REVIEW: Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel by Ruth Hogan

I cannot decide whose perspective I love more, Tilly aged seven or Tilda who comes back to Brighton to reflect on her life there and uncover it’s mysteries? Both have a naievity about what might being going on around them. Central to this seems to be the disappearance of Tilly’s father just before her seventh birthday. And for this reason, I would call Ruth Hogan’s novel a cosy mystery.

I can’t explain fully what is so cosy about her novels but there is a charm to her characters. During the scenes we see within The Paradise Hotel, I laughed outloud at some of the antics, not least the wonderful elderly Marlene who is also on other days Gina or Audrey. The joyous energy of the people Tilly lives with is just part of the novel’s appeal.

A cosy novel maybe because, although there are plenty of twists in the story, there are no great shocks. Deftly suspenseful for sure, so much so that I absolutely devoured it in a weekend. I think I actually enjoyed this offering from Hogan more than The Keeper of Lost Things. I have decided it might be because of the way Tilda crosses paths with the many elements of the story. Whereas in the first novel, I was always sad that Laura does not know if she has discovered the truth about the lost items when she writes their stories. Both novels are well-crafted and evocatively written.

I think you could tell the love of Brighton that imbued the pages. Also, I appreciated the glimpse of queer life and the values of acceptance that we see in the people Tilda meets there. I think that it is a novel very much concerned with acceptance and maternal instinct. These chareteristics are shown in many ways through Queenie, Marlene as well as the indomitable Mrs O’Flaherty and, eventhough she has looked for these things elsewhere, you get a sense that Tilda finds the love she needs in the end from her own mother.

This up-lifting novel was a great start to my New Year and I would recommend it to anyone who else who gets the Winter blues

If you like this …

More up-lifting mystery

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

I can’t wait to watch the BBC dramatisation of this beloved novel. Seeing life through the eyes of Maud a woman with dementia, we slowly unravel the mystery of Elizabeth together.

The Seven Imperfect Rules Of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard

I loved the portrayal of the neurodiverse Elvira Carr, my REVIEW explains more

Gothic Girl

It’s been a dark year, it seems, on my reading list…

As I reflect on my completed Goodreads challenge, I can see a firm theme of the year: I just love gothic fiction and girls who can give me a good scare. For any fans of historical fiction with a Gothic twist here are my MUST READS from recent years

The Corset, Laura Purcell : She is fast becoming one of my favourite authors, Laura Purcell does not disappoint with her second novel. Set in a Victorian town we flit between the fliverous but earnest Dorothea and the dark tales from Ruth who is awaiting sentence in the town prison. We hear through both of them tales of deceit. Ruth, a skilled seamstress and corserteer is incarcerated for the crime of murder, though as the do-gooder Dorothea learns she may have committed many more through the power of her needle and evil thoughts. The darkness of course comes from the horrors the Ruth has endured in her life but also, like Dotty we must try and work out if Ruth is in a state of madness or if we actually believe the harm she can do.

This makes for a really enjoyable mystery, a story full of shocks and surprises. The historical details are relayed well but it is the gothic atmosphere that makes this so appealing.

Slammerkin, Emma Donaghue If the prison setting fascinates you the eighteenth century tale, Slammerkin is a great novel I would also recommend. It’s a few years since I read this one, but I loved the details of the horrors Mary Saunder faces just because her head is turned by a red ribbon, the unravelling of her world, will appeal to fans of a gothic feel in their historical fiction.

The Doll Factory, Elizabeth MacNeal I loved this debut though I found some of the violence hard to read, the menace of the characters involved made you understand how the author decided to develop this idea. I found the ideas around artists and trying to escape her life really compelling

The Story Keeper, Anna Mazzola This historical fiction is full of the mystery surrounding the death and disappearances of girls on the island in Skye. Audrey Hart, herself running away from her life, is collecting the stories from Folklore on the island and becomes embroiled in the mystery. The description of scenery, wind and rain whipping around her – the lost land and the clearances also a central feature of the novel – all of this makes for an atmospheric read that I recommend.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters No list I make about gothic fiction would be complete without one of my favourite books. I am fascinated by the use of ambiguity in fiction. The Ayres mansion makes for a disturbing sense of being out of place. The Little Stranger haunts the pages and like the crumbling world of certainity of the past, leaves the reader uncertain.

And if you want a real classic, Turn of the Screw by Henry James has to be one of the best gothic tales. (And yes I know he is not a Gothic girl.)

On one on the to be read pile:

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver has had many plaudit’s already and this one is definitely going to start my New Year right.

Without knowing it, I find myself in dark and spooky places quite often, centring round a murder or a mystery. I never meant for this time be my main form of escape. I would love to know: what genre do you love to read.

What genre do you return to most often?

REVIEW: The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair

I have followed the author Ailish Sinclair for while and know we share some interest in Folklore and ancient places in Britain so I was excited to finally read The Mermaid and The Bear . It did not disappoint.

Set around a  Scottish castle in the 16th Century, this historical romance starts with an escape from a horrible betrothal. The book is told from the perspective of the rather naive Isobel. She is full of romantic ideas and fairy stories and is quickly at home in the delightful setting of glades and stone circles. The stories she tells become intertwined with the Old Ways taught to her by the affable Bessie Thom. The relationships that build in the castle, and the beautiful historical details especially around the Twelfth Night celebrations are very captivating.

The only criticism I might level was I was hardly surprised by the events in the second part of the novel. But that might be that the mixing of religion, both the Old Ways and Catholicism through the Christen Michell character was never going to end well in that era of Scottish history. With James VI mania for catching witches, we always feel that these strong-minded independent women may be in danger in this world. However whilst some of the things that go wrong for dear Isobel and Bessie and Christen are unsurprising, the way Isobel draws her own conclusions about how all the women’s beliefs sit side-by-side is done very well.

Overall the characters are lovable, I found it interesting that their lives intertwined slightly with Shakespeare and also touched on LGBT culture and attitudes at that time. It really felt that there was a depth of historical knowledge informing the narrative which I always enjoy. My only lament was that I wished I could learn more about Jasper who equally had a fascinating tale to tell.

I really enjoyed the historical detail in the novel even though at times it is a hard novel to read. I appreciated how the author cut away from the most violent acts. I think it will appeal to historical fiction fans including those who enjoyed Stacey Hall’s The Familiars.

REVIEW: The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard

First person narrative continues to be a big hit, falling in love with the characters is one advantage of this style.

Reviewers recommend this novel for fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and while I enjoyed that novel, I think Elvira Carr touched my heart even more.

First person narrative can be so effective. This novel is a story about a young woman whose life is changed when her mother becomes unwell.

“Elvira Carr is 27 years old, neuro-atypical, and has never lived alone. But her father – who she suspects was in the secret service – is dead, and her mother has a stroke and is taken into care, Elvira suddenly finds herself home alone.”

The way Elvira begins to manage her life- though she doesn’t know how, nor has ever been shown,- is very inspirational. Central to the novel is the mystery of who her father and mother really are. It has you gripped, although at times I worried that we the reader, seemed like the “normaltypical” people around her who know the truth of what’s going and don’t tell her. Elvira has not been given the tools or information to understand. At times, I needed to lay the book aside to absorb the sadness of her experience.

One of the achievements of this novel is to write so well about Autism Spectrum Conditions. Frances Maynard, I believe, works with adults on the Spectrum and with learning disabilities. For me her portrayal felt very truthful. As a parent of a child on the Spectrum, I actually felt this book would be great as an educational tool for both people in my position and in a wider community. Although the topic meant I felt sadness and worry that I might not equip my own son (which by the way is a daily fear). I would hope that those represented in the novel would feel Maynard has been thoughtful and loving in her creation of Elvira.

The rules Elvira develops to live by show how communication with others can be unclear for her (and everyone at times). It’s frustrating at times to see Sylvia seem to belittle her work, by telling her what she has done wrong she is also breaking the rules around diplomacy and kindness. As such Sylvia acts as a good foil. Her neighbours and the cast of characters who come into her life are really well-drawn and we see a group grow and develop around her which is very heart-warming.

The only thing I will say I didn’t like as much is that there are moments in this novel where Elvira is the victim of abuse and this hateful behaviour is very difficult to read. That someone can be so vulnerable to bullying and assault makes the fact she is teaching herself these rules to live by imperative. But it will also hit any reader hard, I think. The positive is that by the end, the novel gives a model for how a neurodiverse community can be built. And we are left very hopeful for her future.

The fact that this novel does

Here is a list of some other novels that feature #neurodiversity or difference:

Continue reading “REVIEW: The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard”

Orange is the new…what now?

I am only one to spend every waking hour my son is not awake finishing Orange is the New Black?

I have been absent from the blog this week. I will post my updates at the weekend. The TV has kept me a bit busy…

And now it’s done, stories wrapped up more or less completely, how do we process the loss of these loved characters.

Jenji Kohan changed the game and helped create the juggernaut that is Netflix for content creation according to this interview in The Guardian this week. What she did more for me is to put women and their multitude of voices front and centre. She proved there is no excuse, really no-one need fail the Bechdel Test again. And that kind of quiet feminist revolution it changes story-telling.

While the final season rushes to conclude some character arcs (and includes a death that’s so unnecessary it is painful), there is also a warmth in the final episode. Even the cheesy waves from the actors in the final credits left me satisfied because the inclusion of so many of the ensemble cast speaks to how beloved these characters are for everyone.

You are gripped by each tiny slice of their lives outside prison. The bounce and hurly of all the stories makes you hone in on what it is you connect with for each woman. The effect is a deep connection with so many characters, it’s actually quite startling.

I am feeling shaky having sobbed for the last few hours. Adding the pain of what is happening in the Immigrant detention centres to the final season more than updates the conversation, it wrenches at you powerfully. An urgency in the writing elevates the messages that have been so clear. The prison system was broken season one, look how much worse it is.

But in the mean time for me, I am trying to recover from the unique loss that book lovers know too well…

Recommendations to get you through

Podcasts around or about prisons, links here for Spotify:

Convicted and Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom. Looking at how Wrongful Conviction can occur.

The excellent Ear Hustle from inside San Quentin prison

And if you want compelling true crime told well In the Dark podcast and The Fall Line. Both of whom represent marginalised communities and discuss issues of race and prejudice in the justice system.

How is everyone else holding up now Orange is the New Black is over?