Happy (Belated) Easter…

I just wanted to wish you and yours a wonderful Easter, however you are celebrating it, if you are celebrating it – albeit slightly belatedly.

I have had a lovely quiet day of reading and relaxing, no chocolates but I have had my first ever taste of simnel cake which I can now say I would quite like to eat all the time. I hope you have been having a lovely day whatever you have been doing, wherever you are!

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Other People’s Bookshelves #38; Jane Rusbridge

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we head into the home of author Jane Rusbridge, a prime example of why we should #ReadBritish2014 as you will see when I review her second novel Rook tomorrow. Before all that though let us sit down with Jane, have some of the gorgeous cupcakes she has made us and have a nosey through her shelves, first though a little more about her…

I live and work in coastal West Sussex and am married to a farmer. We have five grown up children. I’ve been a teacher most of my life, but went back to university to do a part-time English degree when my youngest child started school. Basically I just stayed there for 18 years – firstly to complete an MA in Creative Writing after my degree, and then to teach. My writing took off about 10 years ago when my husband bought me a shed so that I had somewhere to write. I painted it blue. I have two novels published by Bloomsbury, The Devil’s Music and Rook, a Guardian Readers’ Book of the Year.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

When I don’t finish a book it will go to charity or the library, otherwise I’m a keeper. Just not necessarily on shelves. I am more of a various-piles-here-and-there person when it comes to books. My only system is that if I read something on an ereader – which I do sometimes, but only for convenience – if it’s good, I will buy the *real* book too. Novels need rereading. My second or third reading is usually more from the point of view of a writer, to see how an author has handled a particular technique, or plot structure, or ending … Ebooks are not at all pleasing to revisit and, worse, they seem to disappear from memory, don’t you find? Pfft! just like that, author, title and all. Real books keep you company in a way that ebooks don’t.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I am totally organised – it just doesn’t look like it! New books go straight into the ‘piano’ room (never touch the piano these days, except to put books on it), in one of several piles: new fiction, research, friends’ books, classics to revisit – that sort of thing. With fiction, when it’s read once it goes on the book shelves made by my other half, in alphabetical order (vaguely). Poetry books go into a small (rather impractical) bookcase in the living room. Books about writing and books connected with my previous novels are on shelves in my writing room. Currently I’m researching for novel 3, and all my research books are therefore lying everywhere about the house. In piles.

'Rook' bookshelf

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

This may be a mis-memory, but I think it was The Ship That Flew by Hilda Lewis, with money I got after having no fillings at the dentist. I was lucky as a child and had many books bought for me. (Also, I did not have a filling until I was 19. Not many people know that). The copy I have is a hardback and in a box of books in the attic, now that our children are grown-up. I’m glad you reminded me, because now my grandson has arrived I need to get those books down. I also might need to make use of my husband’s shelf building skills again.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

We used to have a copy of The Joy of Sex, which we hid from the children when they were small. They obviously used to thoroughly investigate all the hiding places in our room however, because when the recent TV programme based on the book was on I learned that at least one of them came across it. The only other book I keep out of sight I couldn’t possibly tell you about, otherwise I’d have kill you!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I treasure my father’s very old medical books. He was 57 when I was born, quite old for a dad, and he died on the night of the ’87 hurricane – so, a long time ago. He was passionate about the value of books, and read to me a lot when I was child.

Precious books my father's medical books

Also, an old illustrated copy of The Dawnchild by Beryl Irving, which was a book I used to read when I went to stay at my grandparents when I was little, while my mother and father were on one of their trips back to Scotland. I loved staying there. Like you, I was given this book when I was older, and it’s the associations which make it precious.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

A J Cronin’s Country Doctor. My mother watched Doctor Finlay’s Casebook avidly, but my father had told me the book was the Real Thing. I didn’t ever read it!

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

To be honest, these days I tend to buy the books I want to read. I spend more on books than almost anything else. I daren’t add up my annual expenditure, so don’t ask.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Where Zeus became Man by Sabine Ivanovas, a book of photographs and notes about Cretan shepherds. It’s for research.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Oh goodness – where to start? The next book I’m planning to buy is The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

They might notice that I read mainly contemporary novels, and my non-fiction reading is rather uneven: masses of books on Harold II and rooks; books on knots and rope; books on Crete. Their fingers might itch to tidy up my book heaps. I hope they realise I love books and reading.

research & TBR piles

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A huge thanks to Jane for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Check back on Monday for a review of her second novel Rook. In the meantime if you would like to find out more about Jane visit her website here. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Jane’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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More Tales From Home; Why I have Decided to #ReadBritish2014

A week or so ago I mentioned that I had been honoured to be asked to be the Inaugural Guest Editor for Fiction Uncovered’s website for a month. As I mentioned then, and have been mentioning for quite some time, I am a big fan of the initiative which every year highlights eight British authors that we really should be reading or should have read yet for various reasons (coverage, missing out on long lists, pure bad luck/chance, etc) we haven’t done.

Since then I have been thinking about it more and more, partly because I was writing my first post which you can see here (which looks at what might lead to some amazing authors going under the radar) and so was looking at it in different ways, without being too pessimistic I hope.

Having given it all this extra thought I decided that rather than just have a month of ‘The Best of British’ or ‘Being British’ which I was planning, and sounded unintentionally xenophobic, I think my aim for the forthcoming year is just to make sure I am reading more of the books about my home country from my fellow country folk. In short I am going to #ReadBritish2014.

This doesn’t mean that I am only going to be reading British authors, as that isn’t me at all I love books from all over the world – I am planning on joining in with Kim of Reading Matters wonderful ANZ month in May for a start. Nor does it mean that I will only be reading the well-known British authors, though I won’t ‘not’ read them to make a point either, but it would be marvellous to find some lesser known gems, all in the spirit of Fiction Uncovered.

Who else fancies reading some more fiction from home, wherever in the world you are? Or are you already a clever clogs and make sure you do this already? Do you think it is important to support local authors as you would a local indie store? Which British authors should I make sure I try and encounter over the next year? Oh and do go over and see my piece for Fiction Uncovered if you have a spare moment, it would be lovely to have you pop by and even comment if you fancied it, hint, hint!

 

 

 

 

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A Visit to Manchester Central Library…

I can’t work out if it I in America all over or just parts of it this week, but I do believe that this week might (important word to cover myself if I feel an utter fool when I discover it isn’t at all) be National Libraries Week – something I think we should bring over to the UK as a single day simply isn’t enough and a week really gets in the consciousness.  Anyway, back off my soapbox, I thought if this was the case it would be nice to share a little trip I made around the all newly revamped Manchester Central Library a few weeks ago.

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I didn’t really know what to expect and as libraries are such wonderful things I was hoping it would be amazing, I wasn’t disappointed so knowing you all love books and the places that home them I thought I would share.

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What I think is wonderful about renovated libraries is when they are modernised and yet have the history and the old sense of a library, as I think Liverpool Central Library does. Manchester council were clearly on a similar wave length as you have the wonderful old features like the stain glassed windows and wooden beams (above) and then you walk into something that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi movie set in the future.

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It is done again when you look through the clear glass into the wonderful archives brimming with hidden treasures…

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Or when you are wandering around the thoroughly modern exhibition, café and seating area and find gems of the old library still being used amongst the new.

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Note – I want one of those old archiving files in my house, just saying. It also carries on as you head up to the top floor, the modern architecture meeting the new and somehow, brilliantly, feeling like they were always meant to work together…

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I think on of my favourite classic meets modern designs was on the top floor where you find all the reference books and the shelves, which run on a track, meaning much more space, have been given these wonderful new case covers that stop it looking like some old nuclear bunker, which sadly can be a look in the library world…

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The other thing I loved about it was how light and airy it was, come on, don’t tell me you couldn’t spend hours sat reading in here? I was pretty much ready to move in.

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Now there is a proper library down in the basement, which is again marvellously light, where all the new books of contemporary and classic fiction sit side by side, non fiction, travel etc all waiting in the wings and you can go and borrow books which is most important of course…

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Yet for me the most astounding room was the main Reading Room which I am slightly obsessed with.

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If ever I am in Manchester you know where to find me, spending a few hours with a book or just sitting people watching and taking in the atmosphere of the place. Marvellous.

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It feels like the heart of the place, not just because it is the dead centre and the centre circle of the building, but because you look around and think ‘wow, all these people are using it again, after all those generations before them’ and it seems to highlight exactly why libraries are so important and why we need to keep them, and as many as possible, forever.

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It was a wonderful trip and I think I spent about three hours just wandering, not even picking up a book. I should add that the whole time I lived in Manchester this building was the biggest tease in the city. It was closed the whole time but looked so marvellous from the outside and so, so tempting. So it is lovely to see it up and running. Manchester you are very lucky, though I know I am exceptionally lucky having the Liverpool Central Library down the road – I haven’t forgotten.

What do you make of this renovation? Which is your favourite library, where is it and why do you love it so?

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Aaaaaaaaaaargh, There Are Just Too Many Books…

Is it just me or do any of you ever get the feeling that there are just too many books out there and that you might not be able to read all the ones you want and how do you find out about the amazing ‘just you’ kind of books that would make your life a better place and what about all the authors you love and never seem to catch up on reading the back catalogue of and what about all the authors in translation, being translated or yet to be translated, and what about the classic novels, not just the ones from your countries canon but the ones from all over the rest of the world too and then what about all the books that are being edited or written or even just thought of or not even imagined yet for the future? And breathe.

That is how I have been feeling a little of late. I love books, can’t get enough of the blighters, yet sometimes the sheer numbers of them (be they from the past, present or forthcoming) just daunts me. It could be simply going through my shelves and boxes and boxes of books ‘to be read’, popping to the library, perusing publishing catalogues or book magazines and sites, listening to bookish podcasts, having a look at other people’s bookshelves or going to the London Book Fair (see picture below, post coming soon) etc – suddenly the amount of books just looms on you, and you get readers fright, your unable to perform reading-wise. Eek.

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That is where I am at the moment and I am sure I am not alone. There is excitement about all the reads ahead but also some fear and general bafflement. Then that sense of panic that I should be reading every spare second I have and if am not getting really frustrated and cross. Serioulsy the later happens, you can ask The Beard (who I have been with 2 years today, hoorah) all about my epic grumps if I haven’t had enough reading time. The ranting about ‘why can’t I just quite my job, eat dust and read all day’. Frightful. So how do we get through these moments? Should I switch off the bookish bit of my brain and spend some time doing other things or just get a grip and read on?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #37; Catherine Hall

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we have a doubly apt host, Catherine Hall. Firstly because they are one of the authors who has been selected for Fiction Uncovered in the past, which I am guest editing at the moment, and also I happen to be staying in her house (so she is literally hosting me) while London Book Fair is on, in fact I took the pictures and almost took some of the books. Oh, did I mention that she is one of my most lovely friends who I have become chums with since I read The Proof of Love a few years ago. Anyway, I could waffle on more but I shall not, let us find out more about Catherine and have a nosey through her books…

I was born and brought up on a sheep farm in the Lake District where we lived with another family in a vaguely communal way. I always loved books and ended up doing English at Cambridge. Part of me loved it, but I found it a bit odd that we didn’t read anything written after 1960 and not that much by women. After that I went to London and got a job in a television production company making films about the environment and development issues, and then worked for an international peacebuilding agency doing communications. I left when I inherited some money from my grandmother and have written three novels: Days of Grace, The Proof of Love and The Repercussions, which will be published in September. I live in London with my two little boys, their dad and his boyfriend.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I used to keep all of them because it was like a diary of my life, sort of marking where my thinking was at different times. Now I have to have liked them enough to want to live with them, otherwise I pass them on to Oxfam. Having said that, I’m quite a generous reader – I usually find something I like in most books. But my shelves – and there are a lot of them in our house – are pretty overflowing.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

There’s a sort of system, or at least there was when we moved in which is that they’re divided by genre – fiction, history, biography, travel, poetry, plays – and then within that vaguely alphabetically as in by author surname but not strictly, because that would mean rearranging everything every time I bought a new book. I have a massive pile of books to be read next to my bed. Since I had kids it’s all gone a bit messy, and of course they have loads of books that end up all over the place.

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

It was Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton. I loved her books as a child and would save up my pocket money to buy them. It’s on my boys’ bookshelf now waiting for them to be old enough to read it.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I’ve got lots of guilty pleasures but I’m pretty out and proud about them. There’s a lot of Jackie Collins and Jilly Cooper on my shelves sitting next to Dickens and Doris Lessing. At college my friend Cath and I used to buy Jilly Cooper’s books as soon as they came out and retire to bed to read them in one go instead of reading Chaucer or whoever it was that week. Her politics are questionable but I learned a lot about character and plot.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

That’s a really hard question. I love the proof copies of my novels – they’re the things that I’m most proud of producing in my life. I also love my ancient copy of The Golden Notebook because that really changed the way I thought about things, and Oranges are Not the Only Fruit because I remember coming down to London on a school trip and sneaking to the Silver Moon women’s bookshop and buying – shocker – a lesbian novel. So I’d definitely save them, and then I think I’d want to save some of my children’s books because they remind me of reading to them as they’ve grown up.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. That’s another book that I’d definitely save. I have two copies of it, one annotated, the other clean for reading. It introduced me to psychoanalysis and of course the concept of the ‘zipless fuck.’ It was probably the most thrilling book I’d ever read. For my A levels I wrote a long dissertation type thing about Freud’s question on what women want, and the way it was answered in literature, ranging from Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Fear of Flying. It was my favourite essay ever. I go back to Fear of Flying every couple of years to read it again and it’s still relevant to me now.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I have to have the book if I love it, so I’d go and get a copy. I borrow books sometimes if people have them to hand but generally I just buy what I want to read. I find it very satisfying to have a pile of books just waiting for me to dive into.

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

My dad, Ian Hall, just wrote a memoir called Fisherground: Living the Dream about the farm that we grew up on. I was very proud to add it to my bookshelves. The last books I bought were Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and Taiye Selassi’s Ghana Must Go.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

I’m dying to read Charlotte Mendelson’s Almost English, Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing, and The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. Oh, and of course Armistead Maupin’s Days of Anna Madrigal. I’m so excited to read that.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I think they’d probably think it’s quite eclectic and pretty wide-ranging. Perusing shelves is the first thing I do when I go to someone’s house – it really does tell you a lot about the person, and I’ve bonded with people or fancied them because of their taste. So I hope my taste makes me look good!

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A huge thanks to Catherine for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, as if she had any choice, and for letting me stay so often when I pop down to London town. She is rather a legend. If you haven’t read The Proof of Love, which is one of my favourite books and if you have read this blog for a while you will know that, then you must get a copy NOW! Anyway… Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Catherine’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Farm – Tom Rob Smith

Without making myself sound up my own bottom or like I am some connoisseur of the genre, but it does take a rather different crime to really make my deerstalking covered ears prick up and I settle down to devour a good crime novel (with my pipe and my smoking jacket) in one big gulp because I can’t get enough. This is exactly what happened when I read The Farm by Tom Rob Smith. He who wrote Child 44 which is one of my favourite crime novels of recent years. Oh, though in reality I don’t actually wear a Sherlock Holmes outfit when I read crime fiction, but it’s an idea.

Simon & Schuster, hardback, 2014, fiction, 368 pages, kindly sent by Riot Communications

Imagine one day you are on your way back from Tesco/Waitrose (or any other supermarket) and you get a call from your father out of the blue telling you that your mother is unwell, it isn’t something physical or something terminal, your mother has had a mental breakdown of some sort and she believes that something, which your father won’t divulge, dreadful has happened. This is the rather intense and intriguing way that Tom Rob Smith starts The Farm, yet this is only the beginning.

‘Dad?’ ‘Your mother… She’s not well.’ ‘Mum’s sick?’ ‘It’s so sad.’ ‘Sad because she’s sick? Sick how? How’s Mum sick?’ Dad was still crying. All I could do was dumbly wait until he said: ‘She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things.’

Things get even stranger, very quickly so I am not spoiling anything, as no sooner has Daniel spoken to his father and packed to head for Sweden (where his parents have moved to) he receives a call from the airport from his mother, Tilde. She has been released from the psychiatric ward she had been placed in by her husband and is about to get a flight to Daniel to tell him her story, a story he might not believe and might implicate his own father in having been part of something very dark and very wrong.

To say too much more about the plot would be to spoil what is a fantastically gripping account of a woman who goes back to her homeland, taking her husband with her, to live a life close to nature on a remote farm which at first seems idyllic and soon turns into a nightmare for her.

Looking out the window I was reminded of just how lonely this landscape was. In Sweden, outside the cities, the wilderness rules supreme. People tiptoe timidly around the edge, surrounded by skyscraping fir trees and lakes larger than entire nations. Remember, this is the landscape that inspired the mythology of trolls, stories I used to read to you about giant lumbering man-eating creatures with mushroom warts on their crooked noses and bellies like boulders. Their sinewy arms can rip a person in two, snapping human bones and using splinters to scrape the gristle out of their shrapnel teeth. Only in forests as vast as this could such monsters be hiding, yellow eyes stalking you.  

There are lots of things that are marvellous about The Farm. The main thing for me was the sense of unreliability throughout. Tom Rob Smith has Tilde recount what has happened to her, from her perspective, from start to finish providing items she feels prove her story. These are interjected with questions from Daniel as he tries to understand, as we readers try and figure it all out, and also interjections from his father, Chris, calling trying to find out what is going on and trying to tell Daniel his mother has had a breakdown and isn’t to be believed.

This adds a marvellous sense of tension to the book. Which parent should we believe? Has Chris been part of something horrendous? Has Tilde misread what she has seen with so much additional time on her hands in the remote wilderness, has she escaped to a place of trolls from her childhood, has she gone mad or could she be telling the truth? You are constantly second guessing all of the characters as you read on and just when you think you have taken a side, something happens to make you change your mind. It is a web intricately spun.

What adds to this is the fact The Farm is laced with secrets. As we read on we learn there are many secrets behind the façade of this family (as in real life). Why did Tilde and Chris really leave the UK and head to the middle of nowhere? What happened in Tilde’s childhood which led her to fleeing her home country and makes everyone question her all the more? What is really going on in the neighbouring farm of Håkan Greggson (a brilliantly constructed neighbourhood bully, who I loved to loathe) behind closed doors? What secret is Daniel himself keeping from his parents? Throw in the atmosphere of Sweden with is brooding landscape, mythology and remote nature and how can a read fail to be compelled?

I thought The Farm was superb. Cliché alert, I couldn’t put it down. I read it in just two settings begrudgingly putting it down when I selfishly needed some sleep before waking up very early to get back into it. Tom Rob Smith creates a genuinely thrilling mystery where secrets brood along with the atmosphere. Whilst also being a gripping read it looks at the stories we tell our families and also, more importantly, what we leave out. It also takes an interesting look at mental health and asks some big questions surrounding that. All in all The Farm is a multi-layered compulsively readable thriller that puzzles and provokes. One of my books of the year so far.

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