Monthly Roundup – June 2022

June has been a busy month once again. On the upside we enjoyed two trips away and celebrated a family birthday. On the downside we lost almost half our flock of hens to a fox attack, and then younger son deflected a hockey ball with his face during a match resulting in a fractured orbital socket and worrying swelling. We can only hope his sight will not be affected longer term.

Husband and I escaped the proliferation of bunting that appeared in our village around the jubilee weekend by travelling to Wales for the long weekend. I reviewed the hotel we stayed at in Devil’s Bridge near Aberystwyth here and wrote of my teddy bear, Edward’s adventures on this trip here. Our second holiday was with the family at the Center Parcs Longleat Forest site. I reviewed our midweek break here – Edward’s adventures have still to be written of. Younger son’s birthday fell in the following week and, having eaten out each day while we were away, he opted for a takeaway. Several bottles of fizz were consumed along with a caterpillar cake. It proved an enjoyable evening.

On a much sadder note, as mentioned above, a fox gained access to my chicken run in a dawn raid and killed six of my feathered friends before a kind neighbour scared it away. I added an account of this distressing event to my hen keeping posts – it may be read here.

With all of this activity, along with my usual runs and visits to the gym, I haven’t managed to find so much reading time. I posted reviews for a mere five books in June, although all were worth perusing. The coming month is also likely to be quiet on the blog as I have a backlog of books to review for other sites and will be focusing on them initially. There may well be other posts, as they tend to be written on a whim, but I am keen not to put myself under additional pressure at a time when there are many conflicting demands on my attention. Books will be read and reviewed when I can fit this into my schedule. To my mind, blogging should remain fun, otherwise why do it?

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

Fiction


Seek the Singing Fish by Roma Wells, published by époque press

Translated fiction


Of Saints and Miracles by Manuel Astur (translated by Claire Wadie), published by Peirene

Translated short stories


Here Be Icebergs by Katya Adaui (translated by Rosalind Harvey), published by Charco Press

Non fiction

 
Multiple Joyce by David Collard, published by Sagging Meniscus
Neither Weak Nor Obtuse by Jake Goldsmith, published by Sagging Meniscus

Sourcing the books

Robyn received her usual selection of special edition hardbacks through her Goldsboro and Illumicrate subscriptions. One day she hopes to find time to read a book again.

I have cut back on accepting review copies due to my own reading slowdown but couldn’t resist these fine looking works

Jackie books june

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. I may not say it often enough but your continuing support is always much appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and the ability to pause and enjoy all that is still beautiful in our world and lives. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Monthly Roundup – May 2022

may

May opened with a celebration. Husband and I travelled to Cornwall for our 30th wedding anniversary, staying at the lovely Talland Bay Hotel (you may read my review of the place here). Edward, my intrepid teddy bear, came along too and I posted of his adventures here. I enjoy writing these occasional posts alongside my book reviews. Edward has been ‘exploring’ on my blog for a year now and is proving a popular addition.

I am also very much enjoying getting away on short breaks. We choose places that offer plenty of options for walking, along with a Parkrun within easy travelling distance. I am not yet ready to fly anywhere having read of the form filling, security queues, and continuing Covid related restrictions still in place in certain places. This latter issue has also resulted in us avoiding cities. We were disappointed not to be able to visit the Tate Modern when we travelled to London last year due to the need to book in advance, and Robyn tells me she had to pre-book her recent visit to the Science Museum when she was in the capital for a few days. I do hope these requirements are not now permanent as these free to enter attractions used to form the backbone of our valued city visits.

May also contains a family birthday. Elder son opted to eat out at our local pub, something that was enjoyed by all. Our local restaurants have become, once again, places where we feel welcome.

The improving weather is providing added cheer. Running in the sun may be a somewhat sweaty business but temperatures have not yet risen sufficiently to make the endeavour entirely draining. As well as Parkruns I have taken to running with a few other acquaintances on a Sunday morning, a rare chance to interact socially that has proved enjoyable. I managed a solo half marathon this month which was pleasing, and have set several new PBs when strength training.

I posted reviews for 12 books in May. This total included a revisit of a book previously reviewed as I was sent a stunning new edition – a pleasure to peruse.

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

Fiction

none of this serious  boy wonder
None of This is Serious by Catherine Prasifka, published by Canongate
The Former Boy Wonder by Robert Graham, published by Lendal Press

hidden child  Trespasses
The Hidden Child by Louise Fein, published by Head of Zeus
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy, published by Bloomsbury

swimmers  Ezra Maas
The Swimmers by Chloe Lane, published by Gallic
The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas by Daniel James, published by Valley Press

dublinersDubliners by James Joyce, published by Penguin Classics

Translated Fiction

Goodbye, Ramona  this world does not
Goodbye, Ramona by Montserrat Roig (translated by Megan Berkobien and María Cristina Hall), published by Fum d’Estampa
This World Does Not Belong To Us by Natalia Garcia Freire (translated by Victor Meadowcroft), published by Oneworld

Poetry

Fools ParadiseFool’s Paradise by Zoe Brooks, published by Black Eyes Publishing UK

Non Fiction

light rains
Light Rains Sometimes Fall by Lev Parikian, published by Elliott & Thompson

Translated Non Fiction

seven deadly sins
The Seven Deadly Sins, published by Fum d’Estampa

Sourcing the books

Robyn received her special edition, subscription books from Goldsboro and Illumicrate. These are the April and May offerings (I did not share her haul in last month’s roundup). The small bear pictured is also new to our household – a surprise gift from younger son. Ember approved of the fiery colours chosen for the spredges of Robyn’s new books.

I was very happy to receive the titles pictured below, reviewing several immediately. I am looking forward to reading the others closer to their publication date.

Jackie books may

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 continuing support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and the ability to pause and enjoy all that can still be beautiful in our world and lives. Above all, may we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Monthly Roundup – April 2022

april

April included Easter and I had a lovely long weekend at home with my family, enjoying the fine weather. Husband and I managed a couple of sunny walks around the grounds of our local country house estate, recently reopened for the season. I feel lucky to have this on our doorstep. I also ran my 50th Parkrun event, something that entitles me to a new milestone t-shirt. I take pleasure in such small things, necessary positives given the wider issues in the world over which I can have negligible impact.

Given such thinking, I was particularly gratified by one of the books I read – Seven Steeples by Sara Baume. My reading this month has been mostly excellent but this particular title offered a reminder to appreciate the day to day. The life led by the couple featured is neither luxurious nor easy but they get by and find satisfaction in observation through the changing seasons. I loved the metaphor of the mountain – that it is not always necessary to make the effort to climb, even if the opportunity presents itself.

I have also allowed myself more rest time this month. While continuing to run regularly and visit the gym for strength sessions and swims, I have spent days at home allowing achy bits a chance to heal. My children have enjoyed the fresh bread I have been baking. My new hens are laying lots of eggs and I have been sharing these with neighbours.

I ponder if this more reflective time has been necessary as I approached the second anniversary of my parents’ deaths. It was interesting to read Will This House Last Forever by Xanthi Barker at this time as the author had a very different reaction to the death of her father than I had to mine. For the first time I tried to put into words something about how I felt – you may read it here.

I posted reviews for 11 books in April, mostly new publications although I did pluck a couple of older titles from my shelves – one when I spotted it had recently been released in paperback. Robyn added a further one review.

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

Fiction

voting day  swallowed man
Voting Day by Clare O’Dea, published by Fairlight Books
The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey, published by Gallic Books

Seven Steeples  mischief acts
Seven Steeples by Sara Baume, published by Tramp Press
Mischief Acts by Zoe Gilbert, published by Bloomsbury

Good Man Jesus  The Gamekeeper
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman, published by Canongate
The Gamekeeper by Barry Hines, published by And Other Stories

Translated Fiction

Love Novel  jacobe and fineta
Love Novel by Ivana Sajko (translated by Mima Simić), published by V&Q Books
Jacobé & Fineta by Joaquim Ruyra (translated by Alan Yates), published by Fum d’Estampa Press

marseillaise my wayMarseillaise My Way by Darina Al Joundi (translated by Helen Vassallo), published by Naked Eye

Non Fiction

will this house
Will This House Last Forever by Xanthi Barker, published by Tinder Press

Translated Non Fiction

dancing in mosque
Dancing In The Mosque by Homeira Qaderi (translated by Zaman Stanizai), published by Fourth Estate.

Robyn Reviews

1freyA Marvellous Light by Freya Marske, published by Tor

Sourcing the books

Robyn’s book post will be shared next month as she has not been around as much recently to provide me with a picture due to holiday and then working night shifts.

Publishers provided me with a fresh pile of enticing titles, some of which I read immediately.

books received april 22

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 continuing support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I once again wish you and yours good health and as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Robyn Reviews: A Marvellous Light

‘A Marvellous Light’ is a gay regency era romance novel that happens to be set in a fantasy world. It’s creative, well written – especially the relationships, both romantic and otherwise – and a generally fun read.

Robin Blyth has more than enough to contend with, what with his sister to care for, a household to run, and a whole mess caused by his parents excesses to sort out now he’s inherited the baroncy. The last thing he needs is an administrative mistake seeing him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society. Now, he also has to contend with an excruciating deadly curse, and worse than that Edwin Courcey, his prickly counterpart in magical bureaucracy who wishes Robin were literally anyone else. However, Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and tracking him down unveils a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles – and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.

Robin is a brilliant character. He’s not always the brightest, but he’s determined, forthright, and jumps into everything with two feet even if he hasn’t sussed where he’s landing. His relationship with Edwin – a pessimist and consummate planner – is regularly hilarious with some brilliant moments. Robin would be frustrating to know in real life in many respects, but you could trust him to the end of the earth and he’s a great person to have at your back.

Edwin, on the other hand, uses a cold demeanour and sharp intellect to hide deep insecurities. He’s lived his whole life feeling inadequate, and clearly doesn’t know what to make of the warm and frank Robin. Magic and Edwin have a difficult relationship, and seeing how Robin reacts to it clearly opens Edwin’s eyes to new ways of thinking. They’re a brilliant pairing, and their slow-burn chemistry is exceptionally well-written.

Whilst there’s a strong fantasy element and an underlying mystery, this is at its heart a gay novel of manners or regency romance. Edwin and Robin’s developing relationship is given more page time and focus than any other element, and there are multiple romance tropes squeezed in. Those who don’t like sex scenes may have to skip a few chapters.

That being said, the fantasy setting is still excellent. The magic system is strongly and believably constructed, the worldbuilding simple but effective, and the subtly different culture well crafted. This is no epic fantasy, but it knows its own limitations and works within them well.

The plot is reasonably fast paced, with a good mix of predictable tropes and less predictable twists. There’s strong character growth for both Edwin and Robin, and a good exploration of both their romantic relationship and complex family relationships. The mystery, fantasy, and romance elements all complement each other without clashing, and whilst the relationships between characters are the main focus the mystery would still stand on its own.

Overall, this is an easy, fun read that will appeal to fans of fantasy romance, regency novel settings, and those looking for a readable, page-turning fantasy novel.

Thanks to NetGalley and Pan Macmillan for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Tor (Pan Macmillan)
Hardback: 9th December 2021

Monthly Roundup – March 2022

march

The highlight of March is husband’s birthday. We celebrated with a long weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon, staying at a hotel that, along with many other places in and around the nearby town, builds on its connections to Shakespeare. With this literary link in mind I wrote a review of the hotel – you may read it here. The trip also provided an adventure for my intrepid teddy bear, Edward. You may read of his latest explore in When Bill met Ted on an Excellent Adventure.

As with all the best birthdays, the celebrating continued on the following weekend when we ate out as a family. Other than these outings the month proceeded much as those for the previous two years. Lockdown may have been relaxed but life continues to feel somewhat restricted. I am amazed so many people are planning holidays beyond the country they live in given continuing uncertainty around rules governing travel.

I am grateful to be able to continue with my running – including weekly participation in Parkrun – along with regular strength training and swimming. My exercise routine has proved vital to my mental health.

On Mother’s Day weekend we added eleven new girls to our gradually depleting flock of hens – pullets have been harder to source during the years of plague. My children have taken to baking regularly so extra eggs will be welcome.

I posted reviews for 11 books in March, once again managing a good mix of new publications and older titles from my shelves. Robyn added one review, of a book released today.

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

Fiction

these days  exit management
these days by Lucy Caldwell, published by Faber & Faber
Exit Management by Naomi Booth, published by dead ink

still life  ghosts of spring
Still Life by Sarah Winman, published by Fourth Estate
Ghosts of Spring by Luis Carrasco, published by époque press

i nerd
I, Nerd by Max Sydney Smith, published by Open Pen

Translated Fiction

when i sing
When I Sing, Mountains Dance by Irene Solà (translated by Mara Faye Letham), published by Granta

Short Stories

young farmers  stewkey blues
Young Farmers by Jan Carson
Stewkey Blues Stories by DJ Taylor, published by Salt

Non Fiction

shalimar daniels running formula
Shalimar by Davina Quinlivan, published by Little Toller
Daniel’s Running Formula by Jack Daniels, published by Human Kinetics

Translated Non Fiction

nina simone stopped
The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing by Darina Al Joundi (translated by Helen Vassallo), published by naked eye

Robyn Reviews

1franWild and Wicked Things by Francesca May, published by Orbit

Sourcing the books

Robyn received several special editions through her regular subscriptions as well as a most welcome ARC. Given her long working hours she is still struggling to find time to read.

books received march robyn

My book post this month contained a number of unexpected titles. It is always lovely to be remembered when proofs are being sent out.

books received march

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 continuing support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I once again wish you and yours good health and as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Robyn Reviews: Wild and Wicked Things

‘Wild and Wicked Things’ is historical fantasy set in the 1920s with influences from The Great Gatsby and Practical Magic. With hidden witchcraft, family secrets, old friends, and new flames, it has plenty of mystery and intrigue, along with a gorgeous and beautifully described island setting. If you’re looking for a standalone historical fantasy with a darker side, this could be the book for you.

On Crow Island rumours of magic abound – not faux magic, the sort peddled by fortune tellers and tea shops, but real magic brimming with power and darkness. Annie has no interest in magic. She’s on the island for a single summer to settle her late father’s estate, and hopefully reconnect with her old friend Beatrice. However, her new neighbour turns out to be the enigmatic Emmeline Delacroix, known for extravagant parties and the shadow of witchcraft. Annie can’t help but be drawn in – but there’s a cost to all magic, and the cost of magic this powerful might be death.

Annie is an easy enough character to like – somewhat bland, but inoffensive and charming in her naivete. The island through her eyes is a daunting yet intriguing place. Annie has clearly led a simple life and, suddenly being surrounded by those who have sought more, changes her perspective in interesting ways.

Emmeline is more of a firecracker – a morally grey witch with many skeletons in the closet and secrets oozing from her pores. Emmeline lives life to the fullest, throwing wild parties and barely bothering to hide her witchcraft from the common folk. But inside, Emmeline is in turmoil, and her glamorous life is little more than a veil. She’s a more difficult character to connect with, but far more engaging and layered.

Annie and Emmeline’s relationship is one of the weaker parts of the novel. There’s chemistry, but it’s difficult to tell if Emmeline truly likes Annie or merely likes what she represents – freedom, innocence, and a life Emmeline was never allowed to have. Similarly, it’s unclear if Annie truly likes Emmeline or likes her mystery, her power, and the darker side that Annie has never acknowledged in herself. There isn’t much for a lasting relationship to be built on, but the difficulty of a sapphic relationship in 1920s Britain is well explored, and its good to see more sapphic fantasy allowed to end on a happier note.

The side characters vary, each with a great deal of potential but not always fully realised. Bea, especially, deserves a perspective of her own – her motivations seem simple, and almost naive in their selfishness, but there are hints of a more interesting and layered character that never fully materialise. Emmeline’s friends again deserve a full book of their own, but Isabella especially has a wonderful character arc within the narrative that compliments the overarching story well.

The setting is gorgeous – Crow Island is beautifully described, with the atmosphere present throughout the novel. Francesca May has a way with language, never overdoing it but ensuring each moment and description lingers in the minds eye. Mysterious island settings are a bit of a fantasy cliche, but this one stands out and has enough to set it apart.

The plot is part mystery, and part coming of age for the adult reader – exploring adult relationships and stepping out alone in a different way to standard coming-of-age stories written for a teenage audience. It’s twisty, at times difficult to predict, and a generally enjoyable ride. There are cliché moments, but also some curveballs and real highlights.

Overall, ‘Wild and Wicked Things’ is a strong fantasy standalone with a beautiful setting, intriguing characters, and a twisty plot that keeps the reader guessing. Recommended for fans of darker fantasy, gorgeous prose, and witches.

Thanks to Orbit for providing an ARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Orbit
Hardback: 31st March 2022

Monthly Roundup – February 2022

february

On the last day in January I took part in a virtual running event organised by Outrun the Dark, a runwear company promoting running as a way to deal with mental health issues. Today I hope to take part in a similar event to outrun yet another month spent mostly avoiding people due to their alleged fear of me killing them or their loved ones (I am mask exempt). My concern is of the potential for long term damage to society if people continue to be viewed as a threat simply by taking up nearby space.

We believe dealing with mental health is a noble fight, and we honor the strength and grit needed to persevere. Born from the love of running and the fortitude it builds, we outrun the dark. 10% of profit is donated to funding new ways of beating anxiety and depression.

So closely did these stated company aims align with my own experiences, I had applied to be an ambassador for the brand. Sadly, I was not chosen, but I still follow their community, with its aim to make the world less dark.

outrun the darkPhoto credit: Outrun the Dark website

Having outrun January, February started well with a long weekend away in Devon. Husband and I stayed at a coastal hotel that I suspect would be popular with the coach tour crowd. This would not normally be our sort of thing but we had a lovely room and the food was excellent – although unchanging for the duration of our stay. Despite husband feeling somewhat below par, we managed several scenic walks and took part in a nearby Parkrun. I made good use of the hotel’s tiny swimming pool when he needed to rest. This trip away featured in Edward’s latest ‘Explore’ post.

The rest of the month was quieter with just the usual activities. I managed my first 10 mile run of the year – I’ve been working on pace and now need to build back distance. In strength training I set new PBs for squat and deadlift. This past week my energy levels dipped, as happens from time to time for no obvious reason. I’ve been grateful for my enticing TBR pile when needing to rest.

I posted reviews for 8 books in February – a good mix of new publications and older titles from my shelves. Robyn, although busy as ever, managed to add 1 review.

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

Fiction

pig iron  the retreat
Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers, published by Bloomsbury
The Retreat by Alison Moore, published by Salt

pricklet
The Pricklet by Mazin Saleem, published by Open Pen

Translated Fiction

battles kings elephants  tender
Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Mathias Enard (translated by Charlotte Mandell), published by Fitzcarraldo Editions
Tender by Ariana Harwicz (translated by Annie McDermott and Carolina Orloff), published by Charco Press

memoirs polar bear
Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada (translated by Susan Bernofsky), published by Granta

Poetry

singing in the dark times
Singing in the Dark Times by Margaret Corvid, published by Patrician Press

Non Fiction

the other jack
The Other Jack by Charles Boyle, published by CB editions

Robyn Reviews

1oliv
The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake, published by Tor

Sourcing the Books

With a large backlog of unread books that she really wants to read, Robyn has cut back on purchases. These are the titles she has received since the New Year.

Robyn books jan feb

My book post has been very pleasing. I have some good reading ahead.

Jackie books february

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 continuing support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Monthly Roundup – January 2022

january19

The first day of a New Year is a Parkrun Day so I started this month taking part in one of my favourite activities. The route of our local Parkrun includes a couple of laps around a riverside field. It gets very muddy at this time of year. The keen runners regularly fall over trying to retain momentum on the slip-slidey surface. I tend to take things easier in such conditions, although this doesn’t help with my attempts to improve overall pacing.

Later in the month temperatures plummeted and the field froze – an improvement for running but utterly chilling on my bike ride in. After one particularly freezing event I chose to run home rather than cycle as at least this kept my body temperature at an acceptable level. On a previous week I had got so cold I still felt unwell the next day. Such are the trials of winter when coping with gear inappropriate for the conditions.

I know there are those who suffer seasonal affectiveness disorder and have much sympathy for the challenges this brings. I try to keep my mood steady by going outside each day, even if it is just a short ride to my local gym for strength training. Over the past few weeks husband has been joining me in this as his leg injury is still bothering him, effecting his running activity. Thinking it might be improving he ran one Parkrun alongside me, the slower pace limiting the effort he needed to expend. I was amused by his comments afterwards – that the view from my more relaxed place in the pack is so different to that amongst his fast and focused brigade.

We celebrate daughter’s birthday in January. She booked a few days off work so was able to enjoy some R&R as well as getting outside in daylight for walks, and also trips to the cinema. The family meal at our local pub was enjoyed by all, as was pizza night on the day itself. I ate more that weekend than I normally would in a week.

Unless, of course, that week includes Christmas. In this month’s Edward Explores my intrepid teddy bear came out of hibernation for the festive season and was rewarded with a delightful new friend.

I posted reviews for 9 books in January. Robyn added a further 3 reviews.

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

Fiction

the raptures good choices
The Raptures by Jan Carson, published by Doubleday
Good Choices by Bonny Brooks, published by Open Pen

failing of angels  not in the world
The Failing of Angels by Chris Tutton, published by Avalanche Books
We Are Not In The World by Conor O’Callaghan, published by Penguin

matilda windsor  Amongst Women
Matilda Windsor is Coming Home by Anne Goodwin, published by Inspired Quill
Amongst Women by John McGahern, published by Faber & Faber

Translated Fiction

goddess chronicle  wilder winds
The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino (translated by Rebecca Copeland), published by Canongate
Wilder Winds by Bel Olid (translated by Laura McGloughlin), published by Fum d’Estampa

Non Fiction

long field
The Long Field by Pamela Petro, published by Little Tolller

Robyn Reviews

1xira  1fred
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao, published by Rock the Boat
Beartown by Fredrik Backman (translated by Neil Smith), published by Penguin

1ciar
The Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth, published by Andersen Press

Sourcing the Books

Robyn has been enjoying some well deserved time off work and will share the books she received in January with next month’s haul.

I received this very pleasing stack, some of which I read immediately.

Jackie books January

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 continuing support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and as much mental stability as can be mustered in these challenging times. May we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

Robyn Reviews: The Falling in Love Montage

‘The Falling in Love Montage’ is a cute sapphic romance, but also a moving coming-of-age story that deals with grief, family, and making the most of the time you have. It balances the saccharine sweetness perfectly with hard-hitting character development, producing a novel that’s both entertaining and moving.

Saoirse doesn’t believe in happy endings. If they were real, she and her ex-girlfriend would still be together. If they were real, her mother would still be able to remember her name. If they were real, Saoirse wouldn’t be at risk of inheriting the very condition that’s confined her mum to a care home in her fifties. The last thing Saoirse is looking for is a new relationship – no point in starting one if its doomed to end. Enter Ruby – a rom-com obsessed girl only visiting Ireland for the summer. She has a loophole: for the next few months, they do all the swoon-worthy activities from her favourite rom-coms, then at the end they break up and never see each other again. Its the perfect plan aside from one tiny flaw: at the end of the falling in love montage, the characters always fall in love. For real.

Saoirse is a highly flawed character – cynical, angsty, and prone to verbally lashing out – but she’s also deeply caring, and trying to navigate the complexity of the teenage-to-adult transition with a lot on her plate. There’s her mother – in a care home with early onset dementia, a disease which is often genetic. There’s her father – unbeknown to Saoirse, in a new relationship despite her mother still being alive. There’s her future – she’s secured the envy of everyone, a place at Oxford, and she can’t quite bring herself to admit that she isn’t sure she actually wants to go. Not to mention there’s the huge breakup that has cost her both her girlfriend and her best friend. Saoirse is too proud and mistrustful to ask for help, or even admit she needs it – but for all her flaws, her intentions are good, and her growth throughout the book is amazing. She’s also a highly realistic teenager with many relatable struggles and snap reactions.

While this is a love story, there are several key relationships in this book. There’s Saoirse and Ruby – but also Saoirse and her father, Saoirse and Ruby’s cousin Oliver, and Saoirse and her father’s new partner Beth. Romantic love is important, but this also explores other forms – love between family, between friends, and love and acceptance of one’s self. Some of the book’s strongest moments involve Saoirse’s father or Oliver rather than the Saoirse and Ruby dynamic.

“I do believe there’s a right person for you at different times of your life. Whether that relationship lasts a week or fifty years is not what makes it special.”

The writing is excellent – Ciara Smyth creates a wonderful sense of place, and her pacing is spot on, the story moving quickly but also slowing for some poignant moments. There’s the right balance of romance, humour, and harder hitting content, and each character feels three-dimensional – while this is Saoirse’s coming of age story, her father also shows significant character growth, and both Ruby and Oliver have their moments. All in all, this both strives for and succeeds in weaving an additional layer of depth over the stanard rom-com structure.

If you’re looking for a fun, quick read that’s also poignant and moving, this is the book for you. Recommended for fans of sapphic romances, coming-of-age stories, and stories that explore the complexity and emotion of family dynamics.

Published by Andersen Press
Paperback: 4th June 2020

Robyn Reviews: Beartown

‘Beartown’ is a powerful novel from a master of character-focused fiction. Along with ‘A Man Called Ove’, ‘Beartown’ is probably Fredrik Backman (and translator Neil Smith)’s most famous work – and for good reason. Where ‘A Man Called Ove’ focuses on one man, ‘Beartown’ focuses on an entire community – what makes it, what ties it together, and what happens when those ties start to fray apart. Its a brilliant piece of literature, and while it doesn’t quite have the emotional impact of ‘A Man Called Ove’, it’s a thought-provoking and worthwhile read.

Beartown is a nowhere town – a tiny town in a Swedish forest growing smaller year by year as its residents gradually up sticks in search of work and opportunity. It’s also, like so many towns in the area, a hockey town: and therein lies the town’s greatest hope of a future. If their junior hockey team can reach the finals, Beartown will finally be put on the map. When that future is threatened by one person speaking up, battle lines are drawn. What matters more: the future of the town, or the truth?

The novel switches between a large number of perspectives, with Maya, Amat, and Benji probably the strongest. Maya, a fifteen-year-old musician, can’t understand the hockey obsession of the town – she’d much rather be playing her guitar. She can, however, understand their obsession with star player Kevin Erdahl. Maya is sweet and naive but also strong, with an integrity and maturity beyond her age. Its impossible not to like her, and as the mood of the town turns, to both admire and pity her.

Amat, also fifteen, lives in the poor part of town – and for that, his immigrant status, and his small stature, he’s looked down upon. His escape is ice hockey – ever since he first put on a pair of skates he’s adored it, and thanks to his obsession his hard work is finally starting to pay off. He’s been awarded a coveted place on the junior team as they aim for the national finals. Being a part of the team comes with new acceptance and community – suddenly he’s a star, his name cheered instead of sneered at, his teammates protecting him from bullies instead of bullying him themselves. But there’s a cost – and as Amat leaves his old life behind, he starts to feel uncomfortable at the new one he’s thrust into. Like Maya, Amat is sweet and naive – but unlike her steel, Amat is pliable, unable to stand up for anything when the time comes. He has a good heart, and while it’s easy to villainise those who don’t speak up, Amat shows just how hard it can be.

Seventeen-year-old Benji is the backbone of the junior ice hockey team, known for his fierce fighting and protection of Kevin, the team’s star. He’s the cool kid – but Benji has more heart than most, and while he’s crafted himself into whatever Beartown and Kevin need him to be, he’s increasingly uncomfortable with that image. Benji’s character arc is one of the strongest, a compelling secondary narrative to the main story.

Of course, there are major adult characters in the novel too – Peter, the hockey club’s general manager and Maya’s dad, roles which eventually put him in conflict; Kira, Maya’s mum and a high-flying lawyer who, as an outsider to Beartown, still doesn’t understand it; Sune, the adult team’s elderly coach and increasingly ostracised by the club’s ambition. Each of these has a part to play – but it’s Maya and Amat who have the novel’s heart.

The town is central to the story, and Backman crafts a wonderful sense of place, emphasising Beartown’s isolation and accumulating state of disrepair. Like a Swedish winter, it’s a cold and unforgiving place, not fond of outsiders or those who threaten the status quo. This is superficially a book about ice hockey, but anyone who has lived in a small town can recognise the atmosphere of it.

If you’re looking for a thought-provoking novel that captures person and place perfectly, this is the book for you. Recommended for those who enjoy books about human nature, community, and just generally good reads.

Published by Penguin
Paperback: 3rd May 2018

Jackie reviews ‘A Man Called Ove’ here. Robyn reviews Backman’s latest release, ‘Anxious People’, here.