Robyn Reviews: The Weight of Feathers

‘The Weight of Feathers’ is a young adult fantasy debut telling a Romeo and Juliet type story with hints of magical realism and Latine and Romani culture. At its heart, its a romance – so it’s a shame that the romance is one of the weaker elements. The characters and plot are solid, but there’s an element of distance between the reader and the story which makes the romance hard to connect to. Overall, this is a solid debut with many highlights, but its chosen focus is not its strength.

For twenty years, the Palomas and Corbeau’s have been locked in a feud. Both families make their living as travelling performers – the Paloma’s in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeau’s going from tightrope walkers to aerial performers in the tallest trees they can find. Lace Paloma is new to performing, but she knows that the Corbeau’s are magia negra – black magic borne of the devil. Touching one could mean death. However, when disaster strikes, it’s a Corbeau boy who saves Lace’s life. Increasingly immersed in the Corbeau’s world, Lace finds herself treading a fine ine just like the Corbeau aerial walkers – a line where one misstep could mean death.

This is a dual perspective book, switching between Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau. Lace is a kindhearted girl – she hates the Corbeau’s with all the fear and passion of her family, but otherwise she has a clear sense of right and wrong and looks after those around her – but also self-conscious as many teenagers are, especially around her looks. As a performer, she feels less pretty than those around her and insecure in her place in her family. Being touched by a Corbeau, even to help, is her worst nightmare, igniting a spiral of hatred and self-pity – but also curiosity, and its this latter emotion that wins out. Lace feels like a realistic portrayal of a teenager, easy to empathise with even when her actions are irrational.

Cluck is exceptionally easy to like. Disabled – lacking the use of three fingers on his left hand – and with discoloured feathers, he’s both an outcast in his own family and an essential part. The oil behind the scenes that keeps their show running, he’s a peacekeeper, happy to take the hit so that others don’t have to. Clearly more intelligent than he first seems, he’s the sort of character the reader roots for – but when he starts wanting things for himself, it destabilises the delicate Corbeau family balance. Cluck’s attraction to Lace is clear – she’s an outsider, and hence forbidden, but she’s also the first person to look at him and see him, rather than a cog in a machine.

The magical realism elements are very light, complimenting the story. The writing style meshes with the fantasy perfectly, creating a slightly surreal atmosphere where anything seems possible, but with a definite darker edge. There are no lavish descriptions, but an air of mystery and a sense things will come tumbling down.

The chosen protagonists are diverse and this is another strength. Cluck and his family are Romani, and the book does a good job of lightly exploring prejudice against the Romani – including the use of slurs, which are explained as offensive on-page. Cluck’s disability is present and affects him, but again is just another facet of his character. Lace and her family are Latine, and again this culture is woven through the book, adding depth. The one area I feel could be explored more is Lace’s relationship with food. Lace is immensely worried about her size and this gives her an unhealthy relationship with food and eating – something which is touched upon and highlighted as problematic, but not explored as far as it could be.

The romance is the weakest element, I think because the book is so short – clocking in just over 300 pages. Lace and Cluck go from Lace seeing him as her enemy and the cause for all her problems to romantic interests in an immensely short space of time. Its easy to understand how this happens for Cluck, but for Lace it feels out of character. The later romantic scenes are well-written and believable, but the early seens feel somewhat out of the blue and pull the reader out of the story. A little more build-up would make the story feel much more smooth.

Endings are difficult, and the ending here is again a little rushed and confusing – but by and large it fits the rest of the story. There’s a lot of ambiguity, leaving the reader to decide the precise fallout.

All in all, ‘The Weight of Feathers’ creates an intriguing atmosphere filled with relatable characters and a clear sense of tension – it’s just let down by pacing, especially with regards to the central romance. Being a debut, these are niggles that can be ironed out in future work, and I’d happily check out other books by the author. Recommended for fans of circus stories and magical realism.

Published by Wednesday Books
Paperback: 26th September 2017


Book Review: Real Dorset

Real Dorset

“It’s specifically, singularly, my Dorset. It will have errors, you will certainly disagree with some of my impressions or conclusions, wish I’d spent less time on my hobbyhorses and more on yours. It won’t tell you where to find a footpath, the best place to buy a crab sandwich on the coast (although pubs occasionally feature), but I hope it might inspire you to seek out some of the places, or better still to find your Real Dorset”

Real Dorset, by Jon Woolcott, is Seren Books’ latest addition to its Real series of idiosyncratic travel and local history guides. It’s a type of psychogeography of the county where the author now resides. He tells us that, although Dorset has no motorways and few dual carriageways, every place within takes about an hour to get to. Its maze like road network ensures it is possible to discover hidden gems tucked away from the more sought after tourist destinations.

After an introduction from the Series Editor, Peter Finch, and then another by the author, the book is divided into five sections: North, South, East, West, Central. Within each these are short chapters detailing the towns and villages Woolcott visited for his research. To ensure the reader can keep track, a useful map is provided at the beginning.

Dorset has a long history and this is referred to frequently. The focus, though, is on the local and personal with only a smattering of wider resonances. Although much of what is explored has been man made, the county’s character has been shaped by its more natural features. Woolcott often travels by bike, no mean feat given the hills, allowing time to appreciate what is being passed through as well as the featured location.

A fabulously dry sense of humour permeates the narrative. The author notices the quirks of a place, taking pleasure in both historic and more modern additions. He finds: dinosaurs, model villages, landscape and follies shaped by aristocratic conceit. He eats many cheese sandwiches.

Photographs are included along with pointers to additional notes and references. These are listed at the end of each section and are well worth paying attention to. There are literary references aplenty alongside anecdotes about those mentioned. Mostly, though, this is the Dorset of the general population rather than the famous.

Other travel writers have explored Dorset previously, often coming to quite different conclusions about each place. Woolcott is generous in his observations although never obsequious. He is joined by friends along the way, offering additional perspectives. He talks to the curators of small museums whose local knowledge pinpoints features that may otherwise be missed.

A thoroughly enjoyable exploration of a small county offering visitors a wide variety of experiences. It is nothing like the breathless promotion of the tourist industry yet still makes Dorset sound well worth a visit. Living in neighbouring Wiltshire there were many locations I am familiar with, but Woolcott still brings them to life anew.

A fresh and original travel book that I will take with me on future visits. For the armchair explorer, a fun and fascinating read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Seren.

Book Review: Close to Home

close to home

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

Michael Magee first came to my attention in 2014 when I spotted that Salt had picked up a story submitted to their Modern Dreams eBook series by an Irish writer new to me. Close to Home is his debut novel but Magee has been writing since he was a teenager. Over the past decade his stories have appeared in numerous literary publications. It was only a matter of time before his novel would be completed and accepted. Hamish Hamilton won the UK and Commonwealth rights in an eight way auction back in 2021. All this is to say I fair whooped when I read this debut was forthcoming, and have been waiting impatiently to read it since.

Described in the initial flurry of publicity as auto-fictional, the story is set in Belfast soon after its narrator, Sean Maguire, returns to his hometown having graduated from university in Liverpool. He is temporarily living rent free with an old mate, Ryan, in a flat abandoned by its owner to repossession. Ryan was laid off from his apprenticeship before he could complete it – another victim of the economic downturn. Both young men work behind the bar in a nightclub. Beyond that their lives revolve around a series of parties fuelled by drugs and drink.

The opening scenes bring the reader up to speed. Sean punches a lad, rendering him unconscious. The police become involved. There will be a court case with witnesses claiming the assault was unprovoked. Things are rarely that simple. Sean was raised in West Belfast by a family with active, Republican sympathies. He notices and is riled when people refer to the north of Ireland as Northern Ireland – such things still matter in a society where lives were sacrificed for a cause some see the peace process as betraying. It is not just sectarian differences that divide those living in the city. They do, however, feed into an ingrained system of prejudice that renders young men brutally defensive, sometimes with cause.

Sean and his older brothers were raised by their mother, not atypical in the area where they lived. Teenage marriages have long been common here and fathers don’t always stick around to support their offspring. The boys were regarded as hard and this was a view they encouraged in the way they behaved.

“They were the people I looked up to when I was a kid. They were who I wanted to be. The mad bastards.”

The eldest brother, Anthony, looks out for Sean in his own way. Anthony now veers wildly between the body builder lifestyle and going on benders that last for days. His wife despairs, for herself and their children. Anthony and his ilk try to feel better about their behaviour by pulling anyone who falls within their sphere of influence down to their level. It was heartbreaking to read how even those working to escape the spiral of poverty had their efforts thwarted by such so called friends.

Sean observes another way of living when he reconnects with an old girlfriend. Mairéad is also a graduate but from the local university, Queens. Like Sean, she has been unable to use her degree to get a job that requires such a qualification. She still keeps in touch with students who have stayed on at Queens and introduces Sean to them and their friends. Together they attend art exhibitions, poetry readings and gatherings of people capable of discussing political issues considerately and without rancour. It is a different world to that which Sean has long experienced within his social circle.

“You love it down there, don’t you?
It’s been good for me.
In what way?
In the same way Liverpool was for you, she said. It got me away.”

Sean is torn between keeping in with the friends he grew up with and holding down a job for long enough to move into his own place. In the meantime there are family crises to deal with as well as the fallout from his court case. The power of this story is how succinctly the writing lays bare a life that is devastating in its poverty of both economy and aspiration, while making clear why the deprivations are so hard to escape.

Alongside the many serious issues there are pockets of humour.

“She was a vegan. At least, she ordered a vegan meal, and I don’t know why anybody would do that to themselves if they weren’t.”

Sean suffers knockbacks but can see a glimpse of a future. What holds back so many isn’t just the escape of partying – its costs and fallout – but the need to self-fund any change from jobs that pay barely enough to cover food and rent. However much sympathy may be engendered there is nothing cloying in the depiction. The balance and honesty – Sean is no angel – are both enlightening and refreshing.

Having hotly anticipated this novel for so many years I started it with high expectations, something that made me a tad nervous in case the writing style didn’t appeal. I need not have worried. It may be an exploration of modern masculinity within the bounds of an upbringing shadowed by paucity and violence but the author transcends potential subject limitations to create a story that oozes empathy and intelligence.

Although an eye-opening account of the manifold effects of a West Belfast upbringing, the telling of this story has far wider reach.

Any Cop?: Written with nuance and clarity this is a debut that deserves all the accolades.

Jackie Law

Monthly Roundup – May 2023


May has been a noteworthy month for a variety of reasons. It started with a night away on the south coast to celebrate our wedding anniversary – a first trip away for this year. Naturally, my teddy bear, Edward, accompanied us on the adventure. You may read about his exploits here.

During the following week husband had his long awaited procedure to sort his heart issue. Thankfully, this appears to have been successful. He still has problems with his breathing, most notable when trying to exercise – something he may now return to gradually. If this lung issue does not clear within the next few weeks, as his body adjusts to being asked to function more fully again, it is another thing he will have to have investigated.

We couldn’t get away to avoid the coronation shenanigans as husband was still recovering from lingering effects of anaesthetic. With the weather so dreadful this proved no bad thing. Once he was feeling better we booked a short break in Gloucester, a city that isn’t so far from where we live but which we had never visited. My write-up of this adventure will be posted in June.

Elder son has his birthday in May but he didn’t want a fuss made so this was a low key celebration. Younger son made him a rather delicious cake but we did little else to mark the occasion.

In amongst all this activity I continued to run regularly alongside my swimming and cycling. The recent pickup in the weather has made any outdoor exercise a pleasure. I have also enjoyed some local walks with younger son who has been sitting his end of year exams so benefitted from getting away from his desk from time to time.

I posted reviews for 9 books in May. Robyn added a further 3 reviews. It was another mixed month for reading, although the highs have been exceptional.

As is customary in my monthly roundups, click on the title below to read the review and on the cover to learn more about the book.


last white rose   Henry VIII
Elizabeth of York: The Last White Rose by Alison Weir, published by Headline
Henry VIII: The Heart & The Crown by Alison Weir, published by Headline

Reservior  Fray
Reservoir by Livi Michael, published by Salt
Fray by Chris Carse Wilson, published by Harper North

Covenant of Water
The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese, published by Grove Atlantic

Translated Fiction

Venom   Angel Santa Sofia
Venom by Saneh Sangsuk (translated by Mui Poopoksakul), published by Peirene
The Angel of Santa Sofia by Josep M. Argemi (translated by Tiago Miller), published by Fum d’Estampa

Non Fiction

Are You Judging Me Yet  henfluence
Are You Judging Me Yet? by Kim Moore, published by Seren
Under the Henfluence by Tove Danovich, published by William Collins

Robyn Reviews

1mie  1tci
Midnight in Everwood by M. A. Kuzniar, published by HQ
The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong, published by Angry Robot Books

Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, published by Tordotcom

Sourcing the books

Robyn has exercised restraint this month, pointing out that she received fewer books in the post than me.

Robyn books may 23

My book post proved intriguing. You may note that we have an overlap, both so eager to read Yellowface we each sourced copies.

jackie books may 23

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their books to review – the arrival of a book parcel remains a cheering event in my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms – your support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health – something we so often take for granted until issues must be faced. May the weather and life offer moments of sunshine as the year proceeds.

Book Review: Under the Henfluence


This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

“By raising chickens in your yard, you’re taking money out of the pocket of a cruel system; that doesn’t mean it’s cruelty-free.”

Under the Henfluence takes an honest look at the costs and benefits of keeping a small flock of chickens in a domestic back garden, or yard if you speak American. This practice, while still regarded by many as somewhat quirky, has grown in popularity over the past couple of decades. A few generations ago it was common for a family with outdoor space to keep hens for their eggs and meat, along with growing small quantities of fruit and vegetables. This was before the fashion for manicured lawns and neatly tended flowerbeds changed how most households manage their little pockets of space.

The author and her then partner acquired their first three hens a couple of years after moving from a New York City apartment to a half acre property in Portland, Oregon. The birds were ordered from a commercial hatchery as day old fluffy chicks, shipped via the postal service for personal collection locally. Raising chicks is messy due to feather dust but cheaper than purchasing pullets at point of lay. It is also a way of bonding with the birds early, making them easier to handle and train to behave.

Danovich is a journalist and uses her skills to investigate various aspects of modern hen keeping. She visits a hatchery where it becomes clear how disposable these curious and canny creatures are considered to be. The business side of selling day old chicks requires that around half are killed at birth – too many males, a breed not as popular as expected, born slightly imperfect.

“For better or worse, we are industrial”

This somewhat depressing start, so often overlooked by those whose buying habits make the endeavour financially viable, contrasts starkly with the life pampered pet chickens can expect thereafter.

People keep chickens for food, as pets or as show birds. The author investigates this latter phenomenon. Again, it is not new even if only the interested are aware of the practice and associated events. Raising birds that conform to a ‘standard of perfection’ grew in popularity during Victorian times, after the young Queen was gifted a small flock that delighted her, thereby starting a craze. Initially a great deal of money changed hands in exchange for particular, exotic breeds. These days, showing hens is more of a hobby but one many take seriously and are willing to pay to enjoy.

Many aspects of hen keeping are explored and explained by the author. Hen keepers must know how to recognise and deal with: sickness in the flock; attacks from predators; introducing new hens; persuading a broody to stop incubating infertile eggs. There are a growing number of vets able to treat ailments in poultry, although many keepers would still baulk at the cost. Meat and eggs from these birds are relatively cheap and, sadly, few value them beyond this measure.

“An ISA Brown hen, a common egg laying breed, typically lays an egg that’s 3 percent of her body weight. For a 170-pound woman, that would be like giving birth to a five-pound baby multiple times a week. It’s a lot of work”

Recognising that creatures other than humans harbour feelings and display intelligence is a fairly recent development. This has effected how dogs are now trained, and the author attends a course in which hens are shown to be capable of learning to perform for treats. Suitable poultry are used to support therapy in humans. Dementia patients have also responded positively when their care facility invests in a small flock.

“”dumb” animals get a lot more intelligent when we take the time to watch and understand them”

Having gained experience in raising and caring for a growing number of birds, the author then adopts a couple of rescue hens – caged farm birds that would otherwise have been slaughtered. The hard start to life these poor creatures endured means they are unlikely to survive a healthy hen’s potential lifespan. Observing them enjoying even a short period of natural behaviour is reward enough.

Although hen keepers take measures to ensure their birds are warm and safe, hens can survive in the wild. The author visits several towns where such chickens are part of the attraction for tourists. Locals are not always so enamoured.

Having kept a small flock of hens in my back garden for the past fifteen years or so, including a few rescue birds, much of what is covered in this book was not news. It was refreshing, however, to have some of the more negative aspects of hen keeping covered alongside the many benefits. As well as providing delicious eggs, each bird comes with its own personality that adds to the entertainment watching a small flock provides.

The book is not a guide to keeping chickens but rather a window into why those who do so often become enthusiastic advocates. The author writes with warmth and candour, sharing her obvious love for her feathered pets. However commonplace and tasty, hens deserve considerate treatment, responding endearingly to kindness and attention.

Any Cop?: This is a worthwhile read for any with an interest in small scale hen keeping. An informative and engaging introduction to a hobby that, while problematic in its support of certain aspects, offers many rewards to both hens and keepers.

Jackie Law

Book Review: Reservoir


“That was what he wanted, her discomfort”

I have mixed feelings about Reservoir. The advance information promised a story dealing with the neuroscience of memory, an interest of mine, and this was delivered. What I struggled with was the pace. The first half of the book is given over almost entirely to character introduction and scene setting. The protagonist, Hannah Rossier, despite being a renowned academic, comes across as dithering and unprofessional in this section. Granted, the reader is observing her mostly in private after she has been rocked by the emergence of a face from her traumatic past. I was glad to get beyond this to the second section where tension builds and Hannah is shown capable of pulling herself together, which her job and status requires. .

The tale is set in Geneva during an international academic conference, bringing together neuroscientists and psychologists. Delegates are presenting views and findings that challenge accepted thinking in their field of research. Hannah, a psychotherapist, is to give the keynote speech that will close proceedings. As someone who lives just a few hours away and who rarely chooses to socialise, it is unclear why she is attending the entire four days. Perhaps it is good for her career to be seen. Perhaps she needed to prove something to herself.

The book opens with a glimpse of Hannah’s childhood in England. She was an only child, raised by her single mother in a degree of poverty and struggling to make friends. Only one girl, Joanna, would play with her, and then only sometimes and when nobody else was available. Their chosen playground was scrubland by a local reservoir, the scene of Hannah’s trauma.

Hannah has only just arrived at the conference when she encounters Neville Weir, another delegate, who as a boy was also at the reservoir on that fateful day. Despite her best efforts Hannah is unable to avoid him. Eventually she must ask what it is he wants from her after all these years, and why.

This is a conference attended by researchers with an interest in criminality triggered by childhood experiences and suppressed memory. Much of the exposition is within lectures given. This was my area of interest but seemed a brave choice in progressing a story. I wonder if other readers may find this structuring dry.

It seemed questionable that delegates would be willing to open up about their personal histories amongst a gathering of such colleagues – without the promise of privacy offered by an individual session with a therapist. The hastily arranged forum that proves pivotal seemed unlikely in this context.

“Jeremy Kyle for academics”

We are, however, dealing with a work of fiction. Once the pace picked up it succeeded in retaining engagement. Neville may have been the bad guy but it was made clear how hard it can be to move on from the fallout he suffered through his teenage years. Hannah’s struggle manifested in her marriage which made for an interesting denouement.

A beguiling subject to weave a story around, especially for readers with a personal interest in the subject matter. The lengthy scene setting may have been frustrating to get through, but overall this tale was still worth finishing.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.

Robyn Reviews: Nona the Ninth

‘Nona the Ninth’ is the unexpected third addition to the Locked Tomb series. Planned as a trilogy, Muir subsequently decided there was too much to cover in the third and final book – Nona, therefore, has been inserted as an extra. Unfortunately, this book reads like what it is – exposition and filler to give the reader context for the planned finale, lacking the plot or gravitas to stand on its own. The insights into the wider world and certain characters are intriguing, but not enough to save this from being a bit of a slog.

In many ways, Nona is like other people on her refugee planet. She lives with her family, works at the local school, and enjoys visits to the beach and time with Noodle, the six-legged dog. However, Nona is not like other people. Six months ago, she woke up in a strangers body, and she’s afraid she’ll have to give it back. With the city collapsing, Blood of Eden forces on the attack, and a clear expectation for Nona to be the weaon that saves them from the Nine Houses, the pressure is on to figure out who she is. Nona would rather just have a birthday party. But each night, she dreams of a woman with a skull-painted face.

Both ‘Gideon the Ninth‘ and ‘Harrow the Ninth‘ succeed through a mixture of humour, enough intrigue to keep the reader’s interest when nothing quite adds up or makes sense, and satisfying out-there twists at the end. They also suit their protagonists – Gideon’s novel a fast-paced adventure with plenty of swords, Harrow’s a more cerebral, slower paced story that keeps the reader in the dark. ‘Nona the Ninth’ falls down in being superficially familiar but lacking some of that intrigue. The first half follows Nona’s day to day life: going to school, spending time at home with Camilla, Palamedes, and Pyrrha, and deliberately not caring about her mystery of existence. Having, in some ways, only been alive for six months, Nona is childlike and petulant – but unlike a child, she’s minimally inquisitive, and the combination of her life’s mundanity, her lack of guile, and the glacial pace of the story take their toll. I ended up setting the novel down for three months to avoid falling entirely into a reading slump, only picking it back up with the hope of a Muir classic spectacular ending.

There are glimmers of interest through that treacle-slow first half. Camilla and Palamedes are two of the strongest and most intriguing characters in the entire series, and this novel is where they get the most page time; unfortunately, rather than focusing on their most interesting attributes, there are only glimmers of this around Nona’s focus on them as parental figures. Similarly, the insight into the world outside of the bubble readers are kept in throughout the first two books is fascinating – but the focus is skewed, with Nona’s perspective making it hard to stay engaged. With Muir’s rigid structure, a focus on anyone outside the Ninth House as primary protaginist would have been wrong – but seeing this world through the eyes of Camilla and Palamedes would have been a far easier read.

The second half picks up the pace, bringing in more characters from previous books and details about Blood of Eden. There are twists and turns – but foreshadowing gives away the main twist earlier than I suspect the author intended. Few events feel truly surprising like the climaxes of ‘Gideon’ or ‘Harrow’. I also found myself getting to the end of paragraphs and having to reread them – not because I didn’t understand, but because I’d accidentally skimmed them rather than taking them in. The lack of engagement through the first half sadly carried over and made it hard to fully invest in the second half, despite its stronger atmosphere and plotline.

Put simply, Nona isn’t a strong enough character to carry her own book – and there isn’t enough underlying substance to work without an engaging protagonist. It’s a shame as there’s plenty of potential hidden in the pages.

Overall, ‘Nona the Ninth’ is a disappointing entry in an otherwise excellent series – one that’s carried out with Muir’s usual excellent writing and creativity but that lacks the juicy marrow of her other stories. Here’s hoping ‘Alecto the Ninth’ is more similar to its predecessors.

Published by Tordotcom
Hardback: 13th September 2022
Paperback: 12th September 2023

Book Review: Fray


“You do not recover from grief and return back to who and what you were before. You emerge new and different, though not necessarily better or improved. At the end you are someone else.”

I finished Fray, by Chris Carse Wilson, and immediately wondered, how on earth am I going to describe that? Although starting out in a fairly standard vein, the prose soon becomes more hallucinatory, almost staccato in places. It features three voices that only occasionally merge. The story being told is vivid and painful, yet also captures the dangerous beauty of the location in which it is set.

The narrator is a man whose mother recently died of cancer. In his anger and grief at this loss he lashed out at his father, who reacted by leaving without explanation. When he didn’t return the man called in the police but no trace was uncovered. In looking through his parents’ possessions he finds an old map with a single red dot marking a site in the Scottish Highlands. Thinking this might offer a clue to his father’s whereabouts he travels there, finding a remote cottage that nobody owns. Within this small building are hundreds, perhaps thousands of scattered notes in his father’s handwriting.

What follows are accounts of the narrator’s days as he sifts through these papers trying to piece together what his father had been doing. He explores the surrounding area, getting to know landmarks mentioned. Transcripts of many of the notes are included, offering hints of a deteriorating mindset. There are also shout outs, a word or two, perhaps summarising the emotions being dealt with.

The narrator has suffered depression and anxiety. He has learned strategies to get him through these periods, including running.

“Many people don’t understand this, both those who run and those who don’t. That I am not racing anyone, and if I was I would never be racing anyone but myself.”

As the notes increasingly suggest his father was unravelling, so too does the narrator. He struggles with loneliness and regret, recalling memories from childhood. He is desperately searching, but for what? He fears his father is dead yet still cannot quell the hope that he may find him still living. The structure of the writing retains an unrelenting tension as the reader tries to figure out what is real and where this may be going.

There are evocative descriptions of nature although it is rarely bucolic. The metaphor inherent in the buzzard attack was particularly powerful, as was the encounter with the eagle. The narrator may often feel lost, may have to call on every reserve his body possesses and more, but retains enough wit even through the darkest hours to recognise that light will eventually dawn.

A challenging yet engaging book that tackles the twin challenges of grief and depression with originality and aplomb. The taut and crisp writing style ensures steady pacing – precipices must be navigated and dense woodland escaped from. Whatever is happening throughout all of this, hope is never quite abandoned. A singular read from a debut author to watch.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Harper North.

Book Review: The Angel of Santa Sofia

Angel Santa Sofia

This is a short book, fewer than fifty pages in length. I generally prefer shorter books, so long as the story being told is well developed and complete. This one did not meet these criteria. The varied threads are fragmented, the weaving together loose and open to interpretation. I needed more direction. The structuring of numbered paragraphs makes it easy to set down and return to. I found this necessary. It is one of the strangest stories I have read.

A man arrives in Turin as evening descends. He observes the sun setting behind the Alps, the sky ‘aflame like a furious fire’. He settles down to dinner at his hotel where he is then irritated by the approach of a loud fellow. Both are in the city to attend a conference on demonology at the local university.

“I also study the Devil and his works.”

What unfolds is a curious mix of manifestations in lectures led by supposed experts in the field, and then real or imagined encounters beyond these halls. There is a dreamlike quality to much of the narrative, or perhaps nightmare may be a more accurate descriptor. Children are described as possessed, observed drained of their life force only to suddenly rise and wish to play. A dead man returns to his family before setting out on a long journey. Nymphs feature as do sirens. Throughout the short work it is hard to know: what is meant to actually be happening, what observations may be affected by consumption of mind affecting substances, what is a dream.

There are pockets of prose that are almost poetic. What I took from the whole was how unwise it would be to choose to dance with the devil. Why tinker with dark possibilities, especially given the effects set out here?

A strange and disturbing tale populated by shadowed characters existing within the margins of an infernal society. I cannot claim to understand what the author hoped to offer the reader. A troubling and darkly opaque read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fum d’Estampa.

Edward Explores: Shaftsbury and Sandbanks

Edward dorset2 hotel

Earlier this month Edward accompanied his two oldest bearers on a most welcome adventure in Dorset where he helped them celebrate their wedding anniversary. Edward stayed on the coast, at a hotel visited many times previously (you may read a review from 2014  here).

A stop was made on the drive down to explore the town of Shaftsbury. Edward climbed Gold Hill, resting on a bench partway up as it is rather steep. He felt sorry for the young actor who Ridley Scott made walk up this incline pushing an old bike loaded with Hovis loaves for the famous advertisement. From the top, however, Edward did enjoy the views of surrounding countryside.

The town of Shaftsbury developed around its medieval abbey, the remains of which are now being carefully excavated. The abbey garden contains the remains of a young king with a most excellent name.

On arrival at Sandbanks, where the Haven Hotel is situated, Edward was pleased to find he was booked into a seaview room with balcony. As the weather was sunny this could be fully enjoyed.

Sandbanks has an interesting history – ‘from humble deserted sand dunes to today’s millionaires playground for the rich and famous’ – which you may read here. After a small snack, Edward went for a walk around the area to view the modern architecture that now dominates. Although eye catching, he noted that after just a few years the huge glass and metal houses already look tired. Sea air may be invigorating but it is the older, more traditionally built properties that can withstand such elements. As the houses seem to be knocked down and rebuilt with some regularity this may not be a concern for the hyper-wealthy owners. Most do not live here full time anyway – which seems such a waste of a stunning location.

After returning to the hotel along the lovely beach it was time to prepare for dinner. As Edward was only staying for one night this was not to be at the hotel. Following a fire at the original nearby restaurant, it reopened as an addition to the Rick Stein chain. Being only a short walk from The Haven, it was here that the wedding anniversary was to be celebrated. Edward was very happy with his allocated table and its view over Poole Harbour as the sun set.

Edward’s bearers declared the food served delicious and plentiful. Edward was happy with his sticky toffee pudding.

A good night’s sleep followed by a large, buffet breakfast – enjoyed while watching a variety of boats sail out on their day’s excursions – set Edward up for his final walk by the sea. He crossed the channel outside the hotel on the chain ferry that connects Sandbanks to Shell Bay. He then walked along the coast to the section of beach available for naturists. Edward is always eager to be properly (un)dressed for any occasion, although he found sunbathing as nature intended a tad itchy.

Before heading home there was one more stop to enjoy – an explore of Poole Quay. Here Edward climbed high to view a sculpture he was told was art. Across the water he could see the vast Sunseeker motorboats being polished by large teams of workers for their multi-millionaire prospective owners. He pondered how such wealth could maybe be put to more altruistic use.

Edward dorset2 poole quay

The week following this splendid adventure in Dorset saw two key events in which Edward offered much appreciated support. The first was a hospital visit as eldest bearer had his long awaited heart procedure. The second was the coronation of a new king, another example of the wealthy flaunting their assets, although on this occasion at an additional cost to those of lesser means.

Edward’s new friend, Charles, being a bear, is much happier to share than show off. He and Edward eschewed the pomp and ceremony to enjoy a tasty afternoon tea.