Tag Archives: Books of 2018

The Parentations – Kate Mayfield

One of my favourite books of the year so far (and if you want to see my top books and possibly win a selection of them, then head here) is without question Kate Mayfield’s debut novel The Parentations. Now I mention getting nervous about books quite a lot, like I am constantly having to smell salts in my library which is not the case, but the size (500 pages) and premise of this book (immortality) did originally give me pause for thought. Yet I was swiftly enveloped in this novel and reminded that there can be nothing more rewarding than a big chunky book with an incredible tale to tell, and this is quite the tale indeed.

OneWorld, hardback, 2018, fiction, 500 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

They aren’t even sure he’s still alive. They’d tossed around ideas about him so often and for so many years that they’d created a shared fantasy about the kind of man he might have become. He might still be a boy, they reasoned. They considered, too, that he might be dead. They have no way of knowing.

The Parentations starts in 2015 as the Lawless sisters wait for three things. The first is the day that they can go and look for a boy who they see as a son, in a designated place they return to each year not knowing if he is still alive but always hoping. The second is for a regular sleep that each of them takes for a long time while the other watches over. The third is a delivery of some kind of medicine. We then flit across London to the Fowler household where a similar shipment is due to arrive and where some members of the house are also trying to find a secret stash of it they believe has been hidden. To find out what links these two households and why they are awaiting this tincture we must head back several hundred years to a volcanic eruption in Iceland that reveals a pool of immortality.

Now initially I admit I was a little bit ‘riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight then’ however we are soon completely with Stefan in 1783 as this volcanic eruption takes over the island and how once having stumbled across this pool he soon becomes a guardian of sorts for it. Over a few hundred years (which Mayfield deftly and swiftly moves us through) more people drink from the pool who create a secret community. These include a couple who have a child with special gifts, who needs to be sent away and hidden as it seems their immortal secret has been discovered by those who wish to use it for harm. This is how we end up back in London in the early 1800’s and from here the story, which has already been brimming, takes its full gothic turn and force as we join the lives of the Fowlers and Lawless sisters and see how their lives become entwined. I will say no more on the plot because I wouldn’t want to spoil the twists, turns and delicious romp you have ahead.

At nine o’clock no movement is detected. A group of women have come forward. They have paid a large sum to test the miracles of the gallows. One woman bares her breasts. The hand of a hanged man is believed to cure tumours. She mounts the scaffold. She has no fear, no hesitation, as she takes Finn’s hand in hers. Just as she raises it to her breast, his head rolls and his eyes open and meet hers. The woman faints clean away.

If you love all things gothic then you will adore this book, especially if you like your gothic Victorian, and who doesn’t? Mayfield takes us through the darker parts of the societies and streets of London from orphanages to grand houses, from prisons to the gallows and everything in between. We have dramatic deaths, murders, saucy shenanigans of all sorts all with that ‘sensationalist’ pace and plotting that the likes of Wilkie Collins revelled in so much. You know Mayfield is having a huge amount of fun as she writes this and it’s an utter pleasure to be along for the ride, she also builds this dark and brooding London fully to life, in all its shadowy layers. What you also have is Clovis Fowler, who is one of my new favourite wicked women of fiction. I will just give you a little glimpse of how her husband sees her below, just to whet your appetite, she could almost give Mrs Danvers of Lydia Gwilt a run for their money.

‘Finn, I prefer that you not eat in the bedroom.’
‘You prefer? Another word you’ve picked up at those lectures of yours? I’ll eat where I like.’
‘I thought it would please you. I try to improve my English.’
Clovis waits for a response, but he eats and drinks and grows weary – weary of her. His wife’s beauty no longer interests him. There is no gown, no simple or complicated design that is capable of dimming her voluptuous body, yet he no longer has the addiction he once did for her. In this, most men would think him quite mad, or a sodomite, but a man, especially a man like Finn, does not like to be used, and the feeling in his tackle goes limp whenever he thinks of her trickery. So he dines in silence.

Yet amongst all this romp and sensation there is some incredibly moving moments and thoughts subjects The Parentations. The immortality which I initially felt a bit ‘riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight then’ about goes from being the best thing you could wish for to the ultimate curse. How do you have to look after yourself if you have to try and live forever? What situations must you avoid? How do you cope as some of those around you that you live age and die? How must it be to want to die and be unable? The other particularly poignant strand of the novel is how we see society and culture progress and change over the years and how some of the characters we come to love, but might not live to see these changes, would benefit from them. I found that incredibly emotive.

Again, this shows the brilliance of Mayfield’s writing. Her characters are wonderful, even the ones you are meant to hate (yes, the fabulous Clovis) and come fully formed with all their complexities and how they change in the subtlest of ways along with the times – another interesting element of the book – and as they try to survive what life throws at them. Mayfield also writes the shifting of these time periods and the atmosphere and changes in London as it moves towards 2015, without hitting you over the head with changes in technology, décor, etc she fully evokes exactly whichever decade you are in.

The room is dripping in tat. A frayed lampshade sends a sickly, yellow glow into a grey corner that rivals the afternoon’s clouds. Puckering across the single bed a dingy, blue blanket fails to disguise the lumpy mattress. A weathered, Lusty chair, meant for a garden and cocktails, sits beside a small, unused Victorian fireplace in this rented room in Pimlico. It’s noisy, a bit smelly, and a hidden paradise. Kay Starr sings from a beaten up portable gramophone, two men stand entwined in a small moon-shaped space in the centre of the room. To dance naked is unbearably exciting. Jonesy lets David take the lead.

As I said earlier The Parentations was an instant hit with me, hence being one of my books of the year so far. I have no doubt that it will be one of my books of the year full stop as ever since I closed the final page these characters and their stories have held a place in my heart which continues to grow. Go and get your hands on it. Right now.

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Filed under Books of 2018, Kate Mayfield, OneWorld Books, Review

West – Carys Davies

One of the best discoveries of my time blogging has to be the fiction of Carys Davies. I first read her short story collection The Redemption of Galen Pike, when I was judging Fiction Uncovered back in 2015 as a submission and remember pondering if we could give it all of the prize money, it was that good. Every tale defied expectation, without the need for twists in the tale, and each had an epic scope even if it was a pages long. I then read her debut collection Some New Ambush at the start of 2016 and was blown away once more. So I was very, very, very excited when I heard that she had written her first novel, West, though of course instantly got nervous as to whether I would love it or not. I finally turned to it earlier this month and once again fell helplessly in love with Davies’ writing.

Granta, hardback, 2018, fiction, 160 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

 “Look you long and hard, Bess, at the departing figure of your father,” said her aunt Julie from the porch in a loud voice like a proclamation.
“Regard him, Bess, this person, this fool, my brother, John Cyrus Bellman, for you will not clap eyes upon a greater one. From today I am numbering him among the lost and the mad. Do not expect that you will see him again, and do not wave, it will only encourage him and make him think he deserves your good wishes. Come inside now, child, close the door, and forget him.”

So says Bess’ aunt Julia as Cy Bellman leaves his family home in Pennsylvania in search of the ‘mammoth beasts’ whose remains have been found ‘in the West’. The discovery or even capture of these beasts Cy believes will be the making of his name and, much more importantly to him, improve the life of himself and his daughter who he is heartbroken to leave behind. Many think him mad for going on such a journey that will certainly involve many dangers, in fact many people believe he will not make it back again. Yet go he does, leaving his daughter Bess behind in the safe care of his sister, yet what he hasn’t thought of is that there may be as many dangers to Bess back home as there could be if he had taken her.

It is at this early stage that the novel splits in to the two stories of Bellman and his daughter as time moves forward. We follow Cy as he heads out on a journey that could lead him anywhere, through small towns, where in one he hires the help of a young native Shawnee boy called Old Woman From A Distance to help him journey further with added knowledge of the perils that might lie in store. Back in Pennsylvania, while her aunt reminds her regularly that she is probably now an orphan, Bess has to deal with the arduous danger or a young farmhand and an older librarian both who have their sights set on her and not necessarily for marriage. I found this nod to the fact men must go and seek out danger far and wide whereas danger will seek women out closer to home both a brilliant analogy of both the 1800’s when the book is set and also still as prevalent right now rather poignant.

I won’t give anything more about the book away, I will say though that the sense of dread and the brooding atmosphere for both Bess and Cy as the book goes on pulses through every line to its unforgettable conclusion. Not a word is wasted as Davies takes us over hundreds of miles trekking through vast expanses with Cy or hundreds of days back home working out the way society and the world works for Bess. It is a mini epic in its truest form.

For a week he lay beneath his shelter and didn’t move. Everything was frozen, and when he couldn’t get his fire going he burned the last of the fish because it seemed better to be starving than to be cold.
And then one night he heard the ice booming and cracking in the river, and in the morning bright jewels of melting snow dripped from the feathery branches of the pines onto his cracked and blistered face, his blackened nose.
Later that day he caught a small fish.
Berries began to appear on the trees and bushes.
Winter ended and spring came and he continued west.

What adds to its epic nature all the more is the interweaving of both huge topics of the time and mini stories that might take a mere sentence or two, or a paragraph at the maximum. The early 1800’s were a turbulent time in the US with Native American’s being displaced and plundering of their lands and indeed there people. This is never explicitly discussed or shown, the tension between Cy and Old Woman From A Distance says it all as their power struggle develops with no common language, just common ground which both are trying to gain ownership of over the other. Back in Pennsylvania as we meet some of Bess’ fellow townsfolk we discover stories of love that almost was and innocent seeming folk with much darker hearts.

West once again showed me why I love Carys Davies writing so much. Within her vast landscapes Davies also creates mini worlds which is the power of all her prose and storytelling. In fact let’s call it story weaving, because it does feel like it has been so intricately woven together. Yet there is no mucking about with never ending floral prose, it is beautifully crafted short and sweet sentences that condense what would take some authors a chapter potentially. She also has the power to make you darkly chuckle before having your heart broken. It is for all these reasons that I would highly recommend you read West and get lost for a few hours in some of the most wonderful writing, then head straight to Davies’ short stories if you haven’t already.

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Filed under Books of 2018, Carys Davies, Granta Books, Review

My Books of the Year So Far (And A Chance To Win Some of Them)

I have been wracking my brain to work out if I have ever done a post mid-year about the books I have loved so far that year? I think it is only something that I have done since Booktube, but I could be wrong. I know I have done books that I am excited in the second half of the year, but I don’t think that I have done favourite books so far. Anyway, I could debate that for hours it seems and you don’t need that in your life.

What you might need, or maybe like, in your life is (as part of us catching up) is to know what my books are so far this year and, possibly even better, win some of them. How can this magic happen? Well, I shall insert the video of my favourites books of 2018 so far below and you can watch and then comment as instructed to potentially win a package of some of them.

A brief post I know, but thought it would be a good chance for a catch up AND a chance for you to win some lovely books. Hurray. You have until the end of July. Good luck!

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Filed under Books of 2018, Give Away

From The Wreck – Jane Rawson

Sometimes you hear about a book that might be somewhat off your usual and possibly well worn and beaten fictional path, yet it calls to you. This was the case with Jane Rawson’s From The Wreck a book I knew very little about other than it was very quirky and all the people in Australia (which I still believe is my spiritual home and the reason I haven’t been is because I might love it so much I wouldn’t come back) were loving it, no one in bloody Britain was publishing it though. By this point I was so desperate to read it, I sent out a small Twitter plea and who came to the rescue but Jane herself winging a copy over oceans (aptly) to get here. No sooner had I got it in my hand than I started getting nervous about it, what if I didn’t like it… the author had sent it me. But I reminded myself of my initial instincts and so I started it and fell in love with it, even though it started on a boat and longstanding readers of this blog will know I do not like books about boats, but I was hooked – line and sinker, sorry.

Transit Lounge Press, paperback, 2017, fiction, 390 pages, kindly sent by the author

It is 1859 and not long after seeing a mysterious woman talking to the horses aboard the SS Admella, George Hills finds himself next to her on the floating wreckage of the boat out in the open water. What the pair endure together George believes links them forever, however once they are rescued this woman, Brigid, vanishes. Many people believe she was taken to a different place to recover, some believe she might not even have been there, George is certain that this woman was real. And he is right, she was, what George doesn’t realise was that she was also a telepathic shape shifting alien cephalopod who once on land turned into a cat to escape and carry on trying to find another of ‘her’ kind. Some of you might now be thinking ‘WTF that sounds bonkers/ridiculous’, some of you might be thinking ‘Simon have you gone crazy’, you might be right on both counts, what I am certain of is that give this stunningly written book a chance and you will absolutely love it.

One eye open, then the other.
Am I still me? I touch here, taste this, smell that. I remember. I am still me. One thing holding fast in this shifting, blurring mass.
But the rest of it? None of the shapes are right. Is that a life form? Is that? There is neither the sight nor feel of wrapped tight energy, of breathing hot, of burning fuel, of soul-filled bursting selfness that is like anyone I have ever seen. I don’t even know who to eat.

After the shipwreck George is haunted, in part by what he had to do to survive but also by the seeming phantom of the women he knows he was with. Yet he must try to carry on as normal, he must start a family and make a future for himself. What he doesn’t realise is that unable to trace another of ‘her’ kind, the alien cat has been drawn to George again and soon transforms into the birthmark of his newly born son Henry.

This is where I think the book gets even better as it divides into further strands. You have the strand of George who has become haunted by the wreck and slightly unhinged with an obsession to find this woman. You have an alien cephalopod who is trying to find the rest of her kind who becomes more and more lonely and potentially more and more needy and dangerous. You also have the story of a young boy Henry who grows up a little bit different, slightly creepy and who desperately tries to understand human kind, his place in it and what it means to be human if only to quiet the strange voice he has in his head. All this delivered in the form of a ripping romp of speculative historical sci-fi yarn. I will say it again. It. Is. So. Bloody. Good.

‘Men are prone to overreact. They meet a woman, she’s beautiful, she talks to them and they think, oh, she likes me, we’ll get married. And she doesn’t return the favour, doesn’t like him as much as he likes her, so then she’s evil, isn’t she. She’s some kind of hell-spawned bitch to spurn him in this way. And he has dreams where he’s tupping her and she laughs at him and then that’s it, she’s haunting him, she really is a witch. Is that what happened with your… friend, did you say it was?’

What is also brilliant about From The Wreck is that is an insight into the social constructs and mores of Australia at that time, with a worrying amount of them still being rife now, especially in the respect to women which Rawson really delves into. Women are wives, mothers, daughters, ladies, lovers, whores or witches and there doesn’t seem to be anything in between, or at least in the eyes of most of the men. Rawson therefore brings all the women around George and Henry to the fore, interestingly with the exception of George’s wife – I couldn’t work out if Rawson was trying to say something there. (Doubly interesting that this shipwreck was real and Jane is one of George’s descendants, a twist to the whole thing I also love.) Our cephalopod is seemingly female, though gender isn’t really a construct for ‘her’ which is also fascinating, and often the questions asked internally of Henry do have a feminist leaning. One of my favourite characters is that of Beatrice, a woman many believe a witch, who has a wonderful back story to tell which I found very moving.

Beatrice Gallwey had come to South Australia from the colony of New South Wales. Her husband had died, the way husbands so often do. A bite from a flea or a mosquito, they said, and some infection of the blood. It hadn’t taken terrifically long. They didn’t like each other much, Bea and her husband, and she didn’t miss him but still, she’d rather they’d got around to leaving one another than that he was cold in the ground. She wouldn’t have held it against him had he found somewhere else to go.

So what more can I say? This book had it all for me; originality, wonderful writing, a brilliant twisting plot, fantastic characters and some themes within it that you can really get your teeth into, should you want to – though obviously there is nothing wrong with reading a book to simply escape. I feel that this book has it all and can almost 100% promise you that if you give it a try you will love it. What I can also promise you is that just when you think the book is going to go a certain way, it just won’t (which you will love it all the more for) instead it will probably head somewhere a bit stranger and almost definitely somewhere a bit darker.

He suddenly remembered: the mark was back. No surprises there. You can’t erase wickedness that easily. It had to go. The mark had to go or the boy hard to go. ‘You saw what he had in that cupboard? Bodies, corpses. Festering jars of muck. And those things he draws. He’s not normal. He’s not a normal boy. We need to fix him, William. The women can’t do it. Eliza can’t do it, she doesn’t even see it. She thinks he’s sweet. She doesn’t know anything about what the world is like. But you and I do. I’ve seen terrible things. You’ve read terrible things. Tell me what to do.

Without a shadow of a doubt From The Wreck is my book of 2018 so far. Now if you are despairing that you might not be able to get your hands on this book any time soon there is some exciting news, since I waxed lyrical about it on my channel and on social media, Picador will be publishing this in the UK next April, I’ll be reminding you to get it then and sincerely hope it will be winning many awards this side of the pond in 2019.

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Filed under Books of 2018, Jane Rawson, Review, Transit Lounge Press