Sunday, 8 January 2017

Book Review: Fell - Jenn Ashworth

By Jenn Ashworth
Published by Sceptre
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Jenn Ashworth's latest novel, Fell, captures the oddities within ordinary families, the ways people will believe anything even if it's supernatural in times of crisis and the way the past tries to bleed into the present. Lines are blurred between reality and the misty, mirky world of the supernatural. Hold on to your butts as this is a fantastic book.

I've been a fan of Jenn's since reading her short stories online and really enjoyed The Friday Gospels but Fell is even better so much so that it was one of my favourite reads of 2016.

Annette Clifford returns to her childhood home, abandoned by her father years ago when her mother died, overlooking Morecambe Bay. Her father has died, leaving behind the crumbling house which needs fixing up and restore to its former glory. Like her parents, when they first moved in, she is short of funds to restore the house yet she can't let out rooms like her parents did as the house is full of mould, plant life and nothing seems to work - the house is a museum of her parents past - wallpaper peeling off showing the layers underneath. The roots of two overgrown sycamores have spread underneath, causing damage to the foundations and pipes. Her arrival has woken the spirits of her parents, Netty and Jack, both reunited in death, and who are desperate to make a amends.

Told from the perspective of a husband and wife who are no longer living this is a story about lingering memories and unnatural presences in ordinary life. The story goes back to the summer of 1963 on the cusp of change for the whole family. Netty has cancer and following many operations and doctor appointments she is now living on borrowed time but she spends most of her time repressing her illness, pretending she is fine in front of her young daughter, Annette. Jack invites a charismatic lodger into their house who claims to heal people in the hope that this stranger can save Netty. Trying to keep the illness is becoming a burden. Annette is left to entertain herself as her mother is kept in her bedroom, knitting projects discarded near her chair, while in pain.

Now, in the present, a stranger must save Annette when she cuts herself when trying to slash down the sycamores. The local tree surgeon is pulled into Annette's world and the magnetic pull of the house. Echoes of the past bleed into the present with events repeating themselves but instead of the isolation felt by Jack and Netty collectively is now on Annette's shoulders - she must work out how to fix the house - alone. The supernatural blurs with the ordinary, many things left unexplained and for the reader to piece together - can this lodger actually heal people, how did he manage to get Netty to choke up sea water?

Fell is an eerie, atmospheric book, beautifully written by capturing the ordinary lives with small details and pulling the reader into the lives of these characters. This is a compelling book, and I'm still thinking about the story weeks after finishing the book.  You can buy Fell from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy via Bookbridgr.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Goodbye 2016

I’m sure everyone is glad 2016 is out of the way. It was a year where the political landscape changed, terrorism has intensified, actors, artists, musicians have died leaving a gap in many people’s hearts. Even though we don’t know these people some of the things they portray in either film or music can speak to us all on a personal level.

For me, this year was better than 2015. I’ve been making myself busy – keeping up going to the gym, road running, painting my flat, enjoying time with friends. I’ve also had a good year at work. There have been challenges but on the whole I’ve embraced them all, and I’m definitely a stronger person than what I was back at the beginning of the year. Hey, I’m not crying every hour like I was in 2015. Only one or twice a month – progress!

So here are my highlights for writing, reading and cultural events from 2016.

Writing in 2016

  • Continuing with redrafting my novel. My aim was to redraft one chapter per month and on average I’ve managed to keep this going and I even managed to redraft two in December. I’m now only 6 chapters away from the end.
  • I had five stories published. I have linked to the original blog posts so you can click through and have a read - so grab a tea and settle down on the sofa.

A Love Letter to My Slow Cooker – published at Murder and Glut
Ice-cream Van – republished in the Forge Fiction anthology
First Gear Dilemmas – published at Silver Birch Press

Reading in 2016
  • I have read 52 books this year ranging from short story collections, non fiction books about loneliness in the city to accounts of Chernobyl, and of course novels. I’ve read quite a few books published in 2016 but I’ve also tried to read a few things which I’ve been promising myself for years. This included the excellent Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and the slightly disappointing There But For The by Ali Smith.
  • You can read all of my monthly wrap ups via this link. You can find all of my reviews via this link.
  • Here are my top reads from 2016. I’ve linked to my reviews of these books, and all of these are highly recommended.

Culture in 2016
  • Arrival, High Rise and Lobster are my films of the year.
  • Going to the theatre and seeing 1984 (AMAZING) and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (AMAZING).
  • Emerald Street Literary festival in London. It was good but ticket holders were only allowed to attend three events, and I wanted to go to more. Hopefully it will run next year.
  • Seeing Neil Gaiman at the Word Factory event at Waterstones. Came away feeling inspired. Must read through my notes for some much needed inspiration.
  • I popped along to the Royal Academy to see ‘Painting the Modern Garden’ and really enjoyed seeing some Monets up close and personal but I really shouldn’t have left it until the penultimate day before it closed as it was very busy.
  • Harry Potter World was amazing. Fans of the films will love walking around the sets and looking at memorabilia. There was lots of insights into how they build the sets and special effects.
  • I’ve always wanted to see a ballet, and this year I got a chance to see Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall and it was amazing. I really want to see some more ballet in 2017.
  • I also got the chance to see both Jurassic Park and ET at the Royal Albert Hall. The film is played on the big screen with an accompanying orchestra. A great experience.

So, how was your 2016?

Come back soon for my ‘Hello 2017’ post!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Books Read in December

I'm not sure how it happened but I have managed to read four books in December even though I've been busy with Christmas. I love buying presents, walking around the shops, picking out something to either make the person laugh or match their personality. I'm not much of an internet shopper at Christmas time. Don't get me started on wrapping presents - I love it!

This year I hosted Boxing Day and all of my family came over, and it was a great day. Christmas was very different from what it was a few years ago so I have been thinking about the past more than I should have over the last few weeks. Missing people who aren't in our lives anymore, thinking about the past year but also thinking about what the future will hold...

Anyway, to the books I've read....

Chernobyl Prayer - Svetlana Alexievich
This fantastic book includes witness accounts of the Chernobyl disaster and the ways lives have changed, the way people have been manipulated and the way some people decided to continue to live near the area. Fascinating book. Highly highly recommended.

Fell - Jenn Ashworth
This is a haunting book about the spirits of the past arising when Annette returns to her childhood home, ready to renovate it and sell. This book is atmospheric and touching. I'll be reviewing Fell later in the month. Fantastic writing.

Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout
I've head lots of amazing things about this book and I'm not sure why I've put off reading it for so long. After reading My Name is Lucy Barton, I thought it was time that I read this book. This book is a collection of short stories based around the community in which Olive Kitteridge lives. She isn't always the main character in the story but lingers on the sidelines, her presence is always there within the community. Amazing author. Next year, I'm going to read more Elizabeth Strout.

What A Way To Go - Julia Forster
I think I won this back in 2015 and it's another book where I'm not sure why I've waited so long to read. This tells the story of Harper and her life with her divorced parents. I'm not sure if it's a YA novel or adult novel - maybe it's a crossover novel. I enjoyed this book, and fans of Nina Stibbe will like this book.

I hope everybody has had a fantastic holiday. Pop by tomorrow and I'll be posting my 2016 review!

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Book Review: Harmless Like You

Harmless Like You
By Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Published by Sceptre
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

On the surface, Harmless Like You, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan's debut novel is a coming of age story as a girl becomes a woman in the city as she struggles to become an authentic artist but this novel is more than that. This is a book about the connections we make, break and discover in the world. This is a book about isolation, abandonment and desertion. This is a book about creativity and parenthood. This is a book about how behaviours are passed down to each generation.

Told through two narratives, Yuki's story begins in 1960s when her parents head back to Japan, leaving her to battle against Japanese tradition and the seductive nature of American culture as she tries to become an artist and find her 'art'. She finds herself moving from destructive relationship to another, first with her friend from school and then into the arms of her first boyfriend who hits her and belittles her art. While the second strand follows her adult son, Jay in 2016, as he battles to deal with his past and bond with his baby.

Harmless Like You is a great companion book to read with Olivia Laing's The Lonely City. Both books like at isolation people face and the way people search for a belonging. Both Yuki and Jay live in New York and Berlin, full of people, but are unable to find that connection to the people they know or even strangers. This consuming isolation pushes both Yuki and Jay to the fringes of society - they are surrounded by people who do feel the same and who also do not look the same. Both are outsiders, and the only way to deal with this abandonment is to desert their current life. Yuki walks away from the house in the country, her husband and her son. While, under the impression Jay is looking for his mother, he leaves behind his business, his wife and baby.

Yuki is consumed by her art and creativity, and is constantly looking for authenticity. While Jay wants to be an authentic parent and thinks he must be 'perfect' before he can bond with his baby. The conflict between parenthood, loneliness and creativity causes both of these characters to reject society's expectations.

Harmless Like You looks at the way people inherit identity from their parents, from culture, from their surroundings. Both characters flinch away from the harm they are causing on others (Yuki leaves behind her husband is loves her more than she loves him) while Jay escapes from the harm being caused by others on him - his father, his mother, the baby interrupting his life. Both characters have lost their sense of 'home' and are detached from their cultural heritage

This is a book which will linger in your mind long after finishing it. The characters are not likeable but the problems the face are relatable. This is a great book! You can buy Harmless Like You from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy via Bookbridgr.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Books Read In November

November was full of great books. There was not one dud in the pack!

So lets not waste any more time, and get straight into looking at the books I read in November...

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers - Max Porter
A young father, a Ted Hughes scholar, in a small flat must look after his children and keep the household running after his wife suddenly dies. A crow visits, and will not leave, creating havoc but also helping the family to heal. This amazing book is part novel, part poem full of sadness and humour. Linguistically playful, the words gallop on your tongue. This is a quick read but I turned back to the beginning after finishing and started again, reading it slower. This is a fantastic book.

Self-Help - Lorrie Moore
This short story collection looks at the complicated, funny, awkward life of women trying to find their place(s) in the world. This collection tells the story of woman being 'another woman' in a relationship, a woman with a terminal illness contemplating her death or a guide to being a writer. Moore is a razor sharp writer. I'm not sure why I've left it until this long to read Lorrie Moore.

Harmless Like You - Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
This is the story of a young woman caught and torn between the life a creativity or having a family with a normal job, and a house in the suburbs. This complex novel looks at identity, families, love and loneliness. This is a good companion book to read with The Lonely City. I'll be reviewing this soon.

Harmony - Carolyn Parkhurst
This tense and gripping novel looks at the way parents struggle with a child who is on the autistic spectrum. Moving to a camp to help learn coping strategies ends up isolating and bringing the family to the brink. You can read my review here.

So what did you read in November?