I’m finding it hard to hang up my Halloween hat and move on this year. It’s been such an awesome month. November will be just as cool – it’s birthday month! – but I don’t want to turn my back on spooky things just yet.
My first (and possibly only) Autumn book recommendation this year is this brilliant novel by one of my faves, Sarah Waters. I first read it on my honeymoon over seven years ago and vividly remember being frozen in fear in the middle of the night, having just read another chapter.
The Little Stranger focuses on the inhabitants of once grandiose Hundreds Hall, the Ayres family. Hundreds Hall is now crumbling, a shadow of its former self – and war-damaged Roderick and his sister Caroline are trying hard to keep the family afloat, and keep the truth of their dire situation a secret from their mother.
When local Doctor Faraday finds himself involved with the family, all manner of weirdness starts to spill into his life. What the heck is going on? I’m currently having a re-read in time for the movie adaptation coming later this month and it’s stunning.
It’s not just the truly spooky set up that leaves you wanting more, it’s the way Waters crafts a sentence. Her characters are so well written you really feel you know them after only a few moments and that makes you care what happens to them. Hundreds Hall is a vivid landmark in the mind thanks to the way she describes it – and I can’t wait to see what they’ve done with the film and the casting.
I recommend this because it’s perfect for an Autumn eve, once the sun’s gone down and the dinner plates have been cleared away. I love to read in the bath and this accompanies that well.
I’ll crack open a new bottle of bubble bath and light a candle too, why not?
The Little Stranger
Publisher: Virago (23 Aug. 2018)
Bought movie tie-in paperback (new)
What are you reading?
I know, I know, it’s criminal in some respects that I hadn’t read this before last month. It boasts everything I hold dear in literature (Gothic landscapes, strong women, drama, murder, suspense) and yet somehow I just never got round to it. It’s the same with Jane Austen, I feel close to the subject matter but I’ve never actually read any of it (sue me). But when I saw this cover I was sold immediately and a lot of friends weighed in to confirm that this is their favourite book of all time. Well, it was clearly time to pick it up and give it a go.
Well! It’s one of the best books of all time, isn’t it? While I thought I might be predicting quite a lot of what happened, I can’t be sure I haven’t seen an adaptation and forgotten about it in my 40 year life. But it was magnificent and delicious – and above all, relatable. In the sense that haven’t we all, particularly as women in a patriarchal world compared ourselves unfavourably to others a thousand times?
That our heroine, the unnamed narrator and new Mrs de Winter is living in the shadow of a perfect and lovable ghost is heartbreaking, who could possibly compete? Thankfully there is always more to the story than meets the eye and the tale that unravels is classic and cool as fuck.
In case you’re like me and have been happily chilling under a rock all your life, a cheeky little synopsis for Rebecca:
Our narrator, a naive 20 something companion to a rich American lady meets wealthy widower Maximilian de Winter in Monte Carlo. Despite her lack of life experience, the two embark on a swift courtship that results in marriage. Our nameless heroine soon finds herself back in England, living on Maxim’s sprawling West Country estate Manderley and the phrase fish out of water has never rung truer. Haunted by the ghost (figuratively) of Maxim’s first wife, the breathtakingly beautiful Rebecca, the new Mrs de Winter spends her time wandering the estate, wondering if she’s made a massive mistake.
While Maxim isn’t cruel per se, he is often aloof and Mrs de Winter puts this down to him still being in love with his late wife, who drowned in a tragic boating accident only a year before. She might even be able to get on with it if i wasn’t for the deliberate cruelty of bitchy housekeeper Mrs Danvers (surely stiff competition for Nurse Ratched as baddest villainess of all time), who adored Rebecca and relishes every tiny dig.
But as mentioned above, things are not always as cut and dry as they seem and there is plenty more drama before the book is over. Rebecca is an impeccably crafted, paranoid love story that will make you furious on one hand and desperately sad on the other.
What I enjoyed most is that it gives us a heroine who is cut from a different cloth. She’s mousey, angsty and nothing special as far as she’s concerned and yet she has the steel to stay and fight for what she wants and women like that don’t get enough airtime. Her scenes with Mrs Danvers are stressful and every time Rebecca is mentioned by a staff member I wanted to scream – let it go people, she’s dead!
I think this is a book that will just keep giving, an annual revisit sounds like the most comforting thing I can think of and honestly, I enjoyed every word Daphne has set down for me. And lucky me, our local Picturehouse Cinema is showing Hitchcock’s adaptation on the big screen in a couple of months so I’ll be all over that like a rash.
Publisher: Virago (16 July 2015)
Gifted paperback (new)
What are you currently reading?
Inspired as always by the brilliant Meghan Lightle and her Avengers Girl Gang, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the mighty female characters of Stephen King’s books. While some of his books are decidedly female-ccentric, it isn’t always the girls that get the glory. I’m here to round them up for my own personal girl gang needs.
“I’m not afraid of you!”
Our Bev is a fighter and no mistake. A victim of childhood abuse at the hands of her father, she grows up to fulfill her creative dreams but still has to deal with the weak bullshit of men throughout her life. The only girl in the Losers Club, I feel like Bev could do with some girl power in her life, not that there’s anything wrong with the dynamic of that original squad (icky adolescent orgy aside).
Bev isn’t afraid to get stuck in when it comes to bullies nor stick up for what is right at all costs, and these are qualities you need in a friendship circle. Plus, she’s a ginger like me (in the book and most recent adaptation).
In The Dark Half, Elizabeth is a plucky and resourceful character who has to deal with an awful lot of upheaval when her author husband Thaddeus takes on his supernatural killer twin, George Stark. Stark is best described as other-wordly and not altogether human, born of the page created by Thad himself. When she finds herself caught in all the drama of Stark’s ‘birth’ (read the book), Elizabeth remains level-headed and pragmatic. She’s a mother lion ferociously protecting her twin cubs (twins run the family, what can I say) and she doesn’t suffer fools.
In all of Thad’s scenes I wanted to read more about Elizabeth, who deserves more than just a supporting role. More female central protagonists please, Mr King!
“It was time to teach them All a lesson, time to show them… a thing or two!”
Okay, so Carrie is a little bit freaky deaky but she’s a talented telekinetic and how fun would that be? You could have her tip cups of coffee over mansplainers all day long with no come back.
Plus, how much did Carrie just need a damn good friend to stand beside her and say, You’re fine babe just as you are and these high school days, they mean nothing in the end? I’d take her under my wing and I’d just have to be sure I never upset her.
(Admittedly, the movie version of Carrie White seemed a little fluffier than the book version).
Mrs T is slightly irritating but she’s also a damn survivor and that makes her okay in my book. She’s quick to pick fault in her husband Jack but to be fair he’s not the nicest dude (in the book more so – he breaks his son’s arm even before he goes insane in The Overlook).
I think we’d get on because I know what it’s like to be in a relationship that has you walking on eggshells (past, don’t worry) and I kind of dig her kooky wardrobe. She seems like fun when she’s not stressed out.
Who’s in your gang?
Dolores I’m sure is a worthy contender but I haven’t read her story yet, and can barely remember the film. So shout out to these two women who are welcome to join the gang anytime!
I read this book in tandem with my friend Heather and it was so much fun. We both raced through it in a couple of days and compared notes as we went. This book is impossible to put down, something authors are always quoted as saying for the cover of novels but in this case it’s true.
Anna Fox is a shut in who hasn’t left her home for ten solid months. Currently living alone, Anna moves dreamily from room to room within her own safe haven, only stopping to overdose on old Hollywood movies and to watch her neighbours through the window.
When she’s feeling up to it, she also offers her support to people like her on an online forum for agoraphobics. As a former child psychologist, she knows what she’s talking about. Sadly Anna is too haunted by her own past and mistakes to be any good at taking her own advice.
When a new family moves in across the way, Anna becomes infatuated with their day-to-day movements. But when she witnesses something earth-shattering her life is tipped all the way over and she must fight to prove she’s not a crazy bitch making shit up.
I really enjoyed the character of Anna and felt desperately sorry for her at times. Trapped in her own home there’s not a lot of freedom for our protagonist but she’s a goddamn fighter. The concept of the bat shit woman imagining things is not a new one but I feel as though the pace and plotting of this novel lifts it above the rest. The prose is beautiful and the characterisation well padded.
My sympathy is with Anna and her family and even though I thought I could see it all coming, it kept me guessing until the end. As an avid curtain twitcher myself, I really appreciated the Rear Window-esque snooper in Anna and her love of black and white noir doesn’t hurt either. It’s incredibly Hitchcockian and that can only ever be a good thing.
I strongly recommend this to anyone who loves a thriller.
The Woman in the Window
Publisher: HarperCollins (25 Jan. 2018)
Gifted hardback (new)
What are you currently reading?
It would be very hard for me to go in too deep on this book because it’s very hard to define. It’s stunning though; macabre, fascinating and eery as hell.
Marina is seven and has just become an orphan, after her parents are killed in a car accident. The same accident strips the skin from her ribs and leaves her body scarred for life. Her personal mantra has become “My father died instantly, my mother in the hospital” and she wheels it out whenever she’s asked to tell her story.
In the hospital, Marina is given a small spooky doll by the doctors and it becomes her constant companion, her confidante.
One day she arrives at the orphanage and creates a ripple amongst the little girls who already live there (less a ripple more a tidal wave, honestly). The girls’ obsession and their love for Marina while pure, isn’t always kind and they torture her daily with their teasing, their silence and their tricks. They steal her doll and deliver it back to her body part by body part, and bury what’s left in the ground.
But at night, everything is different. At night they play Marina’s game.
Based on a terrifying real-life event, Such Small Hands is a poetic horror story molded from the most beautiful prose I’ve read in a long time. It’s nightmarish and pretty at the same time, like some of the most appealing things in life and I couldn’t recommend it more. I hope it leaves you as breathless and creeped out as it did me.
Such Small Hands
Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd (3 Aug. 2017)
Gifted hardback (new)
What are you currently reading?
Kudos to Andrés Barba for his amazing author photo. Look at it! (above).
“She can’t be dead, MISERY CHASTAIN CANNOT BE DEAD!” ~ Annie Wilkes
The latest in my long overdue Stephen King Odyssey and one of the best so far.
When I shared that I was reading this on social media, some of my friends popped up to say how brilliant it is, even in comparison to the film – and they weren’t wrong. The adaptation is great and although it’s been a while since I saw it, I don’t remember it being as tense as the book. I guess your imagination will do that to you and it must be hard to capture the inner workings of a trapped man’s mind on film (even if the film is still terrifying, don’t get me wrong).
Misery is, of course, the story of how famous novelist Paul Sheldon comes to live in the home of ex-nurse Annie Wilkes, seriously injured and against his will.
Following a nasty car accident one snowy night in Colorado, Paul is rescued from the wreckage and dragged back to Annie’s where she nurses him back to consciousness. While there is nothing conventional about this set up, Annie’s former career affords her the skill to keep Paul alive and his pain (mostly) at bay.
Though Paul distrusts spooky Annie from the get-go, he reluctantly becomes dependent on her particular brand of health care, not to mention the very strong medication she has been plying him with. Did I mention that our very own Ms. Nightingale is also Paul’s “Number one fan”? What a coincidence, eh?
Nobody needs me to give away the rest of the story, since it’s a tale as old as time and if you haven’t read it, you totally should.
But Paul’s most famous fictional character, the titular Misery has just been killed off in his last novel.He’s keen to move onto new projects and put Misery to bed for good but when Annie finds out, she goes ape.
There’s only one thing for it as far as she’s concerned, and that’s to bring Misery back to life… I’ll leave the rest up to you.
I loved this book because it completely engulfs you, putting you in Paul’s shoes. Things could not be worse for him either. Not only is he a disabled prisoner aware of the expiry date above his head, he’s also being systematically tortured by the person who’s supposed to care for him. His only bargaining chip is his mind.
My only issue with the book is that I pictured James Caan as Paul Sheldon throughout and that was hard to shift. Further proof I let myself down as an adolescent by not reading more SK before watching the films.
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks (7 July 2011)
Bought paperback (new)
What are you currently reading?
Back in June I decided to take part in the 20 Books of Summer Challenge. That was the optimistic idea of reading twenty books in 3 months.
Well, I am here to tell you that I didn’t quite make it. In fact, over the sunnier period I read only eight things. I guess we could blame this on actually doing stuff, but I think it’s really down to being in a non-reading funk which isn’t uncommon round these parts.
I’m hoping, as the evenings draw in, that my desire to immerse myself in the pages of somebody else’s story will return. God knows I’ve got plenty of titles waiting for me on that list. Maybe I’ll aim to complete it by the end of the year.
I should say that some of the books I read were graphic novels, and not all of the titles were on my original list. What can I say? I’m a rebel.
Here’s what I did read:
- In a Dark, Dark Wood – Quite good, quite tense – 4/5
- One – Sad & beautiful – 4/5
- Capital – Excellent – 5/5
- Me Before You – A light popcorn read but a better than average one – 4/5
- The Beauty, Vol.1 – Great concept, left me wanting more – 4/5
- Paper Girls, Vol. 1 – Fun, nostalgic, can’t wait to read more – 4/5
- The Sisters – Starts strong. gets a little lame – 3/5
- The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 1 – The Faust Act – another really fresh story about young and beautiful gods – 5/5
So there we are. I’m a big fat failure but it’s okay, it just means I have lots to look forward to for the rest of the year. I might even step back into a couple of book reviews.
What are you reading? ❤
It’s only the first few days of June and I think I’ve already found my book of the year.
I’m going to try to review this without giving much away because I think it’s a fun, dark and interesting look at society, feminism, revenge, beauty and self love, amongst other things – and I want people to read the hell out of it.
Dietland gives us a fat protagonist, Plum which is a treat to find in literature. Or at least, it’s less common to have a fat character presented in a positive light. This seems to be changing, however despite placing a lot of ‘fat main character’ books on my Amazon wish list recently, it still feels like a novelty.
That last statement might not be strictly accurate btw. I should say that I haven’t noticed main fat characters much in the books I’ve read but I would be open to recommendations on books that do feature them. As many as possible! Ones that aren’t the DUFF or end up having massive makeovers to deem themselves acceptable, obvs.
Alicia ‘Plum’ Kettle is deeply apologetic about the fact that she’s fat, so any change in this attitude is a way down the line. More than apologetic, she is obsessed in her quest to lose weight and become her real self – just ‘Alicia’.
Here in the current day, Plum fills a wardrobe with clothes she’ll wear when she’s skinny, when she’s had the stomach stapling surgery she’s booked in for and can finally transform into her true self. She’s been on a diet for most of her life and tends to stick to the safety of her immediate environment to avoid drawing attention to herself. Which doesn’t work really but hey ho.
She works for a big magazine, answering personal emails to her shithead boss, Dear Kitty, who doesn’t have the time to do it herself. Plum spends each day in the local cafe sending advice to ‘her girls’, on anything from self-harming to sexual abuse and life’s what it
is. Kind of in limbo until the real living begins – when she’s thin.
A quick aside from me: I love Plum because I’ve thought like her and I know a lot of people have and still do. I’ve tried to stop this damaging thought process and accept that how I look now is more than likely how I will always look. The concept that “Life begins” at a certain (and mostly impossible) point is incredibly sad.
One seemingly ordinary day, Plum notices that she’s being followed by a dark-haired girl who appears to be making notes about her in a journal. She’s used to comments and people taking her picture on the street but somehow senses this is different.
Little does Plum know that her stalker is about to change her life completely and in the most dramatic way possible.
Running alongside Plum’s ‘rebirth’ is news of a feminist terrorist organisation named by the media as “Jennifer”, who are committing violent acts of retribution against rapists and abusers, as well as major media outlets and the porn industry.
Sweet and fluffy this book is not and I love it all the more for that. There are horrific descriptions of some of the acts, by both the terrorists and those they are carrying out revenge against. It doesn’t shy away from rape culture and it’s powerful stuff.
Plum’s story is wonderfully empowering and I actually love her. I feel like in many ways she is me, she is every woman and when she starts to figure out where she belongs in this world and begins to enjoy the space she takes up, I may have whooped.
I also love many of the supporting characters who open Plum’s eyes to the all the bullshit out there, without too much personal judgement. Plum undergoes such a transformation by the time you reach the last page that I think it would be impossible not to feel happy for her – and it probably won’t be in the way you’re expecting.
Does Plum undergo the weightloss surgery she’s so focussed on, and start that brand new life that’s been waiting for her since she was a teenager?
And the question you’ll no doubt be asking yourselves: what has the mysterious “Jennifer” got to do with Plum, if anything at all? Find out by picking this book up ASAP.
You may not agree with everything that takes place within this book but I think for the most part, any woman can identify with the exhausting notion that we have to look and be a certain way to be deemed acceptable by society.
The issue here is not just fat but beauty on the whole – from the tips of our toes to the roots of our hair. And beyond beauty, there’s an interesting comment on the porn industry that made me think a lot more about it.
I find stories like this empowering while others may not and that’s okay but I think the story fits in a lot with the way I’ve been viewing myself over the last year which might be why it resonates so. I’m learning that I don’t have to be sorry for anything, let alone the amount of space I occupy.
I really just want to read this all over again.
Publisher: Atlantic Books; Main edition (5 May 2016)
Bought paperback (new)
If you read this book, or anything similar, please let me know. I’m always up for a good recommendation ❤
I’ve decided to break these posts up into categories, which helps my ailing mind when it comes to remembering all the little things I’ve been digging on.
A few things on my radar this week:
Television: The Carrie Diaries
I recently figured out how to view the first season of this show which was very exciting for me (not so for my husband). I tried to go in with an open mind (and heart), fearing that it would be teeny bop rubbish and ruin the character of Carrie for me; a character I remain loyal to, to this day.
(Yes, she’s annoying and self-absorbed at times. No, I don’t care.)
I was pleasantly surprised. Set in 1984, Carrie Bradshaw is 16 and still reeling from the death of her mother. She’s just returned to junior year of high school and has all the normal worries of a teenager: does that cute guy like me?, what’s up with my weird kid sister?, friendship, virginity.
But she is also an aspiring writer (yeah she is) and has recently taken up a once a week internship for a law firm in the city. New York City, of course.
As Carrie falls in love with NYC, makes a group of exciting new friends and starts to envisage a life less ordinary, she must also learn to juggle family life and all the people waiting for her back home, including super hot Sebastian Kydd.
It’s no Sex and the City but it’s not bad. It gives Carrie the back story she deserves, but you know it baffles me that I don’t remember a single mention of her history in the show. Did we even know she had a sister?
Film: White Bird in a Blizzard
Eva Green always plays her parts a little mental and I love her for it. She’s no different in this film, as the enigmatic and beautiful, Eve Connors; house proud uber goddess, wife of Brock, mother of Kat.
Kat (Shailene Woodley) is 17 when her mother disappears. As Kat grows up and deals with all the normal things a teenager does, she is never far away from the question: what happened to Eve?
I really enjoyed this. I’m a fan of a good mystery at the best of times, and this is an interesting one. Shailene Woodley carries the film remarkably as her character navigates friendships, relationships and life with her father, as he unravels. She’s definitely an actress to watch.
The film is beautifully acted, gorgeous to look at and grips you just enough to care about the ending. Recommend.
Book: A Fraction of the Whole
This book (by Steve Toltz) really deserves its own review but I can’t do it. It’s a mighty tome and I wouldn’t know where to start.
The Dean family is full of characters. Martin Dean and his brother, Terry have lived a vivid and crazy life. Now from the comfort of his prison cell, Jasper, son of scheming Martin tells their unlikely story.
This tale has everything: sex, violence, love, betrayal, heartache, a labyrinth, a girl called Anouk, a handbook for criminals, a money-making scheme, a vigilante mob, murder, explosions, intrigue and mystery.
The only thing I really need to say is: pick up a copy and read it for yourself.
My lovely boo, Becky gave me a copy for my birthday, citing it as her all time favourite. Although, apparently, I was well behind the curve on this book as, when my Mum spotted it on my shelf, she said “Haven’t you read that yet?”. Trust me, it’ll give you all the feels – and then some.
I’m reading Jackie Collins next though, while my mind knits back together (on account of it being BLOWN).
- A Fraction of the Whole
- Publisher: Penguin; Reprint edition (14 May 2009)
- ISBN-10: 0141031824
- ISBN-13: 978-0141031828
- Gifted paperback
So there it is.