book review

Review: The Manningtree Witches by AK Blakemore

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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The Manningtree Witches is a fictionalised account of the puritanical witch trials that swept across England in the 1640s, during the English civil war. We follow Rebecca, who lives with her widowed, disreputable mother (the Bedlam West) in a small Essex town, when Matthew Hopkins (later to be known through history as the Witchfinder General) comes to stay and starts to ask questions about the marginalised women in the town.

I loved this novel. This is AK Blakemore’s debut novel, but she have previously released poetry collections – and you can tell. Her writing is beautiful, inventive and sharp – she has such a turn of phrase but it never becomes purple or dense and it is mellowed by wit and wryness running through the narration. It’s mainly told in first person but does switch to some third-person sections; I would usually not enjoy this sort of switching but she handles it really well. It did take me a chapter or two to get used to the writing style, which captures the language of the time – but once I adapted to it, I loved it!

Blakemore beautifully depicts the feeling of the time – the jealousies, the outrage, the fear that makes neighbour turn on neighbour. There is a claustrophobic, eerie feel to the novel, foreshadowing what is to come and setting you on edge throughout. It’s slightly uncomfortable at points, which is something I quite like in a novel. Blakemore doesn’t steer away from the dirtiness and the difficulty of the lives that some of these women lead – she puts a spotlight on it (some of the descriptions of Mother Clarke felt so real that I felt a bit sick).

Rebecca is an excellent protagonist – a keen observer, witty, entertaining. But we also see her terror and her powerlessness as events unfold. All of the women accused of being witches were excellently rendered – after all, Blakemore has made the decision here to focus on the persecuted, not the persecutor. But I was particularly impressed by Bedlam West, Rebecca’s mum, who I think may be the stand out character for me. She refuses to conform, she’s confrontational, she drinks too much and she’s bawdy. But that’s balanced by a tenderness, kindness and love, which comes out at different points across the novel and never failed to take my breath away/make me feel quite emotional.

Like all of the best historical fiction, Blakemore is also talking just as much about the modern day as she is about the 17th century (or, at least, that’s how I read it). The women that were hunted were those that did not conform to society’s expectations of what they should be as women, and so are hunted and persecuted and are accused of sleeping with the devil. It doesn’t take too much of a leap of logic to align this with today’s standards, where successful, powerful or unconventional women (including trans women) are torn down by the media just because they happen to be in the public eye.

I think I could talk about how amazing this book is for days and days, but I don’t want to give too much away, and I think it would just be easier if you read it for yourself to find out! This is a phenomenal story which gives life and humanity to the persecuted in the witch trials – Blakemore’s writing is beautiful and sharp, and her characters come alive. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for her next novel, and exploring her poetry in the meantime!

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Review: The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

Rating: 2 out of 5.
The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse | Books and travelling with Lynn

The Sanatorium has been a widely talked about novel since it was released, so of course I had to pick up a copy and see what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately, this novel was a real mixed bag for me.

Set in an isolated hotel in the Swiss Alps (recently converted from an abandoned sanatorium), this novel tells the story of Elin, a British detective who is on leave when she visits the hotel to celebrate her estranged brother’s engagement. Elin is actually there to confront him about a dark incident in their past, but things get off track when her brother’s fiancé goes missing, there’s an avalanche, and then a body turns up.

Let’s start with the bits I liked about this book: it kept me reading. I found the premise interesting, and I wanted to know what was happening.

But the pacing in this novel felt really off, and it felt too long. I kept saying to my boyfriend that I felt like I was reading loads of the book and simultaneously making no progress – it was an odd reading experience. It felt very much at times that a lot was happening but none of it really mattered or was progressing the story? It’s hard to explain.

My biggest disappointment though was in the reveal itself – though I figure out the who, I had no idea of the why. Until the really cliched ‘reveal all’ by the villain where they explained their motives… which were completely absurd in terms of the relation between why they did it and what they did. It was nonsensical and long-winded and it just ruined the book for me.

The characters (especially the boyfriend and brother) were not very well developed, though I have come to expect this in a lot of thrillers… but considering the brother was part of Elin’s backstory and one big thread of the novel, it confused me that we knew so little about him. There also seemed to be a lot of inconsistencies/things that were never explained – and I don’t know whether this was accidental, or whether it’s purposeful because of that epilogue.

The epilogue confused me the most – I can’t work out if it’s a teaser for a second book or whether it was supposed to be related to the first. After the let-down of the info-dump ending, this epilogue was like the second nail in the coffin for me.

The writing is atmospheric, and I liked the premise a lot, but I thought this book could’ve been shorter and sharper, and the info-dump from the villain at the end was just too much for me.

book meme

WWW Wednesday | 14 Apr

Hi everyone! I’m back with another WWW Wednesday, hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

The three Ws to be answered are:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

The Sanatorium: The spine-tingling Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick, now a  Sunday Times bestseller: Amazon.co.uk: Pearse, Sarah: 9781787633315: Books

I’ve just started The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse – a bit late to the party as I feel like everyone has read this book already! The Sanatorium is a thriller set in an isolated hotel in the Swiss Alps, which was recently converted from an abandoned sanatorium. When Elin arrives to stay at the hotel, she is immediately put on edge… and that nervousness turns to panic when people start to disappear.

I only picked this up last night so I’m about 50 pages into the novel, but I’m enjoying it so far! It has very short chapters so it’s very quick and easy to read.

I’m also sort of currently reading Amazing Disgrace by Grace Campbell. By ‘sort of’, I mean I picked it up and read a couple of chapters just over a week ago, and I haven’t picked it up since. I wasn’t immediately taken by this book, which is a memoir/nonfiction book focusing on the concept of shame. I just don’t know if I enjoy the author’s voice very much. But I do want to give it another try.

What did you recently finish reading?

Tall Bones: The Sunday Times bestseller. “Compelling” – Paula Hawkins:  Amazon.co.uk: 9780857527394: Books

So, since my last WWW Wednesday post, I’ve finished three books: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Tall Bones by Anna Bailey and The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris.

I really enjoyed Tall Bones – it’s a haunting, twisty and dark thriller. I was less certain about Piranesi – I read it predominately because it’s on the Women’s Prize longlist – and I thought it had a really promising premise and loved the first half of the novel, but found the second half to be a let down.

The Other Black Girl was a really good thriller – it’s been described as a combination of The Devil Wears Prada and Get Out. I’ll be posting a review closer to its publication date, which is 1 June.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m not sure what I’ll read after The Sanatorium. I recently ordered some new books (as a celebration for some good news I received – though who really needs the excuse?) so it might be one of them. As March was a bad month for me, I was mood reading a lot more, and I’ve continued to do this through April. For example, 4 out of the 6 most recent books I’ve read/am currently reading have been thrillers – I’m really into that genre at the moment, as I’ve read some phenomenal ones (Girl A and Tall Bones have to be some of the best I’ve read!). I do want to change it up a bit, but I’ll just see what I’m feeling!

book review

Rescue Me by Sarra Manning

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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Sarra Manning has always been my happy-place writer. Since I read Diary of a Crush as a teenager, I have devoured and loved almost all of her books. They just make me really happy. So I of course had to pick up her new book – Rescue Me – and even more so when I so the adorable cover and learnt it was about two people who co-parent (or co-pawrent, as Margot would say!) an adopted dog. The dog in the novel, Blossom, is based largely on the Staffy that Manning herself adopted, which makes it even cuter in my mind.

Rescue Me is told jointly from the points of view of Margot and Will. When they cross paths at a dog adoption centre, they end up adopting a dog, Blossom, together. Margot takes one week, then Will the next. At first, they don’t get on – Margot finds Will rude and cold, Will finds Margot overbearing. But, as they spend more time together, they realise that first impressions are deceiving, and there might be a spark between the two of them.

This book was as lovely as I expected it to be! Cute and fluffy in all the right places, but not at the expense of serious backstory and character building. Both Margot and Will have their own issues that they need to work through and deal with in order to be healthy and happy people – the book is just as much about this as it is about them falling in love. You can always rely on Manning’s books to be well-written and well-paced, and this book was not an exception here.

Rescue Me is a heartwarming and compelling novel. I definitely recommend for those who love rom-coms, love Sarra Manning, or are looking for a lighter read. This book won’t let you down!

And if you’ve already read Rescue Me, may I suggest some of Sarra Manning’s other novels? Unsticky, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, and Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend are all wonderful adult rom-coms – some of my favourites in fact!

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book review

Girl A by Abigail Dean

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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CW: Child abuse

I devoured Girl A by Abigail Dean – I read it in two sittings, staying up late on a work night to finish the book. It wasn’t like what I expected at all – I’ve seen it described as a thriller but it’s much more psychological than your average thriller, relying on characters rather than plot.

Lex, the eponymous Girl A, escaped from her abusive parents’ house and freed her siblings from captivity. Now, years later, her mother has died in prison and Lex is left as executor of her will, causing Lex to revisit her past. The story switches between the present and flashbacks, and from the flashbacks and conversations with her siblings, we start to learn more about Lex’s childhood and the truly awful things her parents did.

The content of this novel is very dark, but I think Dean does a good job of balancing the novel, making sure it isn’t too bleak and remaining sensitive/non-exploitative.

The novel is gripping and absolutely fascinating – as what happened is told through flashbacks (which are mostly in chronological order), the story of the past is drip-fed to you, never answering too many questions and always keeping you guessing about everything that happened. The present-day material is also very interesting; the family dynamics feel very real and well thought out. There’s obviously a lot of powerful emotions at play, and the relationships are complicated (as you would expect). I was just as interested in the siblings as I was in Lex – and Abigail Dean does a very good job of managing a large host of very complex characters.

This novel is intense and twisty – it leaves you guessing for as long as it can (which I enjoy) and never fails to surprise you! There were definitely a few twists I did not see coming at all. It’s a really thorough look at the long-term effects of child abuse, and it can be difficult to read at times: both their parents’ abuse, and the way that the children were treated afterwards – for example, one of the sibling’s treatment by his adopted parents and the media comes to mind.

I really, really enjoyed this novel. It won’t be for everyone – it’s very character driven, and some people could be deeply affected by the content of the novel. However, I found it incredibly well-written, and it will be a novel that stays with me for a very long time.

book review

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Piranesi: THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER (High/Low): Amazon.co.uk: Clarke,  Susanna: 9781526622426: Books

I bought Piranesi a while ago for my boyfriend, who is a big fan of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell, but I confess I didn’t know much about it/wasn’t that intrigued by it until it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize last month. I’m trying to read as many as I can from the list, and as this one was already on my shelf, it felt like a good place to start.

I went into Piranesi knowing virtually nothing about the story, and to be honest, I think that’s the right way to go. I hadn’t even read the blurb! So I’m going to give you the briefest hint of the novel, only telling you what you’d read in the first couple of pages: Piranesi lives in a building with an infinite number of rooms, all lined with statues, and which is periodically flooded by the ocean. He only knows one other person, who he calls The Other.

That’s it! If you’re intrigued, you should definitely pick up the book to find out more.

This is a slightly disorientating, very atmospheric read. I enjoyed the first-person narration of the main character, and the sense of humour that Clarke instils in the narration. This is a short novel, and I read it over two sittings – it’s very immersive, so it’s easy to lose yourself in what’s going on. I spent a fair amount of the first half of the novel trying to figure out what was happening, flicking back to earlier parts of the story to re-read bits and see if I could work out what was going on.

The confusion of that first half was definitely the best bit of the novel for me – I enjoyed not knowing what was happening and trying to figure it out. However, I did think that everything was revealed a bit too quickly, and once you worked it out, some of the fun and mystery of the novel disappeared. It didn’t help that as readers, you understand more things than the main character does, so you work things out quicker than him.

I enjoyed this novel and think that Clarke is a very talented writer, but overall found it a little bit lacking – it’s interesting, but the second half of the novel fell a bit flat for me and I wanted more from it! Overall, I would say this novel has lots of potential but I’m not sure it was realised.

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Tall Bones by Anna Bailey

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Anna Bailey, Tall Bones | Sam Read Bookseller Online Shop

[AD – GIFTED]

Before I jump into the review, I just wanted to say thank you to the Tandem Collective and Transworld Publishers for gifting me a copy of this book so I could take part in the Tall Bones Readalong over on Instagram. Though I was gifted this book, I wasn’t paid to write a review and these opinions are my own!

Tall Bones is set in a small town in Colorado, where a teenaged girl called Abigail goes missing. The rest of the book follows Abi’s family and friends in the aftermath of her disappearance, and it turns out that basically everyone is hiding something. So, what is the truth? Did anyone have a hand in Abi’s disappearance, or did she run away?

This is a gorgeously written, twisty thriller that really kept me on my toes! Bailey expertly paints the inhabitants of the town, and I was really impressed with the way that she managed to handle so many characters and plot threads. The novel jumps back and forth in time – there’s the main present day narrative, and occasionally we jump back to see events that were either important in the run up to Abi’s disappearance or to a character’s backstory.

Bailey creates the small town feel very well – Whistling Ridge is intense and claustrophobic; you can see why so many characters feel trapped there. This is a desolate and bleak novel at times, and it deals with quite difficult subjects. There’s a haunting undertone to the whole novel, which adds to the atmospheric feeling. Though somewhat slow-paced (it’s not your typical thriller, it’s definitely very character-driven), I was on the edge of my seat for a large portion of the book – and Bailey manages to pack so much character and relationship development into the novel, expertly unfurling little bits of backstories and clues to what has happened as she goes.

This book was an excellent read and I thought it was very clever! The mystery is expertly woven, and it kept me guessing the whole time. There’s so much life in this book, and so many secrets to uncover – I really recommend it.

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