REVIEW: Pine

“A draught creeps across her shoulder blades and, for a moment, she gets a strange feeling of a hand, reaching out of the darkness.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

My beautiful Bookstagram and book blogging friend, The Bibliomaniac, has set up her own book club and our November pick is Pine. This is one that I’ve seen floating around social media for quite some time now so I was thrilled when it was chosen as our book club read because now I MUST read it!

What Did I Think?

This book is described as a Gothic thriller which if you know me, is RIGHT up my street, so as you can imagine, I was ridiculously excited to start this. I have to say that there were some fantastic moments of horror throughout this book, mostly stemming from the description and appearance of the woman from the woods.

Pine is a story that is set in a desolate highland town and follows a father and daughter (Niall and Lauren) who are coming to terms with the death of the wife/mother. With more people in the neighbourhood knowing more than they let on, combined with the uncanny sightings of a strange woman and the disappearance of a young girl, Lauren, must learn who to trust and who not to.

Although this book ‘on paper’ should have been EXACTLY the type of book I love, I found the story a bit flat and struggled to stay interested in the story. It was perhaps because, in my opinion, the story couldn’t seem to make its mind up on what it wanted to be. Was it a murder mystery? Was it a thriller? Was it a ghost story? Was it a coming-of-age story? I’m not entirely sure.

Overall, it was quite a big disappointment for me because I feel like it should have been everything I wanted…but it wasn’t. I think the only saving grace was that it had some fabulous creepy scenes.

Pine

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: 2020
# of Pages: 322
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Trigger Warnings: Death, murder, neglect, bullying
Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Blackwells

ARC REVIEW: Anti-Racist Ally – An Introduction to Action & Activism

One of the main reasons why I adore Bookstagram is because you get the chance to be involved in some really fantastic projects and I am truly HONOURED to have the opportunity to read and review this pocket-sized paperback all about how to be an anti-racist ally.

It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a crazy year but during this year, we have also witnessed racism at the very heart of the justice system through the power of social media making it easier than ever to demonstrate the injustice suffered by marginalised people every day.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that witnessing these videos and stories shared via social media, has driven me to want to do better; to help in any way I can. Whether that’s educating myself on the racial inequalities through reading different accounts, diversifying the type of media I listen/watch or having the courage to question/call out people’s behaviour and thinking…

Being white myself, I will never be able to fully relate to the experiences of BIPOC but what I can do is use my privilege to help raise awareness and make change in the 21st century.

Who is Sophie Williams?

Sophie Williams is an author, and an anti-racism activist in the UK, who loves thinking and talking about intersectional identities (especially race and gender) and how they shape our experiences of the world.

Sophie is also the Co-Founder of Culture Heroes, a non-profit organisation dedicated to raising non-white representation at a senior level in the Advertising and the Creative Industries.

In 2019, she left full time employment to set up Blanket Fort – a micro agency providing high-quality, bespoke Marketing and Production support to businesses. This incredible woman has worked on marketing campaigns for hit TV shows such as, Sex Education, The End of the F***ing World, and The Crown.

Her social media accounts are not only empowering but also her non-bulls**t post and witty humour educates us as followers on how to be an anti-racist ally and that is what her new book Anti Racist Ally: An Introduction to Action & Activism also sets out to achieve:

Anti Racist Ally: An Introduction to Action & Activism

First of all, this book is the perfect little book companion. Being only 176 pages long, you can literally devour this book in one sitting and carry it around with you should you need to.

Themes within in the book vary from intersectionality and becoming an economic ally, to tips on how you can be an ally within your social circles, your workplace, at home and in your community.

“Don’t ever feel like you’ve done your part.”

The chapter that really stood out for me was Sophie’s discussion of what racism looks like now. Sophie highlights how ‘modern-day racism is less black face and racial slurs and more insidious, coded and systemic discrimination.’ I think this is such a potent topic because some may think that just because racial slurs are used less in today’s society, that racism no longer exists. But as Sophie points out, racists now have to find different ways to be racist, and that usually takes form as institutional and structural racism.

I would consider this book as essential reading for those (like myself) who are privileged enough to ‘go through life without thinking about, or being made aware of their race’; who want to help make a difference but feel like they don’t know where to start.

Sophie lists some incredible ways that you can help make a change in how marginalised people are treated/viewed, including choosing to buy from BIPOC creators, making donations, demanding more from brands who have failed to make change and keeping the conversation going.

I agree with Sophie that the fight for racial equality is most definitely a marathon and not a sprint, and that ‘conversations around race and racial injustice can churn up a lot of messy feelings’, and that there may be times where we feel uncomfortable/confused but that’s GOOD. Messy feelings proves that we are playing our part in making a change.

Anti Racist Ally is out on the 15th October 2020 and you can pre-order your copy here. I would also highly recommend following Sophie on Instagram as her posts are so honest and informative and they make perfect reading to remind us daily why the fight for equality continues.

Her second upcoming book is Millennial Black. It’s a look at how black women’s intersectional identities (blackness PLUS womanness) shape their experiences of work, the unique challenges they face, and what can be done to make it better. Millennial Black will be published as a hardback, ebook and audiobook by HQ (Harper Collins) in April 2021.

Richard & Judy’s Autumn 2020 Book Club Picks

If you haven’t heard about the Richard & Judy Book Club before this is how it works: Richard & Judy pick six books every season that they believe will get us reading, thinking and talking about exciting new stories.

Their website includes details on each book, exclusive interviews and reviews by both Richard and Judy. I was lucky enough to receive the Autumn 2020 Book Bundle and here are the books which have been chosen for this season:

The Heatwave – Kate Riordan

Elodie was beautiful. Elodie was smart. Elodie was troubled. Elodie is dead. In Provence, under a sweltering sun, Sylvie returns to the crumbling family home of La Reverie with her youngest daughter Emma.

Yet every corner of the house is haunted by the memories of Elodie, her first child – memories she has tried to forget, but whose long-ago death the villagers certainly haven’t. As temperatures rise, and forest fires rage through the French countryside, memories of Elodie spread further through Sylvie’s mind . . .

Because there’s something Sylvie’s been hiding about what happened to Elodie all those summers ago. And it could change everything.

The Confession – Jessie Burton

When Elise Morceau meets the writer Constance Holden, she quickly falls under her spell. Connie is sophisticated, bold and alluring – everything Elise feels she is not.

She follows Connie to LA, but in this city of strange dreams and razzle-dazzle, Elise feels even more out of her depth and makes an impulsive decision that will change her life forever.

Three decades later, Rose Simmons is trying to uncover the story of her mother, who disappeared when she was a baby. Having learned that the last person to see her was a now reclusive novelist, Rose finds herself at the door of Constance Holden’s house in search of a confession.

Can You Hear Me? – Jake Jones

Jake Jones has worked in the UK ambulance service for ten years: every day, he sees a dozen of the scenes we hope to see only once in a lifetime.

Can You Hear Me? – the first thing he says when he arrives on the scene – is a memoir of the chaos, intensity and occasional beauty of life on the front-lines of medicine in the UK.

As well as a look into dozens of extraordinary scenes – the hoarder who won’t move his collection to let his ailing father leave the house, the blood-soaked man who tries to escape from the ambulance, the life saved by a lucky crew who had been called to see someone else entirely. Can You Hear Me? is an honest examination of the strains and challenges of one of the most demanding and important jobs anyone can do.

The Boy From The Woods – Harlan Coben

Thirty years ago, a child was found in the New Jersey backwoods. He had been living a feral existence, with no memory of how he got there or even who he is. Everyone just calls him Wilde.

Now a former soldier and security expert, he lives off the grid, shunned by the community – until they need him. A child has gone missing. With her family suspecting she’s just playing a disappearing game, nobody seems concerned except for criminal attorney Hester Crimstein.

She contacts Wilde, asking him to use his unique skills to find the girl. But even he can find no trace of her. One day passes, then a second, then a third. On the fourth, a human finger shows up in the mail. And now Wilde knows this is no game. It’s a race against time to save the girl’s life – and expose the town’s dark trove of secrets.

Rough Magic – Lara Prior-Palmer

The Mongol Derby is the world’s toughest horse race. A feat of endurance across the vast Mongolian plains once traversed by the people of Genghis Khan, competitors ride 25 horses across a distance of 1000km.

The Mongol Derby is the world’s toughest horse race. A feat of endurance across the vast Mongolian plains once traversed by the people of Genghis Khan, competitors ride 25 horses across a distance of 1000km. Many riders don’t make it to the finish line.

Many riders don’t make it to the finish line. In 2013 Lara Prior-Palmer – nineteen, underprepared but seeking the great unknown – decided to enter the race. Driven by her own restlessness, stubbornness, and a lifelong love of horses, she raced for seven days through extreme heat and terrifying storms, catching a few hours of sleep where she could at the homes of nomadic families.

Battling bouts of illness and dehydration, exhaustion and bruising falls, she found she had nothing to lose, and tore through the field with her motley crew of horses. In one of the Derby’s most unexpected results, she became the youngest-ever champion and the first woman to win the race.

A tale of adventure, fortitude and poetry, Rough Magic is the extraordinary story of one young woman’s encounter with oblivion, and herself.

Fifty Fifty – Steve Cavanagh

Two sisters on trial for murder.

They accuse each other.

Who do YOU believe?

‘911 what’s your emergency?’ ‘My dad’s dead. My sister Sofia killed him. She’s still in the house. Please send help.’ ‘My dad’s dead. My sister Alexandra killed him. She’s still in the house. Please send help.’

One of them is a liar and a killer. But which one?

AND THERE WE HAVE IT!

Get in the autumn mood with these fantastic reads! I believe you can buy the bundle for £25.99 from WH Smith right now!

The Picture of Dorian Gray: AUGUST BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION SUMMARY

There was one hell of a drama with choosing August’s book as the poll was tied between The Picture of Dorian Gray and Little Women with 91 votes each. So I had the final deciding vote, and I thought we’d go with the one that not many people have read before. 

Here’s how the book club discussion went:

Q1: Did you enjoy the story? How long did it take you (if at all) to get into the book?

Most people agreed that it didn’t take them long to get into the book and as it is only short, most people were able to binge it in only a few sittings! 

The general consensus was that people were pleasantly surprised with how much they ended up liking/enjoying this book. Some members had tried to read this book once before but found it easier to get into this time around.

Q2: Do you think Lord Henry impacted Dorian’s behaviour?

I think we all agreed that Lord Henry impacted Dorian’s behaviour at some point in the story. Members stated that Henry introduced the darker side of life to Dorian, especially with the yellow book that seemed to be a turning point for Dorian.

Dorian was young and vulnerable and he looked up to Henry, and a few members made the comparison of Basil (angel) and Henry (devil) with their impact on Dorian; however, a few of us did agree that although Henry introduced this way of life to him, it was Dorian’s decision to behave that way and therefore he MUST take responsibility for his downfall.

Q3: Do you think the picture really was changing? How did this impact Dorian’s behaviour?

It was interesting that nearly all the members didn’t even question if the picture wasn’t changing; they took it as fact. Yet when we considered it, it added another level to the story.

We agreed that the portrait allowed him to do what he wanted because he could just hide behind it. That perhaps Dorian wanted/imagined the picture changing so he felt less guilty about his actions. 

Of course, he wasn’t alone in seeing the picture’s changes so we wondered whether his encounter with Basil was actually about his actions and the person he had become, and the painting was simply part of his psyche?

Q4: Do you consider Basil and Dorian’s relationship to be more than just friendship?

Our members were torn on this one. Most of us agreed that it was unquestionable that Basil was infatuated with Dorian but we were torn on the reasons why. Some believed that it was purely because of what Dorian offered Basil in terms of beauty/art, whereas some believed it was purely love.

I think one thing we all agreed on was how Basil’s love for Dorian was unrequited, as Dorian definitely didn’t feel the same way. However, it could be argued that Basil loves the Dorian that he paints and not the Dorian at the end of the novel.

As a whole, we thought that this Basil and Dorian’s relationship is down to the reader’s interpretation which was probably intentional by Wilde.

Q5: Let’s consider the female characters in the novel…why are they important?

Members definitely agreed that female characters were practically non-existent in The Picture of Dorian Gray. I think we all agreed that they were used as plot devices and nothing more, which is a real shame.

Some members also argued that the women in the novel were referred to as the ‘weaker sex’, ‘decorative sex’ and as ‘playthings’ and possessions that can be manipulated and used. It’s obvious that they were used to highlight the actions of men.

Q6: Art is mentioned a lot during the novel, what do you think Wilde’s opinion towards art was?

I think we all agreed that Wilde was a Romanticist. Through The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde is playing with the idea that art is worshipped by society. That art can be beautiful and admired, but one must always read between the lines and look beyond the beauty on the surface.

This way of thinking is still kind of relevant in today’s society with social media; that people only post the happy stuff and we shouldn’t take everything we see in art as gospel truth.

Q7: “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book,” Why do you think Wilde said this? Do you agree?

Being a book club of passionate readers, there were some GREAT reactions to this question. Many agreed that books are entirely down to the reader’s interpretation.

Take The Picture of Dorian Gray, for instance, some members saw a romantic relationship between Basil and Dorian whereas others didn’t. 

What some view as moral others will view as immoral and vice versa, but that is the beauty of literature, everyone’s interpretation is equally important regardless of moralities presented in the literature itself. We all agreed with one of the members who said that ‘books should be accessible to all and should go beyond moral boundaries so that a reader can explore their own views and test their limits.’

Q8: The Picture of Dorian Gray was used against Wilde during his court trial to prove he was having (illegal at the time) homosexual relations with a twenty-two-year-old poet named Lord Alfred Douglas. Can you understand why the book was used as evidence?

As a book club, we were again undecided on this question. We agreed that the book had homosexual undertones, but whether it was substantial enough to be used in court is a whole different level. 

A few members stated that art/literature should be kept separate from the author/creator. Yet, there were a lot of similarities with the description of Dorian and the appearance of Lord Alfred Douglas, so it became easy for people to draw similarities between Wilde and Basil and even between Wilde and Henry, in the way Wilde corrupts young and naive men.

September

It’s Brontë month at the book club and we all voted to read Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. We will also be doing lots of charity events this month to help raise money for the Brontë Parsonage here in the UK after the news that due to COVID, it was struggling to remain open. If you wish to join in on all the fun, click here to join the Facebook Group.

ARC REVIEW: Imperfect Women

Why Did I Read This Book?

I was kindly gifted this as part of a Twitter competition I won and I couldn’t believe I managed to get an ARC of this gorgeous and enthralling novel. It was published on June 16th, so my review is a bit late to the party, but this is one that kept me on my toes…

What Did I Think?

When Nancy Hennessy is murdered, she leaves behind two best friends, an adoring husband and daughter, and a secret lover whose identity she took to the grave. Nancy was gorgeous, wealthy, and cherished by those who knew her—from the outside, her life was perfect. But as the investigation into her death flounders and her friends Eleanor and Mary wrestle with their grief, dark details surface that reveal how little they knew their friend, each other, and maybe even themselves.

The book follows three women who lead very different lives to one another. One is gorgeous and rich, the other has always put her career first and the third had children young and from there, being a stay-at-home mum was her only option. 

Imperfect Women is kind of a murder-mystery but also a great depiction of womanhood. As I mentioned before, it follows three very different women and how their careers, children, and relationships have ruled their life. There are a lot of controlling men in the novel and there were numerous times where I was left with my blood boiling. 

Although it is fantastically written, I did manage to guess the plot pretty quickly but maybe that’s the beauty of this novel; that you know who did it but you’re desperate to find out HOW. One thing I definitely didn’t guess was all the other exciting and gob-smacking moments throughout the novel.

The novel is split into three different parts and in each part, we are introduced to a new narrator and their story. I found it interesting that I also disliked all three women at some point throughout their stories but I think this was intentional by the author; proving once and for all that not all women are perfect.
Imperfect Women is one that was gripping from the start and was extremely easy to read. I thought it gave such a true representation into how there is always one rule for women and another for men in all aspects of society.

Imperfect Women

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Publisher: Orion Books
Published: 2020
# of Pages: 304
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Trigger Warnings: Murder, manslaughter, depression, abuse, adultery, drug abuse
Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Blackwells

BRAND NEW & EXCLUSIVE NEWSLETTER

From next month I will be sending out monthly newsletters to keep you all in the loop with what I’m up to AND information on events, news and brand new releases within the book world.

There will be chances to enter amazing giveaways, as well as an opportunity to read about the latest bookish products and familiarise yourself with book bloggers and bookstagrammers out there!

SO if you would like to sign up to my brand new mailing list, enter your email into this Google Form and YOU’RE IN. It really is as simple as that!

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP TO MY MAILING LIST!

Book Triggers: Why They Are Important & How To Use Them

I recently saw the lovely Bronwen at BabblesnBooks announce on Twitter that from now on, she will include triggers in her reviews. Like me, many of you reading this may have absolutely no idea what book triggers are and why we should be using them. 

So in this post, I will look to introduce what book triggers are and why it’s important that we, as book bloggers and reviewers, should be including them in our posts.

So What Are Book Triggers? 

With more diverse stories finally getting the exposure they deserve, it has become easier than ever to read honest and heartbreaking stories about the struggles within society. Yet publishers are still not including content warnings with their releases. 

Some have argued that to include trigger warnings with book reviews or publications is infantalising readers. Life doesn’t come with trigger warnings and neither should books. I can completely understand this argument but I think that difficult material should come with warnings, just like with films and television programmes.  

Picture this: you have just come out of a relationship where you were victim to domestic abuse. You are on your journey to recovery and you pick up a book in which the main character finds themselves in a violent relationship. All of sudden, those memories, anxieties and difficult flashbacks to the pain you went through come flooding back. 

THIS IS WHY WE NEED CONTENT WARNINGS. 

Trigger warnings should not be there as spoilers to the story, and neither should they discourage readers form reading any book they want to read, but with mental health being such an important topic at the minute, I think it is important that people should know if there is difficult and distressing content in the books they are reading.

You may choose to disagree with me and that is absolutely fine, but from now on, I will be including trigger warnings in my reviews. 

And Here Is How To Use Them:

There are many websites out there where you can find lots of information on different types of triggers, but I will mostly be using BookTriggerWarnings.com which has a whole wiki page on different books and their triggers. 

You can either search for the particular book you are reviewing or head to their list of warnings page. If there are any books missing from their database, you can easily create an account and add the book you have reviewed. This is especially great for new releases and less-known books which need trigger warnings too. Also, if there are any triggers that you feel are missing, you are encouraged to contact them and add your triggers to the list. 

You will find my book trigger warnings at the end of each review and I promise you, they will not spoil any of the books I’m reviewing. 

I hope this post will encourage you to think about the importance of book triggers warnings and to perhaps start including them in your reviews too. 

BLOG TOUR: Under Your Skin

Today I am privileged to be kicking off the blog tour for Rose McClelland’s brand new psychological thriller, Under Your Skin.

Thank you to Booktamins and Rose McClelland for my advanced copy and for allowing me to join the tour for such an anticipated read!

The Blurb:

When Kyle’s wife Hannah goes missing, the whole town is out in force to try to find her. One person knows where she is. One person is keeping a secret.

Detective Inspector Simon Peters and Detective Kerry Lawlor have been brought in to investigate the case, but Hannah has left no traces and Kyle has no clues.

Local Belfast resident, Julia Matthews, joins the #FindHannah campaign and becomes friendly with Kyle, sympathising with his tragedy. As Julia becomes more involved in the case than she bargained for, she begins to uncover more secrets than the police ever could.

Julia was only trying to help but she has become drawn into a web of mystery that she can’t escape.

Does this sound like something you’d be interested in? Well today is your lucky today because below, you can find an excerpt of the book to help give you a taste of this incredible thriller…

Excerpt

“999, what’s your emergency?”

“It’s my wife,” Kyle blurts out. “She’s gone missing.”

“How long has she been missing?” the calm, monotone responder asks.

“It’s been since nine this morning,” he says, impatience lacing his every word.

“So that’s…” Calm voice must be counting on her fingers.

“Twelve hours?”

“Yes,” he bites back. “I guess. Yes, twelve hours. It’s not like her. She’s always home by now.”

Miss Calm asks, “Any history of mental illness, sir?”

He blanches. “Who? Me?”

“No sir. Your wife?”

He bites his lip. “No,” he begins. “No, I guess not.” Although there was that time the doctor suggested anti-depressants. But no matter. Miss Calm is now on to the next question.

“So tell me what happened. When was the last time you saw her? What mood was she in? Had there been any arguments?”

Arguments? Well yes, there had been, but that was hardly relevant.

“I saw her this morning before she headed to work. She was fine. I came home at eight tonight and she’s not here. She’s not answering her mobile. It’s not like her. I’m convinced something has happened. What if some rapist has captured her? The sooner the police look for her, the better!”

He realises that his voice is rising in octave with each sentence, but he can’t help it. What’s the point in talking so slowly on the phone when she could be sending a cop out straight away to look for her!

He feels his breathing quicken and walks over to the counter to pick up his packet of cigarettes. He pulls one out of the packet and tinges the end with his lighter.

“Can I take your name sir?” the responder asks, her voice too slow for Kyle’s liking.

“Kyle Greer,” he rattles off impatiently.

“And your wife’s name?”

“Hannah. Hannah Greer. Please hurry.”

But the responder maintains her calm, professional, monotone voice. “And your address?”

“One one seven Raven Reach, Belfast,” Kyle spits out each word as though his quick-fire responses might hasten the arrival of a policeman.

“Okay Mister Greer,” the calm responder answers with a heavy sigh. “We’ve put that on record. But I’d suggest you phone us back tomorrow if there’s still no sign of her. She may well return this evening.”

Kyle’s eyes widen. “So nothing’s going to be done?”

“We usually wait at least twenty-four hours sir, in the case of an able-bodied adult. Of course, if it

was a child or a vulnerable elderly then…”

“Fine,” Kyle cuts in. “I’ll phone back tomorrow. Thanks for your help,” he spits, with a large dose of sarcasm. He clicks the off button and heads towards the kitchen. With his cigarette dangling in the side of his mouth, he pours himself a large glass of Vodka and Coke. Noticing that his hands are shaking, probably with anger at how unhelpful the responder had been, he gulps back the drink greedily. He re-fills his glass for good measure, walks towards the back door and sits on the back doorstep, smoking the rest of his cigarette and knocking back the drink. The night air is quiet; too quiet. He sits and waits. And while he’s waiting, he can feel the warmth of the drink start to trickle down to his toes.

Author Bio:

Under Your Skin is Rose’s fourth novel but with this book, she has made a genre jump from ‘chick lit’ to psychological thriller and it is great to see her delve into a darker corner of her mind.

Rose has also written two short plays which were performed in the Black Box Theatre in Belfast. She also discusses book reviews on her YouTube channel, along with writing theatre reviews for her blog.

She loves nothing more than curling up with her cats and a good books.

The book is out tomorrow and is available to buy here on Amazon! Please be warned that this book comes with a trigger warning of domestic violence, sexual scenes and swearing.

6 Best Books of 2020 So Far

So I was tagged by Georgia at Georgia Does Books on Instagram to share my favourite 6 books of the year so far.

Looking back on all the books I’ve read this year so far, I’ve read A LOT of 4- and 3-star books and only a handful of 5-stars! So here are six of my 5-star reads I’ve read so far this year. How are we in July already? These lockdown days are just flying by…

Girl, Woman, Other

“If a woman has to cripple herself to signal her education, talent, intellect, skills and leadership potential then so be it.”

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, you will LOVE this book. Like Homegoing, the stories are entwined with each other, with Girl, Woman, Other featuring interconnected tales about a group of black British women. 

Evaristo re-visits timeless questions about feminism and identity in the experiences she narrates. Feminist thinking is constantly challenged and explored through each character, whether they be rich or poor, gay or straight, sexually confident or sexually confused, fertile or infertile, loved or hated.

Queenie

“Keep one foot on the ground when two are in the air.”

The scenes in Queenie are so honest and encapsulating that you feel like you’re there seeing and feeling everything that happens to her, with her. Perhaps this is why when you’re reading this book, all you can do is think about what happens next. Questioning how you’d react if everything was going wrong for you. 

There are a lot of lessons to be taken from Queenie, both from the character and the story itself. The ending is beautiful and left me with a warm feeling inside which I have to say, I’ve not felt so strongly from a book in a LONG time. I’m glad it ends like it ends and in a strange way, I felt happy for Queenie despite everything.

Daisy Jones & The Six

“I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse. I am not a muse. I am the somebody. End of fucking story.”

I couldn’t believe that this band wasn’t real and when I found this out, all I could think about was how much hard work, dedication and sleepless nights must have gone into the making of this book. Obviously writing a novel is never going to be easy and I celebrate ANYONE who does, but to write a book the way Daisy Jones & The Six is written and to make us believe that this band is so real, Taylor Jenkins Reid must be so, so proud of the work of art she has produced.

I loved this book with all my heart and to be honest, not a day goes by since reading this where I don’t think about the story and the characters. I can no longer listen to Fleetwood Mac without picturing this band. And the fact that the song lyrics to all their songs are at the back of the book, it just adds the icing to the top of the cake! I will probably re-read this book over and over again!

I See You

“If it’s just the two of you. Just you, and whoever’s behind you. Whoever is chasing you. How fast could you run then? It doesn’t matter how fast. Because there’s always someone who can run faster.”

I think that I See You has everything a good thriller should have. I was hooked by the first chapter and I just wanted to keep reading so I could gather all the clues I needed to work out the culprit.

Now that I know the ending, I think there are little (tiny, I must admit) clues that Clare Mackintosh hides in the book. Once I finished the book, I could not believe the MASSIVE twist at the end, but since looking back on the book and discussing it during the book club meeting, I can now see the little hints telling us who it was.

Once Upon A River

“There are stories that may be told aloud, and stories that must be told in whispers, and there are stories that are never told at all.”

Firstly, let me just say that I have not read a book like this one before. Ever. Diane Setterfield deserves more recognition than I could ever give her alone. This masterpiece could make those who had never dreamt of writing before, want to pick up a pen or open a new Word document and begin. 

Why, you may ask. Because I have honestly never experienced storytelling like this before. Diane Setterfield does a beautiful job of setting the scene and by doing so, she makes you feel like you’ve just tucked yourself in to be told a great secret. The secret of the river and the power of the stories it holds.

Frankissstein

“Is his story the result of his madness or the cause?”

OK, first of all…WHAT A BOOK. There are many things that this book left me thinking about. During the days spent reading it, and for many days afterwards, I was constantly in discussion with myself, my boyfriend, my friends and basically anyone who would listen, about the topics explored in this novel. I don’t think there was a topic about modern society that Jeanette Winterson left untouched. 

Overall, I incredibly enjoyed this book and I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a book that questions your current way of thinking. Be careful though, once you start reading, your mind will take on a thousand questions at once, and you may find yourself wanting to discuss the topics raised in this book with anyone who will listen, so here is your warning!

Emily Bronte: The Enigma

A few years back now, I subscribed to the History Today magazine, which is a great magazine to subscribe to if you are a history fanatic (like me) and want to develop your knowledge surrounding international history. It also gives us history nerds something to look forward to each month. Upon rearranging my living space (I mean who hasn’t during lockdown), I found a copy of the August 2018 edition which featured an article written by Claire O’Callaghan about Emily Brontë named ‘The Weirdest of The Weird Sisters’.

Claire O’Callaghan is an English Lecturer at Loughborough University, who in 2018, released a book named Emily Brontë Reappraised: A View from the Twenty-First Century. The History Today article followed on from her book release and seemingly aimed to briefly unravel the many myths surrounding Emily Brontë. As I have created a new book club dedicated to reading classics, I thought it would be interesting to share the main points that Claire explores. Emily, to me, is such an interesting figure in history, who has been and continues to be so widely discussed by literary scholars.

In her essay, O’Callaghan claims that many have tried (and failed) to understand who Emily really was. It seems that across various scholarly work, Emily is remembered less fondly and rather unfairly than her novel, Wuthering Heights. Countless Brontë biographies portray Emily in a number of unflattering ways and she is widely considered to be ‘the weirdest of the weird sisters’ (As a side note, this phrase originated from a Ted Hughes poem in which he goes on about the Brontë sisters being ‘weird’ *eye roll*).

Old-fashioned. People-hating. Spinster. Socially-awkward. These are just some of the words used to describe Emily, with author Muriel Spark even labelling her as ‘no normal being’. O’Callaghan claims that our understanding of Emily is limited because there was little left behind which was written by Emily herself and therefore scholars have had to rely on alternatives to try and understand who she was. These alternative narratives usually include Charlotte’s reminiscences, along with anecdotes of the family, servants and acquaintances which has ultimately resulted in the creation of Emily’s ‘obstinate’ character.

Wuthering Heights in today’s society is celebrated as a well-loved classic text but responses from early reviewers and critics weren’t exactly thrilled with the publication of her only novel. For example, a critic writing in Graham’s Magazine in July 1848 stated:

“There is an old saying that those who eat toasted cheese at night will dream of Lucifer. The author of Wuthering Heights has evidently eaten toasted cheese. How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.”

‘Vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.’ I love this description, and I love the cheese on toast comment even more! It’s funny how this critic uses the ‘never eat cheese before bed’ theory to try and explain how Emily could have created such a nightmarishly text. Another critic writing for Britannia in the same year simply wrote: “Read Jane Eyre, but burn Wuthering Heights”. Ouch.

O’Callaghan states that after Emily’s death, a number of reviews were found in her writing desk, and it makes me wonder what Emily made of reviews like these? Perhaps she loved that people hated her writing. I really hope that she looked down on critics like this for simply not being open-minded enough to admire and understand the true message behind her writing.

O’Callaghan also explores in her article how critics over the years have labelled Emily to suit their preconceptions and in doing so, she splits them into subsections which I will attempt to briefly discuss below for you. I hope this will open your eyes to how Emily has been treated over previous decades and how it differs from the treatment given to her sisters, and other writers (both male and female).

Unworldly Writer

Charlotte Brontë wrote a short ‘Biographical Notice’ after the death of Emily and Anne with the intention of clearing up the confusion surrounding her sisters’ work. Yet in doing so, she created this image of Emily as being impenetrable, stubborn and difficult. She discussed how Emily was ‘unadapted to the practical business of life’, explained how she was ‘not naturally gregarious’ and stated that her sister much preferred seclusion. Nice of her, ey! O’Callaghan argues that over time, however, cultural historians have disregarded Charlotte’s portrayal of Emily, claiming it as over-exaggerated. For example, biographers such as Juliet Barker and Lucasta Miller have shown in their work how Charlotte’s biographical notice was in actual fact part of her own strategy to control the narratives of her sisters and therefore, herself.

Charlotte wasn’t the only one to speak ill of Emily. Despite actually never meeting Emily in person according to records, Elizabeth Gaskell declared a dislike to her, noting that she had not gained a pleasant view of Emily, in comparison to Charlotte who she described as ‘genuinely good, and truly great’. Gaskell claimed that Emily was just plain rude, but it is well known by the literary community that Gaskell had the tendency to interlace fact and fiction within her writing, so some have dismissed her sour comments. Nevertheless, the image of Emily being a ‘free, wild, untameable spirit’, who was also a ‘hater of strangers’ was born, and perhaps even influenced by the responses to the publication of Wuthering Heights.

Eerie Emily

Perhaps one of the most well-known but bizarre myths surrounding Emily that O’Callaghan explores is the claim that she made herself ill. Biographer Virginia Moore, who wrote The Life and Eager Death of Emily Brontë, demonstrates this, as she claims that Emily’s mysticism ‘led her to commit suicide by self-neglect’.

If you were unaware, Emily was diagnosed with tuberculosis aged 30 and is believed to have refused medical help in the final months of her life. In September 1848, a month before Emily herself passed away, her brother Branwell sadly died from tuberculosis, with her sister Anne dying from the same illness a year later. So let’s picture this for a moment; a young girl surrounded by dying and suffering family members. Is there any wonder she battled with the decision to receive medical assistance? Perhaps seeing her family suffer, as well as suffering from the illness herself, made her feel helpless. Yet inevitably, the image of a stubborn Emily ‘willing herself to death’ was born and has since been acknowledged by many who have studied her.

Additionally, in 1990 Katherine Frank in her work titled Emily Brontë: A Chainless Soul claimed that Emily was anorexic:

“If Emily were alive today…she would most certainly be diagnosed as suffering from anorexia. Not merely her refusal to eat and her extreme slenderness and preoccupation with food and cooking, but also her obsessive need for control, her retreat into an ongoing interior fantasy world, and her social isolation are all characteristics of the ‘anorexic personality’.”

The poor girl can’t catch a break. Elsewhere, other critics have claimed that Emily was, in fact, agoraphobic; which means to have an extreme or irrational fear of entering open or crowded places, of leaving one’s own home, or of being in places from which escape is difficult.

These perceptions stem from comments made by the Brontë family friends who stated that Emily was always shy and reserved. Yet, there is no clear-cut historical evidence that Emily experienced any symptoms of agoraphobia, but we do know for certain that she did leave her home on several occasions with her sisters. So who knows if any of the above is true?

Disability Labels

O’Callaghan also explores claims that Emily suffered from autism. In 2015 (yes, that recent!) biographer Claire Harman reported that Emily was ‘an Aspergers-ey person’ due to her ‘apparent’ behaviours associated with autism. Perhaps because she was known by family and friends to be shy and prefer solitude, Harman has quickly christened her as autistic.

It is safe to say, Harman received quite a lot of backlash over her comments, one, in particular, reflecting that it is dangerous to take such a ‘freewheeling approach to characterising what it means to be on the autistic spectrum’. O’Callaghan argues that what many biographies about Charlotte tend to have in common is that they are not very sympathetic to Emily and portray her as quite a contrast to her beloved sister. Yet although various reports show that Emily was unhappy in different ways and display evidence that she preferred to be alone, there are other, more defining symptoms of autism that we have no historical evidence of and therefore, it would be simply ignorant to speak of her as having a disability simply because she preferred her own company.

In Conclusion

To conclude, what we know for certain is that Emily was the sister most adamant about concealing her identity under a pseudonym so perhaps instead of naming and shaming her, we should just respect her need for privacy? Perhaps, instead of using her reclusivity as a way to make it easier to disregard her literary work, we should be celebrating her quirks and treating her with the respect that her sisters so often receive.

I agree with O’Callaghan when she states that biographers and historians need to start approaching Emily more ethically, but sadly due to the gaps in our knowledge about her and the lack of first-hand writing by Emily, it inevitably means that it has become increasingly easier to stretch the truth too far and use it to push Emily into the eerie, reclusive and odd image that has been so often used. I think Emily, out of all the sisters, would have fitted in well with today’s society and the fact that she is so misunderstood by all who study her, makes her my favourite Brontë.