The Corset

I thoroughly enjoyed Purcell’s The Silent Companions and found it satisfyingly creepy, perfect for this time of year. So when The Corset came out in paperback I grabbed it quickly and couldn’t wait to dive in.

To a certain extent it’s as good as TSC but it isn’t without its issues and that main issue for me is the ending. Before I go into that though, a bit about the story. I think the premise itself is brilliant and quite unique.

There have been a few stories in the past about haunted clothing (not that I can name any of them beyond In Fabric, which hasn’t even had the decency to have a proper release yet) but the concept of vindictive embroidery really appeals to me. Imagine putting all your rage and hatred into your work and seeing very tangible results. It’s pure witchcraft and as you know, I’m all about the witch these days, even if it is dark magic.

That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it in my fiction though and I really love the character of Ruth, a young girl sentenced to death for the murder of her mistress. When high society do-gooder Dorothea Truelove takes it upon herself to start visiting Ruth is gaol while she awaits her trial, the whole story of how she came to be a murderess unravels – but is she really as bad as she believes or is she a victim herself?

Dorothea meanwhile has her own agenda, namely the study of phrenology and she really wants to get her hands on Ruth’s skull. She’s also being pressured by her ol’ dad to marry since she’s just turned five and twenty – and should probably get her skates on. Little does he know that she’s in love with a common or garden bobby!

Anyway, we’re here for the darkness, aren’t we? As Ruth embroiders a macabre picture for us we get plenty of that. Bullied and poor, things take a terrible turn when her beloved mother falls pregnant. Ruth is forced to leave school to help her seamstress mum with her workload, particularly a large order for a local dressmaker. When the baby arrives everything changes and Ruth realises she may have a secret power. Does she though or is she simply mad, after years of abuse?

Well, via flashback Ruth fills us in on her sewing skills and the horrible lifestyle to which she quickly becomes accustomed. As the terror grows so does her bitterness and rage – and all that has to go somewhere. I won’t go into it too much but it is a satisfying read.

Alongside Ruth’s woes we have the slightly less dramatic issues of Dorothea, whose beauty and class make her seem much less of a victim – but there’s something going on beneath the pristine surface – and maybe she and Ruth aren’t that different after all.

I really enjoyed myself but I did find the climax a little clumsy. It’s not that I didn’t understand it, it’s more that it wasn’t ironed out in quite the same way as the rest of the book and felt rushed. It’s an interesting ending and a good one but it comes at you fast – and it took the book from a solid five to a four in my eyes. Nevertheless, I’m excited for Bone China and I love Purcell’s Gothic hand.

Book details: The Corset
Publisher: Raven Books (2 May 2019)
ISBN-10: 1408889528
ISBN-13: 978-1408889527
Bought new paperback for myself

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The Girl Before You

She was his. She was perfect. And then, she was gone.

Alice Bell has always had a bee in her bonnet about her husband’s past. She doesn’t know it all but catches snippets here and there, about his reputation at University where they met and the few extra-marital dalliances he’s had since they married. Ones she has so far chosen to overlook.

On a train one evening from Edinburgh back to London, Alice swears she locks eyes with a girl from their past – Ruth, who went missing, presumed drowned at university over fifteen years previously. When she mentions it to George, he brushes it off and she’s not convinced he didn’t know her better than he’s claiming. Subsequently, she has no choice but to keep digging for the truth. Wouldn’t we all?

Is it possible that beautiful, vibrant Ruth is still alive and not dead as everyone assumed? 

The Girl Before You unpacks the truth bit by bit, focusing on newly pregnant Alice as she becomes a super sleuth, reaching out to Ruth’s younger sister Naomi, who has never stopped hoping that her sister will one day return. As Alice gets warmer on the case of Ruth, she’s left cold by the things she’s learning about her own husband. Will life ever be the same again? 

‘The new GIRL ON THE TRAIN’ Observer

This book is right up my street and I devoured it in one day. It’s like crack, actually impossible to stop dipping into whenever you can get away with it. It was the perfect Bank Holiday read and I feel a little bit closer to it somehow because Nicola Rayner is a good friend’s sister in law. The writing flows wonderfully and the back and forth between female perspectives, all women who knew Ruth, doesn’t grate as much as it has in other books. I sometimes feel cheated by this device when I love one or two of the characters and don’t care about another, but all three are sympathetic and fleshed out enough to feel real.

It also looks at some very real and very relevant subject matter, including gas lighting and sexual coercion/assault which isn’t easy to read but opens up some interesting dialogue between some of the characters. In my opinion it’s better than GOTT and is definitely on par with Apple Tree Yard. If you liked either of those I think you’ll be very much into this little banger. 

I can’t wait for Nicola’s next book.

Book details:

The Girl Before You
Publisher: Avon (22 Aug. 2019)
ISBN-10: 0008332738
ISBN-13: 978-0008332730
Bought new paperback for myself

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No Big Deal

It would have been nice to have had a heroine like Emily growing up. Even if she is 75 times cooler than I’ve ever been. 

Navigating all your normal rites of passage in a fat body can be a minefield – friendship, school, the future, shagging, ROMANCE – but Emily doesn’t see why she should change. She’s well aware she’s one of the smartest in her year at school. She’s also cute, funny and ‘good at music’. While she still has all the normal teenage insecurities, she’s coming to realise it’s not her body holding her back, it’s the people around her and their attitudes toward it. 

RELATEABLE, MUCH?!

Emily worries about being left behind by her friendship group – and as the last to lose her virginity and get a boyfriend, she wonders if it’s the way she looks that’s the problem. Her mother is on a constant diet, imparting her own health wisdom on her daughter which kind of puts a dampener on their relationship. It also doesn’t help when she meets Joe, to whom she has an instant attraction. Could he possibly like her too?

Well of course he does because contrary to popular opinion, fat babes gets action to. But Joe’s not without his own problems and Emily has enough to contend with without wondering that she’s enough. Like where to go to university, a newly-slim best pal and general life stuff.

I read this in a day and mostly in the bath. Each chapter begins with a suitable song title which is cool. Given Emily is a some time DJ (and so is the author), it’s a nice touch. It also personalises it, reminding me of the feelings that went with the music I listened as I grew up.

Honestly, it’s refreshing to read about a fat protagonist, one that doesn’t have a makeover at the end. One that knows her worth despite societal pressure, one not willing to settle for anything less that the very best.

I enjoyed the last few chapters so much. As Emily works out Joe’s deal and subsequently refuses to accept it, I whooped. I also like the advice Emily gives to her friends. It’s completely balanced and wise beyond its years. There are flourishes that really suit the character and remind me too of all the reasons I’ve followed Bethany on Twitter for so long. Particularly the moment she asks her crush if he ever consumes art by women.

Emily is a role model for the age and I would love to spend more time in her world.

Book details:

No Big Deal
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books; Main Market edition (8 Aug. 2019)
ISBN-10: 1509870059
ISBN-13: 978-1509870059
Bought new paperback for myself

What are you reading?

 

Books I Want to Read But Can’t Afford to Buy…

…So I really should join the library

Ugh there are so many books I want to read at the moment. I want them all and I really shouldn’t be buying any more books – in fact, I shouldn’t really buy new books at all. Except I want to support my local booksellers where I can, and I can’t walk past Waterstones without adding another title to the list.

Here’s what I have my eye on at the moment:

Red Snow by Will Dean

This is the second book in the Tuva Moodyson series and is the sequel to the brilliantly atmospheric Dark Pines. Tuva is a reporter for a local Swedish newspaper who just happens to be deaf. In this installment, she must investigate two deaths – one suicide, one cold-blooded murder. Are they connected?

I think I’d save this one for the colder months or a rainy weekend but it sounds great and I love the way Tuva is written.

The Ghost Photographer by Julie Rieger

I recently started listening to The Boo Crew podcast and in one of the first episodes I heard, they interview Julie, who seems pretty cool. I mean she’s cool anyway as a senior exec at one of the biggest movie studios in Hollywood – but throw in the fact she can see ghosts and entities in the photographs she takes – well, who could be cooler?

The book goes in on the trauma that led Julie to discovering this gift and honestly, I can’t wait to dip in. Even though paranormal activity is the one thing that truly, truly petrifies me – it’s also so fascinating.

The Bus on Thursday by Shirley Barrett

This book centers around Australian Eleanor Mellett, a woman with breast cancer who moves to a creepy small town to take a job as a primary school teacher. Living along in a remote cabin with no internet connection or phone line, our protagonist wonders what happened to the previous teacher she’s filling in for, why there are so many locks on the door and who the fuck is knocking it late at night.

Compared to Henry James’ Turn of the Screw and a little known author named Stephen King, it sounds right up my street.

The Corset by Laura Purcell

I read Purcell’s The Silent Companions not long ago and loved it. It genuinely chilled me to the bone in some places and I found it really refreshing. The Corset offers more Gothic goodness with this tale of two women who couldn’t be more different.

Dorothea Truelove is young, hot and rich while Ruth Butterham is young, poor and on trial for murder. When Dot volunteers at the prison, she finds herself drawn to Ruth. But Ruth harbors a dark secret and when she reveals it to her new friend – the women’s lives are entwined forever. Is Ruth a liar or is she a mad, bad murderer as she’s already confessed to be?

Normal People by Sally Rooney

I flipping loved Conversations with Friends so I’m stoked that NP is now out in paperback.

I actually don’t really mind what this story is about because I feel Rooney could make me fall in love with anything just so long as she was writing it – but this is a story about love and friendship that strikes up between popular Connell and loner Marianne, two very different people who just can’t seem to stay away from each other.

Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground by Michael Moynihan & Didrik Soderlind 

I recently watched and fell in love with the Lords of Chaos movie, starring Rory Culkin which surprises me a lot. I mean, I didn’t think Norwegian Black Metal would be up there on my list of Stuff I Dig but here we are.

I have since grown truly obsessed with the rise of this music genre – and the horrific murder (and lead up to it) of Mayhem front-man Euronymous, at the hands of Kristian ‘Varg’ Vikernes. Honestly, it seems the BM scene was the bitchiest place on earth and I’ve been in some of my own in my time. True crime and men in tight black jeans are my jam, yo.

The Girl Before You by Nicola Rayner

I’m including this because a) it sounds like a banger and b) it was written by my friend’s sister-in-law. Which is so cool. Compared as these thrillers typically are to The Girl on the Train, TGBY focusses on the relationship between Alice and her MP husband, George.

Alice has always had a thing about the women who came before her – and George’s rep as a womaniser certainly precedes him. But when she falls pregnant, her unease turns to obsession – in particular, she can’t get one woman from his past out of her head: Ruth.

Ruth went missing when she and George were first year students at university and was never found. When Alice sees a woman who looks just like the mysterious Ruth, she starts to think there’s more to the story that her husband is telling her…

Cannot. Wait.

What are you reading?

Cujo

I’ve spend most of this week feeling slightly bummed out and I swear to god it’s Stephen King’s fault. I know I’m way behind on Cujo’s story but I did not expect to end in such a devastating way – I guess that’s why it’s so effective. While you’ve got your eye firmly planted on Cujo, you don’t think about anything else.

Most readers (and their dogs LOL) will know the story of Cujo – and obviously I always had a rough idea of the plot, not least because it seems to be referenced all the time in other King books. It is good finally to have the details for myself. My husband said he never liked it because he felt too sorry for Cujo – and boy do I agree with that.

*Spoilers*

If you don’t know, Cujo is a massive, lovable Saint Bernard – the beloved pet of ten-year-old Brett Camber, a mechanics son. His father Joe is a dominating influence who beats his wife Charity and drinks with his neighbour Gary in his down time.

Across town (the story is set in SK staple, Castle Rock, Maine) the Trentons, Donna and Vic live with their little son Tad. They’ve got their own shit going on – Tad is haunted by the ‘monster in the closet’, while Donna is dealing with the aftermath of a pre-marital fling. Vic’s ad business is crumbling and he has to leave town just as he finds out about the affair – none of them are doing that great, what will a fateful meeting with a rabid Saint Bernard throw into the mix?

Alternative film poster for the 1983 Cujo adaptation

Well, one day of course Cuj goes for a run in the fields around the Camber home and ends up chasing a rabbit into a deep burrow. Alas, within the burrow live a family of rabies infected bats – and they’re not cool with the intrusion. Cujo gets bitten and so begins his tragic demise, via a horrific swansong of death and destruction. Bad doggie!

As events bring Donna and Tad directly into the path of Cujo’s fury, I was on the edge of my seat. It’s so effective and the final, agonising stand-off between (wo)man and beast is incredible. Donna is a brilliant character, flawed and fiesty, and hard as fuck. I love her. As Vic realises something is not okay at home and has to haul ass back to the Rock to rescue his family, Donna is taking care of business herself.

Meanwhile, Brett and Charity are miles away visiting family, clueless about the carnage they’ve left behind. Charity is secretly worrying about her son turning out like her abusive husband and contemplating divorce, while Brett can’t stop worrying about Cujo back home.

This book was very good and I enjoyed myself but I hated the thought of Cuj in pain. And I was in no way prepared for the Trenton family’s own tragedy. I don’t know why I was so invested in a perfect, happy ending. I must have forgotten who I was reading for a second.

Book details:

Cujo
Publisher: Cornerstone
ISBN-10: 0099975009
ISBN-13: 978-0099975007
Bought secondhand paperback for myself

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Helter Skelter

I feel I should pre-fix this post with a little disclaimer about true crime enthusiasm. I love true crime, my podcast list is peppered with real life stories of murder and horror – I can’t get enough and I’m not entirely sure why.

Obviously I’m a massive horror fan but I feel that actual true life horror goes against why I love those movies so much. There’s comfort in letting myself be scared but also knowing that it’s all fantasy. Stories like this reinforce that there really are monsters out there – and that’s terrifying in a whole new way. It’s probably the psychology of what makes a monster that gets me – and this true account of the Manson murders is no exception. How on Earth could one man be responsible for such horrific carnage when he wasn’t even present on the nights of the murders?

Well, Helter Skelter takes us inside the media circus and tries to answer some of those questions. I just want it to be clear that I don’t believe Manson deserves any of the adoration he’s always received. There’s a mystique to him obviously but he was a horrible, evil manipulator and he doesn’t deserve to be revered as a rock star. See also: Ted Bundy.

It’s taken me almost two months to the day to finish this massive tome, more for the fact that the content is as brutal as you can imagine. It goes in deep on the Sharon Tate murders, adding details I had never read before. I thought I knew most of what there was to know about that particular crime but I didn’t, it’s awful and senseless – and not for the faint-hearted.

But that’s not why this book took me so long. It’s just so court-roomy. Author Vincent Buliosi was a high-profile American attorney and best-selling author – and the chief prosecutor in the Manson trial. He basically took that fucker and the other accused Family members down to China Town, securing the death penalty for all of them (until it was abolished in the state of California).

Sugar and spice these girls are not

I won’t rehash it all here, if you’re interested then the chances are you’ll read this on your own or already have. The detail is fascinating as is the trial, it just isn’t the fluffiest of reads and not one I was eager to devour every night. What gripped me most were the stories of the Manson girls, all young and many of them damaged in their own ways. I can’t even comprehend the nature of their relationship with master manipulator Charles Manson, who thought of himself as the second coming of Jesus. Something they also believed.

There are a lot of surprises in this book – one of the highlights is the speculation as to how many murders The Family actually committed. Some of members claim there are upward of 40 clocked up, however in most cases there’s no proof and sometimes, not even a body.

I definitely recommend this but it is heavy and not the easiest read.

Book details:

Helter Skelter
Publisher: Cornerstone
ISBN-10: 0099975009
ISBN-13: 978-0099975007
Bought secondhand paperback for myself

What are you reading?

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2019 and a New Reads List

The best thing about the new year is signing up to a new Goodreads Reading Challenge. So far, over the last few, I have failed to complete a single year – or if I’ve got anywhere near I wouldn’t know as I’ve failed to log the books I’ve read.

There’s not much to the rules of the challenge to be honest. You input how many books you want to read that year and then, as you complete each one, you check them off on the GR app. It’s quite addictive, at least in the first couple of months as you rack ’em up and see you percentage achieved rise (I’m currently on 12% with six out of 50 books done).

Anyway, I love to read and I love to buy books even though I shouldn’t and I’ve got some real peaches in the immediate pile (anyone else got piles in order of importance?). Here are some of the ones I’m most excited for:

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

I mean, what a title. It’s also meant to be an absolute belter so bring it on!

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

I’m obsessed with this cover and even more intrigued by the subject matter. I think this is definitely next in line for me.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

I’ve recently read Eileen by the same author (reviewed here) and it was gorgeous so this is a no-brainer. It sounds awesome:

A shocking, hilarious and strangely tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation, aided and abetted by one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature.

Men without Women: Stories by Haruki Murakami

I’ve always been a big fan of Murakami but somewhere along the line I read too much of his work and needed to take a long break. I’m back in the game now after I read his little short Birthday Girl. There’s just something about his prose.

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

A classic I’ve not yet read though I’ve devoured the film many times and adore it (boo Polanski). Cannot wait to dip into this deeply unsettling world again.

Help by Simon Amstell

I love Simon Amstell and find him very clever and funny. Darren and I have seen him a couple of times doing stand-up and that’s was enough to make me snatch this up as soon as I saw it.

From a complicated childhood in Essex to an Ayahuasca-led epiphany in the Amazon rainforest, this story will make you laugh, cry and then feel happier than you’ve ever been.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

I’m currently reading this bad boy and it’s started well with a definite The Woman in Black flavour (which is mentioned on the cover with a bi-line by Susan Hill). As far as I’m concerned you can’t lose with Gothic literature but I just hope this is good as I suspect it’s going to be.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israel

I got the movie tie-in novel after seeing the very, very good movie adaptation on Monday night (review to follow). I loved Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel and frankly, I wanted more as soon as the credits rolled. So this is going to be a lot of fun. What an ingenious idea for a scam though.

Lee Israel’s hilarious and shocking memoir of the astonishing caper she carried on for almost two years when she forged and sold more than three hundred letters by such literary notables as Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Noel Coward, and many others.

Adèle by Leïla Slimani

Slimani’s Lullaby (know as The Perfect Nanny in some countries) was dynamite. In turn beautiful, odd and shocking, it tells the story of how the perfect nanny came to murder the young children in her care. Adèle centers around a seemingly perfect wife, mother and career woman (of the same name) who leads a very secret double life.

~

I might have to cancel the rest of the month so I can get fully immersed. I will be reviewing as I go too so watch this space.

What are you reading?

Eileen

Eileen is one of those novels that grips you to the final page but doesn’t quite give you the pay off you’re expecting. Not that you really mind when the character is as rounded as Eileen Dunlop. The writing here is so descriptive that Eileen practically pops off the page and this is the reason I really enjoyed it.

The story goes a little something like this: Eileen is a middle-aged woman when we meet her but as the narrative unfolds, she regales us with a tale from her early twenties. A tale it seems that has paved the way for the rest of her life, up to present day.

The daughter of an ex-cop, Eileen dreams of the day she can leave her dreary life and unfulfilling job behind. When glamorous Rebecca Saint John arrives at the juvenile prison Eileen works at, our protagonist’s world is set ablaze with bizarre and potentially devastating consequences.

Oooooh!

Again, what I enjoyed most about this book was the way Ottessa Moshfegh paints a picture. Eileen is not an attractive character per se but she is so vividly molded by the author that she becomes something else altogether. As she just about tolerates her home life and the increasingly unstable behaviour of her largely unloving father, Eileen builds an inner fantasy life around the prison.

Lusting after one of the guards, our girl engineers scenarios in which he falls in love with her and her (love) life finally begins (she also dedicates a great deal of her waking day waiting outside his apartment in her car). She also admits that the youthful inmates she’s around every day have an effect on her too and I like the scenes in the prison the best. I love a prison setting and the psychology of why people do what they do and Eileen gives us snippets of their lives to savour.

When Rebecca appears we explore this element in more depth. I couldn’t really fathom where the ending would take us, apart from knowing that Eileen finally leaves her depressing home town for a bigger life – and this is part of the reason I enjoyed my experience so much.

The ending is probably the only part that made me scratch my head a little bit. It’s not that it’s bad and it’s not that it doesn’t fit, it’s just turned out differently to what I expected and I think that’s a good thing. I won’t spoil it but if you do read, I’d like to know your thoughts.

I definitely miss Eileen Dunlop. She’s not your typical heroine but I’d love more of her. I’d like to know more about how her life developed after the events of this book – and way beyond. As a middle-aged woman, she alludes to some of the relationships she’s had throughout her life and I’d like to hear her talk about them.

Ottessa is a great novelist and I will be exploring more. STAT.

Book details:

Eileen
Publisher: Vintage; 01 edition (18 Aug. 2016)
ISBN-10: 1784701467
ISBN-13: 978-1784701468
Gifted paperback for Christmas

What are you currently reading?

UPDATE: Realised after posting (no I didn’t, Meghan told me) that I’d been calling it ELAINE throughout. Jesus.

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer is a book I read a lot when I was a teen. I was thrilled to find a copy in HMV the other day when I also bought Rosemary’s Baby in a delicious 2 for £5 offer. I re-read it over last weekend and found it just as sinister and creepy as ever. I think I had forgotten just how sexually active our Laura was and now I’m older I must say it makes me feel uncomfortable to be privy to the way she’s exploited.

Female sexuality aside and her right to autonomy over her own actions and body, she’s such a vulnerable character let down by so many people around her.

The diary is a companion piece to the series’ and film, and fills in some of the blanks around the mystery of Laura’s murder. Sort of.

I never really picked up on any clues back in the day but they are there. The diary itself doesn’t appear until episode 4 in Season 2 of the show. I read it with sadness and despair, the latter of which is an emotion that escalates in Laura from an incredibly young age.

From 12 to 17 she’s tormented by visits from BOB, a presence that takes great pleasure in humiliating and torturing her. At night he takes her to woods and does unspeakable things to her, leaving her frightened to sleep at night.

As she reaches puberty and discovers sex and drugs, she is able to numb herself against some of the trauma but at a price. Her antics further alienate her from her best friend Donna, her parents, her peers – and as she gets in with some deeply unsavoury characters – namely Leo Johnson and Jacques Renault – and gains employment at One-Eyed Jack’s – she begins to spiral out of control.

Sadly we know what happens to Laura (her fate is revealed in the first episode of Twin Peaks) and it’s heartbreaking to witness the demise of such a young woman with so much to offer the world. She is such a greatly complex character and as mesmerising to read as she is watch onscreen.

This is a book that could be triggering to some. At times it is extremely explicit and does allude heavily to the abuse Laura is routinely subjected to. When I read it as a teen I thought I was so edgy reading about sex but as an adult, I am far more aware of the darkness inside this character and of the injustice of it all. It’s really upsetting.

I’m on a massive Twin Peak revival tip at the moment and I’m currently plowing through the TV show at a rapid pace. I’ll be revisiting it on this very blog in the coming weeks. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with Laura, once of my favourite fictional characters of all time.

Book details:

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (8 Dec. 2011)
ISBN-10: 9781849838627
ISBN-13: 978-1849838627
Bought paperback (new)

What are you currently reading?