Will This House Last Forever? by Xanthi Barker – Review.

About The Book

When Xanthi Barker’s father died when she was in her mid twenties, she could make no sense of her grief for a man who had been absent for most of her life. Her father, poet Sebastian Barker, had left Xanthi, her mother and her brother to pursue writing and a new relationship, when Xanthi was a baby. Growing up she had always struggled to reconcile his extravagant affection – a rocking horse crafted from scavenged wood, the endless stream of poems and drawings and letters, conversations that spiralled from the structure of starlight to philosophy to Bruce Springsteen – with the fact that he could not be depended upon for more everyday things. Though theirs was a relationship defined by departures, he always returned, so why should this farewell be any different, or more final?

WILL THIS HOUSE LAST FOREVER? is a heartfelt and wholly original memoir about the pain of having to come to terms with a parent’s mortality, the way grief so utterly defies logic, and about learning to see the flaws in those that we love, and let them go

My Review

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. I rarely read non fiction but there was something about this book that appealed to me. My first thoughts, during the prologue was that nothing I had read previously had contained as much raw emotion as Will This House Last Forever. That feeling didn’t fade as I read more.

I don’t read a lot of poetry, I occasionally look for a certain poem if it is mentioned in a film or novel. I had never heard of Sebastian Barker. But not knowing anything about him didn’t impact on my appreciation of this novel. Instead it had me looking for more information, wanting to know more about him and his work. 

This is a novel about a daughter talking to her father. She mulls over their relationship, their friendship, their disappointments and her devastation over his illness and eventual death. It all felt incredibly honest, Sebastian isn’t shown to be without faults. He had many, usually involving alcohol or his work but as Xanthi got older and started to care for him as his health deteriorated she accepted them more. But she also acknowledged that she often felt embarrassed or let down by him. She also accepted her own failings, especially with relationships, insecurities with friendship and also the problems caused by her own issues with alcohol and eating disorders.

Once I got used to all the other characters described as your wife, my brother, my mother I realised it was the only way it could be. This was just about father and daughter. Each of them could have had their own story to tell, their own memories of good times and bad. 

Sebastian’s character really showed during this novel. Talented, charismatic but sometimes flawed. And his daughter loved him. 

Looker by Laura Sims – Blog Tour Review.

About The Book

The Professor lives in Brooklyn; her partner Nathan left her when she couldn’t have a baby. All she has now is her dead-end teaching job, her ramshackle apartment, and Nathan’s old moggy, Cat. Who she doesn’t even like.

The Actress lives a few doors down. She’s famous and beautiful, with auburn hair, perfect skin, a lovely smile. She’s got children – a baby, even. And a husband who seems to adore her. She leaves her windows open, even at night.

There’s no harm, the Professor thinks, in looking in through the illuminated glass at that shiny, happy family, fantasizing about them, drawing ever closer to the actress herself. Or is there?

My Review

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. Looker was a novel that made me want to close all my curtains until I finished reading it. I don’t think I have ever felt as on edge before when reading.

The narrator and actress are unnamed throughout. At first this felt a little strange but it didn’t really matter. You just needed to know that the actress had everything the narrator wanted. Not possessions, a nice house and money as such, more a loving husband and children. Everything that could bring happiness to the very lonely narrator, who seems to get more isolated the more I read.

There were times I felt uncomfortable. The storyline regarding Cat, the students and the obsessive behaviour that became increasingly sinister and out of control. But, unusually I did have sympathy. Especially in the beginning when you read why her marriage collapsed.

It is only a short novel but I don’t think it would have had the same impact if it had been longer. It is intimidating, more so because I did struggle to separate reality from imagination towards the end. Was she really like she saw herself? And was the actress as happy as she imagined?

Read it and make up your own mind.

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola – Blog Tour Review.

About The Book

Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the folk and fairy tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857 and the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and a community riven by fear. The crofters are suspicious and hostile to a stranger, claiming they no longer know their fireside stories. 

Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the restless dead: spirits who take the form of birds. 

Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but as events accumulate she begins to wonder if something else is at work. Something which may be linked to the death of her own mother, many years before.

My Review

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. When Audrey travels to Skye to help capture the folktales from the islanders she isn’t prepared for what faces her. She is running away from her life in London, the details why are revealed as you read. But she is heading into danger. A danger that it is unclear whether it comes from the legends or reality.

This book had everything I enjoy. I do know that the fairy tales I read as a child were made less intimidating by the Brothers Grimm. The ones that are mentioned in the book have really ignited my interest in the original stories. It was interesting to see the frustration felt by this practice as well as the determination of others that the legends should be forgotten.

I was aware of how women were regarded at this time, some of the changes that were starting to emerge at time were part of the storyline. They helped create a true picture of how life was for Audrey with her father. The history of the cleansing of Shetland I had never heard of. I was shocked by the level of callousness and disregard for the islanders. Sadly it was also believable. The author has provided links to more information about this which I plan to look at in the future.

The mystery of the missing girls and the storyline concerning the disappearance of Audrey’s mother is just one small part of this novel. It interested me and I was aching to know what happened but for me the fascination was the legends, gaining trust from the community and the superstitions.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt – Blog Tour Review.


About the Book

Just after 11am on 4th August 1892, the bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden are discovered. He’s found on the sitting room sofa, she upstairs on the bedroom floor, both murdered with an axe.
It is younger daughter Lizzie who is first on the scene, so it is Lizzie who the police first question, but there are others in the household with stories to tell: older sister Emma, Irish maid Bridget, the girls’ Uncle John, and a boy who knows more than anyone realises.
In a dazzlingly original and chilling reimagining of this most notorious of unsolved mysteries, Sarah Schmidt opens the door to the Borden home and leads us into its murkiest corners, where jealousies, slow-brewed rivalries and the darkest of thoughts reside.

My Review

See What I Have Done is a brilliant novel and is definitely one of the strangest ones that I have read. I had been aware of the rhyme about Lizzie Bordern but had never given any thought to its origin. Sarah Schmidt has given us an account of what could have happened in 1892 and it is a convincing one.
There are four narrators who tell us their version of events of what happened on the 3rd and 4th August. Lizzie, her older sister Emma, Bridget, their Irish maid and Benjamin an acquaintance of their uncle.
Bridget was the only one of the four who I had any liking for, she is certainly the only one who showed any sign of grief over the deaths. She had a fractious relationship with her employers, but also enjoyed some good times with Abby. Emma appeared to resent the preferential treatment that Lizzie received and tried to keep some distance from Lizzie. But like the other family members she is manipulated into letting Lizzie have her way. Benjamin is hired to do a job and is desperate for money. unlikable and untrustworthy and completely out of his depth. And then there is Lizzie. God-fearing, pigeon loving, spoilt and at times cruel. She wanted to possess Emma, have her as her puppet and is resentful that she wanted her own life away from her.
As well as the murders there is a suspicious mutton stew that made everybody who ate it ill. There is also a lot of focus on an abundance of pears which strangely managed to put me off eating them for the forseeable future. The violent deaths are not the main focus in the novel, the reader is aware of the aftermath with the description of the scene after the murders. There is an image of the murder scene, with blood splatter and bone fragments vividly described. Most of the novel assesses the different personalities and at times toxic relationships.
I feel that this novel would make a brilliant movie, it’s just amazing.

SWIHD blog tour

Tin Man by Sarah Winman – Review.


About the Book

It begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things.
And then there are two boys, Ellis and Michael,
who are inseparable.
And the boys become men,
and then Annie walks into their lives,
and it changes nothing and everything.

My Review

There is a quotation from Ellis’s mother that is mentioned a few times in this glorious book – ‘Men and boys should be capable of beautiful things.’ Dora only appears for a short time in this book but she was a character I warmed to instantly.
The novel concerns three friends Ellis, Michael and Annie. After a short but entertaining prologue, where you realise what type of woman Dora is, it moves forward in time to 1996. Ellis is in his mid-forties and struggling to move on from the death of his wife and best friend five years earlier. When he has an accident, and is off work he recalls his relationship with both of them.
I had never read any of Sarah Winman’s earlier novels so had no idea of how beautiful her writing was. Tin Man is only a short novel which I read in a day. But despite being short it has plenty of detail. There was the loss of loved ones, how they coped at the time and in later life. Ellis’s attempts to repair the relationship with his father which gave him the push to fulfil is promise to his mother. When the narrative switched to Michael it detailed how loyal he was to those he connected with. The time he gave to G. and Chris was humbling.
It was just the right length of novel, it is ram packed with emotion. If it had been longer it probably wouldn’t have had the same impact. Despite only making brief appearances Dora and Mabel showed that they wouldn’t be beaten or bullied into submission. Or turn away from somebody who needed love.
Tin Man was a novel that will stay in my thoughts for some time.