneath the surface, and although at times my geeky side wanted to know much more than is revealed in this first book, I know that there will be plenty more to come from this series, so I will wait (im)patiently for the next instalment! I highly recommend this to MG fans, or to anyone who wants to read a damn good story!

About the Author

Aisling was born in 1985 and wishes that she had grown up in a magical, mountainous kingdom, but was actually raised in Surrey on a diet of books and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her early ‘adventure’ stories involved surprisingly little action and her first novel (3 pages long) was politely declined by publishers at age 11. After earning a BSc in Biology and working as a support worker and then a nurse, the idea for her debut novel, Fireborn, came to her as she moved back and forth between London and the US. Now based in Hackney, when she is not reading or writing, Aisling loves cooking and plotting adventures (for herself as well as her fictional characters). Fireborn will be published by HarperCollins in 2021.

Fireborn by Aisling Fowler will be published by HarperCollins on 30th September 2021 and is available to preorder here.

#SquadPodOnTour Blog Post: #WeAreAnimals by Tim Ewins @EwinsTim @squadpod3 @EyeAndLightning

We Are Animals

We Are Animals by Tim Ewins is published by Eye and Lightning Books. The ebook came out last year, and the beautiful paperback was launched on 26th July 2021. Over on @squadpod3 on Twitter and @squadpod2021 on Instagram, we’ve been shouting about this book as it’s a real gem you don’t want to miss! We’re also doing a #CakeAndCocktailBlast on Twitter and Instagram today, so make sure you’re following for that!

It has been SO much fun celebrating Tim Ewins’ wonderful book with the Squadpod over the past week or so. For this final post, I thought it would be nice to have a look back at the brilliant reviews and posts that have been shared. Hopefully as well as finding out a bit more about the book, you’ll find some more AWESOME book bloggers to follow!

I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for taking part, the publishers for their brilliant SQUADPOD discount promotion (see link at the end of this post – we are very excited to be a discount code!), and Tim for letting us shout about his brilliant book and being such a good sport about it all. I tell you, after organising just one tour, I take my hat off to the blog tour pros!

Back to the book…

Blurb

A cow looks out to sea, dreaming of a life that involves grass.

Jan is also looking out to sea. He’s in Goa, dreaming of the thief who stole his heart (and his passport) forty-six years ago. Back then, fate kept bringing them together, but lately it seems to have given up.

Jan has not. In his long search he has travelled the world, tangling with murderers and pick-pockets and accidentally holding a whole Russian town at imaginary gunpoint. Now he thinks if he just waits and does nothing, fate may find it easier to reunite them – if only he can shake off an annoying teenager who won’t go away. But then, perhaps an annoying teenager is exactly what Jan needs to help him find his old flame?

Featuring a menagerie of creatures, each with its own story to tell, We Are Animals is a comic Homeric odyssey with shades of Jonas Jonasson’s Hundred-Year-Old Man. A quirky, heart-warming tale of lost love, unlikely friendships and the mysteries of fate, it moves and delights in equal measure.

Squadpod Reviews

I reviewed We Are Animals last year, and if you fancy some dated 2020 references with your book reviews, you can check it out here. I stand by everything I said then, except Tim seems to do fewer silly voices these days. Shame. I’ll pull out the bit that is quoted in the actual paperback, much to my delight: “Not just a funny book – it’s a story with genuine heart. At times I was reminded of Jonas Jonasson’s novels, but in truth it’s hard to compare We Are Animals to other works: it is resolutely its own beast.”

The fabulous Zoe kicked off our current blog tour with this great review, in which she says that “overall the story is incredibly funny, joyous and just like a big hug.”

Lovely Jackie posted an extract from the book, in which we learn the importance of washing. We had another great extract from Kate, in which the story really homes in on the whole washing theme, this time focusing on the key issue of SOCKS. (Please note: the book contains other themes apart from laundry. I promise.)

Sue’s review contains possibly my favourite pull-quote of the tour: “Imagine, if you will, a case of Danny Boyle does Matt Haig, with delicious flashes of Douglas Adams,” and Vikkie, who also did all the graphics for the tour, superstar that she is, did a publication day spotlight for us too.

Jen did a fab Instagram review (this is really testing my wordpress ‘skills’ so if that link didn’t work, find her on Insta @travels.along.my.bookshelf) in which she called We Are Animals “a wonderful 5 star story of love” and picked out some beautiful moments to share with us. The quail!!!

Karen shared her review and called the book ” a really joyful story about love, unlikely friendships, unexpected events and fate,” and Emma posted a great Q and A with Tim – see if you can spot the response which she emailed me about, asking where the rest of Tim’s answer was. (Please note: the book also contains quirky humour.)

Hayley @shelflyfe did another lovely Instagram review (did that link work???) and brilliantly summed up the many different aspects of the book: “There is so much captured within We Are Animals: lost love; biological and chosen family; the importance of friendship; crime and thriller, and; the macrocosm of life and fate versus the microcosm of each small life, that impacts others in so many ways”

Danielle shared an extract in her Sunday Spotlight, detailing how to spot a vest (I swear, this one ISN’T about laundry), and Hayley @hayleylotusflo1 wrote a really lovely review in which she described We Are Animals as “philosophical, romantic, humorous and uplifting” and  “a love story, travelogue, meditation, comedy and tragedy all in one.”

And then I wrote a post summing up all of the other posts, and urging you to listen to the wise opinions of these wonderful bookish folk and get yourself a copy of We Are Animals, with 30% off and free UK p&p if you order directly from the publisher here before 8th August and use our code SQUADPOD. And hopefully lots of you will do just that.

About the Author

Tim Ewins had an eight-year stand-up career alongside his accidental career in finance, before turning to writing fiction.

He has previously written for DNA Mumbai, had two short stories highly commended and published in Michael Terence Short Story Anthologies, and had a very brief acting stint (he’s in the film Bronson, somewhere in the background).

He lives with his wife, son and dog in Bristol. We Are Animals is his first novel.

Author Website: https://timothyewins.wixsite.com/timewins

Author Twitter: @EwinsTim

Author Instagram: @timtewins and @quickbooksummaries

From 23rd July to 8th August, you can get 30% off your copy of We Are Animals using the code SQUADPOD when you purchase directly from the publishers https://www.eye-books.com/books/we-are-animals – this offer applies to anywhere, with free p&p for UK only.

We Are Animals by Tim Ewins

Paperback

Published: Lightning Books (July 2021)

ISBN: 9781785632846

July 2021 Reading: Line; The Idea of You; Colouring In; A Hundred Million Years and a Day; Ariadne; Pah; Elena Knows; Fault Lines; Falling Is Like Flying; Dear Mrs Bird; Yours Cheerfully

Line by Niall Bourke (2021)

I was utterly gripped by this brilliant speculative fiction novel. It starts out as one thing and becomes quite another – I can’t say much more for fear of spoilers, but trust me, you need to read this book! You can read my full review of Line here.

The Idea of You by Robinne Lee (2017)

This book is HOT, HOT, HOT – a perfect slice of summer escapism! I devoured it joyously – you can read my full review here. Highly recommended if you want to lose yourself for a few hours.

Colouring In by Nigel Stewart (2019)

This is an intensely psychological novel, a detailed portrait of a man caught between his past and his future. For me, it really got going in the second half of the book. You can read my full thoughts here.

A Hundred Million Years and a Day by Jean-Baptiste Andrea translated by Sam Taylor (2021)

It is rare to come across a book that manages to be both a thrilling adventure and a profound meditation on life, but this beautifully written novel achieves just that. A palaeontologist goes on a mission to find a dinosaur fossil inside an Alpine glacier, and as he and his team search, the gorgeous prose probes past and present to reveal the truth. Simply stunning. You can read my full review of this brilliant book here.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (2021)

I knew I was going to love this book, being a massive fan of anything connected to Ancient Greece, and it did not disappoint. Saint strikes the perfect balance between classical authenticity and a fresh perspective, and I was thoroughly immersed in the story she weaves. You can read my full review of Ariadne here.

Pah by Orla Owen (2021)

I loved this deliciously dark book – a truly original read, with one of the most fantastically unlikeable protagonists I’ve come across. Highly recommended! You can read my full review of Pah here.

Elena Knows by Claudia Pineiro translated by Frances Riddle (2021)

My review for this excellent novel from Charco Press is coming soon – I really enjoyed this one, Elena is a fascinating protagonist, investigating her daughter’s death while dealing with her own declining health. It’s fresh and engrossing, and I’m looking forward to sharing my full thoughts!

Fault Lines by Emily Itami (2021)

Another one pending review! I adored this book – Itami immerses the reader in Mizuki’s world, as we follow her attempts to brighten an unsatisfactory existence. This is a bold, modern story that not only transports you to Tokyo, but also opens up wider issues. I definitely recommend getting your hands on this beautiful book.

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

This is a shocking, hugely powerful memoir – a reckoning with an abusive childhood that pushes the boundaries of what writing is capable of. It’s definitely not an easy read, but it’s a reading experience I won’t forget. My full review will be up on the blog soon.

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce (2018)

Since I was lucky enough to receive a proof of the sequel, Yours Cheerfully, I bought AJ Pearce’s debut novel to read first. I know lots of you adored this one, and I can count myself among your ranks now! Comforting, funny, poignant – this was a glorious read, made all the better by knowing that I had more of Emmy’s adventures in 1940s London to come.

Yours Cheerfully by AJ Pearce (2021)

I enjoyed this just as much as Dear Mrs Bird, and it was a joy to dive straight into another book following Emmy and her friends. I’ll get a review up for this one soon, but safe to say, I loved it!

It’s been a good month of reading, although I have fallen behind on my readalongs – I have some catching up to do with Poirot in particular! I really like how varied the books I have read this month have been. Lots to look forward to on the TBR in August, too!

Thanks as always to the publishers and authors who have sent me copies to review, and to all of you lovely folk who boost my posts! I know I have a few reviews to catch up on, so keep an eye on the blog for those!

Happy reading!

Ellie x

Review: Pah by Orla Owen (2021)

Blurb

Susan Brown is trapped. She lives in nurses’ accommodation she hates, on the run from a past she detests, desperate for a future she can’t afford. Yet.

Calton Jonas is lost. He travels across the country, from beach to city, settling in a small town with a job at the morgue.

Jeffrey Jeffreys is happy as long as life provides him with enough whiskey and beer.

Their lives cross. Old wounds open. Susan takes control but not all of them can survive…

Review

First things first, Orla Owen is one of the nicest people on Book Twitter – endlessly supportive, a real champion of other authors and of bookbloggers. While I was obviously delighted to be offered a copy of Pah in exchange for an honest review (many thanks to Orla), there was, therefore, a small moment of trepidation before I started reading – what if I didn’t like it?! She’s so nice!

Fortunately, and I say this with complete honesty, I loved Orla’s book. Also, unlike her, it is NOT NICE. I mean that as a compliment! Ooh, it is gloriously dark, folks, and the characters, especially Susan, are deeply unsettling and complex. Susan is an utterly fascinating protagonist – her coldness and her calculating nature make it hard to find any redeeming features, but every time we get a glimpse of her past, it becomes more and more obvious why she is the way she is. The small slivers of her childhood that Owen offers up are just enough to keep the reader from detesting her – how could anyone emerge from that upbringing unscathed? And there is also, again, let’s be honest here, a kind of peverse pleasure to be had in watching a character who so deliberately and cruelly subverts the norm, who takes self-preservation to a whole new level, so much so that at times I almost had a grudging respect for her. Susan really is one of the most interesting characters I’ve come across, and in herself is a strong argument against the whole ‘protagonists should be likeable’ thing. No, they should be interesting, and Susan is certainly that.

Jeffrey is also pretty awful, but he provides much of the novel’s dark humour. Calton, though, is different – he isn’t exactly a saint, but there’s a sense in which you’re rooting for him more whole-heartedly than Susan, and the delay in their paths crossing makes for a delicious sense of anticipation (even if it made me want to shout “Run, Cal!”). There’s something quite timeless and eerie about the prose in Pah – it’s hard to know exactly when or where this taking place, and it adds a real flavour of mystery and originality. I certainly can’t think of anything I’ve read that I could easily compare to this book.

I really enjoyed the immersive experience of being dipped in Susan’s chilly bitterness, and I also think the book is really bold on the theme of unwanted motherhood. This is something that is being explored more frequently in fiction, and it’s so important – not everyone ‘finds their purpose’ when they become a mother, and although Susan is an extreme example, it is still refreshing to see. I am really excited to note that Orla Owen’s previous novel, The Lost Thumb, has some of the same characters – I will definitely be reading it, and anything else this talented author writes in the future.

PAH by Orla Owen is out now and is available to purchase here.

Do follow Orla on social media: @orlaowenwriting on Twitter, and check out her website: https://www.orlaowen.com/

A Hundred Million Years and a Day by Jean-Baptiste Andrea translated by Sam Taylor (2021)

Blurb

When he hears a story about a huge dinosaur fossil locked deep inside an Alpine glacier, university professor Stan finds a childhood dream reignited. Whatever it takes, he is determined to find the buried treasure.

But Stan is no mountaineer and must rely on the help of old friend Umberto, who brings his eccentric young assistant, Peter, and cautious mountain guide Gio. Time is short: they must complete their expedition before winter sets in. As bonds are forged and tested on the mountainside, and the lines between determination and folly are blurred, the hazardous quest for the Earth’s lost creatures becomes a journey into Stan’s own past.

This breathless, heartbreaking epic-in-miniature speaks to the adventurer within us all.

Review

Many thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

This novel combines two things that I have very little knowledge or experience of, but am oddly fascinated by: palaeontology and mountaineering. There are elements that reminded me of the documentary Touching The Void (which I was also weirdly obsessed with!) as we see the men facing life-threatening conditions on the mountain. The descriptions in the novel are so vivid and cinematic: I think this might be the only book I’ve read that has actually given me vertigo.

The writing is exquisite. So many times, I went back to reread a sentence in order to fully appreciate its beauty. For a book that spans a mere 170 pages, it feels much fuller than some longer novels, and the brevity of both the text as a whole and the sentences creates a sense of impact and motion. The book works on many levels – as a straight-up adventure story it is exciting and tense, but beneath the thrills there are some beautifully profound observations on life and meaning and even the very nature of reality.

There is drama here, but also humour, the eccentricities of individuals heightened by the extreme circumstances and close quarters. The narrative ebbs and flows between the mountain-top adventure and scenes from the past, and it is never less than compelling. The figure of Stan’s father, the Commander, looms large and terrifying, and some of the most powerful scenes in the novel are between the tyrannical father and his son. The contrast between the domestic setting and life on the glacier is yet another aspect that gives this book so much depth and resonance. For both backstory and main narrative to be so nuanced and complex is an astounding feat for such a short novel. And yet the length feels just right – a suspension of breath for the space of its crisp, perfect pages, and an exhalation on finishing that feels cathartic, cleansing as cold mountain air.

There’s a special feeling on finishing a book that you KNOW you’re going to reread – it becomes a kind of treasure, a reassurance just to know you have it and can return to it again and again. This is a book to become obsessed with – I certainly am.

A Hundred Million Years and a Day by Jean-Baptiste Andrea translated by Sam Taylor is published by Gallic Books, and this gorgeous new paperback edition is available to purchase here.

Review: Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (2021)

Blurb

As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?

ARIADNE gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.

Review

I got a copy of this beautiful book from my wonderful Squadpod friends as part of my birthday present, and I’ve been reluctantly saving it for a gap between ARCs. In the end, I couldn’t resist, and although my TBR pile is teetering, I treated myself to what I knew would be a guaranteed top read. I am a total Greek geek – I studied Ancient Greek at A-level and did a module at university (I’m not a true classicist as I gave up Latin much earlier – for me the stories weren’t as good!) and I once attended a two-week Ancient Greek summer camp, for which I endured much cruel mockery from my dear siblings. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that I LOVE the Greek myths, and Ancient Greek literature is my spiritual home, so I knew I was going to love Ariadne.

The style of this novel was absolutely bang on for me. It felt, at times, like reading a really beautifully rendered translation of an ancient text, complete with epithets and similes I recognised and delighted in. Rosy dawn makes a few appearances, and although the wine-dark sea mentioned here is more literal than metaphorical, it still felt like a nod to the classics. I loved the language, the way it approaches poetry at times, and then brings you back down to earth with a bump. It falls somewhere between a stylised and a naturalistic mode, and I really think Saint has found the sweet spot that allows her text to feel authentic while also exploring the voices of those who are usually forgotten in the myths.

Ariadne and Phaedra are presented both as products of their culture and as much more than society regards them as – the insights we get through their first person narratives reveal complex, rounded, imperfect individuals who are subject to the same weaknesses as any human, and yet, as the gods really do exist in this world, they each contain a spark of something more – the inheritance they have received from the sun-god who sired their mother. I am always curious how the divine is going to be handled in classical retellings, and I have to say, I absolutely love it when it is just an accepted, literal fact that the Olympians exist. AND my favourite god of all, Dionysus, has a really important role in this book, so that for me was the icing on my geeky Greek cake!

I love how heavily the book leans into the myths and stories, how it doesn’t seek to explain them from a modern perspective, but instead utterly immerses the reader in that ancient, mythical world. And yet we do get a peek behind the curtain – we see the way in which Theseus constructs the legend of his own heroism, how a seemingly all-powerful ruler like Minos is in fact clinging on by (excuse the pun) a thread. We see gods shaken and disturbed by the acts of men, we see queens struggling with motherhood, we see monsters nursed and pitied. The disruption of the traditional mythic mode is subtle, but it is there, and it’s so clever.

Safe to say, I absolutely adored this book, and I am beyond excited that in her next novel, Jennifer Saint will be focusing on Elektra, one of my all-time favourite characters. Enough geeking out from me – read Ariadne, it is wonderful.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint is published by WIldfire Books and is available to purchase here.