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Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May Book Review

Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May Book Review

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A reimagining of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby with a supernatural twist, Francesca May’s Wild and Wicked Things spins a compelling yarn about the bond between three women – Annie, Emmeline, and Bea. It’s a terrific tale of witches, blood magic, and small-town intrigue on the shores of the North Sea.

An atmospheric, slow burner that delights throughout, it’s clear that May has poured love and passion into building her characters, as well as the dark, moody setting of Crow Island. The result is a tangible and authentic world – a kind of richness that many authors dream of.

And whilst the aesthetic often recalls more Roaring Twenties America than its apparent UK setting, Wild and Wicked Things is a sensual and stylish Sapphic novel.

It’s an exceptional piece of writing.

Drawn to Crow Island to settle some routine legal affairs following the death of her father, Annie Mason walks the shore of her holiday cottage, drawn along the beach to the revelries of the manor next door.

Cross House, home of the notorious Emmeline Delacroix, is renowned for its raucous parties and flowing of Kazam (an alcohol that may-or-may-not be laced with magic). Warned of this, Annie is nonetheless magnetised, pulling her into a world of illicit magic and forbidden romance.

With the exception of brief diary entries from a mysterious individual, the novel functions as a twin narrative, flowing between both Annie and Emmeline’s perspectives. Given Wild and Wicked Things’ predilection for revealing its secrets in a gradual manner, this style works well – each character’s perspective proffers pieces of a narrative jigsaw in an attempt to uncover the true nature of the mysterious bond between Annie and Emmeline.

Wild and Wicked Things might be a slower-paced novel, but it never wastes the reader’s time. Each conversation reveals aspects of character, driving the plot forward, or helps further build this marvellous world. Take your time with it – it’s a rewarding piece of writing that has been crafted meticulously to be enjoyed.

Something Wicca this Way Comes…

Being a Gatsby-inspired novel, Wild and Wicked Things is glamorous and raucous. In fact, May’s novel leans fairly heavily into the Gatsby-like influences early on. 

For example, there’s a purple light across the bay instead of a green one; Emmeline resembles Jay Gatsby in numerous ways, and Annie’s modest house, set across the way from Emmeline’s, is similarly placed to Nick Carraway’s own humble abode. Fans of Gatsby will find these references comfortingly familiar.

Still, because it’s so culturally intertwined with Roaring Twenties America, it’s difficult to divorce Wild and Wicked Things from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel. Crow Island itself is a fictional place and therefore exists in its own spatial dimension. So whilst the setting feels authentic, it never feels especially British. 

This isn’t a bad thing at all, and it certainly doesn’t affect immersion – Wild and Wicked Things is a highly stylised novel that borrows ideas from The Great Gatsby and builds upon them in some really fascinating ways. 

Any surface-level influences eventually yield to reveal deeper, darker secrets. It’s when the parties are over and the lights are dimmed in the hallowed halls of Cross House that Wild and Wicked Things truly comes into its own, usurping readers’ expectations with a thrilling plot.

There’s also far more at stake than a linear plot about witches. Wild and Wicked Things is also a thoughtful, methodical examination of what it was to be LGBT in the early 20th century. 

Magic is often presented in the society of the novel as a frowned-upon practice, functioning as a smart metaphor for homosexuality. Indeed, Emmeline herself is often portrayed as a mysterious and malevolent force, her predation upon young women playing into age-old, harmful tropes that many will be familiar with.

It’s a social topic handled sensitively, with May’s novel challenging these tropes and social mores, engendering empathy in the reader thanks to fantastic, well-written characters.

To Bea or Not to Bea

It’s fairly clear when an author knows their characters, and May has evidently spent many a day and night with these individuals. These aren’t just characters on a page. From mannerisms and gestures to inflections in dialogue, they feel like real people, and that’s testament to the writing and world-building. 

Bea is insecure and desperate, but unlike Daisy, her counterpart in The Great Gatsby, it’s relatively easy to empathise with her.

Likewise, Emmeline is a complex woman, tortured by her past and haunted by her future. She’s strong but vulnerable, with a reputation as an Anne Lister-like sort; corrupting young women and ensnaring them into her cult of personality (if, of course, you believe the rumours). Naturally, the truth isn’t quite as clear-cut as that.

Annie, on the other hand, appears at first glance to be an inquisitive but shy young woman. But unlike Nick Carraway of The Great Gatsby, she’s an active participant in Wild and Wicked Things, driving the narrative and shaping the lives of those around her. Beneath her innocent, seemingly passive, demeanour is an influential, forthright woman trying to find her true self. 

Meanwhile, Isobel & Nathan, two of Wild and Wicked Things’ supporting cast, are excellent additions, playing off against Emmeline’s dark, brooding demeanour.

Conclusion

This is one of the books to read in 2022. Especially if you enjoy witchy vibes and magic realism. But it also features some fantastic social commentary.

May has a wonderfully evocative style of descriptive writing that conjures vivid imagery at the mere turning of a page. The setting and aesthetics drip with detail, and the characters are fully-realised three-dimensional people. They have flaws, make terrible decisions, and it’s because of this, amongst other reasons, that they’re so much more believable. May takes all the time necessary to reveal their hopes and fears and the novel is far stronger for it.

In short, Wild and Wicked Things is a terrific novel that’s well worth your time.

5/5

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos Book Review

Bibi Blundermuss Book Review Header

Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos, a middle-grade fantasy novel from Andrew Durkin, is a wonderful adventure that presents a compelling and well-crafted world, whilst telling a wholesome narrative.

Featuring a diverse cast and some great worldbuilding, Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos is a must-read for children aged 10 to 13, though adults will also appreciate the whimsical world presented by Durkin too.

Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos
Overview

Like many children’s fiction novels before it, the titular Bibi Blundermuss’s parents are missing. This is a familiar trope, but it’s written in a way that still feels fresh. In the meantime, Bibi lives with her Grandma, but longs for a reunion with her absent mother & father.

After her cat, Eek, is swept away to a distant world across the cosmos, Bibi is determined not to lose anyone else from her life. Following him, she finds herself embroiled in a longstanding conflict between creatures such as Elk, Lions, Spirits, and Arbor Guardians. It’s a really unique tale that successfully captures the elusive magic of children’s storytelling – thought-provoking, fantastical, and authentic.

In fact, with talking animals, a truly inquisitive lead, and some great writing, Durkin’s novel draws favourable comparisons with CS Lewis’s tales in Narnia. 

And similarly to stories like Narnia, part of the appeal of Bibi Blunderbuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos is the clashing of the divide between our rational world and the fey-like world of the Woodskulls and Trolliclawians.

This binary opposition of the ordinary versus the fantastical captures that wonderful childlike feeling that perhaps, just maybe, you too could stumble into a forbidden realm one day. It’s wonderful.

The world is beautifully rich and detailed, with Durkin creating unique animal tribes and presenting a mythos that’s interesting without being overly convoluted or complex.

If there were one criticism, it’s that the book is arguably a little violent for the age range. Animals wound each other, quite severely. Opinions will likely vary on this, but it’s worth mentioning.

Conclusion

Overall, Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos is a very good book, and a must-read for young readers.

It’s a fantastic example of diverse fantasy done well, with Bibi’s parents being of South African and Icelandic descent. Both the Zulu and Icelandic languages are included throughout the novel too, which is a nice touch.

And barring an aggressive overuse of the word hylophobia and an uninspiring title, Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos is a very well written book. The language is clear, concise, and highly descriptive – it’s a writing style that captures the magic of reading for younger readers exceptionally well.

Strong recommendation.

4/5

Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos is published by Yellow Bike Press, and can be purchased at Amazon UK.

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Are Tolkien’s Books too Complex?

Tolkien Books too Complex Blog Header
Tolkien Books too Complex Blog Header

Something I’ve noticed about Tolkien is that he’s often criticised by readers both for being too complex and yet, paradoxically, too simplistic.

Evidently these two positions aren’t expressed by the same people, but it’s nonetheless an interesting contradiction.

Is Tolkien too complex? Too simplistic? Let’s dig into this further.

Tolkien's Reputation for Complexity

Anyone remotely aware of Tolkien’s work will be familiar with the criticism that he ‘takes X number of pages to describe a tree/leaf‘ – a charge undoubtedly deserving of the phrase cliché.

Only recently, I was chatting with a friend who has yet to pick up a Tolkien novel, having been put off due to this observation.

This is nothing new. 

I recall Tolkien’s attention-to-detail, specifically of the natural world, being called out as long as 20 years ago. Having given up during the Old Forest chapter – the litmus test chapter for readers of The Lord of the Rings – as a nine-year-old reader, I think I complained about the same thing after hearing it from an adult.

But here’s the thing – like most clichés, there may well be a pinch of truth in between the hyperbole. After all, Tolkien was undeniably concerned by creeping industrialisation. 

His writing certainly has an environmentalist bent to it, with the menacing fire & industry of Saruman standing in direct opposition to the aged, ethereal presence of the Ents. The battle for Isengard in particular pits industry in direct opposition to nature.

And yes, Tolkien is rather fond of trees. Most readers who give up reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time become ensnared in the Old Forest chapter, as I did, as of course did Frodo & his companions.

Yet, on the other hand, there are plenty prepared to line up to argue that Tolkien’s writing is too simplistic and lacking in real world details.

Is Tolkien's Writing Simplistic?

George R. R. Martin – another fantasy writer who happens to have R.R in his initials, and author of the successful A Song of Ice and Fire series, is one such person.

Martin, in an interview with Rolling Stone once remarked:

“What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?”
George RR Martin, on Tolkien

Martin’s tongue was perhaps slightly in his cheek, but it does represent a prevailing view that Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is a bit ‘vanilla’, or basic in its plot resolution and character motivations. 

If somewhat nitpicky, this isn’t an entirely redundant criticism – aspects of Tolkien’s plots are characterised by  fate, circumstance, and a dash of good fortune.

Some characters lack complexity, and issues of power aren’t always explored in as much depth as they might be. (e.g. the people of Gondor want a king? Would Denethor really just give up the throne? Would Aragorn’s return not spark a civil war? e.t.c.).

Fantasy authors are amongst the most talented world builders in fiction. They painstakingly craft worlds populated with people, cities, and laws. To seek greater depth, and a stronger internal logic within a fantasy universe isn’t unreasonable. 

And yet I can’t help but feel that these criticisms over a lack of complexity miss the point of Tolkien’s writing. Nor are many other fantasy writers able to create the blend of beautiful prose, timeless lore, and scope of ambition within Middle-Earth. 

The Context of Tolkien's Writing

To explore this further, it’s worth looking into a wider historical context of Tolkien’s novels.

Fantasy was in its infancy

Consider when Tolkien was writing. The Hobbit (a book written for his children) was published in 1937 and The Lord of the Rings in 1954. 

There wasn’t a particularly large commercial fantasy market, mainly because fantasy itself was in its commercial and reputational infancy. Tolkien was,  of course, not the first fantasy author – a title greatly disputed and perhaps one for another day – but his writing stood largely alone in the mainstream (bar a certain author and friend C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia).

Fantasy in the 1930s looked very different to the contemporary landscape. It was more simple, rooted in the ordinary everyday, and this humbleness is a core message behind the hobbits’ journeys through the land of the big folk. 

Tolkien is more concerned with broader themes of good & evil, rather than the intricacies present in more contemporary sci-fi and fantasy books, such as power levels, magic systems, and so on.

Could this be mistaken as simplistic? Perhaps, but there is an undeniable beauty in Tolkien’s writing. 

Less concerned about the mechanics and politics of his world, Tolkien spends more time exploring the geography of Middle-Earth and the people who live there.

Tolkien as the perceived father of fantasy

Whether Tolkien is the father of fantasy or not, he certainly popularised it. So naturally, his successors have borrowed elements from Middle-Earth to greater or lesser extents.

This does mean that reading Tolkien for the first time can feel overly familiar. You’ve likely experienced Tolkien-esque elements in books ranging from Harry Potter to Discworld, or games such as the Warhammer Fantasy tabletop game or the World of Warcraft MMO.

Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, and Orcs are almost tropey races at this point, so it’s easy to feel jaded by the atypical mellowness of Elves, the grizzled bad-tempered dwarves, and the poor attempts to deviate from fantasy races such as Orcs by simply calling them ‘Orks’.

But this is a modern high fantasy problem – not Tolkien’s.

The Lord of the Rings is a quest narrative,
not a political intrigue

Due to the sheer creativity on display, it’s hard to read books written by C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, and not wonder ‘what if…’?

Does this mean that George R. R. Martin’s observations have merit?

Perhaps.

After all, Middle-Earth is a vast world, populated by a wide variety of beasts, birds, and beings. Dwarves, hobbits, men, elves, easterlings, orcs, wizards – and so much more. 

In some respects, these writings have fueled readers’ need for granular details. It’s not unreasonable to want to know, for example, how Aragorn was able to claim the throne with very little dispute.

The key difference between Tolkien and Martin’s books, or even Frank Herbert’s Dune, is that both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are quest narratives. They just aren’t concerned with palace intrigue and political deception of the above examples.

And that’s okay.

Tolkien’s stories were written for his children

The excellent The Lord of the Rings movies have somewhat skewed people’s views of the books. And who’s to blame them – they’re amazing films that have redefined how movies are made.

However, because of the epic visual scope of the movies, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Tolkien’s writings were written primarily for his children.

Could he have written a fantasy novel with more gore and more political intrigue, akin to Martin’s A Game of Thrones? Sure – Tolkien fought in the Somme. He knows real war. It just isn’t the predominant concern of his writing.

Incidentally, Tolkien did start planning a darker sequel to The Lord of the Rings, provisionally named The New Shadow. He eventually abandoned it after deciding it wasn’t the right tone for his novels.

Prose versus Plot - The core issue?

In reality, Tolkien’s mixed reputation probably comes down to readers’ experiences of complex prose versus basic plot. I’m not certain that these are necessarily fair criticisms, but they do seem to be the prevailing views.

His prose is known to be rather flowery and, perhaps a little too over-descriptive in parts. Take this very brief example, highlighted by A Lent of The Lord of the Rings:

"Ling and broom, cornel and larch, cedar and cypress, tamarisk and terebinth, olive and bay, juniper and myrtles, thyme and various colored sages, marjoram and parsley, saxifrages and stonecrops, primroses and anemones, filbert-brakes and asphodel, lilies and iris-swords, briar eglantine and clematis."

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Meanwhile the plot in his works (The Hobbit particularly) do tend to rely on pre-ordained fate, and in some cases a deus ex machina.

Most are familiar with the eagles plot hole, which argues that there was no discernible reason why the eagles couldn’t have flown Frodo & friends to Mordor. There’s a fantastic study by Sean Crist which came to the conclusion, using textual evidence, that there was no reason the eagles could not taken the ring to Mordor.

To conclude, it is possible that some are put off by the complexity his prose, whilst others are disappointed by his sometimes overly convenient plot resolutions. And whilst these aren’t criticisms I share, there is a sound logic behind both.

The Lord of the Rings is not a perfect trilogy of books (in spite of my tongue-in-cheek insistence that they are). However, they are timeless for a reason. Frodo’s journey is relatable on a human level, whilst the moral and ethical lessons contained within will endure for evermore.

What do you think? Do you find Middle-Earth to be a little simple? Too complex? Just right? Let me know in the comments below.

My 2021 TBR for the Rest of the Year

I recently read an article on Kay’s Book Nook outlining the remaining books on her TBR for the rest of the year.

And after checking out her list, it seemed like a good excuse to get my own TBR organised for the rest of the year!

Without further ado – here is my remaining TBR for 2021.

Click or tap the book cover for more information!

T is for Time Travel, Stanlei Bellan

I don’t know too much about this one, except that it’s a collection of short stories about time travel. The author and his representatives reached out to me a couple of months ago asking if I was interested in reading & reviewing it.

Needless to say, the blurb sold me!

“In this collection of ten stories, author Stanlei Bellan takes you on a rollicking journey through the timestream.

  • Discover a lamp on the beach holding a genie that can grant you three…trips?
  • Meet a veteran soldier assisting a mad scientist who is convinced he’s created the first time machine; a harmless delusion – until it works.
  • Watch a 19th century lighthouse keeper find out what she’s willing to fight for, and then find a whole new world of trouble.
  • Explore the dangers of time looping aboard a spaceship with an ensign who is stuck between duty and his conscience. Would you make the same choices?

T Is for Time Travel is a fun and fast-paced collection of timely short stories that will introduce you to characters you’ll love, thrilling adventures, and thought-provoking scenarios – with plenty of laughs along the way.

Are you ready to jump in – whenever it may take you?”

Winter in Tabriz, Sheila Llewellyn

I adore what I’ve read so far. It’s a fascinating narrative, framed by globetrotting Irishman Damian, reflecting upon his time in Tabriz, Iran with friends Anna, Reza, and Arash.

Through Damian’s recounting of the past, through memory and through journal entries, the reader begins to piece together the events of the past few years. 

The prose is absolutely stunning, binding together a storm of passion, emotion, ennui, tragedy, nostalgia, and empathy. Based on what I’ve read so far, this will definitely be up there with my top books of 2021.

“Gripping and atmospheric, Winter in Tabriz tells the story of four young people living in Iran in the 1970s during the months immediately prior to the revolution, and the choices they have to make as a result of the ensuing upheaval.

The lives of Damian and Anna, both from Oxford University, become enmeshed with two Iranians, Arash, a poet, and his older brother Reza, a student sympathetic to the problems of the dissident writers in Iran, who is also a would-be photojournalist, interested in capturing the rebellion on the streets.

The novel draws on Sheila Llewellyn’s own experience of living in Tabriz through the winter of 1978, during the last chaotic months before the revolution took hold in January 1979.

It is a powerful portrayal of the fight for artistic freedom, young love and the legacies of conflict.”

Life is Strange, Emma Vieceli & Claudia Leonardi

Life is Strange is one of my favourite video games of all time. It’s an episodic graphic adventure game reminiscent of The Catcher in the Rye (the main character is even called Max Caulfield!), but with more modern social mores.

So, I was thrilled to see that the series of graphic novels, which look altogether fantastic, are set following the end of the events of the first game.

I’ve had this on my TBR for a while now (since last Christmas, in fact!) so I am absolutely determined to get started on this volume. My partner kindly bought me the hardback of Volume 1 for Christmas last year – it’s a beautiful looking graphic novel [ADD PICS]

“The story fans never thought they’d see, continuing the acclaimed story of Life is Strange, one of the hit game’s two shocking endings.

One year after the storm destroyed Arcadia Bay, fan-favourite characters Max and Chloe have a new life together… but timelines are starting to tangle.”

The Handsworth Times, Sharon Duggal

I was drawn to Sharon Duggal’s writing after attending one of the #BluemooseWomen2020 online events in which Sharon was a speaker.

Set in Handsworth, Birmingham, The Handsworth Times explores the day-to-day life of an Asian family in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.

I’m a big fan of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane – both novels that tell of immigrant families in inner city urban environments, adapting to their surroundings – they give me a perspective I’m typically not privy to.

You may have seen her latest novel, Should We Fall Behind, on BBC2’s Between the Covers book show with Sara Cox. I’ve heard great things about that one too.

“Mukesh Agarwal sits alone in the Black Eagle pub, unaware that a riot is brewing or that Billy, his youngest son, is still out on his bike …A mile away in the family home in Church Street, Anila, one of the three Agarwal girls, is reading Smash Hits and listening to Radio One as she sprawls across the bottom bunk, oblivious to the monumental tragedy that is about to hit her family …

It is 1981 and Handsworth is teetering on the brink of collapse. Factories are closing, unemployment is high, the National Front are marching and the neglected inner cities are ablaze as riots breakout across Thatcher’s fractured Britain. The Agarwals are facing their own nightmares but family, pop music, protest, unexpected friendships and a community that refuses to disappear all contribute to easing their personal pain, and that of Handsworth itself.

THE HANDSWORTH TIMES is a story of loss and transition, and pulling together because ultimately, there is such a thing as society.”

Captain Jesus, Colette Snowden

Another of Bluemoose’s talented authors, Captain Jesus is a book I’m dead excited to read. I actually bought this on release day to support the author, Colette Snowden, but I’m yet to read it.

Here’s a flavour of it:

When three brothers find a dead magpie and peg it to the washing line, the resurrection re-enactment becomes a portent of tragedy to come, and a reminder of past guilt and trauma. 

In Captain Jesus we see a family struggle to cope as loss rips through their lives; through the teenage eyes of their mother, twenty years earlier, we glimpse the events that shape her response. 

The icons, influences and family histories that define faith connect the two narratives as the family gradually heals, thanks to the quietness of love and the natural world.

Red Pill, Hari Kunzru

I bought this book by author Hari Kunzru after attending the wonderful Desi Blitz book festival in 2020. Kunzru spoke about his research of alt-right conspiracy groups on the internet.

Red Pill is about a regular guy, Brooklyn-based, who gets roped into a Q Anon-esque conspiracy ring. It’s a novel about how easily someone, if given the wrong information, can be radicalised.

“After receiving a prestigious writing fellowship in Germany, the narrator of Red Pill arrives in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee and struggles to accomplish anything at all. Instead of working on the book he has proposed to write, he takes long walks and binge-watches Blue Lives–a violent cop show that becomes weirdly compelling in its bleak, Darwinian view of life–and soon begins to wonder if his writing has any value at all.

Wannsee is a place full of ghosts: Across the lake, the narrator can see the villa where the Nazis planned the Final Solution, and in his walks he passes the grave of the Romantic writer Heinrich von Kleist, who killed himself after deciding that no happiness was possible here on earth.

When some friends drag him to a party where he meets Anton, the creator of Blue Lives, the narrator begins to believe that the two of them are involved in a cosmic battle, and that Anton is red-pilling his viewers–turning them toward an ugly, alt-rightish worldview–ultimately forcing the narrator to wonder if he is losing his mind.”

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time Book 1), Robert Jordan

I’ve been wanting to read Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series for years, trying and currently failing, to find some fantasy that can hold a candle to Tolkien.

With Amazon set to release a Wheel of Time TV adaption in November 2021, I’d like to try and read at least the first novel in the series before it comes out. After all – I find it preferable to read the book before watching the TV show.

“The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

When The Two Rivers is attacked by Trollocs-a savage tribe of half-men, half-beasts- five villagers flee that night into a world they barely imagined, with new dangers waiting in the shadows and in the light.”

Winterset Hollow, Jonathan Edward Durham

I think it’s fair to say that Winterset Hollow is by far and away the most interesting proposition on my TBR list.

The author reached out to me a short while ago with an epic pitch so, despite my submissions being closed, I simply had to take him up on it.

It’s a difficult book to summarise, with some fascinating meta elements and anthropomorphism implied by what I’ve read so far. 

Here’s the blurb – it’s a good’un!

“Everyone has wanted their favorite book to be real, if only for a moment. Everyone has wished to meet their favorite characters, if only for a day. But be careful in that wish, for even a history laid in ink can be repaid in flesh and blood, and reality is far deadlier than fiction . . . especially on Addington Isle.

Winterset Hollow follows a group of friends to the place that inspired their favorite book-a timeless tale about a tribe of animals preparing for their yearly end-of-summer festival. But after a series of shocking discoveries, they find that much of what the world believes to be fiction is actually fact, and that the truth behind their beloved story is darker and more dangerous than they ever imagined.

It’s Barley Day… and you’re invited to the hunt.”

Step Forward Harry Salt, Rose Lowe

The final book on my 2021 TBR is Step Forward, Harry Salt by the delightfully pleasant Ross Lowe.

I found out about Lowe’s debut novel through his publisher Bearded Badger Publishing & Books – a local outfit based not too far from me.

Being a novel with a local angle – and the opportunity to support a local press – this is one I’m super excited about.

“Something strange is afoot in the Derbyshire hills. But what does that mean for Harry Salt? He’s a young man with a big secret. So big, that the Prime Minister wants a piece of him.

Trouble is, it’s such a deeply buried secret that Harry doesn’t even know about it.But when he starts his new job at the Ministry of People and the anxious UK prepares for The Change, things get steadily more strange and frightening.

Dreams filled with painful memories and snarling black dogs. Endless ham baguettes. A 900-year-old Starsky & Hutch addict. Murderous lollipop ladies and milkmen that bite.

Yes. Something is definitely up.

It’s time to Step Forward, Harry Salt.”

Any of these on your TBR? Read them already? Let me know your thoughts on them in the comments below!

Why The Midnight Library is an Existential Classic

Why The Midnight Library is an Existential Classic

Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library was easily one of my favourite books of 2020 – beaten out for Book of the Year by Heidi James’ utterly impeccable The Sound Mirror.

Why no review then, I hear you ask?

Well, the back end of 2020 was a tough time for this purveyor of bookish reviews – my first child was born, which is obviously far more important. Plus, after a long day in a stressful new job, I barely had time for writing.

Consider this gushing article a present atonement for my lack of a review.

So, what is The Midnight Library actually about?

Nora Seed, our protagonist, is done with life.

Not in a ‘whew, what a bad day – time for a bath, bottle of wine, and a book’ kind of done with life, but a depressive spiralling into suicidal thoughts.

And Nora actually succeeds in killing herself.

It’s a depressing premise, for sure. 

However, like most of Matt Haig’s writing, a remarkably prescient insight into a person’s mental health struggles runs throughout the book. 

Haig knows that not all depressives are made the same; we all possess various quirks and triggers, plus we’re all different people harbouring wildly varying life experiences.

But where Haig finds a commonality is through the Midnight Library itself.

Upon death, Nora finds herself in a library. A library packed full of her life experiences in books, all branching into various future realities depending on the decisions she made.

In short, she’s offered another chance at life by the librarian of the Midnight Library. Nora can pick as many books as she wants, experiencing these separate realities, hopping across lives that have been and could be, before being offered the option to settle into a satisfactory, preferable life.

This idea – the ability to rewrite decisions made – is what unites depressives.

Looking back is the nature of the beast when it comes to depression. We’ve all stopped and pondered the consequences of decisions made – both macro and micro – wondering whether we’d be more content if only X had happened, or if one hadn’t let go of a friend at a certain point in time.

The Midnight Library taps into the ifs, buts, and maybes that plague one’s life – allowing the reader to play out their fantasy of rewriting the past through Nora’s own experiences. 

What is the central message of The Midnight Library?

Haig’s novel is a beautiful, yet sombre exploration of the oh-so-familiar ennui of anxiety, depression, and memory that many face at various points in their lives.

But it’s not all angst. There’s an enduring message inside this book too:

'Carpe Diem'

Carpe diem isn’t just an excellent bar in Leeds – it’s actually Latin for ‘seize the day’.

The Midnight Library reminds the reader that imagined realities are often a smokescreen. For a start, they don’t exist – and therefore neither do any of the downsides or consequences of this life. It’s totally imaginary.

You can overanalyse your own actions, as depressives do; vivisecting one’s self on the altar of self-reflectiveness. Or, you can take your life as it is, warts and all. Mould it, influence it, and – in somewhat of an Absurdist manner – live your life in spite of the shortcomings and create art that parodies your own mortal condition.

In short, just live.

Tell me more about your experiences of The Midnight Library in the comments below 👇

One Key Reason to Read the Book Before the Movie

Why You Should Read the Book Before the Movie Blog Header

‘Why read the book when you could just watch the movie?’

You’ve likely been asked this from one or two of your slightly less bookish friends.

It’s one of those moments where you’ve got a whole range of reasons lined up to explain why, but don’t wish to sound unkind.

But to be fair, there are plenty of very good reasons why someone might wish to experience the movie first. Here are a handful.

Reading is Daunting

For some, the prospect of opening a book at the end of the working day is just not desirable. For those who haven’t made reading a part of their life, it’s a hard sell when there’s an easier option.

People don’t like to feel stupid or vulnerable, and reading – being such a basic life skill – can make them feel that way if it’s something that isn’t part of their daily routine.

In that respect, it’s often easier to settle down and watch a movie.

The movie is shorter

(Unless it’s the Hobbit trilogy *snicker*)

But in all seriousness, the point of movie adaptations – other than making all of the moneys – is to create a more digestible form of media.

It stands to reason that some may prefer this method of media consumption – even if those of us in the book blogging community may not.

Credit: Reddit.com

Prefer the experience

Let’s be honest – there’s something spectacular about watching a movie on the big screen. The overpriced popcorn and coke taste automatically better than they ought to – plus you’re often with your mates. Watching a movie is a social experience.

Alternatively, with a home cinema setup with 4K, surround sound, and all the bells & whistles, it’s hard to not find that an inherently sexy way of experiencing media.

Compare that with the humble setting of you, yourself, and a battered paperback. Sure, it’s charming, but it’s at least understandable why some might prefer the big screen.

Struggling with reading

My brother loves reading, but as someone with learning difficulties, he sometimes struggles to follow the words without a visual cue.

For him, watching a movie first gives him the understanding of the outline of the plot – and who the characters are.

Then, when he reads the book, he already has a contextual knowledge of what’s happening on the page. This actually allows him to enjoy the book far more than going in without a point of reference.

And if that means he’s able to get more enjoyment from the book, who are we to judge?

Watching the movie can be an entry point into reading the book

Let’s not forget – it doesn’t need to be one or the other.

Look at Game of Thrones (the TV show). It was a television phenomenon that actually made people far more interested in picking up G.R.R.M.’s novels. I can think of a handful of people who don’t typically read, who picked up the box set and were making steady progress.

To return to the movie angle – plenty of people were enthralled by the cliffhanger ending of Catching Fire, and simply could not wait for the Mockingjay movies to come out. So they read the books.

Here's why you should read the book before the movie, however...

As discussed, there are a bevy of reasons why people might watch the movie adaptation first.

However, by doing so, you miss out on a one-time joy that you’ll never, ever be able to replicate again.

Experiencing a story free of bias.

When you read a book for the first time, your imagination fills in the details. Your idea of a setting & how characters look will inevitably differ to another reader’s.

Reading is an act of creation. Every time you open a book, without prior experience of the world contained within, the reader creates a textual palimpsest; another layer of fictionality that watching a movie robs the reader of.

Remember – a movie is one person’s interpretation of the source material. Watching that, without having read the book, robs the reader of their creative agency – and from a reading perspective, that’s quite tragic.

What are your thoughts? Do you try to read the book before the movie, or the other way around? Leave a comment and let me know!