We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirely Jackson

I have only ever read Shirley Jackson books in October. She is just an author I associate with these Autumn nights since picking up ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ last October. I am also going to make a bold statement – ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ is better than ‘The Haunting of Hill House’.

‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ may not be as openly ‘horror’ as ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, but Jackson’s excellent writing builds a chilling tale with excellent black comedy. As I read this novel, I enjoyed the fact that you never know exactly what is ‘reality’. There is so much mystery surronding the Blackwood family and their dark secret – and they let it engulf them such that, even as the reader, there are points where you don’t know if you can believe what you are reading.

However, there is also a lot of charm to this book as you build empathy for the characters. After all, if the village you live in has isolated you from society, then that could well skew your idea of quite how live should be. And, just as with Hill House, the Blackwood House is as much of a character as the ‘people’ of the book.

Throughout the story, there are hints to the truth. Although, by the end, I think there are still some loose ends – depending on how you take the tale.

For me, the thing that really freaked me out was the little spider icon at the close of he novel. After all, I really do not like spiders.

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

It is October and I am trying to ensure that all my reading has a thrilling or spooky the to it.

So, my first choice was the new YA novel from Kiran Millwood Hargrave: ‘The Deathless Girls’. Before I even talk about the story, I have to talk about how absolutely beautiful the cover is. It immediately evokes a Gothic atmosphere with its dark background, gold and autumnal hues, and symbols that represent various themes of the tale. Simply, it is stunning and really represents the contents of the novel.

And now to the tale – Kiran Millwood Hargrave has decided to tell the story of the Brides of Dracula; those women who do not have a voice in the myth of Dracula. She does this beautifully; you are involved in the story from the start. The twins Lil and Kizzy are captured by Boyer Volcar, forced away from their Traveller community and frightened. However, there is an even darker cloud hovering over them – the myth of the Dragon and the young girls that he takes as gifts. When Kizzy is taken, Lil must find her sister before the worst might happen…

There is so much wonderful tension in this book because the atmosphere is created through the beautiful writing. It is truly the perfect novel to read on these dark nights, especially by candlelight.

Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy

I have mentioned before the fabulous Victorian Sensation Bookclub; a great bookstagram community who buddy-read a Victorian classic. September’s read was ‘Desperate Remedies’ by Thomas Hardy. Now, I will be honest, I was not sure about a Hardy novel. He has always been an author I had been intimitated by. I am not sure why – possibly becuase there seems to be a huge community of dedicated Hardy fans out there, and I was worried I would not become one.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by my Hardy reading experience. I will admit that it took me a while to get the hang of the style – I mean, why use a simple description when you can have an over-complicated one? However, when I reached the description of the mathematical angle being the cause of an event going unobserved, I decided I was well and truly sucked into Hardy’s world.

‘Desperate Remedies’ has everything that makes a Victorian Sensation exactly what it should be. There is mystery, intrigue, secrets, murder and adventure. I absolutely adored every moment of this book once I had got the hang of Hardy’s style. I found myself dragged into the drama and keen to know where the adventure would take me next.

I don’t want to share any spoilers, so I do not want to go into the details of the plot. However, I would recommend that people who enjoy a good bit of drama pick up this book.

So, I feel – or hope – I am a Hardy fan and I am ready to read more of his novels. Fingers crossed, I am not disappointed. The question is – what should I try next?

Evie and the Animals by Matt Haig

I am always in awe of those authors who show their talents in so many different ways – Matt Haig is one of those authors. Haig can write with such style, not just for adults but also for children (and even then he can adapt his style).

‘Evie and the Animals’ is a book I believe was inspired by his daughter’s love of animals. It is a great story – in my opinion, for all ages – of a girl who has a love of animals and a special talent that allows them to communicate with her, and vice versa. There is a wonderful emphasis on the importance being special in your own way – that there is no need to try and be like everyone else.

Evie can gather great strength when she knows the truth about her past. And she goes on to use that to save those that she loves – human and animal alike.

This is a glorious adventure with brilliant illustrations from Emily Gravett, which bring even more life to this novel.

We should all remember that we have our own special talents and that they make us the individuals we are today.

Tilly and the Lost Fairytales by Anna James

This is a book that I could not wait to read, having read the first one earlier this year. And this book did not disappoint at all.

Anna James has created the best world for bookworms young and old. As Tilly and her best friend Oskar are bookwanderers and enter books, make friends with characters, and go on adventures. However, as with all great stories, there is an element of danger and mystery along the way.

This time, Tilly and Oskar find themselves caught up in fairy tales. An unusual story, as they do not always have a clear original source but they still hold all the magic of stories. They are a little bit of a mystery but certainly need to be saved for everyone to enjoy. Even if there are those who simply want the magic for themselves.

I genuinely adore these novels; I feel they are like my ultimate fantasy book. We all enter stories every time we open our books and let our imagination take us in an adventure – but, let’s be honest, we would all like characters to really be our friends.

Even better, this is a book that sparked a conversation between me and a bookseller as we discussed how fabulous Anna James’ tales are (and, if I am honest, neither of us are the target audience).

The illustrations and presentation od thse books are stunning, and I can not wait until we go on another adventure with Tilly.

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

This is a novel that I was sent in a fabulous little bookswap in the summer. Not a novel that I would have picked up myself, but that is the beauty of all these brilliant bookswaps – they invite you to read books that you may not have picked up otherwise.

‘Clock Dance’ is a great novel, almost a coming-of-age novel, but for an older character. Willa Drake has lived her life the way she feels she should. However, it has not always turned out the way it should. Her mother was difficult, she became a widow young, and she doesn’t have the relationship with he family that she thought she would and, even, should have. So, when a chance phone call leads her to be the person looking after her son’s ex-girlfriend and he daughter, her life takes a very different path.

This story is a wonderful tale that shows that you do not always have to stick to the life path you are given and that sometimes taking a chance can lead to a different outcome.

A heart-warming tale told with humour, you really hope that Willa will take the opportunities that are thrown at her and throw off the limitations that she gives herself by doing what is expected of her. The final paragraph is one of the best in a book that I have read in a while.

This will encourage me to try some more novels from Anne Tyler, as this is only the second novel I have read and, for me, it was a 5-star read.

Have you found any new authors through bookswaps?

National Read a Book Day – or Not!

Do not let the title of the blog post confuse you – I am over the moon that it is ‘National Read a Book Day’ – however, I have been thinking about not reading books. Do not despair, I am not giving up books; I could never do that. Yet, do we have to finish books that we do not enjoy or say we love a book just because everyone else does?

While contemplating this question, I have decided that life is too short to read books that you do not enjoy. Or telling people you enjoyed a book that, let’s be honest, you didn’t.

Sometimes, it really disappoints me that I have to retire a book to the ‘Did Not Finish’ pile. A recent example of this was ‘The Secret Barrister’. I was so excited to receive it in a recent bookswap and actually give it a go. However, it just was not for me, despite my best efforts. Remember, this does not mean it is not a good book – it just means it was not the book for me. I am sure, for many readers, it was the perfect book.

This is a similar idea to the #blacksheepofbookstagram created by the lovely ‘Silver Linings and Pages’ and her bookstagram account. This is based on the principle that you may not enjoy that book that everyone else in the book world seems to hold in high esteem. My recent experience of that was ‘East Lynne’, a book club read that just was not as fabulous for me as it seemed to be for everyone else. But I have finally accepted that it is okay – after all, the world would be a boring place if we were all the same.

So, as much as ‘National Read a Book Day’ is a perfect day for us bookworms, it is also okay to like what you like and not like what you don’t like!

Happy reading!

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Two Sara Barnard novels in one summer – wow – I have clearly found another author who grabs my attention. ‘A Quiet Kind of Thunder’ was another remarkable YA novel that I wish had been around when I was ‘officially’ the audience of the genre.

What has struck me over the two novels I have read this summer from Sara Barnard is that she does not shy away from tough topics, and also creates fabulous characters. Steffi doesn’t speak; she becomes anxious in public situations. She is introduced to Rhys, who is deaf. However, they really understand each other. Communication doesn’t always have to be verbal, in fact sometimes the quietest people can be the loudest. Together, Steffi and Rhys help each other grow and face the challenges of being a teenager in the modern world – and, together, they find their voice.

This is a wonderful love story for the modern age and demonstrates the positivity that surrounds someone finding the right person to offer them support. It shows that there can be hurdles and bumps along the way, but often they can make people stronger.

The most wonderful touch about this novel is the symbols with each chapter that demonstrate the numbers in BSL. It has certainly inspired me to want to learn and have more of an understanding of another language.

I can not wait to read more from Sara Barnard, as she really has a talent for creating tales that have you hooked.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Taheren Mafi

This novel has an incredibly clever title and it took me rather a long time to realise this. But when I did, it made me love this book even more.

This is a tale that may seem like a popular one for YA fiction – a love story. However, this has so much more to it. Yes, it tackles the idea of love across the cultural divide (which we all know is something that maybe we should not be facing in the 21st Century), however the journey of self-discovery on these pages is fascinating. Maybe, one who fears prejudice may inadvertently demonstrate their own?

Shirin feels that there is absolutely no need to become part of the school community. After all, they will all have made their mind up about her, judging her on her hijab. However, she meets Ocean, who goes out of his way to find out more about her – and will not give up easily. As a friendship and relationship blooms between the two, it comes to light that Ocean is basketball player and the labels the two feel they carry lead to difficult consequences for both.

A I read this book I went through all the emotions for all the characters. It is quite an emotional page-turner. You certainly feel that, by the end, Shirin and Ocean have been on quite an adventure together – and maybe they are a little happier in their own skin by the end.

New Beginnings at Rose Cottage by Erin Green

Erin Green’s fourth novel has hit the shelves, and her first published by Headline. An exciting August publication for all, readers and author.

‘New Beginnings at Rose Cottage’ is an absolutely wonderful novel; I enjoyed every moment of this tale that was inspired by a recent trip to Brixham that Erin went on with friends (and by the end I am pretty certain you will want to visit it too).

Three women are thrown together as they each book a ‘solo’ holiday at Rose Cottage. At first they appear an unlikely trio to become friends – but they all have a strong connection: the need to find new beginnings.

They have quite some adventures as each embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Along the way, their friendships blooms and creates strong bonds that are unlikely to be broken.

The characters in the book are relateable, but my favourite of all was Benni – in fact, by the end of the book, I decided many of us need to ‘be like Benni’. She is just fabulous but, for me, certainly blooms into the beautiful butterfly she deserves to be by the end of the novel.

Erin Green never disappoints with her books. And, although I have a terrible craving for fish and chips and a seaside holiday now I have finished the book, it was a great read and I am looking forward to the next story in 2020.