The Island Child by Molly Aitken

Publisher : Canongate

Publication date : 30th January 2020

306 pages

Synopsis:

Twenty years ago, Oona left the island of Inis for the very first time. A wind-blasted rock of fishing boats and turf fires, where girls stayed in their homes until they became mothers themselves, the island was a gift for some, a prison for others. Oona was barely more than a girl, but promised herself she would leave the tall tales behind and never return.

The Island Child tells two stories: of the girl who grew up watching births and betrayals, storms and secrets, and of the adult Oona, desperate to find a second chance, only to discover she can never completely escape. As the strands of Oona’s life come together, in blood and marriage and motherhood, she must accept the price we pay when we love what is never truly ours . . .

Rich, haunting and rooted in Irish folklore, The Island Child is a spellbinding debut novel about identity and motherhood, freedom and fate, and the healing power of stories.

My thoughts:

I was really excited to get my hands on a proof of #TheIslandChild by debut novelist Molly Aitken. Canongate secured the world publishing rights to this book last year, and excitement has been mounting about it in the book world. NB Magazine chose it as their Editors Pick for January, and it’s been mentioned by The Independent, The Irish Independent, Scottish Book Trust, Foyles and Cunning Folk Magazine as one to watch out for in 2020!

Island Child is a book which explores the life of Oona, a young girl who grows up on a remote island off the coast of Ireland, but who leaves the island as a teenager to live in Canada. The novel has a dual timeline, the first of which follows Oona’s birth and early life. In the other we find Oona as an adult, her own daughter having gone missing, and while she and her husband search their local area, Oona begins to sense that she knows her daughter’s whereabouts, and feels she is the one who has driven her away.

Young Oona lives a very sheltered life on the island of Inis in the Atlantic. This small fishing community is close knit and steeped in religion, superstition and suspicion – not a great mix when you are a young, curious child, keen to explore what life has to offer. As the only girl in the family (with two older brothers), Oona’s mother tries her best to keep her close to home and to instil in her beliefs in Our Lady and the power of fairy folk. But Oona feels suffocated by her mother’s desire to protect her; she is bursting with life and curious about the people and the world around her. She is particularly drawn to two ‘outsiders’, Aislinn and her son Felim, who are viewed with suspicion by the other islanders.

Adult Oona is a lost soul. She lives in Canada, miles from the ocean and is desperately unhappy. Her husband Pat tries in earnest to make her happy, but Oona will not find peace in Canada. She must return to her childhood home in order to lay her ghosts to rest.

Mysteries abound in this book, but the real joy is in the narration. Molly Aitken paints the most beautiful images with her words, transporting the reader to a world steeped in folklore and myth. But Oona’s life is no fairy tale; there’s a darkness to this story.

The Island Child is a gem of a book, sure to delight fans of writers like Jess Kidd. It explores themes of motherhood and isolation and poses the question: Can we ever escape our past?

Many thanks to Canongate for my review copy of this novel. You can check out the other bloggers thoughts by following the reviews on the blog tour:

 

About Molly Aitken:

Molly Aitken was born in Scotland in 1991 and brought up in Ireland. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa where she won the Janklow and Nesbit Prize.

The Island Child is her first novel.

Molly now lives in Sheffield with her husband where is works as an editor and ghost writer.

Follow Molly on twitter at @MollyAitken1 and on Instagram: molly.aitken

 

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Pages : 378

Publisher : Tinder Press

Publication : January 2020

Synopsis:

Lydia Quixano Perez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with four books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed. It is a literary achievement filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times.

 

My thoughts:

This novel absolutely blew me away. My interest in it was first piqued by multiple tweets last summer enthusing about it. I was lucky enough to get hold of a review copy from Louise Swannell (thank you so much) and was eager to see what all the excitement was about.

American Dirt is a novel about motherhood. It is a novel about survival. It is a novel about humanity and inhumanity.

Lydia Quixano Perez is like many of us who live in the Western World: university educated; happily married with a child; loving family and a job she enjoys – she owns a book shop! So far, so perfect.  Lydia lives in Acapulco in Mexico with her husband, a journalist specialising in reporting on cartels.  When he writes an exposé on the head honcho of the local cartel, their lives are blown apart.

The opening scene in the novel sees Lydia and Luca cowering in the bathroom of their home while  sixteen of their family members are peppered with machine gun bullets at a BBQ. This is the point when Lydia’s life stops resembling anything most of us can relate to (thankfully) and becomes insanely unbelievable. Lydia knows exactly who is responsible for this mass murder, and she knows that she is not safe. She needs to think quickly and clearly to protect her life, and more importantly for her, that of her eight year old son, Luca.

This novel charts the dangerous and deathly journey undertaken by Lydia and Luca in an attempt to reach the United States of America from their Acapulcan home town. It is populated by a whole host of characters that Lydia and Luca meet along their way – some who are shady and dangerous, others who are brimming with humanity and kindness. I am loathe to say anything else about the story or characters, as I do not want to take from anyone’s journey with Lydia and Luca.

At various points in this novel, I was choked by the small acts performed by almost strangers in order to help their fellow humans. At other times, I was terrified and horrified in equal measure.

This is a vitally important novel, and one that everyone should read. 

I can’t recommend it enough.

 

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

Published : 9th January 2020

Synopsis:

In rural Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, the unthinkable happens: a school is under siege.
Told from the point of view of the people at the heart of it, from the wounded headmaster in the library, unable to help his trapped pupils and staff, to teenage Hannah, in love for the first time, to the parents gathering desperate for news, to the 16-year-old Syrian refugee trying to rescue his little brother, to
the police psychologist who must identify the gunmen, to the students taking refuge in the school theatre, all experience the most intense hours of their lives, where evil and terror are met by courage, love and redemption.

My thoughts:

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for #ThreeHoursNovel by Rosamund Lupton. I jumped at the chance to read and review this book, having read and loved #Sister a few years ago.

So what’s it all about?

There is no build up with this book – the action explodes from page one when Matthew Marr, headmaster of a liberal private school, is shot and injured by a gunman who has entered the school building. Students and teachers have hidden or sealed themselves into various locations around the grounds: the school theatre, the library, a classroom, a pottery room in the woods. None of them are safe.

Three Hours is told from multiple viewpoints, giving you a comprehensive insight into the situation as the plot unfurls. 180 minutes of fear; 10,800 seconds of terror. Who would want to inflict this upon a school and its pupils? Who would chose to terrorise children and young adults? And of course, the searing question is, why?

Set in the depths of winter, a siege on a school in a blizzard could make for bleak reading – and at times it’s absolutely terrifying, but this is also a heart-warming book, full of characters who are brave and courageous and selfless. Lupton explores themes and issues which are both universal and also current, making the siege situation in this novel feel very real, echoing events like Columbine. #ThreeHoursNovel is also a book full of brave and wonderful characters who I know will stay with me. Headmaster Matthew Marr tells his student Hannah “love is the most powerful thing there is,” and this is evident in the different forms of love that are portrayed in Lupton’s characters and their relationships with each other.

But can love stand up in the face of such evil?

Three Hours has a tightly plotted and expertly controlled narrative which will have you holding your breath from the beginning to the end.

Read it – it’s fabulous!

The blog tour runs up until 22nd January.  Check out what the other fabulous bloggers have to say.  Thank you to Ellie Hudson for my place on the blog tour, and to Penguin for my copy of the book.

Reading Highlights of 2019

I love Best Of lists, and look forward to checking out what other readers enjoyed over the past twelve months. Creating a list has given me a chance to reflect on the books which have really stood out for me, and also the opportunity to revisit the stories and remember why they were so special.

2019 has been my second year as a book blogger, and has involved a lot of fabulous reads. Back in January, I set myself a Goodreads challenge to read a book a week, and I had hit that target by August. I would imagine I’ve read in excess of 80 books by now, but I  stopped counting and updating my progress in the Autumn.

In November, my village was almost  destroyed by catastrophic flooding, and while my family and I were lucky to escape the worst of the waters, we were evacuated from our homes and life was pretty weird for a while. I completely lost the ability to focus on reading anything other than local news reports around that time, and my reading mojo deserted me. Thankfully, it has returned, and I am book blogging again, but I have cut back as I am also trying to do some creative writing of my own.

The bookish corner of Twitter continues to be a social media outlet which I love, and has resulted in some online and real-life friendships which I cherish. Thank you all for your support. I love my tribe!

Choosing a favourites list has involved much procrastination; eventually I decided to mainly focus most of my list on 2019 reads, with a BOOKS FROM BEFORE section as a post script! You will find a mix of contemporary and historical fiction, along with some short stories and a non-fiction pick.

I have linked my reviews if you want to find out more about each book.

2019 FICTION 

Once Upon A River by Dianne Setterfield

When All is Said by Anne Griffin

The Wych Elm by Tana French

Things In Jars by Jess Kidd

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins-Reid

The Red Word by Sarah Henstra

The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes

Night Boar to Tangier by Kevin Barry

Expectation by Anna Hope

Lanny by Max Porter

2019 NON-FICTION 

Lowborn by Kerry Hudson

2019 SHORT STORIES 

Foxfire Wolkskin by Sharon Blackie

Salt Slow by Julia Armitage

BOOKS FROM BEFORE

These are books I consider myself as discovering late, and which blew me away.

    

So that’s my round up. Have you read any of my picks?  What are your favourites?

 

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield

 

This book is a debut collection of short stories by Julia Armfield. It was short-listed for The Times Young Writer of the Year Award, and while it lost out to The Perseverance by poet Raymond Antrobus, Salt Slow was voted winner by the panel of shadow-judges, which was made up of bloggers.

The stories in Salt Slow are most certainly on the wonk. It reminded me very much of Daisy Johnson’s Fen. Armitage explores corporeal themes, from decaying to transformation, creation of life to a return from the dead and much more, all portrayed through a lens which is slightly distorted.

I know this collection will not resonate with everyone, but I really enjoyed all of the stories and find it hard to pick a favourite. It’s the type if book I know I will go back to and re-read. I am now a huge fan of Julia’s writing and will be eagerly anticipating her next work.

The Mating Habits of Stags by Ray Robinson

20191223_083843

This book first came to my attention in the summer when it was being championed on Twitter by Clare @yearsofreadingselfishly and on her blog. Then Amanda @bookishchat gave it a wonderful review. I knew I would love it if these two brilliant bloggers did.  I bought it for my birthday back in October and added it to my TBR pile. I didn’t intended to blog about it, however, after reading it I have found that I cannot stop thinking about this story and the characters, and want to shout about it.

So what’s it all about?

This is a beautiful, bleak and haunting tale about love, loss and the damage that can result from internalising heart-break and betrayal. It is also about friendship and hope for the future.

Jake is a 73 year old farmhand who lives alone in Dove Cottage in rural North Yorkshire. He is grieving from the death of his beloved wife, Edith, and he still carries the pain of his son William’s death. It is also a story about 52 year old Shelia, who has recently struck up a friendship with Jake, and who clearly cares deeply for him.

We first meet Jake in the Dalby Forest, on the run from murdering local landowner Charles Monroe in his nursing home. Not only are the police now looking for Jake, but so too are Charles’ son, Lip, and his band of hunters because Lip has put a bounty on Jake’s head. Shelia is struggling to come to terms with the reality of her friend being a murderer. Can this really be the man she knew and was beginning to fall in love with?

As Jake makes his way around the countryside looking for hideouts and cover, the narrative takes us back in time to chart Jake’s relationship with Edith, and their life together. This exploration of the past allows us to access to Jake’s inner turmoils and the emotional depths which he concealed from everyone. This back story allows the reader to understand why Jake would have ‘choked Charles Monroe to bastard death.’

Sheila is a local who is twenty years younger than Jake, but who has struck up a friendship with him since his wife’s death. She, too, has her own backstory of hurt, and starts to care deeply for Jake. However, he resists her care and maintains barriers around his emotions. She eventually decides it’s time to take control of her life and put some distance between her and the village; she moves to Scarborough (Scarbados!) but continues to write to Jake.

Ray Robinson’s writing is so evocative and powerful, I felt as though I was on the run with Jake. His prose is succinct and economical, yet evokes the atmosphere and countryside perfectly. I loved the inclusion of local dialect – it captured perfectly the patter and banter of many Yorkshire men and women, and really resonated with me, being someone who married into Yorkshire, from Ireland. I just know that Jake and Shelia will stay with me for a long time.

I whole-heartedly recommend this gem of a book which is published by eye books and is short-listed for the Portico Prize.

 

Synopsis:

Midwinter. As former farmhand Jake, a widower in his seventies, wanders the beautiful, austere moors of North Yorkshire trying to evade capture, we learn of the events of his past: the wife he loved and lost, their child he knows cannot be his, and the deep-seated need for revenge that manifests itself in a moment of violence.

On the coast, Jake’s friend, Sheila, receives the devastating news of his crime. The aftermath of Jake’s actions, and what it brings to the surface, will change her life forever. But how will she react when he turns up at her door?

The Mating Habits of Stags is a journey through a life of guilt and things unsaid – and as beauty and tenderness blend with violence, Robinson transports us to a different world, subtly exploring love and loss in a language that both bruises and heals.

 

Poetry for Christmas and Other Beginnings by Orna Ross

Synopsis:

This poetry book makes a perfect holiday gift or stocking filler.

Whether you’re marking the Christian Christmas, the Chinese Dongzhi, the Jewish Hannukah, the Hindi Makaraa Sankrānti, the Irish Meán Geimhridh, or any other mid-winter festival, the hibernal solstice is a celebration of rebirth and renewal.The ever-present potential for beginning anew, as signified by the return of light, is the theme of this chapbook. In it, you’ll find a poem for each of the twelve days of this season when the days start to get longer again, that will encourage you to rejoice, reflect and recharge.

Reconnect with the wonder of the world through the powerful pleasure of inspirational poetry.

My thoughts:
What a beautiful collection of poems! In the introduction to this pamphlet, Orna Ross really made me stop and think, to reflect and realise that I have even more to learn about the season of Christmas, its significance, and what this time of year has meant for mankind for thousands of years, whatever our belief system.
As the darkest days of winter seem to swallow us up, we can sometimes loose sight of the light that is close-by, whether in the form of the cheerful Christmas lights, or in the opportunities we get for rebirth and renewal as we move into the new year.
In this pamphlet you will find twelve poems – one for each of the traditional twelve days of Christmas. This is a gorgeous reading experience which really made me pause amidst the craziness, to think.  I know I shall return to these poems as we move through the Christmas period, and probably every year from now on.
Thank you to Anne Cater for my place on this blog tour. You can check out what all the other bloggers had to say about this collection.
Poetry for Christmas by Orna Ross is available on Amazon.
About Orna Ross:

Orna is an award-winning writer, an advocate for independent authors and other creative entrepreneurs, and “one of the 100 most influential people in publishing” [The Bookseller]. She writes novels, poems and nonfiction guides for creatives, and is Founder-Director of two popular online communities, the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and The Creativist Club. She lives in London and writes, publishes and teaches around the globe. When not writing, you’ll probably find her reading.

Website : http://www.ornaross.com/

Twitter : @ornaross

Author Page on Facebook

Instagram @ornaross