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There won’t be the usual number of book reviews on my blog in the second half of this month as I have several trips away from home planned. This weekend I am heading north, to Appleby for some walking and then on to Edinburgh to clear elder son’s uni accommodation for the summer. Earlier this week I was on an unexpected short break. Husband is between contracts and my head has been all over the place so I was grateful when he whisked me away to Wales. I was kept so busy, in the best possible way, that I didn’t find time to read even a single page of the books I had brought. Thus I am behind on my reading but feeling much more settled in myself.

Wales was quite the adventure. Wall to wall sunshine meant we could plan long walks involving many ascents – exercise is my way of finding balance when life proves wobbly. Here are just a few of the more memorable moments from the trip, along with some pictures from what turned out to be rather special accommodation.

Day 1

After a challenging climb to a summit – worth it for the views – we set off for our hotel. We do not own a Sat Nav so use Google Maps for real time directions. Reasons unknown, the app decided we were not staying in a hotel but rather on a working farm, accessed by the sort of narrow tracks where you can only hope you don’t meet another vehicle. We were travelling in my husbands shiny two-seater which he enjoyed driving along the many winding Welsh roads. It is not so much fun when sent off piste. When we eventually drove past the farm entrance, Google advised a 3-point turn before the track became footpath. We spotted a gate and hoped for sufficient traction from the packed mud entrance.

Day 2

After the previous day’s navigation debacle we set off on foot from our hotel. Following a footpath through numerous fields we encountered a ruin that husband paused to photograph. I noticed a group of mixed cattle eyeing us. I am very afraid of cattle – the bane of many walks. A few of the youngsters started to move in our direction. Others followed. The whole herd then started to stampede towards the open gate that separated their field from ours. Now moving swiftly we passed through the gate into the next field on our route. The herd paused, watching, and then continued at speed along the boundary. I had no idea if they knew of a way through but it was clear they wished to reach us. I covered three fields of steep ascent at an impressive rate.

On reaching the boundary of farmland and moor we spotted the monument marking the start of the trail we planned to walk. There was a sign on the other side of the gate informing us that this area is an artillery training ground and entry is strictly forbidden without permission. The sign informed us that military debris, if touched, may explode and kill you. We heard firing in the distance.

While I balanced the dangers in my head – trampled by cattle if we turned back or risk of death by exploding military debris if we continued – husband contemplated different words on the sign: ‘without permission’. He phoned the MOD. Having given our location and proposed route we were assured the live firing was not in our area and we could safely proceed. We walked a pleasant, scenic trail along moorland ridge to the soundtrack of bleating sheep and exploding shells.

Day 3

After the previous day’s encounter with cattle we planned a route that took us up onto the moor via tracks and hedged in footpaths, returning via tracks and quiet lanes. The moor, however, proved more challenging to navigate. Each marker we aimed for – a trig point, lake, stream to descend by – was criss-crossed by sheep tracks rather than obvious paths. Being moorland, sections were boggy and impassable.

We took several wrong turns and had to climb up to find the correct direction. Wiltshire, where I normally walk, did not provide the training for these repeated ascents. When we eventually found our way off the moor it was with a grand sense of achievement – just what my head needed.

R&R

I mentioned our special accommodation. Husband found Lake Country House Hotel via a last minute offer on Secret Escapes. After a day’s walking it was lovely to relax with a stroll through the extensive grounds abutting river and woodland before a cooling swim in the pool. Refreshing drinks were imbibed followed by dinners as good as we’ve eaten anywhere. It is a place we hope to return to one day.

 

We were in a Lodge Suite, located in a separate building beside the main hotel. Our room was enormous – far bigger than we needed given the fine weather. Little touches such as fresh fruit, shortbread rounds and a good variety of teas were appreciated.

   

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Haverscroft, by S.A. Harris, is a deliciously creepy ghost story. It opens with the Keeling family – Kate, Mark and nine year old twins, Sophie and Tom – moving into a big, old house on the edge of a small town in Suffolk. Having renovated their London home the couple are aware of the work ahead of them. Their relocation has mostly been driven by Mark with Kate agreeing for the sake of their faltering marriage. She has been ill for many months but is now determined to stop taking her medication and return to her former, capable self.

The old house creaks and groans but there are other noises that cannot be explained. The children are scared so Kate must try to be rational despite her own fears. During the working week Mark still resides in the city. With no internet and patchy mobile reception the couple struggle to communicate. Kate is concerned that if she tells her husband of the malevolent presence she sometimes feels he will believe she is relapsing and stop listening to anything she says.

The Keelings have kept on the former owner’s cleaner and gardener, with the cleaner soon becoming a friend. Through her Kate learns more about the history of the place and those who have lived there. The Havers family harboured dark secrets yet few in the gossipy town seem willing to share the detail with Kate. She starts to research on her own. Each new discovery increases the tension with Mark.

The story is told from Kate’s perspective, her shaky mental state leaving the reader unsure of the veracity of the narration. The unfolding tale puts many under suspicion. The denouement offers potential explanations without taking from the chilling portrayal.

The writing is taut and fluid. Both the atmosphere of the old house and the wider family dynamics are evoked with skill. Whatever one thinks of a place harbouring the spirit of past deeds this story could throw shade over certainties. Recommended, but exercise caution if reading after dark.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.

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Good Day? by Vesna Main is written mostly as dialogue. The conversations transcribed are between a long married, middle aged couple. She is an author and ardent feminist. He is an academic, researching women in the Labour Party. He is also his wife’s first reader. Each day they discuss developments in her work in progress. The novel being written is about a long married, middle aged couple, Richard and Anna, whose marriage has hit difficulties following Richard’s revelation that he has been sleeping with prostitutes.

The husband is unhappy that his wife appears to be basing her characters on them. He is concerned that she is revealing too much that is true and that their friends and colleagues who read her work will assume it is autobiographical. Also, that acquaintances will find themselves within the story and feel insulted. The wife denies the extent of these allegations but still takes personally her husband’s critiques of Anna’s controlling and self-centred personality. She insists that Anna is lovely and that it is Richard who should be condemned. Her husband’s sympathy for the man, his assertion that Anna shoulder some responsibility for Richard’s actions, creates tension.

The dialogue tells the story of the work in progress and also of the real life couple. Art mirrors life but does life mirror art? There is a lingering question over how much impact stories have on a reader’s subsequent actions.

It is interesting to view how a writer constructs a novel – the conceits and concerns. Ideas are lifted from other tales already written.

The unusual structure is used to impressive effect. The sensitivities of the writer and her irritation at the male perspective are recounted with candour and wit. By telling a story within a story there are blurred lines between fact and fiction. The loneliness and frustration inherent when couples cannot convey their thoughts and feelings in a way that garners affinity is skillfully portrayed.

Within the tale are many interesting diversions. The author explores themes such as: addiction, obsessive behaviour, rewriting memory when exposed to new information. There are threads on class and the affectations of the intelligentsia. There are challenges to thinking that places itself as the moral high ground.

As someone who dislikes reading detailed descriptions of sex I baulked at one particularly blatant scene, yet even this fitted for the reasons given. The author is exploring derivative work and plagiarism. The overlaps between the two couples are somehow both obvious and opaque.

The writing is tense and compelling. Although nuanced and layered the story has the feel of a thriller. It is admirable that so much has been fitted into such a concise volume. This is a clever and thought-provoking read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.

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Plume, by Will Wiles, is set in contemporary London, albeit one that makes no reference to multiculturalism. Its protagonist is Jack Bick who works as an interview journalist for a glossy lifestyle magazine. It explores such fictions as: truth, memory, aspiration, and social media.

When Jack first moved to London it was still possible to get a foot in the door of journalism without first serving as an unpaid intern. It was possible to believe that, one day, he may become a home owner in the city. He mixed with the right people; moved into a rented flat with his girlfriend. The raw edges of his life could be smoothed over with a few drinks at the end of the day.

The story opens at a weekly work planning meeting. Jack is zoning out, not just from boredom but from the effort of not being found out for what he has become. His timekeeping is erratic; the work he submits unoriginal and shoddy. The word is that there will be cutbacks and he fears what this could mean for him.

The shockwave from an explosion in the east of the city barely registers initially but marks the beginning of what Jack believes may be the end of long desired possibilities.

He resents the rent he must pay for a dark little flat that suffers noise intrusion from neighbour’s building work. He resents that his ambition is growing ever further beyond his reach. Jack is an alcoholic. Hiding the effects of this from colleagues is becoming increasingly difficult.

Jack plans to interview a reclusive author, Oliver Pierce. Contact was made through a mutual acquaintance who has developed a new type of social media app, due to be rolled out further afield. Jack’s boss would prefer if he interviewed a property developer at the forefront of recent regeneration projects. Between them these people represent everything Jack has missed out on, including the financial success that would enable him to buy rather than rent.

A key character is the setting and the effect London has on its residents. As the plot and associated action moves between areas – the pockets of wealth and still dodgy streets – what is seen and what is believed is shown to be key to satisfaction and behaviour. Landlords look to enhance their assets with little regard for pesky tenants. Middlemen step in to assist those who can pay.

Jack is not the only man facing a crisis. Oliver has agreed to be interviewed because he wishes to atone for past behaviour – a lie he has been living that generated his success. Both men’s actions are erratic and often dangerous yet they are not as autonomous as they may wish to believe. There are manipulations from shady sources, and from the mirage of a lifestyle they are encouraged to pursue.

The author has captured the zeitgeist, particularly around Shoreditch, and presents it with wit and candour. Interspersed with keen imagery are nuggets of local reference to amuse. As a reader of Kit Caless’s book I was tickled by the man in Wetherspoons photographing his shoes. The Winterzone event that Jack and Oliver attend encapsulates the conflicting interests and benefits of widespread city regeneration.

Beneath the personal facade lies a yearning for rose tinted pasts and futures alongside a desire for authenticity, whatever that may mean. Yet life can only be enjoyed within the confines of personal comfort and security. London is an amalgam; it is alive and it is dirty. Those who pass through, however long for, see only fragments through a glass darkly.

The writing is fluid and entertaining, the characters well rendered if of a type. There is much to ponder, more to enjoy. Despite my reservations about breadth of representation, this is a piquant and recommended read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, 4th Estate.

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“It was strange that people who were so reserved and reticent, even toward their confessor, were willing to disclose their secrets provided there was a chance they would see them in print.”

The fictional village of Dichtersruhe is a charming location in the Swiss Alps. Popular with summer tourists, who enjoy walks in the local woods, it closes down during winter when just the long term residents are made to feel welcome. Many of the families have lived there for generations with links through marriage drawing them closer together. Yet they never discuss their shared, secret ambitions. Most of them are writers. They spend free time working on poems, essays, memoirs and novels. Manuscripts are regularly sent to the popular publishing houses and then reworked following rejection.

A new parish priest, Father Cornelius, arrives and struggles to fit in. From a teaching post at a seminary, he has been banished to this backwater following scurrilous accusations. The old priest has little time for the incomer, indeed for anything other than writing his memoirs. Then the accepted ways, the coexistence of gentle rivalries, are thrown into disarray by the arrival of another stranger. Bernhard Fuchs introduces himself as a publisher from Lucerne. Following fearful omens involving foxes, Cornelius recognises Fuchs as the devil incarnate.

“what is the key that is capable of forcing the mind of an aspiring writer who has tried everything without result?”

A Devil Comes to Town, by Paolo Maurensig (translated by Anne Milano Appel), is a short yet multi-layered take down of the conceits and jealousies of writers. There is darkness and tension in the tale but also humour in its observations. Opening with a renowned author clearing out the many manuscripts he has been sent by aspiring authors, all eager to have him read their work and thereby become its advocate, the story quickly focuses on a manuscript from an unknown writer regarding a strange tale told him by a priest many years before. Although somewhat meta this structural device offers the reader a picture of one of the prices of authorial success, and the lengths writers will go to if there is any chance of emulating or otherwise gaining from those who have already been published.

Some may deny it but writers wish to be read and revered. They have their egos and also deep rooted sensitivities. They struggle with continued rejection in favour of those whose work they remain unimpressed by. Those who achieve publication often castigate readers who fail to recognise the wonder of their work.

In Dichtersruhe the arrival of a publisher is grasped as an opportunity. The residents vie for the man’s attention, offering drinks, meals and other inducements in an attempt to curry notice and favour. When a writing competition is announced that will lead to inclusion in a published series, manuscripts are eagerly submitted. As these are filtered there is bitter division between residents whose work is rejected and those still being considered.

What happens when a winner is selected who no other writer believes is deserving?

The story told is fable like with nuggets of detail leading the reader to question the veracity of the various narrators. Authors often skate between truth and fiction, between writing what they know and pure invention. Is truth of any importance when the aim is to entertain?

And thus another layer is added to the unfolding tale: do writers truly behave like this? What are readers of this book being encouraged to believe?

The author has created a fabulous take down of the literati with a blending of fiction, reported rivalries and real world suspicion. It is a captivating, clever and deliciously teasing little tale.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, World Editions.

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“The baskets weren’t to sell. Louise was a friend of the Prof, a semi-retired lecturer in textile arts who now spent her days making things by hand, the hard way, for the amusement of people bored by safe drinking water, modern medicine and dry feet.”

Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss, is set in the Northumberland Moors where archaeology students have built an Iron Age hut. As part of their course they must spend a period of time living as the Ancient Britons did, hunting and foraging for food. Joining them is their course professor and his friend, Bill, who is a hobby expert on Iron Age living and survival. Bill has brought along his wife, Alison, and their teenage daughter, Sylvie. It is through Sylvie’s eyes that the story is told.

The students – Molly, Dan and Pete – sleep in modern tents close to the camp. The family sleep in the dark hut. Uncomfortable though this is, Sylvie is used to complying with her father’s requests and holidaying in wild places. Bill is an angry, volatile man who demands submission from his family and punishes transgressions.

“I do not know what my father thought I might want to do in those days but he devoted considerable attention to making sure I couldn’t do it.”

Sylvie is fascinated by the students, especially Molly, as they talk of travel abroad and the freedoms they enjoy. She has been raised to use her time wisely. Her dad eschews modern pleasures and expects his family to do the same. The world he inhabits is one of resentment that the land he considers rightfully his is now populated by foreigners. In his eyes, these people have taken from him the respected position in society he could have had before they arrived. He reveres what he imagines were the hierarchies of the Ancient Britons, when women cooked and cared for offspring while the men hunted, guarded and killed.

The book opens with a depiction of an Iron Age ritual during which a young woman is sacrificed for the supposed good of her people. This is based on what has been surmised by historians from the state of a body found preserved in nearby peat bogs. Bill has explained to Sylvie that the Ancient Britons would place in the bogs possessions they valued, believing that giving these to the land would ward off evil and help them to survive.

Molly is scornful of Bill’s attitudes but his expertise soon draws the men in the group to take an interest in certain Iron Age activities. The group divides along gender lines with the inevitable shift in dynamics.

The writing is subtle in its power and darkness. The nuances of each theme explored are developed with restraint yet depth. Sylvie’s impotence as a child, her lack of agency and learned silence, is both searing and sapient. An intoxicating read that, especially considering its brevity, packs impressive literary heft.

Ghost Wall is published by Granta and is available to buy now.

My copy of this book was borrowed from my local library.

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This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

Like many countries colonised by Europeans over the centuries, South Africa has a distressing history of entitlement leading to brutality. A population of disparate groups evolves, with each believing the land is rightfully theirs. War and political change lead to festering resentments passed down through generations. Inculcated prejudices can result in the dehumanisation of those considered other for a variety of reasons.

You Will Be Safe Here explores a number of such prejudices. It opens with a short prologue that introduces sixteen year old Willem Brandt as he is taken to a New Dawn Camp by his mother and her fiancé. They hope that the military style training regime will fix Willem, turning him into what they regard as a normal man.

The story then jumps back from 2010 to 1901. Written in the form of a diary, this section covers a month in the life of Sarah van der Watt whose husband is away fighting with Afrikaner commandos in the Second Boer War. The British army are trying to crush resistance to their occupation by rounding up Afrikaner families along with their slaves. Possessions are sifted through and confiscated before homes are burned to the ground. The people are loaded into trains and taken to segregated camps – the population thereby concentrated and contained. Knowing what is about to happen, Sarah and her six year old son, Fred, are preparing to leave the farm they have wrested from the veld.

Sarah is asked by the British soldiers to sign an oath of neutrality. In refusing she condemns herself to live in conditions that grow ever harsher. She will come to pay a heavy price for what she regards as necessary loyalty.

“I hate the Khakis but hand-uppers disgust me because they surrendered, they gave up the land we fought the Zulu for at Blood River. God cannot grant their prayers.”

The irony of her actions – that she considers the country that her forebears took and then cultivated with slave labour to be rightfully hers – doesn’t cross her mind.

Sarah’s diary offers a picture of day to day life in the camp. It is a stark portrayal of starvation, disease and death. The British may not have actively murdered their prisoners but in Bloemfontein they did as little as they could get away with to keep them alive. Over the course of this war, more civilians died in the British concentration camps than soldiers on the battlefield.

The second section of the story is set in Johannesburg, starting in 1976 when sixteen year old Rayna is assaulted on her way home from school and falls pregnant. In an attempt to avoid a scandal she quickly marries. The union is not a success and her husband leaves to work in the northern diamond mines. Financially supported and mostly left alone, Rayna quietly shuns societal conventions. Leaving her son with the home help, she finds work and then has a second child.

The timeline moves forward through the decades during which Rayna becomes a grandmother and the political situation in South Africa alters in ways she struggles to accept. There is a perception of encroaching violence resulting in the white population living behind walls and installing increasingly high tech security.

Meanwhile, the Afrikaner children choose to speak English when together – the language of their parents now associated with school.

The story enables the reader to better understand the differing backgrounds of contemporary white South Africans. Prejudices portrayed are not just based on race. The penultimate section, detailing Willem’s time at the New Dawn Camp, is a chilling indictment of homophobia. It also serves to pull each strand of the tale together.

The writing is deft and compelling, illuminating a terrible history with quiet competence and humanity. Despite their flawed thinking, their skewed sense of the ‘natural order’, the characters are presented with a degree of sympathy – as the product of a blinkered heritage.

The author writes:

“The Boer Wars (1880-81 and 1899-1902) are no longer taught in British or South African schools. They are now almost fondly remembered as a great Victorian adventure, the stuff of Boy’s Own stories.”

“Camps like New Dawn still operate across South Africa. They are for white boys only and run by former soldiers […] who believe that one day white South Africa will rise again and finally right the historic wrongs of the Boer Wars.”

Any Cop?: It is horrifying to consider the cruelties so casually meted out in camps set centuries apart. Based on actual events, this story is both powerful and tragic. It offers a vital lesson in where prejudice can lead.

Jackie Law

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Hard Pushed: A Midwife’s Story, by Leah Hazard, provides a timely reminder of how valuable the NHS is, and of the appalling demands currently being made of front-line staff. The author is a working midwife and shares stories of cases she has dealt with, and the conflicts regularly faced due to the spectre of rules and a lack of resources. It is not, however, polemic. Written with grace and generosity, this candid memoir presents the business of birth with clear-eyed understanding of expectations and reality. There may be a great many bodily fluids to contend with but bringing a baby into the world remains an emotional event.

The births described are those that were memorable, mostly due to complications, many unforeseen. These include: the young mother who is still a child herself; the woman who became pregnant thanks to IVF and whose partner now has cancer; the rape victim; the prospective mother suffering a serious illness. Between each case study are notes in which the author muses on such subjects as: thwarted assumptions; being human; the many challenges of the job. She has to deal courteously with colleagues who have contentious opinions. When mistakes are made they can have far reaching consequences.

The author writes of a new mother whose own mother undermines her confidence with well-meaning suggestions, and how a midwife must support but never interfere. She writes of: birth plans, birthing pools, FGM and death. She describes the mind-numbing exhaustion faced by staff working lengthy shifts in over-crowded wards where medical emergencies leave labouring women unattended. The professional script she must follow is designed to both minimise patient concern and protect the midwife.

The intense and unpredictable daily demands lead to regular burn-outs, something to which the author is not immune. The job takes a physical and mental toll that can be a challenge to sustain.

This is a fluently structured and fascinating account of a job that, even as a mother of three, I had not fully appreciated. I feel angry on behalf of these hard working professionals for the way our healthcare system is being managed and funded.

Yet the warmth and compassion with which this book is written provides a beguiling and entertaining read. The balance achieved is impressive – recommended for all.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Hutchinson.

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“Edit wanted, with all her heart, to protect her daughter. She wanted better for Zina than love”

Covering an expanse of over 6.6 million square miles, Russia is the world’s largest country by landmass. It includes nine different time zones and shares land borders with 14 neighboring countries. In the Amur region of the far east, forest wildernesses still exist, although they are always at risk from man’s desire to acquire personal wealth at whatever cost to the environment. Here the largest cat on earth, the Siberian tiger, still survives in his natural state. A king tiger will ruthlessly guard and patrol his territory of up to five hundred square miles, within which his females raise their cubs. It is one of the harshest habitats on earth.

Tiger, by Polly Clark, is an exploration of the cost of freedom. Following a prologue set in the Russian Taiga, where a hunter is trying to kill a tiger for its valuable pelt, the story introduces Frieda, an English academic who is researching the behaviour of captive bonobos. Frieda is a morphine addict, using the drug to help her cope with her fears following a vicious street attack several years ago. Frieda has been stealing the drug from her place of work and using it on the premises. She is about to suffer the consequences.

Disgraced but in need of work, Frieda moves to Devon where a privately run zoo requires a keeper. Here she encounters her first tiger, a lone male that is about to be offered a mate. The zoo has purchased a tigress from a Russian dealer. When it is delivered the creature is not as expected.

The second section of the book is based around Tomas who works on a Russian nature reserve in the Amur region. His father manages the venture and is eager to gain the attention of President Putin, who supports the protection of the wild tigers that roam the area. The reader is offered a view of life in the forest, the dangers encountered, and how changing political beliefs have affected the plunder of resources. Decisions made in Tomas’s past haunt him, and he blames his father for his current, lonely existence.

The third section tells the story of Edit, a young village girl living in the Udeghe region, whose grandfather was the local Shaman until such practices were outlawed by the Russians. She has been raised with the traditional stories and songs in which tigers were considered sacred. She is horrified when the man who hopes to marry her assists in the capture and killing of one of these magnificent beasts. Life, however, must go on and time, inevitably, passes. Edit understands that she must marry and is then expected to bear children. She longs for freedom.

Part four opens from the point of view of the tigers as they struggle to survive a particularly harsh winter. The various threads of the tale are then drawn together. There is poignancy and violence. There is cause and effect.

“The mice had changed the weasel’s story. How miraculous it was that all these journeys […] persisted alongside each other, each to be followed and understood separately. Each traversed its own world, with its own time, yet connected with the others at converging moments.”

In developing the various characters the author demonstrates how any action is rarely as simple as good or evil. Men long for a woman to ease their loneliness. They feel satisfied with themselves that they provide for and protect their family unit. Women desire an autonomy that is often beyond men’s comprehension.

“There wasn’t really a place for female things. Leyland was as trapped as everyone involved with tigers in the language of the masculine ideal – the nobility, courage, majesty, and so on, exhibited by the king.”

Yet this tale is more than some sort of feminist manifesto. The men suffer from cultural and personal expectation as much as the women. Love is longed for by all yet becomes a cage – a means of control requiring the surrender of liberty. There is a cost in accepting such captivity. There is also a cost if such strictures are rejected.

In all life situations there is hunter and there is prey; there is fear and there is a willingness to take risks for the rewards these bring.

The writing is taut and fluid. Subjects are explored with nuance and depth. However flawed the characters, they are drawn with empathy.

A thought provoking, engrossing and majestic read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, riverrun.

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April has been a mixed month in my blogging life. I put aside a third of the time available to read a book that was big in both size and scope and which I was excited to receive. It jumped straight to the top of my TBR pile and I took great care that my review accurately reflected my thoughts when I finally finished the tome. Within an hour of posting the publisher had requested that I take it down until closer to publication date – something that has never happened to me before. I have previously received early proof copies with an embargo clearly marked on the AI sheet. No such instruction had been included with this book. On the contrary, hype was being built on social media with photos of proofs received, tweets from readers about their initial thoughts while reading, and side by side comparisons with other big books.

I acceded to the request to take down my review and have since felt conflicted. The points the publisher made were understandable but the whole episode took the wind from my sails. Becalmed and feeling blue I was grateful that my children were home and therefore available to discuss with me what to do next. I pondered the sensitivities of writers and how low I was feeling, no doubt exacerbated by the effect of the book’s subject matter – something I had wished to warn prospective readers about. As with any issue that messes with my head I wrote out my thoughts: Who am I writing books for?

Feedback from readers, especially those who read the review in the hour it was up, suggested that I should post it, which I still plan to do. I need to decide when. I have no wish to alienate a publisher whose work I admire – but I value my autonomy.

As a result of this upset, ten reviews remain for the month: eight fiction (two translated) and two nonfiction. These were supplemented by write-ups of two literary events.

The first of these was The Republic of Consciousness Prize Winners’ Event 2019, held at Foyles on the Charing Cross Road in London. I then published the transcript of the speech the founder of the prize, Neil Griffiths, gave which included his thoughts on each of the shortlisted books. From amongst the strong contenders emerged joint winners – Murmer by Will Eaves, published by CB Editions, and Lucia by Alex Pheby, published by Galley Beggar Press.

I did, of course, make a purchase whilst at Foyles – a title I had been wanting to read for some time, so did as soon as I returned home from my trip to the capital.


Shitstorm by Fernando Sdrigotti, published by Open Pen

Most other reading this month was taken from my pile of recent or imminent publications.


The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris, published by Orion
Snegurochka by Judith Heneghan, published by Salt


Flotsam by Meike Ziervogel, published by Salt
Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir, published by Headline


The Book of Tehran: A City in Short Fiction, published by Comma Press

Two book reviews had been written for and first published by Bookmunch


Constellations: Reflections from Life by Sinéad Gleeson published by Picador
Ordinary People by Diana Evans, published by Vintage

I attended a talk by Ariana Harwicz and her publisher/ translator Carolina Orloff at Toppings Bookshop in Bath which I wrote up here. I was lucky enough to receive an early copy of the book they were promoting, and read it in preparation.


Feebleminded, by Ariana Harwicz (translated by Annie McDermott and Carolina Orloff), published by Charco Press

The final review of the month was a repost of a review and part of a blog tour. As I no longer take part in blog tours this led to some personal questioning but Under the Rock by Benjamin Myers, now available in paperback from Elliott & Thompson, contains such beautiful writing I decided to help spread the word.


Under the Rock: Stories Carved from the Land by Benjamin Myers, published by Elliot & Thompson

Next month I have two short breaks planned to visit my student children in London and then Edinburgh. With my mood still a little shaky I will be aiming to balance family fun with my blogging activities, posting only what I can easily manage. It is vital to me that my reading and writing remains pleasurable to give authors a fair chance of a positive review.

As ever I wish to thank the publishers who send me their titles – the arrival of a book parcel makes my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms. Your support is always appreciated.

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